Monday, November 30, 2015

The Greatest $151.47 I Have Ever Made

The optimist and the pessimist both die in the end, but each lives his life in a completely different way.
-- Shimon Perez

Proudest Money I Have Ever Earned
Here it is. My first paycheck from Teaching in Nicaragua, although I am not quite sure what the big blue Non Negotiable means. That will just have to add to what I am sure will be a the Great  Nicaraguan Check Cashing Adventure of 2015. Coming soon to a Theatre and quite possibly a Nicaraguan jailhouse because of attempted fraud, near you.

I have always worked. I ran a paper route from the age of  8 to 14. A lifetime to run a paper route as a kid. Coming in at 4'7 and 85 lbs I would not be defeated. Using a wagon in the summer and a sled in the winter I slogged and trudged those 6 years where finally I could carry the bag over my shoulder. It took me about a week to realize how inefficient that was so the wagon and sled came out of retirement and became less of a necessity and more of a practicality. The mailman had nothing on me. Oddly, the faded memories are busting through in full colour right now.  I have walked that route, Margaret Street, Caledonia Ave and Dell Avenue in Niagara Falls, many times as it is near my childhood home.What I will share is that I can still to this day is say the last names of each house I delivered to with the exception of 1 or 2. I worked my young butt off for about $3.50 a week.

I evolved into a food service worker. Starting as a Bus Boy I became a Bell Hop, waiter and a damn good bartender over the course of about 20 years. My very first real paycheck was for $19.74 if I remember correctly as a bus boy from Micheal's Inn in Niagara Falls. That was a proud moment. The years evolved and careers were formed. I made great "tips" in the service industry and by the time I finished my technology career I was well north of $100,000 a year plus. This allowed me to be sucked into all the trappings that money can bring. Truck driving in the oil patch brought me better paychecks then technology but it was inconsistent. I had proud job moments but during these times there was never a proud "money moment".

To recap. My first proud money moment was making $3.50 a week dragging a paper bag as an undersized kid. My second was for $14.74 as my first real paycheck as a wide eyed teenager. I do believe somewhere in there was a big payday at the Fort Erie Racetrack but let's not count that. Which brings me to today. A paycheck for US $151.47. Without disrespecting my past and the hard work I have done, this is without a doubt proudest "money moment".

Now let's be careful when we talk about proud "money moments". No truer quote has been said than "Money is the root of all evil". Money creates self importance and entitlement, a false sense of security, causes men to loose sight of what is important, can get you lost in the need for "stuff" to add fulfillment to you life and the constant desire for it is probably the biggest waste of time in a man's life and many people equate success with money not the person they have become. How much is enough? I can go into a lengthy post about this but I do not want to get side tracked nor sound trite or be self aggrandizing.

Why is this a proud money moment for me, after all it is only US $151.47?  I learned a new language, move to a new country, developed a new skill, found a job to practice that skill and reaped both the emotional and financial benefits to earn it. This little cheque for US $151.47 fills me with great pride.

Now the adventure to try and cash it.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

The Challenging Volcan Cosigüina

The Trail Head
Volcan Cosigüina does not drive fear into the hearts of men. It does not have great adventure tales nor famous quotes of climbing it because "it was there". Movies will not be made and minstrels will not sing songs.

Standing at 2,861 feet or 875 metres it is a good trek but not daunting. It is a part of the Volcano chain that runs down the spine of Nicaragua which makes it a huge part of the ring of fire. It sits on peninsula on the North Western tip and when  you summit (to steal a mountaineering term) you have views of Honduras and Nicaragua. It's no "I can see Russia from my house" but it will do just fine.

The volcano last erupted in 1859, but its most famous activity occurred on 20 January 1835 when it produced the largest historical eruption in Nicaragua. Ash from the 1835 eruption has been found in Mexico, Costa Rica, and Jamaica. According to an analysis by Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature, the 1835 eruption caused a temporary decrease in the average land temperature of Earth of about 0.75 degrees C.  -- Wikepedia

Here are some great Google Images

The climb being, 20 kilo pack and all
A 6 am pre-trip meeting followed by a great breakfast at Quetzel Trekkers got the day underway. There were 10 of us plus our guide. I did not take many photos or write down any names so if they come into play I will just insult their Nationality with some slang term. We loaded into our van and settled in and slept for the 3 hour, bumpy as fuck ride. A short stop before the trail head lead to a series of sprints to the baño and rounds of 10 am  Toña's. (You see Toña, we did meet again). This group was going to be just fine.The trail head was literally the front yard of a local family. Our guide pays them to watch the truck so it's a win/win for everyone involved. As we unloaded and did a pre-check, the sweetest lady brought us 2 huge watermelons from her garden. "Necessitan comida". I am telling you this is what true old world organic farming tastes like. It was sweet, deep red and slurpily delicious. Monsanto need not apply.
Second shirt of the day

We were locked and loaded. Each person had a 20 kilo pack that contained 8 litres of water, tents, sleeping bags, food and spices plus our personal belongings. We each also had a spoon, plastic cup and plastic bowl to cherish and guard with our lives. So off we went. It did not take but 10 minutes, once the trail started to
rise that the first grips of "holy crap" started. Packs were opened, 2 litre bottles of water were being discarded to the absolute fear of our guide. "But they are heavy" was not going to cut it. The guide suggested very logically to take 2 bottles our and carry them in your hands to make the packs lighter. As this was not my first rodeo, I had started the trip like that with more than a few curious glances from my new friends. Realizing that we would crush 4 litres of water by the time we reached the top, adjustments had to be made. There was a moment of "ok nobody is going to carry this shit for me no matter how much I piss and moan" or "this was not how it was explained on Facebook" clarity. And with that we marched on.

