Monday, February 29, 2016

The Colonial Churches of Leon

Have you ever visited a town in any Latin American  or stopped in a town on your way to your all inclusive holiday? Have you ever walked by an old church that looked run down and dirty without giving it a second thought because you are not religious. Stop doing that. I learned that lesson a while ago. Pause on your way to where ever you are in a hurry to get to, turn and walk into that old derelict looking church. Give it some time and look around. These are not your sterile North American Catholic churches. Try and appreciate the history, the beauty and the artwork all around you. I find I now go looking for churches because each one is so different in their similarities. I do have the fear of being struck by lighting every time I enter one of these beauties so I just hold my breath and hope for the best. Thank you Catholic up bringing.

This brings me to Leon. A town with a large collection of Colonial Catholic Churches. I have taken the time to visit each one of these and appreciate them for their historical and structural beauty. I am by no means a student of architecture and I will not attempt to distinguish between Gothic, Byzantium or Renaissance structures. (I had to look those words up). What I do is I go off alone (If I am with another person or a group) and just quietly take it in. I know this may sound a bit off to some of you but to those that know me they will understand. I try and get a feel for the history of the place. Historical sermons about war and revolution, artisans creating the interior, peasants worshiping from the pew I am sitting in. I can literally sit for an hour and disappear into my own imagination.

There are 12 churches in Leon. There are a number of tunnels that connect the Cathedral with the other churches that were used as hideouts or escape routes during terrorist attacks by British, Dutch, and French pirates. One of the tunnels was used by a priest who saved the treasures from when the English Pirates invaded. However, the tunnels are not accessible to the public for some have been converted to the sewer system service. These tunnel were also used by the Samosa regime as torture and death tunnels connecting them to various prisons in the city.

Basilica Cathedral of the Assumption – The Cathedral of León

This is where it all happens!

Built in 1814 this 200-year old cathedral is the largest in all of Central America and a World Heritage site. Having survived earthquakes, volcano eruptions and a civil war its age and history are on proud display located in the heart of the Leon. This a great starting point for touring the city, exploring local foods or checking out the nearby street shopping markets.  The Cathedral of Leon, is considered the largest colonial religious building in Central America, which will appreciate fresh and oil paintings of great artistic value. You can also take a tour of their cellars or climb its steep stairs that take you to the roof from where you can appreciate a wonderful panoramic view of Leon.

Because of its solid, anti-seismic construction its walls have endured earthquakes, volcanic eruptions of Cerro Negro volcano, and bombings during civil wars. Several cannons were placed on the roof both during the siege of the city by conservative forces in 1824 and during the Revolution of 1979.

Iglesia La Recoleccion
Iglesia La Recoleccion
Covered in a dark and well-worn yellow facade La Recoleccion’s exterior makes it the most beautiful in the city. Built in 1786 it’s also been restored, thanks in part due to Spanish and Italian funding
Among the churches of the city of Leòn, la Recolección is one of the most beautiful. Located on the “banks street” and distinguished for its exquisite cliff of stucco with a perfect Latin American baroque style, what have taken to be considered the one with more importance in this city.

-- I was guilty of calling this church an eyesore, until I peeked inside. My bad

Iglesia El Calvario
Iglesia El Calvario

Iglesia El Calvario as viewed from the Cathedral. Momotombo is in the back on the right

Located 5 minutes walk down central street from the Leon Cathedral. El Cavario is perched above the street and has a flamboyant exterior that demands attention from a distance. The bright yellow facade between the red brick bell towers feature painting of biblical scenes.
It was built in the first half of the eighteenth century. In the late nineteenth century it was in terrible shape virtually demolished so early twentieth century it was rebuilt retaining its original appearance.
The Church sits at the top of Real Street and is one of the urban landmarks of the city. A park is has been built near the church for worshipers to rest but there is a huge Pepsi logo that takes away from any beauty that may have been there. No matter where you go, Coke and Pepsi have been there first.

--  This church has the prettiest exterior and is used as a landmark when giving directions. The view is pretty special when looking from the Cathedral. There is a nice little park behind the church where at any time you can walk through and see couples making out like nobody else is around. Kind of odd really.

Iglesia de San Felipe

Church of San Felipe, a large building that occupies an entire block, it was built in 1685 for blacks and mulattoes worshipers. In 1859 it underwent an extensive expansion that gave it its present form, whereas the tower was restored in 1983.

-- Dirty and drab and it could really use a cleaning but the grounds are maintained an it is quite tranquil in its environment. Most people, myself only give this church a passing glance but the solid little bugger has withstood war, revolution, earthquakes and volcanoes and has come out without a scratch.

