Diann Irwin, a visitor who came on our Unitarian-Universalist trip in February of this year, was generous enough to share some of her journal from her time in Nicaragua. For those of you who have traveled with us, this will be a nice walk down memory lane for you! For those of you who haven’t visited us here in San Ramon yet, here’s a sneak peek of what’s waiting for you!
Day 1: I met my group in the Raleigh airport. We all had late flights, so Sister Communities arranged for us to stay in the capital. We arrived in Managua, Nicaragua at 10:30pm their time. Customs went quickly and we looked for the person who was to meet us. We took the shuttle from the airport across the street to the hotel. Once we were checked in, we all just crashed for the night.
Day 2: We all met at the outdoor breakfast buffet. The food was really good and represented the local culture as well as our own. The bus ride from Managua to San Ramon was very interesting. At the beginning of the drive it was very flat and we drove by Lake Managua. Then we were in low, dry mountains and we saw coffee processing plants where coffee beans were drying. Finally, we got to the mountains, which was much more “rain forest-like”. Everything was green and beautiful. The drive took about 2 hours.
After we got to the eco-lodge, Finca Esperanza Verde, we had a late lunch, settled into our cabin and then had a tour of how coffee is produced at the Finca. We learned a lot from the head coffee producer. Then we had free time until dinner. We sat on the yoga patio and everyone had a beer or a glass of wine. We had an excellent dinner, and later we went back to the cabin, read, talked and were all ready for sleep by 9 pm.
Day 3: We all got up at 5:45am to go bird watching. We saw many beautifully colored birds, and then came back for a great breakfast. At 9am we met at the dining area to go coffee cupping. We rode to a smaller coffee farm and the owner told us about organic coffee. He showed us how he grew passion fruit, corn, cocoa, oranges, bananas, and of course, coffee. Then we did the coffee cupping (i.e., coffee tasting). We graded three different coffees from best to worst.
We had lunch and some free time. One surprise at the Finca was that there was internet service easily available, and there were many places to plug in our devices. In the afternoon, some of us went on a hike. We saw a variety of plant and animal life. After the hike, our group had a drink and watched the sun set. Each evening there was a phenomenal sunset. We had a great dinner and afterwards it was very clear. The stars were wonderful and we could see the Milky Way.
Day 4: We all got up early to go bird watching again. At around 9am we walked to the primary school that was nearby. We introduced ourselves and then the children introduced themselves. One person from the group had printed out pictures of what she could see from her window at home – an oak tree, a pine tree, a squirrel and a cardinal. They passed the pictures around. We asked what they could see from their window. One girl said she had no window. They said things like butterflies, dogs, and banana trees. Then we gave out white canvas bags, and we circulated with fabric markers. After they finished coloring the bags, we played games. The children seemed to enjoy our visit. We were all pleased at how it had gone.
After lunch, four of us went on a hike. We went through many terrains and saw several three-toed sloths. We also saw a waterfall. Later we had a tortilla lesson. We each patted out a tortilla and the cook cooked it on a wood stove. We then ate it with honey and lime. Then the staff brought out popcorn, and we watched the sun go down.
Day 5: We all got up early to go bird watching again and then we had breakfast. At 10am we went to tour the organic garden. After lunch, we went to see the butterfly house. The Finca used to supply the butterflies for the Museum of Life and Science in Durham. Then we went down a trail to the waterfall nearby. We saw more sloths, and then we heard a male call for a female. As we got closer to the Finca’s buildings, we began to hear a loud cry. Omar, the guide, said it was a female and they were mating.
We returned to the terrace, had happy hour and watched the sunset. It was lovely. After dinner, we had a campfire and five musicians came to play for us. They played folk music for an hour. We also roasted marshmallows, and went to bed by 9:30.
Day 6: We got up to watch birds again and went down the trail where we saw toucans, which was really neat. We said our goodbyes to the staff, and rode in a truck and an SUV to the second school. This school is Eno River UU Fellowship’s sister school, adopted through Sister Communities’ Rural School Partnership program. There we did the backpack craft again after introductions and Louise’s pictures. They enjoyed coloring the bags. Then we played games and left.
Then we drove on to San Ramon. There we went to the office and met Anjie, the director of Sister Communities. We had a brief introduction and orientation to San Ramon. Our guides walked with us to meet our host families. Louise and I stayed with Neyda. She sells bread and bakery goods from the front of her house. We enjoyed her lovely garden area where she has many beautiful plants. We ate lunch and then left at 2pm for a tour of San Ramon given by the guides. We saw a lot of the town, and at the end of the tour we went to the Casa Materna. There we saw the area where the pregnant women live and got a tour of the health clinic across the way.
Then we came back and rested some. We had a dinner of tortillas with refried beans, tomatoes and cheese plus fruit. In the evening, we went to the library where we learned an interesting story about how the library came to be. Some young girls danced folk dances for us – some wore the long full skirts like at the international festival here. A man played the guitar and sang songs for us. We danced with the girls some at the end.
Day 7: Louise and I got up before 7am and had a breakfast of rice and beans, pineapple, avocado, and cheese, plus a sweetish bread with jelly. At 10:30 we went to Los Pipitos, a center for children with disabilities. On that day, there were about 13 kids. We colored pinwheels with them. They all seemed to enjoy making the pinwheels and then having them afterwards. Then we went back we had lunch, had a little free time and then set out on our afternoon activities.
First, we went to a craft market where I bought two pairs of earrings. Then we went to a lady’s house and heard about the history of the town of San Ramon. Our next stop was our cooking lesson on nacatamales. We learned how to make them and then had them for dinner with the host families. The host families arrived as we ate and there was a 4-piece band to sing and play. They were very good. We all enjoyed talking to each other and listening to the music. Then we came back to the house to get ready for the night and to go to sleep.
Day 8: After breakfast, we met the guides to go on a hike. The hike was up a dirt road and we passed several things of interest: water tanks for the town, the municipal well, the first coffee farm in the area, and an abandoned gold mine. We learned Sister Communities in conjunction with the Southwest Durham Rotary Club financed the construction of the well. In addition, we saw lots of animals, including howler monkeys. We eventually got to the small community of La Pita, and there was a small swimming pool where we all went swimming. I liked it after the hot hike. The truck gave us a ride back to our house afterwards and then we had lunch.
In the afternoon, we went to El Chile to see the weavers. It was interesting to watch them use the looms. This was an indigenous group practicing an old craft. Then we went to a jewelry business run by local women. They showed us how to make jewelry from the local seeds. At around 7 pm we went to the park at the end of town for our Farewell Fiesta. There were many colored lights and the fountains were on. There was a band that played traditional music. We danced and took photos. It was a nice ending to our stay.
Day 9: After breakfast, we went to the office for the Sister Communities where we waited for the bus. We said goodbye to our host families. When the bus came, we drove to Managua. We got to Managua around 11:30am. At the hotel, we swam in the pool, read, talked, and relaxed. We ate dinner at the outdoor restaurant. I slept pretty well that night.
Day 10: Our flight was not until later that night, so Sister Communities arranged an afternoon tour of Managua for us. Our guide spoke very good English and we really had an excellent tour. First, he drove us to the top of a hill where the large executive house had been during the time of the dictatorship. He explained a lot of the history of that period and about the US Marines occupying Managua. From there we went to the old downtown and a lovely area near the lake. We saw the old cathedral and went into a museum about Nicaragua. We all thought the tour was very interesting. After this, we drove back to our hotel.
Then we all went back by the pool, relaxed and eventually ate dinner. At around 8 pm, we got our suitcases and took the shuttle over to the airport. Our flight was on time and things went well for all the flights home. We arrived in Raleigh on time and then I drove home. It was really a great trip and a real learning experience.
Thanks for sharing, Diann! We look forward to seeing you again in San Ramon!