A Travellerspoint blog


What medical clinics in Central America are really like

Nicaragua, parasites, medical

When I arrived at my new hostel in Matagalpa I asked the owner if she knew of any English speaking doctors in town, as my internet searches revealed nada. She handed me the card of a clinic three blocks from here, and even called them to book me an appointment. 20 minutes later I was in the office of a very nice doctor who was trained in Honduras, who was more than happy to practice his English with me.

The clinic is also a hospital, a labratory, and possibly an x-ray clinic. When I walked in through the wrought iron gate, four children playing skip rope smiled and waved. I liked it immediately. The clinic is really basic. A front room with a tiny desk and fan, with a short lady sitting at the desk asking me for my name. She wrote it down and we immediately walked into another room where she weighed me and asked me for 'tu annos', which I mistakenly thought meant the year I was born. Later when I saw the paper that said 'Shannon, 74 years' I realized that she was asking me how old I was.

Ten seconds after I was weighed she walked me into the doctors office. Again, another very basic looking room. One fan, one desk, one tiny bed decorated with a muti coloured blanket. I was impressed by the lack of waiting. The doctor and I talked for a while. He didn't rush me out, he wasn't quick to give me pills. He even asked me what I prefered to do next, as he also thought I had parasites, but would be happy to confirm with some lab tests

The consult cost me $8 and the tests cost me another $10. I don't know why the hell I ever bothered with the $300 worth of medical insurance, as medical care is dirt cheap in Central America, and as rumor is confirmed, is quite excellent.

The only rather down side to visiting the clinic was the lab tests. The doctor ordered me a blood, urine and excrement test. I have never had an excrement analysis done before, but I am willing to bet that it is done quite differently in North America. Here, they gave me two CLEAR cups, like the kind you might have a gin and tonic in and told me to return with them full. Then she labeled each glass with the number 7. No name, no sterile cup, no lid, and certainly no paper bag to put the excrements into.

When I went into the bathroom, I was rather horrified to find no soap or toilet paper in sight. There was no way I was going to do my messy business without either, so I ducked into one of the empty hospital rooms that had a private bathroom with all the fixings. The room was on the other side of the clinic/hospital which meant that me and my techi-coloured excrements had to walk across the entire clinic, past two wait rooms packed full of people. Oddly, no one seemed to bat an eye at this. I guess this is just business as usual here. The nice labratory lady, who also didn't seem to be bothered by the clear cup of poop I just handed her, told me to come back in two hours for my results and medication.

Now that is service. 2 hours and a nice stroll around town later, I am back in the clinic with my $10 test results in my hand.

No parasites. No bacteria. No virus. Just too much salty, fatty and sugary food. And as an extra bonus -- I have anemia now. Good bye liquidos (juice mixed with cream) and queso, hello carne and aqua pura.


Posted by SeekingSpanish 14:53 Archived in Nicaragua Comments (3)

My very first medical exam in Spanish


sunny 25 °C

After 6 weeks of eating everything, including street food in Central America, I accidently found myself at a resort eating the worst food I have ever had that was wildly overpriced. I can´t say that I enjoyed my time at Selva Negra. And I didn´t even mean to be there. I mixed it up with another eco-lodge. Instead of going to a backpacker friendly hostel in the mountains, that was highly recommended by friends, I ended up taking a very long bus journey to what can only be described as a resort built on the riches of a coffee planation, called Selva Negra, or Black Mountain, named after a German region.

I hated it immediately, mostly because I am not the kind of person that enjoys resort life. But all was not wasted, as I took a coffee planation tour when I got there. The planation is over 150 acres and employs 100s of people. There is a school and a medical clinic on the property and a large garden that feeds the entire community. The planation is certified organic and free-trade. I met many of the workers and they genuinely seemed happy to work here. I had no real idea what a free-trade planation looks like. Now I do.

After the planation tour I ate my very overpriced dinner of vegies and cheese and than went to bed, as there is nothing to do here other than listen to moths, the size of your head, crash into the window. The entire resort is packed with couples and groups of German speaking people. Not exactly the friendliest of folks.

