Monday, March 30, 2009

Chillin´ Out Max & Relaxin´All Cool

We have been having lots of fun here in Ocotal, but it has mostly been a lot of time just kickin it on Heleen and David´s patio. The guidebook says Ocotal is relatively ugly (much to Heleen´s horror and hurt feelings because she loves it here), but I guess it`s just compared to the rest of Nicaragua because it is still really nice here. After our night of socializing and a next day of relaxing and sleeping, the 3 of us, Christian, Chris and I went on this "hike" that Heleen had suggested where we took a bus into this town and walked from there along a dirt road straight uphill for an hour just to go to what we thought was a little coffee shop, but turned out to be a busstop/wooden shack that sold cookies and coffee. It was a hot hike, but not so bad, and I didn´t really understand the point until the owner, Jaime, was asking why we were there (since we sat on the bench and let the bus pass) or what we came for. We told him we´d come just to come, so he basically said, "well come back here then and I´ll show you this" (in Spanish) and it turned out the reason Heleen knew him was that the NGO where she is working down here, called UNAG had helped him become a sustainable farmer 8 years ago. They taught him, and other people in the area, how to install irrigation systems, water sisterns, fish ponds, plant fruit trees, sugar cane, grape vines on overhead trellises to shade the other plants, avocado, coffee, lemons, and all sorts of stuff all arranged interconnectedly in a pretty small area. Jaime was super nice and explained things over and over until we got them (apparently I don´t speak Northern Nicaraguan Spanish because I´ve barely understood anything since Ciudad Dario). He chopped us sugar cane to take home and gave us a whole backpack full of lemons, and it was really cool to see how sustainable he is. His whole family went from struggling by growing the typical beans and corn to sell, on pretty infertile soil, and starving from it, to being completely able to live off food from their land and the extra bit they get from selling cookies and coffee to the bus passengers is just gravy. So that was really interesting. We got to wade in the river on the way back just upstream from women washing clothes in the stream and little naked, brown kids jumping in the pools. Then, the next day we went for a hike with Heleen (this one significantly more intense because you wouldn´t know it by looking at her but Heleen is super tough and die-hard about hikes). We walked through mountains on a dirt road down to the Rio Coco, which is the longest river in Central America but during the dry season it´s pretty much a stream in a lot of places, so we got our feet exfoliated in warm sand and were having a nice stroll until we came out of the river to go UP the mountains; Heleen still adamantly insists that it was only 3 hills, but it was actually 3 mountains that are so steep I´m surprised we didn´t need rockclimbing eqipment, that are tempered with short, little flat or downhill part so that you just barely recover your breath and spirit before the next nearly vertical part. Thank God we got a ride on the way down because my knees would´ve snapped like twigs. She also said it was only a 6 hr hike but it was already at 8 hours when we got picked up, so as sweet as she is in almost every way, you can´t believe a word she says about hikes.
It´s so great here in general because we really like Heleen and David, we can cook in the kitchen, and we have a room with a bed, so the only bad thing is the other Couchsurfer, Chris, who is this insipid Australian who smells like BO and will ruin the flow of every conversation with some nasally off-topic interjection, but que sera sera. The last day before leaving Ocotal we rode 2 buses to Somoto Canyon, which is this awesome place where the Rio Coco, the same river we were at the other day but a very different part of it, had carved out this huge canyon for miles and miles. Tourists just "discovered" it in 2003, and since then the price has significantly increased each year to a whopping $5 per person now (we bargained this down to $5 total, of course) and had 2 guides to walk us down through farms and across the river on stones, twice, then into a rowboat to get us to the place where we could ride on innertubes through the deep parts and climb over rocks in the shallow parts. The guides were trying to lead us down the whole river, but we didn´t think that would´ve been as much fun, so they got us to the tubes and I rode in the tube with the bag on my lap and Christian swam and pushed me. It was absolutely amazing! Just thousands of years of erosion through all different types of rocks and landscapes, and we´re just hanging out and talking, and then after a few hours, we turned around and went back out the way we came. It was definitely the most beautiful thing we´d seen around Ocotal, and then the next morning we said our goodbyes and headed out, which I´ll tell you about next time.

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Chuchi - this is probably my new most popular word. It means snobby or fancy, but is used in the Peace Corps as anything nicer than dirt roads and shacks, or for a person, anyone who showers with hot water. Living in the city, I am super chuchi for here.

Fuerte - literally means strong, but because the culture is based on talking around everything, it´s when a person says anything they want in a direct way - it means asshole

Puede ser and otro dia - literally means "could be" or "another day", but because noone will directly blow someone off, both of them mean "never" and are the answer to a question of when something will happen

Deseas, en tus sueños, Que Arriba Perra/o and Es lo qué es - these are the terrible translations of American sayings that are not used here and don´t really translate, but we say them anyway. Literally they mean "you wish", "in your dreams", "What´s up bitch/dog?" and "it is what it is"

Qué guapa - this means "what a hard worker" and is used by Paraguayans every time I do ANYTHING manual, including carrying a dish to the sink or sweeping out my room. I don´t think they have high expectations for Americans and work.

Saludos - sending saludos by way of a mutual friend is how people tell each other they have a crush on them. The most serious kinds are given with a pinch on the arm and they mean business.

Thumbs up - this is done everywhere here and is a simple answer to pretty much any question. I will probably have carpal tunel in my thumbs when I leave here because I do this so much.

No se como comer esta - this is how one refuses food in Paraguay. Literally, it´s "I don´t know how to eat this" which creates an internal struggle for me each time it´s said because I want to be a smartass and explain that, just like any other food, you put in in your mouth and chew, but I don´t think that´s acceptable here.

No Más and Un poco - this is said after almost every phrase for no real reason other than to make everything sound like it´s not a big deal, even when it really is. Literally, it´s "No More" and "A Little", so the translations are something like "Sit down no more", "Come here a little", and "Do you want dinner no more?"

Cocido - this is a hot drink mixed by carmellizing sugar with a little yerba, adding just enough water to wet it, and then adding more sugar. It´s served by the thermos-full just before bed.

Mosto - this is to sugar what crack is to cocaine. It´s a "tradional" drink capable of putting even the sweetest tooth into a diabetic coma, and is served continuously at fun gatherings like funerals.

Ch-ch-ch-ch - this is the sound Paraguayans make to get each others´attention - like "Psst" . It´s especially used for catcalling, and they have nothing to follow it with - they just want you to look.