The Road Not Taken

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

- Robert Frost

the 1 less traveled by

A move to Nicaragua

Looking at Jicaro Cups

Trip to the Women’s Jicaro Artisan Cooperative

I had the pleasure of chaperoning my daughters class trip to Cooperativa de Producción Artesanal de Mujeres Jicareras. Located about 40 minutes from San Juan del Sur Day School in a small town next to Rivas called Buenos Aires. The artists there gave a great presentation of the process of creating beautifully hand crafted cups, ornaments, and beverages out of the jicaro gourd.

I'm Hidden


Azalea at Surf Ranch

A letter to my 6 year old daughter

I made an email address for my kids and I send them emails every now and again. Every year I make sure I send them an email around their birthday that captures the previous year and what are life is currently like. Here’s my email to Azalea this year:

The 6 Year Old Princess

My Little Wooski,

Oh my goodness have you’ve grown this year! So many sleepovers and after school “play dates”. And, you finally did loose a tooth! Actually two, the two bottom middle ones. The Tooth Fairy brought you $C150 ($3). The second tooth went missing, but wrote a note to the Tooth Fairy and she put money under your pillow anyway.
We’re still living in Nicaragua. We’ve moved into the house we built. Grandpa stayed with us the first few months so Titus & you shared a room. When he moved into a place in town, you didn’t want to switch rooms so you still share. You seem to like it. Its a big messy room full of toys. We don’t have much furniture yet, so you & Titus roll your scooters around the house. We have a bunch a chickens and baby chicks wondering our yard. Raising them has taught you a lot about life & death. We also are sometimes a kitten orphanage. There’s never a shortage of pets around.
Your best friends are Aryel, Thalia, and Chloe. You are all constantly making plans to hang out with each other. You are a kind and thoughtful friend, everybody likes you. You are really easy to care for when you have friends over. You’re starting to do imaginary play. I’ve even heard you playing with Titus this way. You have to tell him what to say, but he goes along. He’s such a good little brother, he loves you so much!
You sort of repeated kindergarten this year at San Juan del Sur Day School, not because you were held back, but because they were more strict on age. You have a wonderful teacher, Lisa who is also my friend and Chloe’s mom. I’m so proud that you are learning to read and write. You have started to show a big interest, asking what things say and for me to write sentences for you to copy. This year you are reading the little books yourself that Teacher Lisa sends home.
You still LOVE art. You draw pictures all day long. You love to make people presents with your art. For your birthday you got a lot of art supplies and you have made very good use of them. One of the best things I’ve ever bought you is a stack of computer printer paper. You go through pages daily!
You also love to dance and sing and put on shows. We have a speaker called “Alexa” and you can push a button and tell it what songs to play. I think you really like to be in charge and make requests. You are still in dance class with Maggie at MÚÚV Dance & Yoga and she says you are doing very well. You recently gave Titus an adorable ballet lesson. I’ve attached the picture. You also just started taking soccer lessons once a week. It was supposed to be just for you, but Titus has joined in and you two seem to be having a lot of fun together.
Your favorite color is still rainbow. Your favorite foods are hot dogs from a can (*yuck), candy, Ritz cheese crackers, candy, fish, and candy. You really like sweet things. I’m constantly telling you that everything you request to eat has sugar in it.
For your birthday this year you wanted to invite boys & girls so we had a “Roller Party” at the Comunidad Connect Sports Park. Everyone brought their skates, roller blades, bikes, and skateboards. Titus got a wheel with flames cut into his hair for you b’day. You requested rainbow cup cakes again, so Daddy ordered them from a local baker. We ordered a bunch of pizza from our friend, Gaspar’s pizza place, Don Monchis. We invited a few of our Nicaraguan friends, but mostly it was kids from your school that came. It was a very easy and fun birthday party. You got a lot of presents and you were very happy. Your favorite present was a baby doll that Grandma Moo gave you. She made all sorts of clothes for her so you change her in the morning, give her baths, feed her… G’ma gave you a 6 week art class session at The Art Warehouse that you love going to.
I wrote you a birthday message on Facebook. I often wonder if Facebook will still be around when you’re older so that you can see all the pictures of you I have posted. I write a blog about our life here in Nicaragua and I will always save that for you to read later. Anyways, here’s what I wrote on Facebook:

Happy 6th Birthday To My Spunky Little Princess!
You’re my soft place to land when I’m down & my source of energy when I rise. You used to think I knew everything & now you are wise.
You are the beauty I longed to be & the creator I never was. You’re my partner in silliness & my enemy because,
You challenge me in ways I never knew could be.
You have my heart & an unbelievably kind soul. You’re growing up too quickly & I’m getting old!
I love you to the moon & back sweet girl, please forever stay bold.

