Presidential Visit

>> Tuesday, February 26, 2008

All around the city there have been signs of something big happening. First, it was the police--a police officer was standing on every single street corner in our neighborhood and Holly spotted a sniper standing on the roof of the Enitel building in the park. Then we passed a truck with a big sign saying something about Monimbó (our neighborhood) and there seemed to be an unusually high amount of chatter involving La Chamuca (the not-so-nice nickname for Mrs. Ortega). Finally, at our English classes tonight we found out what's happening--Daniel Ortega is in our neighborhood tonight. Right this second he's at a church about 3 blocks away and he's supposed to pass right by our house on his way out of town. We'll update later if we can get a picture.


A Walk in the Cloud Forest

>> Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Last weekend we finally made a trip to Volcán Mombacho near Granada. I’d been trying to get Holly to go with me for months and an opportunity came up for us to go with an English class from Masaya. Since we weren’t planning the trip we didn’t really do much research about it before we went but once we got there we realized that it was a really long hike before the hike.

We started at the base of the volcano… about 320 meters.

About an hour into the hike there was a grouping of houses and we thought, “Oh, good. We’re here. Let’s start the hike.” Not even close.This is just one of the many hills that left all of us a little winded.

The winding mountain road provided countless opportunities to hope that just around the next corner we would be at the Visitor's Center where the trails started. Around one such corner we came to see this scene below and thought that there wouldn’t be any way we would have to make it up into the clouds. It’s so steep! It was at about this point that a converted military truck passed by packed with gringos smiling and waving. It also started sprinkling at about this point, and we could see steam rising off our foreheads. We were pretty jealous of the direct bus transportation, but at least we had the moral high ground even though they were quickly and comfortably reaching the physical high ground.

Over the next hour or so I was just too tired to take pictures, but we eventually made it all the way up past those clouds to the Visitor's Center! The house that appeared earlier was just below the white line on this Little Mombacho. The white line to the top was over 300 vertical meters on a very steep road.

At the top of the road we were about to start the trail, which itself really wasn’t very tough, when a cloud descended upon us and it got really cold. All of the students we were with broke out their jackets while we were left wondering why no one warned us.

This made it pretty difficult to see the breathtaking views before us:

Finally the sun came out and we were rewarded for our patience. Everything was just so green a beautiful.

The Reserve was a really impressive display of biodiversity. This one tree has 35 different species living on it, which, as the sign notes, is more than all of the tree species in a typical forest in England or Switzerland.

At the end of the trail there was a section called the fumaroles, which I guess would be something like "smoke holes" in English. There were a few big holes in the ground where hot sulfuric gas escaped from deep in the bowels of Mombacho. The guide said that in the hottest months of the year, the gas can get up to about 115 degrees Fahrenheit.

We could see pretty far in all directions at the top. Here’s Granada, Lake Nicaragua, and the isletas as seen from the fumaroles area.The next part of the hike was pretty steep as well and we got a pretty good view of where we just were. The high point at the end of the path is where the previous picture was taken.

At the very top it was 1,222 meters, which made our vertical climb just over 900 meters in about 5 hours. I don’t know if that’s actually significant but it seemed like a lot.

The top also provided impressive views of… TV antennas and cell phone towers. The nature reserve receives no aid from the government, so these probably bring in extra income to keep it open. Still, they kind of take away from the views.

Far in the distance we heard monkeys calling. I imagined that they would be deep in the jungle and they wouldn’t come close to the trail. Instead, we passed right under them and they posed for pictures. Our guide warned us not to linger too long because they are territorial and have been known to greet guests with golden showers.

Somewhere in this mess of tree is a sloth enjoying his lunch. These were the only animals we saw, but there was evidence of lots of other wildlife. The fact that the main trail is called “El Puma” should be some indication of what you might see on that path.

Even though it was against every pinche (cheap) bone in our bodies, we decided to pay the 40 cords to take the bus back down. Yes, that same bus that tauntingly passed us on our hike up full of gringos. It wasn’t exactly the most luxurious mode of transportation but we justified it because a lot of the students were taking it and they needed supervision. Right? Even in bus, it took about 40 minutes to get down to the bottom.

This was the first smile Holly had shown since we started our ascent and I could see that even though I tricked her into climbing hills, eventually things would be right in the world as long as we stayed on flat ground.


Lions and Tigers and Jaguars, Oh My!

>> Sunday, February 17, 2008

One of our favorite parts of the Embassy summer camp was the field trip to the zoo. The zoo is right down the highway from Masaya, but we had never made it out there for a visit. One of the students told me not to get my hopes up about the quality of the zoo, but it turned out to be really fun. First, here are all the kids waiting to get inside. You can see me in the picture if you're good at "Where's Waldo?":This is Nicaragua's national bird, the Guardabarranco:

Here was a cage full of very long-tailed monkeys (not their scientific name). You may be thinking, "Wow, they look so close up, like you could just reach out and shake their little hands!" You would be correct; all the animals here were in cages that were definitely close enough to the walkways to just stick your hands inside, including the jaguars, lions, and other ferocious-type animals.
This was a really cute animal. I don't know (in English or Spanish) what it is; all the kids kept asking the English words for the animals, and with all the rodent/weasel type animals, we mostly had to say we didn't know. He was one of the animals I most wanted to reach out and pet. These two little foxes were just hanging out. I'm not sure if it was the time of day (around 5 pm) or just that the animals don't get many visitors, but nearly all the animals were awake and active and doing cute things. Another reason for the animals' activity was probably that it was feeding time. Here are my favorite animals at the zoo, the mom and baby jaguar, getting ready to eat dinner. All the big animals at the zoo just received big, raw parts of calves. Here is another jaguar... there were several cages with jaguars in them. This one was born missing his front left leg, but that didn't seem to slow him down one bit. When we came up to his cage, he started running around, jumping, playing with the jaguar in the next cage, and playing with his food. He was definitely an animal I wanted to pet, but we resisted. Paul did, however, put the camera up close enough to the bars so that you wouldn't see them in the picture. The zoo's male lion has clearly seen better days. He's 24 years old. He shares his cage with a 6-year-old lioness, and she was much more agile. A lot of the kids kept asking, "Teacher, he is dead?" but we did see him move around some. The last of the big cats was the tiger. The tiger started off sleeping, but then woke up, went for a swim, and then paced back and forth a lot. Finally, the zoo had a lot of other tropical birds, including toucans and parrots. Just that week, our zoo was in the news because several birds and animals were stolen by armed gunmen. We had hoped for a highly dramatic picture of a sign that said "toucans" in front of an empty cage, but it turns out they were stolen from the rehabilitation center and there were still a few toucans, parrots, and raccoons left in the zoo.All in all, it was a really fun trip. It's the closest we've ever been to a lot of these animals, so it was definitely worth the 75 cent admission.


Happy Valentine's Day!

>> Friday, February 15, 2008

A belated Valentine's Day, or Día de Amistad (day of friendship) to all our friends and family. Since February 14 here seems to be geared less to romantic love and more just to friendship, it was a lot of fun to celebrate at school and teachers received all sorts of goodies from their students. Some of the items I received include chocolate/peanut butter bon bons, Ritz crackers, lollipops, and a flower; other professors were even luckier, receiving roses, chocolate, and even a bottle of wine. During receso (students' daily 15-minute break) the teachers' lounge was full of students decorating with streamers and balloons. After the break, all the students were sent home (two hours early) so that the teachers could have their Valentine's Day party. There we ate wonderful chicken tacos, salad with ketchup and mayonnaise, soda, and refrescos in plastic bags. That afternoon, our landlord's granddaughter, whom I help with her English homework, came over and also gave us a dozen bars of soap from her grandpa; I hope they weren't trying to drop any hints, but we probably have enough soap to last us well through the next year and a half. Finally, in the evening the Alcaldía (mayor's office) had a big event in the central park that we attended. There were singers, poets, raffles, and we saw a lot of our students from our Telecentro classes (many of them work in the Mayor's office) and students from my school as well.

More generally, I think the school year is off to a great start for both Paul and me. There have certainly been delays and some frustrations with the scheduling, but it's been nice to actually start the school year here as teachers; last year we came in after second semester had already begun, and by that time all the students already had their routines and their opinions of English class. This year we were introduced at the assemblies on the first day as teachers, and we really feel like actual teachers in the school. We've also been trying extra hard to start off doing lots of fun activities so that kids will be enthusiastic about learning English; today to practice greetings and departures, my class learned and sang "Hello, Goodbye" by the Beatles. The kids have been really excited and friendly, so that has made our jobs much more fun and, except for the days that my classes begin at 7:00, we're both eager to go to school.


Unwanted T-Shirts

>> Thursday, February 07, 2008

I saw this story on the news earlier and can't wait to get my hands on one. If not, I hope the people that get them realize that the best way to benefit from these t-shirts is to put them on eBay.

Super Bowl's losing Patriots find fans in poor Nicaraguan homes
By Blake Schmidt

Hundreds of T-shirts set to arrive in Nicaragua this week might lead one to believe that the New England Patriots didn't blow their perfect season in Sunday's Super Bowl.

