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So, the top picture is the pool we walked into on our first night here. Sure, I was pretty tired from a long day traveling, but I was pretttty sure that the pool in on the house rental website was a shade of blue. The kids being kids, they didn't care and jumped into "The Deep" at 9:30 p.m. and swam around anyway.

During the next few days, the pool was drained a little, chemicalized, scrubbed and cussed at. Solution? Drain the entire thing and refill it. Great idea, right? Sure. "Hey, Pancho. When will the pool be done filling up?" "By tonight at 10 p.m.," said Pancho. Pancho failed to take into account that I pee faster than the water comes out of the hose in the courtyard. So, no pool for a couple days until FINALLY at 7:30 a.m., Grady popped out of the bed (we're sharing our bedroom...more on THAT later!) and the first thing he did was run to the door to look out and see if the pool was full. Success! Full pool. Time to swim. Ahhhh....

But wait? Even then there had to be a complaint from the kids! We started swimming and the kids complained that now it's too easy to play Sharks and Minnows because you can actually SEE underwater now. I think I'll call the homeowner and see if she can make it green again!

You might think that our obsession with getting the pool right was a bit...dramatic. But when it's 90 degrees each day with 88% humidity, you want that pool. You NEED that pool! So, we're in good shape again.

So, back to why Grady and Annie are in our room. Did I already mention the leak in their bedroom? I think I did. They had a leak in their room and the homeowner arranged for workers to come replace some roofing. After inspecting it and talking to the roofing guys, Tim, the caretaker, advised us we may want to have the kids sleep with us. Uhhh....OK. We really...uhh...didn't have any ....you know...GOOD reason, I guess, why we'd want...you know, our OWN room! But you do what you gotta do.

We moved their bed into our room and they set up housekeeping in there. It's really not a big deal and I sleep a little better with them in there. Not because I'm a helicopter dad, but because Annie sleepwalks...usually right after she's peed all over the bed, floor, me, etc. To get from the kids' bedroom here to our bedroom, you have to walk by the pool. No sweat. If she's sleepwalking and falls in, I figure the water will wake her up, right? Then she can just pee there. I mean, what was it gonna do? Make the water green??? But remember me saying we drained the pool? NOW if she fell into the pool, it would really be not so good. 

NOW the funny part! If you call big snakes "funny." Tim admitted to us yesterday that the reason he suggested we move out is because when they inspected the roof to find the leak, they found a big snake living there! Annie was kinda freaked out. Grady, of course, said "Where's the snake? I wanna see it? Do you have it? When I can see it? What kind is it? Can we take it home? Is it poisonous?" 

Ha ha...big funny on all of us, huh? Note to self for vacation next year: There are no snakes in Finland. 

So, now we have a full pool, a new roof and everything is good. Right. That would be TOO easy.

Bed bugs. Not THOSE bedbugs that have caused hotels to evacuate, but bugs...in Scott's bed...so by definition, they are bedbugs. Little things the size of a pinhead. We washed and changed sheets. Wait a few minutes and a couple come back. Then some more. We've gotten used to the little ants that scurry all over the place looking for food and the AMAZINGLY fast tiny spider-looking track stars that zip all over. But this is different. After researching "bed bugs" on the Internet, we determined Scott was at risk only for what was referred to as "psychological insect discomfort" as opposed to ACTUAL insect discomfort. Whew! 

DID YOU KNOW...that bats can actually be clumsy? I did not know that. Last night, Grady looks into this little concrete "ditch" that surrounds the pool and says, "Holy crap, a bat!" After reminding him not to exaggerate and that I'm not fond of the term "Holy Crap," I looked in the little ditch and promptly slipped up...badly "Holy Shit! A bat!" I exclaimed. "See, dad. I told you. And don't say 'shit,'" said Grady. Duly reprimanded, I got a flashlight to check him out. He was injured and hobbling along. I think he flew into the courtyard and smacked into the wall, fell to the ground and then inadvertently crawled into the little moat around the pool. Fleas? Parasites? Rabies? Androgynous sidekick? What would this bat have? 

