Friday, June 28, 2013

Day 6

On our last full day in Nicaragua, we went to several locations. First, we went to the Mombacho Volcano. There, some of our group decided to ride in the back of a truck and a few were in the inside of the truck. The temperature drop hits you almost instantly. The wind starts to pick up and the atmosphere gets thinner. Halfway up, we had some local coffee and wow, was it delicious. I’m not a big fan of coffee but there was something magical about the coffee we had. After, we hooped back onto the truck and arrived at a higher area of Mombacho.

The following picture is of a crack through Mombacho, which created a tunnel. This is picture is when you look up.

Goofball self taking a picture of all of us! Notice the mist behind the rest of the gang. 

When we finally made it to the top, it felt as though we left Nicaragua. Everything was foggy and the winds were incredibly strong. I never would have imagined being in a tropical rainforest so high up. It was amazing. The echoes of the native monkeys, along with the screeches of birds allowed for a magnificent orchestra of nature and mystery. We walked through a trail that was about a mile and despite the fact that we couldn’t really see anything from afar because of the thick clouds surrounding the top portions of Mombacho. As we were walking through the forest, we kept running into this tour guide, who happened to live in NY for a while and towards the end of our self guided tour (he was guiding a couple), he introduced us to what I think was the coolest thing ever. He brought us over to this hole and we put our hand in front of the entrance of the hole and we could feel the warm steam from Mombacho. He then took us to a bigger hole nearby. This hole was probably five feet in diameter and with the amount of steam that came out, Dr. Sama could have dried her hair. After the intangible experience, we were headed down Mombacho.

We all rode in the back of an industrial truck and with us were a bunch of teenage Nicaraguans and few other Americans. Truthfully, I enjoyed the consensus of this trip down being like a rollercoaster, so I chimed in each time we went down a steep curve with a “WOOOOOOO!!” Along with the excitement created, I was able to engage in conversation with the Nicaraguan woman next to me. Out of all places, it turns out she lived in the same community were Jon Thompson is located, Atolla. After a few questions about one another, we finally parted ways and then we were off to Volcano Masaya. Before getting to Masaya, we had a brief lunch and took a few pictures.

Masaya was breathtaking. The contrast between Mombacho and Masaya are great. Masaya is an active volcano in Nicaragua and around Masaya: molten rock and ash and Mombacho a tropical forest. Getting to an open creator of the volcano was relatively easy. I was a bit weary by the signs advising cars to park facing away from the volcano, in case Masaya were to erupt. The smoke here was very visible and it’s a long drop to the lava, hidden away by the smoke and depth of the crater. The sight was beyond surreal. A small wall with the exception of a small area bordered some of the volcano; where you get the best view you could possibly get of the seemingly endless hole.  After a few pictures and goofball antics, we made our way back to Managua.

Wonderful sight of the inside of the open creator.

Another picture of the open creator.

Dr. Sama and Co. running for their lives.

Before going back to the hotel for our last dinner in Nicaragua, we made a stop in the old Managua, the Managua that was pretty much destroyed by the earthquake back in 1972. One could see what now is the parliament building. Before the earthquake, it was the national bank and was the only building to fully withstand the earthquake. Along with its endurance, it is also the tallest building in Managua, soaring 13 stories high. We drove by and we ended up at the old church, which was also next to the national assembly.

Building that survived the earthquake. 

The old cathedral in Managua. It is blocked off and guarded due to the possibility of the cathedral collapsing.  

Afterward, we went to Lake Managua, where we briefly stopped by in the beginning. We hung out for a bit, realizing that this was our last full day in Nicaragua. 

Friday, June 7, 2013

Day 5

This day felt like it was two days with the amount of objectives we completed and the amount of traveling we did. We enjoyed a wonderful breakfast at the Hotel Colonial, where we stayed the night. Then we were off to Managua again. We arrived at Hotel La Pyramide after an hour or so of driving to drop off our bags and then we went to Agora Partnerships.

