Ten Films to Watch Before Traveling to Nicaragua

Sorry, I had technical difficulties, but all the movie trailers should show now.

“The whole of life is just like watching a film. Only it’s as though you always get in ten minutes after the big picture has started, and no-one will tell you the plot, so you have to work it out all yourself from the clues.”
― Terry Pratchett, Moving Pictures


Living in Nicaragua is like arriving to the movies ten minutes after the big picture has started. We piece the clues together to get the big picture daily. Before traveling anywhere, we always read books and watch films related to that country. It helps to get the “big picture” in areas of historical, socioeconomic, and social contexts.

   Ten Movies About Nicaragua

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Saturated People of Nicaragua

The Weekly Photo Challenge said to make sure the photos are saturated. Nicaragua has many colorful and saturated people.

Saturated with Music
IMG_4595Saturated with Fun
IMG_4596Saturated with Creativity
IMG_4604Saturated with Patriotism? ( Even my camera got saturated)
IMG_4588The Shoe Shine Boy is Saturated with Exhaustion
IMG_5490Saturated with Homelessness
DSCN0671Saturated with Poverty and Old Age
IMG_4625Nicaragua is the land of extremes of saturation… from the fullness of joy, music, and liveliness….to those inundated with poverty, loneliness, and despair. Be grateful everyday and if you see a need…pay your gratefulness forward.


I Wish For to Have Happy


Happiness is not something ready-made. It comes from your own actions. ~ Dalai Lama

IMG_3441Francisco’s 81-year-old grandfather, Don Cabo, is one of the happiest people I know. When Francisco visited us last week he said, “Oh, I have many problems. I wish for to have happy like my grandfather, Don Cabo.” Then he told the following story about his grandfather’s ancient bull horn.  (Told in Francisco’s words to me.)

The Bull Horn

DSCN0694My grandfather is the happiest person I know. He never get angry like my grandmother. In December, Mayans come to visit us. They stay in our houses. My grandfather was very happy to share his life with them. He played his old bull horn for the Mayan people. He like to share his customs with the Mayans. The Mayan people enjoy my grandfather. After the Mayan people go back to their country, my grandmother look for the bull horn and discover that it was lost. She tell my grandfather and they look in all the places for the old bull horn. My grandmother discover that the Mayan people take the bull horn and she become very angry. But, my grandfather, the happiest person that I know say, “I am so proud.” “Why are you so proud for the Mayan people take your old bull horn?” my grandmother shout in very angry voice. My grandfather say, “I am so proud that the Mayan people put value on my old bull horn to steal. There are many things they could have took, but they choose my old bull horn, which is of great value to me. For this, I am so proud.”

I wish for to have happy like my abuelo,” said Francisco.

“Me, too, Francisco,” I responded. I was touched by his story. There was a lesson to learn here. For happiness does not just appear. Instead, it springs from our actions and our attitudes about life. Don Cabo understands happiness. He understands compassion, lives a positive and giving life, and enjoys every minute of every day. I hope the Mayans are happy with his ancient bull horn. ( I printed this photo for Don Cabo. I took it in 2005 when we attended his granddaughter’s birthday party.)

Be Happy Today! 🙂

The Happiest ( and Saddest) Countries in the World

Nicaragua Ain’t for Sissies

 “Nicaragua ain’t for sissies, but it’s got a lot of soul. Folks accustomed to life in the US need an incredibly adventurous spirit if they are to adjust to Nicaragua. Life is challenging here,  for everyone. If you’re from the US,  forget the creature comforts of home. But the reward is that one develops intimate relationships with the people and the land, and these will fill one’s heart forever” ~ Silvio Sirias

He’s right, you know. Nicaragua ain’t for sissies. When the water stops running just as you step in the shower or start a load of wash, the electricity blinks off near the end of your favorite movie,  and the lack of a reliable infrastructure rears its ugly head…

