El Ojo de Agua, Isla de Ometepe

One of our first stops when arriving on this island was for a dip in the clean, majestical water of El Ojo de Agua.

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Relaxing under a tropical forest, sipping coconut water (laced with Flor de Cana rum if you so wish!) and taking a dip in volcanic water………..our favourite chill out, well who wouldn’t enjoy it? ……..This is El Ojo de Agua (The eye of the water). This tranquil natural swimming hole with crystal clear water is continually renewed by the underwater spring from Volcan Maderas. This place is paradise, along as you don’t go during local holidays or on the weekend! It is the perfect place to unwind after hiking one of the two volcanoes, kayaking the Rio Istiam or trekking San Ramon waterfall.

Our sons are true to their astrological sign, not only in being wise and intuitive but most definitely in the fact that they are a water sign, Pisces. Since coming to Nicaragua they have both thrived in the water and take every opportunity to get in the water, whether it be in the ocean, lake or a river we have to fight to get them out. Ojo de Agua is a favourite place for them and holds some great memories, not just with our children but also with many friends we have met since coming here.

Boys in the lake
It is a great place to cool down in the heat of the sun, but be sure to go on a sunny day as the water is very refreshing and if it is cloudy you will get cold, something that has happened to us a few times! There is a rope swing for the big kids as well as previously having a slack line across the pool. Hopefully it returns, because whether you want to have a go or watch others attempt it, it provides great entertainment.


The family run nature reserve is a great place to spot local wildlife as well as taking a trek through the forest, enjoying a bike ride or having a meal in the restaurant. The place has started to have some much-needed renovation, which includes new toilet facilities, I hope a new shower block is next on the list!

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Picture courtesy of : http://life-of–animals.blogspot.com/2011/11/howler-monkey.html?m=1

Whilst spending time in the pool we were fortunate to see monkeys in the tree directly above us, Howler monkeys, if you visit Nicaragua you will soon get to know their trademark call. There is also a resident terrapin who lives in the pool, although we failed to spot him on our last visit.

There are so many magical places on this special island, which will be another topic and another blog, and El Ojo de Agua is just one of them……….. but be sure to stop off if you visit Isla de Ometepe… you most definitely should!

House progress: part 2

It’s been longer than I wanted since our last blog…… trying to edit videos, not being a tech wizard and now knowing that our laptop does not have enough memory and needing to buy more means I am currently limited to what videos I can add.

*Getting more memory here in Nicaragua is not as easy as just buying it on Ebay …… the postal service is not great, import tax is expensive and most people do not even have a postal address!

Any way back to the subject at hand our house ……… Punta Gorda is beautiful, but a remote place to build a house, it requires commitment, determination and team work!

The outer posts were in place and the structure of our house is starting to become a reality! This whole process is a constant learning experience for us, we have never built our own house and having to learn another language at the same time makes it a challenge, but it is all part of our dream and we are doing all we can to make our dream a reality, so here is the next phase of our house build!

It is important for us to use sustainable materials and materials that can be acquired from the property and local community as much possible. We needed a centre post, this was harvested on the property and took 10 men to carry it to the house, navigating through the plantain palms in 35 degree heat and most importantly avoiding the petroglyph, an ancient stone carving, (You can see it briefly in the video below) of which there are many on the island and this one right by where our house will be!

Once there it needed to be erected!

Beams were placed for the next level of the house and then it was time to get muddy!

We are building the ground floor walls with adobe (mudbricks in spanish). The material is a mixture of soil, water and an organic material such as straw, the soil composition typically contains sand, silt and clay. The good news was the soil on the land was great for creating this mixture!

What’s the difference between adobe and cob you ask? Well adobe is building with bricks formed with mud, straw and water and cob is freehand building with the same mixture…so it’s all down to the technique used.

The holes were dug, the soil mixed with the straw and the water gradually added to gain the right consistency, whilst getting your feet dirty to trample the mixture. Obviously there was no need for encouragement on the part of our two boys to get in and do their bit!

 

boys in the mud

Once the mixture was ready, the bricks were created using a frame made from wood to create four bricks at a time and we had two frames. It took around 10 days to make the quantity required and then dried under banana palms to minimise cracking from direct sun.

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Using adobe mixture again for bonding when forming the walls gave the boys another excuse to get in the mud! The process of building the walls was completed in around four days and they required a spraying of water twice a day to prevent them drying out too fast and cracking.

We need to apply additional adobe to the walls and this technique also allows for great creativity and we have plans to complete the house with an artisticfinish! Once done it will be plastered in ‘Cal’ lime mortar to protect it from the rain.

To be continued……………

Toilet ….the essentials!

We all use them… The toilet, lavatory, bathroom, restroom, dunny, loo…. same s%#t, different names right!

We want to build a compost toilet and plan to in the future, but unfortunately Bodhi had an experience on a compost toilet that, for the time being at least, means he simply refuses to use one. The one he used had worms in to help the composting process and it wasn’t deep enough….they were climbing out of the toilet! We have tried encouraging him on others and he will simply refuse, so hopefully when we build the next ones, he will be a little older and understand that not all composting toilets have worms crawling out!!!

So, we decided we would build a common toilet construction here in Nicaragua, the dry long drop toilet. It’s always an external building, away from the house and is ecologically friendly, ensuring that only natural (human waste) is put down the toilet!

After deciding on the area we were to build the toilet, the first job was started….more digging! The hole needed to be around 3-4 meters deep and 2m by 2m wide (for two cubicles), a very labour intensive job smashing and removing rocks! We had a fatality during this job……..a rat, it fell to it’s death overnight!

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Now the hole was ready it required a concrete surround, to take the weight of the concrete slab cover, unfortunately not sustainable but at the present time necessary. The posts for the structure, all salvaged from the property, where also put in place.

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Once the slab was in place, the toilet bases were created using rebars with concrete to create the shape.

The boys trying out the toilets for size!

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Dan has used the toilet (yes I know what you all were thinking, don’t think I need to explain how it’s used!) to practise the reciprocal roof technique, which we want to implement on the main house. Using bamboo for this process makes it sustainable and attractive.

For his first attempt at building this roof, I think he done a great job! What do you think?

Reciprocal roof

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reciprocal_frame

We need to now complete the walls, using the wattle and daub technique and complete the roof with the traditional hand palms.

To be continued…………

 

Being part of the change

We are trying to make a difference in Nicaragua, your donations would help us to help others. Nicaragua is suffering at the moment under political issues and the tourism industry has been hit hard. All donations will enable us to continue to support the local community, employ local people and work towards a more sustainable future. Many thank you’s in advance!

$2.00

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bamboo harvesting and curing …. the process!

We are using bamboo for some of our posts on the upper floors and for the cladding to mention just a couple of our planned uses, bamboo is a great material with so many possible applications.

For us to have longevity from it, it must be cured, the most environmentally friendly option for us was Borax …… a trip off the island was in order, as Managua is the only place to purchase it!

First job…harvesting the bamboo! Around 5kms from the site is a farm that grows bamboo and we took a visit. The farm has some amazing views to top off the visit!

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Dan returned when the moon was in the right phase for harvesting and along with the team cut down the required amount.

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Now the next job was to transport the bamboo to the land….. most efficient mode of transport…boat! You can see Dan enjoyed the ride…….

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So we have the bamboo and now to dig a trench, around 6 meters long and around roughly 1.5 meters deep to to create a pool to cure it. More hard labour for Dan and the team……

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Lined with black plastic and a temporary shelter of palm leaves and taurpuline to keep the sun off and the bamboo curing pool was ready to go! Before immersing the bamboo in the solution all the nodes must be punctured to ensure the solution reaches all areas. The bamboo must be immersed in the borax solution for a minimum of a week to ensure absorption in to all the meat within!

