Saturday, May 31, 2008

Viva San Miguel

The trip from Nicaragua to San Miguel de Allende took all day. On the last leg of the trip, our driver delivered us around 8:30 pm. I had an address that Robin had sent me for the house we're staying in. The driver seemed to know exactly where it was, but I had no idea where the heck we were -- winding through tiny streets in a town caught in some kind of a time warp. Suddenly I saw a beautiful sight and yelled at the driver to stop! Robin was sitting outside on the curb, waiting for us.

San Miguel is more charming and beautiful than I imagined, even though everyone had told me so. Small cobblestone streets. Old, colorful buildings on hilly streets. Really a fabulous place.

The house rental is about 4 blocks from the main plaza and cathedral, the hub of town. Elizabeth and Boris were going to share the house with us, but decided it was too far from the plaza, so we have the entire, huge house to ourselves. An open air courtyard in the middle of house has access to the two bedrooms, and the main living area. Second and third floor patios have views of the city.

One half of the house from the 2nd story patio.

We were awakened around midnight by loud music. Sounded like a huge party with a live band within blocks of us. Around 2:30 Robin says she can't sleep so she's going out to the plaza. I can't sleep either, so I join her on a night stroll through San Miguel. Wandering through Mexican alleys at 2 or 3 in the morning isn't something I feel entirely comfortable with, but with cameras in tow, we went searching for the music. We went to the plaza, but nothing there. We wander around until we get close, but can't quite figure out where it is. By the time we get back in bed it's around 4 am, and the music stops. Or maybe we just didn't hear it.

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Middle of the night stroll in San Miguel.

We've spent all day wandering around the neighborhood shooting photos. This afternoon we've been hanging out at Starbucks. Free Internet connection. Viva Starbucks. Elizabeth and Boris stopped by. We plan to meet them at Harry's Bar at 6 pm. Gotta take the laptops home and get ready for a quintessential Mexico Saturday night.

El Starbucks.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Our last full day in Granada

Pouring rain all night Wednesday and into Thursday. Finally stopped late afternoon and has been nice ever since. The rain is nice to sleep to, except when some poor drenched dog starts crying, wanting shelter.

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JohnG, laptopping on a lazy, rainy day.

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Rain work stations, necessary due to open roof architecture and blowing rain.

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Normal, dry dock work stations.

Marcia had business to attend to around town, so John and I spent most of the day laptopping, importing video, email, etc.

Before we left for dinner, banging and young voices calling for Marcia at the front door. Marcia was getting ready to go out for dinner, so I didn't answer the door. I knew it was the barrio kids wanting to dance for the camera some more, but the camera was in the process of importing five hours of footage. I probably missed some good shots, but we're pretty wiped out from shooting constantly. Sorry amigos.

For dinner we walked to a street full of restaurants, four or five blocks away. When will I learn to always take a camera with me?! Missed some good shots.

A driver picks us up and we leave for Managua in less than an hour, fly to Mexico City, then to Leon, then take a shuttle to San Miguel where Robin, Elizabeth and Boris are currently dancing and partying. Maybe Boris isn't dancing, probably just flirting with the local senoritas.

Robin rented a fabulous casa in San Miguel. We were going to share it with Elizabeth and Boris, but it's too far from the main Plaza for Boris' taste. So they'll be at the San Francisco Hotel with JohnG and Marcia. Robin and I will have the big hacienda to ourselves. Bwahahahahah!

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Granada photos

Boating through the islands that are near the mainland's peninsula.

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A house/store across the street from the school.

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Houses on street corners always have corner doors.

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Another corner door. Both of these houses are a block away from Marcia's house.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Another busy day in Granada (Wednesday)

JohnG and I were picked up at the house at 7 am by a shuttle, then taken to Lake Granada, just a few minutes away. We had arranged a three-hour, private boat tour of the nearby islands in the lake.

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Cathedral from the lake.

The islands are beautiful. Lots of birds. Sharks too, even Hammerheads, but we didn't see any of those. I think that costs extra. Some of the islands are for sale. You can get an island with a house on it for around $200,000. That doesn't include the money you'll spend on a boat to get home or to the mainland.

