Zoo Ave is not your ordinary zoo. It is devoted to animals that need rehabilitation or can’t survive in their natural habitat. Their most famous animal is Grecia, a toucan whose beak had been damaged by maltreatment. With the upper part of her beak missing, there is no way she could pick up food and eat. A prosthetic beak allows her to function!
None of the other animals had obvious issues although one owl seemed to have a wing that didn’t fold up properly.
There were all kinds of animals. Lots of birds, including the beautiful parrots, ocelots, several types of monkeys, iguanas, crocodiles, caimans, one boa constrictor, tapirs, etc. It was interesting to see how many of a given animal had been returned to the wild.
It took 3 hours to tour the zoo so there was lots and lots to see. You can see all of the pictures by clicking here. (Let me know if you have any problems viewing the pictures.)
We spent about 10 days in Nicaragua, mostly in historic Granada (more on that in another blog) but also a few days on the island in Lake Nicaragua as well.
Thoughts about the country, people, culture:
The drive from the border to Granada was mixed. The road was excellent and there wasn’t much traffic. Lots of green spaces on either side of the road and you can see Lake Nicaragua and Ometepe Island shortly after entering the country.
Poverty is also obvious very quickly. Small houses, yards are mostly trees like banana and coconut, no grass yards. Animals are loose and when I say loose, they often graze their horses, donkeys, cows, and pigs on the side of the roads. Usually tethered in some way on the busier roads but not always.
The people are generally happy despite their poverty. One thing we did was tour an after school program that is one of the poorest neighborhoods in Granada. The administrator giving the tour (school and neighborhood) said that the kids always come eager to be there (they get a meal, play, and instruction appropriate to their skill level) and they are clean, well groomed, and in clean, pressed clothes. This is despite the fact that they usually don’t have indoor plumbing at their houses! They seemed happy to be at the program and most of them were outgoing and engaging.
Poverty is very evident once you get a few blocks from the central tourist areas, especially in the neighborhood of the program where the streets and floors in most of the houses are dirt, houses are often made of pieces of tin, and I even saw one house made of boxsprings from old mattresses as the exterior walls and tar paper on the interior. I didn’t get a picture of that but I do have a picture of a gate using a boxspring.
The country is very poor, the second poorest in the western hemisphere after Haiti. We saw homes made of odd pieces of tin or wood, one even made of the box springs of mattresses with tar paper on the inside. Dirt floors are not uncommon in the poorer areas.
Despite the poverty, people are very clean, neat, well groomed, and in clean/neat clothes. They are generally happy.
Horses, cows, donkeys, and pigs are often loose to feed on the roadsides. They are sometimes tethered, sometimes totally loose and may even be in the roadway itself. Their owners bring them in nightly and there doesn’t appear to be a problem with theft.
Murder rates are very low in Nicaragua (unlike Honduras) however theft is high. We didn’t have any problems but we were told that the poorer locals feel like that if they steal from someone who has things, they need the things and the owner will just go out and replace it…so what is the problem?!
It is extremely hot and humid; just now coming into the rainy season which will cool down the afternoons.
During the war there were no schools for the children. Now they go half days, I believe it is small children in the morning and older kids in the afternoons. Teachers are not well trained either. Both things are going to work against improving the lives of the citizens for sometime to come.
Below is a picture of steps in Granada. It is our new motto!
We only saw one lone monkey scurry down a branch in the shadows of a tree in Costa Rica but in Nicaragua we saw a number of them…2 kinds.
The first group was on the Islet Tour in Lake Nicaragua near Granada. There are 365 islets (big enough for at least a house if not more) formed from the eruption of a volcano long ago. One of those islets has 4 spider monkeys.
The monkeys are quite used to tourists in the boats coming and feeding them so they are easy to see. We did an afternoon tour so they weren’t hungry (and we didn’t know to bring fruit for them anyway) but I understand that during morning tours they are even more visible.
The second group was at Charo Verde Reserve on Ometepe Island. Those were Howler monkeys and I’m not sure how many we saw, at least a half dozen. They were above us in the mango trees, taking a bite out of the fruit and throwing it down to the ground (reminded me of the squirrels and our peach trees at the house in San Antonio.
The monkey we have seen the most of is Mona the Common Marmoset at Finca Soley. She gets her own posting as soon as I get a good video of her activity.
Why did the chicken cross the road? We don’t have an answer to this age old question but we do have pictures of it. These chickens were on the main road on Ometepea…needless to say there isn’t tons of traffic on the road or they wouldn’t make it across.
When we got to the hotel on the island we asked the person who handles everything (a staff of one this time of year) to recommend a place to eat. She said to go to “sen a nae ee”. She said there was a sign and that it was quite close.
So we took off down the road and turned right (but did she say left or right???) and walked a block or two and turned back. On the way back, we saw this sign:
We got most of our meals from there. It is totally open inside and very rustic. Food was “ok” but generous and cheap. Here is the first meal we got, fortunately there were tons of leftovers. Other meals were a more reasonable size.
We are walking a trail to the beach at Charco Verde Park on Isla de Ometepe, Nicaragua when I see that a few mangoes are dropping out of the tree. Otherwise there are no sounds, at first. Then I hear movement to one side, high in the tree. We crane our necks around until we finally see a howler monkey. Eventually I see at least eight. There could have been more, but most of them were taking a siesta and it was easy for them to blend in. Their deep voices can be heard up to 3 miles away.
Range: Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala
Weight: Males up to 21.8 lbs. Females up to 16.8 lbs.
