Friday, January 13, 2012

el jocote irrigation project

We just got back a couple days ago from our latest project in el Jocote. It will probably be the last trip there for quite a few weeks, since Kate fractured her ankle since we got back (Don't worry, she's fine: read her previous post about that below, slightly out of chronological order). I'm also keeping this one light on words since I am so tired.

We went with a group of MBA students from San Fransisco who are specializing in sustainable development. The project this time was to install two solar irrigation systems on a farm in el Jocote and another farm in neighboring el Roblar. Kate and I split up with the group so that we did each project parallel to each other, so this is the story of my side in el Jocote. We started by digging the hole for the solar panel post on the edge of a field--you can see how dry it is getting over there now:

There were fun installation moments like the nicaraguan-cantilevered ladder--a novel method to prevent damage to solar panels:

On the lower side of the farm there is a well dug that previously had a hand-operated pump that was used to irrigate a few plantain, avacado, and mango trees close by:

We were to augment the system with this DC pump optimized for the solar panels we had:

Occasionally, we had to fix little problems, like forgetting to clean the tank out before filling it with water. Solved that one by sending the younger brother of the farmer's family, Rigo, into the tank for a dunk to pull out leaves and gunk. We actually had to send him in a second time to plug up the outlet so we could change a valve:

We eventually got the tank hooked up to dripper lines on the third day and here's the older brother, Juan Jose, planting tomatoes in the newly-irrigated field.

Afterward, we posed for a picture with the extended family in their field. Actually, I took the pictures, so I'm not in the picture here, but the rest of the Jocote half of the group was:

Afterwards, we piled into the pickup, Nica style, and headed off to the community baseball game. If I haven't mentioned it before, Nicaragua is kind of unique in Latin America in having baseball as its national pastime.

Only a few of us americans were actually decent at baseball, and this was a pretty serious game, so many of us just watched, but 3 or 4 of our group played. Morgan, one of the girls in our group with baseball or softball experience, asked if it would be OK if she played, since there weren't any other girls playing and Nicaraguan culture is pretty machismo. We all thought it would be a great idea if she did and showed those machismo guys what a girl is capable of. She did awesome, hitting runs and scoring every time at bat.

Some of the rest of our group played soccer with the littler kids--soccer seems to be more popular here with younger kids. They were relegated to the side field, strewn with rocks and spiny things. Of course, all the local kids played the game in the ubiquitous flip-flops:
I, who like neither soccer nor baseball, spent the time juggling and teaching kids and other group members alike how to juggle.
The next day the group left and Kate and I stayed for an extra day of getting to know town. We took one picture with our host sister and host mama with Carly, Mike, and Chase from the group who stayed at the house with us. The Purisima alter is still up and going strong:

So while all of this was happening, the first full afternoon in el Jocote was scheduled for a 15-year birthday party, or QuinceaƱera. It's a lot like a wedding, but without the groom. It's a coming-of-age party common in Latin America, and hundreds of people were invited. They started arriving around noon in droves, both by horseback and by pickup truck (the first time we've ever seen more than a truck a day in town):

The Father, daughter, and damas and caballeros came down the hill in a giant pink procession:

And began with a full mass (they only get priest-led masses on special occasions here were there's no full-time priest):

We followed the procession back up the hill where the house and dirt yard was decked out in tents, pink balloons, pink cake, and pink frilly everything:

Behind the crowd you could see the parking lot on the hillside with grazing space included:

Then they blasted loud music from about 4 in the afternoon to about 2 in the morning as people danced--here is when we started leaving just after sunset:

The MBA student group came down for the party and we all had a good time. There was a little bit of awkwardness when we went out to dance because suddenly the entire attention of hundreds of eyes was on a handful of white people dancing in their village in the middle of nowhere. Some of the local drunk guys got a little too crazy with their interactions with us and we didn't stay on the dance floor for long, but it all made for good memories.

All in all, it was a nice trip to el Jocote, where we are really getting accustomed to the relaxing pace of life in the campo. We were sad to depart but we had some work to do back in town, namely chaperoning the student group to the beach the next day, so we weren't going reluctantly.

Culture shock in Granada

We decided to splurge for New Year's on a nice weekend in Granada, one of the few places likely to have a New Year's party. This is because Granada is chock full of expats and tourists, being a beautiful 400 year old city with well-upkept architecture.

We left the village of El Jocote at 5:30 am on the 30th, just after I (Kate) had recovered from being pretty darned sick for a night. After a quick stop by the office in Managua to get clean clothes and a shower, we were in Granada and checked into our hotel at about 2 pm. We immediately felt the culture shock - from the tiny village of El Jocote... the touristy streets of Granada...
(OMG Gringos!) less than twelve hours. Whoosh!

We got ourselves oriented and headed off to check out the town. Granada has all the trappings of a Central American city, including a crazy municipal market:
with crazy looking drinks for sale:
so that made us feel better (the reality of it all, not the drinks - no way were we drinking something with those colors). We found our way to the beach of Lake Nicaragua, which was not super touristy:
It was, in fact, really buggy, and the waves were bringing in pretty dirty water. So Granada was beginning to feel a little less Disney-ish to us.

Then we went to dinner. I was looking for something that did not include rice and beans, having recently been sick after many days of rice and beans, and boy did I get it. We sat in the inner garden of a beautiful colonial house that was converted to a restaurant and had vegetable-pesto goodness, not something you find in El Jocote.

The next day, we went on a walk around the streets of Granada,
checking out the colonial houses from the outside, both upkept and not.
Like most towns around here, Granada has lots of pretty churches:

the last of which had its belltower open:
The views from up there were stunning:

...and the staircase was something else:

The craziest thing about all of this is that Granada, like Managua and Leon, has been devastated by earthquakes several times in its history, and all of these churches have been rebuilt.
But Granadians know their fixer-uppers:
Even the government gets in on it, as in the case of the old hospital that is crumbling, but will get a facelift (more pictures of this later):

And so went our walking tour. We could have taken the easy way out and gone on one of the famous tourist carriage rides:
but we like to walk and sweat and sweat and walk.

The major reason we were there, of course, was for the New Year's party on the tourist strip. We headed out at 8 pm, and had a good time going from restaurant to restaurant, sitting at their tables in the street, watching the crazy tourists and expats:

We also made sure to fully enjoy the treats we don't get in the village. This is Jeff's second piece of key lime pie:
A parade came by with an effigy of an old man, signifying the old year, that they burn at midnight:
And of course, at midnight, there were fireworks. This time, though, they weren't just the noisy ones - pretty ones were included!

The next day, the town was dead. Everything was closed, including most restaurants. One place, Kathy's Waffle House, was open, though - we had to wait an hour, but mmmmmmmmmm waffles!

The next morning we took off for Managua again to get back to work. Granada was a great break, but due to the very non-Nicaraguan feel of the place, I was glad to head back to the real world. However, should the need for an American style break arise again, I'll know where to go.

One last note: A lot of our time was spent taking pictures, since Granada is so fantastically photogenic. Here's a sampling.

The rest are from the old hospital: