Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Fun at the Farm

We had a really fun and unique weekend at an authentic Nicaraguan farm. Some friends of ours from church have cousins who own and operate a pretty little farm and restaurant in Esteli. He offered to take us there and we said ABSOLUTELY! Saturday we headed out early around 7 since it's about 3 hours away. It was a pretty drive and we got to the farm in time to explore a while before lunch.

First stop the poultry coop. They had a ton of chickens and ducks and even a few turkeys.

Then we checked out the pig pen. It smelled TERRIBLE and the pigs were loud. Redick was't too certain about it at first.

This is the daddy pig, he was absolutely enormous!!

These little guys were only about a month old!

This is the outside of the pig pen.

Across from the pig pen was this little shelter. Inside is a bloated tarp with PVC pipe leading out of the tarp and across the property toward the house. We thought this was the most incredible, though terrifying, thing! They pile up the pig excrement and let it ferment under the tarp. With the pipes they siphon off the methane gas produced by the waste and use it to cook! We were astounded at the resourcefulness! 

Powered by pig dung.
Taking the calves out to pasture

Redick has been asking to go fishing for a while now. Our friend Victor brought along some fishing line and some cow liver for bait and they tried their luck in the stream. No bites but the kids were fascinated.

Victor knew of a better place to catch fish out on a nearby lake so we said goodbye to the farm and to Victor's cousins. They were very generous and kind hosts. They insisted that we go out to the zucchini and pipian (similar to zucchini) patch and help ourselves before we left. The front of this field is all beans and the back part is all zucchini and pipian! We absolutely loaded up!
It wouldn't be a true Nicaraguan adventure without some adventure! Victor was hoping it would be easy to find a boat and hire some fishermen to take us out on the to fish. Since it was 4:00pm that proved harder than he thought it would be. We drive around the perimeter of the lake and only ever saw one boat. When we stopped to ask about it the fishermen had already gone home for the day. We were ok just going home but Victor really wanted to get Redick a true fishing trip! We came upon a tiny little town near the lake shore and stopped to ask a few people. About the third person we asked about taking a boat out on the lake was an 18 year old guy on the side of the road. He said his brother has a boat and he hopped in our car to show us the way to his brother's house. Our car was full so he ended up on Victor's lap! His brother had already gone out fishing in the morning and was home for the day but he readily jumped up to take the kids out fishing. It was very sweet.

We followed the 2 brothers to another house where they picked up 2 paddles and another fisherman then we went to the lake. Since it's rainy season now the lake is quite high. The road leading to the lake is now very swampy and muddy but about 4 inches under that puddle is a sturdy road so we drove out a way toward the small fishing boat. I was too nervous to drive out very far so Mitchell ended up carrying the kids through the muddy swamp out to the boat.

Reid and Layne were asleep after our farm adventures and so Victor's wife and I volunteered to stay in the car with the sleeping babies. It was tough having to miss out on mucking through the swamp and sitting in a boring fishing boat but we survived!

You can barely see them pushing off in the boat. The fishing party was gone about an hour. Redick came back absolutely thrilled! With his silly smile he said "Mom! We caught one thing! A stick! Hahaha!" Truth be told I was quite relieved that they didn't catch any fish because we didn't have a cooler and I did not want to drive 3.5 hours home smelling stinky fish!

Check out some of our other adventures from the last couple of weeks:

About a week ago we had planned on going to a butterfly reserve in Granada. When it came time to get in the car to leave Reid threw a huge fit and did not want to go. Normally we would have just stuffed him in the car and gone but that day we decided to allow him a bit more autonomy and he and I stayed home. Reid had been sick earlier in the week and I thought maybe he was just too tired to go. Mitchell, Audrey, Redick and Layne had a great time though!

Mitchell must have handed his phone over to Audrey while they were there because there are about 329 selfies of her!

Aww. My kids holding termite nests. Lol

That leaf is being attacked by some kind of bug! 

Last Wednesday the big kids went with Mitchell to an activity at the church with the young men. They found a kitten wandering around the church and had so much fun! Originally her name was sussia, until Mitchell told her that means 'dirty' in Spanish. **I, personally, find it to be a fitting name for a stray cat!** She was re-named mittens and they had a really fun time with her! Audrey was heartbroken when she wasn't allowed to bring her home and I rubbed her back as she cried herself to sleep that night. After a few days of explaining we finally got her to acknowledge that mittens would probably rather be in a cat family than a human family.

About 2 weeks ago Reid caught a stomach bug and got pretty sick. He slept for 24 hours straight only waking up to puke then falling asleep again. It was pretty sad. At the 24 hour mark he still couldn't keep even water down and he was kind of lethargic. I decided to take him to the emergency room for care. I chose ER because I have not been impressed with the pediatrician we have seen before. Of course he perked right up once we got there and loved the extra attention. The wheel chair ride was super exciting for him!

