The Pilgrimage to Popoyuapa


Religion points to that area of human experience where in one way or another man comes upon mystery as a summons to pilgrimage.~Frederick Buechner

 

Two weeks before Holy Week in Nicaragua, rural ox-pulled carts travel to Nandaime, where they gather for their annual pilgrimage to the Popoyuapa sanctuary, in San Jorge, Rivas.
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Read more about the traditional pilgrimage.

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.

Weekly Photo Challenge: The Inside Scoop on Corn Island


The Weekly Photo Challenge is Inside. Our trip to the Corn Islands in Nicaragua provided me with many opportunities to get the inside scoop on Corn Island.

From inside one island, to another. Looking out the ferry window. Adios Ometepe.
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Keep reading. There’s more scoop.

Weekly Photo Challenge: A Grand Homecoming


“Every traveler has a home of his own, and he learns to appreciate it the more from his wandering.”
― Charles Dickens

The Weekly Photo Challenge is Grand… a magical, special place…the “wow” factor.  After a long stressful trip back to the states, returning to my special island in the middle of a sweet sea, in the middle of Nicaragua, in the middle of Central America is a grand homecoming.

Boarding the ferry for the hour-long trip across the sweet sea, I peek at our active volcano, Concepcion, about 10 miles away.
IMG_0483Ometepe…how I’ve missed you! I zoom in for a grand view.
IMG_0479My island home! How majestic! How grand!
IMG_0492The waves splash against the ferry window, blanketing me with a warm breeze. How refreshingly grand!
IMG_0501The clouds over Concepcion paint a grand vista.
IMG_0506Only 30 more minutes! I’m so excited. It’s a grand, magical island.
IMG_0511Is the airport near our house open yet? I’m anxiously awaiting the grand opening.
IMG_0529The little launcha chugs past our house. Isn’t she grand?
IMG_0514“Almost home,” I shout excitedly as we pass our house.
IMG_0543Life on Ometepe Island is priceless! What a grand homecoming!

Guide to Taxi Service in Nicaragua


Nicaraguans undergo a strange personality change behind the wheel of a taxi. In every other setting in Nicaragua, aggression and speed are frowned upon. The Nicaraguan mantra is, “Manana” or “Tranquilo”. But, put a Nicaraguan in the driver’s seat and he portrays all the calmness of a hooded bandit in a lynch mob.

I shouldn’t be so hard on the taxi drivers in Nicaragua, but it took us many drivers before we found one that we can trust with our lives, our possessions, and our pocketbook. Apparently, there are no standard rates, nor do the taxis have meters. So, how does one know how much a taxi ride should cost in Nicaragua? Below, you will find my guidelines for getting a taxi in Nicaragua, but first a little about my favorite taxi driver, Francisco.

Francisco is our local taxi driver. Since we don’t have a car, nor do we want a car in Nicaragua, Francisco takes us everywhere. The first time I met him, he offered us a ride in Rivas for 10 cordobas. We had just turned down a $10 taxi ride to the ferry…a little over a mile, and I was hot, tired, and angry with the taxi drivers in the market for trying to rip us off. When I asked for Francisco’s telephone number, he handed me a crumpled Winnie-the-Poo sticker from his son’s backpack and scribbled his number on it. After that, I was sold on Francisco’s warm smile, his honest taxi service, and his safe and tranquilo attitude.

I wanted to help Francisco increase his business, so I offered to make him some business cards. Since my biggest complaint is that we never know how much a trip will cost, I convinced Francisco to put the prices on the back of the card. As a result, Francisco is the first taxi driver to have his prices on a professional business card and his service has increased daily.

