September 6th, 2017


Field Report: Out and About in Cusmapa

Sunday, September 3rd - In the early afternoon Alex the Spaniard went to go play futball with a local team and the girls invited me to go visit a friend of theirs with them, which sounded dandy to me. After just two blocks we reached the end of town and proceeded on a cow path a very short distance onto a forested hillside, some of the foliage underneath smelled of mints, and it was a nice sunny day.
   Their friends turned out to be a young couple, Emma and Norbit (?) with three young children including a precocious little toddler girl who delighted and amused one and all. Apparently Emma works with the girls at Fabretto. Emma and Norbit were very nice and even though the only person present who could translate for me was the French girl, Emma and Norbit occasionally directed questions my way and seemed very friendly and hospitable. They gave us tamales. We all sat in a sort of semi enclosed space beside their house, walled on three sides with the fourth open to the clearing in front of their house. The other sides of the clearing consisted of tall flowering plants, it was quite beautiful in the warm afternoon sun. Chickens pecked about the ground, a small dog (Lucy?) snoozed nearby, and a small kitten meowed quite piteously if anyone was eating anything and not sharing it with her.
   Presently I was asked if I'd like to go horseback riding, which of course I would. Arrangements were made and some twenty minutes or so later Norbit led the three of us down the path leading from the front of the house down across a small stream and up again to a dirt road, where three saddled horses were waiting for us. We saddled up and set off trotting only loosely guided by the horse's minder on foot. Now, as someone who does not own a horse, the opportunities to ride a horse are usually severely limited to mere "trail rides" where the horse proceeds along a course so familiar to it it may as well be asleep; and most of my interaction with horses these days is limited to them trying to bolt out of farm gates I'm trying to drive into to go see some beehives. So I greatly enjoyed this rare oppotunity to take a horse on a free ranging meandering course. I found my horse to be extremely responsive, unlike some previous horses I've been on, and was pleased to find I had no trouble at all turning it this way or that, stopping, starting or speeding it up. Somewhat restored my faith in horses which of late has been badly shaken by the horses that when not trying to bolt out the farm gate are trying to bite me. i couldn't recall my horse's name but one of the others was apparently something like "Cinqua Carmella" which everyone who heard it thought was quite a hilarious name, if someone who speaks spanish could explain the joke to me I'd be interested.
   We ranged along "roads" behind the village which can only be traversed by foot, horse, or maybe some sort of tracked vehicle. I continue to marvel at the cute adobe houses with pink tiles that just look so much like the stereotypical latin american rural adobe that it almost feels like it shouldn't actually BE that way.
   After we'd gone a little ways up and down some hills (up and down the tops of the hills anyway, the bottoms were WAY down) our guide instructed us we should turn around and I was told "it's just two more hours down this road to Honduras"
   "By car?" I naively asked
   The French girl laughed and said "no, by horse. There are no cars here."

   On the return we left the guide (on foot, recall) behind, and got somewhat lost upon reaching town, trying to find where to return the horses to, which was actually kind of fun because it gave ample opportunity to confirm that the horse wasn't merely following the road but that I could take it down this road or that, or turn it around, and just generally wander around the quiet cobbled streets on the horse.
   When I was considering moving to Ethiopia and maybe doing some work at the university in Bahir Dar I had asked an Ethiopian friend if it would be weird if I just used a horse to get about and she kind of laughed and said maybe a little but they'd forgive me for being a ferengi. I've always quite liked the idea of getting around on a horse. In Cusmapa there were definitely more people getting around on horse than by car, the wide open cobbled streets are mostly traversed by pedestrians but you can't go ten minutes without someone clip-clopping by on a horse, maybe with a hoe over their shoulder or a bag of groceries. I actually saw a small boy on a horse with a brightly colored backpack on his back, apparently headed to school!

   Arriving at our destination, Emma's parents house sits on the ridge at the very top of town commanding a magnificent view. Her father confided in me (through translation of course) that he had bought it (14?) years ago for $300.

   Leaving the horses there we walked back to Emma and Norbit's place to wyle away the afternoon. At one point there was a brief thunderstorm and rainshower but it quickly passed (the weather report for Cusmapa lists every single day in range as thunder showers). It was dark by the time we made our way back to our own house, the moon being fairly full lately it was bright out and the streets shone white in the night. I noted there didn't seem to be any street lights.

Monday, September 4th - Marcus fetched me and we switched out his toyota hilux for a land-cruiser because we were to do some very serious driving. It took about 40 minutes of driving down VERY steep roads, and occasionally up them. At first the road was "paved" with nothing more than two concrete lines for the wheels, which I've seen in someone's driveway before but never for much of a length, and then even that ended. At the end when I saw how completely bald the tires were I was even more amazed. We arrived under a canopy of tropical trees, surrounded by a lot of banana or banana-like trees, just three adobes near the road. The end of the road. Some young men were there to greet us and Marcus looked up at me with shock after briefly conversing with one of them:
   "This guy says he knows you!!"

