A Travellerspoint blog

February 2015

Aargh Pirates!

Río San Juan, by Fraser

semi-overcast 26 °C

We went on a boat to get to El Castillo. It took us 3 hours. El Castillo is a town in the middle of the jungle on Río San Juan in Nicaragua. We wanted to see the fort that was built there to stop pirates from getting to Granada. The fort was at the top of the hill where there are rapids in the river that the pirates would have to climb and that would slow down the pirates enough that the soldiers could shoot at them. We visited the fort and could see down the river in case pirates came. There were lots of cannons and gun holes. Because the soldiers were shooting out of small holes it was harder for attackers to shoot the soldiers inside. We got to run around and play 'soldier and pirate' since nobody else was there. I got to be a pirate!

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The next day we took another boat to go on a rainforest hike in the Indio Maiz Reserve. They gave us shiny black welly boots to wear. The trail was muddy and I got stuck a bunch of times. We had to use walking sticks. Our guide showed us a jaguar print in the mud that was a few days old. I got my picture taken in front of the coolest tree; it could walk (move) sideways over a period of 5-10 years. It would grow new spiky roots to one side to slowly, slowly pull the tree that way. There are 12 families left that still live in the rainforest that don't talk to or see anyone else. They never go to the doctor or the dentist or the hospital and instead they use the jungle plants to make them better when they get sick. We saw a poisonous snake. Ailsa was scared of it, but it was only a baby. By the end of the hike everyone was muddy, not just me! Our boots were so muddy we had to wash them in the river before we gave them back. We took another boat back to the hotel and saw white-faced monkeys on the way.

Tomorrow we have to take two more boat rides on our way to the border for Costa Rica. Urgh. I am sick and tired if these boat rides! Bye.

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Posted by Salsa Sojourns 07:33 Archived in Nicaragua Comments (0)

Some like it hot!

Granada, by Norm

sunny 40 °C

As we sweated through our earlier travels in Guatemala and Honduras, locals repeatedly told us that Granada, Nicaragua was HOT. Escaping the Canadian winter, everywhere seemed relatively hot to us so we shrugged off the comments but weren't really ready for the extreme heat we met when we reached Granada.

Granada is a beautiful colonial city at the north end of Lago Nicaragua. We saw some of its most picturesque sites as we took a horse drawn carriage ride one morning with a guide that pointed out every hotel, finished each sentence with "this is Granada" and repeated the founding date of the city for any important date in history: 1524 for anyone interested. Apparently, the cathedral was built and burned down three times over in 1524. Captain Henry Morgan of pirate (and rum!) fame sacked the city in 1524. American William Walker and his mercenaries took control of Granada and the country and declared himself president in 1524. We may need to double check the accuracy of the carriage driver's claims. Maybe the heat was getting to him.

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The casa we rented for the week had a beautiful balcony view out to the Mombacho Volcano and the cathedral on Central Park. We strolled the city streets each morning before the heat forced us inside by 10am to relax in the shade or in the saltwater pool. After a couple of weeks on the move and in transit, including a two day bus journey to reach Granada, the respite was welcomed.

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As I cycled alone along the lakeshore one morning my backpack was snatched by two motorbike bandits. The bag held an iPad and our beloved point-and-shoot Canon camera so the photos on the blog for the next few weeks will be from the goPro and the spare iPad. It was quite disappointing but not wholly unexpected given the poverty we witnessed here. And although I am a firm supporter of some global wealth re-distribution I really prefer to do it on my own terms!

In a not completely unrelated turn of events, we sampled the local Flor de Caña rum, frequently regarded by experts as the best rum in the world. And, for the first time since our travels began, we discovered that fresh mint was easily available (8 cents Canadian for a bunch!). That could not have come at a better time! Maybe it was the heat or the poolside setting, but those mojitos were the best we have ever had! Cheers!

