Granada, Nicaragua

by Gérard

Itinerary 3

Diane and I arrived in Granada, Nicaragua in mid-February, joined by Nathan and Brett two weeks later. The city of Granada is located on the shore of Lake Nicaragua, at the foot of the Mombacho volcano, surrounded by lagoons, an archipelago, and natural reserves. Its population is around 120,000. It is increasingly known as a tourist destination for its colorful architecture, colonial character and friendly people.  Granada is developing; ten years ago only a few cars could be seen, now there are many more but you can still cross horse–drawn carriages and delivery donkey carts in the streets.

Volcano Mombacho in the background

Volcano Mombacho in the background

Lake Nicaragua in the background

Lake Nicaragua in the background

Nearby Laguna de Apoyo

Nearby Laguna de Apoyo

Horse-drawn carriages in the Central Park

Horse-drawn carriages in the Central Park

Colorful facades

Colorful facades

Unlike the volunteer life we experienced during the previous three months, this time we decided to rent a place and explore the region full-time, with on our minds the question: could Granada be where we’ll want to set up our Sustainable Living Learning Center project? Nicaragua and Granada in general were recommended to us by Carol Gelfer, a long-time Portland friend of Diane’s who had spent time volunteering here many years ago with Joe, her physician husband and their two young children.

The day after we arrived in Granada, we met with a good friend of Carol’s, also named Carol, who was very helpful in providing precious tips and a list of key people to start networking with. Since our arrival we have been exploring the area and meeting lots of people, gathering information about Granada as a place to live and potentially be the site of our project. The four of us started operating as a project team in a way that is reminiscent of our previous professional experiences: mission, goals, budget, brainstorm, data gathering, trade-offs, team meetings etc.… it’s all there!

We are renting a beautiful three-bedroom house located a few blocks from the city center where we are enjoying a taste of luxury we had not experienced in months—or years for some of us.  There is room for visitors.  Our preferred spot in the house has to be the mirador from which we have a 360° view over the city’s roof tops, which includes a half dozen churches, the nearby volcano, lake and the three pet monkeys living in the neighbor’s tree.  All that makes for some fantastic sunrises, sunsets and a sitting area kept cool all day by the lake’s breeze.

Front row seat for Brett

Front row seat for Brett

Managua, capital of Nicaragua, is located 45 minutes from Granada and is about ten times the size.  We went there last week to check on bigger stores and look for bicycles.  We found a store which feels like and is for sure owned by Costco, only the name (PriceSmart) is different.  Same everything including membership system, American Express-only card, chicken bakes and berry sundaes.  We found a Home Depot-like hardware store, just more expensive and with less selection. Nathan, Brett and I bought basic bicycles, which will improve our mobility around town and surroundings. You have to have Resident status to own and operate a motor vehicle.  Good thing taxis are 40 cents per person.

Diane is currently in Portland where she went to get her Mom.  Yes, Edna is coming to live with us!  She is and we are very excited about this new chapter in her life.  The logistics involved in making this happen are not trivial but I can’t imagine a better person than Diane to make this happen successfully.  They’re scheduled to arrive April 2nd.

Nathan and Brett are currently on a ten day exploratory trip up north checking out other towns and communities (Matagalpa, Jinotepe, Esteli…) in a region known for its coffee-growing. No doubt these two outdoor aficionados will have a great time!

Meanwhile I am home alone, truly enjoying a few days of “me-time”, taking great pleasure writing this blog and getting some project planning work done.

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Finca Paraiso: a Month in Paradise

By Brett Liza Rousseau

Hello Friends and Family!

Please excuse the prolonged time lapse since our last blog entry. Computer and internet access didn’t come easily to Finca Paraiso’s little piece of far-off jungle paradise – what a concept! The rest of the family might not agree, but it was a refreshing break from our culture’s overwhelming connectivity. It’s amazing how a little bit of time without the worldwide web at our fingertips increased our relationship with the world right in front of us! We were forced to listen to the howler monkey screams echoing within the hills, sip coffee while the sunrise lit up slopes of citrus trees, scrutinize chicken hierarchies, spy on sheep escape artists, pick star fruit fresh off the tree, laugh at the fat iguanas skidding around on our tin roof, coo over newborn puppies and cook delicious and inventive meals everyday. A HUGE inconvenience.

In our free time, to name only a few things, Nathan became a literary expert on rabbit rearing; I began baking loaves of bread rolled up with cinnamon and banana; Mom bred her new kombucha SCOBY into a small army; Dad exercised routinely as usual; and we spent many afternoons discussing and strategizing our next move up into Nicaragua. It was decided that Mom and Dad would leave Costa Rica two weeks early for a head start to Nicaragua. While we’ve all gotten along rather magnificently, the small break was much appreciated.

