Thursday, December 18, 2008

A Beautiful Smile

PS - Thanks for all the encouraging emails we've been receiving since Danielle's accident. Who knew so many of our friends have children who did the same thing when they were the same age?! This is a picture of the water park where she and Simon were playing when she fell face first on the slide and broke her front two teeth. We were able to see a dentist within hours of her accident and the next day the teeth were restored to look like new. She still has the most beautiful smile!

Yesterday we had another minor medical emergency. John was cut with a piece of glass on the bridge of his nose. He was trying to put a piece glass up on top of our closet and it fell on his nose, making a nice deep cut. Lots of blood. A friend took him to the hospital (because we all know how Pam reacts when there is lots of blood) but they decided it didn't need a stitch.

That's enough excitement for us.

We're looking forward to a relaxing and "uneventful" holiday next week!

Christmas in our home away from home

A week ago we moved into a small apartment in Los Banos, about 70km south of Manila. It has been a treat to be able to celebrate the Christmas season with some of our familiar traditions.

Los Banos is a small university town. We’re glad to be out of the big, big city of Manila for awhile. A few people from the local community helped to furnish our two bedroom place with beds and linens, a small fridge, dishes and kitchen utensils, tables and chairs, and even curtains for the windows. Our favourite is a curtain made from strings of little shells. Their generosity is an amazing blessing! Once we started to pile our books and magazines around, and unpack things that we’ve been carrying in our packs for almost six months, it really started to feel like home. There are a few other kids living in the building, and it has been a treat for our kids to hang out with people other than adults for a change.

In our home, over Christmas, we have numerous traditions, such as: a real Christmas tree; advent calendars (annually supplied by Pam`s dad), an advent wreath; and, a gift-giving party. We’ve been able to do some creative improvising. John bought some beautiful, large red Bird of Paradise – type flowers. Simon insisted we add lights and tiny gold balls. We made an advent calander since the one from Poppa only just made it to Australia. Fortunately 24 days divides evenly between 4 people. Pam put together a wreath from bits of plastic pine, and Filipino woven plate, some shells from Australia and the Philippines, and some candles. We’ve also hung some paper snowflakes.

At home we typically open presents on December 5 as a way of keeping some of John’s Dutch heritage; to celebrate gift-giving early in the season and not be forced to wait until the 24th; and, to allow our celebration on December 24 and 25 to be about the best gift we have received! We were not ready for December 5 this year, so we had our Christmas party on Dec 16 in our new place. We all ran around for a few days on a scavenger hunt of sorts trying to try find presents that were “suitable”, that is pack-able or consumable Simon’s socks were large enough (and clean enough) to serve as stockings. We had a lovely dinner of chicken, potatoes, carrots and salad. We love opening presents! And then playing with all our new toys! Soon we will have a party for our new neighbours where we will play some of the games that we would normally play at home.

We are still looking forward to Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. We’re heading north. Not to the North Pole, but to a special part of the country that we’re sure will hold many delights and happy surprises!

Monday, December 8, 2008

Culture Shock

Near the Recto transit station in Manila

We've read about reverse culture shock, that is when you are overwhelmed with the affluence of your own country, but I never thought this would occur while in a developing country. While in Manila we have spent more time in malls, fast food outlets and traffic than we ever have at home. In this city of 13 million people they have every luxury store you can imagine. There are more Starbucks than in Vancouver. Four of the world’s 20 largest malls are located here in Manila. At least two of them have skating rinks! Being Canadians and missing some of our favourite winter sports, we went ice skating at the Mall of Asia.

Pretty groovy boots and sports socks, eh?
John had a bit of trouble adjusting to figure skates. (Think "flying camel")

We've certainly seen poverty alongside affluence before but the differences here seem so much more extreme. In the Philippines over 30 million people (a third of the population) live on less two dollars a day. It seems like Disney World gone bad when we sit in a well -run, spotless, Light Rail Transit and see pockets of crowded, make-shift houses and apartment buildings. Our CRWRC hosts have shared with us the multiple economic and political factors that contribute to this disparity. One that really stood out for us is the fact that 60% of the country`s GDP is money sent back from overseas workers. That is, you may be a ``have`` or ``have not`` depending on whether someone from your family has a job overseas. A thriving (and spending) middle class can be an effective method of economic growth for a country to develop over time but the associated commercialism is hard to swallow.

