Days 2 & 3
On Saturday we left the hostel early to visit El Najo, the "n" has the tilde over it, because they dug a community garden with the help of a U.K. NGO, Nuevas Esperanzas. Before we left Leon we picked up Enrique, the Extension Agent for Nuevas Esperanzas and Javier's tutor, and Mike Richardson, a Nebraskan native who was a founder in the urban organic garden movement in San Fran in the 60s. We would pick up Javier closer to our destination.
In the recent past, Nuevas has sponsored the building of several domestic rainwater harvesting tanks. The tanks generally hold 10,000 gallons which is enough to last one family for the 4 month dry season if they ration conservatively. Since Dr. Tara, Eddie, and Maggie visited a nearby town of El Ojochal del Liston last year, they were very interested to see the garden, composting area, and rain tanks in this village. The drive took 2 hours from Leon, but we only had to walk a short distance at the end. The path was steep, narrow, and perilous if you intended to walk quickly. Let's just say "rocks"; there were tons of rocks. El Najo appears to be small at first sight, like many mountain towns, but as you wander through the woods and brush, you stumble upon another house, or corn field, or pasture. We stopped first at the house of a leading lady in El Najo. She and several other neighboring women joined us to show how they were taught to build compositing piles. I say pile because they do not use composting bins, they cut stakes and hammer them into the ground to mark a meter by meter space for the compost. (Side note: the program specifically teaches the women of the community to garden because they are the main presence in the kitchen. This way women can provide a more diverse and nutritious diet for their families.)
Here are the steps in order:
Broke the ground for better aeration.
Water said ground. (In all the steps with water, neither drench nor sprinkle. A nice soak is plentiful.)
Arrange a layer of elbow to wrist length thin sticks on the ground so the area is fully covered.
Layer of dried cow manure that has been flayed so it is able to spread without clots. Also good for its nutrients.
Green leaves from black beans bcause of their nitrogen levels.
Layer of earth.
Dried plantain or banana leaves for their potassium.
Repeat process minus long sticks. After their second earth layer, they switched to finer sticks and straw.
It was extremely dusty because there wasn't as much rain in October and November as normal. I really want to make a compost pile according to their methods because my house is in the woods and I have been hesitant to start a pile with leftovers because of skunks, foxes, and deer. This was a nice alternative. You can also find more information on the Action Ecology website, has Spanish and English directions, for composting.
Enrique told us that you repeat the process, adding stake to horizontally to hold it in place, until it is about waist high. Rotate the once every week and it should be fully decomposed after 3 months of airing. Remember, their climate is radically different than the Eastern Seaboard, so keep that in mind if you want to attempt one here.
After we finished composting we ate before hiking up to the garden. It was great-green beans, radishes (which they dislike but use for nutrients), peppers, and sorghum used to distract aphids from the vegetables. I did find some aphids on a bean plants which they then pinched off. It was heartening to see the strides the women have made with Enrique's guidance. Javier has learned so much here, as well. He sees the benefits of expanding your diet, seed saving, drip irrigation, and building trellises-which he did.
Picture of Javier (Enrique assisting but not pictured) setting up Bean trellises below on left:
Besides having the help of Enrique, who was trained in the Urkaine in Horticulture, the villagers rely on Luke, a Nuevas representative from Wisconsin! He speaks fluent Spanish and travels frequently to the nearby villages to oversee projects.
When we finished in the garden we hiked down the other side of the mountain and had a spectacular view of the Nicaraguan mountains. We drove back to Leon, washed, swam, and relaxed before we went to a restaurant in Leon that offered dishes from around the world. I had their take on vegetarian curry, not too spicy but very delicious! Then it was bed and that, too, was glorious.
Day 3, Sunday.
Twas a day of touring the city of Leon, hearing more about the history pre Revolution and post. I think the last time I read about the Nicaraguan, and largely Central American revoltions, it was in high school so my knowledge had large gaps. What I did know, and it still rang true, was the history is sad and violent. I recommend learning more about our involvement in Nicaragua and the despotism of the Somoza years. It may not make for light reading, but it's something you should know about.
One a lighter note, we visited seveal plazas associated with the student protests of the Somoza regime, founders in the revolutionary movement, the gorgeous Leon Cathedral, the Museum of Myths and Legends, and then we left. We waited until Mass finished and then we were allowed to walk up into the Belltower of the Cathedral to take pictures. It was so COOOOOOOOOL! And loud. The post mass ringing of the bells was happening and I thought I saw blood running out my ears. Joke, but it sure felt like my ear drums gave up. Then we walked on the roof and looked over all Leon, you could see all the volcanos surrounding Leon, including the famous Momotombo.
The Museum of Myths and Legends was a tricky experience. It was a former Somoza run jail where Sandinista rebels were thrown in with common criminals, but a couple years ago a Leon resident bought it and restored it as this museum. She really loved the rich culture of ancient Nicaragua plus the culture that developed with the arrival of the conquistadors. However, because of the jail's past she acknowledged the horrors that took place with paintings of the torture on the wall. It wasn't pleasant and seemed almost farcical that you could walk into a room with giant mannequins representing ghosts or giants and walk outside and see a man being electrocuted in a well.
We left Leon after that and headed west for twenty five minutes to the Pacific shoreline. It was absolutely gorgeous. A lot of tourism takes place here so it has many quaint hostals and hotels with the traditional thatched roofing. We ate lunch looking out onto a small bay where children played, parents waded, and dogs peeded. We didn't go in. We did order a boat and visted the mangrove forest!!!! Which I will highly recommend and say you should come to Nicaragua specifically to see both shorelines and this amazing 22 kilometer reserve. So many birds!! Great Egret, Little Egret, Ibises, three types of Heron including the Green Heron, I SAW A PYGMY KINGFISHER OMGITWASSOTINYANDCUTEANDGREEEEEEEEEEN!!! We also disturbed some nocturnal spoonbills and a weird looking one that I forget. And oh, no big deal, we saw a miniature alligator. Some may call them caimans, but I shall call them "Bitey." They looked like this:
Mark leaned out over the boat edge and almost made Tara have a "Mom" moment.
Our guides were two young boys from the shore town who really knew their flora and fauna. They were seeing things that I really couldn't even place. It took three iguana sightings before I could see one. We were super impressed with the guys and I want to go back next year.
After our two hour tour by boat and a brief stop at the secluded beach where we swam, we returned and watched the sunset from our restaurant. No words.
It was a great way to finish out a day that started with a weighty topic. I was grateful we had this break to learn more about the culture, history, and beauty of Nicaragua. It helped me associate more positive images when I think of the country and other Central American countries. It is sad to think that we rarely hear good things coming from this region, mostly stories of corruption and violence. But I will be a proponent of the profound natural beauty you can encounter all over Nicaragua. You simply have to go yourself to experience it!
Next week I will submit my last post focusing on our trip to Javier's home town, Talolinga!