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Posted by Salsa Sojourns 05:49 Archived in Nicaragua Comments (2)

One Jaguar, 18 Rabbits and lots of Macaws

Copan, Honduras, by Mirren

sunny 26 °C

One Jaguar:
At the Luna Jaguar Hotsprings the naturally hot water is too hot and steamy to sit in by itself so they have to run cold water from a spring along with the hot water into a bunch of different pools. Some were cool. Some were warm. Some were hot. We had to take a tuktuk to get here and then had to walk over a hanging bridge, through a cave-like tunnel and over stepping stones in a river to get to the pools. There was a mud bath where we put mud on our faces and left it there to dry. We looked kind of funny with our faces all dirty, but our skin felt very soft when we washed it off in a warm waterfall shower. One shower had water coming out of a Mayan statue's mouth. Our tuktuk ride back to Copan was all uphill and we had to get out and walk up some of the hills. We all felt so relaxed and sleepy but it was a really bumpy road home and we had to hold on tight so we didn't fall out.

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18 Rabbits:
Early one morning we headed to the Mayan ruins of Copan. Our guide, Gladys, pointed out all the amazing sculptures carved out of rock. One carving showed a person wearing a jaguar skin and dancing and it looked a lot like Tigger. The most powerful ruler was called "18 Rabbit". He was beheaded when he went to visit his friend (that's a frenemy!) in another Mayan city. After that, the regular people realized that their rulers weren't gods and were only humans. They lost faith in them and eventually people moved away from Copan and went to other Mayan cities. The rulers all had funny names: Smoke Snake, Smoke Shell, Sunrise and, of course, 18 Rabbit. Chichen Itza and Tikal were both bigger than Copan, but Copan had so many beautiful carved statues and even a carved staircase so I thought it was the most beautiful.

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Lots of Macaws:
The scarlet macaw is the national bird of Honduras. Macaw Mountain is a sanctuary and rehabilitation centre for scarlet macaws, toucans, and other tropical birds. Lots of people foolishly buy wild birds from poachers and then can't care for them properly. These birds can live for 80 years if cared for properly. Like other parrots (in the wild) they find a mate and are together for the rest of their lives. If their partner dies they can get very lonely. Once these birds are rehabilitated they are eventually released at the gates to the Mayan ruins of Copan where a large group of scarlet macaws live.

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Ailsa, Fraser and I spent the day looking for feathers on the ground and we ended up with an amazing collection. There was one part of the centre where we were allowed to have the birds sit on our shoulders. It felt so cool but they were very heavy!

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Posted by Salsa Sojourns 06:00 Archived in Honduras Tagged birds ruins hotsprings Comments (4)

El Corazón de Pitahaya

Visiting the families of Project Harvest, by Ailsa

sunny 26 °C

When we started planning our trip two years ago we wanted to find a charity to help in Central America. The Fergus-Elora Rotary Club, which my dad is in, started to support a charity that we really liked too, so we picked that one. The charity we chose was called Project Harvest and it helps people with not enough food to start their own vegetable gardens. The money raised helps people to buy seeds and to build special containers to catch rain water in the rainy season and stores it for them to use in the dry season.

For my 10th birthday last March I decided to ask my friends for donations to Project Harvest instead of gifts. They were all so generous and we raised lots of money together. Thank you to my friends! We also gave Project Harvest donations to some of our family at Christmas instead of gifts. My family and I drove down to Hamilton just after my birthday and gave the money to Project Harvest at their yearly musical concert fundraiser. There was traditional Guatemalan food and dancing and we had lots of fun. They were very grateful for my birthday money. They even put a picture of Mirren and me in their newsletter. I will put a link to this at the end of my post in case you want to learn more about the charity.

We planned our trip so that we would have a few days to visit the communities that have worked with Project Harvest. The towns are in an area called Chiquimula, Guatemala. It is about an hour drive from where we were staying in Copan, Honduras. So, we left our bags there and headed back into Guatemala for a few days without all our heavy stuff. We got to know a border guard pretty well because we crossed the border so many times in a few days. She was grumpy to begin with, I think because our Spanish is not very good, but she finally smiled at us the last time!

