Typing this on my newly (mostly) repaired laptop in the car, heading back from San Jose to Turrialba.
If you don't want to read all this, then in summary: Nicaragua is Beautiful.
Saturday 6 November
I was to deploy with the Nicaraguan bound Venturers (X-Ray 1, 6 and 7) as I was to spend the first week at the community at Las Tablas (X-Ray 6), near Achuapa and Estelli. I was up at 3am - had the last bits of packing and checking to do before packing breakfast (the usual jam sandwichy things, along with grabbing tons of snacks for the drive up). Loaded up the bus and before I knew it (~5am) I was off and on our way!
The windy roads out of Turrialba in the big NicaExpress bus were interesting... a few queasy stomachs, myself included (until I realised that I was just hungry) but after that it was plain sailing. We stopped once before hitting the border at 12, where, I have no idea. The border crossing went smoothly, we didn't appear to lose anyone and the bank was nicely air-conditioned, though the toilets were not functioning. The building we had gone to previously to get our visas on the Nicaraguan side had been demolished which was I guess interesting (in that it had changed since I was last there anyway).
Another few hours and we were at a school in Jinotepe, a bit south of Managua, for the night. Not exactly sure why we go via Jinotepe, as we were Estelli bound the next day which was on the other Northern road, but there was a lovely market. I was a bit unsure at first, but once you get into the hubbub of it is quite nice. Having a native Spanish speaker (Esteban) with us made it a lot easier to find the good places and we all tried various corn based foods including what would have been sweet corn cookies had they been sweet.
After that it was pineapple tart and Pepsi before heading back to the school, a bit late (though the light was lovely). Dinner was Raleigh rations, what exactly I don't remember and then to bed in the corridors of the school.
Sunday 7 November
Up again at 3 - was quite chilly in the night (apparently, I only got as far as into my sleeping bag liner/sheet though was nippy once I was up and about). I was packed and ready to go by 3:18 which no one else seemed as impressed as I was, but then it was breakfast time, followed by much faffing and cleaning. We were all in the 'party bus' (a repurposed American school bus, like most busses in Nicaragua) by 5 and on our way again, to Estelli. The quotes around party bus might sound negative but they were illustrative of the fact that it was just a bus, but it was awesome. 80's power ballads, ABBA, Michael Jackson and Bob Marley blaring nonstop for 5 hours is superb. The sunrise was not spectacular, but quite lovely, especially when reflecting on where I was and what I was doing and what bus I was on.
We arrived at Estelli and dropped off X-Ray 7 - they were to catch another bus up the hill to Miraflor/El Rodeo, had a loo break and then carried on our merry way to Achuapa.
The road to Achuapa was the exact one we took on the PPV (waaay back, remember that?) and after getting briefly stuck in some mud alongside another stranded school bus proceeded at a steady pace. While we were driving along the road an off-road (dirt bike/quad bike) time trial seemed to be occurring. The highlight of that was a big fat man in a pink, skin-tight leather bodysuit going by... Regardless, we turned off somewhere to Achuapa - where I'm not exactly sure because when we drove it we didn't see any turn offs. We were all dropped off, had our bags thrown off the roofs onto our heads and then sent the trekkers (X-Ray 1, Maribios Trek) on their way.
We had a couple of hours to kill, so we hung out and had some lunch in the central park. Achuapa was... basic. I'm sure it was fine, but the general unkemptness of the park and scavenging, underweight dogs did detract a little.
Eventually our ride arrived - a Ute to take our bags up the hill to Las Tablas. We were to walk the 8kms. Was a nice walk, quite hot and bumpy, but I've had much worse - only took about 2 hours.
Once there we got sorted into our various families (myself with a Venturer named Hiten in the house of Marciel, whose wife is currently working in Costa Rica). We got as acquainted as two non Spanish speakers and a Nicaraguan man who lives in a village can get and then settled in for dinner (rice, eggs, tortilla and cheese), cooked by the Mother-in-Law who lives next door (where the 3 PMs, Wellard, Ade and Dr. Phil live), partly saw a great sunset from the chair in which I ate, purified some water then set up some beds and went off to sleep.
Monday 8 November
Got up at 5ish - a good 8 or 9 hours though not perfect with the chickens, dogs, pigs etc going off from quite early. Was fairly cool in the night - quite nice really. Quite windy up there also! Wandered off to the loo (long drop in the pig pen) then had my coffee and a chat with Marciel about... something. Turns out the cookies I was ignoring on the table were to have with the (incredibly sugary) coffee. This is not necessarily a bad thing. Breakfast was soup with rice (in it), green leafy bits and yucca (cassava).
After breakfast everyone met up and we headed up to the upper village (we were in the lower village - the previous group, Alpha 6, lived and worked in the upper village) where we split into groups and started working - half on digging trenches and working on the new tank and the other half finishing the trenches down the road to the lower village. The water system being put in place is a gravity fed system from a couple of springs in the hillside, so everything needs to be below the capitation tank we were building. This meant digging up a corn field to dig a pipe about another half a meter deeper as the tank itself needs to be 1m into the ground to be low enough below the initial spring capitation point.
At 11:30 we broke for lunch (as we would every day) - back down the hill (About 20-30 minutes each way, depending on how much of a rush you are in. 15 if you are really in a rush, just saying). Lunch was rice and chicken with tortilla (always with tortilla) and tropical tanged water.
The groups swapped, but I went back up the hill again to try and make sure I had pictures of everyone. I was barely taking photos though - lots of work to do!
We finished around 4 (again, pretty much standard for the duration of my stay), so it was back down the hill for personal time and a _spectacular sunset_. They were amazing every day. Dinner was rice, fried plantain and an amazing tomato salsa.
At 18:30 we all met at the T-junction in the road under the big tree for the review etc. I tried to pay attention but the massively starry sky was distracting....
Tuesday 9 November
Slept not as well - we had a baby in our house now who cried most of that night (but not after thank, thankfully) Woke up at 4ish, out of bed at 5 and into the shower... well... the curtained off area near the other pig pen and water trough. The experience of washing myself with a bucket of water in a garden surrounded by chickens, ducks, pigs and a few rags if cloth for my privacy under a slowly brightening, but still very starry sky is quite special. It was also quite cold. And I still smelt a bit... it is really hard to get a good lather and rinse cycle going. After getting decent I wandered the 10m to the road to watch the sunrise over the valley.... amazing.
Breakfast was a giant bowl of watermelon, banana and pineapple followed by some freshly made orange juice which brought some consternation as I did not see where they had gotten the water from (they are supposed to use our chlorinated water).
After much consultation we decided to ask and they had indeed (allegedly) used our water and the orange juice was lovely. Fingers were crossed. Sitting on the rock outside my house I decided that there were much, much worse places in the world to be than Las Tablas, and ended up wandering (as you do) how I will feel once I am back home amongst the 'real' world and the general consumerism.
Dug trenches all morning - made good progress and got hot, but not suntanned (I'm still horribly cursed with an epic t-shirt tan). Lunch was rice and spaghetti and tortillas... god knows why, but it was nice anyway. Back up the hill for afternoon work followed by a quick jog back down the hill. Not convinced the water was purified, or maybe I just needed to be more careful - started washing hands really really well before eating. Our afternoon meeting was under the tree again and Hiten (my roommate) kindly bought me a coke for 7 Cordobas (about US$0.30) which was lovely. We played with the local kids and I took a bunch of photos - they really, really love having their photos taken and I'm now very glad for the screen protector on my camera (grubby fingers all over my camera!).
Dinner was amazing and made up for whatever caused me bother before - fried tortillas with tomato sauce and cheese between them, rice, beans and fried plantain. So good - the best meal I had there.
Wednesday 10 November
Breakfast was amazing - rice, beans, tortilla and a fried egg with greenery bits on it - delicious all chopped up together.
Today's work involved starting construction on the water tank and laying pipe and filling in the trenches over them. It went well, fast progression and everyone was happy to chat as they worked which was lovely.
While working a small commotion behind me alerted me to a coral snake (the bad, non fake kind) about a meter behind me. This was promptly chopped up by the locals working with us - a bit sad, but I did kind of appreciate it.... Lunch was spaghetti soup with yucca and the green potatey stuff. Then back up the hill again. Just taking photos initially, but then felt bad so carried some bags of sand. Sand is very heavy. Got the pipes all the way down to the upper village.
After work it was up another hill for a view of the sunset from higher up - a bit noisy with everyone there but pretty amazing otherwise.
Left a bit after everyone else and enjoyed the dying light, but wished I had stayed until after dark for the dramatic colours. Was worried about finding my way out of the field in the dark though (I did take a torch, mind you). Dinner was rice and spaghetti...
Thursday 11 November
Up at 5, shower, rice, beans, banana, tomato and onion salsa with tortilla. Heavy on the onion but good otherwise! My serving was much bigger than the other... don't ever accept an extra tortilla or help others finish unless you want to double your potion sizes :p.
The PMs organised some English lessons at the local primary school, but not before climbing the hill to do comms and dig some trenches. I just took photos at the school - no teaching, but it was surreal, where I was and what they were doing - the kind of thing you see on TV or hear about but never get to see. Fieldbase was scheduled to arrive sometime during the day, but I was really enjoying myself and had grown quite attached to the food, house, my housemates, sunsets, long drop and various farm animals (30 chickens, 9 ducks, 2 cows, 2 pigs).
I was taking pictures of another amazing sunset when Bravo 1 pulled up with Fieldbase in it - said hi, chatted then went for dinner followed by a bonfire and singing songs with the community. We didn't know the words to anything. Late night - not in bed till 11pm!
Friday 12 November
Packed, went for a walk, took photos of Marcial and the 'Gangster' (Sergio) then had my final breakfast before we shipped off around 7:30am. Lot of driving that day - Julian (Costa Rica boss person) had some meetings all over the place.
We saw Chinandega, Cosiguina (epic volcanic crater) and ended up in Leon for the night in a nice hostel.
Steak and chips for dinner in an herby mushroom (Tortuga) sauce which was really, really good, much to my surprise. Checked email then off to bed after a nice (cold) shower. Actually it was a crap shower, but these things are relative.
Saturday 13 November
Headed to restaurant to check email again, our accountant arrived with the news that his hostel roommates stole all his and our budget money. Not the end of the world.... but a hassle when we wanted to have a nice breakfast and see the sights! Went to the police station at the edge of town to file a report (insurance purposes) which wasn't as much of an experience as I had hoped. That out of the way we headed back for some breakfast! We found an amazing French bakery were I had far too much delicious baked goods (i.e. roughly one of everything) and then we had a wander round to see the sights - some churches, the cathedral and some old businesses dotted around.
Grabbed our bags from the hostel, checked out and we were once again on our way - this time to Colonia Santa Cruz at the base of Volcan Cristobal and Volcan Cassita to meet up with X-Ray 1 (The Maribios Trek).
We got there around 4, hung out, had some dinner and then went to bed in the local school.
Sunday 14 November
Up at 4 - slept terribly. Started climbing at 5:15 with our now apparently sober guide. The views from Cassita were amazing, worth the 5 hour/1.3km vertical climb/walk up. Volcan Cristobal is just amazing - incredibly dramatic and scarred - one of the top experiences of my life, easily. We headed down at about midday - about another 3-4 hours before dinner, setting up beds again and then sleep!
Monday 15 November
Slept amazingly - being completely shattered will do that I suppose. Up at 3am to pack up with the trekkers who were off fairly soon - got the car sorted by 4:30 so had an hour to kill before it was light enough to drive. This mostly involved sitting around awkwardly while being started at by the developmentally stunted boy hiding in the shadows.......
We met up with X-Ray Papa/'Wow' at about 10:30 as they came down from the hills in ... somewhere south of Estelli. We rescued Sophie who was struggling a bit and added her to our road trip. Spent a couple of hours in Estelli where I had bacon and egg salad which was a bit weird but pretty good really.
After that it was up to El Rodeo - Miraflor - to get some photos of X-Ray 7 at the worksite and hanging out with the community before playing some Frisbee and bullrush.
A bit sweaty and with sore toes I took my bag up to the house we were staying in, said hi to all the PMs struck down and had great pinto for dinner followed up by some pineapple and sleeping in grandma's house next door.
Tuesday 16 November
Slept badly, considering how comfy the bed was. Up at 4:30ish finally, packed in the dark before the awesome Spanishy music of the grandma's clock radio kicked in at 4:50. Packed car after a quick goodbye, ate the cakes El kindly gifted us and then headed out. I drove over a tortoise on the road out, but between the wheel, not over it exactly. Not much excitement on the road, except that we were in the lovely Granada for an early lunch!
The colours everywhere are beautiful and it's not particularly touristy so I must recommend that everyone sees it before it gets ruined. We had some omlettey things for brunch which were fine, but took forever to arrive. After that we split up to see what we wanted to see - I wandered a bit before heading up the tower of an old church (a $1 'donation' was required). Great views - I guess it was worth it :p
We headed out at 12:30 and got to the border pretty soon after that. Changed our money, filled in forms, blah, blah, etc. Good news arrived that my laptop was now functional, bar the speakers (which does not concern me in the grand scheme of things), so I was in a pretty good mood.
We ended up in Liberia on the Costa Rican side where we found a great little hostel, had BK for dinner (oh god, so good, so weak) and then bought a bag of cookies, which I shared a little but mostly ate alone.
Wednesday 17 November
Up at 4, on the road by 6 and then stopped at an amazing waterfall about 15 minutes south.
Had breakfast at the Caballo Blanco (White Horse) - I had gallo pinto with an amazing papaya milkshake. Did I mention amazing?
Reached San Jose at about 10:30 where I grabbed my laptop and started typing on the way home. Arrived back around 2 - just in time for lunch!
Overall it was a really, really amazing trip - it's such a beautiful country and the weather was just perfect - barely saw a cloud and every sunset and sunrise was spectacular. On the animals/'pet' front - they were not as bad as I thought they would be, but it's not ideal. Where I stayed at Achuapa the dogs were lean but looked after.