Friday, January 29, 2016

Telica At Sunset

"Don't worry about failures, worry about the chances you miss when you don't even try."  
-- Jack Canfield

Telica. I have heard so much about you and your gorgeous sulfur smoke spewing, huge rock tossing, grumbling and shaking, lava flowing ways. Finally we meet.

The most difficult part of our tour to Telica is the ride there. There were 8 hikers and two guides, myself and Keiran Cassillo (whose name I always spell wrong because it really pisses him off).
This was an odd group of wants and needs. They included 4 Canadians, a German, a Dutchman, a Kiwi, and an Aussie. Before each hike we prepare filtered water, a snack of cookies and a banana and a veggie sandwich that consists of spicy cheese spread, onion, cucumbers and tomatoes. It's freaking delicious. Before each hike we have our hikers sign a waiver that includes any medical issues, prescriptions, allergies and dietary requirements. What I am discovering is the world is full of vegetarians which is no problem, all our meals are vegetarian. This trip however was special. We had 3 vegetarians, 1 Vegan (militant vegetarian), one gluten free (Celiac) and one person with motion sickness. 
Well the vegetarians were no problem, the vegan could not have the cheese spread so we replaced it with bean spread, gluten free required corn tortillas so we made hamburg type veggie sandwiches and the motion sickness girl we put in the front seat. Some could not / would not eat the cookies for fear of whatever was inside them and some brought their own snacks because they were just use to it because of their needs. It was never an issue and once we got going we started talking and joking about it and all was well. It's not just take them on the hike, we really do need to prep anywhere from 2 to 5 hours.

Well we pile into our transport to the volcano. The sweet ride of Jose Luis. The first 30 minutes is great as we cruise down a paved highway. The turnoff to the park is a rutted road so we bounce around for the next 30. The final leg is what can only be described as an Indian Jones moment with all of us flying around with the road dust hanging on for dear life. Joe Luis does not know slow.

Jose Luis and his Land Cruiser

Arriving no worse for wear we gear up for what is an easy 45 - 60 minute hike. This is no El Hoyo but its a trek all the same and its nice not to have to carry a 20 kilo pack for 4 hours. Kieran has hiked Telica many times so he was the lead guide and I was training. ( I never heard the end of it the little ba**ard.). Although in the picture below Telica looks daunting it really is only a moderate hike. There are clear trails and unlike Cerro Negro and El Hoyo there was no gale force wind.

Telica last had a full kick ass eruption in October of 2015, closing down any hikes for 3 months. Now it erupts regularly but with what is referred to as "Degassing". Basically Telica is farting. Day hikes started again about a month ago but we are not doing any camping for the next little while. If you could see the size of the boulders that have been spewed out you would understand. Other companies are taking the chance but QT is standing firm. Good plan.

10 hikers and 1 off balanced photographer
The only "issue" today is the skies are filled with smoke, dust and low level clouds restricting what is a riveting view down the fault line. Nobody is deterred and that is the reason this is such a great time. Most if not all people are here for the experience or the moment, not the expectation for perfection. I love travelers and trekkers. (note, Travelers and Trekkers is a great name for a website).

The day was a perfect climbing day with the exception of the cloudy / smokey sky. It was clear (I know that contradicts what I just said about cloudy and smokey), cool for Nicaragua and no wind. I was only carrying a day pack that contained 2L of water, a sandwich, a sweater, my camera and the first aid kit. All those rocks in the picture below are reminders of what can come flying out of the crater red hot. They were not put there by glaciers 200 million years ago.
Climbing the trail and stepping over boulders where we had to

The Telica Crater in all her enormity.  When you look down into the vastness and power of it you know who really is in charge of this hike.. Hot smelly sulfur gases coming from fissures and cracks throughout the crater gave it an very eerie feel. The Smoke blocking out the sun as it tried to shine over the crater added to the mystery of it all.

The viewing area was safe as there was lots of room but humans being what they are some felt the need to creep as close to the edge as possible. Well shit, they signed the waver/disclaimer they could do what they wanted. If it was to be the headline in their local newspaper the next day then so be it.

Nicaraguans like so many in the world do not look past an opportunity. From the small village near the volcano came a guy hauling up a cooler with Tona and Coca Cola. Everyone was on him and he did a good business. Good for him really. Maybe he made C500 or $20. A good days work in a country where the average wage is $100 a month.

The smoldering Telica crater
As I mentioned the views were a bit skewed and you could not see the volcanic fault line on this day but the haze did give us an interesting sunset. People love sunsets, myself included. Here is a great observation about the spirit of the hiker/trekker.

