Buenos noche from the beautiful Isla Ometepe!I am beyond thankful to say that I have spent the past three days on Ometepe, the largest island of Lake Nicaragua. After completing two weeks of work, my friends and I spent a four day vacation exploring Nicaragua. We spent our first day at the Lagoon de Apoyo - a lagoon which formed in the crater of a errupted volcano over 23,000 years ago. The volcano is now dormant with certain volcanic activity still present in a few hot springs. The lagoon was beyond enticing and- after a day of swimming and kayaking- refreshing...an oasis from the relentless Granada heat. The lagoon's water was only deep blues- clear yet seemingly dark due to its depth over 5 miles deep. Rachel, Nicole,and I spent the day kayaking along its 6 km coast line and swimming to different coves throughout the lagoon.The following day, after a morning spending time at our site and meeting with two adminstrators of the Nicaragua Christian Academy, we began our journey to Isla Ometepe. And a journey it was: Beginning at the bus terminal in Granada, we made our way to Massaya on a bus filled beyond capacity- people sitting with cargo on the roof, women selling chicken, eggs, and sweet treats along the way (evening tossing items through the windows at stops along the highway). After switching buses along the highway we made our way to San Jorge- a port on the southern coast of Lake Nicaragua- to catch a ferry to Ometepe. And when I say ferry I mean boat- it was a wet and rocky ride as we made our way through ceaseless waves and daunting monsoon rains. Upon arrival, we took a taxi two hours to the coast along the Volcano Maderas- only rocky dirt roads and farms for miles. We arrived at our beautiful eco-farm and lodge- Finca Mystica- just in time for a delicious dinner of vegetable curry.Finca Mystica is owned by a couple originally from the States who have now lived in Nicaragua for over seven years and have been working in the community at the base of the Volcano Maderas while developing their hotel business at Finca Mystica. The ecolodge is largely self sustaining with all food grown directly on site. And the food sure was delicious. Called Roots and Fruits Cafe, it was definitely my place with whole made dark chocolates and curry popcorn for snacks; vegetarian dishes from rice and bean burgers on homemade bread to delish beet salad; and endless fresh fruit- mango, banana, white pineapple, and papaya (lets just say I did not want to leave).
We spent the night in a cabin for six, quickly falling asleep to the sound of light rain, howler monkeys, geccos, and a numerity of insects. We had no idea what awaited us with a planned trip to hike the volcano on which we slept the next morning.
Up early we began our day with delicious coffee and fresh papaya and banana grown and made from the property and began our 7 hour hike up Volcano Maderas. It wad amazing to see and explore the various biospheres as we hiked from 300 to 4000 feet. As we neared the top the temperature drastically cooled and the ground we were hiking consisted of only mud and immense tree roots and trunks... we were literally climbing through the tree canopy at the volcano peak. After a re-energizing picnic lunch looking down at the crater lagoon, we hiked our way back down Maderas. Sliding through mud and relying on every tree branch possible to get down the treacherous slope, it was a physical and mental challenge for sure. We spent the rest of the day in recovery lounging in hammocks and catching up on good books at our ecolodge. One of the best days of our time in Nicaragya yet.
During our final day on Ometepe, Nicole, Rachel, and I were off on another adventure horseback riding and hiking to San Juan waterfall. Flashbacks to the days riding at Pompositticut Farm- we even cantered our way home. The rest of the day was spent at the beach swimming to cool off from the island heat. And of course we celebrated our last night on Ometepe with locally made vegetables burritos and Nicaraguan Flora de Cana straight up on the rocks. Swinging on hammocks and playing charades with the ecolodge owners, the night was one to remember.
Up and at em at 6 the next morning, we made our back to the colorful, awaiting city of Granada excited to begin the second half of our trip with our client Charles. The rest of our time will be hard work for sure but we are beyond ready to move forward in the design process and get back on the ground exploring El Pantanal and supporting GCEC's visions for the community here.
