Tourism: Embrace the People, Not Just the Place

Our son, Cory, and his friend, Sam, developed and implemented tourism programs for the community of Los Ramos that mesh with responsible tourism practices on Ometepe Island. According to Sam:

Time here on the island is starting to wind down, and with that comes some amazing closure. Below is the brochure we have put together for the community of Los Ramos. Cory and I have worked side by side with the community helping them develop cultural based tourism programs. We have worked very hard to empower the community, and reveal to them how many amazing programs they are able to offer. The focus throughout has been to embrace who they are and what they stand for. Often times you will see tourism develop in a way that changes the heart and soul of communities just like this. Instead we were striving to keep the heart and soul, and have that be the focus of EVERY program. The development of tourism is inevitable, so why not do it in a way that can embrace the people and not just the place.

                                      Front page of brochure

                              Immerse, Explore, Experience

I am so proud of these young men. They have worked unselfishly to empower an indigenous community on Ometepe Island. From making nacatamales with the local cooks, to trail blazing, to wild dug-out canoe boat rides, to riding a bull for seven hours…they have done it all.This is responsible tourism at its finest! They came with a mission statement for their business, OutMore Adventures, and not once have they strayed from their path. Their philosophy of responsible tourism connects tourists with the local culture and traditions of an indigenous community, as well as providing income for Los Ramos. Hopefully, this hard-working community will never have to leave their beloved island to find work in Costa Rica or wash dishes and clean toilets for a foreign-owned resort.

Empower the people, not just the place! Their dreams are now a reality!

Exploring Hotel Granada

Ron and I always stayed at Bobby’s house when we went in Granada. However, when we went to Granada for Bobby’s wake, we knew it was time to explore another part of town. The memories of Bobby’s house are too fresh, every street reminded me of him.

This time, we explored the area around the lake. Hotel Granada was a block from our bed and breakfast. Ron was particularly interested in visiting the swimming pool. A retired swim coach always investigates the pools! For $7 a day, one can swim in their Olympic sized salt water pool. It was magnificent.

Hotel Granada is an old colonial fortress in the historical center of the city. Although the cheapest room is $75 per night, it was too expensive for two retired teachers on a fixed income. Maybe someday, for a very special occasion, we can spring for a night.

For your enjoyment, take a walk with us through this amazing hotel and convention center.

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The House that Francheco Built

Three years ago, Francheco, our Italian friend, built a beautiful yellow house at the end of the proposed runway for the new airport. He hired a trustworthy crew and they worked side-by side to build a house worthy of his talents.

At the time, he wasn’t aware that he would have to tear down his house brick by brick and lovingly unearth his flowers and trees to make way for progress. When the Nicaraguan government came knocking at his door, he was tenderly watering his young saplings. “Your house is at the end of our runway,” the government reported. “This is a problem.”

No kidding! A problem? More like a disaster! After months of negotiations, the government acquired his property, and Francheco assembled his trustworthy crew once again.

“The most disheartening thing about this, is that I have to pay the same crew who helped me build my house, to tear it down….brick by brick,” Francheco lamented. All is well that ends well…at least we think! Francheco bought beautiful property near the Punta Jesus Maria. Wire, toilets, bricks, and other building materials are slowly reuniting at his new site.

The other day, the Pellas family helicopter flew to the island. Rumor has it, they bought the Punta Jesus Maria and are planning to build a resort. After all, when the rich tourists fly to Ometepe Island, they must have proper accommodations befitting their lifestyles.  Francheco can’t escape progress. I don’t know whether to laugh or cry about the latest turn of events. Time will tell. Francheco may be digging up his saplings again.

Francheco's yellow house to the right, nestled in front of Vulcan Concepcion

Walking to Francheco's house along the beaten path of the proposed runway

Today, no sign of the beautiful yellow house

Where is Francheco's house now?

Going Bananas!

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We harvested Bobby’s bananas today. Actually, Sam wanted to cut the banana stock with a machete since he just learned how to harvest plantains, but a strong gust of wind blew over the heavy bunch of bananas before Sam could show off his machete skills.

The baby banana sprout was a gift from my close friend, Bobby. He passed away in December. The day after his death, the bananas started to blossom. I don’t believe in coincidences. Serendipity is a better choice for my feelings because it’s a talent for making fortunate discoveries, while searching for other things. I sat under Bobby’s bananas daily, talking to him, trying to understand his despair. A few days before the harvest, I could hear Bobby’s whispers in the wind. I think he was trying to tell me, “Don’t go bananas over my death. Enjoy my gift with acceptance and love.” Truly a serendipitous moment.

Bobby was a creative and talented gardener. To honor Bobby’s harvest, below are a few questions I had for Bobby about bananas, and his answers. GO BANANAS!