Kieran was giving information to the group about the volcano and surrounding area. "In the distance behind me is the Pacific Ocean" he said. "oh man it's beautiful, its so blue", "that is amazing", "great view" came the sarcastic but funny replies from our group. Nobody cared you could not see it. Sitting on large jagged rocks beside an active smoking volcano and drinking a cold Tona while watching a pretty nice sunset held their attention. As the Aussie girl said, "Moments, We all need more moments like this in our lives"

Sunset on Telica with no view of the Pacific Ocean
With the sun down we peered into the crater to see fissures of hot lava. Not bubbling and enormous like you would view in National Geographic but hot red small pools 100 feet down. Again, another reminder of our place in the universe.

Headlamps on and the night hike down was calm. Every one took turns stopping and looking at the stars. "Hey, its Orion" is always a common exclamation. I now know where it is so I will yell it out first with knowing confidence one night. The hike down was easy and the ride home uneventful. Clean up was a breeze and we were at the local Comedore having dinner by 7:30. Chicken, gallo pinto, salad and tortilla for C60, about $2.75 Canadian.

Telica was great and I am climbing her again on Sunday and Tuesday. Hopefully one of those days the skies will be clear and I can take in the fault line views that she has to offer. Learning new routes is exciting because it also forces you to get online and learn whatever you can because there will be questions from the excited masses when they climb.

I am not a Volcanologist but I have to pretend to be one on the trail
Even Mother Nature has a sense of humor. Maybe Telica is a guy
Sulfur gasses blocking out the mid afternoon sun

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Guiding Wear Wear

"Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life." --Steve Jobs

To date. I have guided the El Hoyo/Asasosca 2 day trek 6 times and the Cerro Negro Volcano Boarding trip 8 times. I think I mentioned before with Cerro Negro we climb up and go down twice each trip so I have climbed that puppy 16 times. All this has been done since December 11th. This week will be exciting as on Thursday I am heading to Telica for the first time for the sunset trek. Telica is very active volcano. The crater is impressive and the views and the sunset are superb as anywhere. The hike itself is not difficult but a new volcano is always exciting.

What mother nature has done to my shoes and hiking shorts is another story all together. The scree of Cerro Negro has ripped apart my Merrells and the sun plus hiking has literally worn and torn my shorts. I have another month or so of guiding but I do not think the shorts are going to make it. The shoes have worn down to the point that when I am hiking down my toes are getting crushed. On the upside when we reach the lagoon as Asososca I jump in and my feet throb in relief. We then repeat the process the next week. I did buy a pair of new/used hiking boots at a local shop and have been breaking them in. However the last thing I want is to have new shoes on a hike that blister me up, so Merrells, keep doing your thing my old friends.

Brand new Docker shorts and Merrell hikers literally worn to shreds
I have helped guide 115 people from 19 countries. The youngest was 13 and the oldest 77. The average age falls in the early to mid 20s and every person has made the journey to the top of what ever volcano we are climbing. There have been a few challenges along the way that is for sure. For example, on El Hoyo the first 20 minutes of the first difficult hour can be brutal. Excitement turns to "holy shit" as people try and find their pace and breathing rhythms. What sees like immediate exhaustion turns into what can be best described as a "walking meditation".  You do realize you are not as exhausted as you think and you find those lost walking and breathing patterns and away you go, slow and steady. I am getting fairly strong on the hill however on the first 10 minutes of El Hoyo I struggle to get myself in my mode. Once I get there I feel no issues what so ever. No issues that is until the hike is over then I sleep for 12 hours, wake up, have coffee and sleep for another 3 or 4.

Sunrise on Momotombo
The hikes have not been without their issues. It is not uncommon for someone to puke up their pre-trip hike snack of banana and a few cookies. They literally toss their cookies. Yesterday we had a couple of young Canadian girls, aged 17 and 19 and you knew they were going to struggle. As an aside the biggest reality check for some trekkers is they read about and sign up for one of our trips because they sound "cool". Then when they put on the 30lb pack and start hiking the reality of what they signed up for hits them pretty quickly. Well the girls started to struggle almost immediately so I took away their water bottles (four 2 litre bottles) and reducing their load by about 8 pounds. Then after the older sister puked real good, I took our her food packet. Now my pack was pushing 50 lbs and some of the other hikers took on some of the load as they usually do. Its amazing how quickly people step up to help without questioning.
 As we were staring up again I could hear the girl who got sick say with every step "I can fu**ing do this, I can fu**ing do this". The human spirit was alive and well in the squeaky voice of a 19 year old girl who just threw up and was determined to get to the top of the volcano. The younger sister had banged her leg a couple times on rocks as she tripped so she was not having the best start. We cleaned up the cuts and with the same spirit through tears of pain then anger she got up and pushed on.
To climb Cerro Negro usually takes 45 minutes. There were a couple from the States at 77 years old. He was a bit over weight but you could see was strong as an Ox. She had 2 knee surgeries last year and the scars were visible. They would not be deterred. Walk, stop breathe, Walk stop breathe. We found their patterns and 90 minutes later, through a very windy hike we had the at the top gearing up for the ride down. With huge smiles they hit the Cerro Negro like teenagers screaming and laughing all the way down.
You have to be careful as excitement can turn to exhaustion. Another American who told us he was out of shape started up Cerro Negro and you knew he too was going to struggle. We reached the first lookout/rest stop and he looked terrible. White a sheet and sweating more than he should be. When he laid down to rest and had no thought of getting up any time soon it was time to take this a bit serious. His pulse was racing more than it should have been, he had not drank enough water and had a few to many beer the night before. I sent the rest of the crew up while I monitored him and was on the fence about sending him back down. When he finally caught his breathe and got some colour back I sat him up and made him drink a litre of water. I then stood him up and he drank a litre more. We took a few steps forward. He showed some strength and balance and the colour had returned so off we went, slow and steady. He made it to the top at a decent pace and was excited as a kid at Christmas when he got there. As he said, he would have been disappointed if he could not make it but would have respected my decision to send him back. He also jumped on the board and laughed the entire time down the hill. Once at the bottom he literally had tears in his eyes, grabbed me in a bear hug and thanked me. How can this not be a great way to live ?

