Iceland Goes Before Istanbul

Last fall, my husband and I left our home in the sunny warmth of the Texas heat to begin an almost 3 month adventure! The plan was to start in Iceland, travel across Western Europe and fly back from Istanbul.

Iceland

Iceland!

We headed to “The Land of Fire and Ice”, also known as Iceland, Island (pronounced “istlant”) and the Republic of Iceland. It has other, older names that I can’t pronounce. One that I can, is the Kingdom of Iceland. Yes, kingdom, and with their own coat of arms!

Wait! I can’t go on about our trip without giving props to Iceland’s amazing football team’s performance during the UEFA Euro 2016 tournament! With a bit over 330,000 Icelanders on 40,000 scenic square miles, it’s the most sparsely populated nation in Europe. And yet, it’s national football (soccer) team beat England … ENGLAND!!!

Do you know that joke? “A Swedish coach, a part-time dentist and Kolbeinn Sigthorsson walk onto a field …”

It was just awesome when 27,000 Icelanders (about 8% of the country) flew to France and vigorously supported their team.  Heard they were model fans. They stayed out of trouble, unlike the rowdy, brawling British and Russian fans! And for the team to arrive home to a sea of people carpeting the field near the harbor and singing the “Viking War Chant” in unison, so cool! (Thanks, RT global news!)

Well, we arrive in Reykjavik to no such glorious welcome. It’s overcast and a bit dreary-looking, with a constant misty drizzle. We booked an AirBnB, just a five minute walk to the downtown shops and restaurants. It’s a one bedroom apartment with a decent sized kitchen/living room in a residential area.

CityWalk tour with Marteinn

Oh, the stories Marteinn can tell you!

 

 

 

We go on a free CityWalk tour with energetic Marteinn. The drizzle lets up and I get some photos. Marteinn is the walk’s founder and he’s very informative.

 

 

 

Reykjavik City Hall

We walked along Lake Tjornin and right into Reykjavik’s City Hall!

 

We visit City Hall, the building on the left at the end of this path along the lake. There is a restaurant in the building where the lake’s fish swim by the window. Tip: There’s also a giant map of Iceland and clean public restrooms!

 

Funny thing. Even though it’s called Iceland and has glaciers, you won’t see ice floating in the water, not even in winter.

Another funny thing. Their telephone book is alphabetized by first name, then surname, occupation and address. The exception, people like singer/composer Björk. She’s so famous only her first name is needed!

Hallgrimskirkja church interior

Inside Hallgrimskirkja church is uncluttered simplicity.

We roamed the city, stopping at the local main landmark. The magnificent image of Hallgrimskirkja church belies the sleekly designed interior. It was nice. We went up to view the city from the church’s observation tower.

Hallgrimskirkja church observation tower

Harbor view from the observation tower of Hallgrimskirkja church.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lunch found us at a local restaurant that served Icelandic food. I enjoyed my lamb soup and sandwich! At dinner one night, my husband ordered whale. Ugh!!! I couldn’t watch him eat it, even though he said it was similar to steak.

Harpa Concert Hall & Conference Centre

Can you just feel the Harpa Concert Hall & Conference Centre’s space?!?

Harpa Concert Hall & Conference Centre view of the old harbor, Reykjavik, Iceland

Enjoy this view now, as the old harbor will eventually be blocked by tall buildings in the name of commercialism!

 

 

 

 

 

One of the more interesting halls I’ve been to is the Harpa Concert Hall & Conference Centre. It’s honeycomb-like framework and great expanses of space are beautifully open to gazing out. Sunrises and sunsets must be spectacular when viewed from its upper floors!

Icelandic waterfall

Another of Iceland’s scenic views.

We also booked a Golden Circle tour. Tip: Don’t wait and book it the day before like we did. Book well in advance as all the better companies will be super busy when the cruise ships arrive! We wanted to go on the small group tour that pulls over and lets you take photos with Icelandic horses. We wound up with a tour company whose guide said little about the surroundings on the way to each destination. It seemed she was just there to ensure that everyone got back on the bus. Good thing we read up about Iceland’s natural beauty and history!

