24 December 2011

"Die Hard"

     Home less than a week to grey skies, falling weather, freezing temperatures, good wine, and a decent steak.   
     My landlady/attorney/friend said to me, at 5:30 on the morning I left Bluefields, "I'm not going to even say goodbye.   You're just going to Virginia for a visit.  This is your home now."
     But here I am with my dogs and cats and birds and three months of dog hair and dust.   Christmas is tomorrow.   Tonight I'm going to watch the all time, best ever Christmas movie.   "Yippee ki-yay, motherfucker!"

22 December 2011

Our small canal, one year later...

     Take a ride down the canal at False Bluff out into Smokey Lane Lagoon...

20 December 2011

Little papayas, big papayas

     The papaya trees were planted from seed less than a year ago and are already loaded with fruit.   
     The smaller, round papayas are about the size of softballs.   They cling to the green tree trunks like Christmas ornaments and are picked and eaten as soon as they turn gold in color.   The white flowers, that also cling to the trunks of the trees, are very fragrant.

     The other variety of papaya growing at False Bluff is much larger and hangs from the tree trunk until showing streaks of yellow near the bottom (most of them weigh more than a beagle).   The fruit is then picked, the top and bottom sliced off, and multiple shallow cuts made in the rind, top to bottom, so that the ripening fruit can 'bleed' and finish ripening:  after four or five days it's turned almost completely yellow.  Then peeled like a big fat apple, it's cut into bite-sized pieces.   Delicious.............

03 December 2011


     My history with paint has been a litany of white:  linen, celery salt, eggshell, sand dollar, ivory, cotton boll, cream, white dove...   
     There's always a white I haven't used yet.  
     But recently I spent days dipping a brush into a can of paint labeled 'Flamingo' and carefully applying the bright pink color to woodwork.   I may need to go into therapy when I return to Virginia, but right now I'm going to buy another couple of gallons of this stuff.

24 November 2011

The company of dogs is cause for thanksgiving

     There are three dogs at False Bluff, only one of which is there by design;  the other two showed up because somebody told them they could get food.  ND is white with spots (ND stands for Nondescript, which he most certainly is).   The two refugee females, just about as nondescript as ND, are Chinga and Una (it's the eye thing).   They get along better than most siblings and notify us when somebody or something shows up that they don't think should be there, thus earning their food.
The trio

18 November 2011


     The banana trees, planted sometime in late December, 2010, as foot-tall sprouts, are already producing.   The bananas are short and fat with very thin skin which means, of course, they're not grown for commercial production because they sure wouldn't travel well...but oh, boy, they are sweet!

13 November 2011

The house (3)

     After the foundation comes the framework for the first story and the 'floor' on which the second story will sit. Construction is different from what I'm used to.   Each interior corner is a 4" x 4".   There is a lot of diagonal bracing.   Much of the framing is 21" on center rather than 16" on center.   

11 November 2011

Ylang Ylang

     One of many reasons for clearing several acres at False Bluff was to be able to plant things I wanted to live with.  I left all of the coconut trees and planted several hundred more.   I left and pruned selected clusters of sea grapes.  
     And I planted more than a dozen Ylang Ylang trees.   The 'cananga odorata' thrives in lowland tropical areas and was common at one time in this part of Nicaragua.   Two women here, one who grew up in Bluefields and one in Pearl Lagoon, told me that when they were little girls they would pick the tree's star-shaped yellow flowers and soak them in alcohol...and wore the scent that was thus distilled.   We all laughed when I told them that the essential oil of the Ylang Ylang flower is said to be the basis for Channel No. 5 perfume:  they enjoy knowing they'd been so sophisticated so young.
     I've had an Ylang Ylang tree in a pot at home in Virginia for years.   I'm pretty sure it'll never bloom because the tree has a tap root and even in a really large, deep pot there's just so much space for that root;  but I like the plant simply because of the way it looks.   The branches sweep down toward the ground like the skirt on a ballerina and the pointed oval leaves are emerald green.   
     The tree begins blooming young and planted in a place it likes, a young Ylang Ylang can grow as much as five or six feet a season.   When an agricultural technician from a nearby farm saw them he was pleased and surprised because the Ylang Ylang has nearly disappeared from around here.   Propagation can be tricky with fairly low seed germination and almost no success from cuttings.   Recovering from a rough trip across Nicaragua to get to False Bluff, the trees  are babies that so far seem to enjoy having been put into sunny deep soil.

