21 January 2023

Mr Allen and the new dock

Even before Hurricane Ian made landfall just a few miles north of us, Mr. Allen had been working to replace our public dock.  The thing was built shortly before our canal was finished and made open to the public...more than a decade ago.  

The dock had taken a lot of hard use from people, boats, machetes, and weather, etc.  We don't use it.  We had built it specifically for the public and then just kind of forgot about it while doing all sorts of other work. The original public dock began to decline but as long as it was still usuable we pretty well ignored it.  

One of its regular users, our excellent neighbor Mr. Allen, began lobbying other landowners and the increasing number of members of the public who sometimes just make a day trip to the beach.  His intent was to build a brand new dock.  He explained to those he contacted that since we had opened and routinely maintain a mile of canal...and had originally built the public dock...we should not have to also be responsible for a dock we never use, but that instead the work should fall to those who do use it.    

Mr. Allen visited other people one at a time both in Bluefields and up and down the beach, asking that they contribute time or materials or money.  After Hurricane Ian's visit the work became imperative. We cleared and re-opened the canal for boat travel - but people who had produce or livestock to carry to market had no way to load their goods.  Thanks to Mr. Allen there is a new dock.  (Remnants of the old dock are visible along the side of the new one.)

Not only was he successful in having a new dock built. he improved on the original design.  The old dock was so tall that sometimes getting in or out of a boat was tricky.  The new dock is not as tall and has steps to make boarding and loading much easier.

15 January 2023

Family and the rosewood spatulas

For more than a decade, each trip I've made to False Bluff has included a visit with the Lopez family.  

Mr. Julio and his son Mr. Julio Jr and a grandson create lovely and sometimes useful, sometimes just decorative, things out of wood and shell - coconut shells and various sea shells:  jewelry and figurines and bowls and cups and walking canes.  

Basically if I can think of it, someone in the Lopez family can make it.  Stories about pieces of their work that have traveled from Bluefields (where they live) to Virginia (where I live) are woven throughout this blog.  And I've seen some of the family's work on display in the Nicaraguan embassy in Washington, DC.

One of my favorite pieces is the horse part of a hobby horse carved of teak.  The rockers never were added to the horse part because the piece overall didn't meet Mr. Julio's standards...but the horse part made the base of a nice low seat.  It was dumped directly into the dirt where it became part of a bench - until I unearthed it, wrapped it up, and took it to Virginia where it hangs on a wall in my living room. A picture is somewhere on this site.

During my most recent trip I met with Mr. Julio Jr and asked him to make me five wooden spatulas.  A spatula made of teak has been part of my kitchen arsenal for so long that its useful part had been worn in size to the point that the useful life was nearly over.  

So I took a picture of what was left, with a tape measure beside it.  When I showed the picture to him He said, "Sure.  No problem."  I kept one of the five that I brought home and am already using it...stirring stew and flipping grilled cheese sandwiches.  The other four spatulas were gifts to family members: two to siblings, two to children.  

These aren't teak.  They're rosewood.  

And all five of the spatulas I brought home were cut from the same chunk of wood, sliced like bread to become useful artifacts that may spend part of their useful lives not just having been sliced like bread but in contact with real bread.  

But the really special thing about this kitchen utensil is that it ties, in a small way, all five of us immediate family members together.  Each of us has one of these cut from the same piece of rosewood in Nicaragua.  

What a strange connection.

Note:  It's just over 12" long and about 1/4" thick not counting the taper at the more useful end.  The rosewood was part of a tree in the Lopez back yard.

09 January 2023


During a recent visit to Nicaragua I tagged along with friends on a Sunday trip to a small and somewhat isolated community about 40 minutes from Bluefields.  The new road from Bluefields to Nueva Guinea makes such visits a whole lot easier.  

But even with cars and trucks traveling the road, NIC-71, most people in tiny communities like this one still travel on horseback - although there's been a huge increase in motorcycles here since my only other visit some years ago.  

Not much, if any, of the infrastructure has changed but now even on Sunday you can shop at the local Purina dealership.

04 January 2023

A can...in a bottle

Twelve fluid ounce cans of Coca Cola or Pepsi is what we are accustomed to finding on shelves - at least throughout Virginia.  Maybe throughout the entire United States.  And twelve fluid ounces is 355 mL (yes, the L is not lowercase).  

