It was a bit quiet this week due to Semana Santa, but we still did some activities. On Sunday, after a day spent washing, reading, writing my blog and generally lounging around, there was a party in the new rancho. A rancho is an open air, thatched roof structure. The party was to celebrate the completion of the ranchero as well as to celebrate the fact that a couple here got their residency papers. The party was pretty funny. At first all the chairs were set up around the edge of the rancho with the staff sitting on one side and the students on the other. This changed a bit after some rum punch was consumed and dinner eaten. Once the dishes were cleared away, Guillermina, Paulette's daughter gave an example of traditional dance. Following that, the music came on LOUD and people started dancing. We were amused to watch Paulette and Ismael (her right hand man) tending the radio. Paulette would keep turning the music down and a few minutes later Ismael would turn it up. I was dragged onto the dance floor a few times. It was fun the first time, but it's hard to know when the songs end, so it seems like you're out there for a 1/2 hour before you can sit down again. After doing that a few times, I was exhausted. J.B. meanwhile snuck away before anyone could get him out there.
Monday, a few of us went into Granada to see an Easter event. Lake Nicaragua is made up of about 365 small islands and on Monday, there was a procession of decorated boats that went to each island where a prayer would be said. We got up with the rooster so that we could be part of the procession. We arrived in Granada in plenty of time so we decided to take the boat over to one of the islands that has a restaurant. Despite the plea for the service to be quick, it was one of the longest meals we've had. The food was not very good and the coffee - a mixture of coffee, milk and tons of sugar, was awful. While we were there the procession started. Some of the boats were really elaborately decorated with flowers and a person dressed to resemble Jesus carrying the cross. In many cases, it was a young boy who took the part. Other boats were more simply decorated. After paying our bill, we joined the other boats and went to a few more islands. Eventually, the novelty wore off and we convinced our tour guide to break from the procession and just do a brief tour of the rest of the lake. We saw some interesting birds and monkeys along the way and an hour later returned to Granada. We walked around the town for a while, had lunch at a cute cafe owned by an American and then headed for home.
Wednesday we went into Masaya again. It was a fairly uneventful trip this time. I bought a hammock chair for the cottage from an artisan that Paulette recommended. After that we went to the "old" market. It's calmer than the last one we went to but the prices are considered to be a bit higher. I did find out on this trip that many of the grocery stores and "Pali" markets are owned by Walmart. As is their usual custom, they buy existing stores, treat the workers horribly and try to drive the small stores nearby out of business. I won't get on my soapbox, but needless to say, I won't be shopping at these stores. There are still local shops and one grocery store that are owned by Nicaraguans where you can buy what you need.
Thursday, we went on a night tour of the Masaya Volcano. The tour was very interesting. We first went to a point where a large cross had been erected. The story goes that the volcano was considered sacred by the indigenous people and had mystical properties. Virgin girls, infants and prisoners were sacrificed to the volcano during various ceremonies. The Spanish hearing about this, came to the volcano and upon seeing the lava, etc. decided it was a gateway to hell. They erected the cross as a way to exorcise the volcano. After climbing up to the cross, we then went to another high point to see another crater. From there, we went to a couple of bat caves. The first cave had a lot of bats flying around and the second cave we were able to walk through, but there weren't many bats. After the bat caves, it was quite dark so we were able to go to the most active crater and see some glowing embers. Unfortunately, it was hard to take pictures that give a sense of the atmosphere.
Friday was a quiet day, although, we did see the procession for Good Friday. This was similar to other processions except the statues were of Jesus, Mary and Mary Magdalene. A fair number of people attended, and I thought it was quite interesting that there were ice cream vendors amongst the crowd. There were also teenage boys dressed as if it were Halloween. They ran up and down the street looking for contributions that could be used for sodas. An interesting take on Good Friday observances.
Saturday, I went with a few other people to Mombacho, another volcano. Jeff stayed home to allegedly study. This trip was very different from Thursday's volcano visit. In order to get to the base station, you take these big Russian open air trucks that go up a VERY steep drive. It's a bit scary, especially since the truck kept stalling at the beginning. I had visions of us rolling backwards and crashing. Fortunately, we made it without incident. The hike took about 4 hours and we went up and down several hills before reaching the top. My legs are killing me today, but it was worth the trip. The views were quite lovely and while we didn't see a lot of wildlife, there was some interesting flora.
Saturday evening we went to a going away dinner for one the guests who had been here for 3 months. The restaurant was a small place down the street and I had some of the best chicken I've ever had. We had an early night due to the hike that day. Sunday will be the normal day of rest before starting another eventful week. At the end of the coming week, we'll be going to Ometepe for the weekend. We're really looking forward to that.