Sunday, December 10, 2017

Here and There, Mostly Here

Audrey and I read the book Wonder together in October. What great timing that the movie came out in November! We took a mommy daughter date to see it and it was incredible! 

This little dude tries as hard as he can to do everything the big kids do. He succeeds most of the time!

For family home evening on Monday night we assembled snack packs for the children who beg for coins at the street lights. We were able to put together 25 packs to keep in the car and give away each day. It is sad to see so much need all around us, I am glad we can help in small ways. I'm also glad my kids have the opportunity to see poverty first hand. I know they recognize how blessed we are and they love to participate in serving others.

Mitchell's office Christmas dinner
 On Friday we got to participate in a Christmas service for the second year in a row. We assembled Christmas bags for 300 children! The items in the bags are donations collected throughout the year and the kits go to 200 children who live in the garbage dump and about 100 even poorer children who live in the hills outside of Managua. Miraculously, there were exactly 300 stuffed animals donated for the planned 300 bags, it was definitely meant to be! The bags also included toys, balloons, bubbles, necklaces, art supplies, rice and beans and snacks.

We set up a massive assembly line and with the help of friends filled all 300 bags in 2.5 hours!

The bags will be delivered a couple of days before Christmas

This is what the stomach flu looks like at our house. 5/6 of us got sick this weekend. Layne was the only one spared! Of course, the kids were each only sick for a couple of hours then bounced back just fine! I had a rough night but thankfully was feeling more stable by Saturday afternoon. Yuck.  *for the concerned moms and grandmas reading, we are all 100% now, not to worry!*

Saturday we needed to get out of the house for a while so we took advantage of the Central American Games going on right now in Managua. It is basically the Central American Olympics. First we went to the Judo event but they had ended the tournament early so then we went to Fencing but they also ended early! Fortunately the track and field events were going on and we got to see some exciting events there. The kids especially liked the women's discus and the mens and women's 400m hurtles events. The women's 5K on the track was too "boring." *I liked it! It might have made me wish I was out there running with them if not for the stomach flu I was barely recovered from.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Dad and Melissa Visit!

My Dad and Melissa came down to spend about 11 days with us! We had so many adventures, it was a blast!

On Friday we set out first thing in the morning for the beach! We drove straight to our favorite zip line in SJDS for a forest/coastline zip line view. It was super fun! We had brought along some leftover BBQ pork and hoagie rolls and some fruit that made a delicious lunch after the zip line and before we made our way to the beach.

After the zip line we decided to drive down to Coco Beach which is quite far to the south. It is only about 12 kilometers from the border with Costa Rica. Beach days are always so fun and we really enjoyed the water, the waves, looking for shells and soaking in the warm tropical sun. As the sun was getting low in the sky we drove another 8 minutes south to a nature reserve called La Flor wildlife refuge. La Flor is one of only a handful of nesting sites for the Olive Ridley sea turtles. They come by the hundreds to dig a hole in the sand and lay their eggs near the beach and then retreat back to the sea. Each female sea turtle returns to the very beach where she originally hatched to lay her own eggs. The evening we went to the wildlife refuge there were easily 75 momma turtles on the beach digging their nests. As we looked out into the water we could see numberless sea turtle heads bobbing above the water as they swam toward the beach. It was an incredible sight!!

The turtles made these neat tracks in the sand that looked like serious off road tire tracks

This momma lifted up her head to pose for the picture at just the perfect time!

You can see the beach was just scattered with momma turtles coming to lay her eggs and others leaving again after leaving her eggs behind. There were dozens more turtles out in the water, we could see their heads bobbing up in the surf. The caretakers told us that the mommas would continue to come well into the night and early morning hours. We counted and estimated about 75 turtles on the beach at dusk while we were there. I bet at least 200 turtles made it to the beach that night. What an incredible sight!

We stayed, getting eaten alive by mosquitoes and sand flies, until it was too dark to see anymore and finally made our way back to the car. Before leaving SJDS we stopped in at our favorite Nica restaurant for dinner. It's really nothing special but the food is good, fresh and the owner is really nice so we keep going back.

Our lodging for the night was back in Tola, about an hour away, at a remote lodge set back in an unpopulated and forested area. It was an adventure trying to find the place but we conquered! Until we had to cross a river and climb a steep muddy bank to get to the lodge. It was too slippery to attempt so we parked the car and carried our luggage (and sleeping kids) across a foot bridge and up a trail to the cabins. They were super neat cabins and I would love to stay there again sometime! At 5:00am a huge family of howler monkeys came down from another part of the forest and hung out in the trees directly above our cabins! Best wake up call ever! They lingered in the area for a few hours before moving on to another part of the forest for the day. The caretaker of the cabins told us they cross overhead each morning and return each evening. We enjoyed a leisurely morning exploring the forest and relaxing a bit.

The cabins were really nice and such a fun experience!

The kids found a kitten and had a lot of fun terrorizing the cat, she was a good sport too.

