Friday, July 25, 2014

Doing all of the last things --Goodbye Nica!

This has been unlike any vacation I've ever been on. It's been more like learning a new way of life than anything else, which is what we were hoping to accomplish. Although I wish Jeff had gotten more beach time, working is what he has to do so maybe the authenticity is part of the memory for us. 

 Roundup of last minute creatures:
These were the same moths that Meesha and I saw in Cabo. Funny story about how bad my remembered Spanish  is took place because of these moths. They are the size of my hand.

 This coconut crab and frog were spotted while Kai and I went out at night to try to see a turtle. He never got to see the nesting one if you remember.
 Rambutans finally found at the market. We ate them right up!
 We're letting Kai listen to audiobooks --we've run out of print books for him.
Kai also found a washed up coconut he was very proud of. I'm hoping we can leave it behind (sshh!).
 Last night we took our last trip into town to climb up to the "Christo en ti Confio" statue that stands above San Juan del Sur beach. Did you know there were many of these statues all over central and South America? I thought Rio's was the only one.

 Amazing views from the top.


 Underneath there is a little information center/chapel, with lit candles and stories of the miracles the statue was said to have produced.
Afterwards we got tacos and ate them out on the beach, watching the sun set.
We're going to miss it here.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Bats, Smoke, and toad wallets.

I gave you some stuff out of order. Before we did the Granada tour, there was the Masaya volcano tour. This is an active volcano, one of 19 in Nicaragua (many, many more inactive --I asked my guide once in a moment of tactlessness if he wasn't a little afraid to live here..). We wanted to do the night tour, to maybe be able to see glowy lava stuff, but there was a national holiday, and the park closed at noon (more on that in a minute). Our guide told us that the lava wasn't visible anyway with all of the smoke even at night no matter what the website told us. The other reason for the night tour was a bat cave. Oh my goodness I love bats. We've been talking about a family road trip for two years now to Carlsbad Caverns, NM mainly to see all of the bats fly out at sunset. These guys at Masaya have a similar phenomena, but too bad for us, we went in the morning.

Our guide has connections though, and got us a private tour of the bat cave (all evening before, I  randomly turned to Jeff and shouted "TO THE BAT CAVE!"). The park supplied hard hats and flashlights, which we supplemented with our own headlamps. We came to Nicaragua prepared for adventure!

Do you know what's hard to take a picture of? Black bats in a black cave. I had about 15 pictures of nothing on my camera when I got out, and yes I had a flash.

Our park ranger took us way back into the cave, where indigenous peoples used to sacrifice their children to the volcano gods. Back in what he called the temple, there were so many bats whipping and spinning through the air, zooming past our heads, squealing,  flapping. It was awesome. I kept saying "my mom would love this!". I should say that none of us are scared of bats, although sometimes when one swooped by I'd say "CHUPACABRA!" Sometimes I crack my own self up.

Looking at the ceiling and floor of the cave, we would see what looked like moisture on stalactites. In reality, the cave was created by the volcano, and the cooling lava stayed shiny and rippled. Kind of neat. It didn't look like any cave we'd been in before.

Spelunkers extraordinaire. Notice Tia and I are wearing skirts? I know it looks impractical, but we are all about staying cool in the heat and skirts are the best for that.

Just outside of the cave was the tiny entrance to a second tunnel. The ranger asked us if we wanted to go through it. Our guide said he'd meet us on the other side, that he wouldn't do it.

But after Jeff, then Kai, then the rest of us went down, he was shamed into following us.

It opened up later on.

Next up was the active crater. The whole area was called Masaya, the active crater was Santiago.

This was another huge crater next to it,

and climbing to the top of this rise we overlook a third.

The smoke smelled a lot like sulfur, which made sense, because the Spaniards called this "The mouth of Hell" and erected a giant cross next to it. Isn't Hell supposed to smell of rotten eggs (and sound like dentist drills)?

The city of Masaya is home to the largest craft bazaar in the country --called the Mercado de Artesanias.

I'll spare you, but took picture after picture of colorful hammocks, purses, clothing, pottery, and shoes. I wished I had a million dollars, and unlimited luggage space. I wanted one of everything.

This place also boasted the best smoothie booth we've ever come across. We tried some of these little yellow fruits --I think they are Nance? and I had Mamey Sapote in my smoothie, along with papaya, and one other green fruit I had never seen before and can't remember. Between the kids' smoothies I know there was fresh star fruit, dragon fruit, pineapple, mango, and orange. It was the bomb.

After agonizing for an hour or two, Tia and I finally picked out purses, and Ari a blouse.  Kai really wanted a machete, but Jeff was a party pooper (and if he hadn't been, I would have been).

This mercado was huge. We never saw more than half of it.
 I don't know if you can read this sign, but it says "We can make anything out of crocodile, toad, snake, or iguana." Is that legal? I'm pretty sure croc isn't ok...

Toad head wallet anyone?

OK. National holiday. On our way back to Granada, we started to see the traffic building up. On this day they celebrate the day 35 years ago when the Sandinistas kicked the old dictator Somoza out of power. It actually was kind of a bloody war, where they forced most able bodied men to fight on one side or the other. Now the Sandinistas (notice the red and black flag) are still in power, led by Daniel Ortega. He is the democratically elected president (kind of), but has changed the constitution so he could do term after term, and the elections are probably rigged. Each year on this day, everybody employed by the government MUST show up in the main square of Managua for his address or they lose their job. Many others go too to celebrate.

