The Handyman

>> Monday, December 29, 2008

Whenever we have a problem with our house, we call up our landlady and she calls her favorite handyman and he comes over. The following Sunday. He works construction Monday-Saturday, and his only day off is Sunday, so if we have a problem on Tuesday we're out of luck until Sunday.

This guy is really nice and shows up on time (or early!), but unfortunately he's not all that handy. He really only stays long enough to make the problem worse. We've been trying to get the light in one of our bathrooms fixed for over 3 months and even after coming most Sundays he still can't fix it. He just complains about the wiring and tells us all he needs is a part that he'll bring next week. Before it worked once every ten times we hit the switch. Now it just doesn't work.

Yesterday he was scheduled to "fix" the light but we had an emergency in the kitchen that was more urgent, so I asked that he bring his plumbing tools. There's a pipe sticking out of the ground that doesn't serve a purpose, but if too much water collects in the sink, water gushes out of the pipe and floods the kitchen.

He came to look at it and decided that the best way to attack the situation was to take the pipe out of the ground and investigate. It didn't help. It really only facilitated faster flooding. He couldn't fix it and told us he'd be back... next Sunday. Before he came we our kitchen would flood once every ten times we used it. Now it just floods.

In our old house we didn't have a kitchen sink, just the lavandero (like a washboard), but we've obviously become spoiled and don't want to wash dishes in our "washing machine" any longer.

We called the landlady and reportedly he's coming on Tuesday. We've decided that once he's here we'll lock the door and not let him out of our sight until the problem is fixed.


Magdziarz Family Visit

>> Sunday, December 28, 2008

At the beginning of December, my parents made a trip down here to visit us and finally see for themselves the things we've been talking and blogging about for the last year and a half.

We started the trip in Masaya, and the first day went to Coyotepe, the old political prison up on a hill overlooking Masaya.  There were many dark passageways and a lot of bats, but if nothing else it made our house seem much nicer in comparison.

After that, we made a trip to Nicaragua's zoo.  It isn't very big, but for some reason Paul and I are fairly fond of it and like to take our visitors there.  The zookeeper gave us permission to pet the parrots that were out, and even the animals that are in cages are close enough to reach out and pet.  So far I've been able to resist, but one of these trips I'm not going to be able to stop myself and I will stick my hand through to pet the adorable three-legged jaguar.  We'll let you know how that works out.
One of the most, um, charming parts of the Nicaraguan zoo was the old lion that they had.  We were shocked to find a new, spry lion with a mane and everything in his place.  A zookeeper told me that the old lion died about 8 months ago, and that this one came fairly recently.
Paul and I got a nice new camera for our joint Christmas present and my parents hand delivered it, so all the pictures here are taken with that.  My mom also got a camera recently, so we spent a fair amount of time fiddling with camera settings (this is her camera):
We also made the mandatory trip to Masaya's old market to look for souvenirs. 
Our last stops in Masaya were to visit my counterpart, Carmen, and Paul's counterpart, Romel.  We ate some really delicious homemade ice cream, and visited with Romel and Azalia.  Their kids, Jeycob and Natalia, get cuter every time we visit:
After spending the first three days in Masaya, we went up to the northern part of the country to León.  Paul and I had never been there before and weren't quite sure what to expect, but it turned out to be great.  We started at Las Peñitas, a little town right on the Pacific.  The hotel was really cute (though it did lack televisions in the rooms), had amazing seafood, and was right on the beach.  Dora went with us (of course) and this time voluntarily let the ocean touch her a couple of times:
We had fun exploring up and down the beach and climbing on the rocks, and we came upon one section that was full of seashells.  There were lots of kids on the beach selling shell necklaces, so they were looking for shells to replinish their inventory.  They ended up giving all the shells to my mom, and even providing her with a sack to transport them all home in.
Obligatory sunset picture:
After leaving the beach town, we went to the city of León.  León has the largest cathedral in Central America and the third largest in all of Latin America (after Mexico City and Lima, Peru).  The legend is that the architect mixed up the plans as he was coming over from Spain, so León ended up with the much larger, nicer cathedral that was intended for Lima.   I'm not sure if this is true, but it makes for a nice story.  We climbed to the roof of the cathedral and got a nice view of León and all the surrounding volcanoes.
We ended the trip by passing through the Pueblos Blancos (white towns) and seeing the Laguna de Apoyo lookout in Catarina and buying nice pottery in San Juan de Oriente on our way to out last destination, Granada.  We stayed at Casa San Francisco, which is probably our favorite hotel in Nicaragua.  They also just opened up a roof terrace that had nice places to sit and watch the sun set or hang out and eat Eskimo ice cream,  both of which we did.
We went on a boat tour of the isletas near Granada in Lake Nicaragua.  There are something like 365 little islands, and the islands now house fancy weekend homes of wealthy Nicaraguans, regular homes of regular Nicaraguans, and monkeys!  If you're interested, we saw a little island for sale that could be yours for the small price of just $400,000 (monkeys optional).  Here's the boat we went on:
It turns out that Dora doesn't really like boat rides.  She spent just about the entire time curled up like this. 
The only time Dora was not hiding was when we saw the monkeys:
Dora does not like monkeys.  In fact, she growled at the monkeys and then kept close watch for the rest of the trip to make sure that no monkeys were going to try any funny business.  
Dora notwithstanding, the rest of us enjoyed monkey island and watching our tour guide feed them bananas.  Normally they coax the monkeys on to the boat so the people can give them bananas and take pictures with them, but the boat driver was too afraid that Dora and the monkeys would fight.  Unfortunately, I think the experience was a little scarring for Dora, because now she really dislikes babies and growls any time she sees one.  We're open to suggestions about how to teach Dora that monkeys and babies are two different creatures.