Our chariots await
Walls are reduced and people open up quickly when you are hiking and spending so much time together over a 2 day period. People like to tell their stories and if you stop talking and listen you will hear interesting and inspiring tales from all age groups and nationalities. The common thread is travel and exploring the world. I do get asked personal questions and as I am trying to be a more open person (those who know me know how challenging that can be for me) I try to oblige. Most questions are of the mundane variety, "how long have you been living in Nicaragua?", "is it difficult finding a teaching job?", or "is it fun living like this?". These questions are easy and relatively non intrusive. Then, as on my last El Hoyo hike I get into some great conversations that lead to really thoughtful questions that make me think. The first was "what do you get out of living like this that you would not get back in Canada?". It is a question that can instill an immediate defensive response to which I have learned not to use (thanks Bell Canada executive training).  I replied with thoughtful but generic "tired of being a corporate shill", "not motivated by living for $$", or "the world is vast and I want to be a part of it" replies. I then asked them what they get out of the way they live their lives. Most reply without even realizing it in a very defensive way. I do not get offended as it is human nature to justify ourselves and I lived that way for many years as well. Regardless the conversations were enlightening and I do force myself to open up more.

This day was different. While sitting and waiting for our transport home after our hike I was chatting with a few mid 20s Canadians, Lana and Scott. We chatted along the trail and they were open, friendly and funny.  We talked about travel, books, music, politics and personal histories and sports. They asked "what year I was born" which is less intrusive than "how old are you?" and you have to respect that. Then generic "what I did before", "where have I been?" etc. Then out of the blue Lana asked, "why do I live like I do?". It was a variation of all the questions I have been asked but what struck me was both the simplicity and honesty by which it was asked. I really did not think about the answer and out came "It makes me a better person".  That surprise the shit out of me. I then proceeded to get into some depth about my answer but the simplicity and honesty of the question allowed me the simplicity and honesty of the answer. Lana replied with "that is a great answer" and smiled. No judgements no more questions. It was a quality moment. And with that I feel I have reached a new level of self spirituality and openness while on this journey. (I will reach out to both Lana and Scott for a picture and permission to use it as a thank you)

Keep it simple and keep it honest. It's really starting to work for me

A surprise night lava flow on Apoyeque, just below Momotombo

Friday, January 22, 2016

Aliens And A New Planet

"If you're offered a seat on a rocket ship, don't ask what seat! Just get on." 
--Sheryl Sandberg

I read The Mind Unleashed , The Story of Stuff  and The Collective Evolution daily. Not for any other reason but to think differently.

The Alternative news and stories have dedicated quite a bit of time recently to UFOs, Aliens and spaceships and the American Governments complicity in covering up any knowledge. This goes beyond the insanity that is Area 51 and has been a great mind bending experience. Recently there is talk about a new planet beyond Pluto that is going to be the next planet. Pluto you really are like the girl we broke up with but now we drive slowly by your house every night. You are being told to get lost but every new space discovery uses you as a reference. Hang in there little buddy.

During the last couple of weeks I would slip bits of "space related information" into conversations I was having. More times than not it took the conversation into amazing directions about UFOs, Extra Terrestrial beings, Space Travel, Black holes and of course freaking Star Trek and Star Wars. I also find a way to ask the question "if an alien life form asked you to climb into their ship no questions asked, would you"? Sadly most people immediately say no, then justify their position with "well I do not want to get probed", I would not know how long I would be gone", F**k that, that would be stupid" and any other random response.