We are just about to settle into a smaller community and begin volunteering with Christian Reformed World Relief Committee (CRWRC). They are working with various local non-governmental agencies to address issues of justice, food security and education. CRWRC is working to address the disparity here and hopefully working alongside them will help us deal with our culture shock.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Who is Your Hero?

Discovering Manila with our friend Rachel

It was recently Bonifacio Day in the Philippines. This national holiday coincided with our orientation to this beautiful and welcoming country. We have visited several museums and historic sites that highlighted Bonifacio’s role in the Philippines’ efforts to gain independence. Another significant figure in their national history is Dr. Jose Rizal, another of the country’s national heroes.

Dr. Jose Rizal Monument in Manila

We attended a gathering of international students and guests at the University of the Philippines in Los Baños. In recognition of the national holiday, a representative from each country was asked to share one of their country’s national heroes. There were people from Iraq, Afghanistan, East Timor, France, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Myanmar and Cambodia. It was fascinating to hear the recurring theme of heroes who fought for the independence of their countries. There were also some poets and political leaders mentioned by the group.

As a family we`ve been thinking about `what makes a hero` and some of our personal heroes.

A hero is a person who saves someone or does something very good. They have to be brave, strong and smart. Some heroes are Jose Rizal, Mats Sundin, a parent, and some people with a hard job. Jose Rizal wrote a book in Tagalong so that the Spanish could not read it. He sent it to all the Filipino people. Mats Sudin plays hockey for the Maple Leafs. Parents love their kids. People with hard jobs can help other people, for example giving money to the poor or saying, “don’t drink this water.” I think Mom’s hero is Stephen Lewis because he helps Grandmas in Canada help Grandmas in Africa. I don’t have a hero that I can think of.
By Danielle

A hero is someone who acts to make things better for others. They make significant sacrifices in their lives, and sometimes what they are doing for others is not understood or appreciated by those around them. Terry Fox is a hero. So are Lt. General Romeo Dallaire and Stephen Lewis. I am proud of the fact that these men represented Canada in their international roles. I also think my husband is a hero. He worked so hard to make it possible for us to take this trip around the world; and now that we are almost half way done our journey he continues to encourage and surprise us – and tries to make sure we are having fun!
By Pam

To be a hero you may need to be brave, or smart, or maybe strong both mentally and physically. We are talking about heroes because when we went to an international university meeting, we each had to tell who our hero was from each country and what they did to help the country. These are some of other people’s heroes: Wayne Gretzky because he broke many hockey records; Spiderman because kids think he is strong and also smart; Terry Fox because he tried to run across Canada to raise awareness for cancer because he had cancer in his left leg. He stopped running in Thunder Bay, Ontario. Some of my heroes are Wayne Gretzky; Garfield because he is very, very funny; and, Percy Jackson. Percy Jackson is a fictional character in a series called “Percy Jackson and the Olympians” who saved the world and his camp many times.
By Simon

I made a list of heroes that included authors, politicians, scientists, explorers and family. More recently though I have been thinking about some of the people we have met who are so committed to improving the world in small and big ways. I think of the families and staff at Tesoros de Dios who give up so much to work with their kids. I think of numerous families who are adopting, and have adopted, needy children from Nicaragua and the Philippines. I met a family that works with children next to a dump in Managua. I met a couple who are doctors and gave up a lucrative career to do health-based community development. And there are many other stories of people who have sacrificed greatly to improve the lives of others. To me these are heroes.
By John

Three Cities, Three States, One Unique Country

While traveling in Australia the past few weeks, we’ve caught ourselves saying, “Melbourne reminds me of Vancouver” or “Phillip Island reminds me of Texel, Holland” or “We saw flowers like that in Nicaragua.” There were lots of familiar things, and yet Australia remains something so very special and unique.

We spent two weeks with our friends Maree and Andrew in and around Melbourne. Pam and Maree first met 25 years ago when they were exchange students in the Philippines. Maree and Andrew came to our wedding, and we’ve seen them a couple times since then when they’ve visited North America, but there was a lot of catching up to do.

We had a few emails from friends at home asking if we were okay because we hadn’t posted anything after leaving Nicaragua. It was a different pace and many more late nights than we’d been used to in the previous two months.

Maree prepared a quiz/competition for the kids to work on during our stay with her, and this was a great incentive to pay attention during our travels and learn about Australia. Who discovered Australia? (there are in fact several different answers to this question!); 10 points for seeing a kangaroo in the wild; What are two Aussie slang words? And 2 points if you see someone picking their nose (which we never saw)!