05 November 2011

The house (2)

     Buildings at False Bluff will be constructed of wood.   That's the easy part because the wood for this phase of the project is already at the building site:  cut, stacked, and nearly dry.   And beautiful wood it is, too...reddish-orange with a lovely grain. 
     But even houses built of wood usually sit on block and mortar foundations, so the materials for the foundation and for the concrete slabs (which make up the floors of the rooms and the breezeway on the first story) were taken to False Bluff by boat.   Buying and moving building materials here isn't quite like loading the pickup at Lowe's or Home Depot and driving right to the construction site.   First you go to the block store where you can usually - but not always - also buy rebar and cement and stone and sand (and for floors and foundations you need the black rock, not the red).   Then you hire one of the many public carriers who sit parked along the streets during the day waiting to collect stuff from one place and deliver it to wherever...in this instance to an area near where the boat was docked.   Once delivered by the carrier people, other people pick it up and, in my case, put it on a boat.   These materials were put into a panga rather than onto my pontoon boat by the guy and his crew who were digging the new well and thus heading that way anyhow.   Then the boat travels to False Bluff where the materials are offloaded onto my dock and, finally, carried to the building site.
Bags of materials coming off the blue truck and...
 being stacked, under the crew chief's watchful eye, before being moved into the panga.
The boat load

     I spent a good part of this trip to False Bluff reading a book on my kindle; and the crew shared slices of fresh pineapple with me.

04 November 2011


     Common sense should have told me that dressing for physical labor in a tropical environment would be different than dressing for a vacation, but somehow that concept went right by me the first time I came down to swing an ax or use a shovel.   Simply by accident I discovered how useful scrubs are for working at False Bluff.   I had packed a set because they're light weight and don't take up much suitcase space, particularly with the legs cut off the pants to turn them into shorts.   What I quickly learned is how easy they are to launder and how fast they dry.   Halfway through a sweaty day I can wear the scrubs into the Caribbean and they dry on me before dinner - and while drying they help keep me cool.   After dinner I wash them and about a half hour after the sun comes up the next morning they're ready to wear.   I keep three sets going now.... 

31 October 2011

The house

     During the first phase of the False Bluff project we accomplished four things:  opened the creek so that travel to the property by way of the Caribbean would no longer be necessary;  cleared enough land to be able to move around;  dug a well to provide fresh water;  and built a place to live for those who would maintain and oversee the property in my absence.   
      The second phase would expand on or correct two of the previous things:  provide additional living space and dig a second well because of problems with the first.
     After living at False Bluff during part of the first phase, I changed what I had planned for the expanded housing that was to be built during this phase of the project.   My initial plan had been to add a long low addition to the original structure, with all the rooms facing the Caribbean to the east.   Instead only a breezeway and a windowless storage room attached to the original structure would face east.   The rest of the new construction would go west and up:  the result is L-shaped and has two stories. 
     The first part of this job was, of course, to put in a foundation and pour the slabs that would define the new spaces.  
Foundation for storage room and kitchen 

Slab for breezeway and stairs 

28 October 2011

Roof framework

     With what I hope is the last heavy load, we left Bluefields at 6:00 a.m. to carry out "sticks" for the roof and the last two sheets of Plycem.   Because of the weight the boat trip seemed endless instead of the usual quick travel of the eight miles.   Once again the pontoon boat has proven its worth.

18 October 2011

Report: Plycem and the crocodiles

     Fifty-four sheets of Plycem, delivered to a Bluefields' wharf from Managua.   Plycem is a cementitious product kind of like tile backer board; or imagine a 1/2" thick piece of Hardiplank the size of a sheet of Plywood.  It's used in lots of places, including here, as siding.   Once fixed to a house's framework it gets a smooth seamless coat of mortar and the house ends up looking like typical block construction.  At 1/2 " thick each sheet weighs about 100 pounds.   Because of the weight we knew that there would be more than one trip of the pontoon boat to False Bluff to deliver the stuff to the job site.
     The first load of Plycem, 20 sheets, left Bluefields late in the morning, heading up the creek toward the dock just about the time that much of the water in the creek was heading down toward Smokey Lane Lagoon: low tide.  The three men ferrying the load jumped into the creek to push the boat over a low spot and suddenly there were crocodiles all around their legs.
     I got this story second hand late in the day after the Plycem had been unloaded at False Bluff and everybody was home safe.   So I don't know how big the crocodiles were...just that they were bigger than the baby crocodile that recently shared a morning with me near the dock, and that they were big enough to get grown men moving really fast.  
     A year ago there was only swamp where the open creek now is, with just a trickle of water flowing through the vegetation.   I think the crocodiles are using the easy travel conditions provided by the open creek as much as the people are, so maybe they were heading down the waterway with the tide toward the lagoon; or up the waterway from the lagoon against the tide:  a chance encounter with other travelers.
     Anyhow, it turned out to be an adventure for the guys who were in the water and they escaped with a story that will spread and maybe grow.
     When they got the boat to the dock they recounted their 'near death' experience to a fourth man who was working on a project adjacent to the dock.  I understand this guy took off running...that they didn't see him again the whole time the Plycem was being unloaded or when they left False Bluff.   The best guess was that as fast as he was running he was probably in Kukra by night fall.

