Laguna de Apoyo

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We left Masaya en route to where we would be spending the next five days – Laguna de Apoyo.  It was pretty easy to find being that it’s a huge, extinct volcano.  We drove up and up and up the side of the crater and paid our $1 fare to enter the reserve at the top.  As we started to descend down the other side the sight was un-be-lievable.  The crater lake was so MASSIVE and overwhelmingly beautiful and blue.  The road down was windy, steep, and boulder clad and I couldn’t help thinking how close to the cliff we really were.  We saw elderly men huffing it up the steep road, sweating as they carried huge bails of sticks on their backs.  Most of the homes in Apoyo use wood burning stoves, which is why these men needed the wood.  Being that Laguna de Apoyo is a protected nature reserve, however, taking the wood is technically illegal, but I guess they don’t have many other options.  It’s really hard to feel good about having the conveniences we do at home when you see people working this hard just to make a fire so they can feed their family.

We finally arrived on the shore of the laguna where the Peace Project Nicaragua was located.  We were so excited to check out our home for the next week and meet the people we would be working with.  Our adventure was really starting to begin….

Rotaract & The Peace Project!

https://vimeo.com/96830411

Mike and I volunteered at the Peace Project Nicaragua in the Laguna de Apoyo back in September 2013. We had such a positive and enlightening experience there, that we found a way to continue giving back to an organization and mission that made such a difference in our lives. We are both board members of the Annapolis Rotaract Club (basically, it is Rotary International for 18-35 year olds) and I am the Director of International Service. Our club decided to take an international service trip and voted on going to the Peace Project! This August, four of our members will be making their way to Central America to volunteer with the same kids that touched our hearts a few months ago 🙂 Here is a little fundraising video I put together with photos from our trip there last year.

Finding Our Latitude

The past few years have been very transformational for both of us; Mike lost his Father (but ended up finding himself), my parents ended their marriage (but got back together), my brother found light and love, I finally left Corporate America to take my photography business full-time and Mike gave up a well paying banker job to help people in a more fulfilling financial advising career.  While I have always been encouraged to follow my heart and dreams, to say we’ve been inspired to begin doing those things as a unit (husband & wife, heart & soul) would be an understatement.  We’ve both had experiences that have seriously hit hard enough to knock us down and keep us down, but we’ve been able to stand back up, forgive, and move forward together with full hearts.

So, all of that said, we decided that want to make the most of the short lives we have and we had the ability to make choices to just just that.  We want our minutes spent on earth doing something good for the well-being of others, the world and ourselves.  We wanted to find our latitude and we want to do something that mattered.  We started this by celebrating our first year together as husband and wife.  Instead of lounging at an all-inclusive resort with pina colada in hand, we decided to rough it, put others before ourselves, take an adventure in Central America and make some memories that would, to some people, be quite different.

Our adventure started at 4am on 10/1/13.  We flew from BWI-MIA and MIA-MGA.  This was the first time that Mike was really culturally immersed and it was evident by the blank/distressed/vacant look on his face as he drove our rental car around the cows that shared the road with us from Managua to Masaya.  Yep, cows were just grazing the grass in the medians of the roads and wandering around the streets.  When we finally got to Masaya, it looked like a storm had just passed.  I was looking down at a map while we tried to find our hostel and I was startled when Mike yelled, “HOLY SHIT!!!”.  I looked up and what appeared to be Class 4 rapids were raging down the street we were about to turn down.  This is no exaggeration.  There was literally white water coming down this street.  Apparently drainage is an issue when these rains come so heavy and fast.  After watching a few Geo Metros successfully ford the rivers, we decided to head in since we had a SUV, after all.  Our adventure began and it began in Masaya, Nicaragua.

We never did find our hostel. After driving and asking around for about an hour, we ended up finding a clean little place for $35/night, which is actually expensive for Nica standards.  We had the luxury of A/C and spotty wifi, which was pretty nice, especially since Mike was still getting acclimated to his new environment.   We wandered the town of Masaya for two days and some highlights were having some authentic Nicaraguan food called “Baho” (yucca, beef, plantains and a vinegary slaw wrapped and cooked in banana leaves), some of the worst and the best Chinese food we’ve EVER had (who knew we’d find it in Nicaragua??), Independence Day celebrations in the streets, driving the volcanic rock base of Volcan Masaya, and the old, drunk, toothless man playing guitar, laughing and singing at the Chinese restaurant, the artisan market and our discovery of gallo pinto, which we’ve been making ever since we got back.  The next stop on our adventure was what we were really excited about;  volunteering and working with kids at the bottom of a crater lake…….

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Donor: Vision Workshops!!

Vision Workshops is a non-profit from Annapolis, Maryland.  Their mission is to provide innovative, dynamic, educational and life changing experiences for youth, using the tools of photojournalism.  They not only work with youth and refugees in the Annapolis,Baltimore and DC areas, but they also hold workshops world-wide in association with National Geographic Photo Camps and Crossing Boarders.  They give the kids a chance to explore their world through their cameras, to express their feelings and they help them find their voice through art.

When we decided to go to Nicaragua to work with the kids, I called upon Vision Workshop’s executive director, Kirsten Elstner, for some advice about teaching photo workshops to youth.  I teach adult learners at the local community college, but this was going to be a completely different ball game.  I was going to be dealing with young kids, language barriers, short attention spans, and all kinds of social issues.  Kirsten was a wealth of knowledge, extremely helpful and got me really excited to get to work and expose the Peace Project kids to the art of photography.  As if that wasn’t enough, she even donated a bunch of point and shoot cameras for me to use for the workshop.  The best part was that I didn’t have to bring the cameras back and the Peace Project would get to keep them!!  Thank you Kirsten and Vision Workshops!!photo