We traveled lightly for our trip, so I did not have Annie's "Acme Bat Collection Kit" with us, so we used the next best thing to collect him. A Pringle's can. Doubtful? Thought you might be, so there's a picture down below. Bob the Bat slept outside in his little Pringle home last night. I released him down the road this morning and based on his physical condition and apparent allergic reaction to Pringle crumbs, I do not think we will see him again. RIP little Bob. RIP. 

Tomorrow we leave for an overnight trip to the island of Ometepe. It's in Lake Nicaragua a couple hours from here via car and ferry. We'll ride horses to a volcano, sleep in the jungle and, I'm quite sure, bitch about the heat and bugs. But, by gosh, we'll be having an adventure! 

Adios!

 
 
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I think I'm taking the day off from writing. I uploaded lots of new pictures. We did a horse carriage tour of town with Rodolfo. Go to  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Granada,_Nicaragua to read about the history of this cool city. There are also pictures of us playing with the kids at the school we've been volunteering at. Enjoy.

Adios!

 
 
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Today was a "Top 20 Day." Maybe a "Top 10." 

I often grade days based on where they rank in the timeline of my life. Marrying Polly was a "Top 1" day. Well, there have been times when it dropped back to a "Top 20" or so day, but it always climbs the ladder back to the top! The birth of Annie and Grady. Definitely "Top 2" days. Now this opens me to the criticism that I put my wife before my kids. No, I just teach my kids that ya' know, sometimes being #2 doesn't suck too badly. And there are many days when you are elevated to #1 while your mom is in the doghouse! 

Today, we got to go on an island tour of what are called "Las Isletas," which means "The Little Islands" in Spanish. When the Mombacho volcano blew up, over 300 little islands were created from the remains of the blast. They are scattered fairly closely to the mainland city of Granada and an easy 2-hour boat tour. FYI...Granada is located on the northern shores of Lake Nicaragua, the 10th largest lake in the world. The population is about...blah, blah, blah, insert Wikipedia stuff here. 

Anyway, Rodolfo, our indispensable guide had us driven to where the boats hang out and we took off. Alex, our "Captain Stubing" to Rodolfo's "Julie McCoy" safely navigated us through the islands while Rodolfo gave us the touristy info. The islands can actually be purchased and many have homes on them. NICE homes. We rode by an island owned by the richest guy in Nicaragua, a Carlos Pellas, who seems to own pretty much everything in Nicaragua. I'm sure you're thinking, "OK...richest guy in Nicaragua. So what? In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king." But this guy has fat cash and his island home was impressive. Socialism works in mysterious ways!

Rodolfo asked me, "Will the kids be scared if we bring a monkey onto the boat?" I told him the kids would be fine, but I asked if would Alex be offended if I crapped my pants on his boat? As good as English as Rodolfo speaks, I'm not sure he understood that a monkey cruising around on the boat might scare the crap out of ME! 

So we cruised up in our little "Love Boat" and Rodolfo started making monkey noises. Did I mention the guy is GOOD? He told me this little island is called "Monkey Island," apparently named by the same marketing geniuses who came up with the jingle for American Family Insurance which goes like this, "American Family Insurance."  See? Not much creativity in North OR Central America. I'm sure Senor Pellas owns the marketing company, too, so what does he care? Anyhooooo...a veterinarian supposedly put the monkeys there in some sort of weird Alcatraz-like fit of simian seclusion, with the intention of creating a safe environment for them. Yep, 'cause we humans always do right by our animal friends, huh?

"Dammit, Thomas! Back on track! Back on track!"

HELICOPTER MOM WARNING! DO NOT PROCEED! DANGEROUS MONKEY AHEAD! GO START PLANNING YOUR KID'S NEXT BIRTHDAY AT CHUCK-E-CHEESE AND PLANNING WHAT KIND OF GOODIE BAGS TO MAKE FOR EVERYONE!

BAM! Spider monkey swings out of a tree and lands on the back of the boat. Now here is something I guarantee you did NOT know about spider monkeys. They LOVE rice and beans. I know! Cool, huh? Alex had brought some and put on the back of the boat. GULP! went the monkey. ADIOS! went the beans and rice, or, "Gallo Pinto" en Espanol. Then, he ate a tomato.

