Monthly Archives: January 2012

Kix for the Kids

After being at Hostal El Pulpo for two days looking after the place for Carlos Gord and I were anxious to get out for a walk. As we sauntered up the main, typically quiet road in Poneloya and we were surprised to see a crowd of people. 

Men, women and children were lined up on either side of the street and gathered around the entrance of the church. We were definitely curious and wondered what was going on.

As I wandered around taking a few photos, trying to figure out what was going on a woman with blonde curly hair approached the fence.  I asked her what the nature of the event was. She was less than forthcoming with information and was only willing to tell me that she was here on a mission from the US.  She didn’t give her name, nor did she specify what organization she was with, which frankly, seemed a bit odd.

I asked how many pairs of shoes were they able to bring and she stated,

“Enough for all the children”.

Anxious to get inside the gates and take a closer look at what this mission was all about I asked her if I could come in and take some photos for my blog. She said that she could not allow my entrance to the church, but said I was free to take pictures outside the gates.  This also seemed odd to me. First of all, if you were doing missionary work wouldn’t you want to talk about what you were doing, promote your organization and welcome any additional publicity you could get?  Secondly, since when aren’t “all of God’s children” welcome in the church.

I eventually figured out that part of this mission was to provide new and gently used shoes to the children.

The kids were excited to pose for pictures with their new sneakers and as always giggled when I showed them their image on the display screen of my camera.

Other items that were being handed out were stuffed animals, pens & pencils and fleece blankets.  The blankets must be for those cold winter nights when it dips to 25 degrees celsius???

As we headed back to Carlos’ place a little girl across the road gave us a friendly wave, smiled and  said “adios”.  I was quite sure she wanted her picture taken so Gord and I made our way over to take a quick snapshot and say hello.

With the help of Google I’ve learned that Solidary Foundation is the name of this group that was in Poneloya on Sunday.  Ms. Zulma Gallego is the lady I spoke with.  Why she was so unwilling to give me information  – I’m not sure.  To be honest, she made me feel as though I was not worthy of her saintly time and certainly not her respect. 

I guess the important thing is the smiles on the children’s faces and  how happy they were to have a brand new pair of sneakers or a stuffed animal to snuggle with at night.

Near Perfect Packers

Initially Gord and I thought we would have a significant list of items that we should have left behind in Canada, but after some contemplation we have come the conclusion that we are actually deserving of the title,“Near Perfect Packers”.  

If you missed our post on “What We Packed in Our Suitcases” and would like to read it now click here.

As we packed up for our move from Poneloya to Leon we decided to leave a few things in storage with Carlos at Hostal El Pulpo.  Although our warm weather clothing will come in handy once we head up to the mountains, we definitely don’t need jeans and hoodies here in Leon.  Our linens will be used again when we get a place of our own, but for now, they too are in storage.  We aren’t sure when we’ll be using our snorkel equipment but are still happy we packed our masks and snorkels.

The one and only thing we figure we should have left behind was the misting system we purchased online before we left.  It’ll be great to have once we get settled into a place of our own, but seeing how that won’t be for awhile to save on weight and space in our luggage we should have left it behind.

As surprising as it may seem there isn’t any one particular thing or things that we didn’t pack in our suitcases that we feel we should have. A couple of things that would be nice to have include a sharp kitchen knife, my Spanish workbook, our bathroom scales (so we know when to lay off the gallo pinto and cerveza) and bug spray with deat.  

All in all we are patting ourselves on the back for a packing job well done!

Soon We’ll Be Speaking Spanish

I’m happy to report that we now have 4 hours of Spanish lessons under our belt.  

Alberto, a watch repairman by day, is our teacher. We pay him $5 per hour for our lessons.  Although $5 an hour for private lessons may not seem like much, it’s actually on the high side of day’s wage for a Nicaraguan.  To put things into perspective the maids working in our guest house earn a mere $4 for each twelve-hour shift they work.

We didn’t want learning Spanish to feel like work so we’ve made arrangements for Alberto to come to our house just 4 days a week for one hour at a time. 

We have a mutually beneficial relationship with Alberto.  He’s helping us learn Spanish on our own time, at our own pace, in the comfort of our home.  In return we have helped him to nearly double his monthly wage. Being Alberto’s first students ever, not only are we helping him earn some extra cash, we are also providing him the opportunity to improve his teaching skills.  