We ended the trip by visiting the edge of the Laguna de Apoyo, but were disappointed that the water was really high so there was no beach.  It was still nice to sit and relax by the water and wind down.  Back in Granada, my mom and I climbed to the top of another church belltower and took some pictures of Granada's scenery.
This was my parents' first trip out of the U.S., and Nicaragua had louder fireworks, bumpier roads, slower restaurant service, and more scenic routes than I think they were expecting, but they were great sports and I think we all had a great time.  We took a lot more pictures during the trip; you can check them all out (and see how we're doing with our new camera) at Flickr.
Thanks for coming, Mom and Dad!



>> Saturday, December 27, 2008

Our friend Katie, who came at the same time as us and lives about 20 minutes away, is spending the holidays in the US, so we've been watching her dog, Luna, for almost two weeks now.  Luna and Brown Dog always loved playing, but they were a little rough for Dora.  Now that Brown Dog is on extended leave without pay, she and Dora play together really well and have become good friends and partners in crime. Over the past couple of weeks Luna has really grown on us, too. Not that we didn't like her before, but it took us a couple of days to figure out the quirks in her personality. For example, she will only lay down on soft surfaces, she won't go to the bathroom on anything but grass or dirt (which is in short supply around here) and she is very talented at retrieving things from the kitchen counter. Now, though, I think we've come to a mutual understanding and get along just fine. Plus, she's really photogenic and a pretty good dancer.



>> Friday, December 26, 2008

Christmas in Nicaragua has been, well, different. Most volunteers are in the US visiting family and others have friends or family visiting. We're watching a friend's dog, so we couldn't really go anywhere more... festive. We put up a string of lights in our front window to add some holiday pizzaz, and I'm pretty sure it worked.

Here Christmas is celebrated on Christmas Eve, so that's when most people do their presents, Christmas meals, and (if they're not Evangelicos) their drinking.  Fireworks increased in intensity and frequency all through the day, and then at midnight people just went all out--it was definitely wilder than any 4th of July or New Years fireworking we had seen, and was even more dangerous since fireworks are homemade and taxis continued to drive over the lit fireworks on the roads. We went outside to see (some of these fireworks actually sparkled, and weren't just the horrible bomb sounds) but had to plug our ears and come inside because it was so loud and there was too much fireworks shrapnel flying about. Dora and Luna were not happy.  Things continued like that (with the addition of awesome music) until 4 am when everything became silent--just about the time that most Nicaraguans start waking up.

We bought a new camera as a present to ourselves that Holly's parents delivered, but since we don't really want to accumulate more cheap, low-quality stuff from here and we want to save our money for nice things when we move back to the US, we didn't really have presents for each other on Christmas day. Holly did have one gift to open from a former student, though (it was a shirt). We got a laser pointer for a neighbor friend, but it never even worked (see above about how everything here is low-quality).

