Despite the overwhelming poverty blatant throughout the neighborhood, the residents of La Planta are very community-oriented, helping each other out when in need. They are also extremely hospitable to guests, and will happily offer the little food they have, and even the shirts off their backs or shoes off their feet, without thinking twice. Many of the adults, although frustrated with the lack of opportunity are hopeful and eager to do anything they can to learn English and find more stable sources of income in the world of tourism, only kilometers away.
Away from the bustling tourism, surf shops, cafes, hotels and restaurants that occupy the small surfer town, San Juan del Sur, there is an overlooked and isolated neighborhood, locally referred to as “La Planta.” Founded in the 1970’s, the Barrio Planta, formally known as the Barrio Camilo Ortega, is located in the elevated southwest area of San Juan del Sur, just kilometers from the Port. La Planta is named after an ice plant that was built there and drew fisherman and tradesman into the otherwise uninhabited terrain, some of whom decided to settle and build houses out of tin slates and wood.
Up the rocky, dusty paths, these small, dilapidated houses with dirt floors bear brightly colored doors, almost always kept open. People normally pull up plastic chairs and sit outside, listening to music and conversing with passer-bys. Because of the lack of infrastructure, the plumbing system that supplies the hotels, restaurants and houses in the center of town with running water, does not reach La Planta until late at night, when it isn’t being used as much in town.
Due to its location near the Port, La Planta is where the fishermen of San Juan del Sur reside. These fishermen go out on boats with national companies whenever they have the opportunity. Generally, trips last from 3 days to a week, and involve sleepless nights and windy, rainy weather. A fisherman can make anywhere from $5 to $100 per trip, depending on the amount of fish they catch. When they aren’t fishing, they are waiting around for work and trying to do anything they can to make money to feed their families, such as selling beans or cutting hair.
The children are even more eager, full of joy, hope, passion, abundant energy and unlimited potential.
Once a day, at around 11:00 pm, the water comes from hoses, suspended from sinks in houses, as well as from scattered faucets outside. The residents of La Planta grab buckets and fill as many as they can until the water shuts off again, about twenty minutes later. They use this water to bathe, do dishes, wash their clothes and also to drink until the next night when the water comes again. Some days, however, the water doesn’t come at all, so everyone tries to conserve as much as they can.
Generally, they are able to get one trip per month, and the income generated feeds a family of six. That means if they’re lucky, each person in the family is allotted 55 cents per day to eat. With the tourism industry of San Juan del Sur growing, things in town are getting more expensive. Unfortunately, the salary of fisherman is not increasing. Not only are the residents of La Planta not getting any benefit from the tourism improving the lives of their fellow SanJuanenos, they are struggling more as a result of it.
Along with the water shortage, there is also an energy crisis throughout all of Nicaragua, which causes rolling blackouts; some scheduled, some not. When the lights go out in La Planta, there are no generators. People either sit by candlelight and chat, or go to their beds, most of which are shared between entire families. Sleeping without a fan at night can be very difficult in the heat.