Saturday, April 25, 2009

Views, Villages, and Volcanoes



22 to 24 Apr, 2009 - Catarina, Masatepe, and Masaya, Nicaragua

Catarina sits with a slight altitude, on the other side of a lake filled crater close to Granada. The views from Catarina, with Granada in the distance, and Lake Nicaragua behind it again, were pretty damn stunning. At the lookout, we ate, we drank, we danced (well, not really, we listened to the marimbas...)


View Over Massive Crater Lake
View Over Massive Crater Lake
From Catarina, this is the view over the crater lake, Apoyo. Granada is on the far side (not very visible in the photo) and beyond that is the massive Lake Nicaragua (Lago de Nicaragua).



Masatepe was supposed to be about views, too, but it ended up being so much about the village and the people. We went looking for some breakfast, looking for some highly recommended nacatamales or tamugas. What we found was large scale production of said foods, in full swing. Seven or eight ladies working with open fires, using pots, pans, and utensils from lands of giants. Huge quantities of each ingredient being prepared - cut, cooked, or combined. Finally, in the front room, two ladies wrapped the ingredients in banana leaves and tied them up like presents. We were shown through to a dining table where we ate our tamugas and drank our coffee, all the while conversing with some of the chatty and cheery ladies. They were delighted when we expressed interest in wandering through to the kitchen areas.


Busy Kitchen - Large Scale Tamuga And Nacatamale Production
Busy Kitchen - Large Scale Tamuga And Nacatamale Production
Ladies in a kitchen behind a not-to-likely-looking shop produce huge numbers of tamugas and nacatamales. It was an amazing production line, and quite a find to stumble upon this operation.


300 Nacatamales Needs A Fair Bit Of Meat
300 Nacatamales Needs A Fair Bit Of Meat
Meat cutting duties in a tamuga and nacatamale production kitchen.



Masaya. A city of markets and churches and plazas (formerly 12 or so villages that have merged in to one large town). And nearby, the amazing smoking volcano. Drive-through sulphur! Yep, you can park at the rim. Just be aware that it is one of the more active volcanoes in the world. Unfortunately, sulphur clouds obscure the lava! There was a time when it was thought that this crater was the gate to hell itself!


Santiago Crater
Santiago Crater
The main crater of one of Central America's most active volcanoes, Masaya. The warning that came upon entry was "if debris is thrown from the volcano, take shelter under your vehicle".


Sulphurous Cloud From Masaya
Sulphurous Cloud From Masaya
A cloud of volcanic ashes rising from the volcano, Masaya.


Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Colonial Beauty



20 to 22 Apr, 2009 - Granada, Nicaragua

I'll let the photos speak for themselves.


View From Our Hospedaje
View From Our Hospedaje
The Granada Cathedral across the rooftops, viewed from our accommodations.


Statues From Isla Zapatera
Statues From Isla Zapatera
Large statues found on the ritual island of Zapatera in Lake Nicaragua, now on display in the museum of San Francisco.


Another Hilarious Pot
Another Hilarious Pot
Some potters had a lot of fun. This pot is holding his belly and poking his tongue out.


Looking Towards Granada Centre
Looking Towards Granada Centre
A streetscape, and the church of Guadalupe.


A Typical Street in Granada
A Typical Street in Granada
Close to the centre, there is a bit more attention to detail and colour, but the average street in Granada still has many beautiful Colonial buildings.


Drinking Coffee
Drinking Coffee
Amazingly, it is hard to find a good cup of coffee in Nicaragua. But in a city like Granada, so heavily visited, they know the tourists are seeking a good brew. This is right on the main square.


Monday, April 20, 2009

The Jesus Hokey Pokey.



13 to 20 Apr, 2009 - Managua, Nicaragua

No, it's not quite "You put your soul, in..." but it is sung to the Hokey Pokey tune. We have spent a week with La Capilla de Calvario, a mission organisation in Managua, the capital of Nicaragua. I have been throwing my expertise in to some of the computer issues here, while Jo (and myself on a few occasions) have been helping out in the school they run. There is also a bakery, but that is entirely run by locals. Actually, so is the school, but we go in and help with English classes. We talk about ourselves and Australia, so they get to hear native English speakers. We teach them games and songs in English, which they love. And we help them with exercises and pronunciation.


