After recently suffering a heart attack and undergoing quadruple bypass surgery, veteran British Member of Parliament (MP) Peter Kilfoyle was struck with a curious impulse – he wanted to try to walk across Nicaragua, from the Pacific Ocean to the Caribbean.
Kilfoyle first visited Nicaragua in 2005, when he led a British delegation as part of the Inter-Parliamentarian Union to meet with Nicaraguan lawmakers on official business. He says he liked what he saw of Nicaragua and wanted to come back, only this time to do something more fun than work.
Unfortunately, his idea of fun was to try to walk across the country.
“It was hard, very hard, hot, humid, hilly, and I got bitten to death by mosquitoes,” Kilfoyle, 61, told The Nica Times this week in Managua, after completing the 140-mile hike. “And that was on a good day.”
“Nicaragua looks a lot smaller on the map,” added fellow hiker and Labour Party parliamentarian Greg Pope.
But when the going got tough, Kilfoyle and his crew, which included his son, Patrick, and son-in-law – a registered nurse – had the good instincts to turn to local help.
“We made good friends with Toña and Victoria,” Kilfoyle said, referring to Nicaragua’s two leading brands of beer.
Back in Managua, Kilfoyle and Pope worked themselves into a silly mood when talking about their 10-day adventure, which left from the southern Pacific shores of San Juan del Sur Sept. 15 and arrived on the Caribbean shores of Bluefields – via OmetepeIsland and many bars along the way – on Sept. 25.
The hikers, who were also assisted by the Nicaraguan Army and Navy thanks to an arrangement made by the British Embassy, also stopped in on local communities to meet with people and share a laugh along the way.
“We met some wonderful people,”Kilfoyle said.
As for sleeping arrangements, the group stayed in “various places of differing standards,” Kilfoyle said diplomatically.
“El Rama doesn’t have an Intercontinental Hotel yet,” added Pope, referring to the depressed Caribbean port town that is located on the way to Bluefields.
Still, the group found they were up to the challenge.
“Next year I will try to do it on a pogo stick to make it more challenging,” the portly Kilfoyle joked, adding, “But it will have to be a strong one in my case.”
Despite their good humor upon returning safely, the walk across Nicaragua was done with a serious purpose in mind: To raise awareness about heart disease and to raise funds for the British Heart Foundation and the Peace and Hope Trust, a local Nicaraguan development organization that funds projects on the Caribbean coast.
Kilfoyle says his trekkers have already raised $60,000, and they hope to raise even more once they get back home and spread the word about their hike. They also hope that by raising more awareness about Nicaragua, they will be able to strengthen relations between the two countries and help generate more funding for development projects here.
The group also took care of some more politically natured business. In Bluefields, Kilfoyle and Pope visited the local jail, which has been an issue of concern for the British Embassy for several years.
The Members of Parliament were disgusted by the conditions they found there and let ranking Sandinista lawmaker and NationalAssembly president Rene Núñez know, under no uncertain terms, that the situation of overcrowding and inhumane living conditions need to be addressed immediately.
The British Embassy has been pushing for prison reform in Bluefields for several years by raising awareness about the conditions through the media and through cultural events, such as the recently inaugurated exhibition in Bluefields of artwork done by prisoners.
The British MPs also joined efforts with the Ministry of Education to release the second edition of the popular youth-created book “Voices from the Coast,” a compilation of short stories and artwork reflecting the intricacies of the Caribbean’s unique culture – from typical food and maritime life, to it’s sometimes violent history – through the eyes of children nine-15 years old.
The first edition of the book, which was released in late 2005, is back by popular demand with added photographs and contributions from the region.
Speaking of bigger and better, Kilfoyle and Pope are already joking about how they can one-up their cross-country trek next year.
Asked if they would consider next time crossing the country the “long way” (north to south) rather than the wimpier east-west passage, Pope doesn’t miss a beat.
“Next year we are thinking of walking the entire Pan-American Highway,” he said.
That’s a lot of beers along the way.