Thursday, January 24, 2013

Granada & Las Isletas

We took off from Apoyo Lodge  on a Tuesday morning to head into Granada to explore the city center and to take a boat tour through Las Isletas.   This day will forever be remembered as the day our three year old talked non stop from sun up to sun down.  She was so excited and fascinated by everything we did and saw.  She asked us a bazillion questions piled on top of questions, begged me to make the voice of her doll, different from my own,  and even when she was entertaining herself she was lost in her imagination talking away to her babies and singing little songs.  At certain points in the day we asked her to just please try and be quiet for five minutes so we could gather our own thoughts which would just make her laugh at us ..... have you ever asked a three year old to be quiet?  You have.  So you know how successful that was.... 

Our super enthusiastic Finley Mae
Our walk through the main drag of Granada showed off the colonial architecture which is well maintained for the tourists.  There were lots of little outdoor cafes and a good number of tourists hanging out drinking quart sized bottles of Tona. I haven't seen quarts of beer since I lived in Ottawa and we guzzled quarts at The Lafayette!  What I would give to sit and order one of those beers. Instead I'm the gluten intolerant nerd who has to sip on Flor de Cana.  Not so bad a trade.   Donaldo, our driver/ tour guide told us this street was called Calle de Gringo by the Nicaraguans.  We laughed because looking around it was true!

New paint for an old building... cafe in distance.
The Main Square in Granada was so beautiful.
Beside an iron gate or a big heavy wooden door were the family name and or addresses of the home painted on tile.  This one photographed below caught my eye.  I would like to get one for our house whenever we land on it's cleverly chosen name...

Sometimes the big wooden doors leading from the side walks into the residences were open and then we could peek into the courtyards.  The courtyards are filled with tropical plants, fruit trees, big heavy wooden rocking chairs, hammocks and art work.  All the house hold rooms are completely open leading off the center gardens.

Interior of one of the upscale residences in Granada.

Donaldo took us to look at several churches but we stopped and went into this one.  The Guadalupe Church was built in the mid 1600 's was really neat but the main attraction was not to be seen from the ground.

Fin, Big Daddy P and Donlado entering the Guadalupe Church
We paid a small entrance fee and then climbed up and up the scary spiral stairs into the bell tower.

Taaaa Daaaa!  Look at that view.
The view was spectacular! You can see the inner courtyards from here.
Guadalupe Church view from the front bell tower.

Big Daddy P was under the impression Finley could ring the bell...

Fin trying to ring the bell

Then when Big Daddy P and Fin got the bell ringing Donaldo jumped up and asked them to... STOP!  Oops, it was pretty fun and totally worth the photos! 

Steve putting a stop to the bell ringing. 
Donaldo is laughing at us after the bell ringing incident.
I'm posting this day upside down just because that's how I imported the photos ... we actually started our day with the boat ride of Las Isletas. We didn't want to be on the water in the high heat of the day.

We hired a boat and took a water tour of some of the over 300 islands on Lake Nicaragua.  We were told by friends who have been on these tours that we would see an island of monkeys, so we packed some very ripe squishy bananas in my bag to feed the monkeys and that we would see a fortress built to protect Granada from cool!  We saw neither of these things on our tour.  We did, however, see lots of birds and some fishermen catching a fish that looked an awful lot like tilapia.

Everyone rows wooden boats to get around ... even small children going to school!
From the water we had a pretty amazing view of Mumbacho volcano ... not so impressive in my photo!

We started our boat ride off with Fin getting stung by a bee, or something, just as the captain had pulled us under a low over hang of trees.   The captain pulled what looked like a seed pod out of the tree.  The seed pod looked like a skinny banana.  While Steve was tending to Fin trying to calm her down and dry her tears the captain of the boat was insisting I take the seed pod and pull the top off.  I was half paying attention to the captain because I was so caught up in my kid crying her head off - he clearly was not reading my social cues to wait until my child was settled. 

I pulled the top off the seed pod and out came the most amazing flower we've ever seen!  It looked like strings of  fiber optics and I laughed in spite of myself.  The captain was beaming.  Finley leaped across the seats to hold the flower and her bee sting was quickly forgotten!  My bad, I do know that when you are on a boat the captain knows best. 

Finley and the fiber optic looking flower.