People from the local Rotary club that are helping to run the project picked us up in Chiquimula and gave us a tour of the area. They took us to one of their other projects (supported by other Canadian Rotary clubs) which is building more classrooms at an elementary school out in the mountains. They were also building bathrooms for the school kids to use. Here is a picture of Mirren and me inside one of the new classrooms. Their old school only had two rooms for one hundred kids. It will be so much better for them.

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The second day the Rotary people took us to the Project Harvest community, Pitahaya, and the ladies showed us their gardens. They were very proud of them! I would have been proud too if it was my garden! The earth all around was very rocky and very dry. It took them 20 days to dig the hole in the earth to build the container to catch the rain water. It was 15.75 cubic meters and held enough water to water their veggies for the whole dry season. The ground in their gardens was dark brown and much softer because they used a lot of composted stuff and watered it daily. Their veggies were much bigger than the ones we grow at home in Canada. Some gardens were shared between two or three families so they all had to help build them and pitch in with the gardening too.

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If they had extra veggies they would sell them at the local market. The families now had chickens and pigs too. Before Project Harvest started several years ago the kids back then were not able to grow properly or learn as easily. We met one little girl who was so tiny because her mom didn't have enough healthy food when she was growing in her mom's tummy and she didn't have enough food when she was a little kid. The mothers all said their kids are much healthier now. And the little babies on their laps were all happy looking.

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My dad had emailed the Chiquimula Rotary club before our trip to say we would be visiting and asked if we could maybe see the project to take photos for his Rotary club back home. I couldn't believe it but the Project Harvest leader down here knew my name and kept saying how thankful they all were for my help. She spoke in Spanish and called me corazón which means 'heart'. The families gave us a delicious lunch and gave me a thank you card and a beautiful tapestry that they had stitched themselves! I totally wasn't expecting that at all!! I left there feeling like I had really made a difference to their lives. They were doing well now and I think they had just needed a bit of help to get started. I was so glad that the little bit of money that my friends and I had raised had made such a big difference. That was such an amazing feeling!

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You can click to see more information about Project Harvest or go to this website, http://projectharvest.org
We can tell you that donations are making a big difference!

The kids we met in Pitahaya were all so friendly. We had parked in front of their school when we went to visit the gardens and when we walked back to the truck to head back home it was recess time and they all ran to the fence to look at us. They invited us into their school yard and I got to play basketball with them. I play basketball at home in Canada (Go Phoenix U11 Team!) so I kind of knew what I was doing. They cheered when my first basket went in. When I missed my second basket they all just went 'ohh' at the same time. It was sooooo funny! There were about 100 kids and they had a nice play area but they only had two old balls to play with. The teacher my mom spoke to told her that they could use some pencils and other stuff. It really made me think about how full my own pencil case is at home... Me and Mirren are planning to raise some money to send some balls and school supplies to this school, just so you know we might ask you to come to our yard sale or lemonade stand! :)

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From our family:
We would like to thank the Rotary Club of Chiquimula de la Sierra for helping organize these visits and touring us through the communities, especially Veronica and Abelardo. You are facilitating such worthwhile projects! We also send a huge 'thank you' to Isaura and the Project Harvest community leaders; Elvia, Gloria, Maria Elena, Roberta and Santa. You opened your gardens, your community and your hearts to show us how we have so much in common and how even the smallest gesture can grow into something significant.

Para nuestros amigos en español:
Nos gustaría dar las gracias al Club Rotario de Chiquimula de la Sierra por ayudar a organizar estas visitas y nos paseábamos por las comunidades, en especial Verónica y Abelardo. Usted está facilitando este tipo de proyectos que valen la pena! También enviamos un enorme 'gracias' a Isaura y los líderes de la comunidad Proyecto Cosecha; Elvia, Gloria, María Elena, Roberta y Santa. Ha abierto sus jardines, su comunidad y sus corazones para mostrarnos cómo tenemos tanto en común y cómo incluso el gesto más pequeño puede convertirse en algo significativo.

