Joseph Rosendo’s Travelscope just returned from Nicaragua where we covered the historic grandeur that was Granada and the natural glory that is the Reserva Biológica Indio Maíz. The more than 1,500-square-mile reserve is located in the southeast corner of the country, bordering the San Juan River.
From the river town of El Castillo we traveled six hours by boat down the river to the Río Indio Eco-Lodge. Our adventures in Granada, along the river, at the lodge and in the reserve are part of our Nicaragua PBS television episode that will air as part of Season 7 of Joseph Rosendo’s Travelscope.
My fear is that by the time the show airs in 2013, Costa Rica will have completed the building of its ecologically disastrous, 100-mile road along the south bank of the wild and beautiful Río San Juan. Inaugurated by Costa Rican president Laura Chinchilla on Feb. 17, 2012 and costing approximately $20 million, at places the hideous scar in the landscape is less than 30 feet from the river.
Although I am not at this moment familiar with all the details, plans, historic animosities, political egos, border disputes and other reasons behind this horrific decision, I can tell you that traveling down the Río San Juan with road construction as your constant companion is at once heart-breaking and surrealistic.
As you head downriver look to the left towards the Nicaraguan side and you see what is considered the largest expanse of virgin lowland rain forest north of the Amazon basin. In the branches of trees reaching upwards of 100-feet and beneath the protected jungle canopy live more than 600 species of birds of every size and hue – fantastically decorated toucans, macaws and parrots among them. In addition, the Nicaraguan riverside reserve shelters 200 species of mammals such as jaguars, howler, white-face and spider monkeys, as well as rare orchids and a rainbow of brilliant butterflies. This is still the “Unpeopled Paradise” that Mark Twain witnessed and wrote about during his travels in Nicaragua in 1867.
Look to your right and the Costa Rican river bank is denuded of forests as far as you can see and is largely populated with farms, fields of crops and roaming cattle. Center stage in your view is a large, bare swath of earth that slashes through the landscape and teams of earth-movers and bulldozers who are churning and beating down the soil and rolling out the highway. The overwhelming sense is one of loss, helplessness and sadness as your mind begins to absorb the enormity of what is transpiring and what it says about the contrasting environmental priorities and philosophies. You can only find relief from the road’s stark reality by placing yourself in the boat so that you are always facing the Nicaraguan side. Thankfully, the road is not as yet complete and the Río San Juan returns to its natural state about two hours before it empties into the Caribbean at San Juan de Nicaragua.
Twenty-two years ago when I traveled to Costa Rica for my travel radio show, Oscar Arias was the president and had just brokered a peace treaty in Central America that won him the Nobel-prize. Costa Rica and its people, including its huge colony of expatriates from the United States (estimates I found range from 25,000 to 50,000), were basking in the glow of Costa Rica’s reputation as a peaceful, conservation-minded country. Well, it seems the times they have changed and Costa Rican president Laura Chinchilla and her ministers have declared war on the environment. And, to what end?
Nicaraguan environmentalist Kamilo Lara, quoted in the Nicaragua Dispatch (www.nicaraguadispatch.com), offered this suggestion, “Costa Rica wants to build this road to bring tourists to the Rio San Juan, but the only thing the tourists are going to see is all the environmental destruction that Costa Rica has caused in the region.”
Fortunately, Nicaragua has sovereignty over the Río San Juan so the river may still avoid the complete environmental degradation and commercial overdevelopment that plagues most of the scenic rivers of the world. While a mid-19th century treaty between the countries grants Costa Rica the right to transport “objects” on the river, Nicaragua holds that the stipulation does not include tourists, unless, of course, Costa Rica intends is to sell them. The last time I checked slavery has been illegal in Nicaragua since the days U.S. adventurer and self-proclaimed Nicaraguan president William Walker was dispatched by a firing squad in Honduras in 1860.
For now, my best advice for prospective travelers to Rio San Juan is: Don’t wait. Follow Mark Twain’s journey down the river while you can still witness what he saw when he wrote, “The changing vistas. . .revealed new wonders beyond, of towering walls of verdure-gleaming cataracts of vines pouring sheer down a hundred and fifty feet, and mingling with the grass upon the earth—wonderful waterfalls of green leaves as deftly overlapping each other as the scales of a fish—a vast green rampart, solid a moment, and then, as we advanced, changing and opening into Gothic windows, colonnades—all manner of quaint and beautiful figures!”
Created more than twenty-five years ago by travel journalist and broadcaster Joseph Rosendo, TRAVELSCOPE® is a multi-media organization dedicated to educating travelers about other cultures, as well as travel destinations, values and opportunities. This multiple award-winning company encompasses five major components that work in concert to provide total exposure to our viewers, listeners and readers. This blog was first published May 16 on http://travelscope.net