Helping Grade 2's
Helping Grade 2's
I think we were drawing kangaroos... This is the school run by the Calvary Chapel of Managua.


The Youngest Out For Exercise
The Youngest Out For Exercise
The preps stretch their legs.


Doing the "Jesus Hokey Pokey"
Doing the "Jesus Hokey Pokey"
OK, so not all the grade 2's worked out we were up to "right" leg, but it could be because we were singing in English, not Spanish. It was English class, after all.


Jo, Renee, and Carolina Lead the Singing
Jo, Renee, and Carolina Lead the Singing
English songs, with actions, and a message. The kids at all year levels love to be taught new songs!



We took Saturday off, to go and see the sights of Managua. Expectations were not high as a few people had told us not to bother with this city. We think they are wrong, and that Managua was definitely worth seeing. Low expectations made for pleasant surprises, and we had a very pleasant day. Renee (a long term volunteer at Calvary) joined us.

The downtown area has a fantastic museum. Armando, an 8 year old boy who spends his Saturdays in the museum because his father works there, became our impromptu and very devoted tour guide. A gorgeous kid with a fantastic sense of humour, he waited patiently while the three of us studied various displays, and then showed us where to go next. He took us to the roof for some views of the city, and followed me out on to a balcony which I could only access through a hole from which the air conditioner had been removed. He was very patient when I struggled in Spanish (although the struggles are getting fewer, but children don't always understand that you as an adult may not speak their language very well!) My only regret is that we didn't have any little koala toys with us at the time, as I would have loved to have given him one to say thankyou.


Thinking or Sniggering?
Thinking or Sniggering?

Funny Face, I Love You...
Funny Face, I Love You...
Either the artist was liberal, or the model was buck toothed, cross eyed, and lop sided. Either way, we found this pot rather amusing.


Our Tour Guide
Our Tour Guide
We visited the museum on Saturday. Armando has Saturday off from school and comes to work with his father. He became our impromptu tour guide.


Stone Carvings
Stone Carvings
Stone carved and worked in to a seat, with an animal head decoration.


Roof Top View
Roof Top View
Armando took us up to the rooftop of the museum to show us the views over Managua. Managua is a very green capital!



Other significant sights in that area included the old cathedral, still a shell nearly 40 years after an earthquake flattened most of the capital. Closed to the public, it would have been nice if we could have at least gone up to the gate for some photos, but a guard was fairly insistent that we had to keep our distance. Although the guard was inside, and the earthquake was 37 years ago, we were told that it was in danger of falling down!


Ruins of the Old Cathedral
Ruins of the Old Cathedral
Still unrestored since the earthquake of 1972. The shell of the Old Cathedral is a magnificent structure, but remains off limits.



The peace park, nearby, is largely unmaintained. The reflection pool has no water, and the lighthouse is damaged and is not lit any more. But the sculpture in the park was a piece that stirred deeply, in an uncomfortable and disturbing way. And I totally think that was the intention. Hundreds of weapons, mainly handguns and rifles, but some powerful machine guns and even a tank, all buried in tons of concrete.


Firearms in Concrete
Firearms in Concrete
Part of the Managua Peace Park sculpture.


A Tank in Concrete
A Tank in Concrete
The centrepiece of the Managua Peace Park sculpture.



After a couple of coffee breaks, lunch, climbing to a volcano rim, visiting some other sculptures and memorials, etc, etc, when finished the day at the new cathedral. A rather controversial structure, it looks quite large from afar, but is not overly big. Nor is it ostentatious. The controversy comes from the domes, which make it look very mosque-like...


Managua's Controversial New Cathedral
Managua's Controversial New Cathedral
The domes add structural support to a cathedral built on an earthquake fault line. But still, it looks a lot more like a mosque.


Interior of The New Cathedral, Managua
Interior of The New Cathedral, Managua


Monday, April 13, 2009

Freeeezing....



