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

25 July 2023


Bluefields sidewalk vendors. If your grocery store tells you the avocados they're selling are fresh .. and they don't look like this .. they're not fresh.

18 July 2023

Sugar Mango

 Famous for its extra sweet flavor, the sugar mango is found most often on one of Nicaragua's Corn Islands. 

Both the tree and the fruit of the sugar mango are much smaller than the better known mango that grows 'wild' in the Bluefields area...wild as in drop a seed and a mango tree might grow where the seed hits.

Harvesting fruit from an unpruned 'regular' mango tree is difficult. The trees get really big so you're often able to get the fruit from the top of the tree only when the fruit hits the ground.

Someone has saved us seeds from the sugar mango in the photo...a sugar mango in Bluefields...and we will start trees for False Bluff. The sugar mango tree is smaller and thus easier to control with pruning. It naturally has a beautiful shape and not only gives delicious fruit but is a lovely landscape plant.

11 July 2023

Barrels Were Waiting

The barrels arrived first, just a few days before my flight.  Perfect timing.  After settling in the barrels were opened up.  Gifts were unpacked and given.  Town items were set aside to be stored in Bluefields.  Everything else was packed back up to be boated out to False Bluff to be used on the farm and cabin builds.

Once empty, the barrels will be plumbed for the grey water system.


27 June 2023

Green Season and Green Mangos

 It's always good to be back in Nicaragua.  Trips during winter are always nice to escape the heat, but the foliage during the green season is a special sort of vibrant green that is hard to match.

The mangos are extra tasty also.

Not much longer until they are ripe enough to be picked!

09 June 2023

Nicaragua, land of water

Central America consists of seven countries. Nicaragua has the greatest land mass of these seven even though the country is only a bit larger than New York State.  (Mexico doesn't count here since it's not part of Central America)

Like most of the continent, the western and eastern boundaries of Nicaragua end at water:  the Pacific to the west, the Caribbean to the east.  The Pacific coast is lovely and the surfing is world class.  In fact Nicaragua hosts international surfing competitions.

And what is there to say in praise of the Caribbean coast most anywhere that hasn't already been said?  It's the Caribbean and people have been praising the Caribbean for good reason for eons. 

Here the sun is rising on part of our front yard at False Bluff.  We are on the Caribbean coast just 8 miles by water from Bluefields.

Nicaragua's interior has even more water.  It has lakes and rivers and lagoons.  Of its lakes, it has fourteen volcano crater lakes...purportedly not only the most crater lakes anywhere else in Central America but also the most crater lakes in any country in the world.  Very few of Nicaragua's volcanos are active.

Of its many lakes, one - Lake Nicaragua - is not only the country's largest but also the largest lake in Central America.  It takes up 3,191 square miles of Nicaragua's 50,338 square miles.  Although this lake is on the west edge of the country it drains into the Caribbean rather than the Pacific.  And giving credibility to studies that claim that Lake Nicaragua used to be a large bay that nature closed at one time is the fact that, although it is a fresh water lake, it hosts about 40 varieties of saltwater marine life that have been trapped in the lake from the time it was a bay and open to the salty Pacific ocean.  

One of the many forms of marine life that's adapted to the lake's fresh water is the bull shark which is probably the meanest shark ever.  It's probably still angry at being relegated to a lake, albeit a big lake, after having been free to roam the world.

For most of its history the southern autonomous region of Nicaragua was landlocked.  You could fly to Bluefields, capital of the region or get there by boat.  If you had lots of time you could walk.  Once there, most people used pangas as taxis to travel the inland waterways between communities.  These waterways create an easily navigable maze of rivers and lagoons that weave in the space between the Caribbean shore and that of the mainland.  

Even now to get to False Bluff our choices are to travel by way of the Caribbean...something we avoid for lots of reasons; or take our boat through Smokey Lane Lagoon and then up our private canal almost to the beach.

   Note: A few years ago the last leg of a highway opened a roadway between Bluefields and Managua which is changing lots of things.

02 June 2023

How we will utilize the empty barrels we use to ship stuff

I ended a recent post stating that I would describe in a future post what we were going to do with some of the heavy duty plastic shipping barrels we have accumulated over the years.  This is the future post but I'm not going do the describing after all.  The video below can do that much better than I can.  

False Bluff sits on the very edge of one side of Nicaragua.  Anything east of us is an island.  We are located on a 26 mile stretch of Caribbean beach and except for the communities at each end of this stretch of beach our only 'neighbors,' often hours of walking away, are a small number of subsistence farmers.  

