Friday, October 30, 2015

How To Eat For About $2 A Day

The other day at the out door market I purchased small bays of onions, peppers, tomatoes and potatoes plus bunch of bananas (of course) and a 1/4 head of cabbage, a cucumber and a few carrots. Total Cost 55 Cordoba or $2.60.
I then went to the  La Union supermarket where I purchased a kilo of corn flour, a kilo of oatmeal, hot sauce, Salsa sauce, a box of green tea, 2 bags of bean paste, a small can of corn and a few cans of chick peas, large bag of rice and a small bag of red beans, a bag of 12 soft tortillas and finally 18 eggs. Total cost 406 Cordoba or $19.17. Needless to say my days at the supermarket are numbered Total Food Purchase for the trip $21.77

How long will this food last? Using foods that I purchased and what has evolved to my staple menu this food list will last me 2 weeks with lots of corn meal and oatmeal left over. Along the way I will purchase more bananas, pineapples, tortillas, bean paste and some fresh veggies. All that being said it is not out of the realm for me to eat healthy nutritious meals for less than $60. (Toss in the odd snickers bar and mandatory smoothie ) How is that possible you dare to ask?

Here are my 5 basic meals that I made at home.

A Pupusa is a traditional Salvadoran dish made of a thick, handmade corn tortilla that is usually filled with a blend  cheese cooked and seasoned pork meat ground to a paste consistency and re-fried beans. The greatest thing about a Pupusa is you can fill it with anything and have it at any time. Today's breakfast was banana and cinnamon drizzled with honey. My skills at the pupusa culinary arts are still rudimentary but the job gets done.

Gallo Pinto is a traditional dish of Nicaragua and Costa Rica made with rice and beans. Gallo Pinto literally means Spotted Rooster so anytime I can eat something named Rooster I feel incredibly vindicated.
It is usually served at every meal. I like to eat it for breakfast with a few fried eggs, slices of pineapple or avocado and tortillas. Like anything making real Gallo Pinto takes time to learn. The secret is to cook the rice in the bean juice. Who knew?

Quetzal Tacos so named as the standard healthy  post Volcano Boarding and other adventures snack of Quetzal Trekkers of Leon. I dice up all my veggies into a big bowl and add a can of corn. Again your veggie mixture can be anything but this week mine are tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, corn, and peppers. Using a soft tortilla shell smear it with a decent helping of Ducal bean paste. Add 3 heaping spoons of the raw veggie mixture. Drizzle with Hot or Salsa sauce and for a bit of crunch, crush a few Doritos on top. Roll into a taco/burrito and dig in. I have eaten 8 of them in 2 days and have not made a dent in my veggie mix. It should easily last a week.

Fried Egg and Bean Past Tortilla Wraps are my Buffalo Chicken Wing of Nicaragua. It's as simple as it sounds. Take a soft tortilla and smear it with bean paste. Fry an egg and lay that bad boy on the paste. Hot sauce to kick it a kick, roll and eat. As with everything else you can add anything else and a bit of avocado usually does the trick for me.

Oatmeal yes the good old standard. Cooked with any combination of bananas, honey, cinnamon, apples or any odd new fruit I dare to try. I find myself eating oatmeal for dinner often.

Now this is not to say that I do not go out to eat. There are amazing stalls that sell  a plate of BBQ chicken/Pork or lamb, gallo pinto, coleslaw salad and a tortilla for about $3, They are called Frutungas and nobody knows why.
There is any myriad of baked, BBQ or deep fried chicken dishes, Burrito trucks (holy mother of god these are amazing) or hamburg hot dog carts. Bakeries and coffee shops have all the indulgences. Restaurants galore that serve up anything you want for no more that $10 - $12 (very top end). You seriously could eat out 3 meals a day and not break the bank.

I have given myself a personal challenge of a $100 a month food budget for November. To many Nicaraguans live on $100 - $200 a month to cover all their expenses. I believe its the least I can do to try and assimilate. However I do have the option of running down to the night market for BBQ chicken and a cold drink when bean paste and raw veggies are not cutting it, where as many Nicaraguans don't.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Oh What A Lazy Week It Has Been

So far its been the wind down week I wanted. I took my tired self and switched between big comfy chair and big comfy hammock. That was my plan and I am sticking to it.

It between naps and moments of sloth I did manage to climb a cathedral, visit the Heroes and Martyrs museum, hit YaVoy for a great burger and Banana con leche for Briana's despedidia,
followed up by a despedida breakfast at 6:30 the next morning (holy hell). I found a great local Nica market for cheap eats while dodging oddly new cars, a horse and cart, pedicabs with wild eyed drivers that aimed for me and a pack of street dogs. I also planned a lesson for the class I am going to teach on Saturday and knocked off a few more chapters of Blue Highways, the book I just can not seem to finish.
All this being done while based in the tranquility that is the walled gardens of The Harvest House Hostel. My week of tranquility is only to be shattered by the F**king rooster that lives behind us. Oh and the amazing experience that are fire ants finding and feasting on your feet. Good Times!

None the less this is going to be home for a while. It is a way back off the street so it is quite (except for that god da** rooster) and quite serene. I am also putting together my teacher centered resume. I do not think Oil Field truck driver and bartender are going to make the cut.

