So I woke up this morning in a hammock, on a balcony, in a tree-house with the taste of salt in my mouth. Before opening my eyes I could not only hear the waves, but feel them, our justly named “tree-house”/lifeguard tower was located directly on the shore. How did I get here?
I had been in Nicaragua for 3 days and so far I had met up with the rest of the team in Managua, been to Granada, and walked on the top of a volcano. After a couple of days of being a tourist, I along with the rest of the team met up with the Nicaraguan Red Cross/Red Crescent based in Managua.
At the Managua Red Cross/Red Crescent headquarters we were given a tour, met with the president of the Red Cross/Red Crescent, and then split up into different groups destined for different beaches. Uncertain of what was going to happen next I went where I was directed and found myself in the back of a flatbed truck with 6 other American volunteers, and about 20 Nicaraguans. It was in the back of that truck that I started to realize that I had no idea what I had gotten myself into, flying down the freeway, the wind in my ears, the occasional smell of burning trash every few miles and the wonder of what was going to come next keeping the adrenaline in my veins at a slow but steady burn.
After 2 hours on the highway and another one and a half on a dirt road we arrived at El Transito, covered in dust, already sun burned, and ready to see the ocean. El Transito is a very small town by my American standards; it is more of a collection of houses lined up on the beach, no paved roads, one small school for the locals, and a scattering of restaurants and shops. Arriving in the town, I jumped out of the back of the truck, taking note of the chickens, pigs, and dogs that call the streets their home.
It was then that I was first introduced to the tree house, which consisted of six 12 foot poles that held up what was going to be our home for the next 7 days, after walking up the stairs to get to the tower, I saw the full majesty of our accommodations. Three rooms, (two of which were useable) and a small balcony overlooking the ocean. There was no running water, no doors, or glass in the windows, and no electricity, for myself I saw it as paradise.
As far as lifeguarding goes, I found El Transito to be much like anywhere else that I have guarded, except there was more public drinking, bigger crowds, heavier surf, and outside of myself and my team mates, absolutely no lifeguards or medical support system.
I was hooked, yes it was scary, yes there were moments of terror thinking I may not get to a victim in time, and many times someone came with an injury and I found myself thinking, this is bad. If it were in California I would call an ambulance and have a doctor take a better look but where I was this was not possible, so we did what we could, and helped these people to the best of our abilities. The fact of the matter was that there was nobody else there to help the injured, we were all there was, the closest hospital was two hours away and very few people had access to cars.
7 days later our time in the tree house was over, we had managed the water as well as we could, zero drownings, a handful of rescues, scores of preventative actions, and some of the scariest medical aids I have been a part of thus far in my life guarding career. I had done what I came to do, life guarded in a foreign country, spent some quality time in 80 degree ocean water and, got a tan. The rest of the trip was a breeze.
That was a snap shot of my first trip to Nicaragua, I have since gone back and assisted in instructing the First Nicaragua Ocean Lifeguard Certification course. I have traveled all around the country, I have made friends, and I have felt like I have been a part of something really cool and impacting.
When I first decided to join an ISLA trip, I was not sure if it was something I wanted to be involved in. I thought it was going to be a good way to go somewhere tropical,get a tan, and some quality ocean time. While it was those things, it was so much more. It made me feel like I was involved in something important; I helped in a place where help was needed. And I learned to appreciate the things we take for granted, lifeguards, ambulances, paved roads, toilets, etc.
Now it’s January 2013, and I am more involved than ever. I’m sitting in the ISLA office as I write this our President has just got back from Chile, and we are in the process of planning other volunteer trips to Nicaragua, Macedonia, as well as the Dominican Republic. And I imagine I’ll be hanging round, I mean come on, International Lifeguarding; it doesn’t get much cooler than that.
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