Sunday, March 29, 2009

And it's only week 2?!

Sorry for the length of this entry, but we just completed an action-packed week.

It all started Monday with a fire that got out of control. It wasn't that close to us, but we could see the flames all along the hills in front of us. The owner of the Spanish school, Paulette, was quite worried especially as the fire was close to the elementary school that she sponsors. She went over to the area and was able to convince one of the families to come back to the Mariposa, but no one else was willing to leave. Fortunately, no one was hurt and the fire was out by morning. Because of where the fire was, it wasn't possible to get water to the area so the only option was to let the fire burn out.

Just prior to the fire event, we had been in the kitchen learning how to make tortillas and these cheese/donut rings called rosquillas. It was good fun trying to figure out what we were supposed to do while the women who usually cook, supervised us. The rosquillas are pan fried and the men took on this chore while the woman relaxed with a beer. We ate our efforts along with a cheese soup that the rosquillas float in. Considering how small the kitchen is and how basic the appliances are, it's impressive how the cooks can produce such amazing meals so quickly.

I'm happy to report that the pigs only escaped once this week, but we had a few other events related to animals. One of the smaller monkeys escaped and we tried to get him back into the cage. Unfortunately, we weren't much help and spent more time keeping the dogs away from him. The other two monkeys were clearly unhappy at his being out, but he eventually figured out how to get back in on his own and he's stayed in ever since.

One of the workers found a rare frog that he brought to the little pond near the kitchen. It looks really neat with a bright green body, orange hands/feet and red eyes. We're not sure how long he'll stay but it was cool to see the little guy up close. Another one of the workers found a large iguana that he let loose in the tree after a tough first attempt. The first time he tried to let the big guy go, it jumped off the tree and the dogs went after it. Fortunately, Daniel was able to recapture the iguana and let him loose further up in the tree.

That was the good news with the animals, the bad news was that the two baby woodpeckers that Paulette was trying to rescue died this week. One of them fell into some water and while the staff tried to keep him warm and well fed, he expired after several hours. His little friend didn't last much longer. We're not sure if it's because he missed his friend or if they were just too little to survive to begin with. I wish we had taken some pictures because they were the cutest, little things and in earlier days, quite fun to watch.

In the middle of the week, we went to a nature preserve called the Chocoyero. The reserve is a lovely piece of land where you can walk along a couple different paths and see various forms of plants and animals. We saw some small howler monkeys and various birds. Along the path are two waterfalls - we only visited the smaller one. Along the cliff walls near the waterfall, pairs of parakeets nest. It's quite a sight to see these bright green birds as they fly in pairs or hang on to the sides of the rock.

The next day we went into Managua and what an adventure that was. Managua is a good hour away and on the way to the city, our truck began to experience some trouble with starting. We had to push it a couple of times to get it going, but at the beginning it wasn't too much of a problem. While in Managua, we visited a plaza that has a residence for the President, although he doesn't actually use it, a cathedral that is used for various events and a museum that has rooms devoted to various aspects of Nicaraguan history. The museum was closing when we got there, but they let us stay for a few minutes to look around. After visiting the plaza, we took a short drive down to the shore of Lake Managua. It's a bit of a tourist area with restaurants, etc. and a structure similar to the hatch shell where they have political events. Our last stop was at the top of a hill that gives a nice view of the lake, the city and the crater of an inactive volcano. There's a zipline that goes over the crater, but no one was up for doing it, although a group of girls had just returned and seemed to enjoy it. In the same area is a small museum concerning Augusto Sandino (the revolutionary that the Sandinistas took their name from). I have to admit that after one lecture about Nicaraguan politics, I'm still not 100% clear on the events from when the Samosas were in power until now. I think a good book on the subject is needed.

The real fun began on the way home though. We left in the late afternoon just as it was getting dark and rush hour was beginning. The truck stalled just as we were beginning to go up a hill. The guys jumped out and tried to push the truck up the hill while our driver tried to start the engine. After several attempts, we had to stop as we weren't making progress and the guys were exhausted. Oh and did I mention all this was taking place as the traffic swirled around us and our lights were off to conserve energy. A car stopped to help and it was decided that they'd try to pull the car (I'm not sure why they thought this was a good idea). They attached an oil-soaked rope to the truck and the girls got in the car while the men stayed in the truck. After driving for a few seconds, the rope broke. They tried again with the same results. After a third attempt, we gave up. At this point, we were going down hill and I was more afraid the truck would gain too much speed and hit the car. Needless to say, I was happy to give up on this last idea. We finally were able to contact someone at the hotel and they sent a taxi. While we were waiting, we did the only rational thing and sent J.B. and another student for Coke to go with the rum we had purchased earlier in day. We had a weird encounter while waiting - apparently we were standing in front of a private entrance and an armed guard didn't appreciate this despite our situation. He told us, unsmilingly, to move along which we did without any protest.

