Selva Negra, Tissey and Montibelli in Nicaragua

rock paintings at Esteli

When we returned to Nicaragua in January, Kristen and I went to Selva Negra, a cool little retreat up in the more mountainous area of Nicaragua, where the weather is much cooler and rainier. Can’t wait to go back there when it starts getting totally hot here. When you live in really hot countries, you have identify the cool zones!

The new president, Daniel Ortega, was inaugurated. Strange political leanings are unfolding, as he allies himself more with Chavez and Castro than the US. Great. Hopefully things won’t get too crazy around here. School started, the kids seem to be doing pretty well, fairly focused- and we’re in it for the long haul between now and Spring Break. Chris just left for Angola and is getting settled in there. Hopefully we can meet again during my spring break- but for now, gotta get through the next nine weeks of work.

We haven’t had any three-day weekends, but we have tried to get out of town several times to explore the countryside around Managua. A few weeks ago we went up near the town of Esteli, to a natural reserve called Tissey. A bunch of us from work camped in cabins and hiked all around, finding some beautiful miradors (lookouts) and interesting finds such as a soapstone quarry, a small cheese factory, and a somewhat bizarre old man who has been carving statues and designs on the side of a mountain for the last 30 years.

A couple of weeks later, another group of us went to the Montibelli Nature Preserve, just a few miles outside of Managua. We went on a hike and looked at different kinds of trees, butterflies, birds, and even some monkeys. Then we had a fabulous dinner there, and pitched tents. Later that night, as it was a full moon, we went on a moonight hike to the top of a hill, and could see a beautiful panorama: a full moon, the city of Managua to one side, Lake Managua, and to the other side, Volcano Masaya, with its clouds of steam floating off towards the Pacific Ocean, clouds that you can actually see from space! It was an incredible view, one that unfortunately is only captured in my mind, as it was too dark for pictures to turn out well.

And finally, Kathleen had a friend, Linde, visit, and we took her to San Juan del Sur for some beach action last weekend. We hopped on a bus Saturday morning and spent the afternoon walking around the town and the beach with our little dogs (there are three of them now, Consuela, Lucia, and Bella). That night there was a huge party on the beach, with a live band, a dj and “flor de cana” dancers, and plenty of beers, for 10 cordobas each (roughly 60 cents US).

We stayed at the beach party, dancing and drinking, until the band stopped playing- 1? 2? I don’t even know. Then we went to a beach bar down the beach and sang karaoke there. More good times. More cheap beers. Finally we made our way back to our room, where all four of us girls and all three dogs were staying together. At least we had a/c.

I took Bella for a walk the next morning and we had a big breakfast at one of the restaurants on the beach. We spent the day around town, and then Alecia and I headed back to Managua while Kathleen and Linde stayed to enjoy the rest of Sunday and take Monday off. Alecia and I, and the two pups, endured the bus ride from hell back to town- standing room only the whole way, with more people squeezing on with each stop. It took forever and we were in pretty foul moods by the time we were done. But we did finally make it home.

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.