I love you so much my Sweet Princess. You are strong, fierce, and funny. I have enjoyed every minute of watching you grow.
6 year birthday sons for AzaleaAzaleas 6th bday Roller PartyAdults at Azaleas 6th bdayTitus bday hair for AzaleaBallet lessons for TitusReleasing baby turtles in Nica 2017Azalea and orphan kittensAzalea helping Titus with artAzaleas first lost toothMommy and the kids at the Nica Zoo
Titus is 3

A Letter to My 3 Year Old Son

I made an email address for my kids and I send them emails every now and again. Every year I make sure I send them an email around their birthday that captures the previous year and what are life is currently like. Here’s my email to Titus this year:

Can’t Believe You’re 3!

My Little Man,

I’m always bragging about how I email you guys on your birthday and then I forgot to do it this year. But I have a really good excuse! A huge tropical storm attached to Hurricane Nate ripped through Nicaragua on your birthday!
We had been battling the heavy rains for a couple of days, with mud coming in through the back door a couple of nights. Poor Grandpa & Grandma Moo were in town for your birthday. They hunkered down in the apartment they rented. We had planned ahead and had plenty of food, water, and of course birthday presents.
The day of your birthday the winds hit. We got you a “digger” that my parents had muled in for us. The winds didn’t stop you once that thing was put together. You were out in the wet gusts scooping up the leftover gravel from our construction.
Daddy put a damper on our birthday celebration. Our internet went out and Daddy wanted to go check to see if Surf Ranch, the resort down the street had internet. With nothing much else to do in the middle of a huge storm, we all got in the car to accompany him. As soon as we pulled out of our property we saw that a tree had fallen in the road and blocked our way. Daddy decided to grab a machete and saw to clear the tree. While swinging the machete through a branch it slipped out of his hand and bounced off the ground, hitting his thumb when it ricocheted. It was bad! You could see a piece of bone splinter resting on top of his cut. I wrapped it in gauze from the first aid kit we keep in the car ever since your first birthday. The problem is there’s a river that wraps around the neighborhood we live in and it was too full to cross. We had to wait until the next day to take Daddy to the hospital. I think everything turned out ok, but he’ll forever have a “Monster Finger” after your 3rd birthday. Our family is going to have to keep sharp things away from their fingers on your birthday, this is twice on your birthday someone cut themselves!
Sadly, once we were able to leave our neighborhood we went into town and saw all the destruction that had occurred. In the picture below is our friend Joey’s boat washed onto the beach. It is the same boat we were on for Christmas last year. It was truly heart breaking to see this and the other boats all washed to shore. Nicaragua was hit very hard by this storm and there were great efforts put forward to help the locals recover from the flooding.
A few days after your birthday we were able to throw a small party for you. Like last year it was mostly our Nicaraguan “family”. We had our house cleaner, Juanita and her family, the cuidador’s family from our old house, and our cuidador’s family from the house we built, and Grandpa & Grandma Moo. We went to pizza, which is one of your favorites and then bought everyone ice cream from the ice cream shop after. Besides the digger your favorite toy was a remote control bulldozer.
We are now living in the house we built! We still have a lot to do to complete it, but we decided to save on the rent and move in. You and Azalea were supposed to have your separate rooms, but you like being together, so you still share. You still sleep in a crib we had made for you, but we plan on getting you a twin bed like your “Sissy” soon.
Daddy is the one who usually gives you both a bath before bed and then I read to you guys, sing songs, and then either sit or lay with you in your crib while you have a sippie cup of milk. You love to snuggle and it melts my heart when you request it. You’re an early riser and you always want to watch your tablet and “snuggle” in the mornings. You take a bit to wake up, so its the perfect ease into your day.
You’re still absolutely the funniest person I know, and you love being funny. You make me cry laughing on the regular. You have sweet dance moves that are always changing day to day. You’re “its stinky face” makes me laugh out loud. You’re so comfortable in your skin and its amazing to watch you be you.
You just started playing soccer. You were supposed to just be there to watch “Sissy”, but you joined in and are doing a great job! The coach even commented on how fast you are! Of course Daddy is happy that we’re succeeding in making athletes.
You really want to learn how to skateboard. Our friend Sean is letting you borrow one and I think you’d sleep with it if I let you. You started watching videos about skateboarding and you’d really like to jump it.
You favorite foods right now are peanut butter on a spoon (“maní spoon), peeled apple, fresh bread we get from a German bakery, pizza, and the bags of sliced mangos we can buy from the street vendors. You are still a bit shy at first, but are a crazy little boy once you’re warmed up. You still rock a mohawk and are about the most handsome little boy I’ve ever seen. We’re in trouble with you, little charmer.
You’re still a Mama’s Boy and cry most Mondays when I drop you off at your school, Esceula Adelante. It always breaks my heart, but when I pick you up your are always so happy with that magical smile of yours. You speak a lot of Spanish at school and I really love that place for you. You recently graduated up a level and are very proud to be a “big boy” now. You are a good boy and I hardly ever hear that you are acting up. We have an amazing relationship. I love you in a way I never knew I could love someone, even after having your sister. I look at you and I melt. When I’m around you all I want to do is hold your hand and be close to you. You are so fun to be silly with and you always play along with my childish games. You are sensitive and can get your feelings hurt easily, but I think that is part of what makes you you. You have a big heart and I look forward to watching it grow and spread out into the world.
I love you Buddy, and not a day goes by that I don’t tell you that multiple times.
Digger in a hurricaneHurricane BirthdayBoats washed up from the hurricane
Kharron bloody thumbSanta and The Reid FamilyTitus graduates up a levelTitus is always happy at a poolFamily on a vacation to Costa Rica


