Protecting your Electronics in the Tropics


Living in the tropics has many advantages; for one, I’ll never have to shovel snow again. However, living on a tropical island poses many problems for electronic equipment. There is high humidity, dust, sand, and a variety of heat-seeking bugs that would love to invade our TV, computers, and surge protectors, and make a new home for their eggs.

I’ve removed thousands of ant eggs from my surge protector, my neighbor discovered a family of lizards nesting near his sound component in his TV, and once, a rat peed on my keyboard frying my motherboard.  It’s a never-ending battle, one that requires vigilance and constant cleaning. Oh, one more thing to bring to the tropics, ant traps that you can buy in Lowes. They are really helpful. The ants go into the little boxes, and take the liquid back to their nests. It has reduced the ant problem significantly in my house.

My biggest problem is guarding my electronic equipment from electrical surges, spikes, and brownouts. If our neighbors are welding, our electricity is low. If it rains, we can usually expect a blackout until the storm passes. Brownouts cause a quick death for electronics, so I had to research the best protection.

Cyber Power..note voltage is 109v, neighbor is welding.

Meet Cyber Power CP1500AVRLCD, my constant companion in the electronics world. It is a Universal Supply System that displays real-time system vitals, protects against brownouts, and offers battery backup in the event of brownouts or total power loss. As soon as I turn it on, it displays the voltage, which is hardly ever 120v. in the campo. Today, our neighbor is welding *sigh* so our voltage fluctuates between 105v and 110v. But, I have no fear, because Cyber Power regulates the voltage with its built-in battery and keeps the voltage at a constant 120v. The Cyber Power System is the king of the campo.

Inexpensive cool tray that my laptop sits on.

Another helpful gadget for the laptop is an inexpensive cooling tray. When my laptop is on, the cooling fans are always running. My laptop tends to run hot anyway, so it helps to keep it cooler. In addition, I clean the fan filters of the laptop regularly.  They get clogged with dust, dirt, and stray ants.

Next post, I’ll discuss other handy household items to bring that are unavailable in Nicaragua or poorly made.





Monkey Business

Is this La Mona? Her baby is above her while she is peeing.

Seven years ago, I asked ten-year old Luvis, “Have you always lived in La Paloma?” Her answer included wild gyrations, chopping motions with a mimed machete, and deafening monkey howls. Then, she told me this tale about the monkey lady.

“When I was a baby we lived on the other side of the island, but we had to move far, far away because a monkey lady attacked my Papa while he was sleeping,” she recounted. To my surprise and utter astonishment, La Mona (the monkey lady) is alive and thriving on La Isla de Ometepe.

According to the accounts of many local islanders, La Mona is a woman by day, and a revengeful Howler monkey at night. She can change into a monkey at night so that she can torment her unfaithful husband. If a woman does not have the power or the correct spell to transform,  then she calls on the local Bruja (witch), who will gladly attack her friend’s machismo husband.  A sharp machete is her weapon of choice and many a man has been known to change his wicked, unfaithful ways after a night visit from La Mona.

Without a doubt, the monkey in the middle is definitely not La Mona!

One day when I was walking with Francisco to get water, he stopped suddenly and whispered, “See that woman over there? She is La Mona.” “Francisco,” I asked,” is there only one La Mona or are there many?”  “There are many Las Monas on the island. Every village has at least one woman who can change into a monkey at night.” he responded. “All people know the Las Monas on the island. They are very popular.”

I’ll bet they are popular,  I thought to myself. I don’t know one faithful husband on the island. Every man I know has a dozen kids with different women. This accounts for the successful monkey business. All the women on the island are desperately seeking the services of La Mona at one time or another.

Desperately seeking La Mona. Could this be La Mona?

A local Bruja attacked Luvis’ Papa. She was doing her mama a favor. Luvis said in a serious, hushed tone, ” My Papa moved us to La Paloma after the attack of La Mona. He was very frightened.”  That’s one for La Mona. You go girl….or monkey…or whatever! Machismo is really going out of fashion and the men need to take responsibility for their unfaithful ways! The women take their monkey business seriously on Ometepe Island.

Sweet Potato Pie..It’s a Southern Thang

Sweet Potato Pie!

I’ve been in the wine and baking mode recently. In January, one of my friends smuggled a sweet potato into Nicaragua in her luggage. We cut the sweet potato into several pieces and laid them in a shallow pan of water. In a few weeks, we had sweet potato slips, ready for planting.

