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 Category:

Living in San Juan del Sur

The newest member in our family

Bala the Cat

Soon after we moved in we discovered that we had mice.  Not just one mouse, “who didn’t eat anything” according to our landlord, but at least three.  Being the pet lover I am, I used this opportunity to convince my husband that we needed a cat.  I was very persuasive and that day I posted on the San Juan del Sur Friends and Neighbors Facebook page that we were looking for a kitten or junior cat.  I was worried that a mature cat might not be a fan of Azalea and her 3 year old behavior.

A nice retired couple, Diana & Jeremy, from Canada commented that they had a sweet cat they couldn’t take back home with them. Bala (Bullet in Spanish) was a stray who wouldn’t take no for an answer and finally sick, emaciated, and hungry they started feeding Bala and letting him in the house during the day.  They were kind enough to take him to one of the local vets and you would never know it today how rough he once had it.

The family went to go see Bala that day.  Azalea instantly fell in love and even though he’s not a kitten he is very patient with her.  Diana & Jeremy moved with two of their own cats, who weren’t very excited about their new sibling. Now that they had decided to temporary move back to Canada before traveling the world as pet sitters, they couldn’t ask their family to care for a third cat.

We took Bala home and by night time he was acting like one of the family. He is a very loving and sweet boy.  We are happy to have this addition in our home…but we still have at least one mouse.

 

Como

Cómo se dice?

I was ignorantly under the impression that this is a term to be used often when you didn’t know how to say something in Spanish.  You could just ask the Spanish speaker you were trying to converse with, “Cómo se dice (insert English word or phrase here)?” and they would leap at the chance to tell you what you were trying to say in their native tongue.  Well, this only works if the person you’re speaking with speaks English as well, and if that were the case, you probably wouldn’t be speaking Spanish to them in the first place!

“Do you have a …cómo se dice cucumber?” I want to say in the mercado.  “Where is the…. cómo se dice jelly?” I want to say at the supermarket.  “Cómo se dice I want you to make whatever for dinner, I don’t care.” I want to say to our maid, Juanita. All instances where I would and have gotten the sideways turn of the head, not in the least bit understanding what I am trying to communicate.

The more useful, but less practiced is “Que es esto?” meaning “What is this?” but only works if you have the object in the vicinity of pointing ability.  This is more used when you are trying to increase your Spanish vocabulary, which my family is doing on a daily basis.  Otherwise by grunting and pointing you would attain the same outcome. No language of any sort needed.

Recently, while driving to the Maxi Palí in Rivas with my maid and stumbling over my Spanish words because I couldn’t access Google Translate (and because my Spanish is extremely limited), my maid corrected me by saying, “No tengo palabras en Español.” Yes! Exactly! I don’t have the words in Spanish! So help an amiga out and give them to me!

Juanita serving us a local dish, arroz aguado.

We’ve Got It Maid

While doing research of where we wanted to move, we came across a couple Nicaragua blogs that mentioned the extremely low price you pay to have help in your home.  No one said it better and more convincing than Mike’s Gringo Life, “We have a traditional home. I work outside the house and Carol works at home and with the kids as a full time mom. If we lived in the US, she’d probably be doing most of the laundry, housekeeping, cooking and cleaning. Here she doesn’t have to. She gets to spend an extra hour (30 minutes each way) with them every day because she is free to take and pick up the girls from the school. She creates crafts and games ready for them after school. She’s there rested, relaxed, and ready to listen and engage them in conversation. This, alone, is a treasure chest of gifts for the girls.” I knew I wouldn’t be working at least at first, and it seemed like a daunting task going from working full time to raising 2 kids, doing all the household chores, and shopping, all in a foreign country.  It was a pleasure to hear that I didn’t need to…and that my husband was on board!

We mentioned to our landlord that we were interested in hiring someone to help in the house, so he set up a meet-and-greet with his friend Juanita (and her son who speaks English).  We negotiated how many days she’d work and what hours. Juanita wanted to work 6 days a week, with Sundays off.  She gave us the choice of either 7am-12pm or 8am-1pm. I mentioned I’d like her to cut fruit to have in the frig, make lunches some days, and prepare dinner for about 3 nights a week.  She already seemed to understand the regular household chores she’d be doing. Juanita seemed perfect for the job and we told her we looked forward to her coming the following day.

So here’s the breakdown: Juanita works 6 days per week 8am-1pm officially, but usually she leaves between 1:30 and 2pm for $200 per month.  That’s about $6.70 per day or $1.30 per hour…assuming she actually left on time. At first she worked Monday – Saturday, but recently she’s asked to take Wednesday off so she can bus to Managua to buy clothes for her side business.  She now works Thursday – Tuesday. She makes lunch probably 4 days a week and prepares dinner about 3 days.  Its best if I take her to the supermarket (Palí) and the mercado to do the shopping for the week, otherwise I’m running to the store every day after we decide what she should cook.

I had an epiphany the other night while the whole family was enjoying dinner together as usual since we’ve moved.  We hardly ever ate dinner together in the US.  I’m embarrassed to say, we usually parked Azalea in a high chair seat in front of the TV with her favorite show playing so that we could get a 30 minute break.  When she was a baby I’d feed her mashed up veggies hours before we even started making our own dinner. We could never get our dinner ready early enough for us all to eat together.  With Juanita preparing the meals, its easy to eat dinner together every night, its become the norm.  Even when we cook, we start early and always include both kids around the table.  This is the way I grew up, and I’m so happy to be passing the dinner table tradition on to my kids.

Every morning I make a fresh fruit smoothie or fruit and yogurt mixed with granola.  Its easy to do now with all the hard work already done.  I have 3 Tupperware containers full every day of cut fruits to choose from.  The fruit is SO good here!  Papaya, watermelon, cantaloupe, and pineapple are our favorites.