This journey is not going to be without it's challenges. There will be many opportunities for work and there are also online teaching options. My biggest hurdle will the dumb choice of leaving University and working as a bartender because the money and lifestyle at the time was pretty damn amazing. No degree and my age will be hurdles. Not mountainous but challenging non the less. Believe it or not many schools will not hire anyone over 40. Again, that does not mean there is no work. It just means I do not have the options of a 23 year old university graduate (the young  educated little bastards). To that point, I am teaching this Saturday, I just need to tick a few places off my list. Taiwan, Korea, China anything in the Middle East (egad). Now it was mentioned to me that with a few years experience doors tend to open especially if I show up in the country I want to work in and knock on doors. We will deal with that frustration when that day arrives. Right now my issue are fire ants and they winning.

Anyways, one place that is an option is Georgia. Not in the southern USA and home to peaches and Coca Cola. Georgia the country in central Asia with some of the oldest Catholic and Christian churches on the planet (betcha didn't know that). There is some history there that boggles the mind and that country interests me plenty even though it was invade by Russia as recently as 2008. No problem. I would just give the big old bear a hug, a huge bottle of vodka, all the money I had and ask him to point me to the nearest exit.

So in no particular order and based on my TEFL certification, age and growing experience it will be Nicaragua, Colombia, Mexico, Georgia and then Vietnam plus teaching online. Of course that will all change 6 months from now. Especially if I kill that damn rooster.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

A Guy Walks On Top A Catholic Church

View from the top looking South
A guy walks into the largest Catholic Cathedral in Latin America. He is not struck by lightning nor does he burst into flames of damnation, although there was a brief moment apprehension.

Inner Devil Voice - "OK superstar remember all those demeaning things you said about the Catholic Church?" "How the Vatican is corrupt and that Catholicism was to blame for some of the worst abuses in human history?"
Inner Angel Voice - gulping air and as much saliva as possible "umm yes"
Inner Devil Voice - Well it's go time. Enter at your own peril.
Inner Angel Voice - You don't scare me. (stepping lightly towards the entrance).."WAIT, what was that noise?
Inner Devil Voice - You see that volcano in the distance. She is just rumbling, getting ready for a possible visitor.
Inner Angel Voice - "Ah man, I hate having inner monologues with made up demons while the people around me look at me like I am nuts". "Wait did I just say that out loud?"

Some basic information about the Cathedral. The Cathedral of León, also known as the "Real and Renowned Basilica Cathedral of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, is a significantly important and historic landmark in Nicaragua. The Cathedral was awarded World Heritage Site status with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). The site's nomination is Nicaragua's third cultural landmark, following the ruins of León Viejo and El Güegüense .

The Cathedral's construction lasted between 1747 and 1814 and was consecrated by Pope Pius IX in 1860. It has maintained the status of being the largest cathedral in Central America and one of the best known in the Americas due to its distinct architecture and special cultural importance.

Due to the robustness of its walls, the Cathedral has survived tremors, volcanic eruptions of the volcano Black Hill and wars. Seven tunnels start under the church and lead to the other churches in the city. These tunnel are important historically but mostly for all the wrong reasons. More on that later

Beneath the Cathedral, in crypts designed to survive earthquakes, the mortal remains of 27 people rest, among them 10 bishops, 5 priests, an eminent leader of the independence movement, three poets, a musician, six notables and a slave. Most notable is the poet Rubén Darío.

** Thanks to Wikipedia for the above information. If you do a google search for leon cathedral Nicaragua you will find amazing pictures of both inside and outside the Cathedral.

Here are our intrepid group of rule breakers, yes your read that correctly rule breakers. We broke a few rules while on top of the church. Talk about pushing the envelope.
Jessica (one of the genuinely kind people I have met) Fran, Yours Truly, Briana (better known as chica loca), Keiran and Kathy who I have mentioned in past posts.

The climb was easy but steep and narrow. At the first level we entered a platform that housed a large assortment of beautiful brass bells. The views were great and it was a nice place to chill.
In this photo you can see where the bells use to hang but over time the wood could not maintain them any longer. They are now housed inside safe from the elements.

We then were able to walk on the roof but need to take off our shoes. Walking around on the roof the views were incredible and at times blinding. The sun reflecting off the white building game it more of a feeling of being in Greece. It was peaceful and you could just find a corner and chill for a bit.

Now with a sly grin Francesco says, lets break some rules. With out hesitation and a quick jump in our step we followed him. There was a gate, well what was left of a gate tied down with old string. There was a No Pasa sign on it. Francesco said, "ah we can not speak Spanish" and we moved quickly past the gate to the very restricted other side of the roof. We scurried like little mice to another bell housing.

It could not have been to restricted because there was a very large empty bottle of Flor de Caña rum nestled on one of the shelves. We did forget to close the gate and after about 15 minutes and  with a slight gasp Francesco gave a "oh oh". A couple of backpack laden tourists were walking in the restricted area oblivious to the fact it was off limits. So like the good soldiers we were, we high tailed it out of there, closed the gate behind us and left the picture snap happy wanders to their own devices.

This was a nice way to spend a couple of morning hours. During a rooftop conversation with Francesco about the revolutionary times he explained a few disturbing things that caught most of us off guard. The church was connected to 7 or 8 other churches in the area via an elabotrate underground tunnel system. The government soldiers would bring "prisoners" to the churches under the guise of protection. Each one of us pretty much thought the same thing. 
In truth, prisoners were marched below the churches along the corridors. First stop Prison 21 (which is now a museum) which is located in the heart of the city. Prisoners were tortured both in the prison and tunnel system. If you survived Prison 21 you were marched what I believe to understand was Prison 14. Its a long walk, what looked to be about 25 km, maybe more up into the hills. You could see the buildings from the top of the Cathedral. If you were sent there your fate was sealed.