But I discovered these little things in Bluefields on a recent trip.  Actually they're available in the airports in Managua which is pretty much the only place I am when I'm in Nicaragua if I'm not in the southern autonomous region.  

Not just the colas come in these small bottles.  You can also find Lipton tea and some of the Fantas.

These are nice.  Easier to carry and less to drink.  Plastic vs aluminum?  Always a debate.

And they're inexpensive.  The number on the cap in the second photo below is 16, not 76....that's the price.  Sixteen cordoba.  Today the exchange rate is 36.37 Nicaraguan cordoba to $1 U.S. dollar.  The math is pleasant.  

Can't find these little bottles anywhere in my Virginia city.  


27 December 2022

Bay House Post Hurricane

 Work continues on the new house in town.  A lot of cleaning had already been completed and the plan was to leave as much existing vegetation as possible while making the upgrades.  Then the hurricane hit.  A lot of damage was done including blowing the top out of the largest tree and having it land on the house.  A lot of cutting has been done to all the damaged trees.

The below picture is the front of the house with the top of the tree from the back yard on it.

Lots more cutting.

Lots more cleaning.

Last damaged tree being removed.  Majority clean now.

20 December 2022

Happy Holidays, New Friends, and New Neighborhoods!

 If you are reading this we hope you have Happy Holidays!

We hope you get to spend time with friends, family, and new neighbors.

01 December 2022


Until earlier this year, Covid had interrupted all work - to a certain extent even routine maintenance - on our project at False Bluff.  We planted and pruned and cleaned.  But even building repairs were deferred and for sure, completion of the rental cabins just came to a screeching halt.

Then, during an earlier trip this year I got things started up.  A lot of repairs to existing buildings and a giant step for mankind toward the completion of our first two rental cabins.

And then Ian came to visit and we took an almost direct hit.  Damage was much worse a bit north of us but we lost the roof on our largest building and there was some other building-related damage...just after new work had been done.

But the biggest damage was to our canal, access we provided for many many people when we dug the canal more than a decade ago.  Hundreds and hundreds of trees down, blocking the canal and all the people who depend on it to get where they're going.  

Cleaning and clearing took precedence and my incredible staff had that canal open again in less than 10 days.  There were no chainsaws to be had anywhere in the area...not to rent, not to borrow.  So we now own just about the larget chainsaw Stihl makes.  

The solution to the canal problem went like this:  get the saw from Managua and have a party.  We called for volunteers among the people who use the canal...come help clean this up and we'll feed you.  And thus it happened.  Sure, there's more to the story and there was a lot of heavy work but there was also a celebratory feeling to the event.

We cut and moved huge quantities of large trees and hired a man who is an artist with his own chainsaw.  He cuts trees like I would cut a block of cheese.  Need some 2 x 4s?  Here you go.  How about some 2 x 12s.  No problem.  We have enough green lumber - treated and stacked to dry - to build several more cabins.  And since people work with green lumber in this part of the world, some of the fallen trees even became the new framework for the roof that had to be replaced.

But I don't have a single decent photo to share of any of this.

17 November 2022


La Costena is Nicaragua's only domestic airline.  Based in Managua, La Costena carries passengers to mostly Nicaraguan locations:  Big Corn Island, San Carlos, Bluefields, Bonanza, Ometepe, Puerto Cabezas, Siuna, San Juan de Nicaragua, Waspan, and the non-Nicaraguan city of Tegucigalpa which is the capital of Honduras.  I have read that at one time Avianca owned a part of La Costena from 2010 but sold their portion of the smaller airline in 2019.   

La Costena has proven to be a very "user friendly" organization with good person to person communication.  Until recently it's been suffering because of past covid shut downs...but covid regulations spread suffering everywhere.  Before covid's unnecessarily onerous burdens on the tourism business, La Costena offered two flights a day between Managua and Bluefields. 

Their early afternoon departure from Managua was timed so that people arriving there on their way to the Carribbean could get to both Bluefields and/or Big Island.  As it is now, most people spend their arrival night in Managua and catch the early/only flight to Bluefields and/or Big Island. Bit by bit La Costena is adding the second flight back to their list...so far only on Sundays and a few Saturdays. Hopefully a busy tourist season will see these flight additions happen for all the other days of the week.