Next thing we know, he's eyeing Grady. Rodolfo said "Be still and just let the monkey go where he wants to." What I heard was, "OH MY GOD, HE'S GONNA ATTACK AND WE'RE ALL GONNA DIE!" So, little Cheetah wannabe hops over to Grady and starts snuggling with him. No kidding. He starts petting on Grady and actually hugs him around the neck and puts his little monkey head on Grady's chest. Gotta say, it's about the cutest thing I've ever seen a monkey do. Of course, prior to this, I'd only seen a monkey throw his own feces at a lady at the zoo, but you get my point. 

Then the monkey must have decided that Grady smelled bad and needed a bath. Dude, when a monkey living on a little island decides you smell bad, you need to start using a bit more soap in the shower! So, he tried to pull Grady's hat off, unfortunately attached by a strap around his neck. We got the hat off and Cheetah jumped on his shoulders and started grooming him like in a Jane Goodall kinda way. NOW I felt like a bad parent. Really? A monkey is calling my kid dirty? That's not right. I didn't go over to the monkey's house and make HIS parents feel bad because the monkey can't read or play Soduku. Grady won't cut his hair! What am I supposed to do?

For about 40 seconds, the monkey picked through Grady's hair looking for bugs and stuff. Fortunately, he found nothing and I think Cheetah looked a bit disappointed. He finally spotted Annie and hopped over into her lap. Annie was in love right away, but unfortunately, she didn't get the head-cleaning treatment. I think the monkey could tell that Annie is usually MUCH cleaner than Grady. The monkey did sit on her lap awhile but then decided it was time to head back to Monkey Alcatraz. Apparently, "visiting hours" were over.

We got some good video of the head-cleaning and I'm sending it to America's Funniest Home Videos. MUCH stupider stuff than our video has won $10,000! 

I had mixed emotions about the monkey shampoo. Admittedly, it was very cute and very funny. But, I think most monkey head baths are pretty funny...right up until the time the monkey decides to rip your face off. Like I've always said, "Monkey games are all fun and good until someone loses an eye, an ear, a nose and some hair."

We ended our tour at a little bar on an island that had a Macau, a bar and a big pool overlooking the lake. I think the bar has the same pool cleaner as we have at our house here! But did I mention the bar? 

HELICOPTER MOMS MAY NOW RETURN. PARENTS WILL BE WITH CHILDREN THE REST OF THE NIGHT WITH NO WILD ANIMALS OR MIS-MATCHED CLOTHING!

Part 2 of Top 10 Day!

That night, we decided to go out for dinner! Hoooray! I'm enjoying Nicaraguan food, but I wanted some true-blue, down home, honest-to-goodness food from America! So, we went to a neat looking Mexican place, of course! 

When you eat at an outdoor table at a restaurant in Nicaragua, you have to expect street merchants. Here's a list of the vendors who came by during our 2-hour dinner: A middle age couple singing and playing guitar and maracas, a teen playing a flute, 3 ladies selling hammocks, 4 ladies selling cigarettes and gum, 4 dogs selling nothing, and countless kids trying to sell us the aforementioned trinkets made from palm fronds. 

I had the genius idea that if bought a palm frond cricket from the first kid and left it on the table, the vendors would think, "Well, those nice white folks have already bought something and generously supported the Nicaraguan economy! We shall leave them be!" 

HA!

What our purchase did was signal every vendor from here to Utah that we were suckers willing to buy a cricket made from palm fronds. "Bring on the hammocks!" "How about a flute tune? SURE!" "Bracelets just $1!"  

DIGRESSION TIME...but there's a point.

The other night after dinner, we stopped at an ice cream place. Two minutes later, we had bought a palm frond flower from a kid. $1, but we paid with a banana split. One happy kid. But word spreads quickly among the palm frond selling clan and soon there was another kid. Then another. Then another. Next thing you know, we had bought ice cream for a bunch of kids until I was out of Cordobas, the local currency. We got pictures, Annie and Grady were laughing with the kids making fun of their Spanish and the store owner was glad to see us helping the kids. Then we bought the hammock mentioned earlier. Total cost: $12.

Now we return to our regularly scheduled blog.

So...one of the kids we bought ice cream from the other night shows up at our table to sell another flower. So we bought that one to keep the others away. Then he makes Polly a heart. Then he just stays. Here's the fun part. While we waited...and waited...and waited...for our food, Annie and Grady taught him how to play Uno. They had a great time trying to figure out how to communicate. Lots of pointing and laughing. Scott helped Alejandro with the rules and got to practice Spanish. 

We avoided the evil eye of the female owner. We figure she is protective of her place and doesn't want to encourage the local kids from bothering the customers. Or worse, stealing from us. Polly asked the waiter if it was OK, and he said it was.

So, the kids played UNO, ate chips that we gave them and we waited on dinner...and waited...and waited. But it was really great seeing Annie and Grady, speaking no Spanish, figuring out how to play a game with kids who spoke no English. We bought another cricket, "griso," and sent them on their way while we FINALLY ate dinner. 

Yep...that was a "Top 10 Day."

Adios!

 
 
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1. Not having bats hanging from your ceiling.
2. My kids having all the pencils they need for school
3. Leftovers
4. My 77 year old mother not having to sell hammocks in the street
5. My 6 and 8 yr old not having to make palm leaf flowers on the sidewalk for $1
6. My sweet wife being able to speak Spanish so well. I've actually never taken that for granted. It's pretty cool to hear her do it!
7. Air conditioning set at 78 degrees by the "Finance Nazi."
8. Kids in clean clothes
9. Squeaky hardwood floors
10. My job

1. Apparently, it's quite common for the open-style homes here to have a bat or 2 hanging around in the rafters. There's good and bad to that. The good part is that many bats eat insects, so they keep the insect population down. The bad part is that these are not those kinds of bats. These bats eat fruit which they go out and find, bring back and proceed to hang upside down and eat. Strangely, they just eat the inside and just drop the outside wherever they may be. Newton's Law of Gravity applies equally to bats and therefore, the remains of their dinner falls down onto...everything, sofa and floor being the best target. Better fruit than poop, right!

2. Today was our first day volunteering at a school down the street. Scott is taking language classes there for 2 weeks and the rest of us are going to volunteer at the "school" there. It's called Casa Xalteva and it's a program for kids to learn and play in the morning before they go to actual "school" in the afternoon. There's a church attached to it, literally and figuratively, and they work together to try to help kids in the morning before they go to school in the afternoon. To start the day, the kids all got to color or draw and while they had plenty of colored pencils, many were broken or worn down. Not many erasers. Grady accidentally broke a pencil and one of the kid's eyes got really big like he has just crashed mom's car. If we were home, Grady could have run upstairs to his room and gotten 1 of the 200 pencils he has fastidiously sharpened with his electric pencil sharpener. Not so here. We are buying pencils for the school.

3. At dinner now, we purposely leave food so we can wrap it up and take with us. Not to re-heat and eat later, but to give to the kids we see in the street who come up and ask for money or food. This is an impossible situation: You would love to feed them all but you can't. And if you feed one, you are suddenly surrounded by 100. It's not a matter of what you can afford. It's logistics, time, supply, etc. Regardless, it's frickin' heart-wrenching and there's no other way to describe it. We're going to buy bags of food from street vendors to carry and then give out.

4. We bought a poorly made hammock from an old lady. Not because we need or want a poorly made hammock, but because we can't imagine our mothers having to sell hammocks door-to-door at 8 pm at night.

5. At all times of the day and night, there are countless children roaming the streets selling...everything. A popular product is the handmade trinket made of what looks like palm stalk. The kids charge $1 and will quickly make you a cricket, flower, heart, etc. It's amazing how quickly they make these things and how good they are. But it would be better if they were making them in school as part of an art class instead of trying to make money to live. 6-year old children should not be supporting families, but we know it's life down here. We now own 5 assorted hand-made palm stalk art pieces. The crickets are the coolest!

6. This would be a much different vacation without Polly around to speak for us. We could make do, but it would be VERY daunting. I'll try to remember how impressed I should be when people come to the US from other countries and speak English. In our schools, kids don't start trying to learn a foreign language until high school. Uh, have you ever tried teaching a high school kid to speak ENGLISH well, much less a foreign language?? Until we commit to having them start in kindergarten, Americans will never be bi-lingual. And who needs to learn a language to communicate with the rest of the world when you can take...Driver's Ed??

