Canadian Chicas Arrive in Pearl Lagoon

Written by : Catherine Wilson

We have just celebrated 3 weeks of being in Nicaragua. Time sure does fly by! We are all settled in at Casa Ulrich, in Pearl Lagoon which will be our home for the next 5 months. A lot has happened in the past 3 weeks but here is a recap:

After arriving in Managua we took a small bush-plane out to Bluefields, the closest city to Pearl Lagoon. The plane ride was a bit scary at first, as we accelerated down the run-way getting closer and closer to the end. At the last moment, the wheels lifted off the ground and butterflies flew in my stomach. It was a beautiful plan ride to Bluefields, the biggest town nearest Pearl Lagoon. The trees looked like broccoli and shiny tin roofs scattered the landscape. It’s amazing to see one tiny house amongst a forest of trees. We flew over Lake Managua. Nicaragua is known as the Land of Lakes and Volcanoes. It has the two largest fresh water lakes in Central America, Lake Nicaragua and Lake Managua and surrounding these lakes are numerous volcanoes.

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Plane to Bluefields

We landed in Bluefields and checked into a hotel (with AC, yay!). We were supposed to go straight to Pearl Lagoon, but some of our luggage was put onto another flight because it was overweight. The flight that was supposed to bring our luggage was delayed and since we needed to take out Cordobas (Nicaraguan currency) we decided to head out to Pearl Lagoon the next day. The airport officials told us our luggage would arrive at 3:30, the last flight of the day. We went out for a beautiful lunch on a patio looking out onto the lagoon. It was my first real meal after two days of eating plane food. We visited FADCANIC and met Hazel, the woman who is in charge of all the projects, including the one we will be working on, MyBEST. She was very friendly and welcoming. We then walked around Bluefields to run some errands. The humidity is crazy over here! As soon as you step out into the sunlight you can feel your flesh burn.

3:30 came around so I headed back to the airport with Sandra, the woman from FADCANIC who picked us up at the airport.  When we arrived at the airport, we waited for the last flight to come in, which of course was delayed. And low and behold, three pieces of luggage came out of the plane, none of them ours. Apparently they’ll be sent out tomorrow morning on the first flight out of Managua….

The next morning Steph and I headed to the airport at 8:30 to check to see if our luggage had finally arrived… it had not. Luckily Steph speaks fluent Spanish and was able to talk to the woman in charge. She promised it was on the next flight out of Managua because that flight was reserved just to bring peoples luggage. There were some tired and frustrated looking foreigners who were also waiting for their luggage.

We went out for breakfast at Los Popitas. When we were doing our pre-departure training at Pueblito, we had a guest speaker come in from Nicaragua, Miguel, and he told us his mom owns Los Popitas! It was delicious. We had scrambled eggs with ham and cheese, rice and beans, avocado (my fav!) and toast. A typical Nicca breakfast.

Finally we managed to get our luggage, around 11, and then headed to FADCANIC, where we loaded our luggage and ourselves onto a panga (speed boat). The boat was able to fit everyone and everything but I kept having visions of my big suitcase flying off, sinking to the bottom of the lagoon. Luckily we all arrived in one piece. The boat ride was beautiful. It reminded me of the scene in Pocahontas, where she is paddling down the narrow river with trees and bushes on either side. We passed some other panga’s carrying people and we saw many fishing boats. An hour and a bit later we arrived in Pearl Lagoon!

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FADCANIC’s Panga

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The beautiful ride to Pearl Lagoon

We’ve been trying to get into a routine of early morning runs. However we’ve been slacking because of all the rain. During our first week, three of us went out for a run. We headed out at 6:30, trying to beat the early morning heat (we know go at 5:30 to get to work for 8). We mapped out a 5km route, and even though we didn’t run the full 5km today we’re going to build up to it. Half-way through our run, the road was washed out and on either side was a swamp. He ran through it and could see small fish swimming on either side. We crossed over a bridge where women from surrounding villages had come to wash their clothes, and kids were jumping off the bridge into the brown, murky water. We were pretty close to jumping in for a nice refreshing dip, but opted for a shower instead.

Our first day of week was shortly after arriving in Pearl Lagoon (July 3). We woke up bright and early at 5:30, trying to coordinate our shower schedule (6 girls with 1 bathroom – we later found 3 more bathrooms however so all is good!). The other four interns who were here before us picked us up at Casa Ulrich and we walked to PLACE (Pearl Lagoon Academy for Excellence) where we will be mainly working. I have noticed that the pace here is very slow – not like the hustle and bustle of North America where people are so focused on getting to work and doing what needs to be done. Perhaps it’s because of the heat, but I find myself walking very slowly, taking in my surroundings. I’ve turned into one of those people who I hate walking behind on the busy streets of Toronto.

