Semana Santa.

“I’m part wood nymph. I require mountains and warm, dense patches of moss to thrive.”
Vera Farmiga

Holy Week (Semana Santa) acts as Nicaragua’s Spring Break, so I have had this week off of classes. Since everybody and their mother goes to the beach for Semana Santa and I live close to a beach that was soon to be invaded, I turned and headed to the mountains.

Coffee, hiking, rosquillas, and hot showers were calling.

After fighting crazy crowds at the bus station, getting asked by a news film crew to dance on national television with a towel to promote the beach, and many hours of travel, we were on our way.

In my ears this week: She Lit A Fire – Lord Huron. Check it out!

My friends and I started off our week out in Esteli, with a day trip up to do the full Somoto Canyon experience. This is an amazing combo of hiking, swimming, and cliff jumping in one the most northern parts of Nicaragua.

Sweet, sweet outdoors, you do my soul so much good.

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One of the cliffs in the canyon you can jump off! I’m doing a 25-footer in this picture, and just out of frame to the right is the 60-foot option.

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We continued being tourists (so strange after living in country for almost a year) by heading to do a cigar factory tour in Esteli. It was a fun glimpse into the local industry and the guys in our group thoroughly enjoyed themselves, as you can probably tell:

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The factory was an incredible mix of colors, smells and textures. Photographing was quite fun here.

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Post-cigar tour, my dear friend and fellow PCV Maija and I headed out for a coffee date and art walk around Esteli. Beautiful art in the midst of crumbling buildings and cobblestone streets? Count me in.

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Maija being my unintentional model and making art look even better.

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I loved this painting that was on a wall down the street from our hostel:

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After an outing to a hilarious karaoke club on our last night in Esteli, our PCV group and two new friends from Texas trekked it to the bus station and caught a ride to Matagalpa to disfrutar the mountains and cold air.

Our first stop in the Galps? Iced coffee, obviously!

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After enjoying some good food, amazing mojitos and lots of laughs, that group left the following morning, leaving me to make new friends and figure out what to do with 3 solo days in Matagalpa!

There ended up being some great folks staying at the same hostel and we took off for a mountaintop adventure the following morning. This is the view from the top of our hike to El Apente, looking down over Matagalpa. Instead of trekking down the normal way, we wove our way through back trails and down through local farms, ending up at a secret, beautiful, hilltop convent. It was bliss.

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I spent the rest of the week walking the empty city streets, soaking up the breeze and occasional rain, treating myself to some Chinese food, journaling, napping, and hanging out with fun new friends from around the world.

Here is the crew playing a very international game of Apples to Apples, or as we affectionately renamed it for our English friend, Scones to Scones.

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The Final Count:

Hostels Stayed In: 2

Buses Taken: 9

Taxi Rides: 6

Kilometers Hiked: 12ish

Cliffs Jumped Off: 4

Number of Countries New Friends Are From: 7

Cups of Coffee Drunken: Lost Count After The First Day!

As I head back to site and normal life, I am reminded how grateful I am for breaks.

I needed a rest. A chance to breathe. Some fun. New experiences.

And this week was all that and more.

So thank you Maija, Aaron, Henry, David, Clare, Sanin, Denis, Becky, Alex, Keenan, and Kevin – you guys made this week so fun!

Men & Their Cigars.

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A few gems from a cigar factory tour in Esteli with some PCVs and new friends!

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Hundreds of hand-rolled cigars in the drying room & Henry making life look good.

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Waiting to be packaged for sale.

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Learning how to roll cigars – with a mandatory break to smoke one, obviously.

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The first drying room, where tobacco leaves go after being washed.

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And finally, Mike demonstrating the fine art of Nica-AC!

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A Five Minute Life Update.

MidSeptember 2012 007

If you and I had five minutes to chat, here’s what I would tell you:

It rained last night in my site for the first time in 5 months. A sweeter sound has never been heard.

Every other minute of the day is mid-90s and crazy strong wind that causes dust storms. I have eye infections galore due to the crud that travels with the dust and into my eyes every time I open them. Regardless of how often I sweep and mop (multiple times a day is my normal routine), there is still an inch of dust coating my floors, books, clothes.

Mangoes are coming into season. Watermelon is delicious, as is the cantaloupe I bought today. Avocados are making their appearance in the market again after a long absence. Well worth the 20 cord splurge. Green peppers are now huge and amazingly delicious, and only cost 5 cords.

My site mate made my week by making me a morning iced coffee to start a long day. And it was amazing. My recycled Gatorade bottles now have a steady job of chilling full of chocolately-coffee goodness in my family’s fridge to be waiting for me in the morning.

