As with San Jose, Costa Rica, the general online consensus is to skip Managua; Given the scarcity of time, one must allocate this precious resource to more worthwhile attractions, such as Granada and volcano boarding. I visited Nicaragua for the first time while on a visa run, chaperoned by my psychotic German principal from my school in Costa Rica who was hard- set on breathing as little Nicaraguan air as possible. Unfortunately for him, no hotels of his standards existed anywhere closer than Managua.
So perhaps it was the fact that I’d been cooped up in a commune- like boarding school for the past few months, or maybe that I’d been cooped up in the back seat of a freezing mini- van for the past few hours, but our arrival in Managua was very poignant to me. As we moved through the city in pursuit of luxury, I saw entire city blocks jam-packed with trash bag neighborhoods. I saw women cooking in their trash bag homes. I saw little kids juggling for change in the street.
I could have been watching this on TV. I only saw it. I didn’t smell it or hear it or taste it; I was in this bubble of a vehicle, unscathed by the dirt or hunger or political turmoil that had forced so many of these people onto the street. But I definitely felt my unmerited privilege. Why was it that a 10-year-old girl, the same age as my brother back home, was juggling barefoot in a traffic circle? I imagined my baby brother juggling in a traffic circle; social services would pounce on him. My heart got a weird, sad, twisty feeling.
I’d never seen poverty like that in Costa Rica, or in the US. I’d lived most of my life in a different reality, so it was the first time that I really felt the why me question. Why was it me that was lucky enough to be born into a stable home? Why is a house with running water and electricity so normal to me? I felt guilty for my privilege and ignorant for not having felt guilty before. I also realized that fate is exasperatingly inexplicable.
I was fascinated by Managua in many ways. It was my first time in a ‘poor’ country, and I admired the resourcefulness that I saw during the short hours that I spent outside my hotel room. I loved the existence of street food, although I didn’t get to try any. I loved the men with strong voices that yelled the bus destinations NANDAIME NANDAIME NANDAIME NANDAIME!, although I didn’t get to take any buses. I loved how kids swam in a flooded parking lot, although I obviously wasn’t allowed to join them.
I did not see much else- other than the lake and the old church- and according to online reviews, I didn’t miss anything. But I was charmed by the families and couples strolling along the lake and up the street or through the mall in Managua’s warm, saturated evening sun at the end of the workday. Managua doesn’t have many tourist attractions, but that doesn’t mean it has nothing to offer.