For the past couple of months our little family has been getting grounded in the Central American gem of Nicaragua. We can’t lay claim to a wholly spiritual grounding at this point (unless you count Flor De Cana, the national liquid spirit that comes to us regularly at sunset). What we are doing is staying in just one country, and not leaving anywhere in a hurry. With a lot of relaxing and a little yoga thrown in, it is rather grounding.
The little exploring we have been doing has been Nicaragua-based and by road. While to date, we’ve avoided locking our kids in the car again, we have successfully ferried our tribe to the volcanic island of Ometepe. Here, monkeys swung from fertile mangroves and we swam in what seemed like a sea but in fact, was a massive fresh water lake full of turtles and fish. Another time we also explored the colonial gem that is Granada and we tasted a bit of the Nica nightlife, but for the most part, we’ve been immersing ourselves in a small coastal enclave known as Hacienda Iguana, or as I fondly call it, Iguanaland.
I only actually saw my first iguana yesterday. For a place with an iguana as its identity tag, the population ain’t strong. I’m told there are more around but I think the country’s burgeoning feral cat population has something to do with it. Nonetheless, where there are few iguanas, there are plenty of other lounging lizards soaking up the hacienda vibes. Some of them drink Toña and play volleyball on the beach. After almost 3 months of immersing in Iguanaland, I’m officially part of this satisfied species.
Hacienda Iguana is a gated community about 3 hours south west of the capital Managua. Situated on a huge tract of land that hugs a precious chunk of the Emerald Coast of Nicaragua, this place is home to a mix of ex-pats, Nicaraguans, and a plethora of wildlife.
When I say wildlife, I mean wild. Families of howler monkeys wake you with their roars in the early morning as they swing past in the treetops with their babies. Birds of every description nest, swoop and show off in the natural flora and along the coastline. Every afternoon hundreds of pelicans fly south along the wave break, gliding in formation or pummeling schools of fish like raiding dive bombers. It’s a perilous situation for the fish, but it’s impressive to see these glorious, silhouetted slayers swooping against a setting sun.
Then there are the turtles. Sharing the ocean and the beach with these beauties is a true blessing! And in Iguanaland, various businesses team together to help protect the endangered Paslama turtle through a nursery project. If the eggs aren’t first poached by hungry humans or certain men who sell the eggs with the promise of increasing virility, the nests are saved by Iguanaland locals and nurtured (safe from cats and poachers) until they hatch. Under the careful watch of this team, we local iguanalanders are able to help the baby turtles make their maiden voyage to the Pacific Ocean.
Of course not all wildlife is welcome in my heart and home. The rogue cats are my number one concern. Not only are they decimating the native animal population, one feline is so crafty that it knows how to slide open our screen door and prowl in to clean up the kitchen bench at midnight! This wouldn’t be soooo annoying, if we hadn’t recently removed a boa constrictor who was curled up at the front door one night. My heart does backflips when I think about that particular visitor, combo that with the cat’s open door policy and the fact that my baby is sleeping on a floor-level travel cot. I rectify it all with a slightly paranoid but thorough daily sweep of the room before sleeps, and I figure, maybe the scorpions will scare the snakes away. Symbiosis in Nicaragua! Minus the cat.
Culturally, Iguanaland is a bit of a bubble. Being a gated community means limited access unless you own or rent somewhere on the hacienda. This model of safe albeit somewhat elitist living means the culture here is vastly different to the Nicaraguan one that thrives in its own way, outside the gates. Iguanaland can feel more North American with splashes of Nicaragua and if you don’t leave, you might end up with a yankee accent. Just sayin’, ya’ll.
Some expats we met living outside the bubble cheekily said “If we wanted to go to California, we’d come to Hacienda Iguana”. I corrected them- most people are actually from Florida! And what’s wrong with that? They are some of the best on ground! Not to mention the Russians, Polish, Venezuelans, Spanish, Uruguayans, Canadians and wild women from the Basque country mixed in with a good helping of Nicaraguans! Representing the southern block of the planet, there is even a family of Kiwis and now as the token Aussies, we are adding to the mix and churning up a culture in this somewhat sheltered but delightful melting pot!
It’s hard not to feel we’ve found paradise when we start our day drinking coffee at the beach and playing in tidal pools with our kids. Once our hair is wet and our souls are salted, I dinky (double) my son on a bike to his Montessori preschool where he thrives in a bilingual education system and makes friendships with Nicas and Expats alike. Afternoons are equally difficult to dislike. Converging down at the beach volleyball net, we generally see out the day with a surf or by toasting to life with good mates while our kids play in (or eat) the sand. It’s an lucid dream but when I wake up, I find I’m still in it.
This little community is made up of good people giving it a good crack to settle in Nicaragua and make a livelihood and contribution both inside and outside of the bubble. Importantly, we don’t have to lock our doors at night and we fear nothing (except what the cat lets in). We also leave the bubble regularly as most people here do, lest we go crazy or become a permanent fixture at the happy-hour bar. We jump in the car and head down the dirt highway, dodging cattle crossing the street and counting pigs on the roadside. As we see our kids’ hearts open to the people and their eyes open to the wild and rugged land that is Nicaragua, we feel ourselves striking the perfect balance of safety and adventure.
Iguanaland has us hooked and happy. Nicaragua has us wanting more. As a result, we have decided to stay longer. Don’t ask how long… we don’t even know! One thing we do know, if you’re coming to visit (and you should), you just might find yourself immersed a little longer than expected as well. Consider yourself warned.