26 December 2015

Bearing already

     We've planted hundreds of coconut trees over the years and are still finding places for more.  Now the trees we've been planting over these years - are beginning to bear. 
     This is what the trees looked like about a year after they were planted (looking along the walkway that leads from the dock, heading toward the house with the Caribbean to the right).

     Here are the same trees in 2013.

     And in 2015 here's what they look like heading down the walkway toward the dock, away from the house...

     Among the earliest planted along the walkway is this one, the first to bear.

     Here's a close up of a machete-shaped (but green) part of the tree that will flower and then produce those huge seeds we know as coconuts.

     (Visually, coconut trees are integral to Caribbean beach life. Growing, bearing coconut trees however are a mixed blessing as I've written in earlier posts. Picking up and moving just the fruit of thousands of coconut trees is a huge chore...and with more trees being planted, constantly, the chore will grow.  But we may have solved the problem of what to do with the coconuts once we collect them from our big front yard.)

16 December 2015

The way a coconut tree grows

     Each new frond of a coconut tree unfurls upward from the center of the tree in a tightly wrapped spear shape...

     And then opens into the shape recognized all over the world.

     Here are a few more of the young coconut trees that we've planted in the last few years.

09 December 2015


      I've met some incredible people in Nicaragua and one of them is Socorro Woods who is an academic, a feminist, and a friend.

Socorro Woods: Mujer, negra y feminista
     Educated all over the world, among other degrees she holds are a degree in History and Native Administration, and a Masters in Interdisciplinary Studies from York University in Canada. (I can't recall what degree she earned at a Czechoslovakia university she attended...sorry, Socorro.)
     Socorro published her first book in 2005. "I've Never Shared This With Anybody" is a study of Creole women's experiences of racial and sexual discrimination and of their need for self-recovery. It's a compelling read.
     While I was in Nicaragua recently Socorro disappeared from Bluefields for a couple of weeks - she went to New York where she'd been invited to speak before the United Nations.

     With the assistance of Nadine Jubb, she prepared and presented a paper entitled "Guardians of Autonomy and Human Rights: the Roles Played and Challenges Faced by NGOs and Civil Society in Promoting Autonomy in the Caribbean Autonomous Regions of Nicaragua."  
     Her paper was delivered to an International Research Seminar organized by the Permanent Mission of the Kingdom of Morocco to the United Nations about non-governmental organizations in autonomous regions. Socorro's lived most of her life in one of Nicaragua's two autonomous regions and knows well how autonomy works - or doesn't work.

02 December 2015

Roof repair

     On the only dry and sunny day in two weeks, the roof got fixed.
     Not too long after our roof was first put on we had some really heavy winds and, since these blew through before we'd put the netting on, they flipped parts of the new roof around and up.....  The net went on after the damage was done, kind of like many other things in life (see January 8, 2014 post). 
     Not too long after that we noticed some leaks had developed along the peak. The netting was preventing additional wind damage but wasn't fixing the damage that had already been done. According to local lore the roofing material we use has to be cut when the moon is right - weather conditions don't matter much, just the phase of the moon. 
     The new roof fronds are unloaded in a light mist, an intermission in a day of steady rain (that white pole sticking up in the background is the gate across our canal).

     The roofing material is piled up until the next morning - beside a bench with a bag full of rope that'll be used to help keep the guys who'll work on the roof safe...and to get the stuff on top of the house.

     Bright and early the next day - and for once in weeks the day actually turned out to be bright - two guys went up and moved the net aside in order to get at the area that needed work. 

     Once that was done, the ground man began feeding the fronds up a ladder, one piece at a time; and the new roofing, the palm fronds that were going to stop our leaks, was put in place along the peak and then netting was dragged back into position and tied down.

     I've removed old, and installed new, shingles on a couple of roofs...and the clean up turned out to be worse than the actual roof work - which is metronomically soothing. But roofing with palm fronds makes clean up quick and easy:  rake and burn and we're in a part of the world where burning piles of leaves can still be done.

