** Please feel free to comment! It tells me that people are reading this and makes me feel warm inside ; )

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Hobby of the Week (part 1/2)

In the Peace Corps you have a lot of time to think. You may find yourself stuck on long bus rides without a charged iPod, no cell phone service, no data plan or smart phone, or just lying in a hammock for extended periods of time staring at the coconut trees above. This time away from distractions allows you to spend plenty of time thinking and it is fascinating where your mind travels when given hours to just think.

My latest adventure into my mind led me to a facebook post on my wall from an old roommate, Adam Hammer, about my ‘hobby of the week.’ I’ve always received flak for bouncing around between hobbies and interests. Few times do hobbies actually stick and when they do, I move to Nicaragua and separate myself from any potential of continued pursuit (rock climbing).

So, why have I tasted everything from firefighting and EMS to traveling around the world to MMA to DJ’ing to rock climbing…? Well, I figured it out and it brought me back full circle to one of my first blog posts about experiencing new things.

Many people see someone do something and think how lucky is that person or I could never do that. I don’t. I see that person jumping off a cliff in New Zealand, backpacking through Thailand, spinning in front of a sold out club, and think “I’m going to do that.” The thought of not doing it, or not being able to doesn’t pass through my mind. My drive for new experiences has led me to be exactly where I am with all the incredible memories and experiences I have under my belt. I firmly support the notion that you are where you are because of the decisions you've made up to this moment.

Occasionally, I’ll look around and wonder how I ended up in the Peace Corps speaking Spanish to a class of high school seniors on a volcanic island in Nicaragua. Think, what the hell am I doing. Laugh to myself. Shake my head. And continue. I actually realize that I find myself doing this smile/headshake/laughter/continue ritual rather often. It makes for incredible facebook profile photos for sure.

I look around at other Peace Corps volunteers I’ve met and realize we all have that “just do it” attitude. A friend commented on how whenever she tells someone that she is in the Peace Corps, the response is very often either “Oh, I’d considered joining the Peace Corps” or “Oh, I started the application but didn’t finish it.” The urge to hold back “Well why didn’t you just f’ing do it” usually triumphs and we settle with a polite smile or a “yeah, I know it’s a difficult choice.”

Through a strange turn of events, this ‘just do it’ attitude, has led me to my most recent (and most fulfilling) hobby – Running – a sport I actually hated, thoroughly couldn’t comprehend anyone receiving enjoyment from, and dreaded until just months ago. That leads me to Part 2 – Running.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Peace Corps Roller Coaster

I have no excuses other than avoidance and pure laziness for my lack of blogging. Although I have been busy recently, I have had ample time to browse reddit, facebook, youtube, read books, and do other non-peace corps related activities. This post is about to get real personal.

But before it does, here are some photos from a rural tourism group I have been working with:
Holding a chicken leg proud in front of her kitchen

Left to right, chicken batter for frying, fried plantains and potatoes, beans, and fried chicken

Flipping rocks in search of crabs to be used as bait for fishing

Caught a few of these little guys. A piece of fishing line and hook are all you need.

Children riding horses and bulls

Clients of the fishing tour go out fishing in these authentic vessels

Since my last post I went through an intense low point of my service followed by a creeping rise then a necessary break back home for a few weeks. I'm now back on my island of Ometepe and feel like I'm finally doing great again. Recently it's been a strange roller coaster and now I'm going to do my best to explain what I think is going on!

Let's start with the low point. At about the one year mark in service many volunteers began feeling a sense of boredom and disappointment with their service. It was a strange feeling waking up and not being excited for the day ahead. One year had passed and the challenges that I had been facing had since ceased to be challenges and boredom set in. I was feeling accustomed to the Nicaraguan culture, comfortable enough with my Spanish, and just tired of trying to support the, in my opinion, weak educational system. My secondary projects were coming to a crawl and I would pass most of the day in a hammock with a book or online. And then I felt weird personally/culturally as well.

I could feel myself changing in comparison to all my friends back home. Facebook makes it so easy to keep track of everyone's lives and I had been getting my stalking on as I wasted my days, bored, in front of my laptop. I could see that many of my friends were working jobs they did not enjoy solely looking forward to weekends where they could go out to bars and drink and dance and get dirty. Literally 2 months before the Peace Corps and you would have found me right there, but now I look at these photos and status updates and think about how I can't be complaining as I climb volcanoes on weekends, milk cows, and speak a foreign language. The whole nightlife, bar/club scene has come and gone for me and I now find solace in getting sleep and enjoying my days. It may be that the nightlife-scene is slightly different here and I don't have a close group of fun friends to go out and enjoy my nights with, but I just don't see paying $8 for a beer to be fun anymore. So here I am, stuck on an island, lacking a strong social network to hang out with, feeling disconnected from my close friends back home, and spending large majorities of my day laying in hammocks or in my room on my laptop.