13 October 2011

A few more things about Bluefields

     In the 'Bluefields' post, refer to the letters on the Google Earth image for locations....
     Lawyer:   Silvia Fox.   If you need an attorney - for a land purchase, property dispute, residency issue, etc, she's unbeatable:  bi-lingual, smart, empathetic, and tenacious.

     There are a lot of barbershops in the central part of town but I've only found one centrally located 'salon and spa.'
     In a cash-driven society, sometimes changing your currency for the Nicaraguan cordoba can be a challenge but you can get cordobas on this corner from a number of people who might wave a fat handful of cash in your direction as you walk by.   I prefer to deal with the women because even before they begin to pull off cordoba in exchange for your currency they whip out a calculator to show you exactly what's happening.

     There are veterinarians in Bluefields, at least one of whom speaks English.   So far I haven't had to meet one but I have shopped at the veterinary pharmacy where you can get stuff like tick and flea control, vitamins, and wormers.
Between B and C
     I used to stuff my suitcase with clothes.   Now I stuff it mostly with more important things and buy clothes when I come to False Bluff, shopping in Bluefields which is full of thrift stores...some of them even advertise.  This particular store is between B and C.
     If you arrive in or leave from Bluefields by water, most likely you pass through the municipal wharf.  And if you have stuff shipped to Bluefields like pieces of a pontoon boat or a golf cart, the municipal wharf is where it all first touches the city streets.

     This corner is good for three-in-one: lumber, metal fabrication, and woodworking.   The lumber store is on the corner.  Right behind it you can have things like a metal gate or chair or table frame constructed.   Next door to the lumber store is the woodworking shop...french doors, kitchen cabinets, beds, adirondack chairs, and more.  
Madera (lumber)
Mr. Ellis, metal fabrication
Carlos at his woodworking shop

08 October 2011

Crocodile, cocodrilo

     A young visitor near the dock met me for breakfast tea recently.   Glad it wasn't his eight foot long relative seen basking in the sun in nearly the same place.

03 October 2011

The third kind of food

     Since there's nowhere to buy food at False Bluff, going to Bluefields is the best bet for shopping.   The lettered Google Earth image in the "Bluefields" post locates the following:
     Sidewalk markets are everywhere and the municipal market has quantities of produce and meat.   There is also a section of the municipal market where you can sit and have a meal.   Most food is inside, but just outside the far end of the building is a pier at which boats loaded with fresh food arrive frequently from early morning on:  shrimp, fish, oranges, bananas, pineapples, limes, lemons, etc.   The market also sells rice and beans and coconuts (and non-food items like pots and pans and bowls and buckets and charcoal).  
     On the corner just up from the market is the 'fruit lady.'   She offers one of the best deals around, usually made while you wait:  a bowl, with utensil provided, full of chunks of fruit, all wrapped in plastic if you're not going to dig in right away.  Her fruit bowls usually include watermelon, papaya, pineapple, cantaloupe, and banana; but also other fruits in season.  Can't get any fresher. 

     On the second corner up from the market is the 'pink' restaurant.   If it has a name I don't know what it is.  You can eat in or buy at the take-out window. 
     Just around the corner from the 'pink' restaurant is one of a multitude of places that sell pastries;  but this place seems to be the sole source of a delicious, fat, heart-shaped, ginger-flavored cookie that's about the size of my hand.   (That you can also buy miscellaneous pieces of hardware in this little shop is incidental.)
     Across the street from the cookie shop is one of Bluefields' many grocery stores and the only one I've found that lets you do your own shopping.   At most stores you stand at a counter and ask a clerk to fetch each item on your list.   For those of us for whom it is still a challenge to ask in Spanish for 2 pounds of onions, 5 pounds of cheese, and pineapple, not kiwi, Tang, a store where you pluck your own goods off a shelf is a comfort.  (You can also buy Purina dog food there.)
     Though there are restaurants galore, one block stands out because there are so many, starting with the Tip-Top franchise on the corner.  Across the street and a bit up from Tip-Top are two Italian restaurants, one with pretty good pizza to go or eat in.