Friday, January 27, 2017

But what if I get sick?

I mentioned in a previous post that I was overly worried about getting sick on my trip to Nicaragua when I first came down. Today I'm going to go a bit more into detail about what I've learned and actually some fairly useful information I didn't know about the medical system in Nicaragua.

Ironically, as I write this I am in fact rather sick. No, not Malaria... nor dengue... nope not Zika. No there is not a gigantic worm crawling out of my eye socket.... I have a cold. Yesterday I went to a "Farmacia" and spent about $1 on some kind of cold pills recommended by the employee there and I'm feeling a lot better now. Pharmacies in Nicaragua are very common and easy to find, even in the smallest communities. Furthermore they are very inexpensive. They sell the same medications you are used to, even the same brand names at a fraction of the cost you would pay in north america. The medicines they sell you are just as strong, they are not different. Some of the local brand names are in fact more effective.

Now, lets say its something more serious and you need to see a doctor. Being from Canada I'm really not used to the Idea of paying for medical services, but I understand that in the US the thinking is that "you get what you pay for" in terms of medical treatment. Nicaragua has both private and public health services. There are private doctors, hospitals, and clinics that charge a wide range of prices for their services. There are also public clinics and hospitals which are a bit more commonplace. The public health services in Nicaragua are 100% free, sometimes including the medications they prescribe you. This includes foreigners. On my first trip I spent a ton of money on health insurance only to find out the doctors here are free, no one told me that. You as a foreigner can in fact come to Nicaragua, walk into the health center and be treated without paying a single Cordoba and no one will look at you funny (However you do need to speak Spanish or bring an interpreter).

Many people coming from countries where it is necessary to pay for medical treatment tend to feel that paying more will result in a better treatment. Now, its not my place to make medical decisions for people, that is up to you. But from my experience and those of friends and family, the idea that "you get what you pay for" does not apply in Nicaragua. Many private doctors have a bad reputation here in Nicaragua, and some of the most expensive and prestigious private hospitals have a long track record of botched operations. The doctors in the public health centers are often more experienced, as they deal with anyone and everyone that comes to them. The clients of the private doctors are almost exclusively wealthy tourists that come to them once in a blue moon. Another myth is that the public health centers are "filthy" and "disgusting". This might be true of one or two hospitals but they are the exception not the rule. Most are clean, efficient, and well equipped.

I also was quite worried about getting all the "injections" that I needed before coming to Nicaragua. I thought that I had to have certain vaccinations or I wouldn't be allowed off the plane when I arrived, and as such had a printout of my vaccination history. This wasn't true... and honestly I wasted a lot of time worrying about taking care of medical things before leaving for Nicaragua. I also had that mistaken attitude that Nicaraguan doctors were somehow inferior and couldn't help me if I got sick down here. In reality, Nicaraguan doctors know a lot about Nicaraguan illnesses. In my opinion, one is better off to wait until they are here and ask a local if they have some health problems. An illness that is common and easily treated in Nicaragua might be unheard of and have no treatment available in Canada or the US. Parasites for example are super easy to take care of in Nicaragua. The pills are available everywhere and they are dirt cheap, and they do work.

These are just my opinions, your decisions about health matters should not be based on the ideas of any one person, but hopefully this information will help anyone coming down here to make an informed decision about what kind of medical care to choose, and maybe address some fears that people may have before making a trip. Good health to you!

Friday, January 20, 2017

Volcano Boarding, Finally!

When I first was planning to come down to Nicaragua, one of the things I saw on the Internet and really wanted to do was Volcano Boarding. And recently, I finally had the opportunity to do it!

Now, what comes to your mind when you hear the words "Volcano boarding"? What you imagine is, unfortunately, probably a lot more awesome than it really is. No, I was not riding down a glowing red lava river on a snowboard. That would be neat though. Actually, volcano boarding is riding a wooden sled down the slope of an active volcano, but not on lava. It has to be the type of volcano that spews ash. When you have this kind of volcano, on the down-wind side the soft black ash collects and reaches a near snow-like consistency, allowing one to slide down the slope as if tobogganing.

