Here’s an article I wrote for CentralAmerica.com
Kharron woke up one morning and decided he wanted to document our whole day at the beach, so here it is!
This week I had the pleasure of volunteering at a spay & neuter clinic with the organization World Vets. One of the things I wanted to do while living here in Nicaragua was continue my volunteer work. There are so many opportunities to give back here, its easy to find a non profit already in place who is caring for a cause that interests you. If you’re interested, check out the “Humanity” page of this website.
World Vets is a non profit organization who constructs teams of veterinarians to hold pet health clinics in developing countries around the world, where people’s access to pet healthcare is challenging. Their vision is “to create a world where all animals have access to skilled veterinary care” by providing not only the spay, neuter, & medical treatment clinics, but also supplying disaster relief and training where needed.
World Vets not only came with a fantastic team of veterinarians, vet techs, and assistants, but were also prepared with bilingual staff to help translate important information to the owners of the pets. They were able to preform over 240 surgeries and countless consultations in just 3 days. Working in an old, nearly abandoned community center and a horse stable house. The team was stocked with medicine for a variety of ailments. Every animal seen was given an anti flea & tick topical as well as an oral anti parasite medication.
If you’re looking for an amazing organization to donate to, World Vets is a fantastic option!
7 Stupid Things Tourists Do
1. Feel sorry for the people.
Often I hear tourists talk about how sad it is for the people of Nicaragua. That they are so poor and must be miserable. If they took off their North American lenses, they’d see the genuine smiles I admire daily on local Nicaraguans. Tourists see laundry drying on a line, a small home, and people sitting out in front of their house at night in plastic chairs and assume that they are unhappy. Don’t mistake cultural differences with happiness.
2. Want to bring one of the poor animals home.
Tourists have an urge to adopt. They want to give that poor dog they see on the street a better life. I can tell you, my dog has never been happier than living here in Nicaragua. In the United States, all she did all day was sleep on her pillow-top bed under an attached blanket. The highlight of her day was one trip to the park (if I had time) and dinner. Here, she spends her whole day hunting inside bushes, chasing birds, watching geckos crawl across walls, and following our gardener around the large yard. She gets to go to any beach off leash and most restaurants find no problem with a dog coming inside. Most of the dogs here roam free. They are allowed to dig in trash cans, urinate & dedicate where ever they want, chase people, make doggy-friends, and fornicate when nature calls.
I think as Americans we believe that dogs are happiest on top of a nice, overly-stuffed bed with an owner who treats them like a human. I have to disagree. Looking back, I think my dog was bored. She didn’t have anything else to do but sleep and eat. I took her to the park for maybe 30 minutes a day. She was overweight and possibly depressed.
3. Rush around.
Every visitor we’ve had greets us with an air of expedition. This is supposed to be a relaxing vacation and they are in a hurry to go someplace to relax. They want to plan multiple things to see and are nervous that it might not get all done. How can they see fit in relaxing at the beach on the same day as seeing a volcano? They need to swim in the lake at Laguna de Apoyo, but might as well quickly check out Granada while so close. Even my retired parents found themselves frustrated by the pace of Nicaragua. Why does the food take so long at a restaurant? Can’t they open another line at the grocery store? Why are there so many bikers in the way on the road? I find myself relating less and unable to process the nervous energy of my guests. Its like the Tanzanian Devil walking beside you on the beach. A cloud of dust swirling around, unable to land and truly enjoy anything.
4. Assume that everyone speaks English or wants to learn.
We made the same mistake when we moved to Nicaragua and were slapped in the face by the fact that many people here neither speak English nor desire to learn it. We have struggled to learn to communicate with the locals. We try daily through much frustration to master Spanish. It is painful to hear tourists passively say that Nicaraguans need to learn English. That is a ludicrous statement and equal to a Mexican in California saying that California’s need to learn Spanish. Would both parties benefit from the ability to speak the other language? Yes. But that does not mean that the person will never be able to meet their full potential if it is not learned. The native language here is Spanish, so do your best to try to communicate in that language. There are many phone applications now that can help you do this with ease. Nicaraguans are very accepting people and with a little bit of effort you will find they have great patience and enjoy the chance to help you learn their native tongue.
5. Get robbed.
Charlie on Travel wrote a great article about how not to get robbed in Central America. Let me sum it up for you: don’t wear your most expensive jewelry or go parading around in name brand attire & accessories, don’t keep your whole wad of cash in your wallet for everyone to see when you’re making purchases, don’t get so intoxicated that you loose your wits about you, don’t leave your valuables on the beach/table/bar/community dorm room.
If you must carry a phone- especially an iPhone- always be conscious of where you leave it and where you’re using it. If its only to take pictures, then consider using an actual camera. If you wouldn’t do it in Los Angeles, then what makes you think it would be safe to do it in the second poorest country in the Western Hemisphere (*Forbes)?
6. Expect Nicaragua to be just like its neighboring countries.
Is the United States just like Mexico? Then why would you think Nicaragua is? I often hear tourists surprised that Nicaragua is so different than their trips to other Central American countries. This is not to say that some days I don’t long for the civil engineering of Anywhere, Mexico, but I did not land here expecting it. Every country has it own attributes. That’s why we travel to different countries, not to see how they are all the same, but to experience something different.
