Tuesday, February 2, 2010

El simulacro y Bluefields

I cannot believe that this week will bring a month long stay in Nicaragua! The past week has been eventful as NPH continued with its “regular” activities and Ryan and I traveled to Bluefields, a city on the Atlantic coast of Nicaragua for a 5-day journey during our break to a VERY different part of the world.

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Driving away from NPH.
NPH bus ready to go.

El simulacro

Last week at NPH and on the entire Island of Ometepe (where NPH is located) there was a simulacro (simulation) of an evacuation of the island in case the active volcano, La Concepción, decides to blow off some steam. Although, a somewhat reassuring exercise, it consisted of 4 full mornings, a disorganized jumble of changing orders, and very restless kids. The “simulacro” was monitored by the civil defense department and proved to be an interesting sample of military “organization” in this country. The basic rundown is that an “alarm” is sounded in the center of the property (which consists of a large metal pipe that someone hits as hard as they possibly can), then everyone is to prepare a small bag and be in order at their sections. After everyone is accounted for we are all to assemble in the center of the property and load into prepared vehicles to then take us to the port to board a ferry that will supposedly be there to take us safely to the mainland. Gulp. It is a bit understated to say that after awhile the kids lost serious interest in the potential of a catastrophe and enjoyed playing with their breathing masks and poking each other in line more. Afterwards, in Latin America fashion we completed the final practice with a party involving juice in a bag and a sweet treat. All in all it was a positive experience and led me to pack a ready-to-go emergency bag, but my gringa patience was tested to the limits.


For this descanso (break), Ryan and and I decided to be adventurous and go to the autonomous region that is known for its exotic dark-skinned people, Creole language, and fresh seafood. On the other side of the country Bluefields is only accessible by plane or boat. Due to budget and against better judgment, Ryan and I boarded an overnight bus on Thursday to El Rama, the river town that sends pangas (river boats) to Bluefields. We arrived groggy to El Rama at 4 a.m. after a bumpy, but sleepy ride. It felt like the end of the world and the river to Hades with the heavy mist and creepy lighting as we boarded the panga. The ride on el Rio Escondido (hidden river) was jungle ridden and beautiful. By 8 a.m. we were in Bluefields.

The streets of Bluefields.
Hmm... anything stand out? :)

Shrimp cocktail for $2.
The main transportation hub.

In the panga.

View from the window of a restaurant.

The central park.

View from the hotel.

More shrimp!

Los ranchitos at the beach.

Walking among sand traps. They are there to reinforce the land so that it doesn't wash away.

In the rain looking like a tourist!

The Hidden River view from the panga.

A parade we stumbled upon promoting a political party.

Abandoned fishing ships.

Typical house in Bluefields.

At the hotel.

View from the hotel balcony.

The streets. Typical walk way.

Riding in the panga.
Waiting for the bus.

The people

In general, the people are very dark as they have African blood and most are bilingual in Spanish and English. They speak Creole, a combo of both tongues. It was strange to hear, “Hombre, what’s up” and because of our blindingly white complexions compared to theirs we were greeted with an almost perfect “Hello and good morning.” There were hardly any other tourists and we felt very much in the minority out and about. I even wore a hat on Saturday when we went to a beach to not attract more stares. Like the rest of Nicaragua, the people were laid back, but reggae music was always blasting from somewhere. For the most part the poverty is more visceral than in other areas on the east side of the country. It was especially interesting to notice that those of wealth, ones with nice clothes and nice jewelry where mostly of African decent, while the service people, the transportation/wait staff/vendors were mostly of Mestizo (Indian/Spanish decent). On the streets there were just a lot of people hanging out waiting to see what the day would bring. I found it difficult to take pictures when I wished because of the attention it drew. We were only uncomfortable once walking to dinner at night on Friday. We walked past 3 very large intimidating black men and realized that our cameras and Birkenstocks were not up to a possible encounter so we decided to take a cab back after dinner.

The food

The seafood is very rich, varied, fresh, and cheap! Those who are lucky to have employment are mostly fisherman and as a result we were able to enjoy lobster, shrimp, and fish. We attempted to try turtle, but unfortunately no restaurants were serving the famous rondon, turtle stew, when we wanted it on Sunday. The central market that sells all kinds of fruits, veggies, and meat was right on the water and delivers from the panga to the market stand. Everything that is fried is very sweet tasting because instead of using vegetable oil, coconut oil is used, and wow, what a difference! The rice, plantains, and fried fish were wonderful as a result.

The scenery

Basically put, Bluefields is tropical rainforest paired with a coastline. The river that leads into Bluefields Bay is something out of a movie and the birds are colorful and beautiful. Each day we were there it rained heavily for about an hour in the morning and then was humid and heavy the rest. The coastline is rough and rugged and is not your bathe in the sun for hours scene. There are several small islands serviceable by panga and on Saturday we went to El Bluff, a small island community that has a “beach.” The beach, however, was basically deserted minus a beverage stand along with the remnants of attempted tourist huts. The sand seemed to go on forever and there we only saw a total of 10 people enjoying the beach as well. Because the Bluefields is difficult to get to the potential of tourism is slim. Apparently, there have been several attempts to catalyze industry here, but all have fizzled out.

Not in Kansas anymore

While on the Atlantic Coast I had a palpable feeling of separateness from the developed western world. I felt very removed from things I know. Not only was the scenery distinct, but the way people were living and what they considered important felt so different too. It was a great break with many moments of beauty and rest, but it brought me to think about how far I am away from the US. The highway/transportation system and the Walgreens/Wal-Mart within a 30-minute drive are a given en “Los Estados” and I will admit I am beginning to miss them. People here in Nicaragua also seem more than content to spend the day watching others walk by and chat with their friends. In the US one might consider it a waste of the day, whereas work has a different value here. There continue to be new systems to figure out. Customer service is an anomaly here with strange bus services, no sign-restaurants, and open when they feel like it stores. I think both sides of the world could use a healthy dose of one another.

New School Year!

After a very long, overnight bus ride back to Managua complete with salsa music until 3 a.m. and a war movie we are back on the Isla and today was the first day of school for the 200 students. There are about 75 students that travel from around the Isla to go to school at NPH with the rest of the kids. Everyone was very cute all dressed up in his or her uniforms and everyone recited a Ruben Dario poem to start. Today was very low-key all the kids met their teachers and helped clean the school. Tomorrow actual classes start. I learned today that my tutoring will officially begin next week, but today I was assigned a small room all to myself where I will help the kids who are assigned to me. Apparently, I will be working with more of the primary grades. I can decorate it however I please, but I need to track down a light bulb for the socket first J. Tomorrow, too, they have a special training for me and the other tutor that will last the day. I am looking forward to getting my room set up and will have more to say next week!

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