Guide to Taxi Service in Nicaragua

1. How much should a taxi ride cost?
A good rule of thumb is to plan on paying around $10 for every 20 kilometers.
Distance calculator in Nicaragua
2. Never get in without agreeing on a fare. Period!
Since none of the taxis in Nicaragua have meters, it is very important to agree on the   price before getting into the taxi. Make sure the rate is per person or for more than one person. Does it include luggage? We’ve made this mistake several times and ended up paying 4 times the normal fare. I hate to be taken for a fool. If you are only going a short distance, from one street to another in the same town, ask for a collectivo. A collectivo generally has a standard rate in town and they will pick up and drop off many passengers.
Standard rates for collectivos in Rivas are: 15 cordobas per person
In Granada: 10 cordobas per person
3. To put your luggage in the trunk or not?
BF ( Before Francisco), I never put my luggage in the trunk of a taxi. If I was going to have a big dispute over the agreed upon fare when I got out of the taxi, ( and you probably will at one time or another in Nicaragua) I wanted to have all my luggage with me. If your luggage is in the trunk, it is easy for the taxi driver to hold your luggage for ransom during a dispute. Plus, I always carry my laptop in my day pack on a longer trip and I don’t want to subject it to over 100 degree temperatures in the trunk of a taxi.
4. Have the proper change.
The story of our lives in Nicaragua. Don’t go anywhere without the proper change. It always amuses me when a taxi driver requests a $15 fee and when you arrive at your destination, and hand him a $20 bill, he looks at you shocked that he is supposed to make change. Usually, after a little argument, I give up and tell him it’s a tip. It’s not worth the hassle. Bring small bills and give the taxi driver the exact change. On another note, I always give Francisco a tip, but that is not the norm in Nicaragua unless you have an amazing taxi driver. More chances than not, you will be overcharged just because you are a foreigner who doesn’t know any better, and I consider that the tip. It may be calloused, but I’ve learned the hard way.
5. Check the condition of the taxi before getting in.
I’ve ridden in some literal death traps in Nicaragua. The doors don’t unlock, the windows don’t work, the tires wobble…oh the tales of horror. Unless you know the driver or have a recommendation for a good driver… if the car looks unsafe, don’t get in. There are plenty of other taxi drivers in large cities. Just say, no!
6. Just say, NO!
It’s perfectly fine to be aggressive and just say, NO, especially if you get a strange feeling. Some taxi scams in Nicaragua:
The buses aren’t running scam.
You are on your way to the bus station in a crowded market to catch a bus. A taxi driver yells,” Where are you going?” You respond, “Granada.” The taxi driver says, “You just missed the last bus to Granada. There are no more buses today. I’ll take you, cheap.”
Taken to an isolated spot, robbed, and dropped off in the middle of nowhere scam
You are waiting in a market for a bus. A friendly local strikes up a conversation with you. “No need to take a bus,” says the local. “I’m waiting for my friend who is a taxi driver. He’ll take you to Granada after he drops me off.” You get in the back of the taxi, and your local friend gets in beside you. Then, the taxi driver picks up another person, who gets in the backseat on the other side of you. You are driven to an ATM and forced to withdraw money…usually at knife point or sometimes by gun point. Then, you are forced back into the taxi, driven to an isolated spot, beaten and sometimes raped, and thrown out of the taxi.
I really hate to scare you, but these incidents have happened often in Nicaragua. In both cases, JUST SAY NO! Walk away. Trust your intuition. If something doesn’t feel right…just say NO!
7. Get the directions in Spanish
You will be lucky to find a taxi driver that speaks English. If your Spanish is poor, always get the directions to your location in Spanish. Most hotels and hostels have brochures or business cards with their addresses printed in Spanish. Grab one and stick it in a safe place. After a night out on the town, you can simply hand the taxi driver the card or brochure and tell him to take you there. If you want to do a day trip to another place, ask your hotel or hostel employee to write the directions for you in Spanish and you can hand it to the driver.
8. Ask your hotel, or a local friend for recommendations for a taxi driver
Hotels and hostels want customers to return, so they will usually have taxi drivers available that they recommend. Always ask them for recommendations. The only bad experience we had in this area was my last trip back from the states. We stayed at the Best Western Hotel across from the airport in Managua and Francisco was to return to pick us up. My flight was canceled at the last-minute to Nicaragua, Ron was waiting for me in Managua at the hotel, and his Spanish was poor. So, he asked the desk attendant at the Best Western to call Francisco for him and tell him to pick us up the following day. The desk clerk called Francisco, but he told Francisco that my flight was delayed and not to pick us up. Ron wasn’t aware of what the desk clerk told Francisco and the desk clerk was hoping for a commission from his taxi driver.  The next day at 11:00am we were waiting for Francisco. Thirty minutes later, Francisco wasn’t there, which was very unusual. A few minutes later, the phone in our hotel room rang and it was Francisco. He asked me how we were getting back to Ometepe because the desk clerk told him not to pick us up. I was furious. Francisco arrived an hour later and I told the desk clerk about the incident and said he just lost two good paying customers. We will never stay there again.