On class days Alberto shows up promptly at 5 pm (if not earlier) always with a smile on his face, ready to sit down and get to work. It didn’t take Gord and I long to recognize that have two very different learning styles.  Acting as our scribe I sit close to Alberto focusing intently on his every word.  Gord has a bit more of a relaxed approach to our lessons;  he generally sits back and casually takes everything in.

Although Alberto isn’t formally trained as a teacher our lessons are going very well.  We are learning a bit more Spanish every day and the fact that we are helping out a local is definitely an added bonus!

Going to church 3 days in a row? Yes, really!

Leon is a city of about 200 000 people but it’s footprint is actually much smaller than you might imagine. The entire city is very walkable and by now it seems as though we’ve been from corner to corner at one time or another. We’ve learned that it’s rarely necessary to travel very far to get what you need.

Every small barrio has very similar stores restaurants and even churches. The perfect recipe for a barrio here seems to be 0.25 grocery stores, 1 Catholic church, 3 farmacias, 4 restaurants, 5 fritangas, 6 street food venders, 7 shoe stores and 10 knock-off clothing stores. I know that the 0.25 for grocery stores may seem odd, but there are 15 Catholic churches in the city of Leon and only 4 grocery stores that I know of. This ratio and the sheer number of churches in a city this size inspired Elisha and I to go on a mission to get a picture of each one.

We started with the biggest and most famous, La Catedral de Leon. It’s the largest church in Central America and is located in the heart of the city. This church was actually meant to be constructed in Lima, Peru but the plans were switched on the voyage over from Spain in 1747. There are underground tunnels that lead from this church to many of the surrounding churches. It has recently been recognized by UNESCO as a world heritage site and there are plans to revitalize the church, as well as the park and buildings surrounding the church.

The Catedral de Leon

We walked north toward the professional baseball stadium to find San Filipe. It is another large church that occupies an entire city block. It’s construction started in 1685 and was originally build for blacks and mulattos.

San Filipe Church

San Jose church is only a couple of blocks SE and was originally constructed in 1751. It was once used as a jail for indigenous rebels in the late 1800s, then rebuilt to its current glory in 1917 by Franciscan friars.

San Jose Church

In the NW corner of the city we found San Juan church, built in 1625. The original train station is only a block away, a park is directly in front and a bustling market is right around the corner. It looks and feels like a second city centre.

San Juan Church

4 blocks south is the El Calvario church. It was built in the early 18th century by the Mayorga family and looks brand new compared to most of the other churches.

El Calvario Church

Backtracking a little bit we walked 4 blocks NW to La Recolección church. Construction started in 1786. It is considered by most to be the most beautiful church in the city and is found in a number of tourist brochures and websites that feature pictures of this church instead of the main church La Cathedral de Leon.

La Recoleccion Church

Our last church of the day was Church La Merced constructed in 1762. It is home to Leon’s patron saint, La Virgen de La Merced.

Church La Merced

The next day we went to the beach but we stopped to take in a few churches on our way home. Our first stop was one of the most interesting churches in the city. It is the oldest church and is located in the barrio Sutiaba. Sutiaba was its own village before Leon relocated a kilometre East. Now it is just another neighborhood of Leon. This church was built in 1530 and features artwork and symbols that pay homage to deities predating the Spanish conquest.

Cathedral Sutiaba

Just 2 blocks east lies Ermita de San Pedro constructed in 1706. It is a very plain church that is only adorned with three brick crosses.

Ermita de San Pedro

Our longest walk between churches so far took us 8 blocks NE to the Zaragoza church constructed in the late 19th century. It is by far the most Gothic looking church that would make a perfect backdrop for any vampire movie. It was fitting that we arrived here as the sun was going down.

Zaragoza Church

Day 3 of our quest left us with only 5 more churches. We started close to home with the San Francisco church dating back to 1639. It is one of the oldest churches in the city and a national heritage site.

San Franciso

San Juan de Dios is only a block and a half directly south. It was build in 1625 and is one of the least impressive from the outside but the inside is considered one of the most beautiful.

San Juan de Dios

4 blocks SW brings us to Laborio church. It was constructed some time in the 17th century but the exact dates seem to be unknown.

Laborio Church

San Sebastian church is 4 blocks east was built in the late 17th century and rebuilt in the late 18th century only to be bombed in 1979 during the siege of Leon. It was constructed of adobe so it did not fare nearly as well as the churches built of brick and stone.

