Leaving Nicaragua

flamenco dancer on stage in Managua Nicaragua

I haven’s been able to leave Managua much in the last month, but have had some good adventures the past few weeks. We went ziplining at Volcano Mombacho; totally scary but definitely worth it. Exhilarating and adventurous. The last weekend of April, we went to the city of Leon for a short trip, to hear our friend John’s band play. We spent the rest of the long weekend at our friend’s beach house in a tiny little fishing village called Transito. Just hammocks and beer, the beach and the waves; exactly what we needed for a long weekend.

One night in May we all went to a Spanish restaurant in Managua and watched a flamenco dance show. Wow! The two ladies dancing were excellent and the food was awesome. Later we went out drinking and singing karaoke.

A new restaurant opened up in town; Scampi’s. They have other branches of the restaurant in Dallas, Hollywood, and Tokyo. And now Managua! Somehow we finagled invites to the grand opening, and were treated to a very swanky evening of wine, champagne, sushi, and other delights. We’ve been back twice since then. The food is fabulous.

Last week was a big week; we had the last days of class, final exams, the LOST season finale, a Rocky Horror Picture Show viewing at my house for 20, and a murder mystery dinner party at our friend Thurlow’s house. I turned out to be the murderess! Or, rather, my character, Terra Sunder (married to Castor Sunder). We also hosted a graduation party for our student teacher, Brian. The school gave us $500 to plan a big end of year party, and we all had a blast. I can’t believe my year of teaching in Nicaragua has come to an end- and I can’t wait to see what happens next year. Stay tuned!

Nicaragua: The Sandinistas Win the Election, and We Visit the Corn Islands

Corn Islands infinity pool

The past few weeks have just been gearing up for the elections. To put it simply, there are three major parties and candidates up for the presidential election this Sunday. There is the FSLN, which is the Sandinista Party, and Daniel Ortega is the candidate. He is a former president (read: dictator) who was in power from 1979-1990. Opposing Ortega are two front-runners, both splinters from the PLC party (Liberal Constitutional Party), Eduardo Montealegre, and Jose Rizo. So, in this crazy country, a candidate needs just 35% of the vote, and a 5% lead over the next guy, to win the Presidency. Right now Ortega is polling at 33.9%, and Montealegre at 28.8%. A run-off would consolidate the votes against Ortega, but if he pulls ahead of 35%, the Sandinistas could win this election.

It has been hotter than hell here in Managua. We have major power cuts- up to 5 hours a day. The classrooms (tin buildings built as ‘temporaries’ after the 1972 earthquake) heat up like little Easy Bake ovens with teachers and students in them. Without fans and lights they are like little boxcars. And the rainy season started, which is nice when it rains, as it cools things off, but when it rains in school, the rain on the tin roofs of the building make it so loud that you literally can’t hear anything in the classrooms. Tons of fun. Things were really building to a head by the end of October, but I have to say that December has been better- temperature wise and everything else. The mornings are actually a little chilly and the afternoons are pleasant.

We got dressed up and went out dancing for my birthday this year

We had a Thanksgiving dinner celebration at the cottages, with at least 26 people coming. The maintenance staff from school set up a tent in case of rain. The next morning, the girls and I left for Corn Islands. The islands aren’t very big- Big Corn (population 8,000) is 10 square km and Little Corn is only 3 square km. We spent 4 days just lying around. We never did get over to Little Corn Island, because the seas were too rough to boat over there, so we just stayed on Big Corn. The first night we stayed at a little hotel on the west side of the island that had no electricity, and it was a cool, windy day, so we just unwound, took walks on the beach, and went to bed early. We were pretty tired because our Thanksgiving Feast had gone on until about midnight, and we had to be up early to catch our flight to the Caribbean side of Nicaragua.

We walked from our first hotel into the main town on the island, which was at the north end, and checked out the dive shop and the one restaurant in town. We changed hotels, and wound up on the east side of the island, at a hotel called Casa Canada. A fabulous little place, it had its own generator (thus, electricity!), a beautiful pool, a/c in the rooms, cable tv, and a great king size bed. The four of us, plus our pups Lucia and Consuela, were quite happy there. We hung there Friday and Saturday, and took little walks down to the south end of the island to check out the sandy beach there, and walks into town. Kathleen and I rented bicycles and pedaled around for a while. We tried snorkeling but the jellyfish got us, and I decided the pool and a chaise lounge was really all I needed.

