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

Browsing Author:

Jenna Reid

Family Photo with Cascada Blanca in the background

Trip to Matagalpa

Azalea’s school had a “rainy season break” so we decided to make the best of it and took a long weekend trip to see Matagalpa and the famous coffee plantation & hotel, Selva Negra. We invited some new friends who seemed to have like minds, the same slightly twisted sense of humor, and kids with similar ages.

We left San Juan del Sur at 6am on Saturday, hoping to have a full day The 4 1/2 hour drive North was a little long, but breathtakingly beautiful. Rolling green hills and the sight of coffee beans drying.
Rolling green hills  Coffee beans drying

We reached Selva Negra at 11am and decided to see if we could get an early check-in. With no problem at all we paid for our 2 nights upfront and were given 1 key to the 3 bedroom “bungalow” Grethel. We quickly unpacked and headed to the restaurant for lunch and some running around. We were all pleasantly surprised – the food was not only delicious, but also a reasonable price and there was a huge playground next to it that the kids loved!

Azalea loves to swing  Happy Titus in a sweatshirt!

Happy Ice Cream EatersFor dinner we went into the town of Matagalpa and as suggested by a friend, we ate at the restaurant California Happy. It was really delicious! I think I’ll dream of my taco salad for the rest of my time in Nicaragua. We then went to Kiss Me for ice cream dessert. The decorations are insanely cute, but to be honest, we weren’t impressed with the ice cream or the service. Plus, our 4 year olds ordered “chocolate” but we were not told that it was actually chocolate cafe. I realized this only after licking a little off my daughters cone before it melted onto the floor.  Luckily the coffee did not have an affect on our tired travelers and they went to bed with ease.

Horse Riding in the mouthains

The next day both families went on a 30 minute horseback ride through some of the coffee bushes. It was a little scary with the little one’s because the horses loved to trot, but for some reason I couldn’t stop laughing. 30 minutes was the perfect amount of time.

Walking to the swimming areaOnce back we quickly packed to go see Cascada Blanca. I read that there was an on-site restaurant, a cave, and place to swim, so we packed accordingly. Someone with kids had suggested it, and after doing some research it seemed doable with little ones. Feeling how cold the water wasIt was about a 30 minute drive from Selva Negra and was so worth it! We had a great afternoon exploring and could have definitely stayed longer if the toddlers didn’t need naps.

When we got back to Selva Negra we were all in need of a shower, but the water pressure in our bungalow was non existent in the shower. Our friend, Jason went up to the reception to ask if we could use another bungalow’s showers. The offer for us to move to another cabin and after checking out the 5 bedroom, 3 bath kid paradise, we decided it was worth the effort to move. Casa Bosche has a long hallway that the kids loved running up & down.

While moving our car loaded with all our stuff, my husband miscalculated the width of the driveway in the dark and one of the wheels of our car went off the edge. The men try to fix it that night, but decided it was a task better done in the daylight. With the help of a few Selva Negra employees and the winch on Jason’s SUV, our car made it to four wheel on ground safely.

Breakfast ChaosAfter freeing our car and breakfast our friends got on the road to take advantage of their littlest’s nap time. Kharron used the Wifi in the restaurant to get some work done and after we did one last walk around the property to get some of the kids energy out. Selva Negra is truly beautiful and we look forward to another trip to the chilly mountains.

View from breakfast  Gazebo across the pond

Pond View  Titus & Kharron with the Chapel behind them

putting-in-boundary-marker

Buying Real Estate in Nicaragua – Part 1

After living in San Juan del Sur for a year and a half and spending about 3 months looking at land, we’ve finally found our piece of Nicaragua.

We are unlike the clients I experienced during my brief stent as a Real Estate Agent in Nicaragua. We were interested in a much larger lot than most, what is called a “manzana” which equals 1.74 acres. We are also forgoing the pricier option with ocean views, and instead want to create our own oasis with lush green valley views off the road to the Southern beaches, called Las Delicias.

We transferred our 401ks and IRAs into what is called a Self Directed IRA or Solo 401k . Our budget is not huge, so we had to spend extra time looking for property and utilizing all our Nicaraguan connections in order to find the best price we could in the area we wanted to buy. The less we spent on the land, the more money we will have to build our vacation rental.

