Nicaraguan Superstitions

“What we don’t understand we can make mean anything.” ― Chuck Palahniuk

Isn’t that the truth? You probably have a few of your own superstitions. I know I have many. I’ve skirted around the ladder propped up in our backyard when our workers were on our roof. I always find pennies or cordobas on the road. If they are heads-up, I take them because they are good luck.  If they are heads-down, I ignore them.

Yet, why do we behave this way? We learn superstitious behaviors through a simple reinforcement process. If a certain action appears to lead to a desired outcome, we do it over and over again. And why do we repeat these actions? Because we like to have some semblance of control over uncertainty in our lives. If we are unsure about an outcome, we try to find a way to control it. Thus superstitions are born.

Nicaraguans have many superstitions, too.

Our friends visited us with their newborn. He was wearing a bracelet with a red band and two seeds on the bracelet. I’ve seen these before on newborns, so I asked about the significance. Apparently, one of the maladies parents must watch out for is called calor de vista. Babies get feverish and sick when people who have been drinking alcohol gaze at the baby. The new Papa explained to me that even families and friends who drink too much can pass on their oncoming hangover instantly to the baby. The bracelet is protection for the baby against drunks.

OH NO! A drunk must be nearby! Quick, hold up your bracelet!

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Toad Suckers in Nicaragua

Petunia gave birth to nine piglets yesterday. Today, she suffers from mastitis. My neighbors ran around my yard looking for a fat Cane Toad to alleviate Petunia’s pain, so she could feed her litter.  A Cane Toad?
“What will you do with the Cane Toad?” I asked.

I know they can be deadly to dogs and cats because if animals eat a Cane Toad, they can die from the milky white poison released from the glands of the toad. The Most-Traveled Cane Toad  What is really frightening in this article is that “people can die within 15 minutes of getting poisoned by a Cane Toad.”

I’ve heard of toad-sucking, but always thought it was an urban legend. I even used to live near Toad Suck, Arkansas. So, my curiosity led me to google toad-sucking, which, by the way, I also read today that googling daily may prevent Alzheimer’s disease.

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Eerie Ometepe Island

“Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there, wondering, fearing, doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before.”
Edgar Allan Poe

This week’s photography challenge says, “Let’s go out and capture black and white images that are eerie. In honor of the creepiest and eeriest author I know, Edgar Allan Poe, I bring you the Eerie Island based on five of the creepiest tales of Edgar Allan Poe.

1. Hop-Frog, 1849
Hop-Frog, the King’s favorite court jester, seeks revenge on the King and his court after they publicly humiliated him. He dresses them as apes for the King’s masquerade ball, then sets them on fire in front of the horrified crowd.
IMG_17752. The Black Cat, 1843
One day in a drunken rage, a man blinds his cat, Pluto, and hangs him from a tree. Mysteriously the house burns to the ground, yet leaves a silhouette of the hung cat. He gets another cat eerily similar to Pluto, but in his attempt to kill it, he kills his wife instead and hides her in the cellar wall. The police discover her body after they hear the wailing and howling of a black cat sitting on top of his mistresses cold body.
IMG_34003. The Murders in the Rue Morgue, 1841
Auguste Dupin, an amateur detective, tries to solve the murder of two women in Paris. At the crime scene, he finds a hair that cannot be human. He discovers that the murderer is actually an escaped Orangutan.
IMG_23154. The Pit and the Pendulum, 1842
This story follows the horrors endured by a prisoner of the Spanish Inquisition. The prisoner is subject to terrors only Poe could dream up.
IMG_46135. The Raven, 1845
Probably Poe’s most famous poem. Poe spins the tale of a grieving lover who is visited by a talking Raven on a cold winter’s night. Although, I couldn’t find a Raven for this example, I think a giant fruit bat clinging to my ironing board demonstrates the horror of this poem.
IMG_1711Are you scared by the eerie tales, yet? Dustin and his family sure are.

Place Where the Gods Pee

About six miles out of Moyogalpa, one can find a tranquil emerald-green pond called Charco Verde.  The lagoon is an extinct parasite crater of Concepcion Volcano. Steeped in legends and mystery, Charco Verde was a sacred spot for the Nahuatl ancestors, where the indigenous population practiced rituals such as sacrifices, reincarnations, and supplications to the gods. The algae infested lagoon was called Xistletoet by the Nahuatls, which means “Place Where the Gods Pee.” They did have a sense of humor!

Today, Charco Verde is a protected nature reserve where many varieties of local and migratory birds congregate, as well as Howler monkeys, armadillos, rabbits, and deer. Walking the well-maintained trails through the dry tropical forest that surrounds the reserve, we encountered herons, monkeys, cormorants, egrets, woodpeckers, magpies, and a variety of tropical plants and trees.

Fishermen cast their nets daily.

