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Taking a paid, guided horseback ride in the northern mountains of Nicaragua is nothing like a guided horseback ride in the United States. For one, I can’t imagine an American operation thinking it a good idea for an inexperienced six year old to ride and control his own horse for six hours.

But the confidence of Jamie, our Nica guide, assured me. Or at least made it seem allowable. And my six year old was certain it was a grand idea. My eight year old would ride Paloma. Isn’t she pretty?

We headed out in the misty early morning. The foals of Paloma and her sister, Mariposa, desperately wanted to come along.

Our six hours would take us through Miraflor Nature Reserve, a protected area where farmers grows crops and raise cattle sustainably on small plots interspersed throughout the three microclimates of the 200 sq km reserve.

 

Our first stop was the Orchideario.

We were visiting at the end of dry season and the orchids weren’t flowering at the time. But we found leaf cutter ants carrying big pieces of leaves across the path to their home, transparent butterflies, medicinal berries, and this tree that Jamie crawled inside and climbed up and then rappelled back down on the outside using vines. 

Four types of coffee are grown in Miraflor. The small trees were interspersed with tall banana plants.

Then we set out to wander the countryside. At a steep rocky ravine, the horses balked at going down. Jamie insisted it was no problem for them. My six year old’s horse, Mariposa, was the best at leading the group, Jamie said. My six year old would go first. I willed him to hold on tight. 

We came across this dead turquoise blue snake. I can’t say I was disappointed it wasn’t alive, but it is a gorgeous color, isn’t it?

At Miraflor, farmers are trained in sustainable farming. No chemical fertilizers or pesticides are used. At this farm, we dismounted from our horses to walk alongside the new crop of beans

to this river with a lovely waterfall.

I must mention: if you are visiting at the end of dry season, do not strip off your clothes for a dip under the waterfall. Unless you don’t mind an infestation of ticks. Newly hatched and hungry, we were a magnet and they the iron. It was impossible to get them off before we were covered with more. We’d have to attack the ticks later.

Back with the horses, Remy played with a puppy.

Even though the concept of Miraflor is very first world, farmers still have very little. Oxen, not tractors, pull the plows through the fields. There are few vehicles. Some people have horses but we saw most people traveling on foot.

While riding back to the farm where we stayed, Posada La Sonada, Jamie asked if we wanted to let the horses run. The kids thought it a brilliant idea, and before my instinctual motherly concerns could be projected, we were all off and running. Jamie had earlier fashioned a little whip out of a stick for Simon to keep Mariposa moving, since she was the leader, and Simon took to his running horse like a cowboy set loose after a day of being reigned in. His cap caught the wind and blew off as he whipped Mariposa (gently, of course) with one hand and held onto his saddle with the other. I couldn’t help but laugh while I willed my kids to hold on tight.  

Back at Posada La Sonada.

And to our room to strip and search for ticks.

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Often, when I talk about my and Brian’s experience operating the resort, I say it was an emotional rollercoaster. And I say it with a twinge of affection.

So when the fair came to town last month and I found myself sort of dreading it, I started to wonder, did I really have a fondness for emotional rollercoasters but not amusement park rollercoasters? Maybe I only thought I didn’t like real rollercoasters.

   

My kids, on the other hand, waited with great impatience for the fair to arrive.  So I took them, with my own agenda to find answers. I rode some rollercoasters. Every time the ride started to move, I’d start to laugh, while my mind was consumed with, “How long until it’s over?”

“Hahahaha, How long until it’s over?”

“Hahahaha, How long until it’s over?”

And then it was over. And I was glad. And I had no desire to ride another.

I’ll admit I didn’t care for the lowest points in the emotional rollercoaster of life at Petit Byahaut. I especially didn’t like the day that I was waiting with my toddler son for a boat ride back to Petit Byahaut in our neighboring village and a staff member with a criminal record of MURDER unleashed a tirade against me while the villagers observed in silence. That was a bad day.

The downward spiral went pretty low for Brian too, so much so that I saw a side to him I’d never before seen, with much anger, all directed at me. That was a bad day too, for both of us. Afterward, we blamed it on the abundance of steroids he was prescribed to rid himself of a craze-inducing painful rash he acquired in the bush. 

My husband does not hold the same affection as I for emotional rollercoasters.

But without those low points, the high points might not have been so high either. An afternoon swim with our family might have been just that, an afternoon swim.