The first stop was just outside of Reykjavik in Þingvellir (Assembly Plains), site of Alþingi (General Assembly), Iceland’s first national parliment. To be standing where chieftains gathered to form the country’s very first national parliament was pretty amazing to me!

Althing, Iceland

Alþingi, Iceland’s first national parliament was formed in 930.

 

Next stop, the roaring Hvítá river where the two waterfalls of Gullfoss (golden falls) guide the rushing, teeming water straight down into a 105 ft. gorge!

My husband took the photo at just the right moment.

Gullfoss rainbow, Iceland

A rainbow arches over Gullfoss’ two waterfalls at  river.

 

We enter Haukadalur valley. The valley is known for the Strokkur and Geysir geysers and various mudholes and fumaroles. Yes, the name geyser came from Geysir. We didn’t have to wait very long for Strokkur to erupt. It happened every 8-10 minutes.

Strokkur Geysir steam

Strokkur geyser blew, mudholes bubbled and gaseous steam filled the area!

 

On the way back, I spot a group of men standing by a river. When asked, the guide explainsit was a rescue party. Someone is in trouble further up the river and it looks that they are deciding how to handle it. The rescuers are volunteers and they put their own lives at risk each time they go out. So, please exercise good judgment when crossing streams and such when travelling this magnificent, wild country.

Rescue party by the mighty river

The rushing, powerful waters make the rescue party (on the left bank) seem quite insignificant.

 

Iceland is presumed to have been formed from volcanic lava and is sitting atop two of the earth’s shifting plates, Eurasian and North American, causing earthquakes and geysers and volcanoes to erupt. Speaking of volcanoes, Iceland has more than 200 of them. There are 30 active systems running through the island. They put out so much heat that Icelanders harnessed it to supply the entire island with hot water and energy. Careful, you can drink the cold tap water, but the hot tap water is not drinkable!

Remember Eyjafjallajökull, the 2010 volcano that no newscaster could pronounce? It erupted and caused flight delays in Europe and its lava created two new mountains!

Now, if you want to really view a volcano from the inside, that would be Þríhnúkagígur. It’s the only volcano in the whole world you can actually go down, deep inside!

We were so happy to have experienced a little bit of the island’s natural beauty. I created a flipagram of our time in Iceland.

If you want to read more about the culture and history of Iceland, Katharina Hauptmann shares some interesting articles about Iceland. I researched online at wikipediaVisit Iceland and several sites that I’ve forgotten already. Just google Iceland and you will see lots to educate you on this amazing nation and its storied history!

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Where’s Soo?

 

The Question

Did you wonder what happened to me this year? Did you think I dropped off the face of the earth??? I admit it. There wasn’t much reaching out this year, but I’m still here. Really. I am.

 

The Explanation

For one thing, I became more active on Twitter. Quickly posting 140 character tweets, including images, is so freeing. And I learn lots by following amazing people in various fields of interest. I even won an ASUS tablet on Twitter! (Tell you about it in another post.)

The second reason is because we have been traveling quite a bit. Often, in my posts, I try to research places or subjects I mention to give you interesting tidbits and facts. That requires a little more thought and planning, which can be difficult to do when we’re on the go.

 

The Gratitude

But, let me tell you …

This has been a wonderful year! A blessed year! A year of thanksgiving!

A little one has come into our family and enriched our lives immensely. And to add to that, my husband and I have taken more time to travel our beloved United States and beyond.

 

January

DSC06416We visited Ice Land at Moody Gardens in Galveston, Texas. It was 9° inside! They brought in a team of experienced ice sculptors from Harbin, China. Also known as ‘Ice City’, Harbin is the acknowledged cradle of ice and snow art in China and is famous for its spectacular ice and snow sculptures.  

The Moody Gardens theme was a SpongeBob SquarePants Christmas and went into the first week of 2015. 

