Tuesday, January 26, 2010

St. Lucia, Part V

Peter, Diana, Ben, cannon

Rodney Bay / Pigeon Island

Lily and folks
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St. Lucia IV

Sunset over open water

Peter behind the wheel, an expert of the St. Lucian highway

Rosie and Will under the waterfall

Lily and Seth, summit Gros Piton. Yes, Lily did it twice and is in incredible shape.
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St. Lucia Part III

Rainforest cascade (destination after a long descent)

Cameo apperance by Valentina and Kem in the St. Lucia airport! Thanks to American Airlines cancelling flight at the last minute, Lily and Josh received another day on the island. This included a layover in a ridiculous corny resort (cruise ship on dry land?), but were lucky to see these California brethren at the Vieux Fort airport the next day.

Cocoa processing at Fondieux Estate

View of Valle de Pitons. Jalousie Plantation is almost visible below. Clearly a popular anchorage.
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St. Lucia Part III

Rainforest cascade (destination after a long descent)

Cameo apperance by Valentina and Kem in the St. Lucia airport! Thanks to American Airlines cancelling flight at the last minute, Lily and Josh received another day on the island. This included a layover in a ridiculous corny resort (cruise ship on dry land?), but were lucky to see these California brethren at the Vieux Fort airport the next day.

Cocoa processing at Fondieux Estate

View of Valle de Pitons. Jalousie Plantation is almost visible below. Clearly a popular anchorage.

St. Lucia, part II

The authors

Deep sea fishing: Lily seems too happy, given the fact that we were skunked. Where were the dorado?

Clipper leaving Soufriere Harbor (view from La Batterie Villa, where were were staying)

Rainforest canopy
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St. Lucia, part I

After passing through Miami, Josh and Lily arrived to St. Lucia, and island paradise in the Lesser Antilles. Diana and Peter had found a gorgeous house perched on a hillside lookout out at the Pitons, the essential St. Lucian silhouette. It was an amazing couple of weeks, in which Josh and Lily fully unwound from the sometimes-hectic nature (OK, not in the traditional sense) of their time in Central America. It was special to be with the Abrahams-Gray clan to celebrate the turn of the decade.

Pitons from the veranda

Petit Piton rises up behind Lily and Josh. Photo taken from above Rabot Estate (formerly Renee and David's property now in the hands of fine chocolatier Hotel Chocolat).

Josh and Lily at summit of Gros Piton (a hellish ascent) with Petit behind.

Peter, Lily, Ben, Rosie, Seth, Diana at Ladera, between the Pitons
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Mama Licha's clinic

Rebecca & Mama (internationally renowned pioneering midwife from Esteli)

Congrats to Rebecca for finishing nursing school applications! We hope you come to work with Mama soon... she would be so lucky to have you!
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Nicarao Cigar Factory

From the city of Esteli, homegrown. (Except for the Indonesian leaves that are imported to serve as the exterior leaves).

The factory we visited had roughly 100 workers and is classified as a Free Trade Zone (Zona Franca) which means that the company has no tax liabily and more than 90% of goods are exported. This factory (like most) does not have its own brand. Rather it produces cigars to the specifications of a few dozen brands (can anyone remember the day when you bought something under a certain brand name because you trusted that the brand stood for quality? Now you never know who actually produced things... occasionally you know where.)

Tobacco ferments for 12 months in a room like this (below) before it is rolled into cigars. It was very difficult to breathe in this room.
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Climbing Mombacho - some imagenes

Mombacho towers over the town of Granada and the edge of the vast Lago de Nicaragua (1,400 meters). The Sendero Puma (Puma trail) winds through the upper cloud forest on slippery wooden steps. The ups and downs are intense, but the views are unbelievable.

Volcanic emissions from a Volcan Mombacho cliffside.

Looking back along one ridge of Mombacho

View of Granada and the Isletas. When Mombacho blew thousands of years ago, the eruption created the archipelago visable in the cresent shape on the right half of the photo below. The last eruption - not so serious - was in the 16th century (a sign to the colonists?)

