Translated from Spanish, the Rio Escondido is the “Hidden River.” It is in the far eastern part of Nicaragua and empties into the Atlantic Ocean.
With 10 Wilmington College (WC) students, my wife and five-year-old son, we were crossing Nicaragua to visit friends of the family with whom we lived for eight weeks in Managua, the capital of Nicaragua.
WC had been designated as a sister college to the National Autonomous University of Nicaragua in 1969, and I had been selected to take students there to establish the relationship.
We were on our way to the Atlantic coastal village of Bluefields.
This topic emerged this morning as I asked my wife what she wanted for breakfast and she responded that she wanted fresh fruit that included some pineapple — but not too much of that fruit, as she remembered our stop at Rama (translated “branch”) on the way to Bluefields, where we split a whole pineapple on our trip across Nicaragua.
Her memory was clear since the not-very-ripe pineapple burned her mouth.
Rama is a frontier village where boats were loaded and unloaded taking goods from coast to coast. This was the dry season so there was plenty of river traffic.
I can remember so clearly the men loading and unloading the boat we were to take as they sang the Calypso songs of the Caribbean – it was like being at a Harry Belafonte fest. As is so common in much of the world’s remote regions, there were just two restaurants in Rama, both run by Chinese workers and providing good Chinese food.
There were no rooms in the boat where we could spend the overnight trip down the river, but mats were provided on the deck. As we passed during the night and the next morning, the noises of the jungle and the occasional houses standing eight or 10 feet above the earth on stilts gave one the feeling of being in another world – which we were.
Some of the students being unaware of the sleeping norms inside the boat discovered hammocks tied in bundles and hanging from the rafters and started to help themselves, but were deterred with little conversation — they belonged to local travelers.
Two books I have read and reviewed for the WNJ concerning this coast evoke some memories for me, vis-à-vis this trip. First is “The Miskito Coast” which was made into a movie (historically known as the “Miskito Coast”) – a somewhat silly story of a family from Boston that went to the Miskito Coast to build a gigantic air conditioner, which, of course, failed. And, second, “The Land That Never Was”, a history of an Englishman who sent desperate settlers to a mythical land in the same region to seek their fortune.
It was a total fraud – as I commented, it made Bernie Madoff look like a novice.
It was a brief stay on the coast with local very poor folks arranged by a priest. The most memorable event for my family was a meal we had with a very poor woman in her home.
The lunch was a soup which had set for some time as we were late arriving, and that waiting time was just enough for ants to invade our soup. I was certain that ants swimming in our soup was simply too much for my wife who was just possibly a bit too particular to endure this humiliation.
But, alas, she came through, as they say, with flying colors. In went the spoon to the murky mix like a life-saver rescuing each of the struggling survivors, which were then set free on the table, and my victorious wife downed the life-giving soup like it was served at the best hotel!
The residents of this remote coastal location are primarily Garifuna people who are a racial mixture of African and Native American. Like so many Third-World people, they struggle to survive and, when possible, they move to larger cities in the countries in which they live. Many hope to come to, and some realize coming to, the U.S.
The many sources on the internet indicate that, of the current 300,000 Garifuna people in the world, most live along the coast in Central America, but many also live in the U.S. and Canada, although no numbers are given.
Neil Snarr is Professor Emeritus at Wilmington College.