18 Aug 2008

All in the past...

I went to Nicaragua for 5 months in 2008 to teach English and computing, for communities working to establish community tourism. I also asked lots of questions about coffee and Fairtrade. Along the way I found out more about cows and political nonsense than i expected too...

This blog is over - but may be useful to you if you are thinking of volunteering in Nicaragua - with the Nest Trust or any other organisation. If you are already teaching in Nicaragua or another Spanish speaking country the links on the side may be of interest. There are also entries about Fairtrade and about coffee growing in general if that's something that floats your boat. Scroll to the bottom of the page to start at the beginning, or click on a title in the blog archive: all the ones about coffee have coffee in the title if you wish to avoid personal nonsense!

Friends of mine I made while I was there also made a radio documentary on a similar subject: it's a very accessible introduction to coffee and politics in Nicaragua. Download Shane and Claire O'Connell's Coffee Documentary here
If you ever get a chance - Go to Nicaragua. It is a fascinating, funny, infuriating place and you will leave enriched. Honest! And stay here. It's brill. http://www.cafeluzyluna.com/

Email me on rebecca (at) rebeccatully . co . uk
Work in the UK: http://www.rebeccatully.co.uk/

It wasn't extreme...

...But it was Kayaking.

Rio Istiam is essentially the cleavage between the twin volcanic peaks of the Island of Ometepe. I can legitimately call them breasts as legend has it they are the boobs of a lady from a Romeo/Juliet style love tragedy who flung herself into the lake while killing herself. And, I kayaked over teh top of one breast and down the cleavage, seeing as I went turtles, a cayman, many birds and guided by a fresh 15 year old. He reckoned I was beautiful. And my name was beautiful. That's the last innane ill- thought-out latin compliment I'll be getting for a while I reckon... I drilled him on some pronunciation while we were paddling, he now knows the difference between bird - beard - and board... it was really doing my head in him pointing beards out all the time. This is probably why I missed the first Cayman sighting - I'm no crocodile hunter! I didn-t takemy camera and apart from Norlan (15 and three quarters) no-one was with me so it well seem like a dream in a few weeks I reckon!

One last anecdote

When we were in the bus close to Yali a while ago, the bus had to stop for a bit because there was an ox in the way. Why? Well, there was a chap herding his 2 oxen back from his field... No-one has tractors up there, they use 2 oxen linked by the horns with a piece of wood- to plough, or pull stuff. (This is the most I've used the word oxen ever outside of a scrabble game.) So this guy's already spent the day ploughing, in drizzle, and now he's untied his oxen from their shackles, hoisted the huge long block of wood onto his shoulder, hoisted himself onto his horse, and he sets off down the track to his tiny wooden house, herding his oxen as he goes. (I'm filling in some gaps here but I've seen alot of tiny wooden houses now...) And the bus waits a bit as it passes, so as he and the oxen can bumble past it. And then he has to make sure he's still got them under control on the other side. And a happy nod passes between driver and oxen man, and we all go on our way.

This way of life is so different from mine, and most English rural life to boot, that being part of it has made it harder for me to contemplate fairness, or poverty, or charity. It's just on a totally different scale. And it's hard to imagine that oxen man, however hard and grinding his life is, would want to swap it for my London turmoil. Hey ho.

14 Aug 2008

What I will miss.

  • Hopping on a bus. Snap transport decisions. No advance tickets. They`re like a very well organised lift.
  • Looking at mountains for a whole 3 hour journey. Such BEAUTIFUL mountains.
  • People grinning when they get on the bus
  • Being able to make empty promises and know you probably won't keep them and you'll get away with it
  • Cheesy 80s music cropping up everywhere
  • Having time to mull; getting a good 10 hours sleep whenever I wanted
  • Talking to people I hardly know for hours on a local bus ride
  • Cuajada (curd cheese ish) and Corn tortilla. Hmmm. They are made for each other.
  • The friends I made and the happy appreciation they showed for the small things that I did.

What I won't miss.

  • Bites. all kinds of flying insects, ants etc. Everywhere.
  • Being a novelty on the street. Silly comments from pillocky men.
  • Everyone throwing rubbish.
  • Unending dampness in rainy weeks
  • Having no control... or kitchen
  • The con of a mobile phone company that expires your credit in the blink of an eye!
  • Not knowing when the water will come back on
  • Never really understanding people's values
  • My dictionary falling open at the page that says 'vagina' at the top... I'm bored of the joke now

6 Aug 2008

Not me aswell...!