The irony of these tunnels is that the smell of the dead an dying started to rise through the tunnels and into the streets. The citizens were not 100% aware of the tunneling system and the barbaric nature of them until they had to be closed down because of the smell.

As I have mentioned before, Nicaragua is a beautiful place with beautiful people. There modern history is violent  at times barbaric. It is with survival and passion that the Sandinista's overthrew the American supported Somoza government and 3 generations of oppression. They then tossed aside the Contra guerrilla movement also supported by the Americans. The wounds are still very fresh and you can view them every day if you just scratch the surface.

Today I learned that an old friend of mine died last night.  I knew Charlie Ogilvie for a short time during grades 5 to the end of high school. We did not have a gymnasium at our primary school so every Friday we would pile into a bus and head to Sacred Heart School in Chippewa. They had a huge new gym that we had access to and got to meet and play sports with these weird kids who lived in Chippewa. I remember Charlie being the athlete everyone noticed. He was athletic, handsome and friendly. We all hated him for that!!
We ran into each other at various parties throughout the high school years and shared many mutual friends. Years would pass where we did not see each other. When we did he always had a smile, that infectious laugh and time for a quick beer and a chat. Then we would be off with no plans to meet or "lets keep in touch". We would see each other when we would see each other.
Charlie was not a part of my life and I was not a part of Charlies but our lives crossed at various paths and the memories are good. Charlie passed in his sleep.
I respect all of you however condolences are for his family. 

Deaths Coming, Life's Foreplay

Post Graduation Beach Weekend

Las Peñitas is a fishing village and tourist beach community on the North Western coast of Nicaragua. It is becoming a more and more popular tourist destination and there are many hotel beach bars catering to backpackers, surfers, foreign aid project workers, religious groups, and expats. All Wikipedia information aside, I know its a 30 minute and 15 Cordoba (about .50) bus ride away. We did splurge and take a microbus which cost about 70 Cordoba. We escaped the heat of Leon and were sitting on the Pacific coast within 45 minutes after check in.
  My little slice of Nicaraguan Pacific heaven was the Sol y Mar Bed and Breakfast. Eight of us shared and we had the entire place to ourselves thanks to Heather and Jon Smith, owners and operators of TEFL Nicaragua. Without a doubt the best hosts/guides/party planners/beach fire builders and new friends I could have hoped for.

The oddest thing did happen when we arrived and took our places on chairs, hammocks and the beach. We were immediately joined by an unlimited supply of friendly and lazy ass beach dogs. They were not begging for food and it appeared they just wanted to chill as beach dogs are apt to do. They pulled up in and around us, laid down and fell asleep. I should have taken a few photos as it was really sweet to have them there.
Hold up your hand if you have been drinking and enjoying yourself and agreed to do something the next day but when you woke up you thought...F**king beer. Ken (or insert your name here), you are such a dumb ass. Well as the day turned to night and excitement settled into relaxation and talk of dinner someone mentioned that this beach had a few international surfing competitions every year. The waves were impressive and we figured 10 - 12 feet based on them being more than twice the size of the surfers. "Lets go surfing in the morning" came the call of the wild. "Oh man what a great idea" came the reply of the stupid.

 So with a renewed spirit of adventure in our hearts and beer induced courage in our belly we headed to Barca de Oro for dinner. We are on the Pacific coast so it was a myriad of seafood dishes all around. Soups, pastas, fried, shrimp, fish and all the fixings. This crew has spent so much time together in the last month that reaching over one person to get to another persons plate with a "hey let me try that" did not cause a flinch in anyone. After a while there were no use for utensils, they just go in the way of the eating.  Big thumbs up to the night.  As an aside, it was during this moment of King Arthur feasting that it came to be know to me that my beloved Toronto Blue Jays failed in their attempt to get to the World Series. It was an incredible run and the memories of watching almost every game this summer will never be forgotten.

I have attempted to surf a few times in my life. Once on the Gold Coast of Australia (Epic Fail), once in Ecuador (Epic Fail) and once in Hawaii (Epic Fail) so when I woke up knowing that I had agreed to go it did not take a prophet to know what was going to happen.
I had a great swim the day before and knew the water was incredibly warm and the surf was strong even at low tide. So after breakfast away we went. Kieran (from the Cheetos to relive stress episode) has been coming to this beach for about 6 years now and scouted out a rental shop. ** as an aside, if I ever had had a son I would have hoped he had the manners and temperament of Kieran. One of the finest and funniest young men I have ever met. (in the white shirt in the picture above)**

Well off I go with Keiran and Otto (another decent young guy). We confidently rent our boards and hit the surf with our rental shop owner (whose name I sadly forget) in tow. It was obvious we were not ready for the Nicaragua Única Original ISA World Surfing Games or any facsimile of them.
This was some strong as surf. The area we were in was aligned with the estuary going into the Isla Juan Vanado Nature Reserve. This created cross waves coming from the left as the main hammering of the tide his us head on.  Duck diving was impossible because, well I can not do it. That left riding or pushing the board forward until the breaker hit and push the board over the white water. So the dance of the surf had begun. Three feet forward, big crashing wave, five feet back  cha cha cha and repeat.