Overall, we are fortunate to have found a wonderful and trustworthy taxi driver in Nicaragua. I consider him to be my friend, as well as my taxi driver. I hope these tips are helpful and I haven’t scared you. It’s always better to be knowledgable about the taxi service in Nicaragua or you could be in for a wild ride! :-)

Below are a few interesting links to articles about taxis in Nicaragua.

http://www.nicaraguadispatch.com/news/2012/10/taxi-protest-leads-to-violence-in-managua/5510

https://www.osac.gov/Pages/ContentReportDetails.aspx?cid=12334

http://www.tortillaconsal.com/transport_subsidy.html

http://www.vivatravelguides.com/central-america/nicaragua/nicaragua-overview/getting-around-nicaragua-by-taxi/

Weekly Photo Challenge: My Sweet Sea


Lake Cocibolca, Nicaragua’s largest fresh water lake cradles my island home. The Spaniards called it La Mar Dulce (the sweet sea), and how sweet it is!

Lake Cocibolca

Ometepe Island rises magnificently out of the sweet sea. Its two volcanoes jut out of the lake and can be seen for miles. What an impressive sight!

Arriving and departing from our island, one must take an hour’s ferry ride. It’s always an adventure, especially when the lake is choppy.

What does the sweet sea mean to me? Fish, fishermen, birds, and an occasional fishing cat sustain their lives from La Mar Dulce. Even House Hunter’s International was impressed with our sweet sea when filming Ron fishing.

What do we do for fun on the sweet sea? We kayak daily, and once we followed a huge floating island as it drifted toward the mainland.

The sweet sea means tranquility, peace, and glorious sunsets from our front porch.

Goodnight, my beautiful sweet sea. Until tomorrow.
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Born Out of Necessity


Necessity is the mother of taking chances.
~Mark Twain

Satisfying one’s basic needs..and a few wants..while living on a primitive island in the middle of a huge sweet sea, in the middle of Nicaragua, in the middle of Central America can be quite challenging at times. Many things on Ometepe Island are born out of necessity due to lack of reliable infrastructure, transportation, and supplies.

But, that certainly doesn’t stop the creative and motivated people who live here.

I. Shelter
With our gift of two bags of cement for Christmas, our neighbors made a new addition to their kitchen. Shade is a necessity on our beach….always. Homemade ladders and handmade metal reinforced columns help to complete our casita.

II. Transportation
What do you do with a broken Jet ski? Of course, you make it into a fishing boat. Mechanics rebuild motors in the ferries with spare used parts, while a creative entrepreneur designs a tandem bicycle out of used bicycle parts to rent to tourists. Handmade carts haul wood for cooking fires and the ferry transports a mummified horse for the local rodeo.

III. Utilities
Tall water tanks supply gravity fed water during water shortages and everyone is an electrician when the lines get tangled or we need 220 v. Just hire a neighbor to climb the pole to fix the electricity in the neighborhood.

IV. Flood Insurance?
In 2010, while we were building our house, the lake rose to the highest levels seen in 60 years. It rose into our yard and washed out our road. Materials had to be carried on our heads as we sloshed through the lake. We crushed old roof tiles for a stronger road bed and hired a tractor to deliver bricks. The tractor got stuck, but with the help of many strong men and several attempts, we were able to push it out of the lake to get the bricks to the house. There is no such thing as flood insurance, so this idea was born out of blood, sweat, and tears to build our house.

V. Communication, Banking, and Free Luggage
My woktenna was born out of a need for a faster internet…and it works great! I even won third place in a contest for the most creative way to get online. Have you ever seen a tent bank? Born out of necessity, this bank opened in a tent until construction was completed on their new bank. Disgusted with paying high prices for your luggage on airlines? I needed a way to transport my books for my lending library, thus my homemade travel vest was born…and it’s free. I can waddle through airports with 40 pounds of books in it..no questions asked.