We met our supervisors, Ms Lelsie and Ms Alfreda, who took us to each classroom to introduce us. There were kindergarten classes, all the way up to grade 11. I must have said “Hello, I’m Catherine” about 20 times. There weren’t many kids in the classrooms because all the students who are doing well get to go on vacation this week and next. The students who are slower learners stay back this week and then go on vacation next week. We are all very excited to do some classroom observations and start working with the teachers!

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Walking to work

On Saturday July 6, a meeting was held where the Minister of National Policies, Paul Oquis talked to the surrounding communities of Pearl Lagoon about the construction of a Canal that the Chinese want to build. There has been no confirmed place where the Canal would go through, but it would most likely go through the Lagoon. They were going to build it along the Costa Rican border but they had issues with it. The talk given by Mr. Oquis was very one-sided and stressed the economic development that the Canal would bring to Nicaragua. However, the Chinese are going to own it and therefore it’s hard to say where the money generated from the Canal is actually going to go. Apparently countries are building huge freighters which are called the Post-Panamax and they are too big to go through the Panama Canal. Building a canal through Nicaragua would allow these ships to pass, and, since Nicaragua is closer to the states it’s going to save on shipping time. The people sounded like they thought the Canal was a good idea for Nicaragua as a whole but were concerned about how it would affect their daily lives. Mr. Oquis never mentioned if people would be compensated for the loss of their homes, or where they would be displaced too. It’ll be very interesting to see what happens. I cannot imagine Pearl Lagoon turning into a construction site and seeing huge freighters passing by. It’s sad to think that it might happen.

July is Nicaragua’s rainy season. When we first arrived, there would be downpours which lasted maybe 20 minutes and then the hot sun would come back. For the past week it has been dark and gloomy with ominous storm clouds lurking above. The rain comes down sideways as heavy gusts of wind whip around. From Fred’s patio, overlooking the lagoon, you can see the rain far off in the distance coming closer. Black tiny sail boats sailing off in the distance get devoured into the rain as it moves closer inland. Children are still out collecting shrimps and crabs and play happily as they too disappear into the rain. It’s like Stephen King’s book The Mist (except no creepy monsters have come out – yet). The lightening and thunder are incredible over here. At night there’s a lot of heat lightning which lights up the whole of the Lagoon. Loud claps of thunder pierce through the sky and with that the electricity usually goes out. Fortunately the power outages aren’t too long. The worst time for an outage is during the night or in the early morning because my fan shuts off and the humidity envelops me.

The interns and I joined a volleyball team 2 weeks ago. We played outdoors in the Recreational Centre. It’s a beautiful fenced in area with swings and slides, picnic tables, an ice-cream stand and a sandy/grassy volleyball court marked off with string. Our coach, Denis, is really enthusiastic. Every time the other team was serving he’d yell at us “Defense, defense!” There were some new rules that we weren’t aware of. To begin the play, the reff bounced the ball off the ground and into our court. We had no idea what was happening and watched it fall to the ground. Ooops. Also, at one point, the ball came soaring high above us and knocked off a tree before falling into our court. Point for them. Apparently trees are in the game too. After losing our first two sets our coach shook his head. “Man, you girls need some practice!” Yes, yes we do.

Our second game was a lot better! We lost our first set, no surprise there.  On our second set we were losing 24-16.  Our coach called a time out and gave us a pep talk. “You got to love the ball. Don’t hit the ball because the ball will not like you. You got to love the ball and the ball will love you”. Got it, Coach! Miraculously, we were able to come back and won our second and third set! Phew! There are 5 teams in the league and we play against them twice, and then the eliminations start. Wish us luck!

We took a panga into Bluefields over the weekend (July 20) to get money out and do some shopping. The panga ride was pretty exciting. There was about 25 people squeezed into this one small boat. I was sitting in the back where I was told that it wouldn’t be too much of a bumpy ride. It was fine until the rain came down. A tarp was thrown over us and we had to hold it down as rain pelted down onto us. Pools of it would collect on the tarp making it pretty heavy on top of us. Flashes of lighting went off around us as we zoomed to Bluefields. It was quite exciting. We got off the boat and my legs were a bit shaky and my arms were sore from holding the tarp. Despite the tarp, I still got pretty soaked. Our shopping day was fun and we got a lot of errands done.

I’ve been enjoying my time here so far and look forward to new adventures, new experiences and meeting new people!

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