|Remembering Corn Island|
Thursday, December 7, 2017
Wednesday, September 13, 2017
We also got cats!
Wednesday, June 28, 2017
Jean and I along with my sister and her family went together, cramming 6 of us in a small car. Our trip started early in the morning as we left from Tola for the port of San Jorge near Rivas. I was really surprised to see how different the transportation systems are here on the Pacific than on the Atlantic coast of Nicaragua, and felt a bit sad for the people on Corn Island and what they have to put up with.
To get to Ometepe, one can take a ferry from San Jorge. There are several different boats run by different businesses that travel several times every day, usually once in the morning and once in the afternoon. The boats are very large and also comfortable and well maintained. You can also take your car, so we hopped out just before my brother in law drove onto the ship, where he was told to cram it into the corner so tightly the doors wouldn't open, so he had to get out of the passengers side door.
|Jean giving me attitude|
Anyways... Ometepe is pretty. We stayed at a hotel on the eastern coast of the Island, between the two volcanoes. On one of the days of our trip we went to visit a really amazing place called "Ojo de Agua" which means "Eye of water". It is a naturally occurring spring reinforced into a swimming area in the middle of the jungle. Despite being a popular tourist destination it was very quite and peaceful. There is a well equipped restaurant up the hill and vendors by the water serving rum inside coconuts.
Another highlight of the trip was when we went horseback riding up to a waterfall on Volcan Maderas, which is definitely not "that kind" of volcano. It is in fact, extinct and has a lake in the crater. For our horseback tour we went down the town of Merida on the south west side of the Island. Along the way we met some of the witnesses who were out in the ministry, completely at random as they were walking along the dirt road in the forest, Coincidentally we knew one of the couples as they were old friends of Jean's from Bluefields. There are 6 congregations on the Island of Ometepe despite its relatively low population.
We understood that it would be a 2 hour ride on horseback to a waterfall. We weren't sure if we were going up the volcano very far, we imagined not because it would be a really long distance. As it turned out we were confused, the ride was 5 hours and we were climbing the volcano on horseback. The waterfall was right at the point where the volcano pokes into the clouds. 1 hour in we were already feeling sore, none of us having any experience with horses. Once we started to climb the views were spectacular. The road narrowed into a rocky path through the rainforests which blanket the bottom of the Maderas Volcano. As we got higher the bush became more and more dense, we heard and saw howler monkeys and many other exotic animals and birds. According to the information we had, at certain altitudes Maderas changes from rainforest to cloud forest. What this means is that because of the extreme humidity and cooler temperatures brought by the clouds the plant species in the area are completely different. By the time we reached this point we were a little light headed, and it was time to get off the horses and climb the rest of the way. The plants were absolutely enormous. There were ferns with branches the size of a house hanging from cliff sides overhead. the white haze of the lower fringes of the clouds drifted across the pathway. despite exhaustion and some dizzyness we made it to the waterfall. Words really can't describe the place, but the cool mist spraying off the fall was very refreshing.
I really liked Ometepe. Too much in fact. It has made me realize that I have a problematic addiction to exploring new places. When I go to a new place, I tend to like it so much and be so excited about it that I have a burning desire to go and live there. We JUST moved to Tola and that is just not an option, and theres no really good reason to do it either. The congregation needs us here, plus it was a lot of work to move all our crap. So, definitely not moving to Ometepe. Even though part of me wants to. Being on an Island again brought back a lot of nice memories from our year on Corn Island. We're looking forward to the next time we can go back there, maybe this time I'll actually have the money to get a diving licence.
Monday, May 22, 2017
Sadly, many tourists get stuck with an opportunistic taxi driver that charges them astronomical prices, essentially a penalty for their ignorance. Taking the bus is very easy just like anywhere in Nicaragua. From Rivas which is the main city in the department, there are buses directly to Tola, Playa gigante, popoyo, San Juan del Sur, and many other locations. most of these cost less than a dollar, including the one to San Juan Del Sur. These buses run every day, so be careful not to be fooled by a sly taxi driver. Many times we have been approached by one and told "there are no more buses today, you will have to wait until tomorrow... but I can take you" Or something along those lines. They have no shame in lying about the bus schedules and the prices.
