Weekly Photo Challenge: Signs

Weekly Photo Challenge: Signs  For this challenge, share an image of a sign: it can be a sign near your home — a comforting sight after a long journey — a sign that doubles as art, or other types of signs that hold meaning for you.

Puesta del Sol is a business that arranges for tourists to stay in the homes of locals. Many houses nearby have the signs. It not only gives the tourist a unique experience, it gives the locals some much needed extra income.

This looks like a fairly commonplace sign, but the business and people it represents are anything but common. I snapped this photo while I was on Ometepe Island, Nicaragua.

Puesta del Sol started in 2004 with 6 families who would rent one of their rooms to tourists and also share their meals with the guests. It has now grown into 18 families! It is mainly managed by the women and has allowed them a way to make money which has improved not only their lives, but has helped the entire community.

For the tourists, it offers a very unique experience. These are hard working families who live a mainly agricultural life with few of the comforts and conviences that we consider normal. The homes participating in Puesta del Sol have prospered and are some of the best looking homes in the area but still, the tourist will get quite a different view of life and people on Ometepe than they would get in any hotel or hostel. To read more from some of these tourists, click this link to Trip Advisor. Their comments are overwhelmingly positive.

For me, we spent almost three weeks in the neighborhood so I met and talked to many of the participants on a daily basis. These people are warm and friendly and a real joy, and I am so happy for them that they have developed their hospitality skills and their business is prospering. Every time I think of Puesta del Sol I think of the new friends I made there.

It may be only a sign but it means a lot to many people, myself included.

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Rare plants and animals rescued ahead of Panama Canal expansion. – The Panama Blog

I am happy to see this article which talks about all the efforts to save wildlife displaced by the canal construction, and the reforestation that is also taking place.

Rare plants and animals rescued ahead of Panama Canal expansion. – The Panama Blog.

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Charco Verde, Ometepe Island, Nicaragua

We are back in Panama but I had one more set of photos I wanted to share. This is another well known area of Ometepe Island, and with good reason. It was absolutely beautiful, and there are also howler monkeys that live in that area. It is on the south side of the island within reasonable biking distance from Moyogalpa. As you will see, we had a perfect, sunny day to go explore this area.

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Nighttime

Weekly Photo Challenge: Nighttime  What nocturnal photos do you like taking? Whether it’s a starry sky, a street lamp, or the shadows cast by your cat, share them with us. Your shot can be outdoors or indoors, blurry or crisp, overexposed or ominously dark. As every owl (and night owl) knows, nighttime is when the real action starts.

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A Beautiful Monday in Nicaragua

Our adventure continues on Ometepe Island, and it was another interesting day.  First we headed to town to pick up a few things.

After we got back to the house we decided to go walking. We heard that there was some land for sale nearby so we wanted to see if we could figure out which land it was since we thought we had a general idea.

We saw some young men sitting by the road and talking so we asked them if they knew anything. It turns out one of them was in front of his grandmother’s house and she wants to sell it! It is a small typical house with an outside kitchen, but it has city water and electricity. I am guessing it is on maybe 1/2 acre of land planted with a variety of trees and food producing plants. It is close to but not within sight of the water. They want $23K, but would also be willing to sell half of the lot, the part without the house.

We discussed the property, met with the daughter, granddaughter and other family members who were there, explained why we were here and that we were just looking at this point, thanked them for their time and left.

Later we were sitting in the kitchen and heard someone calling from the front of the house. It was the grandmother, this time with her son who we hadn’t met earlier. This frail little lady had walked all the way to the house in the total darkness, down the dirt road through sand, over tree roots, and up and down with one flashlight in her hand to talk to us further and to tell me that they would give us a good deal (though no actual numbers were presented). They must be anxious to sell me the place!

Not only that, yesterday afternoon we were walking the dog and said hi to some neighbors that we have passed before. He called us over to say he heard we had been looking for land, and he has some for sale at the east end of the airport area. Word gets around!

No, we aren’t moving here. We have barely visited for three weeks. But, if there was something we really liked for not much money, we might consider it. I do love this island.

Anyway, we finished our walk just as the sun was about to set and it was a great evening to be out!

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Bugs in Nicaragua

It is a rainy day today, perfect for sorting photos, catching up on blog posts, and cleaning up from a bug invasion.

It rained most of the night and today, every time I think about going out it starts to rain again.

