A small resort with a big impact

Once in awhile I am invited to participate in a very special photography assignment. Such was the case when I traveled to Nicaragua in November 2014 to spend a week at Monty's Beach Lodge on the north Pacific coast. My assignment? To create a first look photo essay about my experience.  

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Nicaragua – A first look

Field notes from a portrait photographer

Quick facts:

Nicaragua is in Central America, with Honduras to the north and Costa Rica to the south. The country has three coastlines: Pacific, Atlantic, Caribbean and a population of six million people.

45% of the population is under 15 yrs old.  Source: Frommer’s Guide to Nicaragua

Tourism is growing 10-12% annually due to the country’s natural beauty & variety of terrain which makes it a“budget paradise”.  Source: Wikitravel.org

My destination:

A peninsula on the north Pacific Coast, home to three villages of Jiquilillo, Los Zorros, Padre Ramos and 960 families.  Set among the villages on a beautiful unbroken stretch of beach is a very unique small resort called Monty’s Beach Lodge.    

November 10-17, 2014

I arrived in the capital city of Managua on a sunny day in November. Retrieving luggage and clearing customs went smoothly and I stepped out of the cool comfort of the modern, air-conditioned airport into the heat and noise of this bustling city in late morning. The driver from Monty's Beach Lodge was close by and soon we were merging onto the busy city streets. My initial impressions of Nicaragua were formed during the half hour drive to clear the city limits and two hour journey along rural roads and through villages as we made our way to the coast.

I believe the driving habits of any country can tell us much about its citizens; what I experienced in the first few hours in Nicaragua was a real eye-opener. With many horns beeping, headlights flashing and some serious tail-gating, the drivers in this country engage in a marvelous combination of defensive driving skills, cooperation and courtesies, merging and yielding, give and take. I admit to having a white knuckled grip on the edge of my seat the first few times our driver closed in on a large truck, with cyclists on one side of the road, horses and carts on the other side and a long line of traffic in the on-coming lane. With a soft beep-beep to alert everyone he swung out, passed and merged back in our lane with a smooth practiced skill which was nothing short of amazing.

After a few of these episodes I began to relax and admire the dexterity with which traffic of all types flowed together in a dance which simply just works. I couldn't help but wonder: how would Canadian motorists back home respond to these roads? It was easy to picture the answer: chaos, pandemonium, frustration and certainly a few outbursts of road rage. Yet here in Nicaragua the traffic flowed together smoothly, without mishap or even a hint of anyone being upset.  Truly remarkable. This country has won my respect and admiration within the first few hours...

Quick facts about Monty’s Beach Lodge:

* Established January 21, 2008

* Owners:  Gerry Caceres (a local citizen) and Don ‘Monty’ Montgomery (a Canadian high school teacher)

* The resort property is situated on beach front and can accommodate 65 guests in charming and comfortable rooms scattered throughout the property. Three generous meals are included in your stay, along with ample supplies of bottled water (a must in this hot climate).

Monty's Beach Lodge is situated on a long unbroken stretch of beautiful Pacific coastline, with sunsets like this every night. Yes, really!

I was intrigued by their website which offers opportunities to: Stay. Play. Change the World.  

Let’s take a closer, individual look at these options.  

Stay.

My experience of staying at Monty’s can be summed up by another promise on their website:  Hot sun. Cool breeze. Warm people. Yes, it is a hot sunny climate, with regular breezes off the land and the ocean. But the real jewels of this resort are the people…friendly, personable and most definitely warm. All the staff – from grounds keepers to cooks to maids – greet their guests with a warm smile and hello…every time they see you. Rarely in my travels in Canada, Europe and other parts of Latin America have I experienced such genuine friendliness. The hospitality demonstrated by the staff at Monty’s sets a standard and it had a positive influence on all the guests staying there.  Kindness and good will are contagious. 

Play.

There is a variety of activities available and there’s also the option to do as little as possible. Surf, kayak, swim, fish, walk or relax in the open air yoga studio overlooking the ocean, read a book, take a siesta.  You can also opt to volunteer for any of the many on-going community projects.  

Change the World.

One of the real benefits of staying at Monty’s is this: the resort and their guests have an impressive roster of programs for positive social change and being of service to the surrounding communities. Guests are welcome to participate in a variety of truly heart warming and on-going programs.  I love that a portion of my tourism dollars go back into programs which the local villagers are most interested in seeing developed. Monty himself says it best:  Just by staying at our resort you are contributing to our projects and making this community a better place. 

One program funded by Monty's Beach Lodge is a sea turtle hatchery. Thousands of newly hatched babies are released to the wild annually.

Guests at Monty's carefully examine this little marine wonder.

Village fishermen prepare to go out on the evening tide.

Local boy and his surf board.

A few final thoughts

While walking through the villages I was acutely aware of my responsibilities to and respect for those I wished to photograph. As I passed by humble homes with hard packed dirt floors, roofs & walls often constructed with patch work materials, the laundry hanging out to dry in every yard, the hammocks, the bicycles, the adults working, always working, children playing, dogs lounging…I noticed the culture of friendliness was very evident here too.  Without exception local people of all ages smiled and greeted me. This remarkable capacity to be positive in a country which is the second poorest in the western hemisphere continually amazed me.  I thought about it a lot.  I was reminded of Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, first expressed by him in 1943.  Maslow proposed that all humans are motivated by needs, with the most basic need being survival itself.  When the basic needs of physical and emotional well-being are satisfied (or at least moving in the direction of being satisfied) we can then turn our attention to growth and self-actualization.  I believe this is what is happening in the villages surrounding Monty’s Beach Lodge.  Their concerns – health care, education,culture, sport, employment (source: Gerry Caceres) – are being addressed and this provides a definitive boost to morale and most importantly of all: it offers hope.  

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