22 March 2023

Part I: False Bluff...where is it

We have posted this picture before and False Bluff is still in the same place.  We're just a little bit farther from Bluefields than we are from the port of El Bluff, which is the main and very public gateway between Bluefields Bay and the Caribbean for a huge amount of traffic.  

But we are fortunate enough to get to our place by way of a canal that we had hand-dug.  Our canal gets us there from Smokey Lane Lagoon instead of from the Caribbean.  Believe me, the small additional distance is well worth it.  

The Caribbean is known for being calm but in a panga or something even smaller, the sea can kick up dangerous waves really fast.  Of my trips to False Bluff by way of the Caribbean, I've been in boats several times that capsized...usually as we turned and headed to the beach.  

Once is more than enough.  

A neighbor to our north...about an hour by walking...decided to boat-haul materials to her property rather than land at False Bluff and walk the stuff up the beach.  The boat she and her workers was in capsized.  All the materials and the outboard motor were lost.  Every person on the boat made it to shore safely but she later told me it was touch and go for her. 

People pull their boats up to the beach because along our almost deserted section of coast, roughly the 26 miles from El Bluff north to Pearl Lagoon, there's no development of any kind - much less a place suitable for tying up a boat and so the boats are beached.  

In order to avoid all future trips to False Bluff by way of the Caribbean just about the first thing we did was to have our canal dug from the lagoon to a place close...but not too close...to the beach.  We didn't want an angry Caribbean to later dig its own canal...which would cause unbelieavable damage.  

So we leave Bluefields, segue from the bay to the labrynth of back waters, into Smokey Lane Lagoon, and then into our canal.  It goes from a narrow notch in the lagoon east toward the beach and we traverse it in quiet except when the monkeys pass overhead.

Easy peasy - though always better when the tide is high.  Bluefields Bay, like the Chesapeake Bay, is tidal.

Just posted today to a Bluefields news site about a life lost when a panga capsizes:


18 March 2023

Man's best friend...and helper

There doesn't seem to be any official season for hunting in and around Bluefields and False Bluff; and so a fair number of people who live in the area, mostly men, hunt because it puts food on the table during even more harsh than usual financial times.  

All over the world people are hurting financially...even people who live in a really poor country.  There's no escaping that.  And there are a lot of people in the local communities that have no refrigeration and so they hunt often.

Many hunters have found that dogs are often helpful in the hunt.  There aren't packs of dogs as is sometimes familiar in the United States because people here can't afford a pack of dogs...and besides... how do you fit a pack of dogs in a small boat?

13 March 2023

Pangas...the same in some ways and very different in others

Almost all of the eastern side of Bluefields is on the water and so there are boats tied up in lots of places.  And most of the boats in Bluefields are pangas.

As noted in a recent post, all pangas share certain characteristics.  They have to - to be a panga.  But what an owner might do to a panga makes each one different.  Some pangas are given just as much maintenance as needed to keep it seaworthy.  

But the owner of the middle of these three side-by-side pangas used a lot of skill to make the boat a show piece.

As you can see in these three pangas, the backs of the bench seats lift in and out as needed.  The place where the backs fit are molded into the sides of the panga during its construction.

I've ridden in many a panga where the backs of the bench seats lifted out and went somewhere else forever.

08 March 2023


I've written about this zoysia grass at False Bluff before and I'm pretty sure I'll write about it again - because the stuff continues to amaze me.  

However, I admit I have never cared enough about what variety of zoysia grass we have out there so I can't identify this one.  I've only cared about getting the grass started and about having it spread as far and as fast as possible.  

This particular zoysia grows along many beautiful beaches on Big Corn Island, one of the two popular Nicaraguan islands in the Caribbean about 40 miles directly east of False Bluff; but there was none at False Bluff until I snatched - and then planted - some off a sidewalk in Bluefields.

