Sunday, April 6, 2014

Spider monkeys and Sea turtle egg nurseries

And now to the 2nd half of my Nica trip with Tina. . .

At the spider monkey sanctuary
After spending two nights in my site in Pantasma, we headed to the Paso Pacifico office in Managua to meet with the staff at the office there to plan the volunteering part of our trip.  The staff was very nice and helpful, they picked us up from the bus station and drove us to their office (soooo nice having a chofeur!) and allowed us to stay in an extra bedroom at the office for the night.  The next morning we travelled with them way down south to the community of Cardenas, which is in the very south of Nicaragua about 2 km from the border of Costa Rica.  There we spent time at a spider monkey sanctuary that Paso Pacifico cares for and we worked with the caretaker there to show him some new monkey enrichment ideas.  Tina and I were very pleasantly surprised at how well the place was kept up and how much enrichment he was already giving them.  The caretaker lives there with his wife and son and his sole job is to care for the spider monkeys 24/7, so he has lots of time to make them enrichment and prepare their diets, which is all bought by Paso Pacifico.  These 4 spider monkeys live pretty well, so Tina and I basically just brainstormed some more ideas for him and typed up a list of other types of enrichment he could make for them.  In preparation for this trip I had already collected up a large bag of toilet paper rolls, cereal boxes, plastic bottles, and various other paper goods to bring to make enrichment for the monkeys. 

Me and Tina ready to give their AM diet
The 4 spider monkeys

Since we arrived at the sanctuary in the afternoon, Paso Pacifico put us up in a nearby cabin where the staff usually stays when they’re there, which was this large one-room cabin right on the south end of Lake Nicaragua.  It was so beautiful, we could see the two volcanoes of Ometepe Island from there when it wasn’t overcast, and it was super hot and muggy but that spot was really windy so it felt great.  We bought meals from the owner of the house who lived nearby and enjoyed a nice relaxing evening.  The next morning we returned to the sanctuary and helped the caretaker with the cleaning of the exhibit, refreshing water jugs (they had 3 water jugs in each of the 3 rooms of the exhibit! Talk about covering all bases) and making the AM diets.  It was like being a zookeeper all over again, but just for one morning. 

A Paso Pacifico boat on El Ostional beach
The protected sea turtle egg nursery at El Ostional
After our spider monkey time, Tina and I headed to San Juan del Sur for lunch.  We took an afternoon bus to a community called El Ostional, where Paso Pacifico has a sea turtle egg nursery and conservation project.  We met up with three of the local turtle rangers and spend a few nighttime hours on the beach with them looking for turtles and seeing the egg nursery, which is basically a fenced off area up higher on the beach away from the water where the turtle rangers move the eggs to after the females lay their nests. That way the nest have up to 100% chance hatch rate, and the rangers then help the baby turtles enter the ocean without the fear of predators. The beach (and the country of Nicaragua in general) has a problem with egg poachers, since turtle eggs are eaten by the locals and are worth a lot of money.  So every single night there are egg hunters out patrolling the beach with flashlights searching for turtles basically right next to the turtle conservation workers themselves, and whoever finds a turtle first gets first dibs on her eggs.  The turtle rangers often have funds as an incentive to pay off the poachers for the eggs, and most of the time the poachers take the incentive instead of taking the eggs, and will even help the turtle ranger move the nest to the egg nursery.  It’s totally crazy and backwards and unbelievable that there are no regulations monitoring this turtle egg poaching in this country!  It’s technically illegal to take the eggs since most all sea turtle species are endangered, but there’s just no enforcement of the laws, so the poachers very simply and easily get away with it.  And these poor turtle rangers have to deal with them each and every night, literally running in the dark to get to a turtle first before the poachers spot her on the beach, which is often difficult.  Tina and I were totally flabbergasted at this nightly activity and struggle, and although we were disappointed to not have seen any turtles, it was definitely an eye-opening learning experience.  I’m hoping to go back to that beach in the next few months and spend a couple nights helping out the turtle rangers. 
Me and Tina at the beach in El Ostional

After our night in El Ostional, we decided to head back to San Juan del Sur, a very touristy beach spot, and spend the afternoon and one night there.  We took a dip in the ocean, which was way colder than we thought it would be, and almost immediately Tina got stung by a jellyfish!  It didn’t really attack her, but lightly grazed her hand as we were slowly inching our way in deeper into the unexpectedly cold water.  That was it for her, she got out of the water immediately and left me there worrying that some jellyfish was going to drift by me next.  I got out a few minutes later and we just stood on the beach for a while drying off in the sun since we only brought out our katenges (Tanzanian wrap fabrics) and not any beach towels.  At least we can say we experienced the Central American Pacific Ocean, even if it was only a few moments. 

San Juan del Sur sunset

The next morning we made our way up to Granada and spent the last night there, enjoying a nice Italian meal and buying some last minute souvenirs.  Basically this second half of the trip we spent only one night in each place, so it was a lot of traveling on Nica school buses and having to wait at various bus stations and bus stops for our buses to leave to the next place, and needless to say it got old and annoying.  I was ready to stop travelling so often at that point, but the vacation was still fun and I of course was super happy to see Tina again!  The next time we see each other will be when I’m done with my service and head back to the States in August or September.  Until then I’ll be trying to continue building stoves in my community and working with the youth group.  And I’m also in the process of researching job opportunities with various organizations in the U.S. that work in wildlife conservation to get an idea of what I should start applying for when my service comes closer to an end.  Hopefully I won’t be jobless for too long!