We arrived at Agora and met Veronica Castro, one of the Agora associates. She introduced us to THRIIVE, one of the Agora Projects. This was probably one of the most distinct projects out of the whole batch of microfinance institutions and non-profit organizations in Nicaragua. THRIIVE aimed to aid small businesses (Businesses that are usually family run or around 6-10 employees). THRIIVE gives out loans that are specifically going to be used for equipment. Once that equipment has been purchased, the AGORA associates go to the businesses that are near and in Managua and inspect the business, the equipment, and the business owner. It was quite a twist in the type of work; we were expecting similarities between Agora and other microfinance institutions. Nevertheless, it was an interesting concept and soon after, we parted ways with Veronica and left to drop by on Global Partnerships.

We had a fiasco trying to find the right building that was home to Global Partnerships in Nicaragua. Once that was all settled, the whole team greeted us and we were served lunched. After our meal and brief introductions on our behalf, they took the floor. My goodness, the accomplishments and the actual research they’ve done, incredible. Global Partnerships is has a presence in 9 different countries throughout Central and South America with a grand total of 25.5 million dollars throughout both of these areas. They are a NGO, which invest in microfinance institutions, and these institutions also have other roles or services that make them dynamic and eligible for investment. These guys knew what they were talking about and were extremely pleased with the mission of GLOBE and also expressed joy in the fact that the students were able to be in the field. I was truly impressed by this group and after they answered a few questions in regards to the location of their current funds, we were on our way to the community where the Daughters of charity were.

We arrived at the school where the Daughters served and we didn’t know what to expect. The Daughters and roughly 18 women, curious and ready to ask us questions, greeted us. At first, I thought that perhaps this was a class that ended and the women were hanging out. Then we were told that they were the group of women who the daughters believed would benefit from a microloan. After a formal introduction, we were bombarded by questions from all directions. Among the questions asked, interest was a worrisome topic for some of the women. No one wants to enter a life of infinite debt. Along with the topic of interest, these women had already given lots of thought about what they would use a loan for. Among with small businesses, such as a bookstore that would also have school supplies and a mini-market with homemade artisan crafts. There were other ideas to improve living as well. For instance, there was a group of women who didn’t have a home to live. As a result, they could band together and obtain a group loan for a living environment and they already know each other relatively well, so why not?

These women were very friendly and at first seemed skeptical about our intentions. They were really curious as to why the interest rate was so low and what actually occurred to the interested rate. We kept reassuring that our intention was to aid them with the loan and that GLOBE kept the interest and repayment within the community. I kept explaining that GLOBE wasn’t here to send loan sharks after them and after repeating that a few times, I finally was able to sit down and really get to know some of the women.

Another women, who had an idea of what kind of business she wanted to start, had cancer. Her and her daughter had been selling homemade crafts and some goodies to help the cancer struck woman with her treatment. She sometimes even has to fly to Mexico in order to have medical treatment and I can imagine how costly that can be. I don’t even fly to Mexico; I have to drive to go. So this woman would really benefit from it. For her and her daughters sake; she is just 16 so the daughter can learn how to manage the business and support the family as well.

I really enjoyed this part of our trip. Just getting to hang out and really know what kind of lives everyone is living. One of the women, who had the idea of the bookstore, explained her reasoning for the bookstore. She mentioned that in her part of town, there weren’t any stores that sold school supplies or books. No one felt motivated to go to school because materials were a little hard to come by. She also explained that she recently gave birth, so she wouldn’t be able to work. Having her own business would be beneficial because she would be able to stay at home and be ab to run according to her own schedule. She then explained how everyone was just trying to get by. Some more chitchat and curiosity from the women about my background, we were given a few snacks and a delicious mango. We then were shown around the school and then on our way.

P.S. I didn’t have a chance to take pictures of this day because of it’s hectic nature. Cheers.