Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Circus comes to Granada

This is Elise.  I had low expectations for our circus adventure and I was still disappointed.  Mostly, it was sad.  The animals didn't look healthy and couldn't perform the simplest tricks that they were supposed to do.  The costumes were homemade and threadbare. The performances were unexciting and typical of what you could see on most streets for free.
   I had spent some time on-line trying to figure out the schedule for the circus, to no avail.  I could see the tent and even saw an elephant on the back of a truck.  The circus had a Facebook page but no schedule available on-line.  I wanted to do a price comparison of  tickets and so searched circus ticket prices for Ringling Bros in the States.  Within two minutes I had prices and show times for major US cities.  Prices started at $15 a person, up to $70--in a big auditorium.  Here prices started at 50 Cordoba and went up to 150 Cordoba. ($2 to $5)  So, at home, I would've spent a lot more and had to pay for parking and fight traffic and sit in nosebleed seats. However, I would have seen a spectacular performance.  Here, no traffic, easy parking, cheap, and front row seats, but poor show.
   The only reason we even made it to the show was that Zoe's friend's mom called at 5:30pm and said, "It starts at 6.  Let's go."  We got there at 6.  The schedule on the tent said, the shows were at 5:30 and 7:30.  The show really started at 6:30 and got out at 8pm.  We ended up getting there at the perfect time. When we left at 8:10pm there was a long line outside for the 7:30 show. So much for punctuality. 

The ticket booth.

a man doing handstands

In Mexico circus acts involving animals have been outlawed caption

Elephant doing tricks

I don't have words for this performance involving a large mechanical gorilla and two kids.  
The girls on an elephant.

The girls with a baby tiger.

The trapeze act, even the kids weren't impressed.

Birthday girl turns 8

Zoe recently had her 8th birthday at the tail end of a major Nicaraguan holiday. We were fortunate to have people show up, considering everybody here had 5 days off and could have gone anywhere. Elise and I are amazed at how many wonderful people we have met in the last 5 months. We marvel at the sense of community we have here and how being with others is so natural and fulfilling for us.
   As for Zoe, she aged another year and like many parents we wonder where the time has gone. Being reminded from time to time about impermanence is a good thing. Enjoying life while we can is the answer to the age old question of how do we slow time down. Elise reminds me often that she feels like time slows the more she lives the life she was meant to live. Judging by her smile, I can hardly dispute her point of view.     

My lovely wife smiling in the foreground.

Swim up pool bar for the kids was just what they needed.

Cheers to another birthday, say the kids.

Deep in conversation and thought.

Adults had fun too with music, food and drink.

Pools are for fun. Zoe was so happy about her party.

These cupcakes were as delicious as they look, and the frosting was handmade and not too sweet.

Zoe did an Ecuadorian tradition where she put her face into the cake, but she went to the extreme.

Sunset over the Hotel Jardin. Our friends own this hotel and are great people.

The birthday girl.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Family fun at Playa el Coco

Here are some images from our stay, while in Playa el Coco. We stayed at the intimate accommodations of La Veranera We enjoyed our time at the beach and were surprised how much we needed the break. Watching our girls surf and play until they were exhausted was priceless. We hope these images of Southern Nicaragua inspire you to adventure here as well.  

Zoe coming in fast on the body board.

Diacachimba is Nicaraguan slang meaning "Freakin awesome."

Zoe is swimming out on the body board, behind her is our beach guest house.

Sierra standing up on the surfboard.

The girls at the sand bar. We enjoyed being able to walk right out to the ocean when we wanted.

Jan, from Hamburg, was a wonderful tri-lingual host at la Veranera.

4 wheel drive came in handy crossing roads that were underwater.