Instead, an afternoon swim was paddling out to the big wooden pirogue moored in the bay with Simon riding on my back, he climbing into the boat and delighting in discovering he could move water through the hand operated bilge pump,  jumping off the boat into the warm sea over and over, Brian and Remy turning somersaults at the water’s surface while a whole world lived beneath us. It was diving down to the bottom, and seeing the look in our five year old daughter’s goggled eyes as we marveled at an octopus.

Those moments made up for it.

So why did I like emotional rollercoasters but not amusement park rollercoasters?

At Petit Byahaut, there was no picking and choosing the rides. We didn’t debate over whether to have lunch or ride The Inverter. There was no discussion over whether to try to win a giant stuffed animal or hop on the Super Loop. It just happened, in whatever way it was going to happen.

And I noticed the local people around me were living that way too. Their highs were possibly different than mine, but their lows and struggles made them live to the fullest in that very moment. They noticed their surroundings, their company, their emotions.

I decided it was living in its rawest form. Extreme Living. Primeval. Instinctual. Survival. There was no autopilot.

And I guess I liked it.

What about you? Do you love rollercoasters or hate them, emotional or physical?

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Funny, the timing of things

“We bought tickets to Hawaii two days ago. We got a great deal, Brian can take time off work, the kids are elated, our dog sitter is available. I feel like I sold my soul.”

That’s what I submitted to a 3-Sentence Confession writing contest hosted by David Miller, senior editor of Matador Network.

The back story?

I’ve wanted to backpack through Africa for twenty years. My plan was to take The Africa Trip in 2010, the year I turned 40, with my family. Our kids would be 11 and 9, a perfect age, I thought. But here’s a bit of advice that probably does not need to be said: Do not show your children documentaries or reality tv shows about Africa.

For some reason, I eat this stuff up, getting more pumped for a trip of adventurous possiblities. But when kids see people eating coagulated blood by the handful, malaria sufferers, a horrifying worm emerging from an arm, and a mud brick building full of skulls, it’s a big turn off. What was I thinking? It seems so obvious now.

I’ve tried to convince them there is so much more to Africa than what they’ve seen. It hasn’t enticed them. I’ve told them, “This year I get to choose the trip, you can choose the next one.” They’d rather stay home. Traveling with my family is what drives me, what brings me peace and contentment. I bring up Nicaragua.

“Remember, you weren’t all that excited about going to Nicaragua, but it was awesome, wasn’t it?”

“Yeah! Except for the ticks.”

Simon re-told the story of the tick infestation last week to Uncle Jason (we actually don’t often share it) and he couldn’t get through it without cracking up. It wasn’t very funny at the time but we roll with laughter about it now, and those are the memories I long to create with my family. Africa was going to be that good.

Africa is not going to happen this year. I need an memory eraser to wipe away all that shock-value footage my children viewed. What was I thinking? So I’ll compromise. This one is hard for me. Now to figure out how to make Hawaii what Africa was going to be…

While I can’t yet offer a publication date for A Dream Made Truth, I have something for you to read in the meantime. 

The Last Resort by Douglas Rogers.

It stole the time I reserve for writing,  I couldn’t put it down. I’m not sure if that’s good or bad, but I don’t regret it.

Does sex, drugs, violence, and diamond smuggling get your attention? In The Last Resort, Douglas Rogers tells the amazing story of his parents struggle to survive and operate a popular lodge in Zimbabwe, called Drifters, after violence erupts when President Mugabe starts redistributing white-owned farms to blacks. What’s especially refreshing is Mr. Rogers’ success in telling the story from the viewpoint of both whites and blacks. While the guests stop coming and the economic condition of the country becomes dire, the Rogers’ refuse to leave and, to put it mildly, lower their ethical standards in order to survive.

As I read, I may have been looking for answers on what we could have done differently to hold onto our resort, but at the same time I found solidarity with the Rogers’ on several fronts. Perhaps all resort operators face equipment breakdowns, eccentric guests, and theft, but I had to laugh when I read about Mr. Rog proudly showing off his marijuana crop. We too had a plot onsite, only not planted by Brian or I. And although I have no idea what it’s like to live in daily fear in my own country, there was a time or two that I was very afraid when invaders with unknown intentions arrived at our remote resort.

I bow down to you, Lyn and Ros Rogers. You have my utmost respect.

Visit Drifters. I’m planning on it.

After seeing my last post, Brian said matter-of-factly, “That’s not a great picture of you. You look kind of weird.” I took a second look and, yeah, I think I need to say something about it. 

