Hey guys! I have not written in a while, but here I am, ready to put up some pictures of a recent adventure.
The last weekend of February, I spent four days in Nicaragua. Our program was split into two groups so that our experiences would be more personal, and I was in the second group. This means that when I boarded the bus on Thursday, February 25, I had already heard a lot about how Nicaragua was a country that would steal my heart and then break it into a thousand pieces, all in four days’ work. I was bracing myself to see the harshest poverty, children sleeping on the street with the dogs and the blind. And I did see some of that, but Nicaragua was not at all close to the picture I had painted for myself. It neither stole my heart nor broke it. But I am totally grateful for those four days.
First of all, our travels took us to a very small part of this whole beautiful country: Granada. And though Nicaragua is a Spanish-speaking country, the waiters at the restaurants spoke to us in English, and the vendors checked with us to see if we spoke Spanish before trying to sell us their goods. (They seemed very relieved when they learned we were able to communicate them in the language they know, the idioma oficial de su pais.) All that to say our brief stint was spent in a very tourist-y area.
Our hotel was beautiful, homey, and sweet, and the owners are a kind couple with very good employees. The breakfasts were yummy and my roommate, Lia and I, had a balcony looking out over the street below.
Inside our little hotel. Lots of beautiful art!
The view from our balcony. I know. Wow, right?
Nicaraguan flag and, again, the view from our porch onto the others!
And as I was sitting up on this beautiful balcony trying to take impressive pictures, I saw this truck full of people drive by. Through those quiet city streets, bursting with tourist activities, I saw some of the poverty or at least some of the differences between home and there. The bed of the truck was full to bursting with people packed like sardines on their way to work.
Our adventures took us out to dinner three nights in a row, to the Granada market, to a deaf café, to a Tio Antonio’s Social Hammock Project, on a boat tour of some little islands in el Lago de Nicaragua, to a ceramics lesson in the mountains, to a hostel on the shores of el Lago de Apoyo, and to a mirador/outlook that allowed us to see for miles upon miles. It also took me to a lot of Catholic churches (my heart was so full! Yay!), and sent me on many early morning Erin-and-God time walks.
The experience was a special one, and I had the very awesome opportunity to walk to daily Mass on Friday and Saturday, and then to go to Mass again for Sunday. The town, the first to be colonized in the area, has this incredible architecture and (more than) five beautiful churches. I walked around town on Friday with these two lovely girls, Lena and Shannon, and we went exploring, choosing our next destination by when we saw the next church tower rising out of the city-scape.
We all arrived Thursday night, settled in, got dinner, and returned to our hotel. The next morning, I woke up around sunrise to walk to morning Mass in the Cathedral at the central park:
Our Lady of Lourdes, pray for us!
Sweet, Innocent, Precious Mother, Our Lady of Fatima…pray for us!
Salve Regina Chapel
Our Sorrowful Lady accompanying the Suffering Christ to Calvary. These were not permenant statues, but rather added for Lent (I think). Good ol’ Anna Quattrone pointed out to me that the outfits seem to have been hand made and then added to the statues
O Most merciful Mother, remind us always about the sorrows of your son, Jesus.
The Suffering Christ: Eternal Father, I offer You the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity, of our Lord Jesus Christ, in atonement for our sins and those of the whole world…for the sake of His sorrowful Passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world.
Holy Mass schedule and palm tree reflections
El Catedral during a Sunday sunrise
Morning Mass side-chapel
After returning to the hotel, I got ready for the day: first, yummy breakfast of gallo pinto and some other foods (I forget what!). Then, we went to change our money. We all brought American money because…I don’t know why but we were told to so we did. (Better exchange rate, maybe?) One of my dollars had a little cut in it so they did not accept it. But the rest of my money converted fine! This was actually good because I spent less than I otherwise might have…
Then we went to the market. Warning, it was huge. Warning, no refrigeration. Warning, pig heads swarmed with flies (but not on a stick like in Lord of the Flies). Warning, muddy ground and unstable walking. Warning, lots of people hoping you’ll buy their goods. Warning, cultural experience for sure. Warning, NOT a tourist attraction; actually by the Nicaraguan people for the Nicaraguan people.
The entrance to the market was in between the towers just to the left of the center of the picture. My guess is that it used to be a church building whose inside was destroyed/went away somehow and they made it into the market place. However, the market stretches way beyond the confines of the old church building that had only the front and the left wall in good condition
Entrada = entrance
In the meat section. Sorry, but this is sparing you from the worst of it.