Pam was feeling a little under the weather and the weather itself was a bit grey for the few days that we were in Sydney. Visiting The Rocks and cruising around the harbour to Manly and the Olympic Park were some of the highlights.

In Brisbane we stayed with new friends David and Jennifer. This was arranged through SERVAS, a peace-building organization that connects travelers with local hosts. They were extremely hospitable. They are involved with orienteering and brought us out one evening to experience Street O (urban orienteering).

Swimming at the “city” beach (in November when the snow started to fly back in Canada) and having the opportunity to cuddle a koala will be parting memories of Brisbane and Australia that will stay with us into our next adventure.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

A Day On the Cricket Pitch

If you Google “What to do in Melbourne?” you will get the The Melbourne Cricket Grounds as one of the top answers. This facility was built for the 1956 Melbourne Olympics and holds over 100,000 people. They can pack the place for international cricket so you can bet that cricket is a big thing here. We had never seen a game and had no clue what the rules were but this did not deter us from enjoying the sport. After a visit to the library to get kids books explaining cricket we were off to a national one day game. It’s important that it was a one day game because typical games can be about 5 days and I don’t think our enthusiasm would hold out that long. The game we attended was between Victoria and Tasmania. It was not an international game and so we did not get to see the place packed out. I’ll spare you the details on how it's played but we had a great time deciphering what was happening and cheering at all the appropriate times. We had some good laughs at the positions they play – silly mid off, long leg, gully, slip.

Three and a half hours and 290 runs later Tasmania’s inning was over and it was time for tea before Victoria came to bat. This was also our time to leave for dinner. We learned the next day that the Victoria Bushmen lost. Pity.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008


by Danielle

G.O.R., also known as the Great Ocean Road. The soldiers who came back from World War I built the Great Ocean Road by hand using picks and shovels. These are some of the things we saw and did on the Great Ocean Road. We traveled with Maree and Andrew. My favourite site was the Twelve Apostles because it was very clear water with very beautiful rocks.
Here is a picture of me and my family at the Twelve Apostles.

We went to see some koala bears in trees. We saw 28 koalas. They were very cool.

I also like seeing the blow hole. It is where the waves go through rock making a blow hole.

We stayed in a motel at Apollo Bay. We bought a boomerang in Apollo Bay. When we tried it out Daddy threw it in the water and almost lost it in the grass.

If I came back to Australia I would go on the Great Ocean Road again.
P.S. - We also think Danielle liked the Great Ocean Road because there are no potatoes allowed in some areas.

Wildlife in Australia

Hi this is Simon here. I will be talking about some of the wildlife that we have seen in Australia. Well first you can look the column of wildlife and see how many animals we have seen in the wild. Well first I will talk about the koalas. As you may already know we have seen 28 koalas in the wild. My Mom’s friend Maree has seen 5 to 8 koalas in her life until now. So we saw lots. The only food that the koala eats is eucalyptus leaves (gum tree leaves). Did you know that koalas do not drink because the leaves that they eat have enough water in them for the koalas to live.

Next I will talk about Little Penguins, also known as Fairy Penguins. Did you know that the Fairy Penguin is the smallest of all 17 types of penguins? The Fairy Penguin is about 30cm tall and can weigh up to 3 lbs. Some other facts about a Fairy Penguins are: the mother only lays two eggs at a time, the baby only stays in the egg for 35 days and both parents take turns sitting on the eggs. Some of the food the Fairy Penguins eat is pilchard, squid and anchovies – ewww. After sunset , we saw over 1,500 Little Penguins coming from the sea to their burrows past the beach. The downfall was that they were load and smelly. If you want to hear them you can click at the bottom of this web page (

One other animal that we saw down under was the kangaroos. We saw over 30 kangaroos. Mom’s friend’s brother took us to a field where kangaroos graze at sunset. We saw one kangaroo jump a fence very effortlessly. It was lots of fun to watch.

We also saw many different types of birds like the rosella (in the picture), blue wren, gallahs, and kookaburras.

Tesoros de Dios

We have written about a lot of fun and interesting things we saw and did in Nicaragua but the most rewarding part of our experience was volunteering with Tesoros de Dios. It has been a real blessing to see the work they are doing and to learn about the life of the children here.

Tesoros de Dios’s vision is to work together with families of children with developmental disabilities enabling their children to gain the skills necessary to develop to their fullest potential. The centre sees about 80 kids and most of these are affected by cerebral palsy. The centre was started less than 4 years ago. It has its own facility and has grown in leaps and bounds.

