Vulcan Concepcion erupted in December 2007, and again in March 2009. We weren’t on the island for either eruption. I can only imagine the kaleidoscopic bombardment of the senses. If you are wondering how I made this picture, my mother has a kaleidoscope software program for quilt patterns. I simply inserted the photo of the December 2007 eruption shot from downtown Moyogalpa.
Large, muscular animals scare me! I rode a horse… once in my life, and then it was only because Francisco borrowed one when he invited us to hike across the island. I didn’t want to offend him because I knew he went to a lot of trouble to borrow the horse. Actually, I think it was a donkey, but it was still larger and more muscular than me!
I was overcome with trepidation when our neighbors asked if they could tether their new bull to one of our trees. What if..he gets loose..charges after me..butts me with his head…steps on me…tramples me to death? After much reassurance that the young bull was only seeking green grass ( only gringos have grass in the dry season because we water it daily), I relented…reluctantly.
Julio coaxed the bull into our green grass by offering him soft mangoes that had fallen from our trees. I hid in the kitchen and watched, as Julio tethered the bull to one of our mango trees. After several hours, I noticed that the bull had eaten a large circle of grass around the tree. “Maybe this isn’t as bad as I thought,” I reassured myself. He was going to make an excellent lawn mower.
In Nicaragua, only the very wealthy own lawnmowers. In fact, I have only seen one lawnmower on the island. Instead, sharp machetes are the choice of the macho in the art of grass cutting. For five dollars a day, we hire two strong men to machete our two and a half acres. I doubt that I will ever be able to convince Ron to buy a lawnmower, especially after he saw the fine job that the bull was doing.
In less than a week, our field began to resemble a neatly chewed pattern of crop circles. My fears of a large, muscular animal were slowly dissipating. He was kind of cute with the beginnings of little furry horns sprouting from his head like stocks of celery. He would bat his long eyelashes, and give me a flirtatious wink. And those ears…those precious, long flapping ears. A bull that winks…yes, that’s it…you are now Bullwinkle the bull.
Naming a large, muscular animal changes everything. Bullwinkle was no longer something to fear. He was a magnificent creature. A gentle bull that enjoyed smelling the flowers, relaxing in the shade of a mango tree, and eating soft mangoes. He was Ferdinand, in Nicaragua.
I gathered the nerve to reach out and pet him, then scratch him behind his ears.He loved that! Bullwinkle and I were developing a good working relationship. I fed him soft mangoes daily, and in turn he supplied us with manure for the garden, while he munched circles through our tall grass.
One day, when I was gathering wheelbarrows of rotten mangoes, I noticed that Bullwinkle was trying to duck under the barbed wire fence that separated our property from Don Jose’s property. He smelled mangoes! Where else, but in Nicaragua can one find mango fed cattle?
I usually only fed Bullwinkle one soft mango at a time, but since I had a wheelbarrow full of mangoes, I dumped them over the fence. Bullwinkle buried his snout into the pile. He was in mango heaven! He drooled thick gooey chains of mango saliva, while gorging on several mangoes at once.
Suddenly, I heard Bullwinkle coughing. He was choking on a mango lodged in his throat. Hack, cough, hack, cough! Frantic with fear, I jumped the barbed wire fence to find Julio. He would know what to do. Julio and two friends tied Bullwinkle to a tree. Oh my God, Oh, my God! Bullwinkle is choking to death! How do you perform the Heimlich maneuver on a bull? It’s all my fault! I killed Bullwinkle!
Two guys forced Bullwinkle’s mouth open, while Julio ran to the closest plantain tree and chopped it down with his sharp machete. He stripped the soft green outer layer from the trunk of the plantain. My mind was reeling. What is he going to do with that slippery plantain pole? I watched in horror when Julio shoved the slippery trunk down Bullwinkle’s throat.
It was over in a matter of seconds. With my eyes clamped shut, I listened to the gurgling, the frantic shouting of directions, the swishing of the slippery pole thrust into Bullwinkle’s throat, then the eery silence that followed. Bullwinkle is dead, I whimpered. I killed Bullwinkle. I’m so sorry.
I cracked open my eyes just enough to see the boys untying the rope from around Bullwinkle’s neck. He was breathing steadily. No coughing, no hacking. It was a miracle! Bullwinkle was alive. The slippery plantain trunk forced into Bullwinkle’s esophagus had dislodged the mango.
Several months later, Julio sold Bullwinkle to a farmer in San José. He reassured me that Bullwinkle had lots of new girlfriends. Bullwinkle was growing up, and it was time for him to breed. I miss him!
The mangoes are starting to get ripe again. Julio just bought another young bull. Although, this bull can never replace Bullwinkle, I have developed a soft spot in my heart for these magnificent, strong, and very muscular creatures. I hope this bull is a gentle giant like Bullwinkle. I haven’t named him, yet. However, I know that when I do, our relationship will flourish. Names change everything. And, if you are wondering….this bull will never get any mangoes from me. That ain’t no bull!
