Monday, January 30, 2017

Buenas Noches from Estili - an update from Nicaragua!

 This is photo heavy as it serves as my record of the trip.... hope you enjoy!  Last week I spent in Estili, in the northwest mountainous area of the country.

Many people identify Estili with large groves of shade-grown coffee, which is true for the district at large, but close to the city of Estili, the biggest crop is actually tobacco.  And thus I suppose it is no surprise that I saw more people smoking cigarettes here than I have elsewhere in Nicaragua - but still very few people, I am happy to say.

My hosts, Oscar and Eira Aragon, founded and still run Alianza Americana, with offices in Leon, Estili, and Chinandega.  The organization's primary mission is to teach English and leadership skills to Nicaraguan youth and adults to improve employment opportunities in tourism and international business.  In addition, Alianza facilitates international student trips from various universities (including mine) and medical mission trips.  And fortunately for English speakers, they have also developed a method to teach Spanish to us.  Above is the Estili location, which has several classrooms, and living quarters for the teachers and English-speaking students (like me!)

Directly across the street from us is a new football (soccer) stadium, which will open soon.  The Nicaraguan team feeds directly into the Madrid team in Spain.  The stadium sits within a large park, and I am sure lots of stores and other venues will open once this sports arena goes live later this year.

Estili has a central plaza...

anchored, as is common, by a church... the little cart with the umbrella is selling ice cream.  The local climate here is more temperate than Leon or the port of Chinandega, but still rather toasty - but then again, it is summer here!

Another novice watercolor of the plaza.... and more importantly, below is a shot of incredibly delicious tacos (which in the US we would call chimichangas in this form)....

 made by the wonderful cook Yasmina!  She cooks for the resident teachers, and I was fortunate to be included - some of the best food I have ever eaten in Nicaragua!

A highlight of this week in Estili was a day spent in a nearby national park, Tisay.  My tutor and I took a bus very early in the morning to get there.... I wish this photo captured all of the detail - a true mixed media piece if ever I saw one!  To the right of the driver's sunshade were large silver letters spelling "BIRD" and although it does not show well here, he also had a beautifully carved and painted flying eagle hanging from his sunshade.  And lots of colorful duct tape everywhere.... stunning!

This sign depicts the circular hiking route.... although we ended up not taking it all the way round due to the wind (and ok, my hip!)  So alas, we missed the stunning waterfall I heard about....

Nonetheless, we had stunning vistas....

Eventually, we traversed a lovely valley to come to a very unusual sculpture garden.

The sculptor is Alberto Gutierrez...

who has lived in his enclave for 40 years, with his brother, never leaving.  They charge about 70 cents US to enter, and give the collections to neighbors who hike in food for the brothers.  

Alberto carves animals and figures everywhere.... and people from all over the world have been to his garden, as he showed me by the guestbooks filled over the years.  And indeed, we met a Swiss woman and several folks from Barcelona, Spain on the trail.

He also maintains a wide variety of native flora....

including banana forests.... below is the cut portion of a banana trunk which remains when the primary stalk dies off.  He has burned this one for some reason unknown to me, but what a lovely motif!

We slowly made the return trip, all uphill, and went to the wonderful little cafe for coffee and more Spanish lessons!  I am primarily trying to work on verbs this trip.... finding it a tad difficult to remember the 14 different tenses, lol!

Below is my ever-so-patient tutor, Maritza.... she is a former student of Alianza, and has been temporarily released from her teaching responsibilities there to tutor me, for  which I am very grateful!

I was back in Leon for the weekend, but we are off to Chinandega this afternoon for the rest of the week.... more on that later.  In the meantime, thanks so much for stopping by (and making it through a rather lengthy travelogue!)  If you've a moment, please leave a comment as I love hearing from you!  xxx Lynn

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Hola from Leon, Nicaragua!

When last I posted, I was just landing in Idaho after driving across the country with my dog and cat in the midst of winter - we made it just fine, but I surely would not recommend a repeat.  Idaho already had a lot of snow, and continued to receive more every day.... it is lovely, but when it gets too deep to snowshoe readily, everyone is ready to move onto Spring, lol!

This photo is out my back door with a full moon....

I spent most of the 4 weeks I was there unpacking, including my new playroom - it has yet to be finished as you can see, but I do have most of it organized in my head as to where to put everything.... at least I think I do!

The only piece of art I made was my first (and thus far only) entry into an art journal which is part of a year-long online course with Gina Rossi Armfield.  We were to pick a spirit animal (and boy, was I surprised when mine arrived, lol!), a number, a word, and a color.... here is my result, largely watercolor with some gel pens.  One of my goals this year is to improve at both drawing and watercolors.... 

I left to conduct my research into public health nursing in Leon, Nicaragua on January 17th, arriving the next day.  I am fortunate to be staying with good friends who run the organization which supports many faculty-student trips here, providing lodging with local families, translation, transportation to the clinics and other places where the students go for clinical training..... I have no students with me this time, as I am here for 5 weeks, for my research and also more intensive immersion in Spanish lessons, which I surely need!  I've been bringing students here for many years, but never long enough to get proficient.  This picture is from the balcony next to my room....

And since I couldn't realistically bring my art journal (which is a daily planner with lots of fun fold-outs and inserts, per Gina's approach), I settled for a small set of Windsor Newton paints (and also the small round palettes recommended by Butterfly), and a a small watercolor journal.

I will not be journaling daily, but hope to capture some of the sights around this beautiful city (and country).... whilst (hopefully) improving my artistic skills somewhat.  Below is one of the more famous churches in Leon (which has many), La Iglesia de la Recoleta (Church of the Recollection).

I made a quick ink and watercolor sketch from a photo I took while walking this afternoon.  I clearly need work on perspective and scale, but it was wonderful to play with paints in the meantime!  Thanks so much for stopping by, and if you've a minute, please do leave a comment, as I love to hear from you!
xxx Lynn