There's no infrastructure to speak of except the fairly recent addition of electric lines running behind us carrying electricity to Bluefields.  What we thought would be a tremendous boon to our lives turned out not to be any kind of boon at all...except to the view and whether that's a benefit is questionable.  Our first effort at 'official' electricity failed in less than 2 years because the salt in those lovely Caribbean breezes ate our transformer.  

What the barrels will solve deals with plumbing, not electricity.  We now have solar systems to take care of electricity and we can wash the salt off of solar panels.  The guy who actually shows how he uses the same kind of barrels at his off grid cabin tells that story here:

Note: The man who did the video posted an update some years later describing how the installation in the video is doing now...and he had nothing but praise.  The circumstances under which we will be using this system are very similar to his and we expect the same results.  

26 May 2023

From here to there...

The last few weeks have been interesting and busy in a curious way.  I ordered three 55-gallon plastic barrels from the person I deal with who ships mostly houseware from places along the east coast of the United States to the east coast of Nicaragua. 

The area for which he provides this service is a bit more limited than the description above and so to be a more specific his business route includes from Miami to somewhere in New York state in the US to the southern autonomous region on Nicaragua's Caribbean coast.  A lot of territory for a single person.

I placed an order with him for the barrels, two of which I would fill in the short amount of time his schedule provides for turnaround.  I had accumulated a big pile of stuff both new and old.  And so in anticipation of the arrival of the empties, I began to divide my collection into two smaller piles - anticipating by guesstimate what would fit in barrel one and what would fit in barrel two.  Or at least what i thought would fit in each of these barrels before they even got delivered to my house based on my recollection of previous barrel fills.

Then each item had to be secured if not already secured - for instance wrapping and taping if loose and just taping if boxed or otherwise packaged...and labeled per barrel.  

Then each item for each barrel was photographed and fit into a two column list which contained the item's description and use in one column with the photo in the other.  A separate list for each barrel.

I made two of copies of each list.  One copy goes in the barrel, right on top of what's packed...for customs; and I keep the second copy.  This is a system that's worked well for me in the past and I wasn't about to change that.  If it ain't broke etc...

The man I deal with travels most of the way up the east coast dropping off empty barrels along the way.  Then he turns around and picks up full barrels on his return to Florida.  

I've never gotten the details about how it all works because his schedule is so tight there's never been time to discuss the process; but everything he collects on his south bound trip (mostly, but not all, barrels) is loaded on a ship for the trip to Nicaragua's east coast city of Bluefields which is on a bay.  

He's got a lot of experience at this and adds careful scheduling and a huge amount of hard work to make the process seem easy to his customers.

This time in anticipation of his usual quick return to pick up the empties, I asked for family help to actually pack the barrels.  There was a lot of stuff waiting to go and some of it was heavy and awkward.  Actually I knew there was more stuff than two barrels would accomodate but probably not enough for three.  And so the curating was not only which items went into which of the two barrels I was sending...but which items would go into a barrel at all.  

The help I had solicited - and I - got the packing done quicker than I thought we'd manage to do; but we didn't seal the barrels.  Actually we couldn't seal the barrels.  I decided to count on the expert for that; and when he arrived to pick them up he sealed them quickly and easily without having to remove anything.  Surprised the hell out of me but that's why he's an expert.  

Any empty spaces in the barrels are filled with used paperback books.  One of the buildings under construction at False Bluff is simply a small reading and game room for those who tire of the beach or the sea.  Three walls of the building will be lined with shelves full of books.  There will also be reading chairs and one or two small tables for board games.  One of the things that I managed to get into one of these recently departed barrels is an old chinese checkers game, with marbles.  A set of checkers went down a couple of years ago.

The barrels left here a week or so ago at about 10pm, heading for Florida, a boat, and then Bluefields.  They - and I - should get there at about the same time.

Note:  When emptied, some of the barrels will have another life which I will describe another time.


19 May 2023

How to grow coconut trees

Learning how to grow coconut trees was a very important lesson for us because of our commitment to replacing the scrub brush we were removing with something as good as or better.  The very hardy brush we took out is nearly inpenetrable without a machete to clear a path; and it blocked much of the breezes off, and the view of, the sea.

Our main landscape ingredients at False Bluff continue to be palm trees, sea grapes, swamp lilies, and zoysia grass.  We've written about all of these things a lot here.  Breeze, view, a comfortable walk, and flowers everywhere are now a part of the experience.  Besides, the salt in those lovely breezes off the Caribbean kills most everything else.

So far we've planted hundreds - if not thousands - of coconut palms and the planting continues.  When we began planting baby coconut trees we bought them in Bluefields and boated them to False Bluff.  Little did we know how simple it would turn out to be to grow our own.  Waiting for the seed to sprout is the hardest part.  