 

Before heading home, we had dinner at Gaido’s Seafood Restaurant, the largest fresh fish house along the Gulf coast. With over 100 years of seafood service in Galveston, this is the place we go when we want a view of the water and to be pampered in a lovely setting.DSC06488

 

Houston is one of the most diverse cities in the United States and has a large number of Asian residents. Understanding the need to educate Americans about Asia, a group led by former First Lady Barbara Bush and former Ambassador Roy M. Huffington established Asia Society Texas Center in 1979.

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I visited the Asia Society Texas Center when there was an exhibit of The Noh Masks of Bidou Yamaguchi. His 2005 mask of Johannes Vemeer’s “Girl with a Pearl Earring” was so unexpected! Can you imagine being behind the mask, trying to feel what she was thinking?

 

 

 

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Oni Sadobo, 2011, was made of the treacherous monk from a famous Kabuki play. Very meticulous. Even the brown specks on his face replicated the foxing seen on the original woodblock print!

 

 

 

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I couldn’t resist trying on a mask! Like it?

 

 

 

 

The Museum of Fine Arts Houston offers free general admission every Thursday. Lots of wonderful things to see. One of my favorite pieces is by Mary Cassatt. Mary was one of only two women and the lone American to join the Impressionists. Her close friend, Edgar Degas, encouraged her to join and what a gift she has given us! “Susan Comforting the Baby” is such a lovely snapshot of a typical moment in everyday life.IMG_0561

 

Really like this sculpture by Robert Rauschenberg, born just down the highway from Houston, in Port Arthur, Texas. Only then, he was called Milton. The chairs are really metal, assembled to appear wooden!

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Interesting man. In the mid-1940s, Robert had planned to go into medicine, but after serving in the Navy, he enrolled in art school in Kansas. The following year, he went to Paris to study at one of the art Academies.

In the 1950s, Rauschenberg recyled found things like tissue paper and dirt into his art. Throughout the years, he designed costumes, sets and lighting for dance companies. He also founded or co-founded several organizations to help artists.

 

February

The Chinese Lunar New Year brought out some beautiful clothes. This shy young boy was kind enough to stop a moment and let me take a picture. (As with any recognizable close-ups of children, I ask their parents or guardians for permission first.)

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We head north to spend time with relatives. It snowed, which doesn’t happen often in the Houston area. It was lovely!

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This is also the month trail riders and wagons start the trek to Houston’s Livestock Show & Rodeo! It can take weeks for some teams. This particular team, Los Vaqueros Rio Grande, drove their five wagons the farthest: 386 miles!  It starts in Reynosa, Mexico, crosses into Hidalgo, Texas and comes right by our community on the three week ride into Houston. They have been riding into the HLSR for 42 years! I have only seen them go by our community THREE times in the 20 years we’ve lived here, so it was a real treat to take a quick shot as they rode by!

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March

I went to Arizona to visit my old roommate. We celebrated Palm Sunday at an inspiring, bonding outdoor mass. (I’m Baptist, but she didn’t know of a Baptist church, and well, we worship the same God.)

 

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Afterward, we walked the Labyrinth at the Franciscan Renewal Center. The labyrinth is a physical representation of the journey of one’s life, including experiences, changes, discoveries and challenges. As you walk the path, you are invited to remember the story of your life. For medieval Christians who couldn’t take the long, hard pilgrimage, labyrinths were the alternative form for prayer. The seven circles are shaped like the Cross and you can walk it any way you like.

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This particular labyrinth was designed by Taffy Lanser, a founding member of the international Labyrinth Society.

 

We also went to a festival in Scottsdale.The theme might have been Spain. They had gorgeous Andalusians (Pure Spanish Horses) walking about, singers and (I think) flamenco dancing. Gorgeous desert blooms!

