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Home Sweet Home

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Chillin´in Jiquilillo

We sadly said goodbye on Sunday night...

...and on Monday morning we headed to a tiny, sleepy, fishing village on the pacific coast in northwest Nicaragua.

Here is where we called home for three nights:After fully exploring the place, including a three hour walk on the beach, finding the best place to buy mangos, and checking out the estuary, we did manage to sit still long enough to read a good book in a hammock...

Here is the view from my hammock.
Here is me in my hammock (no, I am not naked).Good times.


Before leaving Estelli for good, we headed north to spend one last day in northern Nicaragua floating through Samoto Canyon. We embraced the rain and our trusty life jackets and scrambled, floated, and cliff jumped our way through the canyon.

Despite an incident on the bus involving a pocket knife and the fact that I am still sporting huge purple bruises on the back of each thigh from my cliff jump (landing in the sitting position is not recommended — ouch!), we lived to tell the tale and would recommend it!

Saturday, May 21, 2011

The Reason for The Challenge

The Volcano Charity Challenge we completed two weeks ago raised over $8,000 dollars for the GVI projects in Nicaragua with mine and Troy´s sponsors alone being almost enough to fund fund the much needed addition to the school in La Chiriza. We cannot thank you enough! Over the past week we have had the pleasure of watching the addition take shape. With close to 100 students in seven grades in only three rooms, the outdoor addition will give 40 preschool children their own space to do what 3-5 year olds do best—make their voices heard!

Our friend Aaron has been overseeing the school project here since its inception a year ago and in that time it has grown from simply chairs and tables set up in the open, to the three room structure that exists today which now boasts a brand new addition. The school, run by two local teachers in addition to volunteers, provides what is best described as a supplemental education. The learning environment of national schools is often less than ideal and depending on cost and location barriers, some parents don´t send their children at all. The volunteer-run school reinforces the national school curriculum at no cost, therby increasing the odds of successful education even for those with little or no means. In addition, adult literacy and english classes are provided twice a week.

Ofcourse it was not all business, we had plenty of fun and laughed a lot, especially during recreo!

The community of La Chiriza is quite new, only slightly more than a year old. La Chiriza is one of those communities that is all too real; the people are real and the poverty is real. It is a community in which the combination of tarps and scrap wood is a house, an outhouse is a bathroom, a bucket is a shower, and an open fire is a stove. This particular community is best described as a ´squatter´ community where people have travelled from both near and far to stake their claim on available land close enough to Esteli to find work there but with less expense. The community has only recently been legally recognized and it continues to grow. Power lines are currently being strung from plot to plot, though it has yet to be activated, and houses continue to go up.

After spendiing time in Chiriza, we have no doubts that the challenge and the project it supported was more than a worthwhile endeavor.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Only in Central America

Had I been at home this week, I probably (though I can´t say for certain) would not have...
  • Thought it okay for three people to ride a motorcycle together, one being a tiny baby held by the second passenger
  • Seen a man walking the streets each day selling mattresses, with four of his finest strapped to his shoulders
  • Greeted Troy when he was dropped off by immigration, having been picked up for not carrying his passport with him
  • Spent a day with FUNARTE, a locally run organization that organizes human rights and mural art education workshops for children and young adults with disabilities from some of the poorest neighborhoods around

  • Eaten gallo pinto (rice and beans) three times a day
  • Witnessed a fire in a wood stove being started by using plastic bottles as kindling
  • Been subjected to music and propaganda blaring from giant speakers affixed to the top of a car
  • Skipped rope, danced the hokey pokey, or reviewed my times tables

  • Watched two grown men routinely, and seemingly comfortably, navigate the streets on the same bicycle (one on the seat and one on the top tube)
  • Thought it routine for there to be both a toyota and a horse ´parked´ outside my house
  • Been intrigued by the work of ERSLA, an NGO working to improve emergency services by bringing much-needed firefighting equipment and first responder education to Nicaragua
  • Smiled at the sight of tables and chairs being brought out onto the sidewalk at dinner time as homes are transformed into mini-cafes
  • Tried my hand at making paper with las Mujeres Ambientalistas (the association of Women Environmentalists), a local cooperative intent on recycling and composting and who make recycled paper out of food waste such as banana leaves and onions.

