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Facades of "Progress" (September 2017): The quiet community of San Jorge rests aside the dark sandy shores of Lake Cocibolca. The island Ometepe wades in the center of the lake, holding the twin volcanoes Concepción and Maderas. Today, a single road connects San Jorge to the city of Rivas. It takes about fifteen minutes to get from Rivas to San Jorge and is a common path of the tourists who travel in for trips to Ometepe. The road ends in front of the newly renovated pier that juts out into the lake in the background of this image. In 2015, the Ortega Administration modernized the pier to make it easier for the ferries to move people between the port in San Jorge and Ometepe. The layout of San Jorge Beach—the edge of the community proper that runs parallel to the lake shore—reflects the sharp contrast between the government’s vision of a modern Nicaragua and the people’s reality of everyday life in the region. At one extreme, the pier houses a freshly designed park with landscaped pathways that meander towards the boarding ramps for the ferries that transport passengers to the adjacent ports of Moyogalpa and San Jose del Sur on Ometepe. Inside the gated public space is an arrangement of patio style restaurants that offer food and drinks while travelers wait for their transit—their bilingual Spanish/English signage another symbol of their attempt to draw tourists. At the other extreme, the concrete of the central road fades into the sands of Playa San Jorge. A narrow sand road leads vehicle traffic along the shoreline and into the barrios that occupy the southern end of San Jorge. The road provides access to a stretch of palm-thatched bars and restaurants that cater to the local populations that come to San Jorge Beach to swim in Lake Cocibolca and get a break from the sweltering tropical heat.
During a rum-filled afternoon along Playa San Jorge, a friend explained to me his community's perspective of the new pier. "You see the pier over there? It looks really nice, but its fake…manufactured. Most of the people here can’t pay to go to those restaurants. This…this right here.” He spread his arms out wide and motioned down the stretch of restaurants and small homes that line the sand road that runs through Playa de San Jorge. “This is the real Nicaragua. You can hang out here. The atmosphere is great, the food and drinks are affordable. And they serve the food that we actually want to eat.” A feeling of pride built in his voice as he made his case. Stories, such as this one about the pier project, are commonplace in Nicaragua at the time of my research. One does not have to search hard to find these fabricated parks that the government builds to boost the country’s image and promote sales to tourists. While they do look nice and offer up-to-date facilities, they are often merely shells of any true access and are disconnected from the communities for which they are promised to serve.