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Above the Net - Nicaragua Trip Diary May 4-11

Sunday, May 11

Nicaragua was a life-changing experience for me as an individual and for our team as a whole. You can't go through and see what we saw as a team and not change as individuals and as a group. I truly believe we all grew through this experience. It's one thing to study culture, poverty, and politics in school. It is a completely other thing entirely to go live in it. The things the girls did will never be forgotten. Kendall Utz committed $200 of her own money towards school supplies and to the clinic. Paige DePriest went and bought paint for the clinic. Jody got ice cream for kids on the street with money straight out of his pocket. All of the girls handed out stickers to the children as they were walking around. And even if we forget certain little moments as time goes on, I have a firm belief that we brightened lives while we were down there...

I cannot say better things about the Nicaraguan people. Everywhere we went the people were extremely kind and always offering to help us with our bags and saying hello as we walked through the towns. Before we played in San Juan del Sur about five guys drove through the town with the megaphone attached to their truck announcing our game time and location to the town. They were the reason that 600 people showed up that evening.

The children everywhere we went were extremely happy. Without clean water readily available in some situations, without television, without cars or bikes of their own, without malls, ipods, or even CD players the kids were nice and constantly laughing. They are a lesson and a testament to what life is truly about and where happiness really comes from.

We cannot send enough thanks to everyone who made this trip happen. Tim for giving our team this opportunity. Joe and Nick, who led us through the tour and put up with all of us during the week. Pelican Eyes for providing us with excellent food, views of San Juan, and transportation out of the city. Dan, who raised money for our trip months in advance and is always there to support our team. Betty, who helped to support our trip with her own contributions and always remains interested in what we do as a team. All of the family members and friends who sent in money for our individual trips. It is because of you all that we got this amazing opportunity to change lives and also be changed ourselves. Thank you for helping us to make a difference in the world.

Saturday, May 10

We started out with a game against Honduras this morning and won 3-0. Honduras was a decent team and had really nice players. We showered at the gym again and then drove straight to the Masaya Volcano. A couple of volcanoes in the park are active and the one we walked to was blowing steam up. As we pulled up the dividers for parking say "park car facing forward exit." It's not a very comforting message. Although I was interested if there was a tremor or something who would be the first in the van... and who would be the last? haha...

To look down into the volcano was absolutely crazy... We read a bunch of stuff about the natives sacrificing people into these volcanoes. It's incomprehensible to me... wow. Next we went to the Masaya Market. This is where the majority of our shopping went down. We really hadn't done that much before and the market had everything you could want. A bunch of the girls got bags and little souvenirs. Nicaraguans are known for their excellent hammocks so a couple of us got those and brought them home. The market was filled with workers and so a lot of them helped us and walked around with us and helped us translate and told us the best places to go. Kendall got slapped around a little bit by a woman who was definitely not happy that she refused to buy some cookies and cocoa from her.... I was standing right there watching it... Sorry I didn't defend you Utz. I was laughing too hard.

After the market we headed out to get some lunch and then back to the hotel for about an hour. We headed back to the gym for our final match-up against the Nicaraguan National Team. It was a 7:00pm game and the first bigger game that we had played in that facility. They had brought a DJ to the facility and they were pumped up to play. We came out and finally were playing well. We ended up winning the match 3-0. It was an awesome way to end the week and our play. Their coach gave us tons of compliments on our play. He pointed out that we had progressed and gotten significantly better throughout the week. It was cool to build like that as a team. Evidence of our growth off the court came out in our play on the court.

We drove back to the hotel, had our final dinner, and went to our rooms to pack... the next morning we flew out at 7:00am.

Friday, May 9

Today we ended our morning in San Juan del Sur with breakfast at Pelican Eyes and then got on the bus to head back to Managua. We were scheduled to go to Masaya, but news from the capital was that the strike was getting a little more aggressive so we decided to skip Masaya for the day and try again the next morning. The drive went smoothly and we got back to our original hotel in Managua, rested up, and then headed over to the airport to eat before our match against Nicaragua that evening.

