Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Sabana Grande, part 2

The Solar Centre
A solar oven
The Solar Restaurant
Susan and I in the methane

During the next few days, we visited the places throughout the community. The Solar Centre was where the Solar Women worked solar ovens,worked on solar panels, and worked on other things also. They had meetings at The Solar Centre. The women built the Solar Centre out of bricks they made by hand! Around the Solar Center there was solar ovens, a solar distiller, a methane digester (thats not ready yet) for the restaurant, and a garden. Right next to the Solar Centre, they are building a Solar Restaurant because they got a grant from The United Nations. It is still in construction and will probably open in May. They will collect cow dung (poop!) in the bottom of the methane digester and cover it to collect the gas that is created as it decomposes so they can run the gas stoves in the restaurant on the methane. There is also a Solar Store that, by working, they can earn hours and buy things. For example, a solar oven would be about $200 and the women can't afford that so they work and then they can get one.
Mauro showing solar battery
charger, and PV panel

Yelba and Jorge working
on a solar oven

My mom and I at the Solar Centre
under one of the signs we painted

The solar distiller

The Solar Women working
on solar ovens

The swings

A map of Sabana Grande

To get to the primary school, you could just walk down the dirt road about a mile until you came to the blue and white buildings that made up the school.Many of the public buildings were blue and white, the colors of the Nicaraguan flag. Enyel and Yubelki went to the primary school but Scarleth went to the secondary school so she walked about a mile too, but then she had to get on a bus for 15 minutes. The primary school started at 8 and ended at 1, but they had a siesta at 10 and lunch at 12. Also they had three grades in one classroom with just one teacher.
The primary school 
All off the kids had to wear uniforms with a white shirt, a blue skirt or pants, black shoes, and white socks. At the school they just got a well which means they have water now!
The government provides free education but the families have to pay for the school supplies and the uniforms so it ends up being about three or four hundred dollars a year. Since many kids can't pay for all of their things, they don't go to school and then they don't get a good education. Also, some times the kids want to go to school but they can't (because of money) and so they have to work. One of the volunteers that had been in Sabana Grande a couple years ago (his name is C.J. and he lives in Maryland)and had come back for a couple weeks while we were there started a scholarship for students. Scarleth got the scholarship so she could go to secondary school.

Susan's House
Susan's house was a one room adobe-mud-brick house. There was a hammock in it and one day when I was sitting in it.... it fell down and I was laughing a lot but my butt hurt! She hung it back up outside after that happened. Right behind Susan's house, there was the Solar Mountain where they were working on reforestation and permaculture.

Near Susan's house was near the church and Scarleth was one of the Sunday school teachers. Down the road, towards the school there was a HUGE Ceba tree. In Africa, they call them Baobab trees.

The big Ceba Tree
The church

Our house was one of the 45-adobe-brick houses that the community helped build. They called these houses El Proyecto which means The Project. Everyday we would walk from the Solar Centre to lunch at someone's house. The first week we were there, we ate lunch at Dona Carmen's house who is Jorge's mom. Lots of people said that she was the best cooker in the community. There were a few Pulperias (little stores) in Sabana Grande and they were in the front of people's houses and there would be bars separating you from the store. Typically they would sell little snacks like chips or sodas. 

While we were in Sabana Grande, since we were only going to be there for 2 weeks, we didn't start on a big project, but instead, we re-painted the signs for the Solar Centre. My mom made stencils for the logos and we painted the rest by hand. We also were going to build raised garden beds out of bricks made from plastic bottles filled with garbage. During the 2 weeks, there were a couple other volunteers there. Jaclyn had been there for about 4 months before we got there and C.J. was just visiting. In March Cornell and MIT are coming and they are doing a course. 

One of the funny things about staying in Sabana Grande was hearing all of the animals at night. We could hear dogs, cows, donkeys and other animals too. Once all of the dogs were howling at the moon at the same time. Then they would all start barking at the same time and they wouldn't stop. My mom, Scarleth, and I were laughing a lot and it was really funny!! 

Us at the top
Enyel and I climbing up to the top

One Sunday afternoon, Scarleth and Enyel took my mom and I up the little mountain behind our house. On the way to the top, we saw a spring with cold water in it. There were people washing there clothes there. We crossed under some barb wire a couple times along the way and the ground was covered in pine needles. We were in a pine forest with pine trees all around us. Near the top, it was hard to climb because all of the rocks had pine needles on them. Our feet kept slipping on them but eventually we reached the top. There was a great view of the community. 
Us at the top again!

The view of Sabana Grande from the top.

 Sabana Grade was a nice place with nice people and I liked living there a lot. I just wished they had warm showers! The solar women really worked hard and I was impressed at everything they accomplished. They inspired me to do my science project on solar cookers, too.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Sabana Grande, Grupo Fenix, and Mujeres Solares de Totogalpa

Sabana Grande, part 1

After we were in Leon for three and a half weeks we went up to Sabana Grande, a small community in the north of Nicaragua (south of Honduras and near Ocotal) to do volunteer work with Grupo Fenix (a group that does work on solar and renewable energy and also works with the Energy University in Managua. If you want to find out more you can go to There is a group of women called Mujeres Solares de Totogalpa (Solar Women of Totogalpa and their web-site is  that work in Sabana Grande on solar and renewable energy also. 

