Weekly Photo Challenge: Life Watching the Water

The Weekly Photo Challenge is: H2O

“It is life, I think, to watch the water. A man can learn so many things.”                    ― Nicholas Sparks

Living on an island in front of the 11th largest fresh water lake in the world, I have learned so many things.

The ferries are our umbilical cord to the mainland. I have learned to tell time by watching them pass by our front door daily.
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                  “You told me once of the plants that lie dormant through the drought, that wait, half-dead, deep in the earth. The plants that wait for the rain. You said they’d wait for years, if they had to; that they’d almost kill themselves before they grew again. But as soon as those first drops of water fall, those plants begin to stretch and spread their roots. They travel up through the soil and sand to reach the surface. There’s a chance for them again.”
Author: Lucy Christopher

I walked along the bed of Lake Cocibolca listening to the exhausted earth groan. Her bed is disheveled, scattered with tiny puddles of what once had been the life force of her grand body.
IMG_1421The exposed lake bed lay panting in the relentless and monotonous burning sun. Spirals of heat rise from the parched ground as if from molten lava from Concepcion Volcano who watches from afar.
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Weekly Photo Challenge: My Sweet Sea

Lake Cocibolca, Nicaragua’s largest fresh water lake cradles my island home. The Spaniards called it La Mar Dulce (the sweet sea), and how sweet it is!

Lake Cocibolca

Ometepe Island rises magnificently out of the sweet sea. Its two volcanoes jut out of the lake and can be seen for miles. What an impressive sight!

Arriving and departing from our island, one must take an hour’s ferry ride. It’s always an adventure, especially when the lake is choppy.

What does the sweet sea mean to me? Fish, fishermen, birds, and an occasional fishing cat sustain their lives from La Mar Dulce. Even House Hunter’s International was impressed with our sweet sea when filming Ron fishing.

What do we do for fun on the sweet sea? We kayak daily, and once we followed a huge floating island as it drifted toward the mainland.

The sweet sea means tranquility, peace, and glorious sunsets from our front porch.

Goodnight, my beautiful sweet sea. Until tomorrow.

Weekly Photo Challenge: One Shot, Two Ways

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.

Weekly Photo Challenge: The Golden Hour

“Bursts of gold on lavender melting into saffron. It’s the time of day when the sky looks like it has been spray-painted by a graffiti artist.”
― Mia Kirshner, I Live Here


The Golden Hour, where dusk or dawn is an illusion, for it is neither day or night.
Where golden hues link day and night and the sky is littered with tiny silver stars bathed in lavender puffs.
A dichotomy, where one cannot exist without the other, yet they cannot exist at the same time.
The Golden Hour on my enormous lake. I LIVE here.
clouds on OmetepeIMG_3281IMG_3282IMG_3358IMG_4954
Feel free to experience the Golden Hour through other WordPress bloggers’ photographs.



Gargantious Gar

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.
IMG_2569With a swiftly flying rock, he pounded the alligator gar into deadly submission. This toothy giant didn’t have a chance.
IMG_2574This 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.
IMG_2573Julio 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.



Weekly Photo Challenge: The Future of Water

This week’s phoneography challenge is to freeze a promise of things to come. As we celebrate UN World Water Day, March 22, 2013, I am advocating for the sustainable management of freshwater resources.  Sealed in amber, my phone photos represent a peek at our future of water, unless we take steps to conserve, reuse, and manage our freshwater resources responsibly.

Lake Cocibolca is at record lows. Fishing boats are stranded in mud flats. To complicate matters, we have not had any running water in our homes for four days.
IMG_0078Our beach resembles a moon-like surface. Although we are surrounded by a sweet sea, our water is poorly managed and becoming increasingly scarce.
IMG_0080 2Without running water, we are forced to wade beyond the shallow, warm, algae infested water to bathe, wash clothes, and perform other necessities of life.
IMG_0082Aquatic midges, known locally as chayules, feed on the algae. When the wind blows from the lake, they swarm our house blanketing everything in a dust of carcasses and an odor of dead fish.
IMG_2285We are the fortunate ones. We can dig a well, buy a pump, and build a tower to hold a large water tank. But, most of the locals don’t have the means to buy an alternative water source. They continue to haul water, sometimes for miles with babies clinging to their backs.

Water facts in Latin America and the Caribbean
1. 32 million people without water access in Latin America and the Caribbean
2. Sewage from less than 14% at houses is treated at sanitation plants.
3. Major financial constraints restrict the abilities of national and local governments to address all of the water needs simultaneously.
4. Many major lakes and river basins are under great strain from growing populations and decades of agricultural run-off, including Lake Cocibolca, the 11th largest freshwater lake in the world.
5. The periodic effects of the changes in the Pacific ocean current, known as El Niño, alternately brings large-scale droughts and more severe storms. ( We are in a drought period, now. Two years ago, we had severe storms that flooded the lake.)
6. Transboundary water issues require diplomacy and management models that can provide rational water allocation, while respecting country sovereignty. Costa Rica and Nicaragua have battled over water rights to the Rio San Juan for decades.

What can you do?

Take action, spread the word, and create an awareness of the future of water.


El Gamalote…The Floating Island

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Very little surprises us anymore. We’ve gotten used to the weird and bizarre sights in the “land of the not quite right.” However, yesterday morning there was a view so unique that a crowd of local people followed it from Moyogalpa to our beach in La Paloma. They camped out on our beach for the day with picnic baskets full of food, a gigantic camcorder from the 1990’s, and a dozen broken plastic chairs holding sleeping babies.

