Friday, June 21, 2013

Three years later... back to Nicaragua.

I am not one to repeat countries (except Iceland). However, Aneesa & Amara started asking to go to Nicaragua in August 2012 after we'd barely landed back in the US from our year in India. This time, they were not interested in a family trip. Nope, they wanted a month-long solo adventure. They longed for a full month of Spanish school with Spanish Ya. Volunteering with Libraries for All was calling their names. The travel bug has definitely bitten them.

I pondered; I discussed with other parents; I researched; I came up with a plan. The plan: establish a long list of nearly-impossible pre-requisites. The pre-requisites included random things like

  • find an adult who is willing to travel with you at our expense who can stay for at least half the month
  • take self defense
  • pay for half the ticket
  • plan your OWN volunteer experience; no tagging along on pre-established adventures
  • other such pleasant tasks
Much to my surprise, both girls got on the task list right away. They made a list of possible adult travelers. The winner - Katie F. Katie was our "date-night babysitter" in Wichita KS for 4 years when she was 14-18. She is now a wonderful 26 year old who is the perfect choice. She will be there for 3 weeks. The girls enlisted Uncle Bobo & Aunt TJ for self defense. My brother and his wife used to teach hand-to-hand combat skills in the US Army - again, perfect choice. Aneesa worked in the UU nursery. Amara taught flute lessons. Who knew such jobs paid so well! 

And they both planned their own volunteer experience. Aneesa convinced her orchestra teacher to let her combine this task with her Honors Orchestra independent study project. Clever bugger! Aneesa spent months working with an elementary school mentor, researching lesson plans to teach music, researching music + Spanish, raising funds for rhythm instruments, and writing... she ended up with a full 4-week (20 lessons) music course designed for 3rd & 4th graders (and a perfect score on her Honors Orchestra project). She will be teaching 2 periods a day in San Juan del Sur at the public school. One day a week, she will travel out to the rural schools and do an abbreviated lesson. A few times during the month, she will teach at an orphanage. Amara had a blast teaching paper quilling in Bangalore to girls in orphanages. She decided this was her path in Nicaragua. She will be teaching several sessions of quilling at the local library. Quilled Creations helped us out with a generous discount and donation of 'damaged goods' that are perfectly usable. During the last week, she is hoping to do a art show of her students' work. And Amara will 'intern' with a local hotel cook. I can't wait to see what she learns from this adventure. Both girls will spend their mornings volunteering & their afternoons at Spanish Ya learning more and more Spanish. Their evenings will be spent chilling with other travelers coming through the small hotel they are camping at. 

So today, we ran around getting malaria medicine & typhoid shots (yes, this should have been done a month ago), printing embassy contact information, and realizing we are all pretty nervous about this big adventure. They fly out Saturday evening from Seattle to Miami to Managua. Their first international, solo flight. They've practiced passing customs with our Spanish-speaking friends Jose & Jannette. The bags are shoved full of rhythm instruments, quilling papers, bug spray, sunscreen, mac & cheese, & lots of other comfort foods.

Over the months as I accepted defeat, I shared our summer plans with other parents. Our plans were polarizing - "are you nuts?" "do you want them to die?" "aren't you worried they will get sick/kidnapped/etc?" "what about SAT prep?" "what about summer school so they can fit in another AP class?" "awesome - that is such a great chance for them to grow up!" "You must really trust them to let them do such a great thing!" "This will be the most awesome experience of their lives!" Who knows how summers should be spent in today's competitive academic environment. I firmly believe life is about experiences - most of which happen outside the classroom and prep books. We may be screwing up any chance of Ivies for the girls, but I hope to end up with strong, confident, well-rounded young ladies who know that our privileged lives are not the norm. And I hope they are 100% capable of sharing their hearts, minds, time, and talents with others (at home and abroad). 

Moin & I will celebrate our 20th anniversary in a small resort a few hours away from San Juan del Sur. We'll travel to San Juan del Sur the last few days the girls are there to catch the final music concert & art show. Libraries for All will get some volunteer love from us as well. The family will journey back to Seattle together in late July.

So happy travels my babies. I cannot wait to hear about the adventure. Aneesa will be blogging & sharing Amara's photos on her blog - Tuna out of Water.

bug spray, hand sanitizer, and personal alarm

sunscreen, pepto, immodium
Lots of goodies to snack on
rhythm instruments
quilling supplies; generous donation from Quilled Creations

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Moving for Mangos!

