We’re Leaving Our Babies


We’ve lived in Nicaragua on and off since 2004, and for the past six years we have been here permanently. We decided this year that we are going to wean ourselves off Nicaragua for six months a year. It is time for a change, if only temporarily.

We have had a love/hate relationship with Nicaragua for many years. The hate part is mainly because of the unreliable infrastructure and the brutally hot and dry months. The love part will always be the people.  Yet, as we age, we realize that maybe Nicaragua isn’t the best place for us to age gracefully year-round. After much thought, we decided to scratch our gypsytoes by traveling six months of the year.

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Our sweet bananas are ready to be harvested by our house sitters.

The best of all worlds is possible. Our goal was always to make Nicaragua our home base and travel extensively. But, that has not happened as much as we would like because we  built a thriving life in Nicaragua by planting many varieties of fruit trees on our property, rescuing dogs and cats, and developing a children’s library.

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The baby breadfruit tree needs TLC during the dry season.

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Weekly Photo Challenge: The Golden Spice of Dinnertime


The Weekly Photo Challenge is: Dinnertime

“Each spice has a special day to it. For turmeric it is Sunday, when light drips fat and butter-colored into the bins to be soaked up glowing, when you pray to the nine planets for love and luck.”

― Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, The Mistress of Spices 

The use of turmeric dates back nearly 4000 years to the Vedic culture in India, where it was used as a culinary spice and was considered to be sacred and auspicious in the Hindu religion. Today, there is a renewed interest in turmeric for its medicinal properties, its golden-yellow dye, and its anti-inflammatory properties.

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Eating: An Agricultural Act


 

 

“Eating is an agricultural act.”
Wendell Berry, What Are People For?

After reading Wendell Berry’s essay on the Pleasures of Eating, I doubt that I will ever be a passive food consumer again. Living on Ometepe Island, we are intimately involved with our food. It is a loving, complex relationship from planting to eating… from a terra firma cradle to an acidic churning grave.

We are active participants in the process of food production. Our lives revolve around planting, picking, fishing, harvesting, and nourishing. We’ve formed profound connections between the land and eating, between the rainy and dry seasons, and the lunar planting and harvesting calendar. We know what we eat! And, I’m beginning to think that we are what we eat… healthy fruit loving, vegetable chomping, fresh egg hunting, fish catching, food lovers.

What we can’t grow, a Friday morning vegetable truck delivers to our house. Depending on the season, we choose broccoli, cauliflower, avocados, Chinese lettuce, cabbage, and hot chili peppers from the back of our favorite vegetable truck. “Do you have bananas?” I ask. “Not today,” they respond, “but, we will bring them next Friday.”  It is like stepping back into the 1950’s here. This is the way to shop for vegetables.

Carla, a single mother of two, has a tiny grocery store (a pulperia), four houses away. When we want fresh homemade sweet bread, chicken, or the occasional Coca Cola for our rum drinks,  I walk up our sandy path to visit Carla. I play with her baby, we talk about the latest news in our community, and I return home with my bag full of cheap goodies to supplement our meals.

For the rare times that we eat out (usually on a shopping trip to Moyogalpa), we usually buy breakfast at The Corner House. Gary and Laura serve wholesome, organic food and fruit smoothies. Everything is homemade and delicious. Their cranberry scones are out of this world!

Seven years ago, we had to leave the island to buy peanut butter, chocolate, spices, whole wheat flour, brown rice, and other ‘gringo’ foods. Now, Hugo’s grocery store makes bimonthly trips to Price-Mart in Managua. They email me before they leave, and I send a list of items, of which chocolate chips are always at the top of the list. Everything else we need, we can get at our local Mini Super in Moyogalpa. Guillermo, the owner of the Mini Super, is a savvy business owner catering to the needs of the expats and foreign tourists on the island.

Wendell Berry states, “Eating with the fullest pleasure — pleasure, that is, that does not depend on ignorance — is perhaps the profoundest enactment of our connection with the world.”  I totally agree. My connections with the land grow stronger daily. Enjoy my food photos!

 

 

Gallo Pinto: The Life Force of Nicaragua


When a Nicaraguan family has 200 pounds of red beans in their house, they have no fear of starvation. Gallo Pinto, literally known as the “speckled rooster”, is the national staple of Nicaragua. A combination of fried rice and red beans is consumed at every meal. Gallo Pinto keeps the wolf from the door, the roof over their stomachs, and blankets them against the economic cold.

