This past February I took my second Palmetto Medical Initiative trip to Nicaragua. I have been to Central America several times before this trip so I kind of had an idea on what to expect and I knew it would be much different than my Uganda PMI trip. Like last year, I was pleased to have a buddy come along, this year Nick Pavia joined me. The company he works for supports and works closely with PMI and he was due for a trip. The neat thing about these trips is, each quarter the dynamic is different, based on who goes. In Uganda, we had a large OT/PT team. On this Nica trip, there wasn't even a OT/PT station at clinic. There were a lot of younger folks on this trip and the trip overall was half the size of our group for Africa.
We were in Chinandega and El Viejo. This area is notorious for being the hottest part of the country, which I believe. It was much hotter than Africa, at any given point during the day. Uganda was a dry heat and Nica was not! We are talking 90 at 7:30 am and lets go ahead and throw in humidity.
I left from RDU and flew to Managua. We waited for everyone to arrive and stayed the night in Managua. We had people coming from all over the country: California, Texas, Oklahoma, North Carolina & South Carolina. I got in around 8:30 from Miami. While I don't love the Miami airport in general, their international wing is pretty great people watching. It was a little over 3 hours from Florida to Nica.
I was lucky enough to be sitting beside a very nice German man. His name was Schwirtlich Guizther. He is in his 70s and was traveling to Nica for a cycling trip. He's apart of a league in Germany and anyone can sign up for this trip. He was meeting 18 other Germans, whom he did not know. He lives south of Frankfurt and has two sons. He and his wife love to travel but she isn't a cyclist. Mrs. Guizther made him a "meat and cheese baguette" with fruit for his flight over. He didn't eat it before he came to Miami, so he got caught at customs. Dogs were sniffing all of his carry on stuff. They took his sammie and directed him to the food court! Before we landed we were filling out customs forms and he borrowed my pen and asked if I could help him fill out the docs. When we were done, he dug down in his bag and told me he had a little present for me, all the way from Germany. It was a thank you for helping him with his documents and speaking with him during our trip. The gift; a mini flash light that dubs as a key chain!
Side note: You can bring food on for your flight but it needs to be consumed before you go through customs in your arrival country.
By 9:30pm we are in route to our hotel. Hotel Hex was much nicer than we all expected. We had a quick group meeting with the PMI Regional Director for Nicaragua, TJ McCloud while eating pizza and then off to bed we went. My roomie for the week was Kristina. She was great, I couldn't have asked for a better person to spend the week with. At Hotel Hex, we were lucky enough to be on the end, which meant a bigger room. However that came with a price, the night club beside us was open and went on until wee hours of the am.
We load up on the bus after breaky (hot dogs, eggs, fruit, rice and dry toast) and drive three hours from Managua to Chineandega. There were few lights and stop signs. Both might as well have not been present, as most didn't work and no one used the ones that did. We stopped at gas station about half way there and were thankful there was toilet paper. The group stocked up on snacks and water and talked to the locals that were hanging out in the gas station parking lot. There was a building for the store, but there was also a tent just outside the front doors of the gas station store where they were selling snacks, drinks, blankets, hats, small toys and cleaning products.
|Thomas Bus was the bus of choice|
Our hotel for the week was Hotel Los Volcanes. It was incredibly clean and much nicer than I expected. We had the same roomie, which was fine by me! We unloaded all our stuff in a large room then hopped back on the bus and headed to the Rosti Pollo for lunch. This was such a treat. In Uganda, there was no where for us to eat out. All meals were prepared by the hotel. This place was nice: AC, tile floors, clean bathrooms with toilet paper, wait staff, and a large menu. Nick and I decided (ok, I decided) that we would order different things and share. We also had fresh juice, soda and water!
Already, one major difference was apparent in this trip from Africa... Freedom. We had freedom in Nica. Safety was not nearly as much of an issue as in Uganda. Our mode of transportation was a big yellow Thomas bus. With a driver and no guard and no guns. We got to explore the towns we visited, walk around the parks, eat out, shop with local vendors and overall see more of the towns.
|Chips and onions were brought to the table when we sat down|
Following lunch we continued our trek to El Viejo and arrived at the clinic site for tour. The clinic Doc, Dr. Chico showed us around and we meet some staff. We learned how the treat patients, saw forms they fill out, looked around in the pharmacy and had the opportunity to ask any questions. Dr. Chico, a general surgeon, talked to us about the lack of medical attention in the country and lack of knowledge about and how to get health care. He was very passionate about is work and thankful to PMI for what they were doing to improve his community.
The space was a lot smaller than the Uganda clinic. El Viejo clinic was open sure/ space, there was a water fall and it was smack dab in the middle of town. Just outside the front door were dozens of people walking around. There was a barber shop, watch repair and jewelry store, street vendors, corner markets and homes. We were told this is where clinic day 5 would be, at clinic!
From clinic we walked to the city center to hang in a park and see the colonial- era church, The Immaculate Cocentpion of El Viejo. It was built in the 17th century. In 1995 the church was elevated to the status of national religious sanctuary. In 2006 Pope John Paul II declared it a basilica. I learned that in order for a church to hold the sacred name of basilica, The Pope must deem it so.
The church was in the middle of the center center. There was a nice park and people hanging out everywhere. We could see a bustling market just down the street.