An hour later I was clutching my stomache, chained to the porceline white bowl. I didn´t sleep a minute that whole night because I was so uncomfortable. In the morning I asked the owner if their doctor at the clinic does house calls. A half hour later I was stretched out on my bed being poked and prodded by a Spanish speaking nurse. I still do not speak much Spanish but I managed to tell him in the Spanish that I do know, that after I ate dinner I got pain in my stomache (or perhaps I said I got sleep in my stomache) and I couldn´t sleep at all. Not sure if he understood any of that, but one thing that is for certain, is that the phrase ´mucho diarrea´ seems to translate well. He gave me some pills and said I had parasites. When I asked him why, I think he said because of mucho condimentos, which I think means because of the many seasonings. This makes no sense to me.

Now, I am not entirely certain how he knows I have parasites without doing any real tests, but I am hoping that he has seen enough gringos clutching their stomaches to know the difference between the flu and parasites. Regardless, of whether his diagnosis was correct, after two days of anti-parastic medication, I am feeling much better. Yesterday all I could do was sleep and eat the pancakes the fancy hotel brought up to my room. I was so weak I could not even walk to the restuarant by myself. Today I am up and moving, eating and making bad jokes! This means I am better. I even took a short walk. I am a bit bummed out though, because I travelled all the way up here to do some hiking and bird watching in the lovely surrounding cloud forests, but I am just not up to doing much today other than lying on a hammock and cursing resort food.

Trying to find an English speaking doctor has been interesting. They do not seem to be in the town I am currently in, which is Matagulpa, but they are in Granada which is where I will be on Monday. If the yucky feelings and pain doesn´t go away by then, then off to the doctor I will go.

Wish me luck and good health.

Posted by SeekingSpanish 09:42 Archived in Nicaragua Tagged resorts coffee parasites planations Comments (0)

Cock fighting in Nicaragua and other odd sports

sunny 36 °C

Last night I went to a cock fight. And no, I am not referring to attending another Poetry Slam, although there are some odd similiarities.

The rooster fight was a 20 minute drive from Leon, Nicaragua. I went as part of a tour that is run by NiciAsi Tours. I really like them. They run events a few times a week that gets tourists intereacting with the locals. We met at Via Via, the best hostel in Leon in my opinion, and piled ourselves in a van. There was about a dozen of us who went out to the match.

I am lucky in that I knew what to expect as I had seen a documentary on the sport a few months ago. But many of the other travellers were shocked at what we saw. At first glance, the sport is brutal and sad, as two roosters fight each other with razor sharp hooks attached to their feet until one of them drops to the ground unable to move. This is difficult to watch.

But there is something more going on here, that was worth the queeziness that was experienced in my gut and made me nausaus at one point, and that is witnessing a community event.

It is not a magical, Mayan ritual, nor is it of any spiritual significance, but the event is still very much a community orientated and bonding experience. And it is macho as hell.

The event was held in a rural area, in the back of some guy´s house. They had constructed an arena out of wood and rusting chain link fence. Benches were built around the arena out of logs and nails. There were about 300 people there, pacing, cheering and betting.

The event begins with the roosters being weighed in groups of 4. They do this to evently match the fights. The roosters that are of similar weights fight each other. Once the roosters are selected the owners or trainers of the roosters will select a referee. There is much discussion about this, as it is important that the referee does not favour one owner over another. Than the weirdness starts. The owners tie on a hook onto the roosters back legs. It has a sharp hook that is similar to that of a fish hook. This takes a while. While this is occuring a large crowd gathers around the rooster and owner shouting praise and support.

The two owners of the chickens discuss the bet. This is the cool part. If one guys wants to bet 20 bucks, and the other wants to bet 50 bucks, then the difference is made up by the audience who wants to support. Usually about a dozen or so people will also want to bet on a rooster, and bets start at 2 bucks and cap at 5 dollars. Our guide said that if we tried to bet more than this he would kick us out, because this is no longer within the means of the local people. I bet 2 bucks.

After the match, the bets are settled first between the two owners, and then with the others who helped to support the rooster and owner. In this way, the match is less about betting and more about helping to support the owner who does not have the same means to wager a bet against the other owner who had more money.

