Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Laguna Adventure

Yesterday was a bit tough because I had to fire my Spanish teacher. I had her the first three days I was here, which was okay, but when I got her again I knew that I couldn´t keep working with her. She´s really nice but not a good teacher at all. I felt bad, I know she like everyone here really needs the money, but I´d rather be a jerk for a day than waste a week not learning much. So I told the school and they had me write a short essay--in Spanish, of course--stating why I wanted to change teachers and giving some advice so that she may improve her work in the future. At least I didn´t have to say it to her face.

Today was much better. My new teacher, Carla, has been teaching Spanish for almost ten years and is very good and patient.

This afternoon, Carla and I went to Laguna de Apoyo, a 6 kilometer lake inside the crater of a former volcano. The water was the most perfect temperature and it was lovely to be completely submersed in water. I don´t know when I last went swimming. Carla told me that in 2001, there was a big earthquake that originated in the lake. Afterwards, the area around the crater trembled everyday for two months and most of the people had to move because it was so scary. But since then, it has been calm. She also told me that the center of the lake is rumored to contain a whirlpool, but she doesn´t think it´s true because one of her students once swam almost all the way across the lake. (She was really worried about her at the time, though.) Oddly, though they grow up surrounded by so much water--Nicaragua´s nickname is the Land of Lakes and Volcanoes--Most Nicas don´t know how to swim. I´ve asked a lot of people why this is and the general consensus seems to be that kids don´t learn how because their parents don´t know how and can´t teach them.

After the swim and some orange juice, we walked back to the main turn off at the bottom of the crater to wait for a taxi to take us up the hill. After 30 minutes of waiting, we decided to start walking and catch one when it came by. Unfortunately, that never happened. So it was about a 45 minute walk uphill in 85+ degrees. Luckily, most of it was in the shade and I brought some water. We saw a few monkeys and a lot of birds along with way, so that part was nice. I think that I may have to return to Nicaragua in the rainy season because, as lovely as things are now, it´s quite dry and I´d love to see it when everything is green and blooming.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

How the Time Flies

I can't believe another week has gone by since my last blog. Now I have so much to write about! Still no photos (I got too frustrated trying and failing to get them online today) but hopefully within the week. If anyone has suggestions or advice, please let me know.

Monday afternoon, I went with my teacher, Xavier, to the cemetery. It was really huge and interesting because there are three parts to it--one for the rich, one for middle class, and one for the poor, which was by far the biggest section. The first six or so of the country's presidents are buried here and some of the mausoleums are much bigger than a lot of people's homes. There are also a lot of graves of people who died in the war ~20 years ago and this is when I found out that Xavier was drafted at 18 to fight for three hard years in a war (against US-backed anti-revolutionary forces, aka Contras) that he didn't believe in. I have pictures of all the different parts of the cemetery and will post them when I get things straighted out.

Tuesday, I watched a DVD at the school about the war in El Salvador (which has a lot of parallels to the war in Nicaragua) called Voces Inocentes (Innocent Voices). It's from the perspective of an 11 year old boy during a war where all boys were drafted by the army when they turned 12. It was really well done and really sad, and I would recommend it to anyone interested in learning more about the history of Central America.

Wednesday, Xavier and I went to a nearby town called Catolina where artisans make all kinds of pottery and baskets. It is also a place with a lot of nurseries full of flowers to buy. I would love to buy some art--it's really beautiful, well-crafted, and cheap--but don't know how I'd get it home. I suppose I'll have to look into shipping options. This pueblo also has a really great view of Laguna Apoyo, a clear blue crater lake.