 Iglesia San Juan de Dios

This is my neighborhood.

The façade of Iglesia San Juan de Dios, which overlooks a park of the same name, is a mottled grey and not exactly what you would call pretty. The exterior was reconstructed in the 1850s and it conceals a lovely white interior with glass cases of saints and delicate ceiling murals. The church itself was originally constructed in 1739.

--  Be aware during your visit that the nearby park is dirty and feels dodgy (says many a guidebook) I find myself killing time here quite often and its quite nice. Lots of people and friendly. The church is on the edge of Leon's relatively safe downtown and this is neighborhood does appear sketchy only because it is not full of tourists, which is why I chose to live here. That is changing with the opening of a new hostels in the area. 

Iglesia de San Francisco

Located just a few blocks West of the Leon Cathedral. It was built in 1639   as is one of the city’s oldest. It’s not as vibrant as some of the others but still worth checking out.

-- I walk by this church all the time and sometimes forget that it is here. Kids skateboard on its mezzanine and it's a general meeting place as it sits on the main street.

Iglesia de Subtiava 

The Subtiava church is located in the Subtiava neighborhood in León; a neighborhood still strongly tied to its indigenous roots. Known only as the "Church of Subtiava" located in the ancient Indian district of the same name. Construction of the church started in 1698, and was completed in 1710. Detoriation and militar violence damaged the church during the 1800s, but reconstruction took place at the beginning of the 20th century. The interior is impressive with very large wooden beams and pillars.

-- When I think Subtiava I think "bus to the beach". This church is the gathering and starting point for most parades to the Cathedral.

Iglesia de Guadalupe
Church is not on a hill. That would be my amazing photography skills in all their horrifying glory
Iglesia de Guadalupe in the far background

- The Guadelupe Church is located south from the central plaza. The church, surrounded by a small park, marks the end of the central avenue (Avenida central). The church was constructed at the end of the 19th century. It is the only church in León facing north, supposedly to face the center of the city

-- I like this neighborhood and wander here often. It is quiet and there are zero and I mean zero tourists. This is the church you see in the famous picture from the revolution. This picture depicts the FSLN and their first tank used in their war.

 Iglesia de Zaragoza

The Zaragoza church is located in a neighborhood with the same name, a couple blocks northwest of the central park. The exact date of construction is not known, but it is estimated that construction started between 1884 and 1886, and ended in 1934. There is a certain military feel to it. The high towers constructed with stones and big pillars give the building also a castle-like image.

-- The first time I walked past this church I immediately thought of a medieval castle not a church. It was night and it creeped me out. I double stepped it back to the main street pretty quick like the scardy cat that I am.

 Iglesia de Laborío


Built in the seventeenth century this neighborhood housed the naborios. This was the name that was designated in colonial times to the Indians dedicated exclusively to domestic services of the residences of the Spanish. The facade was altered but the main body and chancel remain unchanged.

-- I never thought much of this church as it looks like any older western style church. Then I discovered the history and the fact that the facade was upgrade in a more modern style. Like so many things, learn about them before you judge. The grounds and barrio are quite nice. I had lunch on the steps here while on this self directed walking tour of the cities churches.

Iglesia de la Merced

Home to León’s patron saint, La Virgen de La Merced, this not-so-immediately enchanting gray edifice is considered the city’s second-most-important church.
After Volcán Momotombo erupted and forced the cities evacuation, the Leónese built a new church here in 1615, replaced with the current building in the early 1700s.
Located on the corner of Central Park noeste 1 ½ c north. The old church of the Merced built in 1662 was demolished to lift the current church in its place.

-- This church has a huge park area surrounding it and is filled with families day and night. It is in the heart of the tourist district and one of my favorite places, aside from the central park, to grab a coffee and watch the world go by. The square is always clean which is an oddity for Leon.

There are other Colonial churches including San Jose, San Felipe. There a many modern catholic churches and on any given Sunday you can walk past what was once a store front but for the day there are church services, usually in the poorer barrios. This is one religious crazed country.

The people, like their churches have suffered. Invasion, occupation, war, oppression, revolution, American economic terrorism, hurricanes, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions , political corruption and poverty. Yet they endure. One of the reasons I came back to Nicaragua is the spirit of the people. They know they are poor and they do not have to be told life can be difficult. I am real difficult, not "man the WiFi is not working" difficult. There is a strength in these gentle and proud people. A strength I admire and respect. Something I will never fully comprehend.