I divvied up the stuff I pulled off the sidewalk into as many starts as I could...tiny things they were from the small amount I 'rescued.'  I wanted the grass for lots of reasons, primarily its beauty that I had fallen in love with on Big Island. And it is wonderful to walk on...kind of like a very thick rug except where it pillows at the base of a tree. 

Other reasons I wanted it include that covering the ground with it would reduce work because the grass: 

  • forces out weeds once it's established - we could stop the hard and time consuming work of chopping down weeds with machetes;
  • thrives in the really harsh and salty environment along the caribbean; and 
  • has an affinity for coconut palms - and we were planting hundreds of those. 

Other benefits...benefits that I wasn't aware of when I started propogating it out there...are:

  • when the dry season arrives the stuff just gets greener when most everything gets brown; and 
  • snakes and biting ants hate it...probably because it forms such a tightly woven mat that neither of these pests can travel thru it - and both avoid traveling over it.  

We planted the starts which began to spread faster than I thought they would.  Once we had a good sized patch of grass etablished we began to cut out 4" x 4" plugs which we then planted at the leeward base of as many coconut trees as we had plugs for.  Visible here are the newly rooted plugs moving away from their 'safe spaces' at the bases of coconut trees.

A final thing that I enjoy about this zoysia is the manner in which it spreads, shown above and below.  The small plugs don't look like much when they're first planted.  In fact they fade a bit due to transplant shock; but to the best of my knowledge we've never lost one.  Then all of a sudden the plug turns green and begins its star-like creeping spread, going from the base of one tree to meld with the grass spreading from the base of another tree until all the ground is covered.

After what seems no time at all, the ground of the pathways we outlined with coconut trees is covered with emerald green grass.

03 March 2023

Panga the boat

Even the word has multiple meanings.  It is a weapon or a fish or a boat which is typically powered by an outboard motor.  A panga is easily distinguishable from a "skiff" which is a flat bottomed boat that often has a center console, neither of which a panga has.  

From what I read, the panga (regardless of its origin) was developed as a small fishing boat.  In my experience, a lot of pangas on Nicaragua's Caribbean side are used as taxis...thus a lot of pangas are neither small nor used for fishing.  This is a poor photo of a panga taxi in Bluefields Bay, probably prepped for a ride to Kukra or Pearl Lagoon.

A bit of history:

There is some confusion about the history of where the panga came from although the date of development is pretty much the same regardless of the claim...something that may contribute to the confusion.  

Two California teachers ended up in La Paz, Mexico and in a circuitous way ended up building pangas starting in the late 1960s.  This from the interesting link below:

"The new creation was a molded, modified-vee hull boat, with large, graceful spray rails and small strakes, eliminating the boxy appearance of its plywood predecessors. The new, sleeker Esquibot panga was considered Mexico’s biggest innovation in boat building at the time!"


During pretty much the same time frame, Yamaha was developing a similar boat in Japan: https://www.pangasports.com/post/the-history-of-the-panga-boat

Thus lasting confusion.

Regardless of who did what and where, the panga is very adaptable for heavy seas - which the Caribbean often is; it handles really well in most seas, heavy or otherwise; it pulls up on the beach; and it is easily reparable.  

Somehow the panga made its way from the west to the east, from the Pacific - via Japan or the west side of Mexico - to the Atlantic.  Big or small it is hugely popular along the eastern coast of Central America where it is said by many to sustain the tourism industry.  And over the years the panga has become increasingly popular in the United States.

28 February 2023

How to get there from here

Taking turns seems to come naturally to the people who use this bridge - whether they're on foot or on horseback.  This is the main connection point between a small community some miles away from Bluefields and no community at all.  

People use this bridge to get into 'town' to shop or to sell what they've grown or produced or to get medical treatment or supplies for the house or farm...things that many of us have nearby - or if not nearby at least easily accessible by paved roads and cars.

It had rained heavily the morning of this visit and I'd already slipped in the mud.  

This was a bridge too far.