Hello everyone from Granada, Nicaragua!I cannot believe I am already two weeks into my adventure abroad in Central America. After a week of design work and acclamation to a new country, my exciting time with Hannah in the beautiful country of Costa Rica feels like ages ago. After a blissful stay in Puerto Viejo, Hannah and I said our goodbyes to the Carribean and made our way back to the city of San Jose by bus. We luckily arrived just in time for our departures delayed by les avalanchas de lodos (mudslides) directly outside of the city - not your typical traffic backup. Hannah made her way back to Boston for a busy summer of work at MIT while I met my friend Aaron (also spending sometime in Costa) to catch a bus north to the country of Nicaragua for a month of design work in Granada. Aaron and I along with three other UVA architecture students have been given the opportunity to design a school for GCEC, the Granada Christian Education Center, for a barrio in the outskirts of Granada-El Pantanal. The project was initiated by UVA Professor Anselmo Canfora under the organization Initiative reCOVER in September 2013. Initiative reCOVER is a program which was established to assist disaster recovery efforts and underserved populations through partnerships with humanitarian, community-based organizations and professional firms and manufacturers. In October 2013 our team applied for and was awarded the Jefferson Public Citizens Grant which provided us the funds to both travel and design for GCEC in Granada this summer. Throughout this past spring semester Aaron, Rachel, Nicole, William, and I have been working directly with our client and have produced a preliminary schematic design including a larger masterplan for a site in the barrio El Pantanal. The site will ultimately include a primary and secondary school, teacher and volunteer housing, a market and trade school, recreational fields, and agriculture. Currently, the communiuty of El Pantanal consists of over 800 children with limited or no access to primary education. Throughout Nicaragua only 65 percent of those fortunate enough to attend primary school continue to secondary school. GCEC currently works in the city of Granada and throughout Pantanal through community-based initiatives included various ministries, feeding programs, job training and addiction recovery, and youth-oriented education programs and hopes to establish a stable educational foundation for the wellbeing of the El Pantanal youth. After an 8 hour venture from Costa, Aaron and I arrived in the colorful energetic city of Granada. Deep sea blues, warm sumset oranges and pinks, and tropical greens and yellows color the large adobe walls of Granada residents. The now historical colonial Spanish architecture is only a backdrop to the color, life, energy, and neverending work of Nicaraguans. Behind fluorescent adobe, iron gate, and padlock, residents live outside in open-air courtyard spaces, exposed to the city streets as the cool night air draws people out to relax and socialize on their steps. We quickly became oriented with the city streets- learning the ways of the Nicas- oriented by Volcano Mombacho to the South, the glistening Lake Nicaragua to the east, the rolling hills to the west and the Cathédrale at the center. The following morning after a delicious Nicaraguan breakfast of gallo pinto, mango, and coffee and church at GCEC's ministry El Puente Aaron and I were joined by the rest of our design team Rachel, Nicole, and William. We spent the rest of our Sunday in the central plaza and ended the evening with a delicious meal at our client Sarah's home.
This past week our team has had various meetings and interviews with local contractors and builders; local Nicaraguan teachers and GCEC teachers from the US; students attending the GCEC ministry, El Puente; and other residents in the city. We also spent a considerable time exploring our site and getting to know the neighborhood of El Pantanal. Our site sits at the base of Volcano Mombacho with a beautiful view of Lake Nicaragua to the east. Currently only a large open air pavilion made of local eucalyptus wood and traditional red roof clay tiles sits on our site. Three immense arroyos- dried river beds- surround the pavilion rich with wildlife from rattle snakes and scorpions to horses and the neighborhood dogs of El Pantanal. Mango trees, Tamarind trees, Eucalyptus, Palm and soaring Saber trees cover our site. Such abundance of nature provides numerous opportunities for an education immersed in an understanding and appreciation for one's surrounding but also a huge design challenge to thoughtfully create an architecture responsive and interactive with nature.
Consistent winds from the lake, the relentless sun, and a wet season of heavy rains provide an abundance of passive energy design opportunities. We strive to keep the school "off the grid" through use of natural ventilation and lighting and small scale technolgies that will be intelligently placed on site such as solar panels to power and pump the water well, dry composting latrine toilets, etc.
As you can tell this is an unreal project for us all - especially the thought of seeing our design be constructed over the next few years. We have jumped into this week and this project with all of our hearts -I am inspired by my team members daily for their hardwork and passion. I think it is rooted in the people here in Granada and El Pantanal and the clear potential for development in this country, development that is largely founded in the youth of Nicaragua and the education they receive.