IMG_5597Gardens display duendes, sort of like mischievous little gnomes or leprechauns hidden among the foliage.

IMG_4453Map of the 1.7 kilometer trails through the reserve.

IMG_1807Majestic Concepcion volcano casts its enormous shadow into the green lagoon.

IMG_1801Herons and Egrets wait patiently for breakfast.

IMG_1792Zapolotes or buzzards circle the lagoon, always picking the ripest morsels of flesh.

IMG_5600This tranquil lagoon has a history of magic and witchcraft. Read the Legend of Chico Largo here.

IMG_1805The Howler monkeys take daily siestas in the tree tops. This little one says, “Who’s there?”

IMG_1788Cowboys herd their stray cattle back home. Who knows? This cow may be the cowboy’s father who made a pact with the devil. Legend has it that one can call forth the devil in Charco Verde, trade one’s soul for riches, and when the devil recalls the soul, he turns the deceased into a cow. Our local butcher says he found several cows with gold teeth.

IMG_1796No need to be petrified about these legends. Life in Charco Verde is abundant and full of vitality. Next time you are wandering around the lagoon, watch out for the cows. It could be a deceased relative.


Weekly Photo Challenge 2: The Heavenly Chocolate Chip Tree

The Silk Floss Tree, or species of Ceiba is the majestic giant of the rainforest. It has long been considered sacred for the indigenous people of Nicaragua. One of their myths is that the souls of the dead would climb into the branches of the Ceiba to reach heaven.  Large spines protrude from the trunk to protect the bark and discourage predators.  I call it the chocolate chip tree because its unique spikes resemble chocolate chips.

the chocolate chip tree copyLike the Pickle Tree, the Chocolate Chip Tree has many uses.
Uses for the wood:
The straight trunks of the tree are used to make dugout canoes. The wood is pinkish white to ashy brown in color, with a straight grain.

Uses for the seeds and fiber:
The brown seeds are round like peas and grow in pods. The pods burst open and inside a whitish cotton like fiber surrounds the brown seeds. The fiber is extremely light, buoyant, and water resistant. It is used to stuff pillows and life jackets. I have some fiber sitting in a bowl on my porch and the hummingbirds gather it for their nests.The fiber has also been used to wrap around poison darts to be blown out of blowguns.

Medicinal Uses:
The seeds , leaves, bark, and resin are used medicinally to treat dysentery, fever, asthma, and kidney disease.

Thanks to my son, Cory, for the stunning photo.






The Christmas Tree: Life’s triumph over death

Our Island Christmas Tree

The winter solstice was a day of reckoning for ancient people. When the Egyptians noticed the nights getting colder, and the days getting shorter, they were afraid that the sun was disappearing and the Earth would freeze. They looked around and noticed that some of the plants and trees remained green. Believing that these evergreens had magical powers and would appease the gods, they brought them into their homes.

Not having evergreen trees, the Egyptians cut green date palm leaves and scattered them throughout their homes to symbolize life’s triumph over death. And…the Christmas tree was born! Now, living on a tropical island presents some problems trying to find a suitable Christmas tree. Like the ancient Egyptians, we have no evergreen trees either.

I was lamenting that there were no Christmas trees on the island, when I saw our young friend, Izzy, carting a strange, yet beautiful pole to our house. “You said you wanted a Christmas tree, so I made you one,” Izzy said as she handed me her amazing creation.

Delicate newspaper cranes, dried mango leaves, and an assortment of tropical bird feathers adorned the tree. “Izzy, it’s perfect!” I said, kind of teary eyed at the thoughtfulness of her gift. “Let’s make some more ornaments.”

I’ve collected Pre-Columbian pottery shards that wash up on my beach for years. With some copper wire and ribbon, we wrapped the ancient shards and hung them on the tree. I returned from the states with one wire of twinkling lights and a star from the Dollar Store. We hung the shining star above the tree, as a symbol of bringing forth the light.

Life’s triumph over death hit close to home on Sunday. A very close friend of ours was involved in a horrific motorcycle crash on the island. Robinson escaped with his life, but one of his friends wasn’t as fortunate. Robinson was transferred to a hospital in Managua, across the lake in a small ponga boat. For two days, he could only speak in English, not understanding his native language. The mind works in mysterious ways.

He’s recovering comfortably at home today. I think I’m going to keep my Christmas tree up year-round to remind me of the precious gifts life has to offer. Life is so short…it can change in an instant. Like the ancient Egyptians, my little handmade Christmas tree will be an everlasting symbol of life’s triumphs over death.



The Season of Thieves

                                                       The thief!

Tis the season of thieves.  We were repeatedly warned. “Lock your doors! Bring everything inside at night,” they cautioned. The bandits enter silently in the wee hours of the morning, before the break of dawn. We were on high alert, ready for any robber who would vilify our sanctuary…or so we thought.

