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2015 Nicaragua post 4

2015 Nicaragua post 4 – February 13 – 17 – Somoto, Ocotal, Leon

Deni Posting – This entire trip has been interesting because we’ve been comparing Nicaragua to Colombia – and poor Nicaragua hasn’t been doing well in comparison. The biggest difference has been in the attitude of the people. The Colombians were just so happy to have us visiting their country – I’ve spoken before about people coming up to us on the street and thanking us for visiting their country. That generally has not been the response here. People have not been actively rude, but most have not been very welcoming. That changed once we got to Somoto, and here in Leon things seem a bit better. But other travelers we’ve spoken with agree that the Nica do not seem happy that tourists are here. And oh my gosh, the service in restaurants is so slow. When Coop remarked to his server that 45 minutes seemed a long time to wait for lunch, she shrugged and said, “It’s Nicaragua.” I’m sorry, that just seems a really poor excuse. Oh well, things have improved, so I’ll bring you up to date.

We left Maltagalpa on the 12th. On the way out of town we stopped at the grave of Benjamin Linder. I was very saddened – tears were shed, which surprised me. But I remember when he was killed, and I remember when his mother testified before Congress and was so poorly treated. And here was his grave, in a foreign country – not in the Foreigners’ Cemetary but in the National Cemetary. And there were weeds on his grave, and it all just seemed so sad and pointless. So, of course, I cried.

On our way to Somoto, we came down from the mountains, through coffee coutry and into tobacco country in the valley and back up again into the mountains and more coffee. When we got to Somoto we were pleasantly surprised. It’s a small town with a lovely central square and lots of quiet. Quiet is something we had been craving – everyplace we’d been to that point was so darn noisy with traffic, horns, blaring music, and loud conversations. Somoto has a population of 37,000, and would not be a place for tourists to go if it were not for the nearby canyon, which was “discovered” by two Czech scientists in 2003. Of course, the locals knew it was there; it was no surprise to them! Huge granite cliffs rise from source of the Rio Coco. We spent three nights in Somoto. The second day we went with a wonderful guide into the canyon. He described the trip as “walk, boat, walk, iswim, walk, swim.” Coop explained that the broken rib issue would make swimming a problem. No big deal – instead of swimming when we came to that part of the hike, we were plopped onto innertubes and pulled along by a young man. It was great fun and very beautiful. I was able to do some swimming, which I enjoyed a lot. Our guide said that his favorite people to guide are Canadians and Americans because they are so easy going. He said the Germans are too intense and the Nica complain all the time. Very interesting observation. The whole trip was only $20 each – the taxi from town to the canyon, the boat, the innertube journey, and back to town. What a bargain.

The next day we drove north to several towns to see what we could see. Ocotal was fun because the church was having a festival to celebrate something or other. There was a bounce house for the kids, and church members and nuns were selling tacos and such. Very cool. Ocotal has a place in history that had implications for the US and Nicaragua. In 1927 Sandino began his guerrilla war, attracting mostly farmers and indiginous prople. This came to the attention of the US and raised concern. So more than 2,000 US marines arrived with a treaty and demanded the surrender of the Liberal and Sandino forces. The Liberals gave up, but not Sandino. His forces attacked the marines in Ocotal. The US responded with aerial bombing, making Ocotal the first city in history to be bombed by fighter planes.  Gosh!

We went further north to Ciudad Antigua, which as the name implies, is an old town. It was founded by an Englishman in 1536 and suffered attacks from indigenous groups for a century. In 1654 it was sacked by pirate Henry Morgan. It has a famous church and not much else. By this time I was feeling a bit wonky. We headed back to Somoto and stopped for a not very good lunch in Ocotal. By the time we got back to our hotel I was super sick – much throwing up all night. I was well enough on Monday for our drive to Leon, but still feeling a little punk. I feel much better now.

Leon – oh my goodness. We love it. It’s freakin’ hot – coming down into the heat from the mountains was a real shock. But the city is beautiful, there are many things to see (churches, museums, a botanical garden), and the people seem a little friendlier. We are in a wonderful hostel with a swimming pool. It was great to go out exploring the city today and come back and take a welcome swim. Very refreshing. Tomorrow we plan to crank up the toaster and head to the beach, about 20 minutes from town. Our current plan is to stay here in Leon until the 20th and then spend the rest of time in Nicaragua out at the beach – if we can find a good place to stay there, which is part of our goal for tomorrow.

Time for bed – more later.


