Sunday, September 18, 2016

Whirlwind Tour of Central America

First I'll start with the new additions to our home! Redick and Reid have a friend at school and I have become friend's with his mom as well. She made me this adorable (and totally Nicaragua) kids furniture set! So cute with the table and 4 stools! It's made from upcycled worn out motorcycle tires! So fun. 

Layne smiles for the camera now, this is it. Haha! 

The other day I was driving through our neighborhood and I saw a girl sitting on the side of the road with several canvas paintings. I'm such a sucker for art! This lovely, and huge, piece ended up coming home with me and we love it! 

September 14-15 are Nicaragua's national holidays celebrating independence. The kids got to participate in the festivities at school with traditional costumes, music, dance and food! It was so fun and we all loved it. 

Redick and Reid were hilarious on stage! Redick was too bashful to actually do many of the dance steps they practiced at school. Being more of a perfectionist though, he prompted Reid with urgent looks and even an embarrassed shove when Reid forgot what he was supposed to do. They both did a great job though, cuties! 

Audrey got to pick out her traditional dress and she is in love with it! Pretty little girl. 

She is in the second row just behind the other girl in white. The 2 first grade classes performed a dance called "Pozol con Leche"

I filmed Audrey's dance and looked down from the camera during the song to see the boys dancing together. ❤

Audrey posing with her teacher, Ms. Perez after the show. 

Last weekend we had to make our first run for the border to renew our visas. We have filed for Nicaraguan residency but it's still in process so to Costa Rica we go! We didn't have time to stay in CR and see/do anything there so we'll have to for sure make another trip! I had read about the CR border crossing, that it is complicated and difficult to navigate. There are about 8 different government offices that you have to go to, file paperwork with and pay fees to. There are no signs directing you and no shortage of corrupt/desperate people hoping to line their pockets with bribe money from confused travelers. I was pretty nervous to have to do this, and with all the kids in tow since they needed their visas renewed too. I read that depending on the day and the whim of the government employees the crossing could take up to 6 hours! We decided to stay the night in an airbnb close to the border and make the crossing first thing on Saturday morning when we were all fresh. 

Our airbnb was awesome! It was a nice house right on Lake Nicaragua! We arrived just after the sun went down so we couldn't see very well. In the morning though, we were greeted by a gorgeous sunrise over Volcan Maderas! It was lovely! 

The border was definitely an interesting experience. We had to park the car and walk across since the car is registered in Nica and the extra paperwork to authorize the car to cross wasn't worth it on this trip. It was hot and the distance from the car, across 'no man's land' to the last office in CR was about a mile. Then we had to turn around and pass through all of the same offices again! We decided to hire a 'guide' to facilitate our crossing so he could help us on the first time. He promised that he would get us out and back in 2 hours or less and he would do it for $20. We were sold but we also knew it wouldn't be that simple either. Haha, nothing is simple in Nica! He did guide us to each office and got us our forms and told us which fees we would need to pay. As we were walking back to our car to leave he decided to tell us that each form that we filled out along the way cost $5 per person and we would need to pay that to him so he could go back and reimburse the government offices. LOL! Now, I do have a heart and I recognize how poverty leads to desperation and even deception. I want to make opportunities to serve the people here in meaningful ways and try to do so whenever possible. However, I know that customs forms don't cost anything (let alone $5 each!). We had a short but uncomfortable argument with the guy before we paid him $25 and walked away. All in all it was a successful but expensive day. After we made it through the border experience we headed for the beach to celebrate the start of another 90 days in paradise! 

Delicious fresh squeezed orange juice served in the signature plastic bag with a straw poked in it. I think this is genius! a plastic bag is much more economical than a bottle and takes up far less space in a landfill.

Redick waiting at one of the border stops

Again, waiting...

...lots and lots of waiting! The kids were awesome through it all though!

Believe it or not this is an official building. One of about 8 that we had to go through. This was on the Costa Rica side.

Immigration office entering Nicaragua

Since we had so much fun crossing the border into Costa Rica on Saturday we decided to cross into Honduras! Actually we've had this trip on the calendar for a couple of months. Our church congregation had planned a trip to the LDS temple. There is no temple in Nicaragua so we traveled 10 hours each way in this amazing tricked out 30 year old school bus! 

Side note: Just after midnight early Thursday morning I woke up hearing my bedroom door knocking against the wall and it took me a few seconds to realize that it was an earthquake! I woke up Mitchell and we were both pretty excited! It lasted for about 10 seconds after we were both awake. The kids slept right on through. Nothing was damaged or anything, we are all totally fine. I found out the epicenter was only 30 miles from us and it was a 5.8 magnitude! Pretty awesome!

This is us at 2:30 am meeting at the church before we got on the road.

This old school bus cast away is enjoying a way cooler after life here in Nicaragua! Seriously, I bet it didn't have that sweet chrome panel or the touching dedication to ASHLEY back in it's prime carting kids to and from school. Just sayin'.

The kids did really awesome on the long, hot bus ride. 

We were so excited to arrive at the temple! 

