14 May 2024

Amber...on Nicaragua's Caribbean coast

Amber is a fascinating nature-made product and has been around longer than any of us.  I grew up thinking all amber was 'Baltic amber' which is certainly, even now, the type of amber that is best known among causual amber admirerers like me.  That may be because Baltic amber comes from so many different countries along the Baltic Sea: Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Russia, and Sweden.  Lot of countries for amber to form.  

Note:  Fake amber can be and is currently manufactured for sale

I'm assuming most people know that amber is very old tree sap, the most valuable of which is clear and has 'inclusions.'  Inclusions refer to the fact that some sort of usually prehistoric artifact was caught inside the sticky stuff when it oozed from a tree...bugs, lizards, bark, leaves, and so forth.  

Some of the creatures caught in amber are known only because they were caught in amber.  A simple search online will bring up some amazing photographs of amber with inclusions of all sorts.

Prehistoric bugs don't survive thousands of years to be found by paleontologists quite the same way that dinosaurs have.  And even dinosaur remains haven't done too well over the eons or there would have been lots more found.  

The color of Baltic amber is usually in the yellow family.  But then within the last year I read a story about amber from the Dominican Republic.  The most common colors of amber from the Dominican Republic are yellow and green but there is a rare blue amber which can react to ultraviolet light making it glow very brightly...a stunning show.  Again, I'm not going to include photos here because a simple online search will turn up too many to choose from.

But my curiosity about amber sent me on a search for the possibility of amber in Nicaragua...could amber have floated to the Caribbean coast?  Yes.  But best yet, Nicaragua's Caribbean coast has its very own amber, not just something that floated in.  

I stumbled across Amber International, a commercial firm in New York which now includes more than just amber.  But the site has an "about amber" section which is loaded with good information, listing more places amber is from than I could have imagined:  


And one of the places is in regard to a 'newly discovered amber deposit' as follows:  

"Amber from Nicaragua

18 to 23 Million Years Old: Found in sandstones at the Caribbean sea-shore of Nicaragua Age: 23-18 Ma. (Early Miocene period) Mother-plant: the Hymenaea tree Colours: varying from transparent yellow to red Inclusions: only a few up to now Special characteristics: newly discovered amber deposit."

Interesting to note that something so old is new to the rest of the world.  I've been looking for weeks for a photo of Nicaraguan amber and have even written to Amber International.  I've not found any photos and I've not gotten any reply from Amber International but will provide an update if I get any information.

...and I'll be looking as I walk our Caribbean beach at False Bluff.

19 April 2024

A change at the Pointeen House

When Hurricane Ian rolled over Bluefields in 2022 it left damage throughout the small city, including to our house in the Pointeen neighborhood.  The winds pushed several trees flat but worse than the trees that fell into the yard were the tree-sized limbs from a tall breadfruit tree that landed smack on top of the roof.

There aren't a lot of roofs anywhere that can withstand that kind of hit and our house doesn't have  one of them.  It took hard work to get the mess cleaned up and hauled off.

....house, meet breadfruit tree:

In late 2023 the situation inside the house had deteriorated to the point that the couple who had been 'caretaking,' were told they had to find a more hospitable environment.  

...and then our staff moved in to remove what was left of the roof.

Even in its damaged and deteriorated condition, almost all of the material coming off the roof is being stacked and saved.  Most of it will be used to make forms for pouring concrete when the second iteration of the house begins.

I commend our excellent staff!

06 March 2024

Just how miserable are you?

If you live in the United States you're probably more miserable than you would be if you were living in Nicaragua right now. 

Every now and then researchers somewhere do a nearly world-wide "Mental Wellbeing" study to tell us just how miserable we are...or aren't.  

The Oxford dictionary defines wellbeing as "the state of being comfortable, healthy, or happy" or "an improvement in the patient's well-being."  Both of the above portions of the definition apply since, essentially, we all have recently been patients of one sort or another.   

Non-profit Sapien Labs released a post-pandemic wellbeing study not long ago.  The results of these studies, no matter who authors them, are always a bit of a surprise to me.  I spend time in two countries that are routinely scored for mental wellbeing and so have actual experience of the wellbeing of the people who live in each of those areas since I live among them.

Inflation has hit everywhere but despite inflation and a poverty we in the United States cannot understand, Nicaragua routinely scores more highly than the United States in mental wellbeing studies.  In this study the Dominion Republic has the highest score of all with the United States ranking at number 29.

Nicaragua scores number 23 in being "comfortable, healthy, or happy."