 I love this opening scene of the movie Contact. Its a great reminder of perspective.

How is it, that we are so solidified in our routines and fears that the possibility for immediate space travel is met with a No?  I get that we all have families, kids or grand kids, friends, jobs, bills, and Hockey Night in Canada but what would it take to break your fears?
 This week Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn will be on the same side of the sun at the same time, here is nice story and video on the Guardian Website. This weekend is also the Full Moon rising so camping on El Hoyo is going to be pretty special.

Humans have been broadcasting radio waves into deep space for about a hundred years now, since the days of Marconi. That, of course, means there is an ever-expanding bubble announcing Humanity's presence to anyone listening in the Milky Way. This bubble is astronomically large (literally), and currently spans approximately 200 light years. But how big is this, really, compared to the size of the Galaxy in which we live (which is, itself, just one of countless billions of galaxies in the observable universe)?  It's not the black square; it's the little blue dot at the center of that zoomed-in square.

Why all this talk? I have been sitting on top of Volcanoes in amazement and wonder all week. Last night we had a lava show on Momotobo while camping on El Hoyo (pics later). I have been staring at the views knowing these volcanoes have been here for tens of thousands of years. Then at night the starts are so numerous and brilliant you can not help but wonder..and so I do.

We travel around our continents seeing the wonders and sometimes horrors of nature, history and mankind. We talk our photos, share our stories and relish in our new experiences. What if those experiences were boundless?

That is what I have been thinking about all week. Boundless experiences and using space to keep things in and out of perspective grants me the freedom to let my imagination run wild. Sit on a volcano and watch a lava flow, powerful. Have someone offer you a free seat on a rocket ship, boundless.

And with those thoughts I return to Earth and wish David Bowie safe travels.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Thai Message in Subtiava

"Because in the end, you won't remember the time you spent working in the office or mowing your lawn. Climb that goddamn mountain"
-- Jack Kerouac

Sunrise on El Hoyo

 Subtiava is a barrio in Leon that predates the town itself. It is where you catch the bus to Las Peñitas and Poneloya beach, it has the oldest church in Leon, a thriving market and Indian culture. It is also the butt of local jokes. When I told a few people that I was going to Subtiava for a 2 hour Thai Message there was a 10 minute barrage of world class jokes.
- Thai Message in Subtiava is the name of the next Quentin Tarantino movie
- In the daytime? Sober?
- Is Subtiava Spanish for Happy Ending?
- I thought Subtiava was a Russian Immigrant
..and on and on. Pretty funny really

My back and hips hurt every day, I mean every single day.When I was a younger teenager they hurt as well but it was passed off as growing pains. When I was about 18 I had a work accident that was horrific by all accounts and from that day forward my early teen pain became my long term best friend. I am not going to share details, past diagnosis, treatments or the like. What I will tell you is I manage the pain through my own methods and the days I do not want to smile or be social I don't. I find a book and a quiet place and do my thing.  Only a select few are aware of my daily dance over the years and know to give me my space when needed and I love them for it.

** I compounded this joy by tearing the rotator cuff is both my shoulders in 2010-2011. Those were good times while trying to travel.

Managua from El Hoyo

Now, every once in a while, usually on 18 month cycles something flares up and I am rendered useless for anywhere from 1 to 3 weeks.It's roulette really. Hips, lower back, upper back or neck. Each has had their prime time opportunities to shine. Well this week it has been my upper back. On a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 being bed ridden, 5 being walking like a 90 year old man and 1 being my normal 3 minute routine to get out of bed this bout cruised in a at a solid 7.

Three sleep-ness nights, random mystery pills (Mio-Citalgan) from the pharmacy next door, stretching and more stretching and finally the Thai Message sent from the heavens and I am back to about 90%  which is all I can ask for. As a guy who is drug free and anti pharma it is rare for me to take a pill. Well sir, that changed this week. You can get anything here in Nica without a script. "I have a sore back and can not sleep" = "here take this and you will be fine". True to form, holy mother of god was I fine. The pain disappeared but so did my ability to keep my eyes open and my head upright. "Next time try it with a beer" was the not so sound advice given to me.

Starry Sky about the El Hoyo Hole

Well it goes without saying I have not done much this week. I have a routine set for the next 8 weeks which will pass quickly. Lesson planning and Teaching at the American Nicaraguan Language Institute plus 5 days a week at Quetzel Trekkers which include a couple of hike plus front office time. A nice mixture really. Toss in some Spanish language study and my new desire/need to get a grip on English grammar and suddenly life in Paradise is a full plate with quite a bit to do.

Campfire on El Hoyo after a long day

This is more of a diary page then an interesting travel blog post however sometimes life on the road needs some downtime. I am feeling better and now there are volcanoes to climb and cold beer to be had. I did notice today that the scaffolding around the Cathedral has been taken down and it looks brilliant. Picture postcard beautiful.