VI. Creative Outdoor Living
Aware of crimes of opportunity, we can’t leave hammocks or other lawn furniture outside unprotected. In fact, I got lazy and left a hammock outside two weeks ago, and it was stolen! Sigh…but that’s another story. With leftover bricks, I made outdoor furniture. The workers building our casita were so impressed with my outdoor furniture, that they made a mini-brick ferry.

VII. Health

Walter, our local mosquito exterminator, fumigates the houses with his homemade fumigator gun. Johnson lifts weights made of two tin cans packed with concrete.

Necessity is the mother of invention. That holds true on Ometepe Island. It involves taking risks, but great things are born out of necessity.

 

Weekly Photo Challenge: Contents of My Constant Companion


I’ve carried a purse since I was five year’s old. Although the contents change, they symbolize where I am in my life. Since I have a constant companion, I thought I’d share the contents of my traveling purse and explain my purse psyche.

IMG_3162I am a frequent international traveler. Presently, I’m in the states and the contents of my purse are spread out on my mother’s dining room table. I’m baring it all in this post, hopefully enabling you to understand my traveling philosophy and delve into my purse psyche.

1. First, I carry everything in a shoulder bag given to me by a friend who frequents the Salvation Army stores. It’s free…it’s purple ( one of my favorite colors)..and it’s compact.
Notice the little Canadian duck pin on the front? I prefer to let foreigners think I’m Canadian. I won’t go into it here, but let’s just say, that little pin has opened doors for me in some Latin American countries.

2. Salvation Army tissues fit neatly into the front mesh pocket. They came with the purse and are ever so handy. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been without toilet paper when I’m traveling.

3. My used 3S/3G iPhone. I just bought an Otterbox Defender for it in the states because Nicaragua and the tropics are hard on phones. It is like a mini-computer and I have lots of cool traveling apps on it.

4. Just a little money. I never carry too much money in my purse when I travel. I have a few dollars for tips, and I have a little stash of my cordobas for my return trip to Nicaragua.

5. Of course, I need my passport and my Nicaraguan residency card ( When I return, I don’t have to pay the entrance fee of $10 in customs.)

6. My wallet has a few things in it, but my one credit card is hidden in another place in my purse. I won’t say where, but I can get very creative. The wallet is over 10 years old. I bought it at the Unclaimed Baggage Center in Alabama. That place is incredible.

7. I always carry a toothbrush. I couldn’t find travel size toothpaste in Nicaragua, and it’s a hassle to carry any liquids regardless of the size on a plane.

8. Under my toothbrush, I have two very important papers. One is a tracing of Julio’s foot. He wanted me to buy him some running shoes, but he didn’t know his size. I started compiling the other list months before my trip to the states. It contains all of the things I want to buy, or things my friends want me to buy while I’m in the states. Hard or nearly impossible to find things such as; pickling spices, cheap solar lights, a hummingbird feeder, raw peanuts, horseradish, pretzels ( I have a lot of food items on my list), and an assortment of little tools from Lowes.

9. My cheap knock-off sunglasses, and prescription glasses’ carrying case. I usually wear my glasses because it is easier than digging around for them when I have to read something (the only reason I need glasses, but when traveling, there is always something to read). I also discovered that my empty carrying case can hold little things that most airlines don’t want you to take. My little secret, but they are never detected when they run my purse through the x-ray machine. Nothing dangerous, of course.

10. My mother always told me to either wear clean underwear, or take a clean pair along with me and I’ve never broken the habit. :-)

11. I can’t forget the pen. I confess, I am a pen stealer. This pen came from the director of House Hunter’s International when they came to film us for 5 days in May. No wait! I’m wrong. He kept reminding me to return his pen. I thought he would forget about it, but NO, so I begrudgingly returned it. Hmmm…I must have stolen this one from the airline personnel at the check-in counter.

So, there you have it…the contents of my constant companion. I think my purse psyche would show that I lead a simple, cheap life and I’m not very fashion conscious.

Now, when I get my travel vest loaded with 40 pounds of children’s books, and my zebra print backpack stuffed with my MacBook, Kindle, and other electronics…I am a sight to behold as I waddle through the airports. What’s in your purse today?