Thursday, two other students--Emanuel and Aline--and I went with two teachers from the school to the nearby city of Masaya for their weekly cultural night. This city is the shopping capital of the area and the markets are HUGE. We got there just as things were closing down for the evening, which was fine with me as I don't need to buy any stuff since I'm still at the beginning of my trip. Then we walked over to a nearby view point over another lake, behind which one can see the smoking Vulcan Masaya. One of my friends said she did a tour to that volcano and the fumes are so strong you have to wear a gas mask! Then it was back to the city center for the cultural presentation. We ordered a variety platter of typical Nicaraguan foods, mostly of which were pretty good, and some beers, then sat back to watch the show. The first part consisted of traditional dances from different parts of the country. All Latinos are great dancers and the costumes were colorful and fun. Afterwards, a band came on and played American and Latino songs. The director of the school thought one of the singers was really hot and screamed so much she lost her voice! We left around 11:00, after about 3 hours of entertainment (which cost ~$1.00 each). The show was still going on but everyone was tired.

Friday evening I had a salsa class with Alfredo, one of the teachers from the school. I was disgustingly dripping with sweat, but he still looked cool at the end of it. It was pretty fun and I think I'll do a couple more before I leave because I need the practice! Afterwards, to cool off, I went to the movie theatre, the only place I've found (besides the bank) that has AC. Ghost Rider (El Vengador Fantasma) was playing this weekend and it was kinda cheesy but entertaining and I would have paid the $1.50 for the AC alone.

Saturday, Aline and I went with her friend Sabina to do a canopy zip line tour on the nearby Vulcan Mombacho. The road there was the craziest I have ever been on in my life--the entire trip full of bumps and potholes that, among other things, made everyone's breasts ache! The guides explained that the owners (it is all private property) fix the road somewhat every year, but it gets ruined by the annual rains so they don't try too hard. They also told us that the tires on the Land Rover have to be replaced every month! The zip line rides were great fun and I have some photos, though unfortunately not the video I requested. Later, we went for a short hike around the middle of three peaks on this dormant volcano. There was a nice wind and a great view of Granada, the lake Cocibolca and islets, and the smoldering Vulcan Masaya.

Saturday night, I met up with Aline and Emanuel again and we took some of the teachers out for pizza and then to Cafe Nuit for dancing. I spent most of the night dancing with a cute little gay boy named Juan, who loves to give high fives. I probably did a hundred high fives last night! It was really fun, even though I feel like an incredibly awkward dancer around all the slick and smooth Nicas.

Today I had a lazy day wandering around the city, drinking coffee, and trying to study all the various kinds of Spanish pronouns, my homework for the weekend. I bought lunch for a street kid named Gorge, who told me all about his life and troubles. It was sad and interesting and I feel like I learned a lot about this city and country. I also learned from him that my name, "Tacha" as pronounced by Latinos since Spanish is lacking in the "SH" sound, means flaw or blemish!

Monday, March 19, 2007

First Weekend in Granada

I've been here for less than a week and it already seems like an eternity. I feel like I am in a timeless place, no dwelling on the past or worries about the future. (Although I do need to start thinking about what I want to do once my three weeks of school are up. It's already in the 90's here and everyone keeps telling me it's going to get much hotter. So I need to think about traveling to a cool place. Any suggestions? Please let me know.)

Last Friday night, I went to dinner at Tercer Ojo (the Third Eye) with my classmates (four 50-somethings from NYC) and their host families. It was their last night in Granada before they headed out to a pueblo to build houses. It was fun--I speak better Spanish than any of them and helped translate for everyone. After dinner, some of us went dancing at Cafe Nuit, which I'm told is the best dance club in Granada. They had a live band and also played Latin and American music between sets. (Everyone I've talked to about it says they like it, except my teacher today, he said Granada doesn't have any good clubs and that it's better to go to Managua.) One of the host brothers taught me to meringue a little and it was fun, though way too hot to dance a lot.

Saturday, I mostly just walked around the city and got to know it a little better. I walked along Calle Commercial (Commercial Street), where 'you can buy anything'. It was crazy busy, but nothing like the grocery store and market I went to, which were chaotic and totally packed full of people. Oddly, I didn't find any prepared foods to buy, just ingredients for people to cook themselves. Perhaps I wasn't looking in the right place. My teacher told me today that we will go to the market tomorrow as a 'visual class' so I'll ask him about it.

