Saturday, June 16, 2007
These pictures are of the Nicaraguan portion of my May 2007 trip to Central America.
To see additional photos, hit "Older Posts" when you get down to the end of the page.
This is a view of our hotel, Hotel Finca Santo Domingo, on Ometepe Island along the shore of Lake Nicaragua. Volcano Concepcion is covered with clouds in the background.
Throughout Nicaragua you see people using horses, with handmade carts and saddles, as their primary form of transportation. The contrast between Nicaragua and Costa Rica is striking - Nicaragua is the poorest of the Central American counties, while Costa Ricans enjoy the highest standard of living. In many towns we saw roads made out of bricks - these are the results of government programs to employ locals to made bricks and build roads.
Houses were often made of scrap lumber, metal and even plastic tarps and branches. Some schools only offer classes on Saturday and Sunday to allow students to work during the week. Elementary age kids go to school in the morning, with secondary school in the afternoon - this is for cost reasons - a single school can be used to address the educational needs of children of all ages.
It is easy to understand why people would want to illegally cross into the US to work - you can earn the average annual Nicaraguan salary working just 3 weeks at minimum wage in the US.
A washing station along Lake Nicaragua. People use the Lake for all their water needs - drinking, bathing and washing. People also bring herds of cattle and horses to the lake to drink both in the morning and evening. The Lake is the second largest fresh water body in Latin America (Lake Titicaca is the biggest).
Many foreigners are buying up lakefront property - currently priced at about $8000 US for an acre or more along the lake. It is much less for local people. The minimum wage in Nicaragua is $1.50 US/day, and over 60% of men are unemployed. Most survive by subsistence farming. Tourism is becoming more important, especially for young people - many of whom are highly motivated to learn English and work as tour guides to earn cash.
Hiking through ranch lands, then dry forest to reach a San Ramon Falls on the side of Volcano Madera. At the falls we saw huge Blue Morpho butterflies. It has not rained here for 5 months, since January, and while on our hike we saw a large stream of army ants carrying eggs. Our guide said that this is a sign that it will rain today. Since it was 105 degrees while we hiked that prediction was was hard to believe, however, later that night during dinner the rain came pouring down.
Mangroves within the Reserva Natural Isla Juan Venado. Travel through the Reserve is by boat only. You can see black, red (shown here, note termite mound - the large black lump), and white mangroves. Great birding in the Reserve - Boat-billed, Bare-throated, Great, Little Blue, Tricolor and Green Herons, Cattle, Great and Snowy Egrets, Wood Stork, Solitary Sandpiper, Mangrove Swallow, Grackle, Yellow Warbler, White Ibis, White-winged Dove, Mangrove Hawk, Streak-headed Woodcreeper, Kisskadee, Whistling Duck, Stilt, Cormorant, Whimbrel, Yellow-crowned Euphonia, Royal Terns, Laughing Gulls and Frigatebird. Also saw a small crocodile.
A reminder of the past - a snake is coming out of soldier's helmet with CIA written on the side. The snake is biting the hands of Nicaraguan citizen's who are trying to vote. A female Nicaraguan soldier holds both a baby and a rifle and kneels on the letters ABC representing the importance of education. These types of murals can be found throughout Leon. There were also several new murals that read "6%" which is a reference and demand that the government continue to invest 6% of all its expenditures each year into education.
There were signs of humanitarian assistance from other countries - bridges and hospitals donated by the Japanese; Dutch schools and houses; German health clinics. The only U.S. presence seemed to be junk food related - Doritos Chips, Pepsi and Coca Cola, Oreo Cookies. I'm not sure if this is the best way to win over the hearts of Central Americans.
Throughout Central America I saw dogs, many which were painfully thin. This little guy seemed to be safe and secure in a very nice home. I must admit that I fed many dogs during my trip and was very taken by the fact that no matter how thin and hungry they were, they took food very gently from my hand.
View of Mombacho Volcano and plantain plantation adjacent to Lake Nicaragua. While crossing the Lake and hiking through cloud forest saw Grebes, Bare-throated Tiger Bittern, Cormorant, Snowy and Great Egrets, Jacana, Montezuma Orependula, Green Heron, Black-necked Stilts, Osprey, Keel-billed Motmot, Saltarin Toledo, Squirrel Cuckoo, Green Parrots, Roadside Hawk, and my favorite of the day - the Pygmy Owl which is about half the size of your fist. We also saw a skunk and heard howler monkeys.
Overlooking one of the volcano calderas at Masaya National Park, outside of Granada. This was Nicaragua's first National Park, created in 1979. What looks like a cloud, is actually sulfur dioxide gas and stream rising from the volcano. At one point while we were hiking, we had to turn away because the gases were so strong you couldn't breath and had to cough. In 1991 Masaya erupted in this Park injuring tourists with gases and blast eruptions. There are no homes in the vicinity of this volcano because of all the gas that it emits and because of danger of further eruptions.
There is a large flock of Long-tailed Green Parakeets that nest in this caldera; they have somehow successfully adapted to life in a cloud of sulfur dioxide.
Looking down into "The Gateway to Hell", an active volcano which made eerie groaning/moaning sounds. We had to wear gas masks to get this close to the crater since it emits sulfur smelling gas.
To see other pictures from my Central America trip, please go to: www.lstark-centralamerica.blogspot.com and www.lstark-costarica.blogspot.com.