Playa Montelimar... Completely unrelated to Mombacho, but somehow snuck onto the blog. This was the sight of the first ever Xoco international corporate conference! The 12 managers of the business met for 2 days to cover lessons learned and the path that lies ahead. Josh took this picture in the 15 minutes available to go the beach (the rest of the conference took place in the much more picturesque Windowless Air-Conditioned Conference Room (WACCR: a common outcome).
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Begging forgivness of our remaining readers

Dear Loyal Fan of Lily & Josh:

Admittedly we are roughly 2 months behind in updating you of our whereabouts and activities. Here is a brief outline of some of the key events. Photos will be posted and reflections will hopefully follow.

Early December: Visit from Moses, Reid, Jonathan, and Rebecca. This included a wonderful gathering for Josh's 25th birthday. Here is a summary of some of the highlights from this period.

(1) The Moses visit: Only 3 days!
. Swimming the Laguna de Apoyo
. Climbing Mombacho, Sendero Puma
. Reveling in the genius of Lady Gaga

(2) Time with Reid, Jonathan
. Reid, Lily, and Jay made Josh quite jealous with their trip out to Playa Popoyo. It included one of the best spontaneous dinner parties in the history of spontaneous dinner parties (post some pictures?)
. Wonderful evening in Matagalpa, including a ballroom hotel room of Loma St. Thomas
. Rolling in the Toyota Hilux
. Reid at one point noted, "Josh, you really haven't done much work this week." True. Wish I had done a bit less.

(3) Valle de Pantasma: Josh, Rebecca and Lily support Xoco's first major corporate social responsibility program event
. Becca and Lily were sweet enough to come along with Josh and Frank to Pantasma Valley in the north - 90 minutes from Matagalpa - to help run a 2-day business basics workshop for 60 college students in a naturally rich area, but very poor agriculture community
. Experience Frank's capitalist-anarchist "capanarchist" rants!
. Explored mountain town of Jinotega (and all 3 of its bars)... including an unbelievably overpriced pizza ($16?)
. Becca got a love note from a secret admirer college student on a "BizReal" (the monopoly-like money we were using in the workshop). It was tucked in her backpack and read "Rebeca te quiero"
. The students were phenomenal. Very sincere, fun and engaged
. Overall the event was an unmitigated success and we are hoping to do follow-ups with these students and roll the module out to other parts of Nicaragua where Xoco has producers

(4) Exploring the northern town of Esteli (Lily, Rebecca, Josh)
. After leaving Pantasma, Lily, Becca and I headed up to the city of Esteli. We concurred it was truly a special place, quite possibly our favorite city in the country. It has a laid-back feeling, really upbeat people and places.
. Lily got Josh a guitar made by a barber for my birthday. It's a gorgeous classical guitar. We wandered around asking people where is the barbershop where they sell guitars... we found it! What a perfect present. Despite Josh's modest vocal talents there might have been some ulterior motive regarding serenades.
. We toured a cigar factory. The tour was remarkable. We were all so impacted to the point of hardly being able to breathe in the fermentation room. Subsequently, we started smoking some of the inventory in the back room with the tour guide, Ernesto. Then Lily and Becca got a bunch of gifts - boxes and all. The tour made no effort to sugar-coat the working conditions, which were sub-par. The cigars were beautifully hand-rolled, and we learned the basics of the process. For example, the exterior leaves cost 5x more than the interior leaves as they are specially selected for appearance. Frequently the Nicaraguan factories will actually import the exterior leaves from Indonesia (despite having a robust tobacco harvest) based on the quality the buyer needs and the domestic availability (often low).
. Clinica Mama Licha. After the cigar factory we went to a maternity clinic run by one of Becca's heroes, "La Mama Licha." What a beautiful, energetic inspiring woman (of 70 years old!). She works 6 days a week and inspires the world to think about maternity and midwifery in a natural way. The highlight for, translated, was when Mama Licha said to Becca "I want you to come live with me so I can show you a little bit of what I know." Maravilloso!!

Photos coming.

Guest Entry from Kathy... (November)

Ken and I had a wonderful visit with Josh and Lily last weekend. Arriving Thursday night the 12th, I think we did and saw more of Nicaragua in three days than most people could do in a month! What a beautiful country, and what a wonderful visit with Josh and Lily.