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I did fine the first two hours, then the motion started getting to me. On the way back, we stopped at an island to have a Coke. That helped. When the shuttle dropped us off at the house, I lay down, passed out, then felt fine.

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Laundry day.

Unfortunately, I didn't wake up in time to meet Marcia at the sewing co-op she volunteers for. When she came in, we grabbed a taxi and went across town to her school again. The taxi driver didn't take Marcia's advice about how to get there (and to avoid the road construction), so we ended up getting out of the cab somewhere in the barrio and walking the rest of the way.

We spent a couple of hours at the school. I shot video while she interviewed more families who've been invited to apply for scholarships. More great video of the kids. And mothers. And the barrio. And kids in the barrio. Their faces really light up when you flip the LCD screen around so they can see themselves on the screen.

I got more barrio video as we walked to the main street to catch a taxi. Once at the main street, just a block from the cemetery, I noticed we're standing in front of a pool hall. I start evaluating the chances of getting video. Then a young man in the back of the pool hall starts shouting in Spanish. Marcia says he's inviting me in. So I go in and get super cool shots of barrio guys shooting pool. Nice guys. We might hang out later and drink beer. Maybe do some pool hustling and win some cordavas ($$). If you don't ever hear from me again, that's what I did.

Dance Fever yet again

Several posts ago I mentioned that we staged a street dance for the kids in the Santa Lucia barrio where Marcia lives. The first night we did that, the kids were pretty shy. The next night we did it again, and the kids were revved up and ready to baila! (Dance!).

At the street corner 50 yards away, I started shooting. The kids were rockin'. Then it started to pour. I put the video camera under my shirt and ran towards Marcia's house. I stopped under the nearest portal overhang to wait for Marcia. She's nowhere around. I look back at the corner house, across Calle Santa Lucia (and on the other side of the minor flash flood rushing down the Calle) and everyone's inside the house, standing in the front door (one of those corner doors that are popular here), and motioning for me to come back, waving their arms frantically. What could I do -- I ran in the pouring rain back down the block. By the time I got there I was soaked. So with water streaming off me, I'm standing in this family's living room, Latin pop music blasting away, shooting these excited adorable kids dancing their hearts out.

I can't wait to edit it, but I'm going to post some clips in the next day or so just to give you a taste of it. After a half dozen songs, I leave my camera there, run in the rain to Marcia's house to get umbrellas and a plastic bag for the camera and iPod speakers. I run in the rain back to the corner house. Then we walk back to Marcia's house, amazed at how these kids are getting into it.

The next day, Marcia says "I don't think we'll do anymore dance stuff. We have enough."

I say "I'll bet the kids have been thinking all night and all day about doing it again and they'll show up again." Marcia laughs.

The next day, it's dark, we've been doing computer/YouTube stuff, and we're getting ready to go to dinner. Wham! Wham! Knock Knock, Bang Bang. "Answer the door!" Shouting and banging and suspiciously young sounding voices. It's the barrio kids and they've worked up dance routines and they want to perform for the camera and be in the movie!

Fortunately, there's a street light right outside Marcia's door, so we turn on the iPod speakers, crank up the volume to 11, and those kids start dancing it up. And of course, a small crowd of onlookers gathers on the curb to watch. JohnG is shooting photos with flash. My video camera is doing a pretty good job of shooting in low light. The street lights of the neighborhood give the scene an interesting look. All in all, I think it'll be a YouTube hit.

When JohnG has a chance, I'll grab a couple of stills from him.

Visiting a barrio school

On Tuesday JohnG, Marcia, and I took a taxi across town to the barrio school where she works. She used to teach English and art, but now does mostly fundraising. The taxi let us off near the cemetery and we walked the rest of the way due to street construction. The walk through the barrio was quite an experience. So much poverty. But the people are friendly.

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The school entrance.

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The barrio school Los Gorrioncitos (The Little Birds)

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The school interior. Lunch is served here for students, and for other kids who live in the barrio.

JohnG and I (and Marcia) are walking down the muddy street with probably about $8000 worth of camera equipment hanging around our necks and in our backpacks. But no one is threatening or unfriendly. Just the opposite. I guess JohnG and I must be really bad-ass looking dudes. Or maybe it's just that most people here, especially the kids, know Marcia and love her. One of those two things -- I'm not sure which.

