This past week in San Marcos, Nicaragua, saw us continuing our work with the children of Los Quinchos. Our goal was to help construct as much of the kids’ show as possible for their upcoming performances the following week. We got a helping hand from Levi and Enrique, our friends from Project Nido which is a local three person circus group (Cesar being the third member) that helps sustain PWB’s work with our partner organizations between tours. Rather than writing a chronological account of our time last week, I thought I’d sum up our experience in 7 separate moments. Hope you enjoy!

Jose and Marcos Rock the Flower Sticks!

During one of our afternoon session with the kids at the Cultural Center, we took time to showcase our acts in progress. We had all of the Los Quinchos crew sit down to be amazed by their fellow circus artists in training. Amid the barita twirlers, the hat posse, the energized acrobatics piece, and a lonesome poi spinner, two boys, by the names of Jose and Marcos, entered the stage with flower sticks under their chins and the rubber hand sticks held like fiddle bows. They walked on to the stage to a maudlin violin tune, all the sorrow and grief in the world contained in their small frames. The music abruptly changed to an upbeat rock song and they bust out an absolutely rad flower stick duo act met with thunderous applause.

Enrique and the Acrobatics Challenge

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Enrique leading a warm-up

Our visiting artist, Enrique, was helping us create an acrobatics routine with a certain brand of acro known as acrobacia de callejon, where the acrobats move smoothly from one position to another in partners and allow their momentum and character to inform the sequence of moves. Talented as these kids are, they are still school kids and the room was soon filled with a cacophony of laughter, chatter, and screams as kids fell on top of each other. Enrique and the rest of us from PWB supervising did our best to facilitate order, but the young acrobats were too excited to hold still. Finally, in desperation, Enrique called for silence and walked over to the closed door. The kids sensed the seriousness of the situation as Enrique told them, in spanish, “If anyone can’t take this work seriously, they can leave. The door is right here!” He opens the door to make a point, and, not two seconds afterwards, Maria, a very kind-hearted girl, innocently oblivious of the tense atmosphere inside, came bolting into the room giggling and squealing with delight. The whole room roared with laughter.

 

Coo-coo for Coconuts

One afternoon, Andy and Jake found themselves somewhat peckish and craving a snack other than rice and beans (savory as that is). In a flash of inspiration, Andy noticed a feast in the eaves of palm trees above in the form of delicious, sunset-gold hued coconuts, ripe for the plucking. The two astute men circled the towering palm trees, mouths watering, gesturing dramatically, and scratching their heads in puzzlement. Sadly their circus powers failed them since it would take more than a simple two-high to reach these juicy wonders. The solution presented itself with a spare rebar pole laying in back of the cultural center. After convincing a friendly construction worker to hammer the end of the 20 foot pole into a crude hook, the two were on their way to a never-ending coconut bonanza. Snaking the hooked end up to the tree tops, hooking a coconut on the curved end, and pulling down sharply supplied them with a love-a-ly bunch of coconuts indeed. Every morning, afternoon, and night thereafter saw the group enjoying the rich chewy flesh of a newly cracked coconut as well as a pot of tangy coconut water. Andy has taken particular (and mildly disturbing) joy in cracking the coconuts by smashing them down violently onto the concrete pathway. The only person in the group who is unimpressed with the coconut bounty is Juniper who is allergic to all things coconut and has been quietly plotting her revenge on us all for stocking the fridge with so many.

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Coco-loco

Unicycling in an Alleyway

One of the most popular props the kids at Los Quinchos have sunk their teeth into has been unicycle. Nearly every practice session is full of kids of all ages racing to get their favorite unicycle and head down to the small pathway just outside of the cultural center. Some of the kids have been unicycling fluidly for a few years now and are quite impressive. Others are still practicing the perfect fall and will hold onto you with a death grip anytime you lend a helping hand. And others have only recently transcended this beginner’s phase of unicycling and are elated to test how much farther they can ride their unicycle each day. With all of these level mixes, we thought it would be a great idea to put together a unicycle routine for the show next week. The idea was well received with the kids, and the act came together beautifully after all was said and done, but a snap shot of our first rehearsal would have had 4 small kids holding on to a metal gate for dear life, 5 older kids rolling on their merry ways in 5 different directions, 3 girls engaged in a furious tug of war over one unlucky unicycle, and 2 PWB volunteers in the middle of it all yelling in haphazard Spanish for everyone to take it from the top. After consistent work, and no limit of patience, the kids put together a comedic and impressive routine containing character, arm and arm crossing, partner circling, and a huge line of unicyclists at the end.