We played Nicaragua's Second-Team and won 3-0 this evening... It was a fun match. We headed back and ate dinner at the hotel and went to bed to gear up for one last day in Nicaragua... See you tomorrow!

Thursday, May 8

We woke up this morning for another volunteer day in San Juan del Sur. Casey, Paige, Todd, Jody, and I worked at the clinic this morning. The walk to the clinic takes about five minutes and by the time we got there the electricity had gone off, a common occurrence there. The clinic has no running water. When the water runs out, that's it. It is one of the worst things I have ever seen. The other girls had already worked on one room in the clinic, so we worked on the one next door. First we had to clean the walls... I can't imagine how long it had been since anyone had cleaned them. There were streams of dried blood in some areas... However, I will never forget as I was going to wipe down one of the walls "Mario J. Hernandez 08-16-1992" was etched on the wall. It broke my heart. I have no idea if that guy had died there or what. It was a really powerful moment though that I will never forget. I told Casey and she had seen it also. There was a piece of I.V. tied to the doorknob of a window pane in the room and nails sticking out all over. Paige went out and bought paint with money out of her pocket so that we could use latex paint that would be easier to clean in the future.

So it took us a couple of hours to finish up painting and then we cleaned up the floors... well Todd really cleaned the floors. By then I was busy exploring the rest of the clinic. Their emergency rooms were tiny, hot, and ill-equipped. The maternity room had one bed and a window that opened up into the hallway. It was dark without the power on and I could see one woman laying on a bed coughing in the corner. She looked miserable. It was in that moment that I promised myself that if I ever make a million dollars (which I don't see happening, but hey who knows) that will be the first place that I will use it. I couldn't even take pictures of the rest of it because I felt too ashamed to even show my camera. Thinking of what even the money I had spent on my camera could do for this place made me sick to my stomach. After we were done we headed back down into town to get lunch.

During lunch the owner of the restaurant started suddenly buzzing around and searching through papers and kind of going crazy. The power had gone out again at this point and she had spotted a fire that was quickly burning down the hill on the southern side of town. I took a look out the front of the restaurant and, sure enough, the line of fire was burning straight down. The fire department had changed their number so she was trying to find their number in the paper and phonebook. She ended up having to ride her ATV over to the fire department in order to alert them. On her way there, she explained after arriving back, she was stopped because of the strike and had a hard time getting the firetruck through the traffic. One the fire department got to the hill they ended up not being able to get all the way up. Some locals had stopped the fire though, thank goodness and the woman's house was safe. It was pretty crazy. Can you imagine the fire stations up here changing their phone numbers and then not being able to even get to the fire? No matter how nice the areas we were in were, it was moments like these that reminded you that you were in a different world.

After lunch we headed to the Mayor's private beach. Joe, our tour guide, and her fiance are good friends with San Juan's Mayor and so we got to go out surfing at a secret spot. It was about a 30 minute drive through the jungle. We were surrounded by howler-monkeys and wildlife the whole way there. We picked up the families that work the Mayor's land also, the mothers and a few kids.... They were awesome. We spent about three hours surfing. Casey, I think, was the first one to get up. True to form though, she followed up by completely wiping out a few of the next ones. I spent the last few moments at the beach with the kids in the water. There was one little girl who kept speaking Spanish to me. She was so cute.... I finally figured out some of what she was saying and we started to communicate a little better. She was one of the happiest kids I had ever spent time with. When we dropped her off at her house on the edge of the Mayor's land, Nick (one of our tour guides) explained that a few months ago the transformer had blown that provided the families out there with electricity. "The government says that they will fix it in a couple of months... which, around here, means that it will maybe be fixed in about a year or so..." They were living, a family of at least four that I could tell, without electricity to cook, stay cool, or provide them with light. It was crazy. We gave them some stickers- which you could tell made their day.... But for the first time as we pulled away, I saw the little girl frown, put her head down and walk into her house. It was pretty tough to leave.

We ate dinner back in town and then headed back to the hotel to get ready for the next day...

