Sunday, June 28, 2009

When In Rome... Do like the Nicaraguans do...

Nicaragua is nothing short of Incredible!
After Miraflor I went to Matagalpa to visit the chocolate factory (Yum!), and hike around Selva Negra, a beautiful reserve that produces tons of shade-grown coffee. I saw beautiful birds and bugs, and huge howler monkeys that were a bit close for comfort.

Then I spent a few days in Leon, eating street food at fritangas (not that I don´t do that in absolutely every city I visit), touring the rooftop of the largest cathedral in central america, climbing volcanos, and boarding down them. I went to volcan Cerro Negro where we climbed 45 minutes to the top, around the back and through the crater full of sulfur clouds and bright red, white, and yellow rocks contrasting against the slopes of teeney black volcanic rocks. The boarding was not terribly fast, nor easy, but it was a blast. The closest I´ve been to snowboarding for a long time, and with a wonderful view. The funniest part of the day though, may have easiy been when we all had to lay down on the top of the volcano as a swarm of ¨african killer bees¨ flew over.

The other volcano I climbed was Telica, which is active as well and has e much more impressive crater. We left at 6 in the morning and took a chicken bus to a small dirt road that we followed ofr a couple hours to the base of the volcano. Because of regular wear and rainy season the path is heavily eroded and sometimes you´re walking in a row with the walls reaching up about 15 feet on each side. We collected some firewood about half way up the volcano, and then made it to the ridge where we left out packs to go check out the crater. It was much more impressive than I had imagined with perfect plumes of sulfur clouds, perfect cliffs at the craters edge, and beautiful colors. Sometimes the smoke would clear a bit so we ould see more of the inside of the crater, but when you threw a rock in and waited to hear it hit you knew that we were nowhere near seeing the bottom! We camped at the old crater which is now beautiful and full of green grass, and has pasta dinner and banana boats (you know what I´m talking about if you ever went to girlscout camp). The next morning we climbed down to the hervideros, mudpits like the ones at yellowstone.

Then I headed to Granada to met up with some friends from Montana. That ciry was beautiful and we enjoyed bonbons (some with coconut, chilies, peanut, orange, sesame, orange, etc. God bless the chocolate in this country!), refrescos in bags (like chocolate milk, tamarind, and some fruits I had never tried or even heard of before), eating telepizza (I officially do not like anchovies), looking for somwhere to hang out when the whole city seems to loose power, singing karaoke (that´s right-All Star, by Smash Mouth), snooping around the school´s printmaking studio, and generally enjoying a beautifu city. We also went out to the Masaya Volcano and took a tour of the caves where we saw little bats.

From Granada we took the ferry ride to Altagracia on Isla de Ometepe in Lago de Nicaragua. I knew that the island would be beautiful, but I still had no idea! The island consists of two connected volcanos coming out of an enormous lake with freshwater sharks. We actually stayed at Zopilote, which is a beautiful eco lodge a bit up Volcan Maderas from the town of Balgüe. The mirador has a beautiful view, the dorms are super comfortable, there are more butterflies than I´ve ever seen before in my life, and they make organic whole sheat bread, maremelades, yogurt, pasta sauce, pizza, and flavored liquers, and we could order delicious pizza! One day we rode bikes to the beach and hung out skipping rocks and doing kartwheels, then walking the bike back, if your tire went flat like mine. Another we only left the lodge once, to go to a delicious dinner where we had to wait a while while they killed and prepared the chicken for us-Yum! And, of course, we climbed Volcan Maderas, which was worth every enourmous step through the peanut butter mud dripping with sewat. When you get to the top you see the huge crater lake and enjoy the cool air, and if you plan ahead like Andrew and I you get to have leftover pizza for lunch. On the way down we stoped at a mirador and had an amazing view of Volcan Concepción on the other side of the island. Our last morning there I mad french toast, and we caught the bus to Moyogalpa where we ate ice cream for lunch and walked out to Punto de Jesus Maria for the best view of the island I could imagine. We swam, collected lake shells, and took tons of pictures.

The next morning we got a lancha back to the mainland where we had a bit of an adventure on the buses getting back to Granada where we picked up food and rum (side note-you can go to the National Police Store in the fire station and buy items they have confiscated from ladrones for super cheap-including rum) and splurged on a cab out to The Monkey Hut. The monkey hut is a beautiful hostel on Laguna de Apoyo-the clearest lake I have ever seen. We spent a couple of days eating mac´n´cheese, swimming, kayaking, floating in inner tubes, sipping on out fire-station-rum, and napping in hammocks. I could stay there for weeks on end! Then we headed to Managua for a night, and now I´m in Leon making plans to climb more volcanos and watch horse races. This morning I made myself scrambeled aggs with onion, garlic, and bell pepper, tortillas, smoked cheese, slices tomato, and half a papaya for breakfast and spent a wopping $27 cords (no worries, that´s only about $1.75 US), and I feel damn good!

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Fuente de Vida

Before getting out of Honduras, it had to trow me one more curve ball-the Earthquake. Luckily I left the two cities that were hardest hit hours before the earthquake, but it still woke me up that night in Tegucigalpa.
Then the trip from Tegucigalpa, Honduras to Esteli, Nicaragua, which could have been a long, frustrating day ended up being fun and easy. I met some great Nicaraguan kids on the first bus in Honduras and traveled almost all the way to Esteli with one of them. We had lunch with her dad at a comedor on the border, and visited and talked about Nicaragua for a bit. After the 5 chicken bus journey it took me to get to Esteli I stayed there for a few days looking for a volunteer job. Turns out that nowhere I went is looking for volunteers, so I went up to UCA Miraflor for a few days.
Miraflor is an enormous amount of land, run by 3 orcanic agriculture coops (one mens, one womens, and one mixed). The communities, farms, and coops have been around for years and years and have always been organic a generally sustainable-which is impressive, and uncommon in this part of the world. Tourism was later added, and has still not expanded much, keeping it a calm and ruraly destination. In the bus station on the way I met a girl from Spain and we ended up spending a couple of days there together. It was fun to travel with someone who was just as excited to be there as I was, and to practice so much spanish.
We stayed at the house of a wonderful family, with beautiful flower gardens, veggie gardens, citrus trees, cows, goats, and chickens, a comfortable house, a beautiful view of a little valley, chilly nights, and great day trips. In the morning we would get uo early and drink coffee, or milk in my case (fresh out of the cow, like a mug full of butter!) and watch as the clouds creared up for a sunny day. We walked around to different miradores (lookouts, or view points), looked at all the other fincas, climbed into a 250 year old tree, mooed at all the cows, made moustaches with spanish moss, visited waterfalls, and relaxed in the breeze! We only met one other tourist while we were up there together, and it was so nice to get away from the city!
The food was phenomenal, milk from the cow that morning, cheese made by Elim, tortillas from fresh ground maiz, organic free-range chicken fresh from the neighbor, juices from peaches in the yard, fried plaintains from the billions of plantain and banana trees around the area, and all fresh organic veggies from the yard! It is such a beautiful, sustainable community with equally beautiful people. I was at Finca Fuente de Vida in the community of Cebollal, in the zona alta, and in the next few weeks hope to visit other zonas to work with the local guides on a program to teach them some intermediate english, and about the tourism projects in their community. I loved being in the area and cant wait to get back!