Crossing Borders

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I’m tired of being a perpetual tourist! Without residency, we must renew our visas every 90 days, which means crisscrossing imaginary lines, waiting patiently in long lines (only to have people shove in front of us because they bribed an official), and providing a fake round trip airline ticket to prove that we will not stay in Costa Rica forever. We have no intentions of staying in Costa Rica forever. First, it is expensive! Prices for everything are comparable to the states. Second, in my humble opinion, the Ticos are so accustomed to rude tourists, that they return the rudeness in triplicate.

Our days of crossing borders are almost over. At least I think so. But, one never knows in Nicaragua. The rules change daily. The Immigration official visited our house last Monday to check our documents for residency. Until our residency is approved, we cross borders and zigzag across imaginary lines, where passports are stamped, bribes are received, and AK 47s are prevalent.

We’ve crossed many borders in our travels. They are all the same in my eyes…dirty places filled with annoying beggars with a screw you attitude and victim mentality. Any type of help requires a hefty fee. I was accosted by teenagers shoving the immigration form in my face as soon as we entered the arena, like a scene out of the “Hunger Games.” When I politely declined, (because the forms are free at the custom window), I was called “pinche” (cheap), which if you know me, I consider a great insult!

Clenching my passport tightly, we prepared for the next onslaught at the Nicaraguan custom window. I smiled politely, filled out my form, and as I slipped it through the plexiglass slot, I felt someone tugging at my sleeve. “Dame moonie,” an old woman  demanded. (Give me money) I tried to ignore her, but she persisted in tugging at my sleeve. When I turned around and gave her the finger wag for “NO”, she indignantly stomped away.

I detest the begging mentality! Bluffing and smirking have become forms of pressure exerted by beggars at every border, bus stop, and crossroad throughout the world. I swear they take classes in begging techniques, trying to outdo one another. Women approach benevolent looking people by exploiting the looks of innocent children under the age of five, toothless old men with tattered clothes hobble around on one wooden crutch, and insolent teenagers offer to guide fearful looking tourists through the maze of border crossings.

We avoided eye contact, pretended we didn’t understand Spanish, and walked rapidly through the maze of beggars, officials with AK 47s, and travel weary tourists to the Costa Rican border. The heat of the day engulfed us. We were drenched in sweat. I wondered how the hoards of backpackers lugging surf boards and 50 lb packs survived the long walk to the Costa Rican border. I wondered what that horrible stuff was they were spraying on the trucks as they passed through a large truck wash contraption. I was nauseated from the fumes of the spray.  How do older tourists ( like us), lug large suitcases almost a quarter of a mile to the border? My flip-flop blew out and I got a cramp in my toe that caused excruciating pain. I was dehydrated. I’d make a fine beggar at this point in my border crossing experience!

We were stopped several times at passport checks and offered same day entrance and exit stamps for a sum of $25. We graciously declined because we like going to Liberia, CR for an evening of air-conditioned luxury. We knew, after countless border crossings, that the rule is 72 hours before returning to Nicaragua. We also knew, after countless border crossings, that rules are made to be broken for a price.

At the Costa Rica custom’s office, we waited impatiently in another long line. I knew from previous experience that the custom officials in Costa Rica may ask to see a round-trip ticket either back to Nicaragua or back to the country of origin. Since most tourists don’t carry their return tickets with them, it’s another way for custom officials to collect money, since they don’t charge an entrance or exit fee in Costa Rica. The guy in front of us didn’t have a return ticket, so he had to go outside and buy a fake TICA bus ticket for $25 that he probably could never use.

I was prepared with my fake airline ticket. I just copied and pasted an old airline reservation into a Word document, changed the dates, and printed the reservation form. The custom’s agent asked to see our return ticket. I proudly handed her our fake ticket, our passports were stamped and we were on our merry way to Liberia, home of our favorite restaurant, a McDonald’s mocha frappe, and air-conditioned luxury.

Expect the unexpected! In Liberia, our favorite hotel was full, our favorite restaurant closed about a month ago, and McDonald’s stopped selling mocha frappes. We ended up paying $70 for a hotel with a pool and air-conditioning. It was a disappointing trip. My only purchase was a new pair of flip-flops at a huge dollar store because all prices were comparable to the states, maybe even a little more expensive. A bottle of Herbal Essence shampoo cost $6. I used the bar of hand soap in the hotel to wash my hair. I felt like Ayala, of the “Clan of the Cave Bears.”