Though the Patriots lost 17-14 to the New York Giants, several hundred poor Nicaraguan kids will be winners thanks to a program to send the Patriots Super Bowl Champs T-shirts to those in need.

The U.S. National Football League (NFL) is teaming up with the Christian group World Vision to distribute millions of dollars worth of the losing Super Bowl team's licensed Reebok apparel in poor parts of Nicaragua and Romania.

“World Vision helps us to ensure that no NFL apparel goes to waste,” David Krichavsky, the league's director of community relations, said. “We are pleased to find a good home for clothing by getting it to those who need it most.


Eat like a Nica in Ten Easy Steps

>> Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Hands down the staple dish in Nicaragua is gallo pinto; it is not an exaggeration to say that most Nicaraguans eat gallo pinto (or a variation thereof, namely rice and beans or beans and rice) three times a day every day. Paul and I eat gallo pinto several times a week and, honestly, it's one of my favorite foods here. Just in case you'd like to cook your own authentic Nicaraguan food or begin preparing for a trip down to visit us, here are step-by-step instructions:

1. First, you need to rinse your rice. Most rice here is sold in huge bins that you scoop from, so lots of people have their hands in there scooping. Additionally, you can usually find lots of little rocks and sticks and things like that, so you should rinse it about 3 times.

2. Go to the pulperia down the street and buy a bag of frijoles cocidos (cooked beans) from the neighborhood lady. This bag cost ten córdobas, or about 50 cents. It's much easier and cheaper to buy your beans pre-cooked because they take several hours to cook and therefore use a lot of gas. The people who make beans and sell them have wood stoves that they use to cook the beans. If your neighborhood does not yet have its own bean lady, I guess you can substitute canned beans, but results may vary.

3. Tear a hole in your bag 'o beans and squeeze all the liquid out. You also need to mush the beans up a bit while they're in the bag. Try not to get any bean juice on your toothbrush.

4. Cook your rice. First, put a little (or a lot if you're Nicaraguan) vegetable oil in your pot then add the rice. Stir it around and when it begins to stick to the sides and bottom, add your water to the top of the rice. Turn the stove on high and let the water boil down until it's down below the level of the rice and your rice is nice and fluffy. Turn the stove on super-low and cover until the rice is cooked, which is about 10 minutes. 5. While you're cooking the rice, cook your beans. Add your vegetable oil again a su gusto (as you like) and cook your chopped up onion. 7. Add your mushed up beans to your almost-cooked onion and cook for about 5 minutes. The rice is currently at the "boiling down" stage.
8. When both are cooked, add two to two and a half scoops big metal spoon scoops of rice to your beans (we have enough leftover rice to make gallo pinto again or fried rice, one of Paul's specialties). Mix them together and let them simmer together for 10-15 minutes.
9. While your gallo pinto is simmering, toast your tortillas. In Nicaragua, corn tortillas are the most common. Every evening, there are grills up and down the streets where people are making and selling their tortillas for a cord each (5 cents). Sometimes we splurge and get flour tortillas from the supermarket, which we then toast ourselves.10. Get your gallo pinto, your tortillas, Tabasco or other salsa, and Coke. ¡Buen provecho -- enjoy!


400 Kids Carrying Desks on Their Heads

>> Monday, February 04, 2008

Today was the first day of classes for Nicaraguan schools and it was pretty easy to tell this morning. For the first time in a couple of months, everyone under 18 was wearing blue pants and a white shirt (nationwide uniforms--even for private schools) and Holly and I had stuff to do in the morning.

When I got to school in the afternoon the corridors were completely packed with students and parents. Why weren't they all in their classrooms? Well, it's because classes weren't assigned yet. There was a brief assembly where people half-heartedly mumbled the national anthem and then everyone tried to find their classrooms. For the first year students this was really confusing because none of them had any idea which of the five sections was theirs. A teacher would read the list of names to the few students gathered around and everyone who wasn't on that list had to go find another teacher to see if their name was on that list. What's more, even though students weren't assigned classrooms yet, they all got very territorial about the best desks. Rather than first find their classroom and then find a place to sit, everyone got a desk first and just carried it from room to room on their heads. This definitely didn't help the congestion in the hallways.

Needless to say we didn't do much teaching today. We might begin tomorrow, but the schedules still haven't been finished. Our school is short about 3 teachers so right now 220+ students are going to be crammed into three first'year classrooms. I'm ready to start teaching, but 73.3 students in each class might make things a little tougher.


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