We spent Friday in Granada, waking up in their beautiful rental house, drinking some excellent Nica coffee, and then walking around Granada.

Breakfast in the courtyard of a lovely little restaurant,

stunning views from the bell tower of La Merced,

and a short impromptu visit with Seattle expats Bill and Penny, who live in a beautifully restored colonial house.

Then off on a horse carriage to Lake Nicaragua,

onto a little launch,

and out for a tour of a bunch of beautiful little volcanic islands.

Lots of birds,

A stop for beer and snacks,

And even a few monkeys (placed there and taken care of by a veterinarian who owns an adjacent island.

Then drinks

and a fish dinner at Las Colinas.

Bright and early the next morning we headed for Matagalpa, where we headed off the beaten track to visit a coffee cooperative in the hills. We picked coffee (thankfully shade-grown!),

Had lunch in a local home,

Learned how the coffee “cherries” are processed,

And appreciated the beautiful tropical forest.

Then back to the town of Matagalpa, where we saw Josh’s office, had fabulous coffee at Café Barista, and stayed in a beautiful hotel on the hill, overlooking a wide swath of beautiful hills and valleys.

After a delicious dinner (lots of meat), we enjoyed more Nica rum, then to bed (tired!).

The next morning, we headed back to Café Barista for breakfast, right across the street from the busy Sunday morning at the church.

Then we headed for the Xoco nursery, where Josh showed us how they are grafting and growing cacao plants.

After the plants are successfully grafted and big enough, they are ready for local farmers to plant.

While Xoco’s operation is still in the early stages, we were able to see some gourmet cacao beans fermenting (smells very yeasty!) in their own pulp from the cacao pod, and drying in the sun.

Then on to Managua, where we had a delightful lunch with Ann, the professor who runs the student program Josh participated in several years ago, and Jason, Josh’s host “brother” from the barrio where he stayed. Ann is a vibrant and obviously talented teacher. Jason is warm and smart, currently working for Sprint at a call center in Managua.

Managua is a sprawling city with very little “there” there, ever since being destroyed by an earthquake in 1972. The one surviving tall building houses the national legislature. But up on the hill overlooking the city, you can see the beautiful setting by huge Lake Managua, and a dramatic monument to Sandino, the inspirational hero to the Sandanistas. Ann told us a great story about how the statue was raised in the dark of night, on the eve of the Sandanistas losing power (they are back in power now, though).

On the way back to Granada, we figured we were too late to visit the active (yes, ACTIVE) volcano at Masaya Volcano National Park. We pulled up to the park entrance after 4:30, and yes, the park was scheduled to close at 5, which is also when is starts to get dark. But the ranger told us it would only take 15 minutes to drive to the viewpoint, and that we could take our time coming down. What a great decision to go ahead! We arrived at the active volcano crater just at sunset.

And as we were taking in the awesome sights, we fell in with a group (not into the crater, thank god) that were being led around by several rangers, and apparently not constrained by the park’s closing time. From the official viewpoint, we drove up to another spot (ranger Luis came in our car, so we knew we were ok with staying), where we hiked straight up for 15 minutes or so, to look down into a dormant crater, and had a panoramic view of the whole area, including another sunset behind the puffing eruption.

As if that weren’t enough, we learned that the next stop was the bat caves! It was totally dark by now, but we drove on, and stopped at a spot where we got hardhats and flashlights, and took another hike—this time downhill. The first stop was a cave full of fruit bats—really cool!—and the second stop was a walk through a lava tube.

Now we were sure the evening was complete, but no! We got back up to the cars, and drove back up, this time to the far side of the active volcano crater. We were led right over to the edge, where we lay down and looked literally into the center of the earth—we could see the red glow of lava at the bottom of the crater, now that is was dark. Amazing.

Well, that in fact was it. We drove down the mountain, back to Granada, and for a final dinner with Josh and Lily.

The next morning, more coffee, and then off to the Managua airport. Hard to say goodbye, but we know we will be back!