The path up to our house,
its the one on the right!
Susan, the director of Grupo Fenix, was in Leon to visit University Botanical gardens, and then together we took the Express Bus to Esteli. Getting on the next bus to Ocotal was a hassle because there were a million people trying to get on. Susan ended up in the front and my mom and I were in the back. At La Tabla we got off and Yelba (the mom of our house), Scarleth (her 14 -year-old daughter), and Yubelki (a neighbor) met us. We lugged our luggage down a dirt road for about a mile(NOT FUN!!!!!)with Scarleth carrying a bag on her head(!) and my mom and Yelba struggling to carry our biggest bag one but finally we saw our house.

Oso and I in the doorway
The family we were living with was Yelba, Jorge, the dad, Scarleth, Enyel (pronounced like Angel), the 7-year-old son, and Oso, the tiny 2-month-old dog that was sooo cute. They were all very warm and welcoming to us.

Our house had 5 rooms including 3 bedrooms, a common room (that served as the dining room, the living room, and just a general sitting area), and a kitchen. There was a table, chairs and a T.V. in the common room. 
The view from our doorway
Me in our bedroom
The common room

The kitchen

 The kitchen counter

The efficient stove

In the kitchen there was an efficient stove that one of the earlier volunteers had designed. It had a chimney so the smoke would go outside instead of staying in the kitchen and then into the lungs of the people making them sick. It also saved fire wood because the opening was smaller. There was only 3 of these stoves in the community and we were happy to live with one instead of having all of the smoke in our house. 

The shower house and the
The latrine and a raised garden bed
There was no refrigeration and running water where we were living so everyday Yelba and Scarleth went to the well and carried 5 gallon buckets of water on their heads (more than once)!! We helped them a couple times but we couldn't carry the water on our heads..... just with our hands. Then the water went into a 55 gallon drum so we could use it for washing things and ourselves. The "sink" was a slab of rock on concrete blocks. There were bucket showers and they were cold! The shower was a little brick room in the backyard under a papaya tree. There was a dry latrine. 

One of the community wells
Their lives were very different from our lives at home. Yelba and Scarleth got up at 5:00 in the morning to do house work: carry water, grind corn to make tortillas,make the tortillas (my mom made some too but Yelba was much better because my mom's got holes in them!), start the fire, cook, wash clothes, wash dishes, get ready for school, etc... Jorge had to chop fire wood. Enyel got up early too because he had to get ready for school. They all took freezing cold showers when they got up, early in the morning!

the walk to the Solar Center from our house
sometimes we would draw together

Monday, March 21, 2011

Last Day In Leon

While we were in Leon, we were staying with a family in their house. The mother's name was Hilda and her daughter's name was Hildita (little Hilda).  They also had cousins that were visiting and the mother's name was Carla and her daughter's name was Danahi. Their cousin was also there visiting just for that day. We left on a Saturday so on Friday night (after our classes) we took them out to pizza. Before we went to pizza they had set up a little kitty-pool in the patio next door because Hildita didn't have school that day. When I was done eating lunch, I got my swimsuit on and went in the pool. The water was 
freezing !!!!!!!! Finally I got in and put my head under but it was still really cold so I was shivering.  While we were in the freezing cold water, we heard something that sounded like a leak. Danahi was looking all over the pool and she found the leak that had water pouring out of it! Finally we managed to plug the leak but there was already a river on the floor underneath the pool! The other kids got out of the pool to eat a late lunch and I got out with them.

After they ate lunch, Hildita dragged me into her room and she painted my nails with bright pink nail polish (I rubbed it right off when I got back into my our room) and put some kid make-up on my face (I rubbed that off too). Then she put a black wig on my head that covered my eyes so I couldn't see anything! I looked really ridiculous and she was laughing so much! When it was time to go, we walked to Pizza Hot (that was not a mistake... it's not Pizza Hut, it's Pizza Hot).  Everyone except my mom and I squirted a lot of Ketchup on their pizzas like all of the Nicaraguans that we met!! In the restaurant there was a playground with swings and things to climb on. When Hildita and I went on the swings, the whole jungle gym swayed back and forth!!

We heard noises (we usually did) and when we looked up(there was an open courtyard) we saw bright gold fire works that the church was letting go off for some sort of services.

When everyone had finished eating, we walked to the Parque Central (Central Park) to look at the jewelry and other art pieces that people were selling. Hilda bought a bracelet. As we were going home, we walked by the ice cream spot where everyone hangs out and my mom offered to buy us ice cream. Of course we said yes so went up to the counter to order our ice cream. As we were eating, Hildita's ice cream went plop on the table and her cone was empty! Everyone was laughing a lot and Hildita got another ice cream and this time it stayed on. In the back of the ice cream place, there is an arcade and we put money in the game where there is a grabber that you use to pick up stuffed animals but we didn't get anything out of it. Danahi and I played ice hockey and it was a close game but I won! We walked home and went to sleep in Leon for the last time!
The little stairway outside
of our room
The little courtyard

The little kitchen

The big table!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

A weekend with Uncle Andy

Las Penitas

Before we left, Uncle Andy was going to visit us but because of the snow his flight got canceled to New York so he came to visit us in Nicaragua instead. His flight arrived on Friday at 12:20 but it took an hour and a half to get to Leon from Managua. He came to Hotel La Perla and we went to the beach. We took a taxi to Las Penitas and got dropped off at Hotel Suyapa. They had a pool there which was nice because the ocean was had big waves and the pool was calm. 