A Tale of a Fateful Trip


The Saga of a Fuega y Agua Ultra-Marathon volunteer as told through the lyrics of Gilligan’s Island theme song.

Just sit right back and you’ll hear a tale,
A tale of a fateful trip
That started from our tropic port
Of which you cannot skip.

Our mate was a mighty volunteer,
For the Fuega y Agua race
Three volunteers set out that day,
To tour the Survival chase, to tour the Survival chase

DSCN0830Nine passengers were aboard the truck,
The tiny truck was tossed,
If not for the breakfast of snickers and beer,
Our hope would all be lost, our hope would all be lost.

We tracked the runners through the race,
The obstacles were unique
Until we were told to climb the volcano,
Our tour was rather meek, our tour was rather meek.

IMG_1944In skirts and flip-flops unprepared,
Determined to ascend,
We hiked uphill for two exhausting hours,
Avoiding breaking wind, avoiding breaking wind.

With bamboo poles the runners climbed,
They passed us at every turn,
Barely able to descend,
We felt the stinging burn, we felt the stinging burn.

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Midnight came and Johnson won,
We returned to our tropical nest,
To volunteer for the Kids 5K,
But wait until you hear the rest, wait until you hear the rest.

The weather started getting rough,
The waves were strong and mean,
All visitors became castaways,
Their plight was unforeseen, their plight was unforeseen.

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Ron took our mate to meet the boat,
For her expected trip back home,
She waited like a refugee,
Five hours she feared to roam, five hours she feared to roam.

No phones, no food, no boats to go,
Not a single luxury,
Like Robinson Crusoe,
As primitive as can be, as primitive as can be.

refugee MoyogalpaSo, this was the tale of the castaways,
They were here for a long, long time,
They learned to make the best of things,
An experience very sublime, an experience very sublime.

Booked flights and well made plans,
Flew out the windows last night,
For they hadn’t learned to expect the unexpected,
In the land of the not quite right, the land of the not quite right.

The tale of a fateful trip is done,
Our mighty mate is well,
Aboard the Che and traveling home,
Oh the stories she can tell…oh the stories she can tell.

Stay tuned for a post about the Fuega y Agua Ultra-Marathon held on Ometepe Island February 15-17, 2013.

Our La Paloma Airport


Our island was very tranquil, an oasis of peace. In 2003, we often walked along the beach from our house, through a winding, dusty horse path where an old airport strip was located. The runway was built by Cuba, but hadn’t seen any action since the war. The old airport strip washed out every rainy season, leaving holes the size of Mack trucks.

airport and Franchesco's house

In 2009, the path through the old airstrip, led us to Francheco’s new lemon yellow house. Side by side with horses and cattle, we wandered along the path to visit Francheco. IMG_3112Then in late 2009, we noticed a for sale sign on a fencepost at the old airport strip. Uh oh!  Francheco’s house was torn down piece by loving piece…a new airport was in progress. IMG_2060Soon, there was a buzz of activity with surveyors, numbered sticks planted in the old airstrip, and red paint splashed over ancient trees.  IMG_4503Then, the machines came. Big, loud earth moving machines.  It reminded me of The Lorax. For months we awakened to the beep, beep beeping of the earth movers leveling and gouging the old runway. They called this progress in the name of tourism. IMG_4873 Graders, backhoes, and dump trucks arrived by ferry. Experienced workers arrived from Managua. Promises were made to hire local workers and they filed to the new airport office to fill out applications. Sadly, no local people were ever hired to work on the new airport strip. IMG_4844Several months later, the runway was ready for asphalt.  IMG_4809In late 2010, asphalt smoothed and caressed the runway. IMG_5042The fence was installed around the perimeter of the runway to keep out the wandering cows and horses.  IMG_0485Last December, 2012, the custom-house was completed.  IMG_1491 Soon, the control tower will be finished. IMG_1487We’ve heard so many dates for the opening of the airport that our heads spin…2010…2011…2012. But, this is Nicaragua and we run on Tepe Time on the island…slow..no worries…no rush. The time for the grand opening will be sometime this year.  I’m still not sure what to expect when the airport opens, but as always I’ll post the good, the bad, and the ugly aspects of our new La Paloma airport.