By Caiti Crooks
Major at Washburn Human Services
Hometown Edgerton, Kansas

Monkey Granada's old train depot
Young adult man making a hammock

Note: We had a guided tour of Granada on our final day in Nicaragua. Among the places we visited were the volcano-created islands in Lake Nicaragua, where we saw a spider monkey, the old train depot and Tio Antonio’s, where young people with disabilities run a restaurant and make hammocks (Learn more about last year’s visit there).

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By Shelby Ferguson
Major Exercise Physiology
Hometown Ottawa, Kansas

Wednesday morning, after eating breakfast at Quaker House, we headed on a three hour drive to San Juan Del Sur. A picturesque town nestled on the Pacific side of Nicaragua, it is a tourist hub with a small town feel. It has also gained attention this past year by being the home of the latest season of Survivor!

After eating lunch at a small café in the city, we had to travel a little further to reach our destination for the day: Playa el Coco Resort. It was a relaxing day for our delegation, as we had the opportunity to relax on the beach, which was much needed after our hard work in the days before. Unlike my experiences in the beaches that I have visited, we found that this beach housed millions of little hermit crabs underneath the sand, which you could feel under your feet as you walked (slightly scary).

screen shots of Yik Yak and Shelby with a turtleThat evening, we had the opportunity to watch the release of approximately 140 sea turtles into the ocean. These adorable little turtles had been hatched the night before, and had to be released to have a chance at survival. A lot of us struggled with emotions watching this beautiful part of nature: happy that they were going into their natural habitat but sad knowing that only about ten percent of the turtles would survive to adulthood. The rest of the evening we spent reflecting on the rest of our travels and watching the sunset on the beach!

Fun Fact: Nicaragua does in fact have a Yik Yak!

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light tree and Sandino silhouette

One of the new “Tree of Life” lighted trees and the iconic Sandino image.

By Carmela Remboldt
Major at Washburn: Business Finance
Hometown: Topeka, Kansas

We started off with a wonderful breakfast of beans and rice, tortillas, eggs and fruit at Quaker House where we are staying.

Around 10 a.m. we went to meet with Mark Lester at the The Center for Global Education, where he spoke with us about Nicaragua’s history. It was so interesting to hear about the different sides there are to Nicaragua as well as the on going Revolution that has caused so much struggle for the Nicaraguan people. We then went back to Quaker House for lunch were we reflected on Mark’s lecture and Cacao seeds.

Overall, it was a very empowering discussion. After lunch we went to a couple of historical sites in Managua. The first stop was the palace built by the Somoza dictatorship, which overlooks Tiscapa lagoon on one side and provides a 360 degree view of Managua. Next we went to the plaza, which includes the National Museum and the National Cathedral of Nicaragua. We were only able to view the beautiful church from the outside because back in 1972 it was destroyed in an earthquake, so the structure is not safe to enter anymore. The earthquake devastated Managua and many parts were never rebuilt.

We ended our day at a park along the shore of Lake Managua where we took in the views as well as tried some smoothies from a local store front.

Note: Today was similar to our historical overview day last year. For more overview, read “What does justice mean to you?” about our visit with Mark Lester and “Sandino: Learning about a national hero,” about our visit to the Augusto Sandino memorial and museum on the site of the Somoza family palace.

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We’ve seen Mombacho from a distance for days. On Tuesday we stood on it.

The biology majors — especially Katy — took the time slowly after we got off of the safari-style truck. There were so many things to see and hear in the Mombacho Cloud Forest.

Light and shadow danced on lush green leaves. Neon green moss clung to trees. Howler Monkeys howled. Exotic birds sang. A sloth eluded everyone but Travis. And the flowers! Orchids of many colors and sizes, tiny buds reaching for light, poinsettias, bogenvelia, hibiscus and more welcomed us at different heights in the forest.

Some of us were continuously amazed that we were WALKING IN A RAINFOREST, only to be speechless again at the next lookout point. At the top of what was actually a volcanic crater now covered with plant life we could see many of the places we’ve been:

The view was truly breathtaking. We all enjoyed the opportunity. Nicaragua’s natural beauty is so rich. The country may be impoverished but this nation is rich in so many ways. Imagine if the U.S. government had invested in its potential rather than making the decisions it did in the 1980s.

Las Isletas from Volcan Mombacho

Las Isletas from Volcan Mombacho

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We had the opportunity to have dinner on Tuesday night at the Cafe de los Mimos, a project of the School of Comedy and Mime (website in Spanish). The school provides opportunity to homeless children in the Granada area, teaching them acting and circus-style performance.

The performance we saw was similar in style to Cirque du Solei with beginning skill. There was contortion, juggling, stilts, tricks of strength and wonderful acting with facial expression.

After the play, we heard a band perform. There was a lot of dancing. Music and dance are a big part of the culture here. As we saw in El Limon, even young children learn the basic steps and moves of several dances. There were very few wallflowers at the cafe. And there were professional dancers from Costa Rica who had come from a performance still wearing face makeup.

The show was a great end to a day exploring an amazing city. Our guides, Lucy and Aldo, have gone out of their way to make sure we learn about the country by visiting service groups as often as possible. For many of us, that way of exploring communities may become standard practice.

The band at Cafe de los Mimos.

The band at Cafe de los Mimos.

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We spent lunchtime yesterday at an amazing place. In 2012 a Spanish man named Antonio decided to invest in Nicaraguan youth who are differently able.

Originally, he imagined supporting an already existing effort. But he discovered there weren’t such groups that provided job kills to blind, deaf, hard of hearing and young people otherwise unable to communicate. So he started one.

Centro Social Tio Anonio, a hammock workshop, and Cafe de las Sonrisas in Granada, are that place. While there, several students were able to help make hammocks. We met a young blind man who made a hammock for Pope Francis. We met another who is fluent in English, Spanish and Nicaraguan sign language. The language has a lot in common with American Sign Language (ASL) but is its own unique language.

And we tested our communication skills yet again during lunch. Our waiter and waitress were both deaf. Signs on the wall of the cafe and a laminated placard with useful signs were available to help.

Several group members purchased hammocks, available in several sizes, to support the Tio Antonio’s. Others marveled at two efforts underway at the center. One: An ongoing fundraising drive to support hurricane relief in the Philippines. The other: turning discarded plastic bags into an “endless hammock.” The bags are tied together and woven to create a hammock that will continue to grow. No end date has been set for the effort that is cleaning up plastic by repurposing it.

Yet another lesson about Nicaraguans: We may think generally about how they have little themselves, but so many selfless acts we have seen show their concern as global citizens. May we remember this lesson always.

Learn more:

The endless hammock, multicolored.

The endless hammock in progress.

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It is widely known here that there are 365 isletas (little islands) near Granada, created when Volcan Mombacho erupted thousands of years ago, spewing lava into Lake Nicaragua. On Monday, Jan. 13, we saw a few dozen of them.

There are islands with public restaurants and homes to rent. Islands with palm trees. Islands with monkeys. Islands with some of the fanciest homes in the entire country. Islands for sale. And islands with some flora species only found here.

Seeing it from a boat with an experienced isletas guide — and Aldo, who is always happy to share what he knows about local plant species — was more than a treat. Michaela took 250 photos of the incredible, ocean-like views, monkeys, bats, birds and the contrast of homes from Rum magnates and subsistence fishermen.

We were able to see Mombacho from a different point of view, and visualize the power of the eruption that created the islands. We saw historic Granada’s cathedral — a landmark that identifies the central square from anywhere in the central city. One particular flower made an impression: it reminded us all of a firecracker. It had a sheath that made it look almost banana-like, but when slid down a striking flower with fuschia tips on each of dozens of fingers.

Volcan Mombacho from the boat on Lake Nicaragua.

Volcan Mombacho from the boat on Lake Nicaragua.

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We packed a lot in today. Too much to post tonight in detail, but here’s a quick preview:

  • Breakfast at a waffel house! With BACON!
  • A boat tour of the islands in Lake Nicaragua created by the erruption of Mombacho Volcano several thousand years ago. This included some amazing wildlife (MONKEYS!) and plants.
  • Lunch at a cafe focused on providing employment to Nicaraguans who are blind, deaf and hard of hearing. Many of the youth who work there make hammocks, while others work in the cafe.
  • And afternoon exploring the history of this colonial city, including museums and a church constructed in 1536.
  • Dinner at a cultural cafe, including a show by children who live in a group home that teaches them circus acts.

Tomorrow we climb Mombacho!

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We’ve arrived in Granada. We’ll be off exploring this beautiful colonial city soon.

I think it’s safe to say that after our stay in El Limon several members of the group are disappointed by the accommodations of the hostel. The lesson: It’s all about perspective.

The running water, indoor showers and toilets are luxury compared to what many of us experienced in El Limon. But they are nothing like the facilities at home in Kansas that many were clearly hoping for.

The drive from El Limon to Esteli, where we picked up some items we left at the hostel for safe keeping, to Masaya where we stopped to eat at a gas station cafe to Granada took about four hours.

There was a lot of beautiful scenery and an incredible amount of plastic waste littering the highway. In the cities, plastic is collected and sold to recycling operations. But apparently in the countryside there is no program or system for collecting garbage. I guess we should appreciate the adopt-a-highway program back home, and be conscious of the amount of plastic we consume because it does not quickly biodegrade.

Plastic on the roadside.

Plastic on the roadside.

More from Granada soon.

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There is a small cigar shop across the street from our hostel in Esteli and this afternoon we popped in to see the process from tobacco leaf to cigar for ourselves.

There were fewer than a dozen employees in the family-owned business, which sells its cigars locally and in one shop in Chicago. (The building has a small outline of the Chicago skyline, too.)

Nicaraguan tobacco leaves in a crate, ready to be used.

Nicaraguan tobacco leaves.

Cigar bundles stacked on a shelf.

Cigars ready to be packaged for sale.

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