IMG_1705When the fiery dragon breathes down upon the land in March and April, and the only relief is to stick your head in the freezer, find a shade tree, go swimming, or spend an hour in the air-conditioned ATM…
IMG_1703When you make an appointment and the office is closed for a two-hour lunch, or “manana” means today, tomorrow, or a year from now, or you wait in a long line at the bank, only to have ten people step in front of you because there is a SPACE
IMG_1697Don’t be surprised if your frustrations melt away, and are replaced by contagious chuckles and a ‘knowing’ smile because…..
IMG_1696Nicaragua is a country of poets, artists, and lovers. There are no strangers, everyone is welcome.
IMG_1700Generosity, creativity, and a simple zest for life abounds. Smiles are freely passed along the dusty trails. Adios means hello and goodbye.
IMG_1698Passion and humor light up every face. Sometimes, you just gotta laugh in the land of the not quite right.
IMG_1701Frustrations? Yes. However, the rewards of developing intimate relationships with the people and the land far surpass my frustrations. My heart is full; I am sitting on top of the world.
IMG_1692If you would like to read more about the Nicaraguan author, Silvio Sirias, click HERE.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Parades of Culture

If you really want to experience the culture in Nicaragua, then go to a parade. Bombas burst, drummers rat-tat-a-tat, horns blast soulfully, and vendors shout enthusiastically. Vibrant colors assault the eyes, while smells of perfumed flowers and freshly shampooed hair swirl through the crowds. Sweat drops on freshly pressed costumes, children lick  melted drips of ice cream from their chins, while La Gigantona entices the crowds with fruit laden hats and remembrances of traditions of long ago.  Everyone loves parades in Nicaragua…and I’m no exception.

A Piñata Kinda Day

Sayid turned one year old in October. In honor of his first birthday, we were invited to a modest celebration, which included his initiation into the world of piñatas. His mother made a small orange carrot piñata. But, when she showed it to him the morning of his first birthday, he burst into tears and wailed like a pig going to slaughter.

I can understand his fear because according to the Catholic interpretation of the piñata, it symbolizes man’s struggle against temptation. The traditional piñata has seven points, which represent the seven deadly sins. To me, it resembles Sputnik, whirling around in space forever reminding us of our greed, sloth, pride, envy, gluttony, lust, and anger. No wonder the Nicaraguans named the famous land grab of the Sandinistas  “La Piñata”. After losing the 1990 election, the Sandinistas frantically confiscated property and government funds sharing their bounty among themselves.

With preparations for the fiesta underway, balloons “chimbombas” inflated like the rising cost of frioles, cooks flipped tortillas like IHOP professionals, and a political rally down the street seduced party goers with ear-piercing music and fireworks minus the sparkling fire. But, they soon returned when they discovered there was no piñata. For the piñata is the life of the party… the soul hidden among clusters of candy… seducing and reminding good Catholics everywhere to heed temptations that could lead to a life of misery.

Adults with sharp machetes whittled sticks of various sizes for the fiesta clad participants. When it was time to begin the celebration, Sayid swung his miniature stick at the swaying piñata with glee and determination. Older children, blindfolded to represent their faith, wiggled their hips to the ear thumping music, while adults tuned them in circles several times to represent the disorientation that temptation creates.

Whacking the piñata over and over, symbolically portrays the struggle against temptations and evils. When the piñata finally broke, the forlorn look on the children’s faces said it all. Where was the prize, the treats that represented keeping the faith? Ron and Francisco frantically searched through the shredded piñata and discovered the candy tightly wrapped in the head of the carrot. A few more strong whacks, and the candy showered the faithful children. The day was saved!

Some say that the piñata has lost its religious significance, but I don’t agree considering how many birthday parties I’ve attended in Nicaragua. Birthday parties ooze religious significance. After the broken piñata, the mountains of food, and the exceptionally long birthday song over Sayid’s first chocolate chip cake, I asked Francisco why the gifts were not opened in front of the guests. He said without a thought,  “It is a sin.” “I don’t understand why it is a sin,” I questioned. His response was, “We believe in the act of giving regardless of how small the gift. We would never embarrass anyone who offers something small, for all gifts, regardless of size, are gifts from God.” Now, that’s what I call a piñata kinda day!

