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Days 3 & 4
Started day 3 at Los Hervides de San Jacinto, bubbling lava pits near the town of San Jacinto, where a small band of children acted as our "guides" while we wandered between steam jets and small pools of lava. This is what it looked like:
After that we had a 20-minute drive to La Sabaneta, where Maritza, one of our brigadistas, lives. We stopped briefly at Martiza's house so she could see her family but our destination was the home and studio of Olga Reyes, which is just down the road. Last year, one of Olga's horses kicked over her kiln and we were going to help her rebuild.
Here's how to build a traditional Nicaraguan kiln:
1) Build a dome-shaped frame out of twigs.
2) While the mortar is being mixed, beat a pile of horse manure with a stick until all the big lumps are broken down.
3) Using a shovel, mix a mortar out of dry clay and water. Add the beaten-down horse manure to the mortar and mix with your hands.
4) Use bricks from the old kiln to build a wall outside the twig frame. Puts lots of sloppy mortar between the bricks and smear more mortar over the outside of the bricks. When the wall is about 3/4 of the way up, decide that you had better build the subfloor before the kiln is closed in and the inside is too dark to see.
5) Find a strong, agile person who is able to fit inside the kiln and still manhandle bricks and mortar and build the subfloor, which is several bricks off the ground (the subfloor will form the roof of the firebox). Thank Alvaro for being that person.
6) Decide that even though it was smart to build the subfloor before the kiln was closed in, it would have been even smarter to build the subfloor before the twig frame was put up.
7) When the subfloor is complete, pull the strong, agile person out of the kiln and unbend him as best you can. Then continue bricking the wall and after a few more courses, use large sections of broken pots to cover the top of the dome. Decide that next time you build a kiln you'll do it before the roof is built over it so that you can reach the top of the kiln without dislocating your shoulder or squishing your head.
8) Take a group photo outside the kiln and accept our host's assurances that she will burn out the twig frame once the mortar is dry. Try not to think that perhaps, once we drive off, she and her family and friends will tear down our version of a kiln and build a proper one.
When we weren't building the kiln or hanging out at Olga's place, we managed to eat Eskimo ice cream sandwiches from a nearby potpourria and lunch at Loma Verde, a comidor a short drive away (it took forever for our food to be cooked but it was worth waiting for) and we spent another night at Charlie's.
We also walked over to see Maritza's home/studio and yard. Martiza and her family were relocated to La Sabaneta after her home was destroyed by Hurricane Mitch.
On our way out of town we stopped at a studio to consult about a malfunctioning kiln. This studio and kiln had been built on the edge of town by an NGO but up until now it had not been used because most of the potters in the area need to work at or near home to they can watch over their children and do other domestic work. The kiln was seems to have been modeled after a brick kiln rather than a pottery kiln so firings were uneven.
From there we drove north to Esteli and after much driving around in the dark and asking passersby for directions, plus one phone call back to Managua, we managed to find our hotel—"El Despertar" ("wake up" in English)—which we were soon calling "El Desperado": dorm rooms, thin mattresses and, between the rooms, walls that didn't reach the ceiling. Toilets and showers across the parking lot meant that we could look up a the stars on our way to pee during the night (okay, I was the only one who thought this was neat).