Reaching the Half-Way Point


Goodbye Manh Hung and BirgitGoodbye Manh Hung and BirgitGoodbye Manh Hung and Birgit

We shared a commedor with the older girls. It won't be the same without them.
It is often impossible to share exactly and accurately everything I feel and experience here. That would take a whole lot of dedication and a lot of volumes of books filled with my thoughts and perceptions and experiences. So, I am offering to you the short version. Any longer versions of these stories will have to be in person upon my return. J I am happy to share.

To my loyal readers, who happen to be my parents and other extended family, I am sorry for the delay in entries. Often times, writing is a deliberate process that I need to force myself to do and it takes energy, which I often don’t have a lot of, due to the nature of my life here. Since I last left off, I have experienced more things. June was the fastest month of all, with many changes, goodbyes and hellos, etc.

In the school, where most of my life is, I had a long and exhausting month of exams!!! I have a whole new appreciation for teachers, who make lessons, make tests, and then correct 100 exams in one day. It is a lot of work. I finished a normal round
My girlsMy girlsMy girls

Johanna, Maria I teach both these lovely ladies. I love them to death.
of exams, even re-testing since as you remember, as the first time was a disaster. Further, I had to give the test to a special group of students who were not able to re-test due to a workshop. After staying up all night correcting tests and making my plans for the substitute, I took off to Honduras!!! Before this trip, I had my normal descansio, or break, which turned out to be the best one of all.

Sana had just returned from being home for two weeks and was dying to get out and have some fun in the big city…What not a better place than my favorite city of Managua! That morning, I turned in what grades I had to my boss lugging a suitcase behind me, as I would be heading to Honduras directly from Managua. It would be a long trip: Friday-Saturday the following week. I was happy to leave, as those tests were just terrible. I hate correcting tests now…It is just paperwork when I feel I am missing out on time with the kids. I met Sana at the ferry and we were off!!!

The bus ride
Partying It UpPartying It UpPartying It Up

This is our national director. He is down to earth.
into the city was great, as this experience was new to Sana. I was happy to point out all the spots along the way that I knew or had stories about, especially my favorites: The Jesus statue at the rotunda, the famous Stop N’ Go where my friend always stops to pick up stuff, or the infamous Flor de Cana neon sign that lights the path at night towards all the hottest night clubs. We got off at Huembes bus station, which is always a nightmare. Well, I have done it a few times before. Like before, I knew where we would be heading…the bank. This seems to serve as a central marking place to get money or meet people.

Along the way, a group of mean men started calling at us. Since I am so sick of the men since it is a daily battle, I felt that I had to scream or start a fight. I yelled at them and called them pigs. And, you know what they did? They just laughed. I just felt so helpless and wanted to do something instead of just take it. I felt this inner rage that I sometimes feel when my students are not listening to me. But, it was the wrong choice…I guess I learned my lesson. I will just have to ignore it the next time, although that is really hard to do. I teach my boys here on the island to never do that to passing woman. However, they feel it is really fun anyways. It is almost impossible to change hundreds of years of a culture.

After finding the perfect hostel with cable TV and two large beds for a very good price, we started our vacation. Tona’s!!! A nice cold beer is a treat here, especially in the hot city situated between two mountains. As we are enjoying our pure Nican food, a gentleman, obviously a foreigner comes up and asks to join us. He is an Aussie. I absolutely love their accents. As he tells his story, we find out he is traveling around the world in a year all by himself. I am always inspired to hear stories like his and listening to him reminded me of my time in Spain and Europe when I would meet people like him every night. Well, even in Nicaragua, you meet a lot of travelers.

Meaning "depth," Honduras shows many layers.
He even told his story of when he went to Guatemala and met and fell in love with a Peace Corp volunteer. He has made a deliberate attempt to visit her within his year ever since. Hearing those stories are always fun and uplifting. Heck, anything can happen, right? Just let the wind take you. It was also nice to have him there as company and know he wasn’t there to hit on us.

