Nicaragua: Zoológica Nacional and León

Our day trip to León was an exciting one. First off, we decided to check out the Zoológica Nacional, near where we were staying in Managua, the capital of Nicaragua. The first thing we saw when we walked in were beautiful red macaws!

Red macaws

Red macaws

One of them flew around the cage and gave us a show and even talked for us a bit (I was sure he was saying, “hola” at one point). From there we saw Toucans, lovebirds, and more parrots.

Toucans

Toucans

It was amazing seeing so many colorful birds in one place! Next, we saw several funny mammals – most of which were very interactive.

Watching these funny ring-tailed animals

Watching these funny ring-tailed animals

Anyone wanna play?

Anyone wanna play?

There was a wonderful assortment of mostly Central American wildlife.

Coyotes

Coyotes

Iguanas and crocodiles.

Iguanas bathing in the sun

Iguanas bathing in the sun

Crocodiles!

Crocodiles!

Ocelot and Jaguar.

Watching the ocelots!

Watching the ocelots!

The Jaguar was pretty active!

The Jaguar was pretty active!

Even a few lion, which are Cliff’s current favorite animal (he likes roaring…). It was almost scary how close you could get to the bars on the cages.  Much different than the states!

We found the lions!

We found the lions!

When we got to the tapir, a large mammal I’ve seen only in books and movies, I was pretty excited. The animal nerd in me was coming out at this place. I always loved studying animals growing up. We often had referred to our home as a zoo, and had raised many different animals – everything from sugar gliders and rats, to ducks and ferrets. As we stared at the huge tapir, Olivia sighs and slowly says, “It’s gorgeous!”

The gorgeous tapir :)

The gorgeous tapir 🙂

Though not my exact sentiment…I stifled a laugh and agreed with her.

The monkeys were fun to see.

Spider monkeys

Spider monkeys

We had been keeping our eyes out for some in the wild, but hadn’t seen any. This zoo was much different than in the states. Despite the many signs asking people to not feed the animals, adults and children alike we’re feeding the monkeys cheetoes and other junk. It was a little sad to see that.

Asking for food

Asking for food

Cliff liked the monkeys

Cliff liked the monkeys

We really enjoyed the zoo, and were glad the kids had gotten some time to run around.

Olivia liked them too!

Olivia liked them too!

For the afternoon we headed to León. As we drove up and parked, large red graffiti covered the side of the building across the street and read, “Bush Genocide, Enemy of Humanity”.

Outside the Revolutionary War Museum

Outside the Revolutionary War Museum

Obviously, we were a bit uneasy in this city. The attitude towards Americans was at least indifferent if not negative.

The center of León

The center of León

We managed to find a wonderful place for lunch, overlooking the beautiful cathedral, Iglesia Basilica – the largest cathedral in Central America, which we were told was made of homemade concrete containing millions of egg shells.

Iglesia Basilica

Iglesia Basilica

The original church was built in 1610, but the building standing today was built in 1747 (after fire and pirates destroyed the previous three buildings).  It took over 100 years to construct this expansive cathedral.  Olivia saved the loaf of bread from lunch at threw it out for the hoards of pigeons who swooped down in one huge mass, leaving Olivia thoroughly entertained.

Feeding the birds

Feeding the birds

Outside Iglesia Bautista

Outside Iglesia Basilica

Olivia loved the lion

Olivia loved the lion

We went to tour the Revolutionary War Museum after lunch.

War Museum

War Museum

The museum was in the oldest building of the city, and was actually used for the war.

Oldest building in León

Oldest building in León

 As our tour guide explained the circumstances of the war, we went on to discover he fought in the war himself.

Listening to the stories

Listening to the stories

He was even in several of the photos he showed us.

A historical photo of our tour guide

A historical photo of our tour guide

His first-hand account of the revolution of the 70’s was gripping.  He was just 16 years old when he started fighting in the war and two of his little brothers (ages 4 and 5) were killed in the bombing of León.

Bombs used during the war

Artillery used during the war

After recounting the history, he took us up a massive staircase.