The reason that you are not seeing a slideshow of the border crossing is because I was afraid to take pictures. Once in the Tokyo International Airport, I whipped out my camera while standing in the custom’s line and was reprimanded by a Japanese police officer. I can’t imagine what would have happened at the Nica/CR border. I suspect they wouldn’t be as polite. Not wanting to end up in prison or have my camera confiscated, I only took pictures of the bus ride back from Liberia.

At the 6 KM marker, long lines of trucks were parked and waiting to cross the border. Truck drivers were napping in hammocks strung under their trucks, barbecuing, and peeing along the side of the road. I heard that they wait days to cross the border with their trucks. Don’t they run out of gas? We passed many air-conditioned trucks that needed to keep their produce cool. How do they stand it? It must have been over 100 degrees in the shade. They wait days?

Finally, an hour and a half later, we reached the border and did everything again, only in reverse order. I hope our days are numbered for the border crossing. I’m getting too old for this! But, then again, you never know..rules change daily…people continue to cross imaginary lines…bribes are received…and beggars accost benevolent looking tourists standing in long, tiring lines. It’s what makes the world go round..and round…and round. Sometimes, I think many of our problems could be avoided if we lived in a borderless world! Don’t you agree?

No Family Left Behind

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My mother married the man who cremated my father. I know it sounds strange, but rituals and traditions surrounding death run in our family. My grandfather collected slides of his friends in their coffins. It was his hobby. Every Thanksgiving and Christmas, we would gather around the slide projector, while my grandfather clicked his way through the macabre photos of our deceased neighbors. “Doesn’t Uncle Hap look peaceful?”  or “My goodness, who did Aunt Mary’s make-up?” “She looks twenty years younger.” We thought everyone had these conversations before a big turkey dinner.

When my mother remarried, she helped my step-father prepare the bodies for their final viewing. She did what comes naturally..setting hair, applying make-up, and dressing the women in their finest church clothes. If the women had unnatural looking arms, my mother knitted pastel colored shawls to cover their imperfections. Soon, she had a thriving business knitting and selling shawls to funeral homes nationwide. When she saw a need, she provided a creative solution.

So, when Robinson called me to say that Jerry passed away of a heart-attack, I asked what I could do to help. Jerry was a gringo and he left no family members behind. “I really need some help preparing his body,” Robinson pleaded. “Do you think you could help me?”

In Nicaragua, there is no embalming. Family members have 24 hours to prepare the body and bury their loved one. Usually, the spouse is responsible for preparing the body for burial, but since Jerry had no family members, I volunteered. After all, my grandfather and my mother had prepared me for this moment, so I did what came naturally.

From the time a person dies, the body is never to be left alone. Typically, a wake or a vela is held in the home of the deceased immediately following the death. But, in Jerry’s case, he had no family and few friends. We weren’t going to hold a vela, but the neighbors were outraged! “Everyone needs a vela. He cannot be left alone. We will prepare the food,” they demanded. Norman was hired to spread the word. The gigantic speakers on the back of his pick-up truck broadcast the vela throughout Moyogalpa.

The main difference between a wake and a vela is defined by hundreds of plastic rented chairs. Robinson’s family has a chair rental business, so in the blink of an eye, hundreds of white plastic chairs were lined up on the street. Jerry’s coffin was moved to the porch, and at 7 pm sharp, people gathered to pay their respects. Theresa brought fresh cut flowers from her garden for the top of his coffin. We opened the little window that was at the top of the coffin, so people could pray at his body and pay their condolences.

It is customary that people coming to visit the family will give them sweet coffee and pan dulce or sweet bread. The coffee is extra strong because the people are expected to stay with the body all night. A vela doesn’t end until sunrise. Of course, the closer you are to the family, the longer you are expected to stay. The exception being the drunks…they show up at velas for the coffee, bread, and beer or guaron ( sort of like moonshine) and drink the entire night.

