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Sunday, May 31, 2015

Tamarindo

This is Elise. We are in Tamarindo, Costa Rica now.  It is very developed and touristy here. We are back in a developed country again after more than three months in " third world " countries and I am suffering a little culture shock.  The beach is beautiful here and reminds me of Hawaii with green hills coming down to a tropical beach with serene blue water.  There are also restaurants, surf shops, and t-shirt shops all over the place.  We have spent some time in places where I could barely scrounge up food for a meal and here there are sushi, steak, and international options.  There are several grocery stores offering everything a person could want.  The last grocery store I had access to there were two kinds of cheese. A white local queso and an orange cheese that looks like American cheese but doesn't melt, even in the microwave. Here there are muscle bound tattooed surfers and girls in bikinis doing yoga on the beach.
Our condo is very nice, cheap, and secure but generic and sterile.  We could be in Florida. When the curtains are closed we could be anywhere in the world with the contemporary furnishing and flatscreens on the wall.  So why am I not overjoyed to be back in a first rate condo?  Because it is so generic.  I travel to experience new cultures.  I don't travel to have exactly what I have back home.  I guess that's why I liked Granada.  We had comfortable accommodations but Nicaraguan style.  I felt like I was somewhere different.  Isn't that why we travel?  Maybe that is why Tamarindo is a bit of letdown.  It feels like the United States. 
We came to Costa Rica last year and saw how expense everything is.  This is not a good country for budget travel.  We will  keep our costs down by choosing our accommodations carefully and not eating out at all.  The cocktail prices here are America style as well.  No more $1.25 mojitos. :(

Friday, May 29, 2015

Refugio de Vida Silvestre la Flor

Refugio de Vida Silvestre la Flor is a national park near the far south west border with Costa Rica. This remote spot is a major turtle nesting area which means it is still pristine and natural. Driving out here was easy enough with four wheel drive but during the rainy season I could see it being a real challenge crossing the creeks. As is typical for most of our outdoor adventures we were either alone our very few people around. The solitude gives the beach or forest experiences a whole new feeling. In the beginning of our trip, we were spooked out to be alone but over the months we have grown accustom to being around few people in the parks. In two days we will be going to Costa Rica for a couple weeks and will return to Nicaragua in Mid June. Ultimately, we are hoping to be around one of the turtle beaches in July (so we can watch the turtle nesting first hand).   

Our lone vehicle on the beach is a common sight for us

One of the local families had a pet monkey on a 4 foot leash. We felt really bad for the Monkey.

This is not photo shopped it really is this desolate here.

I am now a clean shaven man.

There is only one surfer, out in the water, enjoying one glassy wave after another.

Sunset view, in San Juan del Sur, from our restaurant on the beach.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Pena Rota tide pools

This is Mike...
Today was an awesome day! We leisured around in the morning and went to Pena Rota, for the tide pools during midday and finished off in San Juan del Sur bay, in the afternoon. The girls loved the tide pools and Sierra said it was her best experience yet. Sierra liked bathing in her own private pool during low tide. Zoe mostly caught critters in the small pools and let them go in bigger pools. While Sierra luxuriated Zoe caught the smallest hermit crab I ever saw. It was the size of a spec of black pepper, no joke.
After the tide pools we went to the bay and back to civilization. The girls were riding their boogie boards in about 3 feet of water and Elise and I noticed fish jumping close to the girls. When we examined the action a little closer they weren't fish jumping, they were baby manta rays jumping out of the water. We went out further to get in the middle of the school and one swam into Sierra's leg and she screamed with excitement and fear. There must have been a hundred baby manta rays out in the waves in small grouplets of between 4 and 8 individuals. You could see them as clear as day, swimming near the surface water, and every now and again a few would catch a wave and you could watch those little suckers surf. It was an awesome experience and we will try to go there again in the morning with a camera to see if we can catch them again. We were all thrilled with the experiences the sea shared with us today.

Pena Rota at low tide is a kid's wonderland

This is a little bay with many tide pools, it was good to see such a healthy ecosystem here.