I mean, I can´t say for sure, but I probably would not have done these things.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

The price is right

This morning I paid 20 cents for the delicious mangos, sliced up and bagged for my convenience by the nice lady on the street, that I snacked on while Troy sipped his 27 cent cup of coffee. I walked two hours to a waterfall outside of town and paid $1 to enter the protected natural area. While there I contributed $3 to a local man who handcarved from stone the mortar and pestle set I purchased. I paid 45 cents for the bus to take me home.

As I write this I am spending 50 cents to use the internet for one hour to find out what is going on in the world I am accustomed to where buying a couple of starbucks coffees costs the same as a good night´s sleep and three meals a day prepared by a lovely woman who makes sure I exceed my daily recommended carb intake here in Nicaragua.

Monday, May 9, 2011

A Challenge Indeed!

Over the course of four days our team of 14 sweated it out together, nursed our wounds, tended to our sunburns, bandaged our blisters and enjoyed the view from the craters of 8 volcanoes. We arrived at the top of the final volcano, Volcan Momotombo, a little bedraggled, alot dirty, and extremely satisfied with our success.

On the first day we were in awe of the first active crater we encountered. We tried to resist getting too close to the edge but tested fate just a little in order to hear the bubbling lava below. Ofcourse Troy threw rocks into the crater to summon the volcano gods but thankfully they ignored him.

We then proceeded to walk through fire (literally jumping over flames) to attempt the second volcano (note the smoking volcano in the background of the photo below). We ended up surrendering as we found ourselves surrounded by fire and the winds kept changing. The firefighter among us advocated for a swift descent and thankfully my shorts were the only casualty—I clumsily fell on my butt in my haste to retreat.

(We were able to keep the final trip tally 8 volcanoes, however, with an unexpected crater addition to the itinerary on the third day).

On day two, after having hiked about ten hours, we thought it fitting to climb up Cerro Negro in gale force winds, carrying what amounted to slabs of plywood, to try our hand at volcano boarding. We basically tobogganed 600m down a 43 degree grade and tried not to wipe out. At a cool 42kph I dusted Troy, but I was far from hitting the record of 87kph!

Day three was by far the longest and most taxing and had us walking from our third volcano of the day, El Hoyo (The Hole (see pic!)) down to a laguna. As with every destination on the trip, according to our guides the laguna was "about 30 minutes" from El Hoyo. Loosely translated, 30 minutes means anywhere from 30 minutes to 3 hours... In this case, it may well have been even longer than that but jumping into the cool water at the end made it all worthwhile!

On the final day, we hiked the open faces of Volcan Momotombo under the 38 degree sun, taking refuge wherever we could behind boulders or single free-standing trees.

I'd like to say we arrived at the top and relished the fresh air but in reality we gagged and choked on the sulphur and gases that were sputtering up. The view was incredible though and knowing that we were on our way down left us jumping for joy!

Our guides earned major brownie points by greeting the team with cold beer at the bottom. Despite sore feet and tired eyes, the celebration continued in Leon following showers and clean clothes.
(And yes, for some reason the celebration included cowboy hats...)

As Troy was quick to point out if ever there was any complaining by anyone, the event was not named "Volcano-walk-in-the-Park," it was, as it turns out, quite aptly named "Volcano Challenge" and challenging it was.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Nicaragua - The land of lakes and volcanoes!

Plagued by indecisiveness as usual, I have packed and unpacked a dozen times fully recognizing that I will unlikely wear/use at least half of what I am bringing. One would think that packing for a single month should be easy compared to packing for a whole year but one would sadly be mistaken. We will be cramming a lot of different activities into a short amount of time, and I want to be prepared for anything!

We will be spending our first night in the capital, Managua, and will head to Leon the next morning to join a group of volunteers raising money in support of GVI's ongoing Phoenix Projects (community education projects) in Nicaragua by participating in the organization's first-ever Nicaraguan Volcano Charity Challenge. We have been sponsored by generous friends and supporters and over the course of 4 days (May 5-8), we will hike 8 volcanoes with all donations going towards a new school building in Chiriza, local teachers' salaries and food for the kids.

The last update received from Nicaragua was to suggest appropriate clothing to deal with 10-12 hour hikes in extreme heat and in the midst of, and I quote, "droves of bees!" Um, yikes. But a challenge is supposed to be challenging, right?!

And so...we're off!

The above map identifies four of the eight volcanoes we will be hiking: Telica, Cerro Negro, Las Pilas, and Momotombo (not shown are Santa Clara, Rota, El Hoyo, and Asososca)