Baskets of Love


This holiday season, we send you baskets filled with love. My wishes for this glorious season are peaceful compromises, unconditional love, and joyful reunions.

IMG_1439As I was taking this picture, the chickens in our pollo grill in the background were laying eggs for us. Even our hens have the holiday spirit!

The Passion of Nicaragua

Rivers run through me

mountains bore into my body

and the geography of this country

begins forming in me

turning me into lakes, chasms, ravines,

earth for sowing love

opening like a furrow

filling me with a longing to live

to see it free, beautiful,

full of smiles

I want to explore with love……

By Gioconda Belli

Feliz Navidad! Explore with love, gratitude, and compassion!

 

Weekly Photo Challenge: Surprise!


We are treated to surprises daily on Ometepe Island, Nicaragua. Whether the astonishing events are big or small, beautiful or ugly, dangerous or comical, we thrive on these delightful and sometimes bizarre moments. For living in the “land of the not quite right”, everyday is wrapped in a caught-off-balance, amazing moment.

1. BIG SURPRISES

We have an active volcano in our backyard. Imagine our surprise when she blew her top!

There she blows!

There she blows!

Then there was the day an island the size of a football field floated past our house…FULL of SNAKES!  El Gamolote-The Floating Island

Ron is tiny dot in the kayak.

Ron is tiny dot in the kayak.

2. ANIMAL SURPRISES

This poor little screech owl made a surprise visit one night. He accidentally hit our ceiling fan.  Jungle Law

A dazed and confused Screech owl

A dazed and confused Screech owl

Last week, our local fisherman caught a Tarpon in his dugout canoe! Imagine the surprise when he strapped it on his bicycle and led it into town to sell. A Big Fish Story: How to Get a Tarpon to Town

How do you get a Tarpon to market? On a bicycle, of course!

How do you get a Tarpon to market? On a bicycle, of course!

You never know what surprises hide behind the tools in the bodega.

Ribbit! Croak! Surprise!

Ribbit! Croak! Surprise!

3. People Surprises

During the dry season, farmers become traveling salesmen. One never knows what the traveling salesmen will drag to our doors. Traveling Salesmen

The mattress man salesman

The mattress man salesman

The pots and pans salesman rattles though the sand beyond our house.

Bang, bang, rattle, rattle!

Bang, bang, rattle, rattle!

4. DANGEROUS! DO NOT DRINK SURPRISES

Everything in Nicaragua is sold in plastic bags. One day, we left our workers a cooler full of juice and an ice bag to keep everything cool. When we returned to the house, the workers had left for the day, but we noticed the corner chewed off the ice pack. Not able to read English, they thought it was juice and tried to drink it!

Danger! Do not drink!

Danger! Do not drink!

Then there was the time we bought paint thinner. The hardware store sells it in plastic water containers. I didn’t label it and sat it beside the workers’ identical water jugs. Oops! Jose took a big swig of it, but fortunately spit it out! After that, I was careful to label the jugs in Spanish for our workers.

Peligroso! No beber! Cener!

Peligroso! No beber! Cener!

5. THE MOST PLEASANT SURPRISE

This morning I awoke to pictures of snow posted by my stateside friends on Facebook. But, we awoke to a layer of purple petals on the ground from our blossoming Pera tree. A very pleasant Christmas surprise.

Happy holidays from our Pera tree!

Happy holidays from our Pera tree!

Wishing all of you happy holidays full of miraculous surprises!

Arts and Crafts the Nica Way


“Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time.”
~Thomas Merton, No Man Is an Island

Creativity is a must for most people living on a small tropical island with few resources. I am no exception. When the creative spirit stirs, I turn to arts and crafts. The art of creativity animates my desire to fulfill my dreams, while taking me to a place where I get lost and found at the same time…a real Zen moment. No matter how fleeting, I look forward to the comfort and solace these Zen moments bring.

After remodeling our beach shack, we were left with a 15 foot long space above our kitchen. I hired my artist friend, Sue, to help me make a frame, cover and stretch it with canvas, and we painted deliriously lost in our private Zen moments. The Nica Artist Way

I am an avid collector of the Pre-Columbian pottery shards that wash up on our beach daily. The piles of pottery shards on my porch were collecting scorpions and other creepy crawlies. So, I made wrapped wire necklaces for gifts, Christmas ornaments, and a pottery shard turtle above our new guest house addition.