When I last checked in for my La Costena flight to Bluefields I asked the woman at the counter how business was. Her reply was "Better, thank god." This photo shows how the waiting room in Managua looked when I sat down to await my flight. By the time the flight was called the room was full, as it should be...full of mostly European tourists headed for Big Island (and perhaps from there on to their boat ride to Little Island, a place to small for any airplane).

10 November 2022

Drupes...who knew - and who cares

    Cashew nuts aren't really nuts...they're drupes.  

    It turns out there is all sorts of confusing classification and nomenclature regarding what I've long thought of simply as nuts.  Cashews aren't nuts.  Peanuts aren't nuts.  Almonds aren't nuts.  Acorns are classified as nuts but not many people eat acorns the same way people eat cashews or peanuts or almonds.

    By definition a drupe is a fruit that's fleshy on the outside but with a shell covering the outside of the seed of the fruit - the cashew in this case.  

    A very different thing about a cashew is that although the seed is, indeed, covered with shell...in the case of the cashew, a really hard shell...the seed isn't on the inside of the fruit.  Instead the cashew seed hangs from the bottom of the fruit, one per.  My guess is that over the eons the cashew seed shell got really hard since it's not on the inside of the fruit that produces it.  Protection, you know.

    Peaches are drupes and the peach seed is very much an "innie."  People eat the outside of the peach, the fleshy part of the drupe; but I doubt there are a lot people who eat the seed that's inside.  With a cashew, the seed is an "outie" and hangs from the bottom of the fleshy part of the drupe.  And the fleshy part of the cashew is commonly called a "cashew apple."   

    The common naming of the cashew fruit as an apple just adds more confusion to classification and names since the cashew is not at all kin to an apple.  They're not even in the same family.  The cashew tree family is Anacardiaceae while the apple tree family is in the Rosaceale.  (This is really important stuff here.)

    At False Bluff we have trees that produce both red and yellow cashew apples which make for really good eating.  However, like the fruit of the pawpaw tree, a US native, a cashew apple is very fragile...too fragile to make it to a grocery store shelf in any appetizing way.  

    So we just pick and eat the cashew apple right off the tree.  And like the fragile pawpaw, the apples of the cashew tree make wonderful jams and jellies.

    We simply don't bother with the cashew seeds though....those things that are labeled "nuts" and are so very expensive in grocery stores.  There are several reasons for the cost of the things - but that's another story.

04 November 2022


Most everywhere there is still a push to vaccinate people against covid. Even in Bluefields, anybody who wants a vaccine can get a vaccine.

Vaccinators wander through town - and most likely the surrounding rural areas - offering on-the-spot vaccinating and are willing to discuss the benefits and reasons for being vaccinated with anyone who might still have never heard of covid.

There was a small representative crew from the local health department offering vaccines and information during a Bluefields street festival I attended. There were lots of people out and about. These three were not at all aggressive in their efforts but they stood out because they were nearly the only people out that day who were wearing masks.

On August 10, 2022, the all-time covid stats for Nicaragua were:

  • 14,872 cases and
  • 244 deaths
The US State Department page includes the following CDC statement regarding Nicaraguan covid information: "The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has determined Nicaragua has an unknown level of COVID-19."

Note:  The CDC statement on the State Department page does not identify as sarcasm

29 October 2022


The first thing I noticed when I got to the Avianca location in Miami International Airport for my first flight with that airline was the curve in the ceiling and the roof.  The curves in both were familiar and comforting, like being at home because that's a pretty typical roof line in Bluefields, Nicaragua.

Avianca, MIA

BICU, Bluefields Indian and Caribbean University 

Hotel Escuela BICU 

When I began to look at available information about this roof style I learned the following:

  • there is a reduced emission of harmful CO2 gases; 
  • the roof construction is relatively easy to build;
  • the roofs are quite wind resistant;
  • there is always an increase of air flow through the building (I can verify this is pretty nice in areas where air conditioning is not the norm);
  • and - long thought to be true, but now in question - the roof shape transfers more heat away from the building than peak-roofed buildings

22 October 2022


     We have lots of papaya trees at False Bluff.  They grow fast from seed and bear fruit early....two nice characteristics.