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No swimming in this pool!

This job took a while to complete, but it is worth while to resist insects and ensure the longevity of the bamboo. Once the bamboo is removed and dried out for around a week in the sun, it’s ready to use.

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Being part of the change

We are trying to make a difference in Nicaragua, your donations would help us to help others. Nicaragua is suffering at the moment under political issues and the tourism industry has been hit hard. All donations will enable us to continue to support the local community, employ local people and work towards a more sustainable future. Many thank you’s in advance!

$2.00

 

 

House progress: Part 1 – Starting the project

We need a house!

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So having decided to go ahead with the project, the first job is to decide where to build our house and clear the land. Employing 4 local men to help, Dan set about clearing the area with machetes, a very useful and extremely common tool used. It is far from uncommon to see people and even children walking around with a machete attached to them! Dan struggled to keep up, these guys have grown up wielding a machete and there was also the fact that their machetes were longer than the one Dan had purchased, school boy error his machete was suitable for opening coconuts but not for clearing land! Hard labour in a hot climate of 35degrees +!

This picture shows the machetes they were using and the larger one Dan eventually bought, his small one is not in the picture!

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Once the land was clear it needed to be levelled out…….moving many volcanic rocks and earth to have a good solid foundation and flat surrounding area for the house. This took around 2 weeks of manual labour!

Moving rocks and the view of Lake Nicaragua!

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The ground was ready for us to dig the holes that will have the 8 posts for our round house. Another labour intensive job, 8 holes, a meter deep and dealing with rock not far below the ground made it had going!

The foundations with a view of Volcan Maderas in the background!

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The posts were all salvaged from fallen trees on the property, initially chainsawed in to rough 2 by 4’s and then planed into a useable state.

Snapshot - 8.pngPost number 1! These needed to be secured with concrete and then a  narrow concrete surround circles the house for the adobe walls to be laid on as this will be a 3 storey home.

The start of our house has begun……….

Being part of the change

We are trying to make a difference in Nicaragua, your donations would help us to help others. Nicaragua is suffering at the moment under political issues and the tourism industry has been hit hard. All donations will enable us to continue to support the local community, employ local people and work towards a more sustainable future. Many thank you’s in advance!

$2.00

Vedder’s 5th birthday ziplining adventure in San Juan Del Sur

Travelling down the pacific coast we headed for San Juan Del Sur, a coastal town with a huge expat community. The town itself was not a huge draw for us, it is a backpacker haven and has a reputation as Nicaragua’s party town….. we wanted to explore the beaches surrounding San Juan.

Our first stop, Playa El Ramanzo 8km south of San Juan Del Sur, popular beach with surfing packages from San Juan Del Sur for beginners. There are just two restaurants on the beach and limited parking, we stayed for two nights between the two restaurants with an amazing ocean view from our overlander tent!

Vedder had his first surfing experience and loved it, after standing up on his first attempt!

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We then moved on and stayed a few nights at a campsite just outside San Juan Del Sur and whilst there Dan took Vedder for his 5th  birthday treat……. Ziplining! They went with Da’ flying frog Adventure tour company, 17 ziplines covering 2.6kms and Vedder couldn’t remove the smile from his face…….. Actually I’m still not sure who enjoyed it more Vedder or Dan! A great adventure for the young and old……..

http://www.daflyingfrog.com/

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Flying through the air, like a bird, great views on a thrilling ride! When I ask Vedder about his experience he used one word ‘AWESOME!’ Hopefully, one day, we can all do it  when Bodhi is big enough!

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We carried on heading a little north from San Juan to Playa Maderas, a beautiful beach and surfing hotspot. There is a hostel right on the beach called ‘Tres hermanos’ (three brothers)  and two other restaurants. Set back from the beach slightly is a campsite, the facilities are basic but adequate, there is a small restaurant and bar here too. When we visited for the second time it was under new management and we are unsure of the name, but we paid $10 a night and were the only people there well other than our alarm call in the morning….Howler monkeys, can you see them? So if you fancy camping at Playa Maderas, just rock up!

