As we continue our drive toward Leon, the devastation of the flooding becomes very obvious. Even in the fields that were not immersed in water, there is tremendous damage to crops. This will be particularly devastating to Nicaragua, the poorest country in Central America. The country’s economy is overly reliant on agriculture and with the corn harvest underway this flooding could not happen at a worse time.
It is particularly difficult to witness this devastation in a country with such a tumultuous history: hurricanes, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, war, poverty, crime and corruption. The country seems to be continuously brought to the brink, but continuously it fights back. In the coming days, we will learn that the rain we are experiencing is beyond the ordinary for this time of year and has caused severe flooding in Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica. It is possible that the worst road conditions we will face are still ahead. There are reports of fatalities and entire villages being evacuated. We have seen that it doesn’t take a full-blown hurricane to tear up these poor mountainous countries.
As we head down the road, the sun does come out, but only for a short time before we are once again donning our rain gear. We are headed to the historic city of Leon, the dusty bullet-scarred city which was once the capital of the nation. It lost its title in 1852, but has been at the forefront of Nicaraguan politics ever since and was a focal point during the Sandinista revolution – an event that we would soon learn a lot about.
Driving through Nicaragua, it is hard to avoid the smiling face of the incumbent president, Daniel Ortega. He is everywhere. It feels more than a wee bit like Big Brother is watching. Posters proclaiming his loyalty to the people are stationed on government buildings, roadside monuments, and even trees. Each time we see a television, there he is. I imagine that this extreme publicity is due to the upcoming election, bet even with an election, this was over the top. I had to learn more about this man. Word is that he is an ex-bank robber but he did also became a veteran Sandinista leader. On becoming President, he refused to occupy the new Casa Presidencial, calling it a symbol of the opulence of the previous administration. This actually seems like a noble move to me, but we learn that such moves are not proving popular, as Nicaraguans are more concerned about where they will get their next meal than with the posturing of the President. I’m curious to see how Ortega will make out in the election.
Nicaragua’s real hope lies in its people, and despite the nastiness of everyday politics, it appears that democracy is here to stay, as is the relative freedom of speech that it entails. Nicaragua may still be the second poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, but their people are well-educated and intent on improving their lot, as we are soon to witness.
Continuing our tour of Nicaragua and approaching Granada we see a line of shiny motorbikes accompanied by their smiling, laughing riders. We can’t resist stopping to see what they are up to. The group welcomes us with open arms and we enjoy sharing stories of our travels, exchanging information on our bikes, learning about the club’s message of peace, and becoming somewhat educated on the country’s past and present politics. This group is gathered to prepare for a parade. Nicaragua’s Vice President is heading toward Granada and the group will be part of his supportive escort into the city.
Caught up in the fun and positive energy, before I know it the group has me waving the Nicaraguan flag and preparing to lead the parade. We are overwhelmed with the enthusiasm of this group and their excitement in having us join in their celebration. Minutes later, we are positioned to lead the Vice President and his supporters on their grand entrance into Granada.
As we sit waiting for the Vice President’s approach, the reality of what we are doing begins to sink in. My mind is recalling the numerous pieces of advice I had read from the Government of Canada about how to stay out of trouble in foreign countries. At the top of the “Things Not To Do” list is “participate in political rallies”. Any gatherings, particularly of a political nature are to be avoided under all circumstances.
As much as we are enjoying the company of this great group of fellow riders and wish them the best in spreading their message of peace, we recognize that participating in a parade in support of a political figure who we know virtually nothing about is really not the smartest move. Not wanting to let the group down, we lead the parade for a short while, pull off to take some photos, then let the Vice President and his supporters roll into Granada without us as we head further south toward Costa Rica, grateful for the warm reception and lessons learned.