Azalea’s school was having a bake sale and since I’m not working, I thought it would be fun to make cupcakes to sell. I’ve never been a baker and I’ve pretty much only made things that required a box and a couple other ingredients, so what I needed to find was a box of cupcake mix, a jar of icing, and a cupcake tin. I had no idea that this task would take me over 3 hours to complete and that’s not including actual baking time.
I told our maid Juanita, in my terrible Spanish, of my desire to make cupcakes and she informed me that I would need to go to the closest city Rivas in order to obtain the necessary items. Rivas is about 30 minutes away, but I had the time while Azalea was in school, so I set out on my shopping adventure with Juanita as my co pilot.
We thought we would find a muffin/cupcake tin at Maxi Palí which is a bigger version of the grocery store we have in town, but there was nothing that would work. They also did not sell box mix or ready-made icing. Juanita directed me to park close to the center of town and we went on a wild goose chase through many tiny filled stores before we finally found a tin sitting on top of a shelf as high as the ceiling. It wasn’t just the tin, but it was a whole carrying case with stand! Luckily this same store also sold powdered sugar to make the icing, which I discovered I would need when Googling recipes while Juanita negotiated. We went back to Maxi Palí again to buy flour and baking powder. With my items in tow, we drove back to San Juan del Sur just in time to pick up Azalea at noon. I felt very proud of my accomplishment as I promised the other mom’s that I would be making cupcakes for the bake sale.
Our furnished rental did not come with measuring cups or spoons, so on my first experience baking from scratch, I had to eyeball the measurements. Juanita said something about putting orange juice in the mix, which gave me an idea. I brought a box food coloring with me from the US, so I mixed in orange juice and orange food coloring into the batter before baking. They actually turned out quite nice! Not bad for a first time baking.
I wanted to dedicate one post to the people who helped us find our home in San Juan del Sur. We were introduced to Elisha & Gord when they contacted us after a post Kharron made on the Facebook group Expats in San Juan del Sur. He posted that we were looking for a home to move into as soon as we move from San Diego.
In Nica Now offers a spectacular service – they will do all the leg work and networking necessary to find a home in San Juan del Sur for a very reasonable price. After a short discussion about this option we emailed them back stating that we were interested in their services. Elisha & Gord replied immediately with a questionnaire that would give them an idea of what we were looking for, our expectations, and list of rated desires. Once our homework was in, we set up a time to do a video chat via Skype. It was nice to see the people we were working with, it felt like a real meeting. The power had gone out the day we originally scheduled our chat and the internet was slow the day we rescheduled, but these things were all good lessons about the land we were relocating to.
From what I had read, we thought we wanted to live in an area called Playa Marsella. It was near a beach and away enough from town, but with a few restaurant choices that seemed walking distance. I didn’t want to live right in the middle of the tourist hub, but I wanted the convenience of not always having to drive for food and entertainment. Elisha & Gord had just been living in Playa Marsella and they explained that it was on a very dusty, rocky, dirt road. It was a lot of wear and tear on your car and not ideal for walking. They suggested we live closer to town, but would still search for housing options in that area as well as what they thought would be more optimal.
I can’t say enough good things about In Nica Now’s services. We had our feelers out in many forums and as the possibilities came in, we were able to pass the options to Elisha & Gord who either knew of the property already or would contact the owner/property manager to inquire and view it. This took a lot of work and stress off of us, especially since we already had a lot going on in San Diego.
In the end, we all felt the best option was a two bedroom, two bath house with a pool in an area called Palermo. Palermo is named after the villas up the street at the Palermo Hotel & Resort. Its a hot 30 minute walk into town or a 5 minute car ride. Its located up a hill, so walking from town with 2 kids is not really an option, but luckily we have a car and a cab ride is $1-2. We love our house, the location, and the fact that it has a pool!
During a day trip to San Juan del Sur during our few days staying in Managua, we drove by our future home to check out the location. The doors were open and so we decided to politely ask if we could see the place and introduce ourselves to the owner who we knew was currently staying there. He was very nice to invite us in and give us a tour. It was great to see the place in person since we had been told that the pictures did not do it justice. The place was beautiful and we eagerly anticipated our move in date.
The owner decided to vacate a day early so that we could move in on a Monday before Kharron had to start working later that morning. We officially moved to San Juan del Sur on March 9, 2015. I frantically unpacked, yearning to ditch the suitcases and finally hang up the clothes I spent the last couple months packing and sorting. I put new “Princess Crown” sheets on Azalea’s twin bed and unfolded the canvas storage bins and stuffed them with toys and dress up clothes. I wanted Azalea to feel at home as soon as possible. I needed the Mommy-guilt to melt away along with the undeniable stress this move has caused me. After months of packing and even longer of planning, I craved a place that felt like home.
