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.