It is often said necessity breeds innovation, and this is no truer than in Nicaragua. Statistically Nicaragua is the poorest country in Latin America and the second poorest in the entire Western Hemisphere. However, Nicaraguans do not let themselves be defined by finances, but instead work to create incredible innovations, inventive solutions and a fantastic attitude that make up the most beautiful country I’ve ever seen.
Nicaragua on a global scale
Nicaragua, could like other developing countries, throw environmental concerns to the wayside and focus purely on economic improvement but they don’t. Why? Because like most other countries affected frequently by natural disasters our global environmental crisis impacts on a completely different level.
Whilst in England climate change gives us hotter summers or light flooding, in Nicaragua you can fully see the devastation that natural disasters, exacerbated by global warming, bring. Anecdotally, visitors to Nicaragua often remark on the humbleness of Managua, the capital, in comparison to other cities like Granada or Leon. This lack of grandeur is solely because Managua has had to rebuild itself multiple times already due to these terrible natural disasters.
As our planet becomes sicker and sicker these natural disasters are only getting worse
It is clear something needed to change, so Nicaragua took a stand and controversially was one of only 3 countries that chose not to sign the Paris Climate agreement in 2015. The reasoning; the proposed climate actions simply weren’t enough. Though Nicaragua later changed its mind and joined to show “solidarity” with the other “victims” of climate change, it was and still is obvious that Nicaragua knows its fate, and the fate of other tropical countries, if we continue as we are.
Which country comes out on top?
Which brings me to my title; what is the most environmentally friendly country to travel to (in my humble opinion)? It should come as no surprise after spending paragraphs talking about one country the winner is (drum roll please)
I’m sure you have stood up from your seat saying “but what about Costa Rica?!?” “Iceland uses nearly completely renewable energy!?!”
The big difference (for me) is that due to lesser level of development Nicaragua inherently uses less energy and resources. Even if you use nearly 100% fossil fuels it is much easier to make less of an enviromental impact if there is less to sustain (comparatively to for example using 50% natural resources when you have multiple major metropolitan cities).
I am not going to sit here and say every single reason for why I think Nicaragua is environmentally friendly was made to save the planet and be a green bean. A lot of things on these list are purely practical or economical but happen to do so much good at the same time, and, to quote Hannah Montana, isn’t that the best of both worlds!
Lets start with the big 3 R’s…
1) REDUCE- Less household emissions
As mentioned above it is inherently easier to be more environmentally friendly if you naturally use less resources.
2 very practical examples of this in Nicaragua are the lack of hot water and AC. I did not have a hot shower the entire time I lived in Nicaragua and I washed all my clothes in cold water. If something was particularilly gross I would have to boil it on the stove in a dirty clothes stew.
I also only experience air conditioning once in my entire time there in a posh mall in Managua which was, ironically, filled to the brim with winter coats (who needs a puffa jacket in the tropics?!?)
Maybe this sounds completely alien to some, but this is life out here. And you know what… it works! (and is fantastic for the environment). When you think of how little Nicaragua uses as a country in comparison to how many American shopping malls, cinemas, gyms etc. have AC blasting for so much of the year it is just depressing.
2) RE-USING old items
In Nicaragua there is no fast fashion, in fact, the only thing that is fast are the buses waheeyy. I bought some of my favourite clothing in Nicaragua, and you know what… almost 100% of it was second hand. Though vintage shopping has become a trendy recently it is just life in Nicaragua. In Granada there are boutiques where you can buy new clothes but at around 5-10X the price of market clothes it really doesn’t make sense for the average person. This means nearly all clothes that are being bought are being given a second home, which massively reduces their global footprint.
And I cant lie, the Nicaraguan clothes markets are LIT! Most of the items are old clothes sent over from America and I got some absolute bargains! 30 cordobas ($1) for some American Apparel shorts- hit me up!
And when your clothes or shoes break, do you throw them away? Of course not! This throwaway attitude is not somethings that neither I nor Nicaraguans share. Logistically if you have little money it makes no sense to not try to get the most bang out of your buck per item. The cost to repair is so much less than buying something new so naturally there is a re-using culture.
It is extremely common when walking along any busy Nicaraguan market to see the repairmen who sit with their sewing machines re-heeling shoes and sewing handbags. Hell! My solitary pair of sandals broke so much that the shoe repairman started fixing them for free in the end!
