So we have felt a little landlocked in Managua after Kate's accident on the beach, but it has not stopped us from getting out. Here's a quick and unedited version of our last couple weeks here.
After getting tired of staying in the office, we were able to travel to Matagalpa a couple weeks ago. Located in the northern highlands of Nicaragua, Matagalpa is a smaller, low-key town with good restaurants and easy taxi access. We made sure to go to the chocolate castle, a chocolate factory run by two women specializing in delicious organic chocolate. Kate had to stay at the front door and sip mochas and taste chocolate while I went on the tour since there were too many stairs in the castle for her to navigate. The ladies showed us their equipment including a very rough mortar and pestle they use to break the freshly roasted beans to remove the husks:
My favorite was the machine they use for tempering the chocolate. It was always a dream of mine to reach into a giant chocolate waterfall and taste it.
We got to do just that--she pulled us out a plate of molten chocolate with the only condition that we had to scoop it out with forks to pace us:
We left the factory with some giant blocks of dark chocolate and big smiles on our faces. We spent the rest of the time hobbling around town and enjoying the scenery. Here is Kate in the park near our hotel:
The following week back at work began with our first training workshop in the village. Since it was an official workshop, we got to go in the truck, which meant that Kate could go with us (most of the village work involves a lot of walking and hiking on rough rocky roads. We stayed with a different family--the only one that had a level yard with a level latrine--basically, the closest to ADA compliant that we had out there.
So the rest of our excitement in the village was in giving powerpoint presentations in Spanish to about 100 villagers. Presentations were done by our boss, me and kate, and fellow interns Richard, Nate, and Liz. Here I am doing my best to make it interesting:
Well, we have a lot to learn and improve on the workshops, but it's a start, and it was good to finally jump in the deep end and get one done. We now have a list of dates and projects to keep us busy for our remaining 3 months. Still feels like we're just getting started here.
Our fellow intern, Richard, is working on an improved cookstove project, and here he did a demonstration to some of the people present:
The traditional stoves they use here are no more than a horseshoe of dried mud with a pot on top and an open side where you shove in more firewood. They smoke a lot, and since there are no chimneys, the smoke fills the kitchen and affects the health of the mostly women who work there. Richard is working on introducing more efficient stove models exist that hardly smoke, and that use much less fuel.
Kate left early with the caravan back home, and Richard and I stayed in the village to do surveys about stove and firewood usage. One of our activities was weighing the bundles of firewood that the people have to carry, typically a couple kilometers, to give a couple day's worth of cooking fuel.
And just for fun, I decided to add this picture of a typical pigpile in the house I was staying in. The big dude is getting ready to be eaten soon:
And finally, a couple days ago, Kate's high school friend, Fawn, came to visit us. It was kind of a graduation trip for her since she just finished her PhD in physics and needs a break from the hustle and bustle of academia. So we headed straight up to the other big town in the Northern Highlands, Esteli. Bathed in eternal springtime weather, Esteli is a university town with coffee shops and bars and is famous for its cigar factories. So we went on a tour, naturally. Here our guide is describing the different types of leaves and how they are used in the different stages of cigar making:
The cigar rollers are typically couples, one who stuffs the molds with the innards, and the other who wraps the outside with the deliate smooth leaves for finishing.
And, of course, there was a tasting session afterwards. Fawn and I indulged, but Kate abstained.
We headed out afterwards to the central park where there they have souped-up, battery-powered kiddie mobiles with professional helpers to keep the kids from crashing into the bystanders.
Esteli is studded with little fruit markets and murals in memory of the revolutionary soldiers who changed this town forever a few decades ago.
We finished our trip with a visit to a little paradise garden outside of town that serves coffee with homemade whole-wheat bread and fancy cheeses. Kind of a contrast to the Nicaraguan food, but it was a fun place to hang out and catch up on old times with Fawn.
We next head back out to el Jocote to do another patio garden project. Since it's official business and we need to transport materials, we can take Kate in the truck. She's out of her cast now and in a walking boot, but she still needs crutches to get around. A couple more weeks of that before she's out of the boot and in physical therapy. But we're not letting that get in the way, as we have a lot of projects and more vacations planned over the next couple weeks while Fawn is here. We'll be back soon with more!