With our mission nearly complete we strolled 4 blocks south to Guadalupe church. It is unique for two reasons. It is the only church on this side of the river and it is the only church oriented north to south. Maybe the compasses were all broken in 1743.

Guadalupe Church

…and this friends concludes our church mission.

Have a mission for us? Send us an email; we’d be happy to take on the challenge!

Living in Leon

It’s day two at our new digs in Leon and we are settling in quite nicely. We have rented a room in a colonial guest house at a cost $300 USD for the month.

Finding a decent long term rental in Leon isn’t easy so we feel very fortunate to have found this place. With next to nothing advertised on the internet the best way to find more desirable rental property in Leon is by word of mouth.  Luckily one of the staff members at Lazy Bones Hostel gave us the heads up on this hidden gem.

From the outside our place doesn’t look all that interesting; not much by way of curb side appeal and notice there are no signs indicating that there are rooms for rent.

But as you open the doors and step inside what a world of difference.  Beautiful artwork adorn the walls with tasteful decor throughout.

In the front of the house there is a common area to watch television.

As you walk through the property towards the back of the house there is a beautiful, large and lush garden.

I love the contrast of the greens in the garden against the checkered tile floor.

We share a nice little kitchen with the other house guests.  It’s equipped with the basics, but not much more.  We have a cabinet to call our own where we store the little bit of groceries we keep.  To ensure we are the ones enjoying the Tonas we bought we use a permanent marker to put our names on the cans.

There are plenty of additional dining tables.  A great place to take some Spanish lessons in the evening.

We have no shortage of places to sit down, relax, read a book or enjoy a beverage.  Classic rocking chairs and seating areas are plentiful.

This is our favourite garden in the house.  There are two little turtles that live here.

As you continue through to the back of the house (getting closer to where our room is located) there is another garden.

The door to our room is on the right. This area is a great place to sit during the day, as well as the evening.  It’s nice and quiet with warm breezes blowing through.  Very tranquil! 

Finally we have our room.  The bed is very comfy and has great pillows.  The fan does an awesome job of keeping the room cool, both during the day and at night.  It seems like we may not even need to use the air conditioner.  I guess I should have listened to Gord when he said we probably wouldn’t need it and we could have saved ourselves $100.

We have cable TV with a couple of English channels which I’m quite excited about.  After not watching any television at all for over a month it’ll be nice to sit down and watch a show or enjoy a movie once in awhile.  Unfortunately I don’t think I’ll be able to get The Bachelor. 😦

The closet is a bit smaller than the one we had at our house in Poneloya, but combined with the space in the dresser we managed to squeeze everything in.

Not quite as fantastic as waking up to the ocean – but still not bad – this is the view from our room.

We hope you’ve enjoyed the photos and description of our place here in Leon. We are looking forward to starting Spanish classes, exploring the city during the day and night, discovering some hot spots for cheap eats, meeting more interesting people and continuing on and enjoying every moment of this amazing Nicaraguan adventure!

Cinco Aniversario

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Elisha and I were married on Playa Ocotal in Costa Rica on January 8th, which just happens to be five years ago, so it was time to celebrate! We decided to celebrate our anniversary the same way we would in Canada, with a great meal and a nice bottle of wine.

Having lived in Calgary for 10 years we had a list of favourite places we liked to go, many of which were through recommendations from friends.  In Nicaragua it happens to be a bit of a different story. First of all, we have no dining out experience and secondly, we have only one local friend to rely on for recommendations. Although Carlos from Hostel El Pulpo is a wealth of knowledge, romantic dinners out aren’t really his specialty, so onto Trip Advisor I went. Meson Real (a Spanish influenced tapas bar) turned up as the number one rated restaurant in Leon and appeared to be “right up our alley” so the plan was agreed upon – Meson Real it was!

Maybe I have a little Nica blood in me because I didn’t even realize our travel plans were a little odd until Elisha pointed out the fact that this was the first time that we had ever hitch-hiked to a date. Wearing a button up shirt for the first time since being here is what I was noticing, much more so than our mode of transportation. Thankfully a nice Nica/Russian guy with his daughter and grandson picked us up and dropped us off within a few blocks of the restaurant.

This was our first time in Leon at night and it turned out to be just as lively at night as it is during the day. There were many more food stands around and people were making their way to social commitments instead of work. It being Sunday evening all of the churches were in full swing. On one street Elisha and I thought a band was playing live music at a club until we noticed all the lights on. When we peaked in the window it ended up being evangelical church rocking it out.