There weren’t many restaurants on the island- I think we tried them all- and one night we met up with Kedra, Yakshi, and Kyle (our neighbors from ANS) and had lobster and beers with them at a dock-restaurant called Anastasia’s. Very fun. Great food. There was one dance hall on the island, a reggae place that wound up playing all kinds of music.

Eventually it was time to go back to work, so we returned to Managua. Luckily for me, a week later Chris came to visit, so we did a quick tour of the nearby sights. We stayed at the Laguna de Apoya, and hiked around Volcano Masaya. We had breakfast with the girls, and went to a couple of nice dinner places in town. All too soon it was time for him to leave and for me to go back to work.

Chris at Volcano Masaya

This week we only had a four day work week, as Thursday night was “La Purisima“, and we had Friday off (to recover, I guess). There are several theories on Purisima, but the most common is that it celebrates the immaculate conception of the Virgin Mary by her mother, Ana. In particular, Purisima is hugely celebrated in Nicaragua in the town of Leon. Stories varied on why it was celebrated there, but one story said that when the volcano near Leon was erupting, the residents prayed to the Virgin Mary, and the lava did not destroy their town. So now Purisima is celebrated there each year (as in other parts of the country). Basically, it’s a combination of Halloween, Fourth of July, and Christmas. Groups of people go from house to house, caroling Christmas songs (in Spanish). They go to houses that are marked with a shrine to the Virgin Mary in front. The people- from young kids to old people- sing songs and then are rewarded with little treats, ranging from galletas (cookies) to little cakes, cacao (a kind of chocolate milk) to other things such as matchbooks or toothbrushes. All the while, fireworks are going off practically all night (as they have been for the past week-fun, but a little annoying, and it’s driving the dogs crazy). The fun part about Leon is some of the people have houses there that were built literally hundreds of years ago, and have been really well kept up, and some of them open up parts of their houses to visitors, so you can see their art works and hand-made furniture and all kinds of turn-of-the-century furnishings. Also, Leon has the largest cathedral in Central America (the story goes that the plans for the Lima, Peru church were mixed up with the Leon, Nicaragua church and it was built here instead), as well as several other cathedrals throughout the city. A place with a fascinating history, including the Sandinista period in this century.

December update: Most people are recovering from the shock of the Sandinistas winning. Only time will tell what the end result of that election will be. Today a man from Gran Pacifica came to talk to us (anyone wanting to buy a beach house should check out their site) about the likely foreign investment scene here for the next few years (main idea was that “hopefully” things will be fine…). None of our kids/families left Nicaragua although some “plan” to leave at the end of the school year…. but we’ll see. In my experience (worldly as it is), families don’t start leaving until people start dying… or their land gets nationalized. We’ll see how it goes.

Nicaragua: Laguna de Apoyo, the Achuapa Music Festival, and San Juan del Sur

three girls in Achuapa Nicaragua

In August I flew to Nicaragua with three other new teachers, who are also all living in on-campus housing. We were welcomed at the airport by our director and taken to our cottages on the school campus, where we unpacked and settled in. They had even done some grocery shopping for us, so we had some essentials already there for us.

The next days were spent in new teacher orientation and getting to know the city. We had a doctor speak to us, a security advisor, and we met with our principals. We also were taken to the grocery store, the mall, and to lunch. So we’re beginning to get our bearings around the city. I’m so happy to be living somewhere with a mall and a movie theater!

On Friday night, our director, Elsa, had all the new staff (about 25 people- half US and half local or other nationalities) over for a dinner at her house. She has a fantastic, typical Central American house. Lots of gardens and greenery, very spacious, and a pool. She fed us caballo bayo, a dinner that is tortillas, beans, rice, pico de gallo, pork, beef, chicken, vegetables, and sour cream. It was wonderful and went great with a cold Tona, the local beer.

Over the weekend, we went to the Laguna de Apoya. We stayed at a lovely little resort on the lake and spent the day there. They have a beautiful volcanic lake, at a perfect temperature, and we went on a hike to the top of the crater (okay, we didn’t make it all the way to the top; the lake and a round of mojitos were calling us back).

Monday and Wednesday were teacher work days. This year I will be teaching 8th grade US History, and 12th grade AP US Government. Tuesday was a religious holiday, Santo Domingo. Alecia, Kristen and I took a cab to lunch and then to Huembes Market, a big outdoor market where you can find just about anything you could ever look for, all at cheap prices. You just have to have patience.