If you are at all interested you can use the test that Sapien Labs used in their calculations to see just how miserable you are:  


Note:  In reviewing similar studies I came across one that found a correlation between being altruistic and being "comfortable, healthy, or happy."  

However, another recent study, "Understanding left-wing authoritarianism: Relations to the dark personality traits, altruism, and social justice commitment," did not present altruism as something beneficial.  (This study itself can be found here:  https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s12144-023-04463-x)


08 February 2024

Nicaragua and its very good, excellent cigars

There's an ongoing question among cigar aficionados as to whether Nicaraguan cigars are now the best the world has.  The country's cigars are known to rival, if not exceed, the quality of Cuban cigars in large part because of the rich volcanic soil in which most of Nicaragua's tobacco grows.   

As outlined in a couple of previous posts, Nicaragua has more than 20 volcanoes stretching north along its Pacific coast so it stands to reason the country has a lot of rich volcanic soil.  (I climbed to the top of one of these volcanoes in December.)  The tobacco that makes Mayflower Cigars is mostly grown in or near Esteli, a city north of Nicaragua's capital of Managua.  In the October 2, post there is a picture of the country's volcanos and Esteli is shown right where the good tobacco-growing soil is.  

A recent news story touts a positive Nicaraguan/USA cigar partnership.  A premium handmade cigar was introduced in the United States in the fall of 2023, a new line called 'Mayflower Cigars' and was the newest release of the Daily Wire news site (part of Bentkey Ventures).

Michael Knowles, who does a podcast with the Daily Wire in the United States, is the man who came up with the cigar's blend of different tobacco varieties.  And he worked closely - from both the US and in Nicaragua - with the Oliva Cigar Co in Esteli to make these cigars a reality.     

When the cigars were ready for the market, a supply was set aside that was estimated to be enough for sales during the 2023 holiday season.  But that total inventory sold out almost immediately, prompting the headline below...a credit to Daily Wire/Bentkey products and to Nicaraguan cigars:

"Daily Wire Sells 4 Months’ Inventory Of ‘Mayflower Cigars’ In 24 Hours In ‘Astonishing’ Market Debut"

The Oliva family has been making cigars since 1886.  The link below introduces one of their factories in Esteli.  There's much more information available about Oliva but this story has some good pictures:


Note: Other creations introduced by Daily Wire include - but are not limited to - candy, clothing, movies, and books.  Some of the people affiliated with Daily Wire who have introduced or added to available items include Ben Shapiro, Jeremy Boreing, Jordan Peterson, and Matt Walsh... and now world class cigars from Michael Knowles.  

21 January 2024

Volcan Masaya

What do you call birds that live in an active volcano?


Recently there have been a number of stories worldwide about volcanoes doing bad things.  In October of last year I posted here about Nicaragua's volcanoes...a stunning 23, all but two of which are in a line winding up the Pacific coast.  Masaya, which last erupted in 2008, is one of several active volcanos in the country.

During a recent visit to Nicaragua I delayed my trip to Bluefields and False Bluff to visit Masaya - both the volcano and the market there.  Volcan Masaya, which is only napping, is in a national park.  At certain times of the day- evening is best - the red of molten lava can be seen; but at all times of the day the smoke from the volcano's smoldering fire is visible...and breathed if the wind's not right or, like, if you hang your head over the fence because you want to see what's 'down there.'  

But gone is the sign, only in English, which is now but a treasured memory of my first visit to the volcano: it read "Please don't jump."

There's a lot of parking and the walkway to the top is well laid out.  And from the cross at the top, the 360-degree view is vastly beautiful.

This wasn't my first trip to either the volcano or its museum.  But it was the first time I became aware of the fact that birds live in the volcano.  Visitors to the volcano catch on pretty fast that the smoke the volcano produces is not like that of a campfire.  When I read about these birds at the museum I realized just how bad the constant smoke is...which makes the fact that for generations a type of parrot has lived in holes along the walls inside the volcanic crater even more remarkable.

The parrot that lives in the volcano is most often referred to as a parakeet - which just means it's a little parrot.  But it has an "unsettled" name history as shown below from wikipedia:

13 January 2024


When I began the project chronicled here I didn't know much of anything about the place I had chosen or the small city of Bluefields nearby. As I became more comfortable moving around Bluefields I began to notice how very well dressed many of the people are. 

At first I didn't understand how people in a ‘poverty stricken’ country could afford not only nice clothing but quite fashionable clothing. And then I noticed all the thrift stores.  I had seen the stores - without really seeing them - as I was learning my way around a city that was new to me. 