I SPOTTED A NUN
Baskets upon baskets of fruits and vegetables under makeshift tin roof stalls
More baskets, more tin stalls
Two men sitting on this oen top cage…yep, those are piglets inside. My best guess is yes, that they were indeed being sold to grow and slaughter
Hats on hats on hats…note: lots of beautiful colorful buildings!
This may be my favorite picture from Nicaragua. I think it’s a really cool shot of the culture, the girl out of school on a Friday morning, the popularity of motorcycle, just the totally different way of life!
Bag of grains and other things?
Blurry mix of fruit, veggies, and those orange things in the upper right corner (??)
Tortillas and leaves
After, I walked around the town about an hour with some friends before we went to our next activity: a deaf café.
La Iglesiade Nuestra Senora de la Merced: Our Lady of Mercy
Inside Our Lady of Mercy Church
Inside Our Lady of Mercy Church (with a Scapular, I think!)
Nuestra Senora de Fatima, ruega por nosotros!
Instead of road signs, these are tourist signs. No road signs, just directions to the various hostels
A hostel among many
Makin my way downtown,walkin fast, faces past, and we-don’t-know-where-we’re-bound
The guy was holding an iguana…
More stairs, but why not just one thicker set?
Pretty red (pink?) wall
Palm tree peeking over 🙂
Mountain/volcano in the background…
Then the deaf café, Café de las Sonrisas (Smiles Coffee). Operated by Tio Antonio: an awesome guy from Spain who runs the social hammock project, the all-deaf-employee café, and various programs for vulnerable populations of women and young people/kids in need of economic stability and safe places to come home to:
Shannon in the giant hammock (I think their record was some 30 people)
Rachel helping to weave the “never-ending hammock”
They made a hammock for Pope Francis!
A thank you from a representative of the Pope!
The never-ending hammock. The story: there’s a major plastic bag waste problem in Nicaragua, so to encourage kids to help keep their country beautiful, Tio Antonio set up a “plastic bag bank” where the kids could turn in plastic bags for prizes that they get to choose every Christmas
The Social Hammock Project workshop. They work those hammocks so quick! The young man I was learning from could do it without looking. Pretty cool!
I made a tri-lingual message on the board! You. Are. Loved!
Then, before the afternoon boat tour of the little islands in Lake Nicaragua, Lou & Shannon & I went on a church tower chasing adventure. Looking first to the tower of the orange church, we set off to explore, realizing we could plan our walk by the next church tower we saw, and we’d be able to get home by following them back! Like Hansel and Gretel, except the bread crumbs we followed home were the temples of the Body of Christ. Much more better.
“The Orange Church” because I cannot remember the name. Xlatec, perhaps?
“The Orange Church”
Lou and Shannon in the blurry background chatting in the shade while I went to take pictures of flowers
Flowers’ beauty never gets old
“Orange Church” again
The man whose house this was opened the door while Shannon was posing in front of it 😛 No, we didn’t get a picture
Church of St. John Bosco (I think…the school next door was of the same name!)
Unfortunately, it was locked! So beautiful though!
These beautiful flowers are all over the place!
Same as the ones on my daily walk to class, but always a beautiful surprise!
Tiny sidewalk! You can’t tell, but it was really small….
inside of “The Orange Church”
inside of “The Orange Church”
inside of “The Orange Church” A side chapel
inside of “The Orange Church” Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe, ruega por nosotros
Then a boat tour…
My boat group
Lake Nicaragua is a BIG lake! Here’s some fishermen doing their thaaang
One of many islands: palm trees and lily pads abound
Other islands; more palm trees; more lily pads
Relaxin in the boat 🙂 We saw some wildlife, mostly just birds, but there was a particularly beautiful kingfisher there! Blue and brown, loved it
Clouds and silhouettes and water
Pa-no-ra-ma from the top of a fort on the island we stopped at
A view back towards Granada (out of the picture to the right) and the volcano
Not yet a sunset, but the clouds and the sunshine looked extraordinary
Ice cream swirl in the sky
Dinner that night was a suuuper cheesy quesadilla and then it was bedtime.
On Saturday, I went to Mass again. This time Marrissa came with me, which was nice. We talked about Catholicism a little as we walked and went back for a delicious croissant with marmalade and butter. SO yummy.
Marrissa and I caught the sunrise on our way in to Mass
Another church we found while walking around after Mass
Then, we all got on the bus to head to Lago de Apoyo opposite Lake Nicaragua, on the other side of Granada. We spent the next few hours at a beach side hostel:
One of the first glances of the big beautiful blue lake!