The Tegucigalpa, Honduras temple is magnificent! What a special place and I am so glad we could bring our children to this holy house.

It was really bright and sunny on this side of the temple in the morning. So beautiful though.

Audrey enjoyed finding discarded branches and flowers laying around the grounds and built a lovely nest.

Tegucigalpa is gorgeous! I thought it would be basically really similar to Managua but it was totally unique! Tegucigalpa is very hilly and covered in pine trees. It's also much much cooler!

Even Layne was such a trooper on the bus. 

We were pretty crammed in but it was nice to travel with the ward members and get to know them better. Plus, the great thing about riding the bus is we didn't have to drive! I had lots of time to read my book and nap and play with the kids. 

We got home from our Honduras trip at 1:30pm and had just enough time to shower and go to a birthday party for one of our little friends! Mitchell's coworker, and our good friend, hosted us to celebrate her daughter's second birthday. It was an art theme and so much fun!

The kids came in and enjoyed a few treats before the painting activity!

The yard was beautiful with lots of plants and felt very cool and refreshing.

Pia was very brave and let the dozen or so kids loose with paint and brushes at her house. They loved it!

Here's that toddler grimace smile again!

The biggest smiles from my 2 biggest art fans! Audrey and Redick are very creative and would color/paint/create all day!

No Nica birthday party is complete without the PINATA! In fact, often they just refer to the whole party as the pinata. So fun.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

El Chocoyero Nature Reserve

Last Wednesday we got a last minute babysitter for Layne and took the big kids to a soccer game! It was the Nicaragua national team playing against St. Kitts, which is a Caribbean island. The game itself was uneventful with no score but it was really fun to be in the stadium! There were SO MANY people milling around the stadium selling stuff. Everything from horns and Nica flags, food, water, drinks and cotton candy. We bought the kids horns and immediately regretted it. Thankfully they were super cheap little things and within 15 minutes R&R had broken theirs. Haha!  

The kids were thirsty so we got some water. They were amazed that the water came in a plastic bag rather than a bottle! Rather ingenious I think!

See previous post about the Refiner's Fire for more details but, last Thursday I had a bit of a melt down feeling so much struggle and discouragement. Mitchell is so good to me and he took the day off work on Friday to help me in hopes that I could feel less overwhelmed. He is so amazing! After we got the big kids to school he helped me get a few things in order at home and then we set off to enjoy a hike in a nearby nature reserve. It was about a 40 minute drive out to Chocoyero Nature Reserve and it was a beautiful drive! There are green rolling hills that are used as farm lands. We found out later that the main crops in this area are Central American pineapples which have a white flesh rather than the yellow fruit from Hawaii. Also Dragon Fruit or Pithaya as it's called here. Both plants are pictured.

Pineapple farm out on the rolling hills

Pineapple plants in the distance

I had no idea that Pithaya grew on a cactus! No wonder it's called Dragon Fruit! I also learned that the Dragon Fruit flower only blooms for one night and is most commonly pollenated by bats. Interesting!

Yummy Pithaya!

This was an absolute paradise! Mitchell and I both agreed that this is the thickest rainforest we've seen so far, and it's so close to our house! Layne was a trooper hiking much of the trail. I love hiking. It is a beautiful way to enjoy the incredible earth and to get exercise and feel great! 

We came across this GIANT spider! The body alone was as long as a house key! There were a few babies on the web also learning how to haunt to forest! Speaking of haunting.... Honestly, the rainforest was kind of creepy! We were the only humans on the trail that morning but there were so many sounds! Monkeys howling, birds screeching, lizzards rustling through the brush. Branches snap in the distance and I kept expecting a jaguar leap out at me! It was an absolutely gorgeous morning.

These trees are breathtaking. They have a smooth wood and their branches and the trunk cascade around like ribbons.

La Cascada

Layne has learned how to smile for pictures now. What a cutie!

Isn't the bark on this palm so neat??!

This tree is called "El Anciano del Bosque" or the oldest tree in the forest. It was massive and majestic.

This butterfly was as big as my hand. Here is his looking at you.

More pineapple plants

A baby pineapple!

On Saturday we wanted to go check out a neat spot in Managua that we heard about. That plan didn't work out so Audrey and I headed off to our local open air market, Huembes. She and the boys needed traditional folklore costumes so off we went for some mommy daughter time. It was great fun! We needed a smoothie to cool off after, of course. Yum!

This week we had the inside of our house painted! It turned out so nice! We are renting but the custom here is that renters paint the walls fresh before returning the house to the owner as they move out. As a result, renters of course choose the cheapest paint that will do the job. Our house was previously completely pained with cheap, flat white paint. The flat texture is impossible to clean and after a very short time I had dirty handprints all over the walls! Not only did I get a satin paint that will clean up easier, I got some color to splash around. I think it turned out lovely!

This bookcase was delivered today! I found a metal worker and commissioned this shelf! It is super solid and quite heavy of course, being made of solid metal. His price was very good too! A fifth of the price of what the woodworkers were quoting.