Speaking of Picture Postcard Beautiful, the next disaster that are the Republic Debates are on in about 5 minutes. I really need the comic relief. To that point, Lou Dobbs is on Fox doing pre-event spin. I use to respect him but now he sounds and acts like a typical Fox News Jackass. What  happened Lou?

Sunday, January 10, 2016

I Am A Tired Motherfu**er

As I wake up from my second nap today I figured I should try and do something, anything besides rolling over onto the cool side of the bed. This being Nicaragua the cool side of the bed is a rare treat not to be ignored.

School started yesterday and with that comes lesson planning for two 2 hour classes. My first class is an Accuracy class with 17 students. My second is a Fluency class with 8. I teach at the American Nicaraguan Language Institute's Leon Campus which take place at the Colegio Mi Mundo. This is a very nice open air school located 15 minutes by taxi on the highway to Managua.

This semester runs January 9th to March 5th, the standard 9 weeks. A nice surprise found me along side Kieran Cassillo who was in the TEFL course with me in September. The school sports pretty light blue golf style shirts that allows us to be seen across the school yard (I guess that is the logic).  The staff is supportive and we have the resources to do our job to the best of our ability so there is that.
Myself with Kieran Cassillo
Now with that out of the way and today being Sunday I am one tired motherfu**er. I guess a combination of hammering away at Volcanoes, lesson planning, teaching and being old as dirt caught up to me. It started mid afternoon yesterday although a few beer after school on an empty stomach is never a bright idea. I have had 2 sleeps and 4 glorious naps in the last couple of days. If there is anything I have learned in this life is that when you are tired, rest. Shit sleep for 2 days if you have to. Load up on healthy smoothies, light snacks instead of big meals and lots of water. After getting out of bed the 5th time last night to pee I have re-thought the water thing.

Tehuacan: New colonial town, new central church

Well my life for the next two months will be volcano guide and teacher. I like the mix. The high tourist season is on us and lasts until early March. My visa expires on March 22nd so the timing works. What timing you ask? I have an opportunity in Tehuacán Mexico starting on May 9th that I have not shared with too many people as of yet. Reasons being so as not to interfere with my current situation however I will give plenty of notice as I may want to come back here one day. There are many teachers in Leon and my replacement will be easily found. If that is the case I will leave Leon on or about the 14th of March and start working my way north. That gives me almost 7 weeks to travel but my primary goal will be the Border of Belize. As Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and El Salvador have a Free Trade and Travel agreement I need to get out of that zone for my visa to be cleared. It's shitty but it is what it is. It might be easier to find a cheap flight to Belize City then crisscrossing across Honduras and Guatemala but lets see how everything shakes out. A quick check of flights from Managua to Belize city is $367. I will have to compare that with the costs of buses, hotels, food and the biggest obstacle, miles and time. I have done the weeks on the bus the last time I was here. Nothing to prove to myself. A short flight from Managua will have me on the beaches of Belize in about 7 hours.

Mexico was never on my radar. My interest kept growing when I would have conversations with people who had lived and taught there. They rave mostly about the food. Lets be clear, Nica food is fairly bland on the best of days and has allot to be desired. Spicy Mexico has my palette jumping for joy.
Next on my list is a trip to Cuba. Not resort fill with North Americans Cuba but Cuba. Again, its conversations with Europeans that find me pushing Cuba up the travel list. (Before the Americans get there and ruin it, is the common phrase)

Never a bad sunset on El-Hoyo

San Fransisco Crater, my favorite viewing spot on the El Hoyo Trek

Back to my original thought. I am tired both physically and mentally. It's not the worst thing in the world as long as I do what I did this weekend. Sleep, eat, poop, nap, eat, nap, eat, sleep and repeat.. In a two week span I will hike El Hoyo twice and Cerro Negro 3 times plus all the prep work.  I hit these volcano treks hard and work like I only know how, full speed. When they are over I feel amazing. Then put me in front of 17 bright eyed ESL students on the first Saturday back to school and I have to sleep for 2 days.

..sore joints, fatigue, fever...I might be starting the dance with the Gunya

Friday, January 8, 2016

The More I Study Spanish...

and the more I teach English the more I realize I do not even know my native language. Go head, give me a quick definition for the following and no cheating.
1. What is an Adjective?
   -  Name 2 Adjective suffixes
2. What is an Adverb
3. What are the 14 punctuation marks commonly used in the English Language?
4. What is a Modal Verb?
5. What is a phrasal Clause
6. What is the difference between the present participle and a gerund
7. There are 12 basic verb tenses in English, name them.
8. What about sentence Diagramming (big fun there)
9. What are the 9 parts of Speech
10. I should have listened more in High School

 My new best friend is an old friend. School House Rock. I am not kidding. I am rocking to Conjunction Junction as I type this. There are over 200 videos that include numbers and math, grammar, history and civics (I'm Just a that you have that song is in your head. Your Welcome). For those not in the know, these are NOT new internet cartoons. They were a part of Saturday morning television oh so long ago. Arguably the most effective Saturday morning bowl of cereal teacher ever created. Now the most effective learning tool for people who have no idea what they teaching, let alone saying.