22 February 2023

Rosewood cups

I've had these cups for several years.  They are another addition to my household crafted by the Lopez family, the same craftsmen who carved the wooden spatulas I wrote about a couple of stories ago.

The cups are about the size of a grown man's fist.  Each one is carved from a chunk of rosewood.  Of all the rosewood things I have brought home from Nicaragua's southern autonomous region, I've never had a piece of rosewood so dark and in which the 'rose' in rosewood is so clearly exhibited.  There's a patch of that rather incredible color in each cup.

Other than a light coating of linseed oil these cups have had no treatment.  Long ago I asked that the Lopez family leave untreated any wood thing they make for me.   I asked for that after I learned that lots of handcrafted wooden items, most everywhere, are routinely stained with shoe polish...including things made of rosewood.

I recently pulled these out of storage and hit them briefly with very fine sandpaper.  I'm getting ready to coat the inside of the cups with clear food grade epoxy and for sure some epoxy will go where it's not supposed to go...so I'll be using the sandpaper again in a couple of weeks.

No problem.

17 February 2023

Plenty of necessary stuff in Bluefields

Obviously there aren't any hardware stores at False Bluff.  There's almost nothing at False Bluff except us...certainly not a hardware store. 

But Bluefieds is an easy 8 miles by water from where we are on the edge of the Caribbean; and I'm glad to say that Bluefields has a lot of necessary stuff, including hardware stores.  

Some of the hardware stores are small and sell no paint.  Some are small and manage to sell paint anyway.  Some are big - for Bluefields - and sell hardware and paint.  And some of the big ones have more than one location...not far away from each other because Bluefields is too small for anything to be far away.  

For instance, one of my 'go to' spots is in the center of town.  This particular store has a mostly hardware location in the middle of one block with a mostly paint location right across the street from the mostly hardware location.  Plus there is a third location right around the corner from both of those places.  The third location of the disjointed hardware store includes a mix of heavy and big stuff - like piles of bagged concrete and cinder blocks, or 2500 liter water tanks.  

Sometimes it's difficult to know that all three of these separate locations add up to one store - particularly when totally different stores are often right beside one of the three locations mentioned above...or right across the street.  

And you can't buy your lumber from hardware stores regardless of what other stuff the hardware stores might deal in.  You buy your lumber from a mill.  But that's OK since there are a fair number of these in Bluefields as well.  

The bottom line is that there's a lot of stuff for sale whether you're building from the ground up, repairing something, or renovating.   And it doesn't matter if a particular part of one store sells only paint and the place you get your new water tank is right next door but owned by somebody else.  It all does the job for you when you get the stuff home or to the job site.  

And moving the stuff is a whole different story because if you don't own a truck or can't get a 2500 liter water tank in - or on top of - your taxi, you end up renting a truck to take the stuff where you want it to go.  The multitudes of commercial carriers sitting at the sides of the roads all over town are handy.  They're all waiting to be hired to haul something for you.  Each of them seems to come with a driver and two helpers.

By the way...if you should end up shopping in the 'go to' spot I described above (yes, the place is real), you might be grateful for the fact that there is a cafe on the second floor of one of their locations...upstairs.  It either overlooks the street or some containers of termite killer, depending on where you sit.  Having a meal or just a cold drink in the cafe is a nice way to end a shopping trip....before your carrier arrives to haul your stuff wherever it needs to go.

The hardware store pictured below is one of the smaller ones and it's not in the center of town.  But it's loaded with supplies...many more than are displayed in the picture.

12 February 2023

The city house, a necessary clean up, a kick ass view

The 'new' house needed a considerable amount of clean up following a glancing visit by Hurricane Ian.  The first chore was to remove the pieces of a huge breadfruit tree which had fallen onto the roof.  The breadfruit tree had three trunks and was big around and very tall.  The loss of the tree was mitigated by the fact that for years the fruit was way too high up to harvest.

The structural damage to the house was minimal; the mess in the yard was maximum.  Since the breadfruit tree branches had intertwined with those of other trees in the yard, almost everything else came down with or beause of the breadfruit tree.  