2015 Nicaragua Post 3

Nicaragua 2015 Blog Post 3 – February 6 – 12 – San Carlos, Rio San Juan, Boaca, Matagalpa
Deni posting again. It’s been awile since I posted. Part of the time we were in an area with no internet at all. So, I’ll catch you up-to-date.
We left Juigalpa Friday, Feb. 6. We had thought we’d stop on our way to San Carlos, but decided to power on. We got to San Carlos and caught a fast boat down the Rio San Juan to Sabalos Lodge. The nearest town, if you’re looking at a map, is Boca de Sabalos, population 800. The lodge is a collection of bungalows set along the river. It was sort of like living in a tree-house. We were awakened our first morning there by howler monkeys. We didn’t do much on Saturday other than hike to Boca de Sabalos for lunch. Boca de Sabalos is divided by the river, so we had to take an adorable little boat across the canal – 8 cents per person one way. After lunch we returned to the lodge and I spent some time floating in an inner tube that was firmly attached to the shore by a rope – the river moves at a rapid clip, so I was glad to be attached. Sunday we traveled by boat downriver to El Castillo where there is this fabulous fortress built in 1673 -75.  It was bulit to try to keep pirates from continuously coming up the river to access Lake Nicaragua so they could sack Granada. The fortress was attacked repeatedly, but continued to survive. The Brit, Horatio Nelson, conquered the fort in 1780, but most of his men got malaria and the Spanish got the fort back within a couple months. Today the town is visted only because of the fort, which, as you can see from the pictures, is pretty amazing. We ate lunch in El Castillo and I was very impressed by my fish tacos. They were not wrapped in tortillas as I expected. They were wonderfully seasoned and wrapped in cabbage leaves and then steamed. One of my best meals so far in Nicaragua.
Monday we caught the fast morning boat back to SanCarlos and headed north in our trusty little rental car – a Suzuki. I call it our toaster on wheels. On our way north we stopped at San Miguelito. If it’s the gateway to the region’s newest reserve, I don’t think anyone has told the residents. It’s a very sleepy town and no one was there trying to hawk trips into the wetland area. So, on we went to Boaco, a market town that reaches from the valley floor up the side of a steep slope. The less said about our accomodations there, the better.
Tuesday we got to Matagalpa, in the mountains northeast of Managua. It’s a coffee growing area and has a population of over 89,000. We are staying at a fabulous hostel – La Buena Onda, which means the Good Wave and makes no sense since there is no water to be seen. Our first day was spent exploring the city. We had great ice cream at an ice cream parlor owned by an expat from the Central Valley in California. He makes wonderful ice cream and knew all about Portland’s Salt and Straw.
Wednesday we drove north toward the Penas Blancas mountain range. We had hoped to be able to get into the reserve, but our little toaster couldn’t handle the roads. For the most part the road up into the mountains was great, but as we got closer to our destination the paving abruptly stopped and it was like being on the worst of African roads. So, we just enjoyed the beauty of the views, which were spectacular.
Today we took another road north to two small towns – Jinotega and San Rafael del Norte. Jinotega has a really good bakery and I had a good cup of coffee – finally. (Like Kenya, Nicaragua exports all its good coffee and the locals drink junk. We did find a coffee roaster here in Matagalpa who does an excellent job and sells export-quality coffee. I’ve bought three pounds of his stuff to schlep home.) The only things to see in either town were churches. The one in San Rafael is a designated a National Artistic Monument, I guess because of the murals painted by an Austrian artist. We both liked the church in Jinotega better. The woodworking was exceptional. On our way back down the mountain, we stopped at Selva Negra (Black Forest). I was a little reluctant to go, because it sounded a little too upscale and touristy for me. But it was wonderful. It’s an active coffee finca (farm) that was established by Germans in the 1880s – thus the name. The original owner sold it before the turn of the century and the second owners, also German immigrants, have kept it in the family since then. They left during the revolution, but returned when things calmed down. They have devloped a small resort with cute cabins in a beautiful setting.  We paid a small entrance fee, about $2 each, which allowed us to wander around and to hike in their forest. At first I was sort of negative because it didn’t seem that much different from hiking in the Oregon Cascades. But our trails don’t have giant trees being overtaken by strangler figs. Or huge-leaved plants that tower over my 5′ 6″ self. Or bamboo. It was really very cool and we had a great time.
Tomorow we’ll visit the cemetery where Benjamin Linder is buried. If you don’t know who he is, Google him. I remember when he was murdered by the Contras – never thought I’d be visiting his grave one day.
And, since politics has reared its ugly head, now is time for a word or two about the stupid canal the Chinese are planning on building through Nicaragua so they can get their freakin’ big boats back and forth to Europe. When we were driving north from San Carlos we encountered several hundred people marching down the highway – with a brass band, no less. They were part of a growing protest movement against the canal. There have been protests throughout the country. Parents in the area that will be impacted have kept their children out of school and entire families are marching in the streets. We have talked with lots of people here – expats, business people, and locals. No one is happy about the plans. But most seem to think that it will not come to pass. Some think that Ortega will back out because the Chinese will not agree to give the Nicaraguans any control. Others think that the Chinese have other goals – land and the things they can produce on it. All agree that they don’t trust the Chinese and they know the canal, even if built, will not produce jobs for the Nicaraguans.
(Bob) After the Managua area we’ve been In river lowlands In southern Nicaragua near the Costa Rican border. Now we’re In the cooler mountains In northeastern Nicaragua. The vegetation has varied from semiarid plains to tropical lowlands and mountain rain forest. Tomorrow we head further north almost to the Honduran  border to explore a canyon area. We’re still looking for that quaint quiet town that’s in our imagination and which we found last year in Columbia. So far the Nicaraguan  towns have been pretty noisy and rough. They are working industrial, ranching, or farming towns – not preserved colonial towns. Also, the nature preserve areas are hard to get to and require expensive guide services to access them. Plus, few things are signed. There’s still a lot to be done In building infrastructure for tourism. We’ll report what we find.

