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!

Casa Xalteva

In class with Bismark

We are nearing the end of our second week of Spanish language classes. It seems that we know infinitely more than we did two weeks ago and this would be true as we started with no Spanish at all. We are now able to order in a restaurant, move around the city, play some games and make conversation with patient people. There is still so much more to learn and practice and studying seems endless. It has been fun so far and we are looking forward to two more weeks here.

Casa Xalteva is a school and non-profit organization. The school has about 6 teachers, the directors and people who help with logistics and organizing events. Our experience has been great. Pam and I are in a class together with Bismark. He has tailored the class to our speed and had laid on the homework and the words to memorize. He keeps things light and has endless patience for our mis-conjugated verbs, our mispronounced words and the constant use of French words. Our class is next to the kitchen so we can smell the great lunch near the end of the morning’s class.

The non-profit part of the school is a tutoring and lunch program for various kids in the neighbourhood. There are always other kids around and this makes for a fun environment. The school is about 3 blocks from our home and we have enjoyed the walking and the location on the edge of the center of town.

Learning a new language requires a significant amount of trust and vulernability. On the first day of class we learned the usual introductory questions/responses. What is your name? Where are you from? Bismark said that he was from Germany. Makes sense, it’s a german sounding name. Sort of odd for a guy who looks Nicaraguan, but maybe his dad or mom is a diplomat and he was born overseas. He certainly had John and I fooled. Early the following week we were talking about travel and he said he’d never been to Europe. We get this quizzical look on our faces and ask, “but weren’t you born in Germany?” NO! He laughed and laughed. Maybe that’s why he taught us the word for “trickster” during one of our first classes. He has a great sense of humour, and loves joking back and forth with John. “Broma” (joke) is another vocabulary word we learned early on.

Who wouldn't be motivated by such a beautiful smile?

We’ve also learned that you can’t rely on a 4 year old to be accurate in what he teaches you either. One afternoon there was a woman walking by the house selling various local treats from a basket on her head. Edgar asked for a “pilota”, and his mom bought two. One for Edgar and one for us. We assumed it was the name of the treat – a ball of popcorn with sweet molasses on top. We got talking about food in class and mentioned this thing called a pilota. Bismark called it something else, which I can’t remember now. Turns out “pilota” is the word for ball. Edgar is helpful when it comes to learning from the tv. He adores Barney and Mickey Mouse, and can watch the same videos over and over again.

As for Danielle and Simon’s time at Casa Xalteva, they say ….

At school we are learning a lot of Spanish. Our teacher, Marie Amanada, is teaching us verbs and nouns.

Marie Amanada is a great teacher!

We play games such as Sorry (in Spanish it is lo siento). We practice our numbers when we are playing Sorry.

We’ve learned some colours. The only colour we haven’t learned is purple. Orange is a strange sounding word – orarangado. Dad likes to sing “ oranaga-do a deer” like in the Sound of Music.

At school there are lots of kids who speak Spanish. We play ball and run around with some of them, but if they talk to us we don’t know what they are saying.

You wouldn’t think it was a school if you saw it. It looks like a big house. It has lots of rooms. There are computers that have internet. We like to play games. There are also couches and rocking chairs. Some of the chairs only have one arm. We talk to our friends with Skype on the computers.

There is a courtyard in the house, and we have seen two turtles living in the courtyard.

Juan Carlos is a guy at the school. He is lots of fun to play with. He helps out at the school and sometimes comes into our classroom. He has two children that also go to the school.

There is a small unicycle at school. Sometimes during the breaks or in the afternoon our dad is teaching us how to ride the unicycle.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

AVENTUREROS - My Brave Family

We have had a long week of language school. We did nothing touristico during the week so we decided we would go on a canopy tour at the Mombacho Volcano. It was described as a number of platforms and ziplines near the top of a cloud forest and above a coffee plantation. Pam was OK with the idea if the zip lines were not too steep/fast. The kids had no idea what we were getting into.

On Friday after class we went with someone from our school named Andres, whose nickname is Guopo, which means handsome. He brought us through a poorer part of town where we picked up a broken down school bus. Isn’t that where all the bus stops are? It was HOT and took well over 30 minutes to cover 8 to 10km with lots of stops to pickup and drop off people. It is National Flag day here so there were many kids lined up to carry flags. We then walked about 1.5km uphill to the park/preserve. As they say – the journey is the adventure.