Here's what's involved in the process:  

  • Wait until a ripe coconut falls to the ground - but be sure you're not under the tree when that happens.
  • Pick the coconut up off the ground and carry it to another piece of ground of your choice.
  • Put the coconut down in this spot you've selected.  Place it either at random or in a line as shown below.  Over the years we've gone all out in the effort to grow lots of baby coconut trees and "orderly" has proven to be our best solution.
  • Wait until the coconut sprouts.  It's just a seed after all.  Waiting is the hard part.  You can tell when the coconut has sprouted when it looks like what's shown in the second photo.  Truthfully you can tell as soon as the leaf appears but we've found that waiting until the sprout is about four feet tall is a better indication the young plant will survive.
  • Pick the sprouted coconut up off the ground.  Just kidding.  Actually you can't just pick it up because at this point it's put down roots - so you have to dig  to get the baby tree to release its hold on the earth.
  • Using the sprouted part as a handle, carry the now-a-tree coconut to another piece of ground...again, a place of your choice.  This time choose a spot where you want it to continue growing for a long long time so it can make more coconuts and so it can keep this process going.  Plant it either by itself or as part of a clump...in which you'll need more than one baby tree.  I'm partial to clumps of coconut trees myself.  They're lovely to look at and create really nice hammock homes.
Since the coconut has stiff roots sticking out of the bottom you can't just drop it like you did before it had roots.  So dig a hole deep enough to bury the roots and a bit more so that most of the seed is also buried.  

Once the coconut is secure in the hole, its new home, fill the hole around the seed with the sandy dirt which is prevalent where most coconuts grow...and simply walk away.  

Nature will take care of the rest of the process almost every time.

PS...The sprouted coconut shown immediately above is not planted deep enough; but most of the coconuts in the first photo are now trees that are producing their own coconuts.

12 May 2023

Not quite rotisserie chicken

You might think relaxing on a Caribbean beach...or in Bluefields...wouldn't work up an appetite.  Not so.  If you're in Bluefields there are several places where chicken is grilled if that might be your choice for taking care of the hunger.  

As far as I can tell, all of these place are open air - as though you were grilling outdoors at home.  These places and this type of cooking are pretty new to Bluefields and but several of the outdoor grills look like they'll last.   

The one shown below happens to be in the center of the business district.  It's right across the street from city hall and next to another street that abuts the city's central park....all in all a busy intersection with a lot of foot traffic.  

The street beside the grill is the usual venue of street fairs so there are frequent crowds even when the government work week is over.

If you like grilled chicken, this is good stuff.  It's all take away and there are no sides offered when I was last in Bluefields - but that might have changed.  However, there are plenty of nearby places to at least find a drink; and, with the park next door, lots of places to sit.

05 May 2023

Well it's sugar...but I've got no idea how it identifies. Life is so tricky these days.....

Most of the world's sugar is made from sugar cane...specifically from the juices that are in the cane itself.  We don't grow a lot of sugar cane but we have clumps here and there at False Bluff for casual use...for instance, as a snack.  Also a clump of sugar cane makes for an interesting landscape accent.

A piece of cane is cut and then peeled and chewed. The stuff is very fibrous so the cut piece of cane is chewed to release the juice...and it is its own handle.

Some years ago we built a rudimentary press for extracting the juice.  Reducing small quantities provides a really nice syrup.  (A photo of our press is below.)

Reducing large quantities of sugar cane gives the world sugar.  All kinds of sugar including:  turbinado, muscovado, panela, jaggery, and that white stuff you buy at places like Walmart or even Whole Foods (unless you're in San Francisco).  

Regardless of the name of the sugar and regardless of the processing method it's all sucrose - some types more pure than others.  Although it all comes from some degree of reduction, the processing involved in whatever reduction technique is used will determine the name of the type of sugar you end up with.  (Reduction is all about removing the liquid from the juice.)

There's a spectrum - like making white bread in which the flour is bleached, then processed to remove all the good things that nature gave it...and after all this some vitamin and minerals are added to the bread to give it 'natural goodness.'  It's still bread.  Sort of.

During the harvest season I buy molded 'bricks' of locally made sugar to take back to Virginia.  I'm pretty careful about wrapping it before I pack it, usually using a waxy paper and lots of tape.  The stuff makes wonderful gifts...partly because it's unusual but mostly because it's delicious.  Some of the gifts have been used in baking, mostly cookies; but some have simply disappeared a pinch-sized bite at a time.  The stuff seems to last until it's used or consumed - as long as it's kept dry.  