As you got the rhythm of the water (and you actually do) you could see opportunities to get on the board and paddle. In the 2 hours of being tossed around like old socks in a washing machine I managed to "catch" 4 waves. Catch of course meaning I got a hold of the top of a wave laying on my board, held on for dear life and road it to the beach. I could not have been any more surf un-cool.
When I had had enough I was exhausted, battered, bleeding (yes bleeding) and had drank my fill of Poseidon's salty potion. There was an afternoon pool party to attend and surfer boy is better at hanging around a bar telling tall tales then he is at "riding the rad curl"

About that pool party. It was down the road at El Cardu Del Mar. Owned by a couple of Canadian guys it was a hilarious afternoon. The food was fantastic and the cold beer was readily available. There were a few locals that showed up and a couple expat Canadians who added to the mix. I did find a hammock after a while and had a nice afternoon, post surf apocalyptic adventure snooze to the sounds of modern music that I had no clue about.

Sunday morning brought us to the Nature Reserve of Isla Juan Vanado popular with visitors for the wildlife and turtle migrations.That was exciting but I was all about the mangrove kayaking. The reserve was just past Barca del Oro along the estuary side. Tour and fishing boats lines the beach. It was a fantastic site to see kids splashing, swimming and playing in the water at 930 am.
This is a poor village in every way possible and with that comes a great respect for visitors. Not only for the needed hard currency but a real desire to show the world that Nicaragua is an amazing place. I personally do not like the phrase "the people were so friendly". There are friendly people all over the world. Here in Las Peñitas there was a genuine gentle kindness towards us.

We hopped on a launch and went up the estuary into the mangroves. Our guide had the eyes of an eagle. He spotted hidden iguanas, large spiders, and even the smallest of birds. He had a booklet of the animals and birds we were seeing and made a point to tell us as much as he could. This is a Nature reserve but of course funding is tough. Poaching is a menace but in this case its usually for food. We cruised up the estuary and did stop to allow the adventurous types to get out of the boat and climb along the mangrove roots. I am always up for something like this but for whatever reason took a pass and enjoyed watching the 5 or 6 of my travel mated monkey along.

At the turn around point we "released the hounds". There were two kayaks. Kathy a really interesting and lovely lady who loves all things Africa, and Heather jumped in one and my pal Paige and I took the other. Paige and I had partnered and worked on a few projects including a large "learner assessment" project. We interviewed a student and through a series of reading, writing, listening and talking tests we had to design a teaching lesson plan for her. We then taught the lesson and created 2 follow up lesson plans. To wrap it up we presented our findings to the class. Not only is Paige as smart as a whip, she is funny and has a great sarcastic side which made me laugh all the more. She is quiet(ish) but not in the "I am scared of my shadow kind of way" where as I am so incredibly not. We worked oddly well together without any issues and great results. I could not have had a better partner and am happy to call her my friend and salsa partner for life.

We finished our weekend with a nice long lunch at Playa Roca. Here we watched real surfers and stared at the ocean as you do. I think the next time I come to the beach I will stay here. It is everything you could want in a beach hostel.

It was a great Pacific Coast weekend and well deserved. Now its time to get to get teaching. Let's see how that adventures goes.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Graduation Day

Shiny New Diploma
The last couple of years have been interesting to say the least. I wanted to learn to drive a Rig so I did that. I wanted to always work in the Alberta Oil Fields so check to that, although sliding a 45 ton truck into a snow and ice covered ditch more than once was never on agenda. Driving across country check (7 times). Athabasca Glacier, climbed. Get up close to a Grizzly Bear in the wild, short soiling check. Well now I will add TEFL graduate to that list, and to those who know my academic history, I got an A!! Yes you read that right, I got an A and did no cheating to boot. Hey high school buddies remember when 2 of our class grades did not add up to a A. Maybe we should have paid attention just a bit, or actually went to class once in a while. (You know who you are)

This course was not for the faint of heart. At times it was stressful, at times the course load seemed unbearable and for the love of god how many verb tenses are there?. Mix that with living in Leon, the dietary changes and Forrest Gumping your Spanish to survive and it was a recipe for disaster. However there was never a moment when I did not think I could pass. Learning to Salsa (poorly and quite robotic of course) was a great stress reliever. The 12 of us had an oddly good relationship with each other. No isolated social or work groups or gossip. It was really an all for one, one for all type of support group to which is what made this bearable.

Carmen, our morning instructor was a combination of professionalism, subtle humor, high intellect and Tennessee charm. I learned quite a bit from Carmen.
Heather, our afternoon instructor was a firebrand of energy, humor, motivation and she did not miss a trick. Her motivation was our success.
Not to be forgotten is John. He steered the ship through the storms and into calm waters. It could be fixing the internet, giving guidance on opportunities abroad, cleaning up after our sorry asses or just opening a cold beer and telling a funny story. They are the perfect trifecta to enable success.

I can not see into the future and I do not know if I will be a successful ESL teacher. This little gem will give me another tool to put into my kit to give me that opportunity. Life really is like a box of chocolates Forrest.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Are You Just Paying The Bills?

Are You Just Paying The Bills?