Santa and The Reid Family

Christmas in Nicaragua

Christmas time in Nicaragua is a lot of fun. We’ve spent the last 3 in San Juan del Sur and wouldn’t change it for paying the expensive airfare to go back to California and be part of the typical American Christmas hustle that no one even seems to enjoy. When I speak with my friends back in the States around Christmas time they sound exhausted. All the parties, family visits, and pressure to get the overpriced “it” toy overwhelms the joy of Christmas.

Nativity scene in the parkThe Christmas spirit is alive and well in Nicaragua. The first sign that Christmas is coming is the lights go up in the central park. The nativity scene is built and Santa can be seen meandering around for photo opportunities, along with his hat-peddling Elf. This year there were coin operated rides as well as a man with a bike who pulled train-like carts.

Drunk SnowmanEvery year Elisha & Gord from In Nica Now host a Sandman competition. This event is great fun for both kids and adults. There is a panel of judges and prizes are given out.

12 Pubs of Christmas




They also host an event, 12 Pubs of Christmas SJDS. This year it was the 4th annual and I heard it was a blast. It starts at 1 pm and the goal is to do 1 pub an hour. Those who show up late, can show up at the designated pub for that hour. My husband and I have never attended for fear of the recovery, but from what I am told, much fun is had.


MUUV Dance RecitalMy daughter takes dance classes at MÚÚV Dance & Yoga. Last year the kid & adult students put together a dance recital. It was so fun to watch. The smaller kids had a Nutcracker theme and had little mouse noses. Tourists and locals got to enjoy this amazing show at the popular restaurant on the beach El Timon.

Last year some of the moms in San Juan del Sur started a tradition by going to see the Nutcracker at the theater in Managua. Its a one night show, so there’s a bit of a scramble to make sure we know what day it is on and get tickets right away. It is such a fun tradition getting all dressed up, going to dinner, seeing the show, then taking over a hotel and playing until late at night.

Nutcracker    Fancy Azalea ready for the playBus ride is always fun
Snow Princess    Kids with Snow Prince & Princess

I’ve helped organize Santa coming to town for the last 3 years. He comes to a restaurant on the beach, which makes for a great photo backdrop. We’re very lucky to have Ralph & his wife in our community who volunteer not only for our Santa, but for other events around San Juan del Sur. They put on quite a show with music and dancing. One of the photographers in our town takes the photos for us.
Reids & Santa 2016Reid Family & Santa 2015
Reids Reading Letters


Santa pinata at cookie decorating partyThe last event of the season is always the Christmas Cookie Decorating Party. In the years past it was held at Gato Negro, an amazing breakfast and coffee shop that unfortunately closed down this year. Lucky for us The Art Warehouse stepped in and carried on this tradition. For only $C10 (about $.30) you can buy a sugar cookie for the kids to decorate. Its a great event to mingle and enjoy the jolly Christmas vibes. This year there was even a Santa piñata that was a huge hit for the kids!

