Weekly Photo Challenge: Four Three-Picture Stories from Ometepe


The Weekly Photo Challenge is: Three  In this challenge we are to tell a story in three pictures, increasing the zoom to hone in on the subject.

Hello World

The key to everything is patience. You get the chicken by hatching the egg, not by smashing it. ~Arnold H. Glasow 

Keep on reading. There are three more story pictures.

Part Three: The Cult of Keywords in Sustainable Tourism


“I sat on a toilet watching the water run thinking what an odd thing tourism is. You fly off to a strange land, eagerly abandoning all the comforts of home and then expend vast quantities of time and money in a largely futile effort to recapture the comforts you wouldn’t have lost if you hadn’t left home in the first place.”

― Bill Bryson, Neither Here Nor There: Travels in Europe


Part One: The Codes of Responsible Travelers

Part Two:  Natives with Netiquette

Ecotourism…eco-friendly…permaculture…bio-diversity…sustainable tourism…green…words that have become so popular in the tourism industry, that I wonder if they have evolved into meaningless clichés for the sake of marketing, or if the concept of environmental conservation has evolved into a new trend.

vulcan maderas

But wait, there’s more!

Weekly Photo Challenge: A Treasured Heart


The Weekly Photo Challenge is Treasure. In a new post created specifically for this photo challenge capture something you treasure.

Happy Valentine’s Day from Ometepe Islanda treasured oasis of peace which captured my heart.

                                       “One love, one heart, one destiny.”
                                         ― Bob Marley
IMG_5788
Don’t stop yet, there’s more!

Canadian Documentary of the Cult Ecoovie


The Anatomy of the Cult Ecoovie is my most popular blog post with 2,683 hits and 15 shares. Since seeing is believing, I am sharing the Canadian documentary called The Face of Evil, about the life of Pierre Maltais, the cult leader of Ecoovie.

You don’t want to miss the rest of this post, read on!

On the Other Side of Fear


“Everything you want is on the other side of fear.” ― Jack Canfield

If there is one thing I’ve learned about the Survival runners in the Fuego y Agua, it is that they live beyond fear. I marvel at their fortitude, their strength, and their…well…craziness! This year, the survival runners ran about 60 miles, up and down both volcanoes, stopping to complete obstacle challenges that included 20 ft. bamboo poles, climbing trees, diving into the lake to get a bracelet attached to a rock, sleeping on top of Maderas volcano, carrying 50 lbs. of firewood on their backs, and other unimaginable challenges that tested them to their limits.

The Fuego y Agua Survival Run Course
survival run course map copy

Are you afraid yet? There’s more!

Running With Scissors


This year’s Fuego y Agua races have sadly come to an end. We volunteered for our third year in a row to help the runners. I’m writing a post about the runners, next.  Meanwhile, enjoy our travels from one side of Ometepe Island to the other, as we run with scissors (figuratively)  following the Survival runners from one obstacle challenge to another.

We followed the Survival Runners on February 5th, hopping buses, taxis, and hiking around the island to find their obstacle challenges. First stop: Tesoro de Pirata.
IMG_1328

But wait! There’s a lot more!

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

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.

 

Jamaica Rum Punch


Hiron and his daughter, Albia Lugila (our god-daughter) stopped by our house mid-December and invited us to her Quinceañera. In exchange for a bag of frioles and two large Grenadina fruits, they asked us to supply the grand fiesta with liquor…enough liquor to serve over 200 festive party goers.  That’s a lot of liquor! What could we make and how would we transport it to the little community at the base of the active volcano?

After much thought, we decided to make Jamaica Rum punch. It’s not a traditional drink for a grand fiesta, but it would serve many people and keep the cost low. Jamaica is a flower known to many as the Hibiscus flower. It grows abundantly in Nicaragua and has many astonishing health benefits. High in vitamins and minerals, its powerful antioxidant properties help to lower elevated blood pressure, bad cholesterol, and detoxify the entire body. Since Jamaica is high in electrolytes such as chloride, magnesium, potassium and sodium, the juice can be used to replenish electrolytes in the body after exercise, a day in the sun, or in this case a long night of partying and dancing. Of course, we added three gallons of rum to our punch, so it’s hard to say if the rum counteracted the health benefits. Regardless, the Jamaica Rum punch was a BIG hit. We served 20 gallons in less than two hours.

There is a large field of Jamaica near our house. With the permission of the owners and armed with two five gallon buckets, some friends, and lots of energy, we spent a morning picking fresh Jamaica flowers.