7. Polly and I sometimes have a "disagreement" over the air conditioning setting at our house. She likes it at 78 degrees while I would prefer 72. Why do I bother? I know I won't win. I can't even remember the last time I actually TOUCHED our thermostat. That being said, after living here, 78 degrees on the A/C sounds pretty good! Note: The place we're staying has A/C in the bedrooms and it feels great! Cooler than in my own house! Take THAT, Finance Nazi Polly!

8. My kids have clean clothes pretty much at the start of each day. What happens to them later is a far different story. But we are blessed with a washer and dryer and the ability to put clean clothes on Grady and Annie. We haven't seen any children here running around naked, but we have seen plenty of clothes that may have never been washed. We went on an island tour and saw women washing clothes in the lake. Next time Annie and Grady complain about clothes in any way, I'm taking them to Kennel Lake with a load of laundry and putting their butts work!

9. We have an older house in Illinois. Some of the hardwood floors squeak and you have to tip-toe in some places so as not wake the kids or Polly. They do not share the same concern for MY sleep! In Nicaragua, it is not uncommon to see makeshift homes with dirt floors. And yet, the hardworking moms will still fastidiously sweep the floors to clean them as best as possible. This is the kind of pride I think we could use a lot more of back home.

10. Sometimes teaching gets tiring. There's whining. Fussing. Arguing. Confusion. And that's just from the STAFF! Throw in students and it can be REALLY tough! But today, I watched a man my father's age going through a trash dump picking out cans to sell for metal. I saw a woman washing clothes in a lake. I saw a man 35 feet up walking on rafters roofing a house in 90 degree heat and 85% humidity. We have a housekeeper at the house we're staying at who is raising 4 kids on her own. The owner of the house said that if I gave her a FIVE dollar tip for the 2 weeks she's here, she'll be very happy.

My school has heat. My school has air-conditioning...sorry, Polly. My school is clean and safe. The staff is professional and cares about the kids. I'm pretty sure I'm done complaining about any difficulties I might experience at work.

SO...enough deep stuff for now, how 'bout it?

Today, we found a place where we could make our own cigars! At Dona Elba Cigars, they handroll about 1000 cigars a day for consumption all over the world...or at least upper Nicaragua and the U.S. They have a big picture of Arnold Scwarzeneggar on the wall smoking one of their cigars. They let Annie and Grady roll a couple then we bought some to take home. Grady and Annie insisted I smoke one by the pool that night, so I was happy to oblige. Ahhh...Suave! Not "Rico Suave" that's completely different. Suave means "smooth." It was funny watching Grady try a couple puffs. As soon as he sucked in some smoke he blew it out super fast. I'm pretty sure I don't have to worry about him smoking anytime soon. I don't smoke, but hey, when in Rome!

No more for today! I have the next post to catch up on!

Adios!

 
 
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It's only 3 days in and I'm losing track of time. That's a good thing! You know you're on vacation when you don't know what day it is. Wednesday, right? Who knows?

Yesterday, we had a busy day. We started off halfway up a volcano called Mombacho dangling from harnesses digging up our butts...how do you say "wedgie" en Espanol? No se. Anyway, it was a beautiful day for a beautiful trip into a beautiful jungle. The nature reserve where the zipline place is in the middle of a coffee plantation. As we zipped through the air, we were surrounded by fields of baby beans and workers clearing the fields. Harvest is in Nov. and Dec. and the Nicaraguan coffee will arrive on your table sometime in, well, I have no idea. I didn't ask that question. But I'm buying some before I leave, so it will arrive on MY table sometime in July!

Ziplining was far cooler than I thought it would be. And I am not a fan of heights. Interesting thought...Scott, my brother-in-law on the trip with us, and I had an interesting debate about faith last night. Not religious faith, just faith in general. We talked about how people are hesitant to have faith in something religious, but we will have faith in an airplane pilot who might be a drunken wife-beater who suddenly hates the world. Or we just faithfully believe that the guy coming toward us in the car in the other lane won't suddenly swerve into our lane and smash us. Or, we put our faith in 4 nice guides with limited English ability, 2 miles of cable made by who knows who, nylon harnesses made by the lowest bidder and stretched out by the butts of countless foreign tourists zipping before us. And I put Annie and Grady on the lines and faithfully say, "Adios! Have fun!" Just an amusing conversation about faith.