We ended up going to another bar afterwards, an Irish pub. I felt like I was in Dublin again. Green was everywhere and a large Juke Box played the latest tunes. We were having so much fun when I got a call from my boss. He wanted me to take out $80 and bring it to one of the NPH kids living in Managua for her soccer tournament tomorrow morning before 10am. I told him all my money was in Cordoba, so Sana agreed to do it. It was just a startling call and obviously an emergency. However, we didn’t let this end our night early. There was still more surprises around the corner! Now it was time to hang out with my friends, who I absolutely love. They are those cool Nicaraguans who can show you the way to a fun time.
We went to the ever-popular Hippa Hippa. I always go there when I am in Managua. The night ended when a fight broke out very close to Sana and I. Sana was actually one of the people who helped stop it.

The next morning, as tired as we were, Sana and I had to deliver that money. We got up really early to the NPH girl’s house. Once there, we would ask someone to guide us to the bank via bus, which is often a confusing system. The bus really woke us up, as there was standing room only. It took sharp turns and sudden stops which left the people holding on fighting for their lives to stand up. I just had to laugh because it was so much fun! It is like a dirty carnival ride, as I don’t know what kids of germs my hand touched on that dirty railing. But, if you don’t hold on, you fall over. I was laughing so much I think the people on the bus thought I was weird. But, the buses need
Cabinas Michelle!!!Cabinas Michelle!!!Cabinas Michelle!!!

I cannot believe I am here, again!!!
life sometimes, as the people just sit there. It doesn’t hurt to add some fun to the experience. We finally get to the mall and the first thing we get is coffee, the perfect remedy. We get the money too and drop it off for the girl. This excursion took half the day. Our director better thank us for doing what we did…I felt sick afterwards from lack of water and a crazy bus ride on 5 hours of sleep in the Managuan heat.

As we walked back to our hostel in the Nican sun, we were so tired; the coffee wore off. We plop on our beds and try to sleep without air conditioning. When we couldn’t sleep, we watched movies and Desperate Housewives, which is such a luxury when we don’t have access to a TV in our house on the island. That afternoon, Sana and I enjoyed going to the movies and walking in the mall. I think everyone and his or her brother was at the mall that afternoon. Plaza Inter, a mall within walking distance to our hostel, offers a patio outside that overlooks the city and the old city center that was destroyed
Pura Vida!Pura Vida!Pura Vida!

This saying is everywhere!
in the 1972 earthquake. There happened to be an outdoor concert as well. It was beautiful seeing the sun set in the sky and all the people out for a perfect summer night. As we started walking back, a street kid was being very inappropriate. This is just the life for kids on the streets and it is always sad to see it. We jumped on the first taxi and just took off. Sometimes, I just wish I could protest myself from people like that, but I know that is just not possible as a woman in a Latino culture. It’s hard to accept that fact. From now on, I will rely on taxi rides or strong men to protect me.

The following day, Sana and I went to the mall again. I don’t think there is much to do but go to the mall. It can get boring. That night, we went out with Alex, who met us at a restaurant in the nicest part of Managua: Las Gallerias. It was nice to eat with him, as it has also been a while. On Monday, Sana left me…so, it was my day to hang out with Rosebania, a woman I met on a bus to San Juan del Sur one weekend. She is going to a university in Managua. It is nice to have female friends as well; you need both. She took me all over and we ended up going to the mall, again. I have seen the same mall at least 4 times that weekend. We saw the Sex and The City movie, which was wonderful. To kill time, I bought a very cheap pair of sunglasses from a street vendor. Whenever I travel, I always buy a pair of sunglasses. My cheap pair from Manhattan that I bought last summer just broke…so it was time for something new. When one pair breaks, it means an opportunity to buy a new pair. I love that about cheap sunglasses. They can tell stories and like everything else, they come in and out of your life. Now that I had my second pair of Nicaraguan shades, Rosebania led me to her campus, UNI.

