Sunday, January 20, 2008

Brenna's Book List

January 11, 2008

Lots of people have asked me what I have been reading while here in Nicaragua, so here is a list of the books I have read so far. I have read a lot of really good ones, and because all of us volunteers share books, I have a lot more on my bookshelf waiting!

  1. Song of Solomon, Toni Morrison. I rated it 6 out of 10.
  2. The Mapmaker’s Wife, rating:7
  3. Waiting, Ha Jin. Rating: 6
  4. Four Corners, A Journey into the Heart of Paupa New Guinea, Kira Salak. Rating: 8.5
  5. The Creation, E.O. Wison. Rating;7
  6. Year of Wonders, rating: 8.5
  7. Mountains Beyond Mountains, Tracy Kidder. Rating: 9
  8. Cold Sassy Tree, Olive Ann Burns. Rating:9
  9. The House of the Spirits, Isabel Allende. Rating:9
  10. Midwives, Chris Bojorhian. Rating:8
  11. Skinny Legs and All, Tom Robbins. Rating: 7
  12. Guns, Germs and Steel, Jared Diamond. Rating:7
  13. Vinegar Hill, A. Manette Ansay. Rating:7
  14. The Chosen, Chaim Potok. Rating:8.5
  15. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Robert M. Pirsig. Rating: 6
  16. In The Heart of The Sea, Nathaniel Philbrick. Rating: 7.5
  17. Love in the Driest Season, Neely Tucker. Rating:9
  18. Prodigal Summer, Barbara Kingsolver. Rating:10
  19. The Glass Castle, Jeannette Walls. Rating:9
  20. Eat, Pray, Love, Elizabeth Gilbert. Rating, 9
  21. Banker to the Poor, Muhammad Yunus. Rating:8
  22. The Power of One, Bryce Courtenay. Rating:10. This is the second time I have read this book, it’s one of my all time favorites.
  23. I am about to start A Thousand Splendid Suns, by Khaled Hosseini, author of The Kite Runner.

Please write me with any suggestions for future reading!

Monday, January 14, 2008

Finally... (its a long one)

Jan 10, 2008

We’ve been back from the States for almost a week and we have been really busy with all sorts of little things since we arrived. Today, we are sort of taking the day off. As I write it is almost 2 in the afternoon, I am still wearing what I slept in, haven’t put in my contacts yet and have spent almost all day reading, listening to music, drinking coffee and eating. I love days like this every once in a while. I will have to leave the house at some point, though. We’re out of bottled water, which we buy in 5 gallon jugs every couple of days.

It has been almost 3 months since I last wrote… where to begin?

In mid-November, we finished up the school year, attending various pre-school and 6th Grade graduations. The latter are a pretty big deal because a lot of the students won’t stay in school for their High School graduation. These graduations are another example of how we are sometimes treated as celebrities. We always get invited up on to the stage (even if we don’t work at the school and are just there supporting a friend) and at one of Brenna’s school’s graduations we were even presented with gifts (t-shirts) and Brenna made a short speech. These are usually followed by VERY loud music (if you can call reggaeton music) and dancing. That is usually the time I start thinking of ways to duck out and head home, which because of our “celebrity” status is always more challenging than it sounds.

Also in November was the annual Peace Corps All Volunteer Conference, a 3 day event in Managua. As you can guess, all of the volunteers in the country get together for a few days to give and attend workshops, catch up and learn from each other and agencies and professionals working here. After the daily meetings end, there is usually a good amount of fun to be had and there are many chances to swap stories and catch up with folks you haven’t seen for a long time. It was a really good time. Not coincidentally, the AVC ends on the evening before Thanksgiving and for Thanksgiving dinner, we are all invited to the homes of various PC and Embassy staff to enjoy turkey and football. Always a great meal, but especially this year after a solid year of Nica food behind us.

The weekend before the AVC, we went see Mana in concert in Managua. This was undoubtedly the biggest concert event Nicaragua has seen in a few years. If you are not familiar with Mana, they are sort of like the U2 of latin music: they’ve been around forever, they keep putting out hits, everyone knows them, very mainstream, etc. We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves, except for the 20 minutes or so after the show when we were trying to exit the baseball field where we watched the show with thousands of others through one door that led to a dark, hot, curvy hallway. The whole time I was thinking about news reports I’ve heard about crowds being trampled at soccer games and such. I was sure it was going to happen to us. Definitely one of the scariest things I have ever done.