It's true, it really is a country that gets under your skin.

I popped to Leon for a little jaunt this weekend. Lovely, colonial, hot, full of history. I found out the times of the buses back to Esteli, and did the usual "putting out to tender" checking information with more than one person to get round the whole telling-you-what-you-want-to- hear business. 3.30 the bus was going, the last one back to Esteli. Get a lovely cab driver to take me there, arrive 10 minutes early.

The annoyance....

It's gone. Oh no, that bus goes at 3.10. WHAT!! Oh yes, hasn¨t gone at 3.30 for ages... WHy do people lie! grrrr! I'm standing in what is essentially a mud/dirt field (yes, it does look a lot like Glastonbury) deciding what to do next.

The goddamn endearing part...

As well as being the cause of aggravation, they always seem to sort it too. Some dirty looking mechanic guys who I ask about the Esteli bus start giving me advice about the other options... get a bus to a crossroads and then stand there waiting on the Panamerican for another coming from another city.. hmmm. I get on the bus, see a nice enough lady with her son and get her opinion on the whole sorry affair. She seems to thing that standing on a crossroads on the Panamerican at 6pm in the dark isn't too bad an idea but her husband happens to be picking her up, they live in a town a bit further up and can drop me at a proper bus stop. So I stay on the bus, exiting only to get a cheap enchillada from another very sweet lady in the bus station.

And after one of the smoothest bus changes in history I´m in Esteli by dinner time. Fall into the arms of Juanita
at her hostel weeping "I don't want to miss this place but I will" unable to stop crying til a beer is placed in my fist.

Nothing changes guys, don't expect a more zen Rebs. Same old hormonal nightmare... and not looking forward to the first journey on Virgin Trains! Unless they¨ve started selling cheap corn products in place of focchacia and pastrami and stopped wearing red waistcoats.

29 Jul 2008

Coffee 8: Politics, and a Conclusion.

So, the country’s poor. But its widely thought, and reported every day that the big wigs in the government (who incidentally are most of the revolutionaries who fought for the rights of the workers against the dictator Somoza in the 70’s) are creaming cash left right and centre. But this place is full of NGOs, and trade certifications, and volunteers, and international organisations donating money for infrastructure… it doesn’t fit. The Fairtrade premium is spent on things like schools and roads that are frankly the governments job, and there’s little evidence of the government actually doing anything.

BUT the thing about the Fairtrade certification is that it does far more than give money for things that should be statutory… it supports education and farming methods that will avoid erosion and flooding and death, and in my book that’s a bloody good thing because despite it being charming and beautiful there are definitely 2 big problems in this country – ignorance, as evidenced by the chucking of litter around by everyone, and weather. Cities have water problems because too many trees have been cut from the hills around, and the rains cause huge mud slides in the more rural areas for the same reason.

So it seems to me that, as ever, hard cash on its own is never a solver of problems in itself, and that’s why Fairtrade is a damn good thing – but hard to explain why. And we, over the other side of the world, need to have something to rely on that we can trust. One thing though – the premium doesn’t seem to have changed for quite a while, and we know that prices of everything else have gone up – perhaps that’s the next job for the Fairtrade middle men like Sopexxca. They are the voice of the farmers after all.

That´s probably about it for coffee. It´s 3 weeks ´til home time, I´m starting to run out of steam and the broken and battered remains of my working life in London are calling. All that will remain is for you to find your way to Hackney in a month`s time and sample some of the classy Miraflor coffee flowing from my sexy recycled kitchen that I miss so much.


It wasn´t Canyoneering

Wikipedia describes canyoneering and canyoning as technical descents, so I don´t think I can tick either of them off the list but I did climb down some quite big slippery old rocks at the mouth of Somoto canyon and then swim in my clothes when I didn´t have a change of clothes with me.

Oh yes. Danger is now my middle name. Or Indiana Rebs, someone else suggested. This was verified by a quick look in the Footprints guide on our return to Esteli... Good heavens I´m extreme.

We also waded through the river 4 times there and back, that took all the concentration I had as was very stony and unstable. But SO beautiful!

22 Jul 2008

Anyone want to teach some English?