 Like their churches the people of Leon and Nicaragua can appear a bit dirty and worn on the outside. Then have them open up to you and you will find a world of calm beauty, happiness and goodness you never knew possible.

The primary lesson I have learned while being a part of Nicaragua Redux. Do not just pass the dirty old church. Open the doors, walk inside and look around. Be a part of it for as long as you can. You will leave with a completely different and mostly positive bounce in your step.

Yes, the church is a metaphor 

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

It's Hammock Time

 You know all those things that you've always wanted to do? You should go do them.
-- E.F Lamprey

I ain't no MC Hammer, but It's Hammock Time

Caught snoozing in the garden

I am physically exhausted but in a good way. Not the "I worked so hard to day I am exhausted"  but the exhausted where your entire body aches, you sleep like a rock and move slow, steady and with purpose for the entire day. The "I just climbed volcanoes 9 days in a row exhausted" . The body is tired but the mind is oddly calm and clear. A calm and clear mind is an odd place for me to visit so I am going to try and enjoy and learn from it. See if I can make it a semi-permanent thing.

It has been a steady 2 weeks of trekking in a great 3 months with QT. Cerro Negro, San Cristobal, El Hoyo being all apart of the fun finalized with an El Hoyo moonlight hike last night. Today I rest on a hammock or put together a couple of deck style chairs. I will have my trusty book that I want to finish and nobody or nothing short of an earthquake is going to move me. Hell, all an earthquake will do is rock me to sleep so bring it on. I am reading Wild Steps of Heaven by Victor Villaseñor. An easy read about the history of the Villaseñor family in 1910 in Mid Central Mexico. I am heading to Mexico so it is time to learn about Mexican History.

Watching Momotombo erupt at sunset from El Hoyo
The last couple of weeks I have had great climbs, even better treks and success at school. I was recently asked to present, with 10 minutes of warning" with my teaching partner our lesson plans and how we co-ordinate them. We have both received good feedback from the director so that is always motivating. Anyways, my teaching partner is Luis. A local teacher who is also a teacher at the TEFL Nicaragua Academy. He is bright, creative and well organized but like so many Nica's he had kids when he was 18. He works three jobs to maintain his life but owns his own home. Sometime we live dangerous and he gives me a ride home on his motorcycle and he has no extra helmet. It feel liberating until he slows down quickly, says you have to get off the National Police are up there. So jump of quickly I do. Off he goes on his motorized transport, off I go walking the hot pavement under the searing sun. Good times.
I have gleaned quite a bit for Luis and his tips have helped me quite a bit. We stand in front of 18 other teachers at 730 in the morning and "wing it". I do not know if it went well or not but at the 750 bell for my 8:00 class I did not care. I had a group of 17 eager teens to impress, not fellow teachers who can not follow simple directions.

Running down the steepness that is San Cristobal
Observation and Confession: My sugar free February came to a screeching halt on Feb 22nd at 9;30 pm. We were planning our dinner for the Moonlight El Hoyo hike that was to leave at 11:00 pm. The clients were beginning to arrive for dinner which was past and veggies. I had an ample portion and was fine. No hunger. Halle, one of my partners on this trips suggests "hey old man, you will probably fall asleep. How about a coke?". I think "what a capital idea". With cookies in hand (go big or go home) and a cold coke to follow I inhale and chug the caffeine and high fructose corn syrup with gusto. I had an immediate rush of the senses. No sugar for 3 weeks and then a coke and cookies. Give it a try sometimes. You will realize how sweet these things really are.

I have read quite a big about refined sugar and high fructose corn syrup. One thing that stood out was how sugar tricks your brain into thinking you are hungry. Remember I just had a good dinner not 5 minutes before. By the time were were loading the trucks to transport to the hill I was freaking "starving". I mean beyond belief hungry...and I wanted cookies and another coke. What an observation to prove to myself the true facts that are reported on sugar and high fructose corn syrup. The hunger lasted about 30 minutes, subsided, but remained for about an hour. That explains the Pop Tarts devouring phenomenon I have always had. I would open a box of Pop Tarts and eat 2. Within the hour I would have eaten all 8 because my brain was being trick into believing it was not satisfied. This was an epiphany for me on my continued journey of good food, good health and clear mind.

Directing traffic on Cerro Negro. The green flag is in dire need of repair
As I head back to the garden for another round of reading and napping I thought I would share a volcano update from La Prensa Nicaragua. Masaya to the south is still very active and closed. Momotomobo has erupted 7 times in the last 24 hours. San Cristobal, yes the volcano I climbed last week erupted this morning and Telica, which last erupted Feb 13th is on high alert. Smack dab in the middle of this active volcano chain is Cerro Negro. Just patiently waiting it's turn.