After the AVC, we had a few days back in Malpaisillo and then my brother, Zac, came down to visit for about 3 weeks. He and I started off going to a remote beach in the southern part of the country for a few relaxing days of catching up, trying to surf and drinking beer. The surfing thing was a joke as we quickly realized that we couldn’t just “figure it out as we went along,” and quickly retired to sitting on the beach and sipping beer while watching the hermit crabs and waves and basking in the emptiness of our surroundings. On our last night there, we hired a guy from the hotel to drive us about 20 k north to a stretch of beach where 4 different species of sea turtles come to lay eggs. Nicaragua is very lucky to have 4 different nesting sites along its Pacific coast, and we were very lucky to be in that spot on that night.

Unfortunately for these sea turtles (most of these species are endangered) turtle eggs are a delicacy here in Nicaragua, revered for their power to make men more “potent.” Unfortunately for the local communities who used to thrive off of their trade, removing turtle eggs from their nests is illegal nowadays. After driving in the dark through someone’s back yard and then through a river, we found ourselves on a remote, unmarked 4WD road through dry tropical forest to one of Nicaragua’s nature reserves called Chacocente to try to get a look at the turtles coming ashore and laying eggs, we encountered 3 or 4 guys in the middle of nowhere, one of them on a horse. They we’re pretty insistent that we turn around and drive them to the hospital. They told our driver/guide, Wilfredo, that they were at the beach taking eggs and had been attacked by the army and the guy on the horse needed to get to the hospital because he had some sort of leg injury. Wilfredo explained to them that if he were alone in his own car he would be happy to take them back, but he was in the hotel’s truck and we were tourists who had paid for him to take us there to look at turtles. They seemed to understand that making a living here is often more important than anything, so they didn’t protest when we drove off.

Let me back up for a second here. Earlier that day I had heard something about the army being at Chacocente and that we may not be able to go there. I asked Wilfredo about it and he said not to worry (tranquilo, hombre). Apparently the problem with access was due to an army truck that had run into a guy’s house as they were cutting through his aforementioned backyard. We were fine, according to Wilfredo, because that house belonged to his girlfriend’s uncle and he would surely let him pass through. We didn’t think to ask what the army was doing there, but now we knew.

We eventually made it to the ranger station and encountered a ranger who immediately told us it was too dangerous to go down to the beach to look at the turtles. My first thoughts had to do with the tides, or snakes or maybe the average Nicaraguan’s fear of the water, but he went on to explain that the national police and the army were both down there battling with egg poachers and we may get mistaken for poachers if we went down. We were given the option of waiting for a couple of hours to see what happened, and since we had driven all that way and paid, we decided to have a seat. We listened to the communication radios between the ranger stations and the folks down on the beach for an hour or so and finally we were allowed to go down to the beach. We were lead by one of 5 or 6 college students from a university in Managua who volunteer to patrol the beaches at night and study and protect the nesting sites. Apparently that group is generally the only group of people patrolling the beach, but 2 nights before we got there they had encountered a group of about 70 villagers all armed with machetes and clubs who told them that they were going to take the eggs and there was nothing the unarmed students could do to stop them. That night, they took several hundred eggs and the next day the army and police showed up.

So we got down to the beach and could see lots of flashlights and hear commotion a couple hundred yards down the beach. That was where the fighting was. We stayed far away from all of that and were able to see a few huge turtles and even sit with one through the entire process of digging its hole, laying the eggs, covering them and then digging a decoy hole a little ways away to fool egg stealers before heading back to sea. It was one of those experiences that I will never forget. After we left that turtle, we were checking out a few others when we saw some flares being shot off from the skirmish area and even heard some gun shots. Wilfredo immediately hit the deck and stayed in a crouched position for the rest of the time we were on the beach. We headed back up to the ranger station and then back to our hotel. It was a crazy night and I think it was a really cool “welcome to Nicaragua” experience for Zac. Of course it was a bit complicated for him by the fact that he doesn’t have a lot of Spanish under his belt, although he definitely learned a lot while he was here.