1. What do I do with this banana tree, Bobby?

Well, first, Debbie, it’s not a banana tree. It’s a plant. It’s a giant herb in the same family as lilies, orchids, and palms. Do you really want me to tell you what to do with it? I knew better than to say ‘yes’! Bobby was very creative, and I could imagine a dozen possibilities, none of which involved actual planting.

2. Where are the banana seeds?

He smashed a banana, and had me look for the seeds. “They are exceptionally tiny, because I can’t find one,” I said. So, he handed me his binoculars and made me sift through the banana mush, meanwhile he had a silly grin on his face and I knew I had been HAD!

The banana plant doesn’t grow from seeds. It actually grows from a bulb, a rhizome. The rhizomes sprout new shoots each year until the plant dies. Once the babies shoot up, only the daughter and the granddaughter should be grown and cultivated from the mother plant.

3. How many bananas will we get?

More than you can possibly eat. Again, his creative juices began to flow as he told me what I could do with a stem of bananas. I won’t go into his possibilities here, because many of his ideas are not for the public. When ten or more bananas grow on a stem, they are known as a hand. Individual bananas are called fingers. A stem can have up to fifteen hands or over 150 fingers. I think we must have a couple of feet and lots of toes on the banana stem we harvested today.

4. How will I know when the bananas are ready to be harvested?

Don’t worry, we talk almost everyday. I’ll tell you when to harvest them. True to his word, he arrived like the wind, the stem gently swayed and dropped to the ground when they were ready to harvest. Another serendipitous moment. They should be ready in three to four months after they blossom. I’ll tell you when to harvest them…don’t worry.

Our banana stem was so heavy, we had to use a wheelbarrow to get them to our bodega where we hung them up to ripen. My guess is that they weigh over 100 pounds. Since they all ripen at exactly the same time, I’m going to go bananas trying to figure out what to do with over 100 fingers. Bobby and I are going to have to have another chat. Tomorrow, when I sit under the shade of his daughters and granddaughters, I’m going to ask him, “OK, what do I do now?” He’ll chuckle in the wind and I’ll have a hundred possibilities…all whispered with love.

No Hay Luz

We ordered a new electric meter over one year ago. Our meter stopped working over six years ago. Finally, last month the electric company replaced our meter.

The new meter was installed on our tree trunk by the beach, and we anxiously watched the meter numbers turn,  hoping that we didn’t receive a “gringo” meter. That means that the meter spins faster than the amount of electricity we are using.


For several weeks, the wind has howled and we have lost our electricity. “Hay luz?” I shout to our neighbors. “Si, hay luz,” they respond. That means something is amiss on our line.

Two houses away, we spotted the problem. When the electric company installed our new meter, the only way they knew to stop the power was to cut our line. Apparently, they forgot to wrap the wire tightly around the line, because it was dangling precariously by a few threads. Every time the wind blew, Ron tramped up the road with our long fruit stick and jiggled the wire. “Hay luz?” he shouted. “Si, hay luz,” I yelled back.

Well, after a dozen times tramping down the road to jiggle the wire with our long fruit stick, we decided it was time to take action. Cory and Sam carried our heavy handmade ladder to the neighbor’s house, and Ron was going to fix the damn thing by himself.We knew it was senseless to call the electric company because first, you have to go to Altagracia (over an hour away) to put in a work order. Then, you have to wait, maybe a year, for the problem to be fixed.

As they squeezed under the barbed wire fence, a local guy, repairing another neighbor’s barbed wire fence, asked what we were doing. “We’re going to fix the wire for our electricity,” Ron responded. “Have you ever done anything like that before?” he asked suspiciously. “No, never,” we said.

We must have looked like novices. Before we could put the ladder on the pole, he offered to fix it for us. “Isn’t it dangerous?” I asked. “No, I’ve done this many times,” he laughed.

You are probably wondering about the electrical system in Nicaragua. Honestly, I wonder about it, too. Lines are thrown over the main lines haphazardly. Between the wind and the rain, lines are always breaking. The self-sufficient Nicaraguans shinny up the poles, like they are picking coconuts, and fix the wires with ease.

Five minutes later, with my nails bitten to the quick,  our wire was secured tightly to the main line. “Do you want 220, too?” he asked nonchalantly like a server at McDonalds would ask, “Do you want fries with that?”   The bottom line delivered the 220 volts, and he was kind enough to offer us a 220 line while he was dangling off our homemade ladder. “No thanks,” Ron said. “We have to buy more wire for that.”