2015 Nicaragua post 2

Nicaragua Winter 2015 Post 2 January 31 – February 5 – Laguna de Apoyo, Grenada, Juigalpa

This is Deni posting. We are sitting on the balcony of a hotel in the small town of Juigalpa to the east of Lake Nicaragua. I’m sipping a glass of Barefoot Merlot – honestly, you can find that brand anywhere! The birds are making such a racket in the trees that they almost drown out the incessant sound of drums and music coming from the main plaza across the street. Across the way are the cliffs of Serrania Amerrisque – some of them looking like Half Dome. We arrived here today after renting a car in Granada and driving through many small, very sad towns. Our ultimate goal is San Carlos and the Rio San Juan. We are taking our time getting there.

When we last posted, we were heading to Laguna de Apoyo, which turned out to be as lovely as claimed – but no where near as beautiful as our own Crater Lake. We spent three days there, relaxing in hammocks, walking, eating, drinking rum-based drinks (me), and trying to slow down our North Amercian vibe. The highlight of our time there was a walk through the forest that culminated in a lovely small bay where we could swim without having to brave the waves of the lake proper. As an added bonus, there were howler monkeys. They were very upset at our presence – could it be because I kept making rude faces and gestures? 

Tuesday, Feb. 3, we went by taxi to beautiful Granada. We spent two days there – walking through the city, visiting museums and churches, and taking a boat tour of Las Isletas, the high point of our trip so far. Purportedly, there are 365 of these tiny islands (one for each day of the year, I guess). Some rich people live in isolated splendor on some of them. Others are inhabited by fisher folk. We got a kick out of seeing primary schools on some of the wee islands – imagine taking a boat to school! One even had a lighted playing field. Baseball is very popular here, so I guess that’s what was played there.

Tomorrow we continue toward the jungle river – San Juan. We may stop overnight at San Miguelito, which is the gateway to a wetlands reserve. Lots of orchids and bromiliads in the canopy of trees that are hip-deep in water according to Lonely Planet. If we do stop there, we’ll continue on the next day to a lodge in the jungle along the river. If we don’t stop in San Miguelito, we’ll probably go to San Carlos, stay there overnight, and then head into the jungle. Having a car makes travel a little easier. We haven’t had a rental car for any of our foreign trips since we were in Puerto Rico many years ago. But Nicaragua is small, the roads are good, and it seemed a good place to try the car thing again. Of course, the drivers are as crazy here as in Africa and other places in South and Central America. What is it about a blind curve that is clearly marked “no passing” that makes these folks pass? Is it some sort of strange death wish? We are keeping to the speed limit, which is another thing that seems to make the drivers here crazy.