Last week Marina commented, “I have no beans in the house. I must climb the volcano and harvest beans.” They have a small community plot of red beans growing on the steep hillside of Vulcan Concepcion. “It is hard work, but my family needs beans,” she lamented.

When the beans are ready to harvest, the women, children, and other family members climb the volcano. She explained that the bean plants are pulled up by their roots and laid in neat rows upside down, like tepees, with their roots exposed to the heavens. Four days later, after the tropical sun dries the plants to a crisp, they ascend the volcano to harvest the beans.

The four-day wait is a critical time. This is the time to pray that the rains hold off. When the little lines of bean plants, neatly stacked in rows of tepees, are drying in the tropical sun, look at the farmers’ faces. They watch the sky with dread, scowling every time a dark cloud sails over their bean plot. For if the beans get wet, the bean piles must be turned over to dry on the other side. If it rains again, the beans must be turned again. The third rain spells disaster because mildew and rot set in and the crop is lost.

Balancing sheets of plastic, beating sticks, and large bags for the beans on their heads, the farmers eagerly climb the volcano in expectations of a good harvest. The rains have not arrived early this year. Their prayers were answered.

Sheets of plastic blanket the dark fields, the tepees of beans are spread over the plastic, and the flailing begins. Salty sweat from brows of parched bean flailers, sprinkles  the crispy beans. Workers pick the beans clean of dry stems, roots, and leaves like leaf cutter ants devour my flowers. Then, the beans are poured into large plastic sacks, and the weary farmers carry the sacks on their backs down the volcano. If they are fortunate enough to have a horse or an ox, the bean sacks ride down the volcano in style.

This morning, I hear the beans pinging from one pan to another. Marina is cleaning the beans and preparing their morning ritual of Gallo Pinto. As the rice and beans sizzle over the open cooking fire, wisps of Gallo Pinto penetrate the moist air. My stomach growls. Soon, sheets of rain drown the sights, sounds, and smell of the Gallo Pinto. It was a good harvest this year, and just in time. With stomachs full, they can rest a while before planting the next crop. Gallo Pinto is the life force of Nicaragua. With 200 pounds of beans in Marina’s house, they have no fear of starvation…until the rains come again.

The Seed Swap


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Our island of volcanic rock, isolated by miles of sweet sea in every direction, was completely separated from the rest of the world. As Ometepe Island emerged from the majestic Lake Cocibolca, new species of plants were introduced by the birds and animals hardy enough to survive the journey. Seeds hitched a ride to the island hidden in the plumage of birds. Insects and spiders probably rode the wind to Ometepe.

Over time, new species of plants and animals were introduced by sweet sea-faring visitors and indigenous tribes who were called by a vision to settle in the land of two hills. The arrival of mankind permanently severed Ometepe Island’s isolation, thus introducing a variety of animal and plant species not native to the area. Today, the steady traffic of ferries to and from the island brings a constant stream of invasive species.

We are also guilty of introducing new species of plants to the island. My friend, Carole, smuggled a sweet potato in her luggage, and now Ron is known as the sweet potato king of the island. Is this a bad thing? I’m not sure. All of the new species smuggled, exchanged, and carried to the island immediately begin to compete with native species, and the native species almost always are on the losing end of the battle. Several years ago, expats started a Tilapia farm on the Maderas side of the island. Some of the Tilapia escaped, reproduced rapidly, and continue to compete for food with the native fish species, Guapote.

Last week, we were invited to a seed swap on the other side of the island. Among the seeds and saplings, we found a Jackfruit tree. A.heterophyllus-jackfruit(1)  In researching the Jackfruit tree, I found that it was introduced in Brazil as a reforestation project. This program was the first Brazilian initiative to recover a forest ecosystem previously devastated by sugarcane and coffee cycles. However, the Jackfruit has become an invasive species. The rainforests have suffered major impacts due to biological invasion, and Brazil had to start management and control of this invasive species.

I don’t want to start an invasion meltdown…it’s quite a dilemma. I enjoy my sweet potato pies and Jackfruit cookies. On the other hand, the introduction of non-native species negatively impacts our fragile ecosystem. The statistics are startling and more attention must be paid to the problem. Awareness is the first step.

Fortunately, most of the seeds and plants at the seed exchange were native species. The locals have an astounding knowledge of the medicinal uses of all the plants and trees on the island and I learned many uses of the seeds, barks, leaves, and roots of the plants. It was a great day on the other side of the island. Enjoy my slideshow trip.

 

Ron’s Passions


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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.”