Tuesday, January 26, 2010

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!

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