As the Nicaraguan sun was setting in the beautiful orange sky, we entered UNI. I instantly felt like a college student again. Peering into classrooms and just strolling the sidewalks was great. I really
In the forests of Costa RicaIn the forests of Costa RicaIn the forests of Costa Rica

Since we got off the bus at the wrong bus stop, we ended up walking an hour through pristine forests and dirt roads. However, we had fun.
felt like a foreign exchange student. Managua is actually capable of producing some good universities. I know two Americans who have studies abroad in Managua at these same campuses. I even peered into one of the living quarters. It was just like a typical Nicaraguan house: very open and tropical. I loved going outside and seeing the students playing basketball amidst the backdrop of Sandino standing overhead on Lake Tiscapa. The area reminded me of Loring Park in Minneapolis, one of my favorite parts of downtown back home. At the end of a nice day, I led Rosebania to the bus stop and we parted. There was no way I was going to sit at home and watch soap operas with the girls from NPH. The day was too beautiful to waste.

Bright and early the next day, it was time for Honduras! I was traveling and being paid for it! I love that, as it hardly happens. I was asked to help represent our school at NPH Nicaragua for a workshop on a new teaching method developed by the people in Holland called competence-based learning. El Salvador, Guatemala and of course Honduras would all be represented.
Playa BrasilitoPlaya BrasilitoPlaya Brasilito

We finally got to our beach: Playa Brasilito. This is what we found. Some fishermen, but a lot of rocks and no busts of tourism around. It was wonderful.
It would be like one big NPH reunion. The Tica Bus left at 5am. Sleeping was almost impossible once we got to the northern part of Nicaragua, which is covered in mountains. It is absolutely gorgeous, but makes you sick to your stomach. At the border, a hot spot for begging children, I felt this inner need to really talk to the children. It started with one kid asking for money and I asked him if he wanted to learn his numbers and letters in English. Pretty soon, there was a group of 6 of them. At one point, I go around the circle and ask all the kids to tell me a goal they have in life. One said he wanted to be an artist. I ended up giving him my pen and he drew my portrait on a piece of crumpled piece of newspaper. I let him keep the pen. At the end of the border crossing, I was actually sad to leave the boys, the artist and the one with the cast on his arm. Sine being at NPH, I have opened up my heart and life to all kids. My perspective has been changed so much
Paradise in Costa RicaParadise in Costa RicaParadise in Costa Rica

I am sure there are more beautiful sites than this, but I was impressed. There is something about rock formations in water that really draws me in.
from this experience and I find that my heart is filled with so much love now for every child. Now, every time I meet a kid, I really want to connect with him/her. It’s a love I cannot explain. You just need to experience it. And, I have 6 more months of it. Even in my many years of working with children in Minnesota, the children in Nicaragua have still taught me more. And, I don’t want to stop learning. To feel just love for someone is such a powerful feeling.

The rest of the ride into Honduras was beautiful. Mountains abounded everywhere. In Spanish, Honduras means “depth” and that is indeed what I found. We arrived in the bustling capital where we went grocery shopping in the mall. While shopping, a crazy lady came up to me and welcomed me to her home country of Honduras. Friendly people, I guess…we got back in the car and drove an hour to the ranch of NPH Honduras. It was breathtaking. The first thing I noticed was all the pine trees. I instantly remembered flashbacks of my time in Girl Scouts when my troop would go camping. The smell of fresh
The Shack on Playa MaderasThe Shack on Playa MaderasThe Shack on Playa Maderas

This is the shack I stayed at for a night. No light. No water. No locks on the doors. Just me and my bed and the waves.
pine was overwhelming, in a good way. I felt like I was in northern Minnesota, not a third world country!

The evening was wonderful, as I wanted to know everything about N PH Honduras and how it operated. Seeing another NPH home has really broadened my experience at NPH Nicaragua. Just learning more about the system reminds me that I am a small part of a large effort. It was kind of inspiring. Combined with my love of traveling and just meeting others involved in the same effort, I felt that I could make a job of going in between the NPH homes. The last thing I want is to feel stuck in one spot. So, this trip offered some perspective. I found two other Minnesota volunteers, one of which is the English teacher for primary school.

The conference was also helpful, learning about competence-based education, formed in Holland. This system will be tough to implement in Nicaragua, but it is a start. Leaving Honduras was sad as well, but I was inspired to visit the other NPH homes, in El Salvador and Guatemala, which would be the closest to me. The bus ride this time was actually
Hermit Crab on Playa Maderas at 5amHermit Crab on Playa Maderas at 5amHermit Crab on Playa Maderas at 5am

This little guy wanted to play with me!
very fun, as the driver showed a lot of dance movies and I happened to sit next to a salsa dancer. Or, perhaps that was just a line…who knows with these men. Anyways, Managua welcomes us with rain.