Ron planted the slips in April, at the end of the dry season. When we returned to Ometepe in August, Ron harvested the sweet potatoes. After Ron dug them up, he had a 5 gallon bucket full of delicious sweet potatoes. We heard that the best time to plant is at the end of the rainy season because the sweet potatoes will rot in the ground during the heavy rains.

Sweet potatoes are not native to Nicaragua. Not one of our neighbors had ever seen sweet potatoes before. We shared baked sweet potatoes, sweet potato chips, and now sweet potato pie with most of the neighborhood. My neighbors are thrilled with our new garden addition. In exchange, they share their wine recipes with me. Next, we need to help them start a garden with sweet potatoes. They are easy to grow and need very little care. I just hope I have another batch of sweet potatoes for Thanksgiving.

Nancite Wine

Our three Nancite trees. Notice the ground is covered with Nancites.

There is never a time when our ground is fruit free. Our trees are always bearing fruit; then, the fruit plummets to the ground like cannon balls, marbles, pea-sized hail, or hand grenades. The seasons come and go; when it rains, it pours fruit…literally. Depending on the month, the odors of rotting fruit range from sickening sweet, to musty and moldy.


It is the season for Nancites. They remind me of crab apples. The marble sized yellow fruits ping to the ground, then are quickly gathered by the neighborhood kids, vendors, and mothers. The kids eat them like candy, the vendors bag them and sell them at the markets, and mothers make Nancite wine. So, I thought I’d try making Nancite wine. It’s supposed to be ‘Rico’.

Recipe for Nacite Wine

First, gather the Nacites.

1. August and September, the Nacites ripen. Gather a bag of Nacites.

2. Wash them well and let them dry

Wash them well.

3. After they are dry, put them in a plastic bottle and add lots of sugar.

Put them in a plastic bottle.

4. Cap the bottle and set the bottle in the sun for 3-6 months. When  the  Nacites start to ferment, add more Nacites and more sugar.
Easy, isn’t it? I’m looking forward to experimenting with the wine in
a few months.

Set bottle in sun.

My Woktenna

My computer desk

I confess that I am an internet junkie. I can’t imagine life before the internet. With reliable access to the internet, I can teach online classes, find online games and activities for ESL, contact my friends and family through Skype, update my blog, check daily news, and post on Facebook.

Seven years ago, we had to walk into town to the internet café because there was no access to the internet in La Paloma. When a rat peed on my laptop and fried my motherboard, it was time for me to return to the states. Even without internet access, I was constantly on my laptop, writing my Nica News, playing Spider Solitaire, and writing a book about our lives on Ometepe Island. Ron commented, “Sometimes, I feel like a computer widower.”

When we returned to live on Ometepe Island in 2010, I was thrilled to discover that Claro sold a dongle that I could attach to my laptop for instant internet access. I purchased an 18 month contract and Guillermo built me a special computer desk. The only problem was that the darn volcano in my backyard blocked the Claro tower, thus I received a weak signal. In order for me to get a stronger signal, I had to take my laptop into the garden and face the dongle toward the Claro tower. Well, that was going to be a big problem during the rainy season, so I had to come up with a creative solution for a stronger signal.

“Hmmm, I need to make a trap or a funnel for the signal,” I thought. One day, I was in my favorite secondhand store in Rivas. I spotted a wok lid under a pile of used sheets and pillowcases. My creative juices started flowing. A wok lid is aluminum, lightweight, and could work as a little satellite dish. I bought the wok lid for 10 cordobas and hurried home to experiment.

My woktenna

I removed the knob of the wok lid and poked the dongle through the hole. Then, using a 12 foot USB cable that Cory brought from the states, I attached one end of the cable to the dongle, and the other end to the USB port in my laptop. I attached a long pole to the woktenna dish with duct tape (Did I tell you how much I love duct tape?). Then, I wired the pole to the bookcase above my laptop.

It was a miracle! I had a strong signal. I can get access to the internet easily and quickly. It is unbelievably reliable. And all for 10 cordobas! Cory paid for the USB cable, which was about $30. I am in internet heaven again, while poor Ron, the internet widower, waits patiently for me to finish my blog posts.

Next post, I will tell you the essentials that you need to bring to a tropical climate for your electronic equipment. A tropical climate and constant brownouts wreak havoc on electronic equipment.

Where There Are Volcanoes…I Take Photos.

Vulcan Concepcion behind Punta Jesus Maria

Cory is able to climb rocks and volcanoes, but I prefer to take pictures instead. Sometimes, I go days without seeing the active volcano Concepcion, which is hiding behind some large trees in our backyard. But, when I do see her magmatic peak, I am in awe of her beauty, power, and alluring presence.

