village life…along the rio coco…

Since this trip was all about supporting Esperanca’s medical mission…our interest for this mission was finding patients specifically for plastic surgery…such as burns, cleft lips and palates.  (Other missions would be specific to orthopedics, gynecology, ophthalmology, general surgery, etc.)  Word is spread by putting up notices and informing community leaders of the upcoming mission.  For the remote villages, posters are placed in village clinics giving information on where to report and when.  The people living in the surrounding communities of Jinotega usually had the means to travel to the local hospital, unlike the people in the remote villages…resulting in our travels along the Rio Coco to find and pick up anyone that needed surgery and was willing to make the trip.

The villages we visited are inhabited mainly by the Miskito and Mayangna tribes. There’s so much history about the Miskito Indians of Nicaragua, but to summarize (which is rather difficult)…during the early 1980’s, thousands of Miskitos living on the Nicaraguan side of the river were forced from their homes by the Sandinista government troops. Homes were burned, animals killed and many Miskitos were murdered as the government feared their potential support for government opposition (Contras). This provoked a widespread revolt by the Miskitos and fighting continued off and on for many years.  This ended around 1992 after a few years of negotiation. The Miskitos reached accommodation with the government and today this area is a semi-autonomous region respected by both sides.

remote villages along the rio coco in nicaragua

Like many cultures, “family” is highly valued and often includes relatives besides their immediate family members. What I specifically saw in these villages were very young girls with an eagerness to form relationships to begin building a large family…usually six to eight children and many with ten or more. Large families are important as there’s lots of work to be done in the fields, as well as house chores.  Children go to school either in the mornings or in the afternoons, allowing time to assist with daily chores. As one would expect, graduation rates are low and illiteracy is high. They live off the land by planting rice, beans and corn. Some families may be fortunate enough to own a pig, or a cow or a couple of chickens.  For recreation, baseball and soccer are extremely popular, but having limited equipment make these pleasures difficult.  Depending on the size of the village, there’s small family run stores to sell various items from canned goods to clothing.  Like many developing countries, animals roam free and trash is thrown everywhere.

remote villages along the rio coco in nicaragua

~~~

Warning…I’ve included a couple of graphic images of slaughtering a pig…

so if this isn’t something you can handle…

you’ll want to move quickly through those images….

~~~

To give you an idea of the conditions of the village clinics

clinic in the indigenous villages along the rio coco in nicaragua

 the pharmacy…

indigenous villages along the rio coco in nicaragua

How would you like to birth your baby here?

And yes…that’s blood…

clinic in a remote indigenous village along the rio coco in nicaragua

 

There are various daily chores….

washing and drying clothes…

drying rice…

remote villages along the rio coco in nicaragua

remote villages along the rio coco in nicaragua

 working in the fields…

remote villages along the rio coco in nicaragua

 watching over the new additions to the family…

remote villages along the rio coco in nicaragua

 gathering water for cooking and bathing…

remote villages along the rio coco in nicaragua

 

Warning!  Pig slaughtering coming up!!

A morning activity we were fortunate to see up close and personal…

village activity along the rio coco in nicaragua

chores in the remote villages along the rio coco, nicaragua

remote villages along the rio coco in nicaragua

truly a farm-to-table experience…

remote villages along the rio coco in nicaragua

There are two images to finish up this posting…going to school and working a small store. If you are a photographer, you will so understand that exact moment when you see the most perfect image…and your heart starts beating faster…and you just know the lighting is perfect and the excitement is beyond words.  Well that’s exactly what I experienced with these two…both were taken in the most remote village we visited…Siksayati, along the Rio Coco in Nicaragua.

Juio in a family run store in the remote village of Siksayati on the Rio Coco in Nicaragua

 

remote villages along the rio coco in nicaragua

 

I tend to think of the act of photographing, generally speaking, as an adventure.

My favorite thing is to go where I’ve never been.

