Monday, June 2, 2008

Viernes a Lunes con Neenie!

Guess who drove to work today???? Yep, from my apartment all the way to the parking lot at work…I drove…a stick shift car….learned by Spanish! Talk about a proud moment for me! I spent the morning with my boss getting to ask lots of questions and clarify even more about the company and my task this summer, so I felt really great afterwards. At noon, I headed to the Hilton to meet the Business Unit leader over Central America, a gentleman originally from England who now lives in Honduras and speaks great Spanish. Visiting with him was really good, and as soon as I finished there, I went to the airport to pick up my Neenie!!! It felt so surreal to have her here with me in my Nicaragua; almost like it was more real that I am here.

Fortunately, we had a driver for the weekend, named Jose. Jose didn’t quite understand that when he spoke and I said, “mas despacio” it practically means slow motion….so there was a bit of communication trouble, but nothing too major. I was sooo thankful that I didn’t have to drive all weekend, so Jose was a big time blessing for our trip. After the airport, Jose took us to Burger King so that we could grab something quick to eat and be off for some adventure. This was actually my first time ordering all by myself, all in Spanish….as painful as ordering is at fast food restaurants, I didn’t know whether it was because of the language barrier or just the restaurant.

Our first destination was Vulcan Masaya! On the way up, we took tons of pictures of the scenery and once there we roped Jose into being a photographer also. We didn’t stay long though; the gases are just too strong without a mask. They offer gas masks there, but we figured the pictures and the few seconds looking at it were the best parts.

Next we went to Granada, the town Roger took me to last weekend. Jose drove us by the lake, and then into town. Neenie and I just walked around a bit and enjoyed the “oldness” of it all and the neat culture there. We went to buy some postcards in a tiny little shop run by an old man. Last week I was there and bought 10 postcards for about $5. This time, we bought 21 between the two of us and when the man handed me my change it seemed really incorrect. Moments like this when you are trying to recount the change to figure out if it was correct are just really awkward because you are basically questioning the person’s honesty or their basic math skills. Picture that awkward moment lasting a really long time as I tried to count and multiply in dollars and cordobas….so painful. In the end we left, although we definitely got taken on the postcards….I can’t imagine why; I mean, its not like its obvious that we are tourists or anything!

We went and got mango cheesecake (delicious!) in this adorable hotel…it is my goal to learn to drink coffee before I leave here, but so far I haven’t started. We also went to eat supper at a place called El Zaguan, where we had yummy steak and rice and tostones y queso which is my plantanos! Walking around and just enjoying the beautiful weather, the great culture, and sister time made for a phenomenal afternoon and evening.

Neenie and I were ready to roll when Jose showed up at 8:30 am to go to the volcano Mombocho, which is about an hour and a half from Managua. We rode in the car about half way up the mountain, and then we jumped on a big huge army-type truck to go all the way to the top. I feel like we have both been on steep mountains during our lives, but let me tell you this road was STEEP. The drive up was gorgeous as there were coffee farms, plantain and banana plants, beautiful tropical flowers and tons of green trees. There were even a couple of nurseries at the base.

Once we got to the top, we made friends with some other gringos who spoke a bit better Spanish then us and were able to explain what the “park rangers” were saying. It turns out, it was a couple in the Peace Corps and their family that was visiting them…super nice people who helped point us in the right direction for our hike. There were 2 hike options: 1 that would take about an hour, and one that would take about 4 hours. We opted for the short one in the interest of time and packing more into our day, but before I leave here I want to hike the long trail.

The trail we took may have been shorter, but there is no way it was less beautiful! We could see lakes, Granada, and the whole valley from up there…it was wonderful! On our hike, we also made friends with an older couple from Argentina who were just visiting Nicaragua for vacation. It is fun to hear everyone’s story of why they are here.