But not only did I become a customer of some of these places, over the years I discovered the places that sold the clothing to the stores. Years ago the bales I saw were huge and what was in them wasn't sorted. Buyers might get shoes and toys and sheets and skirts all in one big bale. But somewhere along the line the business got much more organized. Not only have the sizes of the bales gotten much smaller but the items in each bale are now sorted: shirts in this one, baby clothes (by month/age) in that one, shoes here, toys there.  Quite a few places take in and sell the bales but even more places sell the items and the thrift store business is thriving. 

Now thrift store owners can shop for just the sort of items they want or need because some of the thrift stores specialize...and have their purchases delivered right to their doors:

I’ve benefitted over the years with purchases of clothes and shoes in Bluefields that I've brought right back to the United States…like this almost new pair of leather Clarks Artisan shoes at one of my favorite thrift stores for 30 cordoba:

Note: I base my assumption that most of what is for sale at thrift stores in Bluefields comes from the US on the fact that during my early shopping years in these stores I would find US tags still attached to the items - for instance a Goodwill sweater or a Salvation Army pair of jeans most likely didn't get to a shop on Nicaragua's east coast by way of Japan.

Mea culpa

I made a fairly short trip to False Bluff and Bluefields during the first half of December with a side trip to Masaya, both the market and the volcano.  

I came back to Virginia sick.  

Then Christmas.  

Then New Year's.

No excuses for such a long time between updates...just reasons.

27 November 2023

Drift seed

Although I've collected many drift seeds from our beach at False Bluff, I only recently learned that the seeds I've picked up over the years reside in a category.  They are known as 'drift seeds' or 'sea beans.'  Take your pick but I far prefer the somewhat idyllic sounding 'drift seeds.'  Besides...beans are seeds so WTH.

I've lifted this right from wiki - which I don't like to do - but nowhere else have I found such a simple description of the genre:   "Drift seeds (also sea beans) and drift fruits are seeds and fruits adapted for long-distance dispersal by water. Most are produced by tropical trees, and they can be found on distant beaches after drifting thousands of miles through ocean currents. This method of propagation has helped many species of plant such as the coconut colonize and establish themselves on previously barren islands. Consequently, drift seeds and fruits are of interest to scientists who study these currents.

In botanical terminology, a drift fruit is a kind of diaspore, and drift seeds and fruits are disseminules."

That last sentence is just beautiful even if it did come from wiki.

Not only are drift seeds collected from beaches worldwide but many types of the seeds hit the retail market, primarily for making jewelry.  

This one, the Entada gigas, is all over our beach but I rarely pick one up.  Sadly it seems to be most often called a 'sea heart bean.'   It's sold for about a buck sixty each.  I may have to change my collecting habits:

The seed I like the best is also the most difficult to find.  It's in the Mucuna family of vines with more than a hundred other species.   It is commonly known, sadly, as the 'hamburger bean.'  No two are alike, it's smaller than the sea heart bean, and - at least at False Bluff - it's much more rare...but is by far my favorite:

18 November 2023

07 November 2023

Flower of the cane

Flor de Cana...although it's not really the flower that's used but the juice.  

Much of Nicaragua provides ideal growing conditions for sugarcane.  Some areas are better than others, though, and in those places a huge amount of acreage is devoted to growing the cane.  The photo below, taken at False Bluff, is included simply to show what the plant looks like.  We have small clumps of the cane just for looks and to provide enough for family and friends as a snack.  Although we have done so, it's rare that we bother to press the cane to extract its juice.  We don't grow enough to make the effort worthwhile.

However, most of the cane in Nicaragua is used to make a rum that continues to win awards all over the world.  This rum - Flor de Cana - was founded by the Pellas family in the late 1800s:  the family still owns the operation.  In addition to being an exceptional product the company advertises that it is the world's first spirit to be both carbon neutral and fair trade certified.  

The story of the family is fascinating and is available by way of this link:  https://flordecana.com/story.html

27 October 2023

Not sure how much this will help

Since usually by the time you can discern the details, chances are pretty good you could care less whether you're dealing with an alligator or a crocodile...and Nicaragua has both.   


