This day of meeting our sponsor child went above and beyond ALL expectations! We have been exchanging letters and pictures with Gabriella for four years, but having met in person and spent a day together, I think we bonded more in 6 hours than in those whole four years. We were picked up from the hotel in a hired van with a driver and a translator named Carlos, and we got to learn about Compassion’s work in Nicaragua and information about the church and about social struggles that many Nicaraguans face due to poverty, lack of education, and lack of hope.
We began our tour at the center where Gabriella attends school as well as goes to church, and we met her teacher, her mother, some staff from the project, and got an overview of all her records since her sponsorship began. Gabby and her mother exchanged gifts with us – they gave me a beautiful purse, a bracelet for Torre, and a pen holder for Matt with a carved map of Nicaragua.
We gave her the bracelet we’d bought for her back in Leon.
I was so happy to receive my gift of the purse because I had been specifically looking for a purse as a souvenir from our trip but never saw anything at any of the markets that I was sure I wanted. I’m usually pretty bad at deciding what I want, so it was a gift on top of a gift to simply be given exactly what I was hoping for (but never expecting!) and to now have that extra meaning instilled in my lovely souvenir.
After seeing the school, we all got back in the van (Gabriella was accompanied by her mom and school secretary the whole day), and we were able to visit her home where we met her father and grandmother as well as two dogs. She showed us the backpack where she keeps her prized possessions, which include our letters and cards from over the years. Her backpack also had a colouring book with princesses, and it made me so happy to see the care that she put in designing the hair and outfits on all the different pages.
Torre was a big hit as always, although he got scared to sobbing by the little puppy that barked at him. He really warmed up to Gabriella and played peek a boo in the shuttle van with her. We went for lunch in the food court at a multi-story mall with clothing prices comparable to low end North American store prices (which is much higher than market prices), and we had a really tasty meal, with meat and tostones and salad.
Riding the escalator at the mall!
Over lunch, Matt showed Gabby pictures on his phone of Canadian landscapes from a camping trip he took in Algonquin, some pictures from the ice storm last winter (2013), and our Christmas in Nova Scotia. We kept the translator busy, although we fared fairly well on some topics and general chatting about life. We definitely needed Carlos to explain the difference between a snow storm and an ice storm!
After lunch we went to a park of sorts – it is a beautiful, closed harbour painted bright colours and filled with restaurants and vendors and playgrounds, but there is an entrance fee that is higher than the average Nicaraguan can afford, so it was nearly deserted, and we had our pick of like 8 playgrounds. We found one area with structures that suited Torre’s size and abilities with not too much sun (after two vigilant weeks, I finally lost Torre’s hat on our travels the day before, so he had nothing to cover his head – gah!), and he and Gabby had a blast! She more or less adopted him as her chelito (white) brother and carried him around, played with him and kept him steady on the tricky elements of the park.
After Torre was flushed as red as a tomato and we had had more than enough sun, we went for ice cream cones to wrap up our day together.
By this point, Torre was so tired he just put his head down on his arms at the table, and we all ate our ice cream cones in peace, looking back over pictures from the day and enjoying each other’s company.
The drive back to the center was quiet. Torre still slept, and Gabriella dozed off as well. We both said through Carlos how much we had enjoyed the day and how much we thanked God to have met each other and said we would continue writing lots of letters. I am so glad she could meet our family and know who is on the other side of the letters we send, and the same for us – to be able to see her home and meet her family and feel that connection when we pray for them and her teachers and staff. It was a full and amazing, amazing day.
Having spent an amazing evening watching turtles nest at Playa La Flor, we woke up to our last morning in San Juan Del Sur determined to make the most of our last few hours. We had been talking about hiking up the Christ statue all week and made an unsuccessful attempt to find our way there one morning, so this was going to be the morning it really happened.
We passed this little (big) guy on the way.
We packed up our room to check out of the hostel, although they let us leave our backpacks behind the reception desk until we were actually ready to leave town. We got going later than planned because packing always takes longer than expected, and I had slept in late with Torre after our adventures the night before, so the day was already hot. It was an extremely steep hike, and we tried to keep to the shade but it wasn’t always possible. Torre’s little arms got sunburned in the carrier because I straight up forgot to put sunscreen on this day, and my pulse was literally pounding through my face by the time we reached the top of a flight of stairs that concluded our journey up mansion mountain to this monument.
Once we got there though, after I had time to catch my breath and rest in the breezy shade, it was really cool up there and definitely worth our efforts. I hadn’t realized there was a whole courtyard around the base of the statue, and there were people there with snacks and drinks who were obviously planning to spend a few hours hanging out above the heat. We stopped at the chapel under the statue, and then we headed back down for our travels to Managua!
By now we considered ourselves fairly seasoned in travel through Nicaragua, so we asked a few taxi drivers at the market how much it would cost to get to Rivas where we planned to catch a bus to Managua. One driver told us $15, so we said we’d think about it, but we weren’t actually ready to leave yet because Matt wanted to take out cash in SJDS rather than use an ATM in Managua. When we left the bank, our taxi driver was waiting outside and offered us a lower price of $12 US to Rivas. We were happy with that, so we jumped in his beaten up taxi and sped out of town.
Read more ...
Day 12 was nearing the end of our time in San Juan Del Sur, and although we enjoyed more time at the beach and another plate of tostones con queso, it was also time to buckle down on the bucket-list opportunities we did not want to miss! If we ever get back to San Juan Del Sur I definitely want to try zip-lining, and it would be cool to try surfing, but I am so, so happy that this time around we did a turtle tour.
Sea turtles nest at only a handful of beaches in the world, and one of those is located a short drive outside of San Juan, called La Flor. This beach is a protected nature reserve, and large tours can range in cost from $25-40 USD which includes the cost of admission to the reserve ($8 each for foreigners). This price is extremely reasonable compared to the cost of turtle tours in neighboring Costa Rica where you can easily spend over $100 per person to see turtles. We lucked out with a smaller tour organized by a French ex-pat and his Nicaraguan wife for $15 each, admission not included, and the whole experience was phenomenal. Matt talked to Sam and Jamie, and they brought two other guys they’d met (a huge perk of backpacking vs staying in hotels is how easily you connect with people!), and we all loaded into a pickup truck about an hour before the sun went down.