LAS TORTUGAS

We have a few building lots left. Email us at lastortugasatfalsebluff@gmail.com for information.

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

USAID

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

RIP JULIO

  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.



06 September 2022

More about hospitals

A primary concern about hospital care expressed by many who aren't familiar with Nicaragua's Caribbean coast, either the north or south autonomous region, isn't about the number of hospitals there but about the fact that most of the people who live on the Caribbean coast live in very rural areas where there are few roads and travel to a hospital can be 'difficult' and 'very difficult.'  The rural areas in the autonomous regions are usually described as "remote" or "the bush."  

This population density map of Nicaragua shows just that:  population density.  But the map gives no clue as to how and where the population actually lives.  Neither of the autonomous regions is well developed and what you see from an airplane traveling to Bluefields is mostly green even though there's nothing green in this map:



If by chance somebody is unfortunate enough to need more than the Bluefields hospital has to offer, the airport is right around the corner...actually almost everything in Bluefields is right around a corner...and Managua is a 45-minute flight away.

Although I've been at the Bluefields airport when a patient, attended by medical personnel, is carefully loaded into a plane for a dedicated flight, I've never gone into one of Managua's hospitals.  But now that the son of my staff family is in his third year of medical school at one of Managua's teaching hospitals - I might at least get to take a tour.

In Managua there are hospitals that rival anything we've got in the United States.  Prior to shut downs (that covid stuff) all over the world, Nicaragua had positioned itself to take advantage of "medical tourism."  There are a lot of benefits to medical tourism for both a prospective patient and for the country offering the health care.  Worth noting is that from the United States alone it is estimated that hundreds of thousands of people travel to another country every year for medical treatment.

There is more than one hospital in Managua that offers excellent healthcare.  The best known among hospitals there are the Vivian Pellas Metropolitan Hospital, Hospital Bautista, and the Military Hospital.  (The Pellas family immigrated to Nicaragua from Italy more than 100 years ago.)  

The Military Hospital, which also won an award for its architectural design, is a public hospital "which accommodates everybody."  This is the hospital I really hope to tour:

https://www.unops.org/news-and-stories/news/nicaraguas-largest-hospital-is-now-serving-the-public

Note:  As UVA (University of Virginia, USA) has worked with one of Bluefields' two universities, UNC (University of North Carolina, USA) works with the medical school in Leon, Nicaragua.  





03 September 2022

False and not false. At False Bluff and elsewhere. Yeah, I know

One morning, walking the beach, we came across this beautiful example of a false crawl before the incoming tide washed it away.  And if this is new information to you, a "crawl" used in reference to a sea turtle, is just another way of saying "track" or "trail."

I'm guessing the turtle was a Green sea turtle looking for a place to lay eggs - because that's the variety that we've seen most at our place and laying eggs is why turtles come ashore.  

A Green won't lay until she is sexually mature which is at about 20 years; and at that age she may be 4' long and up to 700 pounds...so she's going to leave marks on the beach.  You can figure all these personal details just from the fact that she left marks on the beach.

And the beach where she leaves her crawl marks - and hopefully where she lays her eggs - is the same beach she was born on.  Might not be the exact spot where she was hatched, but pretty close.

A female turtle will often 'scout' a place before laying eggs.  It's actually been estimated that about half the times a turtle comes ashore she doesn't lay eggs.  Sometimes she's interrupted in her mission to do that... and sometimes the place she's checking out doesn't meet her standards.  

We're pretty sure that the female that left these tracks wasn't interrupted because....we're the only people out there and our constant presence keeps most people and four-footed predators away, especially at night, which is when turtles lay their eggs....and we're all really careful not to interrupt.  

There's at least one important personal detail you can't figure out from looking at the crawl and that's - what is there about the place she visited that didn't meet her standards?  If we could figure that out we could fix it.  

False crawl - at False Bluff


Not a false crawl - somewhere else






30 August 2022

Bluefields hospital (and the University of Virginia)


Only three of Nicaragua's 32 public hospitals are located in what is known as the Caribbean coast.  The 'Caribbean coast' portion of the country is divided into two autonomous regions that, combined, make up fifty-five percent of the country's total territory.


Hospital Ernesto Sequeira is in Bluefields.  Small and not showy by many standards, it's got everything hospitals are supposed to have.  I have friends who've been successfully and professionally treated there for things ranging from minor injuries to life threatening illnesses.  And as a hospital should, it has an emergency room that's open 24-hours a day. 
     



 
The UVA information is a curious sidenote to those of us who have spent most of our lives in Virginia, although we weren't aware of the collaboration between Bluefields and a Virginia university until long after we selected the area for a place to live part time.


