Digging For Clams: Nica Nugget #107

I’ve been walking laps on the beach at low tide lately with my friend, Maureen, and one or both of “my” dogs.

Well, technically I’ve been walking laps on the southern end of the beach since the rains of late have bisected the beach in unequal halves.

Maureen lives in town, which sits on the southern and longer (by 1,000 ft or so) continuous stretch of beach that makes up San Juan Bay, than the northern side of the bay where I live. Separating the two sides of the bay and bisecting the beach, is the river.

I could walk the entire beach at low tide from north (right under the Cristo statue) to south (by the port) with the river crossing in between only wetting me up to my calves, at most, up until the rains of this past week or two. Now at low tide, the water comes up to my chest. I know that for a fact.

(I also know that Ruffo, the bigger dog, will swim it with me, despite waves crashing against us. I also know that the smaller dog, Nella, won’t. A couple of days ago I carried her across the river, with the water up to my chest while waves crashed against us and while Ruffo pulled on his leash. I also know now that it is easier to take the panga ferry across the river, even with the two dogs, although it’s especially easier with just one.)

One of Daisy’s cousins, digging for clams.

Because of our focus on the southern end of the beach, and due to our several laps, it was easy to tune into the following: At the far southern end of the beach, right as the sand gets really muddy and before the beach transforms into rock and land and a bar and the fishing port, there was a mini-beehive of activity. This area was accompanied by a bleak beach landscape of mini scatological-looking mud mounds sitting adjacent to perfectly round holes. I’ve never been in a war zone but the earth upwellings made me think of detonated land mines. Not wanting to twist an ankle, I stepped gingerly.

Two days ago at this location, Maureen and I had paused and chatted with one of the women who was bent over a hole with a long plastic tube. Today when we returned she was still there and this time I had my camera.

Daisy let me videotape her while she was digging – for clams, it turns out. Pink clams. Well, that’s the color of their shells anyway. (And Daisy’s hat. And her tee shirt. And her cousin’s New York sweatshirt. I like pink.)

I’ve been bringing these same-looking, albeit abandoned, pink shells home to my shell collection these past few months, which coincides with what Daisy told me today about the seasonality of clam digging. Three months, she said. August, September and October.

How does she know where to dig? She looks for small holes in the muddy sand that are emitting bubbles. There’s a clam down there, feeding off of the micro-organisms that it’s filtering out of the water.

I failed to ask her what the devise is called that she uses to suction out the mud. But at the bottom of that tube’s worth of mud is a clam.

A small part of their harvest.

She and her cousins live here in San Juan del Sur and they’ve been digging clams to sell on the open market. They sell for sixty cordobas the pound, which translates to about $1.80/lb in U.S. dollars. As a group they can harvest a pound in ten to twenty minutes of digging, Daisy told me.

(Doing the math, let’s say an average of a pound every 15 minutes, so four pounds an hour or $7.20 US dollars an hour, divided by 5 people. Not to mention the time it takes to find a buyer or buyers for their clams. And to wash their clothes of all that mud. But dang, what a fun way to spend low tide with your family.)

Daisy, second from right, and her cousins pose with some of their harvest.

The clams are great in spaghetti, Daisy said, peeking up at me from under her pink cap.

Almejas is the word for clams in Spanish, in case you see it on a menu.

And if you don’t care for the landmine look along the southern end of the bay these days, don’t worry. By the time you’re reading this, the tide will have lapped and filled and gently scoured it all away.

As for me and “my” dogs, Maureen walked me back to the ferry panga and bid me goodbye. I laughed to myself, because how cool is that, being bid goodbye by a friend while on my way home on a tiny boat, crossing a river with crocodiles (I saw one right here a few months ago).

The tools of the trade.