If possible, we are looking for a Nicaraguan worker to continue teaching the computer classes here in Yali, but I've also been teaching English to a great bunch in El Regadio which is near Esteli, and the group of workers in the not for profit hostel I stay in in Esteli. I think those two sets of classes would be a great combination for a volunteer, Regadio is a friendly and interesting rural community and Esteli is a great city to relax or go out or what-not. So if anyone you know is thinking of travelling to this part of the world, has a TEFL and can support themselves financially and emotionally for 4-6 months or longer tell them to get in touch! There's also alot of opportunity to help out with publicising and developing tourism in both sites too.

Bubblegum Biscuits and Bugs

ah. I see that a large quanitity of information and thoughts on coffee is not the way to elicit comments. Well then, how about BUBBLE GUM FLAVOURED BISCUITS?? The good people of Yali cannot rely on a regular water or electricity supply, or paved roads, but they do have 24 hours a day the possibility of, for just one cordoba, floating off to bubble gum biscuit heaven with chicle galletas. It´s odd - they taste like overly sweet biscuits, and smell like bubble gum.

So, I´m back in Yali. The more observant will have worked that out from the banal blog. I also have success to report... I gave my computer students a test in Word before I went away, and the results have been counted and verified. If we take a pass mark as 55%, well over half of my students passed! about 65% of them. That´s alot of percentages isn´t it. Here are some more... The scores ranged from between 2% and 88% - which proved what I was hoping to prove, that some people actually are LEARNING! Hurrah. I´ve only got three weeks of teaching left, so for the computing classes it's PowerPoint fun all the way.

...If I don´t finally get eaten alive by bloody insects. That is one thing I will not miss, I itch in every place and it´s a rolling ailment, when some stop itching you just get more. However hard you try to avoid it. And, even though I seem to get found by any old buzzy flying crawling thing, it had to be Luke that got the exciting one! The coolest of them all - a nice large tick behind his knee... This is the culprit being removed by the woman we were staying with, the trick is to poke them with a hot bean and then they stop holding on to your skin.

19 Jul 2008

Coffee 7: What’s wrong with middle men? Flora’s Farm

A while ago, I went to my colleague’s family farm for a day out, and great day out we indeed had. I met her sister in law, and brother, and her small niece…

She was blowing raspberries when I was taking the picture...

I only discovered afterwards that Flora is a member of Sopexxca (aforementioned coffee union… keep up) and very recently have discovered she is on the Peet’s Coffee website


as a shining example of the marvellousness of well-priced coffee, as there is another certification called Las Hermanas that is sold in North America. Well, she was very happy and friendly, and due to money invested by Soppexxca has cabin-style rooms for tourists to stay, they’ve also built trails with viewpoints and they do a coffee tour.

Their life – even with this extra income from tourism – is still pretty basic. A wood burning stove for cooking, a car battery for some radio entertainment, and a half hour walk to the main road. Buses into Jinotega take about an hour and come about every hour. Fairly standard for these parts. But when you walk between their and their neighbours’ fields you can see the difference between organic practices and non, and it would have been hard to implement these changes without the support of their ‘middle man’, Soppexxca. And in contrast to city dwellers, they have good land producing a large quanitity of what they’ll need: corn for tortillas, beans, milk for cheese, and of course coffee. Always coffee. Hmmmmm.

Cut to Soppexca’s offices in Jinotega. In comparison, pretty plush. It’s easy to see what some people mean when they say that the social premiums and higher payments get lost in the wages of the new middle men. They’ve even got a website (at the side of the blog in my groovee little links section!)

But when you think of the work they’re doing on certification, education, negotiating with buyers, even stuff that should be the government’s job like repairing roads and financing schools, that’s not something one small farmer can tackle. So you’re glad of a few middle men, even if they have got better clothes than you and electricity in the office.

Coffee 6: What´s a small farmer?

So who’s better off with Fairtrade? There are many different levels of quality of life for small farmers and they don´t seem to correlate with certification...

So, for example, you might have a small farm, but you also buy coffee from other farmers and
sell it on to the middle men. Then, you are still a small coffee farmer but you´re making money off the others, so you´re doing okay. And if someone in your family has been to the US and come back with a bit of money all the better. You get a poorer family to work on your farm, and you have another job and live in the town. And how well you’re doing will probably depend on other things you’re growing too… beans, corn etc.

