A year, or so, ago I was living the typical American life. I took almost everything I had for granted. I knew when I woke up in the morning that there would be potable water for my coffee, hot water for a shower, electricity for all my gadgets, and I never even once gave a thought to the fuel I was using to cook my breakfast. How things have changed in the past year. I sit here now in the hilly jungles of Nicaragua, with a pen and paper writing this blog post. In order to get this writing onto the internet I’ll first have to walk 40 minutes down hill to the lone restaurant on the beach that has electricity so I can type it up. Then, from there, I’ll have to either hitchhike, or walk two hours, into town to get to an internet shop. It’s not a big deal really, I do it once a week or so for supplies. As you can see, I’m living quite differently now.
For the past three months I’ve had no home to speak of. When my travels began a year ago I was staying in budget hotels and hostels, now I pretty much just crash where ever I can. As I write this I’m 700 feet above the Pacific ocean. I have a view that would cost millions in the States. Here, considering we’re squatters, the cost is free. On the property is one single room home made of cinder blocks that the family has been buying and hauling up here, one by one, for years. Propping up the roof of the porch are two support posts that were carved from trees the family fell in the jungle. In between these two support posts is where I live. In the evening I tie my hammock up, and in the mornings I take it down. This has been my life for the past few months.
My host family has been squatting in these hills since before the revolution, and they’ve become quite efficient at living off of the grid. Electricity is nonexistent here. If they need to charge their phones, or if I need to work on the computer, we just stroll down the hill to a restaurant, and plug in. They know us quite well down there, and are more than willing to share their diesel fueled electricity in exchange for us buying a few beers. Before heading back up to the house we’ll most likely forage a few coconuts from the palms on the beach, and see if any of the fisherman can give up a fish or two in exchange for a couple of bucks. If there are no fishermen coming in, or they had a bad haul that day, no worries. One of us will borrow the restaurants snorkel gear and swim out and catch some spiny lobsters and octopus, while the other scours the rocky cliffs for cucaracha del mar (a delicious crustacean that lives in the rock crevices). Foraging for my food has become a way of life for me now. I’m fairly certain I burn almost as many calories getting my food, as I do from eating it. On our way back up into the hills we’ll stop at some of the spots we know we can find more food. The breadfruit tress give us an endless supply of fruit that is both tasty, and very filling. We know where to find plantains, wild onion, limes, more mangoes than we could ever carry, and papaya that are way too large to fit into any sack. We’ll supplement our foraged food with some chilies and beans from the garden, and rice (which is really the only food that is purchased here).
All of our cooking here is done over a fire outside. Our wood is chopped by hand, and carried on our backs to the house. Our prep station consists of a block of wood, cut from a rather large tree, two very sharp machetes, and a ragtag assortment of pots and pans. The water we’ll use for the rice and beans is either rain water we’ve collected from the roof run off, or water from the well that we have to pull up by hand. Last night we dined on ceviche de cucaracha, and a dish the Indians on the Caribbean coast call rondon (a stew made with whatever sea food we have, mixed with coconut water, shredded and pressed coconut flesh, breadfruit, green plantains, onion, and rice). As delicious as it all was, it was made even better knowing that we foraged almost everything we ate that night.
After dinner I’ll take a “shower” which consists of a bar of soap, my nearly threadbare bandana, and 2-3 buckets of ice cold water from the well. I’ll wash that days clothing by hand using a five gallon bucket, a little soap, and a plunger to agitate it all. Don’t worry about that plunger, it’s as clean as can be. We have no toilet up here to use it in. Using the bathroom consists of finding a tree downhill from the house, or, should more pressing matters be at hand, there is an outhouse a couple of hundred feet from the property which is really no more than a six inch diameter, forty foot deep hole surrounded by a tarp, into which waste is deposited, and then covered with dead leaves, fire-pit ash, and wood chips. Not exactly ideal for most people.
This isn’t a very easy way to live, but it’s something I decided I had to do. I was becoming too dependent upon modern conveniences, and I wanted to get back to a more basic way of living. I’m not sure I can do this forever though. The trappings of modern life are starting to creep up on me once again. Money has a way of running out, even living up in the hills, and if I want more of it I’ve got to get somewhere with a stable internet connection. I’ll miss my way of life up here when I descend back into town to live. I know now though should push come to shove, and I need to live off the land, I have the survival skills necessary to do so.
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