That's not the whole truth... but part of it

Moin is moving for the mangos. I am moving for the job. Our next (and definitely biggest) family  adventure starts in July 2011. I've taken a one year assignment in the Google Bangalore office. Huge opportunity for me. Moin will take a year off - his first ever. And the girls will be in international school (hopefully). Lots to get done in a short period of time, but we are all super excited.

We've started a new blog just for this experience...

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Our last day in Nica!

With very little sleep last night and Moin not feeling well, we hung around the condo until noon. Moin had swallowed so much tylenol that he was a bit nonsensical. Aneesa was not feeling chipper either and wanted to take a nap. So Moin, Amara, and I headed out to do a few last minute things. We had hoped to see the volcano Masaya and had a nice offer from Ramon to take us up there in the chicken bus, but Moin was not sure he could last that long. Instead of the volcano we ventured out in the heat of the day to get a few last minute gifts and such.

We first headed over to the Dona Elba cigar factory near the Xalteva Park. They had a few guys in the atrium hand rolling organic cigars. While we neither one smoke, we picked up a pack of their finest for someone who has been saintly enough to watch Nattie the Cattie for three entire weeks! We enjoyed learning a bit about the cigar process and watching them tediously hand roll cigar after cigar. This small store front is part of a much bigger operation in the famous tobacco area of Nicaragua, Esteli. The owner came out to talk to us and shared with us that his family has done tobacco for years and years. He lived in CA for 30 years and had excellent English. They do a ton of business on which made me smile a bit.

After our cigar factory experience, we walked over to the market off a side street near Parque Central we tried to visit last Sunday but they were all closed. Wow! This was the local's market and we wish we had come to this area when we had more time and felt better. We walked through about half of it - enough to see the meat market which was not overly pleasant with seemingly unsanitary conditions, lots of flies swarming about, dirt floors, dogs scrounging for small bits of meat, etc. We were not compelled to purchase meat :) The internal aisles of the market were stocked full of anything and everything - baskets, tupperware containers, birthday party supplies, dishes, pots, food, etc. Our eyes were met with something colorful everywhere we turned. We could have spent a lot of time here on a cooler, better health day. Along the way we encountered many trinket-selling vendors. One in particular we had seen several days now - a mom, three daughters ranging in age from 2-7 or so. We have not purchased her goods and did not plan on doing so today either. However, she walked right up to us and handed Moin a pharmacy script with three medicines on them and showed him a wicked infected area on the youngest child's neck. We ended up standing in line at the local pharmacy waiting for our number to be called. In front of us was a group from Louisiana who was working at a church-affiliated hospital, dental, and eye clinic. They talked about the group of OB/GYNs they brought down who are doing surgery all week and how they were buying loads of beans and rice and delivering them out to the rural areas. They also offered their services to the children and family of the hotel staff where they were staying. I am reminded that some religious groups do no service work in areas like this, and it makes me sad.

After returning to the condo, Moin crashed and slept for 3 hours. We woke him up at 5:00 to go get dinner since we skipped lunch. We headed over to Parque Central and were immediately spotted by the 15 year old from a few nights before. By now, I had spent a bit of time reading up on the kids who hang out in the park. I had my strong suspicions that he was a "huele pega" (glue sniffer). He fit the descriptions in our guide book perfectly. He yelled out for us, but we tried to ignore him. He came right up and tapped Aneesa on the shoulder and started talking to her. She asked him if he went to school and what he studied. He seems to always have an answer on hand for her. However, this time he said he lives in a house with his grandparents not in the park with them. We could hear a glass like jingling in his pocket and could see the outline of a bottle which could have been a glue bottle... or not. When we passed a hot dog stand, he asked for one. I still cannot see a kid hungry. So again we bought him a hot dog. I wish there was more we could do. We have talked to Ramon and read the flyers about that clearly say these kids have options. Ramon told us the reason they do not use the options is because of the rules - be here by this time, go to school, no glue, etc. Moin sees people like this all the time in the hospitals and is a bit more immune to the feelings the girls and I have about it. It is very difficult for me to see kids living like this, and I hate the feeling of helplessness that goes along with it. We learned from him that his name is Eddie, and we learned from the hot dog vendor that he is indeed a huele pega. We finished our evening with dinner at Don Lucas - good pizza indeed but I preferred Mona Lisa. Ramon came by to make final arrangements for our return trip and offered to move up the start time to get us one last chance to see Masaya Volcano - yay! He brought his son - adorable! We were able to offload the rest of our groceries on him. And of course the power just went out. We let the kids go first for showers, guess we will have to wait until WA for our shower. I am still amazed that a place like this does not have a generator! And I am amazed at the amount of racket the dogs nearby can make after the midnight hour until just before all of the church bells start ringing at the six o'clockish hour. What noisy noisy nights we have had in Granada. One favorite thing of Granada - very very few mosquitoes!