We met with the seller thinking he was just going to meet to talk about what piece and shape of his large 320 manzana plot we wanted and to measuring-our-landfinalize pricing. Instead we walked through the boundaries of our potential parcel with a team of 2 men leading the way, cutting through the tall grass & bush with machetes. We worked as a nester-cutting-the-wayteam with a surveyors tape measure, marking off where our boundary posts will go and hammering temporary markers made out of freshly cut trees. Once back at our car, the seller asked if we could pay half of the total sales price that day. Taken by surprise, we told him we were unable to pull that amount of money out of an ATM in one day. nester-hammering-post

We headed back to our office to discuss further the next step towards ownership of the land. The seller was very persistent about moving forward without an attorney, plot map, etc. Luckily, in the midst of all of this, we spoke to our friend Gaspar at Century21 and he coached us that it was in our best interest to sign a “promesa de venta” (a contract where the seller agrees to sell and the buyer agrees to buy) with an attorney later that week.

The next morning, possibly with our heads a little more refreshed and feeling less rushed, we realized that we had measured our plot incorrectly. A manzana is 6988.96 square meters, and we had measured 35 x 140 meters which equals only 4,900 square meters! What is amazing is how huge it had already seemed and we were still getting 2,088 more square meters! With this new piece of knowledge we called the seller and discussed meeting his workers again and marking the property correctly, then meeting him at an attorney to sign a promesa de venta. He agreed and we were quickly able to get that done. We paid $200 for the attorney to write up the promesa de venta and 10% of the sales price as a deposit to the seller, receiving a receipt for each. This gave us 30 days for the seller to obtain some needed paper work, find out if any taxes were over due, and have a surveyor come out to do a plot map.

Atol

Try Something New – Atol de Elote

Azalea’s school, San Juan del Sur Day School, had an end of unit event on the same day that Nicaragua celebrates the Corn Queen. In honor a family had prepared atol for sale for only $C20 (less than $1). I got to watch as they put the pink mixture of pineapple, honey, & cinnamon on top of the warm, custard-like drink. Kharron thought it was so delicious, that I had to go buy a second cup!Kharron enjoying his atol

Moneytree

How to Buy Real Estate With Your 401k or IRA

Living in Nicaragua inspires you to invest in this developing country. There seems to be an abundance of opportunities to fill the gaps of what doesn’t already exist. Even living mostly paycheck to paycheck, we still have dreams of owning something in Nicaragua. We want to build a home that we can come visit and rent out when we are not here. 

After working in the real estate business briefly, I heard there was a loophole that allowed you to “self invest” your 401k or IRA. This intrigued both Kharron & I since we had some money in our retirement funds that didn’t seem to be invested well. Using the money in our IRAs to invest in Nicaraguan real estate sounded too good to be true!

Let me explain: We quickly learned that using a 401k verses an IRA is much more flexible when buying real estate. First off, with a 401k Plan, when you make a real estate investment it does not trigger the Unrelated Debt Financed Income Rules and the Unrelated Business Taxable Income (UBTI or UBIT) tax (IRC 514).  However, this exception does not apply to IRAs. In other words, using a “Self-Directed IRA” to make a real estate investment would trigger the UBTI tax. Secondly, traditional IRA’s only allows an individual to contribute $5,500 annually ($6,500 if the person is over 50 years old). A Solo 401k plan allows for contributions up to $59,000 per year. Since we’re planning on building a vacation rental, being able to reinvest the profits back into our retirement fund was important to us. 

There is one catch, the typical 401k plan does not usually allow for investing in real estate, so most people form a “Solo 401k Plan”. This is a traditional plan, but covers only one employee (and spouse), and allows you to bypass some regulations. If you have or create a Sole Proprietorship, your business can obtain a Solo 401k Plan. Since a 401k Plan is a trust, the trustee on behalf of the trust can take title to a real estate asset.

Don’t let all this mumbo jumbo fool you, after a lot of research we were still thoroughly confused on how to proceed. Luckily we found the company IRA Financial Group. For a small fee of $1,500, they did all the work for us. They set up the Sole Proprietorship, created The Reid Dynasty 401k Trust, and helped us figure out how to roll our existing retirement funds into a the new Solo 401k Plan. We decided to use Fidelity Financial for our Solo 401k since they have a product called a “Non-Prototype Retirement Account” for Solo 401k’s & I already had my IRA with them so in theory the rollover would be easier. 

Everything was set up after a couple months and we started looking at land we wanted to buy.