The bus system closes down, because all buses go to Managua. People pack the buses inside and out. It was pretty crazy. Our guide was NOT pro-Sandinista, although he was grateful for what the group originally did for his country. He's pretty sad about how the old freedom fighters are the new dictators. We heard a lot about politics during our tours. I have been very grateful that although America and Americans have been Nicaragua's enemies for over 100 years in one sense or another (marine occupation for 20 years in the early 1900's, the CIA's contra support during the Reagan admin. etc.), everyone has been nothing but kind to us. 

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Granada tour -- dazzling..

When I went to Philadelphia last summer, I was so impressed with all of the historic architecture.  I comforted myself that in the west we have the beauties of the natural world: the mountains and canyons, but I was still a little jealous we didn't have the history that Pennsylvania enjoys. Now, having seen Granada, it's hard to even remember all of the things I loved in Philadelphia. We're talking 16th century here!
Our guide took us on Saturday around the city, and told us the history as he showed us the city he loves. Rodolfo grew up here, lives here now, and his pride came through clearly.  This first picture is of the Iglesia La Merced, and was built in 1532. It was one of the most important churches in Granada until the tower burned in the mid 1800's. It was rebuilt later.
So many beautiful architectural pieces. I'm making my pictures small and clumping them together so you can get the "drinking from a fire hose" effect I did in seeing detail after detail. Wrought iron, carved wood, colorful paint (they aren't afraid of color here! Our hotel room was pink with yellow curtains and bed covers!).

 You can see that even the sidewalks are tiled. Notice all of the moldings around doors and windows.


 You can see too, how houses and other buildings are all connected down a city block. One of the reasons people paint their house front a bright color, is to contrast it from the houses on either side of it. No side gardens here!

Lots of horse and carriages around Granada. Most of them are painted blue, with ads on the back for "Moviestar" a cell phone service. Two major carriers here. Moviestar and Claro. Many people have both because it's cheaper to call your friends if they have the same service.


We started walking towards a more run down part of the city. Still, the houses had a charming patina with their worn paint, etc. I probably wouldn't think it was as charming if the roof leaked on me I suppose....

Our guide wanted to show us the common market --what he called "the real Granada". The picture above is the entrance to the building --just gorgeous, but very old. The roof inside was corrugated iron, and had lots of cracks and holes.

This was a little hard for my kids to see. There was a section for meat and fish sales, shown above, now empty since it was later in the day, but the smell and flies remained. There were also all of the normal comestibles (rice, beans etc.),

Flowers that were amazing (even if they were sold next to the stalls selling recycled jugs and cardboard), a colorful greengrocers, and there were clothing stalls which looked just like San Diego's swap meet --cheap dresses from China, garish earrings, etc.

Walking out, we ran into an older teenager staggering back and forth sniffing glue with a pipe like contraption stuck in a baby food jar. The back of his black T-shirt read "it may seem like craziness to you, but for us it is salvation" (but in Spanish). I think on the front was the ad for some church or religion, and the irony wasn't lost on me. We later saw another lost boy in the square, very high, although not sniffing at the time. I told Tia-- "now you know zombies do exist". "That's not comforting Mom!" she said. I was really disturbed for the rest of the night, and that's why I tried to make a joke. I think the prospect of losing mental capacity is one of the most frightening things I've considered. It's not just the idea of addiction, or children suffering (although that's not a negligible part), it's the idea of losing your mind.

After this, our guide mercifully brought us back towards the main square, and the lovely mansions,

 --owned by the richest man in Nicaragua...

 The oldest house in Granada --above, with its plaque.


 The municipal building -left, and the rectory, the Claro executive's home, and some other mansion, in a row on their way down to the waterside.

 Now, the jewel of the square. San Francisco, or the Cathedral of Granada. 


The main nave is impressive, with its clean lines, marble, and arches.

 The floor is this lovely antique printed tile.

 Right in the middle is what looks like the ark of the covenant (I really should link to the Bible instead of a movie hehe!).
 Love the blue next to the gold and white -- as if you were looking into the heavens.
The nave where communion is given.

 Back in the square, the brightly colored pots, and painted tree trunks were cheery after the somber beauty of the cathedral.

 A mariachi band (maybe that's not what they are called here?) serenaded a tableful of diners.

 Monument to motherhood --total abnegation? That's not really me...

Close up of the rectory and the Claro mansion.

The local art college building front.

 One last cathedral -- the Iglesia of Guadalupe, used as a fort by William Walker (an American villain who came in and conquered Nicaragua in the early 19th century). What kind of jerk uses a church as a fort?

The interior was much simpler, and more primitive than San Fransisco, but lovely all the same. The ceiling was made of cana (imagine a tilde --can't find it) de castillo which is similar to bamboo. Very traditional around here.

The walls were made of adobe bricks (I made the kids repeat "adoooobeee" like in Peewee Herman and then had a really hard time explain that to our guide). They exposed a section for us to see on the left. On the right they have an excavated grave ( many people were killed fighting when Walker was in here), and they buried them under the floor. 

 From the top of the steps you could look out over the many tiled roofs of the city to the Masaya volcano. I really loved the tiled roofs.

 Notice too, that they overhang by quite a bit, so the sun will never shine directly in the window, keeping the homes cool. They didn't all have this, but many did -even our LDS church building. 
We headed back towards the square again on our way to the Calle Calzado where all of the restaurants are (patio seating for all of them --no cars down here, just walking), and saw that the Panamerica tour was passing through. I'm going to make this photo large so you can see it.  A group of vintage cars make their way from the top of North America to the bottom of South America. I got a few shots of these guys. I heard about them when I was here in Costa Rica in grad school, but only saw a couple cars pass us in the jungle.

Isn't that cool?

After a long day of walking, and hiking around another volcano (tell you about that tomorrow --there's bats!), we gratefully sat down for a great dinner of Paella for Tia, Jeff and I, and octopus in garlic sauce for Ari and Kai. We slept