Diane Arbus

Diane, I just couldn’t agree more!
Next up?  A few of the patients for the medical mission…
gg

my panga boys

Have you ever heard the quote that anyone can steer a ship in calm waters, but it takes competence at the helm to navigate treacherous seas?  It didn’t take long on the Rio Coco in Nicaragua to learn that having a competent boat crew was essential and fortunately our panga crew was exceptional. Confident…experienced…strong…personable…and cute.  Cute really helps.

This is Henry, the boss, and he owns two pangas. He started his business two years ago transporting goods up and down the river. His ultimate goal? To grow his business to ten pangas. A class act…serious about building his business, yet playful and really treated his crew like family.  He had real family along the river which made for perfect locations for feeding his crew.

panga boys on the rio coco

 buying his crew ice cream after a long week on the river…

the panga boys on the rio coco

Recall in an earlier post that one person handles the motor on one end of the boat and the person on the opposite end uses a big stick…not only to measure the depth of the water…but to push the boat along when the motor is cut.

Noel handled the motor.  It sounds simple, but this takes a lot of skill.  You want to have the motor in the water to give the boat power, yet you’ve got to pull the motor up out of the water just at the right moment when you encounter shallow water.   This requires constant communication with the guy on the other end of the panga. Always the gentleman…helping me walk the edge of the panga while getting off and on the boat as we visited the villages along the way.  When asked what he enjoyed most about his job?  “Just driving the panga, doing my job and meeting the occasional foreigner.”

on the rio coco in nicaragua

And there’s always a favorite, right?  That would be Eric.  Always at the front of the panga…always with such a serious expression on his face making sure we were in deep enough water….constantly checking with Noel to coordinate the motor change.  When asked about what he enjoyed most…”just doing the job…it’s a sport to me.” He was quick to answer “yes” to the question when I asked if there were many accidents on the river. “Oh yes, we’ve had accidents…the panga has turned over…dumping all the supplies…broken bones. Yes, I’ve been afraid…several times.”

the panga boys on the rio coco

  So adorable…and such a mischievous smile…

my panga boys on the rio coco

 There’s always a new kid on the block, right?

This is Alex…17 years old…still in school…but learning the trade!

on the rio coco in nicaragua

These guys have lived the Rio Coco all their lives…they know every curve, every rapid, every village…

panga boys on the rio coco, nicaragua

Not only did I have my panga boys…but remember the tres amigas?  In the village of Raiti along the Rio Coco, I found the cuatro amigos and coaching them to give me a little attitude wasn’t even needed!  So cute!

the cuatro amigos in Raiti, Nicaragua

I’m telling you…the men and young boys in the villages were often small in stature, but built rock solid.  An attribute very much needed to live the life they live on the Rio Coco.

Life in the villages…coming up!
gg

trysette

I’m gonna interrupt the Nicaragua postings for a sneak preview of the photo shoot I did back in January of my good friend and singer/songwriter/pianist Trysette.  She’s working on her fourth album and recently kicked off a campaign to raise money to get twelve new songs out to the masses.  Trust me…I’ve heard them and they are amazing!

Sharing just a few from the shoot…as more images will come out as her album is completed…saving the best for last!  This gal is such a natural in front of the camera making my job easy-peasy!  So much fun shooting out in the desert, as well as in an old cowboy town, Cave Creek, here in Arizona.

How about a little support for an amazing artist by donating to her campaign!  You can find all the campaign info here as well as her website for upcoming tour dates and information on her other albums!

 

Trysette

 

Trysette

 

Trysette

 

Trysette

 

Trysette

 

Coming up?

My Panga Boys on the Rio Coco in Nicaragua!

Hope you’re having a great weekend!
It’s a beautiful day here in the desert…sunny and 80 degrees!
gg

smiles…

It always took quite a bit of convincing the children (and adults) to smile in their photos…even saying the spanish word for smile – sonrisa – didn’t do it…(which of course many of then didn’t understand because they had their own language)…but it never failed…after a bit…that smile was there in all its glory!