To do the trip we left Jinotepe in the morning, a long with a group friends and family including Jean's younger brother and his girlfriend visiting from Australia. We took the bus to Managua, and then another to Leon. From Leon we met up in the office of the tour business, which also offered tours of the rum factory near by in Chinandega... That may have to be on our next trip. They took us by bus down a dusty road, which eventually became completely black as we got closer to the volcano. The ash from the same Cerro Negro volcano had blanketed the entire landscape in soft, black ash.

We got to another small office at the base of the volcano, and were able to see on the horizon a string of active volcanoes that reach from the northern parts of Nicaragua, all the way to Ometepe Island. They told us that all of these volcanoes are active and are connected to each other. Cerro Negro stands out because it is completely black, covered from top to bottom by ash and stands about 600 meters high.

We were each given a bag, containing a denim jump suit for protection, a pair of gloves, and a pair of safety goggles. We were also given a board. What I didn't know, is that we had to carry all that all the way up to the top of the 600 meter high volcano. And there was no "path", we had to hike it over the rocks at a 45 degree angle, some times steeper. The hike was completely exhausting. You cannot do this tour if you are not in very good shape. If you have heart problems or asthma or any kind of disability, don't do this. I'm 26 and felt like I would die by the time I got to the top.

That being said, the view was worth it. At the top you are walking along the ridge of the crater of an active volcano, on your left is a steep drop to the bottom of a huge mountain, and on the right a smoldering pit of steam and sulfur. (Insert obligatory ash-hole joke) Its so high up that you can see the ocean on one side, and the rest of the country on the other side. This is a moment few people get to experience in their life, so its totally worth it, even if you can't work up the nerve to slide down. When you're on the down-wind side of the crater you can smell the volcano, which smells quite similar to spent matches. Inside the crater there are many different colors of rock, mostly black, red, and yellow. There is also a rather ominous bulge in the center, but hopefully some volcanologists are on top of that already.

Volcanic Ridge

The Crater

Before we slid down we walked around to a secondary crater, where we could see steam coming out of the ground, and if we dug a small hole with our shoes in the gravel, we could put our hands on the ground and feel the warmth and moisture coming through. The deeper one dug the hotter it would get, to the point that the moisture would boil and create steam, just from digging a few inches.

The Rim
Then came the time to slide down. I was really scared actually. The further up you go, the less you want to slide down, but there's no turning back as the side you climb up is too rocky and treacherous to try and climb back down. The only safe way to get back down is to slide. We got to the "track" where we were supposed to slide and I thought "this has to be a joke" the angle is easily more than 45 degrees and back in Canada no sane person would sled down a hill like that. I also thought that you only slide part way, but no. You slide from the top to the VERY BOTTOM OF THE ENTIRE MOUNTAIN.

Well, despite extreme terror and seriously regretting coming this far I slid down. And actually, it wasn't as bad as I thought. There is a lot more friction than there is when sliding on snow so you don't actually go that fast, and you do have control because you dig your feet into the ash to steer and control your speed. I was actually overly cautious and went a bit slower than necessary. I'll definitely be doing this again but next time I won't brake so much so that I can get some speed.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Looking back

Its now coming close to 5 years since I first came to Nicaragua. I've since then learned a language, a new culture, and gotten married. Needless to say my view of things is not the same as what it was before. Its been more than two continuous years since I last set foot in Canada. Now the idea of going back there seems more challenging than staying here. Visa runs are now nothing more than a minor inconvenience and before long they will be a thing of the past as I will soon qualify for permanent residency. Thankfully I was also able to find work online. I have to get up quite early in the morning and it took quite a long time desperately searching before I found this one, but now our situation is significantly more stable. Honestly I don't think our financial situation would be any better off in Canada considering how much higher expenses are there.