Now lets talk about adding this little exercise in learning for the sake of my burgeoning career as an English Teacher to my daily attempt to learn Spanish and the rules of Spanish grammar. Now that we are on that role there are processes and procedures let along methodologies and systems to learn how to teach. The good news is I am encouraged to toss everything into a pot, simmer and stir and find my own productive delivery system that is encouraging, engaging and somewhat entertaining to a room full of teenagers. To all those teachers in my past, I am sorry....wait, no I am not. Most of you were dicks.

Time for a Quetzel Trekkers Break. My latest hike up El Hoyo was special for a few reasons. The first being I put the entire trip together for a group of 7 plus 2 guides. My hiking partner was an 18 year old guy who has been with QT for a while now. He did do the grocery shopping and cooked breakfast the morning of but the rest was all this cowboy. This is not arrogance, it is excitement and pride and knowing everyone was happy it was a job well done.

Atop El Hoyo during sunset. Momotombo in the background
What goes into a typical trip? After the 6m closing I take the hiking list. For El Hoyo it comes in 2 parts. This crew also does one trip down Cerro Negro so that is planned as a second trip.
Lets start with El Hoyo. Counting the hikers I needed to arrange a food list for 2 days and a night. This includes 2 breakfasts, 2 lunches, a dinner and snacks. I put together 8 litres of water for each person by sanitizing 2 litre bottles and filling them with filtered water. Including the guides that was 36 bottles. Then each person needs sleeping bags and mats. Tents need to be organized and checked. Medical kit, fire kit, spice kit and the much needed shit kit are rounded up.

Food needs to be arranged by meals and packed into small enough bags so that it can be carried by the hikers. Each hiker takes 8 litres of water, a sleeping bag, either food or a tent and personal items. Also needed are bowls, cups, spoons, cutting board, big pot and ladle, and my personal items.
Breakfast potatoes need to be blanched and pasta cooked. The entire process if you put your head down and plow through it "Oil Patch Style" can be done in about 3 hours. The biggest challenge is the "take it easy we will get it done" approach that slips into the hammock swinging, mobile device staring crew that I am a part of. Of course not all and most of the guides are brilliant and have a sense of pride and responsibility. This time however I just did what I do and got it all done as the mobile device glowed and the hammock swung freely. I still get a rush from a job well done. Take on more work and responsibility, bring it.

Next up is part 2, preparing for Cerro Negro. An easier prep of bagging up suits and gloves and another litre of water for each person. As we become a part of the larger Cerro Negro tour the leaders of that group finish up with the other needed supplies.

This is all the prep work. Next comes transportation, entrance fees, safety reviews, hike and fun facts, viewpoints, water breaks, photos, lunch, gathering of firewood, pitching of tents, hiking up for sunset, bonfire, cooking, chatting, 5am wake up, breakfasts, downhill and a 5 hour hike, break and snacks, a swim in a lagoon, lunch, 90 minute hike, 2 bus rides and a short walk back to the shop. Clean up and the next take wake up in agony.

As I am not traveling around much this has become sort of a diary but I will try and not go down that path.Finally, the irony of coming to Nicaragua to learn Spanish and realizing that I do not know English is not lost on me.

Monday, January 4, 2016

A Snap Shot On The Trail

Quetzal Trekkers has given me the opportunity to lead and be a part of 3 different tours in the last month. I have hiked Coseguina once, Las Pilas / El Hoyo 4 times and Cerro Negro 4 times. As we climb up Cerro Negro twice each time I have technically climbed the gorgeous black mountain 8 times. It may be difficult to describe the hikes with pictures and words so I found a few videos that may give you a better understanding.

The first is the Quetzal Trekkers promo video for Cerro Negro. I did see Jake Littman acting as the flag man / guide in this video. Great job Jake.  I lead tours up Cerro Negro least twice a week and as I mentioned we go up and down twice. The clients board down and I run. Trust me when I say my thighs and calves are screaming by the time I hit the glorious solid level ground at the bottom. *Sometimes I wish it would rain so the paying clients would not see my tears.*
The past week or so has been exceptionally windy. This causes layers of scree to be blown off the volcano. Not only does it now run fast the traction running down is reduced to a think layer of scree. Think of running down a paved road at a 40 degree angle with about 2 inches of small stones layered on top. Normally I am bounding down into about a foot of lovely boot holding happiness.
Good times.

