Dr. Elise Harb’s Nicaragua Travel Journal, January 2014: Days Nine Through Ten

Day 9


Hi, all. Finally in Corn Island!! A beautiful final end to the trip. We arrived via a little 12 seater plane (see video of the day) and although the whole ride we were socked in with clouds as we approached the island, the view emerged (see photo of the day). We are staying at a resort on the beach fully equipped with coconut palms, hammocks and, of course, the Caribbean beach! We went to clinic for the last time today and saw another 200 patients, making the total 2,500 – meager compared to last year’s 6,000 – but 2,500 more people than if we never came!

Tonight, having my favorite, ceviche and sopa de mariscos (see pic of the day), then relaxing and getting some rest.

Tomorrow is a day off on the island- so, beach day!! Until then…

image2- elise

Day 9 Video: Corn Island






Day 10



Final day was great!! Started with a late wake up, then a big plate of local fruit, then all day at the beach (see pics of the day). Walks and kayaking were wonderful explorations (including a close call with a fishing boat). Ceviche for lunch and sunset-watching rounded out the day.

Not too shabby! And to top it off, managed to miss a good snow storm! Tonight, a final dinner with the crew – the students have been a lot of fun- then off tomorrow morning for a full day of traveling.

Signing off from Corn Island, Nicaragua….

 – elise


Dr. Elise Harb’s Nicaragua Travel Journal, January 2014: Days Five Through Eight

Day 5
imageGreetings from Pearl Lagoon! We arrived this morning after a beautiful 2 hour panga ride to one of my favorite places – instant Caribbean relaxation. We got a chance to relax a bit and have a wonderful lunch by my favorite cook on this trip – Miss Ingrid (fresh bread, fried shrimp, fish casserole, rice and beans, and cucumber and tomato salad). Still without glasses, we managed to hold a clinic and saw about 300 people (to date we have seen about 1500 people- chill for this time point). We are staying at the Green Lodge with my favorite family. The lady of the house is Miss Arlene. Tomorrow more of the same – apparently the glasses are coming in the morning. Now off to my favorite hangout- Queen Lobster- for a drink and a great view of the lagoon.

- elise

Day 5 Video: Pearl Lagoon


Day 6

baseballHey, everyone.

More of the same here – the glasses situation is quite frustrating. But we have been making the most of it. I have been trying to be creative with my time since the clinics are slower than normal. Yesterday we held clinic at the Pearl Lagoon Academy of Excellence, which educates preschoolers to high schoolers. I had enough pediatric equipment to leave so I showed the administration how to do vision screenings for their students. After clinic, we went to a local baseball game and then to the usual spot. Tomorrow off to Bluefields in the morning – panga ride down the lagoon. Until then…

- elise


Day 7



Greetings from colorful Bluefields!!

While the glasses have yet to arrive, we saw over 200 people and are making an announcement on the radio for tomorrow. Bluefields is the main city of the Atlantic Coast and our hotel deck overlooks the bustle of the city. The students’ morale is pretty high and they are enjoying the sights and cuisine of the country. We have renamed the course ‘Culture and Cuisine of Nicaragua.’


Day 7 Video: Bluefields

Day 8


Almost at the end, but we have saved the best for last — Corn island!

I am currently in Bluefields sitting on a rocking chair at my hotel after a fairly decent clinic day and an interesting day overall. Started out learning that we would have a 14 hour blackout — apparently those yellow trees in Managua that I mentioned in  day 1 (which are illuminated at night) have been sucking the electricity from the Atlantic Coast.

The Atlantic Coast has also been suffering with many of their goods (eg shellfish) being sent to the more touristy and affluent Pacific Coast. Early this morning, I took a walk at the public market and many of the goods normally there were not.

I think so far we have seen about 1250 patients so far, but we have managed to supplement our time with some other lessons. Today we had a lesson in Creole at the school where we see patients. There is debate about whether it is a language on its own or just broken English. The written Creole language was initiated only in 2002!

After clinic, I managed to make a trip to a restaurant on the lagoon and had Flor de Caña and fresh pineapple juice. We got there just in time and sought refuge from a deluge (see video of the day).

Hope you are all well! Go NINERS!!!

