Monday, May 30, 2016

End of the school year party

This is Mike...
We went to the end of school year party on the shores of Lago Colcibolca (Lake Nicaragua). The center of colonial Granada is situated just west of the lake within walking distance. The party was potluck style with the primary focus on games, challenges, and eating contests to keep the kids busy. We had fun and unbeknownst to us, Zoe always wanted to do a watermelon eating contest while Sierra always wanted to do a potato sack race. We never knew that they wanted to do these things and of course were happy to see them have fun. It is amazing what you find out about your kids when the surroundings change.
   Zoe has made a good friend through school and like Zoe, her friend likes to climb trees. Her friend lives in the forest on a farm, and has a pet squirrel named Oreo. Sierra plays with more kids at school, but as yet, has not made a good friend. Seeing our kids interact with the other children was a nice sight. Some of the adults organizing the games said commands in Spanish and our kids responded to them in real time. Our kids could not repeat what was said but they understood what was said. This is the beginning stages of them learning another language and Elise and I were thrilled.
   As for the surroundings, we were at a beach park near restaurants and playgrounds. A unique aspects of partying at a beach park in Nicaragua was how the school put up barricade tape around the perimeter. I originally thought it was for the kids, to keep them corralled, but soon realized it was to keep the beggars and sellers out. After the kids played their games we had them queue up for food. Like clockwork the homeless grabbed plastic plates out of a trash cans or paper plates blowing along the shoreline and stood as close as they could to the food while still being on the other side of the barricade tape. Strange as this was to me, the Nicaraguans are used to it. I learned a good lesson and in the future, going to the beach with food will require barricade tape. The homeless were respectful enough and after we were all fed, the staff gave some food to the patiently waiting hungry men, other side of the barrier.
   For Elise and I, it was enjoyable meeting so many interesting parents from around the world. Conversations swirled over subjects like, living in Mozambique, as Sierra's teacher lived there for a year. The school director's sister sold an Avocado grove in Chile and is moving to Nicaragua as well. We spoke of interesting things, hopeful things. The people we met were truly worldly in their subjects and views. And finally, another unique thing happened at the park, which would not happen back in the states. After we cleaned up the food, took down the barriers, packed up all the stuff, and were standing their chatting. An unattended horse walked right through our site and continued straight on to the beach. We all chuckled at the horse realizing how different our world has become.


Families mingling

You can barely make out the barricade tape behind the gals.

Zoe was so excited to do a watermelon eating contest.

Potato sack races.

Sierra and Zoe at one of the booths

People backing up their car to get the boat out of the lake.

The girls climbing a tree.

We chuckled when this horse walked right through the middle of our site.

A good back rub feels good.


Monday, May 23, 2016

Buying a bed

This is Elise.  Shopping is Granada is always an adventure.  I never know what I am going to find and what kind of store I will find it in.  You often have to ask for what you are looking for because it is not displayed.  I also neglected to bring a calculator so I have the fun task of converting cordobas to dollars in my head.  Then I have to converse in Spanish.  I have mixed results with my Spanish.  There are times I actually understand what people are saying.  Other times, not so much.

Mike and I were shopping for a twin bed for Zoe because the girls don't like to share a bed.  We had been to the furniture stores in town but didn't really want to spend $150 because we aren't sure what our long term plans are.  On the way home we spotted some beds and walked inside to take a closer look.  Simple wood frame construction with a foam mattress pad offered at a much better price of $69.  As we were standing there in the store, trying to decide if the bed would be a good purchase, two men came in and picked the bed up and carried it outside.  We were confused. Mike asked if the bed is still available and the store owner looked confused.  Apparently, the store owner thought we had agreed to buy the bed and it was already on the truck for delivery.  Well, okay, I guess we will take it.  It seems to be working out okay since Zoe falls asleep as soon as she gets into bed every night.

Though the building looks old the bed frames are excellent quality.

Elise in the delivery truck and the bed in back. I ended up in back with the bed on our ride back home.

Off campus play area

This is Mike...
The only real complaint we have about the in-town school is there isn't an attached play area for the kids. The campus is not purpose-built and is essentially an old apartment building converted into a school. The kids go to a nearby park/square to burn off steam but it is not the same as their own playground. Tourists and locals alike visit this park to enjoy the views of the Xalteva cathedral and sit under the shade trees. The teachers keep watchful eyes on the kids and most days we go there at recess to help monitor the many kiddos running around.    

