Construction Chaos

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The Motley Crew

Construction Chaos

          Here is the naked truth about building a house on an island, in the middle of an enormous lake, in the middle of Nicaragua, in the middle of Central America. Two words sum up our experience, construction chaos! One would think that hiring a construction crew, purchasing materials, and overseeing the entire process would be simple. We did. After all, we weren’t novices in building a house. We built a timber-framed house using a portable generator and hand saws when we lived in the Ozark Mountains of Arkansas. However, one needs to take into account that we are not in Gringolandia anymore. Without a Lowes, a fluent command of the language, tropical construction knowledge, a daily weather report, and an unlimited supply of cash-on-hand, building in the tropics can get downright comical.

Our motley crew tried to be patient with our wild gyrations and mimes of; “No, it is not straight. We want it straight and level. What do you mean that our wood is illegal? Why are they delivering our new fence posts at 4 o’clock in the morning?  What is the Spanish name for screws? You mean to tell me that you went all the way to Managua to buy a bathroom sink? They only had one bathroom sink in all of Managua? The sink is blue, the porcelain is chipped, and I wanted a white sink. Can you return it? How do you say polyurethane in Spanish? Where are your shoes? You need to wear shoes on a construction site. You have never used power tools before? Is there an Orkin man in town? Where can we buy an aluminum ladder? We have to make one? The termites have eaten…what? No, more to the left, no… I mean to the right. Oh, forget it. Let’s call it a day, we’re exhausted.”       keep reading, there’s more


Marina makes Cajeta de Coco...a two day process


            I was a master at multitasking.  The dishwasher removed water spots from my stemmed wine goblets, while the timed cycle of whirling machines gently cleaned and fluffed my clothes.  I chatted online and talked on the cell phone while the Cable TV broadcast the evening news, the CD player frantically burned downloaded data, and the DVD recorded my favorite reality shows.  Dinner thawed in the microwave, coffee brewed, the central air hummed with authoritarian control, while my toilet sanitized, and Glade deodorized my sterile environment.  Everything in my life was compacted, scheduled, pasteurized, automated, and thoughtlessly predictable and reliable.

Then, we moved to Ometepe Island, in the middle of a lake, in the middle of Nicaragua, in the middle of Central America surrounded by poverty, desperation, and scarcity of modern conveniences.  My lifestyle has changed drastically.  I hadn’t really given much thought to the concept of multitasking until we mowed our lawn yesterday.  What would have taken us an hour to mow using a powered lawnmower, generally takes a week with a machete.       But wait…there’s more…

The Money Machine

Loot from the Money Machine

I often have people ask, “How do you access your pensions, while living on an island?” Six years ago, the answer was bi-monthly trips to the mainland. Now, we have one ‘money machine’, or ATM on la isla. For the first four months, accessing our bank account in the USA was simple. I made daily trips to the ATM, and withdrew our limit with my VISA debit card.
Since most of Nicaragua operates on a cash only basis, I had to walk to Banco ProCredit daily because we were building a house and paying the construction workers. But, things turned ugly in January, when our bank in the USA changed their debit cards from VISA to MasterCard. The ATM only accepted VISA. We had no way to get access to our money on the island.
Living on an island presents many challenges. It requires one to be persistent, vigilant, and think outside of the box. Frantic calls to our bank in the states only increased my anxiety. Phrases such as, The Patriot Act, money laundering, and deportation scared me to death.
Our only option was to open a bank account with Banco ProCredit, travel to the mainland where the banks accepted MasterCard, withdraw as much money as we could, and haul the loot back to la isla to deposit in our new Banco ProCredit account.
Banco ProCredit gave us an ATM card. The ‘money machine’ works well…most of the time. We completed our construction, so no more daily walks to the bank. Life is challenging, but the rewards so outweigh the challenges of living on an island, in the middle of an enormous lake, in the middle of Nicaragua, in the middle of Central America.