For the day we had planned on sticking around the beach in San Juan del Sur but that morning we changed our minds and decided to head up to Mombacho volcano and do a hike around the rainforest and cloud forest there. Mombacho is one of my favorite hikes. It is always pleasantly cool, the trees and wildlife are beautiful and the views are magnificent. We noticed that part of the trail was quite damaged and learned that hurricane Nate hit the area pretty hard a couple of months ago. The rainforest will grow back but it was looking pretty sad in parts while we were there. The hike was enjoyable and beautiful as always. On our way home from Mombacho we stopped at our most favorite pupusas restaurant for a delicious dinner!

The next day was Sunday and we went to church in the morning. Afterward we enjoyed a delicious lunch together then hit the road again. We drove all of Sunday afternoon and well into the evening on our way to Somoto Canyon which is right on the northern border of Nicaragua with Honduras. We stayed the night in preparation for our canyon and river adventure the next day.

Monday morning we started the day with a hearty traditional Nica breakfast of scrambled eggs, rice and beans, cheese and plantains. All fueled up we took off for the canyon! Firstly, we made a 2 kilometer hike from the house down into the canyon to the river. Once at the river we climbed along the boulders on the bank of the river then hopped in the water to swim or float downstream in inner tubes. Along the way there were times when we advanced in the water and times when we climbed out to hike on the bank of the river. We even stopped at a very deep part of the river to jump off some tall ledges! The river float lasted the perfect amount of time to be exceptionally fun but not so long that we were freezing and miserable by the end. A boat came to pick us up and row us to the trail leading back up to the house. Melissa and the kids caught rides on horseback out of the canyon. It was a GREAT day!

Our river guide gave the kids rides on his motorcycle


Is this kid the star of this blog?! He is so darn CUTE!

The tour outfit is a family run operation with one brother running the business and some other brothers working as guides. We loved staying there on their property and feeling like a part of the family. The mom of the big family (she has 9 children!) had a delicious hot lunch waiting for us when we returned.

After lunch we got back on the road to Cascada Blanca for the night. We got there after dark and couldn't see the large waterfall but we could sure hear it! It was a beautiful white noise to sleep to that night. In the morning we explored the waterfall and really enjoyed it. I had thought we would check it out for maybe a 30 minutes then be on our way but we thoroughly enjoyed our couple of hours at the waterfall that morning.

Our little....well BIG....visitor at breakfast

Mitchell and the boys collected wood to build a raft, in the end they decided it wasn't quite sturdy enough to try rafting down the waterfall. LOL!

Mitchell tamed the T-Rex rock

Just up the road from Cascada Blanca was our destination for the rest of the day. Laguna San Martin. I was skeptical about this place, to say the least! It is an aquatic park that we saw advertised on the back of a public bus in Managua several months ago. The photos on the back of the bus and online look amazing but.....I sort of half expected most of the attractions to be in bad condition or out of commission altogether. Not the case! This water park was so cool! The main attraction is the lagoon. It has almost a dozen inflatable climbing structures/trampolines out on the water! Also, there were tons of paddle boats and kayaks for us to use. Since we were there on a random Tuesday in November we were the only guests the whole day. It was so much fun and we are already planning a return trip!

These paddle boats were just giant tricycles, super fun!

Climbing this floating climbing wall was so hard! It rocked in the water and tipped over toward the climber making it impossible to rest against the iceburg. 

Let me tell you, by Tuesday evening we were tired of the long haul drives and were glad this was the last 3+ hour drive of the trip. That said, the drives are also part of the tourism here. The country is beautiful and we love seeing it. After we day at the aquatic park we drove in to Leon and crashed for the night there.

By morning we felt rested and fresh and ready for another exciting day! We found breakfast at a french cafe and enjoyed delicious sandwiches on fresh croissants. Then we spent a little time at the largest Catholic Cathedral in Central America. It is beautiful and impressive! Dad, Melissa, Audrey and I took a walk out on the rooftop and had a wonderful and informative tour. The view of the line of volcanoes that you can see from the roof of the cathedral is one of my favorite scenic views! It is breathtaking to see at least 7-8 volcanoes lined up spanning the panorama!

You gotta ride the lions in Leon!

Scattering bird seed for the pigeons in the town square right in front of the cathedral

We spent the afternoon on one of those volcanoes, Cerro Negro. Cerro Negro is the only cinder cone volcano in Nicaragua and it is also the most active volcano in the country. It appeared in 1850 and has erupted at least 23 times since then with the most recent eruption being in 1999. Cerro Negro means "black hill" and that is a perfect name for it. The other hills in the area are all green with plants growing on them, Cerro Negro is just a giant black pile of ash. It makes for a stark contrast in the landscape. We hiked up the hill, were able to see into the 2 large craters at the top, and then hopped on wooden sleds to slide down the gravelly ash face of the volcano. Everyone got to volcano board this time and even Redick and Reid hiked up and slid down from the top! I wonder where they get their love of high adventure from??? We volcano boarded until the sun was starting to go down and we were thoroughly filthy and tired, but happy. Back in Leon we had some yummy Mexican food, much needed showers and then went to bed.