Zoe walking towards the shady area where I was standing.

Sierra playing jump rope with the other kids.

Xalteva church in the background of the square.

Dr. Peck remembered at the same square where the kids have recess.

The market of Granada

This is Elise.  How to describe el mercado (market)?  If you have never been to a third world market there is no way to adequately describe it.  The chaos, the congestion, the narrow maze of aisles selling all kinds of goods, the smell, the uneven pavement, it all can combine to sensory overload.  This is the furthest shopping experience you can have from an American supermarket.  So why would I go there when there are two perfectly good supermarkets in Granada.  At first, I just went to see what was available there and what it was like.  Now I go because it is by far the cheapest place to buy produce.  I can buy a big bunch of mint there for 5 cordobas.  Gotta have mint for mojitos, right?  I have not been brave enough to purchase meat there.  I walked past one particularly putrid stall selling some kind of meat and nearly threw up.  The flies were having a party at that stall and the stray dogs hung out in hungry anticipation.  As I waited a few feet away for Mike to go back and take pictures of the mystery meat stall, one of the vendors asked me in English how to say the name of the herb I was carrying. "Mint", I said.  He said in Spanish it's yerba buena.  Good to know since I had been calling it menta.  You never know who can speak English around here. He was really nice and showed us where to buy the green onions that we were looking for.
I never feel unsafe walking through the mercado but I am aware that anytime there are a lot of people in close proximity, there is the potential for pickpockets.  I only carry as much money as I need and my $13 cell phone.  Someone could steal my whole purse and it wouldn't be any big loss to me.

Entering the mercado

Salsas in all forms are sold by the scoop full here.

Produce vendors and patrons tightly packed in the narrow pathways.

Room temperature chicken meat and innards for sale at a good price, the stench though is priceless.

The trash area was another bloody mess with beef, pork and chicken blood congealing on the floor making it a breathtaking event when walking past.

Cats, cats and more cats

This is Mike...
Our new rental had a unexpected issue. Neighborhood cats came into our kitchen at night to rummage through our trash and also our kitties were able to get on the clay tile roof. The issue that needed to be fixed was the easy access from the roof to our staircase. Sierra and Zoe did not want their kitties to get injured or get lost on the myriad of connecting roof lines either. So, as any parent would do, I went to the local hardware store and picked up some chicken wire and zip ties. The kids are happy their kittens are now safe behind the barrier while Elise and I are happy strange cats aren't knocking over and rummaging through our trash in our kitchen anymore.     

Sierra's kitty on the tile roof.

Workers cutting the chicken wire at the hardware store.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Masaya volcano, a sloshing lava lake

This is Mike...
Last night we went to Masaya Volcano National Park which was closed for many months due to subterranean activity. To say the volcano was beautiful is an understatement. The sloshing, gurgling movement of the lava was hypnotic and surreal all at the same time. We were perched on the edge of an almost vertical crater looking straight down into the abyss. The pool of lava was probably about 100 meters below us and was approximately an acre in size, though judging exact distance was difficult without a point of reference. Park authorities are controlling the number of people entering the summit to about 150 people or so at a time. I am sure the government is limiting the amount of visitors to minimize potential perils. Truth be told, there is not much up there and one could easily lose a camera or worse over the edge.
   In the darkness, the color spectrum came to life with intense yellow and orange colors colliding with the white and red colors. On the crater walls, Shadows and light danced together creating an other worldly scene. The sloshing lava sounded just like crashing waves on a beach. The lava lake was spitting and gurgling and gently rose and lowered depending on the gases in the volcano at that time. People, including us, were walking around in the dark on uneven rocky surfaces to get the perfect photos. I can see why the government wants to limit the amount of people at any one time. Nature is amazing and for our kids it was a lesson in geology, mixed with some art, and a splash of exercise.

A view to the inner world.

The walls of the crater were stunning.

Ebb and flow best describes the magma activity.

The magma rose and lowered several times while we were there.

Amazing experience for the family to see.

Sierra and Zoe looking into the pool of lava.