It rained most of the night and today, every time I think about going out it starts to rain again.

You know me and bugs :D  I haven’t been specifically looking for them or working in the yard but still, since we are in this tropical place it is no surprise that we have seen a few.

The most interesting experience of the last few days was the invasion of the chayules.  I had heard about these bugs that occasionally show up in large numbers and make a mess of everything. They are harmless though and don’t bite or fly in your face, so they are more of an inconvenience than anything else. It is challenging to cook though, and don’t leave your food or drink uncovered.

The invasion was short lived though, some on Saturday, clouds of them on Sunday, less on Monday and then it was pretty much over. But, it wasn’t the only things we have seen. Besides a number of black witch moths which are so big I think they’d are bats, I have seen a few other interests critters.

We have also had some other great days here so there will be a few more posts coming. Don’t worry, no more bugs, but a lot of great scenery.

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Sunday in Altagracia

We had taken the bus through Altagracia and thought it looked interesting. And, since it is the other biggest town on the island we thought we would go check it out. There are buses that go there about every hour so we walked to town and hopped on one.

The drive was pretty, as was the entrance into town. It was Sunday though so most places were closed and the town was pretty quiet. We decided to walk around a bit though and see what the town was like.

We had also heard that the water was nearby so we headed out to look for the beach. A couple locals said it wasn’t far, and it was a bit farther than I would describe as “not far” on foot but it was an interesting walk.

We stopped for a really nice lunch and then made our way back to the park to catch a bus home, just in time to see a bus leaving town on the other side of the park. So, we asked around and learned at on Sunday there are no more buses, not until mañana. We set out walking knowing it would be a really long walk back, but hopefully some other option would present itself besides the $30 we were told it would costs for a taxi.

We walked along and had one of the most interesting experiences of the day. We passed this house with a yard full of beautiful flowers, and the lady was outside so I told her that I thought her flowers were beautiful. She was so happy that we liked her flowers that she invited us to come sit in the shade with her and her husband in front of the house. Conversation led us to her family and children, and she invited me inside the house to see the photos of her children! I have been very curious to see inside a typical Nicaraguan house.

I wish I was more comfortable and confident putting my camera in people’s faces and private spaces so even though she told me it was OK, I only snapped one quick picture and it isn’t as clear as it could be. Even so, you can see that the house has a dirt floor, brick walls, and a metal roof supported by wood beams. There was minimal furniture, only a small table and a few chairs, all but one that had been taken outside for us. There was a small shelf on the wall with some mementos and a few hair ornaments, and pictures on the wall of family along with some other decorations. The back wall is only a partial wall and I imagine the bedrooms are behind it. There was a storage area at the end of the room and I could see a couple bicycles there. I didn’t see any running water, bathroom, or cooking area inside the house.

She told me that she was born here and lived here all her life. They had eight children and a number of grandchildren but only a few of the children had pictures on the walls. She told me that most of them had gone to Costa Rica for work. One daughter had earned enough to come back and build the house that was next door. I tried to get a sense of what they did for a living but all I could determine is that he can’t work because of some problem in his back and neck that leaves his arms too weak and painful to work.

People are like that in this part of the world. You say a few kind words and you are invited into their homes and lives. We have had so many people here be so friendly and kind, and a surprising number have told us that we should buy some land and come live here. Anyway, I digress and these ideas will be addressed in future posts.

Meanwhile we had to get ourselves back to the house. We walked on for about 45 minutes until we reached the next town. A lady by the side of the road told us that a “busito” would be along soon. Sure enough, it wasn’t long before a van came by, told us he would take us to Moyogalpa for $4, so we hopped in very glad that we weren’t walking all the rest of those miles.

Another successful day and we made it home! I am glad we saw the Altagracia area. I heard it was another area to consider but we prefer the Moyogalpa area. There is a bit more going on in the town, the ferries are here if you want to leave the island, and it is on the west side where you can see the great sunsets every evening.

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Ometepe Island, Nicaragua, another Saturday

Saturday was a quieter day. We relaxed at home, went into town for a few things, and took the kayak out on the lake.

We woke up to flat tires on Joel’s bike, again *sigh*. We had already taken the bike in three times for flat tires and a broken brake and they exchanged it for another. I think we are just getting the same unrepaired bikes over and over, and it is inconvenient to have to pump up tires every morning and run back into town. So, we decided to turn the bike back in and try another establishment. Harinton Willy is also on the Main Street and was happy to fix Joel up with a nice bike, so hopefully we won’t have any more problems.