Coop is doing fine, even with two broken ribs. The man is a amazing.
As I look at the vista I’m seeing another omnipresent statue of Sandino. It makes me think about the whole Iran/Contra thing and the US’s role in trying to suppress the Sandinista movement. What a stupid thing for our government to have done. What was accomplished other than many lives lost. The Sandinistas eventually triumphed, the country did not fall apart, doom did not come to Central America, and the lovely people of Nicaragua have forgiven us. Will we ever learn? 

Nicaragua 2015 post 1

We arrived in Managua, Nicaragua, on Tuesday, January 27. Managua is a busy, noisy city that was impacted by a terrible earthquake in 1972. The 6.2 quake did terrible damage. Following the quake there was the Sandinista led revolution which did further damage to the city. As a result there is no real city center and not much to explore.

On Thursday, January 29, we took a bus to Masaya. Our major goal here was to explore the volcano area. We also went to the folkloric dance festival which is held every Thursday night. There was one hour of dancing by a good dance troupe then the rest of the evening was loud popular music played by a good band. We left shortly after the dance troupe finished.

Friday we visited the volcano and explored the nearby charming town of Nindiri.

This is Deni speaking. We are having a heck of a time posting stuff on the blog using our tablet instead of a laptop. So we’re sorry if things get wonky (like a comment that went in the wrong place and refuses to go away.) Bear with us.

Tomorrow we travel the short way to Laguna de Apoyo where we will eat, drink, and play in the water. This water will be the first we will encounter that is clean enough to swim in.

More later
Bob and Deni

Colombia 2014 Post 5

Colombia 2014 Post 5 Feb 9 – 12 , 2014

Salento, Filandia, Popayan

(Deni) Today (Sunday) was fun. We did a day trip to the small town of Filandia. It’s another mountain coffee town like Salento, but isn’t visited by as many tourists. The town was busy with families eating ice cream and letting their children ride ponies around the square, political parties having small rallies, and some sort of thing that involved a lot of ladies serving roast pig (a whole roast pig) and rice to folks while speeches went on and a band of disabled folks played instruments.

I was thrilled to finally find actual handicrafts. I bought a very interesting basket from the artist and some lovely ceramic bead necklaces and earrings. So, that was good.

We got back to Salento just before the afternoon rain started. I’ll write a bit and then it’s time to eat again. It’s a hard life.

Some more observations;

Walking hazards – You really have to watch where you’re going. In the bigger cities like Bogota and Medellin, people steal the covers from the rectangular openings for utility access (gas, water, etc.) that are on the sidewalks. If you aren’t careful, it’s easy to step in a hole and wrench an ankle. Another hazard that is prevelant in both large cities and small towns is dog poop! The stray and domestic dogs do their business on the streets and sidewalks and no one cleans it up. Very hazardous.

DVDs clean and dirty. Pirated DVDS are everywhere. Coop has already contributed to the problem by buying some in Bogota and in Filandia. He’s so happy to find ranchera, vallenato, and bolero music. In Medellin we were shocked to see porn DVDs for sale on the street. Hard core stuff, really gross right out on tables on the street. And right next to the porn you could find a Disney movie for kids. Yuck!

Bikes. Gosh this country is crazy for biking. Every day we see hoards of folks grinding their way up these mountains on high quality mountain bikes all wearing the latest in biking attire. And today being a Sunday there were even more of them. And we see lots of folks on motorbikes. The thing that surprises us about the motorbike people is that they all wear helmets! No one in Africa and Bangladesh wears a helmet. And in SE Asia the driver might have a helmet, but the passenger would hardly ever wear one. But folks here all make sure they have helmets. Cool.

People with disabilities are in evidence wherever we go. And they aren’t sitting on the sidewalk begging. Many are using nice looking wheelchairs or good quality crutches and are participating in whatever is going on. Nice to see.


(Bob) This was the day of the big hike. We packed into a Willys Jeep with a few of our closest friends for the half hour drive down into the Quindio River valley and then up the valley to the last little village at the end of the road. The Snowy Mountains (Los Nevados) were towering in the distance. The hike first went through a ranching area with cows grazing in the valley and mountainside pastures. This is a cattle raising country as well as plenty of dairy production. We saw a couple of mules carrying milk cans down the road to meet the milk truck. The ranchers go everywhere on horses since they are beyond drivable roads. The men wear cowboy style hats and carry their serape folded on their shoulder, always prepared for the afternoon shower and the cool of the evening. The school kids from the high altitude fincas (ranches) were riding home on their horses after traveling to the end of the road on the school bus. It’s like ranch country in Eastern Oregon. Only it’s in the Andes Moutains. There are many contrasts between the traditional ways and the modern.