PriceSmart Managua

This is Mike...
   Nothing says lovin' like spending a thousand dollars in one trip at Price Smart, which is Costco down here. For those of you familiar with Costco you know it is a place to stock up on the essentials like cheeses, paper products, and meats among other things. For us the shopping trip was a little different in that we needed kitchen items and other home goods as well. Thus, the big expense for us was not just food items but household necessities. We were there midday on a Monday while our kids were in school which was also a great time to be at Costco to avoid the crowds. Some prices were higher, some were lower but I think all-in-all we may have spent 15% more than back home. The meats however, were super cheap with Filet Mignon selling for $4.50 a pound. No joke, $4.50 a pound! That is significantly cheaper than back in the states.     

Bulk shopping and good prices.

The food court is always a favorite visit.

Kirkland merchandise even in Nicaragua.

Typical Costco layout

Filet Mignon for $4.50 a pound.

Stuffed trunk

Stuffed back seat of our car.

Fundraising for a private school

This is Mike...
Normally we wouldn't be fundraising for a private school but here in Granada about a third of the children in private schools are scholarship students. The scholarship students exhibit an aptitude for learning in the barrio schools and are then referred to the private schools. This is the breakthrough chance that many of the impoverished families wish for, as the private schools are top notch facilities and are 100%  free for the needy students. Not only are the kids afforded a great education but also receive nutritious meals for their growing bodies. Sierra and Zoe's school is also made up of one third scholarship students. For these local kids to excel and be given such a chance is awesome and will most certainly be life changing for them and my kids are able to witness it. The school that we volunteered at last year, and will soon do so again this year, places their brightest pupils in the best schools. We find this kind of philanthropy so energizing as you are able to affect change and watch its outcome. The fundraiser was a success and as the pictures can attest, was packed with generous donors.    

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Our new colonial rental

This is Mike...
Yesterday, while Elise was at Spanish class, I signed a 6 month lease on a colonial property with an option to extend. She and I wanted a better place that was closer to the kid's school. The only thing we wish our new rental had was a big yard but those are hard to come by in a colonial town. Granada is the new world's first city,_Nicaragua as such the original city layout tends to favor smaller courtyards rather than backyards. The kids are excited about our new rental which means a lot to us. We can officially take guests now that we have a three bedroom with additional flexible space for sleeping.
The much larger kitchen.

The pool is smaller but never-the-less still enjoyable.

This rental is probably double the size of our last rental

The girls like the private lounging area outside their bedroom which is strictly off-limits to adults

Zoe loves the new place.


Moving day Granada style

This is Mike...
   As with any move I was stressed out. I don't know why I always stress out with moves, but I do. Today, we had to meet the rental manager at our new place, one hour before the movers were scheduled to show up at our other place to move the luggage. While hurrying between locations I walked straight into a utility pole support cable, scratching my forehead. My mind was just too preoccupied to notice the completely obvious cable in front of my face. Adding to my worry, my ribs are still recuperating from the fall. Thus, I knew I could only stand there and be in the way.
   The movers showed up on time and ready to work. The whole process took less than an hour as we were only moving a half mile as the crow flies. As for our moving van,  well let"s just say the horse looked thirsty. The men loaded all the luggage on the back of the horse-drawn cart in three minutes or less. They were so efficient that it made me wonder how fast we could get robbed if it ever happened.
   The ride from our old rental to the new rental was bouncy which would not normally be an issue except that my ribs are still healing. The horse had intestinal gas and it's posterior was literally inches from my knee, suffice it to say the aroma was not a bouquet of flowers. When I arrived to the new rental the girls were so excited to see daddy. I wonder what it must be like to be my daughters to see their daddy in such situations. After all, its not everyday one arrives bouncing on a wagon bearing luggage and salutations.
   Though today was stressful for me it was worth it.. In the end, we have better accommodations, closer commute to school and the ability to extend the length of stay if we desire. Now we need to reshuffle our stuff to settle in. With my wife's magic touch this place should start to feel like home in a matter of days.

The moving truck was loaded.

Skinny, overheated, thirsty horse

My knee was within millimeters of this gaseous beast's posterior.

We trotted by nice homes en route to our place.

The weekends are big furniture delivery days in Granada.

My kids were amazed that daddy could actually do it :)