Christmas day for my family is usually very relaxing. We spend the morning unwrapping presents, putting toys together, and playing with all the new gear. Last year Azalea got a bike and we practice her riding it. This year Titus got his own scooter, so the kids enjoyed racing around the house all morning. Last year in the afternoon we had an amazing time on our friend’s boat, which sadly fell victim to Hurricane Nate and still lays on the beach in town. This year we spent Christmas with a small group of friends and their families. The kids had a blast playing while the adults enjoyed a relaxing afternoon with no pressure.

I really do enjoy the holiday season here. There is so little pressure to “keep up with the Joneses”. I decorate our small fake tree, go to a potluck dinner, and enjoy my family and friends – just like the Nicaraguan’s do.

Christmas tree 2016Azalea drives the Chrismas boatChristmas on the boat 2016


Ze's finger wrapped up

Injured While Abroad

When I read that the nearest hospital would be 2 1/2 hours from where we would be living in San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua, I felt a tinge of unsettling fear. Being a mother of 2 young kids, I’m fully aware that a serious injury could happen at any moment.

Seans viewThis fear got even more real after we moved and I discovered that the way most of the houses with ocean views are built here in San Juan del Sur are with very beautiful, but unsafe patios. I practically have a heart attack each time I find myself in one of these homes with my kids. Rope railing are great for an unobstructed view, but I just can’t see the beauty through the images one of my children plummeting to their death.

Ze's fingerIt took 7 1/2 months before we got a personal look at the free medical system in Nicaragua. On my son, Titus’s, 1st birthday my daughter, Azalea, reached up into a snow cone machine and cut what looked like the tip of her finger off. There was so much blood! We found the piece of finger and put it on ice (but not directly, as a retired firefighter party guest advised us) and rushed to the clinic in town. Knowing this would be a Spanish-only situation, we brought my friend’s Nicaraguan husband who knew where the hospitals were and could speak both languages. We were told at the clinic in town that we could wait 30 minutes, but they would probably send us to the closest “city” Rivas, so we opted to just head there. We parked and our friend carried Azalea through the front door and straight to the back demanding that she be seen. Only two people were allowed in the hospital with Azalea, so my husband had to wait outside in the waiting area. The doctors looked at the piece of finger and determined that there was no bone in it and it was only the pad that she had cut off. They asked if we’d rather they sew it or bandage it. Titus' first birthdayI don’t have a medical background, so why they were asking me was puzzling. We decided that with her screams of pain and intense fear, it was best to only clean it and wrap it. As her finger healed, I was so happy that this was the decision that we had made. She had cut a pretty large circle off the pad of her finger. To stitch it, the skin would have had to pucker and the healing would not have looked as even. We left the hospital in Rivas after about 20 minutes with no bill to pay. Azalea decided she wanted to go back to the birthday party where we had left all of our friends and Titus with my parents. She was such a brave girl and recovered quickly enough to even have a turn at the piñata.

Exactly 2 years later on Titus’ 3rd birthday we had a tropical storm that was connected to Hurricane Nate whip through Nicaragua. Our internet went out with the high winds and we decided to head over to the resort, Surf Ranch, down the street to see if they had internet. They use the same provider as we do, so if their’s was still up, then it was something having to do with our home system and not the company. As soon as we pulled out of our property we found a downed tree blocking the road. Tree across the roadWith little to do that day, my husband decided to go get our machete and saw to try to unblock the road. It was raining outside, so the kids and I made fun in the car while Daddy worked on the tree. (pic) Once a large piece was cut free we tied it to the car to drag it away from the road. There was one small final branch in the way, and Kharron used the machete to slice through it. Easier than expected, the machete glided right through the branch and slipped out of Kharron’s wet hand. Unluckily, it bounced off the dirt road and ricocheted back, hitting the knuckle of his thumb. I heard him shout, “I cut my thumb! I cut my thumb!” As he walked towards the car clutching his wrist. I could see drops of blood rolling off his hand. There was a small white sliver of a bone resting on top of his open knuckle wound. Kharron bloody thumbWe have a river that wraps around our neighborhood, so when there is a lot of rain it gets high enough where we cannot leave until it goes down. Usually this is just for an hour, but in the middle of this tropical storm, it might be days until the rained stopped. Knowing we were stuck, uncharacteristically calmly went to the back of our SUV and retrieved a medical kit my mom had left us after Azalea’s finger incident. I rolled the kit out, assessing my options, and went for the gauze and medical tape, wrapping as tightly, but gently as I could.

