It seemed all of a sudden like a scene out of the Middle East. Hundreds of US Navy and Airforce personnel in uniform walking around town in San Jan del Sur.
Yet, they were unarmed… and we were not aware of a surge in geo-political friction between Nicaragua and the U.S. beyond the normal political theater that is a running theme in bi-lateral relations. There is a much more positive explanation for this military presence.
We first ran into a couple of US military in our favorite bakery shop sampling the goods. “What the hell are you doing HERE?” we asked.
Turns out that the US Navy hospital ship (USNS Comfort) is on a Latin American friendship mission and are here in San Jan del Sur, anchored in the middle of the cove, to give free medical services to locals. This is part of a rare pro-active outreach policy to maintain positive contact with the population.
On a tour that included Chile, Argentina, Peru before moving on to Belize and Haiti some 900 Navy/airforce and army medical staff and logisticians were enjoying some Nicaraguan beach and sun time in between shifts. The ship is equiped with xray, MRI equipment, cat scans, operating theaters and recovery rooms and provided free surgery to more than a dozen patients each day for the month of June.
When we arrived at Maderas beach there were a handful of handsome black US Navy guys, built like Greek gods, bopping to the beat and eating fish tacos at our local hangout spot.
Conveniently we ran into the one US veterinarian who was aboard and she was kind enough to confirm our dogs health diagnosis (skin infections) with what a local vet had told us and prescribed. Turns out, he was spot on and what I thought was a Nica phenomenon, is also very common to dogs in the US as the result of ticks. The veterinarian told us she was pretty excited to be going home soon after being away for one year.
While we enjoyed our time at the beach, we observed the ship’s helicopter going back and forth from the ship, flying low overhead with supplies.
Quite an unusual sight in San Jan del Sur.
In the media there was this insightful quotation by a thankful farmer who was happy to learn that the US mission ship did not distinguish among political affiliations as sometimes happens in Nicaraguan health clinics.
“They didn’t ask what party you belong to, they just ask what illness you have!”