Unlike a funeral in the United States, a vela is a lively party for the dearly departed. People play cards all night, and pass the guaron around from one drunk to another. Ron commented on one annoying drunk that was stumbling over Jerry’s coffin and slobbering all over the little window. “What if he knocks the coffin off the porch?” I shuddered with the thought of Jerry rolling out of his coffin and down the street. Although, we found it to be very disrespectful, the local Nicaraguans consider it to be very much a part of a vela. When I mentioned the drunk to the neighbor serving coffee, she looked at me kind of funny as if she had never imagined a vela without drunks. Someone else commented that the drunks lighten the mood and keep the family awake until sunrise. Unfortunately, this drunk was a little too lively and Robinson said they had to call the police after we left.

At sunrise, the vela ends and the funeral procession starts. Most of the time, the coffin is paraded through the streets on the backs of strong young men. However, Robinson hired a pick-up truck to carry Jerry’s coffin. At 8 am, the procession began and we walked slowly behind the pick-up truck on or way to the cemetery.

Once we arrived at the grave site, the grave diggers had completed digging a deep trench and the little window of the coffin was opened for one last peek. Then, Jerry was slowly lowered into the flower lined hole by strong men with ropes. We threw the remainder of Theresa’s flowers over the coffin and the grave diggers shoveled the dusty dirt back into the hole.

Usually, the procession leads to the church for mass before going to the cemetery, but Jerry was not a religious man, and we really had no idea what kind of service he would have liked. A man read a few passages out of his Bible, the hole was filled, and people scattered like the wind. I think Jerry would have been proud of his send-off.

Death is so honest and real in Nicaragua. There are no pretenses, no offenses, and no expensive ceremonies. Nicaraguans are poor. Most cannot afford a metal coffin, so they bury their loved ones in a wooden box. I imagine that is the reason why no embalming is done. Bodies are tenderly washed and dressed by family members. Strangers pass by in the night to pay their respect. Heavy coffins are hoisted onto the backs of strong young men and gently lowered into hand-dug graves. Within twenty four emotional hours, the deceased is lovingly interred.

When no family is left behind, as in Jerry’s case, the Nicaraguans have no gender, race, or religious barriers. He was a member of the community. He deserved a vela, along with all the drunken mourners and sweet coffee they could find.  What a fine vela it was. Jerry would definitely be proud.

R.I.P. Jerry.


Search Term Funnies

If you have a WordPress blog, you are probably familiar with the search term statistics. They are keywords that people have typed into a search engine, like Google, to arrive at your website. Below are some of my favorite search terms people have used to find my website and my response to each one. How in the world they found my blog, I’ll never know. 🙂

….sam concepcion toilet
No, your mother was wrong. You can’t conceive by sitting on a toilet seat.
….how to build naked brick house in tropical climate?
First, take off all your clothes.
….bra throw away
Only in the tropics.
….she is peeing on me
….chicken willy otter
The sky is falling?
….foot swelling and red now turning blue
Cut it off.
….are latex gloves transported by truck or airplane
Neither…only by boat here.
….how to prevent leaning against the wall
Lay down.
….need morphine nicaragua
You need help.
….drawing owl winxs
Do owls wink?
….take the bull by the horns
Do you know how to perform the Heimlich on a bull?
….rewirement and retirement
Kind of catchy!
….what is the strongest pain medication I can get in Nicaragua?
Another search for drugs? Come on…get real.
….big sweaty fishermen
Are you fantasizing about my husband again?
….composed dolphin baby prints
Do you mean decomposed?
….gas station aluminum car parts
This one has me stumped!
….nicaragua ugly women
No ugly women here.
….pizza delivered in nicaragua
Yes, it’s true!
….ship a refrigerator to nicaragua
….retired avon products
They are all sold in Nicaragua.
….dunkin donuts in nicaragua
I wish!
….can you buy percocet in nicaragua
OMG! Another one.
….what kind of birds are bugs afraid of
Big ones.
….ignorance of our culture
That’s really stupid.
….will nicaragua let us citizens live there
They let us live here.
….ugly drag queens
Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder.
….how do I tear down my washing machine
One nut at a time.
….recipe for sweet potato thang
First, buy a thang at your local store.
….hairy upper lip girl
Does this mean I need to take hormones?