On the top floor

On the top floor

Then we got to walk across the rickety tin roof (dodging the holes), for a beautiful view of the city.

The tin roof

The tin roof

City view

City view

It was quite the experience!

Viva la revolución!

Viva la revolución!

Perhaps one of the more adventurous things we’ve done with the kids.

On the roof

On the roof

We stopped by the lake on the way back to our hotel, to buy a few gifts and souvenirs.  Sadly, at that point Cliff was running a fever and was not feeling well at all.  I’d been watching him all day and had noticed he didn’t seem himself.  When we got back to our hotel I started him on some home remedies (the few I’d brought along).  His fever kept climbing during the night. It had slightly reduced by morning, but after John left for his day trip, it started rising again, he was lethargic, and I had to make the decision to call a doctor. The thought of dragging both of my littles through the city of Managua to the local hospital was pretty scary.  We had been warned of the dangers of taking taxis in the city, and I was unable to get a hold of John.  Thankfully, our hotel was extremely helpful and knew just who to get in contact with.

I had been going through Spanish medical phrases in my head, trying to figure out how I would explain what was going on, but it wasn’t necessary – thankfully the doctor spoke English.  He came to our hotel room, spread out his things on the bed, and within seconds of touching Cliff’s throat, had a diagnosis: tonsillitis. I decided to go with his recommendation and do antibiotics, since I didn’t have all my usual natural remedies with  me (we were still waiting for our household goods to arrive from the states). He called the pharmacy, put the order in, and half an hour later I was standing in the hotel lobby with one sick baby and a toddler in tow, paying for the medicine. Cliff was nearly back to his normal happy, curious self by that evening, and I was thanking God for a doctor. And with that, our trip to Nicaragua and Panama was complete.  The next morning we left for the airport – excited to be going back to our (new) home in Lima, Peru…

Active Volcano in Nicaragua

Active Volcano in Nicaragua

Advertisements

Nicaragua: San Juan Del Sur

Our day trip to the beach in Nicaragua was probably the highlight of our entire trip.

Ready for the beach!

Ready for the beach!

We passed lots of small family farms – growing everything from mangos to rice. The land was lush and green, with many different kinds of animals. We saw a lot of oxen, pigs, sheep, horses and dogs.

Small farms along the road

Small farms along the road

Most farms seemed to stake their animals out on the edge of the road to graze and move them as necessary.  It was a long drive to San Juan Del Sur, but very enjoyable, as we passed some of the most beautiful countryside.

When we arrived in the small beach town, we decided to walk around for a while before hitting the waves.

Walking around town

Walking around town

 It was still early and a little on the cool side.  Walking the streets brought back memories of beach towns from our past – Pacific Grove, Carmel-by-the-Sea, Monterey, Coronado Island. Lots of cute little surf shops as well as the occasional “organic clothing” shop.

San Juan Del Sur shops

San Juan Del Sur shops

While in search of a nice cup of joe, we came across a fantastic little smoothie shop.  This place was obviously owned by an American hippie.

El Gato Negro: A Coffee/Smoothie Shop

El Gato Negro: A Coffee/Smoothie Shop

Opening up the menu, we felt right at home as I read smoothie ingredients of coconut oil, bee pollen, dates and cacao powder.  We ordered the kids a smoothie and they downed it so quick that we decided to order another.

Sipping smoothies

Sipping smoothies

 At this point it was very warm out and the icy smoothies were just what we needed. After browsing the books and sipping our smoothies, we moved out back to discover a great little play area for the kids and an array of wildlife such as geese, ducks and chickens.

Playing in the sunshine

Playing in the sunshine

After our refreshing stop, we hunted down a couple of beach towels, some cheap beach toys and a hat.  I had gotten a pretty bad migraine from the heat the evening before, so I was trying my best to stay hydrated and out of the direct sun.

Walking to lunch

Walking to lunch

Eventually we were in possession of all the necessary elements for our afternoon at the beach.  We decided to have lunch at one of the restaurants on the sand.

The restaurant we ate lunch at

The restaurant we ate lunch at

 It was fun eating good ceviche while watching the waves roll in on the beach. Olivia loved playing in the wooden posts next to our table.

Hide and seek

Hide and seek

Cliff was getting sleepy!

Cliff was getting sleepy!

After lunch we made it out to the sand. The kids were overjoyed when they found the ocean water was actually warm!

Warm water!

Warm water!

Living in California for the past many years they haven’t had much chance to enjoy the water, since it’s so cold year round.  We all had a great time.

Come in the water, Mama!

Come in the water, Mama!

Olivia had fun building a sandcastle and Cliff just kept asking to go back to the water.

Heading for the waves

Heading for the waves

It was a great afternoon.

Loving the water

Loving the water

Once we were all feeling just a little pink, we decided to call it a day.  But before leaving San Juan Del Sur, we had one more thing to see.  From the beach we could see a huge statue of Jesus.

Cross on the hill

Statue on the hill

 We had to see it.  The drive up was short, but so very steep!  I wondered if our SUV would make it a couple times as the rubber on the tires searched for something to grip.  When we parked we had the steepest staircase I’ve ever seen ahead of us.  It took me a while to climb it with Cliff sleeping on my back, but it was well worth it.  The views were fantastic.

Statue of Jesus

Statue of Jesus

View of the bay

View of the bay

From this point we could see Costa Rica in the distance.

Costa Rica in the distance

Costa Rica in the distance

We grabbed a snapshot with our Texas A&M flag while we were there, too!

Whoop!

Whoop!

Nicaragua’s beauty was continuing to surprise us.  It was the kind of experience that makes you want to drop everything in your life and move.  Now.  Right now.

Beautiful Nicaragua!

Beautiful Nicaragua!

 We thoroughly enjoyed our day in the southern part of Nicaragua.  And we already had hopes to return again someday.

Beautiful Nicaragua

Nicaragua

Nicaragua: the old city of Granada

After our coffee farm tour we drove down the volcano to the city of Granada. It’s the most popular city of Nicaragua (at least for tourists), promising picture-perfect views at very turn, so we were excited to see it. Built in the early 1500’s, it was one of the first cities of the New World. The buildings were old and beautiful.

Walking the streets of Granada

Walking the streets of Granada

Beautiful old cathedral

Beautiful old cathedral

The city’s center was huge and had a big fountain and gazebo in the center.

The town center

The town center

There were a lot of vendors selling local foods and drinks.  And there were lines of horse-drawn carriages, ready for tourists.  We walked around the town first, exploring a bit on our own.

At the town center

At the town center

Happy girl

Happy girl

Checking out Granada

Checking out Granada

 As the kids got tired we opted for a carriage ride.

Horse carriage ride

Horse carriage ride

Trying to catch some history from our driver

Trying to catch some history from our driver

Sure enough, within minutes Cliff was sound asleep.

Cliff sleeping

Cliff sleeping

He sleeps through anything once out.  We got out at one of the old cathedrals and walked around.

Outside the church

Outside the church

The wall murals inside were gorgeous!

Inside the church

Inside the church

It was a fun taste of Nicaragua.

View of the old city

View of the old city

By the end of the ride, both kids were sound asleep. We decided to head back. On the way back to Managua we stopped by Lago de Nicaragua. We could even see the Mombacho Volcano, where we had toured the coffee farm earlier that morning.

The Mombacho Volcano

The Mombacho Volcano

A little souvenir shopping and our first day in Nicaragua was complete!

At Lago Nicaragua

At Lago de Nicaragua

Nicaragua: Touring a Coffee Farm

We made it into Managua, the capital of Nicaragua, late in the evening. Our flight with the kids had been one of the worst yet. They’re usually pretty good on flights, but this one was a mess. In addition to general crankiness, Olivia had a really rough time with the air pressure in her ears. She’s been on nearly 20 flights and it’s never bothered her before. Not sure what changed, but I feel for those parents whose children have that problem when flying! It’s not fun.

