I enjoy taking a late afternoon stroll along our beach near the sweet sea of Lake Cocibolca. Cormorants chatter among themselves, while searching for the prime spot and the best snack before bedtime.
In the evening, as the brutal sun was sinking into the sweet sea for its nightly nap , a freshwater giant was lurking in the shallow waters of Lake Cocibolca. These gargantious alligator gar have few known predators, mainly because the prehistoric relatives of the megafish have tooth-filled mouths and heavily scaled bodies.
Yet, one unfortunate menacing-looking behemoth couldn’t contend with Julio and his missile-like aim.
With a swiftly flying rock, he pounded the alligator gar into deadly submission. This toothy giant didn’t have a chance.
This gargantious gar may look fierce, but attacks against people are unknown. Tell that to little 8 mo. old Braydon, whose mother just finished bathing him in the lake.
Julio chopped up the gar with his machete throwing twinkly flying sparks….seriously! Then, the big hunks of meat were distributed among the neighborhood. Some say that gar is a tasty treat, others say that gar is bony and tough. The only fact I know about gar is that the eggs are poisonous to humans if ingested.
Stay tuned for my gar recipe. In the meantime, I think I’m taking a break from swimming in the shallow waters of our sweet sea.
“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.
“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. Tarpon 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?”
“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.
Heaving 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.
This 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!
The little people of the sea Have sent an answer back to me The little people’s answer was We cannot stand it, Sir, because. ~Paraphrased after Lewis Carrol
Sometimes I worry about the changes and rapid development in Nicaragua, especially for the traditional fishermen along the 100+ miles of Pacific coastline. Nicaragua is blessed with undeveloped, raw coastline. Dotted with colorful tiny fishing villages, the fishermen depend on the sea to make a living. When the roads are developed and tourism explodes, will the little people say, “We cannot stand it, Sir. Please make them go away.”?
Coastal fishing villages are often isolated, making them difficult to visit. We’ve seen the changes new roads have brought to San Juan del Sur, and soon-to-be ‘touron’ (Our son’s nickname for environmentally unconcerned tourists) infested Playa Gigante. The once charming fishing villages are overrun with tacky tourist shops, vegetarian restaurants, camera laden tourists, and surf boards and kayaks heavily chained to embedded metal poles. What will happen to the little people of the sea, whose homes and livelihoods are transformed into a concrete jungle for tourons?
Las Penitas is a short 30 minute bus ride from Leon. It is situated around a small natural harbor, which provides a safe haven for the fleet of fishing pongas. Fascinated with the daily activities of the local fishermen, we watched with trepidation, as the fishing pongas jumped huge waves to enter or exit the protected harbor. The harbor disappears at low tide, leaving dugout canoes and pongas stranded in the sand flats until the next tide rolls into the harbor freeing the boats.
Sipping our morning coffee, we eavesdropped on the conversations of the fishermen’s families waiting for the catch of the day. They discussed the cost of school supplies and beans, while chastising their children because they had taken the wooden slats off the bottom of the metal cart used to carry the fish to market. The children flopped the splintery wooden slats into the water and used them like boogie boards until the first fishing ponga sailed over the crashing waves into the harbor.
Entranced by the smells of fresh fish, the sights of salivating dogs circling the mooring pongas, the whispered swishing sounds of the frayed nets hauled to shore, the flash of sharp blades filleting the fish, and finally the raspy voices of rapid fire negotiations, the fish exchanged hands from sea to fishermen to market, as we watched the traditions of fishermen passed down generation after generation.
What will happen to the little people of the sea? Will they say, “We cannot stand it, Sir. Please make them go away.”? Or will they passively resign themselves to keeping up with the tourons? Only time will tell.
“My life is like a stroll on the beach…as near to the edge as I can go.” ~Thoreau
For those of you who know Ron, you also know that his passions are fishing and gardening. If you come to visit us, generally you’ll find him puttering around in the huge garden in our back yard. If he’s not there, he’ll be in the front yard, fishing. Our little La Paloma beach house is the perfect setting for Ron. The early morning sun rises above Vulcan Concepcion spreading its tropical rays on his mounds of fruits and vegetables scattered throughout the half-acre garden. The fence is dotted with wild purple morning glories and vibrant yellow flowers resembling an old English country garden watercolor painting. In our front yard, Lake Cocibolca waves her gentle fingers beyond our front doors tempting Ron with her aquatic delights. Life couldn’t be more perfect, or more picturesque.
With a year round growing season, Ron has experimented with a variety of fruits and vegetables. His cucumbers, papaya, green beans, sweet potatoes, black beans, black-eyed peas, oregano, and greens are bearing now. It’s been a constant battle, though, with the neighbor’s chickens, the nematodes, leaf-cutter ants, and yesterday, the wild horse that got in the garden and ate the leaves off his banana tree. The only consolation was that the horse manure landed exactly in the right spot. The neighborhood kids were here playing baseball yesterday and they forgot to close the front gate. This morning, Julio spotted the horse and he and his four bony dogs chased it out of the yard.
Our friends and neighbors have generously supplied us with sweet potato cuttings, peanuts, basil, mint, and other starter plants. Ron has tenderly nurtured carrots and beets for months now, but so far, they refuse to grow. Some people have told us to pee on the plants, but that hasn’t solved the problem. There are so many mysteries to tropical gardening. The volcanic soil is rich and sandy, yet it lacks certain nutrients. For example, Ron’s tomato plants were growing tall and spindly like something out of Jack and the Bean Stock, so one of my former English students told Ron to try pouring milk in the soil. Instead, he mixed up the liquid calcium supplement I bought from the traveling pharmacist, and it worked like a charm. Now, they have been attacked by nematodes, so he had to sterilize the soil and plant them in buckets to prevent another nematode onslaught.