Sitting on the edge of an active volcano

Luscious mango hunt

Outdoor kitchen

Mangoes and a hammock 

This was about mid June and school vacation was coming up in July. About one week before these vacations, with no plans made, I decided to book plane tickets to go back home for about 10 days. As soon as I booked the tickets, some of my side projects and business advising took a turn and people I had written off came back asking for help. It was a weird turn of events and I was excited to return to the country to do the work I had been looking forward to doing since applying.

Soon, I was back home enjoying the company of family, friends, and our little puggle Riley. I spent a long weekend with my Peace Corps buddy Sam at his home in Martha's Vineyard as he too was home on vacation. I took a day trip with my mom down to south Jersey to visit grandma Phylis (g-phyl) and spent another long weekend in New York City with friends from University of Maryland. I had invited most of my close friends from UMD to come not really expecting a strong turnout as everyone has jobs spread out between Boston and Virginia, but almost everyone made the trip. I was able to see almost 20 of my closest friends from school and it was just incredible to see everyone so happy and thriving in their post-college lives. I spent plenty of time with my family back home continuing to enjoy my parent's company and eating 'un monton' of delicious food. It was great having a fully stocked fridge and pantry, nice family room with a sofa, big comfy bed, walking around barefoot while staying clean, hot showers, throwing toilet paper in the toilet and not the trash bin, driving a car and listening to music,  and of course playing with Riley! My trip back to sunny Nicaragua was delayed a full week due to Spirit Airlines being the worst airline in the world, causing me to miss meetings and work, but allowing my to spend an extra week with my family. Could be worse, I suppose.

First night with friends 
Strolling through High Line park

Afternoon rooftop fiesta

Family came in too to hang out!

Going home reminds me of my change in perspective and how intense this experience actually is. I am at ease with the fact that there is dramatic differences between wealth among countries, but it is very strange becoming accustomed to one and traveling to the other, and then doing the same in the opposite direction. You recognize things you'd never before recognized nor appreciated - example, the diversity among businesses in the US and creativity in the names or logos (obviously it helps that Americans have more disposable income for these activities, but nonetheless a new observation), or how no one gives a friendly hello or smile to strangers on the streets like they do in Nicalandia (something I really love about living down here).

After a long three weeks, I returned to Nicaragua. I was blasted by heat and soon made my way out of the polluted capital to my volcanic island. My Nica friends and family thought I was never going to come back and gave me a very nice welcoming upon my return. I brought back some gifts and everyone was very grateful and happy - including myself. I quickly became busy with all those projects waiting for me and got over that slump I had been feeling just a month or two before. As I posted somewhere before "this too shall pass" and it always does. 

Friday, June 1, 2012

Semana Santa and Kyle's Visit

I can't believe it is now June 1st and I haven't updated my blog with all that has happened since April!

In April, we had the week of Easter off from teaching in the high schools and I had my first friend, Kyle, visit from the USA. Kyle, another volunteer Jake, and myself spent about 10 action packed days traveling to all corners of Nicaragua.

Kyle flew in to the beautiful city of Managua and the three of us immediately made our way out of El Gran Mango and up to Leon for some Volcano Boarding down Cerro Negro. We traveled like locals on my Peace Corps salary and gave Kyle an authentic Nicaraguan experience throughout his entire vacation. It was interesting for me to see the things that Kyle was taking photos of, the things in his mind that were "photo worthy" and to me had simply become natural. His photos of farm animals on the roads, the abundance of  horseback riders, and the dilapidated infrastructure put into perspective exactly how different our residing countries are and how strange it was that I had become completely and utterly accustomed to these rarities.

Group Photo
We stayed only one night in Leon, woke up early the next morning with a well deserved hangover, and Kyle and I (without the seasoned volcano boarder Jake) hopped on a truck to hike and surf down a volcano. An hour later through a long and bumpy road, we arrived at Cerro Negro and grabbed our gear, took a photo, and began the hike up to the active volcano's crater.

We climbed and climbed for about an hour up a rocky volcano passing fallen and dying victims along the way being rescued and carried down by rescue teams.

Proceed with caution. This person did not.