(FYI Willy’s Tours, willy’stour@yahoo.com cell 86418031)

After doing what we needed to do in town we thought it would be a good day to take out the kayak. It was a bit overcast but calm, and very pleasant on the water. I am always surprised at how warm the water is.  It must be in the mid eighties.

Of course since we are on the west side of the island, chances are we are going to have a beautiful sunset! I took the dog for a walk but still managed to see quite a bit of it as we made the rounds of the neighborhood.

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Endurance

Weekly Photo Challenge: Endurance. Show us what endurance means to you. Is it that high-school diploma, beads of sweat earned on a long run, a treasured family heirloom, or something else entirely?

There are many things that come to mind with the word “endurance”, especially here in Nicaragua where I see how people work hard every day just for the basics of life. But, I also thought of something more personal, an experience watching my son in law compete in a triathlon. I admire his persistence and endurance in training. I was also inspired by the other competitors, many of whom were older than me and/or didn’t look like what comes to mind when you think of an athlete. There is no upward age limit on staying active, healthy, and in shape to the best of your ability, or on setting goals for yourself and working towards them.

Drew comes in looking great

Drew comes in to the finish line looking great

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.
Lao-tzu, The Way of Lao-tzu
Chinese philosopher (604 BC – 531 BC)

It is one thing to take the first step, and it is another to have the endurance to persist through the whole journey. I think for most of us, that is the most challenging.

 

 

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Nacatamales!

A family in the neighborhood makes nacatamales every Friday and they are wonderful!

A nacatamale is a traditional dish of Nicaragua and Honduras. This family makes two kinds, one with masa (corn) and pork, the other with rice and chicken. Like tamales in other countries (which are a bit different),  they are a lot of work. They are often made for holiday gatherings and many family members participate in the preparation.

I thought it would be great if I could learn to make these nacatamales so I asked if I could come and help, and they graciously agreed. So, Friday morning I showed up at the house. Julia and her daughter Amarelis had already done some of the work. Bundles of plantain leaves had been boiled to soften them, and they were preparing the masa.

I am not exactly sure about the corn and masa part. It was explained that the corn is cooked with “cal”, and from my research I understand that the corn is cooked with lye or wood ash which is very alkaline and changes the properties of the corn.  Then it must be boiled again with clean water. One can also buy corn flour that has already been treated in this way and which is recommended for nacatamales by many recipes found on line.

When I arrived they were mixing the dough, adding Maggi flavored bullion powder, oil, vinegar flavored with onions, and milk until it was the flavor and consistency they wanted, a bit firmer than mashed potatoes. They also had all the ingredients ready – sliced onions, tomatoes, green peppers, potatoes, pieces of pork soaking in flavored vinegar, rice soaking in water, and springs of herba buena or mint.

Now it was time to assemble the nacatamales. First, plantain leaves are selected. Then a large scoop of masa is put on the leaf (smooth side up), followed by a piece of meat, a bit of onion, pepper, tomato, potato, a bit of the soaked rice, a sprig of mint, and a bit of the juice from the meat. Then the whole thing is wrapped up in the leaves and tied with strips of “bark” from the plantain trees like a nice little package. One must be careful to have no sharp bones sticking up to make a hole in the leaves, and don’t tear the leaves while you are putting the nacatamales together.

After showing me how it was done a couple times, it was my turn and I wrapped the rest of the nacatamales.

After a while we had a pretty good pile of nacatamales ready to cook. This is very low season for tourists so sales are down, so they were only  making the masa and pork nacatamales today. But still, they estimated we had made about 50 of them.

As far as I can tell there are no cooking facilities in the house. All cooking is done outdoors over a wood fire. It is more work but there is nothing like the flavor of food cooked over wood. It didn’t take Julia any time at all though to get a fire going.

When we were done, nothing went to waste. Leaf scraps were fed to the pigs and ducks, and the leftover rice to the chickens. Everything else was put away for another day.

I think this must have been something new for all of us! Amarelis took photos of the gringa cooking traditional Nicaraguan food to post on facebook (and I now have a new Facebook friend), and as you can see, I also took a number of photos of my new experience.  Not only do I know a lot more about nacatamales, we had a wonderful morning of conversation and getting to know each other which I enjoyed every bit as much as the cooking.

 

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