Saturday night, I went to a free piano concert at La Casa De Tres Mundos (the House of Three Worlds). The pianist played along with recorded background music, which I found rather odd, but it was good. I especially liked the songs where he invited his friends on stage to sing.

Sunday, I tried to invite myself to go to church with my host family. I thought that everything was clear Saturday night, until the last minute when I was about to go to bed and asked Fatima exactly what time I need to be ready to go with them and she told me that she doesn't go to church! I get so confused sometimes! So I slept in (until 9:30 instead of 7:00) instead. After breakfast, fruit and cereal, I went to a museum in the former monastery that's part of the Inglesia (church) de San Francisco. It contains some beautiful, colorful "primitivist" paintings and some other dark and abstract ones, all by Nicaraguan artists. Also, there is a map of Granada built with miniatures. I didn't realize how big the city is, as I have mostly been in the central part. The museum also contained some pre-Colombian statutes (unfortunately without any dates) that were part person, part animal and displays showing how people used to live in the past. It was a nice way to spend the morning and very breezy inside compared to most of the city, as it is located on the top of a small hill.

Sunday night I went to a movie. Finally, a place with air conditioning! The title on the marque was La Conquista del Honor (the Conquest of Honor) and I thought that it would be some movie in Spanish that I would have to try hard to understand any of. Instead, it ended up being The Flags of Our Fathers with Spanish subtitles. Not the best movie ever, but at least I understood the whole thing. The movie theatre is only open on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday and only shows one movie per week. Next week is Ghost Rider, which I will be seeing for the AC if nothing else.

Today I went to class and then came back to the school after lunch and a siesta to walk to the cemetery with my teacher, Javier. There is only one cemetery in Granada and it's huge! I don't even know how big. I couldn't see the end from anywhere we walked. It's divided into three parts, one for the rich, one for the poor, and one for everyone else. The poor part is by far the biggest and saddest, everyone there is buried in the dirt with only a cross made out of metal or plastic or whatever. I took some pictures and will try posting them soon. I tried earlier today but it made the computer freeze, so I guess I did it wrong. I also found out that my teacher was part of the Sandinista movement during the war, about 20 years ago. He said that he shot semi-automatics when he was a teenager, but that he's a pacifist now. It was a really interesting experience.

Okay, I'm off to dinner. Hasta luego!

Thursday, March 15, 2007

A Prison Turned Art School and los Isletas de Cocibolca

Today, I went to school where we spent the first two hours practicing verbs in the classroom. Around 10:00 all the students and teachers went for a walk around the city. It was nice to be able to practice speaking with many different people. We went to a Spanish fort (Fuerte la Polvora) that later became a prison and is now an artist school for mentally handicapped people. There were a ton of mango trees inside, and the view from the towers was quite lovely. Also, it was very breezy and cool up there compared to down on the ground. Perhaps I will post some photos when I remember to bring my camera cords to the Intercafe.

After school, I went home for lunch and then had a two hour nap which almost made me late for the afternoon boat tour. I'm glad I didn't miss it because it was much cooler on the water than on land. Cocibolca, aka Lago de Nicaragua, is super huge. Like the Great Lakes in the US, you can't see the other side and it feels like an ocean. This lake has over 350 islands, many of which are very small and independantly owned. A small one can be bought for around $25,000 USD. It was really pretty and lush. One of the islets is home to a group of monkeys, who all come down to the waters' edge when boats come near in hopes of being fed. My teacher told me that they came from a scientist who was doing research and then let them go on this island. She said that there used to be a lot more of them, but that many died by climbing on the electricity wires that pass through the trees on the island.

I'm not sure what I will be doing this evening. Perhaps I will go see a movie. There is a movie theatre near my house that shows English language films with Spanish subtitles, as well as Spanish films. Also, a nearby hostel shows English language films everyday, which would be nice, although not particularly helpful with my language practice.

Hasta Luego!