It was 30 hours before we made it to the Rivas hospital. We had no translator this time, but hoped our years of being in the country would get us through even the medical terminology. Immediately the doctors started talking about admitting Kharron into the hospital for 3 days. The Rivas hospital is dirty and full of cats in the outside corridors. It is not someplace one wants to sleep even for 1 night, forget about 3. We started looking at other options and called Vivian Pellas, the private hospital in Managua. They would not be able to see Kharron until the next day, so we decided if the doctor was just going to do a local anesthetic, then we’d stay and have it cleaned and stitched in Rivas. If they wanted to put him under and do something more severe then we’d wait the day and go to the better hospital. The doctor ensured that he would do a local and just clean and suture it and Kharron would only have to spend one night. We agreed and I left the hospital to run home and get our own sheets, a pillow, and a change of clothes for Kharron. When I got back an hour later they told me he was still in surgery. I waited outside the door for over an hour. Finally they wheel him out in a chair with a huge bandage over his thumb. He told me that they put him under and he thought they put “clavitos” or “little nails” in it. We asked the nurse wheeling him, but couldn’t get a straight answer. Kharron started to get pretty serious about not wanting to spend the night. We asked for a prescription for the antibiotics they were going to give him and to sign him out. Reluctantly they handed over the paperwork, but refused to give us a prescription.

Kharron thumb with pinsTwo days later we headed to Managua for an appointment with a joint specialist. He unwrapped Kharron’s finger for the first time since his surgery and we could immediately see that it was infected. He took x-rays and noted the fracture. He performed surgery right away. Removing some of the infected skin, cutting further down to find the tendon and reattach it (that’s right, the first surgeon never attached it), and removed one of the 3 pins. We left the next day on a two week trip back to California. Kharron spent every morning re-wrapping it and making sure that the sore stayed dry.  A few days after we returned to Nicaragua we went back to the doctor to get the pins taken out. We had a good laugh during this appointment as the doctor not only told us about another Gringo patient of his from San Juan del Sur, but actually showed us pictures from her arm surgery. The doctor-patient confidentiality is slightly more relaxed in Nicaragua!

26613004_10213610307506264_759965024_oKharron saw a new physical therapist in town a few days after getting the pins removed. He still cannot bend it, but we are told that this is normal and fingers heal slow. He now has a Frankenstein finger and is forever changed by Nicaragua and Hurricane Nate.

When you hear a country offers free public healthcare, before getting getting too excited, it is important to understand what level of care is provided. In my daughter’s case, the incident was mild enough that using the national health system was sufficient and I was appreciative that even as a foreigner we were seen and cared for completely free of charge. On the reverse side I was severely disappointed by my husband’s care. After the first surgery and waking up surprised to have pins in his thumb we heard lots of stories about how that hospital is known for cutting off fingers and experimental surgeries. I feel sad for a majority of the locals who have no other choice but to use the public healthcare. How hopeless they must feel at times when receiving improper care at a dirty hospital. I quote the surgeon at Vivian Pellas who said while looking through our pictures from the Rivas hospital, “It is a shame. Cleanliness doesn’t cost anything.” One of the bacteria Kharron had was something you can only get from hospitals. Now that is sad.


Time to Pay

Nicaraguan Gestures


After living in Nicaragua for 2 ½ years, I’ve gotten very familiar with some of the common Nicaraguan gestures. I even find myself involuntarily using some of them. What I once thought was a strange tic, I now understand to be Nicaraguan body language.

The Lip Point

lip pointThe first gesture that is abundantly clear, even to the casual traveler is the lip point. Like a lot of cultures, Nicaraguans feel that pointing with your finger is rude and what could be less rude than pointing with your lips? To execute this gesture, all you need to do is make a lip puckering kissy face while nodding your head in the direction you would like the other person to turn their attention towards. It was weird at first when I experienced my house cleaner making a kissy face at me, but soon I found myself using it. The lip point is very convenient when you have your hands full but need to point at something. A side lip point can be used to point at someone acting crazy. A way of saying, “Geez, look at that guy.”

Come here hand gestureThe Hand Wave
You also don’t have to be in the country long before seeing the palm down hand wave. This gesture is the “come here” of Nicaragua. As a Gringo I adapted this gesture quickly for hollering taxis and it slowly expanded to how I call my kids over. Now it is my body’s preferred way of summoning people to me.

The Windshield Wiper Finger
This is a very useful when you want a street vendor to move along. Say, “No gracias” one hundred times and they will remain lurking in front of you, but one wordless windshield wiper pointer finger and they nod off almost instantly. I have no idea why this is the case, except that when using this gesture it feels very shaming.

Nose ScowlThe Nose Scrunch
Not a very obvious gesture, the nose scrunch looks more like a snarl tic or an attempt to snort back boogers. Nicaraguans use it as a silent, “What?” Once I realized that this was body language, it was a very useful way to see if a person understood me. With my I’m-still-learning-Spanish, I get the nose scrunch quite often.

The Finger Slap
Finger Slap

I only recently caught onto this gesture. You put your thumb and middle finger together, letting your index finger dangle, then flick your wrist, making your index finger wack against your middle finger. It’s a way of emphasizing either something you said or something they are saying. Like, “The boxing match was (so) *finger slap* good!” or “Yes! (right on) *finger slap*!” Now that I know what this gesture means, it’s really fun to witness. Usually the Nicaraguan is very excited about what they are saying with a lot of emotion.


The Finger Slide
When you see a Nicaraguan slide their right finger down there left index finger a few times in a row, you better get out your wallet because they are telling you it is time to pay. They also use it when telling stories about payment time.

The Cheek Kiss
Cheek KissWhen greeting friends and family members it is expected to give a small hug and kiss next to their right cheek. I never do this with the people we employ, but frequently with my friends. The Gringos seemed to have adopted this custom. Maybe its because of the diversity of the countries we hale from and its a good middle ground between the Netherlands three kisses, the French two kiss, the North American no kiss.

Not immediately obvious, Nicaraguans will say “Adios” if you see someone you know, but aren’t stopping to talk. It wasn’t until my Spanish teacher told me, that started noticing it. I thought that when I said, “Hola!” they were just saying, “Adios” back since we were only passing by each other. This has been a hard custom for me to adopt since my automatic response is to say “Hi!” to people. I did get good laugh when a Nicaraguan was trying to hit on me as I walked by and said, “Goodbye.” Guess he has the same problem as I do.

Knowing the body language and gestures of my adoptive country has helped make the language richer for me. I can understand the subtleties of their meaning.  Its like understanding an inside joke, and I’m no longer on the butt end.

Off-Grid life in Nicaragua


We chose our land here in Nicaragua because of its beautiful valley views, easy access to potable water and it came in at a great price. We quickly jumped on our first task of digging a well. With electric poles only 260m away we also that would be a slam dunk.  We started by getting prices by local know electricians who know how to lay big lines like these.  The quotes were coming in a lot higher than we thought and I could foresee lots of additional costs being tacked on once we were financially invested.  Around $13k is what we were hearing to put in poles which was out of our budget.  So, one morning Jenna says to me, what about solar?  My initial assumption was “no way,” that would be a large investment definitely out of our wheel-house.  Just imagine how much energy we use and how much we’ll need everyday.

First thing I did after pouring in hours and hours on Youtube and Google was obtain a copy of our last few electric bills.  12 kilowatts.  We use 12 kilowatts per day at the house that we were staying at (372kw / month).  The house we were building would be 75% of the size of our rental, so I accounted for that and a few other efficient items we would add and came to the number of 7.5kw.

I went to several local representatives here in Nicaragua, both Nicaraguan and Foreigners.  They all wanted to know what our current usage was and use that 12kw number to create our system.  They were insistent that we would use that or more at our new house.  This is what I’ve come to understand:

  • A solar sales rep becomes the engineer that decides on a system that you’ll buy which directly benefits him to give you a system larger than you need.  With their logic a 50kw system is more comfortable than a 25kw system which is true, but I don’t need either one of them
  • Consider solar extremely modular.  If you need more just add it on.
  • Complementing your system with a generator is extremely inexpensive.  Make sure to have a generator in case your system is under-sized for any situation.
  • Here in Nicaragua, a cloudy day still generates power.