We woke up to El Gamalote, a floating island, slowly bobbing south from Moyogalpa on top of the gentle waves of Lake Cocibolca.  According to the locals, occasionally during the rainy season, a small island of debris breaks away from the river banks that feed Lake Cocibolca. These floating islands are usually smaller than a basketball court. This morning’s Gamalote appeared, to me, about the size of Rhode Island…Ron says, ” Don’t exaggerate Debbie, it is about the size of two football fields.”  Still, it is mighty big. Big enough to draw a crowd of onlookers.

I wondered from where this floating island originated. Jose, my friendly gardener, told me that grasses and rushes grow along the edges of the rivers.  These rushes and grasses gradually push their way out into deeper waters, leaving a shelf and a mass of decaying vegetable matter on which other mosses and plants gain a foothold. When well established, other water-loving plants, such as water lilies and shrubs grow along with the moss and grasses. Still attached to the banks of the river, a layer of peat forms a foundation, usually less than three feet thick. The mat becomes firm and eventually small trees will grow on the Gamalote, weaving their roots into the peat and strengthening the foundation.

Then, when the rains come, the water level rises, and the mini-ecosystem breaks off forming a floating island. The local islanders are afraid of these floating islands because the mini-ecosystem lodges itself on Ometepe Island, like a shipwreck. New animals and serpents exit the floating island like stranded survivors seeking refuge on dry land. I often wondered how plants and animals are introduced to an island. Now, one of the mysteries is solved.

They warned Ron not to paddle out to the floating island because it contained many snakes. But, not heeding their advice, he paddled out anyway. He didn’t see any snakes, but he reported a variety of sea birds, turtles, water lilies, and shrubs. I think that secretly he was wishing it would stay afloat in front of our beach because it could be a great new fishing spot.

By evening, the floating island was within 20 feet of our beach. Like at a horse race, the crowd cheered when the Gamalote floated further out in the lake, and booed when it floated closer to the shore. All I could imagine was that by morning, we would have a nest of snakes slithering around our house. I shivered with dread!

This morning, the first thing we did was to run down to the beach to see where the Gamalote landed. It is slowly headed farther south toward Punta Jesus Maria. Sighing in relief, I hope it journeys around Ometepe Island to the Rio San Juan. Maybe they like nests of snakes more than I do….at least I’m keeping my fingers crossed!

A Fish Pillow Story

A sport fisherman is born

Big Fish was a permanent fixture in my fifth grade classroom. My overstuffed Large Mouth Bass pillow comforted the insecure, wrestled with the rambunctious, and teased the shy into an uninhibited smile. When I squeezed Big Fish into my suitcase, Ron commented, “That’s the craziest thing to take to Nicaragua. What are we going to do with a big fish pillow?” I whispered, and let out a sigh (kind of exasperated with the twenty questions for every item I packed), “You’ll see.”  There was no way that I was going to tell him that I thought Big Fish was magical. He already thought I lost it when I bought an overstuffed Sunfish pillow to go with Big Fish to Nicaragua.

A few months later, my fish pillows had worked their magic throughout our tiny community. Big Fish wrestled with Isaac, our rambunctious three-year old neighbor. The pillows were a comforting poof of fabric for little bottoms settled into coloring and reading on our hard tiled floors. And after the kids tired of coloring, reading, and wrestling, the fish pillows transformed into…well, pillows…for sleepy heads, after exploring all the novelties in a gringo house.

Big Fish was well-known in my classroom to comfort the insecure and tease the shy into an uninhibited smile. When the Nica teenagers and young adults would come over to our house, they would usually gravitate to Big Fish, place him on their laps, and get into a cuddling frenzy with my pillow. When I offered to start a Facebook page for Luvis and Fabiola, I told them, ” I need to take a picture for your profile on Facebook.”

Luvis and Big Fish

It’s important to know that I helped Luvis and Fabiola join Facebook on two separate days. Neither girl knew one another, nor saw each others pose for the profile picture. Luvis grabbed Big Fish to include in her profile picture. A few days later, Big Fish joined Fabiola on Facebook. Take a look. I challenge you to tell me that Big Fish isn’t magical.

Fabiola and Big Fish

Fishing defines our small island. It sustains the people and nourishes their minds and bodies. The islanders use large nets called reds. Strong calloused hands and arms throw out the reds and haul in the catch every day of the year. A fishing pole is a novelty on the island. Ron may have the only pole on the island, and this oddity intrigues the fishermen, as well as confuses them. They wonder why anyone would only want to catch one fish. It really freaks them out when they see Ron throw the fish back into the lake. Fishing for sport is an unheard of concept.

When Guillermo, our head construction worker, spied Ron’s fishing pole, he asked if he could try it out. He attempted to cast repeatedly, with no release because he never hooked into one fish. Ron didn’t want Guillermo to be disappointed or frustrated with the new sport of fishing with a pole, so he grabbed Big Fish and Sunfish. He posed Guillermo with his fishing pole and the overstuffed fish pillows, and a sport fisherman was born!

I’ve shopped at the enormous Bass ProShop, since I returned to the states for a few weeks. I have a new overstuffed pillow to take back to Nicaragua. This time, it’s a crocodile. Since my fish pillows are such a big hit, there’s no telling what a crocodile will do! I suspect my croc will be therapeutic for the little kids because Isaac developed a fear of swimming in the lake. He overheard a fisherman say he spotted a four ft. croc nearby, and I’m sure it didn’t help matters when he watched “Jaws”.