Nicaragua is in the midst of a national crisis. The people have taken to the streets to angrly voice their disapproval of the current president, Daniel Ortega. From mass protests to burnt out buildings and looting, a majority of the Nicaraguan population are prepared to do all they can in order to get Ortega to step down. As talks continue, tensions are rising, with pro Ortega camps now coming out in force to display their approval for the man that has been at the helm for over a decade. For those that remember the civil war that plagued the nation back in the 70s, some fear history could soon be repeating itself.
As both a tourist and a photographer, it has been a strange experience to find myself caught up in the middle of such civil unrest. My experience has been mixed thus far, from not being able to detect there was any problem at all, to being barricaded in a shopping centre for 3 hours due to the protests taking place in the streets.
"Reportedly there has already been in the region of 50 deaths. If my photos are not making a difference - then I should not be taking them".
It’s in moments like this that you soon realise what kind of photographer you are. For some, being amongst the demonstrations, violence and energy of the local people would be a gold mine for them to make some exceptionally meaningful images. For me however, I have opted to stay away from the trouble (unless it finds me). I am not a photojournalist, and even if I wanted to give it a go, there are plenty of far more qualified and talented photographers already filling that role. Furthermore, as a street photographer, this should not be an opportunity to get some “good photos”. The people are struggling here. Reportedly there has already been in the region of 50 deaths. If my photos are not making a difference - then I should not be taking them.
Instead I have been documenting the beautiful aspect of this country, something that is certainly in abundance.
So far I have visited two amazing, cool towns; Leon and Granada. The former boasts some terrific baroque and neoclassical architecture, whilst the latter is able to show off the colours and detail of a Spanish colonial town.
In terms of being a tourist with a camera my experience has overall been positive. The local people seem more than comfortable with having a camera pointed in their direction, with some even eager to pose without encouragement (which can be a bad thing when you want those candid moments!). The only negative about the two towns is that some people can be quite reserved. They are both built on wealth, so whilst I have no concerns about my camera being stolen, I have had a few “holier than thou” looks come my way.
Travel throughout Nicaragua
Getting around has been simple enough. I have been using a mixture of public transport, tuk tuks and taxis. However due to the protests, travelling from Leon to Granada was not without its complications. What should have been no more than a 3 hour journey, ended up taking 24 hours including a stay over in the countries capital, Managua. On 15th May protests had reignited and many of the roads leading to Granada has been barricaded, leaving many forms of transport shut down. Using a mixture of arson and intimidation with weapons, the message of the population was simple - if you make it difficult for us, we will make it difficult for you.
I was lucky to befriend a local taxi driver who was able to take me to a nearby hotel in the city. We agreed to meet early the following morning to see if access to Granada had been reinstated. We were able to get to the town the next day almost without any altercation. At one roundabout however, we were stopped by a group of protesters who were wearing balaclavas and carrying baseball bats. The driver explained that I was a tourist and they were happy to let us go through. Whilst initially quite scary, the men seemed reasonable, clearly demonstrating it was not me who was the enemy they were fighting against.
Struggling with privilege
As a white western man with money (not much, but far more in comparison), I am seen as a benefit to Nicaragua. I am part of a group of tourists who are prepared to boost the economy and drive business for the natives at a crucial time. In result of this, it has become somewhat of an unspoken rule that people like me are to be protected whilst the nation goes through such a challenging period. Naturally, I am not complaining that my status is keeping me safe, but whilst businesses, homes and lives are being lost - I do feel somewhat uncomfortable with the privilege I have. This is not my country. I will spend no more than 12 days here, yet I am being treated with a superiority in comparison to those that have built a life here and contributed far more than I ever will. It is a strange position to be in.
I have 7 more days left in Nicaragua before I leave for Costa Rica. The message is that it will be less complicated the further south I travel. Aside from the issues this really is a beautiful country and somewhere I am glad I have visited whilst travelling Central America. I am also happy with the content I have been able to create whilst being here.
I will be sad to leave, however the experience I have had will always stay with me. I will certainly be keeping a watchful eye on the developments of the current conflict. Hopefully things will be resolved soon and the nation can be restored to what it truly is - beautiful Nicaragua.
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