Kharron usually comes home for lunch and we all eat again around the table.  If we don’t eat at home, the kids and I meet him in town and go to one of the many restaurants.  After lunch both kids are usually ready for their nap.  I put them to bed feeling gratified that they are getting the love and attention they deserve from both of their parents.

Juanita has helped us in so many ways outside of the household.  She not only lead us all around Rivas shopping for a motorcycle for Kharron, but also put the motorcycle in her name since you have to be a resident to own a vehicle in Nicaragua. The day after we purchased the motorcycle she rode back to Rivas to file all the paperwork and get a tune up.  She rode with me into Rivas to get local prices on new tires for the car, hunt for everything necessary to make cupcakes, to go to the cleaning store, Casa de Limpieza”, and navigate the large mercardo.  She also gives us a patient Spanish lesson each and every day she works.

There are some hidden costs to hiring household help. People in Nicaragua are paid on a 13 month payroll, paying double in December.  Its possible your maid might ask for help with a medical bill or other necessity they cannot afford. I am told that if you hired correctly, you will not mind sometimes paying for the small things requested.  We have already volunteered to purchase Juanita glasses after seeing her squint to read the small print of Google Translate on our phones.  This cost us $170 for exam and glasses, but the pride I feel when I see her put them on is priceless.  Juanita has 3 sons and asked for a loan of $100 to send her middle son to finish English class.  This came at a good time because we started to need some childcare for 3 hours a day twice a week while I volunteered.  We negotiated just $15 more a month (and towards her debt) for this extra service. Last night she asked to borrower our motorcycle to ride to church because her family’s motorcycle had a flat tire, we gladly lent it…its in her name!

We have lucked out with Juanita.  We totally expected to go through a few maids before finding the right one, but couldn’t want for anything more.  We look forward to speaking more of her language because its become clear that she is very funny and can’t wait to understand all of her little jokes.  After one month she’s already become one of the family.

 

 

SONY DSC

The Box Arrives

We shipped a 30 x 30″ box out of Los Angeles to our address in Nicaragua 2 weeks before we departed. (Read original post here.) The company told us it would take 6 weeks to arrive.  It only cost $275 and weight did not matter. We weren’t convinced with this too-good-to-be-true price that our box would actually arrive.

Once here I found myself saying daily, “IF the box comes we’ll have…new sheets/books for the kids/jumpy for Titus/Azalea’s big stuffed frog/a scooter/our rice maker/our great coffee maker/DVD player & DVDs/amplifier for Kharron’s guitar/router/external storage for computer/clock radio that charges phone/diffuser with essential oils/toys for the kids…”  I didn’t want to invest in any of these items until we knew whether they were lost forever or being delivered to our door.

At 8:30pm almost exactly 6 weeks from shipping date I got an email from my mom stating that she had gotten a call from the shipping company and they want to deliver the box that night. She gave me a Nicaraguan phone number to call to organize the delivery.  I had to give the shipping company her address and phone number since we wouldn’t have one in the US any longer.  I called right away and the man said (in Spanish) that he was in Granada which is about an hour away and wondered if he could deliver the box that night.

The delivery men took a little longer and didn’t actually show up until about 11pm, but we were too excited to mind. It was like Christmas!!! We were so thrilled and couldn’t wait for Azalea to wake up the next morning and see all of her old toys.

If you’re interested in using this company, the information is: Central de Envios / 213-383-9300 / shipcentral@yahoo.com

Books
Bookshelf full of books, crazy light up toy Azalea loves, essential oil diffuser, and learn to read Leap Frog book set.

 

 

All frosted with orange colored frosting

Making Cupcakes in San Juan del Sur

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.

Elisha & Gord

In Nica Now

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!

In Nica Now also has an amazingly helpful blog. If you’re thinking about a move to Nicaragua or even just a visit, I would advise reading their whole blog, but a few that we found to be most helpful are “One Month of Living Expenses 2014: San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua“,  “Is San Juan del Sur a Party Town?“, “Making the Move“, and “All About Nicaragua: Blogs, Websites & Forums and Facebook Pages“.

Thank you Elisha & Gord for your work, gentle steering, and friendship!

 

Everyone making themselves at home and enjoying the patio.

Moving In – San Juan del Sur

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.

 

Managua

Get Me Out of Managua!

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”.

Finally we were off to paradise – Surf Tours Nicaragua, in Miramar where my friend manages.

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Pet Health Certificate

Two dogs, a baby, and a borrowed Accord

Its been a little tough to figure out exactly what we need to do to prepare our dogs for the move.  Some websites say we need to get our dogs micro-chipped, although it doesn’t sound like very many places have the scanner.  Some people say you need to get the Health Check Certification stamped by the USDA (which the closest one to us is located in Los Angeles), while other people say they got their dogs in fine without it.  I guess we’ll find out if we did everything correct once we get there.

Luckily I called our vet yesterday to schedule an appointment for the Health Check.  Everything I’ve read is consistent that the dogs need to get certified within 10 days of entering Nicaragua.  When I called the vet to make an appointment at the end of the month, they told me that Nicaragua requires that the dogs get rabies vaccinated no less than 30 days before departure…that’s today!  So I loaded our two dogs and Titus into my mother-in-law’s Honda Accord this morning and drove to get their Rabies, Canine Distemper. Parvovirus and Hepatitis vaccines.  Next step is the Health Check Cert at the end of the month.  I have until then to decide whether I’m driving that document up to LA.

This is the website the vet used to see what is needed: www.petrelocation.com/resources/international-regulations/nicaragua