Playa la Flor, searching for sea turtles

We went to Playa la Flor, in the late evening on a full moon night, in hopes of increasing our chances of seeing nesting turtles or seeing baby turtles digging their way out of their sandy nests. We strolled along the beach awash in the silver tones of moon light. We whispered to each other while on the sand, and witnessed just how different our modern world was to the peaceful serenity of the wild.  Lack of city lights or any other modern obstructions is probably the best aspect of this preserve.
   This place has changed little over the years and the campers love it that way. Imagine being in one of the most important Olive Ridley turtle nesting areas in the world and still being allowed to camp on the beach. Being able to experience sea turtles nesting, in unspoiled beauty, is a big reason why this beach reserve is so admired by its visitors.
   For us, we enjoyed being noise free, electricity free, and human encroachment free.  Hearing the bugs, night birds, and the crashing waves was sound enough for us. On the night that we were on the beach, no more than ten people were there and each of us were quiet observers, hoping to witness a natural wonder unfold.
   After a couple hours and many many mosquito bites later we realized that the arribada (a massive gathering of sea turtles) was not to be. We did, though, see some turtle nests and evidence some of the nest are being attacked by predators like raccoons and dogs. In fact, for the exposed nests that we encountered we reburied the eggs to give them a second chance. Nicaragua estimates that nearly 100 million turtle eggs were laid last year in this area, so chances are high for the continued success of the Olive Ridley turtle nesting program. If you ever get a chance to see Nicaragua, I recommend this area for sure.  
Park officials dig up some of the turtle eggs to hatch them separately in sacks containing sand. Incubating these eggs increases the turtle's chances for successful release into the wild.

Some of the broken egg shells along the beach.

Zoe was holding a recently damaged egg still containing yolk.

A look inside of one of the opened nests of turtle eggs.

The culprit, a canine paw print in the sand near the opened turtle nest.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Life through a different lens

We decided to spend a couple of nights, at a guest house, on the golden beach of Playa el Coco. For those of you who aren't yet aware, Playa el Coco is near the Reserve Natural Playa la Flor We chose Playa el Coco in hopes that we would encounter sea turtles laying eggs and possibly even see baby turtles trying to get into the water. Though, we have been at this beach before it was not during the turtle nesting season. We will see what nature has in store for us.
   Speaking of nature, we arrived at Playa el Coco to a mix of sun and rain and are very happy that we rented a four wheel drive vehicle because of the soggy and muddy beach roads. Last night's sunset was just stunning and to boot there was even a pod of playful humpback whales less than 200 feet from my jubilant kids. Personally, I enjoyed the reflections of my family shimmering on the water against the colorful backdrop of the sky 

The steely colors of the sky reflecting off the beach.

   It poured incredible amounts of rain last night and if I had to guess it probably rained enough to cover the entire earth neck deep underwater. The electrical storm of rumbling thunder and web-like lightning zipping through the sky was indescribable and lasted for most of the night. When we woke up, in the morning, there was just a little drizzle remaining and the beach sand looked like it has been wiped clean like a blank slate.
   Of course, for kids, a big beach washed clean by the rains makes for a giant playground. We ran at full speed with our arms stretched wide open along the water as if we were the only people in the world, all at 6 in the morning . After 20 minutes or so, we bumped into some elementary aged boys, from Managua, also on vacation and they recommended a hidden cove to us. When I asked, "Girls, do you wanna go to a cove?" Zoe replied, " A pirate cove?" I could not help but play along and said in my mysterious voice, "It's a cove, possibly of pirate origin." Sierra was so excited for the adventure that she was figuring out ways to divide the pirate booty in the event we stumbled upon gold bullion, gems or other fantastical treasures.
   We approached the southern end of the beach as fast as an out-of-shape, middle aged man could walk with two girls cartwheeling in the wet sand. Behind the rocky ledges and elevated tide pools was hiding the unknown-double-secret-cove. Though the cove was possibly of pirate origin, and possibly holding wealth beyond our wildest comprehension, we still found other items to add to our search. Somehow, in the hundred yards, between leaving the boys and getting to the rocky edge of the beach, we decided that we'd also look for saber tooth tiger teeth, dinosaur eggs and pterodactyl skeletons. The hunt was on!
   Above us, in the tropical forest, were parrots and birds of all sorts chirping, crowing, squawking, tweeting, singing, and other wise making their splendid early morning melody. The ocean air was salty and fresh and the rocks were slippery which added to the air of mysteriousness. The sensory experiences of the place made our expeditionary force of treasure hunters and paleontologists much easier to play, because the world felt so wonderful.
A little before 6am and the beach was ours.