Finally just a random thought as I prepare to climb Cerro Negro on Friday and then Sunday (Meema, do not read any further and if you do, no panicky emails). Cerro Negro was first discovered as an active volcano in 1850 and has since erupted on average every 13 years. The last eruption in 1999 was violent with sprays of lava up to 100 metres high. Volcano boarding did not start as an activity until 2002 which means there have never been any tourists on Cerro Negro for an eruption. I personally think that is about to change.

At any given time there can be up to 100 people climbing in and around Cerro Negro. Plus Cerro Negro sits along the same fault line and in between Momotombo and Telica which have been very active over the last 2 months. There is nothing stopping Cerro Negro from getting in on the action and history has shown it is overdue. With so many people on the hill at any given time Cerro Negro is ripe for disaster. Mother Nature always wins.

Link below gives a warning about Cerro Negro
"Cerro Negro is one of the country's most active volcanoes with at least 23 recorded historical eruptions, last in 1992, 1995 and 1999. Cerro Negro's eruptions are often violent with tall lava fountains and tall ash plumes, and often preceded by earthquakes"

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Volcano San Cristobal

I am writing this after climbing Cerro Negro twice, San Cristobal, Cerro Negro and finishing with the El Hoyo 2 day trek all over a period of 4 days. No words can describe how happy I will be when I head to bed at 7:30. Anyways, on with the show.

I have felt the wrath and euphoria of climbing Volcano San Cristobal and came away dirty, sun burnt, exhausted and happy.

Volcán San Cristóbal is the highest volcano in Nicaragua at 1,745 m. or 5,725 feet. It last erupted in 2008 and today sites on an eruption warning of 3 out of 5.  We do not climb the majesty of San Cristobal very often but with Telica acting up and off limits, along with Momotombo, San Cristobal has become the focus for experienced hikers to challenge themselves. This volcano is NOT for beginners to try just because it would be cool. It is a difficult and possibly dangerous climb (sorry mom).

5 guides and 3 climbers. That is customer service.

San Cristobal calling like a Greek Mythological Siren
Our day stared at 4:30 for breakfast at the QT shop. I was late. I did find walking (very fast) the streets on Leon at 4:30 in the morning a bit of an unnerving experience. That is the grey zone of drunks heading home and workers heading out. It kept me on my toes for the 15 minute walk until I saw the garbage truck. The loud noisy smelly garbage truck heading my way. My safety blanket to Quetzal Trekkers.

Our crew on this hike were QT guides Chichara, Mitchel (who is the director of QT), Lotta, Kieran, myself and 3 paying clients. Two from the US and one from Belgium. A small and motivated crew to be sure. We headed out after breakfast for the 90 minute ride through Chinendega to the trail head. The area is managed by a local family and it maintained nicely. They had walking sticks available for us which was absolutely necessary. We had a big drink of water, a banana and some cookies for fuel and off we went. San Cristobal loomed directly in front of us, and it was a bit overwhelming to be sure. It towered over Telica, Cerro Negro, El Hoyo and Cosequina and I was not 100 percent sure what I was getting into. Regardless, we were off.

Hitting the trail, first its the scrub

Being a guide I have learned that the first 15 - 20 minutes of any hike are the most difficult. That is about the amount of time you need to find your pace, rhythm and what I call "finding your meditative breathing". We all struggle to get to that point where you go from struggling and panting to trekking. When you find your sweet spot the hike becomes less a struggle and more extraordinary. This hike was no different however adding to the mix was the fact it started with a steep incline and got steeper as we climbed.

The first 20 minutes, the time to find your pace, was along a marked trail through scrub and what can only be described as ""destroyed by fire and volcano explosions tree stumps". It was beautiful in its eerie silence. Sometimes the issue with climbing is the peak always looks closer than it really is. This was certainly no different. We crunched through the scrub and reached the bottom of the scree climb. This was to be the challenge of the day. 

Chichara was leading and he is a rock star on the volcano. Lotta is also a strong climber and was right behind him, followed by the two Americans. Mitch, Kieran, myself and the Belgian we close behind. I casually stated in between pants that "Chichara is as fast as fu**" and it broke the idea that we were going to keep up with him. Again, when you are on the volcano find your own pace and rythems. 