Now if you have some bags and you're not comfortable riding the chicken bus you can take a taxi. But be careful of any taxi drivers that approach YOU. It is better if YOU are the one to select the taxi. The car doesn't have to be pretty, but in Nicaragua the law is that all taxis have a special liscence plate, this means they are a legitimate registered taxi. It is white with black letters/numbers and TWO RED BARS. One at the top, and one at the bottom. If there are no red bars, it is not a taxi. Anyone can buy the yellow taxi sign, it has to have the red bars on the licence plate. Another tip is if they tell you the price in dollars, just walk away. Also avoid people that speak English. They learn English in order to take advantage of white tourists. Its helpful to look online, some expats in San Juan del Sur have a facebook page that includes average prices for taxis to common locations.
|Colletivo terminal in Rivas|
|Riding in the Collectivo|
|Blue dot is the location of the collectivo|
taxis for both SJDS and Tola
Tuesday, May 16, 2017
Thursday, April 27, 2017
While we are having a very busy month already with our planned move to Tola, we decided to squeeze in a visit to Pearl Lagoon. Jean's mom had gone through a period of sickness and also had a surgery on her hand, so we felt we needed to go and spend some time and help out around the house.
We started out by catching the circuit assembly in spanish in Ticuantepe. This is the circuit assembly for the Tola congregation so it gave us a chance to meet some of the brothers in our new circuit. Even more exciting, my nephew got baptized. I am still so amazed that my family are here in Nicaragua to stay, and that my own nephew was answering the questions from the platform with "Si" instead of "yes". Right after the assembly my Brother in law gave us a ride into Managua. He insisted on driving us all the way to the bus terminal even though none of us were sure how to get there. We had always gone by taxi in the past. We consulted google maps to plan our route through the city, which gave us a very quick and direct way to get there. Unfortunately Google Maps does not have ALL the information... It didn't send us the wrong way, into any dead ends, or down any one way streets... but it did give us a lovely tour of the ghettos of Managua. We drove fast and kept the doors and windows locked, and we made it to the terminal. My brother in law and family took a different, somewhat longer route along the main highways to get back out of the city.
We were able to get our tickets that same day from the Wendelyn Vargas terminal at the Ivan Montenegro market. The bus would depart at 9:00 pm and travel to Rama overnight. We like this method for several reasons, one being that the night bus is always "express" meaning that it doesn't pick up extra people along the way. The trip took us about 5 hours, our chicken bus rolling through the night like a disco ball. We were in rama by 3:00 AM. Our bus ticket also garunteed us a seat on the 6:00AM panga to bluefields. The town of Rama never sleeps, so we were able to get some good breakfast for about 30 cords each while we waited for daybreak.
Another panga and lots of heavy rain and we were in Pearl Lagoon. The town has changed a little bit since we were last here, but not that much. It is still a quiet, friendly and slow paced town where it is easy to feel relaxed. Everywhere we go people are waving at us and shouting greetings from inside their house. "Ey! Wen yu reach back!?" And things like that. It looks like the rainy season is starting, although it's still fairly dry for lagoon. The entire area is still Incredibly lush and green compared to the pacific right now, due to the atlantic getting regular rains all year.
The congregation is also just as we remembered. Warm, friendly and crammed into a tiny house for the meeting. Although word is that they will be renting a larger house out towards Haulover to accomodate the rapidly growing congregation. Just like before it was so hard to get out the door of the kingdom hall because nobody wants to leave after the meeting.
It all feels so nostalgic being back "home" in Pearl Lagoon, the place we met and were married. We celebrated our 1 year and 6 month anniversary by having dinner at Casa Ulrich, the same restaurant where we went on our first date and where we had our wedding reception, which is still the very best in town, maybe even the best in Nicaragua.
In another post I plan to make a tourist map for Pearl Lagoon much like the ones I made for Corn Island. It will Include an up to date list of hotels and restaurants and also some travel tips, like how to get here and how to evade the town drunks.
Friday, April 21, 2017
We have enjoyed our last 6 months living in Jinotepe a lot. The weather has been great and everyday life here was a lot easier than on the Atlantic Coast. We really, REALLY miss Corn Island though, and if they had reliable internet we would probably still be there. According to Claro's website they do have coverage on Corn Island, but when you go to the office to sign up you are met by three... individuals... sitting down chewing gum, who respond with phrases such as "We no have change." or "Ova there no got connekshan" or even simply "nah".
