Archive for December, 2010

Honduras visits (part 2)

December 27, 2010 Leave a comment

Families surrounding the truck outside of Copan

I woke up Thursday morning and headed into more villages surrounding Copan.  The povery is staggering in this region. The children usually only have one set of clothing, and are very dirty in appearance.

I accompanied Ellen, and we passed out clothes, rice, flour and candy to the villagers.  Some of the children were naked, and were clothed through the second hand clothing they received.  Local shops within the region also benefited through the sale of these clothes.  All that was given out were the leftovers from Christmas baskets that Ellen had given out a few days earlier.

I stood in the back of the truck with a local teacher, and had a fairly comprehensive talk with him.  He outlined the problems within the village, and how there was only one child who was in grade 6 this year.  The schools were being renovated, and fixed up, but other problems existed.

The families were severely malnourished.  Many families had problems with children not eating properly, and

Dennis and his two sisters.

The families were severely malnourished.  Many families had problems with children not eating properly, and there was a high incidence of child mortality at birth, along with pregnant mothers dying during childbirth.  This is a function of the villages being in the middle of nowhere.

The picture to the right shows Ellen Finn with Dennis and his two sisters.  Dennis was very happy, and showed us the school, and showed us where he sat.  His youngest sister died recently from starvation.  – unbelieveable to fathom coming from Canada.

Ellen stepped in to help families after hearing of this.  She is also starting a project for the students and community to learn other trades (other then farming).  They will build a chicken coop and have the 7th graders learn how to raise chickens and business skills involving selling and trading poultry and eggs.  This will be a big boost to the local economy, and also boost the nutrition levels of the community.

When leaving Copan, I bought a chicken for the community.  It was the only gift that I bought someone for Christmas this year, other then coffee for my family.  Hopefully this gift will help the community in the coming years.

Categories: Random Travelling

School Visits in Honduras

December 23, 2010 4 comments

Ellen Finn with a group of people from a village outside of Copan, Honduras

I am on my way to Guatemala City for Christmas to meet some friends.  A few weeks ago, I was doing a websearch, and came upon an organisation called Project School Supplies.  It is run by a lady named Ellen Finn from the States.

You can check out her story on the weblink above.  It is very interesting, as she was in Honduras a few years ago for a Spanish course, and fell in love with the country.  She returned home to get rid of all of her belongings and moved to Honduras.  When she returned she noticed the poor state of education and schools, and decided she wanted to make a difference.  She has been in Copan ever since.

I read her story online, and was immediately drawn to learn more about her and the work she is doing in Honduras.  I emailed her a few weeks ago, as I was heading through Honduras to Guatemala.  She immediately came back to me, and told me that she would be happy to meet with me and that it would be great to brainstorm.

I met up with Ellen yesterday, and we chatted over breakfast.  It turns out we have a lot in common, and it was great to meet someone who was working towards the same goals as I was.  The main difference is that her organisation does not have as much support as SchoolBOX.  It is basically a two person team, and they rely primarily on individual donations. They also operate out of a smaller area than SchoolBOX, as they basically help the communities that are scattered around Copan.  They also have a wider spread of services offered to the community.

Children who received christmas presents outside of Copan

She invited me to join her as we toured the community in which she has built schools.  She asked me to help her deliver Christmas gifts to the community.  The gifts consisted of necklaces for the girls, fruit chews for the boys, and small packages of rice for families.

As we drove through these remote villages, I could see the poverty.  There was no running water, and the children were wearing tattered clothes.  Some were not wearing anything at all.  You could tell by looking at the children that they were malnourished.  She seemed to know many of the people by name, and they all knew who she was.  The families were so happy about the gifts that they got.  These were most likely the only gifts they had received in a long time.  Happinness does not cost a lot.

The schools that Project School Supplies and the donors built were incredible Read more…

Categories: Random Travelling

Random thoughts through Honduras

December 23, 2010 1 comment

Fireworks in Cantarranas, Honduras

I am spending a quiet night in Copan Ruinas in Northern Honduras.  Over the last few days, I have travelled up from Managua to Nothern Honduras, and have had a great time.