30 November 2015

Parrots by the hundred

     I need a new camera.     
     My point and shoot just couldn't handle pictures of the parrots that came out to feed the first few weeks of the rainy season: they were too far away and too active.
     They came by the noisy hundreds in all their unbelievable colors, wheeling around the house. If they'd let me get closer I might have been able to have gotten a couple of decent shots - but they weren't having any of that regardless of how careful and quiet and slow I crept toward them.
     Here are a couple of the really bad pictures I did manage to get of part of the flock that landed, screaming, on a couple of trees right outside my bedroom window. Let me tell you, waking up to twenty-five or so parrots having what sounds like an argument is quite an experience.

     And here's what they came to feed on. We've got lots of the trees that make these green cherry-like fruits.  This particular tree is just in front of the house.

     I'm told the parrots feed heavily for a short time early in the rainy season and then disappear into the forest to eat bugs until the next rainy season rolls around. I didn't even know we had them.

24 November 2015


     He was a street dog, foraging for food and running the neighborhood. He was shy and nobody could put a hand on him. He was sick, and getting sicker.
     When he collapsed in a nearby alley we collected him on an old sheet because he could no longer stand, a sure death sentence for a forager. He was emaciated and had no hair left; and he had open, oozing sores over his entire body. When we got to the vet's office people moved out of the way, more in disgust than pity; and the vet said he's very anemic and will probably die soon...
     I said I'd try, and I did. Later, when he was strong enough to be neutered the vet guessed his age at five.
     Ten years on and he'd still not quite got the hang of civilization. He really liked going for walks, although we know he missed running the neighborhood.  
     He really liked the company of the cats, far more than that of the other dog. He really liked dependable meals. He really liked fresh water, and soft beds that he could position to his liking. He really liked just being near his people. 
     And he loved being brushed although his skin, long-healed, was always tender.
     Last night he was buried in the garden next to a hydrangea and we hated leaving him in the cold.
     He's buried in our hearts forever.

22 November 2015

Friends, redux

     I've done a couple of recent posts about a favorite pair of shoes that were old when I bought them. Their rebirth in Bluefields was a surprising treat: a treat that they could be reborn and a treat to watch people use skills seemingly lost in Virginia and maybe in other parts of the U.S. as well.
     I showed up at Los Hermanos #2 in time for an appointment I'd made the day before and was given a seat so I could wait rather than wander around town barefoot with my crutches. The shoes were given to an apprentice who sat at one side of the shop's front door under the watchful eye of, apparently, one of the hermanos, who sat at the other.  
     Then surgery began with cleaning the soles of the shoes themselves and cutting new soles to general size and shape from rolls of sole material.

     Both the newly cut sole material and the bottom of the old shoes were roughed up really good with sandpaper...

     and a viscous glue was applied to the entire surface of each of the two pieces which were then pressed together by hand, followed by a few taps with a hammer.

     The apprentice handed each shoe, with freshly glued new piece of sole material, to the hermano, who very carefully cut away the excess, fitting the new to the old. 

     Each shoe was then returned to the apprentice who as carefully cut a channel in which a heavy waxed thread would - in addition to the glue - bind the old top to the new bottom...even around that awkward little toe indentation which, until I found Los Hermanos, made it seem as though I was finally going to lose these old friends.

     The final phase of this resurrection was to sew the pieces together, by hand, one stitch at a time.

     When the job was done I paid the boss, gave both guys my sincere thanks.....and walked out in my new shoes.

16 November 2015


     Following a year of pain the likes of which I can't begin to describe...these things are ready for the trash bin only a month after surgery thanks to Dr. G and his posse.

12 November 2015

Good friends, 2

     Previously I lamented my inability to find replacement soles for a pair of well-loved and comfortable shoes, pointing out that there are shoe repair places all over Bluefields but none with these really odd-shaped soles.
     But among the many shoe repair places is "Zapateria Los Hermanos." Run in a very professional manner it turned out these brothers have two locations. 
     #1 is open air.....

#2 is not...

