After the article came out featuring me in the May 9 edition of The Nica Times, “Pioneer Traveler Introduces ‘Inclusive Tourism’,” the newspaper has invited me back to write a monthly column about my experiences and perspectives living in Nicaragua as a person with a disability.
When the opportunity came up last year for me to leave my business in Barcelona, Spain in the capable hands of my family, and travel again and move to Nicaragua, I jumped at the chance. For the most part, the reaction to my decision by family, friends and contacts in the Inclusive Tourism Industry for people with disabilities was the same: “You’re insane. What are you going to do there?” People also asked, “Where’s Nicaragua?”
The best comment I received was from my parents who told me to be careful of the guerrillas. A quick history lesson put these doubts to rest, and the new concern became that of erupting volcanoes.
So yes, my parents worry about me and everyone else thinks I’m a mad as a hatter. But has this stopped me? No, I’ve always loved traveling and the reason for me to move to Barcelona almost eight years ago was to learn Spanish and do exactly what I’m doing now: living and traveling in Latin America.
Before I came to Nicaragua, I spoke to a disabled U.S. friend who has traveled in Honduras. He was very skeptical about my decision and told me to buy solid tires for my wheelchair, so that they couldn’t be punctured.
I ended up carrying on with my highpressure air-filled tires, but bought some very expensive anti-puncture ones just in case. So far so good, and after eight months here I still haven’t had a flat.
Moving to Nicaragua was a bit of a culture shock, to say the least. But I guess that’s the same for everyone. I just had the added extra of access – or rather lack of access – to contend with.
The “streets” in Matagalpa, where I live, are uneven hexagonal slabs of concrete, typical of many Nicaraguan towns. They are poorly fitted together, and the rain and constant passing of heavy vehicles make the surface bumpy, to say the least. I have four wheels on my wheelchair, but I seem to spend most of my time on just two, popping wheelies over the cracks and crevices in the street.
When it rains, the situation gets worse, as the road and my wheels become slippery; many a time I’ve taken a quick tumble only to save myself by quick reflexes and sticking my hands in the wet mud and filth on the ground.
As we all know, the drainage system isn’t the best in this country, which creates puddles and streams all over the place after a quick storm – creating another situation when wheelies come into play.
Having said all this, Nicaragua is a great place to practice my wheelchair skills jumping up and down curbs, pulling wheelies over obstacles, and generally keeping the local Matagalpinos amused.
My independence has also influenced some of the local disabled community here.
One guy was so impressed that he asked me for some classes in wheelchair skills, and now he’s wheeling around town much more independently than ever.
I’m glad that my presence here in Matagalpa has had at least a little bit of influence, and I hope that my antics continue to contribute to the local community in some small way.
One of the other ways that I can contribute to this cause is through helping readers of The Nica Times understand a little more of what the disabled community, including myself, are up to.
This column will look at the challenges we face, the victories we have, and the projects that we are undertaking here. When I talk about people with disabilities, I don’t just mean the obvious wheelchair users.
I’ll also be sharing stories with you about people with hidden and sensory impairments such as deaf people and those with learning difficulties that struggle to survive on a day-to-day basis in our expat paradise here in Nicaragua.
Craig Grimes lives in Matagalpa. He can be reached at [email protected]