Weekly Photo Challenge: Happy Masks

“I wish everyday could be Halloween. We could all wear masks all the time. Then we could walk around and get to know each other before we got to see what we looked like under the masks.” ~ R.J. Palacio

Masks fascinate me and make me happy.  They are reflections of unique cultures, worn like bridges from the outer phenomenal world to the inner person. Embossed with bold colors and expressions, masks evoke many reactions to the beholder, but for me, they always make me smile in wonder.  Masks are the poetry of a culture, the exquisite spirits of the past, and entertaining portrayals of our inner emotions.

Enjoy the masks of Nicaragua. I hope they make you smile. 🙂

And this just in! Nicaragua is the 8th happiest country in the world! Click here.

A Molotov New Year

The Molotov Scarecrow

You’ve probably heard of the Molotov cocktail, but I doubt that you’ve heard of a Molotov scarecrow. The Molotov cocktail originated in the 1930’s during the Spanish Civil War. General Francisco Franco’s Spanish Nationalist army threw the incendiary weapons at Soviet tanks. Upstaging the Spanish Nationalists, the Nicaraguans devised an ingenious method to usher in the new year.


A boisterous tradition is to ‘burn the old’ year. Old men, called muñecos, are crafted and stuffed with gunpowder. The dolls are adorned with vices, such as cigars, cigarettes, and guaron ( homemade moonshine). The old men are hung in the streets, and when the new year arrives, they burn them. All of their vices explode in a flame of glory. It’s a spectacular good riddance to the old year!

Next year, I’m going to slightly alter the tradition. I’m going to design a muñeca ( an old woman doll). I have a year to think about stuffing her with my vices. As Cory says, “No more resolutions, just live the dream.”  It sure sounds easier to blow up my vices immediately, instead of making New Year’s resolutions that I’ll probably never fulfill.

Happy New Year everyone! My hopes and wishes for all are to follow your chosen path, but don’t stop too long to debate on whether you’ve chosen the right direction. Someday, our paths will come to an end. In the meantime, gently tend to the needs of your path, live with passion, explore with love, and let your vices explode into a million tiny pieces.


It’s a Beautiful Day in This Neighborhood

Steven helps Ron

You know how a song gets stuck in your head and you hum it all day long?
Yesterday, as I was raking and burning the mango leaves, Mr. Roger’s song, “It’s a Beautiful Day in This Neighborhood” cycled repeatedly through my brain. If you have forgotten the words:

“It’s a beautiful day in this neighborhood,
A beautiful day for a neighbor.
Would you be mine?
Could you be mine?…

It’s a neighborly day in this beauty wood,
A neighborly day for a beauty.
Would you be mine?
Could you be mine?…

I’ve always wanted to have a neighbor just like you.
I’ve always wanted to live in a neighborhood with you.

So, let’s make the most of this beautiful day.
Since we’re together we might as well say:
Would you be mine?
Could you be mine?
Won’t you be my neighbor?

Won’t you please,
Won’t you please?
Please won’t you be my neighbor?”
Fred Rogers

Mister Rogers had two distinct neighborhoods on his show: The Neighborhood of Make-Believe and The Real Neighborhood. The Neighborhood of Make-Believe was comprised of puppets, where each character played a role much more complex than one would think.

Yesterday, I felt like I was living in The Neighborhood of Make-Believe. With each bar I hummed, more and more neighborhood kids arrived to play in our gringo world of make-believe. Steven, the two-year-old, crawled under the fence and toddled over to our house wearing his cloth diapers. He reminded me of the character, Daniel Striped Tiger, in the Neighborhood of Make-Believe. Like Daniel Striped Tiger, Steven is shy, yet affectionate and loving when he gets to know you. Ron plopped him in the wheelbarrow and Steven helped him dig a trench and drop bricks and stones into the trench for a needed retaining wall. Steven’s favorite greeting is “guapa” ( the female adjective for handsome). In fact, everything is “guapa”. “Steven, do you want some lunch?” I asked. “Guapa”, he responded.  “Steven, do you want to color?”  “Guapa,” he said. “Steven, your diaper is dirty. You can’t sit on my couch.”  “Guapa”, he replied as he plopped down on my couch with a giggle.