Wednesday, May 7

We woke up this morning and went and had breakfast at Pelican Eyes, the beautiful resort on top of the hills of San Juan del Sur. Then we took a drive out to do a Canopy Tour Zip Line about ten minutes away. It was amazing. They drove us up to the top point and started us down the canopy. There were 16 platform stops on the way. The first few were pretty small and not very fast at all. Casey, of course, had to be dragged in the first one...

Everything was going fine. Todd and I kept asking if we could get a push or at least take a running start to get some speed. Little did we know that we would get our rush on platform 14... So for the most part the four guys working the ropes would get about half of us on one platform and half in front to the next platform (there were 17 in our group total). Then they would come from behind and move onto the next one. So we get to platform 14, the highest and by far smallest canopy. They had all 17 of us on this thing and Jose, the lead guy, comes in last and all you hear is him go "Oh no..." and then he starts speaking in spanish to his co-worker. I turned to LaRocca and I go "What did he just say?" Jose was really nice and had been joking with all of us the whole time so I figured this was just another one of his stunts.... Until he pulled out his wrenches and started unclamping one of the wires. "The wire is broken... you see?" And he points to the guide-wire and sure enough, it is split on the other side of the tree. Everyone started laughing. All of us were cramped on this thing, blowing in the wind, on the highest point yet. It was pretty funny. So then we think he is going to reclamp the wire, but instead he threads it out and goes "One, two, three..." and tosses it down into the bottom trees. I stopped laughing... But then he just hooks both lines onto the one wire and takes off.... I have never been happier to jump off the top of a giant tree. I definitely wanted off that canopy, haha.

We all made it back and had a blast. It was one of the most beautiful parts of our trip and the guys that run it were all really nice and fun to be around. It was moments like this during the days that really made our trip so great. These four guys were so nice and probably had some of the best jobs in Nicaragua. They get to zip around one of the most amazing forests all day long and mess with tourists. It was awesome. I would recommend it to anyone.

On the way back out of the tour our truck got stopped once again. We waited about 15 minutes and Joe and our driver eventually convinced them into letting us through without problems. That night we played Nicaragua in San Juan del Sur. Unlike the facility in Managua, San Juan's court was literally concrete with no rubber layer on top. It was like playing volleyball on a street. We walked to the outdoor court and started our warm-up in front of about 600 people. The court was packed... this was one of the best moments of our playing careers. The whole city showed up to watch us take on Nicaragua. Casey LaRocca and Krystena Castro sang the National Anthem (still sad we didn't get video of the beautiful performance...) We played under street lights and moonlight. There were tons of kids behind our bench cheering at us, dogs on the side of the court, and a dj blasting raggaton during the whole match. We ended up losing 3-0, but the experience was well worth it. We spent time after and before the game handing out stickers and signing autographs.

The rest of the girls stayed at the hotel, Jody, Casey, and myself went to go get tea at a place on the beach and then we headed back to the hotel for the night.

Tuesday, May 6

This morning we woke up early to sort through the clothes that we had brought to donate. That took us about an hour. Once we were done with that we had breakfast here at the hotel and then split into our volunteer groups. I was with Casey, Todd, and Katie Evanyo. We went to the Eco-Community. The other girls split up into threes also. One group went to the clinic and the others went to work with school children.

Our Eco-Tour was amazing. It was more an educational experience than anything. Don is from Southern California. He is the co-owner of the community and runs the projects. On our way to his place he stopped and showed us just part of what him and his company does for the community. Those colorful looking things in the photo are actually life-savers. They are water-filtration systems. Don taught us about how they are designed. All people have to do it put in soil, rocks, sand, a layer of tin, and then a layer of organic material (leaves, twigs, or even fruit rinds). Then they pour the water in and, though it takes some time, within a few hours owners can produce fresh drinking water for themselves and their families. It was pretty amazing. All we have to do is go to the sink. Kind of makes you rethink how easy it is for us here. The cool thing about Don and his company is that they are inspiring members of the community around them to also join in. You can see in the background of the other photo that there are tons more of those colorful filters. Those were built by other companies that Don has encouraged to join him. It was pretty cool to see the direct impact that just one man and his idea can do.