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The only down side of the trip was when I was catching a flight back. I had just found out I had to change my flight and leave a day earlier, which was that day! The flight was moved to two hours before take-off and I rushed to find a taxi to take me to the airport. Compared rates and went with Discount Cabs. BIG mistake! Wished I’d taken the time to research it. I gave location and destination and was given an approximation, give or take a few dollars. The cab was late, it didn’t look like a cab, and the driver was new. I had to get in or miss my flight. When I asked the driver why he was so late, he said he didn’t take his phone in when he had to stop at a store. NOT very professional. The final bill was $17 more than the quote. I lost a few minutes trying to speak with a supervisor about the outrageous overage. Three people later, no refund. So, the moral of the story is to use Yelp or check the Better Business Bureau or Google search (or ALL of them!) when comparing prices. The least expensive may not be such a bargain in the long run. Beware Discount Cabs!!!

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Traveling Through Texas?

Christmas and the first day of 2015 have passed, but many travelers are still navigating the roads home. If you’re passing through Texas, I have three suggestions:

Really Clean Restrooms!

Buc-ee's merchandise can be fun!

Buc-ee’s merchandise can be fun!

If you see a Buc-ee’s, pull over for clean, clean restrooms that are open 24/7 all year round! I know what I’m  getting when we spot the toothy beaver billboard. This home-grown group of large, bright, neat-as-a-button convenience stores is full of things travelers need or want. There are lots of fuel pumps, usually around 15 to 20 tiled restroom stalls for the ladies, hot and cold deli foods and snacks like beef jerky and sweet Beaver Nuggets. In addition to outdoor barbeque grills and bags of ice, they have expanded their gifts section and there are lots of kid-friendly products, too! Ah, yes, I do ♥ Buc-ee’s.

A 10¢ Cup of Coffee

Hankerin’ for a little break as you drive through historic downtown Corsicana? This charming city, named for the French island of Corsica, is about 55 miles south of Dallas. If coffee’s on during regular retail hours, the downtown location of Collin Street Bakery on W 7th Avenue sells a simple cup of 10¢ joe you can sip while perusing their tasty treats. They opened several relatively new locations selling more lunch foods like sandwiches and soup, but I think this one has character. Besides cookies, breads and cakes, they’ve been baking their world famous DeLuxe Fruitcake for over a century!

Fruitcakes are still made from the original 1896 Old-World recipe brought to Corsicana by the bakery’s co-founder, German master baker, Augustus Weidmann. I’m not into fruitcakes, but my husband loves their really moist pineapple ‘cake. Years ago, Mr. Barnum brought his circus through the shop and everyone began ordering fruitcakes to send to family and friends throughout the world! Decades later, Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus still places orders.

If you have time, you can drive down the street to get an unexpected view of Moorish Revival architecture at the former Temple Beth-El on South 15th Street. Originally built in 1898, it’s listed with the National Register of Historic Places.

You wouldn’t think from the easy going small town feel that Corsicana is where the first important Texas oil field was discovered and where the Mobil and Texaco companies were founded!

Texas BBQ, anyone?

Rudy's is a casual restaurant, usually visible near a freeway.

Rudy’s is a casual restaurant, usually visible near a freeway.

Since 1989, a string of Rudy’s Country Store and Bar-B-Q spots have been keeping Texans and the southwest happy with tender barbeque soused with their special blend of “sause.”  You won’t (sadly, for me) find a crisp lettuce salad here, but you will find lots of meat with a choice of sides. The ribs and (fatty) brisket are full of flavor! People can argue up and down Texas about the best BBQ in the state, from Smitty’s, Black’s and Kreuz in Lockhart (the BBQ Capital of TX) to Franklin’s in Austin and Snow’s in Lexington and on and on. But … for easy access from the freeway and decent gas prices at their pumps, Rudy’s will do.

Happy and safe traveling to you in 2015! 

“I will refresh the weary and satisfy the faint.” Jeremiah 31:25

Granada, Nicaragua

Colonial architecture in the town square

Colonial architecture in the town square

February 15, 2014

We finally make it to Granada! It’s already starting to feel HOT. Maybe a visit a month or two earlier would have been better. Oh, well.