In completing a thorough analysis of my blog search terms, I have come to the conclusion that I know very little about my audience. Their interests vary from food, to drugs, to comedy, to health (or lack of health)… from fantasizing, to “how to” articles … from fear of tarantulas, to fear of retirement…from dreaming, to doing….from living to dying. The interests run the gamut, which tells me…keep writing and keep wondering. Life on a tropical island, in the middle of a huge sweet sea, in the middle of Nicaragua, in the middle of Central America is never dull. I wonder why?

Reflections on a Gift of a Golden Hen

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When Marina saw that Goldie, her hen, was laying on three eggs below our pollo grill, she said, “Now, she is your hen.” We never intended to be chicken farmers, but a gift of a broody hen is very precious in Nicaragua. How could we refuse?

Marina stole eight more eggs from another broody hen, adding to our three from Goldie. Eleven fertile eggs. We tended to Goldie’s needs for 22 days. In the late morning, when the sun had sufficiently warmed the nest, Goldie descended the wooden ramp and clucked loudly at our front doors. Anticipating her call, I threw small pieces of ripe papaya, mango, and sprinkles of bread, rice, and chicken feed to her.

Two days after Easter Sunday, the first three eggs hatched. We wondered how Goldie would get her chicks down from the nest. We also wondered what would happen to the remaining eggs that had not hatched, yet. Goldie waddled down the wooden ramp and camped out under the nest. She gently called to her chicks, but the chicks wouldn’t budge.

“Should we build a slide so the chicks can slide down the ramp?” I wondered. “How about a mini-trampoline? Or maybe if we put a bale of hay under the ramp, the chicks can have a soft landing.” The waiting was excruciating.  The chicks refused to budge.

With helping hands, we carefully scooped up the chicks and placed them on the ground near Goldie. Everyone needs a helping hand occasionally, right? What a dilemma! What would happen to the eggs that were almost ready to hatch? How could we protect the chicks from predators, especially the giant Hurracas ( big blue jays that gobble up baby chicks like cotton candy)?

Goldie took her newly hatched chicks into the jungle of our yard. They stumbled over dry leaves and rotten mangoes, while the Hurracas circled overhead. I had to stand guard, watching over my precious flock. “That will never work, Debbie,” Marina shouted across the fence. She quickly crossed the barbed wire fence with a long piece of rope. “Grab the chicks, and I’ll get the hen,” she ordered. Before I knew what was happening, Goldie’s leg was tied to the rope and the other end tied to a chair on my porch. I scooped up the chicks and gently placed them beside her. She didn’t look very happy to me. Disgruntled, she eventually settled down and eyed me with suspicion.

We tested the remaining eggs in the nest. Marina shoved the eggs near my ear and said, “Listen!” Amazed, I could hear faint taps on the shells from within. She scooped up the eggs, all except for one rotten egg ( Why is there always one rotten egg in the bunch?), and put them in the nest of her other broody hen.

The next morning, there were eight chicks poking their tiny heads out from under Goldie. Marina had quietly slipped the newly hatched chicks in the temporary nest while we were sleeping. That afternoon, she returned with two more fuzzy balls of downy feathers. Ten precious chicks.

However, the temporary shelter would never work because Goldie got tangled in the rope. We found her with her leg hung in the air and her chicks trying to keep warm under her suspended leg. She looked like an awkward ballerina. Poor Goldie. Ron quickly constructed a new home in the pollo grill and surrounded it with rolls of screen.

Goldie and her chicks are much happier, now. They can peck and chirp and cluck to their heart’s content. In another week, we’ll open the screen and allow them to wander the jungle of our yard during the day, and return them to their screened chicken house at night.

I’ve been researching chicken tractors. I can’t understand why no one in our neighborhood protects their chickens. They are free-roaming and the casualties are great. Finding the eggs is a daily treasure hunt. I already know that I’ll never be capable of eating Goldie’s first hatch. I’ve named them after the elements in the periodic table: Boron, Chlorine, Carbon, Iodine, Lead, Mini-me ( looks exactly like Goldie), Krypton, Calcium, Helium, and Neon. Gender neutral names until we can determine the sex of the chicks. 🙂

Everyone, including Ron, thinks I’m crazy. But, I’m really enjoying my first experience as a chicken farmer. A gift of a broody hen is a precious gift in Nicaragua, a gift that deserves only the best of care…my little precious elements are growing rapidly.


