A Weekend Homestay in Miraflores

There are beautiful landscapes in the hills of Nicaragua surrounding the town of Esteli. One weekend we decided to explore them further by participating in a local homestay. During a homestay you stay with a local family. You sleep on their property, eat with them and participate in their family activities. We signed up through a local non-profit that works with the surrounding community to enrich their lives through education and profit sharing. For $123, we got a private room and our own bathroom, 4 meals for Ken and I, entrance to Miraflores National Park, and a 3.5 hour horseback riding adventure. We'd be entrenched in the family's life, exploring their land and basically learning whatever we wanted to learn. Prior to booking we were warned that the family may or may not have electricity and/or running water. 

After reading a description of several families, we chose to stay with Orlando and Devanira at their home quaintly called "Ojo de Aqua" (Eye of the Water). The family lives on their farm near the headquarters of the revolutionary guerrilla Leonel Rugama, in the middle of Miraflores National Park. As we later learned, much of the guerrilla training for the Sandinista's Revolution took place around Esteli. This family also has young children which also interested us. 

Ela and I at the entrance to the National Park. If we hadn't gone through Tree Huggers non-profit organization, I'm not sure where or how we would have paid the entrance fee. There was no guard station anywhere we drove. 

Ela and I at the entrance to the National Park. If we hadn't gone through Tree Huggers non-profit organization, I'm not sure where or how we would have paid the entrance fee. There was no guard station anywhere we drove. 

We stopped several times on our drive into the mountains to enjoy the breathtaking views. 

We stopped several times on our drive into the mountains to enjoy the breathtaking views. 

Shortly after arriving at the family's farm, the youngest child, Juan, was asked to carry lunch to his brother working in the fields. We decided to tag-along with Juan. 

This is one of my favorite pictures of Ela. She was so happy this entire weekend. She loved walking in the fields, playing with the kids and enjoying a "real life Social Studies lesson". This is what life is like for many Nicaraguan families. 

This is one of my favorite pictures of Ela. She was so happy this entire weekend. She loved walking in the fields, playing with the kids and enjoying a "real life Social Studies lesson". This is what life is like for many Nicaraguan families. 

Tag and I followed at his pace which included several stops to pick up sticks or retrieve a boot stuck in the thick mud. I've since decided that the used boots we bought Tag are too big for him. Now I'm on a mission to find him a pair that don't come off as easily. 

Tag and I followed at his pace which included several stops to pick up sticks or retrieve a boot stuck in the thick mud. I've since decided that the used boots we bought Tag are too big for him. Now I'm on a mission to find him a pair that don't come off as easily. 

Of course Tag was drawn to Juan's brother's machete. This child has a knack for finding weapons. 

Of course Tag was drawn to Juan's brother's machete. This child has a knack for finding weapons. 

After dropping off lunch, Juan decided he wanted to visit his dad a bit further up the mountain. Ken, Ela and Juan went upward, while Tag and I returned to the home. When I returned, Devanira, Juan's mother, was a bit shocked to hear that Ken, Ela and Juan were heading up the mountain. Apparently it was a very steep climb and would take them about 30 minutes, not to mention it was very hot. She was also preparing lunch and was trying to figure out when best to serve it.

After their steep climb, Juan was excited to share his cows with Ela. They fed them grass. One cow was pregnant and due to give birth in 2 days. 

After their steep climb, Juan was excited to share his cows with Ela. They fed them grass. One cow was pregnant and due to give birth in 2 days. 

Ken, Ela and Juan's view after their climb. 

Ken, Ela and Juan's view after their climb. 

An hour and a half later, Ken, Ela and Juan arrived back at the home. We ate the first of four delicious meals. 

Left: This is Devanira's organic garden. She starts many of her plants in the green house. Right: Every meal included several vegetables and a homemade drink. I believe we paid $2.50-$4 per meal per person. I brought food for our kids since they don't like healthy vegetables. 

Left: This is Devanira's organic garden. She starts many of her plants in the green house. Right: Every meal included several vegetables and a homemade drink. I believe we paid $2.50-$4 per meal per person. I brought food for our kids since they don't like healthy vegetables. 

After lunch, we spent time exploring the farm and the neighborhood. Ela and Tag played with the local kids. 

The family's pig and other families' pigs wander the street and farms as they like. They wear these wooden X's on their necks which prevent them from leaving the fenced areas. This pig is likely to be slaughtered in December. Sometimes they eat the meat and other times they sell it. This year they are likely to sell it because they need the money. The pigs and the dogs ate slop out of a tire sliced in half like a big moon-shaped bowl. 

The family's pig and other families' pigs wander the street and farms as they like. They wear these wooden X's on their necks which prevent them from leaving the fenced areas. This pig is likely to be slaughtered in December. Sometimes they eat the meat and other times they sell it. This year they are likely to sell it because they need the money. The pigs and the dogs ate slop out of a tire sliced in half like a big moon-shaped bowl. 

This was our private bathroom. The family's bathroom is similar. Notice the container of water on the table at the right. This is what we used to wash our hands. 

This was our private bathroom. The family's bathroom is similar. Notice the container of water on the table at the right. This is what we used to wash our hands. 

This is one of several outbuildings, but this is the biggest and nicest one. I believe Orlando keeps many of his farm tools here. We have no idea what they are going to do with the corn. 

This is one of several outbuildings, but this is the biggest and nicest one. I believe Orlando keeps many of his farm tools here. We have no idea what they are going to do with the corn. 

Around 3:00 it started to rain. This was no gentle Seattle sprinkle. It was a typical rain forest afternoon downpour. The kids played outside at a covered table. Ela shared her Lego characters and other small toys. Tag played with a can and a yogurt container. If I could do this weekend all over again, I would have brought Uno. Later, Ken and I escaped to the covered hammocks and actually talked uninterrupted for 2 hours. I can't remember the last time that happened!