 

titus-fresco

Try Something New – Street Fresco

fresco-vendorI’ve always heard the vendors calling out “Fresco!” while riding by, but I never actually purchased one. On a hot afternoon at the park with Titus I finally decided to try some Nicaraguan street juice. I purchased the calala (passion fruit) and it was delicious!titus-drinking-fresco

Daily Work Life

How To Make a Living Abroad

After about 30 minutes of talking to someone new, usually the question that gets asked is, “So what do you do?” Those of us who have lived here long enough know that the real question being asked is, “How are you able to support yourself while living abroad?” Somewhat annoying, the answers often given are vague. “A lot of good luck.” I have heard. “I have a business.” I was told. I don’t know if this is because money is a taboo topic in North America or if people are worried the inquisitor is going to steal their job. Someone told me that those working in Nicaragua are sometimes vague because they never obtained their residency and therefore it is illegal to be making Nicaraguan income.

I feel like we are very forward with what we do for work and how we are able to afford to live abroad. In case you haven’t read through my other posts, here’s a run down: My husband worked remotely as a software/website developer for a marketing company out of San Francisco when we lived in San Diego. When we decided we wanted to make a move abroad for a couple years, he asked his company if that would be okay with them. They said yes, and for the first year we lived here he would fly back to California every 6-8 weeks for about a week. During his off time, he recruited a team of Nicaraguan website developers and once ready, he quit his job and launched a US company, SeñorCoders.

Never a person who liked to sit still, I dabbled in real estate for a little bit. I did not give it all the attention it needed, so I was unsuccessful at making enough to pay for the childcare and contribute to the cost of living. I now work for my husband’s company as a Project Manager. Although I don’t get paid, it saves us the money of paying someone else to do the job.

We are able to rent our house out in California for enough money to cover the mortgage and a large storage unit. We have amazing renters who have given us very little trouble in the year and a half we’ve been gone. We changed our mailing address to my mother’s house and Kharron’s father now drives and takes care of our truck we were unable to sell before we moved.

Well, enough about me, below are some of the jobs I’m aware of people doing that make enough money to support themselves while living here:

Real Estate Agent: If you are a top producer, this is the job that makes the most Nicaraguan money. If you are not, then you might work hard for only a few hundred dollars a month.
Owner of Construction Company: Once established and building North American style homes, a person can make a career out of owning a construction company. You do need to know a fair amount of Spanish for this to work.
Developer: There are many developers here in San Juan del Sur and most do quite well. Obviously you need to know what you’re doing and the lots need to sell once developed.
Business Owner in Nicaragua: The successful upscale restaurants that cater towards Gringos seem to make enough money to live on. From what I have seen, the owners of the smaller shops like bakeries, clothing stores, or less popular restaurants usually have another form of income. Whether its odd jobs, retirement income, investments, other businesses here, or a business in their home country.
Business Owner in Country of Origin: Online businesses are what most people manage from an off-shore location, but one family we met had a pool cleaning business and hired a manager to do what was needed on the ground. Since the cost of living is less here, skimming a little off the top can sometimes be enough to sustain a family here.
Rental Income: Earning rental income from properties here or in their country of origin can be fairly lucritive and allow for a comfortable living here in Nicaragua.
Work in Technology: Graphic Designer, Video Editor, SEO Expert & Software Developer are some of the professions my fellow Expats hold steady jobs in.
Hotel/Hostel Owner: Most of the hotel & hostel owners that I meet are living a lavish life. In fact most of them seem to have another form of income that keeps them afloat. Of course there are the exceptions, so I’m putting this on the list of jobs that can fully support living here.
Retired: I mostly meet retired military, fire fighters, and police in my age group, but there are all sorts of retired people who live very comfortable & happy lives here.
Sold Assets: I hear of people who sold their house in their home country and the profit was enough survive on a modest amount of monthly funds. Some have cashed in investments and are able to do the same. If it isn’t quite enough to survive on, then they do small jobs like Property Management or book keeping to supplement.
Teacher: Teachers don’t get paid very much here, but it is enough for a single person to sustain a life here. Maybe not with the luxuries of air conditionig and hot water though.

Here’s a list of other professions I have heard other people doing: Online Sales Agent, College Sport Recruiter, Non Profit Aid Organizer, Photographer, Gold Miner, Screen Writer, Branding Consultant, Wellness & Yoga Retreat Coordinator, & Tour Manager.

It is very hard to make enough money here to support a lifestyle you are probably used to in your home country. If you plan to move to Nicaragua, the best advice is its best to have a healthy amount of savings or better yet, income coming from outside Nicaragua. Or as I’ve heard it put, “The best way to make a million dollars in Nicaragua is to bring a million dollars to Nicaragua.”