Scientific Name: Juggerlous Interruptus

Friday gave us a small break from creating many circus acts as possible and gave us the opportunity to do a little more of our own performances. The plan was to perform twice that day at the school just across the street where several of Los Quinchos study when they aren’t completely absorbed in their circus work. There was only one problem though. Jake woke up that morning with a splitting head ache, horrible coughing fits, and enough mucus to decimate a forest of tissue paper. Taking health concerns quite seriously, Jake was put on bed rest for the remainder of the day. No problem for PWB! We just resorted to show plan C (plan B was devised when Rachel and Racheli were down a few months ago, with all the different combinations of people falling sick or injured, we’re up to plan H-5 now). The only thing we had to warm-up before the performance was the juggling act that features a good bit of Jake’s unholy talent. We headed out to alleyway ready for a focused and serious juggling revision. Juni was about to launch into a passing sequence with Cesar when Andy yelled “Stop! Stop juggling now!” Our whole juggling rehearsal ground to screaming halt while each of us gawked shamelessly at the largest, most intricately coloured insect we have ever seen make it’s way across the alley. Clubs were quickly forgotten, cameras were fetched from our rooms, and foot traffic was closed to the public as we marvelled at this strange new creature. 20 minutes later, we patched up what we needed to with a juggling bit and were off for two incredible performances. Jake recovered the next day, but took it easy during the weekend to be on the safe side.

Monkey Bridge of Doom!

Saturday was our day off and gave us the chance to recharge our batteries a bit and take in some of the Nicaraguan splendour. Many of the group revisited Laguna de Apollo, the fresh water lake inside the crater of an ancient volcano that we visited back in January. Andy, Rachel, and I did the same but we thought to make the 2 or 3 km hike from the mirador in Catarina down into the crater. Rachel’s foot had just healed and she wanted to test it on a relatively easy downhill hike. We found a handy, though crudely drawn map at the trail head. We saw the trail would lead us around the crater along side of the linea ferrea, through trees infested with monkeys, until we came to a rope bridge. The sides of the crater were quite steep and we imagined some rickety, Indiana Jones: Temple of Doom style bridge suspended precariously over a dizzying chasm. We crossed our fingers and started down the uncertain path. We were joined by a small street dog who adopted us as his stand-in family and guided us down through the cliffside trail. We did certainly see enough monkeys to do the map credit. Every bend of the trail brought us to another huge tree full of small furry faces staring down at us. Finally we saw the end of the bridge up ahead. Rachel stepped up first eyeing the thin, stretchy ropes that held up the wooden floor of the bridge skeptically, then looked down the entire five feet to the dirt path the bridge was hung over. As far as we could discern, the bridge served no purpose whatsoever, and was only placed there to give occasional hiker a concrete landmark on the trail. Our dog companion watch each of us cross the bridge (I mean, why not?) and then just walked underneath to the other side, obviously confused about human logic.

Farm Fire Party!

Sunday was our weekly circus jam session at the farm (la finca) where the boys of Los Quinchos live. Located about a kilometer and a half down a dirt path into the countryside, la finca has cows, chickens, lambs, dogs, mandarin and coconut trees (steady, Andy!), a garden, futbol field, and a large outdoor courtyard ideal for unicycling, juggling, and all things circus. The challenge with this is transporting our metric ton of circus toys (unicycles, staffs, clubs, balls, diabolos, flower sticks, spinning plates, and this week a box of fire equipment) out to the farm. Thankfully we were able to hijack a bicycle rickshaw, a hybrid cross between a bicycle and a giant’s shopping cart. Racheli and Jake took turns driving and riding this contraption worthy of greek mythology down the hilly, rocky path with barely functioning brakes, loaded to the brim with circus equipment, and turning many a head in the rural Nicaraguan community.

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First-class transport to work

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Circus party at the farm!

Our sessions at the farm are truly a magical sight to behold. An orange-gold late afternoon glow lights up the air as children laugh and joke with each other, throwing diabolos and flower sticks into the air and weaving through the chaos on unicycles. Juniper and Jake organized club juggling patterns with some of the older kids, Aileen gave pointers on staff, and Racheli offered gentle words of encouragement to the new children who are visiting from Managua. Andy busied himself coaching unicycle and playing air guitar to his own playlist while Rachel acted as hoop mistress. I, for my part, oversaw acro and tumbling tricks over the grass which eventually turned into a big game of climb-on-Alex. This week I had a spry girl standing on my shoulders while hula-hooping. As the afternoon winds on, Cesar organized a game of futbol out on the field while we start getting equipment ready for a fire show. There are no outdoor lights around the farm so the fire performance blazed spectacularly around the concrete courtyard. Rachel had a first when she hula-hooped a fire hoop and glow hoop all at once. The kids were enthralled and we even got one of the older boys, Kevin, who had fire training from tours past, come up and spin some staff for everyone. We were able to cram all of our equipment (including the bicycle-rickshaw) onto a pickup truck for the ride back in the dark. It was a fitting end to our penultimate week at Los Quinchos and left us ready for what was to come.

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