Troopers Paige and McCall
Once we found our rhythm we started making headway and the hike was going to be no less than 4 hours. We only had 1 guide where normally there were 2. "Everyone has the Gunya" our guide mentioned. So I was the laggie and pulled up the rear to make sure nobody strayed. This worked for me because I was panting, wheezing, coughing, spitting, sweating, cursing, swearing and if it stared to rain I would have cried so nobody would see my tears. Man has my climbing ability deteriorated in 2 years.
It was hot, I mean Africa hot. We stopped along the way, usually under the shade of a tree for water, pictures and to adjust our packs. We were becoming happily unified in our struggles. There were 3 American guys, and Irish guy and his girl cousin, Eve the Kiwi (funny how I remembered her name), a German girl and the three of us. The 3 American dudes were funny dudes and kept the spirits up along with the pace. There was talk about "summit rum" and a bit of the "gange" to help ease our suffering.

Crater Lake
The four hours did not past slowly but they did pass and soon enough we reached the campsite with spirit lifting high fives all around. Now the fun part was to start. Exhausted, dirty, sweaty and hungry we had to set up camp, get firewood and prepare lunch before our assent to the crater for the sunset and the moon rise.

It's fun to watch people interact in groups in situations such as this. Most normal people will get going regardless of the hike knowing there is no one that is going to drop in and sort everything out. Get those tents up, drag and break some firewood, chop some veggies and help with dinner. Then there are the ones who kind of hang around, wander camp, talk about being "so tired" and how hard the hike was, or "I don't feel well", and stay real quiet hoping not to draw attention to the fact that they are not contributing. Those working give each other knowing and respecting looks. A bit of a bond if you would. Looks that say, if  this was a life or death situation we know who we would kill and eat first if we had to.

Tri-country view
Camp was a chaotic but happy mess. The Americans hung hammocks (no tents for them) which spread everyone out giving us more space. A nice win/win for everyone. Lunch was the Quetzel veggie burrito of which I had 4 and we greedily eyeing a fifth, washed down by no less than a litre of water. Total water count, 5 litres and not a pee in sight. Think about that for a second.

Well it was time for the summit hike. You know the feeling when you work out then rest for a while. You then try and get up and "holy mother of god" you realize how tired/sore/still/OLD you are. After a series of group moans, grunts and mother****ers (that was me) we stared the short summit.  As with most treks, the effort is always worth it. Pictures never due justice to what you observe. The oranges and yellows of the sunset mixed with the clear blue sky, the blue ocean and green crater.  El Salvador and Honduras were pointed out by our guide and that is always a "wow" moment knowing you are at the point of 3 countries. Everyone just did their own thing, as you do. Walking along the crater, taking pictures or soaking it all in.

Our personal solitude was shattered with an over zealous "holy crap". We were staring at the sunrise and finally somebody turned around and there was the moon, rising from behind Volcan San Cristobal. Again, pictures would not do it justice and personally I am trying to live in the moment of situations like this viewing it in real life, not through a 3 inch screen. The moon was big, bold and bright pushing a beam across the Gulf of Fonseca. I switched back and forth between the setting sun and the quick rising moon. It was an ADD nightmare.

A long couple hours later we came to the sudden realization that we were now going to have to hike by the light of the moon and our typical hikers headlight. And I was freaking hungry dammit. Our guide took the lead looking for the trail and failed. Not the leadership we were looking for. With a quick "stay here" off he went looking for the way to camp and with skilled success we were off. I forgot to mention that for whatever reason there were cows, yes cows along the top route. That J said, nothing scared the crap out of a quiet night hike where the only noise is footsteps and breathing then a cow suddenly moving in the bush. Knowing I eat hamburgers was my way of salvaging revenge on this ungulate bastards.

Camp was a nice sight. A large fire (started by gasoline of course) and dinner of cooked veggies and pasta topped with bags of marshmallows for the roasting. A bit of drink, some smoke for those who wanted to partake and good conversation with new trekking friends and it was lights out by 9. I believe nothing brings people together like a little adversity and simple co-operative living.

There was talk about getting up early to watch the sunrise and it took me a nano second to say what everyone else was thinking. " I am not getting up at 4:30 to watch the sunrise" and with that it was so. Camp stirred around 730. A solid breakfast of cooked oatmeal, bananas and oatmeal, instant coffee that tasted fantastic and cookies was followed by the breaking of camp (see previous comment about people who work and people who watch) and then the hike down. For those who do know know hiking up in hard on the legs and the lungs. Hiking down is brutal on the knees and the ankles.

Two and half hours later we were at the trail head greeted with smile and water melons!! It is crazy how you appreciate simple things when living a simple life. We stopped at a small lagoon for a swim, a few cold morning beers and the long bumpy ride back to Leon.

The Volcan Cosigüina trek was the soul cleanse that I absolutely needed.

Friday, November 27, 2015

How To Climb Mountains

Choose the mountain you want to climb
Don't be influenced by what other people say: "that one's prettier" or "that one looks easier". You are going to put a lot of energy and enthusiasm into achieving your objective, and you are the only person responsible for your choice, so be quite sure about what you are doing.

Find out how to reach the mountain
Often you can see the mountain in the distance - beautiful, interesting, full of challenges. However, when you try to reach it, what happens? It's surrounded by roads; forests lie between you and your objective; and what seems clear on the map is far more complicate in reality. So you must try all the paths and tracks until. one day, you find yourself before the peak you intended to climb.

Learn from someone who has been there before
However unique you may think you are, there is always someone who has had the same dream before, and who will have left signs behind that will make the climb less arduous: the best place to attach a rope, trodden paths, branches broken off to make it easier to pass. It is your climb and it is your responsibility too, but never forget that other people's experiences are always helpful.

Dangers, seen from close to, are controllable
When you start to climb the mountain of your dreams, pay attention to what is around you. There are, of course, precipices. There are almost imperceptible cracks. There are stones polished so smooth by rain and wind that they have become as slippery as ice. But if you know where you are putting your foot, you will see any traps and be able to avoid them.

The landscape changes, so make the most of it
You must, naturally, always keep in mind your objective - reaching the top. However, as you climb, the view changes, and there is nothing wrong with stopping now and then to enjoy the vista. With each metre you climb, you can see a little further, so take time to discover things you have never noticed before.