11 to 13 Apr, 2009 - San Juan del Sur, Playa Madera, and Bahia Majagual, Nicaragua

Freeeezing, or at least comparatively so. With so many people in the ocean, we thought the water was going to be delightful. But that was not the case. Maybe it was just that we had been at the lake, Ometepe. Maybe we just didn't realise how warm it was there. No, we just didn't appreciate that until we ran in to the Pacific.


From Our Balcony
From Our Balcony
Late night street partying on the Saturday Night during Semana Santa (Holy Week).


Contemplating The Surf
Contemplating The Surf
Making my way out past the breakers.


Twin Peaks – Nica Style



8 to 11 Apr, 2009 – Isla de Ometepe, Nicaragua

As midnight ticked over we were standing with our arms around one-another, leaning against the railing on the open rear deck of a ferry, looking out over the water at the twin volcanoes of Isla de Ometepe lit up by a nearly full moon. A kiss and a birthday wish from my beautiful wife, and so my 41st year officially began. Maga, a friend for a few days, and Jonathan, a friend for a few hours, joined us and they sang happy birthday to me. That was the party underway. And Maga gave me a thoughtful and quite beautiful present – a necklace that she had made for me. She had been sneaking around the boat for the last ten hours avoiding me, ensuring it was finished and ready for me by midnight! I really like it a lot and wear it every day, now.

The night was clear, and the moon only one or two days short of being full. It had been an amazing transformation of light and feel from watching the sun set between the two peaks while on the other side of the lake, docked en-route, to this moonlit moment when we were coming in to port with the near perfect cone of Volcán Concepción looming over us. She smokes, Concepción, a fair bit, but at the moment that's about all. Her counterpart, Volcán Maderas, has been dead for a long time. An interesting pair, really. Joined together to form one island, so similar that they are referred to as twin volcanoes, yet so different because of their huge difference in age and activity – would you call it a generation gap? :S


Sunset Over Ometepe
Sunset Over Ometepe
Sun setting, over the Isla de Ometepe, taking from the ferry from San Carlos.


Gulls
Gulls
Birds behind the ferry between San Carlos and Isla de Ometepe.



Since our time included part of the Holy Week, Semana Santa, and more specifically, Good Friday, we had to choose what we did, and how, keeping that fact in mind. Timetables and schedules are next to useless, with confusion affecting all transport users. Locals receive no exemption from this confusion, and so we did not sit alone for those hours, waiting. Everyone asked everyone else if they knew which buses might be running, and so each person's guess had a chance to circulate as the truth.

So, we restricted our visit to a handful of places. We saw some more petroglyphs, we swam the warm lake waters from black sand beaches, and we climbed to a wonderful mirador for sunset.


Petroglyphs
Petroglyphs
A boy and his pet mouse. That was how Jo and I interpreted this petroglyph. This is on the slopes of Volcán Madera, Isla de Ometepe.


Camping in a Volcano's Shadow
Camping in a Volcano's Shadow
Near the base of Volcán Concepción, the active half of Isla de Ometepe.


Volcán Concepción
Volcán Concepción
Active half of Isla de Ometepe in Lago de Nicaragua.


Volcán Maderas
Volcán Maderas
Sunset, looking at the dead volcano half of Isla de Ometepe.


Smoking Crater
Smoking Crater
The smoking crater of Volcán Concepción, Isla de Ometepe.


Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Nicaragua, South Western Corner



30 Mar to 7 Apr, 2009 - San Carlos, El Castillo, and Islas Solentiname, Nicaragua

San Carlos, on the eastern sure of the incredibly large Lago de Nicaragua (go on, look it up on a map, it is huge!), right where the Río San Juan begins it journey out of the lake snaking eastward to the Pacific. San Carlos, so isolated, yet with so many connections. You can fly in, but the flights are the priciest and least flexible option. There are bus connections to everywhere that you don't need to go, as well as routes that travellers may use but are horrid trips. This includes the tortuous 10 hour to Managua option. Finally, there are the boats. Down river, across river, and out to innumerable destinations on or around the lake. All our comings and goings for the last week have been water based, so when we eventually get back on a bus, it may feel a bit odd.