The Money Machine

November 8, 2004

         We have seen many changes in our sleepy little port town of Moyogalpa recently.  The bakery has enlarged and now has two glass cases filled with bread, beautifully decorated cakes with icing that miraculously withstand the tropical heat, and personal pan sized pizza.  There are two internet cafes, both competing for customers.  Our regular café moved into a brightly painted room, far removed from the nuts and bolts of the hardware store, installed air conditioning, a couch and two overstuffed chairs, free coffee, and a satellite connection.  Burman’s (one of my English students) mother opened the other internet café and a price war is helping to keep down the costs for our usage. more money, keep reading

Off the Island: Into Kayak World

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When we bought our kayak from a friend who was moving to Granada, Nicaragua, we were looking for a light-weight, cheap form of transportation. Christened,Gypsy, she is our nomadic wanderer of the “sweet sea” Lake Cocibolca.
Because Lake Cocibolca is the largest freshwater lake in Central America, we have a preposterous amount of paddling to do to explore the wealth of biodiversity along its shores.
In addition to exploration, Gypsy is handy for fishing, an emergency evacuation ( if the fickle volcano, Concepcion, in our backyard decides to erupt…AGAIN!), shopping trips to Moyogalpa, playtime with the neighborhood kids, splashing water on steaming bodies, and toning my flabby underarms.
Yes, we made a good investment in purchasing Gypsy, the kayak. My only hope is that we use the preposterous amount of paddling for exploration, instead of an emergency evacuation. Join us on our first of many, tours from Off the Island: Into Kayak World.
An excellent link to information about Lake Cocibolca:

Jungle Law

Jungle Law: Nothing is sacred

“Ron!” I yelled, “An owl passed out on our kitchen counter. What should I do?” It was late at night and Ron was sound asleep, while I was checking Facebook. Stunned and dazed, the little screech owl stared at me, unable to move anything except his big, moon-shaped eyes.  Stunned and dazed, Ron came to our rescue.  He gently lifted the little intruder and we checked him or her (How do you identify the sex of an owl?) for broken wings, abrasions, and head wounds. All appeared to be in working order, but then again, we are not vets, nor accustomed to owls dropping in or making house calls in the middle of the night.

Ron carried the dazed and confused owl outside. He tried to perch him on the homemade ladder leaning against the back of our house.  The poor little fellow fell off the perch and plopped to the ground with a barely audible ‘thud’ cushioned by downy feathers.  After much discussion on the best way to position an injured owl, we decided to prop him up on the ground leaning against the back wall of the house.

Returning to the scene of the accident, we noticed a cloud of downy feathers swirling around the ceiling fan in the kitchen.  Tropical living is an open-air concept. We find it impossible to screen out all of the intruders, so we have learned to live with Jungle Law: Nothing is sacred. Nothing is out-of-bounds.  The evidence led us to surmise that the screech owl flew into the ceiling fan.

Meanwhile, back at the temporary owl hospital under the ladder, we found a large toad guarding the screech owl. Our dazed house guest appeared to be more alert. He was shaking his wings and twirling his head around in an Exorcist kind of way. To me, that seemed like progress!

Fifteen minutes later, our dazed and confused intruder had totally recovered. He flew off silently into the moon shadows, while his new toad friend hopped after him. I love a happy ending.

Jungle Law

November 5, 2004

              After four months of tropical living, I am beginning to understand the laws of the jungle.  Attempting to live a high tech lifestyle in a low-tech world has inundated us with many challenges.  Sometimes, I wonder if it’s worth the effort because it’s a never ending battle that requires persistence, awareness, patience, and constant vigilance.     But, wait there’s more…

The Birthday Party

My carrot cake at the birthday party

The Birthday Party

January 22, 2005

          It was at Alba Ligia’s sixth birthday celebration, where I learned the meaning of compassionate immersion, creative ingenuity, and peaceful understanding in our troubled world of terrorist threats, struggles for power, and greed beyond the imagination of ordinary folks.  Francisco invited Ron and I to his cousin’s birthday party in Los Ramos, a remote village on Ometepe Island lacking running water, refrigeration, and in most houses, electricity.  “Oh, by the way,” he stated nonchalantly before leaving, “My mother wants you to make the birthday cake.”  “But, Francisco,” I whined, “Ron and I haven’t made the horno commitment, yet.  We have no oven.” “Don’t worry,” he added, “We have an adobe oven behind our house.”