The Jicaro tree fascinated me. Known as the tropical prosperity fruit tree, it has a variety of economic uses in Nicaragua. The Jicaro Tree  Yet, all I could picture were beautifully painted bowls, masks, and lamp shades. Two years ago, I planted bottle gourds with seeds I brought from the states. They dried in our bodega for two years, until I decided to do something with them. The shells were too thin to carve, so I created painted bird houses. I’m anxious to try my carving and wood burning skills on the think-skinned Jicaro gourds..after I perfect my painting skills. The Jicaro Artist

I collect vines and palm leaves for weaving and basket making. My first attempts were a disaster, so no pictures. But, when I needed a hanging lamp for my porch, I collected heavy vines and wove them into a ball, added some twinkle lights..and voila..new lighting for my porch.

My only regret is that there is not more time in my day for arts and crafts. The mangoes are starting to drop AGAIN! My only consolation is that when I’m raking up the tiny mangoes scattered throughout our yard, my creative juices are flowing and I’m lost in thoughts of palm leaves, gourds, and pottery shards dancing through my head.

A Big Fish Story: How to get a Tarpon into Town


“Fish,” the old man said. “Fish, you are going to have to die anyway. Do you have to kill me, too?” ~ Ernest Hemingway, The Old Man and the Sea

In the wee hours of the morning, the fishermen row their dug out canoes into the sweet sea, where the waters are deep and the fish are plentiful. “Maybe today will be my lucky day,” they pray silently.

IMG_1391This morning, Julio urgently called to us. “Run to the beach! The fisherman caught a gigantic fish in his net.” “Holy mackerel!” I shouted. “No,” responded Ron. “It’s a Tarpon.”

IMG_1342“A Tarpon?” I questioned, for I knew very little about Tarpon and especially Tarpon in Lake Cocibolca. The four-foot Megalops, cushioned between the narrow ribs of the dugout canoe, shimmered like the early morning sunbeams beams dancing on the gently rolling waves of our sweet sea. Its enormous eye stared as transparently as the cloudless dawn, while its adipose eyelid glazed over like a frosted donut, signifying that the fight was over. IMG_1344Tarpon generally weigh 80-280 pounds. “How do we get it out of the boat?” they all wondered. “More importantly,” asked the fisherman, “how do I get it into town to sell it?”

IMG_1350“Look at the mouth on that fish!” Julio demonstrated. Its mouth was as broad as the proposed Nicaraguan Canal, with a prominent lower jaw that jutted out farther than its face, sort of like our Moyogalpa dock. “It must be able to eat a lot of smaller fish with a mouth that size,” I said. The fisherman told us that the Tarpon are night hunters and they swallow their prey whole.

IMG_1356The fisherman wheeled his bicycle through the deep volcanic sand and docked it close to the canoe.

IMG_1360The fisherman strapped the strong, handmade paddles to his bicycle to brace the Megalops for the long ride into town.

IMG_1364Heaving and hefting, they lifted the monstrous, slippery Tarpon onto the paddles. It took several attempts because the fish was as slippery as our neighbor’s sweat beaded forehead after tending to her daily cooking fires.

IMG_1368Then, It was tightly bound to the bicycle, leaving no room for the fisherman to ride, only to push his prize into town.

IMG_1375“We need to carefully balance this monster,” the fisherman warned. Meanwhile, his son  dug out his prize..the eyeball!

IMG_1381Pushing it through the deep and unwieldy sand, they slowly make their way to the hard-packed road.

IMG_1384“Steady, steady,” warned the fisherman.

IMG_1387To market, to market to sell a fat fish..jiggety jigging along the sandy path.

IMG_1388Look at the size of those scales! These scales will make a beautiful pair of earrings.

IMG_1389This fish story has a very happy ending. The fisherman received 5,000 cordobas for the Tarpon, about two months’ wages. His son brought us a huge hunk of Tarpon for Ron’s help. Although they are bony fish and their meat is usually not eaten, we decided to try it anyway. Now, I understand why these magnificent fish are not commercially valuable as food fish, but our three kittens and our neighbor’s dog feasted until their bellies bloated.

I love a happy ending!

Weekly Photo Challenge: Delicate


If we are forced, at every hour, to watch or listen to horrible events, this constant stream of ghastly impressions will deprive even the most delicate among us of all respect for humanity. ~ Marcus Tullio Cicero
( ancient Roman lawyer, statesman, orator 106 BC-43-BC)

Life is delicate. I was reminded of this when 20 children were senselessly slaughtered in their classrooms, when I watched CNN for two days, horrified and shocked at man’s inhumanity to man.

Delicate new life on the finca

Delicate new life on the finca

Life is delicate. I was reminded of this when a new born filly was delivered on our neighbor’s finca Saturday morning, wobbling on her long, unsteady legs, while my kitten, Queenie, watched in fascination.

