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19 March 2019

The making of clay building materials - part 1

     The process begins with locally dug clay to which is added from the base from a nearby volcano.  This volcano is right across the road (which happens to be the Pan Am Highway.

     In this case, the clay is dug on site and a truck delivers and dumps the ash near the pile of dried clay being readied for use.

     The clay and ash are mixed, water is added and, in this case, the mixture is shoveled into a mold where the formed tiles made with the mixture will dry for days before being put into the kiln.

     After the drying these and other styles of dried tiles and blocks will be loaded into the kiln and fired.

12 March 2019

Coconut trees, in the making

     Since the project at False Bluff began many years ago, I and others have planted literally hundreds of young palm trees, in many cases just sprouts.  At one time I did a rough count and came up with between 400 and 500 I myself had planted.         
     I've taken some criticism over time for planting the trees too close together and not in straight orderly lines.  Apparently, when you plant the trees close together they don't produce as many coconuts; and planting them in straight lines means you get the proper distance between the trees coming and going.  
     But I planted them for aesthetics:  random, close together, in clumps...any which way.  I prefer the way they look when I try to place them in a more nearly natural manner.
     And they're producing just fine!  

     We're in the process of clearing more land, removing scrub brush; and so the piles and piles and piles of coconuts that mound up are making more and more and more baby trees that we will plant in the ground - randomly.
     There are piles and and boxes and rows-among-the-pineapples of coconuts, all just waiting to go to  their "forever homes."

     If the random, aesthetically planted coconut trees produced more coconuts we'd be covered up.

06 March 2019

The heart of Chanel No. 5

     Three raw ingredients are at the heart of one of the world's most famous perfumes - flowers all.  One of the three is ylang-ylang.  We're really lucky to have a few ylang-ylang trees at False Bluff. And a few is all we have left. 
     Purchased in Catarina on the western side of Nicaragua and carefully brought back to the Caribbean side, we planted nearly a dozen before realizing the tree does not like salt.  
     Most died...but not all.  Catching the scent from the flowers when the tree is in bloom is a wonderful experience.  The bright yellow flowers, shown below on one of our trees, fit comfortably in the palm of my hand.

     Our survivors, about 400 yards downwind from the beach and behind a protective screen of coconut palms, bloom like crazy and are now producing seeds which we hope will germinate.  I'm told that where ylang-ylang still grows naturally seedlings sprout up around the base of the parent trees.
     Ylang-ylang used to grow prolifically in places along back water ways some distance from the salty air that blows off the Caribbean - particularly in Pearl Lagoon, a town north of us; but for some reason finding an ylang-ylang is a rare treat.

27 February 2019

Plastic and Our Safety


     At False Bluff, every day we experience the intrusion of plastic as trash.  It's always washing up on the beach and we're always cleaning it off.  But the plastic problem is more than its impact as trash.
     Below is a link to the summary of study from CIEL, the Center for International Environmental Law.  The link to the entire report is at the end of the summary.  The study confirms what I think many of us have wondered...that plastic, trash or not, presents a danger to all of us, all the time.
     The summary is an easy but unpleasant read, citing early on the need for what it calls a "lifecycle approach," stating that "At every stage of its lifecycle, plastic poses distinct risks to human health"...and then outlines how, when, and where.  A lot of the where is in our bodies.       
     For instance, consideration of the risks at the stage of "Direct Exposure" proceeds from "Extraction & Transport," through "Refining & Manufacture," to "Consumer Use," and finally "Waste Management."


21 February 2019

Ho hum...

     ...another absolutely beautiful sunrise at False Bluff.

     Actually, sitting on the beach or on a porch when this happens is pretty mind-boggling.  

14 February 2019

Two pictures and their story

               From just about the same vantage point, the pier became more than a dream. 
     In the first picture the main pier was being laid out so that construction could start.  Clearing around the area had just begun, and we hadn't even started digging the canal that would eventually bring boats in from Smokey Lane Lagoon rather than from the Caribbean.

     Years later that first pier provides access to a growing amount of boat traffic.

08 February 2019

A variety of lizards, a variety of colors

     Lizards come in different colors like coconuts do...or apples or flowers.
     This one's scaling a young coconut tree and blending in pretty well:

     And another one is between clumps of green where blending in is easier than on a 2 x 4.

03 February 2019

Mother plants in the nursery

     This picture was taken after three palm trees were removed to enlarge our plant nursery at False Bluff.  An entire row of new mother plants was planted the day after the trees came down.
     Most of what is easily visible here are in the two rows of mature plants.  The new additions are barely visible in the far left marked with short pieces of PVC pipe.  There are also new plantings marked in the middle row below.  We use PVC because the termites don't eat it...

28 January 2019

The Plastic Pick-Up

     Alex Weber was only sixteen years old when she began this work.  From ABOUT on her website, she describes how it started:

"In the spring of 2016, my dad (Mike Weber) and I (Alex Weber) were freediving along the central coast of California in the shallow waters adjacent to the Pebble Beach golf course, when we came across a discovery that had never been reported before. Thousands of golf balls blanketed the seafloor, and inhabited nearly every crack and crevice in the underwater and onshore environment. The overabundance of inorganic materials was overwhelming but for a second it did not phase us. As we began diving to the bottom to collect the balls, we realized what perfect freediving training it was and the whole operation felt like a fun game; we were having a blast. But soon, the enormity and vast scale of the pollution set in and it made me feel sick to my stomach." 

     She could be spending her time standing in the middle of a mob with a protest sign.  Instead she's taking action on her own.  Each of the videos on her website is worth watching 'tho much of what you see might make you, too, sick to your stomach:

22 January 2019

17 January 2019

Not a sea turtle: resident tortoise

     We treasure the sea turtles that come out of the Caribbean to nest at False Bluff.  But we treasure our tortoises too.  This one lives in our plant nursery.

