Book Travel

Will the Nicaragua Canal destroy Lake Nicaragua and Isla Ometepe?

It was time to visit Nicaragua’s famous island. Whilst I was waiting for the boat, I sat in a cafe that was next to the lake. It should have been a perfect place but there was a spider monkey chained to a tree. I just chain-smoked and tried to pretend it wasn’t there. The waiter told me I smoked too much, which was great as I love it when men that I don’t know comment on my life choices.

They played a bizarre and violent dubbed Jackie Chan movie on the boat to Ometepe. I got off at Moyogalpa and not having much of a clue where to go I stayed there for a night as a base to see the island. There are nice walks that you can go on from the island’s capital and I was in a pretty relaxed mood with it being at the end of the trip.

Ometepe is actually not the only island in Lake Nicaragua and its name comes from the Nahuatl language, ome which means two and tepetl which means mountain. Concepcion is the North volcano and Maderas is the South. Concepcion is active and caused an earthquake of 6.2 in 2005 and there was an eruption in 2010. In contrast, Maderas is dormant and has a crater lake. The volcanos have two separate magma channels so it is technically possible that both of these flows could release at the same time.

A survey found 73 petroglyph sites on the island and the Ometepe Petroglyph Project is a volunteer field survey of the archaeology of the island. Thanks to the hard work of these volunteers they now have 1600 panels and 1400 boulders in their research bank.

These petroglyphs fall into the categories of abstract and representational. The abstract patterns are made up of various spiral-like and curved patterns. The zoomorphic and anthropomorphic representations are various creatures like monkeys and expressive human faces. Some of these meanings can only be guessed at this present time but I’m sure that we will learn more about them as research continues.

In terms of wildlife, the white-faced capuchin monkey and mantled howler monkey live here. When the mantled howler monkey reaches sexual maturity his scrotum turns white. Their diet is mainly made up of leaves which is how they survive on the islands.

On some of the smaller Ometepe islands, people have introduced spider monkeys which would explain why I saw one chained up. Fisherman feed them as they would not survive if left to their own devices with so little natural food available. Hopefully one day they’ll be moved back to the jungle, or at least somewhere where they won’t be completely miserable.

An important development in Nicaragua is the Grand Canal project, the idea being that it would be a canal through the country just like the one through Panama. But why would we need another Panama Canal that is so close when the one that we have is so technologically advanced, recently widened and was easier to build through a thinner country? China is why. It’s costing them $50 billion and it means they can avoid the influence America has on the Panamanian waterways.

The International Federation for Human Rights said that up to 120,000 Nicaraguan people had no way of relocating and were not compensated sufficiently. Endemic lake species will also be put at risk as their environment will be changed in a way they were not evolved to handle. The lake is the largest freshwater reserve in Central America and the canal will salinate it when it is connected to the sea.

The man in charge of this abomination of a project is Hong Kong ’s Wang Jing, billionaire CEO of Beijing Xinwei, a Chinese telecoms company as well as Chairman of the HKND Group which is a private infrastructure project. He also lost 85% of his fortune on the Chinese stock market crisis which led him to be named the world’s worst-performing billionaire in 2015 by Bloomberg. 

Interestingly, he denies involvement from the Chinese communist party yet he has no real experience of engineering such a project. Hmmmm. The project is expected to be completed in 2020.

The canal will be much wider than its Panamanian sibling due to the need to get huge Chinese naval ships through. There will only be one bridge across this canal so it will divide the country in two. Nicaragua is obviously in need of investment but it is unknown how profitable it will be and how much the country will actually see the profits.

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