Everyone once in a while I come across an article or in this case a video that I love. Especially when it is from someone who has worked hard for everything but one day discovered how ridiculous it all can be. This video is by Joe Rogen. Yeah that dude from News Radio and the UFC commentator. I find these insights by guys (or girls) who society generally says  "yeah whatever" when they speak. Why, well probably because they are not all over the entertainment news sites nightly so they must Not be important.
Joe Rogan, Russel Brand, Sam Seder, Prince Ea all have something to say if you just cut through the clutter of your day and listen. I find this video insightful.

I am as full of shit as the next guy. I am not preaching any personal manifesto about my superiority because I have made some what some may be considered "Interesting life choices". I am not professing that my choices are what everyone should do...shit nobody should do what I do at any time. Its my life and not yours so do your thing.

However what I am conveying is..FOLLOW A PASSION. I do not care what it is but make it your passion. Learn to play guitar and form a shitty band, go somewhere exotic and stop putting it off for "someday", don't mow the lawn or rake the leaves...go for a hike and smell the leaves. Even a small change towards a passion of yours can change your life. Changing your life for a passion can change the world.

What have I discovered. I love being in the world. I always have. Let me try and explain. It's not about living and working in Nicaragua which I love. It's about putting myself in the position to be anything and go anywhere. Listen I have regrets, many of them and will share them with you one day after one to many cold beer. But this is what I know:

 The average life expectancy in Canada is 81.24 years. (** oh oh, I do not think I planned properly, I better get back to working a job I hate just to make sure my future is secure**). Now think about old are you. What the difference. Subtract that and where were you at that time. For me today I am 53 so that puts me about 28 years before the big Adios. 28 years ago puts me at 25 (1987) working as a bartender at the Skylon Tower. Those years have flown by and they were all good years. Good in the sense I was healthy to enjoy them. How many good years do we have after say 70. My body is sore all the time now and I can not wait until the next 10 years to see how I feel. Toss in all the maladies and accidents that can happen and there you go. Time well Wasted.

Now to that point, this is not an exercise in running for fear of dying. This is an exercise in running for fear of NOT LIVING, and there is a huge difference between the two.

As you can see, every once in a while I find myself getting reflective and a bit introspective. We all do. I was told by more than one person to restart this blog because they enjoyed it and that I was good at it. Maybe I am I don't know but thank you for that. You know who you are. What I do know is I write about what I know, what I see, what I feel and what I think. I also realize that when I do write my introspective moments do not linger with me. They find a place on this blog and it allows me to move forward. Something we all desperately need to do.

... oh and I decided to get a new tattoo.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Sandanista Street Art

Sandinista, named after General Augusto C. Sandino

You can find numerous stories, articles and pictures on the history of the revolutions between the Sandinista and the Somoza gov't and then the Sandinista and the Contras so I am not going to try and fill this page with a history lesson. What I have included are 3 links if you have interest on the movement and the revolution. The Sandinista's fought 2 wars. One against the Somoza gov't and then against the American backed Contras (Oliver North and drugs for guns ring a bell?)

Sandinista Movement
Nicaraguan Revolution
History of Nicaragua 1979 - 1990

What I want to talk about today is Leon street art. This is not your run of the mill crazy swirls and curse words bridge art which I do not begrudge as its can be crazy beautiful.. This is some serious stuff that reminds the people of Leon exactly what they have been through.

It really all starts with the Sandinista flag flying proudly everywhere. Tonight I took a break and went for a walk with Paige, my partner on various projects, to get some warm stifling hot air and an ice coffee. We went to the main square and for whatever reason there was a parade forming (as they randomly do here) and it was being led by a group of teenager waving this flag. Remember the war and revolution ended 25 years ago and these guys were not even born yet, but there they were waving the flags with pride. It goes without saying that the lessons of the past are being told at home from parents who lived through it.

You stroll through the street and you see new signs like the one here or the one above of the girl frisking the soldier. How amazing is that drawing in what its capturing. The people taking over and the soldiers being arrested and searched. You can actually feel it in the people in the way they carry themselves. They know that if they had to they would rise up against anyone. Yes this includes you America. They know what you did to them in the past

 Tourist and travelers come to Nicaragua and enjoy everything it has to offer. From volcanoes, great beaches, colonial towns and a dollar that stretches far. It is a place so many are scared of because of it's past and so many are enthralled with because of its present and future. My question would be, how many know what happened here even 25 years ago. Is it something they have in the back of their mind and say "yeah cool, this place was a war zone" or "Oliver North had something to do here". Do people know the difference between the struggles in Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and Nicaragua and that they are all separate countries or are they are just melted into one big "shit, I would never go there" place.
If you walk the streets and see vendors or talk to anyone over 35 you have to realize they lived it. Anyone over 45 probably fought in it. The cab driver or shop owner could have been a guerrilla commander and yes sir, there are people walking and working here that have fought and killed. There are families here who have suffered. I am sure the lady that owns the place I am staying at has lots to talk about however it is not something you bring up over morning coffee.
"Good morning Marie, sleep well? Oh can you tell me about what it was like living in the capital of the Sandinista movement and what it was like to have tanks rolling down the street in front of your house? Were you a fighter or protector of soldiers. Did you see much bloodshed? Anyone from your family get killed? ...oh and can you pass the salt for my eggs.

