Friday, July 10, 2009

Oh, León

I have a bit of bad news to start this post: my red journal has been stolen. Why someone would want my journal I do not know, but alas, it is no longer with me. I´m heartbroken, but doing my best to re-write as much as possible.

And on to more positive news; I have been keeping myself plenty busy this past week in León with Canada Day parties, Michael Jackson dance parties, new friends, momones, chocolate milk in bags, movies at the cinema, fritangas, comedores, making no-bake cookies, getting to know the market, spanish lessons, the art museum, the Ruben Darío museum, la liberación del fortín, gambling and much more (including hanging out at my wonderful hostel, Colibrí).

Here are the details:
-Canada Day Parties- I´ve done a few hikes with the Quetzaltrekker kids now and have made pretty good friends with them. One night we had a "party" for Canada Day, which mostly means we drank Toña and sang "Oh, Canada" a few too many times in the kitchen of their house.
-Michael Jackson Dance Parties- Since finding out about his death on the telivision in a Managua hostel I have yet to go more than about 30 minutes outside of my room without hearing one of his songs being played (Black or White seems to be the most popular song), and it frequently turns into a dance party-especially when Quetzaltrekkers are involved
-New Friends- I´m not sure if I´m really allowed to say anything about this, but I met a guy who writes for one of the guide book companies, and we had a really good time hanging out in the city together. We watched live music at La Olla Quemada where we also did some serious people watching, went gambling (which you´ll hear more about later), and ate tons of watermelon.
-Momones- For those of you who love lychee fruits, you should be jealous of these! They´re round fruits just smaller than a ping pong ball with a slightly rough, hard, green skin. After you break the skin off there is a slimy, milky colored flesh around a huge white pit. You just pop the in your mouth and do your best to chew the meat of the fruit off. They have a fruit sorbet sort of flavor and a huge bag of them, still on the stems costs $10 córdoba, or 50 cents US.
-Chocolate Milk in Bags- You can get basically any drink in a bag here, but cacao may be my favorite. The drink is made from a mixture of milk and water, tons of sugar, and a paste of rice, cacao, and cinnamon. It´s a but sludgy or grainy and delicious!
-Movies at the Cinema- I´ve seen Up (una aventura en altura) and Era de Hielo 3 (Ice Age) at the movie theater here for about $2.50US each. I loved the movie Up, and am not ashamed to admit that I cried a time or two. And Ice Age was super entertaining because of the crowd. I saw it just a couple days after it had come out and on a sunday, so needless to say, the theater was packed. It was hilarious to hear everyone ooohh and aaahh; and the little boy behing me was crying because he was terrified of the dinosaur, but an older boy (still only about 6) was tring to explain that everyone was going to be okay and the dinosaur wouldn´t hurt him.
-Fritangas- I don´t know if I´ve explained what these are yet, so here goes... They´re huge grills and tables of food that get set up in the evening and run pretty late into the night. They grill chicken and beef and have tons of other food prepared that they heat up when you order it (like taquitos, papas rellenas-fried balls of chunky mashed potatoes with cheese inside, fried bananas, fried cheese, other fried things, gallo pinto) and of course everything served with the typical cabbage salad if you want. My favorite fritanga in town is behing the cathedral and that´s what we call it, Cathedral. The women who work it call absolutely everyone niña or niño. I love it!
-Comedores- A comedor is kind of like a latin cafeteria. The huge metal warming tray things on wheeles, full of amazing Nica dishes! Yu just go down the line and ask for whatever looks good, pick up your drink and silverware, and pay. My favorite comedor here is "El Buen Gusto" where the beans & rice, steamed chicken (with a sauce that i´m pretty sure is just like condensed cram of something soup with hot chilies) avocado/egg salad, refresco de guava rock my world!
-Making No-Bake Cookies- Being the budget traveler I am, I was too cheap to tip the Quetzaltrekkers, but wanted to thank them somehow. And seeing as how hostels in this part of the world don´t let guests use ovens because of the high cost of gas I went in search of suprisingly easy no-bake cookies. They pretty much consist of sugar, butter, milk, and quick-oats. I did one batch with bananas & rasins, and the others were chocolate (I just mixed that paste they use for the cacao drink into the liquid part of the cookie when it was on the stove). They went over pretty well
-Getting to Know the Market- Best market story: I went to buy the little shampoo packets I always use, and found a little stall that had the kinds I like, but couldn´t get the guys attention. He was talking to his buddy and when he finally realized I was there, he knocked some stuff over and almost tripped. His friend told me that I had suprised him and he was just nervous to be talking to a pretty girl. Basically, he just kept knocking stuff over and whatnot the whole time he was getting stuff for me and the friend kept laughing at hime and tellimg me how nervous I made him. Too funny! I also love the cheese stalls at the market and always get samples before I buy it (partly just because I can), and the fruits and veggies are set up in beautiful displays.
-Spanish Lessons- Iliam is my teacher and she´s kicking my ass! I take 2 hours of private lessons every day, and we´re doing tons of subjunctive and discurso indirecto. For homework I have fill-in-the-blank sroties, verb conjugations, I write childern´s stories and prepare little presentations for her, and tons of other things. I really enjoy her company, and am so glad I decided to study.
-The Art Museum- Probably the best selection of artwork I have seen in one place on this trip (minus the print studios in Oaxaca). And the buildings themselves are absolutely beautiful. There are 2 buildings across the street from eachother, each with huge patio courtyards with tons of green grass, flowers, and fountains, big rooms, hugh doorways with enormous wood-beam frames, and dark red shudders on all the windows.
-The Ruben Darío Museum- The kind of museum with chairs and lamps that say "Ruben Darío sat in this char and used this lamp"...
-La Liberación del Fortín- This was a big parade to celebrate the 30 year aniversary of the Liberación del Fortín, when an old fort that had been occupied and abandoned many times was taken back over with the Sandanista Revolution. There were tons of people marching with music, red and black flags, and way too much that I didn´t understand.
-Gambling- We went to "Salón Estrella" to play the slot machines, and do it just to say that we did it. We were laughing about betting $10 córdobas, which is a nickel. But we agreed that at home we would have really been doing penny slots, so we were big-spenders. We made just enough money to keep going for about 45 minutes, but the best part was the swinging doors, anilal hides and skulls on the walls.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