     I went with Zapateria Los Hermanos #2 because among their selection were rolls of "sole" material of different thicknesses from which odd-sized replacement soles could be cut and custom fitted to my shoes...
which was just what I needed.

(#2 includes drive up service which I didn't need)

     I made an appointment for "good friends redux."

06 November 2015

The scent of the flower

     When my dear friend Sylvia Fox was growing up in Pearl Lagoon there were Ylang-ylang trees growing everywhere.  Sylvia grew up poor, as many in Nicaragua did - and still do - but that didn't mean there weren't special things available.
     Sylvia's shown here at the edge of Volcan Masaya on our trip to Catarina, the small town where the Ylang-ylang trees that are now blooming at False Bluff came from some years ago (the smell in the air at the edge of the volcano is a far cry from that at False Bluff).

     The scent of the Ylang-ylang tree is said by many to be the basis for Chanel #5 and after having the Ylang-ylang bloom at False Bluff I can believe it. Sylvia said that as children she and her sisters would put Ylang-ylang flowers into alcohol...which turned out to be sort of a way of extracting the essential oil.
     On Sundays or on other special occasions these girls would perfume themselves with the Ylang-ylang scented, fast-evaporating alcohol.  Sylvia and I have laughed about this over the years, the fact that these young women along Nicaragua's Caribbean coast were using Chanel #5 decades ago...without even knowing it.
     For Sylvia's birthday this year one of my gifts to her was some Ylang-ylang scented alcohol in which I had steeped a couple of weeks' worth of flowers (and it really does smell like Chanel #5 whether that story is true or not).


30 October 2015

Ylang-ylang in bloom

       The 'odorata' part of the botanical name for the ylang-ylang tree is wonderfully true. Some years ago we planted several small 'cananga odorata' trees at False Bluff. Three survived and have matured enough to bloom; and the scent is more than I expected - and I expected a lot.
     Thirty or so years ago there were a lot of ylang-ylang trees in RAAS, most a bit inland from our seaside location.  An agricultural agent saw our trees before we planted them and recognized them immediately.  He was both pleased and surprised to see them saying that most of the old trees are gone, had died out and not been replaced; and that he'd actually only seen one live one since he'd been working for the government.
     The ylang-ylang tree (ylang-ylang is pronounced ee-LANG-ee-LANG) is fast growing and in ideal conditions can reach a height of forty feet pretty quickly. Our conditions are ideal with one exception: salt spray from the sea.  We're on the Caribbean coast and that environment's taken its toll on more than the ylang-ylang trees. 
     The three trees that are blooming were purposefully protected when we planted other trees and shrubs to take the brunt of the salt spray. However, these protecting plants have pretty much hit their height limits and thus, so too, have our ylang-ylang trees - because when new ylang-ylang growth pokes above the plant screen the salt spray kills it pretty quick. 
     But I'm OK with that because if our trees grew the way they were supposed to, the blooms would be forty feet above the ground and thus out of my reach.  I wouldn't be able to pick the blossoms and the scent, the odorata, would go right over my head - like so many other things do.
     Here are the flowers on the tree...

     and in the hand!

25 October 2015

Good friends.........

     When I bought these at a thrift store four or five years ago I had no idea how old they were - but they were in pretty good shape, I liked their look, and the price was right. Turned out they're very comfortable and have a hell of an arch support.
     They were part of Nike's 'All Conditions Gear' line and were at some point discontinued, which is a shame because most of Nike's sandals since then look like bad orthopedic shoes. 
     During our second trip to False Bluff together the tops and bottoms began to part ways and so I had a sidewalk shoe repair guy in Bluefields simply sew them back together and on we went - on the beach, on the boats, on the dirt roads, on the airplanes, on the sidewalks....in Nicaragua and then back in Virginia.
     During our latest trip to False Bluff their condition deteriorated pretty dramatically and I had to come to terms with the fact that I was going to lose them:  the soles were worn through in several places.  Granted, what was left was still securely attached to the upper part of the shoe because of the previous year's sew job...but this was a more serious situation and heavy waxed thread just wasn't going to fix the problem.
     There are sidewalk shoe repair places all over Bluefields. The difficulty was finding the place that had the sole I was looking for, or a sole that was close enough to be useful...that little indentation at the toe made the search impossible.  Hell, I'd never seen this style of sandal in the United States before the thrift store outing, and it finally dawned on me that finding a sidewalk street repair guy in Bluefields who had this replacement sole just wasn't going to happen.  
     I hadn't gotten the shovel out of the tool room but mentally I was reviewing appropriate music.