Respect your body
You will only manage to climb a mountain if you give your body the care it deserves. You have all the time that life gives you, so do not demand too much from your body. If you walk to quickly, you will grow tired and give up halfway. If you walk too slowly, night might fall and you will get  lost. Enjoy the landscape, drink the cool spring water, and eat the fruit that Nature so generously offers you, but keep walking.

Respect your soul
Don't keep repeating, "I am going to do it". Your soul knows this already. What is needs to do is to use the long walk in order to grow, to reach out as far as the horizon, to touch the sky. Obsession will not help you in the search for your goal, and will end up spoiling the pleasure of the climb. On the other hand, don't keep repeating "It's harder than I thought", because that will sap your inner strength.

Be prepared to go the extra mile
The distance to the top of the mountain is always greater than you think. There is bound to come a moment when what seemed close is still very far away. But since you are prepared to go still further, this should not be a problem.

Be joyful when you reach the top
Cry, clap your hands, shout out loud that you made it: let the wind (because it is always windy up there) purify your mind, cool your hot, weary feet, open your eyes, blow the dust off your heart. What was once only a dream, a distant vision, is now part of your life. You made it, and that is good.

Make a promise
Now that you have discovered a strength you did not even know you had, tell yourself that you will use it for the rest of your days; promise yourself, too, to discover another mountain and set off on a new adventure.

Tell your story
Yes, tell your story. Be an example to others. Tell everyone that it's possible, and then others will find the courage to climb their mountains.

― Paulo Coelho, Like the Flowing River  ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

I believe coincidence is not at all coincidental. 

Yesterday I had returned mid afternoon from a 2 day trek up Volcan Cosigüina. I took a long soul cleansing shower to clean the 2 day combination of dust, dirt, sweat and dead insects off my worn out body. I had a well deserved glass of red wine with some friends at an American Thanksgiving party (we were too late for the much needed food). Needing nutrition I went for dinner at my favorite outdoor frutunga stand (bbq chicken, gallo pinto, salad and tortilla) behind the Cathedral with my pal Paige and then went home.

I will confess that I felt amazing. You know that feeling you get about an hour after a great workout? Calm, relaxed and clear headed. No? Well put down the Doritos, turn off the TV or shut down the computer and go for a walk. Tired really is just a state of mind (unless you have not slept for 48 hours). I find it is something to many people say ad nauseam usually to use as an excuse not to do something they do not want to do. It's easier and less confrontation than No. " I am so tired", listen to how many times a day you hear it, then ask the person why they are so tired. It can be amusing.
I am so tired of hearing how tired everyone is.

In the morning I need a jolt of coffee and a new book. First stop is the the book swap area at the hostel. Filled with a combination of German literature and fiction I scrounged and came across a new copy of Like the Flowing River by Paulo Coelho. I do not know much about Paulo Coelho aside from having read the Alchemist a while back. Seeing as it was Black Friday, I greedily snatch it and I was ready to push over anyone who got in my way. As I am the only person around I walk to the coffee shop with a victorious bounce in my step.

The book is a series of short stories and antidotes. The fifth story in is How to Climb Volcanoes which you have just read. Whether you use is as metaphor for life or in the literal sense it was a nice find that I wanted to share with you. As I mentioned I believe coincidence is not at all coincidental.

*** I have learned the value of citing other peoples work.. To give credit to the person or people who put in the time and effort to deliver the information I am about to use or share. What I have learned to abhor is plagiarism. To take the effort of someone's work and pass it off as your own. Worse is relishing in the acclaim you may receive no matter if its public or just among friends and family. How sad is a life that reaches that level of desperation for attention and acceptance? In this day and age it will be found out so don't do it. It's beyond pathetic.

Finally, the quote that I will use to keep my head and path clear.
“Sometimes, we are so attached to our way of life that we turn down wonderful opportunities simply because don't know what to do with it.”
― Paulo Coelho, Like the Flowing River 

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Post Eruption Earthquake Right On Time

We were waiting for it after the eruption of Telica and it and Mother Earth did not disappoint and remind us again who really is in charge. Earthquaketrack reported a 4.7 magnitude earthquake today in Leon. Man, there really is a website for everything. Anyways, we were setting up to watch the parade of Parade of Myths and Legends / Mitos y Leyendas Desfile. This is one of so many parades in Leon as these people march, party and celebrate for any reason possible, and it is always with drums and it is always loud. This is an annual parade honoring exactly what it says. They myths and legends of Nicaragua.  Here is a link to a YouTube Video from one a few years ago. It's fun, colorful and as I mentioned, freaking loud. 

Well our heroes are sitting in our well places rocking chairs sipping an adult beverage and enjoying the growing chaos unfolding in front of us. Lines and pods of people forming along and on the street getting ready for the big moment. Suddenly you could see everyone kind of pause and look around. There was no fear but just "ah yeah I felt that" looks on the faces followed by knowing smiles and then the beat went on. I was rocking on my chair so I guess I just went in beat with the shaking of the Earth because I really did not feel anything.

There is a teacher here, Lauren who hails from Baltimore. She appeared about 5 minutes later with a real perplexed look on her face. She said she was just hanging out in bed watching a movie and suddenly her bed started moving forward and then back. She jumped out of bed, put on some street clothes, rushed and opened the door to see what was happening. She did not know about the parade so when she looked into the street she immediately saw hundreds of people walking down the street. She said she had a moment of "holy crap" the are evacuating the city. It then took a few minutes to register that it was not an evacuation but a parade. She still looked a bit unnerved telling us the story so we did not have the heart to torture her about it.

Tomorrow 4 of us are heading out to trek Volcen Cosigüina with Quetzel Trekkers who tossed in a free Tee Shirt. Its 100% cotton so it realistically has a life span of about 5 washes. Here are the Trek Details. It should be easy enough although there are a couple of raw rookies coming along. The ever present Paige and another former TEFL grad McCall. There has been lots of "I am so out of shape, "am I going to die", "how hard is it" conversations. It will be great to see these two dig deep and complete this climb thus adding a new tool to their travel toolbox. 