The next day, a lovely Saturday, was spent reading The Kite Runner. I am in love with the book and finished it that weekend. I recommend it, as it is a story that will stay with you for a good long time. Beth was out buying a printer from donated money by her church and so it was just my book and I. All the boys from the other NPH house were over for the Euro cup, including the national director. I felt like I was back home watching the Super bowl with my family, with food, fun and sports. At the end of the past afternoon, Beth, myself, the printer, the national director, and the dog who I was just informed ate a dead bird, loaded in the truck as we drove back home to the island. The only disturbing parts of the journey were the dog who I was afraid was going to puke all over me and the dead child lying on the street after being freshly hit by a car. He was riding his bike when it happened. We got there shortly after it happened. When you see death, I think it changes you. I couldn’t think of anything else the rest of the way to Rivas.

Sometime in mid-June, our team said hello to Karin, which I think I mentioned in my last entry. She brought us fresh Austrian chocolate that we gobbled up right away. Now, it was the end of June and our team said hello to Lola. “Hola Lola!” we all said…it has a nice ring. J She is from Valencia, Spain, which I recognized right away from her unique accent. After living in Barcelona, only 3 hours north of Valencia, you learn to recognize accents like hers. I instantly remembered flashbacks of my time in Barcelona, the most amazing 5 months of my college career. She used words like “vale” (the equivalent of oh, ok, sure, yeah, etc. A word with many meanings) and talked about the famous bubbly Champaign drink only brewed in Barcelona. And, oh, the wine. I could have talked to her for hours, but she was very tired from traveling all day.

Exams, Exams, Exams…The week I was in Honduras was the only available full week and the week after, the week I came back, the kids had tests, again. Man, testing, one week of review, and more tests. Good thing my tests were not scheduled until the end of the week, but that meant that the only classes I had were busy with other exams. I believe I had one class that week. It was terrible. It is frustrating to be limited in your time and test kids on material they just learned. Even if I didn’t implement new material, they needed those classes to review.

During almost every English class, the students had testing in other subjects…funny how it always happened during my class. This is partly due to the lack of support English receives and it doesn’t help when my boss tells me that the students pass all their other classes but mine. The implementation of English is a hard one with the divide with the importance of the other classes and the divide of my role as a volunteer and the other teachers, who are all Nicaraguans.
So, with one week down the drain that I planned to use for review, it was already time to test, again. They took the test outside in the rain. Most passed. I was worried, as I taught new material for all levels and tested on it right away. I tried my best, given the lack of time. The same day the kids took their tests, I went to the teachers meeting and then came back at 2pm and corrected all 70 of them until 10pm at night, as I needed to hand in grades before I left for Costa Rica. I also had to find a sub and gather material for my students while I was away. This is always the trick…since I don’t have a base of subs to call when I need one. If I want one, I have to convince the other volunteers who are already busy with their own roles to take over for me for a day or two. Thank goodness it was a lazy week and I ended up having Karin show a movie…but this is one of the problems of being a volunteer in the school system…I have breaks that other teachers don’t have and if I miss class, I need to find someone else, who probably doesn’t even know how to teach.

Five days after Lola graced us with her presence, I finally received my shelf I requested from the carpenters. It took them 5 months, but it was finally done. That’s how long you wait for things here. It is ridiculous. It was also the day that Manh Hung, Julia, Birgit, and Katherina had their despedida, or going-away party. This was also the day of the family carnival. Sana, our amazing family coordinator, organized a huge event where all of NPH Nicaragua came together for a day to celebrate the families. There was a horse, a photo booth, music, movies, a store, face painting, games, etc. It was such a joyous day to see all the families together. More of the giant puzzle was put together as I saw brothers and sisters eating together. You start to recognize all the families interwoven here at NPH and a light bulb goes off in your head and you say, “Oh, they are sisters…now it makes sense!” I was in charge of the photo station where the families stuck their heads in the mural of funny bodies. Unfortunately, the day was changed by the rain that came…which is normal I guess. Now that it is the wet season, you cannot escape the rain. So, you know what the kids did? They played in the rain. As we waited for our dinner, we waited in the rain as well. The kids here got so wet but it didn’t matter. If you weren’t playing in the rain, you were discussing who would win the match Sunday at the Euro cup, Germany or Spain…I was all for Spain, of course, as well as Lola. The whole day ended up being a debate over who would win. It was fun to get into that competitive atmosphere, rooting for a team. If we were in Spain, a fight or fire would have broke out; flags would have been lifted high, just like it was for me living in Spain every time there was a big match. At least here in Nicaragua, there was none of that…