Anyways, we survived the flight and were happily on firm ground in another country, so that’s good. After getting a restless nights sleep, we were awakened by the sun streaming through the crack in the curtains – at 5:45am! Ahh, fun. But at least we got a nice early start to the day! Our hotel had a fantastic breakfast, with plenty of non-grain options to fit our real foods lifestyle. The food was Nicaraguan – stuffed tomatoes, bacon, pan fried plantains and fried cheese, along with rice and beans and plain yogurt. It was great to get a fueling breakfast before our long day.

After breakfast we met our driver, who would be taking us around the country for the next three days. Taking taxis in Nicaragua is not advised, so we were playing it safe. For the price, it was totally worth it – plus we didn’t have to worry about where to park or leaving valuables in our vehicle, because the driver took care of that.

First on our list was touring an organic coffee farm on the side of the Mambacho Volcano.

View from the coffee farm

View from the coffee farm

There are 19 active volcanoes in Nicaragua. When we got to the farm, we could see the ash rising from a volcano on the other side of the valley. A pretty regular occurrence.

Smoking volcano

Smoking volcano

Me and Livi

Me and Livi

During the tour we learned all about coffee production and how this farm uses organic farming to produce some of the best coffee in Central America.

Starting the trail

Starting the trail

Baby coffee plants

Baby coffee plants

He explained to us that they grow two different varieties, that way should one type develop a disease or infestation, they still have half the plants. Pretty smart.

Coffee berries

Coffee berries

Olivia and Cliff found some great little bugs along the trail. This millipede fascinated Olivia.

"I found a millipede!"

“I found a millipede!”

She asked the guide if she could pick it up and he assured us it was safe. She played with it for a full 5 minutes, trying to unroll it from it’s tight circle. Eventually the poor bug gave up on her leaving him alone and unwrapped itself. Olivia quickly jumped back and dropped it as he crawled away.

Millipede escapes

Millipede escapes

We saw these minuscule mushrooms everywhere along the makeshift wooden steps on the trail.

Tiny mushrooms

Tiny mushrooms

The coffee season is January-March, so the equipment wasn’t being used, but it was cool to learn how the berries are processed, once picked.

Entering the processing barn

Entering the processing barn

Looking at the equipment

Looking at the equipment

Once the berries go through this sorting machine, they get hand-sorted once more to ensure only those of the best quality make it into the drying process.

Sorting machine

Sorting machine

This long bench is where the women sit to hand-sort them.

Hand-sorting bench

Hand-sorting bench

I found it interesting the reasons he gave for hiring only women for this job. He mentioned that women don’t have many job opportunities in Nicaragua, which after driving through Managua, I would believe. So this gives them a good reliable job. He also said because their fingers are small they can sort much quicker and better than a man, who would probably have larger fingers.

From the machinery rooms we could see the flats where they dry the beans after they are sorted. They pay careful attention to them, making sure they don’t get wet. If they do, it greatly lessens the quality.

Outside drying area

Outside drying area

On the trail our guide picked us a few not-quite-ripe tropical fruit. The ripe parts were pretty good, but the green parts were very hard and powdery in texture without much flavor. I wish I could remember what they were called, but alas, I can’t.

Trying a guabana

Trying a new tropical fruit

Cliff walking the trail

Cliff walking the trail

We also saw ginger plants – root and flowers!

Ginger flowers

Ginger flowers

Ginger root

Ginger root

This was a cistern, used to keep water.

Water cistern

Water cistern

With the plants growing on top it looked just a few feet deep, but in reality it was over 10 meters deep! When we looked closely, we noticed a lot of tiny frogs on the plant leaves.

Tiny frogs!

Tiny frogs!

Our guide even found us a leaf with frog eggs, nearly developed into tadpoles and just about ready to hit the water.

Frog and eggs

Frog and eggs

Olivia found some pretty little yellow flowers, too.

Picking flowers

Picking flowers

 The kids were really hungry by the end of the tour, so we wrapped it up fairly quickly. Before going, though, we got to see a snake that had just been caught on the farm.