I have finally finished Blue Highways by William Least Heat Moon. I mean this should have been a weekend read but alas I have lugged it around the better part of 4 months. There are amazing quotes, observations, historical facts, stories, interesting people and what I perceive as an opening of awareness for the author. Thus began his life's work resulting from his darkest days.

Fun Fact
Scientists have discovered that chocolate was invented at least 3,100 years ago in Central America by the Aztecs and not as the sweet treat people now crave, but as a celebratory beer-like beverage and status symbol.
-- I now love the Aztecs

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Volcán Telica Roars To Life!

Volcán Telica is indeed an ACTIVE volcano.

The headline in today's La Presna Nicaragua: Volcán Telica lanza piedras y cenizas de dos mil metros de altura / Telica volcano throws stones and ash two thousand meters. 

You can Click Here to read more (in Spanish) and view a few more pictures. Basically the story says that Volcán Telica erupted this morning at 8:47 throwing rocks and ash up to 2000 meters. There were immediate evacuations of the families living on or near the volcano, (yes farmers have high crop yields near the volcano), and the nearby town is monitoring the situation. The BBC is reporting that the National Police are preparing to do a partial evacuation of the near by  town. As with all news and media reports believe what you may but there have been no evacuation reports in the local media.

Telica is about 50 km away from Leon and we did not hear or feel anything. The winds are not blowing in this direction so as of yet there is no ash or the blocking of the sun. What makes this little story interesting to me, aside from the obvious was I was prepping to pack this morning for my overnight hike up, you guessed it, Volcán Telica which was to begin at 7am tomorrow.

I suspect that if we were at the crater enjoying the amazing views, snapping photos like crazed Japanese or napping in our tents and then she blew it would have made roasting marshmallows really fast and easy. Marshmallows, tents, sleeping bags, shoes, my eyebrows and nostril hair and my good judgement (see snapping pictures like a crazed Japanese tourist). It may sound exciting to think about being near the volcano or dumber yet near the top. This is real world, real danger and real Mother Nature is always the boss type of situation.

We will not be deterred. Telica is in a foul mood so Tuesday its off to Volcan El Hoyo for a 2 day 3 volcano trek because nothing says sanity like trekking 3 volcanoes when their nearest neighbor just erupted. Here are the details if you want to read them.
The trek will be Cerro Negro and the Las Pilas - El Hoyo complex with a bit of volcano boarding down Cerro Negro again. Why do you ask would I go sliding down Cerro Negro again? Well sir, next to sliding down Volcán Villarrica, the perpetually snow covered active volcano in Chile, on plastic sleds, screaming down the hot sands on Cerro Negro on wooden planks ranks a close second as the most dumb volcano fun there is to be had.

This trek will be challenging and exhausting which is what this lazy ass boy needs. The proverbial kick in the ass to get out on the trails again whenever possible. Stopping at Via Via for 4 hours is not the same a lugging a 15 kilo pack up and down three volcanoes over 2 days. Regardless, active volcanoes in Nicaragua are very real. The really good news is they usually are preludes to earthquakes.

Good times!

Thursday, November 19, 2015

The Gunya Is Gonna Getcha

Little Chikungunya carrying bastard

Chikungunya (pronunciation: \chik-en-gun-ye or  the holy shit I better not get that) virus is transmitted to people by mosquitoes. The most common symptoms of Chikungunya virus infection are fever and joint pain. Other symptoms may include headache, muscle pain, joint swelling, or rash. Outbreaks have occurred in countries in Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Indian and Pacific Oceans. In late 2013, Chikungunya virus was found for the first time in the Americas on islands in the Caribbean. There is a risk that the virus will be imported to new areas by infected travelers. There is no vaccine to prevent or medicine to treat Chikungunya virus infection.

Malaria be dammed. The new kid on the block is a little bastard of a virus. Now before you get all up in arms about the tropical diseases that can ravage the body when traveling abroad take a look at the map below. These are the countries where the Gunya has been reported, although I am a bit confused about Canada. Do mosquitoes get to the boarder and say "we are not heading to Canada, it's to cold" and turn around and head to Alaska? Are they afraid to fight with our northern Alberta bush mosquitoes which are the size of small birds? (I have lived to tell the tale) or do we slop on so much sun screen and bug repellent it's not worth their effort? I think someone in the Canadian CDC is keeping a seeeeeeecret.

More good news...

  • Chikungunya virus is transmitted to people by two species of mosquitoes, Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus. Both species are found in the southeastern United States and limited parts of the Southwest; Aedes albopictus is also found further north up the East Coast, through the Mid-Atlantic States, and is also found in the lower Midwest.
  • People infected with chikungunya virus typically develop fever and joint pain. Other symptoms can include muscle aches, headaches, joint swelling or rash. This virus is not spread person to person. There is no vaccine and no specific treatment for infection.
  • The best way to protect yourself and your family from chikungunya is to prevent being bitten by mosquitoes by using insect repellent, wearing long sleeves and pants, using air conditioning or window/door screens to keep mosquitoes outside, and reducing mosquito breeding ground such as standing water.
I have seen  people suffer from the Gunya. A few at the hostel that I am staying at make it a bit close for comfort. The good news is it is not contagious. The bad news is the skeeter bastards are everywhere. The good news (??) is the government sends trucks twice a month up and down each street spraying a lovely heavy chemical into each house and along each street. I do not know who scatters faster, the mosquitoes or the humans. Also, It's 35 degrees Celsius with 85% humidity. I am not about to start wearing long pants, long sleeves or long underwear. Bug spray is oddly, or depending on your viewpoint, conveniently expensive. I can get a beer at Via Via on Wednesday's (2 for 1 day) for .57, yes 57 cents. A can of off is about $7. I am hoping the little buzzy germ carriers latch onto me and realize the dangers of my blood alcohol lever and take off.