Granada’s a quaint city with Spanish influences and is sister city to Guatemala’s La Antigua. It’s said to be the first European settlement in mainland America. If the claim that it’s registered in the official records of the Crown of Aragon and the Kingdom of Castile in Spain is true, that, indeed, bespeaks of royal acknowledgement of an exceptional lineage! Granada may have been spared major damage from the Sandinistas in the 1970s – 1980s, but an earlier history of battles and invasions from other countries, a long-running, often violent feud in the mid 1800s with neighboring city, Leon, and other issues have taken their toll.

Although Granada (named after the ancient Spanish city) is not quite as well-maintained as its “sister”, the past decades have seen an attempt to revitalize the city and save its ancient colonial architecture. Judging by the variety of indoor shops and decent eateries here, the city is becoming a more desirable tourist destination.

We stop in the “calle peatonal”, pedestrians only street, to sip a beverage, watch people go by and browse the vendor tables.

An artist adjusts a link before selling Gerda his hand-twisted silver necklace

An artist adjusts a link before selling Gerda his hand-twisted silver necklace

Using just a reed and a snip from small scissors,  this boy creates a heart with arrow through it. At any age, artists work hard to make a living in Central America.

Using just a reed and a snip from small scissors, this boy creates a heart with arrow through it. At any age, artists work hard to make a living in Central America.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                                                                                                                                    We explore farther and discover the Iglesia de San Francisco. Firefighters from Italy walk by, but Gerda’s too shy to approach them and see if they will trade firefighter patches. (Ah, Gerda! Missed your chance to meet interesting men who share your love of firefighting!)

Iglesia de San Francisco is considered to be the oldest cathedral in Central America. Sadly, the famous robin's egg blue paint seems to have faded.

Iglesia de San Francisco is considered to be the oldest cathedral in Central America. Sadly, the famous robin’s egg blue paint seems to have faded.

Iglesia de San Francisco’s current building is fairly new – in 1524, it had wooden walls and a straw roof. It burned down about 160 years later to be rebuilt as a sturdier structure. In 1856, it was intentionally burned down by the infamous American scoundrel, William Walker. His men set fire to the city when they left, destroying most of it.

Walker was a power hungry mercenary who schemed to become President of Nicaragua with a goal to control all of Central America. Those other Central American countries took exception to the idea. Walker didn’t rule very long, a year perhaps. It’s said that in 1860, he was hunted down and executed in Honduras.

If you miss Catedral de Granada in the town plaza, you're looking in the wrong direction!

If you miss Catedral de Granada in the town plaza, you’re looking in the wrong direction

 

 

 

Catedral de Granada is a boldly painted church in the plaza. The sprawling building is quite prominent!

 

 

Enter a peaceful sanctuary

Enter a peaceful sanctuary

 

 

 

The cathedral’s first structure was built in 1583, destroyed by the previously mentioned 1856 city fire, then completely rebuilt by 1915.

 

 

 

To view more Granada iglesias, visit http://felipedelbosque.wordpress.com. 

 

All around us, the city shows off its bright colors! The Baroque style with Moorish influence is quite evident. Granada is waiting to see if it qualifies for the World Heritage List.

Many styles of architecture abound!

Many styles of architecture abound!

A horse-drawn carriage goes by cheerfully painted houses.

A horse-drawn carriage goes by cheerfully painted houses.

Locals hang around a beautifully detailed gazebo

Locals hang around a beautifully detailed gazebo

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Life in here seems to be slow and easy.

Napping 4-legged resident

Napping 4-legged resident

I was surprised to see sanitarily wrapped vegetables!

I was pleasantly surprised to see wrapped vegetables!

Stopping play to watch visitors

Stopping play to watch visitors

 

Often, you will see darling children, such as this one on the right, on my blog. Except in crowd shots, I always ask for permission to take their images if they are recognizable, be it for a photo or video. It’s a habit from working in media. It’s also the right thing to do. Especially in Central America, parents are very protective of their children. Several times, a negative shake of the head was sent my way and I moved on.

