Nicaragua: On the Threshold of Change


“He had the vague sense of standing on a threshold, the crossing of which would change everything.”
― Kate Morton, The Forgotten Garden

The Weekly Photo Challenge is Threshold. Nicaragua is on the threshold of change. That point of entering just before a new beginning. Join me in my photographic journey of the threshold of change in Nicaragua.

Doorways once leading to nowhere, are getting a fresh coat of paint.
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There are many more pictures of changes. Read on.

Part Two: The Gift of Reading


“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”
― Dr. Seuss, I Can Read With My Eyes Shut!

 

C. S. Lewis said, “We read to know that we are not alone.”  Red Oak Elementary School students in Shakopee, Minnesota understand this need, and are graciously sharing their lives and their joy of reading with my tiny La Paloma Elementary School on Ometepe Island.

Keep reading. There’s more.

The Soul of the World


worldmap1There is a small concrete pyramid on the top of a hill on Big Corn Island, Nicaragua. Supposedly, this is a sacred place…the soul of the world…only one of eight places in the world, where the vertices of a flattened cube meet.
Keep Reading!More mysteries to solve.

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

Weekly Photo Challenge: A Brand New Ending


“Although no one can go back and make a brand new start, anyone can start from now and make a brand new ending.”
― Carl Bard

This week’s photo challenge is Beginning.

Life is a fragile house of cards.
DSCN0488It can blow away in a moment.
DSCN0671Sometimes we feel abandoned…
IMG_0895trapped…
IMG_0896broken…
IMG_4812depressed…
DSCN0685or downright dirty…
DSCN0673Although, we can’t go back and make a brand new beginning, we can create a brand new ending. If life gives you limes…make a Key Lime pie.
Key Lime PieIf obstacles are in your way…use them as learning experiences and fill in the holes of your life.
DSCN0962Most importantly…take time to smell the flowers.
21Create a new ending today…it’s never too late.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Stories are Light


“Stories are light. Light is precious in a world so dark. Begin at the beginning. Tell Gregory a story. Make some light.”
― Kate DiCamillo, The Tale of Despereaux

This Thanksgiving we made some light…fishing in the St. John’s River, sharing family stories under the reflecting palms.
IMG_0292We made some light… cooking pumpkin pies and Mama Stamberg’s Cranberry Relish, while sharing family recipes bathed in the moonlight of the draw bridge.
IMG_0403We made some light…traveling together in my step brother’s plane, while singing Christmas songs over the winding rivers 19,000 ft. below.
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We made some light…returning to my mother’s home, and sharing our Thanksgiving stories and traditions of many years ago lit by the fountain across the street from her home.
IMG_0470We made some light… of our blended families, sharing our gratefulness and thanks for the time we can spend together before we all return to our own homes far away. Our doors are always lit…our stories are our light.
IMG_0466Begin at the beginning…share stories gratefully with others…make some light today.

 

 

If I Were a Butterfly for a Day


“Life is short. If you doubt me, ask a butterfly. Their average life span is a mere five to fourteen days.” ~ Ellen DeGeneres

I made my bucket list when I was 21 years old. I had a Nothing Journal ( if you are a Baby Boomer, you may remember the Nothing Journals) where I would sketch my longings and desires. Included in my sketches:
1.   A cabin in the woods….check
2.   A loving heart…check
3.   A marriage certificate…check (We’ve been married 37 38 years)
4.   A backpacking trip and travel, travel, travel…check
5.   An advanced degree…check
6.   Children…check
7.   A peace sign…still working on that one
8.   A tropical island…check
9.   A Datsun Z…never got that car
10. A St. Bernard…never got a St.Bernard either, but I’ve had numerous pets

My bucket list included living without regrets, always taking a second chance, and learning to forgive. Now that I’m officially retired, my bucket list is shorter, and so is life.
Below are two highlights I crossed off my bucket list.

Olive Ridley Turtle Arribada  This Olive Ridley is burying her eggs in a downpour.

Monarch butterfly sanctuary near Ocampo, Mexico.

If you were a butterfly for a day, what would you put on your bucket list?