     The fruit is either big or not big, depending on the variety of the tree; and we have both varieties.

     This is a just-peeled papaya from one of the trees that produces big fruit - and it's a pretty typical size for the variety.

     I'm sure there is a taste difference between the varieties but I can't tell.  However, I prefer the big fruit because there's so much more to eat - and that means everybody gets a huge bowl full like this.

16 October 2022

AVIANCA - some airlines never stopped flying to Nicaragua

American Airlines recently announced they will begin flying to Managua again - after more than two years.  The airline made it official enough so that it showed up on the US state department page.

So I booked a flight using a ticket I had purchased more than two years ago.  However, I'm keeping my fingers crossed since that ticket was repeatedly put on hold as the "we're going to fly to Managua" statements turned out to not be true.

Prior to American's announcement, flight craziness for travel between the USA and Nicaragua nudged us into trying Avianca for the first time in our years of traveling there. The differences were like anything different...they took a bit of getting used to.  But overall we have been both surprised and pleased.

Part of the surprise was that Avianca served a meal...not just two cookies or a half ounce of tiny pretzels...but food. Not hot on a plate with utensils and a napkin...but food.

Another of the 'differences' was where in the grand scheme of the Miami airport (MIA) Avianca is actually located. We're accustomed to more than a decade of the "D" gates. Avianca gates are "F" and are about as far from D as you can get.

Although the drawing of MIA, below, shows D and F are pretty close together, getting to F from D is not as simple as it looks. Good exercise though. So, in the future, we will probably take the cheapest flight to Miami and then Avianca from Miami to Managua. The walk will do us good and we'll save a bit on trip insurance since we just won't bother with insurance on the flight to or from Miami.

10 October 2022

Coconut tree root

Tropical Storm Julia, aka category 1 Hurricane, hit the southern portion of Nicaragua's Caribbean coast a couple of days ago.  Landfall seems to have been Kukra Hill.

There was extensive damage there and in Pearl Lagoon (north of Kukra Hill) and in Bluefields and El Bluff (south of Kukra Hill.  

And there was damage at False Bluff.

The end of the 2022 hurricane season has inflicted a lot of damage in a lot of places and we feel both lucky and relieved that though there was damage at False Bluff it was relatively minor.

One side note is the incredible root system of the coconut palm tree that makes it such a survivor.  Coconut palms are, indeed, lost.  In fact we lost this one....but coconut trees put up a hell of a fight.

03 October 2022

Shopping for produce in Bluefields...

There are small produce markets all over town which is really convenient for the many shoppers who walk.  Taxi rates just increased and relatively few people own cars.  Even if you own a car, traffic can be a mess.  But when your fruit and vegetables can be bought just around the corner, shopping is easy.  Buying meat is almost as simple, but that's another story.

Most of the people who run the small produce markets throughout town shop early in the morning at the city's main market which has its own wharf.  Farmers from out of town show up very early with boats full of produce.  Anyone can buy here...small market owners, people who run restaurants, individuals.  I have bought fresh fruit here but I fall into the 'put it in a bag' group.  Some people load trucks.

28 September 2022

How things have changed...

During my first overnight visit to False Bluff we hung Hennessy hammocks in a clump of coconut trees right near the edge of the Caribbean.   The undergrowth was such that there was no way to move inland.  

Well, of course there was a way but we would have had to hang our hammocks about ten feet above the ground to be above the brush and we would have had to clear a space to build a fire for meals and....you get the idea.  

As it was, the area close to the sea was free of underbrush and the hearty breeze coming off the Caribbean kept most of the bugs away...and made a fire for meals nearly impossible.

During our second day we had visitors.  At this time in our project about the only way to get to our place was to take a boat from Bluefields across the bay, out into the Caribbean, and then head north about eight miles ...and then hope we didn't capsize on the way to the beach.  Capsizing is a favorite game along much of this stretch of coast.   

Or you could take a taxi-boat from Bluefields across the bay to the port of El Bluff...and then walk through El Bluff and then north about eight miles up the beach.  

Or, you could hire a boat ride from Bluefields across the bay to the area that later became our canal...and then slog a couple of miles through a mangrove swamp.  