Tip: Please respect the cultures of countries you visit. I noticed that if I very politely and smilingly communicated with locals, they reciprocated. English-speaking locals or ex-pats were very kind to explain local customs.

 

Tip: If you are looking for a change of scenery, Granada offers a low cost of living, attractive incentives for foreign investors such as limited tax breaks and there are few restrictions on foreign ownership. Just be sure to visit before any decisions are made.

 

Volcan Masaya, Nicaragua

February 14, 2014

We had planned earlier to head to Granada. Gerda’s bike tour starts in Granada, so we all decide to travel there by taxi. But … Masaya is on the way. We book rooms and are off to see Parque Nacional Volcan Masaya! It has the distinction of being Nicaragua’s first National park and its largest. The area contains active and inactive craters and calderas. The last eruption was in 2008. It’s part of the Central American Volcanic Belt, running from Volcan Tacana in Guatemala to Volcan Irazu in Costa Rica.

"Wel-come to Ma-sa-ya!"

“Wel-come to Ma-sa-ya!”

We’re warned that we shouldn’t inhale the strong sulphur dioxide fumes for more than 15 minutes. It is amazing to be so close to an active volcano!

Cricket couldn't see through the thick smoke screen

Cricket couldn’t see through the thick smoke screen

The stairs up to the cross are closed, but we’re able to go around and take another path up. I should say, “they” are able to, as I can feel great apprehension beginning to build up in my chest as we begin the climb up. So, I decide to stop, turn around and take shots of the smoky landscape. With shifting wind and heavy plumes of toxic sulphur vapors, I finally head down to catch a clear breath.

Gaseous vapors drift past the cross as Gerda, Lonnie and another visitor explore the terrain after climbing up to the cross

Gaseous vapors drift past the cross as Gerda, Lonnie and another visitor explore the terrain after climbing up to the cross

I DO love horse rides!

I DO love horse rides!

We take a too short horse ride to the path up an inactive volcano to see the grand vistas. Cricket and I stay behind as Lonnie and Gerda hike up along the rim with our taxi driver. On the way here, our driver, Wilmer Jose, was practicing his English and playing his English learning tape for us. Instead of dropping us off at the Centro de Visitantes and leaving, he waited for us to purchase the tickets and took us up to the volcano and craters. So, we asked if he wanted to hang with us and drop us off at our hotel in Masaya, and tomorrow, take us on to Granada. He did! I think it’s his first time at the volcan and to ride a horse. Tip: If going by taxi, confirm with your driver that he will wait for you to purchase a ticket at the visitors center and take you all the way to the volcan’s parking lot. Don’t be left to walk that really long walk like I read someone did on tripadvisor.com.

Many people walk all the way around the rim

Many people walk all the way around the rim

On the way out, we visit the Centro de Visitantes to see colorful exhibits and balcony views of surrounding craters and lakes. A cool way to wind down from a tiring walk.

Idyllic scene

Idyllic scene

An overview of Masaya

An overview of Masaya

Gerda proudly points out her home! Note the dangerous pink lines of a mosaic of shifting oceanic and continental plates.

Gerda proudly points out her home! Note the dangerous pink lines of a mosaic of shifting oceanic and continental plates.

Laguna de Masaya in the distance

Laguna de Masaya in the distance

We finish with a delicious meal and dessert.

End of  a happy Valentine's Day!

End of a happy Valentine’s Day!

February 2014 Nicaragua!

The present situation regarding Central American children seeking refuge in the United States is disturbing. There are strong, emotional pros and cons on both sides of the issue. I won’t go there. I just want you to know the beauty I saw there earlier this year.

In 1524, the Spaniards established two settlements in what is now Nicaragua. The pre-Colombian Indian civilization there was decimated by their cruel acts. Strange foreigners with powerful weapons came ashore, seemingly out of nowhere. They forcibly took land, tore apart families, forced relatives to toil for them and sent others off on slave ships, never to be seen again! And to top it off, the Spaniards brought deadly diseases that no one had ever experienced before, slowly and painfully killing off the population.  

So began a tumultuous history through multiple centuries. From power struggles, becoming a part of the Mexican Empire, breaking away from Spain (1821), an American mercenary becoming Nicaragua’s president (1856), assassination plots, horrendous civil war crimes, terrifying dictatorships, the U.S.’s unwanted presence, the birth of guerrilla warfare, government corruption and the list goes on and on.

Nicaragua may be the largest of Central America’s countries, but it is the second poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. No wonder it is still trying to recover from centuries of turbulent upheavals!

I hope the time we spend here helps a tiny bit towards that recovery. We arrive in Managua, Nicaragua’s capital. The plan? Leave the next day for Granada, a city known for having some of the finest colonial-era architecture in the country. We spend the night at a backpackers’ lodgings. Oh, joy! Our room has a private bathroom and is air-conditioned.

Next morning, as we prepare to leave for Granada, the owner introduces us to another English-speaking tourist. Gerda’s from Canada. She’s a veteran firefighter from the Northern Territories. Gerda is enthusiastic and persuasive. Very persuasive. She talks us into going with her to Chocoyero-El Brujo Natural Reserve, a secluded tropical forest in Ticuantepe, outside of Managua. It’s named after the green Pacific Parakeets known as Chocoyos.

A local taxi takes us on a jarring, pothole-filled ride up, maybe an hour.

Gerda peeks out from the bunkhouse

Gerda peeks out from the bunkhouse

We three are the only overnight guests in the 455 acre tropical forest. We go up a steep, three tiered walkway. Lonnie & I have the bungalow. Gerda has the bunkhouse all to herself. She has electricity, but just a trickle of cold shower water. We have cold water, but no electricity. (The bulb blew out twice.) Out come the headlamps! At least we have mosquito nets. With the two screen-less windows shut at night, it was pitch dark. The cabin could have used a really, really good cleaning, but since the reserve is operated by (wilderness) men, that’s not going to happen.

Alan Pasos is our very competent guide for the morning, evening and 5-hour hikes. He goes home each night after our dinner and two others keep watch overnight. Alan’s English is good enough that we communicate reasonably well. For two days, he leads us on nighttime and early morning walks to the two waterfalls, often pulling out a birding book to identify a species. He took several of the photographs below, often nimbly scurrying up trees and steep terrain!

We walk silently behind Alan, watching for his signal to stop as he listens for animals traversing the brush and trees. We must be quick to see a furry animal slip across the path or rustle through trees, many pairs of hidden eyes following us. Alan finds a BIG, squiggly night crawler. Of course, Gerda has to pick it up!

Some of what we see:

Chocoyero 11

Welcome to adventure!

 

Chocoyero 7

A colorful resident

 

Chocoyero 6

I was surprised to see a little crab scuttle across the path!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chocoyero 9

Blue Crowned Motmot

 

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Cricket: “Hola, my little cousins!”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chocoyero 4

A beautifully bushy tail

 

Chocoyero 5

An owl eye butterfly. The eye scares away predators!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chocoyero 12

A young owl peers through the brush

 

Chocoyero 10

Alan gets up close and personal to a howler mother and her child

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One of the days, Alan and his father take Lonnie and Gerda on a mid-day five hour hike. Steep terrain, stringing ropes from tree to tree and unstable paths causing mid-air dangling at times!

That’s not for me.

A hammock is on the cabin porch, tied. It’s so pretty!

Tip: If you see a hammock lying around, ask for help.

I ask. They climb up, wrap and tie the ends. I swing on it, daydreaming, until motion sickness sets in. Time to climb down and write in my journal. Later, I take my cell phone down to the lobby to charge – that’s a pleasant surprise! I bring a puzzle from the suitcase. Spend a little time there before leaving the puzzle for another lazing tourist.

Lonnie comes dragging in, cut and bruised. Gerda bounces in behind him, dimples flashing, eyes alight with the joy of testing one’s endurance! She had wanted the six hour hike, but that would have pushed past Lonnie’s limit.

Lonnie shows his hiking wounds to Cricket

Lonnie shows his hiking wounds to Cricket.

 

Each morning and evening, Alan would lead us to the waterfalls to be amazed at the hundreds of chirping birds roosting in holes in the limestone walls. We peek in a few holes after the birds fly off and there are crickets, too. Alan is so dedicated, making sure we see the beauty of his forest. To me, it’s a jungle, with long, trailing vines and lush foliage. We see so many interesting inhabitants and plants that make up the teeming life of the woodlands!

A 6am walk to the waterfall to hear and see the birds start their day:

Alan’s mother cooks our meals. We eat beans, rice and plantains … three times a day. I find out that plantains can be boiled, fried, grilled, smashed, mashed and sliced. At breakfast, boiled eggs and stewed tomatoes are added. At lunch, boiled eggs are added. At dinner, a piece of chicken is added. There is a cup of delicious fresh squeezed orange juice with meals. Gerda, the ever polite Canadian, asks to meet and thank Alan’s mother in person. Gerda brings treats for the children. Seeing the dirt floors and little chicks running around, we realize how fresh our meals are!

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Alan picks oranges along the way for juice later.

 

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Family and friends gather for fellowship and prayer

Gerda starts a two-week bike ride through Central America this weekend. She brought school supplies for the tour donation, but decides the elementary school down the road needs it more. We add a monetary gift and start walking toward Escuela San Jose de los Rios.  We visit classrooms and go out to the courtyard where we officially present our gifts to the principal of the escuela, Senor Corea.

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Gerda and I sit with one of the classes after passing out bags.  Gerda included Canadian maple leaf pins!

 

While we are passing out bags, the exterminator begins fogging. Unfortunately, it is difficult to get service in an isolated area. They come when they can.

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Students gather in the courtyard as classrooms are fumigated

 

If you are planning to visit Nicaragua, consider Chocoyero-El Brujo.

Tip: It is one of a handful of Nicaraguan nature reserves that allows camping. To wake up to screaming howler monkeys or the raucous chatter of thousands of little green parrots starting the day is so cool! You can bring your own gear or reserve the bungalow or a bed in the bunkhouse.

Tip: Contact the reserve as early as possible if you plan to stay there. It may take some time for them to email you back, but it’s worth it. I don’t know if Alan even has international calling on his phone. Gerda tried calling, unsuccessfully, for weeks from Canada to confirm by phone. In Nicaragua, she was able to get through.

You’ll learn a lot with Alan and you’ll be helping a country that can use all the help it can get.

And please tip generously! This is a cooperative that is not government funded. Alan says that the people who maintain Chocoyero are volunteers who are paid ONLY when there are visitors. Life in the forest is hard. Tour companies may bring in daytime visitors, but with their own guides.

You can click on Tripadvisor to read recent reviews.

Sources on Nicaragua:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nicaragua

http://wikitravel.org/en/Nicaragua

http://www.infoplease.com/country/nicaragua.html?pageno=1

“Happy July 4th!”

A reminder to my fellow Americans:

This female eagle was seen in Yellowstone Park.

This female eagle was seen in Yellowstone Park.

 

 

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” ~ from the Declaration of Independence

 

 

 

The teeny, tiny white dot in the background is the eagle. We had a wonderful time!

The teeny, tiny white dot in the background is the eagle. We had a wonderful time!

 

Last week, we visited Yellowstone Park. Matt from Buffalo Bus tours did a great job showing us bison, elk, a bear and deer in the park. More in a later post.

A “Happy July 4th!” shout-out to Em, Miss B., J., K., E., R., M. and all the lovely people we met on the shuttle!

 

This year is the 200th anniversary of our national anthem, the Star Spangled Banner:

“God Bless America!”