Saturday, December 22, 2012

Merry Christmas

Wishing you all happy holidays!  We're planning on a quiet Christmas up at the reserve, and most likely the same for New Year's.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Welcome to the Jungle

For those of you that can't keep up with what we're up to (don't worry, I can't either - it takes me a minute to remember where I am when I wake up every morning), we are now in Ecuador for three months to be managers of a nature reserve.  That means that we take care of the cabin, trails, water system, etc for the reserve, as well as doing publicity around town and keeping up the blog (; taking care of visitors, hiking in materials, fuel, and food (serious job, here - it's 3 km up the road from town, and then 2 km down a muddy trail - so even if we get a ride to the trailhead, we still have to haul stuff in the last 2 km); doing some data collection for bird research; feeding hummingbirds; etc etc etc.  For this work, we get free lodging, a food stipend, and the chance to live and work in a cloud forest in a quiet, beautiful cabin.  Not a terribly bad deal, really.

We made it on December 5th, with no big hitches, to Las Tangaras Nature Reserve in Mindo, Ecuador, as planned.  We met the last managers of the Reserve, Micah and Jaime and their three-year-old son, Never (who called Jeff "grandpa" - hah!), as planned.  They took off on the 7th, as planned.  Then, not as planned, the bridge broke.

Hey - I don't think it's supposed to hang like that...
 Jeff, being the engineer of the two of us, got on it and hitched it up for a temporary fix.
In the US, this would be a duct tape and chewing gum fix.  Here, those aren't available, so it's rope and wire.
 It's looking a bit better, but we're working as fast as we can on getting cable and qualified folks to do real repairs.
Welcome!  And caution!
But hey, our cabin and the reserve are worth the trip.  Why I don't have a picture of the outside yet, I don't know, but here's the inside:
The downstairs, with the kitchen in the background.
The upstairs, looking into the area where guests sleep.

 The reserve itself is gorgeous, too, in its cloud forest:

We feed the hummingbirds daily, and record the species we see come by:
Yah know, honey, you could sit down while eating...
My, what a long tail you have...
 Once in a while, though, they hit the window, and act a bit stunned for a while:
Sorry, dude, for putting that window in your way.

But so far, no casualties.

We have already had a couple friends visit!  Jeff's friend from junior high, Nathan, and his girlfriend, Sarah, came to Ecuador and made time to come all the way to Mindo for a couple nights.  Whoo hoooo!  Nathan kind of giggled when we asked if he wanted to take a machete along to help us do some trail maintenance while we hiked a bit:
Boys and their big knives.  Sheesh.
 The trails around here aren't your nice little walks in the woods - they can be steep, and muddy this time of year, and the jungle likes to take them over.  One must come prepared.
Jeff shows off his jungle skillz.
And, due to the 2 km hike out, one must leave prepared, too.  Nathan and Sarah made sure to suit up with serious hiking boots, gaiters, rain pants, and headlamps for their night hike out.
Bring it on!
 And off they went.  It was fun to have them visit, and we hope they're having a great time on the rest of their adventure!

And now I must get off the internet so we can get back to the reserve before dark.  Slip sliding away!

Monday, December 3, 2012

El Jocote, part deux

May I admit something? When getting on a plane for one of these grand adventures to foreign lands, I often have a feeling of ... disquiet. I don't want to go. I'm feeling lazy, and it's so much easier to communicate and get around in the US. I don't have to explain myself and why I'm there - I'm from there. I can use my native language, with all of its slurring, slangy, mumbled messiness, and I will be understood. I get the jokes, I know what to expect, I understand the cultural norms. So why am I going somewhere where I know I'll have to watch what gestures I make, think hard about the words and grammar I use, not understand half of what people say, be stared at most of the time, have to put so much effort into everyday activities, and still not belong? Each time, I know this feeling will pass, but each time, it's there.

But when we arrived in Nicaragua, settled in on Ometepe, met some of the folks we'd be working with, I could settle in. It was right - it was why I came. The relaxed culture, the friendliness, the shared joy in everyday life and in meeting new people - all are things I have learned to appreciate.

We finished our work on Ometepe and were off again, and the feeling came back. We were heading back to El Jocote, and it had the potential to be very awkward. We're not going to be working, we're only going for a day and a half, and we're just going to be visiting from house to house - to say what? Hello? We remember you, but we're too busy to stay long?