Height: Males – 20″ to 26.6″; females – 18.9″ to 24.9″
Prehensile tail: 21.5″ to 25.8″
Social structure: live in groups of 10-20 individuals and at puberty leave the group to join another
Most of the time in Costa Rica we were staying somewhere where we didn’t eat out much. In Monteverde we stayed with a local family who cooked for us. Here at the Finca Soley there is a kitchen and we make our lunch and dinner (breakfast is provided).
In Nicaragua we ate out all of our lunches and dinners. Our “go to” place was “The Garden Cafe”. Good local food, excellent sea bass (corvina). There was also a Chinese restaurant where you chose your ingredients and sauces and they stir fried it for you. I believe it was called “Wok and Roll”. The “Pita Pita” restaurant was great as well. El Zaquan was excellent but a bit more expensive than some of the others. I think all of the restaurants had courtyards, often with a fountain.
We were careful about the tap water in Nicaragua. We either used our own purified water or made sure the restaurant we ate at used purified water to cook, serve, and for ice. Initially we steered away from raw veggies/fruits in fear of their being washed in bad water but we found that wasn’t a problem at the restaurants we went to. I was glad to have a fresh salad again.
Here are a few pictures from various restaurants to give you a feel for them.
Granada is the oldest mainland city in the western hemisphere, founded in 1524. We did a couple of different types of tours in the city, including seeing the remains of the original market place, built in the 1500’s.
While very much a tourist town, it is enjoyable because of the history associated with many of the inner city’s buildings. Because of the heat, homes were, and still are, built around a courtyard which allows ventilation and airflow, making it fairly comfortable in the buildings. The town is fairly safe; we were comfortable walking from one part to our hotel after dark. There is a restaurant section closed off to most traffic where pedestrians can walk up and down and hear music and choose where to eat.
There are very rich people in the area and very poor people (see prior blog). $200 per month is not an uncommon income for many people. $500 is a high income.
Food is good however we were careful to eat at places where we either didn’t eat raw veggies or tap water/ice or knew that they used purified water. We have a device to purify our own water and used it a lot on the trip. Beans and rice (gallo pinto) is a staple here well as Costa Rica. We had excellent corvina (sea bass) many times in various restaurants. Fish from Lake Nicaragua was usually tilapia and we didn’t eat it much since the lake water isn’t that clean.
Tour of the historic city: we saw old churches, the remaining wall of the original market, and lots of old buildings. Architecture varied: churches often fairly ornate as were some government buildings. Residences were originally built as a long structure with the inner courtyard for ventilation. As the family grew, sections were added on or separated off. Now, individuals own sections which are usually designated by a given color, hence very colorful streets. You have no idea what an interior will look like based on the exterior. Some are very well done with all of the modern conveniences. We also went to a museum which has a lot of ancient carved statues.
School tour: Walking down the street we met some realtors with whom we chatted for a while. One is engaged to a woman who works at the after school program in the poorest neighborhood. We took a tour of the facility (modest but highly functional with 200 students) and the neighborhood. The neighborhood is heartrendingly poor. Some streets are neat and clean even though they are dirt; others are not. Because Nicaraguans don’t think anything about littering (I only saw one sign on the island and none on the mainland about it) the school is very strict in hopes of changing this attitude. Kids are sent home if they are seen littering and it is making a difference…a small change in attitudes. Kids get a meal, play time, access to books, and schooling for half day (public schools only teach 1/2 days so the kids come here the alternate half). The program has been around for 4 1/2 years and is making a difference in these lives.
Historic house tour: we saw 3 homes and they weren’t really that old although they were representative of how the older homes were built. Note the large pots on the floor in one picture. Those are funeral pots…yes, they put an entire body into one pot. Pots varied in size, presumably based on the size of the person. Don’t want to think much more about this. Pay special attention to the narrow streets, in one the bus can barely turn and also to the various modes of transportation. More on that in another post.
Private tour: We hired a young guide to take us around and show us some non-traditional places including Apoyo Lake, Catarina Market (cleaner and less hectic than Granada’s), and some other areas.
Bottle House: This building is built primarily of glass and plastic bottles and is sponsored by the French. It is a place for artists to live and be trained in the street arts. A friend of our tour guide says he is much safer and happier now that he is involved with this group. They are trained to do juggling and acrobatics but I was concerned that when they left this home they couldn’t earn enough to live independently. At least it gives them improved self-esteem.
The first 11 Quaker families first came to Costa Rica in 1951 from Alabama because four Friends had been jailed for refusing to serve in the Korean War and the families were seeking somewhere they could live in peace.
Costa Rica had abolished its army and the government was encouraging foreigners to come and develop the land. The Monteverde area was only accessible by oxcart when they first came.
The families purchased over 3700 acres of land to be divided between the families. The Friends helped each family build a house.
They set up Monteverde Friends School, completing the main school building in 1957. Today it is a bilingual school serving the local community – both Quakers and local Costa Ricans – from pre-school through to high school. There is also at least one foreign exchange student who also lives with our HomeStay family.
The Quakers set up a dairy farm and the Monteverde Cheese Factory, which today produces over a ton of cheese a day. They were also farsighted enough to set aside an area on the mountain slopes as virgin cloud forest – high altitude forest cooled by moist air from the Pacific. The preserved area was the beginning of conservation in the area which now has a number of reserves including the Children’s Eternal Rain Forest (Bosque Eterno de los Niños) which was started by a Swedish child who had visited the area and went back home to raise money to purchase land for a reserve. That has grown to 54,000 acres of land.