14 May 2024

Amber...on Nicaragua's Caribbean coast

Amber is a fascinating nature-made product and has been around longer than any of us.  I grew up thinking all amber was 'Baltic amber' which is certainly, even now, the type of amber that is best known among causual amber admirerers like me.  That may be because Baltic amber comes from so many different countries along the Baltic Sea: Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Russia, and Sweden.  Lot of countries for amber to form.  

Note:  Fake amber can be and is currently manufactured for sale

I'm assuming most people know that amber is very old tree sap, the most valuable of which is clear and has 'inclusions.'  Inclusions refer to the fact that some sort of usually prehistoric artifact was caught inside the sticky stuff when it oozed from a tree...bugs, lizards, bark, leaves, and so forth.  

Some of the creatures caught in amber are known only because they were caught in amber.  A simple search online will bring up some amazing photographs of amber with inclusions of all sorts.

Prehistoric bugs don't survive thousands of years to be found by paleontologists quite the same way that dinosaurs have.  And even dinosaur remains haven't done too well over the eons or there would have been lots more found.  

The color of Baltic amber is usually in the yellow family.  But then within the last year I read a story about amber from the Dominican Republic.  The most common colors of amber from the Dominican Republic are yellow and green but there is a rare blue amber which can react to ultraviolet light making it glow very brightly...a stunning show.  Again, I'm not going to include photos here because a simple online search will turn up too many to choose from.

But my curiosity about amber sent me on a search for the possibility of amber in Nicaragua...could amber have floated to the Caribbean coast?  Yes.  But best yet, Nicaragua's Caribbean coast has its very own amber, not just something that floated in.  

I stumbled across Amber International, a commercial firm in New York which now includes more than just amber.  But the site has an "about amber" section which is loaded with good information, listing more places amber is from than I could have imagined:  


And one of the places is in regard to a 'newly discovered amber deposit' as follows:  

"Amber from Nicaragua

18 to 23 Million Years Old: Found in sandstones at the Caribbean sea-shore of Nicaragua Age: 23-18 Ma. (Early Miocene period) Mother-plant: the Hymenaea tree Colours: varying from transparent yellow to red Inclusions: only a few up to now Special characteristics: newly discovered amber deposit."

Interesting to note that something so old is new to the rest of the world.  I've been looking for weeks for a photo of Nicaraguan amber and have even written to Amber International.  I've not found any photos and I've not gotten any reply from Amber International but will provide an update if I get any information.

...and I'll be looking as I walk our Caribbean beach at False Bluff.

19 April 2024

A change at the Pointeen House

When Hurricane Ian rolled over Bluefields in 2022 it left damage throughout the small city, including to our house in the Pointeen neighborhood.  The winds pushed several trees flat but worse than the trees that fell into the yard were the tree-sized limbs from a tall breadfruit tree that landed smack on top of the roof.

There aren't a lot of roofs anywhere that can withstand that kind of hit and our house doesn't have  one of them.  It took hard work to get the mess cleaned up and hauled off.

....house, meet breadfruit tree:

In late 2023 the situation inside the house had deteriorated to the point that the couple who had been 'caretaking,' were told they had to find a more hospitable environment.  

...and then our staff moved in to remove what was left of the roof.

Even in its damaged and deteriorated condition, almost all of the material coming off the roof is being stacked and saved.  Most of it will be used to make forms for pouring concrete when the second iteration of the house begins.

I commend our excellent staff!

06 March 2024

Just how miserable are you?

If you live in the United States you're probably more miserable than you would be if you were living in Nicaragua right now. 

Every now and then researchers somewhere do a nearly world-wide "Mental Wellbeing" study to tell us just how miserable we are...or aren't.  

The Oxford dictionary defines wellbeing as "the state of being comfortable, healthy, or happy" or "an improvement in the patient's well-being."  Both of the above portions of the definition apply since, essentially, we all have recently been patients of one sort or another.   

Non-profit Sapien Labs released a post-pandemic wellbeing study not long ago.  The results of these studies, no matter who authors them, are always a bit of a surprise to me.  I spend time in two countries that are routinely scored for mental wellbeing and so have actual experience of the wellbeing of the people who live in each of those areas since I live among them.

Inflation has hit everywhere but despite inflation and a poverty we in the United States cannot understand, Nicaragua routinely scores more highly than the United States in mental wellbeing studies.  In this study the Dominion Republic has the highest score of all with the United States ranking at number 29.

Nicaragua scores number 23 in being "comfortable, healthy, or happy."

If you are at all interested you can use the test that Sapien Labs used in their calculations to see just how miserable you are:  


Note:  In reviewing similar studies I came across one that found a correlation between being altruistic and being "comfortable, healthy, or happy."  

However, another recent study, "Understanding left-wing authoritarianism: Relations to the dark personality traits, altruism, and social justice commitment," did not present altruism as something beneficial.  (This study itself can be found here:  https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s12144-023-04463-x)


08 February 2024

Nicaragua and its very good, excellent cigars

There's an ongoing question among cigar aficionados as to whether Nicaraguan cigars are now the best the world has.  The country's cigars are known to rival, if not exceed, the quality of Cuban cigars in large part because of the rich volcanic soil in which most of Nicaragua's tobacco grows.   

As outlined in a couple of previous posts, Nicaragua has more than 20 volcanoes stretching north along its Pacific coast so it stands to reason the country has a lot of rich volcanic soil.  (I climbed to the top of one of these volcanoes in December.)  The tobacco that makes Mayflower Cigars is mostly grown in or near Esteli, a city north of Nicaragua's capital of Managua.  In the October 2, post there is a picture of the country's volcanos and Esteli is shown right where the good tobacco-growing soil is.  

A recent news story touts a positive Nicaraguan/USA cigar partnership.  A premium handmade cigar was introduced in the United States in the fall of 2023, a new line called 'Mayflower Cigars' and was the newest release of the Daily Wire news site (part of Bentkey Ventures).

Michael Knowles, who does a podcast with the Daily Wire in the United States, is the man who came up with the cigar's blend of different tobacco varieties.  And he worked closely - from both the US and in Nicaragua - with the Oliva Cigar Co in Esteli to make these cigars a reality.     

When the cigars were ready for the market, a supply was set aside that was estimated to be enough for sales during the 2023 holiday season.  But that total inventory sold out almost immediately, prompting the headline below...a credit to Daily Wire/Bentkey products and to Nicaraguan cigars:

"Daily Wire Sells 4 Months’ Inventory Of ‘Mayflower Cigars’ In 24 Hours In ‘Astonishing’ Market Debut"

The Oliva family has been making cigars since 1886.  The link below introduces one of their factories in Esteli.  There's much more information available about Oliva but this story has some good pictures:


Note: Other creations introduced by Daily Wire include - but are not limited to - candy, clothing, movies, and books.  Some of the people affiliated with Daily Wire who have introduced or added to available items include Ben Shapiro, Jeremy Boreing, Jordan Peterson, and Matt Walsh... and now world class cigars from Michael Knowles.  

21 January 2024

Volcan Masaya

What do you call birds that live in an active volcano?


Recently there have been a number of stories worldwide about volcanoes doing bad things.  In October of last year I posted here about Nicaragua's volcanoes...a stunning 23, all but two of which are in a line winding up the Pacific coast.  Masaya, which last erupted in 2008, is one of several active volcanos in the country.

During a recent visit to Nicaragua I delayed my trip to Bluefields and False Bluff to visit Masaya - both the volcano and the market there.  Volcan Masaya, which is only napping, is in a national park.  At certain times of the day- evening is best - the red of molten lava can be seen; but at all times of the day the smoke from the volcano's smoldering fire is visible...and breathed if the wind's not right or, like, if you hang your head over the fence because you want to see what's 'down there.'  

But gone is the sign, only in English, which is now but a treasured memory of my first visit to the volcano: it read "Please don't jump."

There's a lot of parking and the walkway to the top is well laid out.  And from the cross at the top, the 360-degree view is vastly beautiful.

This wasn't my first trip to either the volcano or its museum.  But it was the first time I became aware of the fact that birds live in the volcano.  Visitors to the volcano catch on pretty fast that the smoke the volcano produces is not like that of a campfire.  When I read about these birds at the museum I realized just how bad the constant smoke is...which makes the fact that for generations a type of parrot has lived in holes along the walls inside the volcanic crater even more remarkable.

The parrot that lives in the volcano is most often referred to as a parakeet - which just means it's a little parrot.  But it has an "unsettled" name history as shown below from wikipedia:

13 January 2024


When I began the project chronicled here I didn't know much of anything about the place I had chosen or the small city of Bluefields nearby. As I became more comfortable moving around Bluefields I began to notice how very well dressed many of the people are. 

At first I didn't understand how people in a ‘poverty stricken’ country could afford not only nice clothing but quite fashionable clothing. And then I noticed all the thrift stores.  I had seen the stores - without really seeing them - as I was learning my way around a city that was new to me. 

But not only did I become a customer of some of these places, over the years I discovered the places that sold the clothing to the stores. Years ago the bales I saw were huge and what was in them wasn't sorted. Buyers might get shoes and toys and sheets and skirts all in one big bale. But somewhere along the line the business got much more organized. Not only have the sizes of the bales gotten much smaller but the items in each bale are now sorted: shirts in this one, baby clothes (by month/age) in that one, shoes here, toys there.  Quite a few places take in and sell the bales but even more places sell the items and the thrift store business is thriving. 

Now thrift store owners can shop for just the sort of items they want or need because some of the thrift stores specialize...and have their purchases delivered right to their doors:

I’ve benefitted over the years with purchases of clothes and shoes in Bluefields that I've brought right back to the United States…like this almost new pair of leather Clarks Artisan shoes at one of my favorite thrift stores for 30 cordoba:

Note: I base my assumption that most of what is for sale at thrift stores in Bluefields comes from the US on the fact that during my early shopping years in these stores I would find US tags still attached to the items - for instance a Goodwill sweater or a Salvation Army pair of jeans most likely didn't get to a shop on Nicaragua's east coast by way of Japan.

Mea culpa

I made a fairly short trip to False Bluff and Bluefields during the first half of December with a side trip to Masaya, both the market and the volcano.  

I came back to Virginia sick.  

Then Christmas.  

Then New Year's.

No excuses for such a long time between updates...just reasons.