Lucky boy got 360ml of IV fluids and some benedryl for nausea and omeprozole for stomach acid. They drew blood and did tests for bacteria and certain infections. Everything came up normal so the Dr and I both came to the conclusion that he must have just had a stomach bug and got dehydrated. Thankfully he recovered quickly after replacing the fluids and has done just fine! I learned that I will be using the ED from now on if we (hopefully we don't) need it. The Drs/nurses and other staff were great and it cost me less than 1/3rd of what we have paid for the pediatrician visits in the past!

He was thrilled to have a hedgehog as a companion

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

A Weekend We Will Not Soon Forget

Over the 4th of July weekend we took advantage of the extra days off and took a longer adventure to the Rio San Juan Department. In order to get there we drove all the way around Lake Nicaragua and down almost to the Costa Rica border. The drive was about 6 hours total but since we left on Friday afternoon we decided to stop halfway for the night in a little town called Juigalpa. I had heard that there is a hotel/restaurant in Juigalpa that has the best steaks in Nicaragua so we made the reservation! The hotel was really nice and also affordable and the steaks were good but not worth a 3 hour drive just for a piece of meat. We did enjoy our meal and our stay in Juigalpa. The next morning we set out for Rio San Juan!

We were surprised to see these giant exposed rock formations in the hills. We haven't seen anything like this in other parts of Nicaragua. Everything else is so volcanic that you don't see geology like this in our neck of the woods.

Audrey had Mitchell's phone for part of the drive and there are about 47 selfies just like this! Haha!
Our drive ended at the tiny little town of Sabalos. We met a super nice guy who let us park our car behind his gate for a few days and then embarked on this motor boat that was there to pick us up and take us to our cabin about 15 minutes down river. This region is super cool! Everything is literally right on the banks of the river and only accessible by boat!

Here's the local market. If you need something, you better hope they have it!

Notice how dense the rainforest is right up to the banks of the river. Foreshadowing: this dense jungle will play a main role in our narrative coming up, stay tuned!

Good thing we have adventurous kids! They just love all of the new experiences. *Note: for the other boat rides we took over the weekend we all wore life jackets. Sorry, don't want to alarm the Grandmas!
Home sweet home for the weekend!

Our family cabin had a private balcony overlooking the river. Very relaxing and beautiful.
We arrived on Saturday around lunch time. It had been raining for a couple of days so everything was muddy but nice and cool and pleasant. The lodge we stayed at had around 7-10 cabins and a main lobby area. The staff cooked all of our meals during our stay and they were delicious! After we had some lunch we decided to explore a bit. The lodge had build a couple of short walking paths around the property so we decided to start there. Audrey wasn't too excited to walk through the thick mud in this picture. We did end up traversing a few puddles along the way and the path just kept getting wetter and wetter. We considered turning back a few times but with it being rainy season we just figured we'd be wet anyway and carried on walking. We saw some pretty birds and a couple of bright green iguanas too! When the muddy puddles were up to our ankles and I got attacked by biting ants we finally did turn back to our cabin. Adventures of jungle living!

We needed to get some rest anyway for the night tour we would take after dark!

Saturday night we waited for dark and then hopped on a boat to go hunt for Caimans! I didn't know what a caiman was until I looked it up. Imagine my surprise to find out they are closely related to alligators!! I was assured that the caimans in that area are too small to snack on my babies. 

Unfortunately, caiman hunting wasn't too good that night because of the rain. The river was high and the caimans weren't out. We managed to see 3 in the water, their eyes glimmer when you shine a flashlight across the surface of the water. We also got to see 2 out of the water pretty close. Our guide had hoped to catch one and let the kids hold it but, no luck.

All 4 kids ended up falling asleep on the boat by the end. 

When we got back to the lodge and it was time to get off the boat we just picked up the kids and layed them down on the dock. It takes a couple of trips to haul sleeping kids up to their beds. Everyone was impressed that they didn't wake up!

Saturday night it rained and poured ALL NIGHT! The level of the river was high and of course everything was wet. We donned ponchos and got on a boat for a wildlife tour up the San Juan river to another tributary that was part of a nature reserve. On the boat ride it rained on us and we were soaked but we got to see 3 varieties of monkeys: howler monkeys (congo), spider monkeys, and white faced monkeys. We also saw a couple of sleeping sloths and then a moving sloth very close up! There were many birds to see and though we were soaked, we were happy and enjoying the ride. Once we got upriver quite a way into the nature reserve we got off the boat to walk along a short path to observe some more wildlife. Since it was raining and had been raining quite a bit for 3 days straight, the trail was underwater. Our guide didn't seem to mind and he led us off the trail into the jungle. Even deeper into the jungle we were walking through ankle deep water and mud. In the worst places the water was up to my knees. Since we were not following a trail we were shimmying between trees, over fallen limbs and avoiding branches with long thorns. We followed our guide like this for 1.5 hours. Though the conditions were treacherous and we were totally soaked, the morale was surprisingly good! The kids were total troopers!