Interestingly, one of Bluefields' two universities - BICU - is the first site of the University of Virginia School of Nursing's reimagined global initiatives program which includes conducting "research with the UVA faculty and Nicaraguan clinicians." 


The BICU site may or may not translate easily from Spanish to English but it's doable...and anything is better than wikipedia:  https://www.bicu.edu.ni/


28 August 2022

One man's trash is usually still just trash

At False Bluff we've cleaned trash off the beach for more than a decade and still more trash rolls in on every tide. It would be wonderful if the stuff rolled out with the same regularity. Keeping the beach clean is a never ending fight as earlier photos throughout this blog show.

What you see in the picture immediately below used to be typical of our section of beach. If you take a stroll up or down the beach you will see how easy it is to locate just where False Bluff begins and ends...you can't get lost. The beach to the north of us and the beach to the south of us still looks like this.

Now Bluefields has a mayor who is waging the same sort of fight against trash that we've been waging. But his is an urban environment with a lot more people to help clean up. He's going to have a fight nonetheless.

But a recent tropical storm, Bonnie, was a great educator. After people had to leave home to spend time in community shelters because of heavy rains and flooding, and after a couple of houses in town collapsed, the mayor explained that when the city's sewers get clogged water backs up and floods happen.

It became very clear, very fast, to almost everybody in Bluefields that a lot of the inconvenience - and more importantly a lot of the damage - from Bonnie's heavy rains was caused by the fact that the sewers were full of trash.

Since the water couldn't go where it was supposed to go, it went where it wasn't supposed to go.

Here, people from Monkey Point (almost to Costa Rica) arrive at the main wharf in Bluefields to shelter in place:

"Sewers should not be used as landfill" states city hall in a news story that went on to claim that "Unfortunately, the sewers remain full of rubbish that people throw away, hindering the passage of water, which facilitates flooding..."   


26 August 2022

COVID testing...but only in Managua

Although this requirement seems to have been suspended to re-enter the United States  - hopefully forever - I was required to have a negative test in order to board my flight home at the end of my latest trip.  

Managua is the only place in the country where covid testing is done.  But the negative effects of the testing requirement have been catastrophic to Nicaragua's tourism and that would probably have been true regardless of where your testing was done.  Imagine your test results were positive - what do you do about your flight, a hotel, a doctor, a hospital stay, re-booking, re-testing.  The cost of the tests alone were/are high, particularly for a PCR which may still be required for re-entry by some countries. 

To have testing only available in Managua might have been somewhat understandable when a PCR was required; but by the time I cycled through, only a rapid test was on the menu and those are quick and easy.  The person 'conducting' the tests, and those being tested, were in contact by phone with 'applicable government authorities.'

There is at least one big formal place in Managua where testing is done and the stories of high prices and delays and confusion there have become the stuff of legend among people who only wanted to go home.  

However, a friend in Managua dug up information for me about a much less expensive and much more relaxed testing site...fully approved by those 'applicable authorities.'  And so off we went to a small shop which was, as is often the case throughout Nicaragua, in the front part of a private home.

These sorts of commercial enterprises can be found all over the country...sometimes even restaurants. The sales or restaurant seating areas occupy the front room(s) of the home. Saves on rent, saves on commuting time. There was limited seating in this one and another couple came in right behind me and my friend. While we waited, all of us, including the woman conducting the test and her helper/daughter, chatted as best we could. A highlight of the visit were the bunny ears on the phone by which we communicated with the 'applicable authorities.'


At the end of the test I gave the woman in pink shoes just $80USD. She handed me a plain folder which held two pieces of paper and on one of the pieces of paper was the word NEGATIVE.

I worried until I got to the airport the next morning, thinking that this was all too simple, that this couldn't be enough...until I found myself in line directly behind the couple who had come in to the testing place right after us - and watched them get cleared for the flight with no problem at all.

We smiled at each other

23 August 2022

Covid and Nicaragua's response

"'Rumors' as a source of information"  

That quote sure sums up a lot of what we've endured during the 'covid thing.'

Nearly everybody I know at False Bluff and in Bluefields contracted Covid, whether they were vaccinated or not.  All but two of these people have come out just fine on the 'good health' side.  Of the two who died, one was over 70 and had serious health issues; the other was in her 90s.

I read much of the media criticism from around the world about Nicaragua's response to covid; but I missed the positive stories - and it turns out that when I dug a bit, there are several.   A 2021 story explained that at the start of 'the pandemic' Nicaragua took action similar to that of Sweden and, to a certain extent, similar to that of Florida in the United States.  Another story, published about a week ago, includes an interview with Nicaragua's top covid advisor. 

Nicaragua's response to covid was bashed by NIH as "Nicaraguan Government's failure to confront the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19)" when NIH pushed back on the story in "Fair" (see links below).   