Once the taxi arrived, we realized that there weren't enough seats for everyone. So, two people sat up front with the driver, four of us piled into the back (I was on J.B.'s lap) and the guide's son jumped in the trunk. Yes, you read that correctly, he laid in the trunk. The lid was open so he could breathe, but we felt pretty bad for him. Aside from the fact the radio was on loud and the speakers were in the back, we hit a speed bump rather hard at one point. He was really good natured about the whole thing. Meanwhile, one of the guys mixed rum and Cokes which we drank on the way home (not the driver of course) and J.B. entertained us by translating the 70's music that was playing from English into Spanish. We all made it home relatively safe and sound and enjoyed a late dinner. Needless to say, it was quite the adventure.

At the end of the week, we went to the Chanchito restaurant and tried the fresh pork. It's definitely one of those places you need to see at least once. We only sampled the pork, but it was amazing to see the amount of pork that was being cooked in large cauldrons. It's a favorite place for the locals and we were the only foreigners in the place. Before we left, some friends of Paulette's serenaded us on a guitar and J.B. had some laughs with them.

Saturday, we went to Granada. Despite becoming a real touristy place, Granada is still a lovely town. We went to the top of a church and were treated to some great views of the surrounding area. While some of us walked around and visited some museums, a few others went for a boat ride through the many islands in Lake Nicaragua. One of the museum's we went to had a small event going on where locals either played music or read poetry. I realized how far I have to go with my Spanish when I only understood a few words of the folks reading poetry. We ate lunch at this small restaurant, one of the few still owned by Nicaraguans. The restrooms were in the back and to get to them you needed to walk by a large altar of candles and statues, a grandmother watching American tv, a clothes washing area, a small bar and the kitchen. It would have been rude to take a picture, because my description really doesn't do justice to this surreal setting. We revisited an old railroad station and during the walk, went through some interesting neighborhoods not usually visited by people visiting Granada. Before heading home on one of the local microbuses, we sampled some very tasty mojitoes. (BTW, the bus ride to and from Granada was great. You jump on the bus and someone comes along to collect the fare. When the bus comes close to a stop, the money collector leans out and yells the destination, if someone wants to get on, they need to move fast because the bus barely stops. And best of all, they blare 70's and 80's American music. Needless to say, I was pretty excited when I heard Bon Jovi.)

Sunday was a relatively calm day. A group of us tried riding horses to this little white house that Paulette is renting. No one in the group had ever rode before, but the horses knew what they were doing. I was a little startled when my horse got mad at another and started to nip at him, but nothing bad happened. After stopping at the house and admiring the great views, we headed back out. On the way in we went up a rather steep hill, so on the return, some of the group decided to walk down the hill rather than ride. I decided to ride down and I'll admit it was a bit scared at one point when my horse decided to go down a particularly rocky part of the trail and started to lose its footing. We all made it without problems though and all in all, it was a fun experience.

The rest of the day was spent studying and in my case, writing the blog. I can't wait to see what adventures this coming week brings.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

The Pig Whisperer

Well, we've completed almost a full week and it's been quite an adventure so far. The days have taken on a routine with Spanish lessons in the morning and events in the afternoon. On Thursday, we visited the town of Masaya. It's about an hour or so away from where we're staying. We did some shopping at the local artisan market. While we saw some nice things, we decided to wait on buying anything aside from a t-shirt. After shopping, we went to dinner and saw a local concert. There were various folk dancers and a rather amusing clown. (As you may know, I usually hate clowns, but this one was pretty good. Maybe it was because he wore reading glasses?)

On Saturday, we went to Laguna de Apoyo to do some swimming and relaxing. There were a lot of Nicaraguan families there enjoying the water. We were highly amused by one family next to us. The father immediately got into a hammock and slept the entire time, even when we had a local musician playing his instrument right next to him.

The lake is beautiful and not spoiled by many tourist activities. While there were some kayaks to rent, there wasn't much else. Nicaraguans tend to splash around in the water almost fully clothed. I'd think that would feel weird, especially wearing jeans, but they don't seem to mind. There are huts along one side of the lake where you sit, relax, eat and sample the really good Nicaraguan rum. On the way home, we encountered a Sandinista rally and supposedly Ortega was there, but we didn't see him. The road was packed with cars, buses and people. The locals must have thought it was odd that we were there, but they were quite friendly and were happy to pose for pictures.

During a few evenings, we attended lectures by the teachers at the school. They speak all in Spanish, but there is an interpreter available if needed. We learned about the history of Nicargua up to 1900 as well as the current political situation. Nicaragua has always been under the influence of foreign countries despite their desire to be independent.