When we took off from Managua, I was still feeling like I'd rather go back to bed. We got to Teustepe, the bus change place, and had a little lunch at the grill in the park. It was delicious, and served with a smile, but nothing out of the ordinary. We bought some bottled water for ourselves, and a pineapple and two liters of cooking oil for our hosts. We boarded the truck that's replaced the bus for the low travel season, and an old lady smiled happily at us. We bumped along, with people laughing and joking with each other, many many stops, and an average speed of less than 10 mph, and my spirits were rising.

We arrived in El Espino, the final destination for the bus, and got our bags on for the half hour walk ahead. We saw a horse and rider that we recognize at the turnoff to El Jocote – it was Franklin, the son of one of the farmers who works most with AsoFenix. Seeing him lifted my mood from happy to excited, and grateful when he said he was there just to meet us and to carry our bags. He kept his horse walking slowly to match our pace, and we asked him about how things had been going in El Jocote in the last six months. Unsurprisingly, not much had changed.

The big news, that we already knew, was that Franklin's grandfather (and, really, father/grandfather of probably more than half of El Jocote's citizens), Juan Valerio, died three months ago. He had been not only an important part of the community, but a wonderful person for us to know as well. Every time we saw him, he had a huge smile and encouraging words about how much we were appreciated in the community. His death from cancer in his early 70s was a painful blow to everyone, and it was evident that it's still felt strongly. By chance, we were there on the three month anniversary of his death, and attended a service of the rosary with his family and friends. I think they appreciated our presence; I certainly appreciated feeling a part of the community again.

We spent most of our day and a half there visiting from house to house, showing pictures of our time away, eating silly amounts of corn-based foods (my stomach took a full two days to recover), and enjoying the company of very happy folks.
Pictures of my new nephew and our tortilla making endevors in the US were the biggest hits. 
The kids immediately glommed onto us, which made me feel right at home.
Mi hijo, Jose Ines. 
In six months, most of the kids were pretty well the same as before, but one was nearly unrecognizable because she had grown so much:
Baby Escarlin is twice the size she was when we last saw her!
We even got to meet the very newest addition to the community:
Not two weeks old, and without a name as yet, but already the center of attention!
Jeff carried his juggling balls with him the whole time so he could perform on demand, and he got pretty good crowds:
Angelito in awe.
Sometimes performances became games of catch:
Julissa and Jeff juggling together.
I didn't perform any tricks, but I showed the kids pictures that I had been taking while there:
The magic of digital cameras.
It wasn't all about the kids, of course. We were very happy to see the adults, too. We were especially happy to visit Cleto and Santos, whom we had missed when saying our goodbyes six months ago.
The best cook in the village! With 14 kids, plus grands and great-grands, she's had lots of practice.
We visited some of the old projects, too. The patio gardens look pretty well established now, and are growing bananas, peppers, and tomatoes. We gave out some seeds that we brought from the US, of different types of tomatoes, peppers, squash, and okra. All were seed-save-able heirloom varieties.
Doña Inés and some of her troop of kids invite us into their garden, which they have expanded since we left in April.
Angela is working hard to restore her soil, and is having fun with a variety of vegetables and even flowers.
We got an addition to the list for the ugly chicken contest, but it moved too fast for a good photo:
Santos has a good contender here!
We stayed with our old friends Tonio and Marta, and enjoyed their view once again. With the recent end of the rainy season, the land was back to its beautiful green, rather than the brown, dry place we left a few months ago.

We even saw some chickens that we remembered from before!
Topheavy's a mama again!
All in all, it was a wonderful trip, and we're both very glad that we visited. We're amazed all over again how happy the people of El Jocote are, and how willing they are to share their happiness.
To my girls, Estel and Julissa: Thanks, ladies. You've made my year.
Of course, returning from El Jocote meant we had to go back to Managua, which is not one of my favorite places. But really, even Managua has it's charm – how many other huge capital cities have scenes like this at downtown intersections?
Horse poop is a big part of the Pan-American Highway and all other parts of this metropolis.
And now, on to Ecuador. I'm happy about the prospect of settling in to our little place in a cloud forest, but I sure am sad to let go of Nicaragua. But I'm comforted knowing that we can always go home, whether that home be in Washington or in El Jocote, and belong.