Checking out the snake

Checking out the snake

They assured us it was not poisonous, though I was sure I remembered learning that triangle heads were always venomous! I probably need to brush up on my snake 101 course… This one was harmless.

It was a great morning! I was already loving Nicaragua – much more than I expected.

Enjoying Nicaragua already!

Enjoying Nicaragua already!

After the coffee tour we headed for the city of Granada…next on the blog.

Panama City: The Panama Canal

The day we arrived in Panama was actually the 100th Anniversary of the Panama Canal. A few days later we visited the Miraflores Locks of the Canal. It was so amazing to see this expansive project in use.

The Miraflores Locks

The Miraflores Locks

There’s a big expansion of the canal in the works now, so we got to hear about that, too. While we were there we saw three different enormous ships pass through.

Passing through the canal

Passing through the canal

There it goes!

There it goes!

As each ship went through the crew would all wave – it was crazy to think these people hadn’t seen another person off board in probably weeks!

Out of the canal!

Out of the canal!

Olivia loved the big ships

Olivia loved the big ships

The museum was cool, too, with model ships, trains and trucks that were used to create the canal one hundred years ago.

Cliff loved the train!

Cliff loved the train!

Model ship

Model ship

Olivia and Cliff loved the turtles and other animal exhibits.

watching the turtles

watching the turtles

It was a great ending to our time in Panama…next it was off to Nicaragua!

Frigate bird in flight

Frigate bird in flight

Casco Viejo: beauty in crumbling walls

For part one of our family’s adventure in Panama City, click here. For part two, here.

The sun was just peaking over the tall skyscrapers as we walked along the damp streets of Casco Viejo, dodging puddles from the early morning rain.

beautiful old bell tower

beautiful old bell tower

Most the shops and buildings were still closed up, but a few showed signs of life. We made a rough circle around the town and noticed one shop was still closed, despite the posted sign listing its hours from 10-6. It was nearly 11 by then. No one seemed in a rush there, though.

Cathedral doors

Cathedral doors

That was okay for us. We were enjoying the beautiful old buildings and soaking in a bit of the culture.

peeling paint

peeling paint

Casco Viejo, means “Old Quarters” in Spanish. This part of Panama City was built in 1673, after pirates all but destroyed the original city in 1671. Many of the old crumbling buildings have been restored and now quite a few nice restaurants, artesian shops and hotels are popping up.

a blend of the new and old

a blend of the new and the old

A lot of the buildings were in the process of being restored as we walked the streets.

There’s a definite Caribbean flair to the art, clothing and demeanor here in Panama.

Flower wall mural

Flower wall mural

Especially when compared to Lima, Peru. Most people in Lima seem to wear black or dark clothing. In Panama, the colors of the clothing are as bright as the land surrounding it. The art, too, is bright and bold. The people on the streets seem generally happy, though perhaps somewhat fatigued by life.

Bright buildings

Bright buildings

In Lima, we get smiles for the kids, but if you’re out alone don’t expect one. I still smile at people on the street in Peru, and then remember how out of place that is when I receive a puzzled stare in return. Back to Panama…

We were excited to get a chance to see the historical museum and even had a guide to point out the most interesting facts of Panama’s long history (in Spanish of course – John helped translate what I couldn’t catch). It was surprising to us to note that if Panamanians don’t like a part of their history, they just leave it out. Like the dictator president they had in the 1970’s, who just doesn’t appear on the list. Or the Spanish Conquest, where the country lost much of their gold supply, which is basically overlooked completely.

We had lunch in a cute little cafe in the town center.

Lunch in Casco Viejo

Lunch in Casco Viejo

You had just one choice to make: chicken, fish or pork. The rest was a set menu. Very good I might add. The kids must have been craving veggies because Olivia nearly polished off a whole bowl of calabaza (squash) soup and Cliff ate half the green salad by himself!

There were a lot of stray cats and dogs in the area, which fascinated the kids and made me a bit nervous.

This kid loves cats and dogs!

This kid loves cats and dogs!