Anyhoooooo....the ziplining rocked. Grady was all excited while getting harnessed up. Annie kind of had a look on her face that looked like she should also be asking for a final meal as she was being strapped up. I was just trying to make sure my daddy parts didn't get wrapped up in a hook or rope. Mission accomplished!

We took a truck ride higher up the volcano. Grady was jittery. Annie was green. The jungle is really pretty. A lot of folks don't come down here in the rainy season because of the, well, you know, the rain. But the rain makes everything green and it doesn't rain every day. When it does, it seems to be at night and it doesn't last long. So, if you come, consider rainy season. Oh, it's also cheaper. 

WARNING! Helicopter moms skip the next section! You can go make sure your kids are playing quietly on the front porch or something...and then pick out their clothes for the day!

We walked to the top of the first platform and got the safety lesson. Much nicer than the 2-hr tutorial we would have had to do in the States. And you know what I DIDN'T have to do? Sign 10 waivers! Here's the spiel: "We hook you up. You slide. Don't be stupid and put your fingers in front of the pulley. Adios!" They hooked Annie and Grady up in a tandem slide with a guide and took off! We were concerned about Annie, but she did great. After the first ride, she wanted to go alone. She even did the upside down ride where you basically hang upside down, slide down at 25 MPH and reconsider all the bad choices you ever made in your life...all while reconsidering that "faith" thing!

Annie's face went from terror to joy with each new slide. There were 11 different lines we got to go on. The guides were great and took good care of everyone. They slid behind us and made videos and took pictures. They kindly shook the crap out of the line while we were on it to heighten the experience...did I mention my fear of heights?

I highly recommend the ziplining tour anytime you get a chance. Especially in a beautiful jungle surrounded by hard-working coffee farmers and a family of howler monkeys! Yep...we saw about 6 of them in the trees. 

After that, a truck took us to the top of the volcano, which doesn't have much of a top anymore. The top blew off a couple thousand years ago and now there's a great big, steamy hole. The volcano is supposedly dormant, but judging by the egg-smelling fumes coming out of a big hole at 175 degrees, maybe I misunderstand the meaning of the word, "dormant."

We went on a tour with Rodolfo. We didn't see many critters, probably because they are scared off by the tourists. We did see a sloth up in a tree and it was the only real animal we saw. Slow, furry, likes to nap. Pretty good life, eh?

I got my exercise for the week as I got to carry Annie on my back most of the way back up the hill. Fortunately, it was 15 degrees cooler than the city with a nice, lake-breeze. Plus the canopy shaded us and I was able to tote her without having a heart attack. Whew.

Last night, more swimming and I bought dinner for myself from a street vendor while Scott made dinner for everyone else. I had what is called a "fritas"...see photo above...which is a dish served with chicken, pork or beef with fried plaintains, a cabbage salad-like cole slaw-all served in a couple banana leaves. Enough food for a nice, filling dinner for about $3. And it was delicious. Best of all, it was my first attempt at "street food" and so far, I don't have the trots! So far...so good.

That's it...I'm tired of writing. I think we're going to a cigar factory here soon and make some cigars by hand. I have special permission from our nice landlord to smoke a cigar by her pool while we're here! I won't go inside...I promise! 

Pictures are posted! 

Ciao...The Fullers

 
 
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I'm reconsidering my Nicaraguan early-retirement plans.

Bugs.

OK, I knew when I came down that there would be bugs. Mosquitos, gnats, scorpions, etc. I can live with those. But there are lots of little ant thingy looking bugs all over the kitchen. We have to be careful where we put food. Almost everything goes in the fridge. I've already tossed the sugar. Can you believe bugs loved the sugar?