I went to visit someone in a smaller community outside Yali a couple of weeks ago, whilst still mulling over this whole business of small farms. The family who are doing alright for themselves: basic conditions, still have outside pit latrine toilets, we´re not talking fitted kitchens or bathrooms but they are making money. For example, they are one of the few families with a gas oven and hob in their community, as well as the usual wood fire set-up. He puts this down to
being prudent: he started with a small bit of land 20 years ago, and now he has 2 families living on a fairly large bit of land and managing it for him. When coffee season comes round, he buses in temporary workers from other parts of Nicaragua for the picking. And he sells to Starbucks, who buy the majority of their coffee without certification.

Now it strikes me that someone like him is probably no better off with Fairtrade; as he’s already a middle man of sorts. I didn’t see the living conditions his temporary workers have and I did find out the wage they get paid but it´s so hard to guage: it’s such a seasonal thing that the money needs to last all year round… and I also didn’t see the families that live on his land, so it´s all speculation but I have seen enough others to know that this is mostly very basic: a wooden hut with a couple of rooms, maybe no electricity, maybe no running water and very little inside space.

Of course a beautiful setting, plenty of outside space and most of the time damn good avocados and bananas… but pretty much bound to their boss. Who also isn’t rolling in money either, and is pretty much stuck in his rural life too.

But in terms of personal wealth, for the medium guys, maybe it doesn’t pay. As long as you’ve found someone poorer than you to be on your farm day in day out. But whoever you are, you still have to transport your produce on godawful roads and send your kid to a school lacking resources. Personal wealth in the campo doesn’t sort those issues, Fairtrade premiums do…

There a are a lot of people here, and a lot of opinions. And these are just the small farmers in this country, the size of England. Other people have said that even Fairtrade systems are different again in other countries.

18 Jul 2008

The day I got made redundant...

I was faffing about with kayaks and rubber rings in a laguna in the extinct crater of a big ole volcano. That's the way to do it! Get over here lads!

That was just one idyllic day of a number of them, I can now confirm Nicaragua is a MARVELLOUS tourist destination and our little sojourn included...
More volcanoes (Masaya - still steaming!)


Climbing up the insides of hollow trees...

Revolutionary celebrations...

And spending more than the average amount of time talking about, and looking at, leaf cutter ants. More research needed on that one. Why do they travel so far? Why only some leaves? Why don't they have more predators? They are freaking everywhere and so damn busy!!

Some of the more interesting bits will seep out in time I'm sure... Like seeing a large portion of the department of Esteli and beyond following Daniel Ortega into town to celebrate the liberation of their city on Thursday. It certainly blows some of the jaded feelings away about the current situation seeing that many people so passionate and happy. Although even the most passionate Sandinistas agreed that he didn't need to talk for hours and hours and most seemed to be using his long speech as a reason to catch up with family... and why not?!

For now, I´m going to let the dust settle a bit and get on with some work.

9 Jul 2008

Viene el guapo

He got here! And now we´re off to explore the touristy side of Nicabloominragua. Luke says...

Greetings blog fans! My spanish needs to improve rapido to catch up with Rebs. I´m borrowing her for a week or two so no more updates for a bit... Everything is sticky and hot!

See you when I´ve stopped being a tourist!

29 Jun 2008

Coffee 5: To market to market

So. I am a small farmer. I have picked my crop, put the beans through either my or the co-operative’s beneficio, I’ve dried them…

and now I’d like to sell them. Maybe to another farmer or org down the road who buys and sells, or if I belong to a cooperative, or a union of coffee coperatives, we might have a Faritrade certificate. Then they will take my coffee and sell it on the Fairtrade market.

Now. In the same way you can’t have half an Investors in People standard, your farm can’t be ‘a bit Fairtrade’. You need to show that you are feeding and paying people right, that you are treating your rivers right, etc. Or that it’s organic, or shade grown…

BUT of the four organisations I am aware of that are certified, only one is selling 100% of their coffee on the Fairtrade market. In some cases it seems that this is because not all of their farms are certified yet, but in others its simply because there is not enough global demand. Yup, that’s right, not enough demand.

The Fairtrade organisation only give a certification. You don’t need to pay initially, so you don’t lose out before you’ve found your buyers but you do then have to find your market. It’s two separate entities. But those buyers then guarantee to come back and buy a specific amount year on year. If you think your farms are going to produce more, you can go back and ask if they’ll buy more… but they might not be able to find a big enough market for that amount of fairtrade coffee.