So I like to take photographs and I really was selective about sharing - they can tell the story better than I so these Nicaragua posts will be filled with them.  All photos are taken on my iPhone 4S and edited with camera+.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Playa Hermosa Nicaragua

This is Playa Hermosa, one of the most beautiful beaches we visited on this trip.  It has a gentle beach break good for beginners, occasional surfers and as my hubs Big Daddy P calls it, fat guy long board waves. We headed here so the guys could surf some small waves and get ready for the bigger break out front our house...   The weather was cool...I say that and it was about 77 degrees and overcast, which was good for us coming out of NC, we didn't get baked day one out on the beach.  

There are hammocks and chairs amongst all the trees. 
There is a small surf hotel here and a restaurant serving local fare; fish, rice and salad, cold beer  and cocktails.  Coconuts were chopped open for us to drink from with a straw which Fin thought was pretty neat. It looks quiet in the photos but there were more than a handful of people around lounging in hammocks slung from trees.

That is Costa Rica in the back ground.

Playa Hermosa is located about 8 miles outside of San Juan Del Sur down a private road.  There is a gate house and a cover charge of approximately three dollars a person to use the road.   We were told by local gringos the cover charge is to pay for the security of being on a policed road with secure parking upon arrival at the beach.  It was rumoured that cars would get robbed on route to this beach before the gate, cover charge and security were implemented. That information only wigged me out half the drive and then all was forgotten when I saw the beach!  Really dudes, the truck was full of our bags and boards and was completely safe in the lot.  You can't do that in other parts of Central America any more. 

The road itself was pretty good largely due to the the production of Survivor Nicaragua being filmed on this very beach in 2010. Obviously they build up the road to get their crew and equipment in.  Free passable roads leading to awesome surf breaks are one of the perks of TV in the after math of big budget production.   Wait - you didn't really think the survivor contestants were on a beach alone did you? 

Little hermit crabs were all over the beach!
While the guys waited for the swell to fill in, Fin and I explored the beach finding hermit crabs. Sasha showed us how you can hold the shell and softly blow on the crabs under side to get the crab to pop out of the shell.  Pretty cool!

Sasha, Shamus and Steve
Fin writes her name for the FIRST time EVER!

Fin waxing the board with Big Daddy P
Steve was happy for a small swell to fill in.
Steve on left and Shamus on right
Rock snow man found on the beach & brought home with us to NC.

Settling into our first days in Nicaragua experiencing this beach made me feel like I could fully exhale, which is a really neat feeling when you can be so far from the familiar and feel like you are finally home. 

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Nicaragua the Highlight Package - First Weekend

Feeling old hand now at traveling internationally with our three year old,  I was super stoked to finally be able to fit the two of us in one back pack for this trip.  We no longer needed to pack the necessities of a baby with us.  The stroller stayed home and while the car seat came, it was quickly apparent what a luxury it was.  We hit the ground in Managua running, it seemed, upon our arrival in Nicaragua.   Our ride was waiting for us, he greeted Steve with a broad smile and whisked us away to his car.  Steve road up front while Fin and I held court in the back seat for the hour long drive to Granada and then into the Laguna De Apoyo  where our friends Shamus and Sasha own and operate the Apoyo Lodge. 

The Apoyo Lodge is a wonderfully peaceful spot to drop out and rest up.  Rest is a funny concept to so many people but very attainable on this property.  We stayed in one of two suites facing the laguna and spent a good part of our first morning sitting on the veranda watching the birds feed, the full moon set and the sun to come up. 

Apoyo is going to be a great spot to host a Mother Ship Yoga  & Wellness Retreat!    Can you imagine  practicing yoga open air while facing the laguna?  You might even share your mat with a side plate sized toad, a beautiful Blue Morpho butterfly or one of the three resident pups.    It will be amazing.  Of course my dear yogi friends you want to go to here! 

Fin & Maude, one of the Apoyo Pups

First Morning Light at Apoyo Lodge
Fin on the veranda at Apoyo

After breakfast we hit the road to San Juan Del Sur.  The surf had the possibility of filling in and there was a skate boarding competition on that Shamus really was interested in seeing.  Always up for an adventure we set off.

Me, Fin and Sasha en route to San Juan Del Sur
We spent the weekend in San Juan Del Sur.  While we mostly left the town for the beaches I was able to snap a couple of quick photos from the car and a couple of short walks we took through town. 

A wooden Catholic church in the central square of San Juan Del Sur

Fin climbing steps to an apartment in San Juan Del Sur

The view from Gord and Elisha's apartment balcony in San Juan Del Sur

While we were in San Juan Del Sur we met up with a few more Canadian expats.  They told us all the expats in San Juan Del Sur are either from Canada or North Carolina.  We laughed because we can check both those boxes! While we are sharing our experiences you can also check out the blog of our new friends Gord and Elisha who have been documenting their adventures over the past year in Nicaragua.