Whose bright idea was a house with an outdoor kitchen/dining room/swimming area? Don't ask. But, it's part of the adventure and we'll adjust. Actually, when I say "we" I mean "me." Anyone who knows me knows that I don't really like eating outside with bugs. Polly says we'll call it "camping."  The last time I camped it was in a 35 ft RV with air conditioning and 3 TV's! Yep...kinda spoiled.

Here's another thing I wasn't planning on hearing "Hey, dad, there are some bats flying around out here and inside!" I haven't seen any yet, but the housekeeper has confirmed bats. Plus, there was bat crap on the tile floor, so that was a big give away, too. Just one more part of the adventure and I DID say we wanted to see wildlife. Just not in my kitchen and living room! 

We roamed the town a bit today to get the lay of the land. It's a really beautiful and interesting place. Well, it's not all beautiful. It's got some beautiful architecture with many of the old churches having been built by the blood sucking Spanish who came over 5 hundred years ago. It also has some not so nice areas of high poverty and crime. Wait. Didn't I just describe New Orleans?

I'm not going too much into the history of Granada. Wikipedia does a better job.

We had our first real encounter with the part of the trip that I knew would bother us the most...meeting some of the homeless children at the park. We stopped to buy the kids a popscicle and right away, 4 or 5 kids about 5 or 6 years old surrounded us asking us to buy them something. We had read in advance some suggestions about how to handle this, but nothing can prepare you for having a cute little girl pulling on your shirt and asking you to buy her something to eat. She was speaking in Spanish, but I knew what she wanted in any language. Polly had it worse because she understood them. Grady and Annie didn't quite understand until we explained it to them. How do you explain abject poverty and child hunger to kids who gets so much?

Polly and Grady gave their popsicles to 2 little girls. Annie was almost done with hers. I didn't have anything. We've read about how to handle this situation and there's no good way. One thing we did read was not to give money to the kids as it sometimes goes to adults. It was recommended that we buy little bags of food at corner stalls and give them out.

EMERGENCY UPDATE! Yes! I saw bats last night! And they weren't crapping on stuff. They were eating and dropping the part of the fruit they didn't want on the sofas. So, at least it's not bat sh^%. So we got THAT going for us!

Note: This is a Spanish keyboard I'm using. I have no idea where the parenthesis, colon, etc. are. So bear with my weird punctuation.

I now return to my regularly scheduled blog...

After our trip to the park, we headed home for the rest of the day. The kids are obsessed with the pool and I'm obsessed with laying my happy butt in the hammock NEXT to the pool.

Our guide, Rodolfo, has suggested lots of wonderfully authentic Nicaraguan restaurants we should go to and we're looking forward to trying them out. But last night, I told him, "I need food I recognize and I needs lots of it!" I really hadn't eaten in 23 hours and it was starting to tell. I was a bit shaky and I needed lots of food, not authentic. So, we went to the Garden Cafe. I got authentic AND lots, so that was a bonus. The only people there were Gringos like us. But they had meat, by God, and it was good. Ahhhh....and for the 6 of us to eat with beer, bottled water, etc. it was $30...including tip. Chaching!

We had a big rainstorm last night. By big, I mean it topped off the pool and flooded Grady and Annie's bathroom. Grady and I lay in his bed together and listened to the rain dribble down the wall. I had to pull the bed away from the way to keep our pillow dry. Annie, on the other hand, could not have cared if Noah himself had shown up to escort the bats away, 2 by 2, she just kept on sleeping. Grady was also upset about the howling dog outside our window that sounded as if he was tied up and getting stormed on. It was quite disheartening. But in a land of such poverty, I imagine it is tough for people to feel sympathetic toward animals. They are for working and eating. And if they do neither, they are afterthoughts. To an 8 yr old who loves his cat more than me, this attitude is hard to accept. Gandhi said, "You can judge a society by the way it treats its animals." I think we do pretty well there.

Off to a volcano called Mombacho tomorrow and ziplining. Grady is about to wet himself thinking about ziplining. Annie is about to wet herself, too, thinking about ziplining, but for a totally different reason! I just am thinking that the zip lines were probably hung by the lowest bidder and we'll probably all die.

Adios, mi amigos!