We came from Costa Rica via a little town called Los Chiles, where we did immigration formalities and boarded a collectivo boat. This took us down river, past a little house painted in camouflage, which was the Nicaraguan border post and eventually on to the shark infested river of Río San Juan. Ferocious bull sharks, like the ones we saw in Corcovado, Costa Rica. However, not just shark infested, but giant prawn infested! Hey, if you don't believe these fresh water babies are giant, check the photo! ¡Que rico!


Now That's A Prawn
Now That's A Prawn
The fresh water prawns in the Río San Juan are notoriously big. This is a prawn in shrimp sauce!



We left San Carlos, by boat, down river to El Castillo. Fast boat or slow? Take the slow, at half the price, and not at all pressed for time, it also allows us to take in the afternoon bird life along the banks. Three and a bit hours later, we rounded the bend where the fort came in to view. So beautifully set, and such a cute wooden town below. We have time, don't we? Yeah, let's stay a few days. Relax, eat some more prawns, and try and interpret the menus. These are the things to do in El Castillo.


La Forteleza
La Forteleza
The fort above the lovely town of El Castillo.


Down River
Down River
View down the river San Juan from La Forteleza, atop a hill on a bend in the river. El Castillo, Nicaragua.


He/She Intersects The Meat?  It Muffles In Flour?
He/She Intersects The Meat? It Muffles In Flour?
People should not rely on internet based translators exclusively. Perhaps finding a native speaker of the target language, or even someone with a reasonable grasp of it, may avoid some of the more unusual results.



After our relaxing, it was time to putt back up the river to San Carlos, and catch the collectivo boat (which runs twice a week) out to the islands of Solentiname. Maybe a good place to relax! Are you detecting any sort of theme here?

The islands have a bit of a reputation for good art, and many residents paint or sculpt. The style was spotted and cultivated within the community by a priest, Ernesto Cardenal. Now, their art has somewhat of a high standing in various international arenas. When not in Managua, Ernesto still often returns to the islands where he has a place on Mancarrón. And the church there is a gorgeously simple structure, built and decorated by the people in a style intended to reflect those people. Many of the pictures were created by children of the community, a wonderful touch. Ernesto has been known to upset the Pope with some of his ideas, but it is hard to criticise a man who encourages people to express and share what God and His Word, The Bible, means to them. Interpretation through their own eyes, and lived through their own lives. Relevance is so under appreciated. Ernesto recorded and published many of the islanders views and opinions in what became known as The Peasant's Mass.


Church Interior – Islas Solentiname
Church Interior – Islas Solentiname
Detail from one wall of the church built under the guidance of Ernesto Cardenal on Isla Mancarrón, Islas Solentiname.


Church Interior – Islas Solentiname
Church Interior – Islas Solentiname
Altar area of the church built under the guidance of Ernesto Cardenal on Isla Mancarrón, Islas Solentiname.



We spent a couple of nights on Isla Mancarrón, and a couple on Isla San Fernando. More boat trips, more relaxing. One boat trip was to Isla Venada to visit a cave filled with petroglyphs, believed to be about a thousand years old. Also filled with bats, the cave can only be visited in the dry season when water levels are low. We also managed to walk some trails around Isla San Fernando, to find some more petroglyphs. It seems art has been a part of this island for quite a long time.


Petroglyphs
Petroglyphs
Faces from eras past, carved into the walls of a waterline cave on an island in Lake Nicaragua.


Smile!
Smile!
A bat poses for a photo!



So eventually, back to San Carlos by boat. Just for a few hours, because two schedules finally worked together nicely so that we can catch the ferry on the same day, right across the lake to Islas de Ometepe. Only a 9 to 12 hour ferry. Oh, did I mention that the lake is huge?

Saturday, April 4, 2009

As promised....

Some ziplining photos, as promised.


Heading off to zip-line in the rain
Heading off to zip-line in the rain

Does it look like I had fun?
Does it look like I had fun?

Here comes Jo!
Here comes Jo!