Christian (10 years old) and Reyna (12 years old) arrived to play with Cory and Sam, but Cory and Sam weren’t here, so they hung out with the old gringos.  Christian reminds me of Cornflake S. Pecially because, like Cornflake, she is good-natured, inventive, and industrious. I showed her how to cut the grass with my sickle. It took a few swings to perfect her stroke, and in no time the grass was flying. She’d make a wicked golfer.

Reyna reminds me of Hula Mouse. Hula Mouse was a Spanish speaking character that could do many wondrous things with his hula hoop. Cory and Sam had their slack-line suspended between two trees (It is similar to a flat tight rope), and Reyna demonstrated her keen sense of balance in walking the slack-line.

Johnson showed up with a sack of bananas for us. Yesterday was his birthday. Johnson comes to our house every Sunday and Ron teaches him  English, as well as trains him for marathons. Johnson is like Prince Friday. He is curious, interested in his schoolwork, dedicated, and very respectful.

Julio arrived with his machete. I have been asking him to machete our yard for us for days. Remember, we have no lawn mowers on the island ( and only a few in the entire country). Julio is Bob Dog, the lovable, good-hearted, and rather timid dog, who loves to howl. Like Bob Dog, Julio is shy around girls and sometimes gets confused when things get complicated (especially when we are all speaking English). Julio is practically part of our family. We’ve known him since he was 9 years old. His birthday is next Tuesday and he will be 19 years old. He also is graduating from high school. There will be a dual celebration, his family has a big fiesta planned for Saturday. I’m making a chocolate cake…Julio’s favorite.

There were probably a dozen other people that showed up at our house yesterday. Marvin, my iron man, measured my kitchen walls for two more projects. Santiago stopped by to pick up a memory card I purchased for him in the states. He’s going to help Ron with his retaining wall in lieu of paying us money for the memory card. Roberto arrived in his truck to pick up some gravel and barbed wire for Izzy. Izzy, from Australia,  is staying with Roberto and she is building a little earth bag house for herself on Roberto’s property. Too many visitors to remember…but that’s the way it usually is in the Neighborhood of Make-Believe. I love the spontaneity.

If I had to compare myself to a character in The Neighborhood of Make-Believe, I would say I am most like Harriette Elizabeth Cow. She was the school teacher at the school house at Some Place Else. She is a kindly  teacher who has a warm relationship with her students and likes to help them in interesting ways. Yep…that’s me.

Comparing Ron to a character is a little more difficult. He is a blend of several characters. He could be part Edgar Cooke, the chef at the castle. Edgar Cooke generally sang his messages in a minor key. Ron…poor Ron, loves to sing, but he is tone deaf. His messages shriek in a low pitched song, making all the neighbors giggle behind his back. He is definitely not like King Friday XIII. King Friday XIII ruled in a regal and pompous manner. So unlike Ron, mi esposo. Instead, I think he has many virtues and qualities like Mister Rogers. He is a gentle, compassionate, creative, and virtuous man. Yep, that’s Ron.

My trip to the Neighborhood of Make-Believe must come to an end, now. It’s time for me to return to the Real Neighborhood, where I’ll take on new roles. Today, I’m Miss Paulificate, who had a cleaning service and was always seen with a duster. My duster is my little whisk broom. Ron will return to the Real Neighborhood playing the role of Handyman Negri, who was the royal handyman and always available to help with repairs around the kingdom.

Mister Rogers always ended each episode with the song, “Tomorrow, Tomorrow”. Now, I’ll have that song stuck in my head all day. Here’s to starting each day with a song or two, and a smile!






Our First Nicaraguan Thanksgiving

I am in travel mode again. I’m headed to Florida with my mother and step-father, then back to Nicaragua. While I am traveling, enjoy a story I wrote about our first Thanksgiving in Nicaragua in 2004.

Seven years later, many things have changed, while many things stay the same. I’m hoping that I will be able to buy a frozen turkey on the mainland this year. A new airport is almost finished where the old airstrip used to be. Norman still drives his truck around broadcasting the local news. Tourists still die climbing our volcanoes. (The two boys lost on Vulcan Maderas in 2004 were found dead, three weeks later) Our electricity is still sporadic. Yet, for all that remains the same…I wouldn’t trade it for a mansion or a million dollars. Home is where the heart is…and my heart is embedded on Ometepe Island.