And the Easter Week Drowning Statistics are…..

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The water is your friend…you don’t have to fight with water, just share the same spirit as the water, and it will help you move.~ Alexandr Popov


Every year during the Easter holy week, known as Semana Santa, the media reports the number of drownings which occur at the local beaches in Nicaragua. It reminds me of the yearly reports of the amount of trash collected after the Nascar races at the Bristol Motor Speedway…except this is much more serious.

During Holy Week, the masses take to the beaches to find refuge from the scalding heat in March and April. For some, it is a passionate religious week composed of prayers, processions, and pilgrimages. However, for most Nicaraguans, their spiritual quest takes on a party atmosphere of grand proportions involving massive consumption of Tona and Victoria beer, Flor de Cana rum, and swimming…a deadly combination…especially considering that most Nicaraguans can’t swim.

This astounds us! Ron has over 40 years of experience as a swim coach and a swim instructor. The population of Ometepe Island is 40,000, and increases dramatically during the week of Semana Santa. It is always frightening to go to the beach during this time of the year because our trained eyes skim the troubled waters constantly, instead of relaxing and partying like a bacanalear (a Nicaraguan party animal).

Although the official toll isn’t in yet, the Nicaraguan Dispatch reports that at least 20 Nicaraguans drowned, 970 were stung by jellyfish, and lifeguards from the Red Cross saved 254 swimmers. Semana Santa week is typically a violent week in Nicaragua. Progress toward water safety is slow, but things are looking up. The Red Cross has a few lifeguards stationed at the most popular beaches, now. Ron is going to offer swimming lessons for the preschool children in our local elementary school. We’re going to make a trip to Maxi-Pali (a Nicaraguan Wal-Mart on a smaller scale) this week to buy swimming noodles and kick boards.

We are living on an island, in the middle of the world’s 11th largest fresh water lake, in the middle of Nicaragua, in the middle of Central America. Surely, we can help the locals make the water their friend…. one child at a time.




It’s So Hot and Dry….

It’s so hot and dry in Nicaragua in April that….

The ice cream trucks are melting.

Goldie, our hen, hatched hard-boiled eggs.
The surfers in San Juan del Sur are surfing the web instead.
Our active volcano, Concepcion, retreated.
Our cold water taps supply hot water…when we have water.
You burn your legs sitting on a motorcycle parked in the hot sun.
You work up a sweat getting out of bed in the morning.
You need a spatula to remove your clothing.
Ron’s sweet potatoes cook underground.
The birds pull fried worms out of the ground.
We need snow shoes to walk into town over the dusty layers of sand.
Our flip-flops melt on our black sand beach.
When the temperature drops below 95 F (35C), we feel a bit chilly.
We renamed ‘Friday’….Fryday.
The Jehovah Witnesses on Ometepe Island are telemarketing.
The air smells like someone is ironing.
The fire ants are spontaneously combusting.
The birds are building their nests out of barbed wire.
The Catholics are giving rain checks for Semana Santa week.

The farmers say that the rain will start earlier this year. The rain usually begins in mid-May.  I’m keeping my dry and cracked fingers crossed. 🙂

Credit for these jokes goes to many internet searches for hot and dry jokes. I only modified the jokes to fit Nicaragua.



Is This a Joke?

In honor of April first, the day of strange and bizarre jokes and pranks, I am always reminded that I live in Nicaragua when….

….The electricity goes off at exactly 6 pm and returns an hour or two later
…. Fence posts in the garden sprout during the rainy season
….Cattle, chickens, and horses gorge themselves on mounds of mangoes
….Our address is “The gringos in La Paloma”
….Someone steals the urn of your friend’s ashes hanging in a tree
….A traveling preacher stops by your house and offers you salvation
….A man whips out an x-ray of a woman’s uterus on the chicken bus and begs for money to heal his ailment
….Flintstone vitamins are hawked as a cure-all for everything
….You ask, “What’s the meat in the stew?” and the cook responds, “Armadillo.”
….You are told not to pay your property taxes because no one pays property taxes and there are no penalties for not paying.
….You have to buy your own electric transformer from the electric company
….Over 40,000 people live on Ometepe Island and only a small fraction of them can swim

And the real reason I wrote this post…..