“Oh, that’s funny Rebs, cos Starbucks told me that there isn’t enough speciality fair trade coffee for it to stock it?”

Well, yes, it is isn’t it, because I have asked and asked and checked my language and checked it again and the fact of the matter is that there is coffee being produced by Fairtrade certified farms in Nicaragua that has to be sold on the ´normal´ market. However all these organisations still think its worth having the certification, even with these percentages - as its far more than just a guarantee of price.

There are other certifications, and projects. In a way, this is good – people here are able to sell speciality coffee at a good price and have a relationship with the buyer. On the other hand, it´s becoming confusing for the farmer and I still think that some – like Starbucks´ Cafe Practices – are a greenwash. They make you pay upfront, they don´t guarantee to come back and buy, and they don’t guarantee a price. And that’s the difference, Fairtrade does.

I found someone that seems to agree with this opinion… and she’s trawled through some weighty documents to back it up.


So. When you are next in Starbucks buying your Fairtrade coffee ask them why they’re making you look like a prat having to demand it especially. And when they start with their stock answer about there not being enough say PIFFLE. There is Fairtrade coffee sitting here waiting to be bought.

Please comment if I've got any of this wrong adn you are more knowledgabe than me, once again - it's all from speaking to people in Spanish... eeek!

28 Jun 2008

Coffee 4: The Union

When I was in Jinotega the other day, as well as talking to a singing policeman I found out a bit about Soppexcca. They are a union of 18 Coffee Cooperatives, and every one of their 600 small farms is Fairtrade. This is one of them that also has rooms for tourists and coffee tours...

The premium they get by selling their crop to organisations that buy Fairtrade goes on: schools, uniforms, roads, health projects, the infrastructure of their coffee mill. That other farms without certification in the area benefit from all these things is no bad thing in the eyes of the manager – she sees it as good motivation for the other farmers to join eventually. The farmers in their union of cooperatives also don´t have a problem this year even though the price is lower in the ´normal´ market: they’ve been selling Fairtrade for 6 years and the farmers understand the concepts behind it. The union have done workshops and produced information about the benefits, and the obligations. I've got a great little booklet they produced for the farmers, it's useful for my spanish too...! This general education is no mean feat when you imagine that a large chunk of those 600 farms will be relying on those local buses I´ve talked about for transport, they’re all spread far and wide around the department of Jinotega, up dirt tracks and the sides of old volcanoes, and their main type of work is agriculture and not sitting around chatting about quality standards.

But Soppexcca are only able to sell about 80% of their coffee Fairtrade. And that’s a good percentage from what I’ve found, some organisations are as low as 20%. So you work to get the certificate, you pay to keep it year on year, and yet you don’t get that much-needed social premium money back on 100% of your produce. There just aren´t the people buying Fairtrade... so it has to get sold on the normal market.

Here's their website.. More coffee soon!


24 Jun 2008

A Dam and a Singing Policeman

Jinotega has a BIG lake with a power plant at the end of it to make electiricity for about 60% of Nicaragua. Or something. We went to find the plant on Sunday, but ended up at a Dam instead....
which was still incredibly exciting as they were building a great big new one too.
We arrived just as the workers were wandering off shift, so we found out a bit about it but not where on earth the money was coming from. It's near a little pueblo called Asturias, so we wandered in to find some coffee. I don't think they're use to visitors - they refused to charge us. So we had to buy peanuts from their little shop cos we felt bad. That´s not the way to fleece the tourists guys!!

And on the way home, we got a ride in a truck before the bus had a chance to arrive, and shared it with this young chap. (looks like 2 different members of the village people eh?).

A very earnest trainee policeman on his way to Managua, with a bit of English that he wanted to practice, who assured me he was the honest type of policeman and not the other kind. He then announced that he writes songs, and throught the bumps and the wind sang us a very romantic ballad about stars reflecting in eyes, and something about the moon. aaaah.

Coffee 3: A bit about Fairtrade

“The Fairtrade inspectors don´t check every farm and they ask the cooperative workers where they should go... round here the farms are quite bad with environmental targets but the checkers always get taken to the good farms.”

