It’s hard to believe that service is over already, and even moreso that our time in Nicaragua is ending. Alas, it’s time for finals — not the exams we take on campus, but rather a series of last-time-we-will-do-this and last-time-we-will-be-here moments tinged with both sadness and anticipation.

On Friday afternoon the students made their way back from their service locations to Jinotepe and spent the rest of the day revisiting people and places in Carazo one last time. Saturday we had brief presentations on our final projects, followed by free time for more farewells, last-minute shopping, and resting up for the next day’s activities.

Early Sunday morning we headed to Mombacho, a volcano set in one of Nicaragua’s two cloud forests. (Although it’s considered “active,” the last eruption was almost 450 years ago.) Among the hundreds of plant and animal species in this protected area are orchids, lichens, ferns, frogs, monkeys, salamanders and sloths. Several species are endemic to this particular forest.

We rode up a steep incline to a visitors’ center and then had our choice of several guided hikes around the two craters at the top. The trails were densely shaded, dripping with humidity, and often strenuous. When we finally made it up to the lookout points, however, the clouds parted to reveal stunning views of Granada, Lake Nicaragua, Laguna de Apoyo and the surrounding countryside. It was well worth the rigor required to get there!

We spent the afternoon in nearby Granada, enjoying the plentiful sunshine, scenery and shops. It is probably the most “touristy” of the places we’ve visited all semester, and it felt a little strange to see so many other gringos in the same city. (It’s probably good we saved this for late in the term, as it may help prepare us for the reverse culture shock some of us likely will experience in a few days.)

From Granada we headed to Laguna de Apoyo for our final two nights in Nicaragua. Monday was all about rest, relaxation, and repacking any suitcases that we feared would exceed the airline’s weight limits.  As mentioned earlier, the laguna is considered the cleanest swimming holes in the country, and its deepest point boasts the lowest elevation in all of Central America.

At our final reunión late in the afternoon we talked about what we will miss, what we are looking forward to, what we learned, and what we will do differently as a result of the experiences we had here. It was a bittersweet meeting, filled with reflections, memories both humorous and poignant, and many words of appreciation for the people of Nicaragua. We ended the day with one of Jen’s famous ice-cream cakes and a piñata (custom made by Genevieve and Lisa) to celebrate Jacob’s and Dalena’s birthdays during service.

Speaking of appreciation, we want to express our gratitude to our country coordinator Dalena, the host families in Carazo and in the service cities, and the many people in Jinotepe and Managua who helped with classes, lectures, field trips and the numerous details and logistics involved in a semester like this. We are also grateful for the unflagging assistance of the International Education Office back on campus as well as our families and friends who have encouraged and supported us from afar during these past three months.

Finally and most importantly, mil gracias to the Nica ’11 SSTers themselves for their fortitude, patience, resilience, enthusiasm, abundant sense of humor, and openness to this intercultural experience. What a privilege it has been to to help them take on challenges they may never have imagined before, to watch new strengths and insights emerge, and to witness those inevitable “aha” moments that occur as a result. We are so very proud of each of these students: Kaleb, Mandi, Jacob, Brian, Nathaniel, Amanda, Katie, Austin, Jaci, Hannah and Sarah. To them and to our readers we won’t say adios but rather, as they say in Nicaragua…

¡Va pues!
Lisa & Jen