That picture shows what happens when you go from living in a house in the city, your main job being taking care of kids and driving a car most places you go, to living in a house on a mountainside that you can’t drive to, hence your children and every single item you eat, use, or need (including propane tanks and gasoline for the generator) has to be carried up the mountainside, plus accomodating guests whose rooms are scattered throughout a 50 acre valley, and a dependence on boat transport (in which you, yourself, are often responsible for hauling said boat in and out of the water) as your means of access to the outside world.

Want to see the picture again?

Now I’m not saying taking care of kids in the city is a walk in the park. In fact, I considered myself to be in pretty good shape from chasing kids around all day. But compare the photo above to this one, of Brian and I six months previous, while we were vacationing at Petit Byahaut.

We’re not really looking our best, having just gotten out of the water from snorkeling in the rain, but there is a difference between the photos, no?  I know this would be more impressive if I had been more ample before starting our lives as resort operators, but I think I look, you know, reasonably healthy in the bikini photo. My collarbone isn’t bulging through my skin and my face is more oval than gaunt.

My mom took the picture of Remy and I in the dining room. We had been on the island for two and a half months and Mom and Dad had just arrived for the holidays. She had a look of concern on her face when she said, “You look really different. You’re so thin, but you’re muscular. You just look so different.”

All I had really noticed was that a) all my shorts were falling down, and b) I could now almost sprint up the mountainside to retrieve or deposit this, that, or the other from The Treehouse where we lived, if I didn’t have a kid on my shoulders.

So while my parents were visiting, my mom put darts into all my shorts, just like she had done when I was seven. And Brian started using a piece of nylon cord, left over from the installation of the incredibly appreciated and loved no-see-um net Mom had sewn for our bed, to hold up his shorts. So functional was that cord that Brian still uses it today to hold up his pants.

As the months passed, I’d like to think our bodies got used to our new lifestyle and eased into a more natural looking state. They were just in shock in the beginning.

So, anyone looking to drop pounds and build muscle for the upcoming bathing suit season?

There’s something about placing toilets and showers outdoors, without walls around them, in guest accommodations, that’s, well…..unusual.

     

We stayed at both, The Lookout

 

and Pillow Dreams

 

before we moved into The Treehouse (thanks Charles and Sharon for boating in that lovely cast iron tub and hauling it up the steep hill–that couldn’t have been easy).

 

At first, I too, would abruptly look over my shoulder, thinking I heard footsteps coming while showering. But it didn’t take long to get used to it. Once you realize your little bungalow really is a quiet retreat away from it all, you start to relax.

However, you may find some little surprises. Like when you need to pee after dark and open the toilet seat lid and something jumps out. You leap back in surprise, then grab a flashlight and look closer. You’re not going to sit down until you know there’s nothing else in there. Lifting the seat, you startle a handful of tiny quarter-sized frogs who hop away quickly.

Or you wash your hands at the sink and notice little teeth marks in the bar of soap.  What kind of critter eats soap, you wonder. (I’m pretty sure it was rats).

Or you start showering under the stars and hear a scuffling near your feet. You scream, it sounds big. It doesn’t scamper away so again, you grab a flashlight. You find a softball sized hermit crab determinedly attempting to climb the earth alongside the shower.

My own favorite memory of the bathrooms placed in nature is of showering one night at sunset, enjoying the colorful view between hair rinsings when a swarm of hundreds of bats flew high overhead. That was cool.

Christmas Winds. Sounds sort of lovely, doesn’t it.

But the month-long period of Christmas Winds was anything but lovely for a couple of novice dinghy operators. Mostly it meant hairy beach landings in big waves, except for one dark and stormy night on the sea when the dinghy suddenly flipped over—with our whole family in it, including my visiting parents.

Sailors in the Caribbean are familiar with the term, Christmas Winds. It’s the time of year when high pressure settles in to the northeast of the Caribbean, increasing winds from the usual 10-25 knots to 20-30 knots. Although we weren’t sailing, traversing the sea several times every day familiarizes a person intimately with the effect wind has on water.

That dinghy flipping incident, well it’s quite a story for my parents to tell. 

Suddenly ending up in the water is just the the beginning of the story. If you’ve read the page titled The Resort, you’re familiar with the hazards of hiking in to Petit Byahaut. That night is when we learned of the rash causing bushes. My dad can tell you of his treatment plan once he returned to the States. And Brian’s rash? I don’t know if you want to open that can of worms.

My parents in a less adventurous moment:

            

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