From there we took a truck up, up and up to near the top of the volcano. We quickly got suited up with harnesses and helmets and hiked up to the first platform. While we were getting our instructions the fear started to set in. No one was quite sure about the idea now that all we could see is a steel cable and a platform far away high in a tree. Pam and Danielle were ready to back down and Simon would only go attached to the guide. So our brave Simon went first and then Danielle, Pam and the guide, all attached together. There were smiles around. After a few zip lines Pam and Simon were on their own and Danielle was starting to go with the guide but holding on herself. After one zip line she said she would like to go like the last time, with the guide beside her. Instead the guide hooked her on and shot her down the line. She ended the ride with a smile and from there on rode solo. By the end we were going upside down and no hands. By the end of the afternoon we had done 13 zip lines for a total of about 1,500m. The view was spectacular from the lines and platforms. Although there was no explanation of the trees and other features we certainly saw many big trees, parts of a coffee plantation and some huge tiger ants.

Look Mom, no hands!

Everyone got the last laugh on Dad though. When we did the last zip line to the ground the guides shook the line up and down and I was sure I was going to hit the ground. You can hear my screams of terror and laughter below.

As we made the hike back to the bus the kids said they want to work at the Mombo Canopy tours – “You get to do ziplines all day for free.”

Next step – sandboarding down the side of a volcano!

Monday, September 8, 2008

Discovering Granada

We are beginning to make the city of Granada our home. We have moved in with a Nicaraguan family. With almost no language skills and very little familiarity with family structure, it may be awhile before we figure out who all the people coming and going from the house are, and if there might be more family members who simply don’t live here. Raquel is our host-mom. Her son, Elgar, is about 3 or 4 years old. He loves to watch cartoons, and Simon and Danielle love to watch them too. Raquel’s neice is about 11 years old, and we’ve seen more of her over the weekend than during the week.

The first picture is the courtyard inside the house where we are living. John describes it "like living in a covered porch." All the rooms face the centre courtyard.

The second picture is a view of the street where we live. Danielle is ahead in the distance, almost at the house.

We’ll beginning language school on Monday. Not soon enough! Amazing what you can accomplish and communicate through sign language and some charades.

Spanish school at Casa Xalteva.

In addition to the human residents at the house there is a parrot named Roseta (who speaks more Spanish than us at this point), a few chickens, some pigeons, gekos and bats. Yup, bats. The home is built around an open air courtyard and we are basically living in a huge covered porch. The kitchen, living and dining rooms are open to the courtyard. The two bedrooms we use are separated by a wall with numerous windows that open to the courtyard. In most places the walls go up to the ceiling but not everywhere so the bats can fly in from outside and whip around the ceiling. As you can probably guess, one of the rooms that doesn’t have walls to the ceiling is our bedroom, so although they are fairly high ceilings/roof there are a couple of bats flying around in the evening. I (Pam) didn’t think I would be able to sleep but we have a big fan at night that drowns out any sound and I guess heat and fatigue can overcome anything. Everyone assures me that they are fruit bats so they don’t have any interest in humans. Remind me to avoid fruit-scented perfume and body wash!

The folks at the Spanish school (Casa Xalteva) are extremely friendly and helpful. The director speaks English and has been patiently helping us through the barrage of questions we bring to her each day. They also have wireless internet, so we can pop in and Skype friends and family for a dose of familiarily when the homesick bug bites.

Our clothes are somewhere in the city being laundered. We’re hoping to get them back later today. We have all our meals at Raquel’s. We’ve been eating very well and everyone’s body seems to be adjusting well. Rice and beans, tortillas, scrambled eggs, enchiladas, pancakes, hamburger patties, more rice. And yummy fruit juices. Maybe I have a connection with those fruit bats after all.

There are numerous bands around town practicing for the upcoming Independence Day celebrations. Boys and girls walking and riding bikes with every shape and size of drum or percussion instrument. There was a group practicing at the waterfront park the other day. And I can hear another group just down the street as I sit at the front of the house and type.

Granada is all we know right now, so it’s hard to compare it to other cities. However, the travel books describe it as an old colonial town. The people we’ve met have been very warm and friendly. I’d compare it to a nice, quiet small town. The streets and sidewalks are narrow, with lots of one-way streets. There are probably as many bikes on the road as cars. Horses with carts, and carriage taxis share the roads too. The houses in town open right onto the street. Big, high wooden doors open into people’s living space and courtyards. For the street it looks like a row of gates and doors, but at night when people have their doors open and are sitting along the street you can see what lies inside.