After about an hour and a half of traipsing through dense jungle, I recognized that we had walked in a complete circle. At that point I wondered if our guide was lost. Soon after I had that thought I noticed that he stopped and looked around, definitely unsure of which way to go. I asked him if we were lost and he wouldn't admit it but I could tell we were. At that point I began to pray. I didn't feel that we were in immediate danger but I knew we didn't want to be lost there. Plus, the kids' adventurous good moods have an expiration date and then everyone gets unhappy. I told Mitchell that we were lost and we decided to circle together as a family and pray for help. After we prayed Mitchell took out his phone (that he almost didn't bring because of the rain) to see if he could get enough signal for a map or at least a compass. Miraculously he was able to load a map and found that we were exactly in the middle of that section of jungle, way off course! He got a bearing and led us back in the direction of the boat. After our family prayer I felt calm and the words of a primary hymn repeated in my mind.

Escucha del profeta voz
Que dice así
Sé fiel, sé fiel

Doquier que estés
No importa con quien
Sé fiel, sé fiel
Defiende el bien.

Translated it says:

Listen the the prophet's voice
That says this:
Be true, be true.

Wherever you are,
It doesn't matter with whom
Be true, be true
Stand for the right.

This hymn was a great comfort to me and also instructed me on what to do to ensure my family's safety. My husband is, of course, not a prophet but he is the patriarch of our family. I felt inspired that through this hymn Heavenly Father was telling me to trust in Mitchell's compass bearings and follow him back to the river and out of the dense jungle. Our guide had gotten completely turned around but we all followed Mitchell and we eventually made it out of the jungle and to the shore. In the hour it took us to finally exit the swampy rainforest, there were several times that Mitchell and our guide disagreed on how to proceed. In each case I felt completely confident about listening to and following my husband. After 2.5 hours of jungle wandering we did make it back to the river and were able to call the boat driver to come for us. It was a harrowing experience and we're thankful that no one was hurt but I'm thankful for the lessons learned. I'm very thankful that Heavenly Father hears and answers prayers.

Little did we know how much of this jungle we would really see!


We finally made it back to the river! What relief!

We were all this happy to see that boat!
After we got cleaned up, ate lunch and were feeling chipper again we discussed the weather. It had rained basically non-stop since we got there and the forecast was showing rain for the next 11 days. We knew we were NOT going to try any more hikes! Horseback riding was also out. Fishing? Probably not. We felt like there was a good chance we would leave a day early; Monday rather than Tuesday as planned. Since that was looking likely we went to see El Castillo later that day.

El Castillo is colonial era fortress built by the Spaniards in the 1600s to protect Granada from invading pirates from the Caribbean. The fortress is only 6 kilometers from the Costa Rica border and only accessible by boat.

Audrey felt her hair blowing in the wind and stuck her tongue out. "Hey look this is what dogs do!"

The fortress was in great shape for being so old! It was fun to explore it. The rooms inside were labeled and there was a food cellar, bedrooms for married soldiers and another for single soldiers, artillery mounts, a chapel and ammunition storage. There was even a hospital a few hundred yards from the fortress.

Those 2 boats are the public transportation

The school in the tiny town of El Castillo

El Castillo

You guessed it, it stormed and poured all night on Sunday night again! Come Monday morning we knew we should head for home. The host at the lodge reminded us of one of the bridges we crossed in the car about an hour outside of Sabalos. He explained that when it rains a lot that bridge often floods and cannot be safely crossed in the car. He called a colleague that lives in that town to ask about the bridge and, sure enough, the busses were not running because the bridge was flooded. Well, we knew we weren't going anywhere either so we occupied ourselves wondering, could it really rain for 11 days straight? Will we be stranded here for 11 days?! 

The kids were good at finding fun everywhere

The lodge host climbed a tree and retrieved some coconuts for the kids to enjoy. He peeled them with a giant machete and they drank the juice and ate the meat inside. 

We played a game with the leftover husks of the coconuts. Mitchell stood on a dock upstream and tossed in a husk. The kids watched it float along from this bridge and then tried to hit the husk with a rock.

They found a couple of turtles wandering around the lodge

The kids learned how to play chess. Audrey picked up on it surprisingly fast!
Around 11:00am the rain stopped and the sun actually came out! It was a blue sky miracle! We waited and at 1:00 it was still dry. The river level had dropped slightly and the weather forecast predicted the break in the rain would last until about 6:00pm that evening. We decided to seize the opportunity and see if we could get across the bridge and get home.

It didn't take long to pack up and head out. Off we went! Goodbye lodge! Goodbye Rio San Juan! Goodbye jungle!

When we got to the bridge at about 3:00pm this is what we found. Good enough! Pop it in 4-wheel drive and home free!

It was definitely a memorable weekend. Some parts were a little TOO memorable! We are happy to be home again.