 

queso-pastry

Try Something New – Nica Street Pastry

Every time I passed by this stack of pre-bagged food, I thought it was some sort of empanada. I mean, it does say “queso” on each baggie. Today after picking up Titus from preschool, I finally ventured out and purchased one. While I waited to buy my C$15 ($.50) bag I notice the sugar glistening off the outside and my curiosity grew.titus-pastry

I untied the knot after getting Titus secure in his seat and offered him one. He seemed fairly pleased with his first bite, so I quickly hurled one into my mouth as I made my way around the car and into the driver seat. Pastry! It was delicious!pastry-in-my-hand

I saved some for Azalea after school and she quickly finished the bag, only leaving crumbs for Kharron to try. I will be buying these again.

starfruit

Try Something New – Starfruit

We only plan on living in Nicaragua until around July next year. With our clock ticking down, I feel an internal pressure to check things off my Nica Bucket List so I decided I want to try something new each week. A lot of this will be eatable, but some are experiences or places.

This week we tried starfruit or carambola, but what Nicaraguans call melocotón (which is the actually the word for peach). Its commonly used in juice or eaten with sugar. It was very sour!

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map-of-san-juan-del-sur

Living in San Juan del Sur

Why we live in San Juan del Sur

We have been contemplating buying property and building a rental home here, so this topic has been on my mind quite a lot lately. With a large impending decision like this, I have been weighing the pros & cons of choosing San Juan del Sur as a permanent tie… So, I thought I’d write about it.

When we moved abroad, our plan was to live in San Juan del Sur for the first 6 months and after learning some Spanish and understanding the country a bit more, we’d relocate to the more northern and less tourist town of Miramar. We were told by a friend who had been living in Nicaragua, that because of the large Expat population in San Juan del Sur and Granada, those cities would make for an easier transition. We wanted to live by the ocean, so San Juan del Sur it was! After the 6 months went by in a blurry flash and still flailing at Spanish, we found we had already started making friends and and a life in San Juan del Sur. We made the decision to stay.

We have a friend who runs a surf camp called Casa Sirena Surf Lodge in Miramar, so we visit often. Every time we go an air of tranquility rushes over me. I have a great fondness for that tiny fishing village that is probably today a lot like San Juan del Sur once was. I had to think long and hard about whether purchasing up there would be a better investment and location for our family’s second home. In the end we have decided San Juan del Sur is the most logical spot for us and with Miramar’s consistent surf and a major paved road connecting it to the university city of León and capital Managua, its only a matter of time before its gentle pace will too speed up.

Here are some of the reasons we choose to live in San Juan del Sur:

Beaches are Everywhere

San Juan del Sur is full of uncrowded beaches. In the year and a half of having lived here, we still have not been on every beach. In fact, we went to a private bay for the first time last Sunday for a BBQ with friends. Playa Hermosa

International School

This was a big one for us, as our children grow older the need for education will become even more important. We are confident that not only will San Juan del Sur Day School be around for many years to come, we also love the education Azalea receives there. Because of the large Expat population here, there are even more schools popping up. Titus will be starting at Escuela Adelante next week and I believe it will continue to grow and prove to be a wonderful bilingual school.

Diverse Restaurants & Food

It might sound trivial, but I don’t think I can survive solely on local Nicaraguan food. Here in San Juan del Sur there are different flavors of restaurants opening weekly. Date Night at Jicaro GardenWe have a Peruvian, Indian, Thai, Falafel, Mexican, Canadian, Mediterranean, Spanish, German, and of course North American. We have a few shops that specialize in selling imported food products like alfredo sauce, Franks hot sauce, rice & balsamic vinegar, cheese, cereal, bagels, olives, spices, Doritos, alcohol, dijon mustard, quinoa…things you never even thought about not being available. Our food menu always consists of some Nicaraguan dishes and a healthy mix of flavors from around the world.

English Speaking Spanish Teachers

One of the major reasons we moved to a Latin American country was for our family to learn Spanish. There are not only a plethora of Spanish teachers here in San Juan del Sur, but because of the tourist influence, many have seen the value in learning English. This makes the answers to questions about the rules of the language clearer.

Our House Cleaner Juanita

It has become a priority for us to make sure that our house cleaner, Juanita, never has to worry about finding work again. She has been with us since our first day of living in San Juan del Sur and we care about her, and her family deeply. She treats our children as if they were her own and our children treat her like a member of our family. Juanita is very honest, always removing money out of Kharron’s dirty clothes pockets and placing whatever the denomination is on our counter. She knows where all our valuables are, maybe even better than we do. Whether we buy a property or not, we will somehow ensure Juanita’s future. If we do buy the property, then she will manage our vacation home and her husband will be our “cuiador”.