That evening, we had a big fiesta for Manh Hung, Birgit, Katerina, and Julia. Julia was very homesick and needed to end her year early. It was just hard to see her leave, as we are all at the point where our things, bodies, and spirits are breaking. In one week, half of our team took off, one prematurely early, she being the second one to leave early…It was a bittersweet night. But, life is full of hellos and goodbyes. People enter and leave your life. It’s just the cycle of life. The night was spent in joyous dancing mixed with tears. Both Manh Hung and Birgit are with me in the older girl’s section called Casa Imaculada. The girls were really sad to see a part of their family go. I had tearful girls giving me hugs, saying that they didn’t want the others to leave and asked me to stay as well. I assured them that I wasn’t going anywhere.

The next day was a rainy one, which is so typical when you are already sad about something. The house was filled with luggage and boxes.... never a fun site. Since everything was so hectic, goodbyes were so short and kind of awkward, as you don’t know what to say and don’t know when you will ever see the person again. I felt like I should have cried, but to tell the truth, I was too busy to even do that. All of us who were leaving went up to the kids where the kids from Managua from the family festival were waiting in the bus. For Sana, Ann, and myself we were off for our regular break, but since we were with the others leaving for Germany, the kids thought we were all leaving for back home. I had to remind them that I was coming back and not to worry. I can’t imagine the fear they feel though…it must be hard for them to say hello and goodbye to a group of volunteers all the time. I guess that is why volunteers give a year and only come at specific months.

Ann and I took the truck to the ferry; the others took the bus. We really thought we were all by ourselves when we loaded the launcha in Moyogalpa, but, just as the sun came out, we saw the NPH bus, full of people. So, this wasn’t our last goodbye. The launcha tipped 25 degrees to the right as everyone loaded in. I really thought it was going to sink…Ann, Sana, and I slinked into the bench in the back with two little adorable kids who spoke Spanish and English intertwined, as if it was natural. I asked their dad why, and he said they lived in Miami and their mom is from Nicaragua. That is how I want my kids to be: raised by speaking Spanish and English in the home and we would use the two languages in the same sentences. Anyways, back to the launcha. The weight got to be so much as the kids from Managua loaded as well and Birgit and Manh Hung’s luggage that the captain handed out life jackets. The water wasn’t exactly glass either… Further, this was the launcha with no railings on top. If you slipped, there was nothing holding you in. Not to scare you…these rides are just normal to me by now. But, this one was especially scary. I listened to the kids scream and talk about being thrown into the shark-infested waters…not so pleasant. But, to this day, nobody has seen a shark. I am starting to believe that they are extinct.

In San Jorge, all the NPH boys and girls from Managua had breakfast at the office. Ann convinced me that we should go too and we could watch the game as well. I really didn’t want to go, as this meant getting into Costa Rica later and stay later and miss more work. Fortunately for me, the TV was broken, so we had to leave. Now, this was the real goodbye. The NPH bus dropped us off on the highway along with Birgit, who was actually going to San Juan del Sur with Sana for a few weeks before she took off for home. But, for Ann and I, we had to part. I remember seeing Manh Hung and Birgit for a quick 5 minutes before we loaded that bus and now they were gone. Here in one second, gone in the next. It was so quick and just awkward. I had no idea when I would see either of them again but there was no time to dwell in that as Ann and I had an exciting vacation to Costa Rica planned to renew our visas.