However, both WHO and the University of Oxford indicated that Nicaragua's "failure to confront" covid couldn't have been all bad.   "In a recent study conducted by the University of Oxford and the World Health Organization, socialist Nicaragua was placed number nine on a list of the ten safest countries (in Latin America) to visit during the COVID-19 pandemic."  

According to the UN there are 33 Latin American countries...and those at all familiar with Nicaragua know that the majority of those 33 countries has much more money than Nicaragua.

Nicaragua made major preparations for patients very early, while a lot of other countries were still trying to decide if there really was a pandemic.  

The country's 'official' covid count was considered dishonest by most media and the figure quoted by some sources was more than doubled.  However, it seemed that "The higher figure is based on “suspected” (not tested) cases, and according to the observatory website includes “rumors” as one source of information. But even the higher figure is dramatically lower than those for adjoining countries..."

Note:  Links to the two stories mentioned 

https://www.newsclick.in/nicaragua-inspiring-response-COVID-19

https://thegrayzone.com/2022/08/16/nicaraguas-health-advisor-covid-working/

22 August 2022

The natural beauties of Nicaragua



In March of this year MARENA introduced a map of Nicaragua's natural beauties.  

Actually it introduced two maps:  one is static and one is interactive.  

Nicaragua has a very large number of conservation zones and these are included in the interactive map.

 https://www.marena.gob.ni/mapa-interactivo/

18 August 2022

Working to protect sea turtles

MARENA 

Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources

A few years ago we decided to pursue having the beach that borders us designated a turtle sanctuary.  Several of the world's species of sea turtles nest on a Nicaraguan coast...some of them at False Bluff. 

Despite existing Nicaraguan laws passed to protect turtles and their eggs, the destruction continues in large part because of economics:  turtle meat and turtle eggs are food; turtle shells are jewelry.  

Over the years I have visited the MARENA office in Bluefields to talk about how to make a sanctuary designation happen...and then there was 'the pandemic' which put a temporary end to a lot of good things.

But finally, during a recent trip to Nicaragua, MARENA and I began to work out some details. The first thing was a site visit so that the 'officials' could actually see the place that we wanted protected. It was never a question of 'if' but of 'how.'

This first trip included both MARENA staff and a representative from city hall; a long walk; and a discussion of what comes first...which turned out to be taking an inventory of nest sites during the current nesting season.

My staff and I were give some good information, including drawings - right there in the sand - by the very knowledgeable city hall rep on how to recognize the difference between a turtle's exploratory visit from a visit that actually resulted in eggs being laid. The tracks coming and going across the beach are different for each of these activities.

The group from town was a bit surprised at our enthusiasm about wanting to protect the turtles that visited us...and definitely surprised that we had bothered to verify previous visits and hatchings with photographs and videos. The first visit generated enough interest on the part of the 'officials' to schedule another trip almost immediately, a trip that would include additional people and representative groups - like the army - and a possible expansion of the area to be protected.

The immediate result of our sanctuary designation will be education and a legal right to stop people from killing turtles at False Bluff and from stealing clutches of eggs.

The photo does not show a turtle leaving eggs or a turtle looking for a place to lay eggs. Instead, these are the tracks of a Green Sea turtle that we freed from a tangled mess of sea garbage that had wrapped her tight and totally immobilized her.

The photo shows the tracks of a turtle making a break for freedom.

Note: The rest of the story (and additional photos) were posted here in 2011






14 August 2022

Back To Work

For what seemed to be an eternal two years, the world was pretty much shut down because of a virus? because the 'experts' said so?

Whatever...

Most covid edicts everywhere in our hemisphere have been lifted and travel is ramping up. We are once again making visits to False Bluff...resuming repairs to the staff house and resuming completion of the two rental cabins. Both are things that we had begun before things went crazy.

And of course the first thing that needs to be done is to transport materials from Bluefields to our place on the edge of the Caribbean. The previous post noted that we have purchased a house in Bluefields. Having the house won't make the trip shorter...False Bluff will still be eight miles by water from Bluefields.

But a house near the center of town will make getting stuff from Bluefields to our work site at the edge of the Caribbean a whole lot easier. Because the current process for getting stuff moved is thus:

  • over a period of days, shop in town
  • load onto a rental truck ($) any purchases that are too big for a taxi
  • have the usually multiple purchases - from the usually multiple places - delivered to a staging area
  • hire another rental truck ($) to haul purchases to the boat which is never near the staging area
Every now and then one truck can do it all but there are usually a few days of shopping before heading to False Bluff while purchases pile up at the staging area. It's pretty easy to figure out which steps we can eliminate when the place in town is ready for use.

Here our materials are being loaded at the staging area to be carried to the boat to then travel eight miles to our canal that leads to one of the most beautiful places in the world.




