In this land of vastness, there lies barren pockets brimming with life yet devoid of living.

Nicaragua__1Nicaragua, with its lush greenery, prolific coffee plantations and heart-breaking population of stray dogs is a country of contrasts.

On one hand, its vegetation knows no limit and the hardships of those who own these hill-top homes revolve around reuniting with flat ground.

Yet for every man on the hill, there are many more in the rubbish – I mean that quite literally.

And yet, some of these folks are the happiest people I have ever had the chance of meeting.

This trip is forever embedded in my memories – not because it was the first time I travelled without my family – but because of its hidden agendas. As with any other kid, the novelty of Nicaragua’s foreignness  shrouded me but could not eclipse the country’s underbelly.

Nicaragua__3While the majority of my time there exposed me to the “daily” life of various people in the community, two days are most prominent.

The first: when I lived on less than a dollar a day with a Nicaraguan family. I still remember the father showing me how to run his general store, and the ever hospitable mother stroking my hands and giving me a homemade bracelet once the day was over. Her callused hands spoke so much more than her partially undeciphered Spanish could have.

The second: when I went dumpster diving – except it was a landfill. Rotted items strewn about provided a sturdy walking foundation against decomposing matter, and air particles seemed to materialise into flies. Despite the rather trashy situation, people were everywhere. People scrounging for discarded goods are commonplace but to legitimately live in a landfill is not. And that is something I have yet to come to terms with.

Nicaragua__2So when I see all these luxurious vacation packages to Nicaragua today, I’m sorry if I cannot be enthused about participating. Perhaps this one trip ruined it for me and perhaps I am being hypocritical, but heaven forbid me to disassociate my memories.

Don’t misunderstand me – happier recollections are very evident. Where else can I purchase two blissful scoops of helados for one dollar? Sip on coffee grown on hills visible from the café? Or travel around on American school buses refashioned for public transportation?

But these happy moments are marred by the more shocking experiences, and I do not know if I can fully enjoy the splendour without feeling the guilt. Perhaps in time I will be able to return, however, that day is not today.