History runs deep here. Political passion is integrated into every aspect of life. There is a sense of quiet pride even with the street vendors. I did not feel this in Guatemala or Honduras and touched on it in El Salvador however did not spend enough time there. As an aside I was in Suchitoto El Salvador a few years ago. A town that was completely evacuated during their revolution.  There was a tour you could take (but I missed it for some reason), where you can horse trail ride through the surrounding jungles with former revolutionary soldiers. They tell their stories including how the Americans use to bomb them. Travel to their forts and hideouts all the while giving you first hand accounts. Living History that should scare the sh** out of us. But like most history, it passes and gets forgotten.

I will continue to take pictures of street art, historical art, political art or whatever we are going to call it. I am going to take some pictures of local people (with their permission of course) so you can see what a possible revolutionary looks like. There are older guys on the street here that just have that knowing look but are as helpful as anyone.

I think this is why I came back to Nicaragua. There is a not so subtle pride here based on a violent and turbulent modern history. The people take nothing for granted and are polite to a fault.

I have students who apologize for questioning me when I teach them something and apologize again because they do not want to insult me then wait for me after class to compliment me so as to offset their perceived indiscretion. These same students who were raised by parents who formed a Sandinista movement that overthrew three generations of a corrupt and abuse government in a violent revolution.

Think about that for a second or two the next time you drink your $7 latte.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Elena, The Bandito Boys and Jose Bautista

How does the American (American means Canada and USA) mind work in Nicaragua? Well let me tell you how mine and two of my TEFL partners minds work. We were given an assignment. Take a look at this picture and write a quite "present tense story about it, a few lines". So that we did. We were then told to each take a basic tense (present, past and future) and build on the few lines that we quickly created. This is our masterpiece.
 ** Certain creative liberties have been taken **:

Elena and The Bandito Boys.

(past)The children of the barrio had just come back from a successful day relieving dumb American tourists from their possessions. They managed to steal a few cell phones, a pair of sneakers, an Iphone and some Cordoba's. Jefe would be proud. Tonight they would certainly get more food than usual, maybe even extra beans. Life was good in the Barrio. Elena and the Bandito Boys worked hard. The did not steal from anyone who was poor, only the rich Americans and Europeans who came to Nicaragua with soft hearts and fat wallets.
(present) Elena and the Bandito boys are returning from a very productive day of robbing the rich tourists that are always walking around their lovely city of Isla de Dinero. As they are walking Elena says to the boys, "Jefe is going to be so very proud of all of the loot that we were so fortunate to find in the generous touristsa pockets and purses"
(future) Many years later Elena became a great criminal mastermind surrounded by the Bandito Boys. After the Jefe died a very mysterious death she become the leader of the empire. Over the years they devised ingenious methods of separating tourists from their money and belongings. Elena used all the money to buy food and feed her village and the people of the countryside. Her village became strong and powerful and so Elena expanded her influence through out the land. Elena became the Queen of the kingdom and the Bandito boys became her soldiers.

So I ask you dear readers "what does this story say about the mentality of travelers who, although like to think they are immersing themselves in the place they are living, still deep down think the worst. Hypocrisy and stereo type thinking runs deep, even to those who preach enlightenment. For the record this picture is of kids in a school yard. I still have quite a bit of work to do.

Jose, you deserve a large picture on this blog. Well done Sir, best bat toss ever!!

I spent the better part of this past summer sitting in front of the TV with my mother and big old Blue Jay Fan Meema.  I was impressed more and more about her knowledge of the game and the players names. She has a thing for Josh Donaldson, struggle with the fact that Ryan Goins is bald "he is so young to be so bald", cheers every time Edwin Encarnación comes to bad because she wants to see the "Parrot Trot". To be honest I had no idea who played for the Jays in early July. By the time September came around I knew the lineup, positions and strengths of the players as happens when you jump on a fast moving bandwagon. It was fun and I looked forward to the nightly Jays games. When they Jays had an off day Meema walked around like a Zombie not knowing what to do. "No Jays game tonight"?  She looked like someone had just stole her lunch money in the schoolyard.

I have been trying to follow the Jays the best I could, however with the course load I have it was pretty much impossible to blow off 3 hours to run to the local bar and watch the game. I would jump on and grab scores and highlights the best I could. Jays down 2 game to 0. I honestly thought. No not going to happen. This team has to much going for it to loose to the Rangers. 2-1 back in the series. 2 -2 back to Toronto.  When I read they Jays won 6 - 3 I thought awesome and went to bed. The next morning I started to read the Toronto papers online while having coffee and the story started to unfold about the win. Holy Crappola. It turns out every media outlet is calling it the craziest inning of baseball they have ever witnessed. As quoted on SBNation  "There will never be an inning like this again. Send the whole thing to Cooperstown and bury it" 

I was late for school (nothing new considering my history with going to school) and spend most of the morning reading stories from every possible sports page and watching videos of the inning and the home run. I remember the Joe Carter home run of 93, but this sure ranks up there with the emotions and drama. Well Done Jose. That was the best bat flip imaginable.

What I like the best of all the reports came from a reporter at NBC  In this age of political correctness and whining this guy from the state stood up for the bat toss, even going out on a limb and telling the Texas pitcher who was whining about it to basically "shut the fu** up.".  It was an amazing baseball moment and you were on the bad end of it so it sucks to be you. 