- elise

Day 8 Video: Deluge

Dr. Elise Harb’s Nicaragua Travel Journal, January 2014: Days One Through Four











Day 1

We arrived last night and had an uneventful passing through customs. After some much needed rest, our group (13 Williams College students this year) and I, did our usual tour of the active Masaya volcano and marketplace. I was able to visit a new town today, Granada, which is an old Spanish colonial town with amazing architecture. We had lunch on the shore of Lake Nicaragua (the largest lake in Central America), where I art my favorite, pescado d’entero frito, caught that morning from the lake. A new addition all over downtown Managua (the capital) is these yellow spiral tree statues. President Ortega apparently has decided this is his new mission- beautifying the city. Tomorrow morning off to start the work…

– elise

Day 1 Video: Masaya Volcano

Day 2


Hi all-

Kind of a chill 1st work day here — we awoke and drive 4.5 hours to the town of Rama – a bit inland from the Atlantic Coast- only to find out that all the glasses we shipped 6 months ago were still stuck in customs. Luckily, we traveled with some and were able to make due for the 200 people that came to the clinics. Let’s hope we are able to jail break them by tomorrow morning…

It’s 6 pm here and I am sitting on the patio of our hotel watching the sunset (see pic of the day) and enjoying the local life and music ( see video of the day). This may turn out to be more of a vacation then I thought…

Hope you are all well – until tomorrow.

– elise

Day 2 Video: Nicaragua Night Life


Day 3

In Central America, things can move at molasses pace…aka still no glasses. However, we managed to see about 400 people and surprisingly were able to help all of them, even with our limited supply. Thank god a friend of mine donated a large supply of glasses and I had them with me.



Our clinic was full of interested bystanders. Off to make the most of my day with some camarones y flor de caña…

– elise

Day 3 Video: Nicaraguan Traffic



Day 4

So apparently so much can ride on a name. We learned today that the reason we haven’t gotten our glasses is due to confusion at customs on who shipped the glasses. While we know the glasses will eventually be released, it is possible that they will be after we leave, so we are doing examinations and the local organization will distribute the glasses.

Today, I had the pleasure of going to a small community called Calderon, which thrives on agriculture — namely bamboo and palm oil. We travelled on the back of a pick up truck on a road that makes Boston potholes look tame (see video of the day), although the scenery was beautiful. Out clinic was busy. Tomorrow off via panga (boat) up the river to pearl lagoon to the Caribbean life ;)

– elise

Day 4 Video: Nicaraguan Potholes

Nicaragua Travel Journal, January 2013

Nica Day 1

Buenos noche,

I arrived safely in Managua yesterday afternoon and as usual was met with some delay by customs allowing me to enter the country with my equipment. While I was waiting for them to approve our passage, a group of US southerners were passing smoothly through inspections with their 10 rifles!!! Only in Nicaragua.

Today was a packed day of touring. We showed the students the Masaya Volcano, which had a mini eruption in April, so we all had to wear hardhats. We also saw the crater lake and town of Catarina, the public market at Masaya, and old downtown Managua. Pics of the day below.

Tomorrow we leave early am to start the drive across the country and begin clinics! Off to drink some flor de cana with the crew.

Nica Day 2
Today we travelled by road across the country to El Rama to start our clinics. The road had several traffic jams (see pic of the day). We started our first clinic and saw 500 people in about 4 hours. The students did an awesome job on their first clinic day. Moreover, I am now a star as I was interviewed for the radio station. In the end, we worked in the pitch dark with flashlights. Tomorrow we are off to several communities around the area.

Nica Day 3


I am sitting in my hotel despite the power being out in my town (thank god for generators). Although I did just take a cold shower in the dark. I should have known today would be an adventure. …

This morning I took a small group of students to a small hillside plush community named Kissilala (true story). It was deluging rain this morning and the road is horrible. Needless to say we needed to travel in an appropriate vehicle. That vehicle was the back of a pick up with a leaky tarp (see pic of the day). We arrived at our clinic (porch of a family’s home) completely drenched. Don’t let that fool you, the day was great. The community was gorgeous as were its people. The woman of the house made us a great lunch, which included homemade arepas and cheese. I believe throughout the several communities we serviced we saw approximately another 500 people.

Nica Day 4

After spending the night without power, we awoke to a full day of clinic (see pic of the day). We had no time to breathe, pee, or sit down! We saw approximately 800 people today and practically ran out of our supply. People were so appreciative, giving kisses and wanting to take pictures. I am now sitting on the porch of our hotel listening to the crazy birds here and watching the sunset. Tomorrow we leave at 5am for the bumpiest ride ever- 3 hours worth!!! I am expecting a few pullovers for vomit breaks. Couldn’t get better.

Nica day 5,6 and 7

Sorry I have been incommunicado for the last three days, no internet. Let’s see..,, where did I leave off.