Children come to the centre twice a week: either in the morning or afternoon. Here they receive physical therapy, equestrian therapy, speech therapy, early schooling and a chance to play and interact with others. The parents gain support from other parents and learn how to help their children. In addition to this the parents have the opportunity to learn English, to learn sewing or beading, to attend a Bible study and join a cooperative to raise some income.

The kids, parents and staff are amazing people. We had the opportunity to get to know some of the kids and have gained a whole new appreciation for their talents and the challenges they face. The parents lives are testimonies of perseverance and love as the effort required to care for some of these kids would seem insurmountable to us. For example, Pam visited a family house - the truck she was in could not make it down the steep dirt road to their house. The young boy lives in a mud-floor house with metal sheeting for walls and a roof. Some friends are helping his mom build a cement wall around the house and lay a cement floor so that it is easier for him to get around in his wheelchair.

The staff are very caring and dedicated to their work. Michelle Adams is the director and has a heart for the needs here. The seven national staff are involved with the families and each bring particular skills to the program. They were all very welcoming to us even though there were significant language barriers.

Our work at the centre was varied but allowed us to learn what was going on, to contribute some of our skills and to get to know some of the kids. Pam helped Michelle with some organizational and strategic issues, taught an English class for the staff and helped out with the education centre. John did some painting, helped improve the accounting system and also helped out in the education centre. The kids worked with us in the education program and pitched in as needed; making posters and preparing crafts. There were uncomfortable times for all of us but this was part of the learning process and part of stepping out of our comfort zones. Through the experience we met a lot of amazing people and broke some of our stereotypes. You can check out more of what they are doing (and contribute) at

Thursday, October 30, 2008

More Volcano Fun

This week Danielle and I had a opportunity to do a night tour of one of the few active volcanos in Nicargua. The tour is done at night as this is the only time you can see the lava in the volcano and the activity in the bat cave. Well, the tour did not disappoint.

The Nindiri Volcano most recently erupted in 2001, unexpectantly showering the parking lot with rocks. The last major eruption was in 1859, and lava travelled over 13km from the volcano. There is little vegetation around the volcano because of the lack of organic soil and the acid rain caused by the gases in the volcano.

Our tour started at a lookout where historically people were sacrificed to appease the gods. Night came quickly and the rest of the tour was done in the dark. To see the lava, Danielle and I had to stand on either side of a concrete pole, hold on and lean way over the edge of the crater. As the gases swirled, you could see the lava glowing red about 200m below. Perhaps not a technique that will win any safety awards. After this we went to the entrance of a bat cave. There were lots of bats coming in and out and as an added bonus a boa constrictor was hanging over the entrance of the cave trying to catch a bat. It is clear Pam made the right choice when she decided to stay at home this time. After seeing the bats, we walked through a tunnel created by lava flowing down the side of the volcano. The outer shell of the lava hardened and when the lava stopped flowing left a hollow tunnel inside. This area a was also used for many traditional ceremonies and more recently a place to hide during civil wars.

On another volcano note - While in Florida we saw a TV show of great crashes (gotta love cable).
One was a fellow trying to set a land speed record going down the side of a volcano on a mountain bike. He managed to break the world record, and then just about every bone in his body. Turns out the "hill" was the Cerro Negro volcano in Nicaragua. Last week we had lunch at a local burger joint and they had schrapnel from the bike that crashed. Here is the video if you are brave enough to watch.

Monday, October 27, 2008

A Map of the World

I recently connected with my sister via Skype. It’s a great way to keep in touch and we love being able to see how her girls are growing.

Janelle is going to be two very soon, and she has new words for us every time.

Marika is three, and if she’s not “too busy” playing, she’ll come and say hello to her cousins and Aunt Pam.

Marika loves to do puzzles. One of her favourites is a map of the world. She and her Grandma spent a lot of time doing this puzzle when Grandma was visiting in September.

While Martha and I were catching up a couple weeks ago, Marika appeared and held a piece of her puzzle up to the webcam. “This is where you are,” she said, and she was right! With no prompting from me or my sister she had gone and found the puzzle, and found the piece that shows Nicaragua. My sister and I were speechless.

Seeing her hold that puzzle piece made me feel for an instant that she was tightly holding my hand. It’s a moment I won’t forget.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

One Plus One Equals Two Years Older

It is always fun to have a birthday when you are a kid. Our birthdays were lots of fun this year because we were in Nicaragua.

We’d like to tell you about our birthdays (cumpleaños) in Nicaragua.

