Current Location: Cafe Rosita, Leon, Nicaragua
Price of beer in a bar: ~US$0.86
Song Currently stuck in my head: One Thing Leads To Another (The Fixx)
One of the reasons Boomers have flocked to Central America in their retirement is, in a surprising number of ways, it resembles America in the 1950s, which, when seen through the nostalgic recollection of childhood experiences, sounds to them like a pretty good time. But what’s been more salient to me lately are the local transitions and growing pains that mirror our experiences as we Americans moved forward from the 50s.
Improved roads are altering daily life in familiar ways (availability of goods, ability to attract industry, brand consolidation, introduction of sprawl, to name a few) that mirror the early days of America’s own black top love affair. The increasing number of motor vehicles creates a host of familiar issues as well; traffic, parking, licensing, pollution, safety, to name a few. There is also the flood of cheaply manufactured plastic items which have exacerbated Nicaragua’s problem with littering… and it’s this wrinkle that I’ve been fixated on lately. For a little perspective, keep in mind widespread littering was a common problem in The US well into 90s. Anti-litter propaganda filled the airwaves with notoriously heavy handed spots like the tearful Indian or “Don’t Mess With Texas” and States enacted taxes on carry out food that were earmarked for litter cleanup because that’s what people did with their food containers when they were finished. Also, for context, keep in mind there wasn’t much stuff that was likely to become litter in Nicaragua until somewhat recently; very few things were disposable and most of the those were organic. Your lunch of yucca, pork and salad came wrapped in a banana leaf. Leave it where it lands. That particular dish still comes in banana leaves, but then it’s usually put in a sandwich bag and other food comes in same foam containers that enjoy wide use stateside.
So now there’s much more trash and how it’s ultimate disposal varies from region to region. In rural areas it’s burned, often releasing an acrid smoke whose fragrance is detectable for miles. Keep in mind we’re talking mostly a lot of plastics, for instance yesterday at the beach I noticed a charred pile of fiberglass near the road.
The town of Nagarote is locally famous as “Nicaragua’s Cleanest City”, a title they earned simply by *having* trash removal earlier than most other cities. That was a big wow back in the day. Now it’s commonplace in town’s and cities but the approach in Leon leaves something to be desired. Bags of trash are put out at night. Soon after they are ravaged and destroyed by local dogs and/or other creatures of the evening,who leave a series of fetid piles of sub-tropical refuse in their path. In the morning a truck will come by and address the portion of the load that didn’t blow away or get drug down the street before they arrived. They’ll pick up what can be grasped, shovel up most of the remainder and push on. It’s pretty ridiculous. Other cities I’ve visited in the region usually have some method for securing their trash at the curb; actual trash cans, elevated metal baskets to hold the bags out reach, and the like. Some were less effective than others, but here in Leon there does not appear to be any. I saw something similar in SJDS when they installed city trash cans: locals were furious because they thought this would put the guys who gathered litter out of a job. They would make a big show of throwing their trash on the ground next to the trash cans. You see behaviors like this throughout Nicaragua; it’s seldom “everyone pitch in” because that efficiency and efficiency is how you eliminate jobs. Traditionally Nicaragua has relied on a large public sector. But the scraps, liquids and various grindings that persistent after trash collection have a pervasive effect on the overall appearance and, I would argue, identity of the city. I often remark that while I’m a huge fan of Central American approaches to life, they don’t tend to scale well. This is definitely an example of that kind of “city problem”.
To provide a little balance in tone, these girls give an excellent run down on the good that you take with the Leon bad.