Twisters & Tarantulas (September 2001)

These are some observations from my long-awaited trip to Nicaragua and the return back to ground zero …

I got back to DC from Managua yesterday afternoon. They cancelled the bus service from Dulles airport so it is either a $50 cab ride taking 1/2 hour or bus & metro that takes over an hour. National airport, which is much closer, is closed indefinitely since it is so near the White House but they’ll have to open it soon for all the politicians who, like everyone else, hate Dulles, as it is way out of town. The plane that hit the Pentagon left from Dulles and they claimed to be improving their security but on the way out and back in again I noticed no meaningful changes, other than being given two forks to eat the food with. They pay the security people next to nothing and provide no meaningful training or other benefits, as they get in Europe, and still expect them to notice terrorists boarding planes? I don’t think so! Still this has not deterred me from getting on a plane – how else will I get home!

I was back in my apartment less than 30 minutes before I looked out the window and saw a tornado/twister coming down from a huge black cloud next to the Washington monument (that pointy white thing). It looked like a thin line. Everything was going nuts – rain, wind, thunder, lightening and now this. Less than ten minutes later it had passed through the district and on to a university where it killed two students, destroyed a building, crushed some cars and toppled some trees. And to think I had come back expecting some man-made disaster to strike!

Nicaragua is awesome – they have beautiful beaches, lakes, volcanoes and all sorts of cool animals, food, and music. And the rest of the world still think they are at war! There is a battle going on but it is through the ballot box, as elections will take place in less than 6 weeks. All the bases of the palm trees were painted pink for Daniel Ortega’s Frente Sandinista de Liberation Nacional (FSLN) party (a change from their old colours of red & black). There were also blue flags flying for the conservative Liberal Alliance, which is currently in power. Everyone I talked to told me that both parties are equally incompetent and corrupt. There is a terrible poverty, exacerbated by Hurricane Mitch in 1998, corrupt authorities and by policies brought about to comply with IMF and World Bank requests. Kids tugging at your clothes asking for money. In Managua itself, there is no centre as all of downtown was destroyed by a massive earthquake in the 1970s and never rebuilt.

Despite the events in the U.S., over 80 governments and 100 campaigners attended the meeting I was there for. The Nicaraguan Ministry of Foreign Affairs did some fantastic work to prepare for the conference and made everyone feel much more welcome than we do in Geneva, which is the reason we were there. Our report on compliance with the ban was warmly received and I didn’t get beat up by nearly as many governments as I had anticipated. I got food poisoning after one of the cocktail parties and teased endlessly for not drinking by my friends in the campaign. I practiced my Spanish on some poor, unknowing people!

I stayed on over the weekend to see something other than the conference center and our hotel. We went to Granada on Saturday, which is the third-largest city in the country and ate lunch by the lake that has fresh water sharks. Saw alligators, turtles, lizards, monkeys, birds and encountered all sorts of bugs. Went to a market where I also saw many of
The same animals but this time as shoes, bags and other items I could probably bring back into Dulles without anyone noticing.

On Sunday I found a swimming pool and then headed out of town again, this time to a volcano. In the forest and coffee plantation on the side of the volcano, we did some eco-tourism which involved putting on a harness and all sorts of strange gear, climbing 30 (? it was very high!) metres up a huge tree to a platform where you are hooked up to a wire (like a flying fox) and then pushed off to literally fly through the jungle to the next tree where there is another platform and the next tree and so on. Like Tarzan and we were screaming like he does too. The only problem was that we had been out so late the night before at some parties that we turned up late in the afternoon and by the time were up in the trees it was dark! Couldn’t see the tarantulas, howling monkeys and other goodies they had in store. But I recommend to anyone – they should try it in NZ!

I tried my hardest to miss my plane home as Nicaragua would be one of the better places to be stuck in should something happen. It was way too short. During the week I found myself constantly reasserting my identity as a New Zealander by wearing my bone carving and explaining my messed-up accent. My colleagues are terribly concerned about what is going to happen next. Whatever it is, I hope I’m not in DC to witness it this time! See you later…