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: 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.

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!

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.

 

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.

A Voyage Across the Sweet Sea


In 1866, Mark Twain described the volcanoes on Ometepe Island, as “two magnificent pyramids clad in the softest and richest green, all flecked with shadow and sunshine.” Since we had been island bound for several months, the time had come to voyage across the sweet sea for some Christmas shopping on the mainland.

Leaving the port town of Moyogalpa.

Leaving the port town of Moyogalpa.

We boarded the 9:00 am ferry and chugged past the picturesque port town of Moyogalpa, where layers of green foliage spread softly like cake frosting into the sweet sea of Cocibolca.

The roof of our house on the far right.

The roof of our house on the far right.

Fifteen minutes later, the wind-churned waves carried us past our house (on the far right) and the quaint little community of La Paloma, where houses dotted the black sand beach in vibrant hard-candy shades of lemon yellow, sour apple green, and watermelon pink. The rafts of Puesta del Sol bobbed gently in the waves, signaling that the windy months were upon us.

Now we have a view of both volcanoes..Maderas, the dormant volcano is on the right.

Now we have a view of both volcanoes..Maderas, the dormant volcano is on the right.

Rounding the point of Jesus Maria, the twin volcanoes came into view. Mark Twain described them as “summits piercing the billowy clouds.”

The new airport is almost done.

The new airport is almost done.

During the California gold rush, Cornelius Vanderbilt invested heavily in a land-sea route across Nicaragua, avoiding the grueling wagon trail ride across the United States fraught with bandits, diseases, and accidents. Twain opted for the Nicaraguan route in his 1866 trip back east.
As we glide past the new runway, I wonder how the airport will change Ometepe. The runway and the terminal are complete, with only the construction of the tower remaining. It won’t be long, now. What would Twain think if he could have soared through the billowy clouds to our oasis of peace?

They are constructing the tower, now.

They are constructing the tower, now.

Quite a dramatic entrance to Ometepe. I hope the plane can stop in time before it reaches the volcano.

The Ferry passes by on its way to Moyogalpa from the mainland.

The Ferry passes by on its way to Moyogalpa from the mainland.

Waving to the ferry passengers returning to la isla from the mainland, I wonder what the first-time tourists think. Will they enjoy their stay? An hour’s trip across the great sweet sea is always a feast for my senses.

Nice view of our active volcano, Concepcion.

Nice view of our active volcano, Concepcion.

During Twain’s time, the cross-lake steamer bypassed Ometepe on its way to the Rio San Juan. Too bad, for if Twain would have had an opportunity to visit our lovely island, I know he would have written about gorging his senses on the ravenous beauty and mysteries surrounding us. A voyage across the sweet sea is always an adventure…one that never ceases to amaze me.

 

Weekly Photo Challenge: Foreign Chicken Buses


If you ever ride an eccentric and flamboyant Central American chicken bus, you will begin to understand the term ‘foreign’. These retired American and Canadian school buses are plastered with outlandish stickers, painted in vibrant colors, and anointed with bumper stickers confessing their love for God, Jesus, soccer, and Playboy bunnies. Chicken buses ooze of strange aromas like a mixture of sweat, cow manure stuck on the bottom of flip-flops, rice and beans, and strong perfumes.  There is NO concept of personal space and there is always room for one more…one more person…one more chicken…one more basket of fruit…one more crying baby..one more sack of rice. Everyone and everything can ride on a chicken bus. Discrimination is not a word in a chicken bus’ vocabulary.

 

Loud music blasts from speakers taped in every corner of the bus. Vendors and beggars board at every stop pushing their way through invisible aisles hawking Flintstone vitamins, Chiclets, alien drinks in plastic bags, and preaching sermons or displaying x-rays of their guts ( or somebody’s guts) for a cordoba or two.

 

Chicken buses are a wacky form of entertainment for me. I chuckle at the sayings on the Goodwill t-shirts because most of the people that wear them can’t read English. Recently, a bus driver wore a t-shirt that said on the front, “What do you call a woman with PMS and ESP?” On the back it said, “A bitch who knows everything.” Exiting the bus, I told the bus driver that he had better not show that t-shirt to his wife. He just laughed, of course, with no understanding of what I was talking about.

 

Riding a Central American chicken bus is certainly one of the most exotic and foreign experiences I have ever had. Truthfully, I’m addicted. I’ve held sleeping babies, crowing roosters confined in rice sacks, and birthday cakes dripping icing in the tropical heat. I’ve even balanced my backpack on my head because there was no place to sit…for hours! Life on a chicken bus brings the world smack dab in front of your face…it’s a macro of foreign, the stupendous of strange, and the ultimate alien experience.

Come to the Other Side


 

 

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I’ve been in a bad mood lately. I ranted on Lonely Planet about the buzz word “eco-friendly” after I recommended Finca Mystica as an eco-friendly place to stay. A poster checked out my link to Finca Mystica and commented that Finca Mystica didn’t seem to be eco-friendly because it didn’t have composting toilets and solar power. I responded, “I am sure that you can find many eco-friendly locals who would be glad to let you use their outhouse and they may even throw in a cheap chicken coop for your eco-friendly visit.”

Not very nice of me. I attribute my bad mood to the motorcycle accident we had on the way up the steep, rocky road to Finca Mystica. Our bike stalled halfway up their driveway. Ron always told me not to put my feet down…and I listened like a good rider. The bike tipped over and I landed in a pile of rocks. Fortunately, I landed on the fattest part of my body, so no broken bones. Unfortunately, I have a gigantic bruise on my backside in an array of colors.