Here are some thoughts:

  • The bus ride from Managua to Tegucigalpa was quite uneventful.  It left a bit late (which is the norm), and took a bit extra time then thought originally (which is also the norm).
  • The police seemed baffled that the bus driver had our passports, and did not believe us.  It seemed that they have never done a check at a border before
  • Tegucigalpa seemed a bit more dangerous than Managua but it actually had a town centre.  It was nice to stroll around an old centre that contained a market.  Managua is quite spread out, and you need to take a taxi everywhere.
  • I went up to a village outside of Tegucigalpa called Cantarranas.  It was the village of our friend Rosmel.  They were having the last day of Carnival, and it was a great time.  Many people drinking, eating and dancing in the streets.  It was great to be in a smaller village after being in Tegucigalpa.
  • The highlight of the Carnival were the fireworks.  At one point, a guy dressed in a fireworks suit was lit up and ran through the crowd shooting fireworks at everyone.  It seemed to be a big hit, but the 3 foreigners ran for their lives.  Apparently it is a fun tradition.

Carnival in Cantarranas, Honduras

  • 3 buses, and 11 hours to get from Tegucigalpa to Copan Ruinas to visit Ellen Finn, who is running her own organisation that builds schools, promotes education, and helps the community.  Amazing person.  I will post a blog on this in a few days
  • Honduras is signifcantly colder than Managua.  I like the temperature difference, as it is quite comfortable to sleep at night.  It helps that I am in the mountains
  • I am loving the constant supply of water, and hot water showers.  It is a big difference from life in Managua.  This is what you get when you stay in hostels and hotels.  Very comfortable holiday indeed.

I will be heading up to Guatemala City for Christmas tomorrow afternoon and will be meeting some friends.  The tentative plan is to head over to Antigua next for a few days after Xmas, and then somehow head back to Nicaragua for the weekend.  I would love to head back on through the Carribean coast, but we will see how the timing works, as transport can be tricky during the holidays.

Categories: Nicaragua

The guide to Managua Taxis and Flash Kidnappings (avoidance)…

December 17, 2010 5 comments
The typical taxi in Managua

Even before I left for Nicaragua, I had heard stories about the taxis in Managua.  Taxis outside of the capital, in Nicaragua are generally safe, and I have not heard many stories of any issues.  Taxi cabs in Managua have a horrible reputation for robberies and kidnappings.  Although nothing has happened to me as of yet, I have received many pieces of advice on how to proceed with taxi cabs in Managua.  I have passed on many pieces of advice to other travellers as well.

The dangers lie in being picked up by a taxi, and others jumping in and being kidnapped.  The driver is usually in on the action.  The robbers basically get your bank card, or credit card, and drive you around to different ATMs (ABM in Canadian speak) and empty our your account until you have hit your daily limit.  They then dump you off in an area of town far away from where you were picked up.  I have even heard of the robbers giving you enough for the taxi fare back to your point of departure.  Very friendly robbers here.
Note that within any big city, there are dangers.  I believe that if you are informed, you can at least minimize the chances that something will happen to you.  Here are bits of advice to avoid robbery or flash kidnappings in Managua that I have collected from Read more…

The Virgin Mary, Halloween and Fireworks – La Gritería!

December 15, 2010 5 comments

Celebrating La Gritería in Leon!

Last week, we are given Tuesday afternoon, and the whole Wednesday off.  Most employees received this time off to celebrate one of the biggest holidays in Nicaragua:  La Griteria (apologizes for the spelling, as I have no idea how the spanish accents on the laptop work)

This was quite a confusing festival for me, but through many conversations with people and research on the web, I think I have pieced together what this festival is all about.

Basically, La Griteria is a mix between celebrating the immaculate conception of Mary, Halloween, and fireworks.  The celebration is most popular in Leon, so I headed there with a few of my friends to check out the festivities.  When we arrived, there were people crowding the streets in front of houses getting candy, condiments, instant coffee, etc.  They were visiting shrines to Mary, and screaming at those giving them the treats.  Fireworks were being lit in the streets in front of people, families, cars, babies, trees, and anywhere else there was available pavement space.  (In my neighbourhood in Managua, it is like New Years everyday – I am hearing fireworks as I type this, and it is 4:15pm on a Wednesday afternoon – and it is not dark). 