Back in Malpaisillo, we just hung out for a few days before heading on our next adventure, which was a bike trip from one of our friend’s site to another friend’s site along the old railroad line. It was about 35 k and we were a group of 6. We were carrying a bike pump, patch kit, various tools and lots of food and water. The patch kit came in very handy, as Zac had 5 or 6 flats on the bike he was riding. We definitely had an adventure that day, as there were multiple non-existent bridges and at one point we had to detour through a corn field and negotiate a couple of barbed wire fences. I should clarify about the bridges. They were bridges for the railroad, but since the rails are no longer there, they are now just cement supports spaced about 10 feet apart with downed trees or 2x4s between them. They were fun to walk over carrying really heavy bikes. Again a really fun adventure.

A little later that week, we woke up early and headed to a beach town about an hour and a half from us. Our plan was to rent kayaks and check out this cool mangrove forest there and that is what we did. Along the way we stopped at an island where sea turtles also lay eggs and we got to see some babies that had only hatched that morning. This beachfront has a full time guard who patrols and collects eggs once they are born, later re-burying them in a grid system in front of his guard tent so that the nests can be more easily protected and studied. When the eggs hatch, the baby turtles are collected and held in a bucket until evening, when the guard walks them down to the water to set them free. This saves a good number of the babies who would be picked off by birds on their way down to the water. As you’ll see in the photos below, we got to hold the babies. They were so cute!

Also while Zac was here, we biked to and hiked up our local active volcano, Cerro Negro with some friends. We enjoyed that trip a lot and as always, ran down from the summit in about a minute and a half. For more about that mountain, see previous entries.

Just before my bro left, we went to visit my friend Elliott who lives in the beautiful site of Santa Lucia, Boaco. While there, we did some great hiking to a big rock outcrop overlooking his city. On the way, we encountered a group of about 15 howler monkeys and sat watching them for a half hour or so. We sat down near someone’s farm to eat lunch and a local rode by on his horse and stopped to chat with us about the area for a while. Before leaving he gave us some of the best oranges I have ever eaten in my life. Later we came upon a mountain farm that grows coffee, beans, limes, oranges and grapefruits. We stopped to ask for directions and some oranges and received both. We were a bit unclear about the directions the chavalo was giving us, so he accompanied us through some fields for a while to where we could see the trail we wanted. That kid had the best voice I have ever heard. It was as though he was going through puberty that day only and his voice was permanently cracking. We were lucky to find him that particular day.

After enjoying the views from the top of the mountain we headed down the other side and at one point encountered a solitary howler monkey who seemed to have a beef with us. First of all, I have never seen a solo monkey, so that was odd. Secondly, he kept howling at us and breaking off branches and dropping them to the ground while he was looking at us. He started coming closer through the forest canopy above us and Elliott and I got a little scared. He was obviously agitated that we were there and was trying to piss us off. He kept dropping big branches and howling at us. Eventually we took off, but he followed us and kept us in view for a few minutes at least. That was another one of those experiences I’ll never forget. Zac got some video of that one and I’ll try to get it from him and put it here in a future post.

Also, while at Elliott’s, we may have seen a man die. It was at a rodeo and he was riding a bull, which is the only event at Nicaraguan rodeos. He hit the ground unconscious and immediately, without checking anything a guy runs up and starts giving him chest compressions. Obviously he had no idea what he was doing and quickly a ring of people about 4 deep had formed around the bull rider. The announcer kept asking if anyone there was a doctor, nurse, or knew anything about health care. We decided to stay out of it. The people in the crowd continued drinking their beers and watching. The guys behind us casually muttered “Ese hombre esta muerto” (“That guy is dead”) as they crushed their beer cans and ordered more. Eventually they carried him out with one guy under each knee and one under each shoulder. No head support at all. The rodeo ended a bit later with the escape of some of the bulls and by the time we walked the couple blocks back to town people had already told us that the bull rider was fine, dead, injured, in and ambulance and unconscious. Apparently he was also someone’s cousin. Who knows what really happened.