Concepcion in all her glory

Ometepe’s enormous volcano breasts jut from her water-bed exposing her magnificent build.  But, in her unassuming way, her peaks are modestly blanketed with puffy clouds of white. Occasionally, when she is in an amorous mood, the wind entices her into a strip tease.  If lucky tourists catch sight of this fleeting show, they are drawn to stay longer in anticipation of an encore performance.

Vulcan Concepcion has a thousand faces. One might say that she’s schizophrenic. I have a thousand photos of her constantly changing faces, but here are a few of my favorites.

Vulcan Concepcion

Where There are No Rocks…We Climb Volcanoes

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Our son, Cory, is an experienced rock climber. He works in Yosemite National Park as an interpretive naturalist. So, when he says that climbing Vulcan Concepcion is not for the inexperienced, the timid, or those who are not in shape….BELIEVE HIM. In his words, “From my experience, that volcano is not to be taken lightly. It is dangerous.”

On Sunday, a young twenty year old British hiker fell to his death. We are aware of two other deaths on Vulcan Concepcion, and two deaths on Vulcan Maderas. Seven years ago, when we managed the Hospedaje Central on Ometepe Island, a young Salvadorian hiker lost his life on Vulcan Concepcion. He had attempted to climb the volcano in the rainy season without a guide and was ill prepared for the dangerous trek. Those foolish enough to scale the 1610 meter slippery slopes without assistance are usually seriously wounded or lost in the clouds.

Even with a guide, as in the case of Sunday’s death, it is still dangerous. The guides are not certified and generally have no first aid training.  Although the guides are all young, strong, and knowledgeable about the flora and fauna, it is still Nicaragua, where the hikers climb the volcanoes at their own risk.

When we managed the Hospedaje Central, I wondered how many times the guides had to rescue thoughtless kids from the volcano and if anyone had died. Berman, the lead guide who also spoke some English told us, “Once a man died with a brain bubble, and we had to carry his body from the peak.” “Oh,” I replied, “You mean a brain aneurism.” “Of course,” he responded.

“Berman, do the hikers have to sign a waiver of release in case of an accident?”  He had never heard of such a thing.  “Are you held liable for any accidents?”  “No, of course not.” he told me.  “It is they who choose to climb the volcano.”  He couldn’t fathom the possibility of being held responsible for the carelessness of his trekkers.  Words such as lawsuit, waiver, and liability were beyond his comprehension.  I was afraid to ask, but I knew the answer before he spoke, “Do many people get hurt climbing the volcano?”  “Of course,” he said matter-of-factually.

In order to avoid another tragic accident, please take heed when climbing our volcanoes. Always take a guide, be prepared with sturdy hiking shoes, water,food,a light jacket, and a first aid kit. The rainy season is not the ideal time to climb the volcanoes. The trails are wet, slippery, and obscured with overgrown vegetation and a web of roots. If you do make it to the top, chances are you will be shrouded in clouds.

When Cory and his friends hiked Concepcion, it was in the dry season. Even then, when they reached the peak, they were blanketed by clouds. When a light breeze parted the clouds, they were astounded, yet horrified.The view was spectacular; however, they were standing on a narrow ledge of loose rock, with steep ravines on either side of them. One misstep and they would have been a goner!

Yep, Nicaragua is full of surprises. Some spectacular, some tragic. Cory’s expression after the grueling eight hour climb, says it all. I knew I raised a risk-taker, but I’m so grateful he’s cautious, careful, and experienced.

El Gamalote…The Floating Island

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Very little surprises us anymore. We’ve gotten used to the weird and bizarre sights in the “land of the not quite right.” However, yesterday morning there was a view so unique that a crowd of local people followed it from Moyogalpa to our beach in La Paloma. They camped out on our beach for the day with picnic baskets full of food, a gigantic camcorder from the 1990’s, and a dozen broken plastic chairs holding sleeping babies.

We woke up to El Gamalote, a floating island, slowly bobbing south from Moyogalpa on top of the gentle waves of Lake Cocibolca.  According to the locals, occasionally during the rainy season, a small island of debris breaks away from the river banks that feed Lake Cocibolca. These floating islands are usually smaller than a basketball court. This morning’s Gamalote appeared, to me, about the size of Rhode Island…Ron says, ” Don’t exaggerate Debbie, it is about the size of two football fields.”  Still, it is mighty big. Big enough to draw a crowd of onlookers.