The challenge that was the incline and the scree. Two steps forward one step back
Photos never to justice to what you are trying to display, but that's fine. The last volcano that I climbed that was this steep was Villarrica, one of the most active volcanoes in Chile. It was covered in snow which allowed us to use crampons. This was certainly not the case. Here is valuable lesson when climbing scree. Do NOT go straight up, it will destroy you. Chichara showed us that it is when you angle your climb with a series of switch backs the climb becomes more realistic for success. Smart man that Chichara.

Off we went. The early morning sun and cool air did not stop the sweat from soaking me. The pace I was looking for took some time but it showed itself as it always does. Now it was time to enjoy the views without stressing about the steepness of the incline. Scree does give you the opportunity to dig in so sliding down like a rag doll was never a consideration. Dig in, lean forward, breath and enjoy yourself.

A bit steep ya think?
Hiking Sticks. I use to laugh at people using them. I am a convert and will preach their gospel. You could not make this climb without them. I learned to appreciate the on the down hill climb of El Hoyo. They take 30% of the stress of your knees and give you balance you need when you wobble. Buy them, use them, love them and treat them well. Any quality stick will do in a pinch and they are easy to find, but if you can buy retractable and portable sticks along the way, buy them and make them a part of your travel gear if you are going to be active. 

We were kicking up quite a bit of dust so we paced ourselves about 20 metres apart so as to not inhale ash dust for 4 hours. We had to deal with loose scree, a steep pitch, large boulders and oddly enough broken trees and stumps. I have run down Cerro Negro enough times to realize that even though we would do the same here it was going to be more of an obstacle course and preventative impalement so I had that to look forward to on the way down.

Snack Break. Rest stops on the way up but obstacles and harbingers of death on the way down
 It was about half way up when the reality of the challenge hit me. I had a "what the fu**" moment when I looked at what I thought was the top of the climb only to realize it was an illusion. The peak was much higher once we crossed the ridge that I thought was the peak. No worries, march on soldier. We had food, snacks water and a great pace. The peak was within our reach. As I have said in the past, "I wish it was raining so nobody could see my tears."

It was great that we had a strong group. This volcano was challenging enough for experience hikers and having to deal with someone who was struggling with any of the various issues that could arise could not only be a pain in the ass but possibly dangerous. You need to be able to take care of yourself and be available to help anyone on the climb at any time. You can not be a personal porter for someone who thought the hike would be cool and is then overcome by exhaustion and fear but find the energy for taking selfies or asking to have their picture taken to "prove they have done it.". Again, this group was strong and focused but we had each others backs.

Lotta at the peak cheering us on
Chichara, Lotta and the two Americans hit the summit first and they were cheering us on. The sight of the summit was luminous. Seriously, there was a glow around the summit calling me....or maybe I was dying and seeing the light, I was not 100 percent sure. Either way I pushed on. This was no Everest but it was my latest tough challenge. I was not winded and my legs felt strong. I had my pace and was making progress regardless of the constant slipping back in the scree. 

Mitch, Ken, Lotta, Chichara and Kieran making QT proud.
After we hit the summit and started with the pictures we shot the one above. We were laughing that the only person not wearing a Quetzel Trekkers shirt was of course the Director, the Grand Puba, el Jefe. It left a great opening for verbal abuse but I was tired and it was a long drop to be tossed into the crater.

We had just climbed the south face of San Cristobal at a steady pace and although hazy the views were soothing in their grandeur. The highest volcano and second highest point in Nicaragua. The highest in Mogoton, The forbidden Mountain. Mogoton sits on and creates the border between Honduras and Nicaragua. Its top is cloud forest with mosses, ferns and orchids growing out of the crotches of trees. It is long since dormant and is covered with landmines from the Sandinista wars. Not an impressive mountain and sits in the Nicaraguan highlands. It has nothing on San Cristobal.

Crater of San Cristobal
Mitch and I hung around the top while the others wandered down a side trail. I was pretty content to sit and take it all in. An hour at the top and we were ready for the fun run down. As with Cerro Negro you can run down this bad boy BUT unlike Cerro Negro it has obstacles, old trees, branches and burned out root systems all over the place. A great place for snacks on the way up, a video game in the making on the way down. We had made a trail and were good to go, but impalement was an option if you got sloppy.

Up in 3.5 hours, down in 1. My type of volcano. Lunch, the long quiet ride home and back to QT to prep for the 2 day El Hoyo trek the next day. My time with QT is winding down and I am taking advantage of as much climbing as I can, sore legs and all. This hike was the cherry on a what has been a very delicious cake.

Obstacles on the run down

Hanging at the summit and crater

Steep hikes bring big smiles

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Road Trip !

