Princessa and the Twins


Rudy's twins

The Spanish brought the first cattle to Nicaragua in the 16th century. Since then, Nicaragua has successfully been raising beef for export and local consumption. Although the country is suitable for raising cattle with its rolling hills covered with grass, very little attention is given to improving the breed.

Few farmers make hay when the sun shines. During the dry season from January through April, the cattle are left to fend for themselves. In an exceptionally dry season, the Pará and Guinea grasses wither and die, and the cattle starve. Their bones are found scattered throughout the fields and along the dusty roads.

I know I’m a suburban kinda gal, but I can’t stand to see any animal suffer. I never saw a skinny pig before we moved to Nicaragua. It breaks my heart to see some of the pitiful creatures walking the roads. Sometimes I just want to open our fence gate and let them all in to graze on our gringo grass. Instead, I take grass cuttings and dump them over our fence posts. There are usually two or three regular horses and cows that know where to wait for me. Que lastima!

Fences in Nicaragua are made to keep livestock out. When we had to repair our fences after an unusually wet season last year, we wondered why we needed to pay for the fence posts because we did not have any livestock.  Cattle surround us on all sides of our property. Apparently, it is common knowledge that property owners build fences to keep the livestock out of their property.

I used to be afraid of large, muscular creatures, but after my love affair with Bullwinkle and almost killing him with my wheelbarrow full of mangoes, I have developed a soft spot for big, fat cows and bulls. Now, I’m like a mother hen protecting them and tethering them to our trees during the dry season so they will have some tasty gringo grass to eat.

Princessa

Julio has a new cow. I was going to name her Natasha, but Julio calls her Princessa. She is Bullwinkle’s sister, so I know that she has the same, sweet disposition as Bullwinkle. Today, I called her to the fence, “Venga Princessa, venga.” She waddled over to me and nuzzled my camera. She likes to be scratched behind her ears, just like her brother. Her smooth, chocolaty brown fur glistened in the sun. She certainly is a beauty.

I’m going to be extra protective of Princessa. Julio is breeding her and they hope to get milk to make cheese. I’ve never milked a cow in my life, or made cheese. Julio promised to let me milk her, and I promised not to feed Princessa any mangoes. I kind of feel like I’ve been thrown into Green Acres, the Latino version. This suburban gal has a lot to learn about country living.

 

It’s a Young, Young, World Here!


Babies, babies everywhere.

As of July 2011, Nicaragua’s population is estimated at 5,666,301 people. The median age is 22.9 years. Nicaragua ranks 93 out of 221 countries in birth rate. It is a young, young world here! And all of those babies are beautiful!

We returned to three new babies in our community. It reminds me of the Baby Tree lullaby from Jefferson Starship that I used to sing to Cory.

Jefferson Starship The Baby Tree Lyrics:
There’s an island way out in the sea
where the babies they all grow on trees
and it’s jolly good fun to swing in the sun
but ya gotta watch out if you sneeze sneeze
ya gotta watch out if you sneeze

yeah you gotta watch out if you sneeze
for swinging up there in the breeze
you’re liable to cough
you might very well fall off
and tumble down flop on your knees knees
tumble down flop on your knees

and when the stormy winds wail
and the breezes blow high in a gale
there’s a curious dropping and flopping and plopping
and fat little babies just hail hail
fat little babies just hail

and the babies lie there in a pile
and the grownups they come after while
and they always pass by all the babies that cry
and take on the babies that smile smile
take on the babies that smile

even triplets and twins if they’ll smile…..

What a Long, Strange Trip It’s Been!


Home, Sweet, Home

Leaving Ometepe Island is never easy, yet after countless trips to and from the states and across Lake Cocibolca, we assumed our return would be routine. If there is one thing we should never do, it is assume that anything is routine and normal, especially when traveling back to Nicaragua.