WANTED: Joseph Maltese, cult leader Ecoovie
Help deport him from Nicaragua
Do Not stay at Indio Viejo on Ometepe Island

….A dangerous cult called Ecoovie, led by an arms dealer, pedophile, kidnapper, and self-professed savior named Joseph Maltese, manages the Indio Viejo ( formerly known as the Hospedaje Central in Moyogalpa). I really thought this was a joke until I found a documentary made about Joseph Maltese and his cult, Ecoovie, on the internet.
Documentary on Joseph Maltese and Ecoovie

I ask myself, ” Is this a joke? Why isn’t something done to deport these dangerous people?” Everyday, young backpackers from around the world, stay at the Indio Viejo on Ometepe Island unaware of Joseph Maltese and his power to seduce new cult members for his own twisted purposes. Please don’t be fooled by their 3 projects for Mother Earth. The Cocibolca project, now abandoned, closed their doors and the cult members fled.  I suspect that it is because a young victim, apparently kidnapped and chained up by Joseph Maltese and his cult, was rescued by a Nicaraguan National Police helicopter.

Maybe the cult fled to the Tichana project, an isolated place on Ometepe Island. All I know is that Joseph Maltese is gone, possibly hiding out somewhere,  but the Indio Viejo’s doors are still open…seducing young victims, covering up the truth of their evil cult with ecofriendly words..ecological agriculture, environmental impact, environmentally friendly, and living in harmony with the nature and local resources.

The illusion of lost pilgrims Ecoovie: A summary of the documentary

Page 39
Friday, February 20, 2009

The A “Duty of Inquiry” tells the macabre saga of the guru Joseph Maltese

S ‘There was a list of the CV sordid, certainly that of Joseph Maltese would be a special place. Arms dealer, close to some terrorist circles, double agent, swindler, forger, pedophile, thief of children, the course of the guru of the sect Ecoovie has everything to attract the “faitdiversier” the most seasoned. Daniel and Remi Gerard Rogge does not make a mistake. For 20 years, Gerard Rogge with his camera followed the saga of the sect Ecoovie and his illustrious mentor. This aspect of “Duty of Inquiry” is his third film on the subject. Tonight, we learn yet little about the psychological profile of the Canadian who was posing as an Indian trading. Neither of his past spook. The highlight of the documentary is to show how the guru could make the diversion of an ideal. Indeed, the followers of Ecoovie appear here, above all, as activists, young people who wanted to engage the world in danger. “The genius of Malta is to have used the thirst of commitment of these young to have a mark on a group and make his sexual fantasies, “says Gerard Rogge. Behind this character that Belgium discovers on his release from prison in 1988, wearing an Indian headdress, hides another reality. That of dozens of young people drawn into a project that looks like green: how green the planet during a long walk around the world. By mixing archival footage shot by supporters of the sect and testimony from former followers, the film tells the macabre group wandering around Europe. Throughout the story, we understand how it will eventually accept everything: live like Indians in primitive sanitary conditions appalling that will lead some to death, lend themselves to insane sexual rituals; condone the practices of their leader pedophiles . The novelty of the film is probably the sequence tour a year ago by two journalists from Radio Canada. Hidden camera, we see Joseph Maltese in great shape, stashed in Nicaragua. “It is also a failure. For 20 years, every time you hit the nail on the Maltese mischief, I thought things were moving at the judicial level, “says Gerard Rogge. In 2003, when he was a refugee in Quebec, Maltese was convicted by a Canadian court to make two children he kept with him. For the rest of his “work”, the guru still seems to escape justice. YANN Saint-Sernin (st.) Duty to investigate, The A, 20 h 45.

And what can YOU do to help? Unfortunately, this is not an April Fool’s joke. It is real and dangerous. Please spread the word. If you are traveling to Ometepe Island, please do NOT stay at the Indio Viejo. This evil guru continues to escape justice…let’s work together to rid my oasis of peace of this dangerous cult.