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Cacao Farm Tour

Granada, we hear, seldom loses all power. However, a major storm blew in last night and knocked out all power. The power went out just as we arrived back from an ALL day tour of the Cacao Farm. So there was no blog post yesterday :(

So reflecting...
We started the day pretty early with a walk to the Choco Museo where the Cacao Farm tour started. The tour is a brand new attraction in Granada and our family was tour #3. Ramon was our English speaking guide again which made us happy. In booking the tour we asked for horses and non-pork lunches. The instructions for the tour indicated the need to be in good physical condition, closed toe shoes, and swimming gear for the volcanic thermal waters. Having already read all of the posters in the Choco Museo, we were excited about the farm tour. 

To start the tour, we were driven to a port where we boarded a boat. We had a nice tour around a different section of the Isletas around Granada. Ramon was excellent at pointing out birds, trees, flowers, etc. He also quizzed us on the information we learned on the Masaya tour with him. On this boat ride, there were no Hollywood style houses on private islands. The islands were mostly inhabited by local fisherman eeking out a living and using row boats for transportation. We passed an island that rang out with the call of howler monkeys. As we slowly approached the island, we all easily spotted mamas and their babies in the trees scampering and swinging about. Their call sounds something like a pack of wild dogs and a BART train in San Francisco. The little monkeys are adorable and both girls would be happy to have one as a pet! (HA!)

The boat dropped us off at a section of mainland that is not easily accessible by vehicle. We learned that all of the produce made on this section of mainland is transported out to the markets via boat after boat. Remote hardly describes the area. The farm was a very small scale operation in terms of manpower but had a large physical area with hundreds of acres. The farm manages acres of plantains, citrus, coffee, and cacao. With 30+ acres dedicated to cacao trees, they are a very very small scale chocolate operation.

After hiking up a fairly steep hill with the girls, Ramon, an assistant, and the boat driver who carried a huge machete (we later learned he is the farm foreman as well), we learned that only 4 horses had been sent instead of the requested six horses. Additionally, the horses were sooooo skinny and did not look healthy at all. Hip bones and ribs protruded on all four of the horses. One had a large, open sore on the hip bone area. The saddles were a different sort of saddle than what were are used to in America as these had no straps under the horse. The straps holding the saddle on were under the tail instead. I am no horse expert, nor am I a big horse person... but these horses looked awful. I was overwhelmed with guilt on two fronts - the horses looked so awful that I did not want to burden them with my weight and the guide and assistant were packing in water, lunch, first aid kits, etc for our use. They would not have horses, since the other two horses never showed up. At the start of the ride, we decided to give Ramon a horse and Amara and I would double up on the largest of the horses. The horse was completely uncontrollable. It kept walking on the side of the trail rather than down the middle of the rocky, muddy trail. After I had been slapped in the face multiple times by branches, leaves, and actual plantain clusters, I got off and walked. I rationalized that I would use less energy walking than trying to pull the horse around. At some point Moin also got off and walked. The horses just were not trained to walk the trail they needed to walk and it was very difficult to pay attention to the information while fighting the horses. Throughout the day, I attempted the horse three more times and gave up each time. The horse owners walked along behind the horses whacking them with sticks, leaves, and other objects to make them move along the trail. By the end of the day, the horse owner was riding one of the horses and switching it with a stick or rope constantly. The entire horse thing made me sad. Walking posed its own set of challenges... muddy, rocky, very uneven, steaming hot, and miles of trail. As usual, I had my pedometer in my pocket. I logged over 20,000 steps on the tour alone. If 10,000 steps is about 5 miles... by the end of the tour, I was exhausted and sore all over. My knee was killing me from all the rocks and downhill/uphill combinations. 