So began our search for the illusive ingredients such as, powdered sugar, cream cheese, and baking powder to whip up a carrot cake with cream cheese icing for Alba Ligia’s sixth birthday.  Toting plastic bags full of everything except the powdered sugar; we walked along the rutted black sand beach to catch the 7:30am chicken bus to Los Ramos.

Los Ramos is located at the base of Vulcan Concepcion.  From the bus stop, it’s a steep and rocky, mile long walk downhill to the family pueblo.  Passing horses hauling plastic water buckets and bicycles bumping down a road only maneuverable by surefooted mules, we wondered why Los Ramos was located in such an isolated area.

When we finally arrived, we were welcomed with hot nacatamales, fresh coffee, and fried plantains for breakfast.  Francisco had walked to the beach for his daily bath leaving us in the care of his mother and grandfather until he could return and translate for us.  The families in Los Ramos walk another mile to the beach to bathe and get water from a hand pumped well.  We wondered how difficult it was for Francisco to return clean after a dusty uphill walk.       Keep reading, reading, reading…

Fruits of Labor

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There is no boon in nature. All the blessings we enjoy are the fruits of labor, toil, self-denial, and study.~ William Graham Sumner

Ha! Obviously, Mr. Sumner never lived in the tropics when the mangoes are ripe. I think I’ve developed post traumatic stress syndrome from the boon of mangoes dropping on our tin roof. The only toil I am experiencing is shoveling the sickeningly sweet, insect infested mangoes into a pit in our front yard.

There is definitely a boon of fruit at our place. I feel pangs of guilt each time I dump wheelbarrows heaped with rotten fruit into the ‘fruit pit’. Completing the major construction of our house and the guesthouse, I’m going to have to concentrate on enjoying the fruits of our labor.

Between shoveling fruit and pounding nails, I have had a little window of time to make Mango jam, Key Lime pies, fruit smoothies, and Pera pies, cobblers, and sauce (These fruits taste amazingly like apples).   I hope to share with you my collection of “Recipes of the Third World Kind” or a better title would be “Fruits Gone Wrong”.  In the meantime, enjoy the slide show  of the variety of fruit trees on our property called, The Fruits of Labor..the sweetest of all pleasures.

Ometepe Six Years Ago

Ometepe  Click on the link to open the Powerpoint presentation.

When we left Ometepe Island in 2005, we helped our friend and Spanish teacher get a visa to visit the United States with us. It was no easy task. The Nicaraguans have to apply for a visa. First, they apply for an application and pay $100 for an opportunity to talk with an immigration officer of the US Embassy. The $100 fee is non-refundable. That means if they are denied a visa, then they lose their money and have to reapply at a later date….of course paying another $100 fee.   But, wait there’s more

Living Like Gilligan and the Gang

Just sit right back and hear a tale...

When I was a child, I dreamed of exotic travels around the world, building a log cabin deep in the woods, living on an island surrounded by coconut trees, and writing a book.

I grew up watching Gilligan’s Island in the sixties.  Although all of my girlfriends wanted to emulate Ginger or Mary Ann, the professor was my idol.  I had no interest in baking banana cream pies.  The professor’s creativity and ability to construct a modern life out of rudimentary driftwood and the assortment of odd garbage that washed ashore fascinated me.  He built water lines out of bamboo poles, telephones out of coconuts, and a bicycle made out of the old boat motor parts that the shipwrecked gang would pedal to generate electricity.  Someday, I fantasized, I was going to live on an island like Gilligan’s.

Rest in peace, Mr. Schwartz. I’ll try to carry on your legacy by sitting right back and telling a tale..or two through the coconut radio.