We had been planning Christmas dinner for a while because we had to make a special trip to buy some supplies in Managua, so I was pretty ready for a good meal and it didn't disappoint. We had been hoarding some instant sweet potatoes that we brought back from the US when we were there in July, and the Magdziarzs brought some instant mashed potatoes. That along with some chicken, salad, and broccoli made for the best meal we've had in a long time (if you don't count Papa Johns).
We were hoping that Brown Dog would show up on our doorstep for a Christmas Miracle, but I guess she doesn't know about Christmas Miracles. We still haven't heard anything yet, but we're hoping for either a New Years Miracle or a Holly's Birthday Miracle (both well-established traditions). 

We hope that everyone had a good Christmas--we definitely thought about and missed our families and friends and are looking forward to being home in plenty of time to spend the holidays with them next year.


Still Searching

>> Tuesday, December 23, 2008

No updates on Puppy Search '08, but we did get the posters up around the neighborhood. Now everyone knows that our dog is missing and thinks we're crazy for wanting her back.

P.S. I tore that number strip off myself to give the illusion of interest  :(.



>> Monday, December 22, 2008

I guess Santa was all out of lumps of coal to give us so he just stole our dog instead. Brown Dog was out on Saturday to go to the bathroom and wandered away. Usually after a quick visit with all of the neighborhood kids she comes right back inside. We thought she would be even more eager to come back because her best (dog) friend Luna is staying with us while our (human) friend Katie is in the States, but she never did. We spent most of Saturday afternoon and Sunday looking for her but so far no luck. We printed up some posters to put around the neighborhood in the hope that she'll see them and come home.

We'll keep you updated.


Thanksgiving 2008: Getting Gnatsy [updated]

>> Saturday, December 06, 2008

[Edited with more pictures!]
We spent Thanksgiving with most of our TEFL group and a few people from the new group at a campground in Buenos Aires, Rivas, right on Lake Nicaragua. A map for your viewing pleasure:

We all met in Granada to do our grocery shopping, then a big group of us (people and dogs) staked claim in the back of a bus to Rivas.  We met up with the rest of the group, and rode in the camp owner's van to the campground.  Here's the whole gang (minus Cella and Nicole, because they were in the front seat).  Shortly after this picture was taken, Luna vomited on the floor... thank goodness I packed a roll of paper towels.
We were soon met with a surprise when we stopped in the middle of the dirt road leading to the camp and had to get out; the road was flooded, so the van parked at the edge of the flood and we all traveled the rest of the way with luggage and pets in a horsedrawn cart.  Here are Paul, Marcella, Katie, Dora (on Paul's lap), Brown Dog, Luna (Brown Dog's BFF), and me.  This picture was taken  just as the horse cart jerked into motion, so we were all a little shocked:
 When I say campground don't be misled--we actually stayed in a brand new guest house that was 100x nicer than we expected.
When we looked out our window, this is what we saw:
We got to go horseback riding, though the horses could sense our inexperience and pretty much behaved as they pleased:
The wind coming off of the lake was super strong and so the waves of the lake made it sound like the ocean. The lake level is the highest now that it's been in something like 50 years, so the nice beach was covered with water. All along the lake this time of year there's a constant cloud of gnats that get into everything, but as long as you're in the wind it's not much of a problem.

We took the dogs with us and Brown Dog and Katie's dog, Luna really liked the freedom. Dora was mostly terrified by it and rarely left our side. Whenever we left the main house area the dogs would always follow along:
The two bigger dogs spent most of their time wrestling, but sometimes they would wander off and come back mysteriously scratched, sopping wet, or, in the case of Brown Dog, covered in horse poop. On the last morning there I found a mysterious dead chicken and can't shake the feeling that the dogs were somehow responsible:
The TEFL group that we came in with originally had 20 people and now we're down to 13, so now whenever we get together we pretty much forget the things that used to annoy us when we were in training together and just enjoy each others' company. Since the camp was in the middle of nowhere and the road out was flooded, there wasn't anywhere else to go and we were forced to talk and hang out.  Surprisingly it wasn't awful.
It was Thanksgiving and everyone pitched in and got food for a huge feast. Everyone spent the day either preparing food or watching other people prepare food.  The camp had a really nice industrial kitchen, so it was perfect for making a feast for 17.
When it was time to eat, I think there was a pretty impressive buffet. Turkeys are ridiculously expensive (at least 6x as expensive as in the States) so we ended up with chicken, stuffing, broccoli casserole, macaroni and cheese, mashed potatoes, salad, and cornbread.  Our boss also came with her husband and supplied us with pumpkin and pecan pies and wine.
Being away from family on Thanksgiving will definitely make us appreciate future holidays, but being able to spend it with friends is probably the second best thing. Plus, this view didn't hurt:


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