“Our Cooperative has had a Fairtrade certificate since 2005. We are checked every year.
Prohibitions include toxic substances and water contamination: you have to have a clean farm. We do know when the inspectors are coming, but they decide which farms they go to”

"There are still too many middle men"

There are more than two sides to every story aren’t there. I’ve talked to unions of coffee co-ops, co-ops, farmers, coffee cuppers and I’ve even read a book. The facts are that coffee plants produce only once a year, picking is labour intensive for a short period, the processing is many-stepped and fiddly, and life is basic for any coffee farmer here. The opinions are harder to pin down.

One cooperative I spoke to are passionate about the Fairtrade certificate, and even more so despite the current climate where the price on the normal market is actually above the fair trade price. I’ve encountered a lot of short term thinking here in Nicaragua, and this is another example. When you have a Fairtrade certificate you are guaranteed trade year on year, and the price won´t go down. But it doesn´t go up either. So when the price is lower, farmers are sometimes more interested in taking their chances on the normal market. The co-operative is encouraging their farmers to look at the longer term picture involving guaranteed trade and money to spend on education, health etc.

This co-op is spending its Fairtrade premium on supporting the “Casa Materna” – a small building in Yali housing mothers-to-be who are just about to drop their sprogs, meaning its easier for them to stay healthy and be kept an eye on.

That's Mariel in the background, a groovee Peace Corps volunteer who also lives and works in Yali and is incredibly understanding when I have one of my characteristic flip outs.

The Casa Materna means it´s then easier for the women to get to hospital in Jinotega (still 2 hours away) when the time comes. That's the ambulance there, just outside my house.

The co-op have also built bus shelters, useful when rain is heavy and times are vague: they all leave on time, but who can say who or what they’ll have to pick up on the way.

This is also the cooperative that was working on the Beneficio (coffee mill) right at the beginning of my trip that is planning to reuse or recycle all its water, and use the gaseous waste from their composting husks to power the plant. They are hoping to provide 60%of their power in this way next year. Here's a skanky pool of the old water from cleaning the coffee, and then a picture of the mechanism to clean it.

16 Jun 2008

This one will get me noticed...

A philosophical musing on the subject of energy.

I’m reading this book. It’s bloody good and I’d recommend it to anyone – including you Grandad, there’s a part in it that made me think of you. (Revenge of Gaia - link on the left). Among other things, it talks clearly about the different energy options we have and our relationship to electricity. On Saturday, I had a timely reminder of my relationship with it when I was meant to be teaching 2 computer classes and “no hay luz” – no electricity from 3 am until the afternoon. That was quite a long one, but every week in some way or another we have an outage and I’m starting to understand: just how much we take for granted, how we feel in control over our energy, and how it affects a nation’s psyche – You can’t hold anyone to anything, and with good reason frankly. Constant outages lead to this feeling of impotence and lack of control – you never know when, or how long. And when the water goes too that’s when you start to feel they’re doing it on purpose…

I’ll be honest, I’ve been surprised thus far that the blog’s not been head hunted by the Guardian and I’ve not been offered all sorts of money for serialising my experiences… isn’t that what happens with blogs? I reckon this one’s the clincher though. I’ll let you know

The Bus.

I have become more aware of what people are saying these days. First sign was when I heard on the radio in a taxi that a chicken bomb had exploded somewhere in Nicaragua. I checked with the guy, but yes, I wasn’t hearing things. I think I cam across a little surprised, so the guy started explaining how sometimes people hide explosives in things when they want to make a bomb ‘escondido’. Yup, I’m aware of that concept, I’m from London I just think that our terrorists have moved beyond the size of a chicken already. Perhaps the size of a cow.

And then on the same day, after hopping off taxi into bus,I finally was able to understand the majority of what Bible Guy had to say as he had our rapt attention waiting for the bus to leave. “Brothers I wish you are having a very pleasant journey here on this day today. Esteemed brothers and sisters please spare a moment of your time to listen to the word of God… As it says in the bible chapter blah verse blah…” and up behind him comes a tough looking woman wearing an apron and holding a big bucket shouting “Enchiladas Enchiladas Enchiladas…” Bible Guy barely misses a beat and continues reading from his battered leather tome as she sells her wares. And we the passengers get food: for the belly and for the soul. If we pay.

Many people have been far more brazen in their travels than me (surprise surprise) so if you put “nicaragua bus” in YouTube you can see their offerings and get more of a feel than simply my words. If you are bored in your constant- internet-constant-electricity lives! Actually.... Lets create a little link on the left hand side shall we... Hey Presto.