For all my Hawaiian buddies the point had a lot of silver dollar sized Opihi on the rocks.

Zoe celebrating the safe return of her captured sea animals to larger pools.

Sierra laying out in a tide pool, she even made arm rests to fully capture the relaxation. 
        

San Juan del Sur and a new amigo


This is Mike...
San Juan del Sur is a funky surf town trying to get to the next level. The surroundings remind me of Kihei or Lahaina with dry mesquite and other drought tolerant plants. The weather is nice and there are very few bugs to contend with. The ocean water is surprisingly cool which is odd considering how warm the water was in El Salvador. All-in-all, we can see why this place is so popular.

The view north on Playa Maderos

Our condo is very nice with 3 bedrooms and 3 bathrooms. 
The view out of our condo down to San Juan del Sur town


More views from our condo towards the beach.

This is one "Chubby Hubby" I know I need to lose weight but the beer is so refreshing.

Zoe scratching a new friend's belly

We found this stray dog and have grown fond of her. We named her Nica already.

Nica was starving when we found her so we fed her real good, like Las Vegas buffet good.

Nica is a very well mannered doggy

Both of the girls are going crazy over this pooch.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Back on the beaten path

This is Elise.  We scored with a fabulous villa in San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua.  The view is spectacular and the furnishing are first class. Central air conditioning!  We haven't had that since we left home.  I know I must sound very shallow to talk about how nice our place is.  Don't I want to experience the "real" Nicaragua?  Don't I want to know how the locals live and get off the beaten track?  I feel like I have done all those things and now want to sit in air conditioning and look at the view.  I want to eat without swatting flies out of my face and wiping sweat off my brow.  I want to cook my own food so I don't have to wonder how clean the kitchen is. ( a lot of restaurants here don't even have hot water in the kitchen)  I have decided that "off the beaten path" is a good thing in developed countries with a good tourist infrastructure.  In place like Guatemala and Nicaragua staying on the path is a good thing.  Here in San Juan del Sur there are a lot of Americans and other foreigners.  I would hardly call it touristy or overdeveloped though.  Any less developed and there wouldn't be anyplace good to stay or eat.  Omepete island is an an example of a place that is lovely, but rustic.  There isn't anywhere good to stay on the whole island, you can hardly find enough food in the markets to cook a meal and the restaurants are run by hippies.  We had a great time there seeing the sights and enjoying the quiet.  There is almost no traffic on the island and I loved waking to the sounds of birds instead of cars.  There are more cows, pigs, and horses in the street than cars.  It was sad to see how emaciated many of the animals are there right now.  It is the end of the dry season and Nicaragua is suffering from a drought so there isn't much grass to graze.  The only well fed animals were the geckos in our rental house.  They had plenty of bugs to eat and were the fattest geckos I have ever seen.

Ox drawn carts are still in use by many of the islanders

The monkeys were playing in the trees above

The monkeys were very fast in the trees. You need to watch your stuff around the monkeys as they like to take shiny things like keys, cell phones, etc. 

This was the best shot of Vulcan Concepcion we were able to take. This volcano is known for its perfect cone shape.

On Ometepe, going out to eat at a restaurant takes it back to the basics.

The girls were playing with a cat on the restaurants lawn.

The way back to the mainland on a smaller ferry boat but still sea worthy.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Isla Ometepe

This is Mike...
We made it to Isla Ometepe on a nice ferry from Rivas, on the mainland. Ometepe, in recent weeks, has been rumbling pretty regularly and volcanologists suspect an eruption could be imminent but the island is still open for visits. This place is like stepping back in time on the travel scale. Accommodations are spartan to say the least and the island is rustic even by Nicaraguan standards. We are officially off the off beaten track on this one. That does not mean we are not having fun though as every local we have met so far has a smile from ear to ear. It is so cool to see the happy people everywhere. Today we visited a couple national parks and Ojo de Agua which is like Barton Springs (in Austin) but in a tropical setting. The island is suffering from the effects of a drought that has hung around for a couple years and has parched the lower lying areas. Although, today it did rain, and everybody looked so happy. The islanders are worried how the new canal might change their way of life. The canal is supposed to compete with the Panama Canal and construction will start within 6 months. I feel for these people and the uncertainty they are feeling.       