We made our way to Meson Real and to our surprise it is only one block away from the house we are moving to later this week and unfortunately to our disappointment it was closed. I guess our next purchase should be a cell phone so that we can avoid this in the future. Who knows, maybe we’ll even get a car after that? But lets not get too far ahead of ourselves. With no way to check for the next best ranked restaurant on Trip Advisor we chose a place that is right beside our future home. After taking a quick look at the menu we decided that Mediterraneo-Terraza would be just fine.

Once seated I immediately flipped to the wine list to see what kind of night we were going to have. If you’ve been to Nicaragua you will know that 90% of the wines here come from Chile or Argentina. I have found that these wines range in category from very drinkable to gasoline. Nicas don’t have a big wine culture, so it seems like they will import whatever is the best price which makes the gasoline easiest to find. To my delight there was a nice Italian Valpolicella on the menu for $417 cordobas ($18.29 USD). That made the next decision to order up a couple of steaks more than natural.

We enjoyed a great dinner with two appies, two steaks with all the fixings, a very nice bottle of wine and dessert for a whopping $1069 cordobas ($46.89 USD). This by far has been our most expensive dinner in Nica.  No complaints here though – the food, the wine and more importantly the company were excellent.

After dinner we walked hand in hand around some of parks and huge Catholic churches. Due to the fact that it was Sunday night we were unable to find any live music. We did, however find out that Barbaro doesn’t slow down on a Sunday though. This pub we’d previously visited was full and “just a rocking'” to a DJ playing crazy Spanish music videos.

We stayed for one drink and then hopped in a cab and headed back to our quiet little town of Poneloya. On the way home we decided to have a date night like this monthly. Maybe we can go to Meson Real next.

Claro vs. Movistar

So we became a little more Nica today.  We decided to invest in our first Nicaraguan cell phone.  I say our first because to really be Nica you need two cell phones.  There is actually some good logic behind this dual phone principal.  Calls within your own service provider are nearly free but to call someone using the other provider it is the same price as calling Canada.  When someone gives you their number here they always write down their provider as well so you know which one of your phones to call them from.

Since we are slowly working toward being Nica we decided to start with one phone.  So which provider to go with.  We have Claro internet but the Movistar prepaid plans look better.  In the end we decided to go with Movistar because that is the main line that Carlos uses and he will be the one that we call the most, so off to a Movistar dealer we go.  

On  the way to the cell phone store we stopped at the bank to change some USD to cords.  And yes this picture is actually how it is done.  Not in the bank, but on the street in front of the bank.  There are no lineups here so we are back on our way in no time at all.  The only thing left to do was choose a phone.  

I know that in Canada most of you are IPhone snobs and think that Blackberry is so three years ago.  Well, here in a developing country Nokia is still king and I haven’t even seen an IPhone.  We didn’t need anything high tech, but we didn’t want the cheapest piece of no name junk on the shelf either. There were about 50 phones on the wall and someone who only speaks Spanish, who is more than willing to tell me about all of them.  I don’t understand much but pretend that I do and then just point at one.

I know all of the techno geeks reading will need to know the exact model or your curiosity would eat you alive, so as to not disappoint here you are – Nokia 1616.  The phone plus SIM card, plus enough minutes for the month, plus tax rang in at a staggering $580 cordobas.  Divide that by 22.8 and you have $25.44 USD all in.  There is also a bonus of having one Movistar friend to call free for the first month.  Since we only have a handful of Nica friends our minutes should last a long time.

Sweet!  A text just came from Movistar.  If we buy $50 cord in minutes today they will multiple that by 5 for free.  I have no idea how many minutes that even gets me but it sure sounds like a bunch.  I’m on way down to the store to jump on this deal faster than a fat kid on a Smartie.

What We Packed in Our Suitcases

If you’ve ever thought packing for a 1 or 2 week vacation was difficult try packing your whole life into a few bags; it’s not easy task!  

We left with 2 large suitcases, 1 large backpack, 1 hockey bag and two carry on suitcases. Continue reading below to find out what we managed to squeeze into our bags.