 My contract  with ELI here in Leon finishes on March 5th. I have given my notice that I will not be renewing and was given a very nice "thank you and you are always welcome to come back" by the Director of the school. That bridge is sturdy.

I need to arrive in Tehuacán, Mexico on Wednesday, May 4th as that is the expected arrival date at the Heslington Language Centre. Training is on May 5th and 6th then I have the weekend to explore (try the food and tequila) and finally my first day teaching in Monday May 9th.

That means its Its road trip time! Well bus trip time. I will have 7 weeks to travel 1950 km as the proverbial crow flies however this crow is going to be flying crooked. My CA-4 visa expires on March 22nd. A CA-4 visa is a 90 day tourist visa issued at the country of origin. It is a free travel zone in Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and El Salvador for nationals of those countries. Tourists have to leave the zone after 90 days to renew which means Costa Rica, Belize or Mexico. You do get one opportunity to renew internally which I did in Managua on December 22nd. It's looking like Belize for me.

Now it is time to put some serious effort into planning. One route that has me interested in the boat trip from Potosi, Nicaragua to La Union El Salvador across the Strait of Forseca. Here is a link to a company that gives you and idea of the route, but I will do it on my own and save some serious Cordobas. From La Union I will head to San Miguel for a few days then off to Suchitoto. I was in Suchitoto about 4 years ago. The reason I want to go back is that there is a jungle tour that is lead by a former guerrilla fighter. You ride horseback through the jungle with the guide explains the route and how they fought in these jungles against government (American backed ) forces during the Civil War.

Checking for accommodations in San Miguel I came across this little tidbit. I best be staying away from the many "motels" as advised.

San Miguel Hostels
The cheapest places to stay are by the bus terminal. The larger hotels are on Av Roosevelt, but stay away from the many 'motels', which charge by the hour.

I will only have about a week to get to Belize so I have to be careful not to get sick tracked to badly. Suchitoto might be a challenge as will be Antigua. There are a few friends that are still there from when I worked with Global Vision plus Volcan Fuego is acting up. I would love to climb Volcan Acatanango and have that great view of Fuego. I think I am going to leave QT on Sunday March 6th. This will give me a week to visit a few places in Nicaragua, particularly Somoto Canyon.


Leon Nicaragua to San Miguel El Salvador via Potosi
Suchitito El Salvador to Antigua Guatemala
Antigua Guatemala to to San Ignacio Belize
San Ignatio to Belize City
Belize City to Caye Caulker
*3 weeks in Belize touring around*
San Ignatio to Flores
2 Treks while in Flores
 - Tikal
 - El Mirador
Flores to Palenque
Palenque to San Cristobal De Las Casas
San Cristobal De Las Casas to Oaxaca (we-HAH-ka)
Oaxaca to Tehuacan

That will be 5 countries in about 7 weeks. Nicaragua, El Salvador, Guatemala, Belize and Mexico. Poor Honduras, such a fantastic country but always left out. The only new country for me will be Belize. I have been to resorts in Mexico. I am going to consider Mexico a new country since I will be traveling and not sitting on some all inclusive beach chair that resembles the same all inclusive beach chair, on every Caribbean coastline of every Caribbean country.

Now its just a few small things to work out. Transportation, accommodation, currency exchanges, food, border crossings, trekking and guide hires, snorkel rentals, and other such mundane details.
Toss in, Cordobas, US Dollars, Quetzalles, Belize Dollars and Pesos and you have a nice mixture of adventure, nervousness and possible language mix ups with my attempted Spanish .Add to the mix Easter which runs March 20 to 27th. Here it is Semana Santa and it is chaos in a religious "we need to celebrate and have a parade every day" kind of way.

I would not have it any other way.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Zika!! Run and Hide In Fear

“Many people die at twenty five and aren't buried until they are seventy five.”
-- Benjamin Franklin

A Blog Rant by Ken Weiss

First, the Zika Virus is not a newly discovered virus. It has been around since 1947.  However this little gem is latest virus being spread by false information to instill fear and hysteria in the masses, and like the sheeple they are, they are buying into it. What ever happened to Ebola from last year? Did it just disappear? Nope, its just stopped being reported about. What was it before that H1M1, Swine Flu, SARS, West Nile? Pick something exotic and put it through the 24 hours news cycle then add woman and children and you have the perfect mix of fear.

Take the 5 minutes it will take to read John Rapports blog posts "Is the Zika virus another scam?" as well as a good post about pesticides use in Brazil, "Zika freakout: the hoax and the covert op continue" . You can also find so much more information about the false stories being in your face every day by the main stream media. None of them even think about looking at this from a different perspective, like the truth.