In this post I'm going to outline some things I've learned, in contrast with some things I thought before. Some attitudes that I've personally had to change and some that I've observed as well. First of all, in terms of safety Nicaragua is not as dangerous as I thought. On my first trip down I was terrified. I was sure that death was waiting around every corner, partly because of things I had been told and partly because of the attitude I had towards "third world" countries. In North America we are taught to be "thankful for what we have" because in other countries people are poor and suffering. When you get older you learn labels like "First world" and "third world". These phrases actually have nothing to do with economics in reality. They originated during the cold war, "first world" countries being those aligned with the United States, i.e. Canada, European countries, etc. "Second world" countries referred to those aligned with the Soviet Union and having a communist ideology, such as China and Cuba. Third world countries were those that did not have ties to any of the aforementioned countries. Most of Africa is considered third world since they were not involved. This means that in reality, Nicaragua is a second world country.

This thinking leads one to imagine that everything is better in one's country compared to the lives of those in these "poor" countries. This also leads unfortunately to a feeling of superiority that I have to admit I had at the beginning. I used to think that because Nicaragua and other "poor countries" are so "bad" that they must be doing everything wrong, and that we do things better in Canada. I've come to realize that people are happier here, and although there are a lot of social and economic problems, we have other issues up north too. Political stability in Satan's world is of course an illusion, so the risk of "something happening" and having to flee the country is quite real in whatever country you live in. To think otherwise is simply being naive.

I was also unnecessarily afraid of disease. Things are not any less clean here, and infectious diseases are no less of a threat in Canada than they are here. Most of the "horrible tropical diseases" are easily treated with very cheap, common medicines that you can buy on any street corner. As for parasites, I thought if I got "a parasite" it would surely take me to my death bed. But guess what, according to some sources 85% of the world's population has parasites, plural. Parasites are everywhere and mostly inconsequential. You get sick when they get out of control. Canada, United States, Europe... these places also do in fact have parasites. If you eat food, you probably have them already.

Some things are different that may be a shock when you first get here, but after a while you realize that those things were not so important. For example houses here rarely have screens in the windows, or ceilings. But most of the country is nearly bug free compared to Alberta in the summer time. In places with more bugs, its too hot in the day for them to come out so you only see mosquitoes at night, and in those places people use mosquito nets. Even in those places Malaria is rare and something that people get once or twice in a lifetime if at all. And contrary to what one doctor in Canada told me, if you get malaria you won't be a vegetable for the rest of your life. Its a bad case of aches and fever.

When we look at the houses people live in here, people from North America may be inclined to think "oh no, poor people look what they have to live in". But a lot of times the houses here are basic small simply because of the Nicaraguan culture, their viewpoint that its generally bad to over complicate things. People here LIKE things basic. They LIKE living in the bush and seeing nature all around them. They don't WANT to look after a huge mansion when they spend most of their time in one or two rooms. When Nicaraguans have money, they would rather spend it on fancy food and well aged rum than putting in a swimming pool.

Food is different, obviously. A lot of things aren't so available here, like cheddar cheese for example. But thats again simply because different cultures eat different foods. There are some very nice, well stocked grocery stores here. When I first came down, we had been told that if we lived in Bluefields we would have to travel two hours in a boat to go to the city and buy food. I don't know why they thought that, Bluefields has everything. Street food is also quite often safe to eat, especially if its fried. And if you do eat something thats not ok (which also happens in Canada) it just sends you to the bathroom, not to the morgue.

In this time, I've really come to feel at home here in Nicaragua, and gradually I'm starting to feel like I have more in common with the locals than those back in Canada. We're also very happy to have some of my family here. After a lot of hard work convincing them my sister and her husband, and two children have permanently relocated to Nicaragua and I'm actually posting this from their house. You can see my sister's blog about their experiences

March 23rd 2019

Well we finished our move up higher into the mountains, but then found out the situation was quite different than what we had been told. Wit...