In my first few days in Nicaragua I’ve gotten to know the lodge owner Gustavo, a biologist by training who moved here from Costa Rica for a change of career and scenery. His Spanish is crisp and clear, and as I practice with him each day I begin to notice the subtle differences between the Costa Rican and Nicaraguan accents. He’s become my unofficial travel agent, making recommendations and helping me to arrange trips to the nearby lakes and volcanoes.
On his suggestion I take a late afternoon trip to Las Isletas, a small archipelago on the west side of Lake Nicaragua,where the high society of Nicaragua has built their vacation homes, each on a rocky private island. Gustavo has called to arrange a boat for me and two other guests, a couple from New Zealand.
On a small wooden boat we ply the tranquil sheltered water of the Isletas. The place is surreal. As we wind through the serpentine conduit of canals, surrounded by tropical birds and verdant green, I translate for my Kiwi shipmates as the driver tells us in Spanish which islands are for sale and for how much.
In the meantime we spot wildlife over the gunnels, like this “Jesus bird”, so-called by locals because it seems to walk on water.
Finally we find ourselves at Isla de Monos, or “Monkey Island.” Presumably too small for real estate development, our driver explains that a veterinarian relocated these rescued monkeys here to their very own island paradise where they can rub elbows with Nicaragua’s wealthiest citizens.
As I translate for my new friends, I can’t help but think how lucky I am to be able to do so. While this would be a pleasant cruise by any standard, I realize that without knowing the native language, I wouldn’t have been able to speak with our boat captain, and would have no idea what a strange and interesting place Las Isletas truly is.