Big Fish was a permanent fixture in my fifth grade classroom. My overstuffed Large Mouth Bass pillow comforted the insecure, wrestled with the rambunctious, and teased the shy into an uninhibited smile. When I squeezed Big Fish into my suitcase, Ron commented, “That’s the craziest thing to take to Nicaragua. What are we going to do with a big fish pillow?” I whispered, and let out a sigh (kind of exasperated with the twenty questions for every item I packed), “You’ll see.” There was no way that I was going to tell him that I thought Big Fish was magical. He already thought I lost it when I bought an overstuffed Sunfish pillow to go with Big Fish to Nicaragua.
A few months later, my fish pillows had worked their magic throughout our tiny community. Big Fish wrestled with Isaac, our rambunctious three-year old neighbor. The pillows were a comforting poof of fabric for little bottoms settled into coloring and reading on our hard tiled floors. And after the kids tired of coloring, reading, and wrestling, the fish pillows transformed into…well, pillows…for sleepy heads, after exploring all the novelties in a gringo house.
Big Fish was well-known in my classroom to comfort the insecure and tease the shy into an uninhibited smile. When the Nica teenagers and young adults would come over to our house, they would usually gravitate to Big Fish, place him on their laps, and get into a cuddling frenzy with my pillow. When I offered to start a Facebook page for Luvis and Fabiola, I told them, ” I need to take a picture for your profile on Facebook.”
It’s important to know that I helped Luvis and Fabiola join Facebook on two separate days. Neither girl knew one another, nor saw each others pose for the profile picture. Luvis grabbed Big Fish to include in her profile picture. A few days later, Big Fish joined Fabiola on Facebook. Take a look. I challenge you to tell me that Big Fish isn’t magical.
Fishing defines our small island. It sustains the people and nourishes their minds and bodies. The islanders use large nets called reds. Strong calloused hands and arms throw out the reds and haul in the catch every day of the year. A fishing pole is a novelty on the island. Ron may have the only pole on the island, and this oddity intrigues the fishermen, as well as confuses them. They wonder why anyone would only want to catch one fish. It really freaks them out when they see Ron throw the fish back into the lake. Fishing for sport is an unheard of concept.
When Guillermo, our head construction worker, spied Ron’s fishing pole, he asked if he could try it out. He attempted to cast repeatedly, with no release because he never hooked into one fish. Ron didn’t want Guillermo to be disappointed or frustrated with the new sport of fishing with a pole, so he grabbed Big Fish and Sunfish. He posed Guillermo with his fishing pole and the overstuffed fish pillows, and a sport fisherman was born!
I’ve shopped at the enormous Bass ProShop, since I returned to the states for a few weeks. I have a new overstuffed pillow to take back to Nicaragua. This time, it’s a crocodile. Since my fish pillows are such a big hit, there’s no telling what a crocodile will do! I suspect my croc will be therapeutic for the little kids because Isaac developed a fear of swimming in the lake. He overheard a fisherman say he spotted a four ft. croc nearby, and I’m sure it didn’t help matters when he watched “Jaws”.
UGH! I’m tired of lugging my life around in suitcases! When we first lived on Ometepe Island in 2004-05, we hauled our big, fat lives around in five check-ins and two carry-ons. I even brought my sewing machine. At that time, I had creative plans to make and sell Ometepe cool wraps. I packed a ten pound bag of polymer crystals, which looked very similar to a package of cocaine.(So I’ve been told.) Fortunately, the label was intact when the custom’s agent questioned my very suspicious looking contents. Unfortunately, most of the polymer crystals expanded to enormous proportions after a heavy rain, which was inside our beach shack, found a hole in the bag.
Last year, we retired and moved permanently to Ometepe Island and I packed our big, fat lives…AGAIN. Ron reminded me constantly, “Is that a necessity or a want?” He questioned everything I put into the bags.” Do you really need the hummingbird feeder? Why are you taking that ugly wooden flapping bird? A kite? What are we going to do with two giant fish pillows?”
I constantly reassured him, “I am an excellent packer. I have this down to an art. Don’t you worry about a thing. I have this under control.” That was my packing mantra. Six months later, our bags were expertly packed and we were on our way to Ometepe with seven check-ins, two carry-ons. and our backpacks. Each check-in weighed exactly 49.5 pounds, a 30 pound reduction compared to the 2004 weight limit regulations.
Ron and I have been happily married for over 35 years. We both know that our greatest stress occurs in airports. We almost divorced right in the middle of an escalator in the Frankfort, Germany International Airport. I accidentally dropped a case of German beer down the rolling escalator. Only one bottle survived, and it was wedged in a step of the disabled escalator. Suds spewed over a dozen people. It smelled like Oktoberfest in July. Ron eventually forgave me, but I didn’t want to take any chances or have any grounds (or suds) for divorce in starting our new rewired and retired lives in Nicaragua.
