You might want to take a look back at a post from September 2016 titled, “Martin in Paradise.” That post describes how well Martin did during a ten-day stay in Costa Rica, with a clean environment, limited wireless and electromagnetic fields, and daily access to salt-water swimming. The post ends this way: “I find myself questioning whether full and true recovery might require some bolder step, like removal from urban or suburban life. Would I have that in me? Would Adrian?”
Just two days later I posted “Martin Out of Paradise,” which enumerates ways in which Martin crashed when we returned home from Costa Rica. That post ends this way: “Fact. I don’t know what to do with this information.”
This is getting obvious, so I will go ahead and say it: I’ve taken Martin to live in the Republic of Nicaragua.
Well, not permanently. We have flights booked back to the States for August 31, in time for Martin to start third grade. We are using this summer to discover whether we can reclaim that paradisiacal magic and kickstart his healthiest school year yet.
It would be cool to tell you that I have the courage to make a permanent change, to roam the world in search of the ideal dwelling place for Martin and then move, for good. Alas, I lack that abandonment. Our biomed journey is financed by Adrian’s job in New York City, and though Adrian is South American by origin, I am ’merican, through and through. I don’t see our family relocating.
At least, not yet.
Pausing for a shout-out to my friend Lakshmi. She and her husband recently sold their home in New Jersey, upended their lives, and returned to India with their two U.S.-born children, in search of a better environment for their son, Partha. I rarely feel alone when I witness what chances other parents will take to achieve full recovery.
But summer! Summer I can do. We’ve rented a house in the hills above the Pacific in Nicaragua’s south, not far from the Costa Rican border. Adrian accompanied us for the first week, to help us get settled. He left yesterday will return for the second half of August. Martin’s babysitter Samara is with us, too, for the whole summer. She’s switching roles to a sort of au pair so that I can work (and blog more!) and seems to be viewing the whole excursion as an adventure. Samara, like Adrian, is South American by origin, and she has never visited Central America.
You might be asking, Why Nicaragua? That’s a good question, given that I myself have never been to Nicaragua before now.
My interest in Nicaragua began last summer. Because we were having family members converging from Boston, California, Texas, and South America, the house we rented in Costa Rica was gigantic, and in a gated/resort community. The rental even came with a “house mother” assigned to keep the place clean and prepare rice and beans, pico de gallo, and guacamole for the vacationers. Contrary to the image “house mother” might conjure, our helper was a lovely young woman named Jasmina. In conversations in my broken Spanish—bless Jasmina for her patience—I learned that Jasmina was Nicaraguan and had left her small children in Nicaragua, with her mother, so that she could work in Costa Rica. When I asked why, Jasmina told me that she could earn much more money working in Costa Rica, even as a domestic.
“Tell me about Nicaragua,” I said.
It’s hard to earn money in Nicaragua, Jasmina told me. But for that, most products are less expensive. The best course is to earn in Costa Rica and spend in Nicaragua.
What is the climate like, and the terrain? Just like Costa Rica, she said. Jungle up to the beaches, which are rocky and sandy. A dry season and a wet season. Consistent temperatures.
Does Nicaragua receive many tourists, like Costa Rica? No. The tourism industry is just beginning.
Are there nice places to stay, and things to do like zip-lining and surfing? Oh, yes! Nicaragua has all those things!
So why are all the tourists in Costa Rica? What’s the big difference between Costa Rica and Nicaragua?
Jasmina didn’t know English, but she knew this word: She replied, “Marketing.”
This conversation stuck with me, when I decided to investigate moving Martin for a summer. Could it really be true that Nicaragua was a discount Costa Rica, perhaps with an even cleaner environment? I gave myself topics to investigate:
* Stability. When I told my mother that we planned to spend the summer in Nicaragua, exactly 14 seconds passed before Sandinistas came up. Memories of the Iran-Contra affair, and the Nicaraguan Revolution, still loom large in U.S. imaginations, my generation and older. In fact, the current elected government of Nicaragua is FSLN (Sandinista National Liberation Front), and I was able to satisfy myself that that nation is politically stable.
* Environment. I had heard that Nicaragua refused to sign the Paris Agreement, or Paris climate accord. (Before the United States’ withdrawal earlier this year, the only other non-signatory nations were Nicaragua and Syria.) Was Nicaragua seeking carte blanche rights to burn fossil fuels and contribute to global climate change? Hardly. I discovered that Nicaragua refused to sign the Paris Agreement in protest, arguing that the climate accord did not go far enough. Nicaragua already sources well more than 50% of its power from sustainable and renewable sources.
* Safety. The U.S. Department of State makes Nicaragua sound like a scary place, albeit mainly in Managua and the Caribbean coastal towns (which are more remote than the Pacific coast). Private websites, however, take a more measured approach and focus on Nicaragua’s recent strides, noting that high poverty levels (not going to deny them) don’t necessarily mean perilous conditions. In any event, I’ve traveled in developing areas before now, and I resided for a while in India before the economic boom, so I know basic precautions to exercise. I never walk with valuables unnecessarily; only what I need for an outing comes along. No fancy jewelry. No partying on the beach after sundown (as if). The house is always secured. And of course, Martin is never unattended.
* Food supply. Organic farming is on the rise in Nicaragua but far from dominant, or even widely available. Most of our food we can find grown locally and small-scale, reducing pesticide risk. Genetically modified food crops are extremely limited in Nicaragua.
* Illness and disease. Nicaragua is jungle, and tropical diseases are present. Then again, I walk around New York terrified of tick-borne illnesses—so, hey, six versus half a dozen. We came to Nicaragua armed with effective non-DEET mosquito deterrents, and we add clothing coverage when trekking, ziplining, or engaging in other activities in dense flora.
* Activities for Martin. I couldn’t expect Martin to do nothing all summer—boredom breeds iPad whining and pattern behaviors. Nor is Martin the type of kid to make new friends on the beach. Fortunately I was able to find a day camp that caters to both Nicaraguans and international kids. The camp has six week-long sessions, and I hope Martin will be able to attend each. Samara also found a local dojang where Martin can continue working on his taekwondo.
We’ve been a week, and Nicaragua hasn’t disappointed. I am still shopping “like a gringo,” i.e., buying too much at the (crappy!) local Palí, as I ask around to discover the best local markets and fish mongers. Martin has been in the ocean every day, whether just wading or floating for hours. He’s sleeping well and has that handsome sun-and-salt appearance. He had his first taekwondo class and managed to work the entire two hours, even though his class at home is only 45 minutes. Day camp is scheduled to begin next week. I’ve met with the director to explain some of Martin’s challenges. Fingers crossed!
As for Nicaragua itself, I could write chapters on what I’ve seen already, but I won’t. This is an autism recovery blog, not a travel-and-adventure blog, however much I might wish otherwise. Besides, everyone knows that my next career will be as a sports blogger for women.
Look in the distance. See those white sticks? Those are wind turbines, dozens of wind turbines powering Nicaragua.
Martin on one of our little jungle adventures.