Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Stamps, Tree Frogs, and Coco Beans

I woke up with barely enough energy to drag myself off of the top bunk. If I had felt any worse I may have just stayed in bed. That would have been a tragedy because this was definitely the most interesting day so far. I was sweating profusely on the bus, and I was shivering all night before. I went to the bathroom pretty regularly through the night as well. Lydia’s friend Ryan had very similar symptoms at pretty much the exact same time so that made me feel like less of a sickling. We must have eaten something bad. Anyway after another bumpy dirt road bus ride I rushed off of the bus. Any more of that treatment and I would have heaved for sure.

We were now at the Carolyn de Sirker School again but this time it was for entertainment rather than manual labor. The school children put on a little show for us. My favorite part was the dancing. The girls had colorful dresses and props like fans and handkerchiefs that they waved around. When it came time to shake all the kids’ hands and so forth, I ditched and went and laid down on a park bench. I was feeling pretty terrible. 

I missed the group measuring the kids and giving them clothes.

There was cake.

Then it was back to the bus. I went to sleep pretty quickly. I was tired but it also provided the additional benefit of not being awake for more bumpy driving. When I woke up we were at the post office. We were there doing a chore on the way to our next destination, but I took the opportunity to look around. Once upon a time I was a stamp collector, plus government buildings are pretty interesting under the control of such an entertaining government. I was not disappointed. There were the requisite hot pink posters everywhere, sure. But the building’s interior had hot pink trim. Even the postal employee’s polos were hot pink. On top of that there were large idealized pictures of the martyr of the Sandinista Revolution on the walls. A picture of a young Augusto Sandino dressed like a cowboy is especially popular in the country. There were 3 of them just in the post office lobby. I later learned that the reason for all of the atrocious pink is that President Daniel Ortega’s wife likes that color. Story checks out.

One problem I've always had with St. Louis is that there are not nearly enough giant light-up Chavez billboards in public spaces. My letters to the mayor all go unanswered.

Our next stop was to a coffee plantation operated by Cafe Las Flores. We had a choice between a canopy zip line tour or a plantation tour. I was still not feeling 100% so I chose the latter. It was pretty interesting. We learned all sorts of fun facts about Nicaragua in general and the coffee in particular. They hand pick the coffee berries and then hand sort the beans for quality later on. It’s pretty amazing to me that anything is still handpicked these days. It ended up raining super hard while we were safely inside one of the production buildings. The other group meanwhile was probably stuck up in a tree somewhere getting owned. Probably because of this they ended up taking forever which took precious time away from the lovely city of Granada.

Our very cool tour guide went out and found a Red-Eyed Tree Frog for us to examine.

The frog has a really bright under belly with blue, black, and white streaks. You can see the little guy trying to tuck all that under his green body to try to hide from us.

Our guide gave us fresh coffee berries to try too. What a guy!

My first impression of the city was “wow, this looks a lot like New Orleans!” That actually makes sense because both places were Spanish colonial port cities. Unfortunately the time spent at the post office combined with the extra time spent at the plantation meant that we arrived in Granada very much behind schedule. It was already after dark and we only had 20 minutes of free time before our group dinner reservations. We made the best of the situation by making a bee line to the central park square area. We hopped on a quick horse drawn carriage tour of the older parts of town. Our young driver was friendly to an amusing degree. He spoke Spanish really really slowly and clearly while explaining the sites which we appreciated. There were still lots of words that we didn't understand but we got the general gist of it.

Even when there are grand sights to be seen, I like to keep an eye on the details. Anyway I thought the fire hydrants in the city were unique.

One name that came up a few times during the tour was William Walker. Walker took over Nicaragua, named himself president, and proceeded to try to turn the country into a US slave state. It’s interesting because he is the bogeyman that every Nicaraguan school child learns about but no one in the US has ever heard of him. Fun fact: William Walker is described as a "filibuster" by Wikipedia, which defines the word as "irregular soldiers who act without authority from their own government, and are generally motivated by financial gain, political ideology, or the thrill of adventure." The word for brazenly taking control of something later became the word used to describe politicians yapping for long periods of time in order to destroy any sort of productivity in Congress. Learning is fun.

We had a nice dinner as a group at a steak restaurant where I finally got a drink I had been searching for. It’s just called cacao and its ingredients are really simple: ground coco bean, milk, and sugar, but it tasted amazing. I don’t think I've had fresh coco beans before. Our time in Granada was short but sweet.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

A Hospital Visit

Today was pretty much only work, but there were plenty of interesting points.

On the way into town we were stopped. Two police boarded our bus, one with an AK-47. I was worried we were being ticketed or that they were going to check all our passports, which we had been told we didn’t need to carry. They talked a bit to the driver and then the bus started up again. A little farther down the road we stopped and they got off. It turns out they just wanted a ride.

It’s pretty interesting how prevalent TV is here. Even some pretty shoddy looking houses still have satellite dishes.

Our first job was visiting a hospital for children. We passed out bags of toys to the kids and bags of toiletries.

This was a public hospital, and the walls were plastered with these rather propagandist political posters.

Whenever someone is feeling ill we joke that they probably have dengue fever.

This girl isn’t smiling because she feels guilty for cheating at concentration after I pretty clearly explained the rules.

The hospital didn’t end up being as bad as I had feared. There was a syringe on the ground while we were walking outside, and a tiny bit of blood on the floor in one of the rooms, but otherwise not too scary. The rooms were packed. In one room there were probably ten beds with no curtains. Maybe 8 of them were lying with their newborns, one was having contractions, and another had a temporary curtain up. We guessed she was probably in labor. 

Papaya Criolla 

This was pretty gross. They had the ground beef just packed into the meat case. How they get it all out before it spoils is beyond me.

Our second half of the day was among the dumbest chores I’ve ever been given in my entire life. We were hand polishing a floor with brooms and mops. It looked no different after we were finished. Dumbest thing ever. And this picture of Lydia is the awesomest thing ever.

I pulled a couple of mangos off the tree at school. I hope they ripen before I have to go home. I saw some school girls eating green ones and holding out their hands while they walked. It turns out they had salt in their hands and were eating the two together. Maybe I should try that. 

It was pretty important that they get the last drops of fuel back out of this tamping machine.

Back at the house.