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Staying at Playa Maderas gives you a great opportunity to enjoy the beach and surf in peace and quiet before the shuttles start arriving from mid morning bringing many people from San Juan Del Sur!

Also you get to see the amazing sunsets ( the last shuttle leaves just before).

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There are some great rockpools to enjoy with the children when the tide is out. On one of our early morning rockpooling sessions we came across a snake, then another! After talking to some locals these were yellow bellied sea snakes and they had never seen them wash up on shore before and were unsure as to why they were there….sad because they are not adapted to move well on landd due to the lack of flattened belly scales, it appeared they were beached. Dan attempted to return one to the ocean but it just turned itself around, we still don’t know why they were there and most were already dead…..Environmental issues maybe?

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We loved Playa Maderas, when the tide is out you can walk to another smaller ‘secret’ beach to the north as well and highly recommend you visit when exploring Nicaragua!

 

 

Granada and the monkeys!

Granada,  Nicaragua’s oldest city and steeped in collonial history, it draws the majority of tourists to Nicaragua that use the city as their base whilst vacationing here and has a large expat community which adds to the city’s cosmopolitan atmosphere.

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We only spent a day in the city, whilst on our car buying expedition, but we visited the Chocolate hotel and museum (free entry) and enjoyed an all you can eat buffet breakfast which I would highly recommend!  The breakfast buffet included eggs made to order, pancakes and waffles as well as Gallo Pinto (traditional dish of rice and beans), Maduros (ripe fried plantain), Cheese, Fruit, Bread, Tortillas, Granola, Yogurt, Tea, Coffee and Juice.

With our bellies full we went for a walk around the city and then booked a boat ride on the lake. There are many small islands on the lake, most are private, with some lovely houses on them.20170305_151824

The main draw for this boat ride is to see ‘monkey island’ a small island inhabited by Capuchin monkeys, a colony established here after some pet monkeys were abandoned by their owner. These monkeys are used to human visitors (although you don’t get off your boat) and come to the edge, as some tour operators encourage you to bring some fruit to feed them. Be wary though these are still wild animals! The monkeys appeared pretty quickly and unfortunately, the first one to appear had something wrong with his face, he appeared to lack the majority of his upper jaw on one side, this disappointed us , as this island and it’s inhabitants are an important tourist attraction and they should be cared for. Despite this we enjoyed seeing the monkeys and the array of wildlife around these islands and the boys loved their boat trip!20170305_145904

On returning to our hostel, The Barrel, in Guanacaste, we spoke with the owner Leslia about our concern and Leslia informed us that she was due to attend a Nicaraguan tourist board meeting and would raise our concerns. We were later informed by Leslia that action was taken, this monkey was suffering from a virus and sadly, had to be euthanised, but other monkeys were treated and regained full health. What a fantastic result for the colony!  Animal welfare is always a concern and as tourists, we have a responsibility to question concerns and help eliminate their suffering and more importantly not fund it.

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So if you head to Granada one day, take a boat trip on the lake and see the wildlife and let me know how the monkeys are doing!

Our truck

Our Truck – A Toyota Landcruiser HJ60 1986

Upon arriving in Nicaragua, we needed to get some wheels! With two children, two suitcases, an inflatable SUP board and a 9ft longboard it was essential and we wanted to have a good look around Nicaragua and this would be the best option. We knew we planned to camp for the most part and unbelievably to us, before we found a vehichle we had located a roof top tent, not only were we surprised to find one in Nicaragua but it was also on the same beach we were currently staying at….now that´s synchronicity eh!