But to satisfy any curiosity you might have - before you come across one of these - there's a lot of good information to be had in the link below.  As  pointed out in the link, there's a surprisingly lot of difference between alligators and crocodiles.  The best thing to do, though, is to concentrate on how to avoid either: 


21 October 2023

Passion Flower

This plant has one of the - if not the - most unusual blossoms anywhere in the world.  It's in the genus 'passiflora' so named by Christian missionaries because the flower is said to resemble the cross on which Jesus died.  I've never seen the similarity myself but it is an outstanding flower.  The plant was, so the story goes, discovered in the late 1500s in Peru by a Spaniard named Nicolas Monardes Alfaro.  The plant was later introduced into Europe in the 1600s

It's a complicated plant in that although it's usually a vigorous vine it can also be a shrub or a tree.  Among other oddities, the leaves on the same plant can be different shapes.  However, the flowers on one plant don't change colors regardless of the different leaf shapes.  If the vine - or whatever - has one red flower then all the flowers on that plant (in that family) will be red.  

Passion flowers range in color from red to pink to blue to purple to green to white to yellow....or a combination thereof.  I've actually seen only a few but enjoy the ones I have come across - and I've enjoyed the photos of the ones I'll probably never come across.  This one we grow at False Bluff.  It's a vine with not only a beautiful flower but a delicious fruit:

Note:  The link below is to an NIH study on the medicinal benefits of passiflora if you're so inclined.  There are lots of studies, mostly small.  I chose NIH because it's familiar...and that's important to some people.

13 October 2023

What's its name ?

This plant has more names than usual:  Cuban or Caribbean oregano, Mexican or soup or Indian mint although it's also known as Indian borage, Spanish or broadleaf thyme, and Vicks plant.  Got no idea where Vicks plant came from since I detect no menthol scent at all.  

The plant even has two botanical names:  Plectranthus amboinicus or Coleus amboinicus.

But it's a member of the mint family.  It's not a coleus, it's not an oregano, it's not borage, and it's not thyme.

I first encountered it in a friend's yard in Bluefields...shown here:

After a bit of a search online I found it and now have it in Virginia...shown here...

...and here

The color differences shown in the photos is real.  The plant in Bluefields has a slight blue tinge but the Bluefields plant is in full tropical sun and my plant is inside where it's growing well.  

Some people in full tropical sun have been known to turn red.  Maybe plants have a different reaction.

If I had to pick a name based on scent alone, I'd go with strong oregano scent.  Further, the leaves are edible, fresh or dried.  Chopped fresh leaves are said to be good in a salad or a marinade.  It's used mostly with poultry, lamb, or beef.  It's used in stuffing - again, either fresh or dried.  And I understand from people in Nicaragua who are familiar with it, the leaves, fresh or dried, make a good tea.

Its list of medicinal uses is - amazingly - longer than its list of names.

08 October 2023

More supplies heading to False Bluff

We have previously sent large plastic barrels full-to-the-brim of things, new and used, that will be useful in general and specifically to finish and furnish our first two rental cabins which are near completion.  This barrel, which will leave Virginia soon for its trip south,  has the usual mixture of stuff.

Two important items are Westinghouse commercial ceiling fans...the same type of fan that I've used in my home for years.  The current US administration might not want us to have - or to use - ceiling fans of any sort, but we're not going to do without them in the tropics.  

False Bluff is isolated and what electricity we have is provided by solar panels which will support ceiling fans but not A/C.  Each cabin has an almost constant breeze from the Caribbean through really big front windows so those windows plus the fans are all that will be needed.

The fans, by plan and necessity, were the first things to be loaded and I hit a snag right at the start of loading the barrel.  The boxes, taped together, barely fit into the opening but when it came to lifting them plus the barrel I couldn't handle the combined weight.  However, I've got a really nice neighbor who lifted fans and barrel together like he was picking up a tennis ball.

Although the fans were first in they cerainly weren't the only items going.  Other stuff was packed along the sides and across the top of the boxed fans. Finally full to overflowing.  With some shoving, the pillow will 'collapse' enough for us to get the top on and locked.

02 October 2023


Nicaragua has a lot of volcanoes and they're not all dead.  

There are 23 volcanoes in a country about the size of New York state.  Almost without exception the volcanoes are on the western, or Pacific, side of the country.  Of the 23, only two are on the east:  Tambor and Azul.

Tambor, listed as extinct, seems to be near Monkey Point south of False Bluff.

Azul, listed as inactive for about 10 thousand years, is in the coastal plane of the eastern side of Nicaragua...the Caribbean side.  Azul is pretty much engulfed in a dense forest and wasn't even discovered until about 50 years ago by an aerial survey...before any 'casual' use of drones.  