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Uh Dude, where are we going?

JohnG and I shot photos and video for a couple of hours. Shots of the kids, the playground, and shots of Marcia and the school administrator, (I'll put her name here later), interviewing a dozen students and their mothers who've been invited to apply for scholarships that will help the families continue their education. This school is free, but the kids need money to continue on, for books, shoes, clothes, and possibly tuition (I'm not sure -- I'll check that out). The current scholarship money came from a generous family in the US. Some families in this school have a monthly income of $100, and the family is large.

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Barrio kids throwing rocks at us. Just kidding! They're playing a game.

Needless to say, we got a lot of great shots. When we left, we took the long way through the barrio to get more shots, and to walk as far as possible with a couple of young sisters who live down that way. Sorry I haven't posted video yet, but soon. I'll also grab some shots from JohnG to post. His shots are really great, and he's probably the only person I know that shoots more than I do.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Monday stroll - part 3

After visiting the bell tower, we continued down the street to the Granada Cemetery. A long hot walk, but filled with photo ops. Across the street from the cemetery a refreshment stand caught our eye. It was too hot to consider ordering a bowl of sopa that was boiling and steaming nearby, so we had a nice, reviving, cool and refreshing Coke over ice in cold metal cups, then off to the cemetery for lots of cool shots.

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Stirring the sopa.

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JohnG orders a coke. Sopa steams in the background.

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Angel and cross.

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No matter what angle I choose, this monument is spectacular.

Monday stroll - part 2

During our walk, we stopped at an old church, built in the 1700s. It's the only church in town that lets you go to the top of the bell tower for a view of Granada.

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The Bell Tower.

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Stairs to the bell tower.

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JohnG enjoys the view of Granada from the bell tower.

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The Cathedral from the bell tower across town.

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Oldest part of the old church, stained exterior.

Monday stroll through Granada - part 1

Remember in The Blues Brothers when Jake and Elwood drove around town with giant megaphone speakers on top of the car? You see that (or hear it) many times a day here. It seems to be one of the most popular forms of advertising. I'm listening to an advertising message right now as the car drives through Sta Lucia barrio ("Sta" is an abbreviation for "Santa").

Monday (yesterday), as Marcia took care of business here and there, JohnG and I spent the morning walking through Granada, grabbing photos and video.

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Basic downtown morning traffic photo.

Basic happy Nicaraguan photo.

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Basic friendly barber shop.

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JohnG (in the mirror) and I shoot the barber shop from both directions.

Kathy's Waffle House

JohnG, Marcia, and I walked to Kathy's Waffle House for their famed pecan waffles. I met Sandy and Kathy, the owners. Kathy is Nicaraguan, Sandy is American, from New Orleans, and a Mac user. Counting the pecan waffles, that's five reasons to love this place. Oh wait -- atmosphere -- that makes six reasons.

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JohnG enters the Waffle House.

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View from the Waffle House portal, looking towards the volcano.

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Marcia, JohnG, and Sandy, who with wife Kathy owns Kathy's Waffle House.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

More photos from the Sta (Santa) Lucia barrio

Here are a few more photos shot by John Gough.

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Barrio store. If you don't live here, you'll probably never know its here.

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A Sandinista flag. A plaque outside said something about the Sandinistas.

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Barrio art

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Marcia gives directions to the dance event.

Dance Fever in Nicaragua

Our dance event nearly got rained out this afternoon. It stopped raining about 5 minutes after the start time. We put the Latin pop music on the portable speakers and walked through the barrio one more time to let people know it was still on. By the time we circled around through the neighborhood, a small crowd had gathered at the corner where we planned to meet.

I'll be posting some photos and a link to a video clip soon. The world premiere be probably be this coming Friday, on a sheet stretch on a barrio wall.

If you've never walked through a Nicaraguan barrio, inviting people to a dance, you don't know what you're missing. Lots of nice, friendly people, and the cutest, most enthusiastic kids you've ever seen.

