Patti McGill Peterson Center for International and Intercultural Studies
Over January break, I spent three weeks in Nicaragua and Costa Rica conducting research for my senior thesis in the border regions between the two countries. As part of my research, I interviewed people about their opinions on the environment and environmental protections.
The border area is politically charged between these countries because of the San Juan River, a natural resource and natural divider. The river belongs to Nicaragua, but the watershed is partially in Costa Rica. When Costa Rica began constructing a highway parallel to the river, sedimentation from construction runoff impacted the river.
After my arrival in Nicaragua, I spent several days in León, a colonial city to the north of the capital. In León, I had to opportunity to visit Professors Steven White and Esthela Calderón in their home. Following this part of my trip, I headed to the island of Ometepe, a two volcano wonderland in the middle of the Lago de Nicaragua.
From Ometepe, I took an overnight ferry ride further south to San Carlos, the border town and transit point to get to Costa Rica, the San Juan River, or travel back to Managua. I spent the next week travelling down the river from San Carlos, to Bocas de Sábalo, El Castillo, and finally to San Juan de Nicaragua on the Caribbean coast. In many of these river communities, the only access is by water. They have no cars in town, so the main streets are walking paths. The atmosphere is extremely different from a bustling city full of cars and exhaust fumes.
Access to San Juan de Nicaragua is limited, the six-hour boat trip only happens twice a week, so most tourists turn around at El Castillo and head back upriver. I was the only gringa on the boat. Once in San Juan de Nicaragua, I spent a day exploring the many waterways and the Indio-Maíz Biological Reserve surrounding the town before returning to San Carlos myself.
From San Carlos, I crossed the border to Costa Rica and travelled to Barra del Colorado Wildlife Refuge the following day. The next day I headed to Tortuguero National Park for a brief visit, and then started back north towards the border. After a long trip on numerous buses, I realized that I was not going to reach Nicaragua that evening like I had hoped and would probably have to stay in Los Chiles, Costa Rica, which is the border town crossing point. To my surprise, I met a kind woman on the bus who invited me to her house for the evening, so instead of spending the night in a hotel, I met some wonderful new friends.After returning to Nicaragua, I conducted some interviews at a university in Managua, before flying home to start classes. I had a wonderful time exploring this part of the world and I am grateful to the donors and CIIS office for making this experience possible for me. I met many new people and the experience has helped me to clarify my understanding of the region, which will inform my senior thesis. The information that I was able to gather through interviews and my experience in the country would not have been available from the States, so I am thankful that I was able to take this trip in order to enrich my project.