The last of the trees and all of their parts, big and small, young and old, were cut and loaded into a boat for disposal.  The last tree to go was another that the hurricane had put down.  That tree had ended up falling in the bay instead of in the yard or on the house roof.

The clean up exposed a kick ass view of the bay as well as part of the Bluefields itself.  This will be nice to live with.

08 February 2023

Life on the bay

The small city of Bluefields, Nicaragua, sits on a bay - called of all things - Bluefields Bay.  Lots of stuff important to the commercial life of Bluefields takes place along or in that body of water.  One important place is the main wharf where almost everything that came into Bluefields arrived...until the new road opened just a couple of years ago.  

Need a new car?  Need an order of tiles for your hardware store?  Need the latest fashions for your clothing outlet?  For us, more than a decade ago, our pontoon boat kit from South Carolina, arrived at the city's main wharf.  All of this stuff came to the wharf pictured below.

Granted, some of the stuff came on a bus or a boat by way of the El Rama Port.  Actually most stuff that went through the port at Rama involved both bus and boat. Some small stuff came by air.  But fewer and fewer goods travel these ways now that there is a roadway connecting Bluefields to Managua.  

But even so, the main wharf is still very busy.  It accomodates large boats and barges and deals primarily with things that don't come from Managua.  

And attached to the main wharf is the water taxi terminal that carries people by panga to small communities which can't easily be reached by car or bus.  

01 February 2023

Replacing a roof because of a hurricane? Sort of but mostly because of a tree

Hurricane Ian hit Nicaragua last fall.  More than a decade ago when I was hunting for a piece of property on Nicaragua's Caribbean coast I fielded a lot of questions about hurricanes.  Most people think Nicaragua is constantly bombarded by hurricanes during the season.  For a brief while I assumed that was true. 

Turns out we do have our share of bad weather but it's mostly inconvenient rain - rarely hurricanes.  When a hurricane forms off the coast of Africa and heads west, most often it hits the islands on the eastern edge of the Caribbean.  Usually from those pieces of land that edge the Caribbean a hurricane seems to bounce off and up.   At the end of each hurricane season NOAA publishes a one page summary of what kind of storms went where.  

That summary page (sample below) looks like someone dropped a handful of colorful cooked spaghetti on a map. The different colors represent the types of storms.  I took advantage of more than 100 years of this data to look at Nicaragua's hurricane history.  If I was going to invest anything there - time, money, hard work, etc - I wanted to know what I was getting into.  Turned out that as far as hurricanes were concerned I wasn't getting into much.  In fact I was getting into less in Nicaragua than I get into living in Virginia.

If and when a hurricane does hit Nicaragua, the hit is most often north of False Bluff and near where Nicaragua and Honduras meet.  I have no idea why.  Maybe because that northern part of Nicaragua sticks out into the Caribbean the farthest.  

False Bluff, on the other hand, is south, tucked away from the pathway of most hurricanes.  We're way south on that coast...only about 40 miles from Costa Rica.  Hurricane paths are a mystery to me- but a mystery I don't have to solve.

Of course 'rarely' doesn't mean 'never' and we took a hit this year.  Much of the 'thatch' on the main building 'left the building.'  And nearby trees from which this leaf is harvested also 'left the building.'   The trees themselves were either blown down or the trees stood and the fronds were blown off.  Our roofer had to travel pretty far to harvest the more than 3000 fronds we needed.  The extra distance cost both time and money.  

And it turned out that damage to the roof wasn't directly caused by wind but to an avocado tree BEHIND the house.  The wind knocked the tree smack across the middle of the house, the spine of the roof as it were.  So there was also damage to the rafters.  

The original rafters had been round poles and we couldn't easily find replacements for those, near or far.  Granted, had time not been an issue we might have located them.  But people live in this building.  