There’s no doubt…the children in the villages along the Rio Coco in Nicaragua were adorable.  They were so shy, yet so inquisitive.  I’ll never forget getting ready one night for “bed” and glancing up at the window and there’s a whole row of kids looking in and watching my every move.

To hear those gut wrenching giggles after viewing their photographs in my camera…was absolutely priceless and worth every hardship endured during this trip…

rio coco, nicaragua

 

rio coco, nicaragua

 

rwc and gal sixtych

 ~~~

What sunshine is to flowers, smiles are to humanity.

These are but trifles, to be sure;

but scattered along life’s pathway,

the good they do is inconceivable.

Joseph Addison

~~~

So much more to share!  gg

daily living on the rio coco

~~~

sharing some scenes as we traveled along the Rio Coco throughout the week…

~~~

fog on the rio coco in nicaragua

on the rio coco, nicaragua

there was a constant change in weather throughout the trip…

…foggy…sunny…rain showers…blistering sun and heat…

along the rio coco, nicaragua

typical housing along the river…

on the rio coco, nicaragua

on the rio coco, nicaragua

many of the homes are on stilts due to the rainy season when there’s lots of flooding and mud…

on the rio coco, nicaragua

along the rio coco in nicaragua

there are everyday chores…washing clothes and dishes…as well as themselves in the river…

the young children will accompany them to swim and play…

usually in the nude or in their clothes…rarely would one see a bathing suit…

on the rio coco, nicaragua

on the rio coco, nicaragua

on the rio coco, nicaragua

daily living on the rio coco in nicaragua

this is the cayuco (boat with no motor) that I mentioned in an earlier posting

the children learn early how important this craft is for their daily survival…

gathering firewood or picking bananas…

on the rio coco, nicaragua

or just relaxing…

on the rio coco, nicaragua

on the rio coco in nicaragua

we had to stop and show our passports frequently to the local federales…

and later in the trip they hitched a ride with us…

with the specific instruction of no photographs…

on the rio coco, nicaragua

on the rio coco in nicaragua

heading home…with their bowl and cup…

a free meal is usually provided by the school through organizations such as the World Food Program…

along the rio coco in nicaragua

crocodile on the rio coco, nicaragua

on the rio coco, nicaragua

an example of what the paths are like from the river to the villages…

…always straight up!

life on the rio coco, nicaragua

on the rio coco, nicaragua

on the rio coco, nicaragua

there were no issues going from the Nicaragua side of the Rio Coco to the Honduras side…

or vice versa…

More soon!  gg

heading out…to the rio coco

on the rio coco, nicaragua

Before continuing on…I just want to give you an idea where the Rio Coco is located in Nicaragua.  The country is about the size of the state of New York and the Rio Coco runs along the northern border between Nicaragua and Honduras.  The area is known for it’s remoteness and is the second largest rain forest in the hemisphere, obviously the Amazon being the first.  There are a number of indigenous villages along the river and the area we visited consisted of Miskito and Mayangna villages, both having their own languages and cultures.

The primary means of transportation to these villages is by water as there are very few roads.  The river can rise and fall as much as twenty plus feet throughout the year depending on rainfall…making the travel hazardous and the need for experienced boat drivers that really know and understand the river.  In the map below, a good portion of the the river (in yellow) within the green box was the area we traveled.

map of nicaragua

It was a very early morning start and off we went in a truck loaded with our personal items, water for the week and enough fuel (scary!) to keep our boats going for seven days. Our first stop was at a roadside stand…

tortilla stand in the countryside of Jinotega, Nicaragua

 oh my…isn’t he adorable?  One day soon he’ll be helping his mom by gathering wood for her tortilla business!

a child in the countryside of Nicaragua

After two plus hours we made it to our launching point in Wiwili, only to learn that the water was too shallow for us to take off…so we headed on for another two plus hours on a very bumpy, rutted, dirt road to launch further up the river.  See the young boy and woman with the pink scarf in the image below?  They were looking to hitch a ride with us.  She was his grandmother…blind…and had been waiting three days to find a ride to return to their village. When we dropped them off, they still had a two hour walk to get home.  This is life on the Rio Coco.