Friday evening, some of the guests went into town to attend a pig roast. That's probably a mild description. Apparently, every weekend this one market slaughters 2-3 pigs and people come from all over to buy fresh pork. You can also eat there - they bring large platters of cooked pork to the table and you just dig in. We'll probably go one weekend just to experience the place. While this was going on, a few of us were hanging out back at the school. While we were having a drink, we noticed the two house pigs had escaped their pen. Since none of the other workers were around aside from one of the cooks, we raced around trying to corral the pigs and bring them back to their home. We were hampered a bit by the dogs who were quite viciously nipping at the pig's hind legs. Eventually, we got the pigs back in only to have them escape a few minutes later. We repeated the herding process but this time we got them back in a bit easier and one of the guests was able to see where they got out, so she put a barrier in front of the hole. J.B. and I decided to take a walk along one of the paths and what did we see when we returned? The large pig sauntering along outside the pen again! Unfortunately, it took off down the track from where we just came, so J.B. went after it while I went to find more help. Sure enough the second pig was also out and about. After a small bit, we were able to get him back in, but there was no sign of J.B. or the big pig. Finally, we saw the pig coming down the track, calm as could be with J.B. following with a large stick. It was the funniest sight. Who knew he had such a knack with farm animals! Fortunately, that was the last time they got out. We think they may have known what had happened to their cousins earlier in the day and were worried they might suffer the same fate. They really don't have to worry about that at the Mariposa.

Today, we've just been relaxing, doing some studying and I did some laundry the old fashioned way - soap, water and a stone scrub board. The water used for washing comes from rainwater and the used laundry water is used for watering the garden. Nothing goes to waste here.

Well, enough blogging. I feel a siesta coming on. More to come soon!

p.s. J.B. did get his hat back and it's now kept under lock and key. :-)

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Greetings from Nicaragua

We made it and have been settling in quite well! It took a little bit of effort to get internet access, but we're good now. La Mariposa is a lovely place. The rooms are very basic, but the hotel is on some lovely grounds and there is no shortage of animals. So far, we've met 6 dogs, 4 monkeys, tons of parrots, roosters, chickens, ducks and a toucan. The dogs and roosters can be quite loud, so we're wearing earplugs to bed. Hopefully, we'll get used to the sounds and will be able to dispense with them.

The food has been great. So far it's all vegetarian, but rumor has it we'll be having fish for dinner, tonight. It sounds wonderful and I'm starving.

There are five other guests and they all seem nice. A few have been here for over 3 weeks and the others are new like us. We hear that in another few weeks, it will be a full house - around 25 people.

Today we had our first Spanish lessons. It would be an understatement to say that I need a lot of work. The grammar session wasn't too bad, but the conversation session was pathetic. Oh well, it can only get better, right?

After class we went to Jimotepe. There's a local market there mostly selling goods and food to locals. There weren't any artisans, per se. We all rode in the back of the school's pickup truck like the locals. It was a nice way to see the area and converse with people along the way. On the way home, we stopped for a drink while our hostess picked up avocadoes. J.B. lost his hat at the bar and we had to go back for it. Unfortunately, the woman who ran the bar found the hat, locked it up and promptly left for the day. J.B. had fun trying to converse with the people in the bar - much confusion and misunderstanding pursued, but in the end, he should be able to get his hat tomorrow.

Both J.B. and I noticed that there are a lot of similarities between here and India in terms of living conditions. Our hostess is quite knowledgeable about Nicaragua and we look forward to hearing her impressions on this country and their future.

Well it's gotten dark in our outdoor "internet cafe", so I'll be signing off. I hope to post pictures soon with the rest of my updates.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Counting Down the Days

After a few false starts, we're finally leaving for Nicaragua! While J.B. finishes up work today, I'm dealing with several last minute tasks - including completing the dreaded taxes. There's always this sense that I'm forgetting something really important, but hopefully, that's not the case.

Many people have asked about where we're going, why Nicaragua and what are we going to be doing while there. Both J.B. and I have wanted to learn a language more fluently than we do and Spanish seems like a good one to know - especially since we want to visit other Spanish-speaking countries. We chose Nicaragua because we've been there before and loved the people and the country. While many people think of it as an unsafe place to visit, it's really relatively safe. Much of the unrest is due to the political situation and doesn't really affect visitors. While it is definitely a poor country, the people are hardworking and friendly. The place that we're staying has done a lot to support the local community and we wanted to learn more about how the owner is accomplishing this and to be a part of it in some small way. You can read about her hotel, Spanish school and community projects at

My next post will most likely be from the Land of Lakes and Volcanoes. We'll have internet access at the hotel, although we probably won't be online as much as we are now. :-)