El Hoyo (aka: The Hole)

Let´s start this blog post with a fun-filled after noon of cock fights and horse races, shall we? The cock fights are a traditional weekend event which mainly the local men enjoy (there were probably about 75 men when I went and 5 local women). The fights themselves were actually much less disturbing and much more organized than I had imagined. There are strict rules (weight groups, time limits, etc.), the men are very proud of their cocks (haha, seriously, how can I not make at least one joke!) and treat them well considering, nobody gets fall-down drunk, and everyone goes home by dusk. It´s kind of like sunday night football in the states... but not. I have to admit that the worts art if when the birds get all bloody and the men are cleaning them off-if the cock gets blood all over it´s face, the man will suck if it´s face to get the blood out of it´s nose so it can breathe-Yuck!

Anyway, the annual horse races were actually more interesting for me than the fighting. They took place on a dirt road in the same neighborhood as the cock fights, and there were tons of people out to watch. There were young boys particiating in speed races between the main relay races in which the older boys/men competes. In these races there is a dead duck hung from it´s feet by a rope across the street. As the men race by on their horses the objective is to tear the duck´s head off. The funny part is that that seems to be impossible, so they just end up pulling the duck really hard and catipulting if up into the trees above when they let go. The streets were packed, with little boys climbing the trees for a better look, and everyone eating plantain chips and raspados (snowcones with condensed milk and fruit syrup).

The next morning i went to the Quetzaltrekker office at 4am to prepare for our hike. I´m sure I already talked about QT in Guatemala, but just to remind you all, they are a volunteer-run non-profit trekking company that raises money for programs to help street kids. So, we packed, ate breakast, and headed out to Cerro Negro on a chicken bus. We hike about two hours throught peanut fields and the ¨black desert¨ avoiding the cattle all around us, and then dropped oof out pack to climb Cerro Negro. It´s the sam volcano I boarded down, but this time we simply ran, which may have actually been more fun. And this time we weren´t attacked by a swarm of african bees at the top of the crater. After running down, we started up ¨las pilas,¨ a steep ridge behind the ranger´s station with our packs. At the top we had burritos and pbj on tortillas while avoiding the gnats (which grossly enough were attracted to all ou bloody scrapes from falling all over the rocks on cerro negro). From there it was a nice walk/hike throught lush green foliage in thick fog to the ridge at the capsite below ¨El Hoyo¨. Our campsite is in a glowing green bowl below ¨the hole¨ with the crater of the volcano further above that and beautiful views all in front of us. When we first ade it to the to we were socked in by clouds and couldn´t see the view of el hoyo at first. But when everything creared I was totally blown away!

We hikde up to a serious fumerol on the side of the volcano with tons of sulfure steam billowing out, then up to the edge of the crater which was much larger and greener than I had imagined, and then along the side and bottom of el hoyo. The hole is on the slope of the volcano, just down from the vrater and is perfectly round with deep red stone sides. The theories on how it was formed include that it may have been a fumerol at some point, a collapsed lava tunnel, or a dinosaur nest. We watched sunset from the ridge and walked back down for a delicious lentil, garbanzo, pasta dinner, and the mallow roasting on the fire.

It poured most of the night, but we woke up to one of the most beautiful mornings I have ever seem. To the left was the sun coming up throught the steam of the fumerol, in front of us volcanes Momotombo, and Momotombito with lake Managua stretching out around and behind them, further to the right was laguna Asososca next to la tigre, and starting above la tigre and arching up and around behing us was a beautiful double rainbow! I don´t think that my description or my photos will be able to do it justice! The we hiked four hours down throught the beautiful jungle to laguna Asososca for lunch and swimming. Looking down at the lake from el hoyo it seemed pretty close because we didn´t know how big it was, but looking back up at el hoyo from the lake it was pretty impressive to see how far we had come! Hiking out of the lake and out to the road was the easiest part, because all 9L of my water were gone and we had finally eaten the day 2 lunch I had been carying. Bus rides back, and then 12 hours in bed! I still can´t get over how beautiful the trip was!