Watermelon weaving monkeys? Huh, what? Sorry...it just amused me to leave out the commas. While Wednesday, March 16, did indeed bring us watermelons, weaving, and monkeys, they were totally unrelated.
Before I get to any of those things, however, I have to share the delight of early morning at Laguna de Apoyo, our home for just one lone night. Someday, I'm going to live in a place where I can get up and go for an outdoor swim (ocean or lake, I don't care) and let the rising sun dry my skin. Much to my surprise, I couldn't convince Rowan to get out of bed for a dip before breakfast. Poor child, this is what she missed:
Before we left, however, I did get her to catch a ride with me up to the upper terrace of the resort to see the oro pendulum birds (Psarocolius montezuma). I would assume the oro comes from their gold tails, and the pendulum part should be obvious given their nest shapes. I didn't get a great shot of the birds themselves, but the nests are fascinating.
After breakfast we were on the road again to continue our rolling tour of Nicaragua. First stop: Masaya. Our original itinerary didn't include Masaya, but the group had expressed an interest in the town's famous market, so Anne and Nohelia figured out a way to accommodate us. If I understood correctly, there are actually two markets. The older one has become mostly a tourist market, while the newer is the one for locals who actually need real stuff. We headed to the newer market.
Like most Latin American local markets, Masaya's was a warren of paths and stalls crowded with a wild assortment of colorful...everything. We only had about 45 minutes there, but that was more than long enough for Rowan to be totally overwhelmed by the profusion of stuff, the heat, and the novelty of it all. I would have enjoyed it if we hadn't been so rushed, and if we hadn't had to exit the market where we entered. If we'd just been wandering on our own it wouldn't have mattered where we entered and exited; eventually we'd have found our way back to familiar territory. As it was, we followed Nohelia around because she'd promised to find Rowan a bathroom, something she never did. She did, however, find a ukulele for her nephew, and Rowan and I found purses to buy, as well as crazy things I would never have imagined existed anywhere, let alone a Nicaraguan market.
Back on the bus to catch our breath after this brief race through the market. It wasn't long before we made another unexpected stop, this time to gorge on sandías, fresh watermelons. A great deal of Nicaragua's produce is exported to other Central American countries and the U.S. These watermelons, the ones not sold right here on the roadside to hungry locals, were headed to Miami. We saved them the shipping costs on half a dozen.
As we wandered around gawking at the mountains of watermelons and taking pictures, one of two armed guards always shadowed us at a distance. With shipping trucks coming to pick up loads, I have to assume a fair bit of money was exchanging hands. The guards were likely warranted, although all we were interested in was making pigs of ourselves. As Rowan said, "Every bite has as much flavor as a whole watermelon at home!" They rivaled the termites for my favorite meal in Nicaragua.
Finally satiated, we continued on our way to one of our planned stops - the Telares de Tejedoras weaving studio in El Chile. I failed at note taking while we were there, but the basics are that this cooperative weaving studio, currently belonging to nine local women, was started 30 years ago by a woman from Argentina who had worked there to revive traditional weaving customs. If I remember correctly, one of the things that Samosa did while he was in power was forbid locals from spinning yarn and weaving cloth (sounds more than a bit like India, no?). Let's see, that would have been in the 1960s or 70s, and the co-op was started in about 1985, so there were likely some women still around who remembered how to spin and weave. The women we spoke with were among the early founders of the co-op, but they weren't nearly old enough to have been weavers from before Samosa.
The older women encourage younger women to join them (the ones below are 14 and 19), a task that was probably made both easier and harder by their success.
We asked the two women (in the first photo above) lots of questions about how the co-op had changed their lives as women in a small village. They both agreed that it brought them a lot of freedom and independence, but that their husbands sometimes suffered ridicule from the other men in the village for not maintaining control over their wives. I have to think the benefits far outweighed any embarrassment. The women said the co-op was a "dream for work and life." The nine women agreed on dreams they wanted to achieve, and then worked and saved until they could attain them. One dream was for their families to travel, specifically to see the ocean, so each year the group picked a destination and they all traveled together with their families on a short vacation. I wonder what the rest of the village residents thought of their intrepidness.
Of course there was shopping, but I was disappointed in the products the women made. The used commercially spun and dyed yarns from El Salvador to weave cotton cloth of their own designs, and then mostly sewed various sorts of bags. I thought they could have used some advice on marketable products, especially since their passport bag was too small to hold a passport. I bought a couple of little pouches, but wasn't inspired to get anything else. I found the products of a similar co-op in Peru to be much more interesting.
And we were off again, this time to take a hike in the hills above Matagalpa. It was another steep, rocky climb, but well worth it.
The vistas were spectacular, and I even got Rowan, against her will, to smile for a picture with me. Our constant companions, as they were throughout Nicaragua, were vultures. Nohelia said they weren't turkey vultures, but a few minutes of research tells me that there are two types of vultures in Nicaragua, turkey and black. From what I read about them and my memories and photos, I think they probably were turkey vultures. Regardless, I wasn't alone in telling them to go away - we weren't quite dead yet.
By far the best part of the hike was on the way down. It was starting to trend toward dusk, and a howler monkey troop chose to join us for our hike. Of course, they were swinging with ease from tree to tree, not stumbling on the ground while gawking at fellow primates. I was more in love than ever with my Nikon DSLR camera with its 18-200 mm zoom lens. I took dozens of photos to get even a few that were decent, but that's more than I'd have ever gotten with my little point-and-shoot. It's the best I could do without carrying a bigger lens and the tripod it would require. I'll make do with this one, thank you very much. I was also able to use it to record the grunting chorus of the monkeys as they called to each other. I meant to scare Thane by playing it in bed one night, but I never got around to it.
As a final "treat" before we retired to Matagalpa for the night, Nohelia cut a cocoa pod off of a tree and sliced it open. We sucked the pulp off the seeds. It was sweet and inoffensive, but nothing worth eating again. Unfortunately, the seeds require a lot of processing before they become our beloved chocolate.
Okay, to be honest, my favorite part of the evening involved teasing Rowan, always a favorite pastime for me. On our way to our hotel, Alejandro stopped the bus so we could give a watermelon to his son, Alex. Alex stepped onto the bus long enough to wave and say hello. He's a very cute 16-year-old, so I of course told Rowan that Alejandro and I were going to hook the two of them up. She wasn't amused. Alejandro and I had talked about our kids, as best we could given my Spanish language limitations, a few evenings earlier at dinner. He has two sons, the other is 8-yo. Alex is in his final year of high school and will be going to university in Matagalpa next year. That seemed awfully young to me, but I don't know how their education system compares to ours. I also thought Alex looked very young, but I noticed that all of the young teens we met seemed physically so much younger than Rowan. The youngest weaver in the photos above is another example. I'd be interested to know why they're physically less mature, but then, not all American 14-year-olds look like Rowan either. Regardless, for the rest of the trip I kept reminding Rowan that she was betrothed to Alex and would have to live in Nicaragua from now on. Again, she was not amused.