loading the panga in the rio coco, nicaragua

So now it’s time to learn the difference between a panga and a cayuco.  We had been told earlier that we’d be in a cayuco, but thank god we ended up in a panga.  They are very similar, but the difference is that a panga is larger and has a motor whereas a cayuco is much smaller and propelled by paddling only. Big difference for this trip! Below is a panga filled with villagers and supplies. You have a person that handles the motor and another to guide the boat through the water…he uses his eyes and a big stick (called a push poll) to ensure the water is deep enough to handle the load.  You’ll be hearing more about my “panga boys” in a future post.  Loved them!

on the rio coco in nicaragua

I think that’s enough for this posting…just wanted to give you a flavor for the area as we begin this journey!  So there’s two things I learned from my original posting on this trip…it’s a panga and not a cayuco…and there’s crocodiles in the Rio Coco, not alligators. (Not that I know the difference in the latter.)

Have a great weekend!
More soon!  gg

P.S.  For those that follow along…you may recall my “not for fame or fortune” posting about the free portfolio review hosted by the New York Times Lens blog.  Well I was not chosen, but it was a great learning experience as it forced me to think about photography projects and what really interests me.  Thanks so much for all of your positive thoughts!  So appreciated!

keeping it real on the rio coco

along the Rio Coco in Nicaragua

It’s taken me a few days to figure out my approach on how to explain six nights and seven days on the Rio Coco. So I’m just going to start by keeping it real…to be totally honest and not to make this sound like a dream vacation floating along a nice little river in Nicaragua. This trip was hard. H-A-R-D as in taking a great deal of endurance and effort.

You see…there wasn’t a book to read on how to survive a week on the Rio Coco, nor were there any internet sites to tell you what to take and what not to take or what to expect. So I’m thinking for this post I should just get it all out of my system by telling you how hard those six nights and seven days were and then the following posts you can see all the beauty along the Rio Coco and read all about the indigenous villages we visited looking for patients for the upcoming medical mission.

I’m going to cover a few things like clothes, food, accommodations, weather…the important basics one would want to know about…

Clothing: Besides one pair of slip on Sketchers, I purchased a pair of rubber boots in Jinotega as instructed by our leader of this journey. I assumed they would be needed for getting in and out of the boat…I had no clue the day I purchased those boots how much I would need them. Every village we visited, and there were 14 of them, the walk was straight up a cliff and often muddy and very slippery. It was the very first village with those Sketchers and one fall (my camera covered with mud) to know those boots were needed at all times. While the nights were chilly the days were hot and sitting in a boat all day under the baking sun takes its toll. Thank goodness for my UPF rated shirts (they really do work!) and my Tilley hat. Both are worth every penny! Unfortunately, my hands were burned to a crisp even while covering them constantly with SPF 70. I really did come close on several occasions to just jumping in the river to cool off…but not only were there crocodiles, but off and on we’d see a bloated dead cow or pig floating along in the river. No thank you.

a typical kitchen in the remote villages along the Rio Coco in Nicaragua

Food: Now keep in mind that only a week or so prior to leaving for this trip, I had just finished up two weeks of mega antibiotics to kill the h pylori in my body that started when I got sick in Morocco or perhaps in Myanmar…who knows. So I was pretty freaked out about eating anything in Nicaragua, even if someone had cooked the hell out of it. Well guess what’s the signature food in the villages along the Rio Coco? Rice, beans and tortillas…not a big fan. So for seven days and six nights I ate protein bars, crackers, cookies and beef jerky. Let me tell you…that got old real fast…not to mention mornings filled with nausea from not having real food in my stomach. On the fifth morning my body couldn’t take it any longer and I got sick minutes before getting into the boat. Of course that’s the morning we were heading towards a major pass which happened to be the section of the Rio Coco with fast rapids, as well as sharp volcanic rock on both sides of the pass. This is where we all had to get out of the boat, walk over these sharp volcanic rock as we watched heroic efforts being made by our boat drivers and other local villagers as they maneuvered our boat through the pass.  (More on that in a future post.)