Our 2004 Thanksgiving Dinner

A Nicaraguan Thanksgiving

November 24, 2004

            The biggest problems we have encountered in living on Ometepe are speculation and rumors.  Lacking a local newspaper, radio station, or television station, the islanders have to rely on information from an outside source to keep them abreast of current conditions on the home front.  If there is a death, birth, wedding, political rally, or a new bank in Moyogalpa, someone hires Norma’s son to broadcast the announcement.  He hops into his beat up old Nissan truck with two giant speakers in the bed and travels the rutted roads blasting the news, which is gratefully appreciated by even the most auditory challenged listeners.  However, Norma’s son only delivers local Moyogalpa news, so anyone needing information about other parts of the island has to rely on media that isn’t always accurate.  Such was the case on Thanksgiving Day.

A week before Thanksgiving, Ron and I were on a wild chompipe chase, ‘a wild turkey chase’.  I wanted a turkey for Thanksgiving, even though we have no oven to cook it.   Necessity is the mother of invention, so I had a plan to roast it in a big hole that we would dig in the sand on our beach.  Things didn’t turn out as I had planned because, although we found a live turkey, Ron wanted no part of my plan and refused to bother with such a massive production.  However, a day before Thanksgiving, Francisco, my dedicated English student, and now a good friend, came to our rescue with a 5 to 6 pound Guapote that his Uncle Foster caught in his fishing net.

While wandering the streets of Moyogalpa looking for a chompipe, we heard Norma’s son broadcasting the opening of a new bank.  We’re getting rather good at identifying the shish kebob of Spanish words in context and are now able to get the drift of most conversations if we know the subject.  We stopped at the Hospedaje Central for a cold beer and listened to a discussion about the two lost hikers on Vulcan Maderas.   A tourist asked if they found the boys and Valeria launched into a tirade about the stupidity of hikers that refuse to spend ten dollars to hire a guide to trek the volcanoes.

Thanksgiving Day, a week after the boys were lost, Ron and I were disassembling our broken fan to get parts to make a grill for our Guapote, when we heard a helicopter flying above our house.  The only other time we saw anything flying above Ometepe was in early November, right before the elections.  Daniel Ortega hovered above our house and landed in the La Paloma playground near the elementary school.  He campaigned hard for the Sandinista mayor and handed out US dollars to all the kids at the school.  Previously, the islanders had seen one plane in February, 2004.  A prop plane flying from Columbia to Guatemala lost altitude over Ometepe and their choice was to dump their cargo or crash into the lake.  They opted to dump their load, which consisted of many kilos of cocaine dropped from the sky like manna from heaven.

We dropped our fan pieces and ran out to see the helicopter flying in the direction of Vulcan Maderas.  All the neighbors were jumping and running excitedly to catch a glimpse of the novelty.  We wondered if it was the old Sandinista helicopter hired by the US boy’s parents to search for their son.  It looked exactly like the helicopter that Daniel Ortega flew in… an old, army helicopter painted in camouflaged colors.  I wondered who was piloting the antiquated thing and if it was an old Sandinista pilot who had both of his legs blown off in the war.  I wondered why there wasn’t a helicopter hired to search for the El Salvadoran and if the boys on Vulcan Maderas were still alive.

A few minutes later, a new Piper Cub buzzed our house.  It circled four times headed for the old landing strip near our house.  We all hopped on bicycles and peddled frantically to the old landing strip to see if it would land.  Julio clung to the handlebars, Luvis straddled the rear tire, Ron panted as he wove through the rutted, black sand road, and I ran along the side.  At the old air strip, everyone from La Paloma had gathered to watch the event.  I really don’t know if the landing strip had ever been used and after a heavy rainy season, the volcanic sand had washed most of the strip into the lake leaving crevices large enough to park a Mac Truck inside the holes.  The islanders watched in fascination as the shiny bird circled four more times, each time getting lower to inspect the potential landing site.  But, to the disappointment of all, it was unable to land and it sped off across the lake toward Managua .