12 Jun 2008

T Shirts

This has been brewing for a while but what i saw this week takes the biscuit!

When I first got here I kept catching sight of diminutive Nica girls and women who looked like they wouldn’t say boo to a goose, sporting t-shirts with really brash English phrases emblazoned on them... Yes I am good in bed... I’m the best – forget the rest... Don’t Touch... I can only please one person a day etc... After a while I became certain that they had no idea what these t-shirts said, and then I noticed that there are hundreds of second-hand clothes shops in Nicaragua. Hundreds. Too many for it just to be the discarded garments of Nicaraguans... it all comes from the US, seconds and goodwill. Hence the brash phrases. But the funniest, this week in little old Yali – Stop Staring – take a picture it lasts longer. On a fairly wizened old crone who was staring at me!!!

Obviously some people have worked out that some of these slogans might not be something they want to be associated with, cos when I was in a shop in Matagalpa a while ago i was approached by a respectable looking lady who asked me to translate a t-shirt. "Chocolate makes me smile". She explained that she wanted to buy it for work and didn’t want to offend.

And - yet more - at the time of going to press I had just seen the trainee priest wearing a picture of two moose and the slogan "Nice Rack".

10 Jun 2008

Mushrooms of the Skin

There has been a bit of dissent re: no pictures of me on a horse. Let me tell you it's pretty difficult to take a picture of yourself wading through rivers or mounting a horse, and everyone else is sort of busy living their lives and stuff. But here is a picture of me standing near a horse. I think the wading and the resulting waterlogged welly situation has been the final straw for my "mushrooms of the skin" - another great example of spanish word-conservation that I found on my athlete´s foot cream packet...

and here are pictures of me enjoying a party, not the most original I know as you've seen me enjoying parties before but it is in the cafe/bar/hostel that I stay in in Esteli and here's a nice aerial shot too to give you a feel. It was Juanita's 40th birthday... and Elmo had a great time.

6 Jun 2008

Some Farm Action

Thankfully something interesting happened! So I can feed the blog monster. I thought I’d include the previous to show the mundane nature of many of my days, but luckily today had a bit of what you all like – the mounting of horses, the crossing of roaring rivers on foot, the arms-up-a-cow’s-arse type of day. And I’ve got photos of it all! Gustavo – coordinator of education project, but actually a vet, has a farm a bit outside Yali. He had a few things to do there, mostly involving cows, and was happy as larry to take me especially as he’d like a few pictures of his farm. Most of the track to the farm is not good for motorbikes, so the plan was to leave it in the main carretera. A good job, as we ran out of petrol just as we got to the turn off… (that problem was dealt with much later, and by then I’d hopped on a bus back!)

The guy who works on his farm was waiting with a horse, so we took it in turns being on the horse, or being the one wading through newly-swelled rivers on foot. And on the way back we also shared the horse with a trussed up chicken, who had to wait until Yali to be put out of its misery. Nice… You can just make her out from the red bits on the right of the horse on this picture…

In between the river wading there was milking of cows… (all by hand in these parts, the calf is away from its mother a bit before milking and then gets used to start mum off, but then stays with her some of the day)…

the checking of cow’s innards…

the injecting of cows to make them more likely to get pregnant… (this resulted in some quite annoyed cows so they had to be trussed up to a tree for the event. They had good reason to be livid)…

and meeting a baby.

Aaaaah. And all on my neice’s birthday!!! Happy Birthday Kate.


Hmmm. What can I tell you. Esteli continues to be a place where I eat good food and speak English, Yali continues to be a place where I come to terms with small town living and attempt to impart computer knowledge. Regadio continues to be a place where I periodically teach English. I have drawn a little map for anyone who has lost track of where things are…

There you go. All clear now? What else can I say…

I went for a little walk the other day up the road out of Yali and took a few pictures, the view is pretty good…

And then I took one of Yali from above.

Also I took a picture of the little prang that happened right outside

my house the other day, it made me think of London as both guys in this terribly macho country got out of their old banger cars and laughed big belly laughs about the whole thing, No road rage here! And, yes, one car does say pride in english on the side. And one car does have a transfer of a horse. It’s not the best picture as I was being surreptitious.

And that's about the size of it!