hammock
Bedding: I knew a hammock was involved (as we had been told to bring one) and I could handle that…especially the Hennessy hammock we purchased. What I liked about them the most is that you could basically zip yourself up and not have to worry about mosquitoes or any other flying objects entering your sleeping space. (I don’t do bugs very well.) Plus it even had a little overhead hook to attach your flashlight for reading. I really needed that during all those sleepless nights as I read Cheryl Strayed’s book, Wild. (Excellent by the way and so appropriate for the occasion!) But I’ll get to sleepless nights in a bit. Hammocks are perfect if you have something to hang them from. So for three of the six nights I zipped myself up in my hammock and layed on a cot. The other three nights we hung from rafters and just about froze to death. The temperatures found on the internet were nothing like reality. So I slept with almost every piece of clothing I owned trying to keep warm for those three nights. Interesting enough, I never experienced one mosquito…only cockroaches, bats, and other flying insects that would create major air turbulence as they flew by my head.

typical accommodations in a village along the Rio Coco in Nicaragua

Accommodations: The first building where we spent the night was a pig slaughtering house when it needed to be, a school room during the day and of course a rented building at night for guests. On one side of this building was a pig pen and the other a small market. The sleepless night came from constant (and I mean constant) sounds from all the animals. The squealing pigs, the barking dogs, the cock-a-doodle-doo chorus from all the village roosters, the baby calf who couldn’t get to it’s mother, the dog chasing the pigs..I could go on and on. On top of that…it poured rain and guess what kind of roof our building had? Yep, a tin roof. (Which is very cool actually, but not when coupled with the animal chorus.) Between being cold, the rain and all the animal noises, I didn’t sleep at all the first night nor for two nights after that. By the fourth night ambien had become my new best friend. There are more stories such as the rock out night at the Moravian church, but you get the picture. Have you ever heard a squealing pig?

outhouse in a typical village along the Rio Coco in Nicaragua

Bathrooms: I was expecting outhouses and after using them on the trek in Myanmar, I didn’t foresee any issues. Well let me tell you…there is no comparison between the outhouses in Myanmar and the outhouses along the Rio Coco. Here the outhouses were smelly, filthy and scary…especially at night. And I bet you’re thinking about right now…why would you use an outhouse when you could just go in the bushes? Well keep in mind we’re in villages and people use outhouses. There’s no squatting in the village. After the fourth night on the river, I had to have a “shower.” A “shower” consisted of a big bucket of cloudy water with a cup. I had refrained from taking one because the water appeared so dirty. But after a while you give up and let me tell you…that was the best “shower” ever. I think that’s when I saw the tadpoles swimming around in the toilet that unfortunately never worked for the three nights we stayed at that location…

pigs in a remote village along the Rio Coco, Nicaragua

 There’s so much more…but I think you get the picture…

So are ya ready to head down the Rio Coco and learn more?

More soon!  gg

the city of mists…jinotega, nicaragua

Where it all started…Jinotega…a small city situated in a long valley in the north central region of Nicaragua known for producing 80% of the nation’s coffee.  But we’ll get to the coffee later.  The city has a very small town feel to it, and is often called “the city of mists” as the weather is constantly changing with low hanging clouds moving constantly in the surrounding cloud forests.  Sunny one minute and a heavy mist the next…but cool temperatures compared to other areas of the country.  Friendly people, and very few gringos…therefore not a tourist town at all. It was great just to wander around…feeling totally at ease…and just explore.

…wonderful accommodations at the Hotel Cafe

Jinotega, Nicaragua

 

…the town is filled with second-hand shops…

Jinotega, Nicaragua

 

…a typical house in the outskirts of town…

Jinotega, Nicaragua

 

 …and if you know me…

…you know I ❤️ the elderly…

…so I always enjoy the opportunity to photograph them…

Jinotega, Nicaragua

 

…love being in a country where the children wear school uniforms…

…regardless of the income level…

…the children are clean and the whites are really white!