False Bluff is on a narrow section of land and so traveling through the swamp had long been the chosen method for many owners of property along this stretch of beach because it was usually cheaper and always more direct.  For generations the hardy people who have subsistance farms north of us traveled to their homesteads through the swamp, carrying supplies...groceries, trees to plant, new chickens for their flocks.  There haven't been any homesteads south of us during our time, though there have been some in the past.

And one of our visitors on that first overnight camping trip was Mr. Allen who appeared out of the swamp carrying, among other things, a 4' tall breadtree seedling to plant at his place.   We all introduced outselves and talked briefly.  He didn't stay long.  Not only had he just walked 2 miles through a swamp loaded with stuff (like a small tree) but he had at least an hour more to walk up the beach to his place.  

One of the best long-timers out there is Mr. Allen.  He was on - and stayed on - his farm during Hurricane Joan in the early 1980s.   Joan hit Nicaragua's coast at about 145 mph.  It was a bad hurricane and did a huge amount of damage to Nicaragua on its way to the Pacific where it became Tropical Storm Miriam.  It is unusual for a storm to survive moving from the Atlantic/Caribbean to the Pacific.  

Bad hurricanes are rare in Nicaragua which is one of the reasons we chose the place.  This is a photo of damage Joan did to the central park in Bluefields...there is no photo of Mr. Allen's homestead on the coast.

Forward to different times.  Much of the underbrush is gone, a cushion-like zoysia grass in its place, hundreds more coconut palms, and some buildings.  We no longer have to introduce ourselves.  Mr. Allen is a friendly visitor anytime he wants to stop by, sharing news and a meal or a snack.

23 September 2022

Acres and acres and acres of rice

Some countries are limiting their exports of rice, an action that will have a negative impact on other countries that rely on such exports to stock their grocery store shelves.  Almost as though Nicaragua knew what was coming in the way of rising prices and potential food shortages, the country has worked to massively increase its production of rice.  Feeding its own people continues to be a huge commitment; and if the crops are really good there may be some to export, thus bringing in much needed money.

Huge amounts of land are now devoted to growing rice and that land usually produces more than one crop each year.  Found along the rice-growing acreage are hundreds of relatively new processing plants similar to this one.

Wending its way through the vast expanses of rice fields is a new road built to facilitate planting, maintenance, and harvesting; and then the processing and movement of the crops after harvest - whether the crop is destined for internal use or for export. 

I recently traveled the approximately 25 mile length of the new road.  It's a wide smooth easy ride putting travelers almost into Managua (depending on which way you're traveling) with some beautiful views along the way.

From planting to harvesting is roughy 120 days and that gives a couple of harvests each year.  In Nicaragua most of the work is done by hand, including building or rebuilding the dikes that surround each rice field to keep the water in during most of the growing.  

19 September 2022

As time goes on...

At the beginning of our adventure on Nicaragua's Caribbean coast we walked on the beach.  We had just begun clearing the dense undergrowth; and so, except for a few cleared pathways, the thick brush meant that we walked to - and then on - the beach....because there was no way to walk on the land short of wearing heavy clothing and boots for protection, with a machete in hand to clear the way.

And so we walked - up and down the beach, gladly.    With brief forays into the water.  

At the start of the False Bluff project we were building friendships as well as piers and housing.  After all the years since 2008 - when this picture was taken - to now the friendships have become family-like ties.  And we've got a better camera than we had in 2008!

14 September 2022


The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) shuffles taxpayer money all over the world...usually with no input from United States taxpayers as to where it goes, or why.  

If you are a United States citizen, be aware that some of the money you earn goes someplace a politician decides needs the money more than you do.

Frequently even after the USAID money part is gone, the 'aid' part lives on, maybe providing benefits other than International Development.  

Or maybe not.  These sidewalk entrepeneurs in Bluefields show us how this 'aid' lives on...in what can perhaps be viewed as small examples of International Development: shoe repair on one side and chinese video copies on the other.

10 September 2022


  Julio Castillo Miranda

Gone Way Too Soon

Julio managed and oversaw the digging of our canal and is shown here with a clump of the mangrove roots which had to be removed before our pontoon boat could navigate the canal.  Over and over again he showed innate management and organizational skills. There are stories about, and pictures of, Julio throughout this blog.