Nathan and I were left in Steve’s keeping along with Luna, a black and white sheep dog always by his side, Blackie and her two puppies, 14 sheep nibbling on everything they shouldn’t have, 13 hens and 3 roosters (2 too many), 3 oversized pigs, and an aquaponics pond full of tilapia. Steve is a laid back Wisconsin expat who surprised himself by buying land in Costa Rica eight years ago and has been experimentally farming ever since. He has a plethora of inventive projects competing for his attention; he’s attempting to generate money by selling farm products and attracting tourists and locals for farm tours and B&B stays, all while keeping up with farm chores. It’s a peaceful piece of property on the Nicoya Peninsula – not far from Tambor’s scenic bay – growing citrus and avocado trees, bananas and plantains, starfruit, pineapple, ginger, turmeric, hot peppers, moringa, spinach, and more! We helped Steve with various projects such as redesigning and building a new chicken coop, fortifying the sheep fence, painting lime on the citrus trees (to prevent against ant damage), dehydrating starfruit, transplanting in the aquaponics greenhouse, propagating bougainvillea, passionfruit, and planting cacao, bush beans, cucumber, garlic, and peppers – whatever seeds I could find! I also helped Steve with some artistic endeavors, painting a sign for the main road and redesigning his roasted coffee label, Mono va Feliz (Monkey-go-Happy).

The month was a beautiful and relaxing blur – it was the first time being together that Nathan and I got to spend more than a few days just the two of us and we relished it. We celebrated our 2-year anniversary with a quirky homemade adaptation of tiramisu, and dug in with spoons as the sunset put on a show. Unlike the other farms, we weren’t surrounded by a host of people and instead entertained ourselves with the animals and plants around us. Here’s a photo-tour of a tropical farm’s flora and fauna, intended for you to romanticize.

Front porch with a view

Front porch with a view

Even for the dry season, the jungle never fails to be beautiful

We soon got used to the sheep right outside our house, as we had gotten used to deer eating our roses back home

We soon got used to the sheep right outside our house, as we had gotten used to deer eating our roses back home

a kingdom of ever green and growing banana trees

A kingdom of ever green and growing banana trees

Passion fruit: the most seductive of flowers

Passion fruit: the most seductive of flowers

Sprouting cacao, destined to be delicious chocolate

Sprouting cacao, destined to be delicious chocolate

Know how your pineapples grow.

Know how your pineapples grow

Mango trees grow like weeds, soon to flood the market place! What a feast it will be!

Mango trees grow like weeds, soon to flood the market place! What a feast it will be!

Starfruit was crowned the fruit of the month

Starfruit was crowned the fruit of the month

Sliced and sugar-coated, I loaded it up into the solar dehydrator

Sliced and sugar-coated, I loaded it up into the solar dehydrator

Lush bush beans that sprouted within weeks, and a cucumber trellis in the background

Lush bush beans that sprouted within weeks, and a cucumber trellis in the background

A cheap and easy drip system: by sticking a water bottle in the ground with a small hole in the bottom, this not only saves water, but encourages the roots to grow deep

A cheap and easy drip system: by sticking a water bottle in the ground with a small hole in the bottom, this not only saves water, but encourages the roots to grow deep

The aquaponics fish tank: the water (high in nitrogen because of the fish poop)  is pumped into the greenhouse...

The aquaponics fish tank: the water (high in nitrogen because of the fish poop) is pumped into the greenhouse…

…where it fertilizes a variety of leafy greens: katuk, spinach, culantro (native cilantro), chia. Note the pineapple top: they can grow by being stuck back in the ground!

…where it fertilizes a variety of leafy greens: katuk, spinach, culantro (native cilantro), chia. Note the pineapple top: they can grow a new plant by being stuck back in the ground!

One of the three pigs that Steve doesn't have the heart to cart off

One of the three pigs that Steve doesn’t have the heart to cart off

The morning parade: chickens exiting their new coop ready to seize the day

The morning parade: chickens exiting their new coop ready to seize the day

A pea-sized egg that Nathan and I tried to hatch, we hypothesized it to be some sort of reptile

A pea-sized egg that Nathan and I tried to hatch, we hypothesized it to be some sort of reptile

Blackie and one of her pups

Blackie and one of her pups

Both pups! Steve wanted us to take one, an extremely tempting offer

Both pups! Steve wanted us to take one, an extremely tempting offer

Steve's new street sign

Steve’s new street sign

Many a magnificent sunset on the farm

Many a magnificent sunset on the farm

Wondering what we’re now doing in Nicaragua? Stay tuned for our next post!