Rafiella and her new born

Rafiella and her newborn

Life is delicate. I was reminded of this when the newborn filly suckled, and when Rafiella gently licked her fuzzy foal to clean off the afterbirth.

Marina and her grandson, Dustin

Marina and her grandson, Dustin

Life is delicate. I was reminded of this when Marina tenderly bathed her grandson, Dustin, while he watched the newborn filly learning to walk on long, spindly legs.

Don't fall!

Don’t fall!

Life is delicate. I was reminded of this when Marina warned Dustin, “Don’t fall. Be careful.” Life is a delicate balance… a wobbly first step on long spindly legs…a desire to spread your wings and fly without fear, without reservations…leaping into the unknown, for that is what life IS…a leap of strong faith in the unforeseen future.

Everything you see exists together in a delicate balance. As king, you need to understand that balance and respect all the creatures, from the crawling ant, to the leaping antelope -Mufasa ~ Lion King quote

Hug your children today..tell them you love them.

…written in loving remembrance of the delicate lives lost.

Tuning into Twelve..the Nicaraguan Way


The-Importance-of-Number-12

Today is 12/12/12: the last of the triple-number dates until the next century. Reflecting on the significance of the number twelve, I’ve discovered that it is the foundation of many facets of our daily life in Nicaragua, from sports to religion. Today, I’m tuned into the number twelve the Nicaraguan way.

1. In Latin, the duodenum means “twelve”. The duodenum is the first part of the small intestine, and about 12 inches long. Living in Nicaragua, I am constantly aware of how my duodenum is functioning. I check the fingernails of street vendors before buying fruit in bags. Once I saw a street vendor use her knife to clean her fingernails, then cut the fruit. My duodenum shouted, “Warning! Parasite invasion.”

2. Nicaragua is predominately a Catholic nation. When we were the chosen as the Godparents of Albia Liguia for her confirmation into the Catholic church, we learned about the 12 Fruits of the Holy Ghost: joy, peace patience, benignity, goodness, longanimity, mildness, faith, modesty, continency, and chastity. Faithful Catholics in Nicaragua live according to these 12 fruits of the Holy Ghost daily.

3. Many of the Nicaraguan children are named after one of the 12 apostles or the 12 tribes of Israel. Reuben, Issac, Levi, Joseph, and John are some of the most popular names.

4. There are twelve months of the year. In Nicaragua, the months of the year are not capitalized: enero, febrero, marzo, abril, mayo, junio, julio, agusto, septiembre, octubre, noviembre, diciembre. I’ve learned that Spanish uses significantly fewer capital letters than does English.

5. There are 24 hours in a day, with twelve hours for half a day. Nicaraguans are very laid back. In the United States, people are very future, or goal oriented…not so in Nicaragua. They, for the most part, are more interested in their daily chores and how each day brings with it its routine challenges. I’ve learned that in Nicaragua, we do a lot of waiting. If people are to arrive at a meeting at 12 o’clock, it could mean an hour or more later, or maybe even manana.

6. In Nicaragua, soccer is almost as popular as baseball. The number 12 can be a symbolic reference to the fans, because of the support they give to the 11 players on the field. The country’s national team’s success in 2009 ( qualifying for its first international tournament), has helped elevate soccer’s profile in Nicaragua.

7. In ancient times, the moon phases were the most reliable source of determining the time to plant and harvest crops. Most farmers in Nicaragua use the simplest method of moon planting by observing the 8 phases of the moon in its waxing or waning period. Then, according to the phase of the moon, they group their crops into four categories: root crops, foliage, crops with seeds on the outside, and crops with seeds on the inside. Using the simple 12 method ( 8 phases of the moon + 4 categories of crops), they  usually yield very productive crops.

8. Nicaragua is known as the country of lakes and volcanoes. Out of the 19 active and dormant volcanoes, 12 are listed on the ViaNica website as being the most interesting volcanoes and volcanic structures. List of the 12 most interesting volcanoes in Nicaragua.

9. Banana and Plantains are big business in Nicaragua. It usually takes 9-12 months before the bananas and plantains are ready to harvest. From our experience of growing banana trees on Ometepe, we find that it usually takes an average of 12 months from start to delicious finish.

10. On the average, a troop of Howler monkeys consists of 12 members.

11. There are twelve days of Christmas in the famous song, The Twelve Days of Christmas. To make it more Nicaragua friendly, I would change a few items: 12 drummers drumming, 11 pigs a squealing, 10 Sandinistas shooting, 9 monkeys howling, 8 dogs a starving, 7 bombas bursting, 6 hens a laying, 5 golden bananas, 4 chattering parrots, 3 Rosa mangoes, 2 fighting cocks, and a La Paloma in our Pera tree.