There are other things to worry about. Insane drivers, potholes in the sidewalks, flash floods in the streets, dehydration, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, heat stroke, and forgetting to update your 90 day tourist visa.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

The Volcano Challenge

As of now the school semesters are slowing down. There is no new hiring except in emergency cases which is how I got my job. Everyone is prepping for the January semester so its banging out resumes and going to interviews. With that I have expanded my search area and it now includes Guatemala and Mexico. I love Nicaragua but will not limit myself to it just yet. That being said and knowing how I am I need to have a bit of a plan in place so I do not wake up one day and find myself on a flight to Cambodia. That is down the road. I have been talking with a School in Xena, Guatemala and they have an exchange where every hour I teach I get an equal hour in Spanish lessons in return. This really sounds perfect for the short term. Build my teaching CV and keep learning Spanish as my two focal points. More on that later as well.

With that being said, having the entire of Latin America at my feet plus lots of free time I have laid down the gauntlet to myself and anyone who wants to join me (I have 2 takers). I am going to climb each one of the volcanoes in Nicaragua.

What you say? Well there are 19 Volcanoes in Nicaragua. The map to the right shows the location of the most popular ones, whatever that means. The ViaNica website has a great interactive page for 13 of them as does Google Image Search.

Having already climbed Cerro Negro and tobogganed down the skree of  this active sulfur spewing beauty recharged my obsession with Volcanoes. I have climbed them in Guatemala, Nicaragua, Panama, Ecuador, Peru, Chile, Argentina and Iceland. Two trips to Japan and I did not climb Fuji, what a dork I can be. Cerro Negro last erupted in 1999 and erupts on average every 10 years, so we are due. Thankfully it is only 25 km away and we will be fine. Wait, what? Oh when it erupted in 1999 parts of Leon were destroyed. Ah, well there is that to look forward to.

On Monday I am climbing Telica. One of Nicaragua's most active volcanoes, Telica has erupted frequently so thankfully its 45 km away from Leon. Wait what? Debris from Telica has been know to hit Leon with great force. Ah well since I live on the north end of town towards Telica there is that to look forward to. Come on old girl, lets see what you've got.

I will be climbing with my buddy Paige, who at 5'2 and about 110 lbs has already confirmed she will not be able to handle the 15 kilo pack that each of us is require to carry for 5 hours uphill (tent, sleeping bag, food, water and water and more water). Her ever present cellphone will NOT be making the trip. It's time for this young girl to live in the moment and not the Gram (as the cool kids call Instagram). ** Her generation teases me about not being up to date with technology but then needs to use Google to find out how to cook an egg**
So as the guide will not be carrying any extra weight the old man will lug an extra 5 kilo which really is no problem but the girl still has to pull her weight, well some of her weight. I would hate to have to leave her on the trail because she is to tired and her pack was heavy.

Quick story for you Paige if you read this. I was in Iceland a few years ago with my sister, Kelly. I talked her into climbing a volcano (the name escapes me). From the car parking lot you walked along a boardwalk to the trail head. All along the boardwalk were posted signs. "Do Not Leave the Man Made Trail. If you walk on the Earth beside the trail you may fall into Hot Lava", or something to that effect. I guess the lava flows from the volcano were flowing under us.

Conversation after we read that sign.
Ken: Nice this should be fun
Kelly: What, I am not going, we are going to die.
Ken: How?
Kelly: If we fall off the boardwalk we will be killed by lava.
Ken: Then, don't fall off the boardwalk.
Kelly: I am not going!
Ken: Ok, here are the keys, go wait in the car and I will be back in about 4 hours.
Kelly: (long pause)..a fu**, ok I a coming.
4 hours later..
Kelly: That was amazing!

So note to Paige. I will leave you on the trail young lady! Note to Paige's Mom. Don't read this post.

Here is a list of Volcanoes with links to their details plus my favorite, their last eruption date. This is going to be interesting.

Name Elevation Location Last eruption

meters feet Coordinates
Apoyeque 518 1699 12.242°N 86.342°W 2160 BCἙἛ
Ciguatepe 603 1978 12.53°N 86.142°W Holocene
Cerro Negro 728 2388 12.506°N 86.702°W 1999
Concepción 1700 5577 11.538°N 85.622°W 2009
Cosigüina 872 2861 12.98°N 87.57°W 1859
Estelí 899 2949 13.17°N 86.40°W Holocene
Granada 300 984 11.92°N 85.98°W 10,000 BC
Lajas 926 3038 12.30°N 85.73°W Holocene
Las Pilas 1088 3570 12.495°N 86.688°W 1954
Maderas 1394 4573 11.446°N 85.515°W Holocene
Masaya 635 2083 11.984°N 86.161°W continuing
Mombacho 1344 4409 11.862°N 85.968°W 1570
Momotombo 1297 4255 12.422°N 86.540°W 1905
Nejapa-Miraflores 360 1181 12.12°N 86.32°W Holocene
Rota 832 2730 12.55°N 86.75°W Holocene
San Cristóbal 1745 5725 12.702°N 87.004°W 2012
Telica 1061 3481 12.602°N 86.845°W 2015
Azul 201 659 12.53°N 83.87°W Holocene
Zapatera 629 2064 11.73°N 85.82°W Holocene

Friday, November 13, 2015

Jorts No More.

Jorts! Cut them, wear them, and love them.  Today's younger generation buy your expensive pre-made "distressed" relatives like the over consumed lambs to slaughter that they can be.  I have been wearing them since I was a teen myself but with a huge difference. I find a pair of old jean and cut them off. With that I have instant old and distressed Jorts and I can use the money saved to buy Band-Aids for my scissor sliced fingers. Confused?  Jorts are Jeans Shorts or known by their original name, Cut-offs. However in this day and age of trending you were given a hipster name, Jorts. This is about as typically dumb as it could be. Today that ends now.

My latest pair of Cut-offs has left the building. They came to their second life about 3 years ago and were naturally named Levis. Wrangler (yes I said Wrangler) or Lee would never do.  The oddest truth is that I love wearing Lee jeans but will only wear Levis Cut-offs. With that I would like to thank the years 1977 - 1983. You did bad things that at times skewer my ability to have rational thought. These dependable and re-fashionable good old boys replaced a variety of competitors.  From the multicolored knee length preppy boys or the solid pastel and golf course ready everyday's to the "I still think I am athletic" sporties in a various sizes and colours.