Posted by Salsa Sojourns 16:24 Archived in Guatemala Comments (8)

...THIS is why we travel!

The Guatemala Highlands, by Shona

sunny 27 °C

The few days that followed our visit to Tikal were rough. Ironically, as we travelled higher into the rainy Guatemalan Highlands things started to go downhill. Despite rockslide remnants that sprung up behind switchback corners, our easily distracted kamikaze minibus driver somehow delivered us safely to our next destination. We were some of the lucky passengers... others hung to the roof rails in the rain! But the tarp that covered the bags on the roof of the van didn't work very well and we arrived in the crossroads mountain town of Coban, Guatemala with bags full of wet clothes. It was cold. Not 'Canada in January' cold, but the temperature inched toward freezing at night, our things were all wet and there was no heating in our hotel. We huddled under blankets and tried to stay warm while our clothes were at the laundromat but things began to unravel... Mirren was inconsolable after seeing a run-over dog. Ailsa threw teenager-worthy stink-eyes in everyone's direction. Fraser refused to stop bouncing. Norm and I began to bicker with each other. We all started to show signs of homesickness and/or boredom. Something weird was going on... this did not feel like the first part of our trip.

At dinner Norm tried to order a local dish but it was not available so he took a chance on the unknown menu item listed just below. When our meal arrived he quickly declared his inedible. Not possible, I thought. I have witnessed him eat unmentionables at Dim Sum in Chinatown and fried ginea pig in Peru. The man can literally eat any meat... But not this dish. He said he thought he saw an eyeball in it. The kids rolled their eyes and told him not to be rude or to waste food (ooh, karma!) but when we got back to the freezing hotel that night a Google search showed he had unfortunately ordered pig head and menudo (intestine) soup. Yup, it was official. Our travelling luck had run out. We had lost our mojo.

As soon as all our things had dried out we decided to get out of Dodge! If we changed things up, we reasoned, then maybe our luck would improve. We headed out to the legendary picturesque river spot called Semuc Champey which the guidebooks called the prettiest spot in Guatemala. At this point in our travels we wanted 'pretty'.

The long journey there was an adventure in itself, the last part of which was a 9km, one hour long, bone-jarring upright ride in the back of a truck. The kids loved that! In our last minute scramble to change our plans we had booked accommodation at the Utopia Eco Lodge. I know, I know... the name itself was a red flag. It's like naming a baby boy Caesar or Napoleon or even Fabio!! Such high expectations from the name alone... Utopia! Besides, this 'Eco lodge' was going to cost us a mere $6 each for the night. I braced myself for disappointment.

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How wrong I was to doubt this place. It was amazing! The young international volunteer staff could not have been more welcoming. There were vistas to view, board games to play and other travellers to chat with. But the best part of the lodge was that it was an hour-long tube ride down river from Semuc Champey. Yes please! We quickly found our little cabin, threw down our bags, hopped into the back of the pick-up truck again and bumped our way to the park entrance.

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Semuc Champey is unbelievably stunning! I have never seen anything as beautiful! We had the most amazing day there and then floated home on our tubes in time for a delicious family-style vegetarian dinner. Not surprisingly Norm did not complain about the lack of meat! :)

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What a perfect day. And I got to spend it with my most favourite people in the world. Floating along in my tube I tried to freeze the moment in my mind as we meandered over gentle rapids back to Utopia. Ailsa, soon to be 11 years old, and Norm and I were witnessing her final few months of real childhood. Mirren, 9 years old, and so curious and compassionate. And Fraser, six years old, and desperately trying to keep up with his sisters. What a gift to be able to spend these precious days together. Maybe we hadn't lost our mojo or our travelling luck - only our perspective. As it turned out, 'Utopia' was the perfect name for this spot... THIS is why we travel!

Posted by Salsa Sojourns 11:54 Archived in Guatemala Comments (6)

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