Let the fumigation begin

"Despite all the public hoopla, all the cases of microcephaly being discovered in Brazil have never been scientifically linked to the Zika virus. A group of doctors from South America are now saying the brain deformations the world is witnessing are caused by the mass fumigation of low-income Brazilian people with a chemical larvicide, not by mosquitoes carrying the Zika virus"

 So what am I going on about. Pryirproxyfen which is a Monstanto made larvicide and other highly toxic chemicals being sprayed in poor countries around the world for a mosquito that is not responsible for anything except being an asshole.You see pictures and think, wow that looks bad. I am freaking living it!! The picture above was taken from a Honduran post but it may as well have been Leon yesterday. Trucks rolling down the street spraying Larvicide at will. We all literally ran for our own safety. These chemicals are banned in the good old USA but they sell it to countries that  are forced to use it because they are told to otherwise sanctions may happen. How screwed up is that. This is the chemical, which is made by Monsanto and sold by the US government that is causing the issues. Not some god damn mosquito.  Take a look at aldicarb and all the other wonders of chemistry that have been used on us over the years.

Fear, you want fear and stupidity. There is a guy here where I live, an older American. We have talked about Zika until we are blue in the face and that reports are it is transferred by mosquitoes and sexual activity. That's it (if you believe it in the first place), but let's go with what we are being told.
Mosquitoes and sexual activity. This guy, for all his concerns is not going back to the States to visit his pregnant daughter "just in case". Just in case what? Just in case you sleep with her? You can NOT give your daughter Zika for fuck sake! "Just in case". You think you are no being controlled by the media and your government. You are afraid to travel and that should scare he shit out of you more than the virus of the week.

Please read this story from the Natural News.

Street Food. My staple nutritional intake. I was walking to the market yesterday to purchase food for the Sunset Telica hike. I hear the well known sounds of the chemical sprayers and look across the street. A government building is being fumigated while the workers were hanging about on the street. I noticed a food vendor in front of the building, people lining up for lunch while the poison was wafting down on both them and the food cart. "We are safe, we are outside" I heard someone say. WTF!!

Finally, front line doctors in Brazil are reporting on the CBC that they have made an error in their diagnosis. 2000 pregnant woman in Colombia who all had the virus had no issues with their babies. 500 woman in Brazil who did not have the virus but were exposed to chemical spraying, bad sanitation, unhealthy drinking water and malnutrition showed high birth rates of microcephaly. This premature reporting is the basis for the fear and chaos being spread by governments and main stream news.

Some of you may read this and think, really Ken. Then not give it a second thought. However and be honest, if it comes up in conversation who will you believe CNN, ABC, NBC, CBC or someone questioning what you are being told...again be honest..fear sells.

Free Thought Project article that disputes Zika

"blind faith will get you killed"
-- Bruce Springsteen

Monday, February 8, 2016


Either I will find a way, or make one
 -- Hannibal The Conqueror

As of today I have 33 more days left in Leon depending on what I choose as my last day at QT. School ends on March 5th and my visa expires on March 22nd. Somewhere in there I have to do a border run, either Belize or Costa Rica. Belize makes the most sense as I am heading North to Mexico however Costa Rica would put me in southern Nicaragua and allow me to travel to all the places I have not yet been.  San Jorge / Rivas, Ometepe with Conception, Jiquilillo Ranch Esperanza, El Coyotepe Fortress in Masaya, El Castillo, San Juan River, Sumoto canyon, Corn Island, Stone Carving Hermit in Esteli and San Juan Del Sur to name a few.

I could cross into El Salvador  and take in San Miguel and back to Suchitoto to travel the guerrilla paths by horseback. Guatemala has Lago Attilan, Tikal and El Mirador in the North. Then the push into Mexico. Cuba and Belize plus the Mexican Yucatan can wait until after my contract finishes on August 13th. Bolivia may be calling with Condor Trekkers and teaching opportunities but one step at at time

Sometimes a guide just needs a cold beer while sitting near a live Volcanic Crater

Why talk off all these possible options that I have in about a month. NONE of them would have been possible if I did not decided to take a leap of faith and have the life I wanted. Not keep going through the safe routine of the life that I had. You can use all the cliche phrases you want but doors literally open when you choose to change.

