Weekly Photo Challenge: Relics of the Dead


“Any relic of the dead is precious, if they were valued living.” ~ Emily Bronte

 

Everyday, I walk our beaches and everyday, I find relics washed ashore. Most of the time, the finds are over hundreds of years old…aged Pre-Columbian pottery shards that tell the stories of the ancient ones who lived on Ometepe Island long ago.

Burial urns called zapatoes from Ometepe Island

Burial urns called zapatoes from Ometepe Island

Relics ahead. Keep reading.

Tell the World


The Internet is becoming the town square for the global village of tomorrow. ~Bill Gates

 

IMG_3800Two weeks ago, we had a microwave internet tower installed. We spent the last four years, struggling with a Claro modem stick which provided slow, inconsistent, and sometimes nonexistent service. Now, our internet speed is fast enough to stream video and watch Netflix movies and my favorite series, Orange is the New Black.
I’m telling the world. Read more.

House Sitter Haven


IMG_3589We were very fortunate to find Max and Alize to housesit for us when we traveled for a month through Ecuador. Max is from Canada and Alize is from Belgium. They were housesitting in Leon, Nicaragua and posted on a Facebook page for expats in Nicaragua that they were looking for a housesitting gig for a month. They’ve been on the road four years, working online to provide income for their travels.

Keep reading.More tips on choosing housesitters.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Street Life on Ometepe Island


 

The Weekly Photo Challenge is Street Life. Ometepe Island, Nicaragua is a rural, agricultural area with colorful street (or volcanic path) life. Join me on a trip into Moyogalpa with our favorite moto taxi driver.

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More street life ahead.Traffic jam ahead.

Colorism Confusion


“One of my theories is that the hearts of men are about alike, no matter what their skin color.” ~ Mark Twain

IMG_3973I noticed our taxi driver’s arm protector on our way to Ojo de Agua the other day. “How cool is that!” I thought. It’s all the rage with the taxi drivers. Lost in my weird wonderings, I thought I could buy a pair to use on my upper arms. Not only would it hold together my upper arm fat wings, kind of like a girdle for my arm flaps, but my arms would look awesome with the stamped tattoos.
Read on! There’s more colorism confusion.

Expat Speed Bumps


“We could do it, you know.”
“What?”
“Leave the district. Run off. Live in the woods. You and I, we could make it.”
― Suzanne Collins, The Hunger Games

Yesterday, we walked to Moyogalpa instead of taking our motorcycle. “Where’s your moto?” many people asked. “We need the exercise,” I lied. There is no way I’ll admit that I am afraid to get on the moto after taking another spill. Wait! Did I just say that I hit a speed bump in our expat life on la isla?

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More expat speed bumps. Keep reading!

Weekly Photo Challenge: What is This Object?


The Weekly Photo Challenge is Object.  Our photographs tell stories, big and small.”
My mother often made things for our Nicaraguan neighborhood. She made beautiful aprons embroidered with roosters, embroidered dish towels, and quilted purses for my local friends. Each time I delivered my gifts, my gracious local friends would give my mother a handmade gift in return. This crocheted gift had us puzzled, until we figured out its use. We laughed until we cried. Do you know what this object is?

For this weekly photo challenge, it’s not the photography that counts, but the story behind it. :-)

                                Pay it forward! It’s the thought that counts.

Guess what this is

Part Two: Natives With Netiquette


Globalization, as defined by rich people like us, is a very nice thing… you are talking about the Internet, you are talking about cell phones, you are talking about computers. This doesn’t affect two-thirds of the people of the world.
Jimmy Carter

Part Two in a series of travelers vs tourists. The first part was: Codes of Responsible Travelers. In this post, I explore the problems that arise with sustainable and cultural tourism through the eyes of the indigenous community of Los Ramos.

Ten years ago, we gave our cell phone to Francisco of the Los Ramos indigenous community because we were returning to the states. For generations, this community lacked any means of high-tech communication. Grandpa Cabo announced special events in the community with his ancient bull horn.  With my used cell phone and a tall tree, the people could now climb to the top of the tree to receive a stronger signal…and voila…they were connected to the world. Although, it worried Francisco when his grandmother became trapped in the tree and he had to rescue her…picture a cat in a tree meowing frantically… the cell phone signified a new beginning for this isolated community.