Jinotega, Nicaragua

 

tres amigas

…even without the language skills…

…I was able to get them to give me some attitude!

Jinotega, Nicaragua

 

…I’m always drawn to local cemeteries while traveling…

…fascinating and so telling of their culture…

cemetery in Jinotega, Nicaragua

 …am I the only one that likes cemeteries?

…I mean…what a piece of art!

cemetery in Jinotega, Nicaragua

 

…so sweet…

…he was chasing a pig out of his yard…

Jinotega, Nicaragua

 

…chickens…pigs…cows…roosters…everybody has one or two or three…

…oh, and always at least one dog…

…so it seems…

Jinotega, nicaragua

Jinotega, Nicaragua

There was only one day to roam…

before heading off into the wilds of the Rio Coco

And yes…there are crocodiles in the Rio Coco!
more soon!  gg

greetings from arizona

sunset in Arizona

I just can’t tell you enough how wonderful it feels to be home…and to see the Arizona sunsets like the one above…and how fabulous it is to not worry about water getting in my mouth when showering…how I don’t need bottled water to brush my teeth…and that I’m no longer worrying about what to eat and what not to eat…and of course to actually have a porcelain toilet to sit on that flushes toilet tissue…just pure heaven.  To return appreciating the cleanliness of our streets, the abundance in our stores, the overall comfort of our homes…oh…how fortunate we are!

That said…what an amazing trip.  When we would tell the locals that we went as far as Siksayati on the Rio Coco in Nicaragua…their eyebrows would raise and a facial expression of…you did what?

Yep…seven days and six nights on the Rio Coco…returning with seven children and one adult whose lives would be totally changed for the better…

But let’s start at the beginning…in Jinotega…the city of mists…

stay tuned! gg

 

 

taking love, peace and happiness to nicaragua!

A week or so ago I posted about the upcoming trip to Nicaragua to support Esperanca’s volunteer surgical mission program.  Well the time has come!  Just look at all the loot! I just had to share with you how generous our family, friends and neighbors have been to give us so many donations for the people of Nicaragua.  (In addition…this wouldn’t even be possible to pull off…without generous baggage allowances…thanks to United!)

Not only is Nicaragua the poorest country in Central America, but the second poorest (Haiti being the first) in the Western Hemisphere.  It’ll be so special to actually hand deliver a portion of the collection directly to the people, as we make our way along the Rio Coco into these remote villages looking for patients in need of surgery.

gifts for folks in nicaragua

 a few of the children of Santa Catalina

But what has been so special…and just mind blowing…is how the children of Santa Catalina Drive here in Scottsdale, Arizona have come together and brought over so many clothes to SHARE with those not quite as fortunate.  I just can’t wait to give this adorable dress to a little girl…after surgery she’ll feel like a princess in this outfit!

clothes for the poor in Nicaragua

 The children of Santa Catalina are sending love, peace and happiness…to the children of Nicaragua….

giving to the needy in Nicaragua

Now these will certainly be entertaining!

helping the needy in Nicaragua

And can you only imagine how happy a bunch of little girls are going to be…

when they get one of these colorful, adorable dresses?

Yes, we have clothing for the boys too…but girlie stuff is so much more fun to photograph!

giving to the needy in Nicaragua

And look at all of these brand new backpacks!  Many are filled with a little sleeping bag!

helping the needy in Nicaragua

It just filled my heart when I learned that the parents of the children bring them all together once a week to discuss virtues…yes, virtues. Well there’s no doubt…all of the children of Santa Catalina have demonstrated accountability, compassion, detachment, commitment, diligence, and I’m sure many other virtues that I can’t even think of!  Thank you all so much!

A few more things to toss in the suitcase and then…hasta luego!  The first week there will be no access to internet as this will be the most remote travel experience yet, and I’m not sure how much the second week…but know that I’ll be so eager to share as soon as possible during the trip, as well as when I return on March 9th!

Until then!  gg