The tour consisted of the following parts: boat to the mainland area of the farm, walk up a steep hill, walk/ride through plantain fields, walk/ride through the cacao section and get a brief explanation of the process (not too different than what we read in the museum, walk/ride by the coffee section, get a brief overview of the drying process since nothing was drying at the time, have lunch at the top of a hill, walk down to see some volcanic springs used for irrigation, walk/ride for a very long time to the thermal waters, take a scary boat back through a mangrove (but not like mangroves in FL), board the first boat and leave. 

Seeing real cacao trees was quite interesting for me. My favorite part of the tour was trying the white flesh inside the cacao pod that surrounds the cacao beans. With a texture like lychees, it is very sweet and delicious. We saw two varieties of cacao trees and pods in all stages of development from flowers to freshly harvested sitting alongside the trail in bags fermenting. The brief overview at the hacienda to explain the fermenting, drying, and sorting was ok but was all talk since nothing was actually being processed. 

We made the brief climb to the top of the hill where the main house was located. We ate lunch at an outside gazebo area with amazing views. When the lunch was unpacked, it was sandwiches, plantain chips, bananas, and lemonade. The sandwiches featured about 3 kinds of cold cuts - all pork. Luckily for us, Ramon had carried a package of American cheese with him for his lunch. We made a trade of meat for cheese. We were starving (especially Moin and I who had logged 10K steps by this point), so we were so thankful for Ramon's cheese! 

After lunch Moin and I walked down behind the hacienda to see the volcanic spring waters used for irrigation. The smell of sulfur was hard to miss as we approached the spring area. This was one point where you could swim if you chose... we chose not to. Moin's allergies went nuts with the sulfur smell or a flowering tree or something.

Following lunch, we embarked on a very long horse/walk ride through very rocky roads with little shade most of the time en route to the thermal waters. One highlight of the walk was seeing the locals playing a game of modified baseball - plantain workers versus the coffee/cacao workers. The ball was made from flip flop soles molded into a ball. The bat? Their hands. Moin and I found a plantain pod on the ground so we occupied ourselves with the task of trying to open each section. 

After about an hour or more of walking, we arrived at the thermal waters, Honestly, they were a bit of a disappointment. With the outside temperature hovering in the mid 90s, the last thing any of us wanted to do was change into our swimsuits behind the bushes and jump into 100+ degree water. Additionally, there was a ton of algae swarming about. All together, the setup did not entice any of us to get in. Our transportation back to the main dock was a "balance boat" that made me nearly panic every time anyone shifted their weight. Under normal circumstances, we would not have gotten into such a boat or would have at least ALL worn life jackets. But when in Nica... 

We made it back to Granada just as a huge storm blew in. We waited for about 15-20 minutes for the driver to arrive to take us back to the hotel. While we waited we watched with a mixture of sadness and admiration as families embarked on the journey back across the lake in row boats with the waves crashing and the rain pouring down. I am still in turmoil over whether I would recommend this tour to other families :( It would have taken a considerably longer time to finish with kids if we had not used horses for them... however, the horses were poorly trained, poorly treated, and looked unhealthy. The day is very long for what you get out of it. 

We walked into the condo just as the power went out. Everyone but Aneesa got a cold water shower before the condo ran out of water. I had to pour bottles of our drinking water over Aneesa so she could at least get the grime off of her from the long day. We also learned at this point that in spite of the decent amount of money we are spending on this condo, there is no generator. The water is run by an electric pump at the plant; so no electric means no water. We received a call from the Choco Museo to apologize for the lunch mistake. They offered us a free meal at Nectars which was undoubtedly the best food we have had during our stay in Granada. El Colibri in San Juan del Sur is at the top of our list for the entire visit. 

After dinner, we returned to the condo. Still no power or water. Nobody from the office stopped by to see if we had flashlights or candles. No apologies. No updates. Finally, we were able to find someone who said... no idea when it will be back on. I am disappointed by this. We seem to have misplaced our flashlight and had to rely on a flashlight app I happened to have installed for fun on my Nexus One. The power came on and off throughout the night for 3-5 minute spurts and then stayed on from 5am on. At some point we realized Moin had a fever. He was so hot, he moved the couch cushion outside and slept by the door for a while. I rocked in a rocking chair until he was cool enough to go back inside. His fever came and went all night long. However, there is not enough electric to start the water back up. It is 4:00 in the afternoon on Wednesday now and there is still not consistent water and Moin still feels awful but we have things to do. Ahh... the experiences we have had.