DSCN0694Years later, progress in Los Ramos advanced rapidly. With generous donations, they bought an electric transformer…yes, you have to buy your own transformers in Nicaragua…to run a pump from the well located two miles down a long, sloping, dusty path to the beach. Now, they had running water in Los Ramos. Their lives became a lot easier.

Getting water in Los RamosThis agricultural community continued planting and harvesting their frioles, plantains, and sesame seeds. However, they were losing their young people to Costa Rica and other more cosmopolitan places in Nicaragua. There were no jobs to keep this community intact. Something had to be done to help their young families bring in the hay.

Bringing in the hayEnter sustainable/cultural tourism in Los Ramos. With the help of many knowledgeable and professional tourism people…including my son, Cory, and his good friend Sam…they compiled lists of available resources in Los Ramos, developed 12 cultural tourism programs, created brochures and a website, and perfected their programs with ‘fake’ travelers. Zac, the Peace Corps volunteer, helped them create a budget and worked closely with the community to develop an accounting system.

Front page of BrochureWord spread quickly about the authentic cultural programs in Los Ramos. Los Ramos hired their local son, Ever, as their new tourism director. They have a well-organized system of accounting, preparing, and planning for their programs. Yet, cultural tourism isn’t without its pitfalls. This indigenous community has learned that there is a fine balance between providing authentic cultural experiences and maintaining, yet improving their lifestyles, culture, and traditions passed down through generations.

First, they have learned that marketing their programs requires computers, cell phones, and internet access. Grandma can’t climb that tree anymore to call the world. It’s a dichotomy of development… a clash of cultures. The world was suddenly at their fingertips, if they learned how to boot-up the computer.  They had to quickly become natives with netiquette to run their programs.

Second, they experienced language barriers. More travelers passing through their community, meant they needed someone who could speak some English. Fortunately, Ever has the skills to explain their programs, provide answers to questions, and help tourists limited to English only.

Third, more visitors = more money for the community. More money = more ‘conveniences’ for tourists, as well as their own families. Does providing authentic cultural experiences mean that they can’t buy microwaves, big refrigerators, open an internet café, start a smoothie bar, or buy a big flat-screened TV or iPhone? How do they balance authentic experiences with wanting to offer more comfort and ease for everyone involved in their lives? They are beginning to understand the dilemmas they face. Tourists seek authentic cultural experiences, then they complain about lacking a comfortable mattress, a hot shower, wi-fi, or ice cubes in their freshly squeezed orange juice. Where’s the balance?

Fourth, more money coming into the community always partners with jealousy and power. Host families have to offer safe, comfortable housing for their guests. When non-host families see the money coming into their neighbors’ host homes, they want to become host families, too. Yet, their only accommodations are the pig sty behind their house or the chicken coop. Then, little fights break out, feelings are hurt, and jealousies erupt like the active volcano looming at the top of their community.

Sustainable tourism, in my opinion, is a viable option for Los Ramos, especially considering the alternatives…high rise resorts, where the locals become the maids and gardeners…young men moving to Costa Rica to find jobs to support their families left behind…or cleaning houses in foreign gated communities. I have no doubts that this lovely community will be able to resolve these problems…poco a poco. They are resourceful, creative, and oh…the places they can go with a little help from their friends. This vivacious community of natives with netiquette are learning as they progress to…keep their traditions close to their hearts…proudly share their lifestyles with the world…and most importantly, love their neighbors.

Los Ramos Mi Casa es tu Casa website.
Trip Advisor Reviews

The Codes of Responsible Travelers


Ask Nicaraguans taking English classes why they want to learn English, and I’ll bet the majority of them say, “Because I want to be a tour guide.” Tourism is one of the fastest growing industries in Nicaragua. It is a people-oriented business, geared to revitalizing local communities and providing many jobs. However, like other industries, tourism has its downsides such as: ecological degradation, locals forced to relocate because of increased cost of housing, food, transportation, and other services, loss of cultural heritage, increased petty crime, and economic dependence on foreigners.