Day 5 – went on the 4 hour road trip on the best road ever ( see pic of the day). No vomit breaks thank god! Saw patients…

Day 6- arrived in Pearl Lagoon, one of my most favorite places (see next pic of the day). Saw patients….

Day 7-took a great panga ride (see next pic) and arrived in Bluefields today and saw a record 850 patients in one day!

It’s been raining tons here and I feel like my feet are always wet, only to be relieved by a cold shower. Power is out now, water was out yesterday. Sounds like a bad trip but I am enjoying the people I am with and having a good time.

See you tomorrow- off to eat some pescado d’entero- if the restaurant has power ;). Just saw myself on the news getting interviewed.

Nica Day Final

My final day was a gem. Started with an early morning swim in the sea. We had a short clinic session and ran out of everything. We saw a record total of 5000 patients!!! Unbelievable. I spent the afternoon on the beach (see pic of the day) and arranged a beautiful lunch with a great view. Finished with a show of the sunset. Corn Island is a majestic island….. and has the best ceviche!

Tomorrow morning I start on a full day of travel to frigid Boston….. can’t wait. All in all it was a fantastic and fulfilling trip and a great way to start the year.

For more information about my trips to Nicaragua, click here.








Eye Care and Culture on the Atlantic Coast of Nicaragua


Williams College students providing care on recent Nicaragua trip.

Williams College students providing care on recent Nicaragua trip.

Earlier this year, I participated in a tremendous collaborative effort to provide eye care to over 4,700 people in the developing region of the Atlantic Coast of Nicaragua. In cooperation with Ray Hooker, President and Founder of FADCANIC (Foundation for the Autonomy and Development of the Atlantic Coast of Nicaragua), Williams College, and NECO, we have been able to provide this service for the last 10 years. This effort embodies the mission of FADCANIC; “…to nurture, strengthen and develop the process of autonomy of the Atlantic Coast of Nicaragua from civil society through the qualitative transformation of social, economic, cultural and political relations that benefit the indigenous and ethnic communities of the region.” Williams College, a small liberal arts school in Williamstown, MA, has been funding this effort as part of a winter study course for a selected number of students entitled “Eye Care and Culture on the Atlantic Coast of Nicaragua” and headed by faculty member Robert Peck.

NECO has been a part of this humanitarian effort since its inception ten years ago. For the last seven years, I have been helping to head the trip and organize all of the eye care related aspects of the trip. Before the trip, I teach the participating Williams College students (on average 12-14) about ocular anatomy, refractive error and rudimentary aspects of ocular disease. The students then go through a training to learn how to take visual acuity and determining the plus lens powers needed for distance and/or near vision.

During the 12-day trip, 3-4 optometrists, all of whom are NECO alumni and/or faculty and oversee the vision screenings and perform comprehensive exams when needed, accompany students. In addition to myself, the other optometrists that participate are local alums of the College. Of note is Dr. Katie Field (Class of ’03), who has been a trip optometrist for the last eight years, providing unsurpassed service.

Seeing patients in Kukra Hill, Nicaragua.

Seeing patients in Kukra Hill, Nicaragua.

To date, a total of 61 Atlantic Coastal communities have been serviced in the last ten years and a total of 28,951 eye exams performed. While almost all of the patients seen receive sunglasses, approximately 20,250 pairs of distance and/or reading glasses have also been dispensed. In addition, the Commonwealth practice of New England Eye (NEE) has been donating lenses and fabrication services for the last 5 years for those patients who have significant refractive errors that can’t be corrected with the over-the-counter reading glasses typically dispensed during the trip. In total, approximately 250 pairs of glasses have been made by NEE and shipped back to the appropriate patients.

While these trips wouldn’t be possible without the leaders of this endeavor, I want to acknowledge the hard work of the participating Williams College students each year. I am proud to be a part of the NECO community and the service they have provided in this endeavor over the last 10 years! Members of the NECO faculty who have participated over the years are myself, Bruce Moore, Catherine Johnson, Nicole Quinn, Stacy Lyons and Jacky Kong. NECO alum who have participated are Drs. Katie Field, Wendy Crusberg, Jenelle Mallios, Yos Priestley, Marcia Thiel, Scott Huffer, Jennifer Hartzell, Angela Langthorne, Layli Toutounchian, Tammy Gray, Irwin Schwom.

For an article highlighting this 10th anniversary trip, visit this link.
For more information on FADCANIC, visit its website.