Redick and Reid look like little Minions!

Thursday (Thanksgiving Day) we had planned on going on an overnight hike up and back down another one of the local volcanoes. It was going to be somewhat strenuous and we were already pretty tired. We decided to change plans at the last minute and plan something else. The good thing is, there are so many other fun things to do here! Instantly we had several great options to choose from. We ended up spending 4-5 hours at the beach in Poneloya. You can not go wrong with a beach day! Then about an hour before dusk we took a boat ride up the estuary and saw some beautiful birds. Just before sundown we stopped off at a secluded beach to release a batch of just hatched baby sea turtles into the ocean! It was magical!!

Redick was comparing the birds we saw to the ones in the bird guide
Check out this pelican!

Sea turtle eggs are almost completely round and look just like ping pong balls

This tiny sea turtle had only hatched hours before I took this picture!


That night we made it back to Managua and slept in our own beds for the first night since the Saturday before! Before we went to bed for the night we got some laundry sorted and ready to wash. There was lots of it with 4 adults and 4 kids adventuring for 5 days straight! Dad surprised me and got up multiple times in the night (did he sleep at all?) to rotate the laundry so when I woke up around 6:30 the last load was in the dryer! Thanks Dad!

Friday we took it easy in the morning chatting and playing and relaxing a bit. Mitchell snuck away for a couple of hours to the office to catch up on a few things that came up and the rest of us made a Costco run for fresh food and picked up Layne's birthday cake from the bakery. We all made our way to the artisan market in Masaya for the full tourist experience and to get some souvenirs. Melissa really wanted a hammock and was able to negotiate for a beautiful one. My kids brought along their few dollars of saved up allowance and it warmed my heart that they bought little trinkets for Layne's birthday. Sweet kids. After the market we had to go to one of the most impressive and easily accessible sights, Volcan Masaya. It was a particularly good lava visibility day since the wind was blowing away from us and sweeping the acidic sulfuric smoke out of the crater and away from our lungs. To look over the edge and see and hear the boiling and splattering molten rock is such an incredible sight! For dinner we had a repeat of our favorite pupusas and then had birthday cake at home for Layne's 3rd birthday!

Saturday we explored Granada. We started the day with a cooking class at La Tortilla Cooking School. This was our second class and it's just such a fun experience! This time we prepared and ate Cerdo con Yucca which is pork with yucca root. It is basically the same dish as Vigoron but we used pork meat rather than fried pork rind. It was yummy and everyone, even Layne, got to be totally involved in cooking the meal.

Redick rolling balls of masa for tortillas

Layne's tortilla balls

So....Grandpa wasn't too good at the tortilla making. He was asked to slice the meat after this. Haha!

Reid did a great job dicing tomatoes with a sharp knife!

Audrey did a beautiful julienne with this bell pepper

Cerdo con Yucca (pork with yucca root)

After the cooking class Layne was too tired to be a happy tourist so he and Mitchell both enjoyed naps in the car and the rest of us took a carriage ride around the town. It is so lovely and charming with the preserved colonial style building facades. The carriage driver took us right in to the city cemetery and we walked around seeing the beautiful carved monuments for a while. We asked our carriage driver to drop us off at the chocolate museum to finish off the day. The chocolate museum has added a lot of new stuff since we were there last. We were greeted by an energetic tour guide who offered to show us around and explain a few things for 10-15 minutes. It was great! He started by showing us the cacao tree and right there he popped off a pod and cracked it open to reveal the cacao beans inside. The waxy pod holds between 30-50 large cacao beans inside and each bean is encased in a slippery white pulp. He invited us to try eating the pulp and it was delicious! It kind of tastes like lemonade, very sweet and a little bit tart. He also had us try several house recipes including "Nicatella" (chocolate cashew butter), vegan brownie and some cacao butter lotion. It was a great last stop in Granada!

The inside of the cacao pod
Mitchell dropped me and the kids off at home and he took Dad and Melissa to the local market to look for a big duffel bag to protect her new hammock in the airplane. Somehow they came home with some fun traditional Nicaragua style shirts and dresses too! That night we had a babysitter come put the kids to bed and the adults enjoyed a wonderful fancy meal at our favorite Peruvian restaurant. Yum!

Sunday we went to church bright and early. Somehow during that busy week I managed to prepare a Sacrament Meeting talk. Even though Dad and Melissa didn't understand my talk in Spanish it was cool to get to speak while they were visiting. Sunday afternoon we rested and relaxed and played board games most of the rest of the day.

Another successful and VERY FUN Nicaragua trip in the books! Thank you Dad and Melissa for coming so far to visit us! We know it is a long trip and we hope you had as much fun as we did!