Our mended arm rest

Everything was going smoothly until I tried to hoist my 40 pound travel vest (stuffed with children’s books in Spanish) above my head into the overhead compartment on the airplane. My travel vest crashed onto the arm rest and snapped it in half! Ron sheepishly waved the broken arm rest in the air. The flight attendant scolded us, even though we pulled out a roll of duct tape (we always have a roll of duct tape handy) and offered to mend the broken arm rest. ” Now we have to call the maintenance man,” the flight attendant sighed. The pilot announced, “Folks, we have about a ten minute delay before takeoff. Someone broke the arm rest and there is a maintenance man on his way.” The flight attendant posed an evil eye in our direction as we slouched down in our seats. Five minutes later, the maintenance man arrived with a roll of duct tape with the US Airway logo on it, and we were happily nestled in our seats for takeoff.

We arrived in Fort Lauderdale minus one duffel bag. It wouldn’t have been so bad other than the fact that all of our clothes were in the duffel bag. After filing a claim and the promise that our bag would be on our flight to Managua, we optimistically boarded Spirit Airlines for our midnight arrival in Managua. Optimistically, we waited for our duffel bag as the luggage circled the carousel. Pessimistically, we left minus one lost duffel bag.

Once in Granada, we delivered goodies to our friends, and played telephone tag with US Airways and Spirit Airlines. It was a good thing that our bag was on the next day’s flight because we were feeling pretty grungy in our sweat drenched clothes. Plus, I found out that my friend on the island had been robbed of her computer and her camera. Always lock your doors!! She forgot! Our duffel bag contained all of our clothes, as well as all of my friend’s goodies from the states. I would have felt horrible confessing that her Maybelline lipstick, sports bras, solar lights, and other items were now on sale at the lost luggage store in Huntsville, Alabama.

Our driver had a BIG night planned

Two days later, with four check-in bags, two carry ons, two backpacks, my travel vest loaded with children’s books, and one of Ron’s former college swimmers, we were headed to Ometepe Island…our home. Paxeo’s shuttle picked us up in Granada. After the driver stopped to fill up the tank and purchased two condoms?? and a romantic pirated music CD, we were finally on our way home!

Sam preparing for a rough ride

At the dock in San Jorge, Samantha downed her Dramamine in preparation for a rolling ferry ride. Ron protected our luggage and we patiently waited for El Ferry to tenderly carry us home.

Ron is protecting our luggage

 

 

 

 

 

We arrived at our little casa on the beach minus electricity and water. Apparently they were working on a transformer that blew out, and there would be no electricity or water all day. Insignificant! No problem for us! We were HOME! Guillermo and his wife brought us Tilapia for lunch. Sam casually mentioned that she was rushed to the hospital in Havana, Cuba because she ate Tilapia and got food poisoning. Then, she passed out on the couch in a drugged state of leftover Dramamine.

Ron ate a huge portion of Tilapia and I nibbled on mine because I have always had a fear of getting a fish bone stuck in my throat. Sam was too drugged to eat. Two hours later, after Guillermo and his wife left, Ron became violently sick! OMG! He had food poisoning from the Tilapia. He was projectile vomiting in an old paint can, while sitting on the toilet…well, you know…no need for me to go into a lot of detail here.

It gets dark regularly at 6 pm every day of the year. All  batteries in our rechargeable flashlights were dead. I needed to get some coconut water into Ron quickly because he was dehydrated and starting to cramp. Someone stole our machete and the toilet was filling up rapidly! I needed water to flush the toilet, a machete, and someone to climb the coconut tree for me. Julio to the rescue!

While Ron was puking his guts out, Julio got two coconuts and I borrowed his machete to get the sweet miracle water for Ron’s dilemma! In the moonlight, I was able to walk carefully to the lake to get a bucket of water to flush the toilet. With machete in hand…I had become the man of the house…protecting my clan…tending to the sick and needy. When I spotted a black coral snake hiding in the drain hole on the porch, in an adrenalin induced rush I swung the machete down hard! Tiwanda! I missed, but it felt so damn good!

The next morning, the coconut water had cured Ron’s food poisoning. Samantha had recovered from her Dramamine leftovers.We had water and electricity again. I sure hope that our Paxeo driver had a better night than we did, because I woke up itching like crazy with hives or a rash all over my body. Welcome home! Life in Nicaragua is always an adventure! You never know what you’re going to get!

Window to an Old World


Hola Granada, mi amor!