Monday, August 02, 2010

Masaya tour

We had a big day planned today. First on the agenda was Volcan Masaya. It is one of the few constantly-active volcanoes that you can actually go up to and peer down into its fiery belly. Our guide Ramon Parra and guides or picked us up in the morning. But it was not meant to be! There had been some volcanic activity overnight and the park was closed to all visitors. This is only the third time the volcano has been shut - the other two times ended up with an eruption. We put our number on the call list in case it opened later and moved on to the famous Masaya marketplace. There is an old and a new one. We went to the newer one and looked through a ton of shops. A lot of them displayed the kitchier items like bracelets, traditional dresses, purses, hammocks, and some not-so-kitschy items like stuffed little turtles and frogs. Yes, they are reportedly real and we avoided the stores that sold them. The girls found bracelets they liked and Moin bargained with the shopkeepers.

When we were all done with shopping we headed on to Catarina Mirador. It is a lookout point on the rim of an extinct volcano with beautiful lush green trees lining the slopes down to Laguna de Apoyo which is the deepest lake in Central America at 200 meters. We ate at one of the restaurants up there and enjoyed a fabulous breeze and amazing views. Then we headed to see some pottery. En route we saw one of the buildings that had been all shot up by the Spanish and then by the rebels. Now the bullet holes serve a much nobler purpose - drawing in the public to the now bar! We went in to San Juan de Oriente where we visited the Valentin Lopez Pottery School. They gave us the history of their process and then invited us to give it a try. The history was full of traditions that are passed down from generation to generation throughout the town. The process involves hauling clay from miles away on their backs and physically stomping the clay in a dance that is believed to breathe life into the clay. The clay, the colors used, the shining methods - all natural! Various minerals are used to create the colors; sea rocks with varying textures are used to polish; and seeds of plants are used for smoothing. Necessity is the mother of invention - in the old tradition, broken turtles shells were used to carve intricate designs; today recycled bicycle spokes are used. The entire process takes 12-15 days from start to kiln-ready. The kiln is fired up by wood for 10 hours and reaches 900 degree F. They run the kiln two times per month. The townspeople feel the art is in the hands of all... or is it? We were offered a chance to try it out. Dawn and Amara got to work with the master himself. Despite how effortless it appeared, it required a lot of hand strength and coordination to keep the wheel spinning by kicking a huge wheel with one foot while keeping the other foot safely out of the way! The master potter saved both our pieces - for the most part. Although not in any of the guidebooks, this was one of the most interesting things we have experienced. We purchased a small piece out of sheer appreciation of the labor-intensive process.

Next was a dip in Laguna de Apoyo. The lake formed 20,000 years ago when the Volcan Apoyo imploaded and left a crater. We had to navigate a road that tested all the discs of your spine and then some! If you survive you can wade into the refreshing, perfectly warmed waters of the brackish lake while carefully avoiding all the volcanic rock that somehow managed to find delicate bare soles. Several restaurants will let you use their facilities to change and their tables right up on the waters edge if you buy a few drinks. We spent about an hour there and then checked in with the park authorities to see if we could get in to the volcano. Unfortunately  the park was still closed so our guide suggested a boat trip around Las Isletas. 

Las Isletas are a group of 365 island that were formed when Volcan Mombacho erupted 20,000 years ago. We boated around the many little islands and were shocked to find a lot of them with homes built on them. There are also the local Nica families that eke out a very simple living on them by fishing. One island is home to a local tribe of people and has a church that changes denomination depending on the day of the week. There is also a school that is an elementary school in the morning and secondary school in the afternoon. The houses on the island range from modest to lavish with one of them sporting a boat lift, infinity pool, security cameras, helipad, and even a cell tower!! Some of the islands even have a restaurant or a bar on them. The islands are mainly vacation homes owned by foreigners or Nicaragua's elite. An interesting stop was Fortin de San Pablo which is an old fort built by the Spanish to defend against the pirates. The views were beautiful and the breeze fabulous. We saw herons, king fishers, swallows, bats, and "monkey island" where a vet has four adorable little monkeys that he feeds and cares for. After a great boat ride we headed home but saw the cemetery that the locals use, located on the mainland. We also saw some kids paddling around and some adults fishing presumably for dinner. 