Everything was going smoothly until we approached Managua International Airport. Over the loudspeaker, the pilot stated, “Folks, the Managua airport was just struck by lightning. We can’t land, so we’re going to Panama City, Panama.” We both looked at each other horrified. What about our big, fat, lives expertly packed and stored in cargo? Do we have to lug them through customs? How do we contact our shuttle waiting to pick us up in Managua?
The pilot parked the plane under a little tree on the side of the runway at the Panama City International Airport. He reassured us that the cargo section would be locked up tight. We gathered our carry-ons and boarded a chartered bus, that deposited us in downtown Panama City at the five-star Continental Hotel and Casino! A casino!!!!!
We visited Panama City, Panama the previous year on a scouting trip, but our hotels were on the cheap end of our budget. What luxury! Por gratis! (For free) They treated us to a buffet dinner and breakfast the next morning before we boarded the bus back to the airport. We emailed our shuttle in Managua of our delay.
Our big, fat lives arrived on la isla the next day. It usually takes us two days to travel from Managua to Ometepe because of the ferry schedule. My fish pillows and the hummingbird feeder are a big hit! With construction done, we can relax in our hammocks strung across our big front porch and watch the hummingbirds race each other to the feeder.
I would like to say that this is the end of my life in luggage; however, we returned to the states this summer so Ron could coach a summer league swim team. I’ve shopped at Lowes, Wal-Mart, and Amazon online. This time, we flew the discounted Spirit Airlines and their weight limit for a check-in bag is 40 pounds max. Instead of packing my check-ins with all my new goodies, I’ve had to resort to drastic measures. Our big, fat lives have taken on a new dimension…body packing. But, I’ll save that story for another day.
I always wanted to be a cheerleader.
I have never been one to jump off the edge recklessly. Heights scare me. Fear was a soldier I never wanted to defeat. But, there came a time in my life when I had to make friends with my fears, suck-it-up, and jump! For I learned that life began when I broke out of my comfort zone. Nicaragua has a magnetic quality that forced me out of my mundane life, attracted me to the vivacious people, and seduced me with its quirkiness. That’s why we returned to Nicaragua. I may be soaring with a broken wing, but, isn’t that what life is all about?
~ Come to the Edge ~
Come to the edge, he said.
They said: We are afraid.
Come to the edge, he said.
He pushed them and they flew.
Guillaume Apollinaire (French Poet)
This Is Nicaragua
January 12, 2005 * Important, note the date!
Since Bill’s death, Ron and I have been questioning our purpose here. We sold a house, quit secure jobs, gave away winter clothes, and donated 20 years of school supplies in order to find ourselves. Bill said, “Leave Gringolandia before it’s too late” and “Once you get used to the litter, you’re going to love Nicaragua.” “It’s the land of opportunity.” We tried to fit into his world. We nodded politely at all of his wild conspiracy theories , we catered to spoiled backpackers, we chatted with all of the gringo baby boomers immigrating to Nicaragua on a pension, and we listened, watched, and waited. I guess we were as much as an enigma to Bill as he was to us. He could not understand that we didn’t leave Gringolandia for political reasons, that we didn’t want to become residents of a country we knew little about, and that we couldn’t conceive litter as something beautiful.
Bill loved the country. We love the people. There is a huge difference between the two. I wish I could separate the government from the people, for if I could do it successfully, I would live here permanently. However, Nicaragua is a politically corrupt, abusive, repressive, and impoverished country. I can’t tolerate the greed and uncompassionate power of those in control and it’s only getting worse. While the Sandinistas are plotting to restructure the constitution and increase the executive power of their President, Amente, my neighbor, was plotting, too. She came to our house today with pretenses of picking up the hedge clippers she lent us, but she really came because she was alone and frightened. She was shaking, pale, and vomiting. I told her I would walk with her to her mother’s house, but she was too weak to walk. Her mother doesn’t have a telephone, or a car, just like the majority of people in Nicaragua. She was afraid to go to the hospital because she didn’t have any money.. like all Nicaraguans. So, Ron took Julio on our bicycle to find Amente’s mother. Her mother arrived on a horse and I assumed that Amente went to the hospital, but, then again, she might have just taken her home. I’m worried about her because she was so sick. I hope she went to the hospital, but…. this is Nicaragua. Keep reading…
Living on an island has its challenges. Buying furniture is one. When we rented our little beach shack six years ago, our shack contained five plastic chairs, a plastic table, and two beds. Ron detached the old wooden door from one of the bedrooms, attached it to the living room wall, and voilà, we had a long, functional desk that housed our TV and computer.