7. Give money to beggars.
Our little town, San Juan del Sur has a drinking and drug problem. The sweet little kids who sell hammocks are high on glue, the man mumbling to himself and asking for money is drunk and will be passed out in the street in a few hours. These people don’t need your money. If you are in the donating mood, there is an abundance of non profits you could give to and insure your money is going to the right cause.
On the move
Although our house was priced well at $1,000 per month for a North American style residential home with a pool, we were surprised to see our first month’s utilities equate to almost $650. This was an unexpected, unbudgeted for cost. We did what we could to lower the payables in the next months by cancelling cable, raising our air conditioners to 30°C (86° F) and being aware of the amount of time they were on. Our son Titus, took most of his naps without A/C except for the hottest days. We also unplugged our hot water heater and stopped using the clothes dryer. We asked the gardener only to water 2 days a week instead of 5 and explained that the pool didn’t need to be filled to the edge. We were able to cut our initial $340 electricity bill down to about $260 and our water bill from $114 to $107, but the bills still added up to more than we were willing to spend.
The higher cost of living was causing us to have to restrict our spending in ways that weren’t in line with the goals of our move. One of the reasons for our move to Central America was that it would be easy to visit the surrounding countries, so we had planned on spending three days in Costa Rica over Memorial Day weekend. This was about the time that we needed to renew our 90 day tourist VISAs so we’d be getting that taken care of and enjoying a neighboring country. Sadly, because of a depleted savings account, we opted to do a quick in & out of Costa Rica so that some money would remain in our savings account. It became clear that we couldn’t afford our beautiful home if we wanted to accomplish all the things we desired while living abroad.
We started putting feelers out for other housing options, hoping to find a place with a pool that was priced unusually low. We signed a 6 month lease and were prepared to stay in our home until it was up, but thought we might be able to find someone to take it over if we found a new place. I saw something posted for only $550 on one of the Facebook pages. It included all utilities except electricity, we jumped at the chance to have a look if for no other reason but to see what other options looked like. It was a beautiful home with lots of windows to open up and take advantage of the breezes. Every room had a ceiling fan and every door and window had a screen. The home was available immediately and at such a low price we knew we didn’t have much time.
We started searching for someone to take over our lease right away, but the task was harder than expected. This time of year (the start of the rainy season) there seems to be more available than people to rent. The next night the owner of our house called to just chat and my husband, Kharron mentioned that we were looking for someone to take over the lease because of the utility bills being so high. The landlord is a nice man and said he wanted us to enjoy our time in Nicaragua and not to worry about it. Kharron hung up and we smiled at the possibility that we’d get to move sooner than the 6 month lease. We wanted to make sure that the owner was serious about letting us out of the lease and that he was agreeing to letting us move in 4 days. He told Kharron yes and we immediately contacted the owner of the new home.
The owner surprisingly said the place was still available and unlike in the US, we saw and home and planned a move in 4 days. Luckily we had Juanita to help us pack up and thoroughly clean the home after our move! She is the only reason this quick move was possible without much stress.
The new place is furnished, but did not come with linens, dishes, towels, or cleaning supplies. The first day in the home, Juanita and I (and a friend) took an expensive trip to Rivas to buy all our household items. Unfortunately, as is always true in Nicaragua, basic items can be harder to find than you ever thought possible so little things like pot holders and ice trays remain on my To-Buy list. It was kind of fun picking out our own dishes, bath mats, and beach towels!
So now we’ve officially been in our new home for 4 nights and it already feels like home. I feel very safe knowing we have a cuiador (person who watches the home or property). The property is completely fenced in so the dogs and Azalea are able to roam without any worry of cars. There are only 3 homes built and 26 empty lots so its very quiet & peaceful. I do already miss having a pool to dunk my feet & body into on the hot afternoons, but for what we expect to be more than a $1,000 monthly savings, it is worth instead visiting the local restaurants that have public pools.
We knew moving abroad would be pricey, but there were definitely some hidden costs we weren’t prepared for. Not included in the table below is what we spent in eating and drinking out. The is because of two reasons: 1. We are not that organized, 2. The cost if very dependent on how much you go out and to what type of restaurants/bars.
|Infant on Lap Tax||$124.90|
|Hotel in Managua for 3 Nights||$192|
|First Month Gasoline||$422.64|
|San Juan del Sur Day School (1/2 month)||$108|
|Flea Medicine for Dogs||$40|
There were two large expenses that I did not include in this table because they are not common. First, We were surprised at the airport to find out that we had to purchase a one-way ticket back to the United States for our son, Titus and I. United explained that Nicaragua’s policy is that an infant on a lap who wasn’t a resident must show proof of exit from the country within the 90 day VISA expiration. Caught under pressure, we purchased a non refundable one-way ticket for $1065.80. We realized too late, that we would have been out no money if we had splurged for the refundable ticket and cancelled once safely in Nicaragua. Second, our dog Rigley broke his leg and the first surgery, x-rays, and medicine cost $1040.