My Levis Cut-offs  were available for every occasion. We hiked, we rode bikes, we walked and to the horror of some people in Nicaragua we swam in the Pacific Ocean. I shit you not old friend. Most everyone was horrified and commented that they were not a bathing suit. Bathing Suit! They most certainly are. You were everything.

When at the beach when everyone was scrambling to find places for their assorted accessories, places to hang their bathing suits to dry or plastic bags to carry those suits when they did not, you gave me pockets and a great self drying skill while never leaving my side...I mean my butt. You were amazing in your simplicity.

Well the time has come dear friend. You are splitting in places you should not split, your threads that hang like the hair of the 70s we all wore has now pushed the limits of your length. Nobody wants to see that much leg on me. Patching you is not an option. You are tired and have done your job. Well done.

Looking at me today is your replacement ready to spring into action. They are young and willing to sacrifice their legs and start growing the required threats immediately. They have the dark blue that will need to fade in order to be a part of the brotherhood but that will come with time. Its also a face that it is so damn hot here every day that "young blue" will never see the light of day unless they take your place. You too were once young, strong and dark blue. So with that I say good bye my old dependable friend, you have been replaced. You will also be forgotten by the time I finish this coffee.

Why did you disappear dear Cut-offs? Why did all of us let you fall to the wayside while wearing trends to suit consumerism? Why, on your return were you given a dumb ass name and sold over priced because they put "distressed" in your name? W

To honor your rise  like a Pheonix from the ashes of consumerism I bring to you the speech that made it happen. Funerals for your name End Today!

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

For King And Country

This will not be a history lesson. November 11th. An important day for Canadians. Some may say for all the wrong reasons. Canada has fought wars as part of an Empire and as an independent nation going back to 1866. For those who are about to ask "what about the war of 1812?". Well I am the first to incorrectly say that Canada kicked the American's butt in that bit of nastiness. I believe mostly because I grew up in an around many of the battlefields along the Niagara River. Truth be told, we were not a country until 1867 and were just a colony of Great Britain until that time.

     We also have a proud tradition as a peace keeping force since 1956. Where there was a need Canada would put on the Blue UN Peacekeeping helmets without hesitation. These action were not without their costs as well.

    Truth be told, many Canadians recognize November 11th as the date for which the armistice of peace took place to conclude The Great War (1914 - 1918) and the Second World (1939 - 1945) war after that . It is said Canada came of age during that time. Welead the charge and pursued victory in the quagmire that was Passchendaele and defeated the Germans at the impregnable Vimy Ridge. Canadian's along with the still independent Newfoundland Regiments were obliterated during the Battle of the Somme. (Read And on we go - Will Byrd for a first hand account.) The Battles of Ypres, Amiens, Sanctuary Wood, the list of WW1 battles is as long as they are grotesque in both victory and defeat. A very well done documentary series For King and Country narrated by Norm Christie is a must.

    Canadians had major roles in WW 2 as a part of the BEF, the Italian campaigns and Ortona where they were given the ill advised nick name of the D-Day Dodgers. We landed at Juno and Dieppe. To this day Canadians are revered in Holland and Belgium for their actions in liberation. We and found on land, our RAF and Naval forces impressive. We fought hard in Hong Kong and Singapore and the boys suffered in their capture and imprisonment to Japanese forces.

As I said, this is not a history lesson and I could not even scratch the surface trying to talk about Canadians Military History. What I can talk briefly about are my experiences visiting various battlefields, memorials and cemeteries in and around France and Belgium.

     I have spent time at Dieppe, Arras, Amiens, Vimy Ridge, Passhendaele, Sanctuary Woods, Juno Beach (as well as Omaha, Gold and Sword). I have been to Caen and Ypres where EVERY NIGHT at the Menin gate they perform the Last Post. Almost 100 years later it is moving and heartbreaking at the same time.
I have walked the rows of headstones at Tyne Cott, Adegem, Vimy and Beny-sur-Mer Canadian War Cemetery at Juno. I crawled the tunnels and reconstructed battlefield trenches of Vimy and viewed the still crater marked battleground of Beaumont-Hamel, walked the fields into Passchendaele among countless other places in and around the Belgium Salient including the Field hospital and grave marker for Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae. I stood in Flanders Fields.

I do not know much but what I do know is each place was emotional. I will filled with both overpowering sadness and enormous pride. In Dieppe I shared beer with Canadian Veterans who were making the pilgrimage in 2004 as a part of the 50 years of the D-Day. I shut up, bought beer and listened. They told their stories about being a part of the Dieppe landing and I felt smaller and smaller with each one. Smaller in courage not as a person.

     Let me tell you my friends. Those were generations that had balls the the size of boulders. They knew sacrifice. We would all like to think we would have stepped up if it was our time but again that was a different time and I am sure we would have. To this day though, most of us would not even help the person next door or that guy hungry on the street if they needed it.
I stood on those fields not knowing if I could have done it. Being raised in this generation because of what those generations did is never ever lost on me. Most people who know me know that this day is the most important day of the year for me. I quietly do my thing and remember in my own way. That will never change.

Here is my challenge. If this day is as important to you as you say it is. Take the time TODAY, right NOW if possible, and as much as you need to memorize Flanders Fields by John Mcrae. If you already know this poem learn something, anything else about Canada's military history. You may know our flying Ace Billy Bishop but what about Raymond Collishaw or William George Barker. How Donald Curry changed the war with his forward thinking battle plans or read about any other WW 1 heroes not at the front of the hero line. You know Laura Secord (pre canada) but do you know any of the  prominent suffrage leaders like Nellie McClung, Emily Murphy and Flora MacDonald. Do you know what a suffrage is/was? All I am saying is do more than wear a poppy (do you know when the poppy was first used) and post something moving on FB then go about your day. Spend some time and just talk with a veteran or group of veterans. Trust me it will be something that can change your life and it will become a part of your routine. Don't tell anyone about it or FB it. Own it and make it yours. Learn, try to understand, get moved and inspired.

