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

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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.

The good, bad, and the ugly…

Unlike the Clint Eastwood movie, responsibility never ends as a parent. I don’t want to give the wrong impression through these posts with photos of smiling faces and gorgeous flora and fauna – that traveling with two toddlers has been easy or breezy. Quite the contrary – traveling with two toddlers has been difficult, to say the least. They are cranky, whiny, scream at the most inopportune times, and refuse to sit still or eat their food on demand (how dare they!)

crying after a fall...

crying after a fall…

But we have managed to have good trips so far.  I say good, not great.  I’m sure they’ll be great in the future when we look back at the wonderful pictures and recall the amazing things we saw together.  We are hoping our trips with the kids will get better (at least they get older each time….?)  I’ll keep you updated 🙂

"you want me to smile?"

“you want me to smile?”

Most of the planning we did for Panama ended up being fairly useless. It’s hard to know how different things are going to be when you get to a new country. For this place there were several unforeseen obstacles and learning curves. First off, I unwittingly bought an old copy of the Lonely Planet’s Guide to Panama – so much of the info we planned our days around was outdated.  Everything was very expensive in Panama City, too. The taxis cost a fortune the first day or two, but we learned where to go for the cheaper ones after that. Meals were also pretty pricey, though usually delicious. We would try to find a specific restaurant, only to be told by our cab driver that it no longer existed (or maybe he just couldn’t find it because no one uses addresses there). One night our driver was particularly confused and just ended up dropping us at the curb of another restaurant. It turned out to be delicious Lebanese food, so it was a fine planning mishap.

Restaurants with the kids are nearly nightmarish, lately, so it didn’t matter too much what we ate anyways. Whatever it was would need to be shoveled down in 3.5 minutes flat, about the time it takes for one or both of the kids to decide they are unhappy and start throwing things. Indigestion and grumpy children would finish out the experience, as we hailed the waiter for “la cuenta!”. At ages 3 and 1 1/2 I guess it’s normal behavior, but it’s oh, so inconvenient! Especially when we don’t have many other options. Our hotel had a sink and a mini-fridge that was already crammed with junk they hoped we would consume, so there wasn’t much cooking going on.

snotty nose...

snotty nose in the restaurant…

The last few meals we did end up just ordering delivery to our hotel room. I found a website that delivered from several different places. It was a risky step to take, though, and not ideal. In fact, our first order was really ridiculous. We put in an order around 5:30pm, the restaurant called us back shortly to tell us they didn’t have any of the items we ordered and so they gave us the name of another place to order from (weird…). We looked up that place, put together another order, and after one more hour of cranky, whiny, hungry children hanging from my limbs, finally called them only to find out they’d misplaced our order and forgotten to fill it. At this point it was nearly 7:30pm, normally bedtime for our littles. They assured us they would have it there in 15 minutes, and they got close to that, but the kids were so exhausted and over-hungry that I could barely get them to eat anything.

trying to get Liv to take our picture

trying to get Liv to take our picture

There were many frustrating times like this on our Panama trip. So I have to say, between the crankiness of our kids, the challenges of this city, and the amazing things we got to see, the trip ended up balancing out to “pretty good” on the scale. But I was just holding my breath, because Nicaragua was next…

best friends...and worst enemies

best friends…and worst enemies