A Travellerspoint blog

Matagalpa

sunny 31 °C

Over the weekend I decided to head out on my own to the north of Nicaragua, to a town called Matagalpa. I took the chicken bus from Managua to Matagalpa, which ended up taking an hour longer than the express bus but was also a cheaper alternative. I stayed at the Buena Onda hostel which was great and had a kitchen, allowing me to cook. I felt pretty accomplished cooking my traditional Nicaraguan meal of rice, beans, tortilla, cream, avocado with a salad of tomato, onion and cucumber.

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The next morning I went on a beautiful hike just outside of the city of Matagalpa called Cerro del Toro. The hike wound through the local country side and then scrambled up to the top of a mountain that had awesome views of the valley of Matagalpa. The entire hike took between 3 to 4 hours and passed by coffee and banana fields. The region was such a contrast from the grunge of Managua, and it was so nice to see living trees as opposed to the metalic, glowing trees that are scattered about the capital.

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I was pretty hungry by the time I got back to my hostel and was invited to go eat pizza with the rest of the travelers in my dorm. They had heard that it was supposed to be the best pizza in all of Nicaragua because the owners were from Tuscany and made traditional Italian pizza. It was not to disappoint. I also had my first glass of wine since I have been in Nicaragua, as it is usually much more expensive if it is even offered as an option anywhere. I was reminded this weekend something that I love about traveling, that it allows people learn about different cultures and spend time together. At dinner we were a group that consisted of: myself (American), two Germans, one English woman, a Swede and a woman from the Netherlands. All strangers, but sharing food and stories about their lives.

After getting back from an amazing meal, I met up with these three girls who work for the same Managuan NGO, Comemos Juntos, as a friend of mine who happened to be staying at the same hostel as me. Too funny how small the world is. The next day they decided that they were going to go visit Selva Negra, which I had been hearing was beautiful but I had not planned to visit. Instead of going back to Managua early, I decided to tag along with them to see what everyone was talking about.

We left early Sunday morning and headed north, towards Jinotega. It was definitely my least enjoyable bus riding experience, in terms of lack of space. Personal space I don't think is something that exists on public transportation here in Nicaragua. I was sitting at the back of the bus and more and more people would squish in through the back door, definitely over the recommended number of people of course. A girl who was probably about five years old ended up pretty much sitting on my lap so she wouldn't be squished, in addition to the three of us already occupying the bench.

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Finally we made it to the road that went to Selva Negra, and we miraculously extracted ourselves from the throng of people. It was a kilometer to the main entrance and we enjoyed the view of coffee plantations dotted by robust, green trees. The air was noticably fresher and cooler. The coffee tours were $20 a pop, so we opted for the self-guided tours instead. Being surrounded by primary forrest again was amazing. With the drought and vast amounts of deforestation, up until this weekend I had not seen many large or GREEN trees. We walked through an emerald tunnel with scattered light falling on our path and passed by a stunning cathedral that looked like it belonged to Bilbo Baggins. The trail threaded next to trickling streams and little, stone benches.

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We had a little bit of extra time, so we decided to do a more difficult section of the trail called la Fuente de la Juventud (the fountain of youth). The trail was aptly named from the gushing water that ran alongside, and also because you would surely stay young if you hiked it everyday. We were sweating profusely after clambering up 300 meters in less than 30 minutes.

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After we got back down, we rewarded ourselves with a slice of German chocolate cake and a hot pot of coffee. Such an incredible end to a relaxing weekend. I parted ways once we were back in Matagalpa, and took the express bus to Managua. Time has been going by too quickly, and I am starting to realize that I only have a bit over a month left in Nicaragua. Crazy how fast life moves, better to enjoy every second!

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Posted by rae.lloydlever 20:32 Archived in Nicaragua

Reflecting

sunny 37 °C

Having been in Nicaragua for over two months I have been reflecting on my experience thus far. It has definitely been more challenging than I was expecting. Though I feel that I have been learning a lot, making friends with amazing people and having the ability to utilize my Spanish skills. Being in a work environment where the vast majority of the employees only speak Spanish or it is their first language and prefer to use Spanish, has forced me (in a good way) to improve my ability to articulate myself in another language. I feel that I am finally reaching a point where I can have meaningful conversations with people, learn about who they really are and learn about their country. I had this feeling when I was studying abroad as well, but the importance and profound ability that language has to bring people together is amazing to me. Without knowing how to speak Spanish, I would not be able to converse with the majority of the people who are around me everyday. I would not be able to make the friendships that I have been, nor be able to accomplish pretty much any of my work.

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Another thing that I am finally processing is the reality of the drought here in Nicaragua. I feel like I have been observing this fact for the past two months, but not really feeling it. Nicaragua is incredibly dry right now. They have been going through about a 5 year long drought. The rivers are are reduced to a trickel and the water table is getting lower and lower. I hope that some rain comes in my time here because everyone keeps telling me how the dry, barren landscape bursts into a brilliant green and flowers bloom all over. The lack of water became really apparent on one of our trips when we were told that the city was rationing water and had turned off the water for a few days, this is a regular occurance and something that many Nicaraguans have to live with. Especially when working in school gardens the need for water becomes even more obvious. There are certain schools that we can work in, certain days and certain projects that we can work on due to the availability of water.