Now, the nitty gritty with laymen’s explanations:

A solar powered system needs 4 major components:

Solar Panels – Charge Controller – Batteries – Inverter/Charger 

battery-picSolar Panels – Everyone understands these, they collect the Suns energy and turn it into electricity.  Think of this electricity as not directly usable, so you need all of the pieces to make the energy usable.  Why? Imagine you were using the energy directly from the panels and a cloud passed by.  Your electrical output from those panels would drop significantly and can’t provide you with a stable stream of electricity.  So for that reason, you need all the other parts.

Batteries – These store the energy for when you’d like to turn on the lights at night time.  They also provide a stable stream of electricity to your house.  So, all of the power you collect has to go through the batteries.

Charge Controller – This device goes between your Solar Panels and your Batteries.  Batteries are sensitive and this device ensures that they are charged in a manner that will make them last and inevitably not spill acid everywhere from over-charging.  For example, after your batteries are full if your panels are still generating power the charge controller will ensure that you’re dumping that power and not damaging your batteries.  This is the easiest piece of the system that you don’t really need to worry to much about.

Inverter/Charger – This is the heart of the system.  If I were to say you should splurge on any part of the system this is the piece.  This takes the power from the batteries and delivers it to your house in a way that you can plug in your blow-dryer and it just works.  The charger part allows you to charge your batteries with a generator.  Inverters come only as inverters or as inverter/chargers.  The latter is a necessity in living off-grid.  The charger part lets you charge your batteries with a generator.  Ours will even kick-on the generator when it needs to automatically.


Our Entire system costed $8,400.  We started with a $7,400 system, but later added another string of batteries for $1,100.  We expected this.

Solar Panels: (6) 325 watt panels at .83/watt – $1620 (update 11/19/2017: in Nicaragua you can get .81/watt now) – In the states you can expect 4 hours of usable sun per day.  6+ hours seems to be pretty regular here in Nicaragua.  Our 1950w system on average will product about 12kw per day.  Our  string of 8 batteries on a sunny day are fully charged by 11:30am.

Batteries: (8) 6 volt 210 amp – $1160 – This gives you about 10kw of which only 5kw are usable.  So, when the sun goes down, we’ve got 5kw before the power goes out.

Charge Controller:  60 amp MPPT Victron – $520 – a necessity that does its job.

Inverter: Magnum 4448 Inverter/Charger – $2000 – This is one of the best you can get.  It can handle 4kw of energy and can spike to 7000kw for up to 30 minutes.  It’s quite impressive actually and has rave reviews on Amazon.

Some quick math and that doesn’ t add up to $8,500, only $5,300.  There are a bunch of ancillary items for safety and stuff.  Wires to connect the system, battery disconnects so that if something goes wrong it doesn’t ruin the whole system, transport, installation.  Also, I only bought half of the batteries to start.

Aside of the 4 main items the wiring can add up a bit.  The distance from your solar panels to the batteries can increase the size of the wires necessary, we created a secure bodega to house all of our stuff.  We also skipped the battery cage, which we’ll add something to stack the batteries now that we’ve finally purchase the last 8, which by the way were $100 cheaper than 6 months ago.
Below is a screenshot of pricing that I got from Suni-Solar, Douglas is easy to deal with and speaks really good english.

Screen Shot 2017-11-19 at 7.22.20 AM

We ended up saving on Transport and Installation by picking up a lot of it on our own and we used someone else (on the side) to install the system.  Douglas is Managua based and was having a hard time finding the time to come and do our installation.

We are in the process of completing the rainy season here and probably could maintain life with just our 8 batteries.  The problem is that over the years we will use these and probably run them to the floor of 50% more than I’d want shortening the life of the batteries.  Adding a second string of batteries gives us a bit more freedom and ensures our 900 watt coffee maker can do its very important job in the morning 365 days out of the year.  The last item we need is a bigger generator.  Our current generator can power the house, but not power the house and charge the batteries, so 3500 watts is not sufficient, so we’re in the market to up that to 6000 watts.

I’ll continue to update this as more info comes in.