Planting sugar cane could hardly be easier the way we do it.  I'm sure the planting is much more complicated when hundreds of acres is involved.  Canes are cut...removed from the roots by slicing near or at the ground.  The leaves are stripped off and then the canes are cut again...into pieces about 18 inches long.  A shallow trench is dug, the cane pieces are dropped into the trench and then covered.  New canes, looking like stalks of grass, appear in a couple of weeks...and then it grows until it's harvested and the process begins again.

This is our very simple - almost primitive - but very efficient cane press in action. 

In Bluefields some local farmers use all or some of their sugar cane harvest to...make sugar...in bricks or lumps the same size and general shape as bricks as I mentioned above. But I still don't know the official name of the kind of sugar they make, only that it's very good.  People with much more sugar cane than we have press their harvest in some manner probably more sophisticated than ours.  

The juice is then boiled until it has become a thick syrup which will solidify after it's removed from the fire.  This syrup is poured into molds of some sort...the molds in my area producing brick-shaped blocks of pure raw organic cane sugar.  The color of the sugar bricks varies depending on who's making them.  I've brought home both dark and light colored sugar and can't taste much difference:

People who can't buy this sugar in Bluefields can buy something like it online.  In fact an eight ounce cone-shaped product, described as panela (one of the types listed here), can be purchased for just a bit more than $9.  

The bricks I buy at sidewalk markets in Bluefields weigh about a pound each and sell for $2.

What's left of the sugar canes themselves after harvest is called bagasse and can be used for all sorts of other things including fuel for power production - like running a generator; or for making paper and cardboard.  But the part of sugar cane most people are familiar with is the juice that's processed in lots of ways to produce many types of sugar.

29 April 2023

A craftsman family

More than a decade ago I met Mr Julio...Julio Lopez.  And then I met one of his sons who has followed in his father's 'footsteps' tho the work the family does is done by hand, not by foot.  Now there is a third generation, a grandson, who is creating treasures like the two previous generations.

Each of these three men in Mr Julio's family is a craftsman, a word that is defined as "...a person who is skilled in a particular craft."  Mr Julio and his son and his grandson are skilled in the craft of creating lovely and often useful things from wood...quite often 'found' wood.  

In Virginia when rights of way are cleared...for instance along a power line...the wood that is removed is most often oak or pine.  On Nicaragua's east side the wood cleared along a power line is often teak or mahogany...or even rosewood.

When I am in Nicaragua, Bluefields specifically, I always visit with someone in the Lopez family and I almost always return to Virginia wih a new treasure...a walking stick, a kitchen utensil, a bowl, a cup, a tray, a pair of earrings.  If I can name it - or if I can produce a photo for illustration - one of these men can make it.

But when I first began to do business with the family, none of the pieces I purchased was signed; and so I began to ask Mr Julio to sign the pieces I bought...if the size of the piece permitted that.  

I explained why I wanted him to take this extra step, that the pieces he made for me were unique; and if, as I sometimes do, I gave some of the items as gifts...I wanted the people who got each piece to know who made it.  Because Mr Julio and his son and grandson make things almost exclusively by hand - and almost exclusively without electricity - that's how they sign their work. Mr Julio is shown here signing, by hand, a small rosewood tray that sits in my Virginia house about 5 feet from where I am right now.

It's important in my family to know the history of the unique items we live with, acknowledging and remembering the person who crafts these things.

23 April 2023

Food, edibles, meals...choices in Bluefields

There's a fair amount of fast food available in Bluefields.  Much of the fast food is chicken, compliments of Tip-Top, Nicaragua's answer to KFC in the United States.  And there are at least two real Italian restaurants for pizza or a formal sit-down meal.  

But the best food in Bluefields is cooked while you wait and is usually worth the wait.  Seafood of many sorts - fish both salt and fresh water, shrimp, lobster.  There's very good barbecue.  There are pasta dishes at restaurants with real linen table clothes.  Most of these meals are accompanied by a side of fresh vegetables; and almost always a side dish of rice is at least offered.  

None of these meals is prepackaged or made with processed foods...you know...that stuff that comes out of a box or out of a can and just gets nuked?  

These meals are almost always worth the wait.  I have to say 'almost' because nothing is perfect...anywhere, anytime.

Breakfast is often eggs, cooked how you want them and possibly with fresh home-made cheese and some rice and beans...

At midday you can snack on a sandwich with fresh-squeezed fruit juice...

...or you might choose to have an actual midday meal that includes fresh shrimp...and fresh shrimp in Bluefields most likely means somebody caught the shrimp the same morning they show up on your plate:

or maybe you decide on a midday meal that's all fried...fried chicken, fried banana, and fried rice.  Fried food here is more like wok cooking than deep fry.

Or at the end of the day your choice might be a real dinner treat of asada and southern salad/slaw:

After breakfast and lunch and dinner you can finish the day with a banana split: