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3 posts from October 2013

October 30, 2013

Selva Negra

Our first outing actually occurred a few weeks ago, which is nothing short of a minor miracle.  Normally we arrive at post, end up having too much settling in to do, come to the conclusion we can't drive up a hill without a child getting sick (Caracas), or realize that overnight travel within said country is expensive and we have a worn-out traveler (Iceland).

We had no luck traveling much of anywhere in Caracas other than for day trips. We spent so much time on the side of the road with Cait (who has now since outgrown the affliction) and we pretty much gave up after our day trip to Colonia Tovar (poor thing still can't look at strawberries).  Then Peter had three years of constant travel and he viewed moving to Iceland as a vacation in and of itself.  

While the rest of us had ants in our pants about traveling, Peter was thrilled to have nowhere to go other than work and the occasional meeting at the base.  After watching Love Actually with him, and hearing him comment "Oh, that really does look like the inside of 10 Downing Street!" or listening to  him give a play-by-play of events most people only heard about on the radio, I was ready for travel. However, the travel/work/schedule gods conspired against us and we had all of two overnight trips while in the country.

Enter our move to Nicaragua: I refused to move here without a notarized statement that we would travel no matter what.  Certainly he did not do much in Kabul, we didn't go crazy our last year in the States, and since none of the kids have sickness issues, we were homefree right?

Well, for the most part.  We were desperate to go somewhere, anywhere, this summer, but did not have a car.  (Please, do not even suggest that we should have rented one.  Driving my own car here makes me nervous, and a rented car simply would have sat in the driveway.)  Then school started, I started working, and all of that free time started to disappear.  We kept thinking about days away, then nixing it due to things that came up. Finally, a friend suggested Selva Negra for Indigenous Peoples Day weekend. 

We realized we couldn't spend the whole weekend, only a night, as the kids had school on Monday (and driving up Friday night was a no-go), but we forged ahead with planning.  And so very glad we did.  

Selva Negra is a unique coffee farm and resort in the mountains of Matagalpa originally established by German settlers, and if I may say, more of what I expected to see in Nicaragua.  It is roughly a 3 hour drive (I would allow 4), much of it on a two lane highway, and one can easily be slowed down by tuk-tuks or the ever present horse and wagon.  Scenic, yes, but still something to consider when planning trips or travels.


Rooftops reminiscent of cottages in Iceland....

If this isn't a giant reminder to relax....

We drove up early Saturday morning and considering the twisting and turning it took to get into Selva Negra, I am very glad we opted to drive during the day.  It gets dark here very early (6 p.m. at the latest), year-round, and you really don't want to drive on unpaved roads in the dark here...trust me and your car will thank you.  We finally entered the estate itself by a small guarded gate. There were not many signs, but we finally found a sizable (by local standards) parking area that was across from the office.  We parked, stepped out of the car and...


we were amazed. It was at least a 20 degree, if not 30 degree, difference between Managua and Selva Negra.  The gardens were lush and green and designed around recycled materials.  One lettuce garden utilized glass bottles as mini-greenhouses and the entire area just felt so relaxed and safe.  We checked in, received the key to our bungalow (two beds, one bath, & an extra cot ran $105 plus IVA for the night), and opted for a lakeside lunch.  



Good times...

We began to feel as the owners had designed the lodge for families that needed that feeling of being able to wander without worrying.  A playground was built right next to the lodge, sizeable and fun for all of the kids, and they could wander freely with no worries about traffic or safety.  The air was so clean, the environment so calm, and the food good (mostly organic, too).  From the local coffee to the Hibiscus juice, nothing that I wouldn't try again.


We planned on spending the weekend with friends, and they arrived soon after lunch was over.  We decided it was the perfect time for a hike (as after dark would have been tricky) and set off on a 2 kilometer hike through the cloud forest.  While I wish I'd thought to bring my hiking boots (turned out Pete had grabbed his, not mine, as I thought), it was certainly doable in sneakers (but very muddy, so closed-toe shoes definitely recommended). And while 2 kilometers may not sound like much, it was very hilly, lots of slick and muddy areas, and especially disconcerting when halfway through the LG decides he has to go to the bathroom that minute.

Leaves are very, very big here...

We survived, of course, and followed up the hike with drinks and then dinner by the lake (pretty much the only place to eat...and that was fine by us).  Dessert was amazing and I highly recommend the mocha cheesecake.  While Peter and I retired to the bungalow to put the LG to bed (poor guy fell asleep sitting up on the couch), the girls spent hours carousing outside and in with their friends.



Solar power heated water...

The next morning brought breakfast by the lake and an early departure for us.  Nick had a birthday party he couldn't miss (the 5th in 10 days), and he simply couldn't miss it. Kelsey stayed behind to enjoy a bit of horseback riding, and then drove home in her friend's car. It wasn't the longest of overnights, but so good to get out of the city, and a place we can see ourselves returning to many times.  They also plan events centered around holidays, to include a Halloween/Oktoberfest celebration the following weekend.  If you have flexibility in your travels, always worth it to check out what might be happening during your visit.  Oh, and bring your long-sleeve shirt, long pants, and jacket.  You won't need them in Managua, but a visit to Selva Negra is not complete without them...


October 17, 2013

It's like Christmas!

Perhaps because nearly every box in our house is labeled "X-mas," or maybe because we keep finding unexpected 'gifts' in our boxes.  If you are curious, yes, our household effects arrived today and we are mighty stoked.

At the not-so-crack of dawn, a moving truck of appropriate size pulled up, out jumped 6 guys, and within minutes we were staring at 6 very large, very full, wooden crates with Peter's name plastered all over them.  It started out very nicely, with Peter directing boxes hither and yon, basing directions on box labels (note to selves:  when you have two girls, label boxes accordingly, not just "girl's room").  I happily attacked Scramble on the couch, as the whole answering the door thing just tuckered me out. 

Then I realized if I didn't start unpacking, someone else might, and everything might really turn upside-down then.  I started with the easy stuff, boxes labeled "X-Mas."  I am so excited, as we finally have a dedicated holiday item closet near our bedroom.  I couldn't wait to line all of the Easter, Halloween, and Christmas items neatly up on the shelves, and started ripping off the brown paper covering the boxes of decor.

Apparently, however, in some areas, X-mas also means pool toys.  Books can also be X-Mas, as well as anything related to other holidays, towels, sheets, you name it.  However, pool toys are good, as they can go right out on the terrace where they will soon have their own storage bin while they wait...



Speaking of the terrace, look what else arrived!  We have the sweetest little private road where Nick can happily ride and scooter for hours.  Don't think it took him more than 10 minutes to get his helmet on and get going once he got off the bus.  

And perhaps better than the bike or at least excitement nearly on the same level?

Oh, yes, the trampoline! Our backyard paradise is now 1/4 complete...just need to get the playhouse built, the garden started, and maybe one more addition.


Want one?!

Naturally, we found a few things that maybe shouldn't have been packed...but would moving be as much fun if we always remembered to empty the sugar bowl and remind the movers not to pack opened bags of buggy-like looking wild rice? I think not.

And now for a rest in my own bed, the first I have had since May 29th...ah, life is good!




October 10, 2013

Catarina began with a bang, and ended with several

whimpers.  We headed out with 4 of us on Sunday to visit this town that is fabled to have an abundance of gardens and nurseries, as well as a majestic view of Laguna de Apoyo.  While technically only 30 minutes from our house, it probably took a good 45 between the time on the highway and once we turned off onto the road to Catarina. The highway is officially a highway, but speeds race from horse and wagon to frustrated driver in a race car;  how fast you can travel depends on which one is in front of you.

We traveled as we tend to do here, which is to go in a general direction and look for signs.  Peter then inputs the coordinates of the location into the GPS for a return trip (occasionally he has in advance), but for those less skilled in that arena, or on vacation, one can simply turn where it says "Catarina" on the highway and soon arrive in the small town that winds uphill.  

Like many towns here that we have explored, the roads appear to the be the size of a one way road in the States, but manage to have cars, as well as tuk-tuks and large trucks going in both directions.  After driving up, up, up the road to Catarina and passing many small nurseries and craft stores, but no real place to stop, we drove straight into *the* parking area for Catarina.  As with other touristy areas here, there was someone selling the infamous yellow parking tickets.  We paid the 20 cordobas (80 cents or so), drove into the area, and Peter managed to squeeze into a normal, but tiny space.

We ambled out of the car and could immediately see why this would be such an attraction.  Even from the parking lot, 50 yards or so from the overlook, we could catch glimpses of Laguna de Apoyo.  We headed over, past more stores of handicrafts (wooden toys, brightly colored dresses, handmade sandals) and recommended restaurants to view the, well, view.


The view....

As soon as we reached the sidewalk, we found ourselves climbing down the hillside. Stairs of sorts are built into the hillside in most places, except where Nick wanted to climb. In those areas, we found jumps of 4 feet to 20 feet down to the area closest to the guardrail.  Oh, of course, the boy jumped down as many as he could, giving me just slight heart palpitations.  I'm all for free play, it's just those landings that include jumps of more than 15 feet or so (or 5) make me a bit nervous.  We tried a few photo ops and you can see for yourself how they came out.  Yes, the hair, I know.



The .5 person in this was not thrilled by the photo op.



The upswept hairdo fell down, and sadly, I didn't realize until post-photo. Oops.

After a few minutes of walking, admiring the horses, and watching a vendor hawk rental binoculars, we decided it was time for a late lunch.  We stopped by the cafe puported to have the best view and were promptly serenaded when we sat down. 


They were great and we tried to tip appropriately. I handed them 100 Cordobas (approximately 4 USD) and they promptly tried to give us change. We said to keep it, of course, and finally they acceded. If you are curious, $4 is just 84 cents shy of the daily minimum wage.


Dragon fruit juice, yum.


We enjoyed our surtido (sampler), though found that with the view came a lot of bees via the open window.  Peter and I both had a chance to finally try jugo de pitahaya (dragonfruit juice) and we were pleasantly surprised.  Dragon fruit has been a bit tart in the desserts we've tried, but was clearly sweetened just a tiny bit and was very pleasant to enjoy with the plantains, rice, veggies, and chicken.  The only issue came when we tried to pay and ended up using all of our handicraft cash on lunch. The propietor of the cafe had failed to mention that their credit card machine was broken.  Unfortunately, ATM cannot fix everything in Catarina, as the nearest one is 30 minutes away in a neighboring town.

After lunch, we attempted a walk around to look at the different crafty stalls.  Kelsey had to loan us cash for lunch, so we had but a few cords left that would not buy even smallest trinket.  However, as it turns out, we were not long for Catarina.  She was tired, Nick was finished looking at the view, and we decided to head home.  As we were walking out, one of the infamous bees from lunch headed our way.  Kelsey tried to brush it away, but it stuck around and slammed a stinger right into her arm.

The poor thing burst into tears, and while I promptly pulled out the stinger, the spot started to swell and her arm ache.  Luckily, there was a shaved ice vendor standing not 5 feet away, and Peter barely had to say a word before he handed him a chunk of ice.  I applied it to Kelsey's arm while she wailed and hoped for the best.  While it certainly didn't kill her, by the time my mother died she was extremely allergic to bee stings and given how far we were from anywhere, I can't say I wasn't a little nervous.  Two minutes later the shaved ice vendor, who had continued to slave away over his ice grater, passed a handful of shaved ice to Peter for Kelsey and promptly rejected Peter's offer of the meager 13 cords we had left after paying for lunch.

We bagged the ice, bagged the rest of the trip, and headed home.  45 minutes later Kelsey was feeling much better, and there were no signs of any reaction.  While it wasn't our best day to explore and Catarina was a bit hot, sweaty, and crowded, we managed to enjoy a good lunch, a great view, and experience a kind-hearted gesture from someone who probably could ill afford it.  Hopefully, we can actually enjoy shaved ice next time, and just hurry away before the vendor can argue about the extra large tip.