 
 
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For the first time in the long history of the Long and Winding Road (well, 3 years isn't that long), we did not have to begin our journey at the butt-crack of dawn (Polly's expression, not mine.) For the past 2 years, we hit the road at 6 a.m., which is kinda dumb if you consider we were going on a month-long trip and no one was anticipating our arrival. Well, the CEO of Disney WAS looking forward to the ridiculous amount of money we spent at Disney World last year. 

Delta was ready when we were at 11:05  this morning and we had no problems at the beautiful Bloomington, IL International Airport (BMI to all my former fellow State Farm road warriors! Hi, Todd!)  

ATL brought a 3.5 hour layover during which time, we ate while Grady looked out the window and pointed out every airplane and luggage trailer that passed by. His obsession with wheels and mechanical things is both scary and cool at the same time. It's great that there is something he loves so much that he gets excited about. It gives me hope that he has a future career plan. The scary part is that his future career plan might involve doing tire rotations and re-balancing at Wal-Mart.  But, a buck's a buck and if he's happy, I guess I should be OK with it. I can use his college money to buy a boat! But probably not a really nice boat because we were pretty much just planning on Jr. College for him anyway! Annie will want to be the one to go to Harvard, so we have to find some Native American somewhere in my ancestry so she can get a scholarship. MAN, I have digressed! 

So why Nicaragua and Costa Rica in the first place. Several reasons in no particular order.

 1) It's pretty inexpensive. When you go for a month, you can't stay at the Ritz. We rent places through a website, VRBO.com, where you can rent houses and condos from the owners. We recommend it. 

2) It's a good place for Polly to practice Spanish, since ya' know, they speak Spanish there. She's pretty good at it, but wants to brush up. Now's her chance! 

3) We want to do some volunteer work at a local school. We're spending some time at a school where Scott (more about him later!) is going to language school. We want to spend time helping with the kids because we will enjoy it, hopefully the students will enjoy it and we want Grady and Annie to experience some things totally out of their comfort zone. Us, too! 

4) The countries look beautiful. Jungles (yes, JUNGLE. Not "rainforest." When I lived in one in Panama, it was called a "jungle" so by gosh, that's what I'm calling it!) have lots of things to see and do. There are volcanoes all over the place...kinda like corn in Central Illinois. Costa Rica has dedicated much of its land to preserve areas and we want to check it out. 

5) Zip-lining and horse. Grady for zip-lining. Annie for horses. 'Nuff said. 

I'm on the plane writing this. iPad and nifty little keyboard hard at work. I will never buy another PC and/or MS-based product. As my buddy David says about Apple products, "They just work." Amen. 

Hopefully, Rodolfo, our driver and tour guide for much of our trip will meet us at the Managua airport. If not, it's Managua Hilton and peanut butter for everyone! Have I mentioned we brought lots of peanut butter? And yes, Greg, TSA did take note of it in our luggage and they took apart our entire bag! We will not be known as the infamous "Peanut Butter Bombers!" 

Food. A topic of much concern for me. Polly will eat anything. She's looking forward to all the fruits and veggies. Her brother, Scott, will be joining us for a few weeks and he's a...wait for it...vegetarian. Bleeech. Fortunately, not a neo-Nazi "vegan" who wants to arrest people who eat egg omelets. Just your garden-variety, veggie-only, unless the fish looks really good, type of vegetarian. He'll be fine for food. I'll eat almost anything, but I'm kinda picky. Annie will be challenge, but she'll be OK. That brings us to... 

Grady. 

I have honestly laid in bed worrying about what he'll eat (Polly's not worried, as evidenced by her snoring while I fret.) He's very picky at home. I can't imagine how he'll do down here. He says he'll be OK, but I'm not sure if he quite understands the differences in foods. We have brought a goodly supply of peanut butter, so if we ration well, we're FAIRLY sure he'll live for 30 days. He likes rice and tortillas and cheese quesadillas, so we have a work-around that should be readily available. More...MUCH MORE...on this as the trip progresses. 

28 minutes to landing says Capt. Kirk, our pilot. I don't think his name really is Capt. Kirk, but we'll go with it. Customs and trip to our home for 2 weeks awaits. Let the journey begin! 

Adios!


 
 
So, we leave for Nicaragua in one week.