The Canadian military and it's history deserves 30 minutes of your attention today.

Flanders Fields
--- Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

*** from Wikipedia ***
Canada has been involved in 14 "wars".  5 of these wars were as part of the British Empire, 3 of them as part of NATO.  Of these wars only 1 was initiated by Canada.

1866-1871 - The Fenian Raids (attacks against Canada by the Fenian Brotherhood) - fought as Canada alone
** There are plaques and memorials for this near Fort Erie, Ontario
1870 - Wolseley Expedition (started by Canada in response to the Metis establishing an independent "Red River Colony" in British territory, resulted in the establishment of Manitoba as a Canadian Province). - fought as Canada alone
1884-1885 - Nile Expedition - fought as part of the Empire
1899-1902 - Second Boer War - fought as part of the Empire
1914-1918 - The Great War (WWI for my American friends) - started as part of the Empire but given autonomy of operation during the course of the war
1918-1920 - Armenin-Azerbaijani War - fought as part of the Empire
1918-1920 - Russian Civil War - fought as part of the Empire
1939-1945 - The Second World War (WWII) - fought as Canada
1950-1953 - Korean War - fought as Canada
1990-1991 - Persian Gulf War - fought as Canada
1992-1995 - Bosnian War - fought as NATO
1998-1999 - Kosovo War - fought as NATO
2001-2014 - Afghanistan War - fought as Canada
2011 - Libyan Civil War - fought as NATO
2014-ongoing - ISIL intervention - fought as Canada

Canadian Peace Keeping Efforts

UNEF I United Nations Emergency Force 1956–1967 Up to 1,007 personnel
ONUC United Nations Operation in the Congo 1960–1964 Approx 300 servicemen at a time, 1,900 total.
UNTEA/UNSF United Nations Temporary Executive Authority/United Nations Security Force (West New Guinea, Indonesia) 1962–1963 Two aircraft, one observer.
UNFICYP United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus 1964- Operation SNOWGOOSE
UNEFME (aka UNEF II) United Nations Emergency Force, Middle East 1973–1979 1,145 personnel
UNDOF United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (Israel/Syria) 1974- Operation DANACA
UNIFIL United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon 1978 110 personnel
MFO Multinational Force and Observers (Sinai, Egypt) 1981- Operation CALUMET
UNTAG United Nations Transition Assistance Group (Namibia) 1989–1990 Operation MATADOR
MINURSO United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara 1991-1994 Operation PYTHON, a maximum of 35 CF personnel from May 1991-June 1994.
UNTAC United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia 1992–1993 Operation MARQUIS 1 and MARQUIS 2
UNOSOM I United Nations Operation in Somalia I April 1992-December 1992
UNITAF Unified Task Force December 1992-May 1993
UNPROFOR United Nations Protection Force (Croatia) 1992–1995 Operation Harmony
UNOSOM II United Nations Operation in Somalia II May 1993-March 1995
UNMIH United Nations Mission in Haiti 1993–1996 Up to 500 Canadian Forces personnel and 100 civilian police.
UNAMIR United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda 1993–1996
UNCRO United Nations Confidence Restoration Operation 1994–1996
UNPREDEP United Nations Preventive Deployment Force 1995–1999 1 observer
UNMIBH United Nations Mission in Bosnia and Herzegovina 1995–2000 20 Canadian Forces personnel and 100 RCMP and civilian police
UNSMIH United Nations Support Mission in Haiti 1996–1997 Operation STANDARD and Operation STABLE
UNTMIH United Nations Transition Mission in Haiti 1997-2004 Operation CONSTABLE
MIPONUH United Nations Civilian Police Mission in Haiti 1997–2000 Operation COMPLIMENT
MINURCA United Nations Mission in the Central African Republic 1998–2000 Over 80 CF personnel at peak.
INTERFET International Force for East Timor 1999–2000 Operation TOUCAN
UNMIK United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo 1999–2002 Operation Kinetic, Operation QUADRANT
UNAMSIL United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone 1999–2005 Operation REPTILE
MONUC United Nations Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo 1999– 9 military observers (Operation CROCODILE)
UNTAET United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor 2000–2002 600 personnel (Operation TOUCAN)
UNMEE UN Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea 2000 Operation Addition
MINUSTAH UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti 2004 500 personnel, 6 helicopters (Operation HALO)
UNMIS United Nations Mission in Sudan 2005-2009 45 personnel (Operation SAFARI)
UNAMID African Union – United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur  2009-

Operation SATURN (Canada no longer participating)

Spectre. More Like Spectass

Traveling Alone. Liberating Or Terrifying ?

     Traveling Alone. Have you ever done it? Have you ever thought  about doing it? Does the thought of it confuse you? Do you quickly judge or quietly admire people who do?  Does it sound terrifying or liberating? Are you afraid to go to the supermarket in your home town alone?

     I am not going to wax poetic about the joys of solo travel only because I have no idea what waxing poetic is. I am not going to give you long rambling stories of adventures and found hidden gems. You can search a myriad of blogs, Instagrams, FB posts and the grand daddy of insanity the Twitter Feeds and ## for tips, tricks, advice and stories good and bad about traveling solo. There is Lonely Planet, Rough Guides, Frommers, Pilot Guides, Fodors and a host of other websites. There are Adventure Travel companies out the ying yang any of which I have used have always been amazing. There are Travel TV shows and great documentaries to learn from. I am not going  to tell you how to eat your sandwich. What you need to do is find your own personal inspiration.

     For me traveling solo makes me challenge myself. It puts me into situations that have been both good and bad and thus I have to be responsible for them. Robbed in Boliva? Well sir you better start with the Police Report in that scary police station in La Paz. Lost in El Salvador? Walk over to that old man and his cow and ask for help. Always keeping in mind what Carl Hoffman, author of The Lunatic Express said. "Just because they are poor does not make them all thieves" (A great travel read) . Feeling a bit lonely? Start a conversation with someone, anyone. Want to be introspective? Climb a volcano or mountain glacier, that will give you perspective. Maybe I am waxing a little poetic. Well wax on, wax off.