Just kidding, it was a training, but it had originally scared me like none other before I knew it was just a training exercise. Once at the ridge at the top, we were struck with 60 mph winds and were hanging on tight to our boards for fear of them flying away with the wind. We walked around, taking photos of the beautiful scenery and landscape, even getting as close as possible to the volcano's crater without getting lava juice on us.

That white speck is our truck, a very far and steep ways away.
At the top!

Standing in front of the volcano's anus

Pumped and ready to 'board' down the volcano!
Looking down the steep volcanic slope, I was immediately apprehensive and doubting myself, therefore I proceeded to do what I always do when I'm in these situations (which I (un)surprisingly find myself in rather often) and I just say to myself something along the lines of let's do this and then went for it. And I'm glad I did. I clearly remember the feeling of pure joy as I descended on my board sled down the volcano that seemed to go on forever. Even with some breaking, I made my way down to the bottom cruising past the slow 200 pounds of Kyle. We reunited at the base and met up with Jake back at the hotel soon thereafter and traveled back to Managua in order to spend the night uncomfortably sleeping on the hard tiled floor of the great Sandino Airport.
Miserably tired and uncomfortable

After a quick early morning cross country flight to the Corn Islands followed by a surprisingly long boat ride to Little Corn Island, we found ourselves on a small Caribbean island camouflaged in palm trees surrounded by bright blue water. The island was void of any roads, cars, or really any form of modernity in general - exactly what we'd been looking forward to. The next 5 days or so were spent between hammocks, beaches, scuba diving, delicious meals and drinks, and walking the white sand/palm tree lined paths of the island.
So excited to board the little Nica propeller plane

Every meal was absolutely delicious on the island

Fresh cocos everywhere
nom nom nom all over jake's arm

Little Corn Island Highway 3



We met up with Matty Wood and his father on our last day and went fishing for dinner 

Caught a few yellowtails, nothing too big, but everything tasty! 

Diving on Little Corn was fun but besides seeing a Hammerhead shark (awesome), the diving wasn't spectacular or as good as I was hoping. Jake and Kyle both spent several hours at the dive shop getting their open water diving certificate so they are both now certified divers and have joined the club. These few days here (besides the quick trip North to go volcano boarding) were Kyle's first few days in Nicaragua and Jake and I had to explain to him that the rest of the country doesn't speak English in a Jamaican accent, have no sense of time (sort of), or live a carefree life on a tropical Caribbean island. Ironically we would soon arrive on a different tropical island just hours later.

We soon had to leave and board a little boat that bounced along the waves splashing us to get back to the main island that housed the airport. On the way it started to rain and we had to cover ourselves with a large tarp to avoid the rain - Jake wasn't so lucky and dunked by a nice big pool of water that had quickly built up from the downpour. Great start to the morning.
Providing shelter

Sad Jake :(

Returning to real Nicaragua, we hopped between busses and taxis from the airport to Peace Corps office then down south to board another boat to take us to my island - Ometepe. 
La vista del barco
We spent the first afternoon and night at my hotel that I call home, touring my community, lunching at Cornerhouse, and ate my host family's Friday night barbecue which Kyle took full advantage of - eating the average amount of food that a local family of four consumes. The following morning, we headed over towards a hostel on the other side of the island with my local Nica friend, Alvaro, and stopped at various viewpoints and attractions along the way. That afternoon we continued to eat well at the other notable restaurant on the island, met up with some other PC volunteers vacationing that week on Ometepe and eventually went to bed just to wake up early for a nice volcano hike. 
If you need a guide for Maderas, I recommend you do NOT take my good friend as you will certainly get lost on the way down and a 2.5 hour descent will turn into a 4.5 hour never ending one

Feeling absolutely wonderful after a few hours hiking
This hike, as opposed to the other active volcano on the island, is all rain forest and in this trail you have to use your hands nearly as much as your feet to conquer some parts of the trail.

Finally arriving at the top of the volcano! No lava here, this dormant volcano has a lake instead of liquid fire
You can't see it, but there is a sign right there that says we are going towards the opposite side of the volcano on the way down. This 2 hour detour would prove to be an extremely poor decision resulting in a trip to the local hospital.


Best view of the island! 

Getting lost, we stumbled through various backyards and farms littered with ancient petroglyphs

On the way down Kyle slipped and stabbed himself with a branch, so we went to the local health center/hospital and got him stitched up. 

We certainly weren't expecting to have such an audience. The neighbors came in to see the crazy Gringos and watch the show of Kyle getting stitched up. 

Overall, it was a non stop moving (less the hammock and beach time) and action packed 10 days in Nicaragua. Kyle was, hopefully, the first of various friends to visit me and I will do my best to show them as good of a time as I managed to show Kyle.