Every day we seem to discover a new part of the city. Last night we went to hear a youth choir and the Nicaragua Youth Philharmonic orchestra at the cultural centre. It was close to the main city square. There are lots of fancy hotels and restaurants in that area. John went looking for a grocery store in the afternoon, and found the local market. There are many old churches. I can’t wait to see inside sometime.

John gets an A++ for enthusiasm and effort. He always has his phrase-book in hand, and persistently works hard to ask questions and try to make himself understood. If he doesn’t have his nose in the phrase-book, he’s thumbing through the travel guide. There is so much to see and do. If you are looking for an alternative to Florida and the Caribbean this winter, consider Nicaragua!

This is Laguna de Apoyo - a crater lake in an inactive volcano. It is more than 200 metres deep. And there are 4 species of fish that exist only in this lake. It is about 20 minutes from Granada. A great way to cool off from the heat.

We hung out at Crater's Edge hostel for the day at Laguna de Apoyo.

You know it's a tourist town when you can get a carriage ride/tour of the city. Danielle is practicing to be the driver so that she can give tours when her Spanish improves!

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Welcome to Nicaragua

We arrived in Nicaragua and have been warmly welcomed by everyone we've met.

It wasn't even 2 hours after being off the plane that the kids were riding a horse - not because that's a typical thing to do when you arrive in Nicaragua, but because of a very generous young girl with a new horse. We are so grateful to our hosts, the VanderWees family, for patiently answering our barrage of questions about life in Nicaragua AND listening to our stories about the last couple months.

Now it's off to language school in Granada. We desperately need to learn some Spanish. Dinner was a good challenge - the menu in one hand and the spanish dictionary in the other!

The kids love hangin' out in the hammocks....

... and a little bit of schooling beside the pool.

Hurricanes and Snowstorms

It's hurricane season. Sort of like February in southern Ontario. You're never entirely sure when the storm is going to hit. You regularly check the news for updates. Keep the pantry fairly well stocked. You're never sure how bad it's going to be. You can either stay inside all day or venture out with some informed caution. I'm not a fan of wind storms or snow storms, but hiding inside isn't a fun option.

When we first arrived in Florida, Tropical Storm Fay had hit Port St. Lucie and the surrounding area. Students had been in school for one day and then had 4 storm days. There was alot of flooding in the area and our friend Debbie's office was flooded.

After traveling to Disney and the Space Centre, we came back to Debbie, Jeff, Kristina and Evan's wonderful hospitality. You always feel part of the family when you stay with them, and that includes their extended family too. We had dinner with Debbie's parents and her almost 90 year old Nana. They took us to a baseball game between the St. Lucie Mets (farm team for the NY Mets) and the Brevard Manatees. The highlight was actually the fireworks after the game. Another highlight of the evening (can you have more than one highlight), well another item of note was finally catching a glimpse of an alligator. We'd certainly seen lots of warning signs but no alligator. While visiting Debbie's parents their "pet" alligator in the pond behind their house was swimming around and we could see its eyes and tail sometimes skimming along the surface of the water. That was enough so we can now say we've seen an alligator in Florida.

We were also hosted by Debbie's brother Eric and his family. They have a lovely landscaped pool in their backyard. The kids swam and swam and swam and swam....

There was also karaoke back at the Debbie and Jeff's. And Kristina eventually had us all dancing. Kristina is an excellent dancer. She gave Danielle special cha-cha slide lessons too.

I don't have a picture of the kids playing guitar hero or wii but that definitely kept Evan, Simon and Danielle entertained for many hours!

We were also treated to a boat ride out from nearby Fort Pierce. Jeff worked hard to get his boat ready for us. The storm had dumped lots of water and debris into his boat. The water is usually crystal clear in the area where we put the anchor in to swim, however the recent storm had churned up the water so it was pretty murky. We headed back in when the dark clouds started to roll in, and the boaters who were on the ocean side of the cove started streaming back.

One of the occupational hazards of traveling is having to say "goodbye" to special friends after what always seems like too short a visit. Debbie is like a sister to me. I met her 25 years ago (July 1, 1983) when we were Rotary Exchange students flying from New York to the Phillipines. I can't imagine not having her, and her family, in my life!