The matches are 15 minutes long, divided into three rounds. The round ends when the beak of a rooster hits the ground. There is a break, and then the roosters fight again. The match is won if the beak hits the ground at the begininng of a match or if the rooster´s beak hits the gound at the end of the match more than once.

The owners are very proud of their roosters. They train them for at least a month for an hour each day. Training involves walking them on a leash to build muscle mass, massaging the muscles and placing the tiniest boxing gloves you have ever seen on the feet of the roosters. Roosters naturally fight each other, so when the gloves are on them, they fight each other without hurting them.

If you live in Leon, you know the trainers and the roosters, and therefore know who to bet on. Us tourists had nothing to go on other than gut feel and the look in the eye of the trainer. I chose the trainer who was the oldest and calmest looking. He had a fierce look about him, whereas his oppontent looked cocky and inexperienced. Betting was a bit weird, as we weren´t really sure when that was supposed to happen. I am not sure why this happened, but when I tried to bet I was told no at first. I am not sure why this happened, but it might have something to do with the money not being needed at this point. But then some guy who spoke better Spanish than I, helped me place my bet.

This was a bit surreal for me, and I was the ONLY woman in a crowd of men trying to bet on this rooster. I liked that my gender was practically ignored in this situation. This happens to rarely in Central America. A few minutes after my money was taken the rooster was placed in the center of the ring to fight.

My match was the longest one of the night. In the first round the roosters went at each other, pecking and flying into the other. My rooster lost the first round, but won the second round. The third round was brutal. At a certain point it became evident that the roosters could no longer see each other. They both had went blind. Both roosters just kind of wandered around the arena, with the owners making chirping noised behind them to fire them up to fight. Neither wanted to fight. They both sat down. Each time that the rooster would wander away or sit down, the owner would pick them up and place them in front of another again, hoping that their fighting instincts would kick in again. They didn´t. This went out about 6 times before finally my rooster that I bet on gave one final peck to the other, resulting in a beak drop.

I wasn´t sure if I was proud of my rooster or just sad, for both roosters were now officially blind. After the match all of us who bet on the winning rooster gathered around him and his owner. The owner looked very proud of his fighter. We all shock hands. I collected my winnings and had a beer.

Later that night, on the way back home in the van, I didn´t really say anything. What was there to say really. But what I did think about is how this sport is very important to the men who live here. It is brutal and sad, but so is life. Cock fighting is about more than two roosters pecking out his others eyes. It is about a community coming together to support each other financially and to cheer on each other. Chickens are valued here more than cats or dogs. They are family but they are also food and substance. When the rooster dies in the fight he will become soup for the family the next day. This might sound horrible to many of us Westerners, but this is part of the cycle of lie.

Nicaragua is the 2nd poorest country in Central American, 2nd only to Haita. The people who live here have endured slaughter at the hands of their government, and then again at the hands of their people and by Americans. Despite the poverty and the relentless heat and constant threat of all of the coffee and corn crops being extinguished by volcano ash, this is a country packed with men and women who are unbelievably hospitable, friendly and full of of positive energy. After the fight one of the trainers bought me a drink, despite the large disparity of our incomes and we chatted about the match and his pride in his roosters.

The other thing this event made me think about is how sport and contest will always be a part of communities. In Leon, poetry is honoured and given a museum, a park and two poets are honoured in the largest Church in Central America for their role that they placed in changing modern poetry but also in the role tha the poets played in the revolution. This is wonderful and beautiful to me, and helps me put the cock fighting into perspective, because in many ways the sport of Poetry Slam, which is what I have been involved with for many years does something similar. It pits two things against one another, often in a way that gathers a communities attention, support and loud applause and cheering. I am sure that in a country that honours their poets with shrines, they would be disgusting at the spectacle that is the poetry slam. Just in the same way that many foreigners are disgusted with the arena that houses cock fights.

But dont all communities have similar goals, to build a community and to support each other, and to fight for our values. In this way, I am glad I got to witness the cock fight, and I hope that in years to come this tradition remains. Many people here are trying to get rid of the sport, but I hope that the tradition continues.

Posted by SeekingSpanish 09:34 Archived in Nicaragua Tagged cock fighting Comments (0)

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