We ate dinner right on the water front and the food was really good. We could watch people surfing as we ate dinner. It felt great to be at the beach
because in Leon it was so hot and busy but the beach was calmer, more relaxed, and it had a nice breeze so the weather was a little cooler. At night there were very pretty sunsets. They were bright orange and the clouds turned to a light shade of pink. For lunch we ate at the Tsunami Taco Bar which is across the street from Hotel Suyapa and is owned by a Canadian. The shrimp tacos that we had tasted delicious.

We walked to the estuary(where the river flows into the ocean so salt water and fresh water mix)  at low tide so the middle was all sand and it burned my feet to walk on it! There were people coming back from fishing and they had to push the boat through the water back to land. There was a guy who picked up a turtle shell that was bloody and the backbone was attached. It made me cringe when i saw it. The back of the shell was beautiful with lots of different markings in it.

 There is a nice hostel/restaurant called Barca De Oro at that estuary that we went to and had a drink and washed off.  We walked  back to Suyapa's beach to swim. When we went body surfing in the waves, Uncle Andy took his camera(it is water proof) and took pictures and videos of us in the water. After we went swimming in the ocean we went swimming in the pool to rinse off. On Sunday  morning after a quick swim we left the beach and went back to Leon. 

On Sunday afternoon right after we got back from the beach, we went to La Perla and had a quick lunch.

Then we went straight to the Tierra Tours office(a tour company) because we were going to climb an active volcano!!! We waited in the office for a little while and then we were off to Cerro Negro Volcano. This time we didn't get lost like the last time we went!
When we got to the volcano, we signed our selves in and then we stared hiking. We could see Cerro Negro's baby volcanoes that had little craters in them.

The hike up was on black and gray rocks of all different sizes that made us feel like we were walking on the moon. The reason that Cerro Negro is all black is because it is one of the youngest volcanoes in the world. It first erupted in 1850 in a corn field and unlike other volcanoes, it erupted very recently in 1999. So, while the other volcanoes are covered with life, Cerro Negro is all black. That is why it is called Cerro Negro because it means "black hill". 
top of the world

The path up was steep and the view over the side was a green and yellow valley between the volcanoes. At the top the wind was so strong that we felt like we were going to be blown over!!! The guide took us inside the crater and we could smell the sulfur(eeew!), feel the heat(sooooo hot), and see the smoke/steam(awesome)!

When we were walking on the ridge of the crater, one of the other people we were with had his hat on.... and then it wasn't on. The wind blew it down the side and it got stuck on a rock so the guy went down and he got his hat back! After
                                                    that he didn't wear his hat at all.  What we saw was amazing with        volcanoes in every direction.  The guide, my mom, and i all jumped with joy like we were at the top of the world! 
looking into the colorful crater

Only Uncle Andy(and two other people from Austria who were standing) went boarding and he got all suited up with a yellow jumpsuit, gloves, goggles, knee pads, wrist pads, elbow pads,  and of course a board! The first two went down and they kept falling down and not being able to get back up again! We were laughing our heads off because it was very funny to watch them. Uncle Andy went down after they did and he just went straight down the side off the volcano.

 Then it was our turn to go down so we started walking but found that we could jump, run, and hop and it felt like we were on the moon again! It was soooo fun to go down and by the time we were at the bottom, we had tons of sand and little pebbles in out sneakers!

The sunset was stunning with a fuchsia stained sky and a scarlet sun disappearing until there was nothing left but mountains in the distance. The guide brought candies and we ate them in the van.  Tierra Tours provides fruit so we ate watermelon back at the ranger station. We threw the rinds in an iguana's cage that they had at the station so the iguana's could eat them! When everyone had shaken out their shoes and taken pictures we got back in the van and headed home(and we made it without a problem this time).

On Monday my mom and I had classes in the morning so Uncle Andy stayed at his hotel until 10:00 when he met us at our favorite bakery, Pan y Paz. After that Uncle Andy went to the cathedral while we did our second half of classes. The afternoon activity was to go to San Jacinto hot springs. We were going to pack a bathing suit and we thought that it would be nice to go in these hot springs. 

We were wrong. The hot springs were hot mud pools with boiling mud bubbles and really hot steam coming out of them! We decided that we didn't want to go in them (no one would want to go in them) and they were just for looking at. One of the boys there said that it takes about 5 minutes to boil an egg. They collected the mud and made pottery out of it that the children were giving to us. Our guide bought some and so did Denise and Cloudio.

Tuesday morning Uncle Andy left so we went to see him before our classes and his flight was at about 1:00 but he had to leave earlier to make it on time.