At one point Cliff enjoyed breaking up a group of pigeons and chasing them around. They find entertainment everywhere!

Chasing pigeons

Chasing pigeons

As we walked down one street we heard a wailing toddler. I looked up and inside what had earlier appeared to be an abandoned apartment building was actually someone’s home. On each balcony was a child, one who was clearly upset about something. It’s been sad to see the living conditions of the locals here. More so because there doesn’t seem to be much hope for improvement.

morning walk

morning walk

Even as people invest into businesses and open shops, the poor still continue in their poverty. In Casco Viejo the contrast is pretty stark. Beautifully restored pre-colonial buildings right next to people living with sheets as doors and piles of trash and rotting food in the street.

It was amazing seeing buildings that were so incredibly old. Still standing to tell a part of their history.

daddy's girl

daddy’s girl

such a happy girl

such a happy girl

We walked around the town several times trying to find an art gallery we had read about, but never could locate it. The buildings in Panama don’t have addresses, but rather just crossroads or general directions, such as, “across from the cafe and down the street from the bakery”… Makes it fairly difficult to find anything specific!

Wall mural

Wall mural

After lunch, we visited a local ice cream shop, where each flavor is made of fresh ingredients.

Happy ice cream smile

Happy ice cream smile

John had the rum and raisin, I had the fresh ginger, and Olivia of course chose “pink” or strawberry :). It was a nice end to our morning out.

family mirror shot

Family mirror shot

 

IMG_1549-0.JPG

Panama: Punta Culebra

Our second morning in Panama we grabbed a taxi and headed for The Amador Causeway, a narrow strip of land that connects Panama with four small islands. After passing our destination once, we finally arrived back at Culebra Point, to explore the Smithsonian funded Centro de Exhibiciones Marinas.

Ready for our morning adventure!

Ready for our morning adventure!

At the gate, we waited 20 minutes to enter because no one was there to take our money…interesting, no?

Cliff can have fun anywhere...

Cliff can have fun anywhere…

We made the best of it and watched the pelicans floating just off the beach.

Watching the pelicans

Watching the pelicans

pelicans

pelicans

Once we started the trail we read each of the signs explaining what to look for in this “dry rainforest”. I looked up in one tree and thought, huh, that looks like a big pile of moss. It’s not moving…must be moss…just as John read aloud the sign explaining that sloth often look like big piles of moss. We both realized at the same time what we were looking at.

A two-toed sloth

A two-toed sloth

It was awesome to see one of these two-towed sloth in person! He was taking a good nap and didn’t so much as twitch a finger (or toe). But he was still fairly photogenic :).

After the sloth excitement we went to the touch tanks where the kids enjoyed the starfish and sea cucumbers.

Cliff liked the starfish

Cliff liked the starfish

I think it was more meaningful for Olivia because she remembered the Monterey Bay Aquarium at our last home. She really enjoyed it!

Olivia's favorite were the sea cucumbers

Olivia’s favorite were the sea cucumbers

The touch tanks overlooked the beautiful blue Pacific and bright green mountainous islands.  We took the opportunity to snap a picture with our Texas A&M flag.

Whoop!

Whoop!

Gig 'Em!

Gig ‘Em!

The tip of the island had amazing views, where we saw many large ships waiting around for their turn to pass through. Storm clouds started forming while we were out and raindrops started steadily dropping, which was nice to cut the humidity.

Overlooking the Pacific

Overlooking the Pacific

Watching the ships

Watching the ships

Best friends...

Best friends…

watching the ships

watching the ships

We even caught a family picture in the mirrored windows of the small island aquarium.

Family mirror shot

Family mirror shot

On our way out we saw some sea turtles and sharks, which the kids were enamored with (probably just because they intuitively know that their mother is terrified of sharks).

sea turtle

sea turtle

While the rain came down, we ate at a small island cafe for lunch and sampled some yummy ceviche and local sausages. The kids were beat by that time, though, so it was back to the hotel for naptime. They really still need that time to reset. We knew in Nicaragua they wouldn’t get many naps, so we were getting them in while we could!