FriendsTwo Guys Adventures

We’ve met a lot of like-minded people in the one and a half years we’ve lived here. Although most of these people are Gringos, we have also made close friendships with Nicaraguans. When moving to a foreign land, I have found that friends you can trust are even more important than they are at home. When your car breaks down in the middle of the night on a quiet road, you need someone. When you go out of town, leaving your pets for a few days, you need someone. When you’re kids have taken every last bit of your patience, you need someone. Besides the friends we have here, in San Juan del Sur there is an amazing network of Facebook pages. You can ask any question and strangers will give you an answer.

We’ve been here awhile

Navigating a new city is hard anywhere, but doing it in a foreign country and in a foreign language is a daily struggle. We’ve finally started to figure some things out. I can now offer information when someone posts a question on Facebook. We have a mechanics (actually 2), a wood guy, and someone to help with bank runs and other odd, but complex errands. We’ve worked out a network here and starting over is a task to great for me.

 

There are many amazing cities in this beautiful country we live in, but San Juan del Sur has proven to be the best fit for our family. Part Gringo, but still mostly Nica, this town has so much to offer. San Juan del Sur will always and forever remain our second home.

Azalea in local school

Local Nicaraguan School

Azalea Goes to Local School (for a month)

For the first year, San Juan del Sur Day School changed to be more like the traditional North American schedule with 6 weeks off between mid July and end of Aug. We decided to take advantage of this break and enrolled Azalea into a local primary school to give her a jump on learning Spanish and make some local Nica friends.

We decided that Newton Montgri would be the best option for preschool since the other local preschools in town lump all kids 2-5 years old into the same class. Not only does this sound like a logistic nightmare, it increases the number of kids per class, and I can’t image much time is spent on actual education. I took Juanita with me to ask the director of the school if enrolling Azalea for just one month would be okay. With much relief she said “sí”, introduced us to the teacher, and showed us the classroom. I think Juanita was proud that Azalea would be attending a local school and quickly went to work finding a uniform in Azalea’s size. She also obtained the required notebook, colored pencils, and regular pencil.Newton School

We went to California for a month, planning on Azalea attending the week after we returned. During our vacation I talked to Azalea a lot about her new “Summer Spanish School” and how everyone would only speak Spanish just like when she hung out with her neighbor friend & family. She seemed fine with the idea. She is a very social little girl, so I had high hopes for her integration.

First Day of SchoolThe first day of school I was a little nervous for Azelea, but that quickly dissolved after seeing her in the traditional uniform. I pointed out all the kids in the same uniform on our way to school at 8:15am. Kharron & Juanita also went on the first day, apprehensive for her new adventure. I picked her up after school at 11:30am and she was excited that she had made friends and one girl had given her a little “present”. The teacher told me she had done well, to pack a plate in her backpack, and that her water had spilled, so she had put it in a bag….all of which, took me a second to translate.

The next day when I told Azalea that it was time to get ready for school, her nervousness was visual. She told me that she didn’t want to go to “Spanish school” and that she didn’t understand what anyone was saying. I felt bad, but I know my daughter and if I continued to force her to go, she would soon make friends and her nervousness would dissipate.

This week the teacher asked if I could make the lunch on Wednesday. I didn’t really understand what she meant until another woman put dried beans, oil, and very dry corn in a bag. Oh, I was supposed bring these items back cooked! I showed Juanita when I got home and she offered to cook it. Actually she suggested that I buy cooked beans, tortillas, and Nica cheese so that the meal would have some flavor.  We delivered it Wednesday morning along with a gallon of orange juice. From what Azalea said it was a hit. She told me the “Spanish speaking kids stole her tortillas.” That’s okay, she doesn’t really like Nica tortillas anyway.

We’re now about 2 weeks into our 4 weeks and the pre-school tears have ceased. Azalea still tells me she is nervous on our drive to school, but she is always excited about her morning when I pick her up. She is quickly making friends. I feel very proud when I walk around town with her in uniform, it makes me feel like I am a part of the community rather than just another gringo family living in Nicaragua, but not integrating with Nicaraguans. I still plan on sending Azalea to the international school, but I hope that Azalea is able to go back to Newton during school breaks and continues the friendships she’s making.Newton preschool playground

The local schools are free for students, but we wanted to give something to the school as a thank you for letting Azalea drop-in for a month. I asked Juanita what she thought would be a good gift and she suggested “maletin de primeros auxilios” (a.k.a. first aid kit) or a buy a Filtron water purifier for the classroom. Both items are not very expensive, so we may just buy both.