   I was amused by how unlikely that seemed to him, but at the beekeeping workshop at the national university on my first day in Nicaragua I had been informed there were two young men from Fabretto, and lo, verily, this was one of them.
   We looked at the beehives, they were pretty good, they'd had 27, but ten appear to have absconded due to lack of forage in the area. Biggest issue was that they said they had a lot of problems with small hive beetles and on examination most of their comb was very old and dark -- hive beetles aren't really an issue if you switch out your dark comb regularly (they don't like the honey or pure wax but rather proteinacious materials such as pollen and the build up of stuff that's in dark comb). That's your beekeeping wisdom of the day. Of course I instructed them how to do this. Also "El Gato" kept coming up as a sort of paradigm of good management (and he's only 18!). I kept picking up "el gato" in conversation and asked Marcus why they called him El Gato. Marcus told me its because he has blue eyes ... seeing him later I determined they're actually kind of a yellowish green, which is striking and cat-like enough.

   Fast forward through returning back to Cusmapa, walked about town a bit and read a lot, and then the three volunteers returend home from volunwork in the early evening, and barely had they popped in than Shannon (the French girl, pixie-cut hair) told me they were going to Emma's sister's birthday and would I like to come along. Which as you may have gathered it's always my policy to say yes to this kind of thing.
   First, in the early evening and comfortable refreshing air, as drums beat methodically from somewhere nearby, we walked a few blocks to someone's house whom they had apparently commissioned to bake cakes for them. It was a grandmotherly lady, I suppose maybe she's a baker, but it appeared merely to be her house? It being a tiny town, of course on every block the three volunteers greeted someone familiar to them cheerfully and often with laughter. I can see how living in this cute little town could really be delightful.
   Returning to Emma's parents house at the top of the hill, we spent the evening sitting around in their livingroom, which though it had a bare concrete floor and walls and the ceiling was merely the underside of the corrugated metal roof, it was filled with warmth and seemed in no way lacking as a home. A small chicken spent most of the evening under my chair. Emma's father was a jovial friendly fellow, Emma's sister and her pretty teenage friends were rather shy and Alex, the Spaniard, often made them blush with his boisterous joking antics. A small child apparently thought I was Alex's father, which, I suppose we're both lean, pale, and bearded, and I suppose I do have rather a fair bit of grey in my beard whereas he does not have any, but it made me feel rather old. (he's 27, I'm 35).
   When I felt the need for fresh air I'd step out front, where the two volunteer girls were hanging out because they were smoking (because they're European, after all), and noted the constant flash of lightning in the distance.

Tuesday, September 5th - I was awakened in the early hours of the morning by a loud bang, like a cannon shot, nearby. This was NOT another mango dropping on the roof.
   A second bang came from much further off. The dogs began barking, the roosters crowing, and somewhere either a car alarm or police siren started to sound.
   Then tehre was another nearby bang. Another further bang. Was this... a shootout??
   A further bang (sounded like it was coming from a few blocks down the street) ... a nearby bang which sounded like it was just beside the house. Well, maybe this town isn't so innocent after all I thought to myself lying in bed listening for any other telltale signs. After ten to fifteen minutes the explosions stopped, and I fell asleep again.

   In the morning my housemates didn't know what it had been about. Alex had apparently been inspired to evacuate from his bed near the streetside wall to a couch in the living-room (I wasn't in a street-side room, and did reflect that bullets probably wouldn't travel through multiple adobe walls). Alex questioned some people that walked past our front door and all he could gather was that people said it was a celebration, something to do with the church. I don't know. Didn't sound very festive to me. When Marcus came to pick me up I asked him and he claimed to have heard no sounds at all, which I find rather disingenuous. But I do still want to believe in the fundamental innocence of the little town of Cusmapa. In favor of the celebration theory though I later heard similar loud bangs during the middle of the day in Somoto from just beside my hotel and it didn't seem to be a gun battle in that case so there's that.

   Marcus fetched me and we drove back to Somoto. Met up with El Gato and inspected some more beehives that Fabretto is thinking about buying from another company. Tried not to look too weird as I tried to ascertain his eye color. FINALLY got a bee sting, was beginning to be concerned I'd not get a single bee sting here but one got me in the sock since my current interim pair of boots aren't as high ankled as my normal boots. Altogether I'm surprised I was prepared for wild wild africanized bees here but the bees do not seem as bad as the africanized bees I was accustomed to in California. Could it be that the bees I grew up with are actually some of the meanest in the world?

   And now I'm in the hotel El Rosario again. Tomorrow I head back to Managua and the next day I leave Nicaragua, will be in the states a few days for my brother's wedding and then on to Australia. I don't generally get "homesick" but working all these other bees I've begun to quite rather miss MY bees, plus of course, Cato, King of Cats. But less I start to miss it too much I check the weather back home and its all highs in the fifties and raining.