I remember standing on a glacier in Neko Harbour, Antarctica in 2011 looking down at the world around me thinking, "if you can stand on a glacier watching whales in Antarctica you literally can do anything you want". That was my "ah ha" moment and nobody or nothing can ever take that away from me. Now I find myself teaching and guiding in Nicaragua, looking to start a new job in Mexico and planning my next move after that to Bolivia. I am certainly not getting rich or padding my retirement account. I do find myself sipping on a cold beer under the watchful eye of a live volcano and knowing that working an extra 15 or 20 years so "be sure" I have enough money to live comfortable in my old age does not even come into the equation.

In front and below the El Hoyo Hole

Either I will find a way, or make one. Hannibal knew what he was talking about. Although he was a bit more ambitious than me He, being a General of the Carthaginian army in the Second and Third Century BC with a goal of world domination and the defeat of the Roman Empire. Hannibal was known for leading the Carthaginian army and a team of elephants across southern Europe and the Alps Mountains against Rome in the Second Punic War and occupied much of Italy for 15 years. 
I just want to be a Tour Guide and teach English (for now) and travel the world, but I feel you Hannibal. Whatever you want, make it happen! Doors will open, or in your case your elephants will kick them down.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Sugar Free February

Sugar is 'the most dangerous drug of our time' and should come with smoking-style health warnings
-- Paul van der Velpen

Is sugar toxic? Here is a 60 Minutes story about the perils of sugar and high fructose corn syrup. High fructose corn syrup, which is in almost everything, is the scourge of our modern food system along with Monstanto, factory farming, Nestle and well the list can go on and on.

I have a sweet tooth. Nope let me correct that. I have sweet teeth. Not the "a bowl of ice cream would be nice" sweet tooth. When it's sugar time I attack the candy section of any store like a rabid Wolverine. Once I have my loot I have a stare down with the soda fridge dreaming about what sweet sugary beverage is going to wash it all down. This wreck less attitude towards health ended about 5 years ago. Then I came back to Nicaragua.

Maybe it's the heat sapping all my strength. You can drink as much water as you can but you also loose sugars and salts. The answer is NOT Gatorade. For that matter it's not Pepsi and Penguinos either.

With fellow guides Chichara and Lotta at the base of Telica. Smoking San Cristobal is in the background

So with that being said I have decided that February is Processed Sugar Free Month. No sugary drinks, store bought happiness, bakery delights or fruit smoothies (I drink my coffee black). Fruit smoothies do have the good sugar but they are massive.  I am on day 2 and I have had a headache all day. I am tired and a bit irritable, more so than usual really. I am not hungry but did force myself to cook a large dinner of rice, chicken and veggies. It is insane that I a craving sugar as much as I do right now.

There are many studies and papers that show how addicting sugar is and how it works on the brain and body. I will like to one on WebMD as I am just learning what I can and aside from screaming and causing panic/fear like the main stream media I will let you decide on your own. (It is pretentious of me to think I have that many followers and that much power that I could cause fear and panic. It's the sugar, well lack of sugar, talking). I have been through this before and I know the inherent dangers of the crap I put in my body but a lifetime of bad habits takes time.  There was a time when it was fast food and chicken wings every day washed down by to many adult beverages so I have made some personal progress. That is all a guy can ask for.

** Great article about sugar, obesity and cancer **

Standing near the massive Telica crater

To date, since I joined Quetzal Trekkers in December I have lost 22 lbs or almost 10 kilos. I feel lighter and my clothes fit better. When I go to school I can comfortably tuck my shirt into my pants with a belt to keep it all in place. Do not get me wrong, I could use 15 more but who really gives a sh** about the number. I feel really good mentally (which has always been a challenge) and physically. I am still wired but calmer as I get when I choose this lifestyle as proven in the pasts. What the most important thing for me in my journey for health and well being. It would be to live with Tranquilo - quiet, tranquil, peaceful, calm, relaxed.easy. Everything else is crap.

Live Without Downtime
 Here is an example of how sugar can control you. Atop Telica there is a local guy who carries a cooler with beer and freaking Coca Cola up to the waiting masses. Chichara asks me, "do you want a Tona" to which I robotically reply, "no, I will have a Coke".  Being smarter than the average bear he hands me a beer and says "drink, its much better". Here I was atop Telica on a clear beautiful day and I was choosing a Coke over a Beer. How many of you are going WTF right now? I know. Well the beer disappeared in about 10 seconds and I felt better for it. 

Telica Sunset
I will be spending the next couple of weeks learning and leading on Telica then back to El Hoyo and Cerro Negro. As for teaching, we just completed Mid Terms at school.  The semester ends March 5th. My tourist visa expires on March 22nd so I have about 6 weeks left in Nicaragua. 

There is much to learn, much to share and many moments to be had.