Desayuna – breakfast at the home of our driver. His children greet us with clasped hands for blessings and kisses. They call Elizabeth Tia – Aunt. She seems to be related to half of the country.
We visit the oldest city in Nicaragua – Granada – filled with Spanish influence – before taking a boat out on a huge volcanic lake dotted with 365 islands. We stop and feed monkeys living on a tiny tree covered island.
Life is simple and slower here. People take their time to enjoy each moment. We explore a five acre island that would make a lovely healing retreat. There is so much potential here. Tourists from Europe and Canada are starting to flock to this beautiful paradise.
We dine on lake fish prepared the traditional way with chismol – Nicaraguan version of pico de gallo. The lakeside restaurant is also turtle rescue. People here are becoming aware of the need to protect their natural resources. As I dispose of a water bottle, I wonder if recycling will ever become a way of living to help preserve this paradise.
Time to head north. We drive six hours on the two lane Pan American Highway past rice fields and cow pastures separated by thin strips of jungle into the mountains bordering Honduras. We stop along the way to buy fruit, vegetables and rosquillas – tiny cheese corn cookies.
On Cucamonga – the section of the Pan American Highway that winds through the Nicaraguan mountains – Elizabeth entertains us with Nicaraguan folklore. The night is deep, the only light reflecting from the occasional passing car. The road, no longer paved, rises through more remote villages until dipping down, down to Quilali – Elizabeth’s home.
We are greeted by a dozen family members who stayed up late to welcome us. Her parents, aunts, sisters, sisters-law-law, nieces and nephews kiss out cheeks. I am welcomed like family.
We enter through her mother’s shop – a corner convenience store that is open as long as needed to serve the community. Her mother is concerned that I might not be comfortable in their humble home. Compared to so many others, the Cornejo home is fine. The floors are tiled with a center courtyard garden and traditional kitchen. There is also a more modern kitchen large enough for a half a dozen women to cook. The store has taken over the front rooms, but there are three large bedrooms. Dining and gathering is al fresco – covered patios around the center courtyard.
In the far corner of the main gathering area is a small Christmas tree surrounded by 100 gift baskets filled with food and essentials that we will deliver to the poorest families in village and surrounding mountain areas. The room I will share with Elizabeth is filled with two enormous boxes of clothes and school backpacks she had shipped from Ventura. Two huge bags filled with 200 pairs of new children’s shoes purchased by her sister for us who had to take a bus eight hours to Managua.
I kiss everyone goodnight and give Elizabeth’s mother a box of Sees chocolates as a thank you for having me. Then retire to the room I will share with Elizabeth. We have much work ahead of us.