From the moment my feet hit the jungle floor, the tropics began to grow within me. Ancient trees are so massive you can crawl inside, with canopies rivaling many buildings. The strange orchestral sounds of wild nature fills the night. Swinging on vines, troops of monkeys call out. Walking through the rain forest, I soon learn to track, the jaguar scat betraying feline presence. I learn plant medicine, which herb to use for tooth aches. The ancient forest and her ways excite me.
It was not until I moved down to Nicaragua, however, that I actually started to ‘get it’. I first came to Balgue, Nicaragua as an intern on a demonstration farm on the dormant side of the island.
I quickly was invited to join a soccer team by my friends on the farm. Every day after work, I would run down through the pastures, cross the river, and skip through the woods to a small, rocky soccer field in the shadow of a volcano. We often shared practice hours on the field with pigs, chickens, horses and the occasional pack of stray dogs. To get to games, we rode on an old 1980’s Russian truck, no bigger than an F-150, filling the radiator at streams crossings. We were twenty-deep, with fans and livestock in tow. I quickly became known around the island as “El Chele,” White Boy, of the Balgue Team, the only pale face in the league.
There was never a dull moment on the Balgue Fúbol Club. One time, a player on our team flying-jump-kicked a biased referee when we started losing. We were quickly chased out of the village of Las Palmas, but not before our fans had the chance to raid the town watermelon fields. We enjoyed them on the way back home! Local cane liquor from the Pulperia (which kind of reminds me of rubbing alcohol and gin) lubricated our spirits! This was a simple mens league, but for some, it was all they had to look forward to after long days in the field.
I eventually fell in love with Ometepe, this volcanic island, home to Balgue. I began to think of it as my home, too; a community full of farmers and guides who knew the land and most everything and everyone that lived on it. I eventually moved back for a year to manage the volunteer program at the farm. Like a bystander listening in on conversation between gods, I soon began to understand the language of this land. The campesinos were my priests, teaching me to read the wind.
The list of proficiencies I’ve gained is equal to the joy I experienced, learning through the people, people close to me now. I’ve come to understand how people feel about their government; about our government. I’ve learned how proud Nicaraguans are of their heritage, and why. I’ve learned how hard life can be when you have nothing. I’ve also how much can be done with a keen eye and a machete! I’ve learned how passionate a nation can be about protecting their human rights, and how powerful a voice the youth can have in a developing nation. In this country I have found nothing but kindness and love, and a true sense of community.
“Some believe it is only great power that can hold evil in check, but that is not what I have found. It is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay. Small acts of kindness and love.” – Tolkien
Currently Nicaragua is in turmoil as the Sandinista government struggles for power over its people. Originally sparked by social security reforms and a failure to accept aid for the largest rain forest-fire to date, it now seems everyone has some issue with how “President” Daniel Ortega runs the show. The flames got an additional dose of gasoline in late April, when student protesters were fired upon and attacked by police and pro-government groups, killing upwards of 45 people, many of them young students under twenty. Now, farmers are joining hands with students and even former Sandinistas are calling Ortega to “ fuera or muere,” (get out or die). Many of my friends are now having to choose whether to flee or fight for what they believe in. The violence has definitely slowed down, but the protests have not; Ortega and his regime are slowly being backed into a corner. As I continue to watch things play out for my friends in Nicaragua, I can’t help but think:
I will be going back in August to a different country altogether.
Originally a South Carolinian, Lee Cherry recently moved to Bonedale from Central America, where he has lived for the past 3 years. There he farmed and guided alongside locals, making lifelong connections and having truly authentic experiences. He is currently developing an adventure travel company, “Venture Locally”, to connect people to other cultures through responsible tourism. He can often be seen wandering around the mountains looking at specimens or playing banjo. He spends most of his time learning and exploring. Currently on a road trip, check out his Instagram @bruceleeofthejungle.