Our new Peace Corps friends were raving about the Canopy Tour, and we gave into the peer pressure. The Canopy Tour is a series of cables tied between two trees. Basically you are strapped into a harness, which hooks from your middle up the cable….you just slide right across! We ended up doing this with a couple from Salt Lake City who were really fun. We had two tour guides who spoke a bit of English, and they were super nice and helpful. The first time we went, Neenie was all hooked up, sat down in the harness, the guy gave the go ahead….and I don’t know that her rope had ever been squeezed as tightly as she was squeezing it then or that she had ever shut her eyes as tightly as she was…but she did so good! At the next platform when I grabbed her hand to help her stand up, I realized that her whole body was shaking….what a trooper!! There were a few options of how to go on each cable. You could go the basic way, by sitting down on the harness, or you could go “superman” with your arms out flying, or you could go upside down….for some reason, I felt really brave and went both superman and upside down! In order to go superman, the guide goes with you and is in back holding your legs….let me just say right here, that I know it looked terribly inappropriate and there was a Nicaragua strange man holding my legs, however at that moment all I cared about was not dying! Anyway, our canopy tour was great and Janeen cant wait to do it again—right, Neenie? ;)

Catarinas was next on our list, and it is a beautiful little town at the top of a hill that looks down in to a crater where there is a lagoon. The town is very touristy with lots of shops, and crafty things, and men with musical instruments, and many nurseries. Anyway, it was about 4 in the afternoon by the time we got there and we were starving for lunch so we went to a place looking right onto the lake…beautiful! Once again, I was trying to order in Spanish. I knew the word for fish and had communicated that, but then the waiter starts going off with other words and options I didn’t understand. The best I could come up with was “si”, which was fine until they brought my fish….the whole fish, head and tail included! Oh, and it was covered in sauce. Yum. Oh, and it cost about twice what I thought. Yum. Luckily, it turned out to be pretty good and I documented my fine finned friend’s cute head and all with a great picture! Luckily Neenie ordered beef and didn’t even end up with the whole cow! Honestly, by this point Neenie might have been understanding more Spanish than me…she was doing really good, even though she wasn’t quite comfortable speaking it.

We wanted to shop around a bit and found ourselves at a lady’s little dress stand where she even had the sewing machine to make the dresses, and she had two little girls….trust me, we took pictures of it all! Neen and I had a ball picking out dresses for some little girls in our lives, and just looking at all the neat stuff…I think the “crafter” in Neenie was in seventh heaven!

We headed back to Managua, and Roger came and picked us up to go out for the evening. We went to a restaurant at the Galerias mall and just ate and hung out. Ironically some people from my work were there so Neenie got to meet some more people. Oh, and I was sooooooo excited to meet the guy who works for the Central American ag lending company because he was all about taking me out and showing me around…I told him he had the coolest job ever, but apparently he has never heard that before. Go figure.

We slept late and had breakfast of frozen waffles and watched Good Morning America…how great is that! Roger came and picked us up to head for Leon, which is about an hour and a half from Managua. Once again, the drive was beautiful!!! Are you sensing that common theme here? At one point we had a phenomenal view of the volcanoes and the lake, and Roger stopped so we could take some pictures. There was a family with a little drink stand and Roger told me it was a big test to see if I could go order a bottle of water on my own….so of course I did! While I was talking to the man, we noticed that on the wall of his shack he had written Philippians 4:13!! It was really neat! During the rest of the drive we saw tons of cattle, horses, pigs, goats, corn, banana plants and mountains and trees.

We went to a small town on the beach to have lunch, literally right on the beach! It wasn’t a fancy beach town, but really poor. We ate lunch in a restaurant where there were lots of chickens, dogs, and small children in diapers under foot. Then we went to downtown Leon to walk around. Honestly, it was really smelly and dirty and trashy…not my favorite place so far. We did go into the old convent there that is now a hotel, and had desert. I was ordering sorbet and trying to pick my fruit flavors and there were fruits Roger didn’t even know what they were! He said there are just so many fruits here that it is common to learn a new one. Oh, and we also went to some old Catholic churches that are hundreds of years old….crazy.

Then we drove back to Managua and Roger dropped us off for some sister hanging out time. Neenie had brought me a ton of pictures, some snacks, and my favorite Hot Tamales candies! We just got to chill last night and for a while this morning also since I just rode with her to the airport at about 9 and came to work after that….I was soooo sad to let her go, but we just had such a good weekend together. I am awfully blessed that she could come and was willing to come, so now I have proof that I am not living in a fairytale! Once again, it was so nice how helpful Javier was to help me plan a great weekend and Roger was to take us around….I am glad Neenie got to experience all the good things about Central America and even more glad that I got to hug her so much!

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