The border is only 30 minutes away by taxi…I cannot believe that we are that close to the border! Heck, I could go to Costa Rica anytime I want to on my breaks. However, I don’t think I want to anymore. What I experienced in Costa Rica was great and beautiful, but it was just an overpriced version of Nicaragua. Plus, some things were lacking…the water and the 58 volcanoes. Those are things that Nicaragua has a lot of that Costa Rica won’t ever have.

The border is a strange, large derby pit that is hard to navigate. You really have to know where you are going in order to have a successful time. Further, all foreigners have to pay an extra fee to enter a small door to enter the country. Nicaraguans and Costa Ricans don’t have to pay this. However, they don’t check your passports. If you look Latino/a, you pass free. If you don’t look Latino/a, you pay. This is quite silly, as I know locals who look like foreigners and foreigners who look local…it’s not a good system. You pay to enter and leave Nicaragua, but you pay nothing for Costa Rica, probably because they already have more money than their neighbors in Nicaragua. The border is also a mess of buses. The man at the border assured Ann and I that the next bus to Liberia would be in this one line…well, we soon found out that it was the wrong line as the bus to Liberia just took off from a different location. I should have remembered not to trust border people from my last experience at the same border a year and a half ago. So, we were stuck for an hour until the next one came. We spent it eating border food and watching re-runs of Spain’s victory over Germany. Yes!! Spain won…but Ann was heartbroken.

The bus into Liberia was amazing. I passed familiar sights from my own time at the border passing some time ago. Further, riding in the Costa Rican buses were crazy and a whole new experience for me. First off, they are real buses, not the old school yellow buses that Nicaragua uses. These Costa Rican buses are normal buses and were so nice and clean! Further, you pulled on a string and a light would go off if you wanted to get off. In Nicaragua, you slap your hand loudly on the window and yell, hoping that someone hears you over all the chatter and talking. The doors actually closed in these buses, as the Nicaraguan buses have doors that fly open all the time. Costa Rican buses have so much more horse- power as well, and they drive like maniacs. I am sure that Nicaraguans want to drive the same way; they just don’t have the ability. I found the experience to be pleasant, but these buses just didn’t have the same life I was used to back home in Nicaragua. No stickers proclaiming that “Jesus es mi mejor amigo” or neon tape decorates the interior. The driver doesn’t post his name with stickers on the front panel and the destination of your journey is printed nicely on black signs that interchange on the outside of the bus. These are all done with paint or tape in Nicaragua.

We arrive in familiar Liberia at the pristine bus stop…so much cleaner and put together than typical Nicaraguan bus stops. I asked locals if they knew where Cabinas Michelle Hostel was…yes. Five blocks north and one block west. Perfect. Ticans actually tell you the truth in directions…not like in Nicaragua where everything is 200 meters ahead. As Ann and I walk, I suddenly remember my surroundings from my time here a while ago. When we turn the corner, I see it: Cabinas Michelle’s stands right by the isolated phone and light pole. Experiences of my time there rush back to me at that instant and I can hardly contain my joy. I remember arriving in my winter gear, fresh off the plane direct from Minneapolis. I had no idea where to sleep or where to go in Liberia. I was led to a mystery hostel in some general direction and was led to Cabinas Michelle, a haven on earth, a Godsend. Now, here I was, some time later, at the same hostel, only much more confident and know ledged of my surroundings. Being my first experience into Latino culture, I will always have special memories of Liberia; now, it was like a good friend just across the border. It was like coming home to a lot of good memories.

We checked in…and the hostel had been renovated. The same car is still in the garage as well as the wooden desk where I checked in that one lonely night. Nobody has checked in, and the hostel is ours for our picking. Although every single room has been renovated except mine, I pick the one I stayed in when I was last here. Just for the memories. It was the same ugly room with a broken fan and a pipe of cold water for the shower and the window in the bathroom that didn’t offer so much privacy. I didn’t care…I was here at a different point of my life staying in the same exact room. I picked the same bed, which is separated by the other bed by a large bench. The large mirror is still there. This time, the TV works and there is cable! And, because I have a cell phone from Nicaragua, I can use that as an alarm clock. Last time, my cell from MN lost track of time and therefore was no use. The one the hostel offered had no batteries. I remember the senora waked me up by pounding on my door back then, the old fashioned way. I put my stuff down and spend some time talking to the worker, the husband of the woman. Her daughter was named Michelle. I tried to explain to them how I was here some time ago and they said they remembered me, I think just to be nice. The truth was, I was so happy I couldn’t contain my joy.