Looking at Vulcan Concepcion from the cinder pebble beach

Who could pass up a picture of a rainbow?

The large night blooming Cyrus blooms in the middle of the night and wilts away by mid-morning.

Cattle, horses, pigs, goats, chickens, you name it and it will cross the roads here.

Our hiking path to Parque Ecologico Charco Verde. We saw howler monkey on this path

Everything is in full bloom over here, so long as it gets water

Zoe wanted to get a picture next to this butterfly bush

The girls like to have fun on the beach. Here the water is fresh and the water is shallow.

Looking at the view of Vulcan Concepcion from an interior lagoon

Zoe playing in the garden at Finca Magdalena where we ate a nice breakfast for 4 for $10

There were a lot of butterflies in the garden


The island is known for their indigenous history which includes ancient petroglyphs

The petroglyphs are about a thousand years old and are spread all over the island.

Red tile roofs reign supreme in Nicaragua

A view of how parched the lowland hills are after years of drought.

A spring fed watering hole to cool off in the afternoon.

The water was cool but not cold which allowed us to play in the water for hours.

To end the day we each got a coconut to drink, mommy and daddy's had a triple rum mix though :)

Things to like about Granada

This is Elise.  I like Granada a lot but I can't help but wonder if I would like it just as much if we hadn't gone through Mexico, Honduras, Belize and Guatemala first.
I like the people here.  They are friendly, open, warm, and clean.  Although there is still trash on the streets, the people are constantly sweeping and cleaning the area in front of their houses and businesses.  I like the cost of things here.  I haven't even taken advantage of the $5 yoga classes yet.  I did get a great $28 hour long massage.  I am taking one on one Spanish classes for $5 an hour.  I like the availability of classes, spa services, and restaurants.  There are well stocked supermercados here.  There are some fun activities to do within a half hour drive.  It is fast and easy to get outside of town and into nature.  Not much traffic here and parking is easy.  Still a lot of horse carts in town and bicycles.  A lot of trees and greenery.  Not buggy here.(Mosquitoes come out at night though.) 
We turned down a side street when we were walking around the market on Saturday and it was like a different world.  A poverty stricken street with an emaciated, sore covered man eating on the sidewalk.  A rooster tied up to the wall and left on the sidewalk.  This is the second poorest country in the Western Hemisphere and on that street you could see it.  The neighborhood we are staying in is more middle class families.  People hang out in the street to catch the evening breeze.  They have motorcycles or maybe a car.  There are a lot of kids here.  Mostly the kids and babies look well cared for and fed.  There are a few sad cases of glue sniffing children roaming the streets looking for a hand out or something to steal.
There are 3 reasons I enjoyed the three days of Spanish classes I took in Granada.  1. I like learning Spanish 2. I like learning about the country from talking to a native for several hours a day 3. I like to have a personal translator in case I need to have something complicated done (In Antigua Mike took his teacher to the cellphone provider store to get his SIM card put in his phone)  There is the surface that you see of a place if you spend a few days or a week in a place.  Then there is another perspective you get after about two weeks when the novelty of the location wears off.  I feel that we get a good idea of the reality of a place after about two weeks of doing daily errands such as going to the grocery store and getting body work done on the car.  To date we have not been to any city we wanted to stay longer than two weeks.
We are on Omepete island now and I sure would like to have a decent supermarket here where I could buy yogurt that isn't spoiled and a bag of cubed ice. 

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Fruit lady

This is Elise. I have to tell you about the fruit lady. There are people who come by and sell us stuff we need right at our front door. Houses here have iron  grates you can leave locked as you open the front door for a breeze. People come by selling fruit, baked goods, and 5 gallon bottles of purified water. Hardly anyone has a car here so it's a great service.  Yesterday a lady comes up yelling " mangos papayas piñas!" " mangos maduro? Listo para comer?" I ask. Sì sì. She was telling me something else I didn't understand. She was carrying the fruit in a big basket on her head. She got the neighbor man to help her get the basket off her head. She had 5 pineapples, giant papayas, mangos, avocados, oranges and other fruit in this basket. Mike had to help her put it back on her head. He said it must have weighed 80 pounds. She walks around town with a basket on her head that is so heavy she can't even lift it up and down herself without help from a man. She wasn't even asking me to help. It's that heavy. She asked the men. She had her little boy with her and he had made a kite from a plastic grocery bag.  I am still amazed with her.