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Last week, I was able to visit a community called Malacatoya that exemplifies how I had been imagining Nicaragua. After spending a month in Costa Rica last summer, I expected that Nicaragua would be just as lush. This community is more mountainous, the air feels fresher and cooler, you can hear howler monkeys in the trees, coffee is growing, and most families have their own small farm. Through this agricultural lifestyle there is less poverty, because each family is able to grow food to eat as well as some to sell to generate income. There is a river within the community where Asofenix, Global Student Embassy's in-country partner, has built a hydroelectric plant in order to generate power for the community. It has been amazing seeing the impact that Asofenix has had over their 15 years in Nicaragua and how they really work to better the country and to help people through the utilization of natural resources. It is interesting to me to see the contrast between the fertile area of Malacatoya compared to many other regions of Nicaragua, and a huge part of it I believe comes from the presence of the river close by. Water truly is a source of life.

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My experience in Nicaragua has continued to show me that you really do not need much in life in order to be happy. That it isn't about your physical possessions, but instead about the relationships that you build and the community you create. I am looking forward to the rest of my time here, and I know I will be sad to say goodbye when that day comes.

Posted by rae.lloydlever 07:03 Archived in Nicaragua

An Amazing Vacaction

Travels with mom and Ted to: Granada, the Corn Islands and San Juan del Sur

sunny 27 °C

It was such a wonderful experience waiting at the airport and seeing my mom and Ted walking out of customs, theyre here! We started our adventure renting a car and driving to Granada. The roads were empty and we arrived without any issues at our lovely hotel, Los Patios. The style was a mix of classic Nicaraguan decour mixed with clean lines and Danish accessories. All of the places we visited were amazing with my moms expertise in hotels. It was fun returning to Granada and exploring different parts of the city that I had not previously seen. My mom and I wandered about the first day absorbing all of the brillantly colored buidings, and we stumbled upon the local cultural center and debated taking an art class. We opted for a yoga class instead at a gym that was close to our hotel.

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The day we were leaving I met up with my friends I met at the hostel I stayed at when I first visited Granada, who have been living in the city for the past month taking Spanish classes. We had delicious fish tacos, but unfortunately we were sitting on the most touristy street which in turn made it so we were asked to buy pottery or sunglasses at least forty times. One man demanded the rest of Teds soda who looked like he had had an incredibly hard life. How my mom put it, "His eyes looked so dead it was as if flies were hovering around them". Quite a true description. For the evening we went with one of my friends to this unique spot called the Treehouse, which as is obvious by the name, is a series of treehouses connected by hanging bridges. Our rental car braved the narrow, dirt road to get there and we enjoyed an amazing sunset looking out over the treetops.

The following day we had a very early flight to Big Corn Island, which consisted of a lot of waiting in lines that never seemed to move. We arrived to Big Corn before we were able to check in to our hotel, the Big Fish Cafe, so we ate some breakfast, dropped off our things and went in search of a beach. I had vastly underestimated the size of the island as well as where we were in relation to everything, but we finally found a little slice of paradise close to Hotel Arenas. With some icy cold soda water for my mom and Ted, we relaxed and promptly jumped into the Caribbean waters. When our hotel was finally ready, we returned and treated ourselves with three plates of lobster for lunch. Lobster is very prevalent in the Corn Islands and much cheaper than the West Coast of the US, and especially Idaho.

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Our plan was to take the 10am morning ferry over to Little Corn Island, however the first ferry was full. We ended up taking a larger, cargo boat over which actually ended up working out better. The ferry looked like a very wet ride with the big waves in a small boat. Little Corn Island was beautiful! There are no cars, and the island is small enough that you can walk everywhere. We spent most of our day walking to the other side of the island on a winding nature trail, and relaxing at a gorgeous empty beach. It was fairly windy and the ocean was choppy, but beautiful. We walked next door to the swanky $400/night resort and enjoyed happy hour at their beach bar for a mere $4 per cocktail instead. That night my mom and I met up with another Broadreach leader and her mom! It is always great to see a familiar face during the constant changing of travels.

Ferry times really seemed to govern our travel plans because the next morning we found out that all ferries were cancelled for the day and the last boat to go back to Big Corn was leaving at 10am. Word travels quick on that small island and we had quite the motley crew of folks on our boat. The ability to be flexible while traveling is so essential. We were able to spend more time on Big Corn, and my mom and I took an accidental taxi tour of the island. Which was great! Our driver took us far south on the island to an old house that used to belong to Somoza the old dictator of Nicaragua, which had an incredible view of course.