We had decided to eat at home tonight and so while the girls showered, Dawn and I headed off to the local supermarket to pick up some veggies and local cookies. It was pretty crowded but we managed to escape through a short line. This time we remembered to bring our own shopping bags and so did not have to carry little grocery-filled boxes through the streets. I left Dawn and the girls at the condo to start dinner and walked down three blocks to the local Pimpollo store to pick up a rotisserie chicken. By now it was completely dark. Imagine my horror when I found the store tightly shut! Since it was late (7pm) we were kinda out of options unless we wanted to walk 20 minutes into town to get dinner. We decided to make do and had fried everything - potatoes and cheese - with some steamed brocolli. It turned out fine and we all very tired so we headed off to bed (after writing the blog of course).

Tomorrow is our big cacao farm tour. Ramon does freelance work and will be our guide tomorrow too. He spent 20 years in the US (good ole Texas) and has great English!

Sunday, August 01, 2010

Lazy Sunday

We did not do much today. After sleeping till about 9:00, we had a lazy breakfast and then played card games. On this trip, we have taught the girls to play a few versions of Rummy and have practiced Spades which they learned right before we left WA. This morning we learned how to play Kings in the Corners which they really liked. 

After lunch, the girls swam while I patiently uploaded pictures from the last week to Picasa. A large group of students arrived at the condos just as we were leaving the pool. I am guessing they are high school students and hope they are well behaved :)

In the late afternoon, we walked back to the Choco Museo to see if they had Chocolate Tea. We have heard so much about it from backpackers we have met along the way, and they were out yesterday. We were in luck! They had just received 50 pounds of it this morning. While trying out the Chocolate Tea which was scrumptious, we met the owner of the Hotel and Museum, Mitch from New York. The Chocolate Museum was his "crazy idea" to add on to the hotel. I think it will end up being a fairly great idea in the end! It's chocolate, how can it go wrong?

Our big plan was to walk along the second busiest street in Granada (Calle Atravesada) However, since it was Sunday the stores were closed with few exceptions. We turned down a side street and discovered an open air market with a few stalls open. While the street was dirty and smelled pretty rank, I think it has good potential for neat finds on a busy day so we will have to return later in the week. We wandered through some neighborhood streets, got heckled a bit, and saw the neatest bird nests on ONE street. The nests grow on the telephone/electrical lines. Just to make sure we were seeing nests, Aneesa asked some teenagers and they verified we were indeed seeing nests. The town was pretty dead outside of Central Park and the primary tourist zones. We found our way back to Central Park along dirty and often smelly streets.

In Central Park, we looked out for a few kids we saw yesterday. We decided to buy a few kids some hot dogs and it was another surreal experience. Aneesa was more than willing to chat with the kids and practice her Spanish! A 15 year old boy has captured my curiosity. I think he may have been the young kid I smashed into on the street the first day we were here.... but maybe not. I saw him yesterday taking food off an empty table at a restaurant. And today, I noticed he had the same clothes on, still inside out. Aneesa talked to him and we figured out he could also speak some pretty decent English that he learned in high school. He said he lives with his grandparents, and he says he is still in school... I hope so. Enough about that; it makes me depressed.

After strolling visiting with the kids a bit, we tried some street food which the 15 year old told us was flour, corn, and cheese made into flat breads. The girls and I liked it, Moin not so much. For dinner, we headed to Coyote Grill for dinner. They are known for their burger and fries and that is exactly what the girls wanted. We were a bit bummed to open the menu and find a long page on the problem with the kids in the streets and a call out to leave them alone... second thoughts, second thoughts, second thoughts. While waiting on our food, we were entertained by a scary tall, pink, dancing clown-like thing and a short dancing thing. None of us liked these clowns. A few mariachi bands also serenaded young couples. We did some people watching and then headed back to our condo. 

For the most part, I am not wild about Granada. The colorful houses and streets are fun. And, I realize there are many great hotels here and it is a nice location to hit other attractions. On the other hand, I find it dirty and very smelly (very!). The poverty along the side streets is in stark contrast to the tourist zones full of wealthy locals and foreigners. In San Juan del Sur, we were never heckled or yelled at by the locals. They were all quite friendly and helpful. Here, we have been heckled since day one and in some cases, the tone in the voices makes me very uncomfortable. I do not feel as safe here in Granada. 