I wondered from where this floating island originated. Jose, my friendly gardener, told me that grasses and rushes grow along the edges of the rivers.  These rushes and grasses gradually push their way out into deeper waters, leaving a shelf and a mass of decaying vegetable matter on which other mosses and plants gain a foothold. When well established, other water-loving plants, such as water lilies and shrubs grow along with the moss and grasses. Still attached to the banks of the river, a layer of peat forms a foundation, usually less than three feet thick. The mat becomes firm and eventually small trees will grow on the Gamalote, weaving their roots into the peat and strengthening the foundation.

Then, when the rains come, the water level rises, and the mini-ecosystem breaks off forming a floating island. The local islanders are afraid of these floating islands because the mini-ecosystem lodges itself on Ometepe Island, like a shipwreck. New animals and serpents exit the floating island like stranded survivors seeking refuge on dry land. I often wondered how plants and animals are introduced to an island. Now, one of the mysteries is solved.

They warned Ron not to paddle out to the floating island because it contained many snakes. But, not heeding their advice, he paddled out anyway. He didn’t see any snakes, but he reported a variety of sea birds, turtles, water lilies, and shrubs. I think that secretly he was wishing it would stay afloat in front of our beach because it could be a great new fishing spot.

By evening, the floating island was within 20 feet of our beach. Like at a horse race, the crowd cheered when the Gamalote floated further out in the lake, and booed when it floated closer to the shore. All I could imagine was that by morning, we would have a nest of snakes slithering around our house. I shivered with dread!

This morning, the first thing we did was to run down to the beach to see where the Gamalote landed. It is slowly headed farther south toward Punta Jesus Maria. Sighing in relief, I hope it journeys around Ometepe Island to the Rio San Juan. Maybe they like nests of snakes more than I do….at least I’m keeping my fingers crossed!

I’m not Poor…I Have a Washing Machine

My new lavadora

The other night, Jon Stewart did a segment on the conservatives’ contradictory views about the rich and poor when it comes to deciding how to lower the deficit. Fox News reported their break down of what constitutes “Poor.” According to their break down, “If you have a refrigerator, you probably don’t need any financial assistance.” The Poor’s Free Ride is Over.

I wouldn’t have found that statement so absurd if they were discussing Nicaragua because it’s true…only the rich have refrigerators. Living in La Paloma, surrounded by poverty, I constantly think about what constitutes “Poor.”  Ron and I are by no means rich, yet, to our neighbors who live in a little one room shack with a dirt floor, we are wealthy beyond their wildest imagination.

It’s all relative, but try to explain that to our neighbors when we came home three days ago with a new motorcycle and a washing machine. I tried to explain to Marina that Ron sold his Harley Davidson in the states and that’s how we could afford to buy a new motorcycle and a washing machine. Of course, the first question all Nicaraguan’s ask is, “How much did you pay for that?”  Our automatic response is always, “It was on sale, so we got a good deal.”

Marina’s family has joined the ranks of the rich, now. We did get a good deal because not only did we buy a washing machine and a motorcycle, we bought a small refrigerator for Marina’s family at the same store. We are learning the art of bargaining! They practically threw it in for free when they saw us with cash-on-hand for the total purchase. Credit and small monthly payments are king in Nicaragua. Credit cards are an unheard of luxury! La Curaçao clerks said we are their best customers. It’s no wonder because it is practically the only place on the island where we can use our credit card.

Marina loves to cook and we thought that if she had a way to refrigerate food, she could cater to the workers building the new airport down our road. Now that I have a washing machine, Marina needs a new job. The refrigerator is a small one, so it won’t use much electricity.That is when we have electricity! Lately, Disnorte-Dissur, the distributors of our electricity have been in a rationing mode. Like clock-work, we lose power from 6 pm to 8 pm every night.

Our refrigerator is full of food that Marina brings over to our house almost hourly! She trimmed Ron’s mustache and cut his nose hairs yesterday. I am grateful for my new washing machine, and Marina is grateful for her new refrigerator. Things are looking up in our little community of La Paloma.

Ahh...the first load of clothes from our new washing machine.

Hanging my first load of freshly washed clothes on our clothesline, it dawned on me how to fix the debt crisis dilemma. What if all the rich people would buy the poor people new refrigerators? It may be a simple solution to improving the lives of the desperately poor. After all, according to Fox News, “If you have a refrigerator, you probably don’t need financial assistance.”