In between the shocks of distant thunder and the whirring of an arthritic fan, across Leon you can hear the pitter-patter of Iguanas running over the slated roofs. They begin near the chiming San Juan church, its beauty long lost and now the meeting place is local urchins from the local market and empty-bellied taxi drivers who lounge at the burger vans and make kissing noises at the passing uniformed girls; they cross the slated roofs that sit waiting with great anxiety for the next eruption of Cerro Negro to test whether their newfound slopes fair better than their previous flat selves; the Iguanas tour the bell chamber of the Cathedral, a newbie to the UNESCO family, and then they finish at the other end of town as the forests spread out until they hit the Pacific.
The confident Iguana might stop above one of Leon’s many bars and hear the often spoken words of unknowing Gringos: ‘Nicaragua is the new Costa Rica – like how it was 10 years ago”.
If you say this to a Nicaraguan then they’ll most likely do one of two things: either they’ll not understand you since few people in the country speak English – which is slowly changing as people have begun to seen the greenbacks of foreigners – or they will take it as a great insult.
Nicaraguans are an independent and patriotic people so any comparison to their Tico neighbours will be taken as a slight.
Despite this the phrase has been bandied out for the past five years from gormless Gringos to investors in the tourist industry too lazy to come up with a better slogan and too desperate to latch onto the travelers idea of Costa Rica being an idyllic paradise.
That it is. Most travelers will head to Costa Rica with flora and fauna imprinted onto their minds. When you get off the plane and head into San Jose airport you are immediately greeted by a towering image of two foreigners travelers happily lost in the Tico wilderness. Happy howler monkey and reptiles look on; and the photographer has obviously pushed the green tint to the max.
Nicaragua is equally an outdoorsy paradise. It has fine Caribbean beaches, surfing, rainforest walks, protected habitats, volcanoes, etc – which perhaps explains why the phrase has been used so much.
But the main problem with the phrase is the connotation that Nicaragua is the undiscovered and authentic experience, unlike Costa Rica which has allowed money-hungry investors and the such to exploit its wilderness and make it anything but wild.
So come greed-heads and do the same to Nicaragua is the message.
…But I am digressing and missing my main point.
What the hell is Iguana soup! I hear you asking; well it is an iguana in a soup. And a very Nicaraguan dish.
Unlucky Iguanas will discover that Nicaragua’s think of their meat as being delicious and that children enjoying taking a slingshot and a pebble, and knocking them out of trees. So take a walk around any Leonese market and in-between the screams, barbeques and flapping chickens, you will see women sitting with a bundle of tied up Iguanas. They’ll carve their knives into the throats of these living lizards and off-with-the-head in one move. Often you can still see the beasts eyes moving. They will then skin the Iguanas and sell them to locals for food.
Whilst most Nicaraguans don’t have a problem with the practice, the topic did make it to the government. According to the law the it is supposed to be illegal, but like most things in Central America, the time of the police is a little too taken up with solving murders and catching drug runners. So it goes unpunished.
So here is the conundrum for Nicaraguans – retain traditional practices and food, like Iguana soup, or put a stop to it because of the threat to Iguanas and, more importantly for the economy, a threat to future tourism because it would be good for the ‘new Costa Rica’ to be chopping off the heads of all of its Iguanas – a species that tourists like to see.
Photos courtesy of Liesbeth Engelen