Something that was different about our birthdays here was we bought a piñata at the market. At the market there is a section that is probably 100 metres long, and there are piñatas for sale on both sides. We saw some as tall as Danielle. We choose a colourful star piñata because it suits both boys and girls.

Another difference is that we had one birthday party at the Hernandez’s house. We normally have two separate parties with our friends.

A big difference was that we knew two or three of the presents we would receive because we were shopping with our mom and dad when they bought them.

There were very few things similar to our birthdays at home. We had cake! We had breakfast in bed and opened our presents. Normally we would have cupcakes for breakfast but this time we had Oreo cookies.

We had four parties. One party was on Danielle’s birthday. It was at dinner time with some people from the Hernandez family (Mrs. Hernandez, Judith and Nathan). Mrs. Hernandez made hamburgers and french fries. My mom made a vanilla cake with chocolate icing and sprinkles for dessert. Simon’s party was at Tesoros de Dios with lots of kids on his birthday. Someone else had a birthday party on the same day. His name is Lot. They had a very big cake, and there were treats and toys in cups for everyone. Mom made two small chocolate cakes at the centre and we shared them with almost everyone.

Simon sharing his birthday at Tesoros de Dios

We had an “in between” party with a piñata on the day between our birthdays. Mr. and Mrs. VanderWees, and Jesse and KeKe, and Michele, and Judith came to our party. Mom made brownies.

Danielle is wearing her new Nicaragua dress and jumping to hit the pinata.

We also had a very early birthday party at Oma and Opa’s cottage in July.

These are some of the presents and surprises that we received for our birthday.

Danielle: For my birthday I got a very nice white Nicaraguan dress. It has embroidery on it of a lady, a drum and two xylophones. They usually wear this dress to do a special dance in Nicaragua. Simon gave me a wooden box that is shaped like a horse. It can come apart like a puzzle and has a secret drawer in the middle. I got a notepad for watercolours and a set of watercolours.

This is a picture of Danielle painting a vase of flowers with her new paints.

We both got hammocks for our birthdays. We picked the colours and ordered them at a special place in Granada. Danielle’s is pink, blue and white. Simon’s is white and blue like the colours of the Nicaragua flag.

Simon: For my birthday I got four presents. My parents gave me a wooden spin top with a string. It has very nice colours. I am still learning how to make it spin properly. One time we saw a man who was able to spin it on my hand, my back and his tongue! I also got a Nicaragua soccer shirt. I like it. It is blue and white like my hammock. Danielle gave me a Rubix cube, which I have always found very hard. Like Danielle, I got some drawing paper and I got pastels.

We got a GameBoy connector cable to share. We have played a game called Mario Cart Super Circuit because it is the only game that we have that is for two players.

Grandma says there will be something in Australia for our birthdays.

On Simon’s birthday we visited a Christian ministry that is teaching people to be blacksmiths. We saw someone making a leaf from a metal rod, and we each got to keep one. It was a very, very hot place to be.

This person is working on the leaf.

Simon says, “For my birthday next year I am looking forward to a sleepover with my best friends.”

Danielle says, “For my birthday next year I would like to have an “Around the World” party.

Friday, October 24, 2008


I have been asked several times what I think of the poverty we have seen in the various countries we have visited. All of the countries have had great similarities in terms of slum areas and people living on the edge. But all of the countries have also been vastly different in terms of the general sense of people's attitudes and life. In Nicaragua people had confidence and pride and generally a higher standard of living. In the Philippines there was a large middle class who did not lack food but were still struggling. In Bangladesh poverty is everywhere but people are still so hospitable and friendly.

All of this got me thinking about how to define poverty and how to reconcile what I have seen. Being an engineer I turned immediately to statistics. Although these don’t tell the whole story I found these interesting enough to share. The stats are mostly from the Unicef website and I have shown just a summary of what I thought was interesting and helped me wrestle with the differences I see.

For me these statistics raise many questions and I invite you to spend some time looking at them and thinking about what it all means. Why does Nicaragua receive more aid than Niger even though it has a smaller population and a healthier public? Why are only 10% of births registered in Bangladesh? Can you trust any statistics when only 10% of the births are registered? Can a society function when one in seven mothers die in childbirth? What does it take to make democracy work when less than half the population can read or write? Is it fair that the Philippines use 16% of their income for debt servicing when much of the money loaned was taken by corrupt leaders.