We live in a crazy world..a world where you have to fix your own electric lines and pay for your own transformer. I was so grateful that he offered to light up our lives once again. We paid him 200 cords, about $8 for his work. He must have thought he had died and gone to heaven. The average pay is 70 cents an hour. For 5 minutes of his time and effort, he received a wage for two days of work and we received the gift of steady electricity.

On a side note, we’re exploring solar panels. Electricity is expensive and sporadic in Nicaragua. When it rains, no hay luz. A little wind, no hay luz. Sometimes, I swear they ration electricity, too. If you have any information on solar panels, where to buy in Nicaragua, cost, type, etc. please send me more info.

What if she BLOWS?

Moyogalpa, Ometepe Island, Nicaragua

March 8th, 2010 started like every other day in Moyogalpa. The symphony of roosters ushered in the day, the March winds howled, and early risers hawked their tortillas throughout the streets. Yet, the beginning of a tranquil, sun drenched day turned dark and ominous when Vulcan Concepcion rumbled, then explosively burped ash and gas plumes 2,100 meters high into the hot, dry, blue sky. Powdery ash blanketed nearby communities like baby powder sprinkled on a new-born.

Boooom in Moyogalpa!

On subsequent days, the volcano gained momentum. On March 12, Washington VAAC, issued a volcanic ash advisory reporting an ash cloud eruption that reached 10,000 ft. By the middle of March, the Nicaraguan geological service INETER described Concepcion as ” practically in a full eruptive stage”, with 34 explosions between March 18-19.

The Nicaraguan government sent army and navy units to Ometepe Island to prepare for evacuation. Yet, strangely, the locals went about their days hawking tortillas, as if this were an everyday occurrence. They swept the ash from their doorsteps with their twig brooms, and waited patiently for the throngs of soldiers to exit their beloved island.

Did they know something we didn’t? Shortly after all the fuss, feeding an army of disaster responders, and stuffing their bellies with homemade tortillas, Concepcion decided enough was enough. Her attention seeking activity had been rewarded, and she lulled herself back into a peaceful slumber. Until the next time!

Vulcan Concepcion is a highly active volcano with a rich historical record of explosive eruptions. The Global Volcanism Program reports a series of 22 eruptions ( mostly ash and gas), since 1974. See report here.

Several Nicaraguan websites promoting tourism mention, “The Concepcion is an active volcano and its most recent eruption took place in 1957.” It’s true that the islanders confirm, “No need to panic. These minor eruptions happen all the time.” Daily life continues uninterrupted, with only a few minor inconveniences, like sweeping the powdery ash from their doorsteps.

Ash from the 2007 eruption.

Am I worried? I’m not obsessed with the anticipation of the next eruption. I have my twig broom ready, a few heavy-duty surgical masks to place over our mouths and noses, and a kayak to make a quick escape, (hopefully before we succumb to deadly gases). What more can I do?

2007 eruption from Moyogalpa

Life goes on as normal. I continue to rake mangoes, harvest fruit, and enjoy a fulfilled and stress-free life on Ometepe Island. Until the next time!

I Feel a Change Comin’

Bob Dylan was right on! A big change is comin’ to the Pacific coast of Nicaragua. Last week, we explored Playa Gigante, a little known fishing village 18 km from Tola, Nicaragua. Close to Playa Gigante, we passed a sign for the Guacalito de la Isla, a $250-million tourism-development-in-progress by the Pellas family.

The rocky, rutted, and sometimes impassable 18 km to the beach will be paved this year. Easy access to Playa Gigante will change everything. Gone soon is the quaint and tranquil fishing village with miles of lonely Pacific beach. Gone soon are the low prices, the bohemian surfer hostels, and the tattered fishing nets used to haul in the catch of the day…all to be replaced with tacky tourist souvenir shops, expensive chartered fishing boats, foot long hotdog stands, and expensive condos on the beach.

Tim Rogers of the Nicaraguan Dispatch can tell you more about the Pellas development here. Guacalito de la Isla

Once we settled in our lodge called Camino del Gigante, we walked the length of the charming crescent bay. Within five minutes, we had taken a walking tour of the entire tiny fishing village.

Camino del Gigante from the beach

The outdoor living area of our lodge





Our room with the swans







We were starving and entered the Nicaraguan owned La Gaviota. After a delicious dinner of fish and shrimp tacos, we asked if they had any dessert. A few minutes later, their young son ran out of the kitchen and down the sandy path to the local pulperia.Ten minutes later, we were served Hostess Ding Dongs, cut in half and beautifully presented for dessert. You gotta love Nicaragua!


A Walking Tour of Playa Gigante

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The last frontiers of Nicaragua are quickly disappearing. Get here while there is still an opportunity to see the unpretentious and real Nicaragua. I’m afraid big changes are comin’.