     Adios old friends!

23 October 2015

BICU to house volunteers

     Bluefields Indian and Caribbean University (BICU) has volunteers from all over the world come to teach and interact with students and faculty.  Finding  housing for them has sometimes been problematic.  And so BICU is constructing a 'hotel' for its volunteers.
     The hotel wasn't finished when this picture was taken (you can tell the project's not done because it's still closed off behind what serves as construction fencing in Bluefields). 
     The BICU volunteer hotel is closer to the center of town than the main campus and thus closer to restaurants, the bay, the new 'culture center,'  markets, and the many street festivals, all of which will be fun for anyone who gets to stay here.
     The architecture of the new building mirrors that of the buildings at the main campus, one of which is shown below.  

16 October 2015


       I've planted more than 500 coconut trees at False Bluff...and then I've replanted a lot of those...
     Sometimes there's an 'animal' that digs a hole right next to a newly planted tree. The bug burrows down and begins to eat the inside of the coconut, the part that's transitioning from food to tree. 
     At the time of planting a young coconut tree the plant is almost as much coconut (which is just a big seed) as it is green fronds; so when something attacks the seed, out of which only two or three new roots extend, death of the whole plant follows pretty quickly. As a result of this bug dining on the young coconut, on the seed, the new sprout dries up and dies. 
   We have acres of 'yard' planted to these trees and wandering around looking at the base of each tree for the tell-tale hole, the sign of invasion, just isn't practical.  There are ways to kill the bug but usually by the time we notice the damage and are ready to treat the problem, it's too late to save the tree.  The only sensible option is to yank the young tree out of the ground and plant another in its place. Rather than nurse an ailing tree, this is our course of action because we have NO shortage of baby trees. 
     Although we usually literally do yank the tree out of the ground, we cut this one to show just what the bug does.

09 October 2015

It's zoysia, not bermuda

     Until the last few years, this grass didn't grow at False Bluff.  It grows all over Big Corn Island and can be found in a few places in Bluefields...which is where I got what's growing at False Bluff now (http://falsebluff.blogspot.com/2013/05/bermuda-grassmaybe.html).
     I was told at some time in the past that this is a 'bermuda' grass and I accepted that with no question until fairly recently when I went online looking for the botanical name of the grass and learned it's actually a form of 'no mow zoysia.'
     Whatever!  It's one of my favorite coastal plants: it's drought resistant, loves the sun, doesn't impede the view of the sea....and withstands salt spray.  These are huge considerations on this section of Nicaragua's Caribbean Coast.
     As mentioned in the blog post in the above parens, after rescuing some from a sidewalk in Bluefields I began to plant really tiny divots at the base of coconut trees, partially because planting them there would provide the newly grass some protection from wind but also from people walking on it before it got well established.
     Turned out the stuff has a real affinity for coconut trees - which I should have guessed from seeing how it grows around coconut trees on Big Island.
     And maybe my very small divots, smaller than the palm of my hand, could qualify as the 'plugs' that are recommended as the best way to plant zoysia.
     Who cares? It's spread, and continues to spread, beautifully and in otherworldly ways, covering bare ground, forcing out undesirable growth, cutting down on the necessity to chop/cut, and providing an endless supply of even more divots to plant at the base of even more trees.
     In a relatively short time most of our cleared land will be well covered with the stuff - which was my original hope - and we'll have a soil and sand-clutching carpet that's pleasant to the eye and easy on the feet.

     I confess, however, that once all the bare sand's covered I'll  miss seeing the way the stuff spreads.