One thing we had in our favor - a silver lining as it were - was all the downed trees.  We just sliced up enough downed trees to replace the rafters.  Using nominal and often green lumber is nothing new in this area.  So the rafters were extricated from trees on the ground and the framing went up while we waited for delivery of the leaf fronds.

All done.  By now the entire house has two coats of primer, known in Bluefields as 'sealer.'  Painting to follow.

27 January 2023

Miss Lizzie beat the odds: life expectancy

I've read stories lately about the declining life expectancy in the United States. Covid and opioids and fentanal get a lot of the blame. Be that as it may, people in the US seem to be dying younger…some of us are dying 'suddenly' or are in the category of 'excess deaths.'

A story about this, published last month, includes a map, graphs, lists, and links to additional information:


The information in the story above, amassed by NiceRx, a supplier of discount prescription drugs, shows that people who live in Hawaii have the longest life span at 81.  Number one and the others in the top ten list are shown here, although the ties among some states means it's not a top ten list but a top fourteen list:

The ten (fourteen, really) US states with the best life expectancy:
  1. Hawaii - 80 years and eight months
  2. Washington - 79 years and two months
  3. Minnesota - 79 years and a month
  4. California, Massachusetts and New Hampshire - 79 years 
  5. Oregon, Vermont - 78 years and nine months 
  6. Utah - 78 years and seven months
  7. Connecticut, Idaho - 78 years and five months
  8. Colorado - 78 years and four months
  9. Rhode Island - 78 years and three months
 10. Maine - 77 years and nine months

The ten (eleven) US states with the lowest life expectancy: 
  1. Mississippi - 71 years and 11 months
  2. West Virginia - 72 years and 10 months
  3. Louisiana - 73 years and a month
  4. Alabama - 73 years and two months
  5. Kentucky - 73 years and six months
  6. Tennessee, Arkansas - 73 and 10 months
  7. Oklahoma - 74 years and a month
  8. New Mexico - 74 years and six months
  9. South Carolina - 74 years and 10 months
 10. Indiana - 75 years

Harvard chimed in with more details about the decline:


What I find interesting is that Nicaragua's life expectancy is higher than any of the eleven states shown on the 'lowest life expectancy' list above...at more than 75 years.  Nicaragua’s life expectancy has been steadily increasing for the past 50 years:


I don’t know if any of this is information is valid but it is interesting. I’ve met lots of people, men and women, in the part of Nicaragua where I hang out who are living - independently - in their 90s.

The longevity information was published within days of the release of a Gallup poll that rated Nicaragua as the number one country where citizens feel at peace.  My guess is that feeling at peace may be contributing to the increasing life expectancy of Nicaraguans:


One old person in Bluefields whom I never got to meet but have admired from stories about her was Ivy Elizabeth Forbes Nelson, known as Miss Lizzie.  She was born in 1921 and died at home in 2021.  I'm told she kept dancing nearly to the end.  

This is who she was and how she is lovingly known:
"An Interview with Miss Lizzie"


21 January 2023

Mr Allen and the new dock

Even before Hurricane Ian made landfall just a few miles north of us, Mr. Allen had been working to replace our public dock.  The thing was built shortly before our canal was finished and made open to the public...more than a decade ago.  

The dock had taken a lot of hard use from people, boats, machetes, weather, etc.  We don't use it.  We had built it specifically for the public and then just kind of forgot about it while doing all sorts of other work. The original public dock began to decline but as long as it was still usuable we pretty well ignored it.  

One of its regular users, our excellent neighbor Mr. Allen, began lobbying other landowners and the increasing number of members of the public who sometimes just make a day trip to the beach.  His intent was to build a brand new dock.  He explained to those he contacted that since we had opened and routinely maintain a mile of canal...and had originally built the public dock...we should not have to also be responsible for a dock we never use, but that instead the work should fall to those who do use it.    