A little rain never stopped us from having fun! The ground turned into a mud bath and we were all quite dirty.

A little rain never stopped us from having fun! The ground turned into a mud bath and we were all quite dirty.

Tag isn't a fan of wearing wet clothes. This was the only day he'd worn underwear in 5 months. We warned him that he would want to keep his privates more closely guarded to keep out the little bugs. (There were uncomfortable bug biting incidents in Guatemala and he started wearing underwear again. The underwear were long forgotten when we moved to Costa Rica.)

Tag isn't a fan of wearing wet clothes. This was the only day he'd worn underwear in 5 months. We warned him that he would want to keep his privates more closely guarded to keep out the little bugs. (There were uncomfortable bug biting incidents in Guatemala and he started wearing underwear again. The underwear were long forgotten when we moved to Costa Rica.)

All weekend, Juan would be asking about Ela when they weren't playing. Ela doesn't speak much Spanish and neither Juan, nor his sister, speak any English. This didn't matter. They had a wonderful time. 

All weekend, Juan would be asking about Ela when they weren't playing. Ela doesn't speak much Spanish and neither Juan, nor his sister, speak any English. This didn't matter. They had a wonderful time. 

Later that night, there was no power. The family had some solar power in one room of their house. We spent the night playing chess and checkers. Orlando and both kids played guitar and sang songs. Both kids attend their local school 5 days a week, where they are taught to play the guitar. It was a special evening. 

The following morning, we awoke to the sounds of hoofs along the street. While there are some cars, trucks and the occasional chicken bus, the main form of transportation is the horse. We ate a wonderful breakfast and headed out for our horseback riding adventure. 

We rode for 1.5 hours to a waterfall, went on a small hike and returned by horse. We never would have found these trails and known about the waterfall if we hadn't hired Orlando as our guide. We did plenty of trotting and even the occasional galloping which made it that much more fun. 

We rode for 1.5 hours to a waterfall, went on a small hike and returned by horse. We never would have found these trails and known about the waterfall if we hadn't hired Orlando as our guide. We did plenty of trotting and even the occasional galloping which made it that much more fun. 

Tag rode with our guide, Orlando, and talked to him the entire time. Orlando didn't know much of what Tag was saying, but that didn't stop Tag. As far as he was concerned, he had Orlando's undivided attention for 3 hours! Here we have arrived at the waterfall. In order to hike down to the bottom, we had to climb a fence to find the trail. What kid doesn't love climbing fences?

Tag rode with our guide, Orlando, and talked to him the entire time. Orlando didn't know much of what Tag was saying, but that didn't stop Tag. As far as he was concerned, he had Orlando's undivided attention for 3 hours! Here we have arrived at the waterfall. In order to hike down to the bottom, we had to climb a fence to find the trail. What kid doesn't love climbing fences?

The waterfall is actually on private land. When we entered the private property, we paid the landowner a nominal fee. This is typically how it's done. We found ourselves in similar situations running in Guatemala where our guide, Greg, would pay the local landowner to let us run the part of the trail that crossed his land. Ela put the flower in my hair. Orlando showed it to her. It's the national flower of Nicaragua, known as the sacuanjoche.

The waterfall is actually on private land. When we entered the private property, we paid the landowner a nominal fee. This is typically how it's done. We found ourselves in similar situations running in Guatemala where our guide, Greg, would pay the local landowner to let us run the part of the trail that crossed his land. Ela put the flower in my hair. Orlando showed it to her. It's the national flower of Nicaragua, known as the sacuanjoche.

The climb down, and later back up, the waterfall was steep. Tag is literally pulling himself up over the rocks. 

The climb down, and later back up, the waterfall was steep. Tag is literally pulling himself up over the rocks. 

Ela is climbing up and through the tree roots that are in the middle of the trail. We had a blast on this hike!

Ela is climbing up and through the tree roots that are in the middle of the trail. We had a blast on this hike!

John Wayne, I mean Ken Weary, learned how to open fences without getting off his horse. This was pretty cool. Although I wouldn't expect anything less from my Texas Stud!

John Wayne, I mean Ken Weary, learned how to open fences without getting off his horse. This was pretty cool. Although I wouldn't expect anything less from my Texas Stud!

Ela loved her horse. I asked Orlando if the horses had names, but I couldn't understand his answer. Therefore, we came up with our own names. Ela named hers Buttercup, and Tag named his Shine. When I asked Orlando if his son Juan rode horses, he kinda laughed. As it turned out, it was a silly question. I was riding Juan's horse. Juan has ridden for years and is responsible for all of his horse's caretaking needs. 

Ela loved her horse. I asked Orlando if the horses had names, but I couldn't understand his answer. Therefore, we came up with our own names. Ela named hers Buttercup, and Tag named his Shine. When I asked Orlando if his son Juan rode horses, he kinda laughed. As it turned out, it was a silly question. I was riding Juan's horse. Juan has ridden for years and is responsible for all of his horse's caretaking needs. 

Although we only spent 2 days and 1 night at the farm, it felt like we'd been there for a week! We were exhausted by the end of the weekend. It didn't matter that we didn't have electricity most of the weekend. It didn't matter that the only running water was behind the house and in the toilets. (We always drink bottled water anyway.) We were surrounded by the kindest family, beautiful land and a simple, yet hard working lifestyle.

Whether she realizes it or not, this may be Ela's best experience so far in Central America. She was happy day and night. Everything about the weekend thrilled her (and us). I highly recommend such an adventure for any family finding themselves in Esteli, Nicaragua.