12. To wrap up my list of Tuning into Twelve…the Nicaraguan Way, here are a few recommendations for my Nicaraguan friends: the movie, Twelve Monkeys, the poem, The Twelve, by Aleksandr Blok ( because Nicaraguans are natural-born poets), the music of D12, a rap group ( Nicaraguans love rap), and the video game series, Street Fighter, with the character, Twelve in the video games ( simply because video games are a Nicaraguan passion).

I hope you enjoy my list of twelve. Have a wonderful 12/12/12. It is the last of the repetitive dates we will ever see in our lifetimes. Celebrate and have 12 times the fun today!

 

 

 

 

Shouting at the Virgin


“Quién causa tanta alegría?” (Who causes so much happiness?)  No, it’s not Santa Claus or Superman…in Nicaragua it’s the Virgin Mary. Every December 7th at 6pm, hundreds of people gather at their local church to shout gleefully at the plaster-of-Paris Virgin Mary statue, shoot fireworks, and parade through the local town with Virgin Mary bobbing above the clouds of gelled hair.

virgin mary copyHappiness, to a faithful Nicaraguan, is Mary’s Conception and they are proud to demonstrate their glee with an ancient traditional celebration called La Gritería, which translates as “the shouting”.  Singing and shouting, they profess their love for the Virgin Maria, thanking her for the miracles bestowed upon them.

Francisco compared it to Halloween and trick-or-treating, without the tricks. Virgin Maria is paraded from one house to another, where elaborate altars are decorated in front of the houses. When the promenade arrives, the people shout, “Quién causa tanta alegría?” and the singing begins. “Oh, it is like caroling in the states,” I told Francisco.

Thanks to gringa-onthego.blogspot.com for the beautiful alter picture

Thanks to gringa-onthego.blogspot.com for the beautiful altar picture

The home owners distribute candies, fruit, natural drinks, and plastic noise makers (the kids love these). They hang around in groups singing and visiting until it’s time to move on to the next altar. In Moyogalpa, the parade visits eight altars, usually the same altars every year. “How are the altars chosen?” I asked Francisco. He laughed and said, “I don’t know. They must be very rich families because they have many gifts to give to their visitors.”

At midnight, the parade returns the tired Virgin Mary to the church, and the fireworks and firecrackers announce the official day of La Gritería, which is December 8th. The parade of tired shouters happily return to their homes with bags of sugary treats. The streets are littered with firework residue and candy wrappers. Grateful for the many blessings bestowed upon them for their faithfulness, they wrap themselves in sweet dreams until the next La Gritería.

 

Blood Sport


On weekdays, Marvin and his sons work hard building houses and designing iron furniture, gates, and windows. But, when the weekend arrives, they spend their time the way most macho Nicaraguan men do: training roosters to fight to their deaths with small razor blades attached to their legs.

IMG_1117 Like NASCAR is to rednecks, cockfighting is a cultural event of grand proportions in Nicaragua. All sectors of society are brought together to pop beers, place bets, and cheer on their favorite cocks in the ring. Living among galleros (those who train and fight the roosters), it seemed only fitting that I should learn more about this gruesome blood sport. Yet, I couldn’t bring myself to attend a real cock-fight. I’m a chicken when it comes to blood and a frenzied fight to death.

So, when we were invited to Lauren’s 10th birthday party (Marvin’s daughter) and I spied cages of courageous cocks, my curiosity overcame my fear…only to explore this violent sport that brings out the machismo in most Nicaraguan men.

Marvin’s son proudly introduced me to the champion cock. He was three years old and had won the last three fights in a dirt ring at Johnny’s bar on the beach. I wondered how they choose a champion and Alejandro explained that it is very similar to training a boxer. When the chicks hatch, they are carefully monitored for the strongest and most aggressive roosters. Apparently, roosters are born with a congenital aggression toward all males of the same species and they quickly become natural enemies.

The cocks are given the best care until near the age of two years old. A good training program involves running the roosters to build stamina, and throwing the bird in the air over and over to build wing strength. Their lower bodies are plucked of all their feathers, and their skin is massaged daily with the juice of sour oranges and lemons. This treatment hardens the skin, making the cocks less vulnerable to punctures and pecks from the opponent. I do know that the sour orange juice makes a delicious marinate for grilled chicken, so it seems to me that when the dead cock goes into the cooking pot after losing the last battle, it is kind of like a well seasoned Butterball turkey.

