Would you like to travel so that also the local community benefits from your travel? Would you like to peek behind the scene for a few days and be part of a local family, for example in Nicaragua? Finnish Duara Travels recently opened a new homestay village in Nicaragua, on Ometepe island at the foot of an active volcano.
A dust road takes to a grey concrete house. Behind the house but far away, soars an active volcano. There is a basketball rack in front of the house, two cows and one horse saunter in front of it.
A smiling older man and a young man with dimples walk towards me: I’ve arrived at my accommodation for the next couple of days, in other words home. This is literally a home, home of one Nicaraguan family.
As a guest of Duara Travels, as the first tourist
When I heard about the accommodation organized by Duara Travels around the world, I was immediately interested. If as a traveler, I can somehow support the local community and on top of that be surrounded by invitingly ordinary everyday in a country exotic to me, I say yes to the opportunity.
After I heard that Duara Travels has just opened a new village on Ometepe volcano island in Nicaragua, I absolutely wanted to test this sort of accommodation. On top of it all, I was anyway about to head to the beautiful volcanic island on my own travels.
There’s always one local contact through Duara in each destination, ensuring that everything is smooth. The contact on Ometepe island is Octavio. He picks me up from the harbour upon my arrival and takes me to the host family. Everything is so easy.
If I can somehow support the local community and on top of it all be surrounded with invitingly ordinary everyday in a country exotic to me, I say yes to the opportunity.
Let’s return to the front of the concrete house. After introductions I am taken to my room. The room is simple. A big bed is decorated by a mosquito net and I can spread my things on a self. I mainly sleep in the room, like many other inhabitants of the tropics do. In warm countries life takes place more outside than inside and homes are often simple and unpretentious.
The other members of my couple of days host family become familiar to me a little later, when the mother returns from her job as a cleaning lady and the daughter of the family from the school. The grandmother also lives in the same house, she is part of the family’s everyday. So is a dog, who nevertheless is there more there for watch dog functions than for petting.
As a guest but part of the everyday
From the onset it is clear that my Spanish skills come in more than handy. None of the family members speak any word of English. Lucky for me, I’ll have to practice my rusty Spanish. If I cannot utter a word, we’ll have to communicate by gestures. Even that takes one far, but luckily I start to find the Spanish words from inside my head. On the other hand, Octavio could also act as an interpreter.
Lucky for me, I’ll have to practice my rusty Spanish
I am the first foreign guest in the family. Still I am more than a guest, more like an acquaintance; I am like a new or an old acquaintance coming for a visit. I can come and go according to my own schedule and wishes and do what I please. Sometimes I include myself in the family’s activities and follow how they live their lives. As a traveller I am curious and open, and in many countries I’ve ended up in similar situations by my own incentive, but I do understand that for many people it is not as easy. Homestay through Duara makes everything easy and both the traveler and the host know more or less what to expect.
"I am the first foreign guest in the family. Still I am more than a guest, more like an acquaintance; I am like a new or and old acquaintance coming for a visit. I can come and go according to my own schedule and wishes and do what I please."
There is a nice balance in the couple of days between venturing out alone and spending time with the family. Our biggest common activity is eating. We eat together on all meals. The meals always take place in the yard, by a round plastic table. Breakfast, lunch and dinner are opportunities for exchanging greetings and general chatting. I tell about Finland, they tell about Nicaragua.
In between we talk also about the life of the family: sometimes about their son living on the other side of the island, sometimes about the success in school of their third son.
Nicaraguan food is simple. Every meal includes at least beans and rice in other words gallo pinto. It’s hard to escape this food, if you travel to Nicaragua. Luckily the family knows that Westerners’ stomachs gets easily disturbed from unpurified tap water, so they have reserved purified water for me.
During meals a neighbour or a friend might walk across the yard. It is okay to enter the yard, the sense of territory is quite different from Finland. At one moment – just before the riding trip I organized through the cowboy neighbour – the whole family and the neighbour sit in the yard with his two horses. Passers-by shout their greetings from the sandy road as they go. Life happens outside.
Meals are included in the price of the accommodation as are possible activities. In Ometepe the programme includes visiting a volcano by the sunset. Due to my own schedule, I did it on the first night on a horse and on the second night in a kayak on the lake.
Good for the whole communitY
In addition to the Duara families benefiting financially from hosting business and at best getting an interesting experience, Duara has also chosen one philantrophic target in each community. Each of these targets get a small part of travellers payments.
On Ometepe this destination is a center for severly ill children, where each ill child can get their medication for free and access psychologist appointments.
When we stay in hotels, we live in a holiday bubble and too rarely the locals benefit from tourism.
To whom do homestays fit?
This newer kind of accommodation fits all, even groups and whole families. Homestay is a great way to get to know traditional, local life. When we stay in hotels, we live in a holiday bubble and too rarely the locals benefit from tourism.
I recommend a few days peek outside the tourist bubble. In contact with local people you get a new dimension to the travel destination and at the same time understand that at to core we are all very similar. Everyday life flows quite in its’ own pace in each corner of the world.
Story and photos by Laura. The original story and other stories from her trip to Nicaragua can be found on her blog Urbaani Viidakkoseikkailijatar (in Finnish). Translation of this story by Saara Nokelainen.