No two countries are the same. They all have their own history, languages, cultures and resources. Similarly what you see as you walk the streets is very different and I think our response as a "developed" country needs to take this into account.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Tropical Depression 16

We had plans to go to the northern mountains of Nicaragua this weekend but we were rained out due to Tropical Depression 16. There has been a tremendous amount of rain in the past week and we are still relatively far from the centre of the storm (at the bottom of the map).

There are reports that 2,000 people in Costa Rica have had to leave their homes and I`m sure it is more in Nicaragua. There have been deaths in Costa Rice and Nicaragua.

I had a three day road trip with the Luke Society this week. We were looking at community development and water projects. But one day turned into visiting, and checking up on, people who were flooded. You can see the water line on this woman`s home and recovering from the flood will not be easy. Her well is flooded (and likely contaminated) and trying to dry out with all the rain is next to impossible.

But if you are a kid the fun just goes on. We have seen children dancing in the rain and our kids are busy making paper boats to float down the new rivers.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Mom's Apple Pie is Best

My mom makes the best apple pie in the world. She taught me how to make apple pie, and now my family, including my mom, thinks I make the best apple pie. My mom’s is still my favourite.

We were invited to share Thanksgiving with several Canadian families currently living in and around Managua. Longing for a taste of his favourite apple pie, John urged me to offer to bring pies to the dinner. Sure, if I was at home in my own kitchen that would be no problem at all. But we had just moved into a guesthouse in Managua. I had five days to figure it how to make it happen.

John had scanned some of our favourite recipes before we left Canada. Unfortunately we hadn’t checked the quality of the pdf before leaving home, so we discovered that my trusted pie crust recipe was illegible. I searched through a few on-line recipes and that helped me piece together the missing measurements for my recipe.

- Recipe, check.
- Ingredients … what is the Spanish word for “lard”? A quick call to my friend Nancy. She would meet me tomorrow at her daughter’s soccer game and bring me some lard. Thank you, Nancy!
- Kitchen … “Puedo cocinar una tarta aqui?” (Can I make a pie here?) Our gracious host, Leyda, said I could use her kitchen and any of the staple ingredients that she had.
- Pie Plates … Leyda had two round metal cake pans. That will do.
- Apples … John was eager to explore our new hometown, so he ventured off to a central market in a taxi. He didn’t find any apples at the market, but he stumbled across a supermarket that sold expensive apples from Chile. Not exactly local produce, but Chile is a lot closer to Nicaragua than Canada.

I don’t know how many times I’ve made pie, the number isn’t really important, yet every time I am amazed it actually works. How is it that flour, butter, a bit of lard and freezing cold water combines to make something so tasty?

Danielle was eager to help out. I imagine one day she’ll be making the best apple pie in the family.

When it came time to bake the pies, Leyda discovered that her oven was not working. We had to go next door and use the neighbour’s oven. It only had 1 – 5 as temperature options. I guess 425oF would be somewhere around the 4. We came back after half an hour to take off the tin foil that I’d wrapped around the edges to protect the crust. I was very relieved to find the pies baking nicely. We came back after another 15 minutes. Panic struck when I first walked into the kitchen because I caught a whiff of something burning. Fortunately it was only a small portion of the crust on one pie. The other was golden brown. Unfortunately, they were both bubbling over a bit and making a mess on the bottom of the neighbour’s over. “Lo siento!” (I’m sorry).
Leyda tucked them carefully into her fridge and they stayed there until we gathered to share a very delicious, traditional Thanksgiving meal “with all the fixings”.

And, yes, they did taste good.

As we were sharing what we were thankful for this Thanksgiving, running through my head were thoughts of all the people and circumstances that had come together so that I could offer two humble apple pies to our celebrations. Thank you, God, for blessing me with such a generous and welcoming community and thank you for my mom!

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Learning to Ride a Horse


Today I have to write about our first horse riding lesson. OK now, first we had to get on the horse and practice stopping and going. My horse’s name is Candy but in Spanish it is Caramelo. My instructor’s name is Daniel. Daniel said we were going to trot, cantor and walk. I thought we would do all this in the groups of lessons but we walked and trotted on the first day.

I feel proud to be able to ride a horse.


Today I am waiting for my second horse-riding lesson. The first lesson was yesterday. It was lots of fun. Our teacher’s name is Daniel and he only speaks Spanish so it is very hard to understand him. My horse’s name is Volcan, which means Volcano in English. Our teacher says that Volcan is hard to ride. He is hard to ride because he does not like to go. To make him go I have to hit him with a stick (but I don’t hurt him). To make him stop you have to pull back but quickly let go. If you hold on too long he will start to go backwards. Our teacher says that Danielle and I have good posture.

