December 20, 2014: Day 8 by Pat

Posted by Lauren Rochholz on Wednesday, January 14, 2015 at 4:05 PM PST

How can this be our last full day in Nicaragua? We are off early for a day of discovery in our host country. We start in the city of Masaya, an old city in the Pueblo Blancos at the base of the Volcan Masaya. It is famous for its craft marketplace. Our NPH guide Rina, son Jonathan and our driver drop us off in the midst of the ancient market for one hour of shopping. It's a scramble to get Christmas gifts in such a short time, but our day has been cut a bit short we must scurry to keep on track. The market is framed by an old stone structure giving it the appearance of an abandoned fortress, even while the fabrics inside fill the interior with tropical effusions. Quite a contrast!

From Masaya we drive in a climb up the side of the volcano, then down the interior to Laguna de Aboya. Our destination is the Casa de la Abuela, "grandma's house", a picturesque getaway on the shore of the caldera lake where we will have lunch. As we dine "al fresco", a small squall blows over the swimmers in the fresh-water lake. Of course, being used to Pacific Northwest weather, we are not intimidated by the weather and our group jumps into the water, heading for the raft. It was an idyllic setting and a fascinating glimpse of the origins of the breathtaking environment in this volcanic land. And we can't get enough of the totones, plaintain chips and fresh fish.


We drive back up to the rim of the volcano and slip down to the road, heading east for Granada on Lake Nicaragua aka Lago Cochibalca. Granada has a varied past as the "sometimes capital" of Nicaragua, alternating with Leon when the opposing parties seized control of the country. It is filled with bright yellow colonial buildings, complete with Spanish style iron work in the windows, a stunning cathedral and a very active central plaza. From the plaza we head to boats on the shore of the enormous freshwater lake and an exploration of the isletas, small single-home islands for the wealthiest Nicaraguans. The scattering of properties is beautiful and the profusion of egrets, gallino del agua, monkeys, etc. is stunning. The tropical foliage and astounding size of the lake leave us all speechless. We talk with our guides about concerns regarding the transnational canal that the Chinese are building which will cross this, the largest freshwater lake in Central America. It is a lively and informative discussion, particularly with our civil engineering students in the mix!


We have little time left as we return to the shore. We had hoped to have dinner in Granada but have been invited to a farewell dinner by the pequenos back in Jinotepe. On the way we plan to buy many gallons of ice cream for the festivities. We do a bit more sightseeing in town before hitting the grocery store for "helado" or as the pequenos call it, "Eskimo". When we arrive at our NPH home, we drop the ice cream in the freezer, run home to grab our bowls and spoons, and zip to the girls' casas for a belated dinner, two by two, as always. They are patiently waiting for us, even though we are nearly 1 hour late. After dinner we walk together with our new families to the ranchon where we are nudged into front row seats for a special presentation in our honor. The pequenos present local folklorico dances. When 3 7-year old boys, dressed as campesinos riding broomstick horses, approach our group, Meech, Olivia and Sara are pulled to their feet and join in the dance. We are now officially part of this family! Colin announces that we have brought "Eskimo" and we begin to spoon out the icy treat. It is the end of another amazingly rich day. As we walk back to the visitor's house under the vast, starry sky, all is indeed good with the world. We retire to our rooms to continue our packing, but drift back in fits and starts to the kitchen tables to talk quietly and enjoy each other's company.

In the morning we rise to the sound of firework explosions and a band marking the beginning of the celebration of Padre Wasson's birthday. 60 years ago this priest founded the first of the 9 NPH homes, offering a safe, family environment for children. We are here to celebrate his life. The Mass includes baptisms for 2 babies of NPH graduates - a fitting testimony to the man whose vision created these family homes. As we say goodbye to our new friends, I think we all become aware of how much this experience has shaped us. We brought many presents and we built a much needed wall, but leave with so much more than we brought. We have become a part of these lives in this remarkable land. So blessed!

Written by: Pat Whitney, staff