Tina's last day in Nicaragua.  Oh how Peace Corps brings us together!

Check out my shutterfly page to see lots more photos of our trip. . .


Tuesday, April 1, 2014

First half of Tina's trip to Nicalandia!

My best friend Tina is here in Nicaragua visiting me for 10 days, and we’ve had a good trip so far.  It’s great to have a friend that has lived and understands the Peace Corps experience come visit me because she knows the feelings and frustrations and emotions I’m going through towards the end of my service.  Plus she speaks Spanish so I don’t have to do any translating (not that I really minded when other family and friends came to visit, it’s just easier to have conversations with people when everyone understands each other).  I’ll get to our trip in a minute, first let me fill you all in with the last few weeks in site.

A successfully completed charla!
The girls group teen pregnancy charla that I was having such a hard time coordinating is finally done and over with.  I decided to have the last few meetings before the actual charla at a different house where a majority of the girls lived in, since they’re sisters, and all of them showed up and we actually made progress on getting the activity organized.  The day of the charla at the school they all showed up in their Camp GLOW t-shirts that they received at the camp, and put on a pretty decent charla for the 5th graders.  I had to help them out here and there to keep the flow going and to organize the rambunctious 5th graders, but overall they did a good job and I was glad for it to be over.  After we finished one of the girls told me as we were walking out that she was looking forward to doing another one!  And I’m thinking in my head, yeah, but you barely even showed up for the rehearsals for this first one, and you think I’m gonna help plan another one?!  But hey, if they are truly motivated and show up to practice another charla, then great, I’ll help them out.  But I think I’ve kinda had my fill recently of these girls and their lack of motivation.

My community watching photos of my vacation in Peru
A few weekends ago I finally got my hands on a projector and decided to do a photo slide show presentation of my vacation home for Christmas and also my trip to Peru, so that my host family and other neighbors could see what other countries look like.  I set up some chairs in our living room and bought a 3 liter bottle of soda to serve for everyone who came, and they all laughed and enjoyed the photos of my trip visiting my family and the places Tina and I saw in Peru.  Then the next night (to take advantage of having the projector still) I played some episodes of Planet Earth in Spanish and invited some neighbors to come over and watch with popcorn.  Not many people showed up, but those that did seemed to enjoy the movie.

Atop the cross overlooking Jinotega city
So this last Wednesday Tina flew in to Managua and we headed to Jinotega for the night to stay with my friend Paul and have dinner with all the volunteers that live in the city.  The next morning we hiked up to the cross that overlooks the whole city, and man, my calves are still sore 6 days later!  It’s basically a hike straight up the side of this mountain on cement stairs that the city recently built in the past year for hikers to make it up more safely.  I was huffing and puffing the whole way up.  But the view at the top was nice and we got some cool photos.  Then Tina and I headed to La Bastilla Ecolodge, which is on the way up to my site, and stayed two nights there.  It’s a really beautiful place on the top of this overlook into a reserve and protected area, so there’s tons of tall, fully grown trees and lots of birdlife.  We took a short hike and saw various birds, including a violet sabrewing hummingbird, a golden-olive woodpecker, lots of yellow-backed orioles, and many other things.  We heard a keel-billed toucan and various groups of howler monkeys in the distance but they never got close enough. 
On our hike at La Bastilla

Pretty view of the Datanli reserve at La Bastilla

Enjoying Gloria's chicken soup at my house in Wale
After La Bastilla we headed to my site and Tina got to meet my host family and some other families in my community and finally see where I’ve been living these past 2 ½ years.  We saw lots more birds and took as many photos as possible.  I was hoping she’d get to see the national bird during our trip, the guardabarranco, or turquoise-browed motmot, and we saw 3 in my site!  I also requested that Gloria make us my favorite meal, chicken soup with dumplings, so we had a delicious meal as well.  We only spent two nights in Wale, since there’s always so much more to see when you’re on vacation, so after my site we headed down to Managua to meet up at the office of Paso Pacifico.  They’re an organization that works mostly in the south part of Nicaragua working on animal conservation, reforestation, and environmental education projects.  I contacted the director, who is based in Ventura, and she said we could spend a day doing some enrichment with a small group of spider monkeys they take of at a sanctuary in Sapoa, a town near the border of Costa Rica.  So I’ve been collecting toilet paper rolls and cereal boxes and plastic bottles and various other enrichment items from my house to take with us to make toys for the monkeys.  We’re headed there today, and possibly tomorrow
A turquiose-browed motmot we saw in my site
we’ll be visiting a sea turtle egg nursery that’s run by a local women’s group on one of the beaches down south.  We’re kinda playing it by ear on this second half of the trip, since I didn’t have great communication with the organization ahead of time.  But so far everyone’s been really nice in the office and I’m looking forward to working with and seeing some animals!

Keep posted for the next blog to hear how the remainder of our trip went!