IMG_0831A close up of the Jamaica flower…a vibrant, gorgeous red.
IMG_0813An hour later, we had filled two five gallon buckets with Jamaica flowers.
IMG_0810The Nicaraguan way of carrying a bucket of Jamaica flowers.
IMG_0836Opening the flowers, we exposed the seeds. They look like tiny chocolate chips. We dried them in the sun and several days later, Ron planted the seeds to start our own Jamaica field.
IMG_0818Back at our house, we separated the flowers from the seeds. With timed contests, it was clear that Maria had lots of experience separating the flowers and seeds. She was consistently the winner!
IMG_0837The small seed pods are perfect colors for Christmas.
IMG_0838I let Ron find the ratio of water to Jamaica leaves. Math totally frustrates me. We wanted a strong concentrate so we could fill two five gallon buckets with the juice, then add more water, rum, sugar, and lots of pineapple chunks and orange slices. We hoped to end up with 20 gallons of Jamaica Rum punch to take to the party.
IMG_0843Ron planned a 1:1 ratio of water to leaves initially. I boiled the leaves for 5 minutes, then it simmered for 10 minutes. This took all day with the amount of flowers we picked and only one large pot.
IMG_0845When the concentrate was a deep red color, we poured it into a bucket, strained the leaves, then added 3 pounds of sugar per bucket. Whew! That was a long day!
IMG_0844The next day was the Quinceañera.We loaded our two buckets of concentrated Jamaica juice, a borrowed bean bowl for the punch bowl, 20 pounds of ice that I made and stored in our freezer, and an overnight bag into a taxi. Then, we stopped in town to pick up 2 borrowed coolers, more ice, 5 gallons of rum, a 5 gallon container of water, 5 pineapples, 20 oranges, and we were off to the party. 

Let me tell you of a good business for Moyogalpa…an ice machine. No one sells cubed ice on the island. We had to order 12 small bags of blocked ice from a woman named Vicky. She must have a freezer in her house and has a nice little business selling blocks of ice.

Since I sincerely doubt that you will be making 20 gallons of Jamaica Rum punch, the recipe that follows is for a smaller quantity and modified because we have most of the ingredients growing at our house.

                                                    Jamaica Rum Punch
3 quarts of water
1 ( 1/2 inch) piece of ginger, finely grated
1 1/2 cups dried Jamaica flowers, also known as hibiscus, 2 cups of fresh flowers
1 1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 tbsp. freshly squeezed lime juice
2 cups of Flor de Cana rum
slices of oranges, pineapple, limes, and other fruit
Ice
Instructions:
Combine water and ginger in a large pot. Bring to a boil over high heat. Remove from heat and add Jamaica flowers and sugar until the sugar dissolves. (If you are using fresh flowers, add them to the boiling water). Let it steep for 10 minutes. Strain the mixture through a sieve into a large heat-resistant bowl or pot. Stir in lime juice and refrigerate. When ready to serve, add ice, 2 cups of rum, pineapple chunks, and orange slices.

You can find the dried Jamaica flowers at most Latin grocery stores or online.

Rico! I can’t wait until our own Jamaica ( pronounced Him-i’-ca) field is in bloom. I think we’ll make Jamaica wine, next.  By the way…the 15th birthday party was a blast. I think I took over 200 photos…next post coming soon.

A Muñeca New Year


“There will be always something old in the New Year!” ― Mehmet Murat ildan

An old tradition in Nicaragua is to burn the ‘old year’. They collect old clothes, stuff them with dried plantain leaves and lots of gunpowder, and make muñecos, or old men scarecrows. Then, at midnight, they burn the effigies symbolizing an explosion of vices and a new beginning. A post I wrote in January 2012: A Molotov New Year

But, this year, I chose to explode old traditions and make a muñeca…a woman scarecrow.
IMG_1063Lauren brought an old shirt and shoes. I supplied the colorful socks and the pants. We made her head out of a Jicaro pod, painted gorgeous full lips and freckles. Lauren completed her head with fancy make-up, banana leaf hair, and a big lime green bow. She’s ready for a party.
IMG_1069But, wait! She’s not complete without her vices.
IMG_1068“What is her name, Lauren? She needs a name.” I asked. She thought about a name while we were raking the shredded banana leaves. “Laura!” she finally shouted. Perfect! If you live in Latin America, you may be familiar with the “Laura Bozzo Show” on television. Laura is kind of like a female Jerry Springer. She’s bold, bright, and beautiful. And most of all…Laura is a fighter. She fights for women’s equality in Latin America with a lot of controversy and conflict on her shows.
IMG_1071Laura it is! She’s too beautiful to burn on New Year’s Eve. I think she’s a keeper. I’m going to set her in front of my house for a long time…or at least until the midnight bandits try to steal her.  Maybe I’ll make a sign for her to hold in honor of women’s rights in Nicaragua.
IMG_1067There will always be something old in the new year…but this year, she’s female! Here’s to keeping the old traditions, yet adding a new twist to the story. May your new year be filled with love, acceptance, and honor. I’ll leave you with a few photos of muñecos that my friend, Cindi, took on the other side of the island.
bearded munecoblack faced munecodrunk munecopin head munecosunglass muneco