Anyways... My sister along with her husband and two children have moved down to Nicaragua and we would
like to be in the same congregation as them. They are now settled in the municipality of Tola, which is in the Rivas department. The town of Tola has a brand new congregation that still meets in a private home, and a very large and very responsive territory. After some consideration and investigation of what life would be like in Tola we have decided to move. Hopefully, this move will be more long term.
Our rent will be about half of what we are paying now, although we will have to pay the internet bill and buy furniture, but we still end up saving a lot. Thankfully, shortly after moving to Jinotepe I was able to get a job teaching English, and interestingly now make more money per hour than I ever did working in Canada. I am fairly confident that this is Jehovah's blessing and a reward for not giving up and going to Canada to work while Jean stayed behind. We still have hopes of going to Canada some day to visit if Jean is ever granted a visa, but now it won't be an emergency.
Tola is an interesting place, very different from other parts of Nicaragua in regards to landscape and climate. It is part of the area known as the "Emerald Coast" of Nicaragua. Right now in the dry season it looks very dry but has a lot of trees and large forests. The town itself is quite small, I'm not sure what the population is but its bigger than Pearl Lagoon and smaller than San Marcos. For some reason it reminds me of some small towns in Saskatchewan that we would drive through on the way to visit my grandparents when I was a kid. Maybe its the kind of trees or the way the countryside looks.
In other news, as a new feature of my blog I will now start including videos when I can. You may notice that a few older posts have had video clips added to them. On my same Youtube Channel you can find some other random videos that I have uploaded that are not related to any particular post, Some sights from Corn Island for example, and also some silly/stupid things I did for fun. (bottle rockets)
Here is a link to the channel:
Thursday, April 13, 2017
The only reason to ever use claro is because there is no other provider in many parts of the country
CooTel (patiently waiting for them to set up in Carazo and Rivas)
$20 per month OTE (over the air, 1.5 mbs)
$25-110 per month fiber optic (2-20 mbs)
In most parts of Nicaragua, Taxis charge a flat rate stipulated by the government. Some towns they are allowed to negotiate, like San juan del sur and Managua, in these cases the price may be according to your skin color and how lost you look. Prices are per person.
Most parts of Carazo, Rivas, Granada, Masaya - 10 cordobas ($ 0.34 US)
San Juan del sur - around 30 cordobas ($1 US)
Managua - 50 cordobas average, 80 if going across the city ($2-4 US)
Friday, January 27, 2017
Ironically, as I write this I am in fact rather sick. No, not Malaria... nor dengue... nope not Zika. No there is not a gigantic worm crawling out of my eye socket.... I have a cold. Yesterday I went to a "Farmacia" and spent about $1 on some kind of cold pills recommended by the employee there and I'm feeling a lot better now. Pharmacies in Nicaragua are very common and easy to find, even in the smallest communities. Furthermore they are very inexpensive. They sell the same medications you are used to, even the same brand names at a fraction of the cost you would pay in north america. The medicines they sell you are just as strong, they are not different. Some of the local brand names are in fact more effective.
Now, lets say its something more serious and you need to see a doctor. Being from Canada I'm really not used to the Idea of paying for medical services, but I understand that in the US the thinking is that "you get what you pay for" in terms of medical treatment. Nicaragua has both private and public health services. There are private doctors, hospitals, and clinics that charge a wide range of prices for their services. There are also public clinics and hospitals which are a bit more commonplace. The public health services in Nicaragua are 100% free, sometimes including the medications they prescribe you. This includes foreigners. On my first trip I spent a ton of money on health insurance only to find out the doctors here are free, no one told me that. You as a foreigner can in fact come to Nicaragua, walk into the health center and be treated without paying a single Cordoba and no one will look at you funny (However you do need to speak Spanish or bring an interpreter).
Many people coming from countries where it is necessary to pay for medical treatment tend to feel that paying more will result in a better treatment. Now, its not my place to make medical decisions for people, that is up to you. But from my experience and those of friends and family, the idea that "you get what you pay for" does not apply in Nicaragua. Many private doctors have a bad reputation here in Nicaragua, and some of the most expensive and prestigious private hospitals have a long track record of botched operations. The doctors in the public health centers are often more experienced, as they deal with anyone and everyone that comes to them. The clients of the private doctors are almost exclusively wealthy tourists that come to them once in a blue moon. Another myth is that the public health centers are "filthy" and "disgusting". This might be true of one or two hospitals but they are the exception not the rule. Most are clean, efficient, and well equipped.