This well timed photo shows the look of excitement when on a mission.

Through this stone hallway lies the "Pirate cove."

Scaling the rocks next to the jungle was loud thanks to all the birds and parrots.

In high-tide the pirates anchor their ships in this mini harbor.

Sierra found a crab on the rocks.

The girls were on the bluff overlooking the pirate cove.

The final passage to the cove proved more challenging but for our adventurers the excitement proved to be a better motivator than fear.

Saber tooth tiger teeth were everywhere once we knew what to look for.

Saber tooth tiger teeth were large and sharp just like daggers.

This appears to be a dinosaur egg shard.

The biggest find of the day was the baby pterodactyl skull in near perfect condition.
Though, in the end, we sadly did not locate the hidden pirate chest containing maps, gems and jewels worth zillions of dollars. We did however, locate a point of interest warranting future investigation. On the paleontology front we found more success. The saber tooth teeth (try saying that 3 times fast) were right in front of us, once we knew what to look for. The baby pterodactyl skull, however, was quite a unique find and made Zoe quite happy once she found it. Pretend playing, problem solving, climbing and laughing, are wonderful ways to explore and learn. For our blog following parents at home or in their offices, remember it is not so important where pretend play occurs, so long that it does. Allow time and space so that your children can to see life through a different lens, you may just find the real treasure. 

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Volunteering in Granada

Volunteering abroad is much easier than one would think. Workload aside for a moment, volunteers bridge gaps that governments and non profits can't seem to fill, due to lack of finances. You can find out about volunteer groups through your network of friends, schools etc. However, another great way to find out about volunteer opportunities is through social media. Contacting various expat groups can help guide you in the direction that you are searching. Of course, do the homework before going to make sure you are properly matched prior to leaving and of course arrive with an open mind.
   Personally, I have decided to volunteer about 15 hours a week at the school where my kids attend. A little more than 1/3 of the students at the school are scholarship students and live in varying degrees of poverty. We are not talking, kind of or sort of poverty. We are talking no electricity or running water, sleeping on an earthen floor, and never having enough food to go around poverty. Before you think the kids are miserable, allow me to reassure you that they are some of the most appreciative and happy children you will come across. Hearing their giggles, and seeing those bright eyes look back at me while I teach English, technology or math is such a wonderful reward.
   Another great idea, especially if you are traveling with children to third world countries, is bring unwanted games, toys or books along with you, so you can donate them abroad. Books, especially, are quite expensive and also difficult to find. Oddly enough, English edition children's books are more readily available than Spanish edition children's books, in Granada. A wonderful idea for anyone traveling to Latin America would be to stop by a local Goodwill or thrift store prior to leaving the US and pick up some used Spanish books for cheap. You would make a school, an orphanage or a library very happy with those used books and it would have an added benefit of teaching your children a beautiful lesson about the power of giving.  

Music and dance are important aspects of the curriculum in much of Latin America.

Students of the week being recognized, including my happy daughter Sierra.

Our school encourages student project demonstrations.

Zoe was very thirsty in class, enjoying the drops of melting ice water.

The girls "Circled the wagons" when one of their own felt ill. Ruth offered moral support, Anais held a cool compress and Zoe applied an ice cold water bottle to Angie's neck. Such images are quite normal during class and instill concepts of caring while learning. These images are what make a child's experience abroad so unique and why we fully encourage traveling with your children while they are still young.