From José Luis Rocha, “The Splendor and Squalor of National Ecotourism” Envio (UCA), September 2008:
There’s still a lot to do
Although my tour has been one of broad brush strokes and giant leaps, it offers a look at the many virtues and defects of ecotourism in Nicaragua; its splendor and its squalor.
Ecotourism—and any other form of tourism for that matter—will never move out of first gear with restaurants that close at seven pm, guides that don’t speak English, bureaucratic paper tangles that bog down the best initiatives, managerial centralism, poor and confusing information, cartloads of filth and garbage, rip-off tourist packages, terrible signposting, roads that are impassable virtually year-round, and, to top it off, anchorite tourists looking for bargain paradises. There are, however, signs that some are aware of what’s needed and are capable of putting it into practice, including incorruptible wardens, quality restaurants, patient and knowledgeable guides, poetic information signs, tidy hostels and more.
But there’s a need for more imagination to exploit opportunities near at hand. Many tourists come with ideological motivations, visiting Nicaragua because there was a revolution here. There’s no contradiction between ecotourism and revolution. The two interests can be linked, offering talks, leaflets and books about Nicaragua’s history, selling T-shirts with ideological motifs alongside nature walks, butterfly farms and organic coffee plantations.
There’s also a religiously motivated form of tourism that can be combined with ecotourism. And of course there’s literary tourism. The poetry festival organized every year in Granada by Nicaraguan poets, which includes the participation of poets from around the world, is the maximum expression of this and is becoming a highly significant point of reference in Latin America. There’s no reason why this can’t be associated with ecotourism and other experiences of solace and contentment.
Once upon a time in Solentiname…
Literature, craftsmanship, music and socio-political or theological reflection once all came together in Father Ernesto Cardenal’s ecotourist paradise of Solentiname. Creating similar experiences isn’t easy; they are born of inspiration and creativity, not cloning. But at the very least, we have to overcome the squalor that sprouts from routine, myopic vision and idleness. The Solentiname experience was successfully put together and more opportunities are waiting. We’re not starting from zero.