We flew out early the next morning, picked up our rental car again and then made our way down to San Juan del Sur. Ted did a great job driving, while I was the navigator. Our little Suzuki struggled up the steep driveway to our hotel. We stayed at Pelican Eyes Resort, which was gorgeous! We had our own house, two bedrooms, two bathrooms, two floors, our own kitchen, living and dining room. It was the perfect way to end our trip. We had three nights there to relax and enjoy. We kept hearing about how San Juan del Sur is such a party town and we were a little concerned, however our hotel was far enough away from the beach to be quiet and serene. We took daily trips to town to buy our groceries for the day and to explore. After drinking pretty much only Nescafe at my work, and weak coffee everywhere else, it was quite a treat to have some famous Ted coffee in my life yet again.

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After all of the great quality time with my mom and such a relaxing vacation, it made it hard to say goodbye back in Managua. My mom and Ted headed to Leon and I returned to work. Today I am hoping to see them off before they fly out tomorrow. Such an amazing experience traveling with loved ones and showing them around my current country of residence. Until the next adventure!

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Posted by rae.lloydlever 04:23 Archived in Nicaragua

One Trip Down!

sunny 24 °C

Had my first trip with Global Student Embassy over the past 10 days! We had a large, but great group of 24 students, 3 teachers plus 5 trip leaders. Our trip began in Managua with a tour of the old part of the city, with a conversation about Nicaraguan politics, the prevalence of earth quakes and how both affect the Nicaragua of today.

The majority of our trip was spent in the region of Boaco, which is where all of my trips are going to be for the next three months. We worked in school gardens in four different communities doing various activities such as: constructing fences, picking up litter, transplanting tomatoes, double excavating garden beds, mixing manure, and filling bags with soil in order to carry out reforestation projects. All of our days were long and filled with tough work, but there was plenty of time to allow for cultural exchange between the local communities and our students from the US. In the community of San Diego the school displayed a cultural dance and brought out a pinata. Additionally, at the High School in Teustepe we had an afternoon of cultural presentations where both groups sang their national anthem and danced. A group of our students performed a cheer and then we taught each other games.

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I feel that my skills in managing larger groups are improving, especially throwing in a few hundred high school students and having everything be in Spanish. I am in this stage currently where I feel as if I cannot speak in either English or Spanish properly, but it has been a great challenge :)

We finished off the trip by spending a few relaxing days at the beach in Playa Gigante, with a few hour stop-over in the Masaya market to check out various trinkets. The beach was beautiful of course and we were lucky enough to be able to go on a catamaran tour to a nearby beach and swim in the tourquoise blue waters.

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Grateful to be able to have this amazing experience. My mom is about to arrive with Ted and I cannot wait to show her this wonderful country!

Posted by rae.lloydlever 12:27 Archived in Nicaragua

Granada

26 °C

Traveling from Playa Gigante to Granada went smoothly and was an interesting experience. I traveled with Gwen and Brian on the Chicken Bus that stopped right outside our hostel and took us all the way to Rivas for just over $1. It is pretty amazing the number of people that can actually fit on public transportation. Every seat was filled with multiple people and the whole aisle was packed with people. I was happy for my window seat and only a small backpack on my lap. We ate fried chicken in Rivas and then took a taxi to our hostel in Granada.

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My new accomodations are great! There is free water, coffee, and banana pancakes for breakfast. Very central location and a nice staff. I met three ladies from the Bay Area who are going to be living in Granada for a month taking Spanish classes, and we decided to do a boat tour on Lake Nicaragua of the small isletas that dot the lake. The tour was beautiful. We saw monkeys and stopped a two islands, one for a small snack and the other to look at the old fortress that was used to ward off pirates.

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Our tour guide, Alberto, grew up on one of the islands with his grandparents and told us that he would take a row boat to school every day. There is a definite contrast between the islands. Some are owned by small families that keep their fish fresh and alive by constructing nets that hang from trees into the water, and have simple hours. Others are owned by foreigners or very rich families - such as the family that owns Flor de Cana the national rum company. That island even possess its own helicopter pad. You can buy your own island for $300,000 USD, which many of the loca families are doing because they have never seen that kind of money in their entire lives.

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The following day I proceeded to relax, read and gorge myself on delicious food. Lunch was fish tacos that were so lightly breaded they tasted like they were tempura battered or something, with fresh cabbage and tomato on top. But dinner was the real winner, I went out with the three girl from my hostel and we went to this adorable restaurant called the Garden Cafe. It is the combination of a coffee shop, library, souvenir shop and restaurant all rolled into one. Books line the walls as you walk in, and it opens up into a beautiful courtyard with an overgrown garden in the middle. I also my first Nicarguan craft beer that was quite tasty, and a huge salad. Leafy greens have been in short supply during my travels thus far, so this was a real treat.

This morning I had a few hours to spend before my check out and journey to Managua. I went up into the bell tower of La Merced church, and got a magnificent view of the entire city. Just beautiful. After I wandered down to El Museo del Chocolate and tried their chocolate tea, which I am still undecided about.

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After a bus and a taxi ride later I am now back in Managua ready to start training for Global Student Embassy, and excited for the next few months!

Posted by rae.lloydlever 18:50 Archived in Nicaragua

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