A Travellerspoint blog

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Big trip to Little Corn Island

Getting to beach paradise is rough

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The "vacation" part of our time in Nicaragua began with a trip to Little Corn Island, about 50 miles off the country's Atlantic coast. It is a helluva trip to get here.

First, we took a 12 (ish) passenger plane from Managua to Big Corn Island. Much of it in a thunder storm and over the rainforest. Then a taxi from the airport to the panga dock. And then the real fun began with a 30 minute panga ride in the open ocean with swells taller than I am. Remember, we have to do it all again to leave. That's a lot of energy and time to get to an island where there's no electricity in the morning for four hours (mas o menos) to enjoy some R&R and scuba diving after Spanish school.

Little Corn is fascinating to me in part because it isn't like being in Nicaragua at all. The Island's predominant language is English and due to its complex history with Nicaragua's political elite, its culture is more closely aligned with the African and Indian melting pot of the Miskito Coast. Not surprisingly there are a litany of languages spoken here: English, Spanish, Creole, Miskito, Garifuna and others. I asked my dive master, who was raised on the Island, how many languages he spoke and he rattled off more than five.

Demographics and politics aside (or possibly because of) there's no disputing we are in the Caribbean: crystal blue water, fine sandy beaches, genial atmosphere.

Sunset from Little Corn Island

Thanks Garry for the great dives.

There's not a whole lot to say about our time on Little Corn and maybe that's its charm. There is a scene of mostly Americans and Canadians that enjoy the happy hour atmosphere but we tried our best to ignore them. I had wonderful dives, Chad took kite surfing lessons, we didn't eat rice and beans, we strolled though the jungle and watched sunsets.

Now, we have to get back to the mainland. Hold on!

Posted by BettinaNYC 18:32 Archived in Nicaragua Tagged island corn little Comments (2)

Puebla, home of the Mexican Revolution

Please stand by. We are experience technical difficulties.

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We are in Puebla, Mexico where revolution is in the city's soul and where we found the eighth wonder of the world (the Capilla del Rosario, photo at the bottom), but technology isn't feeling so revolutionary to me.

File under lesson learned:
I knew having access to consistent and reliable wifi on this trip would be an issue. Which is why we backed up important information and documents. But it only works if you use it.

Several days ago, Chad's Ipad mysteriously locked itself, along with my blog drafts which may or may not still be there when we find a location/authorized dealer we trust enough to fix it. And the iphone version of the website hosting the blog is, shall we say....different, than the complete version.

So, send your positive tech vibes to Mexico so I can share stories about our last days in Nicaragua, how we partied until dawn in Colon, Panama (well, almost until dawn), rode Panama City's brand new subway, and my joyous culinary tour of Oaxaca.

Until then, I'll be distracted by all the gold.

A very subtle sign indicates a chapel that is drowning in gold leaf.

Another lesson I've learned? Photos don't do most of what we have seen justice. The Capilla del Rosario (the eighth wonder of world, or so say the lovely materials we picked up at the tourism office) built in the late 1600's is no exception.

Posted by BettinaNYC 21:55 Archived in Mexico Tagged lesson learned Comments (0)

Colonial Architecture and Island Rainbows

Granada and Isla de Ometepe round out our time in Nicaragua

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We spent a day seeing Granada's architecture and learning more about Nicaragua's revolutionary history. Friends we met while studying at La Mariposa, Ruth and Erico, took us on a lovely tour of the city and the nearby Isletas. Granada is probably one of the most beautiful colonial towns in Nicaragua. There is a long standing rivalry between Leon and Granda on which locale is best so I won't offend anyone by choosing a favorite. Though the number of tourists seemed more obvious in Granada, I felt more of a cultural vibe in Leon.

A prison in Granada during the Samoza regime, Fuertza la Polvora.


View from a hammock after an amazing hike near Volcan Maderas on Isla de Omepete.

Next, we were off to Ometepe, located in Latin America's largest fresh water lake (it resembles an ocean). The island has numerous farms and we stayed for the first part of our week-long trip at a hostel that is also a permaculture farm owned by two Italians from Tuscany. Thanks to them we had some of the best food in Nicaragua. Also, and I am happy to report that the Island had several well-maintained composting toilets and that they are not stinky. In fact, I preferred them more than latrines.

We spent a good part of a day on a hike and it was a wonderful adventure even if we did not make it to the top of Volcan Maderas. After paying a property owner a few Cordobas to pass by her house to get on the trail, we set off to see a diverse array of trees, hear all kinds of birds and get some well needed exercise. Toward the end of the hike we stumbled on what seemed like a scene from "Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom": vultures eating a monkey. You can see the poor thing on the bottom center of the photo below.


