"San Carlos, Nicaragua - October 2005" San Carlos by mdfloyd322

San Carlos Travel Guide: 16 reviews and 71 photos

Building a school in San Carlos, Nicaragua

I met a team from around the US in San Jose and we proceeded north to Los Chiles, Costa Rica for the 40 minute boat ride to the southern Nicaraguan town of San Carlos. It's a rough little town with massive amounts of potential, if they can work out the problem of just getting there. It's a 12 hour boat ride from Managua, or a 12 hour bone-jarring ride by bus or car around the lake. It's a beautiful 50 minute flight from Managua, but there is one flight a day in a small plane with limited baggage capability.

Upon arriving and getting a good night's sleep, we immediately set to making concrete for laying the blocks for the kitchen and then started leveling the floors in the dorm rooms for the concrete which came next. The women cleaned up the main building of the District Center, moving all the construction materials around and organizing them then painted the entire interior. That was no easy feat considering the walls were nearly 20' high. They cut sticks from the jungle to make pole extensions for the rollers. That's pretty much what we did for the entire week, although three of us repainted the interior of the church as a thanks for letting us use it for our meals. It looked great once we'd finished as the original paint appeared to be more of a whitewash than actual paint.

We got the walls of the kitchen up the 'bond beam' which is right below where all the windows will be placed. We got the floor down in two of the four dorm rooms and we got all the painting done. We also cleaned up the entire area and burned all the trash that had accumulated. That may not sound like much but everything is very manual there. The 100# pound bags of concrete have to be locked up in the main building every night and each one carried several hundred feet to the job site. The sand and aggregate also had to be brought from a considerable distance to be manually mixed. I wish I could get my little cement mixer down there somehow...sigh. All the water had to be drawn from the well and we eventually drew it dry...they have to dig through 7' of rock now to hit the main vein of water. In lieu of well water we hooked up a pump to the river (ok, swamp) below the job site. I won't go into all the gory details but suffice it to say, you would have rolled on the ground laughing at what happened. First, we couldn't get the pump to draw up the steep hill but we kept trying. I was told to hold the pipe in place but it blew off several times drenching me in the nastiest water I have about ever seen. It was in my eyes, my ears, my nose, and worst of all, my mouth. I'm lucky I haven't died of who-knows-what! I'm still taking anti-parasite meds, just in case.

Eventually we gave up and moved la bomba (the pump) to a squatter's well. The water was slightly cleaner, which was fortunate for the squatter's 5 kids who used it for bathing, cooking, and drinking apparently. We hooked the pump up over the well on a wide piece of wood and started it up. Again, it just didn't have the power to push the water up hill that far. Bob walked away, leaving me holding the pipes together so they wouldn't fall into the well. They didn't fall into the well...but la bomba did...kersplash! Ok, the well is 15' deep...glad it wasn't 40' deep like the main well...so it was too deep to jump in and get it. The district superintendent came back with some slightly bent rebar and a rope and I thought there was no way it would work since it was not a hook. Well, he's a fine fisherman because within a matter of minutes he'd somehow hooked the pump and pulled it out. Unbelievable. We cleaned the pump out, changed the oil, and started it back up. Of course, it still wouldn't push the water up the hill but it wasn't rusting and leaking gas and oil in the bottom of the squatter's water supply.

San Carlos' Airport Adventure

On Thursday my friend and I went to the airport to get our tickets from San Carlos to Managua for our return. The rest of the team was returning through San Jose but he and I had other plans. He was heading to Esteli in northern Nica to look at other projects. I was heading to Granada to stay in a VRBO.com home. We had tried the 'city ticket office' of La Costena Airways for several days without success so we thought maybe someone would be at the airport. As we left town the plane went right over our heads so our timing seemed to be good. As we arrived at the airport the airplane went over our heads again. On the third flyby, this time going the other direction we decided something must be wrong, although nothing appeared to be wrong with the plane. All three gears were down and there was no smoke trailing from the engine...both really good things. However, the agent was alternately yelling into the radio to the plane and the telephone to someone else but her Spanish was rather fast at that point so I couldn't figure out what was going on. Eventually Los Bomberos (the firemen in an ancient Russian fire truck) arrived and after much pointing and yelling drove to the far end of the runway (over the crest of the hill so out of view) and then came right back.

When the passengers came in I asked a German passenger what had happened and he said 'it's the horses. There are always horses on the runway. They know this is a problem but they do nothing about it!' He loves Nicaragua, having lived there for many years working on conservation projects but really doesn't like the horses on the runway. Sure enough, when Bob and I were to leave, a soldier was dispatched to the far end of the runway to chase off the horses so the plane could land. He had an AK-47 rifle so I'm not sure why he didn't fix the problem right then but perhaps he didn't want to drag them off the runway by himself.

Here comes trouble!

That same day there was a very interesting event in San Carlos. Daniel Ortega, the bloated leader of the Sandinista (communist) party of Nicaragua flew in his private helicopter from Managua to give a rousing anti-capitalist, anti-American speech to the campesinos (poor peasant farmers) in the area. They flocked into town in buses, trucks, on horses and on foot to see their deposed leader who manages to hang onto some power through under-the-table deals with opposition leaders serving time in jail for corruption. He flew right over my head and I got a good photo of the underside of his helicopter. He then came through town, right past second church with his wife waving at the adoring fans...and us Americans. I wish I'd had a picture of Mrs. Ortega's face when she saw Los Gringos (the Gringos) standing in the church door taking a break from painting and watching the proceedings. It was priceless as her face froze and she quickly looked away. You would have thought she'd seen the Elephant Man. Later in the day we stood by the road and waved at everyone returning from the speech. They all seemed in good spirits but none seemed homicidal so I'm guessing he wasn't too aggressive in his anti-American remarks. I would have loved to have been in the crowd but it's probably just as well I wasn't.

Pros and Cons
  • Pros:Great location with scenic views of 4-5 volcanos in Costa Rica and Nicaragua
  • Cons:Difficult to get too; no good hotels; only 1-2 decent restaurants.
  • In a nutshell:I will return for future projects but it's not a tourist destination...yet.
  • Last visit to San Carlos: Oct 2005
  • Intro Updated May 9, 2016
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Reviews (1)

Comments (2)

  • Aug 26, 2010 at 6:09 AM

    pero tegusta mucho san carlos por q has ido muchas veces oh sera q te gusto una paisana jajajjaaj bno cuando vallas me avisas para invitarte ami casa humilde pero o aria con honor pero primero tendre q llegar aya

  • Nemorino's Profile Photo
    Oct 31, 2009 at 5:53 AM

    Great project to build a school -- not too easy in a place like this!


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