Navigating Nicaragua: A Lesson In Getting Lost
One of the most popular songs by the Irish band U2 is about a place where the streets have no names. That place could be Nicaragua, the small Central American nation where I just got back from a reporting trip.
While major boulevards and highways do have names in Nicaragua, and some buildings even have numbers, no one uses them. So if you are trying to get around or find an office building, let’s say to interview someone, then you’re in trouble.
The way to navigate Nicaragua, I quickly learned, is by reference points. When in the capital, most involve the lago, Lake Managua. Two blocks to the lake, then go three blocks south and one down. Lost? I was, constantly.
But I had help from my Nicaraguan producer, Dorisell Blanco, who thankfully also did all the driving. Her address: Start from the place where all the journalists live, head south to the entrance, go two blocks down, one to the south, two more down and then almost to the corner to the green wall.
This story comes from NPR and is a short lesson in how directions are given in the capital city of Managua. You tell people how the directions are usually from a certain landmark, then so many blocks in one direction and maybe in another direction too, then either a house number or sometimes a certain color of a gate or a wall.
Compass directions here are:
- North = “al lago” or towards the Managua lake
- South = “sur” the only compass direction that makes perfect sense!
- East = “arriba” as in the sun rises in that direction, so it goes “up” in the sky
- West = “abajo” as in the sun goes down in that direction, so it goes “down” in the sky
The real fun begins when the directions begin with where something USED TO BE!
That’s right, a church that was destroyed in an earthquake over thirty years ago, or a restaurant on a street corner that hasn’t been there for over twenty years are commonly used points of reference. No problem, as the Nicaraguan people are quite friendly and asking for directions once you get n the general vicinity is completely normal and expected. Not just for tourists or expats, but anyone who is not from Managua or even that particular neighborhood.
Supposedly the U2 song, “Where the streets have no name” was written by Bono during a visit to Managua in 1986. As reported by Tim Rogers:
A year after Irish rocker Bono visited Nicaragua in 1986 in an effort to raise awareness about Central American war refugees, U2 released its smash-hit album The Joshua Tree and Nicaraguans immediately recognized that one of the songs was written about their country. Twenty years later, most people here still hold as fact that “Where the Streets Have No Name” was written about Managua, a squat and sprawling capital city where… well, the streets are unnamed.