 My friends and I, joined in on the festivities by going door to door.  People would ask us questions, and we would shout something

Inspecting my gift of coffee

 back that I did not understand.  Eventually, I just resorted to “No hablo espanol”.  Surprisingly, I received extra treats for being the foreigner who had no clue what was going on.  I received gifts of a special maize corn drink, brownies, salt, and instant coffee.  All staples of a typical Nica kitchen.

As the night wore on, we eventually headed to the beach just outside Leon.  As we drove towards the beach, the shower of fireworks turned on the car.  Driving up the main road exiting Leon, children, families, and others were aiming their fireworks at the car, and also timing the explosions as we drove past.  It seemed like scene right out of a war movie.

I quite enjoyed my first taste of a Nicaraguan festival.  As I am learning, there are many festivals that take place in Nicaragua.  In Masaya, they have 3 straight months of festivals every year, and every town has their own special celebration(s).

Here is the official explanation of “La Griteria”  taken from :

“…in cities and towns people start exploding fireworks and firecrackers. In the biggest cities, it gets so noisy that any uninformed tourist might think that a war has just started in Nicaragua. At midnight, firecrackers explode once again (the same happens at 6AM and 12PM, but on a smaller scale).” Read more…

Categories: Nicaragua

Thoughts on Nicaraguan Buses

December 3, 2010 1 comment

Inside the big yellow bus on a less busy day

Apologizes for the lack of posts in the last few days.  I was quite busy with meetings, and meeting friends in the evenings.  I am settling in quite well.  Now that I have a place to live, I will have more time to discover the country, which I am looking forward to.

I take the bus every morning to my work.  It is a straight shot down one main road called “La Carretera Masaya”.  It is very creative name, as are most street names in Managua.  It means, the road to Masaya.  I live at Metro Centro, which is km 0 of the road, and I work at km 13. 

This straight shot bus ride takes between 10 minutes, and 30 minutes depending on the time of day, the day of the week, the traffic, and also the type of bus you take.

The minibus seats between 16 people, and 30 people, and is basically a glorified large van that you might see in the movies which amateur bands use as their tour bus.  On busy days, they can get packed, but their advantage is that they are quicker, as less people jump on and off. 

The larger buses are the yellow buses I had talked about in a previous blog.  They are pretty much the same as the buses that we took to school in Canada and the US when we were young.  They actually receive a second life in Nicaragua, as many people make the trek up to the US from Nicaragua, and buy one or two buses, and drive back down.  The profit on these buses can be as much as $4000 each after gas and food expenses, and that represents a lot of money down here.

The mini bus costs about 10 cordobas, and the large yellow schoool bus costs about 5 cordobas, translating to a little less than 50 cents and 25 cents respectively.  These buses are packed like sardine cans, and it can be difficult to move your limbs during rush hour.

Several important things to note about taking buses in Managua (and possibly Nicaragua in general):

  • The buses usually stop anywhere to pick you up, no matter how dangerous it is, or how much traffic there is.  The exception to the rule is when there are random police checks, that all drivers know about.  When there are random police checks, the bus will only stop at “la parada de autobus”, which can also be located in a random, non safe area.
  • The buses will not stop anywhere to drop you off.  They will only stop in designated zones.  If you want to get off right at your destination, you have to hope that someone wants to get on the bus at the same point.
  • Fares vary.  Sometimes people get special prices, and sometimes there is ambiguity between what is a mini bus, and what is a regular bus.  It is not uncommon to pay less or more than a person going the same route.
  • The bus has a driver and there is also at least one person who stands with his head, or body out the window, or door (depending on the bus) to scream out the destination to people standing on the side of the street.
  • Buses are a nightmare on Sundays out of Managua, as many go to the Price Mart and other box stores to supply their stores in other cities.  Mini buses will be full, and the fact that there are less buses on the road compounds the space problem.
  • Buses are the safest mode of transport in Managua.  Much safer than taxi cabs off the street – I will speak about this in a later blog to explain.
Categories: Uncategorized
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