Nicaraugua – Katy Peake (2013)

Firstly, review other Sara’s Wish safety tips! Jen Bishop wrote about educating yourself on where you’ll be traveling to, signing up with the State Department and maintaining contact with people in the US, getting vaccinated, purchasing a cell phone in your host country, using common sense, and having a safety plan in place in case of emergency. Of her tips, I identify especially strongly with purchasing a cell phone and using it to stay in touch with contacts both in the US and in your host country, so that someone knows your location at all times. Also, having an emergency safety plan is incredibly important; I assumed there was a system in place for me in Nicaragua, but I was wrong. I needed an 8-digit ambulance number, and my in-country director informed me that the local private clinic provides better care than the hospital in Rivas. Knowing these things could have made a huge difference in an emergency situation. Take the time to review past recipients’ tips in detail and prepare yourself as thoroughly as possible.
Hilary Robbins also brought up some very valuable points. Knowing your site, as she points out, is incredibly important. Locals can give you insider information on what is and isn’t safe for foreigners, and they also know the easiest travel routes to keep you from getting lost and in a potentially dangerous situation. By learning specifics about your site, and by learning the language, you’ll be more prepared and able to make educated decisions for your safety. Also, as Hilary points out, travel in Managua, Nicaragua requires high vigilance and should be avoided at night. I found buses, in the city and along rural dirt roads, to be safe and did not hear about any accidents or problems.
Here are a few more detailed tips to add on to what previous scholarship recipients have already written about!
Transportation: Although buses are generally safe, avoid taking the last bus of the day anywhere. If the bus breaks down, you could be left in the middle of nowhere without other transportation options. When getting in taxis, especially in Managua, check that the permit number on the front window matches the taxi’s license. Text this number to someone while you’re entering the cab— make it obvious that someone knows where you are! While getting in, make sure that the cab’s seatbelts function correctly. Call someone while in the taxi to let them know where you’re going and when you should arrive. If possible, ask someone you trust (a friend, program director, etc.) if they know of any safe taxi drivers you can call to take you. In rural communities, avoid biking after dark. Dogs tend to be spooked by bikes and are on high alert and ready to bite at night. Even locals walked their bikes past my house after dark. If you must bike after dark, carry a sizeable rock with you that you can throw in the direction of any dangerous animals. As a general rule, try to avoid motorcycles, especially at night and on paved city roads where drivers go fast and weave in and out of lanes. Motorcycle crashes and deaths are a huge problem in Nicaragua. Riding motorcycles, or driving any vehicle, is particularly dangerous at night because many drivers and motorcyclists don’t use headlights and will not see oncoming traffic.
You may experience pressure to ride on the back of a motorcycle to get places in rural communities. As Hilary emphasized, is to discuss safety ahead of time with the people you’ll be working with, and don’t ignore any gut feelings that tell you something is unsafe. There is always alternative transportation, even if it takes longer or is more costly, and it’s worth the conversation if it ends up making you feel more comfortable, or even saving your life.
Health: the sun is very strong in Nicaragua, so drink more water than you think you need to. Pack Gatorade powder to bring with you if you’re worried about dehydration. Wear sunscreen and protect your skin. In terms of food and water, be wary of ice in your drinks and make sure that milk products have been pasteurized. Before traveling, be aware that some things are very hard to get in Nicaragua, or are very expensive. Sunscreen, contact fluid, and tampons are all scarce and costly. Bring any prescription medications with you as well!
Emergency: It’s extremely important that you know where the nearest clinics and hospitals are, and that you have their phone numbers. Also recognize that the police can be unreliable and are particularly absent in rural communities. Your best option might not be to wait around for them to solve a situation for you!
Other: Recognize that the Pacific Ocean can be very, very dangerous. Make sure you consult with locals and knowledgeable individuals before swimming. Rip tides were very common in my community; a fellow intern who was a certified lifeguard admits he almost drowned after getting pulled out by the ocean. At the very least, avoid swimming alone! To avoid robbery, keep money in several different pockets and places. Never leave bags unattended! Have small change ready in one separate pocket to pay for transport. Consider carrying bigger bills and other valuables in a money belt worn around your waist. Generally try not to draw attention, especially in cities. Don’t be obvious about checking your map, plan routes out in advance, walk as though you know where you’re going, and dress inconspicuously.