February 29, 2016

The Lovely Beaches - Recap

This post should have been up in the beginning of 2016, but better late than never.  We made it our goal to head to the ocean on a monthly basis in 2015.  We love living close to the sea and know that this is a once in a lifetime opportunity.  While it took some planning and effort, we were able to enjoy the ocean each month.  We visited a total of twenty-two beaches in this last year.  Seriously, Nicaragua never ceases to amaze us.


Playa Masachapa – with our MCC co-workers


Playa Jiquilillo at Sunset - notice the moon


Playa Mathilda – camping on the shore for $5, yes please!


Playa Mathilda – Kevin’s favorite swim beach


Playa Gigante


Playa La Redonda


Playa La Redonda


Playa Colorado


Playa Colorado – with our friend Sharon

Playa Popoyo


Playa Majagual – photo taken by Jodi Sunderman


Playa Majagual – photo taken by Jodi Sunderman



Playa Pochomil


Playa Masachapa featuring Miss Casey.  We planned a special day with our neighbors, piled up in a truck and headed to the beach.  It was an wonderful day together, the kids enjoyed swimming and the adults enjoyed the shade.  I was reminded at the difference between my beach expectations and those of my neighbors.  The first thing that they did when we arrived was find shade and I don’t think they ever left.  The above picture of Casey features the thirty seconds that she was in the sun (for the purpose of the picture).  For the rest of the day, she was on her mom’s lap.  She was not allowed to play in the sand or put her toes in the water.  Again, different expectations, not bad, just different.



I (Cassie) was up in the U.S. for a couple of weeks in May.  While visiting friends and family in Los Angeles, we made a visit to Huntington Beach.


And as I headed north a bit further, I was able to visit the beautiful pacific shore of Washington State.


Laguna de Apoyo


Kevin is going to cheat for the month of May.  Unfortunately, he was not able to make it to the ocean.  But we did head to Laguna de Apoyo, which is an extended crater in a form of an inverted cone, in the middle of the long volcanic chain here in Nicaragua.  The natural beauty of this lagoon, along with the flora and fauna and the calm and clean water makes it one of our favorite places to spend a day at in Nicaragua.

It has always been a goal of ours to swim across this lagoon.  On the lovely Sunday when we visited, we went for a long swim, about a couple of hours and realized that we were nowhere close to even crossing the lake.  It might be a bigger feat that we can handle, but it is still on our list.


In June, we were fortunate to welcome two MCC couples that we previously worked with in Nicaragua.  Marisa, Adam, Nate and Liz came to Nicaragua for the month of June.  We spent a few days together visiting some of our favorite Nicaraguan beaches and also checking out some new ones.  It was lovely!


Playa Popoyo


Playa Popoyo


Playa Amarilla


Playa Colorado


Playa Coco


Playa Ocotal


In the month of July we headed to some nearby beaches of Managua, they are about an hour from our home.  We spent an afternoon exploring a couple of new beaches and then spent the night camping on the beach.  We met a generous family who offered us a spot on their beachfront property.  We had a great night sleeping next to the crashing waves.


Los Cajones


Los Cajones


Costa Azul


Playa Quizalá


Playa Pochomil – a view from our tent!


Playa Pochomil


We were not sure if we would make it to the beach in August.  It was a busy month with the start of new jobs, but on the very last weekend, some friends invited us to go to Los Cardones at Playa San Diego for the day.  It was a relaxing day and the beach was absolutely lovely, it is only an hour from our front door.


Playa San Diego


Playa San Diego


Playa San Diego


In September we headed to the ocean during the Independence Day break.  We spent three wonderfully relaxing days camping on the beach.  Here are a few of my favorite spots from that weekend.


Playa Majagual


Playa Mathilda


Playa Hermosa - where Survivor Nicaragua was filmed


In October we headed back to Playa San Diego, which is about an hour from Managua.  It was Estela’s first time to the beach and my parents were here for a visit from Minnesota, so we took advantage of living close to the ocean and spent a day there.  We mostly enjoyed watching Estela see the beautiful ocean for her very first time, watching her get dirty in the sand and brave the waves with Kevin.  It was a glorious day.


Playa San Diego


On a random Thursday in November, Estela and I decided to pack up and go to the beach.  We visited some new beaches to us which are about an hours drive from Managua.  We had an amazing day together, playing in the water, being pushed over by the waves and building sandcastles.


Playa Casares


Playa Casares – a rocky fishing beach


Playa Casares


Playa Huehuete


Playa Huehuete


Playa Boquita


December was a crazy month, with a wedding in Colorado, finishing a semester at school, moving across town, hmmm, what else?  We decided to head to the beach on New Year’s Eve, nothing like fulfilling our resolution on the very last day possible.  We loved our afternoon hanging out at Los Cardones.


Playa San Diego

That was our year of beach experiences.  Each time it was a delight to put our feet in the sand and play in the waves.  We hope to keep up this practice of beaching in 2016.

February 22, 2016


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In the 1950´s following the revolution that took place in Cuba many large landowners left the island to follow their capitalistic dreams. They brought very little with them as they were escaping political persecution and economic change. However, many of them brought sacks of seeds in the hopes of finding the perfect climate and soil to plant their beloved tobacco. For this reason, the majority of the Cubans who came would eventually settle in the small mountain town of Estelí in northern Nicaragua due to it richly phosphorized clay soil.

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Today Estelí is considered a mecca for the cigar connoisseur as the Cuban population continues to grow the Nicaraguan industry of tobacco. The landscape is littered with advertisements, plantations, factories and shops offering the second-best cigar in the world grown from Cuban seed (of course the Cubans are more than willing to give the mother-land the prestigious recognition of still being the world leader). For this reason thousands of people come to Nicaragua each year simply to visit the still growing industry.

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Cassie and I have enjoyed getting to know the process of cigar making, from the seed to the final product. While I was studying Spanish and working in a pulperia (your local corner store) across from the world famous Padron factory I was even invited to try my hand at rolling in their factory. Each day the workers would walk over smelling of sweet tobacco to buy bread and soda during the breaks. I would talk to them and eventually rolled a cigar which fell apart.

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The process of cigar creation begins with the germination of a tiny seed spread over small planters in large clumps. After the plants have grown they are then replanted into rows in large fields. It is similar to you growing tomatoes at home. Instead of putting the seed directly into your garden you are forced to start the seed and then transfer the seedling when it will be able to survive in the climate it needs to eventually thrive. The plants are then watered and weeded and eventually the leaves are picked in stages of readiness. Of course the majority of this is done all by hand (although we have seen oxen used to plow the fields). The leaves are then dried for up to a year. Farmers and factories then work to meld the flavors of various seeds to create a master blend of tobacco for each plantation and their world renowned cigars. Once the blend has been identified the cigars are then hand-rolled as thousands of Nicaraguans fill the factories six days a week preparing the final product.

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If I had to sum up the process in a word I would say it is intensive. It is also a large creator of jobs as the tobacco industry is almost completely non-mechanized. However, these jobs do not allow the majority of the workers to earn even a livable wage in return for their very labor intensive work. It has been an eye-opening experience to get to know a new agricultural endeavor so different from the bean and corn fields of northwest Iowa. The fact that so much labor is needed to go into production (similar to that of coffee or chocolate) has provided us with another appreciation for one of the many things that so many of us take for granted in our ever complexing world.

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