As I finish the Epic Read that has been Blue Highways by William Least Heat Moon I came across a couple of nice quotes from the book. For no particular reason other than they mean something to me and I will share them

"Boredom lies only with the travelers limited perceptions and his failure to explore deeply enough."
--  William Least Heat Moon

Little is so satisfying to the traveler as realizing he missed seeing what he assumed to be in a place before he went"
--  William Least Heat Moon

     Why am I  all over the place with this post. Well sir, I am going to tell you. We went to see the newest James Bond Movie, Spectre. I think we all agreed that it was a solid piece of garbage! What a rambling, bumbling horrific addition to the Bond series. It was all over the place and now my mind is all over the place. Sam Mendez, with your track record as a Director I had hope but you blew the pooch on this one. For shit sake, they drilled into his brain stem not once but twice with no serious side effects or blood for that matter. Then he ends up with his old friends daughter! I mean I am all for the elimination of ageism but it was his friends daughter! That even makes me cringe. Even Sylvester Stallone in the Expendables series has tasteful flirting comments with the young woman in those movies but he steps away from them at the end. They do not walk away hand in hand.. Well that and Rocky does look like an old pug dog although I am pretty sure that wrinkled, cosmetically altered old bastard could take me apart pretty damn quickly.

     I am going to have to watch Skyfall tomorrow just to get my Bond equilibrium back. Where is Jason Bourne when you need him? How about Katniss Everdeen?  The good news is going to the movies here is about $3 and I load up on a gorge able amount of popcorn. When the lights came on you bet your sweet ass it was all over my shirt, shorts and seat.

     Oh yeah, traveling alone. Traveling period. 

Saturday, November 7, 2015

A Few Musings About Nothing

Nov7, 2015

June 10, 1979
     I was recently hired by the American Nicaraguan Language Institute and today I taught my first class. I had 17 students aged 12 - 15 who were really bright. (I think I was cut out to be a teacher. To bad I made so many dumbass decisions during those formative years). I am on a 6 week contract to finish the school year however there was general talk about me working in the new year.  To quote the Director who monitored and "spied on me"  "I spoke with some of the students on break and they were very happy with you as their new teacher." Nice way to start the day. This is a very reputable language school which make it all the better. Time to up my game.

  Here's the thing. I am now working as a Teacher in Nicaragua. In July I said that's what I wanted to do and, well now I am doing it. To that point in the new year I will be living sustain-ably.  What does that mean? I will be paying my rent, buying my food and doing whatever I want on money I earn being a teacher in Nicaragua. NO, I will not be contributing to my retirement fund for those who are certainly going to ask. I am living and working in a country where I needed to learn and continue to learn the language. I had to apply myself with intense training on how to teach English as a Foreign Language. I also had and continue to have to learn grammar. Lots and lots of grammar. Who know that there were so many verb tenses? That a gerund is not the present perfect and that my go to for any new grammar lessons are old School House Rock Videos on YouTube. (I know you just googled what a gerund is). Toss in nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, pronouns, modals, verb order, phrasal verbs, connecting  phrases, conjunction, prepositions, article, determiner....DARN (interjections!) that's all I've got for now. There is so much more. No wonder why English and grammar teachers were so grumpy.

TEFL Nicaragua
Trust me when I say, if I can do this you my friends can do anything. I am no Jimmy Einstein. So please drop your excuses and face those nasty fears. Take that first step in that new direction you want to take.  You will be astonished at what can happen. Where you daydream is where you should be or what you should be doing. If you day dream about being with your kids AWESOME, then do that. If flowers are your thing, DO IT. Helping others, well get out there and HELP. Picking up trash. Well GO pick up trash. Not everything is about losing weight, eating right and drinking 8 jugs of water a day.That's a lifestyle, to which I know nothing about. Be honest with yourself. Sure you are going to piss people off because you are trying to make changes. That freaks people the fuck out. Do not ruin you life, compliment it. For me, its not about the gold watch because I would sell it to buy a plane ticket somewhere.

A few observations from the past couple of weeks.

1. The fire ants are still gnawing at my ankles, toes and feet at every turn. They drink my bug spray like it was 25 year old scotch and tell their friends.."OY, party right here lads" See that ankle, its delicious.

2. We are nearing the end of the rainy season. The nights are getting clear and cool plus the skies are an amazing blue.  Mother nature still reminds us who is in charge though. Last night a storm creeped up on us in about 20 minutes. It had he most spectacular thunder and lightning show and I actually jumped at one thunder clap as I was Thunder Struck (roll ACDC). We lost power as we do but it did not matter. The show was brilliant plus the sound of the rains are always welcome relief.

3. I can not escape the call of the Gekko. God love these slimy little buggers but pleases shut the fu** up at 3am, you will wake the roosters.

4. Did Germany shut down? Well zee Germans are everywhere.

5. One of my simple pleasures now is to go down to the backpackers street and watching all the new young travelers getting off their overprices microbuses wide eyed and scared to death. One hand on their backpacks and the other on Mom and Dads credit card. You can see it in their faces. " The guide book never said anything like this". They get dropped off in front of Via Via or Big Foot on a street that might as well be any backpackers street anywhere in the world. I do not think they realize that to get to the mountains, the beach or the volcanoes you need to organize that and leave the city. They are not right outside your doorstep.

6 . I met a couple from Estonia. Just an odd statement

7. Cheleo Lavandaria. Clean clothes in 4 hours. Considering I go through 2 t shirts a day at a minimum this is important news.

8 Via Via, it has become my afternoon beer parlor of choice. Paz y Pan is my afternoon coffee house of choice. Which one I choose depends on the time of day.

9. I added something to my to do list. Volunteering with Manatees and Monkeys in Belize with Wild Tracks Belize. You pay $600 whichi includes your food and lodging for the month. The food is suppose to be pretty damn good.  You spend time learning to rehabilitate these amazing creatures back into the wild. I spoke with someone who did it and in all my travels I have never met someone so excited to have been a part of something like this.

10. Did I mention the fucking fire ants!!