 

Lack of communication and information

We had a budget that was on the minimal recommendation for what you should spend on a car in Nicaragua, with import export issues anything less than$3,500 would be fit for the scrap yard in first world countries! We had been recommended a local guy who helps expats find cars, he was great until we found the car we ultimately bought and due to complication with the banks and prior commitments on his part, the car was not as thoroughly checked, as in hindsight, it should have been. We had travelled to Granada with him on a Saturday to view the vehicle, after an initial test drive, he and us felt it was a good car for it´s age. Banks in Nicaragua close at noon on Saturdays and he didn´t realise that we hadn´t already withdrawn the money; who in their right mind would walk around a city or anywhere for that matter with $5000+ on their person???

He needed to leave and so we stayed in Granada, despite only having the clothes on our backs, as we had travelled a long way from where we were currently staying to view the car and didn´t want to spend out again to get back there on the Monday. Besides we hadn´t been to Granada yet and thought we could check this lovely city out. We spent the afternoon and following day discovering the city, we visited the chocolate museum, took a boat ride on lake Nicaragua and took in the sights and sounds of this historic city.

https://www.chocomuseo.com/granada/

Freedom day!

On the Monday we went straight to the bank, withdrew the money and purhased the car. Be aware that in Nicaragaua, as a foreigner you can purchase a car, but the paperwork stays in the previous owners name until you become a resident. You have paperwork drawn up with a lawyer that states you have bought it. Secondly, because of this you can not leave the country with the car either, unless you get written permission from the previous owner. We were unaware of this till after we bought the car and we bought our car through a 3rd party and the car was registered in Leon, trying to locate said owner is difficult and this can still be risky when leaving the country, it could just be confiscated. So we never bothered to pursue this.

So now we have transport…Yay! We made our way back to Guanacaste to where we were staying, we had to get the roof rack altered so we could fit the roof tent on and have the surfboard fit underneath. Once this was done we collected the roof tent, gathered our belongings, and we were free!!!!

How our story began…..

How it all began…..

We are a family of four from the UK, myself Alex, my partner of 23 years Danny and our two young boys, Vedder, 6 and Bodhi, 4. Dan and I grew up in the UK and can both say we had good childhoods in working class families, but we wanted something more sustainable, something more fulfilling for us than a 9 to 5 job / career, living for the weekends. Please do not get me wrong, I am not criticising those who do this and are happy, but we knew it wasn’t for us. Even at the tender age of 18, having not long started full time work, I was driving to work one morning (in traffic) thinking; Is this what I have to do for the next 45+ years, just so I can live, get a mortgage, hope to have a vacation once a year and maybe afford to have children?
Dan researched for a few years, identifying different countries that may offer us an opportunity. We had (still have) a dream….we all have a dream right? We all need to pursue those dreams, we get weighed down with the daily grind, working for things we just don’t really need….a brand new car, a bigger house, those new shoes, the latest smart phone etc……. Life is about presence and for us, personally, we wanted to be present in our children’s lives as much as possible. We knew this was not going to be possible in the UK for us. We are vegetarian and healthy eating is important to us, we want to eat organic and as clean as possible. So we made a decision to sell our house (which we had only been paying the interest on for the past 10 years! Long story, maybe another time! Hint: Toxic mortgages, financial crash of 2008), after narrowing down countries…the ability to own land, whether we could afford land in these countries….. we decided to check out Nicaragua.

Nicaragua had been stable for 20+ years, it’s tourism economy was growing quickly and yet it was still relatively undiscovered in regards to real estate and the opportunities to purhase land, certainly land at a price we could afford!

For example, here are two articles highlighting Nicaragua:

https://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/02/02/what-to-do-in-nicaragua_n_6524202.html

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/destinations/central-america/nicaragua/articles/nicaragua-reasons-to-visit/

So we finalised the sale of our house at the end of January 2017 and on February 13th we were on a flight to Nicaragua, via Toronto and Houston! After a long journey, we arrived in Managua and our Nicaraguan adventure had begun!


We had a dream and we were on pursuit of that dream!