Ometepe was an ideal send off for our Nicaraguan chapter. We met wonderful people (thanks to Paulette from La Mariposa we were introduced to a couple from the US who are setting up a veterinary practice and let us hang our hammocks on their porch overlooking the lake surrounded by countless butterflies), enjoyed sleeping in our hammocks, taking hikes and eating tasty food.


Adios Ometepe! I hope to see you again.

Posted by BettinaNYC 18:40 Archived in Nicaragua Tagged granada de isla ometepe Comments (0)

Wonky thoughts: Dueling Canals

China, Russia, Nicaragua want to go mano a mano with the US and Panama

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Today's People's Climate Change march in New York City seems like the perfect time for a wonky post about how challenging building a canal can be to environmental justice.

During my last days at La Mariposa in Nicaragua, officials announced the route of a proposed canal that would rival the Panama Canal. There is hardly anyone I spoke to during my time in Nicaragua that thinks the canal will be the economic engine it is promised to be.


One of the more interesting conversations I had while at language school, (and I had many!) was with another student from the UK getting a degree in environmental engineering. The priority of the proposed canal, we discussed, has less to do with creating jobs for Nicaraguans, but more about various countries coming together to challenge the stature of the United States in world affairs. Financial backing for the canal is coming mainly from Chinese and Russian business interests. There's nothing like watching a shift in global politics happen right before your eyes, we said.

From my perspective, two things stand out about the proposal as reasons why the canal would do little to lift Nicaraguans out of poverty. First, as I understand it, there are no job guarantees for Nicaraguans until 50 years after the canal is built. And in Colon, Panama where I stayed for a week (just north of the city and home to one of the world's largest free trade zones) near the canal, I saw banners demanding fairness for local jobs and land issues. Not surprisingly, there were riots there a couple of years ago when the Panamanian government wanted to sell state-owned property to private companies that currently rent in the zone. I am unsure how residents feel about a new canal currently being built in the area to handle larger ships.

Second, any development that would cut through the vast, beautiful mountains of Nicaragua and in particular Lago Nicaragua certainly destroying Isla de Ometepe's lush environment and agriculture, should be a non-starter. With a delayed, now flood prone rainy season, poor Nicaraguans are disproportionately feeling the effects of climate change (see this article "Hunger threatens Central America" Hambre acheca Centroamerica http://www.laprensa.com.ni/2014/09/13/activos/211886?movil). This in addition to a huge jump in bean prices earlier this year, means more pain for a country with a serious food security problem. (Sorry for the long link, but articles that help explain the bean crisis are here: http://www.centralamericadata.com/en/search?q1=content_en_le:%22red+beans%22&q2=mattersInCountry_es_le:%22Nicaragua%22) A complex mix of climate change and politics are causing the problem.

And then there's the impact a canal could have on the ocean.

If the trash-filled waters around Panama City are any indication of how the ocean will be treated with new ship traffic, I can't imagine what it will mean for the ocean, a source of food and earth's well-being to be frank. Sure, people litter everywhere but in my opinion when the powers-that-be create a commercial engine without regard for the environment, businesses and citizens won't care either.

Photos can't convey the odor.

The Panamanians celebrated the 100 anniversary of the Panama Canal while I was there. Granted, it's hard not to marvel at the engineering and history associated with the project. But I hope folks in Nicaragua are doing research on when "benefits" for its impoverished communities may materialize since more than 100 years seems the standard.

Posted by BettinaNYC 18:42 Archived in Nicaragua Tagged panama canal nicaragua thoughts wonky Comments (0)

Partying with the Panamanians

Celebrating birthdays, a wedding anniversary and we join a family reunion

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When a former colleague of Chad's who is from Colon, Panama learned we would be in Latin America during the summer, the invitations rolled in: a wedding anniversary, two birthday parties and a biannual family reunion. It was a busy week! But among the music, dancing and meeting dozens of Sonia's friendly family members, we got to see some of the sites. Many thanks to Antonio, Sonia's son, who generously shared some of his favorite places with us like the Portobelo National Park on the Atlantic Coast and the Gautan Locks portion of the Panama Canal and of course, Panama City.

Sonia's daughter, right, helping to celebrate her parent's anniversary. Sorry for the quality of the photo, but I couldn't resist showing how festive the celebration was.

Squeaking through the Panama Canal.