I would say we settled in quickly. I met up with Kharron’s mom who had moved into her place a couple days before, and strolled the streets of our new “downtown”. Kharron’s mom has never missed an opportunity to travel and when we told her of our plans to move, she jumped at the chance to join our adventure for 3 months. Over dinner we took turns dipping our toes in the water of the bay while the winds cooled our sweaty, relaxed bodies. Yes, this is someplace I didn’t mind calling home.
We’ve always called Rigley, “our athlete”. At the park he’s a Frisbee dog and will do anything to get to a tennis ball, while Tasha sniffs at gopher holes and points at birds in trees. I purchased a brand new Chuck-it and looked forward to presenting it to Rigley once he arrived. The morning after the dogs reached the surf camp the 4 of us excitedly took the dogs to the beach to test drive Rigley’s new toy and enjoy the doggie freedom Nica beaches have to offer.
We had been on the beach all of 10 minutes when Kharron threw a long one that bounced close to some large rocks. Rigley went full force right into one and yelped like a little girl at a Bieber concert. Kharron ran to him while I stayed back with the kids. I could hear him shout, “Its bad! Its really bad.” Kharron carried Rigley back up the stairs to the surf camp, his leg dangling in an unnatural position as they passed us.
We had just been making fun of my friend Goyo who runs the camp because he had to go to Managua that day to do some errands. Little did we know then, that Kharron & Rigely would be his passengers. We are lucky that Goyo already knew of a great vet and surgeon and they were able to drop Rigley off on a Saturday for an inspection and hopeful surgery on Monday. It turned out to be a comminuted fracture, says my brother the radiologist. Dr Dorn (who turns out usually works on humans) did an outstanding job. He opted to put pins through Rigley’s bones instead of an invasive surgery since one of the bones was in too many pieces. He explained that the fragments would slowly move back together while the contraption stabilized his leg.
We had to leave the surf camp without Rigley because our home in San Juan del Sur was ready for us to move into. Kharron will return to Managua on Tuesday to pick up our wounded athlete and deliver him to his new home.
Getting the dogs to Nicaragua was a task. Probably more our fault than anything. We made several mistakes which ended up costing us time and money, but at least we made the rabies vaccine appointment on time!
1. Booked our flight to Nicaragua to arrive during the weekend. – Dogs are not shipped via United Airlines PetSafe program on the weekend.
When I was looking at the flight options and deciding when and from which airport it was best to depart from, I noticed that all the flights out of San Diego arrived into Managua at 9:30pm. I had read conflicting information about whether customs was open after 5pm, so I didn’t want the dogs and us arriving that late. I also thought we had so much baggage, etc that I’d rather hassle with it in the light of day. Flights out of Los Angeles had a red eye option arriving at about 12:30pm. Los Angeles was more of a drive, but I didn’t feel like we had another option.
I finally booked our tickets and then right away called the PetSafe department to book the dogs on the same flight. I was told right away that dogs aren’t transported on the weekends and that they could fly out the next Monday morning departing at 8:30am, arriving in Managua at…9:30pm!!! Having already booked non refundable tickets for the family, I went ahead and booked the dogs.
2. Not understand the importance of the check-in time frame. – Must be 3 hours before flight (unless military), but for an early morning flight, no more than 3 hours
Kharron’s brother, Kevin, graciously agreed to take the dogs for the couple days after we left and get them to the airport 3 hours prior to their flight. Yikes, that’s early! It was set, problem solved. We boarded our plane on a red eye at 12:30 Saturday morning with a plan to spend a couple nights in Managua until the dogs came in, then go to stay at a friend’s surf camp until we could move into our home in San Juan del Sur.
We woke up Monday morning excited that we would be seeing our pooches that night. Kharron and his brother were texting that Kevin was on his way to the airport with his dad, Baylee, and everything was going as planned. Things turned bad quickly. Once Kevin found the cargo area it quickly became clear that he had missed the 30 minute window between when the cargo department opened at 5am and 3 hours before the flight. Dogs were not going to fly that day.
3. Book dogs on their own flight arriving at night. – Managua will not allow animals to arrive after 5pm unaccompanied by a passenger.
Kevin had to make a new reservation for the following morning. The dogs were going to need to spend the night in Houston (more money) so that they could be on the first flight out of Houston on Wednesday morning and arrive in Managua during the daytime.
4. Send someone who doesn’t own a credit card to drop off the dogs at the airport. – United only takes credit cards, no cash allowed.
We decided to go to the surf camp anyway and Kharron could drive the 1 and a half hours back to Managua to pick them up on Wednesday. Again, Tuesday morning we were excited to get the process underway. Kevin was on his way to the airport and targeted to arrive within the allotted window. Kharron was giving me the play-by-play as I chased Azalea around paradise. Kevin and dad arrived on time…dogs are out of the truck…they are getting checked in…paperwork is missing…wait, no it isn’t… It was tense! My interpretation to the story is when Kevin pulled out the wad of cash we had wired him to pay with the ticketing office then told him they only took credit cards. NO!!!