Mr. Allen visited other people one at a time both in Bluefields and up and down the beach, asking that they contribute time or materials or money.  After Hurricane Ian's visit the work became imperative. We cleared and re-opened the canal for boat travel - but people who had produce or livestock to carry to market had no way to load their goods.  Thanks to Mr. Allen there is a new dock.  (Remnants of the old dock are visible along the side of the new one.)

Not only was he successful in having a new dock built. he improved on the original design.  The old dock was so tall that sometimes getting in or out of a boat was tricky.  The new dock is not as tall and has steps to make boarding and loading much easier.

15 January 2023

Family and the rosewood spatulas

For more than a decade, each trip I've made to False Bluff has included a visit with the Lopez family.  

Mr. Julio and his son Mr. Julio Jr and a grandson create lovely and sometimes useful, sometimes just decorative, things out of wood and shell - coconut shells and various sea shells:  jewelry and figurines and bowls and cups and walking canes.  

Basically if I can think of it, someone in the Lopez family can make it.  Stories about pieces of their work that have traveled from Bluefields (where they live) to Virginia (where I live) are woven throughout this blog.  And I've seen some of the family's work on display in the Nicaraguan embassy in Washington, DC.

One of my favorite pieces is the horse part of a hobby horse carved of teak.  The rockers never were added to the horse part because the piece overall didn't meet Mr. Julio's standards...but the horse part made the base of a nice low seat.  It was dumped directly into the dirt where it became part of a bench - until I unearthed it, wrapped it up, and took it to Virginia where it hangs on a wall in my living room. A picture is somewhere on this site.

During my most recent trip I met with Mr. Julio Jr and asked him to make me five wooden spatulas.  A spatula made of teak has been part of my kitchen arsenal for so long that its useful part had been worn in size to the point that the useful life was nearly over.  

So I took a picture of what was left, with a tape measure beside it.  When I showed the picture to him he said, "Sure.  No problem."  I kept one of the five that I brought home and am already using it...stirring stew and flipping grilled cheese sandwiches.  The other four spatulas were gifts to family members: two to siblings, two to children.  

These aren't teak.  They're rosewood.  

And all five of the spatulas I brought home were cut from the same chunk of wood, sliced like bread to become useful artifacts that may spend part of their useful lives not just having been sliced like bread but in contact with real bread.  

But the really special thing about this kitchen utensil is that it ties, in a small way, all five of us immediate family members together.  Each of us has one of these cut from the same piece of rosewood in Nicaragua.  

What a strange connection.

Note:  It's just over 12" long and about 1/4" thick not counting the taper at the more useful end.  The rosewood was part of a tree in the Lopez back yard.

09 January 2023


During a recent visit to Nicaragua I tagged along with friends on a Sunday trip to a small and somewhat isolated community about 40 minutes from Bluefields.  The new road from Bluefields to Nueva Guinea makes such visits a whole lot easier.  

But even with cars and trucks traveling the road, NIC-71, most people in tiny communities like this one still travel on horseback - although there's been a huge increase in motorcycles here since my only other visit some years ago.  

Not much, if any, of the infrastructure has changed but now even on Sunday you can shop at the local Purina dealership.

04 January 2023

A can...in a bottle

Twelve fluid ounce cans of Coca Cola or Pepsi is what we are accustomed to finding on shelves - at least throughout Virginia.  Maybe throughout the entire United States.  And twelve fluid ounces is 355 mL (yes, the L is not lowercase).  

But I discovered these little things in Bluefields on a recent trip.  Actually they're available in the airports in Managua which is pretty much the only place I am when I'm in Nicaragua if I'm not in the southern autonomous region.  

Not just the colas come in these small bottles.  You can also find Lipton tea and some of the Fantas.

These are nice.  Easier to carry and less to drink.  Plastic vs aluminum?  Always a debate.

And they're inexpensive.  The number on the cap in the second photo below is 16, not 76....that's the price.  Sixteen cordoba.  Today the exchange rate is 36.37 Nicaraguan cordoba to $1 U.S. dollar.  The math is pleasant.  

Can't find these little bottles anywhere in my Virginia city.