Her Clothing

  • 10 pairs of jean shorts
  • 11 t-shirts
  • 10 camis
  • 16 tank tops
  • 1 pair trouser jeans
  • 3 cotton skirts
  • 2 beach dresses
  • 1 boyfriend blouse
  • underwear & socks
  • 5 bikinis
  • 1 rash guard
  • 3 belt3 hats
  • 4 lightweight scarves
  • 2 pairs of Flojo flip flops
  • 1 pair Reef flip flops
  • 3 pairs of leather sandals
  • 1 pair of Converse Chuck Taylors
  • 1 pair of running shoes
  • 2 long sleeve t-shirts
  • 2 lightweight cardigans
  • 2 pairs of capris
  • Lululemon yoga capris
  • Lululemon yoga jacket
  • 1 hoody

Her “Other” Items

  • hair straightening iron
  • hair dryer
  • curling iron
  • hair products
  • hair accessories (brush, comb, elastics, bobby pins, headbands)
  • toiletries (deodorant, toothpaste, razors, etc.)
  • perfume & make up
  • 4 bottles of nail polish
  • costume  jewellery
  • journal
  • 2 watches
  • 3 pairs of sunglasses
  • 3 purses
  • 6 months worth of prescription drugs

His Clothing

  • 19 t-shirts
  • 5 tanks tops
  • 6 button up shirts
  • 2 pairs of jeans
  • 1 pair of cotton pants
  • 4 long sleeve t-shirts
  • 1 hoody
  • jogging pants
  • light rain jacket
  • 2 workout shirts
  • 2 pairs of workout shorts
  • 6 pairs of swim trunks
  • 5 pairs of walk around shorts
  • 2 belts
  • 6 pairs of socks
  • 12 pairs of underwear
  • hiking boots
  • 1 pair of runners
  • 3 pairs of Vibram FiveFinger shoes
  • 2 pairs of sunglasses
  • 2 ball caps

Household Items

  • 1 duvet
  • 3 pillows
  • 4 medium size bath towels
  • 2 hand towels
  • 4 face cloths
  • 2 mosquito nets
  • 1 set of queen size bed sheets
  • clothes iron
  • stovetop espresso maker
  • pump and hardware for misting system
  • framed photo of our dog Levi

Electronics

  • Pentax Digital SLR with extra zoom lens
  • Pentax Underwater Point & Shoot Camera 
  • MAC laptop
  • iPAD
  • Sony MP3 Player
  • cordless telephones
  • 2 – 3g Kindles
  • electric toothbrushes
  • hair clippers

Miscellaneous

  • 4 beer huggies
  • 1 set of dominoes
  • 2 sets of snorkel equipment (mask, snorkel and fins)
  • flashlight
  • 2 small backpacks
  • swiss army knife
  • screwdriver set
  • TRX training straps
  • 4 bottles of sunscreen
  • Over the counter medications (Advil, Immodium, Gravol, allergy pills etc.)
  • 8 pack of AA batteries
  • travel pillow
  • bug spray
  • ear plugs (lots)
  • 2 queen size mosquito nets
  • 3 re-usable nylon shopping bags

Books

I know …  the list seems long, but aside from a few pieces of winter clothing and footwear we left behind in Canada this list includes pretty much all of what we own right now.  

For those of you planning a similar move hopefully this post will help you with your decisions on what to bring and for those of you that are curious about what we brought … now you know. 

Stay tuned for a future post – “What We Should Have Packed in our Suitcases & What We Should Have Left Behind”.  We’ve already started a list and it’s growing every day!

Tsunami Taco Bar

After walking 3.5 km in the mid-day heat to Las Penitas and enjoying a couple of cold Tonas Gord and I had worked up an appetite and decided to grab some lunch.  We agreed that tacos would be much better than the burgers and fries everyone was ordering at Playa Roca.  We paid for our beer and sauntered across the road to Tsunami Taco Bar.

A Great Place for Lunch

Tsunami Taco Bar doesn’t have a set menu.  There are new offerings posted on the chalkboard every day.  Today we had our choice of chicken, chill con carne or vegetarian tacos.  Gord opted for the chili while I went with the chicken.

 

As I bit into my taco my taste buds were awakened with the sweet surprise of donair sauce. A totally unexpected, but welcomed taste! The fresh-squeezed lemonade was cold and refreshing.

Delicious!

For dessert we enjoyed fresh-out-of-the oven pecan banana bread smeared with butter.  It was warm, dense and delicious!

Heavenly Goodness

Fresh out of the Oven

Total price for our lunch (including drinks and dessert) rang it at 205 cord or $8.99 USD.   Based on food quality, flavour and price we give Tsunami Taco Bar 5 stars out of 5!

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