 I am looking forward to our day-long excursion to Masaya tomorrow - an active volcano, open markets, pottery-making, and a lake formed by an imploded volcano.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Choco Museo

Today we slept in, and it was heavenly! Following a huge rainstorm last night, the temperature seemed to be a bit lower than normal. For breakfast, we had some fruit and eggs-in-the-hole and toast. This is one of the breakfast foods that I make for the kids most times we travel. Breakfast is usually a fast affair in our busy lives, so it is nice to cook for the girls once in a while. I made myself a HUGE batch of oatmeal and thoroughly enjoyed it. After breakfast, we lounged around and re-read the Granada sections in our Moon Guide Book. While in Ometepe, some backpackers said there was a new museum called the Choco Museo that we should definitely hit. We packed up some sandwiches and our ice cold water bottles (thanks to genius Moin freezing them last night) and headed out to the Museum of Chocolate. Aneesa decided to take along all the cookies we bought in the supermarket to give to the homeless kids in the park that we saw yesterday.

The museum contained several large posters about chocolate, a gift store, and an area for making chocolate. After reading about a tour they offer to a cooperative Nica cacao farm that is organic, fair trade, etc, we decided to book for Tuesday. An all day experience, the tour features boat rides, horse rides, hiking, farm tours, swimming in volcanic thermal waters, and sampling organic Nica chocolate. Since the museum is so new, we will be their 3rd tour ever... fingers crossed it goes well. We ate lunch in the beautiful atrium of the museum and admired the unusual outdoor furniture and art work.

After lunch, we wandered down to the Central Park for the first time in the daylight. We all found it depressing :( Trash floats litters every gutter of every road; stalls with handicrafts and pushy salespeople line every corner; homeless kids scrounge for food; skinny, hot dog and hamburger stands are abundant; barefoot ladies walk about selling watered down juices; sick-looking horses wait without water for the next tourist family to hop aboard garishly decorated buggies. Our touring family had planned to hop aboard but decided to sit and watch the horse owners for a while. After sitting for almost an hour people watching and horse watching, we could not bring ourselves to support the horse-drawn buggy tour of Granada. None of the horses had access to water or food; most of them needed to be rehooved; and many had wounds or other skin problems. Instead Aneesa gave out some of her cookies and made little kids happy :) The main cathedral was having a funeral, complete with the funeral buggy out front waiting for the coffin. We also went by a small massage studio that had blind masseuses. It was $3 for a 15 minute chair massage and the girls got foot massages.  Moin played table tennis with some of the locals in the back of a restaurant while the girls were getting their massage.

Since we bailed on the horse ride, we decided to head back to the condo to cool down with a nice swim. The water was very nice and refreshing. For dinner we walked back to the Central Park area. While walking through the park we noticed one vendor lady who had at least a half dozen very young kids who were very close in age. The kid were busy climbing nearby trees or playing in the dirt with one small kid seemingly forgotten near a busy restaurant area. We had a wonderful dinner at El Zaguan based on the recommendation from the receptionist and the guide books. The food was great and the service excellent. We tried a traditional Nica dessert (our homestay never included dessert!). The dessert was almost a Nica version of gulab jamans (Indian dessert) with the key difference being the Nica version is made from cassava rather than powdered milk. I liked it but no one else did. We also tried the tres leches cake which is a family favorite. We packed up about half of our food and headed out.

Three of the little kids we saw in the park on the way were all the way down near the restaurants when we headed back. The kids were probably in the range of 3-6 years old. They were wandering around the restaurants areas and noticed Aneesa carrying our leftovers back. While I was pondering why a SMALL child would be standing on the side of a busy street, the older two boys darted right in front of a taxi when Aneesa asked them if they wanted food. We had three containers and gave one to each. They said "gracias" and ran off. Once back in the park we circled around to their stall and noticed there were 9 kids and 2 females sharing the leftovers we gave them. It was heartbreaking. Aneesa went up and asked them in Spanish if they wanted cookies and they were giddy with excitement! She happened to have 9 packages with her. As we finished walking, we pondered the "give a fish, teach them to fish" dilemma. These 9 children were just 9 of many we say tonight.

We have a slack day planned for tomorrow with nothing special on the agenda. The girls want to go get hot dogs and ice cream for their 9 new friends... we shall see. Monday we will head to an all day excursion in Masaya and Tuesday will be the all day cacao farm tour. Wednesday will be our last day in Nica as we head home early Thursday.