This next video is a bit older and a few of the elements are different but it does give a decent overview of our Las Pilas / El Hoyo and Asasosca Hike. The anonymous hikers are correct when they say the first 90 minutes or so are difficult. Not so much the climb up but the fact you are carrying up to 15 kilos or 35lbs of gear. (guides usually take a bit more). This gear includes tents, sleeping bags, food, water and other supplies. The views are worth the effort including sunrise over Momotombo.  The 5 hour morning hike makes the lake a paradise after 2 days of dirt and sweat... and yes the cows are very real.

Finally Coseguina. It is not the highest volcano but the trek is long and arduous. It has had the most violent of all volcanic eruptions in Nicaragua history creating a 3 km wide crater. The 360 degrees views at the top are stunning and you can see the mountains of both Honduras and El Salvador.

These are just a few random videos of how I go about my day on the trail. There is still Telica at sunset, the highest volcano in Nicaragua that is San Cristobal and Momotombo when she is not acting all angry and allows us to climb again.

Hiker Count:
USA 15
Germany 11
Canada 8
England 7
Australia 3
France 3
Holland 3
Costa Rica 2
Finland 2
Lithuania 2
New Zealand 2
Switzerland 2
India 1
Ireland 1
Israel 1
Turkey 1
Sweden 1
Spain 1

You Have To Take Care Of Your Feet

As I prepare for my 4th two day trek up El Hoyo it suddenly dawned on me. I have not been taking care of my feet. As your feet go, so goes your day and with the it's pedicure time. Yes, that is exactly what I said, "its pedicure time". I just may put a clear coat on the toenails because that's how this former truck driving  and current volcano guide rolls.

I may have mentioned in the past that when working the Oil Fields of Western Canada I would get a pedicure every other week. I mentioned it once while in a room full of tough guy oil workers and that was cause for a few days of abuse. No worries as I was the one who did not have sore feet. About 2 days later one of the boys came to me and said something to the effect of "my wife told me that pedicures actually make your feet feel better".  Well a few day later the truck driver and the rig worker were sitting side by side with their nasty Oil Worker Feet being looked after by little Vietnamese woman during a Prairie winter storm. As the saying goes "the first guy through the door always gets bloodied" (that would be me). After about a month there was talk of trying to get this on our group benefit plan. Funny how the world works when you drop your bulls** preconceived perceptions. We did hit the pub right after and drank a bunch of beer "so we can still be men" as I was told. Sometimes I do miss the simple stupidity of working in the Oil Patch.

Standing beside the San Francisco Crater on the Las Pilas / El Hoyo Volcano cluster

Well my friends if you have not manned up and had a pedicure or have not done anything to take care of your feet, start NOW. It will not take away from your manhood or suddenly make you gay. You will not stop watching sports and have a sudden urge to go to the ballet or watch the Notebook. Hell you may be so happy with the result you might just tell someone without fear, but one step at a time.

Obviously I am a fan. You need to take care of your feet and 30 minutes in the hands of a pedicurist (is that right, pedicurist?) will put the the bounce right back into your step.  There are lots of shops in Leon and my choice was limitless. Then I came across Indira. The picture is from her website as I did not think pulling out a camera was the brightest thing to do. Pedicures in Canada run about $30, but here in glorious Leon there are about $5. Better yet, with notice Indira will come to your house. The kicker, I now have 3 other people here at Harvest House ready to join. A film maker from Toronto, another Canadian truck driver who knows the value (retired) and  a very confused German.

We have 2 woman that come here every day and clean. One from 6:30 and the second comes around 1:30. These woman work hard cleaning not only the common areas but each room twice a week. I do believe I am going to talk to offer a pedicure to each of them. Now, Nica's are shy proud people and their first response will be no. With prodding I am going to get each one of them into the chair for 45 minutes of what will be pure bliss for them. I will let you know how it goes.

Next up, there is a massage parlor (no not one of the happy ending variety) in town called Seeing Hands Message. Why seeing hands you ask? The shop is run by a blind man and all his masseuses (sorry that word looks funny) are blind or near blind as well. Word on the street is the place is amazing. They have been opened for a couple of years now. Now, the shop is not all glamorous and enchanting, its Nicaragua. What is has is a practical clean setup with required privacy. Once we all get past our perceptions of what the place should look like and realize the work is amazing this too will become a bi-weekly tradition.