Let’s do this again. Dogs are booked for Thursday morning flight, staying in Houston, arriving on Friday. We were quickly approaching the 10 day expiration date of the Certificate of Health the vet filled out and USDA stamped. This was going to get really messy and expensive if we didn’t manage to work this out by no later than a Friday arrival.
5. Didn’t pay enough attention to recent changes in crate regulations. – I couldn’t even tell you the rules. Allow yourself enough time to buy another one if needed.
We called in for back up. My friend Kelly recently became a stay at home mom. She’s fierce, smart, gorgeous, and owns a credit card…she was just the person for the job! We wake up Wednesday morning now with a feeling of doom. Again, Kharron on his phone now with Kelly. Kharron’s dad again there for support. Everything is going good. We are texted the above picture. Dogs were on the dolly! They must be in, all is clear… wait, no, there’s a problem. Rigley’s crate is too small and Tasha’s doesn’t have the correct bolts holding it together. They are given one new crate and BayLee goes to another airline and is able to buy another crate.
Finally, dogs are cleared and the crowd goes wild!
I get this email a couple hours later and the stress pours out of me like frozen margaritas from a blender.
Leon is only about 30 minutes from Miramar (where Surf Tours Nicaragua is located). My friend and manager, “Goyo” and his team take guests upon request to Leon to sign up for Volcano Boarding (yes, this is an actual thing), go shopping, experience some night life, or whatever they need – so we followed their van to the city.
I was much more impressed with Leon than Granada. I had read that it is a university town, but was still surprised by the center of town with its beauty and easy bustle. This is a city I will enjoy visiting again.
I had to hit up my friend “Goyo” who runs Surf Tours Nicaragua for a favor because in the end we couldn’t get our place in San Juan del Sur until the 9th of March and already had plane tickets for Feb 28th. We were having a hard time finding a temporary option for the dogs that also had good internet so Kharron could work. Luckily he seemed to have no problem with us invading his space and welcomed us to his Eden.
It was like a scene from the movie The Beach coming from Managua to this garden of paradise. We found the place easily with his step-by-step instructions and were soon sitting up top at “The Rancho” watching the sets of waves roll in and enjoying some homemade sangria. I can’t say enough about the beauty of this surf camp and the hospitality my friend and his local & American staff offer.
Goyo took us and the other guests to “The Lobster Lady” which was a great look into the way the locals live and the best food I’ve had yet in Nica.
Bittersweet to leave this sanctuary and drive the 3 hours south to our new home in San Juan del Sur.
With a lull in a day while the arrival of our dogs gets postponed, we decide to take a day trip to Granada. Granada takes about 45 minutes to get to from Managua. I wasn’t as impressed with “the first European city in mainland America” as I thought I would be. The colorful pictures of the church and architecture weren’t as striking in person. We did enjoy our few hours there and our 30 minute horse & buggy ride (for $15).
For the first 3 days we stayed in Managua, listening to the advice of a friend who was already living in Nica. We landed on a Saturday and our dogs weren’t scheduled to come in until Monday night. Our friend Joe reserved us a spot at Don Quijote Hotel for only $60 a night and was going to show us around the city for the next couple days. The hotel was in a convenient location, was very clean and included breakfast and delicious coffee in the morning.
Managua is like an infectious disease that slowly creeps up on you. The first day you notice its busy and a little dirty, but you’re okay with it. The next day the scenery seems a little apocalyptic and you can’t believe how crazy the drivers are. By the third day you just want to get all your errands done quickly and get out before the inevitable accident in a rotunda, or traffic ticket.
Managua is a necessary evil when living in Nicaragua. There are things harder to find outside of Managua and everything is cheaper there. The best supermarket, La Colonia is located in Managua (also in Granada and Leon), the best veterinarians, hospitals, and stores. Mechanics seem to take trips to Managua many times a week for parts.
On our last day we ran around going to get a copy of our car key made since the one the car came with was about to snap. We also went to Western Union to wire money, went to SENSA – the big hardware store owned by Ace, Kid’s Plaza looking for a twin size plastic sheet (Azalea was having some bed wetting issues), ate lunch, and managed to buy our way out of two traffic tickets which are called “multas” – translated to “fines”.
I thought getting through customs with 7 bags and 2 kids was going to be a nightmare, especially after traveling a red-eye. It was actually very easy! There are men to help you with your luggage and you only need to pay them a couple of dollars to make them happy.
There is a VIP option which for $30 per person (and some undisclosed amount for kids) you can skip customs all together. They take you out a side door and you wait in a lounge while they stand in line and do everything for you. Not sure how this is legal. I thought we had made a reservation for this, but there was no one holding our name on a sign when we exited the plane and it wasn’t much of a hassle anyway.