I only had three guys ask for my phone number this week. And only one of them was a student!

I spent today rechecking in with various contacts in the community since I don’t have classes Fridays. Besides visiting the superintendent, I even snuck in a visit to the NGO in town that has air-conditioning and purified water. Sweet bliss. I ended my day by showing up at my friends’ house and begging to chinear (snuggle) with their one month old baby boy. Between baby snuggles and being named ‘Tia Kacie’, this lady left with a very happy heart. I have strict instructions to come back every day and am happy to oblige.

There has been a lot of death and random violence in my community in the last two weeks. Between a horrid car accident I saw in Managua last weekend and one that happened right outside my community on Wednesday, no less than 11 people have been killed in the last 5 days. At one of my schools, a fight broke out between a couple students and ended up with 16 students fighting and somehow beating up an old man in the central park. I saw another car/motorcycle accident this morning in town. Thankfully the driver was okay, just nursing some cuts on the side of the road, where the local business owner had provided him with some bowls of water to wash up, his motorcycle laying sprawled in the middle of street. During a break in classes on Wednesday, I had to notify the vice-principal about another fight at a different school this week, and she called the police to come handle it. Too much.

I may have broken out into a really embarrassing celebration dance on the sidewalk in the center of town today when I caught the quesillo lady 30 seconds before she was leaving. She not only unpacked all of her stuff to make me a fresh quesillo, but gave me double cheese. For free. Best. Day. Ever.

I bought a basil plant in Managua two weekends ago and a planter to put it in last weekend in Caterina. I finally planted it today and words do not even begin to express how happy it makes me to see that little plant when I come home.

I have started working out more frequently, even going on 6 AM runs. If you know me, you know the level of stress required to get me out of bed that early and to go exercise is high. Very high.

I am trying hard to remember to be gentle with myself. These have been a couple rough, stressful weeks. And I need to remember to breathe, to give myself some grace, and to loosen up a bit. Life is going to go on.

“But this is what I’m finding, in glimpses and flashes: this is it. This is it, in the best possible way. That thing I’m waiting for, that adventure, that move-score-worthy experience unfolding gracefully. This is it. Normal, daily life ticking by on our streets and sidewalks, in our houses and apartments, in our beds and at our dinner tables, in our dreams and prayers and fights and secrets – this pedestrian life is the most precious thing any of use will ever experience.”

~ Shauna Niequist, Cold Tangerines

25 Days of Thankfulness.

Advent calendars have always been a tradition in my family.

But this year, Advent, more specifically the delicious advent calendar filled with dark chocolate my mom sent me, came a bit late.

In February, to be exact.

Mail service is a little slow here.

Since the real Advent season had already passed, I decided to turn my little box of chocolate treasures into a practice of gratitude.

So for each little door I opened on that calendar, a happy thought got recorded in my journal.

Here’s a little what made life beautiful in February:

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Please note the common themes: food, cold drinks, food, more food.

Guess we know where my priorities are these days!

I have much to be grateful for.

Something I need to keep reminding myself daily, hourly, by the second, especially in this season of frustration and being overwhelmed.

My life is: Strange. Weird. Colorful. Tiring. Awesome. Overwhelming.

And still,

I have much to be grateful for.

A Quesillo Party!

I tend to talk about it with as much passion as an incredibly good-looking, outdoorsy, hipster man.

And my Nica friends have caught on to my love\obsession.

What is it?

Quesillo!

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As a ‘welcome back to Nicaragua’ treat, my friends from our English conversation group threw a Quesillo Party for me!

Quesillo is an amazing Nicaraguan food: mozzeralla-esque cheese, cream, a bit of salt, and a huge serving of onion-vinegar relish, all rolled into a tortilla, and eaten out of a plastic bag.

Uh-mazing.

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My friend Aura making our homemade quesillos.

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My friend Jasser and his beautiful wife.

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´Nacho´, Freddy and Aura.

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Jasser practicing his modeling skills.

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The youngest member of our group, 14 year-old Jose.

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Relaxing in the cool evening air before class starts.

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My friend Adolfo and I.

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Thankful for friends who love celebrating and good food!

Rub-A-Dub, Get Rid of That Mud!

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One of the really fun parts about my life here is the invitations I receive from community members. This past week, I got invited to an early-morning visit to a professor’s farm, located on the outskirts of my most rural community.

We ate rice and beans, I got a tour of all the fruit trees, and met the smallest members of her family.

We then headed down to the river to give the kids baths, then off to school by 10am.

Kids + Sunshine + Water + Camera = Pretty Fun Photoshoot!

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