Poor me! Ron is rolling his eyes as I write. “Always get back on the horse,” he said. “Maybe someday, but never to the other side of the island again,” I threatened. The road was recently paved to Balgue, but not to Mérida, where Finca Mystica is located. As soon as we took the Y in the road to the right and the pavement ended, I knew I was in trouble. “Just let me walk,” I pleaded as we bumped and swerved to miss the rocks springing up like weapons of mass destruction planted to warn eco-friendly tourists that paradise comes with sacrifice.

Finca Mystica is a beautiful place. Ryan and Angie were awesome hosts, but my visit was tainted with my fear of getting back on the horse to get to the other side of the island the next day. I refused. Norman, their local taxi driver shuttles people back and forth three times a day. “How do you travel this road three times a day, Norman? Don’t you get shaken baby syndrome from the constant rattling and jostling? How long does it take you to make one round trip? How many tires do you have to replace in a week?”

I discovered the answers to my questions when Norman took me home the next day. I left with Norman at 8:30 am and he dropped me off at a friend’s house in Mérida. We spent a few pleasant hours visiting, walked to a restaurant and ate delicious grilled fish, then Norman picked me up at the restaurant to deliver me in comfort…or so I thought… home. Just a few minutes away from the restaurant, my stomach began to gurgle. “Hmmm,” I thought. “I hope I don’t have to find a bathroom quickly.”

Every bump in the road caused me to panic. Not only was I worried about my stomach cramps, I was sitting on my swollen and bruised butt. “Norman, how long will it take us to get to La Paloma?” I asked with trepidation. He said that we should be there in about an hour. First, we had to stop and look at a piece of land for sale in Mérida. A new friend of mine wanted to see the land before Norman dropped her off in Balgue. I sat impatiently in the car for 30 minutes listening to my stomach rumble and groaned with each impending stomach cramp.

An hour later, after getting lost, picking up several passengers and dropping them off in Santo Domingo, we were finally on our way to the other side of the island…home, sweet, home.  I sighed in relief, until a fellow walking along the side of the road whistled at us to stop. A flat tire! I jumped out of the car and rushed to the closest bathroom, which happened to be a little cement cubicle at the tire repair guy’s house. It wasn’t an eco-friendly outhouse. Thank God for a flush toilet! But, there was no water in the tank.

Ten minutes later, I sheepishly exited the cement block enclosure, thanked the family gathered around the cubicle, and prayed that they would put water in the tank to flush it without looking at the contents. I heard them laughing as we pulled away with the newly inflated tire. Near the La Paloma airport, my cramps intensified. “I can hold on,” I told myself. “We’re almost home.” And then came the ominous hissing. Another flat tire.

“Norman, I can walk home from here,” I said. “No,” he replied like a Sandinista soldier firing an order, ” I will fix the tire and take you to your house!” With no bathroom in sight, I hastily made my way to a sparsely clad bush vacated by twin calves….a very eco-friendly move.  Another 30 minutes passed, along with much grunting and groaning and we were finally home. Ron was waiting for me at the door. Rushing to our flush toilet, I gave thanks for running water and a plump cushion of fat that protected me from a disastrous trip to the other side of our eco-friendly island. Come to the other side? It will be a long time or at least until the road is paved before I make that trip again!

 

Moooove Over


                                  Cows on Ometepe airport runway~ Cindi Pearlman

Growing up in Pennsylvania, we were always on the lookout for deer leaping across the highway. Last summer, Ron and I counted twenty-three dead deer when we passed the Welcome to Pennsylvania sign. Splayed along both sides of the interstate, they reminded me of a massacre of enormous puffed wheat balls.

One of Bobby’s most infamous stories was the time the Paxeo shuttle took him to the Managua airport to catch an early morning flight.  A pregnant cow wandered into the path of the shuttle. Life in the fast lane for the pregnant cow came to an abrupt end that morning. The airbag erupted and the cow’s head flew through the windshield. Covered with blood and burns from the airbag, Bobby caught another taxi to the airport where the attendants looked at him in horror. They put him in first class and attended to his wounds, even offering him a change of clothes and free drinks.  Paxeos didn’t charge him for the trip, then offered him future discounted fares to the airport.

Road kill is prevalent on every highway and road in the world, but what are the statistics on runway kill?  With the Ometepe airport near completion, I wonder about the cows that cross the runway. How many animals have been hit by planes? According to the International Civil Aviation Organization, “Runway incursions are today one of the major factors affecting flight safety. Animals on the runway are a particularly pervasive problem at many airports.”

In March 2012, an airliner hit two cows while landing in Venezuela, killing both bovines and damaging the landing gear and the flaps on the plane’s left-wing. Below are a few other accidents with cows on the runway:

  • In 2005, a herd of cows was hit by an Air France Airbus A330 carrying nearly 200 passengers while landing in Port Harcourt, Nigeria. Following that incident, local authorities began arresting stray cows and holding them until their owners paid a fine.
  • In 2011, an Aviastar Twin Otter carrying 30 people hit three cows while landing at Komodo Airport in Indonesia. The front of that plane suffered damage and the cows were killed.
  • And in 2008, the wing of a British biplane clipped a cow while making an emergency landing, an incident which was caught on video. The cow was not injured. Unbelievable!

Watch out Ometepe bovines! Mooove over when those big ole’ planes sweep down to our island. Keep a moooovin on or you may be my next meal of runway kill.