IMG_1118They demonstrated a practice fight for me. First, Marvin’s son shook the brown rooster in front of the champion, taunting him to fight, like a shake and bait tease.

IMG_1119The champion stared down the shaken brown rooster, waiting patiently for his opponent to be released. In less than a minute, the practice fight was over. Basically, there was a lot of squawking and strutting by the cocks, and a lot of cheering and clapping by the birthday party goers. This was my kind of cock fight…no injuries…no blood…and wholesome entertainment for everyone involved.

IMG_1120Marvin’s other son, Jose, lovingly held the champion once again after the practice fight.

IMG_1124 In order for the rowdy roosters to train for the added weight of sharp hooks or razor blades, and to feel comfortable in the ring with little daggers strapped around their legs, they wrap a nut in a soft piece of leather and strap it around one leg of the cock.

In a real cock-fight, the birds are equipped with either metal spurs, called gaffs, or razor blades tied to the leg where the bird’s natural spur used to be. They often remove the natural spur of the rooster, and sometimes the comb and wattles are cut off to protect the gamecocks from their opponent’s sharp claws.

IMG_1126The champion pounces on the loser. Five minutes later, the little brown rooster hobbled out of the practice ring. They explained that in a real fight at the local arena at Johnny’s Bar, the roosters are weighed first. Then, the razors or hooks are strapped to their legs, the bets are cast, the beers popped, and the fight begins. The frenzy flapping in the rings lasts for 15 minutes, or until one bird dies in the ring. The winner recuperates for several weeks before the next fight, and the loser is thrown in a pot for a soup befit a Monday morning hangover.

This is the closest I will ever come to watching a gory, bloody cock-fight. I don’t think I will ever understand this cultural blood sport, but then again, I could never understand NASCAR either. Below is a video of a real cock-fight in Nicaragua…if you dare.

A video of fighting cocks.

A Voyage Across the Sweet Sea


In 1866, Mark Twain described the volcanoes on Ometepe Island, as “two magnificent pyramids clad in the softest and richest green, all flecked with shadow and sunshine.” Since we had been island bound for several months, the time had come to voyage across the sweet sea for some Christmas shopping on the mainland.

Leaving the port town of Moyogalpa.

Leaving the port town of Moyogalpa.

We boarded the 9:00 am ferry and chugged past the picturesque port town of Moyogalpa, where layers of green foliage spread softly like cake frosting into the sweet sea of Cocibolca.

The roof of our house on the far right.

The roof of our house on the far right.

Fifteen minutes later, the wind-churned waves carried us past our house (on the far right) and the quaint little community of La Paloma, where houses dotted the black sand beach in vibrant hard-candy shades of lemon yellow, sour apple green, and watermelon pink. The rafts of Puesta del Sol bobbed gently in the waves, signaling that the windy months were upon us.

Now we have a view of both volcanoes..Maderas, the dormant volcano is on the right.

Now we have a view of both volcanoes..Maderas, the dormant volcano is on the right.

Rounding the point of Jesus Maria, the twin volcanoes came into view. Mark Twain described them as “summits piercing the billowy clouds.”

The new airport is almost done.

The new airport is almost done.

During the California gold rush, Cornelius Vanderbilt invested heavily in a land-sea route across Nicaragua, avoiding the grueling wagon trail ride across the United States fraught with bandits, diseases, and accidents. Twain opted for the Nicaraguan route in his 1866 trip back east.
As we glide past the new runway, I wonder how the airport will change Ometepe. The runway and the terminal are complete, with only the construction of the tower remaining. It won’t be long, now. What would Twain think if he could have soared through the billowy clouds to our oasis of peace?

They are constructing the tower, now.

They are constructing the tower, now.

Quite a dramatic entrance to Ometepe. I hope the plane can stop in time before it reaches the volcano.

The Ferry passes by on its way to Moyogalpa from the mainland.

The Ferry passes by on its way to Moyogalpa from the mainland.

Waving to the ferry passengers returning to la isla from the mainland, I wonder what the first-time tourists think. Will they enjoy their stay? An hour’s trip across the great sweet sea is always a feast for my senses.

Nice view of our active volcano, Concepcion.

Nice view of our active volcano, Concepcion.

During Twain’s time, the cross-lake steamer bypassed Ometepe on its way to the Rio San Juan. Too bad, for if Twain would have had an opportunity to visit our lovely island, I know he would have written about gorging his senses on the ravenous beauty and mysteries surrounding us. A voyage across the sweet sea is always an adventure…one that never ceases to amaze me.