     The pictures below puts it in perspective; and there's probably somebody out there who can look at this and tell us whether it's a male or a female.


11 January 2019

Padre Floriano Vargas

     Known to most people as Father Floriano...or Padre Floriano...he is the Vicar General of the new diocese of Bluefields, the person who is second in command of the region's Catholic Church.  The church building itself is impressive and known locally as the cathedral.

     Below is a detail from the front of the building.

     Father Floriano is a member of one of Nicaragua's indigenous Indian tribes and speaks multiple languages, including his native tongue of Miskito, Spanish, Creole, and English.  These languages - and more - are spoken throughout the country's autonomous regions; and his parishioners are as diverse as the languages in the region.
     The photo below is from the news story early in 2018 which announced his promotion to Vicar General.

      I don't know how much of RACCS is covered by the Bluefields' diocese, but it's a lot of territory; and in the absence of the Bishop, Father Floriano is in charge, able and required to do all that the Bishop himself might do.  In an interview after his promotion he said " is a charge not of prize, but of much responsibility."       
     My introduction to Father Floriano was when he officiated at the marriage of a dear friend, and he was dressed for the occasion.  During most of my interactions with him since then he has been in more casual attire.  I asked him to dress up a bit for the two pics below...which he did.

     He's very much involved in the daily lives of his congregation; and during a recent visit I was invited along when he drove a bunch of us out NIC-71 one Saturday.  He seemed to enjoy the trip and the picnic just as much as the rest of us did.

05 January 2019

Some orchids are terrestrial

     This lovely orchid is one which Jacinta introduced to False Bluff.  It likes where it is in very moist ground and is expanding into a large clump.  Shown here, its flowers are coming one after another...with a sweet scent that's strong enough to smell from several feet away.  
     The flower is a subtle beauty...

     ...with a lovely texture.

30 December 2018

Salt tolerant oleander

     One of the most disappointing things I learned after starting this project was that most of the blooming flowers I had associated with living at the beach don't grow anywhere near salt water, hibiscus and bougainvillea in particular.  I had envisioned cottages close by the Caribbean surrounded by brilliantly colored flowers.
     There are few bloomers that can tolerate the salt in that lovely Caribbean breeze.  Oleander turned out to be one of them.  A big problem was that I couldn't find either oleander plants or cuttings for sale on either side of Nicaragua.
     However, we finally managed to obtain and root a pale yellow which has been growing in our nursery for a couple of years now.  And also a pink, shown below, which is thriving. 

     As for the pink oleander, the buds are almost as pretty as the blossom itself.

     The oleander's color palette is limited though some gardeners are working on changing that, developing both brighter colors and double flowering plants.  We hope to eventually add some of the newer varieties.  

25 December 2018

How sweet it is

     When I'm not at False Bluff I'm most often taking care of business in Bluefields, a port city eight miles away.  On one of my walks through town I passed a table loaded with these packages.  I was half a block away when what I thought I had seen stopped me in my tracks and sent me back for another look.  When I asked the sidewalk vendor (of whom there are many in town) what the stuff was, packaged four to a plastic bag, he replied "dulce" which confirmed what I thought it was:  pure cane sugar.

     Over the next couple of days I ended up buying much of his stock, planning to bring some back to Virginia and giving some to friends in Bluefields....most of whom told me they hadn't seen this stuff sold locally in years.  In preparation for returning to the states, I wrapped the already packaged blocks of sugar again, taping up each four-block package as shown here.   Made it through customs at the Bluefields airport heading to Managua: no questions, no problem.  Made it through customs at the Managua airport heading to Miami: no questions, no problem.  Panic and supervisors at customs at the Miami airport heading to Virginia but all those concerned finally agreed that pure cane sugar wasn't going to cause a problem.

     Unwrapped, this is what the blocks of organic pure cane sugar look like.  Much of this is for sale in the states as one pound cones instead of the one pound blocks I brought back.  Here in the states we call it cane sugar...but it's got more than a dozen other names - depending on whether you're in Australia or in Laos or India or Panama.  In Nicaragua it's known as "tapa de dulce."  And dulce it is

     I brought eight pounds back to Virginia; and after unwrapping them from their street-vendor-plastic packaging, I individually re-wrapped four one pound blocks in wax paper and then in tissue paper as gifts to people who will use the stuff wisely.  Or not.

22 December 2018

This is how bananas are made

     Baby bananas are begin above the flower.  The flower slowly disappears as the bananas get bigger and closer to ripeness.

16 December 2018


     ...the previous post shows a footbridge over the river that runs beside a small village we visited recently.  Although there are a few trucks and some dirt bikes, most of those who live here travel by foot or on horseback (or muleback).  

12 December 2018

A different sort of bridge

     On a recent trip down NIC-71, we visited a small riverside village off to the side.  Out first plan was to picnic and swim but recent heavy rains made that an uncomfortable prospect.  So we wandered a bit through the section of the small community that was closest to the river and actually made it across the river...although not by swimming.
     We got to the other side by walking across this bridge - a footbridge for those with two or four feet.

07 December 2018

Coconuts are not created equal

     Some are green...

     ...and some are yellow.

     Under their colored outer coat, they are all brown and hairy.  I have been told that the different varieties of coconuts are good for different things, but not much of what I've been told has sunk in.

01 December 2018

A new roof

     Although this type of roof is supposed to last for up to fifteen years, early on we had some wind damage which shortened its lifespan.  And although we had patched from time to time, we were losing the fight.  
     So in June we just put a new one on.  From the outside there's very little visible difference.  From the inside it's more obvious and for the first few weeks after the new roof was put on the scent of the fresh leaf was like new mown hay...a treat we could smell before we pulled up at the pier.