3) RECYCLING is valued
It is not uncommon to see people walking round the streets with a shopping trolley full of old plastic bottles. Whilst the first time you see this, it is undeniably a bit of a WTF moment it all actually makes a lot of sense. Many places will pay money for returned plastic bottles/ recycling, so collecting rubbish off the streets to be recycled becomes another way to make ends meet. Though maybe the majority of people are only doing this for financial reward, quite frankly, does it matter? It reduces the amount of rubbish on the streets, in streams and in nature, whilst recycling and reusing precious plastic and supplying employment for struggling people. In my opinion it is genius!
You also CANNOT leave any bar with a glass bottle. At first I thought it was like England where they do that to avoid people from bottling each other (absolute class) but after asking some local bouncers I got told that by returning the bottles to be reused each time the bars and restaurants can buy the drinks for cheaper. Ultimately money talks, so if this is motivation to help fight to save our plantet, I’m down.
4) Sharing is caring
Even private transport in Nicaragua is never fully private. The taxis are always shared (unless you specify otherwise) meaning that before you get to your stop you may be stopping off at everyone else’s house first. Though this may make your journey a little longer, lets be honest I’m ever on time anyway!
By sharing taxis this really helps to reduce the enviromental impact of each car. However, no example of passenger per vehicle is a better than the infamous chicken buses. You may feel like a very hot and sweaty sardine, but you cannot deny it is ecologically better than the largely empty buses you see in Europe.
To read more about chicken buses read here
5) Making the most of what you’ve got
A really weird thing to get used to in Nicaragua was the way that street food was served. I was used to single-use plastic bottles or cups if I ever bought a drink. Not any more gringa! Drinks here are served in plastic bags in a way that looks unsettling similar to a colostomy bag.
Though it is not a 100% perfect zero-waste solution (but made better if you bring your own reusable straw), it is still much better than a plastic bottle.
An even-more inventive solution to food packaging is the charming Banana-leaf. Whether your wrapping up your take-away rice and beans or some tamales from the market banana leaves are the way to go! Not only do they naturally degrade, they also make sure all of the banana trees goes to good use, not to mention they are soooo cute.
A rambling interlude…
Banana leaves are, however, not all fun and games. I went to the market to buy a tamale and was cruelly tricked. I took home my tamale feeling so excited to finally try a homemade Nicaraguan tamale. I open up the mysterious banana leaf to find what looks white and specifically un-tamale like. Confused I bite into it….again… and again trying to work out what I was actually eating.
…..It was cheese my friends. The lady at the market lied to me :'( told me it was a tamale and sold the lactose intolerant vegan a block of cheese. My stomach was devastated.
6) (Last but not least)- Different thinking
One of my most touching memories in Nicaragua happened just before Christmas time. Celebrating Christmas in Nicaragua was jarring but so much fun. Whereas in England the shops are packed with festive themed items by September, and you have to wear thermal socks to bed, Nicaragua couldn’t have been any more different. Blazing sunlight beamed on my back whilst reggaeton-ised Christmas bangers blasted from trucks heading down the road.
They had put up the Christmas tree in central park and my kids I taught were wearing jumpers (sacre bleu!) and complaining they were chilly. It was officially Christmas.
I went to go to my Spanish class (my grammar has always been appalling even after years of speaking Spanish) and was talking to my teacher who was showing me all her Christmas decorations. I remember at first feeling shocked. Ignorantly in my mind what I thought I’d see was tinsel and baubles and lights. What I saw was a Christmas tree made out of an old sprite bottles. I don’t know what I was expecting it, but it wasn’t that. I’m ashamed to say, but at first it made me feel sad. It made me think how unfair it was that people cant experience the type of Christmases we have back home
A sprite christmas tree
My teacher showed me more and more different decoration ideas. She was particularilly excited by the snowmen made out of old recycled plastic cups and I realized maybe it was my thinking that was sad. Why should this tree be any different than my tree at home. Maybe its even more special- it was handmade by her and her daughter. Just because it is more humble doesn’t make it any less worthy to be the pride and joy of someones house at Christmas.
What had at first made me sad made me smile. How lovely that no matter how much, or little you have, you can still enjoy the maybe silly things in life (like Christmas decorations) that make it special.
There isn’t this attitude that it is less-than just because it wasn’t the items original purpose. The item was worth so much more than going straight into the bin. It was being RE-loved.
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