We never knew how heavy the load she was carrying until Mike helped her load it back up.

We tried to buy as much fruit as we could to lessen her load. We are currently looking to buy her a push cart so she does not have to carry this anymore. She cannot get this basket up or down without assistance from another person. She is too sweet to have to carry this load alone.
The no haggle pricing :) Each one of us like this lady very much and want to see her load reduced.


Thursday, May 14, 2015

Casa de los suenos, a great charity

One of our major tenants of this trip was for our kids to be exposed to how other people live around the world and learn the art of helping. In each of the countries we have visited we have donated to needy people or to non profits that help make the world a better place. We happened across Education Plus Nicaraguawww.eduplusnicaragua.org as part of our search for giving.
   From the moment we entered the school we had such a good vibe. The school has about 200 students from the Barrio Pantanal. The barrio is a squatters' camp that grew to about 15,000 people in the last 20 years. Originally it was set up as a safe haven during the civil war. Today people call this place home, but this home doesn't have government services like clean water, sewage or paved streets. In fact, we could not even find it on the map. That is where Education Plus Nicaragua comes in, they purposely located their school in this barrio a couple years ago. The school provides much needed food and vitamins for the little ones. Also, according to Jim Durham, the Development Director, the school has become a hub for positive role modeling and self esteem building for the children who so desperately need positives in their lives.
   Sierra and Zoe were initially apprehensive as all kids are around new faces but soon got into the groove. Sierra got in a position of handing out vitamins at the lunch line and Zoe helped with singing during the preschool class. The Nicaraguan kids are also taught English as it is thought they will have a leg up getting a higher paying job later in life. Jim reminded us that the school is a supplement to the children's regular schooling but since they provide meals for all the kids is a very important spot for them. Jim explained that for many of the kids their major meal of the day was at this school. La Casa de los suenos is trying to expand the school grounds and add a library, playing field and admin building. They can use any donation possible, including donating services like dentistry, medical, teaching, etc. If you want to donate either time or money they would love it. Please consider helping them out, we verified the operations and know it will go to good use. The hyper link above will take you to their website and explain everything. We donated time and money and loved it. Hopefully, you will too.                      

Getting the food ready for the older kids as lunchtime approaches.

Standing outside the campus getting ready to walk into the barrio to meet the neighbors.

Jim is like the unofficial mayor of Pantanal barrio, everybody loves him.

Elise was overcome with emotion after she realized that everybody was so happy even though they lived under plastic tarps. The people all came out to see us as we meandered through the barrio. The place was alive with happiness and laughter as kids did what they do best, play.

This is the house the girls, from just above, live in and they still found a way to be filled with joy.

Seeing these homes and the happy people in them was a great teaching moment for our kids

The kids eagerly wait outside the campus, sometimes for hours, just to be sure to be on time.

Sierra working with Mr. Jim to hand out bananas and vitamins to the under 4 year old crowd. These kiddos get an additional snack well before lunch time for their growing needs.

Preschool being lead by an all European staff. Two Dutch ladies and a Swiss lady met here while donating their time to this charity. Jim explained that building self esteem is a two way street and many of the volunteers leave better off then when they came.

Learning shapes for the age 2 to 4 crowd is challenging let alone in Spanish and English.

Bi-lingual teaching of colors and animals was my favorite part. Our concept of what animals sound like are different depending on where you are raised.

Elise reading to the preschoolers

There are kids outside the classroom window just waiting for their turn to come to school. The children really appreciate this opportunity to be nourished and don't waste their chance.

These are the lucky Nicaraguan kids. There are so many others that need a helping hand too.