We are victims of our own popularity. We’ve seen the impact mainstream tourism has on our tiny Ometepe Island. Its long-term effects on our local island communities have led many of our expats and local islanders to explore programs offering alternative vacations. The problems that go with mainstream tourism will doom Ometepe Island if left untethered. The proposed Nicaraguan canal could prove to be an ecological disaster. (I’m writing a post about the canal soon.) Sustainable tourism is the perfect alternative for responsible travelers seeking educational and low-impact adventures that will benefit the local communities of Ometepe Island.

Notice that I use the word ‘travelers’ instead of ‘tourists.’ A tourist visits to be entertained by experiences and images created especially for the tourist market. Think…luaus…beach cocktails with paper umbrellas…going somewhere just to check it off the list…white sneakers…camera draped around the neck…you get the picture.  A traveler…blends in with the locals…travels by local transportation…considers a trip a journey or a quest…researches, plans, and explores the culture.

Before developing programs, we need to know what responsible travelers really want, what resources we have available on our Biosphere Reserve, and how we can provide sustainable tourism that respects both the local people and the travelers, the cultural heritage, and our environment. In order to understand the needs of travelers, first, we must learn the codes of responsible travelers.

                                    The Codes of Responsible Travelers

1. Prepare in Advance
Travelers learn about the culture, customs, history, and language of foreign lands long before their passports are stamped. They are avid researchers. Ask a traveler for a list of websites, blogs, and books to read and you’ll be surprised at the number of resources a traveler can recall off the top of his/her head. Travelers tend to be expert packers, too. They have memorized the airport codes and know the best days and times to book a flight, or all the locations of the local bus stops, including a schedule of the times of departure.

Brochure for Los Ramos2. Choose the Right Tour Operator
Travelers choose home stays and locally operated hotels and hostels over expensive resource-consuming international hotels. They select tours that support small-scale projects and employ local guides. They seek tours that are designed with the input of the local community.

DSCN06773. Respect Local Customs, Cultures, and Lifestyles
R-E-S-P-E-C-T…the mantra of travelers. They are sensitive to the intrusion of photographing people and places. They respect the local customs and try to “fit in”. Offensive behaviors such as drunkenness, sexual advances, and improper dress are avoided at all costs. Travelers accept that people have different, not wrong or inferior, ways of living. They understand the myths of poverty and instead of tossing money to beggars, they offer them clothes, shelter, or food.

IMG_23784. Consider the Impact of Presence
Travelers eat the local food, not only because it’s adventuresome, but because the expenditure will stay in the country. They shun McDonald’s and Burger King, instead going for places with names like Pizza Hot or the Mini-Super. They avoid buying products that are made from protected species, never litter, and try to conserve limited local non-renewable resources like firewood or water. They enjoy cold showers…

IMG_0027and local drinks. They are aware of the impact of tourism on the people and places that they visit. Travelers are careful when bargaining that they don’t exploit the local vendors. They walk, run, hike, bike, and explore the country using local transportation instead of large, energy-consuming tour buses.

IMG_52665. Present Yourself Realistically
Travelers learn to speak the language and present themselves as citizens of the world. They share ideas and other information with the local people about their social, economic, and environmental realities in their home countries. They do not glamorize their lifestyles or their culture. They focus on similarities, instead of differences. They empathize.

IMG_02366. Continue the Experience
When travelers return home, they often share their stories…but they DO so much more. They are activists. Travelers are not content simply sharing photos of their experiences. They join human rights and environmental protection groups, volunteer their services, and share their experiences in the hopes that we can all become citizens of the world. Travelers are our eyes without borders, our dreams and hopes for a better future, our voices for those who cannot advocate for themselves.

IMG_0864                                      Are you a traveler or a tourist?

The six codes of responsible travelers were taken from the UNESCO website called Being a Traveler-Six General Principles.

Cultural Lessons from the Ballpark


“Baseball, it is said, is only a game. True. And the Grand Canyon is only a hole in Arizona.”
― George F. Will 

Nicaraguans are passionate about their baseball. Baseball is their field of dreams…a door to batting a thousand…a chance to bring it on home. So, when we had an opportunity to go to our first professional baseball game in Nicaragua, how could I not jump at the chance to play ball?  For me, it was a cultural experience…a pinch hitter slice of life moment. Covering all the cultural bases, I’d go to bat for Nicaraguans any day.