Next we pulled up to Don's home. It was amazing. How the community works is that Don sets up requirements for future residents and sales them the land, which is sold off in naturally-formed plots. Residents must be run on clean energy and be totally off-grid of city electric and water. Don himself relies on wind and solar power for his own home. His home opens up in the middle to a beautiful garden. It is simple and elegant. You feel at home as soon as you open the door.

Don's main objective was to share his passion with us. And his passion, above all things, was reforestation. We rode horseback up to one of the highest points of his property. From there, we could see around the valley of his land. He showed us how they go about the reforestation process and told us about the rapid impact that it has on the environment. Within years of replanting his trees there are obvious population booms of local wildlife, insects, and indigenous undergrowth. The work he is doing on that land is literally bringing back what decades of deforestation took away.

The best part of horse-riding was definitely watching the other girls and Todd on the horses. First of all, Katie Evanyo had never ridden a horse before so Don put her on the slowest horse and man was it slow... We hadn't gone five minutes and we all turned around and Katie and her horse were nowhere to be found. Don had to go get her and hustle her up. Casey meanwhile was pretty much standing on her stirrups, stiff as a board. So anytime her horse took off she was bouncing like crazy. Todd was on the most aggressive horse, which always felt the need to go full speed. So we spent the whole ride laughing. Todd would whiz by and yell "Excuse us!" Then Casey's horse would take off and she would be bouncing up and down and looking like she was about to just lean off the side. By this time I would be laughing so hard that I would lose all control when my horse would take off too. At one point Todd goes, "Whew... My horse always has to be in front. He's very competitive. He's got a little bit of me in him... I don't think I like riding me..." I lost it. Meanwhile, Katie and her little speed-horse were about a mile behind everyone else gnawing on some grass and talking to the birds.

Next, we rode back down to where he actually grows the new trees. Another positive aspect of Don's organization and the way he runs the community is that he is able to employ tons of locals. During season he is able to support a little over a 1,000 locals by employing family members. There were about six employees that we worked with clearing weeds and leaves from the newborn seeds that Don had us work on. Don has specialists come down and work with his employees also and he pointed out that the great thing about having them work together is that while the specialists are highly technical, the locals are extremely knowledgeable about the land. Right after he said this his lead worker, this older gentleman, pointed to a parrot's nest that was on top of one of the poles. Don translated, in English, that the man said that the way the parrot had built its nest told him that the rainy season was coming in a week or two. He knows how to literally read the land. This was vital, Don said, to knowing when and where to plant the newly budding trees. Kidd you not, about five days later, the night before we left, it started pouring while we were at dinner.

Once we were done here we headed off to the beach. It was about 30 minutes to drive there on these off-path little roads. We swam and then climbed around a few bays to eat at this little shack in the middle of nowhere. After a couple of hours the tide began to come in so we had to climb back to the beach. It took a little while and the waves were pushing logs and rocks into our feet as we were climbing around. Everyone was back except for Casey and Jody at the beach. About 15 minutes later they came back around the last rock. Jody was basically carrying LaRocca by her backpack strap. Casey had decided to start climbing with her hands full of stuff and then, in the middle of walking through the waves, to put the stuff in her backpack. I think she lost her flip-flops a few times, had a village of crabs attack her limbs, and nearly lost her legs a few times. If you ever have the chance to travel with Casey, take it. It is worth the entertainment... love you Casey! Glad you made it!

While we were down in Nicaragua there was a gas-strike going on. Although living in a third-world country, Nicaraguans are paying about the same amount for gasoline that we are here in the States. So, as you can imagine, drivers are not very happy about that. Taxi-drivers and bus-drivers around the country were hosting road-blocks and stopping all public transportation. Although not out to harm us, on the way back from the beach they did become a little aggressive towards our driver and so Jody decided that our best option was to get out of the bus and walk. It turned out to be a pretty nice walk in the end back into the city. It was most farmland and it wasn't too hot out. It wasn't the first time we were going to be stopped on the trip, but it was the only time we had to walk that much...

We ate dinner back in San Juan at a really nice restaurant owned by a guy from Santa Barbara, got some ice cream and headed back to bed.