As I write this the Jays just lost game 1 of the ALCS to Kansas City 5 - 0. Good job KC, you are no slouches. However I do not think the Jays will so softly into the night and I am going to watch the 7th inning again on YouTube regardless of the fact I have about 20 hours of homework to do. It's my last week of the course and graduation is on Friday. I can then go into the world as a qualified TEFL teacher. "God help the children"

Monday, October 12, 2015

Volcano Boarding Epic Fail

For those who do not know, I am taking a 4 week intensive training TEFL course (with emphasis on the intensive) here in Leon Nicaragua. It is a great tool to add to my tool chest and opens up some new doors for extended stay travel and work. How hard is the course load you ask. The short answer is that it is a full university coarse jammed, crammed, rammed and slammed into 4 weeks.  Here is the link, click it at your own peril.

How nasty can the workload get? Well I think the best quote came from one of the younger guys here. Keiran is a recent university graduate so this will put it into perspective. We went for dinner the other night, which was just a walk to a locals house and they cook amazing meals that they sell to hungry wandering guys just like us. Tonight it was Papusas.
From Wikipedia "A pupusa is a traditional Salvadoran dish made of a thick, handmade corn tortilla that is usually filled with a blend of the following: cheese cooked and seasoned pork meat ground to a paste consistency refried beans". Each one costs about .45. Three and you are good...beware the sneaky chili sauce.
Anyways Keiran and I are chatting about the course as we wait for your food, both agreeing that the workload is fairly brutal. Manageable but brutal. We all have our ways of coping. Mine has been Thursday night Salsa night and Tona. I get my Salsa on with my buddy Paige who I have been partnered on with many projects. She is a true Jersey Girl! We both are learning but find ourselves practicing whenever we can, usually at school during break. We hit the dance floor after a few to many adult cocktails and find a corner of the dance floor away from the Real Salsa Dancers and do our thing. The amazing thing is the smile and looks we get for trying to offers of help throughout the night to learn a new step or how not to look so robotic.
So Keiran asks me how I have been coping, I tell him but I know he wants to share something. "You know" he said. " The other day for lunch I went home, bought a huge bag of cheetohs on the way..the big bag because I wanted them to be endless. I went into the bathroom, shut the door, sat on the toilet and just ate the cheetohs in silence. I was alone for a full hour with nothing to do. I just stared at the wall and enjoyed every fake cheezy crunch." And this from a guy who just crushed 4 years of university. 

Well yesterday to clear our heads we decided it was time to concur Cerro Negro..the Black Hill. This is a very active volcano that erupts on average every 10 years. Last eruption was in well that clock is ticking on those tectonic plates. We go to Cerro Negro. Well to climb up, learn about the volcano, be amazing at the views of distance volcanoes, have a look at the crater...then walk over to the edge, put a sled under your but and slide down like a lunatic. That is why you climb Cerro Negro. 

I went with 4 other TEFL classmates. Paige, (Jersey) Briana (J ersey), Jessica(California) and Otto(Washington) and I think 12 others. I will not link to them unless they give me permission. I chatted most of the trip with an Israeli couple who just finished their mandatory 3 years military service and were her to blow off some steam before they start university. Yes all you young'uns out there bitching about how hard University is. This couple just put in 3 years of Real World Combat Training in one of the worlds most active hot spots before they started University.  We all needed a break and this was going to be it. As you can see the day was beautiful..well the morning anyways. We had  our standard hard rain in the afternoon. That round bulge under my T shirt. Yes sir that is a first time belly grown slowly but consistently from driving in Alberta and BC for 2 years. A few months climbing these volcanoes should cure that beast. 

The climb took about 45 minutes. It was a bit hard as it was my first climb in about 3 years and the scree made the footing a bit tricky but there was a trail and we all made it safely to the top. We walked around, took some great pictures, learned about the volcano from our guide and enjoyed the morning. Our tour was with Quetzal Trekkers and if you think that someone is only out to make a buck, well look no further for one of the good guys. ALL the money made by Quetzal goes back into community projects. All the workers are volunteers (3 month commit but you get free housing). The projects they support here in Nicaragua and in Guatemala give solace to the fact that some people are making their little corner of the world just a little bit better. 

After about 90 minutes at the top it was GO time. We geared up with a full canvas suit that added to the oppressive heat was..well nasty to say the least. Googles and bandanna to shield you from the dust, glove to protect your hands from being shredded like paper, a wooden plank with a rope as a breaking system and a slow walk to the edge of the abyss.
A black morass of crushed lava sloping down at 45 degrees for more than a vertical kilometer. What could possibly go wrong? Well to say the least, LOTS.

Our hero pictured above is all geared up and full of confidence as we walks over to what should be a fun fast ride down a live lava spewing active volcano. With sulfur filling his nasal passages he volunteers to help with the organizing of the riders. This need to volunteer for anything has become a nuisance to himself but he can not help himself when someone says.."I need a volunteer" or "who wants to be first". It was never that way.  I think I will just let the pictures below tell the story. There is not much to say after that.

Not me but it gives you a great view of the ride

Confident and Cocky a great recipe for....
 and a Face Plant into the scree disaster

Sunday, October 4, 2015

35 Degrees Celsius And I Have A COLD!!

This is how you crush fried chicken for lunch!
Yes sir you read that title right. I am in Nicaragua where its 35 degrees Celsius, sunny every day with cooling rainstorms every night and I have a head cold. It has come complete with sneezing and the sniffles that does not make me the fan favorite.

Week 1 of my TEFL course is in the books. I also have all my assignments completed and am ready for the chaos that surely will be week 2. No more practicing as this week I teach my first class. Two (2) hours of beginners English. From what I have learned this week I only have command of beginners English so this should be a snap.