Cultural Lessons from the Ballpark

1. Nicaraguans don’t take rain checks and neither do we.
We arrived at the dock early in the morning to catch the 9 am ferry to Rivas. The game started at 11 am, and we were sure we’d have plenty of time to buy our tickets. Due to circumstances beyond our control, the ferry broke down, and we had to wait for the 11 am Che. Meanwhile, Francisco (our friendly taxi driver), frantically called us, “Deborah, the tickets are almost sold out. I’ll buy your tickets for you.” Perfect! We’d miss the first few innings, but Francisco would save our seats. Later, we discovered that many of the spectators were buying one ticket, then reproducing the ticket at the local copy center.  Nicaraguans definitely don’t take rain checks…but, neither do the gate attendants take fake tickets.

IMG_11152. Time to play ball!
Nicaraguans are always ready to play ball in the game of life. Crowds never deter Nicas. No obstacle is too big…too overwhelming…too frightening. They are dare-devil risk-takers, scaling fences… hanging from rafters…without a thought of consequences.
The Yamil Rios Ugarte Stadium in Rivas holds…ballpark figure…about 5,000 people. We pushed our way through the throngs to find our cement bleacher seats, only to stand for most of the game. Time to play ball!
IMG_11193. The bases are loaded everyday in Nicaragua.
When the stakes are high, and a chance presents itself to win…Nicaraguans go for the win. Life is one big baseball game. Not only in sports, but in their daily activities, politics, and with positive attitudes…they are winners.
IMG_11244. Nicaraguans get thrown many curve balls, yet they persevere in style.
Nicaraguans are faced with something unexpected or out of the ordinary on a daily basis. They go with the flow in Nicaland.  A family of the Managua Boers was sitting in the boxed seating area. Although, their team was losing, they were having a grand time, laughing, drinking Tona, and blowing the annoying noise makers to cheer on their team.
IMG_11295. Nicaraguans always get to first base with Jesus on their side.
Nicaragua is predominantly Catholic, and they party heavily with their patron saints in each town. So, it came as no surprise to me when Jesus dominated the advertisements at the stadium. Best Western was a close second.
IMG_11616. Nicaragua brings in the heavy hitters to support the local parties.
I wondered what kind of food would be served at the baseball game. Hotdogs, corn dogs, popcorn? Nooooo! The heavy hitter street venders arrived with buckets of cold beer, trays laden with fried chicken and cabbage salad, pork rinds smothered in cabbage salad, plantain chips splashed with vinegar, and refreshing homemade shaved ice with sweet leche dribbling down the sides. With their decorative frilly aprons, the heavy hitters scored a home run with the crowd.
IMG_11477. It’s easy to tell right off the bat, that the Nicaraguans love their children.
Children are the focus of the Nicaraguan society. Mothers, fathers, grandparents, aunts, uncles…everyone…tend to the needs of their children first. Junior and I ate our way through the game. He was fascinated by Ron’s white mustache and tugged on it to see if it would come off. Meanwhile, his parents laughed and gently distracted Junior.
IMG_11418. Nicaraguans love to pitch their ideas.
Since most Nicas live in poverty, they are resourceful and creative with what they have. They play hardball with their bargaining skills. Francisco pitched an idea to us at the ball park. His taxi has over 200,000 miles on it. He needs a new taxi, but cars are prohibitively expensive for most Nicaraguans. “What if I could have someone buy a car for me in the United States and drive it to Nicaragua?” he pitched. “Let me see what I can find,” I said.
IMG_11439. Everyday it’s a new ballgame.
Nicaraguans aren’t easily discouraged. They have a remarkable ability to live in the moment. The Boers were down 16-7, but not discouraged. Their flags waved, their mascots chanted, their drums rolled.
IMG_112310. Nicaragua is in a league of its own.
We jokingly call it “the land of the not quite right.” This vivacious, colorful culture of people have fought wars, overcome adversity, and won my heart. By the way, the Rivas Gigantes trumped the Managua Boers 16-7.This was their first year to play professional ball. Their first baseman, Randall Simon, played for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2003. If you are familiar with him, you may remember the sausage incident.

Rivas Gigantes are headed for the National Championship. I’m root, root, rooting for my home team. Bring it on home Nicaragua…my home.
IMG_1159The LBPN Professional Baseball in Nicaragua website.