Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Casa de Nino

Today was my second day working at the Casa de Niño. Since I have cut back on my Spanish classes I have time to volunteer at a local organization. I can already tell this is going to be an excellent place to practice my Spanish. The Casa de Niño runs several different types of projects including an art and theatre school, a papermaking-recycling cooperative for women, and a natural medicine pharmacy. Right now I am working in the pharmacy, cataloguing the different types of teas they use to treat everything from skin problems to T.B. I plan on creating a brochure for them in English (a lot of foreigners stop by) and hope to work on some of their art projects. The pharmacy seems to be the heart of San Ramon...all day people are stopping by to ask questions, seek consultations, check out prices on meds, or just want to chat about the days gossip. I will definitely get a slice of small town life by working here as well as intellectually stimulating conversation. Today, the women I work with had a heated debate about machismo in Nicaragua. I did not understand everything and I really wanted to…it was very frustrating but only fuels my motivation to keep studying, practicing and listening...

Monday, January 29, 2007

Bird Nerd and The Birds

Watching white throated magpie jays eating papayas off of a tree; a baby howler monkey hanging on the back of it's mother; a skeptical crocodile slithering into the river; a hummmingbird guarding an egg in its nest next to a pristine waterfall; the flight of a blue morhpo floating through the cloud forest; spotting the illusive guardabarranco - national bird of Nicaragua; pondering for hours over the identity of a mysterious looking emerald toucannette we could only see lying on our backs; eating lunch with a kingfisher; bird-nerding by the pool at Hotel Las Mercedes; or, enamoring the beautiful trogons - family of the quetzal…wildlife-watching was definitely a theme on our recent travels through Nicaragua with my Dad and Mary Therese. (My dad likes to pick out themes for our trips. His visit with me and Brad in New Jersey last January focused on George Washington. We followed a trail of sites in New Jersey commemorating the revolutionary war and Washington's presence in the area. Although we had been living in the area for many years (of course Brad is a native) these sites had slipped from our imagination of places to see. But seeing these parts of New Jersey with a history enthusiast only added to my appreciation of NJ). Similarly, my Dad and Mary Therese's time here opened up a whole new excitement about being in Nicaragua. They are tirelessly enthusiastic about all things, from coffee tasting at SOLCAFE to the magnificence of a young waiter's slick-back hair at the Italian Restaurant; melon-watermelon fruit drinks to the volcanoes. Aside from the bounty of having time together, their visit was the prefect blend of heavy duty exploration and much needed relaxation.

We began the journey locally, in the mountainous coffee region (learning about coffee from plant to cup from Bradley and company), and hiked out to a remote indigenous community with a local guide who runs the tourism project where I teach English. While in San Ramon we had a steady stream of friends stopping by to meet my Dad and Mary Terese; they stayed in our house for three nights. After our Northern stay we headed West to Leon where we contemplated murals and international art, and studied the life of Rubin Dario and other poets. We slipped away for two days to a quiet beach-side hotel. We enjoyed the beach and the surf, Dad and Brad had a great time swimming among the waves. One afternoon we took a tour of a wildlife refuge ajoining the beach town of Las Penitas where we saw abundant wild-life including some crocodiles. Zipping along in a small boat among the mangroves was a super experience. Next we went further south - guarding the luggage in the back of our truck with certain vigilance - to the pristine crater lake of Laguna de Apoyo. Apoyo is 200 meters deep - the deepest point in Central America - and its water is chock full of minerals. We stayed for a night in a hotel, went for a hike and swam in the lake. After our Apoyo outing we made the final trip to Granada where we stayed in an old colonial home and ate both one of the best and the worst meals on the trip (or as my dad would cheerly say, "the best paella I've ever had in Granada"). Our last day was very relaxing...first we stared into depths of a live, fuming volcano and then sat by the pool in the hotel. Up to the last minute dad was bird watching, and by the end of the trip we were all converts. Despite it being incredibly sad to say goodbye, I am glad we shared this adventure together.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

New Jersey-ing it up...

Over the past three weeks our house has been filled with visits from friends and family. Our visitors brought with them a curiosity that infused our day to day routine with excitement and adventure. Each visitor came with different interests and questions, bringing a fresh perspective to what was becoming 'normal'. Caity, our first friend to visit, took advantage of every opportunity to learn Spanish and wanted to know as much as possible about her new surroundings. Caity bravely went for a three day home stay in the campo during her first week to learn about lives of campesinos in Nicaragua. Maeve and Alisa arrived the following week. We set them up with some of the local tours guides that I work with at the foundation. Maeve and Alisa had much more fun with these guys than they would have with me and Brad (read: old farts). Each day, in addition to the planned excursion, they were riding on tops of buses, learning some Tarzan moves (like swinging from vines in the forest), and showcasing their knowledge of 80's music. Everyday they returned to the house with funny stories about their adventures and giggling about all that was lost in translation during the days conversation.

Our last weekend together, with some friends from San Ramon, we explored a town in the North called San Rafael del Norte, home to one of Nicaragua's legendary figures Augusto Sandino. In this quiet, mountain town we visited a beautiful cathedral and a dust covered museum for Sandino where we were introduced to an old man who met Sandino in his childhood. At sunset we headed back south and because of rain we all squeezed into the cab of the truck. We passed the hour-long ride singing our favorite 80's songs at top volume. It was good prep for our night of dancing at Matagalpa's hotspot Venancia which hosted an odd mix of salsa, cumba, and forgotten 80's tracks. We spent Sunday morning with our friend Jimmie (also a local guide) who taught us how to make jewellery with seeds. When we dropped off Caity, Maeve and Alisa at the bus station on Sunday afternoon my throat was sore from all the laughing and singing over the weekend!

Monday, January 15, 2007

One thing I am learning to appreciate about Nicaragua is it´s variety in climate, culture and landscape. New years weekend Brad and I headed to Leon, on the coast, for some R & R. Coming down from the mountains, the cool and humid climate of Matagalpa turns into blue skys and hot, dry air. In these flat lands between Matagalalpa and the southern part of Nicaragua, you begin to see some of the volcanos that characterize the country. The volcano´s power seems magnified because of the heat. The sun is overwhelming, invasive and it floods the air around you.

Reaching the coast was literally a breath of fresh air! Brad and I made to Leon in time to check into a hotel, drive to the beach, take a quick dip and watch the sunset.

Leon is a beautiful city with an interesting history of colonization, resistance and political rivalry with Granada. Leon was also home to some of Latin America´s most famous peots, such as Rubin Dario. The colonial-style architecture gives the city a unique feel. The residential streets and building facades look similar to other parts of Nicaragua. But, if you catch a glimpse inside you see a different world of bright courtyards and exquiste gardens. Here is Brad sitting inside the coutyard of our hotel (which had turtles everywhere!).

The architectural reminders of Nicaragua's colonization by the Spanish is accented by murals depicting more recent imperialism and resistance. The political commentary, some of which is directed at political figures from the U.S. , is poinent (you´ll have to visit to seem them!). Murals are everywhere around the is one painted inside of an old pool at a cultural center.