Marrissa in the bottom center smiling wide at God’s beauty
Pa-no-ra-ma from the hot hot bottom-of-the-foot-burning sand
With Autumn (please pray for her and her fiancé! They’ll be getting engaged soon after she goes home!)
With Shannon and Lou again 🙂
From an upper deck
Mmm beautiful, no?
Then, on to a ceramic workshop, where the people of this town teach their young people to make the beautiful pottery:
Showing us how it’s done. From a mush of clay to a finished product. Something like 8+ days for every single piece
Beautiful blue poetry in the process back there
We got to try to do some of the initial steps of spinning the wheel with our foot/leg to make the very beginning shape.
It was really hard, and mine was irregularly shaped, but as the girl in grey reflected, we are a very tough, irregular clay in the hands of the Potter, and He molds us with patience and love!
Then, to an overlook above the lake we had swam in just hours above. From there, we could see so much! The entirety of Lago de Apoyo, the various Church steeples of Granada, and Lake Nicaragua beyond that. Truly one of the most splendid views…
Pa-no-ra-ma! Mirador sobre el lindisimo Lago de Apoyo. En verdad, es totalmente genial!!
a photo by the fence 🙂
I was struck by the beauty. What a special moment
A mini photo shoot! It happens sometimes here..
You can see little Granada down below, where we were staying with all the beautiful Catholic Churches. And then beyond that, Lago de Nicaragua!
From where Tristan and I were sitting and talking. I admire that he sits and takes in the views, rather than taking pictures. I suspect that his mental image/awareness of what he was thinking about there will be better than mine in 20 years
Lake and volcano. (How often does one get to caption their picture that??)
Down where Tristan is sitting, on the far right, is where some of the other pictures of the lake were taken.
That night, I ate dinner with Kaleigh, Anna, and Tara. The lights were going on and off, so part of our dinner was in darkness. One of my favorite moments was the second or third time the lights went out, when Kaleigh automatically redirected our attention to the sky, where the stars were shining brightly.
Kind of a scary smile, I know, but it was just from the surprise of the brightness of the flash and the excitedness I was feeling about this “Stromboli” which was literally a pizza folded over on itself
A traditional dance
Adoration in the Iglesia de Nuestra Senora de la Merced on a Saturday night Blessed be Jesus now and forever in the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar!
Finally, our last morning: I went to a 6am coffee shop with Marrissa that we had discovered the day before on our walk after Saturday’s Mass. The little room was a café/art studio. It was just us and the employees and it was a sweet memory made with a good friend.
A final sunrise at the Cathedral
One of the outdated trivia cards at our table in the café-art place
Our morning coffees
The other empty tables in our lovely little area
Marrissa and the art
Mighty big smiles for it being such an early morning. Friendship does that to you!
The art studio part. Top left, Cathedral!
More beeeaaauuuutiful art (and an “ole” on the door)
pa/no/ra/ma with art and Marr
A sign across from the Cathedral on our way back to the hotel for breakfast
And finally, my last Mass in Nicaragua I celebrated with the other Catholic Cardinal on my trip, Anna Quattrone, and we saw this really special moment. I’ll leave it here after a quick reflection.
In Nicaragua, yes, I saw the homeless along the streets. Yes, I saw the children selling gum and cigars. Yes, my friends and I had to turn away many a street performer hoping to play us some music while we ate. Yes, I saw the same practiced performances put on for the tourists every night. Yes, I shared words of love and hope with a blind man who asked me when he would see me again, and because it was my last day, all I could say was Heaven. Yes, the last picture in this blog makes me think – a woman kneeling on the doorstep of the doors of Mercy on a beautiful Sunday morning, yet why didn’t she come in and celebrate the Mass? Yes, those moments affected me! But blind Vincente Rodriguez gave me kisses on the cheek instead of a story of woe about his suffering country. Mitilia, sitting in the shade of a building begging, when given a moment to speak, launched into how much more special life is when we give every moment to God in faithful prayer. Malida lit up the moment you acknowledged her human dignity, even if you had no money to give. I have special memories, lessons learned: the most important was that this poor third-world country, mostly different from the tourist mask I saw, reminded me that I will never know what to expect from God. I can prepare myself for the craziest adventure and receive a memory or an experience I’ll maybe recall, or I can trust God with what He has prepared, and be simple in my love for whatever He places before me, knowing that He provides the graces necessary for each period of my life. The smiling homeless and the incredible beauty made me grateful for the time I had there, and that’s all I have left to say about that!