Monday, May 5

Kala, Casey, and I woke up early this morning to enjoy our last morning in Granada. We started out by eating breakfast at Kathy's Waffle House a few blocks from Central Park. We noticed a church right across from the restaurant so we decided to walk in. It turned out to be quite an experience. We walk up these huge steps and step through the doors and we were greeted by this young Nicaraguan. He took us to one side of the church to this roped off area and asked us if we would like to see some ancient native bones. He lifted off this plastic shield that went straight into the ground. It was hard to get a picture because it was so dark inside, but you can see the outlines of the bones. He told us that they had found the burial and concluded that the bones belonged to a native of the land who had been a high-priest. It was really interesting and to be able to get as close as we did was pretty awesome.

Next, the three of us went to rent bikes to go around the city for an hour. This was probably the best part of the trip to Granada. We rode for a few minutes in each direction from the park. The buildings were beautiful and every street was different. Down one there was a huge market that stretched for a couple of blocks. It was completely packed with people so we walked down to one end and then biked back out of it. The hardest part about cycling here is that there is no bike lane like here in Florida. And cars literally don't care if you have the right of way. I'm pretty sure I missed a couple rear view mirrors by inches. The outside streets were packed with cars, bikes, and motorcycles. It was great though.

We left Granada around 11am for San Juan del Sur, a little beach town South of Managua. The drive out there was pretty crazy. Road construction in Nicaragua is also done pretty differently. Forget orange cones, lights, and barricades. The Nicaraguans use huge stones to block off the road. Meanwhile, we travelled on a gravel road about 50 miles. It was loud and bumpy. I will never complain about road construction here in Florida ever again. The trip was well worth it though. San Juan was beautiful. We all split up to eat lunch and then Mallory, Jody, Casey, Todd, Kendall, and myself all met up to take ATV's around the city. To rent them was like $13 for an hour. It was awesome. Todd, Mallory, and I got split up from the others and went outside the main city and off to more rural areas. We passed by this huge colorful cemetary. Once we got back into the city to return the ATV's Casey and Kendall pulled up. Casey was, of course, a mess. Her helmet was sliding off and she was just laughing while doing her best to drive this thing down the street. I think Kendall eventually kicked Casey out of the driver's seat. Probably a good move on Kendall's part.

That night we went up to San Juan's and probably Nicaragua's nicest resort, Pelican Eyes. Our tour leader, Joe, was friends with the owner, a super-nice guy who took care of us. We swam and watched the sunset over the city. It was a great day. We start our volunteer days tomorrow so I will talk to you then!

Sunday, May 4

We woke up this morning and played Nicaragua once again in Managua at 10:30am. We ended up losing, but at least took one game off of them, finishing 3-1. We showered in their facility and then took off on the road to Granada. It was about an hour drive. We checked into our next beautiful hotel in Granada and we were set free in the city. It was awesome. There was a little park in the middle of the city called "central park" filled with street vendors and surrounded by little shops, hotels, and churches. We ate lunch at a European-style cafe and walked around the rest of the time.

That afternoon we took a boat out around the islands right off the coast. The islands that we sailed around were created by a volcanic explosion. Some of the small islands had people on them, others had hotels, and others had really nice houses. I joked with Todd that sailing around the islands was like driving down A1A here in Florida. It was pretty amazing. Back on the mainland kids were begging for food in the park, while out on these islands people were living seemingly pretty well in there beautiful homes. One island was seemingly empty until our driver pulled right up to the trees and a monkey hopped on the boat. It was one of the funniest moments of my life. It just walked around like a little human all over the boat and kept sitting on someone's lap and then he would move on to the next one.

We headed back and ate dinner here in Granada and all headed back to our rooms. Around 10:30pm there was a city-wide blackout. Casey and I were sitting in the room without a clue what to do. Little did we know, blackouts would continue to be a routine of our trip. The cities of Nicaragua schedule blackouts every week or so. It was something I had neglected to even think about. Can you imagine losing power here in the U.S. for hours upon hours in the middle of business? To them it is part of the routine. They just keep going on business as usual. Eventually power came back and we finally got to bed...

Katie Arvidson



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