I also was quite worried about getting all the "injections" that I needed before coming to Nicaragua. I thought that I had to have certain vaccinations or I wouldn't be allowed off the plane when I arrived, and as such had a printout of my vaccination history. This wasn't true... and honestly I wasted a lot of time worrying about taking care of medical things before leaving for Nicaragua. I also had that mistaken attitude that Nicaraguan doctors were somehow inferior and couldn't help me if I got sick down here. In reality, Nicaraguan doctors know a lot about Nicaraguan illnesses. In my opinion, one is better off to wait until they are here and ask a local if they have some health problems. An illness that is common and easily treated in Nicaragua might be unheard of and have no treatment available in Canada or the US. Parasites for example are super easy to take care of in Nicaragua. The pills are available everywhere and they are dirt cheap, and they do work.
These are just my opinions, your decisions about health matters should not be based on the ideas of any one person, but hopefully this information will help anyone coming down here to make an informed decision about what kind of medical care to choose, and maybe address some fears that people may have before making a trip. Good health to you!
Friday, January 20, 2017
Now, what comes to your mind when you hear the words "Volcano boarding"? What you imagine is, unfortunately, probably a lot more awesome than it really is. No, I was not riding down a glowing red lava river on a snowboard. That would be neat though. Actually, volcano boarding is riding a wooden sled down the slope of an active volcano, but not on lava. It has to be the type of volcano that spews ash. When you have this kind of volcano, on the down-wind side the soft black ash collects and reaches a near snow-like consistency, allowing one to slide down the slope as if tobogganing.
To do the trip we left Jinotepe in the morning, a long with a group friends and family including Jean's younger brother and his girlfriend visiting from Australia. We took the bus to Managua, and then another to Leon. From Leon we met up in the office of the tour business, which also offered tours of the rum factory near by in Chinandega... That may have to be on our next trip. They took us by bus down a dusty road, which eventually became completely black as we got closer to the volcano. The ash from the same Cerro Negro volcano had blanketed the entire landscape in soft, black ash.
We got to another small office at the base of the volcano, and were able to see on the horizon a string of active volcanoes that reach from the northern parts of Nicaragua, all the way to Ometepe Island. They told us that all of these volcanoes are active and are connected to each other. Cerro Negro stands out because it is completely black, covered from top to bottom by ash and stands about 600 meters high.
We were each given a bag, containing a denim jump suit for protection, a pair of gloves, and a pair of safety goggles. We were also given a board. What I didn't know, is that we had to carry all that all the way up to the top of the 600 meter high volcano. And there was no "path", we had to hike it over the rocks at a 45 degree angle, some times steeper. The hike was completely exhausting. You cannot do this tour if you are not in very good shape. If you have heart problems or asthma or any kind of disability, don't do this. I'm 26 and felt like I would die by the time I got to the top.
That being said, the view was worth it. At the top you are walking along the ridge of the crater of an active volcano, on your left is a steep drop to the bottom of a huge mountain, and on the right a smoldering pit of steam and sulfur. (Insert obligatory ash-hole joke) Its so high up that you can see the ocean on one side, and the rest of the country on the other side. This is a moment few people get to experience in their life, so its totally worth it, even if you can't work up the nerve to slide down. When you're on the down-wind side of the crater you can smell the volcano, which smells quite similar to spent matches. Inside the crater there are many different colors of rock, mostly black, red, and yellow. There is also a rather ominous bulge in the center, but hopefully some volcanologists are on top of that already.
Well, despite extreme terror and seriously regretting coming this far I slid down. And actually, it wasn't as bad as I thought. There is a lot more friction than there is when sliding on snow so you don't actually go that fast, and you do have control because you dig your feet into the ash to steer and control your speed. I was actually overly cautious and went a bit slower than necessary. I'll definitely be doing this again but next time I won't brake so much so that I can get some speed.
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Its now December and we have been in Tola for about 8 months now. There have been some unexpected challenges, but overall we have managed to...
It is now June 3rd, 2018 and we no longer live in Tola. We spent one entire year there, and it was time to move on. It was definitely worthw...