It’s been quite hot here, and our classrooms don’t have a/c. They do have windows along two sides and plenty of fans. My apartment has a/c in my bedroom, so that is a relief. It rains often, as it is the rainy season, making everything green and cooling it off. In the evenings I’ve been running on the track at school.

Th second weekend we were here, Kathleen and Kristen and I set off for a great adventure- to find the Casa Ben Linder house in Managua, a non-profit organization that had set up transportation to a music festival in the tiny city of Achuapa, several hours away. We took Consuela, Kathleen’s chihuahua, with us for the adventure, and got a taxi and found the Ben Linder house. About fifteen people showed up for the ride, mainly various NGO workers, aged 25-40, and off we set.

We rode the bus up through Leon, then to El Sauce (I love the name of that town), and finally down a loooong (22km) dirt road, and we arrived in Achuapa. This music festival has been going on for 6 years now. When we arrived in town, we signed up at a little casa. The volunteers for the music festival set us up with local families to stay in their houses. Kathleen, Kristen and I, as well as some others from our bus, all stayed in a large room at a family’s house (with Consuela, of course). All this was free!

We set off for the town square (two streets over) and found us some Tona and some food. We had pollo frito, gallo pinto, queso fresco, and mucho cerveza. When we paid, our total for the 3 of us was $12US. Nicaragua rocks!

We drank beer and stayed up as long as we could, but the music festival went all night and we only made it to 2 am, I think. We met a guy named Matt who was backpacking the area; he was brave enough to go onstage and sing Sublime for us. We kept running into people from our bus. On Sunday we all bussed back to Managua.

Luckily, we only had three days of work, and then a holiday! As soon as school let out on Wednesday, we hightailed it for the bus depot so that Alecia, Kristen, Kathleen (and Consuela), and I could go to San Juan del Sur. It’s is a great little town about 2.5 hours south of here, becoming quite the little surf capital. We took the bus for 50 cordobas, I think ($3), and got there around 7 pm Wednesday. We found a small guest house/ hostel for $7 for each of us. Alecia and I shared a room right across from Kathleen and Kristen. We immediately headed a la playa and caught the sunset. Mucho gusto! It felt great to get our feet wet and feel the warm sand in between our toes.

We stayed in San Juan for a couple of days and ran into some fun people. San Juan is touristy, but to a lesser degree than somewhere like Cozumel or Puerta Vallarta. I’m sure in years to come it will turn into one of those places. But for now it remains a quiet little town, where breakfast is cheap and there’s plenty of guest houses to stay. It’s easy to get transport in and out and a fun place to visit.

We had a wonderful dinner of pescado a la plancha y gallo pinto y cervezas, and cruised around for a while. We ran into two of our colleagues from school, Yakshi and Kedra. We stayed up late drinking Tonas and looked at the huge full moon, reflected in the ocean. The next day we played in the water and sat on the beach after a great breakfast. We walked over to a former ANS student Emma’s house, at the end of the beach; she is now in med school in the States, home in Nicaragua for her summer break. Her family has a fabulous beach house and we hung out there all afternoon. We walked back into town around sunset for another great dinner, and ran into Kyra and Rachel, two other new teachers from ANS. After dinner we went looked for ice cream, and saw Zack and Erin, our two remaining neighbors. Ah, just like Haiti…. you really can’t go anywhere without seeing everyone you know. Oh, not to mention the three students we stumbled across in town.

We planned on taking surf lessons the third day we were there but it rained, so we just hung out. I love watching the ocean when it rains. We walked around the tiny town, stopping in at markets and buying trinkets. We kept running into the two cute Canadian guys we had met and had drinks with the night before. It really is a small town. At last it was time to head back. Kyra, Rachel, Alecia, and Kathleen took the bus back, and Kristen and I stayed a bit longer. We ran into Yakshi and Kedra, and hopped a ride back into town with them. On the way home, we stopped for quesillos– a new culinary treat for us. It’s a corn tortilla wrapped around a piece of cheese served with a sour cream sauce and grilled onions. Amazingly messy but quite yummy.

We relaxed the rest of this weekend, hanging out in Managua. Sunday we had no electricity for several hours- they are rationing it these days (love the third world!!) so we had to get out of our apartments and head to the mall. They, also, didn’t have electricity, but at least some stores were open and it was fun to walk around. Hello, a mall? Always fun. Tonight we’re all making dinner together and trying to get ready for next week- a full, five-day workweek. I’ve only been in Nicaragua for a month, but I think I’m going to like it here.