#17 Looking forward to Nicaragua

Oh wow. I have just finished watching the Walking the Americas episode where Lev and Alberto walk through Nicaragua and I’m so glad that I have managed to fit it in. It reminded me of how on my day trip I was taken with the beautiful landscapes, the friendly atmosphere, the quaintness of the architecture and the general laid-back way of life. I realised that I had actually visited Granada that day so feel like I’m going somewhere familiar. I’m due to arrive the day before the tour starts, and am looking forward to exploring by myself before meeting up with the people I’ll be travelling with.

I’m also glad that the programme showed that Nicaragua is a safe place e.g. that they are no longer in a state of Revolution! Family are already worried about me going on this trip; I am remaining unwavering in my confidence that I will be absolutely fine (otherwise I’ll start freaking out!) but I do understand their concerns.

In July 2005 (my ex and) I went to Egypt to do a week on the Nile and a week in Sharm el-Sheik. I was glad to be escaping the UK as I had been on the tube during the London bombings on 7 July, a week or so before we left. Security at that time in Egypt was fairly high and everywhere on the Nile there were guards with big rifles slung over their shoulders. However the place is so awesome with all the temples and history and you have so much to do and see that the armed guards are part and parcel of the landscape. It was quite exciting getting up at 3.30am to join a massive convoy of buses at 5am, with armed vehicles at the front and rear and drive over the Sahara Desert to visit Abu Simbel (close to the Sudanese border). There had been incidents in tourist locations, such as the massacre at Hatshepsut’s Temple (Luxor) in 1997, but you just put it out of your mind and assumed you’d be safe.

After a great week on the Nile a few of us hopped over to Sharm for a week of relaxing. We had become friendly with a couple on their honeymoon, Raj and Min, who were staying at a different resort (we were at Naama Bay), so we decided to meet up for a snorkelling trip on the Saturday (24 July). The mini-bus was due at 8am so on the Friday evening we had gone to bed before midnight and were therefore asleep when a loud bang woke us up at about 1.15am. It sounded like a door slamming really loudly and we felt the vibration as if it was our door that had been slammed. We had a look around but all seemed quiet in the immediate area so we went back to sleep. The next morning we were waiting in the reception and saw hordes of Italian tourists with their suitcases checking out, we thought nothing of it and assumed that Saturday must be check-out day for Italians!

8am came and went and there was no sign of the bus. We’d had the forethought to take Raj’s number so eventually we sent a text to see if something had happened to the bus. The answer we received was that there was a delay as at each pick up point as there was lots of security. “Why was that?” we asked, “Because of the bomb” was the answer …. “What bomb??” we thought – then realised that the loud bang we had heard was actually a bomb going off in the next door hotel (the Movenpick).

The hordes of Italians now made sense, I believe that the Italian government (and others) had recommended that people leave so many people were trying to get home. After thinking about it for a few minutes we realised that we would probably be safer out in a boat on the red sea snorkelling than panicking in the hotel, or trying to get to the airport and fly home so we continued to wait for the bus, which eventually arrived.

We were going to old Sharm to get the snorkelling gear, but couldn’t use the main road as the debri was being cleared up so we set off through the back roads. These were evidently seldom used as there were big sand dunes literally in the middle of the road in parts, and no road at all in others, and after a hairy ride we found our way to the old town. We actually passed the Mall where one of the bombs had gone off, and saw the engine block from the car that was blown up in the middle of the road, and the emergency services staff literally pulling people out of the rubble. It was a sobering experience and we drove by quickly and found the shop. It was actually a fair distance from the Mall however its plate glass window at the front was completely cracked from the shockwave of the blast.

On hearing the news about the bomb all the other British people who had signed up for the snorkelling trip had cancelled, so the four of us were tagged onto a big group of Russians. I’ll leave the story of the snorkelling trip for another post, but needless to say it was ‘interesting’ …

As we only had a few days left of the trip we decided to show support and not change our plans, with so many people leaving the local businesses would be suffering so if we could eat at a few places and spend some money in the local area then that might help. On the Sunday evening there was a peace march past the wreckage of one of the other hotels in our area that was bombed (the Ghazala Gardens hotel) which was concealed behind a high white tarpaulin. There were lots of candles and the people were chanting “Say no to terrorism” in Arabic, we were more bystanders rather than being involved in the march but It was quite an emotional thing to witness and I still feel emotional when thinking about it.

I feel deeply for anyone who gets caught up in war or atrocities. I can’t really imagine the horror of what they must be going through, losing their loved ones, their homes, at risk of being captured, not knowing where their next meal is coming from, having to leave their country and become a refugee and live in a camp – like the people Lev and Alberto saw on Costa Rican / Nicaraguan border. We were lucky, we could get on a plane and leave it all behind but for these people, it is reality and it’s awful and shocking in this day and age.

I feel bad ending on an up-beat note after what I have just written about, however, I’m sure that I will be perfectly safe in Nicaragua and can’t wait to hike up volcanoes, visit hot springs, go zip lining or just relax on the beach until it’s time to fly to Ecuador for my volunteering.

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