Ron’s garden is dotted with avocado trees, papayas, eggplant, peppers, cantaloupe, and garbanzo beans. Between the rows and circles, Ron machetes the tall grass to make mounds of compost. It’s a never-ending job. But, in the process, Ron has lost over twenty pounds. Today, he was showing me his arms and his machete arm appears to be twice the size of his other one. He’s becoming a real pro with his machete…. a sign that he’s fitting into this primitive, macho world of ours.
Although all the neighbors like to visit Ron’s garden, it’s really puzzling that no one has a garden of their own here. We can’t understand why they don’t garden. There are large fields of tobacco, plantains, coffee, rice, beans, and sesame seeds, but no family gardens. We haven’t figured out if they lack the initiative or the know how, or both. Don Jose, our closest neighbor, sometimes doesn’t have enough food to feed his family, yet he has a big garden spot behind his house that is overgrown with mango trees, lemons, and other tropical fruit trees. One of the locals recently told us, “We like to pick and we like to eat.” That’s very true. Maybe they just don’t know how to dig and plant. Fruits are so abundant here and easily obtainable. If we want lemons, mangos, oranges, coconuts, hot peppers, or other fruits, we walk outside and gather them off the trees or the ground.
When Ron gets tired of gardening or macheting, he grabs his fishing pole and heads to the lake. The lake near our house is very shallow and sandy. Although, the Guapote ( the big, fat fish of the lake) are generally found in the more rocky, deeper areas, he’s been successful at catching smaller, silvery fighting fish that jump into the air about six feet. The Munchaca are harder to eat because they have lots of little bones.
His fishing pole is still a novelty in the land of long fishing nets. Strangers walking along the shore will often stop and stare at Ron casting his line into the lake. They’re sort of befuddled with the unusual contraption and don’t know what to make of it. One day, Ron took his electronic fish finder to the lake with him and you can’t imagine all the fuss that it created. For the past week, Cory and Sam have been flying a spider man kite. The end of November and December are the windy months…excellent kite weather. With lots of creative ingenuity and third world materials, they attached the kite to Ron’s fishing pole and tested it out at the beach. As a result, we’ve learned many new Spanish words like… tail, kite, wind, and crash and burn.
Ron is also the household chef. I’m glad that he enjoys cooking because it gives me more time to write. Like his fishing pole, a cocina man “kitchen man” is a novelty on Ometepe and I suspect in all Latin American cultures. The neighbors are in awe when they see Ron in the kitchen preparing a meal. Several years ago, when I asked my English student boys how to prepare plantains or other exotic fruits and vegetables, they gave me blank stares. They had no idea what takes place in a kitchen. The cocina is an alien world full of frilly aprons, smoky fires, squawking pigs, and crying babies. I gave them a writing assignment one day. “Go home and write the recipe for your favorite meal, in English.” They had to interview their mothers and translate the recipes into English. Not many could do it and the recipes I got were useless because they don’t use measuring cups or ovens. The recipes were hysterical with words like, drain the blood, gather the wood, use a fistful of oil, and locate a chicken egg.
So now you have a little peek into my amazing husband’s life. He’s definitely a keeper!! I’ve seen these young Nica women eyeing him and smiling seductively at a gringo who likes to cook, fish, and garden and I may have to swat them away with my twig broom. Life on Ometepe suits him well. As the neighbors say, “He’s a beddy goot man.”
The charm of fishing is that it is the pursuit of what is elusive but attainable, a perpetual series of occasions for hope.
Early this morning, at the crack of dawn, two brothers borrowed our kayak and paddled offshore to place their net below the shallow waters of Lake Cocibolca. Within five minutes, they hauled up a huge fish, similar to a Sea Bass. It is the chicken of the sweet sea, a type of Guapote, with enough meat to feed a large family.
Fishing on Lake Cocibolca is not a sport: fishing sustains life here. Julio and Jose are among the many young men on the island in pursuit of what is elusive, but attainable. Fishing is hope…hope that they can feed their families…hope that they can haul in a big catch…hope that they can make life a little better for their families.
Fishing gives them daily opportunities to pursue what is attainable, because there are many things that are out of reach for the poor in Nicaragua…a college education…a secure job…quality health care..comfortable housing….to name a few.
Yet, because their needs are simple, they have no hopes and dreams for the unattainable. They happily fish through life with a sense of realism that astounds me. They are satisfied with what they have,and live without expectations for the unreachable. Therefore, they have few disappointments in life. A great day is one big, fat Guapote, or a net full of smaller, bony fish.
I wonder about this simple philosophy of life. Is it better to have a perpetual series of occasions for hope, than hope for that which is unlikely to occur? I think of the times I bought lottery tickets hoping that I would win the Powerball. Even winning a dollar on a lottery ticket was a disappointment to me. I was hoping for the unattainable.Now, it seems like such a waste of energy and worry.
What I have learned from watching Jose and Julio fish in the calm waters of our sweet sea, is that hope and reality are brothers in life. It’s like taking baby steps…one little step at a time…leading to the big catch. It involves taking a realistic view of one’s life, pursuing those elusive, but attainable Guapote, and having a perpetual series of occasions for hope.