I took a walk around the perimeter of town that I knew. I passed the same real estate agency next door that helped me find the bus station. I passed the bar on the corner where I asked for a glass of water. I passed the store with the crabby Korean lady who didn’t speak Spanish where I bought my phone card to call home to tell my parents I was alive. And, she still looks crabby. We exchanged glances. It was wonderful! I passed the phone across the store where I asked some girls to help me use the phone card all in Spanish and ended up using all the minutes because it was confusing, not even getting a chance to call home…and the real estate agency again where I used their phone to call home since the phone card was useless. It was great. I arrived back to the hostel where I enjoyed my cold stream of water coming from a metal pipe shower. And, we fell asleep to cable movies on TNT. It was the perfect start of a wonderful weekend. It was complete laziness for a weekend. J

The next morning, we walked to the nice bus station, without first making a stop at the Super Maxi (kind of a funny name for a supermarket). Anyways, we boarded a bus to Santa Cruz and the lady shortchanged me. I hate that. Never once have I gotten all my change back. It was too late by the time I noticed it. Just advice, pay with the local currency, as people have a hard time converting from US dollars. We pass many mountains and hills to a lovely area of Costa Rica and talk to people who say pura vida a lot. Once in Santa Cruz, we talk another two-hour bus ride to the coast. We pass stores that proclaim PURE VIDA on their signs. I remembered hearing that they use that expression a lot here.

Playa Flamingo is the area where stars like Julia Roberts vacation, according to the guidebook. I can understand why, as we were surrounded in high- rise condos and hotels and rich homes. I felt like I was in another world. We were in the Nicoya Peninsula, the part of Costa Rica on the east side that sticks out like a thumb. Ann and I couldn’t find anything in our price range, of course, so we walk an hour to the nearest town, to a beach called Playa Brasilito. Along the way, we pass along dirt roads in forests with nothing in site. It is just nature and us. We finally make a bend in the road and get to the beach. Ann and I listen to Bittersweet Symphony. It is the perfect song to listen to while marveling nature’s amazingly beautiful secluded beaches, which happened to be this one. No development in sight, just the setting sun, the rocks, the occasional fisherman and one lonely car traveling on the pristine sands. It was amazing. God sure made beautiful things in this world and this was one of them. We walked along, listening to the song, which I first heard while traveling to a secluded beach in Mexico in high school. Now, this song will always hold memories of beautiful beaches.

We found a hostel for triple the price you would pay in Nicaragua for the same amenities. However, we had air conditioning and cable TV and a private bathroom. We couldn’t ask for more. The whole weekend was spent inside watching movies in Spanish. One day, we found the energy to go out for a swim. We were the only ones out. Like I said, this beach has yet to really be developed. But, we preferred it this way. We went for a swim, jumping with all the fish in the luke -warm water. We went back to dry up and enjoy our books when we got caught in a rainstorm. Instead of letting it bother us, we took it all in. We just slowly walked and let the rain soak us from head to toe.

Pretty soon, it was time to go. On the way back, I met a man at the bus station from Edina, Minnesota. We talked about Lake Calhoun, downtown Minneapolis, all the festivals happening around the cities right now, etc. It was so comforting jus to talk about home. Us Minnesotans are all around. I just don’t see any of them. J On the way back, Ann and I felt instantly at home when we got to the Nicaraguan side. Just being on the buses felt different, as loud music was playing and they were dirty and beaten up. It was great. On the way back, we took the same launcha that we took getting to the mainland. Only this time, the boat didn’t tip. Instead, we had really choppy waters and rode with the whole supply of beer for the week in Moyogalpa.

Back home, things were very tranquil but full of coughing children. The day of the family event, all the children who stayed out and played in the rain got sick. Now, the illness has passed through the unsanitary way of things here and eventually everyone has managed to get sick.

