Guest contributor Dave Quinn on Ometepe Island and traveling with kids

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We met Dave Quinn and his family at the Hacienda Merida on the Island of Ometepe in Lake Nicaragua. Dave is the “Outdoors Guy” for the Canadian Broadcast Corporation (CBC). This is the story he prepared for the CBC, which he’s sharing with all of us.

By Dave Quinn
RadioWest/CBC

This week I will be checking in from Isla Omatepe in Nicaragua. Nicaragua itself is such a fun place to travel, for many reasons. It is relatively small – seven Nicaragua’s would fit inside BC – but the country is incredibly diverse (something on the order of 10 to 20 times the biodiversity of BC, depending on how you calculate it), with a Caribbean and Pacific Coast, a backbone of mountains and volcanos, and the two largest lakes in Central America. It has been long overlooked as a tourist destination, mainly due to US President Ronald Reagan’s illegal war on Nicaragua from the late 1970’s to the mid-1980’s. Despite orders from an international court and from his own Congress, Reagan continued to try to destabilize Nicaragua by selling arms to Iran, and diverting the funds to the Contra guerrillas (listeners over 35 might recall the Iran-Contra scandal). He either had a major issue with Daniel Ortega and the revolutionary government, or had major ties to the 50-year Samoza dictatorship. Either way, he funded a war that killed 50,000 Nicaraguans while they were trying to rebuild their country. Shameful.

These days Nicaragua is finally crawling out from under the US thumb, and has a rapidly developing tourism industry, including surf tourism, which lured an estimated 100,000 visitors last year! It is also gaining popularity with budget travellers. For between $10 and $30 you get a really clean, nice room, and you can get an incredible meal for anything from $1 to $8. We are on our way back to the coast, to a restaurant where you get three lobster tails for $4, to give you an idea. It is still rough enough around the edges to offer really fun travelling for people who are all right with surprises and whose standards are flexible!

In short, it is the perfect place for a long family vacation! We arrived in Nicaragua nearly two weeks ago. First we spent a few days surfing with some friends from Kimberley near San Juan del Sur on the Pacific Coast of Nicaragua, which was incredible. For the last two weeks we have been based on Isla Omatepe, in the middle of Lake Nicaragua.

Isla Omatepe in Lake Nicaragua is apparently the largest island in freshwater in the world, and is really, really cool. The island is made up of two volcanos: one dormant, one still quietly active, connected by an isthmus. The entire flats around the feet of the two cones is covered in organic farms with names like Finca Mystica, and Montana Sagrado (Sacred Mountain), growing everything from cashews, coffee, and peanuts, to mangoes, banana, and papaya. It is ask a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, celebrating the protection of the island’s incredible biodiversity, and the sustainable tourism initiatives created by locals.

In short, Isla Omatepe is big enough to have a great sense of place and identity, and never run out of things to do, but small enough to feel like you can really get to know it. We have been hiking to incredible waterfalls, climbing volcanoes, biking, and kayaking our days away, and my wife, Kelly, is volunteering at the local Bilingual school.

With a family we have found that it really pays to surrender to the needs of our kids, and ‘travel by not traveling’. Basically we try not to move around too much, as, while travel days are really fun, and you see a lot, they are really hard on kids, who tend to thrive with at least some sort of routine.

Some tricks to travelling with kids include: do the research to find kid-friendly destinations, try to spend more time in less places, and consider renting a place with a kitchen so you can cook as you would at home, at least some of the time.

We did a lot of reading to find beaches that were kids-friendly, but where we could still learn to surf. Huge rip tides, dumping waves, and the endless party scene might not make for an enjoyable family trip. We found that others had done the same reading, and everywhere we have been there have been other families – often Canadian – so our kids get to spend time on the beach with other kids. My four-year-old has made more friends travelling than I have, and it is really fun to watch.

Travel less. While there are for sure kids who travel well, our kids are not among them, and days hopping from taxis to chicken buses to boats to collectivos, while trying to make sure your kids are safe and your backpacks are still with you, can be challenging. We try to move every two weeks at the most. This can really let you become, at least temporarily, part of the local community, which can really make travelling fun. My 10-month old daughter picked up a cold from a Canadian family we were playing with on the beach a week or so back, and she was up screaming all night with a nasty ear-ache or headache. This would be REALLY stressful in a developing country, but since we have been here for a week or so, everyone knows her (she is a bit of a rock-star with crazy blue eyes and blond hair in a country of dark complexions), we had three of the local moms at the door, bringing us a rocking chair, a warm eucalyptus bath for her, and everything else we need. Really wonderful. If you end up somewhere less than inspiring, you can always break the rule and check out the next option.

Finally, do a few little things to make your kids feel “at home” on the road. We have these plastic placemats that go everywhere with us, so the kids always have something familiar at mealtimes. Also, we try to cook for ourselves a lot. It is not only WAY cheaper (not a huge issue in Nicaragua!), but it creates more of a sense of home, and minimizes the risks of unsavoury digestive issues that can come from eating too much local food on the road. Health concerns are for sure the major stress for travel with kids. Boil or filter all your water (don’t buy bottled water – the planet can’t afford it!), for fresh foods make sure you cook it, peel it, wash it in clean water, or forget it, and take precautions about insect-born disease. We are not visiting the Caribbean side of Central America, for example, as there is some risk of malaria there, and the antimalarial drugs are hard on adults, and really not recommended for kids. Even where there is no risk of malaria, bring small mosquito nets for your kids – sleepless, itchy kids covered in bug bites are no fun.

If you love travelling – travel with your kids! You’ll be happier, better parents, and they will be more prepared for a shrinking world. Just make sure you factor them into the plans, so you ALL enjoy it. After all, happy kids = happy parents.

If you would like to listen to the broadcast of Dave’s story on the CBC, click here.

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