Seeing Hands Massage and Revolutionary Messages

Here is the price book: When was the last time you have a full 60 Thai massage (again, not one of those) for $15

15 minutes /back massage/ espalda : 5 USD$ ó 122 C$
20 minutes / foot massage/ pies: 6 USD$ ó 147 C$
35 minutes / combo back & foot / espalda & pies: 9 USD$ ó 220 C$
30 minutes / full massage / masaje completo: 10 USD$ ó 245 C$
60 minutes / full massage / masaje completo: 15 USD$ ó 367 C$

Pamper ourselves? No more like look after ourselves. We spend so much time working, trying to eat right and maybe do a bit of exercise. Why do we need to feel like looking after ourselves is a guilty pleasure? Should taking care of ourselves not be a part of our monthly routine? As for costs, stop drinking your daily Timmies, or go out for dinner one less time a month. Money should not be the issue, taking care of yourself should be the priority.

Next up, a barbershop for a haircut and a straight razor shave and if I wore shoes that needed it, a good shoeshine.

Friday, January 1, 2016

Ok 2016, Lets Give It A Go

"Train yourself to let go of everything you fear to lose." - Yoda

Holy Crap, New Years 2016. Each year begins full of hope and optimism as it should. Then comes January 2nd and you have not quit smoking, started to exercise and are still devouring the Doritos. Then comes the 3rd and the confident resolution re-boot. On the 4th you give it a go and on the 5th you say "screw it" and go back to where you started. My question is "why do we waste a week with resolutions that are bound to fail"?
If you want to feel better, look better, eat better or have any goals just do them. Start already. Stop waiting for a specific moment or the "right time". It will be difficult and challenging. Family and friends may get upset because their routine is now broken. Stay the course. If you hear "(your name here) has changed or is not the same, something must be wrong" you are doing something right.  Change shows you who honestly believes in you, who your friends are and who you can trust. It's amazing how quickly you can thin the herd.

I do not think the start of any year is when you should say "OK, this year I am going to do this or that". Pick something and do it. Less TV and more reading, less work more time with family, let internet more bbq's with everyone involved in the process. Not just Dad flipping burgers while the rest of us stare into our mobile devices.
When that has become a part of your routine, choose something else. Walking 30 minutes after dinner instead of flopping on the sofa with "I am so tired". Learn to use tool properly and start with building birdhouses, learn to bake bread, learn the names of the planets and one fact about each or spend 2 hours a week doing volunteer work. You never know where that will lead.  Do something; do anything but just break the routine that bores you out of your mind but you accept as life.  Stop depending on the new Calendar year to set goals you will not keep.

 So 2016, what are we going to do?

My teaching goals are Nicaragua (January to April), Mexico (May to September). I want to get the backpack on and travel to  Belize, cut across Northern Guatemala and then into the Chiapas region of Mexico. Cuba has found its way onto my list. Not the "all inclusive resort for a week" Cuba, the wander around the country with a backpack Cuba. 
Although having talked to a few folks who have done just that I discovered that you can go to an all inclusive resort for about $30 a day if you want a bit of that experience and comfort which we all do. I suppose you just walk up to the hotel and ask if they have space. I will keep that in mind. 
The talk on the trail is always about getting to Cuba within the next 2 years "before" the Americans can go there without restrictions. The world really does hate Americans. I see and hear it every day. However I believe the world is tired of American Politics and not American citizens. Any conversation of length, without fail, brings up guns and their second amendment, like anyone gives a shit. When flying travelers avoid American Airports or if they have to are appalled by the banality of the process. Come on America we really want you to do better. Cut the crap already.

I knew quite a few people who left us in 2015. I also know people struggling with their health who were healthy when the year started. This is the perspective we need to keep every moment of every day.

Sure, I am going to try and eat better which is a slow but steady evolution for me.. I need to be more aware of sugar and reduce processed food more than I have. I am evolving to a more plant based diet but need to kick the junk food "because I am bored" habit".

I am loving Quetzel Trekkers and am going to stay "on the trail" until March. My visa expires on March 22nd and I will have to weigh the cost/benefits of renewing it for another month.
I will have some free time so I am going to explore Nicaragua a bit more. Somoto CanyonLittle Corn Island, Ometepe and San Juan Del Sur plus San Christobal, Telica and Momotombo have my name on them.

This week was a busy week. A couple of trips up Cerro Negro, a 2 day trek up El-Hoyo and a New Years Eve pub crawl. I even managed to stay up until 1:30 am.  The hikes are trimming the fat, the legs stronger and the endurance is improving. Climbing volcanoes 4 times a week, sometimes with a 40lb pack for 4 hours is better than any gym membership.

Ultimately 2016 will be a year of planning, teaching, trekking, traveling, exploring, wandering, discovering and getting my head wrapped around all the freaking English verb tenses and how they are used. Then top that joyful experience by banging my head with grammar knowledge. 

As for financial goals. I don't have any. It does not cost anything to be a decent person so I will continue to try and improve on that. In 2016, if I can not be positive I will be quiet!

I hope to see you on the trails and in the pubs along the way during 2016.