Now I have finished my second horse lesson with Volcan. We did what we did yesterday. We learned to turn, turn around, stop, walk and trot. I like horse lessons. Today Danielle and I went on two different tracks because her horse always follows mine.

I want to take horse lessons when we come back to Canada.

I am not actually jumping.

This is us riding together.

This is me and my very nice instructor Daniel.

This is me and my horse Volcan.

This is where we learned to trot.

The Island Way of Life

Ferry ride from Rivas to Moyogalpa

If you are a faithful reader of our blog you will notice that volcanoes are a recurring theme here in Nicaragua. This weekend we were surrounded by them. Ometepe is a small island in Lake Nicaragua made by two volcanoes. One is active (Concepcion) and one is inactive (Maderas).
Maderas as seen from Hotel El Encanto.
After our last language class in Granada we boarded the yellow bus again and headed south. After five hours of travel (one bus, one ferry, and two taxis) we made it to our hotel (El Encanto). This place was recommended by a friend of Pam’s and is run by a couple who are from Australia and El Salvador. They met in Vancouver and built the small hotel three years ago.

Clouds wrapped around the top of Volcan Concepcion.

Ometepe means “two hills” but has become known as an “oasis of peace”. We certainly had a relaxing time but not without adventure of course. We were the only people at the hotel and there was only one other hotel within walking distance. The hotel is an hour’s drive from the main port. So it was quiet , and we had the whole restaurant to ourselves and felt spoiled. We feasted on curry chicken, bbq fish and chicken, French toast, and spaghetti and pesto for the kids. The view over the water and of the volcanoes was wonderful and the property was landscaped with wild flowers that attracted many butterflies. The owners had also discovered about 7 petroglyphs on the property and we spent some time findings these stones that are over 2,000 years old.

We saw many different species of butterflies in the garden at El Encanto.

When we discussed what to do on Saturday Simon said “I think we should just have a day to relax”. Pam embraced the thought and we had a lazy day in our hammocks, reading and playing games. We did go for a swim at the beach and go for a bike ride too. On Sunday we took a kayak tour of the isthmus that separates the two volcanoes. The highlight for the kids had to be standing up in the back of the truck driving over a very bumpy road. It had rained on and off most of the morning and we started the kayak trip in the pouring rain. The rain stopped after half an hour and we have a peaceful time in the isthmus. We saw many different kinds of birds and saw howler monkeys but did not see any of the 3m crocodiles that are in the water (it was “too cold”).
We also watched people working at many of the rural farms along the shore and watched two guys struggling to get their horse across the isthmus.

A "washing machine" where clothes are washed by hand in the lake.

We celebrated 100th day on Ometepe. It's been 100 days since we left home!

The theme of the weekend however was RAIN. Friday and Saturday nights there were down pours. These sounded absolutely torrential in our steel-roofed rooms and the thunder seemed to roll from volcano to volcano. The kids slept great but Pam and I did not. The rain caused several landslides on the only road through the island. The story made the front page of the national newspaper – not about this crazy Canadian family having a holiday on Ometepe in the rainy season – but about the landslide. To get out we had to take a taxi to the landslide and another past the landslide. We were fortunate to get this worked out as there was only one taxi on the side where our hotel was. It would have been a very long walk.

After 8 hours of travelling (4 taxis, 1 ferry and 2 buses), we made it to our new home in Managua. Language school was a great experience and although we can get around now we have so much still to learn. My goal for the kids was that they would gain an appreciation of language and they are enjoying playing with it and know more than they let on. Our new home has been great so far – welcoming people, wireless internet, hot showers, no bats, and excellent food. Home sweet home.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

El fin de la semana

Hi everyone. Como estas? That means, “how are you?” From September 26-28, we were in Managua with our friends. We had lots of fun. The kids got to ride the horse at the house. Also in Managua we got to go to a party with a pool. Simon, Mark and John went to a lagoon, which is a volcano crater filled with water. The water was hot, but when we canoed to the other side, it got hotter and we could see bubbles. It was just gas. The place had a really bad smell. It smelled really bad because the other side had vultures and their dung littered the beach, and the gas smelled bad too.

In Managua we went to a Spanish church. Even though it was Spanish we still knew some of the songs by the tune. Simon and Danielle went to Sunday school

On Monday Simon had to get his “pelo cut”. For the first time Danielle swallowed her medicine instead of putting it in her ice cream. But we still went for ice cream and got a cookie sundae. It was okay. Not as good as Dairy Queen in Canada.