As for other news, I still had to give the silly test to some students who didn’t show up for the test before Costa Rica! I gave them the test Thursday and handed in grades on Friday. Even as late as Sunday, I had students who were sick for the retake and I gave them their tests. Can you believe that? In the states, you would never hand in grades as late as two weeks after, but here, I guess it is more tranquil. On top of that, I get permission to give the test where I want and it doesn’t have to be proctored in a certain location. The school system has so much trust in me! I don’t even get my rests reviewed when I make them. Anyways, we are back by Thursday morning. That night was the last night Katherina graced us with her presence, so to celebrate, we all went out to Moyogalpa, the hippest city on the island.

Since it is a Thursday, there was no night- life. However, we managed to get a good group of people out with other foreigners and locals at a salsa bar. One man danced with all 9 ladies. He must have been so tired! These are the nights when the volunteers can just let loose and have fun. Our lives are often busy that we don’t have time to come together.

The kids have vacations all week and the joy of sleeping in feels so great. The volunteers are planning activities as well. The kids who stay back did not pass their exams and some of them are very angry. I just hope that anger helps them pass their exams the next semester. One exciting event that happened was an Olympic type game with water; my team won. Although not the most cohesive of teams, we had the fastest time. I was proud of them. All the children who did pass and didn’t go home were invited to San Juan during my break. I enjoyed spending my vacation time with them.

On the 4th of July, Beth made apple crisp, for the volunteers only. Apples are very expensive and are a highly sought after fruit. I tell my girls that I live next to an apple farm where apples exist in bounty and they are inexpensive in the grocery stores. They just listened, with their mouths open. However, that was the reaction I had when I came to Nicaragua in January…that we can walk to specific locations and pick fruit, especially bananas and mangoes, from the trees whenever we want. All the expensive fruits back home are so abundant here. I often forget that Nicaragua has more fruit than its neighbors. It’s just too bad the kids don’t eat any of them…they eat all the bad food and export all the good food. Ironic…

I have gone to San Juan on my last break. This little vacation was interesting for one reason: I slept at Playa Maderas. Maderas is a surfers haven and a half hour bumpy jeep ride from the Bay of San Juan. There is one lonely shack on the beach which houses up to 8 people. I was among the lucky 8. Although there was no running water and electricity, it was like being one with nature. It sits on the beach like a ghost; it is so pale looking and without life. However, since seeing it over a year ago for the first time, I have wanted to sleep there. Now was my chance.

Before sleeping to the sound of the waves, I was invited to Mango Rosa resort. Since Sana knows the surfers and has a friend who is managing the place, we were naturally invited. After trekking up the mountainous hills of southern Nicaragua, we pull up to the cabanas in the middle of the forest. We step out and are awed: a large swimming pool, a clubhouse with a bar, satellite TV and music, and many little cabanas surround us. We are invited to swim and hang out for the night. After a long swim, we eat our dinner and while watching Miss Universe 2008. Living at the orphanage really takes its toll on you and being here was the perfect remedy. I could never afford to stay there, but at least I got to enjoy its amenities for the night.

Pulling back to the shack on Maderas, we find our way up to the room in complete darkness. I try to go to bed. Although it is peaceful with nothing but pure beach and tropical forest and no other buildings in site, I feel scared. If a tropical storm were to hit, we would be helpless. However, for the most part, it was a very peaceful night. I awoke at 5am the next day and took a walk, just me and the beach. I met large hermit crabs along the way and stood struck in the beauty around me. Absolutely nobody was in site; it was lovely. Of course all the surfers come around 9am the next day and by then the water is packed with 30 or so surfers. I took this as my opportunity to watch some free entertainment. One interesting thing I noted was the variety of surfers: men and women, children and older folk, skinny and bulky. There was no specific body type or person that was enjoying this sport. That is what is amazing about surfing: it is for everyone if you are willing to put in the effort. And, it is such an eco friendly sport.


16th July 2008

your blog
I have been reading your blogs for a while now. I just thought to leave a message for you because you said your devoted readers are your parent and relatives and I dont qualify on that category. However, I am originally from El Salvador and live now in Michigan I have been on some of those places you describe and your blog brings good memories. Por favor cuidate mucho en esas lejanas tierras y escribinos mas sobre tus aventuras. Pasala bien Adios.

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