Check back - I have so many great photos to share I am planning to break up the posts so you are not inundated....besides you totally want to know what happens next. 

Nicaragua Makes Top Three in the New York Times

You know it's really cool when the universe rears her beautiful head to reaffirm your path.

Check this out you little travel bugs!

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

The Writing Floodgates Are Open

A year ago I wrote a post about our 2012 plans ... then I lost it when I was trying to edit the post from my ipad. That pretty much sums up 2012. Buh - Bye.  So this past year flew by and in it's rush some pretty monumental developments occurred right beneath our noses.  Okay, they were all things we had set into motion, but, after two years of limbo we are starting to move people!

Let's back story a bit so you can see where we've come from so where we are going makes sense.

In February of 2008, we closed on a beautiful house in the historic district of small town NC - it was our dream house.  We had a five year plan to live here then sell and move on to travel - pulling our money out of our house and using it to travel with.  We picked up a beautiful property for what we thought was a song given we now had 3200square feet  for a mortgage payment less than we paid in rent for our 800 square foot one bedroom apartment in Toronto.   The United States housing collapse pretty much occurred a millisecond after signing our ownership papers.  Pretty quickly we realized we had made a grave mistake.  Apparently real estate is not the secure investment everyone thought it was.  It's hard to settle into a home when you know you've just lost all the money you put down in it.   

In the mean time life evolved.  In spring 2009 we added a beautiful daughter,  Finley Mae, to our family and our life's focus began to shift.  We celebrated her birth and two of her birthdays in this house with our neighbours who have become friends.  

In September 2010 we put the house up for sale for 270K which would have had us coming out of the house with a slight loss - a year later after several drops in price, and an educated decision to cease paying an over-valued mortgage, we consulted a lawyer and went after a short sale so we could sell the house at "new fair market value."  The new list price on our house was 169K. Over the next year we continued to drop the price. We had a couple offers  the bank turned down, 160K, 105K and finally at 155K we finally had a buyer. The buyer went all the way through home inspection and bailed. Historic homes take special care and in the end this house was not for them. So we put the house back on the market.  A short sale runs alongside foreclosure, so taking this road was not without risk, we went into the whole deal with our eyes wide open.  We were not willing to lose any more money!

January 2012 started off pretty rough with the loss of our family pet, Cecil, my almost constant companion for 13 years.  Late January we left to renew visas in Toronto and upon return were served foreclosure papers.   That set us on the path of uprooting and uncertainty.  The last year in our home was shrouded with loss and it was punctuated by the sudden death of our next door neighbour Jake, who had become such a dear friend.   In August 2012 we gave our dream house, now affectionately called Casa Albatross, back to the bank and walked.  The house by the way is still for sale and is now reduced to 114K.  OUCH!    

In the midst of all this USA housing nonsense, in the fall of 2011, we had an offer we couldn't refuse and bought an ocean front lot in Nicaragua alongside three of our best friends lots and we are currently building a modest house.  It's the wild west when it comes to building there.  Our house deal was made over several glasses of Flor de Cana and a hand shake in May of 2012 and after a six month delay our house began going up!  

This is the first photo we received October 2012

Let me tell you that all of this Nicaragua business went down and I had not yet ever been to Nicaragua!  We had been almost constant winter residents in Costa Rica so we knew the landscape and knew it was where we would surely love to live out our winters but I had yet to experience Nicaragua.  A year after the lot purchase and with a house framed out I got to see this amazing country for myself!

Steve, Finley and I spent just over two weeks in Nicaragua late November and early December of 2012.  It was a really cool experience.  Nicaragua is NOTHING like Costa Rica and I love that!  Our travels this time took us to several cities and towns where we visited with a circle of expat friends who currently reside in Nicaragua and we got to go see our build.  

Steve entering the front door of our house.

The ocean is right through the trees and scrub.

For the first time ever I got to stand on our lot and stand in our house and walk along our beach!  It was a brilliant feeling that set the the past year straight.  2012 ended on a high note knowing all of our crazy maneuvers in the past two years to get us the life we wanted was surely looking like it will pay off for us.  Is it scary?  Yes, a little, but life is no fun at all if you are too comfortable.  

Happy New Year Everyone!  
Here's to a tremendous 2013.