Hello old friend, my love. It is wonderful to see you again. I missed your chiming church bells bidding me goodnight and good morning. I missed your intoxicating smells, luring me to the market. I am renewed with the sight of lush green tropical plants and flowers, the chirping of the parrots, and the dinging of the ice cream cart near my bedroom window in Granada, Nicaragua.
We are almost home. Tomorrow we will take the ferry to Ometepe Island and you shall see another window to an old world. It’s wonderful to be back!

 

My Travel Vest


 

I have always been a rebel. When I see a wrong that needs to be righted, I go for it. My homemade travel vest was born out of necessity from the airlines’ new luggage restrictions. Plus, it helps because I am cheap and creative.

Once, on a trip to Brazil, I was squeezed between two obese men who both needed seat belt extenders. For nine hours, I sat as stiff as a green plantain barely able to move. Arriving in São Paulo, I noticed  my ankles puffed to the size of small watermelons. I could have died! Thrombosis is not something one takes lightly.

Year after year, I watched the bags get smaller as the passengers got bigger. This gave me a great idea. The airlines don’t charge for a passenger’s body weight and coats are free. What if I designed a travel vest that could carry 50 pounds of stuff? What if I layered my body with my clothes? I may need a seat belt extender, too, but for the time being, all body weight is free.

My travel vest before sewing.

When visiting my mother in the states this summer, I found a Liz Claiborne raincoat for $3 at the local Goodwill store. For $10, I purchased sturdy backpack material for the pockets, velcro, and snaps. I borrowed my mother’s sewing machine, and a week later, my travel vest was born.

Next, I had to see if my travel vest passed inspection. I booked a flight from my mother’s house to our house in the states. I layered my body with two dresses, two pairs of pants, two skirts, and four blouses. My travel vest contained my Kindles, a laptop, iPod, all electronic accessories, books, a 5 pound bag of dried cranberries, 5 baby blankets ( for friends in Nicaragua), 2 cameras, a plastic bag of toiletries, a 3 pound bag of chocolate covered blueberries, 2 bags of jelly beans, 3 baby rattles, and assorted plastic bags of tiny things.When I stepped on the bathroom scale I was 40 pounds heavier.

I waddled to the metal detector, heaved my travel vest into the bin on the conveyor belt, and breezed through without one comment! How disappointing! The only people who commented on my size were two passengers behind me waiting to board the plane. I overheard them snickering and whispering words like: inventive, cool, and how much does that thing weigh?

Loaded and ready to go!

On Monday, we return to our home in Nicaragua. Have I mentioned that I am a slightly deranged hoarder? Accompanying us are 4 check-in bags, 2 carry-ons, 2 backpacks, and my travel vest. This time, my travel vest is loaded with children’s books in Spanish. You see, I am starting a lending library on the island for the kids. Books are heavy and I received lots of donations. I figure that if anyone questions my travel vest this time, I can just start wailing, “But, sir these are books for kids who have nothing to read. It’s a humanitarian effort. Think about the kids!”

Wish me luck! I’ll see you in a few days when we return to our little house on Ometepe Island, in the middle of an enormous lake, in the middle of Nicaragua, in the middle of Central America.

The Tourists are Coming!


Seaplane on Ometepe Island

This was from the La Prensa today. Notice the important words: DITCHED? FOR PASSENGERS TO FALL?

The first seaplane company Nica Wings, yesterday ditched off the coast of the municipality of Moyogalpa, Ometepe Island, where he built a wood and metal sleeve for passengers to fall. Company officials, along with the Civil Aeronautics hydroports inspect and value the different conditions that have the same order to be approved routes and flight paths. It is hoped that this service will increase visits by domestic and foreign tourists.

Things I Miss the Most


Recently, I read an article in my local newspaper about how everyone loves lists.  The story caught my attention because I had to remove two sticky notes attached to my laptop screen to read the article. The sticky notes contained lists of the things I had to do for my mother before we left the country, and my list of potential blog topics. One of my blog topics was, “The Things I Miss the Most.”

Six years ago (how embarrassing to admit this), I missed a lawnmower, a washing machine, and an oven…sometimes more than my family. Looking back on my list, I find it rather pretentious of me, actually silly, that I would place so much importance on tangible ‘things’.  I swore to do better with my next list.  I can’t promise that this year’s list is any better. But, I really do miss these things while living on a tropical island, in the middle of an enormous lake, in the middle of Nicaragua, in the middle of Central America.