I am hearing about teaching opportunities in Chinandaga for the January semester. Its about 90 minutes North towards the Honduran border and it would be a short boat ride to El Salvador. My interest is "peaked". For all its romantic revolutionary history that I adore, this is still Nicaragua and where is secondary to the fact I am here.
 Here is a great quote from Lonely Planet
"Sultry Chinandega’s never going to end up on anyone’s Top 10 list. Sorry. It’s just not. It isn't that the town’s ugly (it’s OK) or that there’s nothing to do (there’s some stuff), it’s because Chinandega’s the gateway to some of the most breathtaking spots in the entire northwest. And by the time you get there, your memories of this little workaday town will be well overshadowed by the glory before you".  This sounds pretty good to me. Getting off the beaten path in a country that does not yet have a beaten path.

Choking the chicken part 2
 I am very sad to announce the decision to get away from street food and the gorgeous friend chicken that abounds everywhere. It would be one thing if I was hiking volcanoes every other day as I did in the past when I was here, or driving a truck and slugging a 20lb pipe wrench in - 30 degree cold for 12 hours a day as I did in the Oil Patch, but I am sitting in a classroom doing paperwork. Besides the life of the soda pop has started to creep into my day as well.  Canada Dry, Ice cold Pepsi in old school glass bottles and a Dr Pepper caught my eye the other day. They do go hand in hand in the glorious and hideous partnership of bloat. It was a fun filled greasy fiesta washed down by bottles of sugar water heaven in a week of debauched gluttony.
As said by the simple genius that was Dr.Suess ."'Don't cry because it's over, smile because it happened. So with that BE GONE STREET FOOD AND SODA POP, BE GONE. And it was so.
Good man that Doctor!

For those keeping score. I have rented a room with shared amenities for a month, have eaten pretty good for the first week including buying groceries and the aforementioned street food, drank my share of beer one night, lunches and coffee in a "Western coffee shop" 5 times, dinner out a few times this week including a really good welcome meal (again with Ice cold beer) and small things here and there. Grand total for the first week including the accommodations. $280dollars and we were over charged by $30 for the room. Nicaragua is not without its issues. We have lost power twice including internet (oh my the horror of that), water once and the traffic is a bit chaotic. Its not paradise but for now it is my slice of tranquility even when I catch a head cold when its 35 degrees Celsius outside.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

When Is An Error Not An Error

Home of the Revolution
Well, its another sunny hot and humid day here in the land that still has the revolutionary feel. It was a long week of studying for this TESL Certificate . I had as hard a week as anyone and come yesterday afternoon my brain shutdown. All that resonated in my synapses was Beer, Ken go get a Tona...and so I listened very well as happens at times. It was a fun night sitting with my new friends at La Casitas, a nice restaurant with an open air courtyard, knocking back Ice Cold Tona's at $1 a pop while watching the Jays beat Tampa 8 - 4. Yes Virginia there is Television and electricity in Nicaragua. We then strolled over to Via Via for some live local music. It was a good night but I am glad I made the smart choice (for a change) to be home by 11ish

One of the students here is Ruth Seymour. Not only is she a former University Professor in Media and Journalism she was also in Nicaragua in the last 70s and early 80's as a reporter for the Detroit Free Press, which I was to learn was the 6th biggest publication in the States at that time. I asked if I could "interview" her about her time here during the Revolution to which she said "of course". I look forward to it and will post it word for word here.

A typical street in Leon
Right now as I gather my thoughts to attempt work on my assignments I have Sixto Rodriguez playing and just put down  Blue Highways by William Least Heat Moon. For those who do not know Sixto Rodriguez was the subject of a film a few years ago "Searching For Sugarman". I you have not seen it take the time to. He was a singer song writer / poet extraordinaire who holds his own with Dylan and Morrison. His back story is amazing.

William Least Heat Moon is an interesting author and in one passage he was referencing the history and evolution of words. I will quote him directly.
Again on the road, I drove up a lumpy, dry plateau, all the while thinking of the error that had led me to Hat Creek. The word "error" comes from a Middle English word "erren", which means "to wander about" as in the Knight errant. The word evolved to mean "going astray" and that evolved to "mistake". As for mistake, it derives from Old Norse and once meant "to take wrongly".
Yesterday I had been mistaken and in error, taking one wrong road after another. As a result, I had come to a place of clear beauty. So my friends, take heed with your supposed "errors" as they too may lead you to a place of clear beauty

A limo outside of a local nightclub
The perspective of all of our collective complaining and a few tears about hard work, to many assignments, the heat, not enough free time or whatever hit us straight in the face yesterday. Our School Manager/head teacher suffered a seizure yesterday morning. Without going into any details I am happy to report she is doing well.
We human are a funny bunch with our ability to loose perspective on things, myself included. I do not think anyone can live a life of complete reflection in order to maintain balance. (I suspect monks and others of that ilk would disagree with me). We just have to do the best we can and keep moving forward and try to learn a few things along the way.To that point I am a huge procrastinator. I can actually put off putting something off. With that being said I have work to do and a few tears to shed before this task is complete.

A final quote by WLHM on learning. "People tend to stop learning because it usually means you have to leave your comfort zone and put yourself out there, which opens you up to embarrassment and criticism".

Being photobombed while eating street tacos