Greetings from Altagracia, Ometepe, Nicaragua! We're getting settled in here, and have been through a flurry of meetings with local groups who work with tourism and ecological development in the area. Many of these meetings will look familiar to anyone with an office job anywhere:
Even down to the powerpoint presentations!
We're impressed by the amount of work already being done, and the awareness of people here as to the challenges they face and the willingness to put the work in to fix the problems. For example, the above photos are from a meeting with a new group of hotel owners, tourism experts, and environmental professionals who are organizing to improve access to Volcan Maderas Natural Reserve. We are honored to be included in the group.
Less common in most professions is the rocking chair meeting, but this is the type that we will be doing most of the time:
The group of guides that we are working with have meetings like this all the time. We attended one last week to discuss topics for our workshops and trainings, and to distribute and discuss the equipment we brought down. There was much posing for pictures:
We got down to business, though, and made the following list of topics to cover:
- Tourist culture - what do the tourists want? What do they consider professional?
- Activities to use during tours
- What in the US park service we call interpretation - how to make a tour make an impression
- Resource knowledge: geology, plants, insects, birds, etc.
- First aid practice - hopefully, there will be a Red Cross training as well
We've spent a lot of time working with this guy:
Arlin is the one we met in the park in Altagracia all those years ago who was organizing a group of tour guides and wanted training, who we have been in contact with ever since via email, who has done an incredible amount of work to improve the work of and resources for the guides of Ometepe. We look forward to much more work together.
But, of course, it's not all work. A cousin works for United Airlines and was able to help us carry all the gear down here, so we took a couple days to enjoy the island with her. A huge thanks to prima Becky!
And we've had the challenge and the fun of finding a place to live. There is no realtor.com or classifieds section down here like there is in the US, so we had to network to find places for rent. We asked anyone and everyone - the guides we work with, local gringos like Peace Corps volunteers, and ultimately anyone we met at shops and restaurants around town. Surprisingly, the market is quick in this little town, so a couple of places got snatched up before we could see them. But ultimately we found a very interesting option and went with it.
Si a la Vida is a group founded twenty years ago in Managua, the capitol and Nicaragua's largest city by far, to get kids off the street. For many years, they took kids who had difficult enough family lives (or no family at all) to be sleeping on the streets or begging in the markets and put them up in a home with regular meals, a good education, and caring supervision. Some they brought to Ometepe to give them a calm, quiet place to heal. Here, they had a plantain farm with two buildings full of rooms for the kids to stay in. A year ago, the government of Nicaragua decided that all children are better off with their families, and required the Si a la Vida kids to be returned to Managua. Since then, the housing has sat empty. Ideas to turn it into a hostel for volunteers are floating around, but they require a lot of time and work - and that's where we come in.
We've moved in and are getting all of the supplies to make ourselves comfortable. The kitchen is now fully stocked, and our room is secure and going to be bug-proofed at some point (time - always we need more time). There's also lots of meeting space for our guide trainings, so lots of them will happen here, I think. The view may be a bit distracting, though...
We needed comfortable places to siesta during the hottest part of the day. That means hammocks, of course, which required a trip to Masaya.
Masaya is close enough to Managua that the craziness of city life and of travel were tough on these two travelers. Happily, though, we're back on the island, and making headway on our project (if not on the bugs). We were reminded that we were almost home on the ferry, where the island's "tranquilo" way of living allows for some bending of the rules:
Quite the fashion statement that guy has with his now-required life vest. Whatever - it floats, right?
A big shout-out to all of those of you who have helped us along the way. Your support is helping make this a reality, and we are grateful!