After this trip, Brenna and I headed back to Malpaisillo and Zac went to Granada to spend a few days testing his Spanish. We spent a few days at home, and then we said our goodbyes to folks in our town and flew home to Colorado for the holiday season.

I must say, I LOVE THE USA! Everything is so clean and organized and quiet. It doesn’t smell bad and no one stares at us. Everyone is in a car and the roads are so smooth. So many food choices. So much happening, all at the same time. So comfortable.

I’ll keep this section brief, because I think that most of you reading this were there. We ate a lot of really good food, spent some good times with lots of friends and family, went backcountry skiing, remembered what beer really tastes like, were cold, took hot showers and used washing machines.

On our 3rd day back in the States, we went with 9 friends to a backcountry yurt near the Cameron Pass area. We skied in and spent two nights there, skiing during the days and eating, drinking, conversing and playing scrabble at night. It was a full moon that weekend, but unfortunately it was too cloudy for us to do a full moon ski. We skied out on Christmas Eve and drove about 4 hours down to my Aunt’s house to spend Christmas with my family. Brenna’s parents were supposed to drive up and meet us on Christmas day, but we had a white Christmas and the roads were terrible so they stayed in Denver. By the 26th the weather had improved, so we went to their house in Denver to spend a few days with them and some of our Denver friends before heading back up to Zac and Nicole’s house in Ft Collins for New Year’s Eve. It was a very mellow night with the 2 of us, Z and Nic, Brian and Tracy, Ryan, and for a bit, Shane. Good times. While in the Fort, we also went to a housewarming party at the home of some other friends, Robyn and Darren, where we were able to catch up with lots of folks. Also, mom arranged for a private yoga class for us and one day Brenna went to the gym while Z and Brian and I went skiing.

In Denver, we both went to see our rolfer for an hour of pain and healing. We people watched at the Cherry Creek Mall for a bit and generally just hung out.

Again it was really great to see and spend time with all of our families and friends. We had a great couple of weeks and are looking forward to going home again in June for Emily and Jason’s (who we also got to see and hang out with twice) wedding in Crested Butte!

Now we’re back and have spent a lot of time the last few days visiting people and catching up and telling stories of what the US was like and giving gifts that we bought for our friends here. There are also a lot of projects we wanted to do in our house, like planting things and yard work, that we didn’t want to do right before we left. Also, since we got back, we have been having some water issues and have only had consistently running water for about the last day and a half. Our first few days were intermittent, with a few hours here and there of running water. Everyone we ask has a different story as to why that is. Some say the town pump is broken, others say they are rationing. I don’t think we’ll ever know. All we can do is be prepared with our multiple buckets full of water.

So that is all I have to say. Look at the pictures below. I promise we’ll update more frequently so that these posts aren’t always so long.


This is Brenna and I riding through town. This is a typical way for two (or more) people to get around on only one bike.

Zac and I with our best Nica faces while we enjoy some tasty ice cream in town.

Bucketful of baby turtles.

They let us play with the very recently hatched turtles, but we had to wear rubber gloves. They're so cute!

A pig wandering into the ocean. he got tangled up in the anchorline of this boat for a good 5 minutes.

Zac walking in after a hard day's surf.

The turtle we sat with as she laid her eggs. What an amazing experience.

Z enjoying some hammock time with our huge cat, Poster.

Brenna reading in our backyard.

The dog and drying laundry in our side yard.

On our bike ride back from Cerro Negro, we stopped at a tiny pulperia in a tiny town and had the best Coke and bread ever.

Here we are in the USA, with our friends on a backcountry ski trip. We spent 2 nights in this yurt.

Wearing coats! Snow! Cold! America is Great!

Me riding on some bags of cement in the back of a bus on the way to the beach. It was the only open seat.

On a beach called Popoyo, in the southern part of the country.

Jessica, Brie, me and Greg crossing of the many "bridges" of the old railroad line.

Zac, fixing a flat.

This man offered to help us fix our flat tires, but didn't know how. Then he showed us his shotgun, for which he had no ammunition. Quite a funny guy. He also wanted Ibuprofen and offered to buy our bikes from us (regardless of the fact that we were at least an hour bike ride from anywhere).

Brenna and Zac holding the baby turtles.

Zac running down Cerro Negro. So fast!!