Early in the morning, as I was taking a shower, I spotted the thief in the garden. He was a pugnacious, omnivorous, and fearless intruder. His sentinel was perched in the closest mango tree warning the thief of a possible predator in the distance. The sentinel signaled the thief with one high-pitched alarm call. As I approached silently, armed with my camera, the guarding magpie frantically warned the thieving Urraca with a series of 3-6 shorter notes.

The Urraca, with a belly full of our ripe papaya, made a rapid getaway, heading for the safety of the highest mango branch. The Urraca earned its reputation honestly. It is the Spanish name for magpie, derived from the Latin word furax, which means “thievish”. The Urraca has a tendency to collect and hoard shiny things, sort of like the TV show, “Hoarders: Buried Alive.” I also learned that it has a voracious appetite for fruits, especially papayas.

Santiago and I were rocking on the porch yesterday, resting after cleaning the coconut trees and burning out wasp nests. He recounted the legend of the Urraca after I expressed my frustration with the large, loud, and obnoxious birds. “Did you know that during the time of Jesus, the Urracas could talk?” he asked. “No,” I responded surprised. “Did they speak English or Spanish?” I joked.

According to Santiago, whose father is a preacher, the Urracas and the parrots were the only two species of birds that could talk. When the Jews crucified Jesus  and he was hanging on the cross, the Urracas tried to steal his crown of thorns for their nests. As a result, God punished them by removing their ability to talk because he wasn’t very happy with the obnoxious birds…like me.

Santiago stacked a bunch of coconut fronds at my front door. I’m going to make a coconut frond scare crow to put in the garden. I’m not hopeful that it will deter the pugnacious birds. We’re still on high alert. Our neighbors were right…tis the season for thieves. Only our obnoxious intruders steal our papayas.



Dung Beetles and Politicians: A Comparison

A Dung Beetle

Today is election day in Nicaragua. Daniel Ortega is the projected winner. Of course, anyone living in Nicaragua for the past six months could have predicted this long ago. Instead of a political discourse ( I am certainly not a political analyst), and since my contest is over and we have a winner (see post below), I thought you might be interested in a few facts about the dung beetle, and a comparison of dung beetles to politicians. You may choose to read between the lines…or not.

Fact # 1: A dung beetle refers to all the species of beetles which are dependent on the feces of animals for their food and shelter. Not surprisingly, the species of politicians feed off the crap of their constituents, as well. They have a peculiar ability to eat the poo of their followers and regurgitate it into meaningless promises …and more poo. For their survival as a species depends on the crap received and redistributed within their habitats.

Fact # 2: There exist more than 7,000 species of dung beetles on the planet, which are found on all continents except for Antarctica. Politicians are found all over the world, too…except for Antarctica. Antarctica has no president or government. Apparently, this frozen continent is governed by seals and penguins. So, it would be very difficult to tell a dung beetle or a politician to eat sh** on Antarctica. Very little poo is found there.

Fact # 3: Dung beetles have an important role in mythology. The Egyptian scarab beetle was considered sacred. The ancient Egyptians believed that it was a giant dung beetle that kept the world revolving, as these beetles revolve dung balls today. Some tribes in South America believe that the first human was carved from a dung ball. As with politicians, the sh** hits the fan as it continuously rolls from one government office to another…gaining momentum…growing larger and more powerful…until it is so enormous and so powerful…it is unstoppable. It becomes a bureaucratic nightmare filled with a stench that spreads its greedy, rolling poo throughout the world. It makes me wonder if the first human carved from a dung ball was a politician.

Fact # 4: Even though it may sound repelling to eat feces, dung beetles are very helpful little insects. They disperse seeds, clean up animal poo, and recycle nutrients back into the soil. Politicians can be very helpful, too. So, the next time you see your local politicians, tell them to “eat sh**.” It may be the best compliment they have ever received. 🙂

Thank you, dear readers, for participating in my contest. We actually have two winners: Sandy and Tamara. They both guessed a dung beetle ball, only 3 minutes apart. Your seed dolphin prize should be in the mail, soon.



The Legend of El Chupacabra

El Cupacabra and El Duende

Legends of bloodsucking creatures are present all over the world and throughout history. Seven years ago, I read in La Prensa that a young man was lost on Vulcan Concepcion. He had attempted to climb the volcano without a guide and was ill-prepared for the dangerous trek. Those foolish enough to scale the 1610 meter slopes without assistance are usually seriously wounded, lost, or as in the case of the 24-year-old Salvadoran, eaten by El Cupacabra.

My English students told me that the guides found his body a week later.  His head was wedged between two rocks, his leg was broken, and an arm was missing.  Luvis pounded her fist on my plastic table when she heard the news and emphatically stated, “It was the Chupacabra.”  “What in the world is a Chupacabra?”  I asked curiously.  They all looked at me astounded because I had never heard of the creature.