Upon leaving the broad valley we climbed into the mountains. The first goal was a small restaurant where they feed many magnificent humming birds. The really long-tailed ones are amazing. Deni likes this kind of trail with hot chocolate at the top. After being refreshed we climbed the switchbacks through cloud forest to the top of the ridge for magnificent views of the mountains. There are lovely tree ferns, birds and butterflies. Coming back down the ridge we went through an area of wax palms. They are the tallest palm trees in the world at 50 meters (about 180 feet). In the pasture fields back down on the valley floor, the wax palms remain in a towering Dr. Seuss forest. The scenery was fantastic. And we slept well that night before our next traveling day.

Tuesday we travelled to Popayan in southern Colombia. We’ll have more to say about this colonial style city after we’ve been here for awhile.

(Deni) I think more needs to be said about the trail up and down the mountain. It was steep! We crossed and recrossed the river numerous times on very rickety suspension bridges. Much of the trail was quite rocky. Although the whole trip was only a little over seven miles, it felt like it was much further because of the elevation gain and the 9,000 ft altitude. But it was well worth it. Every time I think Colombia has shown me the most beautiful thing ever, she shows me something more. This is truly a spectacular country.

Oh, another thing – the last time I was hiking in the Andes (in Venezuela) I missed a lot of the experience because I was so sick with dengue fever. It was great this time to be able to take in the palms, tree ferns, butterflies, etc. It was a much more enjoyable experience, believe me!

Bob and Deni

Colombia 2014 Post 2

Barichara, Colombia

January 31 – February 1, 2014

Today’s our last full day in Barichara. We’ve really enjoyed our three days in the town. Yesterday we spent the morning hiking down the mountain on the Camino Real to the village of Guane. The Camino Real is a walking road paved with large stones that extends the 10 kilometers (6 miles) between Barichara and Guane. It was built 150 years ago and has been maintained since. It took over two hours to walk the path with picture taking and talking with the one other walker we encountered on the way. The path crosses the paved road a couple of times, but it’s mostly weaving through small farms which appear to be mostly unused. The countryside is quite dry here. The creeks are dry. And for it being right at the end of the rainy season the fields are barely greening up. It was nice to see and hear birds, encounter fluttering butterflies, and observe the many flowering trees overarching parts of the path. It was pretty darn pastoral. Deni really liked the hike because, in addition to being a beautiful walk, there was good lunch at the end of the path and we took a bus back up the hill to Barichara. Guane is a sleepy village with a central square and a church built in 1720. Walking in any direction from the plaza we could only walk 2 or 3 blocks before encountering the edge of the village. The kids go to school in Barichara. They returned on their bus in the early afternoon. Late afternoon turns out to be a great time to sit in the Barichara plaza and people watch and read in the courtyard of the guest house. Life is pretty slow and relaxed here.

Today we explored the rest of the Barichara. We’ve topped up our need to look at churches. We did find the old folks home, which is attached to the newest church in town (est 1831). On the edge of town we found a little amphitheater and viewpoint that looks out over the deep valley below. Barichara is on the top of a large ridge. I still haven’t figured out where they get water. The town cemetery is also near the edge of the ridge. It’s attached to another of the churches in town. That one appears to be used only for funerals. There was dust on the wooden benches. And there really are too many churches for a small town like this.

We did find a great place to have our noon main meal. (We’ve learned that lesson well.) The trout was quite tasty accompanied by a salad and corn fritter arepas. The fresh unsugared lulo juice was our first encounter with the Colombian fruit, which is similar to passion fruit. There are five indigenous fruits that are quite popular but unknown elsewhere.

We’re glad we extended our stay in this quiet colonial town. Early tomorrow morning we go back to San Gil, then we have a 12 hour bus ride to Medellin.

More later.

Bob and Deni

Bangladesh pictures Feb 11, 2013

I join the seventh graders in their carom game

I join the seventh graders in their carom game

None of the children have English books at home to read. The school has no English books for pleasure reading at the school or to send home with the students.

None of the children have English books at home to read. The school has no English books for pleasure reading at the school or to send home with the students.

Seventh grade girls reading a chosen book

Seventh grade girls reading a chosen book

Sixth and seventh graders reading some of the few books we brought. Ariyan on the right spent four years in England. But he has no English books at home.

Sixth and seventh graders reading some of the few books we brought. Ariyan on the right spent four years in England. But he has no English books at home.