That was fine when we were experimenting with ‘pretirement’, but now that we are in full-blown retirement, I wanted some real furniture. So began my elusive search for functional tropical furniture and my delight in meeting Marvin, my iron man.
My definition of functional tropical furniture is furniture that will withstand the onslaught of termites, geckos, humidity, and heat. Wood swells to outrageous proportions, and is a favorite treat of termites. My Betty Crocker cookbook was totally consumed by termites! When we remodeled our beach shack, we had to replace all the wooden roof rafters because thousands of ravenous termites gorged on the rafters. Our neighbor’s TV stopped working one day, and when he opened the back of the TV, there was a family of geckos living near the sound components.
My thoughts of functional tropical furniture revolved around cement and iron, two materials that would stand firm in the battle of tropical living.
Marvin had designed and installed the iron works around our porch, which led me to believe that iron was the material of choice in Nicaragua. Plus, I needed a home for our TV and our pirated DVDs.
I found a picture of a Baker’s Rack on the internet, changed the design to meet my needs, and enlarged the dimensions. I asked Marvin, “Marvin, would it be difficult to make a similar bookcase?” “No problemo,” he responded. “¿Cuánto cuesta?” I asked. ( How much?) After some mad figuring on a piece of cardboard he found on our porch floor, he gave me a price of 200 dollars. I know that there is an art to bargaining and haggling in Nicaragua, but the price for the Baker’s Rack on the internet was $1,250 and that didn’t include shipping. Without giving it a second thought, we sealed the deal with a handshake.
A week later, Marvin and his son carried the finished Baker’s Rack a mile and a half along the manure stained, volcanic sand path to our house. It was a marvel of perfection! That’s one of the things I love about living in Nicaragua; necessity is the mother of invention. Ask and they shall build. Marvin will be very busy in the weeks to come. I have plans for a coffee table, bar stools, and a pot rack. He is truly a master craftsman.
I also have big plans for Marvin. I want to help him create a business in marketing, designing, and selling his iron works furniture throughout Nicaragua. All he needs is some direction and a business plan….he definitely has the skills.
Very little has changed in six years since I wrote this story. The kids are older and mama has returned from Costa Rica. We remodeled our house, but we still have a broken plastic chair. Patricia is still a feast for testosterone-drenched eyes. Walter, our neighborhood fumigator, continues to rid La Paloma of pesky bugs hiding in the crevices of our houses. I have taken him up on his offer to fumigate our house two times before we moved in. I’m still leery of the contents of the spray. I continue to gain a better appreciation for life through these daily interruptions of a third world kind. And, as a result, I’ll never lack writing material.
Interruptions of the Third World Kind
We live in a bizarre world. I was going to describe island transportation, but as I composed my letter on my laptop, I was constantly interrupted by the strangest events. Thus, inspiring me to describe these interruptions as colorfully as possible (although to get the real picture, you just need to be here).
I enjoy the solitude of the mornings. Julio and Luvis are at school, Ron is fishing, and my words seem to flow with the tranquility of dawn. That was not the case this morning. It started with a morning downpour. In the rainy season in Nicaragua, the rain gives no warning as to its appearance or disappearance. It slices through the sky like sheets of glass demanding one’s immediate attention then vanishes. I have gotten accustomed to these daily barrages, so I knew to shut down my computer before the electricity went out. The rain broke through our tiled roof like a pirate in search of hidden treasure. I gathered the usual pots and pans and placed them in their usual spots. Then, I waited for the sun to break through the holes in the roof displacing the water. There’s more
When I retired from teaching fifth grade, my students made a list of things I should do on a tropical island in Nicaragua. I am proud to report that I have completed six items on their list. I’m working on the breeding item, but do you know how difficult it is to find a Chupa Cabra?
Things to Do on a Tropical Island in Nicaragua
As Recommended by University School Fifth Graders
- Think of your favorite fifth grade class
- Breed the Chupa Cabra with a Chihuahua (dog) Then you would have a Chupachihuabra
- Grow a banana tree
- Play volleyball with Wilson
- Swim a lot in the lake
- Climb a volcano or a coconut tree
- Eat Nacatamales
- Teach English classes
- Relax on the beach and read a good book
- Take a hike around the island
- Watch Survivor being filmed
I’m tired of looking at the world through grungy glasses. So, I have rewired my boomer brain to only see the beauty in my grungy world. The green and pink plastic bags that litter the roads are Nicaraguan flowers. The cow patties contain unique swirls of colors and patterns. The flip-flops and tattered shoes are creative sculptures. Flattened toads are stepping-stones along my path. Assorted animal bones and coconut husks fill the holes in the washed out roads to make a smooth walking trail. My new world is full of art, it is only a matter of choosing to see the beauty instead of the grunge. Road art is beautiful.