Posted by BettinaNYC 07:25 Archived in Panama Tagged city panama canal Comments (0)

Wonky thoughts: Panama City's Casco Viejo

Out with the viejo, in with the new.

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I had an amazing time walking around Casco Viejo and I couldn't help but think how this kind of development would play out in New York City. It is one of the oldest parts of Panama City and the area, a UNESCO heritage site, is in the midst of major shifts in building use and population. Casco Viejo was built initially in the 1500's and then rebuilt in the late 1600's after a pirate-destroying era. Today, the contrast in buildings is surreal. There is no doubt gentrification is occurring here, thanks to what has been reported as "forced displacement" of residents: http://whc.unesco.org/en/soc/151.

The photos below are a sample of the amazing contrast of conditions in the neighborhood.


Posted by BettinaNYC 07:26 Archived in Panama Tagged urban city panama viejo thoughts casco gentrification wonky planning. Comments (0)

Shiny, New Subway

Panama City opens its first subway

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There really was no need for us to take the subway, but how could I pass up the opportunity to ride a brand new subway? It opened in April as the first line of a broader transportation plan for this congested city. Squeaky clean and quiet, too!

Posted by BettinaNYC 07:28 Archived in Panama Tagged city new panama subway Comments (0)

Beautiful México

In Oaxaca I devour quesadillas, coffee and pyramids.

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We arrived in Oaxaca City after one of our longest travel days yet: leaving Panama City at about 5:00am and arriving in Oaxaca City early evening. Much of that time was spent on a bus to Oaxaca City from Mexico City with beautiful views thanks to its terrifying weaves up and down the rugged Sierra Madre Oriental mountain range. For those that haven't been on a bus in Mexico, don't roll your eyes; they are luxurious, comfortable and safe. But mostly I was happy to land in one of the world's best-known culinary destinations and experience Oaxaca City's stunning architecture, food and to learn about its incredibly diverse indigenous population. The Zocalo has dozens of food stalls and if you're there, check out the family stationed in front of the Interjet office: I favored the quesadillas with flor de la cabeza (squash flowers) and of course, the dreamy coffee. Our week here went by much too quickly.

The view from Mont Alban.

An all too common site, teachers occupying the Zocolo in Oaxaca City.

Random street party celebrating nurses.

Posted by BettinaNYC 19:00 Archived in Mexico Tagged city oaxaca Comments (0)

Guanajuato, Guanajuato

A city so good, they named it twice.

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After several weeks of exploring Nicaragua, Panama and a couple of southern Mexican cities, it was time to buckle down and get back to Spanish classes. For five weeks we settled into one of the most fabulous cities I have ever seen, Guanajuato, and studied at Plateros Spanish School.

The city has numerous identities: cultural capital of Mexico, capital of the state of Guanajuato, once home to some of the largest silver (and other metals) mines in the world, home of the acclaimed International Cervatino Festival, and one of the oldest universities in Latin America. I fell in love with Guanajuato: it's university-student vibe, mix of colorful architecture (and it's a city of tunnels!), and amazing culture (we saw breathtaking performances of the city's Ballet Folklore and the Symphony Orchestra).

The center of our activities in Guanajuato (GTO to locals) was our Spanish school. Our teachers at Plateros were generous with their time, enthusiastic about teaching the Spanish language and joyful to be around. Every Wednesday evening teachers and students gather for "cafe social" at one of the city's bars. It was a great way to practice Spanish and meet current and former students who now live in Guanajuato. Our homestay experience was an absolute delight thanks to the generous housemother, Imelda. Each day after class we trekked up one of Guanajuato's mountainous-like streets (if you live in this town, there's no need for a treadmill, I guarantee you) to be met with authentic Mexican food and sometimes Spanish language quiz games.

A typical sidewalk in Guanajuato.

Our Spanish teachers at Plateros and fellow students.

We were lucky to be in town for the celebration of Mexican Independence and just a couple of weeks later on September 28th when the city celebrates Día de la Toma de la Alhóndiga or the Taking of the Alhóndiga, a fort that was taken over by Mexicans from the Spaniards. This was as much of a celebration as the one for Independence.


The geography and architecture of this city is breathtaking.

I will miss Guanajuato and those brutal to walk but beautiful hillside streets. I will be back!

Posted by BettinaNYC 11:04 Archived in Mexico Tagged guanajuato plateros Comments (0)

GTO en Red Series

Colorful Guanajuato

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Maybe it was just the altitude, but the colors in Guanajuato seemed amazing. Especially the reds.


Posted by BettinaNYC 19:27 Archived in Mexico Tagged pictures guanajuato Comments (0)

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