 

Weekly Photo Challenge: Nostalgic


I am a sentimental fool, often nostalgic for my collection of antiques, which I gathered throughout my lifetime. I have a difficult time letting go. For example, I have the original Barbie and Ken dolls, including the Barbie Dream House, convertible, and all their clothes…in mint condition! How does one sell a lifetime of memories when moving abroad? Yet, I promised my husband that I would at least try to let go of my cherished possessions.

I made this video five years ago, in my attempts to empty our Boomer nest. This week’s photo contest challenges us to remember or recapture a moment of the past…a longing…a remembrance…the Golden Years. Instead, I made a video of my atonement for being a sentimental collector. If you are wondering…I still have ALL of my sentimental collections stored in our house in the states. I honestly did try to let go…but it’s a slow process for me.

My Top Tips for Living Abroad


“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.” – Mark Twain

DO IT FOR THE RIGHT REASONS
I’ve met many foreigners living in Nicaragua with ‘escapism mentalities’. I’ve found that it is impossible to escape from one’s troubles by moving abroad. They are bound to catch up with you, no matter where you are living. Carefully consider your motivations when relocating for the long haul. Pedophiles, cults, and those on the run from the law are NOT welcomed in Nicaragua or anywhere in the world.

GET REAL
Sure, we all want to move to a tropical island, but before you jump, do the research. If you’ve never traveled abroad, how do you know where you want to live? Ron and I traveled the world for 15 summers searching for our ideal retirement spot. We narrowed our search to two countries: Brazil and Portugal, and Central America. We joined chat groups, visited expats, talked to locals, and explored the culture of each area. Make a list of your  needs, ask specific questions, and be ready to scratch the countries from your list if they don’t meet your needs.

PLANNING IS IMPORTANT, BUT DOING IS BETTER
Once you’ve chosen a place abroad…jump temporarily. The first time we moved to Ometepe Island, Nicaragua, we quit our secure jobs, sold our cars, gave away all our winter clothes, and left our house and our aging pets with our son. In an adrenalin rush, we jumped into a new life for a year. I call it our grand experiment with ‘pretirement’. We knew two Spanish words, ‘si’ and ‘no’. Yet, if we would have spent the time planning for our retirement and learning Spanish, I doubt that we would have ever had the nerve to jump. Living abroad could have been a distant dream, instead of a mysterious reality. Throughout our year of ‘pretirement’, we learned everything we needed to know to return to the states and set goals for our real retirement on Ometepe Island. A few words of caution: Don’t burn any bridges. Life is unpredictable. It can change in a minute. Leave your options open.

BE COMFORTABLE
In our experiment with ‘pretirement’, we lived like Nicas. We rented a little beach shack that contained four plastic chairs and one plastic table, two beds, and a two-burner cook-top. The only difference between us and our neighbors was that we had a refrigerator and a flush toilet. Spartan living was fine for a year, but when we returned and bought our little beach shack, I wanted a comfortable, yet simple nest. We remodeled our shack to blend in with our surrounding environment…nothing fancy because crimes of opportunity are abundant between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’. We have a huge year-round garden that supplies us with all of our vegetables, 14 varieties of mature fruit trees, and all the comforts of home. Comfort and practicality are my mantras.

TWEAK THE ATTITUDE: LOSE THE TUDE
You ain’t in Kansas anymore! Your way isn’t the only way! You are a guest in a foreign country. Be respectful. Lose the negativity. Learn the language. Integrate and immerse yourself in your new surroundings. Volunteer in your area of ability without being overbearing and arrogant. Get to know your local neighbors. Life is so much more enjoyable once you lose the tude.

APPRECIATE THE DIFFERENCES WHILE CHERISHING THE SIMILARITIES
Life is not ‘us’ against ‘them’. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve heard expats say, ” You can’t trust any of ‘em. Keep everything locked up, buy a gun, and never let a local come into your house.”  I’m not naïve. I understand that bad things happen everywhere in the world. Yet, I refuse to live in paranoia and fear and lock myself away from the culture in some gated gringo community. As I’m writing this, our 2-year-old neighbor is napping on my couch, while his uncle is sitting at our kitchen table practicing his English with Ron. I want to live humanely and compassionately in Nicaragua. I would trust my life with our closest neighbors and I know they feel the same way. Sometimes I just don’t understand why so much energy is expended fighting our cultural differences, instead of cherishing our human similarities.

PRACTICE PATIENCE AND LEARN TO LAUGH AT YOUR MISTAKES
Be forgiving and loving with yourself. In learning to speak Spanish, I have made many embarrassing mistakes. For example, once I bought bread stuffed with pineapple for our construction workers. Instead of asking them if they wanted bread with pineapple, I asked them if they wanted bread stuffed with penis. I’ve wished people a happy new anus, instead of a happy new year. We all had a good laugh, and they helped me correct my Spanish. Practice patience. Life moves at a different pace. If someone says they are going to come to your house at 2 o’clock, they may arrive at 4 o’clock, or maybe not until the next day. It’s best to learn to live in the moment and avoid expectations of the future. Easier said, than done. :-)

Ron and I are on our way back to the states for two weeks. We are in the process of applying for our residency in Nicaragua. I’ll try to post about our experiences throughout the application process. It’s bound to be another adventure! Stay tuned and please be patient with me.

The Archeological Richness of Ometepe Island


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On my daily walks along the volcanic beaches of Lake Cocibolca, I often find shards of history washed ashore, remnants of the ancient ones who settled Ometepe Island during the first migration, about 10,000 BC.  Hunks of broken stone mortars and pestles and primitively carved tools embed themselves in the black sand telling the tales of the rich lives of the Chibchas and Tiaguanacos indigenous tribes.

When the Chorotegas tribe arrived in the sixth and seventh centuries, they improved the stone-working techniques, added creative embellishments to the ceramics, and carved mysterious symbols on the volcanic boulders      (now known as Petroglyphs) plopped into the fields from eruptions of Vulcan Concepcion.

Intricately painted shards, in the shapes of birds, faces, monkeys, and other animals wash between my toes harboring the secrets of the Nahuas, the indigenous tribe that arrived in the ninth and tenth centuries.According to legend, the Nahuas were led to our sacred island after a series of collective dreams that guided them to ‘two hills’ majestically jutting from a small island in a sweet sea.

Significant evidence indicates that Ometepe Island became a trading port. In the middle of the tenth century, the Mayas arrived with gold figurines, jade, and other exotic trade items. Once the Mayas discovered La Isla de Ometepe, they decided to settle down and expand the art of ceramica production.

The cultural history of Pre-Columbian pottery on Ometepe Island is sparsely documented. Nicaragua lacks a major structural network that would support significant funding from outside sources to study and record the archeological finds. Instead, small museums record the archeological history of the island, with little to no funding sources.

The El Ceibo Museum is a fine example of a small museum on the island, founded by Moises Ghitis. Over 1,200 examples of Ometepe’s Pre-Columbian heritage are highlighted. Most of these pieces were discovered on Moises’ finca several years ago. El Ceibo Museum

With the increased emphasis on tourism in Nicaragua, and particularly Ometepe Island, major efforts are taking place to protect the cultural heritage of the island. New laws enacted make it a crime to remove and sell Pre-Columbian artifacts. Educational programs in the schools emphasize the importance of protecting and preserving the historical pieces.

I am so very grateful to see the archeological richness of Ometepe Island taken seriously. With more funding for museums, educational programs, and increased awareness through various media sources, Ometepe Island can preserve their unique cultural heritage.

How can you help preserve and support the archeological richness of Ometepe Island?

1. Take only photos and leave only footprints behind.
2. Report any archeological finds to El Ceibo Museum or the other small local museums on the island.
3. Respect the cultural heritage of Nicaragua. The country is in the beginning stages of protection and environmental awareness. Many of the local people do not understand the importance of preserving and protecting their heritage. Help spread the word.
4. Provide funding and support for the educational programs and museums. If you enjoy visiting archeological sites on the island, show your support by making a monetary donation.
5. Volunteer. There are many volunteer options available if you are interested in preserving the unique culture of Ometepe Island. This is one of the best.
Ometepe Petroglyph Project

If you are interested in learning more about the archeological history of Nicaragua, below are two good links. If you are aware of any other books or websites, please let me know. It is slim pickings in the archeology and ceramica world of Nicaragua.

The Nicaraguan Ceramic Pottery Exhibit
Museums and Galleries of Nicaragua