08 August 2022

An Increasing Commitment

During our decade-plus involvement in Nicaragua's southern autonomous region, we have become very enmeshed with life and with lives there.  We've attended weddings and graduations and award ceremonies.  We've celebrated births and mourned losses.

We've not just made good friends - we've added to our family .  

And recently, continuing our commitment, we've purchased a house in one of Bluefields seventeen neighborhoods: Santa Rosa, Central, San Mateo, Pointeen, Fátima, Three Cross, Ricardo Morales, Old Bank, San Pedro, Teodoro Martínez, 19 de Julio, Pancasán, Punta Fría, New York, Beholden, Canal, Loma Fresca.

We will be renovating the small house in a neighborhood which includes a peninsula that pokes into Bluefields Bay. As with False Bluff itself, most of the houses in our new neighborhood are on the water...but Bluefields is a water-based community so being on the water isn’t difficult.

The house will be our de facto headquarters: a place for us to stay during extended visits, a place for friends and family to get to know our part of Nicaragua...

And a place where our boat can live, where our staff can leave a boat, where loading supplies to haul to False Bluff will be so much simpler. All of this will be easier with a 'parking' lot right in town.


19 July 2022

Beach Maintenance

 Bit of raking, sea trash cleaning, and fence repair keeps the farms looking great.




05 July 2022

 PUMICE

     ...is a rock that forms during a volcanic eruption.  It's so full of inner spaces, spaces that were gas bubbles at the time of formation, that the stuff floats.  And it floats right up onto the beach at False Bluff.   

     We rarely find a really big piece but the stuff has such different shapes and colors and textures that finding any of it is a treat...kind of like an Easter egg hunt...only on the beach and not just at Easter.

    There are buckets full of the stuff at False Bluff but lots of it makes it back home at the end of each stay.

     Here are a few samples showing some of the wide array of colors and shapes.





     



21 June 2022

South FaB after 3 Years

 These pictures were taken from the central walkway looking south.  You can see how the coconuts are growing into the cleared area of the second farm.  This is after 3 years of maintenance.




07 June 2022

 TRASH IN OUR WATER

    Trash on the beach at False Bluff is mostly plastic and cleaning it up takes time...but at least we can clean it up.  Once it hits the beach, once it's on land, we can walk up and down and pick it up, can remove it, can bury or burn it.  We can keep our section of beach clean and the reward makes our efforts worthwhile.


     But the biggest problem with trash, plastic or otherwise, is when it's in our water - all over the world.  That situation defies individual efforts to collect and dispose of it.  

    The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is not the only water borne garbage patch but it's "...the world's largest accumulation of marine plastic, stretching 610,000 square miles or three times the size of France."


  • Animals and plants are living on world's largest accumulation of marine plastic
  • Anemones, hydroids & shrimp-like amphipods on 'Great Pacific Garbage Patch'
  • They are not only surviving but thriving on mass between California and Hawaii
  • The 'Great Pacific Garbage Patch' holds an estimated 79,000 tonnes of plastic


https://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-10263711/Animals-plants-living-Great-Pacific-Garbage-Patch.html

24 May 2022

 CASHEWS GROW ON APPLES

     At False Bluff we have both yellow and red cashew apples.  

     Who knew that in some places in the world the nut, the seed, is less important than the fruit it grows on...not in, but on.  It's that thing on the bottom.  

     And there's only one seed per apple, which explains why cashews are so expensive when you can't grow your own.

Yellow cashew apple

Red cashew apple




10 May 2022

 A PLAN, RIGHT FROM THE START

     A canal for easy and safe access. Clearing brush and planting stuff to replace it.  And planting with an end result in mind.

     The end result will be some sort of tourism, sharing this incredibly beautiful quiet place with others.  

     So a large number of the first coconut trees were planted to form a pathway running north and south to our boundaries in those directions.  Our east and west boundaries are water...the Caribbean to the east and the lagoon to the north...easy.

     Coconut trees are spaced at about 15' apart on both sides of a pathway wide enough to eventually accommodate a golf cart or something of a similar size. 

THE FIRST PATHWAY

 New

...and the same path a few years later


A NEWER SECTION OF PATHWAY


     Between the trees on the west side of the pathway we either have planted, or are planting, something commonly known in the area as a swamp lily.  This forms a thick clump pretty quickly but isn't invasive, instead growing pretty much in line with the coconut trees and forming a living and blooming fence. 

     The swamp lily, with huge onion-like tubers, is one of very few ornamental plants that can withstand the really tough Caribbean weather; and it can grow right up to the water's edge.  The flower is beautiful... ethereal without being frail; and the things bloom off and on all year long.  We use this plant a lot.