Lowes, at the top of my list

1. I am in love with Lowe’s neat, orderly, large isles, endless choices of building and garden supplies, and friendly, expert staff. I probably wouldn’t have considered putting a Lowe’s at the top of my list, but we built two houses in the past nine months. You can’t imagine what the hardware stores are like in Nicaragua.

A shiny new electric meter                                        

2. I miss a reliable, steady source of electricity. Our electric meter broke six years ago. We put a work order in eight months ago, and still no new meter. Our electric is really cheap. Of course, we had to hot wire the electric and by-pass the broken meter. We have a spiderweb of tangled wires in our living room. *sigh* Consider the source. It’s Nicaragua.

Chocolate Chips!!

3. I miss chocolate chips. Once, I purchased the only bag of chocolate chips in the entire country. I found them hidden behind the cheese in a little gringo grocery store in Rivas. I hoarded them in the freezer until we lost electricity for 2 days. I’m packin’ lots of chocolate chips for our flight.

Dunkin Donuts!!

4. I love Dunkin Donuts. The closest Dunkin Donut store is in Panama City, Panama. Dunkin Donuts would be a BIG hit on the island. Someone should think about opening a Dunkin Donut store. Any takers?

 

 

Children's books in Spanish

5. Being a retired teacher, I really miss a good educational system. Nicaraguan schools are pitifully poor. The kids do not have any books that they can read for pleasure. However, I am in the process of changing this one! I have big plans to start a lending library on the island for the kids. So far, I have collected over 100 children’s books in Spanish. Stay tuned for my post on how you can help!

Cheap washing machine

6. Yes, a cheap washing machine is still on the list of things I miss the most.  My neighbor washes our clothes by hand. She scrubs the heck out of them, then pours Clorox bleach on them full strength. Finally, she hangs them on the barbed wire fence to dry. Our socks are pearly white, yet awkwardly stretchy. Our t-shirts have little holes in them from the barbed wire. The time has come to look for a washing machine.

Priorities


Please hang in there with me while I am in travel mode. I’ll try to post every other day, until we return to Ometepe, next week. In the meantime, enjoy a story I wrote in 2004 about our neighbors.

Our Sandinista neighbor's house in 2004

PRIORITIES

September 10, 2004

            Our neighbors lack what most of us would consider necessities in life. They have no indoor plumbing, no carpeted or tiled floors, and no kitchen appliances. When Luvis and Julio awaken each day, their feet hit the dirt floor and they part a large, black plastic curtain that separates their sleeping quarters from their living area. The smoke escapes through the many holes in the lean-to kitchen signaling Papa’s preparation of fried rice and beans, a staple in their daily diets.

While Papa is preparing breakfast, Julio and Luvis run to the lake’s edge.  Ron and I watch them from one of our three front doors as they shed their clothes and dip into their enormous bathtub clad only in their underwear. Julio’s freestyle stroke is improving daily with Ron’s guidance. His long, thin arms slice through the water as he chases his younger sister. They laugh and wave to us from the lake’s edge, a child’s dream.  Papa moves his pigs around in the morning. The grand pig, the one he bred with a neighbor’s small female pig, is tethered in the choicest area in the front yard. We save our daily scraps of food for this magnificent creature. He is Papa’s source of pride. When Papa feels that the pig is deliciously plump, he will board the ferry and sell his pig at the market in Rivas. It should give him enough money to live on for the rest of the year.

Sometimes, I feel like I have been embedded in a nursery rhyme, like Papa’s fat pig. (off to market, jiggidy jig) Life on the island has a magical quality that I can recall from the old nursery rhymes my mother read to me as a child. Like Little Bo Peep, Luvis tends to her four dogs and the baby doves that have fallen from their nests. Julio is the Pied Piper enticing all the neighborhood boys with his new wooden top. Papa reminds me of old Mother Hubbard. The kids tell us that Mama is working in a hotel in Costa Rica. She has been gone for four years. Papa relays another version of the story. Of course, both versions could be lost in translation. Without a good grasp of the Spanish language, life remains a mystery.            wait, there’s more