Growing up with a single mom back in the 80’s and 90’s, I didn’t get to travel much, unless you count our annual camping trips up in Northern Canada where we would sneak off at night to watch the bear rifle through the garbage bins. At age 16 I headed off on my first real trip, to the Dominican Republic. I promised myself that when I had my own children they would get the chance to travel, certainly before they were 16. And so when my own son turned nine I decided to hell with the Caribbean resort vacations and the road trips, we were jetting off to places unknown.
Here's Why I Chose To Vacation Alone With My Nine Year Old Son in a Third World Country
A war-torn third world country in hurricane season. At least that is what everyone’s first thought was when I told them I was taking my son on vacation to Nicaragua. “What the hell do you think you are doing taking my grandson to a country where there are drugs, violence and war?” yelled my mom when I first told her of my plan. My son’s dad said it a little more subtly, “if anything happens to our son I will murder you”.
Other reactions from strangers, family and friends ranged from “Maybe you should take him to San Francisco instead; there are lots of things to do there” to “This is a joke right?” to “Maybe you should take a male with you”.
As the days drew nearer to our departure I started second guessing myself, wondering if I was indeed putting my child in danger, wondering if I was selfishly making this choice because I really wanted to go to Nicaragua. As a last ditch attempt to make myself feel better I decided to check out the advisory for Canadians traveling to Nicaragua.
According to the government of Canada “There is no nationwide advisory in effect for Nicaragua. However, you should exercise a high degree of caution due to armed violence that is commonly used during criminal activities.”
Well, it was a damn good thing my 9 year and I didn’t plan on getting involved in any criminal activity.
What we were doing is using public transportation, getting lost in the jungle, mowing down on local gallo pinto and letting things play out day by day. As my son said “this is the adventure of a lifetime”.
As the plane touched down in the capital of Managua, we hoisted our backpacks onto our backs and grabbed the closest bus, headed for a small fishing village on the coast. Knowing that the bus only ran about halfway to our final destination was something I was already prepared for and when the driver yelled out “última parada” (last stop), we vacated the bus, left on the side of a dusty dirt road. It was time to teach my son about the art of hitchhiking. As we stood on the side of the road with our thumbs stuck up we chatted about who might pick us up. Would we be able to get by with our limited Spanish to tell them where to go, would they let us ride in the back of the truck and how long would it take us to finally get picked up? As a pickup truck loaded with surf boards slammed on its brakes, the driver leaned out the window and hollered at us to hop in. The hour’s drive was spent conversing in broken English and Spanish, discussing the best surf beaches, dancing along to popular Spanish hits on the radio and stealing sips of rum from the flask being passed around. As we grabbed our bags and said our goodbye, I happened to glance at my son and realized that for the first time in a long time he looked truly happy and alive. “Geez those guys were nice, eh mom”, he remarked, “I don’t know why everyone doesn’t hitchhike everywhere”.
The weeks in Nicaragua flew by. I watched as my son got behind the wheel of a pick up truck and drove it across the beach, getting lessons from a child not much older than him. I watched with pride as he caught his first tuna off the side of a surf boat and hit it over the head with a rock, promising it was dinner that night. I watched him gather firewood for our nightly campfire which we cooked all our food over. There were trips to the market to buy frozen snickers bars by himself, there were times he gathered up our loose change and chased down the truck which sold fresh fruit and there were times I left him in our cabin at night and went and listened to live music with the locals. I watched as he grew into himself, gaining the confidence to ask for a soda in Spanish instead of English and playing soccer with the kids that lived in the villages. And as we said our goodbyes, I felt my eyes well up with tears as he left his most prized possession, his baseball glove, with one of the children who didn’t have one.
I can assure you that my son and I have better relationship since we have returned, I promise you that this was the adventure of a lifetime and I made sure that my child got the right introduction to traveling. Introducing him to a poorer nation was a good thing. Teaching him how to be safe when backpacking was a good thing. Showing him that the world is a big place begging to be explored was a good thing. We only live in this world one time and teaching my child how to make the most out of it was one of the best experiences of my life.