“The Chupa Cabra is all over the world,” Francisco informed me. They began arguing when I asked for a description of the monster.  One of my students said he was half goat, half man.  The other said he could fly and was probably an alien.  Luvis described him with fierce, pointy teeth and an amazing ability to jump from volcano to volcano.  Francisco said he only sucked the blood from goats.  Luvis said, “No, he eats many people on the volcano because that’s where he lives.”  They all agreed that the monster was dangerous and called him “The goat sucker.”

What I did learn to be fact throughout this strange conversation is that the islanders are very superstitious people.  They attribute any unexplained death or illness to creatures such as duendes, women that turn into monkeys, monsters that leave the dark lake bed at night in search of blood, and the famous Chupacabra.

Halloween is coming.  The children don’t celebrate Halloween in La Paloma.  Seven years ago, it was different.  We taught Luvis and Julio how to say “trick or treat” and helped them make masks.

Luvis was a duende and Julio was the Chupacabra.  We taught them to knock on our door on Halloween and say, “trick or treat.”  We were undecided whether to treat them or trick them, so we did both.  We stocked up on cajeta de leche (sort of like fudge) and Ron made no bake chocolate cookies with oatmeal. I dressed up like a fairy ( I even made a tin foil wand) and Ron dressed up as a monkey with a machete.

I asked Ron if we should teach all of the little ones that came to our house for English lessons, about 20 of them, about Halloween and invite them to our house for trick or treating.  But, thanks to Julio and Luvis, we had a better understanding of the superstitions surrounding our community,and we decided it wasn’t a good idea.  Our house was the good luck house in the neighborhood.  Who knew what the parents might think if we told them to wear scary masks and come to our house for candy.  We may have ruined our good reputation in La Paloma.  So, it was only Luvis and Julio that came.

Now that Halloween is approaching again, we decided to forgo the annual pagan tradition. After all, our house is still considered the good luck house in the neighborhood. We have a reputation to keep up. But, I do miss all the fun surrounding Halloween, so I’m thinking of making a poster to hang on our front door:

Wanted: El Chupacabra

Name:         El Chupacabra
Nickname:  The goat sucker
Height:        4.5 to 5.5 feet
Weight:       Unknown
Eyes:          Very large, very red
Build:          half goat-half man, very agile, can hop from one volcano to  another, fierce pointy teeth
Likes:         goats, blood, people, chickens, pigs, dogs, cats, travel
Favorite hangouts:  The volcanoes on Ometepe Island
Reward:     Come to our house on October 31st and receive a piece of candy for any sightings or known whereabouts of El Chupacabra.

Monkey Business

Is this La Mona? Her baby is above her while she is peeing.

Seven years ago, I asked ten-year old Luvis, “Have you always lived in La Paloma?” Her answer included wild gyrations, chopping motions with a mimed machete, and deafening monkey howls. Then, she told me this tale about the monkey lady.

“When I was a baby we lived on the other side of the island, but we had to move far, far away because a monkey lady attacked my Papa while he was sleeping,” she recounted. To my surprise and utter astonishment, La Mona (the monkey lady) is alive and thriving on La Isla de Ometepe.

According to the accounts of many local islanders, La Mona is a woman by day, and a revengeful Howler monkey at night. She can change into a monkey at night so that she can torment her unfaithful husband. If a woman does not have the power or the correct spell to transform,  then she calls on the local Bruja (witch), who will gladly attack her friend’s machismo husband.  A sharp machete is her weapon of choice and many a man has been known to change his wicked, unfaithful ways after a night visit from La Mona.

Without a doubt, the monkey in the middle is definitely not La Mona!

One day when I was walking with Francisco to get water, he stopped suddenly and whispered, “See that woman over there? She is La Mona.” “Francisco,” I asked,” is there only one La Mona or are there many?”  “There are many Las Monas on the island. Every village has at least one woman who can change into a monkey at night.” he responded. “All people know the Las Monas on the island. They are very popular.”

I’ll bet they are popular,  I thought to myself. I don’t know one faithful husband on the island. Every man I know has a dozen kids with different women. This accounts for the successful monkey business. All the women on the island are desperately seeking the services of La Mona at one time or another.

Desperately seeking La Mona. Could this be La Mona?

A local Bruja attacked Luvis’ Papa. She was doing her mama a favor. Luvis said in a serious, hushed tone, ” My Papa moved us to La Paloma after the attack of La Mona. He was very frightened.”  That’s one for La Mona. You go girl….or monkey…or whatever! Machismo is really going out of fashion and the men need to take responsibility for their unfaithful ways! The women take their monkey business seriously on Ometepe Island.