As seen in the photo here, Azul is not too far from False Bluff.  A day trip to Pearl Lagoon is quick and easy - but my guess that actually getting to the site of the volcano from Pearl Lagoon would not be easy.

Here is where the other 21 volcanoes are:

...and a list of all of them:  https://www.volcanodiscovery.com/nicaragua.html

27 September 2023

The unique, hardy and beautiful sea grape


One of the first misconceptions I had to shed was the dream of rampant colorful blossoms at False Bluff...bougainvilla, ylang ylang, myriad hibiscus, lantana, muhly grass.  All these and more are touted, even by universities, as plants that will - if not thrive - at least do well in salty conditions.  There are long lists of plants that are 'salt tolerant' 

And of course there is salt in the water of the Caribbean but also in the air.  Salt that constantly blows over the plants along the sea...blows in on heavy winds or blows in on soft breezes.  Over the years much of the salt that comes with the air off the sea ends up in the soil and just stays.  It can last for years in soil or as in our case last forever...or as long as the wind blows. i suppose that places where the salt leaches out of the soil are places where the salt was the result of an accidental dump or spill and not places that live at the edge a body of salt water.

If you're a gardener you know how quick salt can kill a plant.  If you're not a gardener you can google about it.  So when we began this project I, a gardener, planted and planted...and almost without fail the plants died.  Turns out my salt tolerant plants were not very tolerant at all...perhaps a sign of the times.

But of course there are exceptions and we continue to use these to good effect.  Some we've planted, some were already there, and some are a combination.  The zoysia wasn't there but we had seen how well it does on an island actually in the Caribbean...whereas we just front on it; And what we call the swamp lily which will migrate right to the edge of the sea.

One that was there is known as sea grape, a structurally splendid plant making up for its totally insignificant flower.  It can be grown as either a shrub or a tree depending on how it's pruned.  We don't prune them but instead let the weather do it for us. 

And although its flower is insignificant it really does produce grapes that are pretty tasty:

21 September 2023

Years of traveling the water highways...


...and I've never seen such boats as large as this.  

Still not seen often but more and more as Bluefields and Nicaragua's Caribbean Coast grows.  This is in Bluefields Bay.

15 September 2023

A tree fell across our canal when no one was there...did it make a sound ?

After a few days at False Bluff working with the contractor, outlining what color of paint goes where, unloading and distributing the contents of barrels shipped from Virginia, pinpointing just where the greywater systems would go, walking the beach, planning future landscaping...we wake up and it's time to go back to Bluefields.  For ice cream, if nothing else.

The boat is loaded with people and food just harvested to deliver to family and friends - papaya, coconut, casava.  And not too far down the canal, just past the tree where the spider monkeys hang out (literally), a big tree had fallen across the water blocking our departure.  

I'm not sure how this would have played out in the USA but here problems are solved on site.  The chainsaw was in Bluefields, stored as much as is possible in the tropics away from moisture and salt in the air.  But we have pretty good phone service so my head guy, Jefe, called the staff house and asked for another set of hands, a couple of machetes, and an axe.

The branches were removed with a machete while the tree itself was cut into three pieces and removed from the canal with a rope in about a half hour while we waited in the boat.

07 September 2023

A visitor

I had a small visitor one evening while in the apartment where I stay when I'm in Bluefields rather than at False Bluff.  

Actually it was a very tiny visitor.

Truth be told, I was the visitor.  I'm pretty sure s/he lives there full time.  

01 September 2023


A bit of an identity crisis?  No.  An overdue challenge, not any kind of crisis at all.

More than a decade ago - when we began the adventure recounted in this blog - we named our place False Bluff and this blog followed suit. 

After all, maps of Nicaragua's Caribbean coast say "False Bluff" right where we are...or "Falso Bluff"...so why not.  The name had simplicity going for it and we really needed simplicity at the start.  

Over the years we cleared and planted and built and dug.  What we dug was a canal from a lagoon behind us to provide us access - to our place and to the beach and to the sea.  And we opened the canal to the public and then provided the public with a clear pathway that led, from the dock we built, right out to the beach.  

After digging the canal, travel to this section of False Bluff was open and people didn't have to make the trip by way of the capricious Caribbean.  More people have come and stayed; and many of them rightly call where they are False Bluff...just like it says even on google maps.

However, people being people, we and they are doing different things and our name needs to reflect what we're doing.  So we're thinking, imagining, trying out what will best define us both now and in the future.  

I'm pretty sure that somewhere in whatever name we end up with will be the two words that will forever define us:  False Bluff