In the past three days it has rained at night very hard and flooded the streets. After the rain stops the water goes away fast. Edgar’s cousin made Simon and Danielle a paper boat each. Simon timed his from the pole near our house to our house. His boat’s fastest time was 11 seconds.

Written by “anonymous” Can you guess who?

Thursday, September 25, 2008


Last weekend we visited San Juan del Sur on the Pacific Coast. In August we`d stood on the coast of both oceans, and here we were back on the Pacific coast again.

A small beach north of the town of San Juan del Sur

Playing in the waves!

We had a great time on the beach and had a unique opportunity to watch sea turtles nesting.

The Olive Ridley turtle is an endangered species but is starting to make a come back thanks in part to the protection it is getting in Nicaragua. The turtles grow to about 1.2m long and can live up to 100 years. Only one in 1,000 eggs laid make it to adulthood due to natural predators alone. The turtles lay their eggs in a nest on the beach above the high tide line and return to the same beach where they were born. They lay about 100 eggs at a time. The turtles, for reasons unknown, arrive on the beach around the same time. One of the main nesting sites is the La Flor Reserve in Nicaragua. At this reserve there can be up to 3,000 turtles nesting in an evening and they get over 150,000 turtles per year. In the past the turtles` chances of survival were much less than 1:1,000 as eggs and turtles were harvested by local people for food and for sale. Even when the practice was made criminal there was little or no enforcement of the rules.

After hearing a presentation on sea turtles, and the rules we had to follow at the reserve, we started out with about 12 other people. We left at about 8:30PM and it was very dark already. The 20km ride took about 1hour over a very bumpy road.

At the reserve we could not use flashlights as they could blind the turtles. The guides each had one flashlight with a dim red light and this led us along the path. Immediately when we got to the beach we saw a turtle coming out of the water and found another one nesting. The turtles dig a hole about a 40cm deep with their back flippers and lay their eggs in the hole. Our guide dug a small hole behind the turtle that opened up the hole made by the turtle so that we could see the eggs dropping into the nest. They looked like rubbery golf balls and just kept coming. When the turtle is done she fills the hole in, and then compacts it with her flippers and rocks back and forth over the hole. She then tries to hide the nest by spreading sand over it. She then returns to the sea. We got to see three turtles nesting/laying their eggs and there were many others coming and going up and down the beach. This was not one of the mass nesting events but it was expected to be any day and we were very lucky to be present near the date.

We were allowed pictures only from right behind the turtle so this is the only one we could get. Google Olive Ridley turtles for other pictures and to learn more.

Turtle eggs dropping into the nest shown with red light

During our 1.5 hours on the beach there was little light due to the restrictions on white light and the limited use of the red light so that the turtles were not scared off. We had a few things to help us out however. Amazingly enough the guards wandering about have regular white flashlights as they can`t afford red lights. Also the waves were glowing full of fluorescent plankton, and there was lightning regularly flashing the beach. The rain held off until we got back to the truck but the rain did not help our journey back. We had a hair-raising 2 hour return drive (which Danielle slept through).

P.S. (Pam says….): We spent almost the entire day by the water and it was impossible to not be struck by the power of the waves and the tide. Playing in the waves is better than any water-park. To body surf on the waves, and just feel the power of the water pushing you in toward the shore is like flying. I love it! As the tide slowly moved in over the day, and then quickly late in the afternoon, we had to keep moving our towels and backpacks away from the water. At the end of the day the kids continued to play in the small waves that covered where we had been sitting. We literally had to drag them out of the water when the truck came to take us back to San Juan del Sur. The tide changed the entire landscape of the beach. We stood in awe of its beauty all over again. And then we were in awe again as we stood on the banks of another beach watching the tide bring in these amazing creatures who had returned to the exact beach where they were born to lay their eggs years and years later.

Staying by the water, John and I often experience the pull of the tide drawing us to one day find a house by the sea. Where will that be?

Friday, September 19, 2008

Numero Quince

John and I spent our first wedding anniversary in Dakar, Senegal while learning French. Fifteen years later we're in Granada, Nicaragua learning Spanish. Where will be for number 30?

We went to a cultural centre in the city of Masaya last night. We were traveling with the person from Casa Xalteva who organizes "field trips" and a new student, Heather, from the US. When John mentioned to Heather during dinner that it was our anniversary, she secretly ordered a small cake for dessert. What a sweetheart! And what a super sweet cake!