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Typical traffic in St. Lucia barrio. Photos by John Gough.

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Some pretty enthusiastic adults too.

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The dance started slowly. Kids (and adults) were shy about getting out there and getting it on. I really really missed Robin at this event. She would have put on a show and gotten those kids (and adults) out there on the cobblestone in no time flat. The guys, of course, would have gotten into a big fight over who was going to dance with her next. It would have been great video, but maybe also an international incident. Don't laugh -- she had the security guys in the Cairo airport clapping and singing while she danced. One of my biggest regrets is that I didn't have my video camera handy for that shot.

Some very young and incredibly cute girls started things off. Great video. I can't wait to edit it. Then some older girls and adults joined in. Then a lanky teenage boy jumped in and he was incredible. We'll work on editing for the next couple of days, then I'll upload the movie and post a link here.

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This is the invitation we handed out in the barrio. This kid followed us all around the barrio, afraid he'd miss something.

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Spreading the news in the barrio.

Sunday in Granada

Another beautiful day in Granada. Bright sun. Hasn't rained yet, although John G says he went outside around 2 am to listen to the band next door and it sprinkled a little bit.

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Morning sun at Marcia's house

I walked from the house to downtown this morning, grabbing photos and video along the way. The Park is about 10 blocks from the house, every step a Nicaraguan post card view. Across from the park is the Euro Cafe, a popular Wi-Fi spot for laptop carrying types. I brought my laptop on the walk to town just so I could say I've emailed from the Euro Cafe and you haven't. Or maybe you have. But did you walk through the barrios to get there? I don't think so. Or maybe you did if you know Marcia or Nina, Santa Fe people who have homes here. The short walk to the cafe drenched me with sweat. I keep telling myself, "It's like a cool summer day in Phoenix, Arizona."

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Exterior of the Euro Cafe, at the corner of the park.

After a Wi-Fi rendezvous with the world, I strolled across the park to the Cathedral and shot photos. I love the colorful buildings here.


The Cathedral

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Gazebo in the Park

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Granada at night

John G wasn't feeling great, so Marcia and I walked to town tonight to attend a party at a friend's house. Unfortunately, we didn't find the party. But fortunately, it's a blast to walk around Granada at night. Everyone's either at the park, hanging out at sidewalk cafes, or sitting in chairs outside their front doors (which are right on the sidewalk).

Earlier this afternoon, we designed and printed flyers (below) to hand out in the barrio, inviting people to come to an outdoor dance tomorrow at 4:30 pm. When we left for the party this evening (and never found it) Marcia passed out the printed invitations to people who were hanging out in front of their houses. I shot video of this process, including some insanely cute little girls giving us a preview of their Latin dancing skills. This is going to be probably the greatest dance video ever made. These Nicaraguans are like Dance Fever Pro 2.0.


After failing to find the party, shooting night video of Granada as we strolled along, we stopped at Nectar, a cool night spot along a street lined with cool night spots and outdoor tables. We had a drink at a sidewalk table as we watched the Nicaraguan world go by. Young and old out for a walk in the cool night air.

When we returned to Marcia's house, the party that had started several doors down the street earlier today was in full swing. I'm inside but the open-air roof is like a giant amplifier pumping the band's music into my room. The tuba player, the drummer, and the trumpet player, whoever they are, are damn good. And they're probably setting a world record for non-stop Latin music. I fully expect to be listening to this party for the rest of the night, followed by bombas (explosives) around 4 am. And this is a religious celebration. I hope I get to visit when it's really party time.

Which reminds me, when we walked past the Cathedral earlier tonight, you could hear a choir inside practicing. It was beautiful, in a New Orleans/Negro spiritual/hand-clapping style. Very cool stuff. YouTube clips coming soon.

The singing at the party next door has started now. I'll sign off so I can listen for a few hours.

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A fast food stop in the Market, downtown Granada.

Granada's Market

Walking through the market is like being in an Indiana Jones movie. Action on all sides, scary stuff like pig heads laying around, and passageways to explore that are rabbit warrens, weaving walkways that go from dark to light, open to crowded, food and produce to furniture and clothes. And, of course, getting there is half the fun - walking through downtown.

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