Like the fish kill in September, speculation and rumor abounded.  Everyone thought these unusual sightings of novel flying machines had something to do with the boys lost on the volcano.  One onlooker said he just heard on the radio that one of the boys had been found alive.  Another said, “No.  All they found so far was a wallet.”  Everyone agreed that it was a huge event because the lost boys  were gringos.  Although the other boy was from Great Britain, all the islanders called anyone with white skin a gringo. Technically, that term is reserved for citizens of the USA because during the war with Mexico, when the Mexican soldiers saw the green uniforms of US soldiers, they said, “Green, go” in other words, “get your asses out of our country.”  But, the islanders use the term affectionately and we don’t find it offensive.

Where was Norma’s son when you needed him?  We didn’t know what to believe about the lost boys.  We returned to our house and it began to rain, so instead of grilled Guapote, Ron made a delicious Guapote Thanksgiving stew.  I think it topped the turkey.  We sipped a bottle of Chilean wine and toasted our lives on this wondrous primitive island lacking any hint of tourism infrastructure.  We gave thanks for the many blessings bestowed on our lives and prayed for the safety of the boys on the volcano.  We drank to our generous neighbors, whose family has increased now that Papa’s two older daughters and their little niños have moved back home ( another long, sad, story) , and thanked them for translating the TV news that evening using slow, well pronounced words for our benefit.  The Managua station said there is no new information.  It’s been ten days now and the boys still haven’t been found.  We’re all dreading the news that maybe they didn’t survive and wondering what the effects of these deaths will have on tourism on Ometepe.

Sideline:  Sorry, this letter is so disjointed.  We’ve been without electricity 2 days now, and tonight (Sunday) our neighbors who own the little palm leafed bar down the road have somehow bypassed the transformer that blew up so they could have electricity for cold beer and loud music.  Lester’s Papa sent him on his bicycle tonight to tell us that we’d have electricity until 3 am .  With lots of sign language and pictures on our white board, we figured out that the temporary line is dangling dangerously close to the lake water and we have to shut off the power to our house before we go to bed so we don’t get a dangerous power surge.  Anyway, that’s the best I can make of it.  It has been a relaxing change without power.  I’ve read, painted a beautiful watercolor scene looking out our front door, and Ron’s been busy in the garden… which I promise will be the next newsletter.  We had our freezer full of chicken, Guapote, and hamburger.. so today we had a big feast with the neighbors.  We grilled hamburgers, made two types of delicious fish and cheese stews, and ate delicious grilled chicken and plantains.  Lourdita, the 3-year-old, wore her red party dress, which she tore on the fence; we danced, drank lemon/rum drinks, warm beer…, and sang lots of Spanish songs.

It’s almost December and we’re looking forward to many celebrations.  Cory will be here Dec. 9th, Julio’s birthday is the sixth, ( now, he and Luvis have told me that Papa looked at The Paper and said that Julio is only 11 and Luvis is only 10 ) go figure….no one seems to know how old they are here!!  Our neighbor’s daughter at the local bar is getting married this month, and many French Canadians have flown in for the wedding, because Eric, the groom, is from Quebec .  We feel like we are becoming a part of the community now.  I even helped to birth Don Jose’s litter of piglets.

Today started a festival of the Immaculate Conception.  Apparently, they take the Virgin Mary out of the church and she sleeps in various homes for the next eight days.  Everyone gets to hunt for her at 7 o’clock each evening.  When they find her, the house owner has to give everyone presents, like fruit, candy, and little toys.  Then, the home owner has to cart her back to the church and they start all over again.  Ron and I are hoping that she doesn’t end up at our house because we’ll have to buy lots of toys and candy and she’d be very heavy to carry a mile back to town.  We can’t quite figure out how the Immaculate Conception occurred on Dec. 8th and Jesus was born on Dec. 25th.

Well, I’m really rambling, now…trying to fit it all in and copy it before we shut off the power to the house.  I’d better close this before I really get carried away.  I’ll write a better letter when I have reliable power.