Bluefields is on the Caribbean coast of Nicaragua, its a city of about 70,000 people (there are many conflicting statistics on the actual population). The eastern half of Nicaragua is divided into two departments (similar to provinces or states). Despite the large geographical area, this half of the country contains only 5% of the country's population, mostly along the coast. So the few communities there are fairly isolated and because of this there are no roads going to Bluefields, which made this the most interesting journey of my life. I hope to top it some day but its not going to be easy.
One of the La Concha brothers owned a truck, so he and a few others from the congregation helped us load our baggage into the truck and drove us to Jinotepe, where we met up with Javier. We spent the night at his house and slept on the floor in the living room. The next day he had organized a going away party and BBQ for the evening. We got to eat meat from an animal called a Peliguay.
The next day we went down to Managua. Jinotepe, La concha, and Sta. Teresa are all in the mountains, and to go further east we needed to take a bus from the capital. While in Managua we ate at McDonalds for the first time in months, and it tasted wonderful. However, after finishing my bacon cheeseburger I came to realize my body had become accustomed to Nicaraguan food, and the burger just didn't sit right.
After getting a few things in Managua we were taken to the bus terminal. We bought our tickets in advance, which was unusual since normally in Nicaragua you just get on the bus and they collect your money once the bus is moving. The bus was quite a bit nicer than the normal buses as well, it wasn't a refurbished school bus and it had comfortable seats. The bus took us as far as El Rama, in the middle of the South Atlantic Autonomous Region. We left at around 2 in the afternoon, and the trip was 5 hours long. We stopped briefly a long the way and people got on the bus to sell snacks and drinks. We bought Quesillas (not sure about the spelling) which we were told were safe to eat. A Quesillo is a tortilla, with a slice of cheese on top, and shredded lettuce, folded in half with a white sauce poured over it. They serve it inside a plastic bag, and you bite a hole in the bag and suck out the contents. The tortilla dissolves in the sauce and the result, although messy is delicious. It also agreed with me much more than the american food we had in Managua.
El Rama was a very interesting place. My first impressions were that Tarzan must live here, and that we had left civilization behind. Along the way we had contacted some of the congregation in Rama by phone, and they had arranged for two sisters to meet us when we got off the bus. It was dark when we arrived, and I remember seeing one of the sisters out the window gesturing for me to throw my suitcase out the window of the bus so she could catch it. We decided to wait for the crowd to clear off the bus rather than hurling 50lb suitcases out the window.
I was a bit nervous, as Rama is a very busy place especially at the bust terminal and it was well after dark. The sisters took us to a house where there was a gathering going on. As we were walking I heard someone say "Good evening!" It caught my attention because I hadn't heard much English during the past month and a half. "Are you looking for the bus?" said a man with a clipboard. "No, thanks... I'm with them" I replied, and pointed into the crowd. "Oh... ok then" he said. I think he was confused, I was probably the only other white guy in the entire town and somehow had connections. I met him and his group again later in service, I think they were a group of students studying the rainforest and he was the teacher.
When we got to the house there was a big group of people, mostly in their 20s studying for that weeks meeting as a group. They were all regular pioneers from Mexico, and other parts of Nicaragua who were in a program called "La Ruta de Precusores" where the Mexico branch sends pioneers to remote territories for 3 months at a time. The sisters who met us at the bus were from Masaya, Nicaragua and the brother conducting the study was from Veracruz, Mexico. They were a diverse and energetic group and it didn't take us long to make a lot of friends. The sister who owned the house brought everyone food and we got into the study. We hadn't even unpacked and we still had our backpacks, ready to pass out from the exhaustion of carrying our bags halfway across town, but we joined in on the study anyway.
After the study, one of the brothers there who owned a moto-taxi took us to the home where we would be staying for the next 3 days. The house was made of wooden planks on a concrete pad, with a zinc sheet metal roof. A very typical Nicaraguan home. It didn't have plumbing, but they did have electricity and WiFi. We each got a bed in a room that had a hole in the floor, where there was a pvc pipe that went out to the gutter on the street. This was where we brushed our teeth and shaved. The bathroom had a similar layout, except that it was separate and had a shower curtain to serve as a door, and it had a toilet connected to the sewer.
In the morning we had home made corn tortillas and black coffee for breakfast, then headed off to the service group. In the light of day, Rama is a stunningly beautiful place. Three rivers intersect the town, people who live further out in the country use them for transportation. Long narrow wooden boats (similar to canoes) called dories are used to transporting people and goods across the river and down to the different farms. There are many houses with grass roofs and ones built on stilts, in contrast with the Spanish style houses seen in the western parts of Nicaragua. The gutters are almost big enough to drive in, which gives you a hint about what kind of rains they get. Everywhere there isn't a street or a house is thick jungle. Trees often have vines growing up around the trunk.
The heat was hard to bare. It was much more humid in Rama, and I was getting dizzy even though I drank about a liter of water within a few hours. No one seemed to have a thermometer, all I know is I had never felt heat like that in my life. I didn't know the human body could sweat that much. Despite the heat though we had a great time in service. The people were very friendly and receptive to the message, it was clear that starting studies here was no challenge.
We stayed for two or three nights. We tried to give the family that we were staying with some money for room and board, but they refused to take it. They really showed how you don't need to be wealthy to be generous.
It was time to go to Bluefields. The road that we came on ends at El Rama. To go any further one must go by boat down the River Escondido. At the main wharf in Rama we bought our tickets to Bluefields. In order to get to Bluefields you have two options. Option one is to get a ticket on a "barco" which is a cargo ship that comes in several sizes. This method costs less, and takes about 6 hours to reach Bluefields. Option two is the Panga. A Panga is a speedboat that can hold about 10-14 people safely. Usually there are 16 passengers plus the driver. This option is a bit more expensive (still very cheap) and takes 2 hours. We took the Panga. Our luggage was placed in the bow of the boat with a plastic tarp over it to keep things dry. We were each given a chunk of orange foam which the captain referred to as a life jacket. After some initial engine trouble we were off. The front end of the boat lifted up off the water and a huge arc of water trailed the boat as we went speeding down the river.
The river opened up into the Bay of Bluefields, and we could see the city on our right, and the Caribbean sea on our left. A Creole English speaking brother was waiting for us at the dock, and he took us to a cab. On the way to the cab we walked down several alley ways where larger homes and restaurants with balconies overlooked the narrow walkway, I'm glad we had a guide or it would have been easy to get lost. I had always loved the Jamaican accent and I was thrilled the first time he said "mon".
Bluefields blew my mind. Until this point the further east we traveled the less modern and the more wild things looked. But Bluefields had paved roads, taxis that were real cars and three story buildings. Despite being notorious for heavy rains Bluefields generally gets a lot of sun, and today was very bright, which really brought out the colors of the buildings. Every building was a different color, deep blue, purple green... Everything was different though. It seemed like somehow we had ended up in another country. People were speaking English, the architecture was different, the climate was different, and the food was different.
As I mentioned earlier Bluefields has a population somewhere around 70,000. Not more than 100,000 and not less than 30,000. Although Spanish is still the official language here, many of the local people speak English as their first language, although many consider it to be a different language and call it Creole, because of the dialect and heavy accent. I stayed here for three memorable months, helping in the English congregation. I stayed with a local Creole family whose kindness and hospitality I will never forget. I'm sure they saved my life a few times thanks to their advice and care which helped me to thrive in a completely foreign environment. My travelling companion, Dai Jun continued on to Corn island where he served in a Spanish congregation.
Kingdom hall in Bluefields
View of Bluefields from the Clair home