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

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Living in San Juan del Sur

Feeding a hungry zebra

Trip to the Africa Safari Adventure Park

On our way through Costa Rica to Monteverde we decided to stop by the Africa Safari Adventure Park located just off the freeway in Liberia. It could be that we’ve been living in Nicaragua too long, but we were extremely impressed by this place. For only $30 for adults (our kids were free) we got in a tractor pulled wagon and were lead to different areas where we could feed ostrich, zebras, giraffes, and a camel carrots from a bag we purchased for $2. We also saw gesbok, African cows, white tailed deer, and wildebeest.

The kids had a blast and it was a great break from our drive.

I'm Hidden

 

 

Dayana and Kharron with Choco Banana

Try Something New – Choco Banana

Choco Banana storeI’ve been attempting to try a Choco Banana for weeks. There’s a place in town with a big sign and I’ve stopped there 3 times asking for a Choco Banana. Each time the woman sitting inside hollers back, “Mañana!” The first time we failed at this location we walked around town looking for another vendor, but were unsuccessful. It turns out, she is the only permanent vendor of the Choco Banana.

Today Kharron, one of his employees Dayana, and I headed over for a little afternoon pick me up and they were finally in stock. The first bite was amazing, the cold chocolate & almost frozen banana was refreshing on this sweltering day. But after a couple bites the joy of the chilly treat wore off and the texture of the smooshy banana mixed with the chocolate that stuck to the roof of your mouth took over. The chocolate wasn’t strong enough to satisfying my chocolate craving so we bought a Snickers bar to share.

With all this said, while here in San Juan del Sur, give the Choco Banana a try!

Sunshine the chicken

Buying Chickens in Nicaragua

A Hen in the Wolf House

First off, I love having chickens. I grew up always having at least 5 chickens. As an adult, at our house in California, we had chickens before we moved to Nicaragua. Any excuse I can come up with to own chickens, I’ll use it.

So since we have property with plenty of bugs, I decided we MUST have chickens grazing on it. It would give us something to visit on the property each day, good nature lesson for the kids as they laid eggs and created chicks, and I’d get to own chickens!

We started asking around where we live and quickly found out that we needed to go further away from town, “el campo” where people have more land, and therefore enough chickens to afford to sell some. We also learned that it being November which is close to December & Christmas, that the price of a chicken was going up. We decided to make a trip to “el campo” after our car was fixed.

checking-out-chickensSince I love having chickens, the weekend after we got our car back we took Juanita to “el campo” to look for chickens for sale. We had to ask several houses and kept hearing about a person who had “bastante gallinas” (a lot of hens). When we turned the corner on the dirt road, we knew we had found the right place.

Even though the woman had “bastante gallinas” she was not thrilled about selling some. Juanita & her spoke and she started rounding them up to pick out 4 hens. We put our chickens into a large dog crate in the car, buckled up, turned the key and the car wouldn’t start!

Our battery had been acting a little funny, but we were in “el campo” we can’t be stuck! The look on Juanita’s face said the same thing. After waiting and trying a couple more times, Juanita, Kharron, and a helpful gentleman pushed the car down the slope while I tried to get the car to start. I didn’t realize you needed to have the car in 1st gear, so with Kharron at the wheel and Juanita & I pushing down hill the car revved to life and I literally jumped for joy.

trying-to-set-up-the-coopThat night the chickens slept in the dog crate at our house. The next morning after jumping our car to start, we went out to the property to release them. Kharron left me alone in the drizzle with the crate of chickens, some chicken wire, and a machete while he went to buy a new battery for our car. I developed a game plan, spread some feed on the ground, filled a water bowl, and opened the door of the crate. Almost instantly one of the chickens had a scorpion in her beak. I was so proud and happy to have my girls cleaning the property.

I propped a large branch from the ground against the sturdiest tree I could find. While the hens picked around their new land I used the string that held the chicken wire in a roll to make the best coop I could for the night. I hoped that our day laborer, Manuel, could make something better the next day.

The next morning when Kharron went to the property we were already down one chicken. The other 3 had found a larger tree off the property to perch in. Our workers digging the well & Manuel kept telling Kharron how sad & scared the hens were to be left alone on the property. We had no idea Nicaraguans cared so much about their chickens! That day 2 more fled up the hill and off our property, so we were left with only one and by then I surrendered that the chickens indeed did not belong on the property yet. We caught the one and brought it to Manuel’s dad’s house down the street.

This morning I was hopeful that Kharron would find more, happily grazing on our property again, but there was no sign of their return. I am happy to report that one hen did show up later this morning and is now safely at another home with her sister-hen.

 

Catching the Collectivo

Transportation between San Juan del Sur and Rivas

A few months ago we learned that there is a cheap taxi service option between San Juan del Sur & Rivas. Its called the “collectivo.” For only $C50 (less than $2) you can catch a ride from in town San Juan del Sur to the market in Rivas and visa versa. The reason this is such a good deal is because the Rivas taxis need to get back to Rivas & the San Juan del Sur taxis need to get back to San Juan, so they wait until they are full with 4 passengers and you’re on your way… fast! In San Juan del Sur you pick it up outside of the delicious pizza place, Don Monchis. Typically the wait is no more than 15 minutes, but if you happen to be the 4th person then you can be on your way in a matter of in minutes.

new-car

Buying a Car in Nicaragua

Our Worst Investment

We planned to arrive in Nicaragua sight unseen with a baby, a toddler, 7 suitcases, and 2 dogs. We knew that we needed to have a car immediately. Luckily, one of Kharron’s friend’s fathers, Joe already lived on the Atlantic side of Nicaragua and offered to help us get a car purchased before we moved. He seemed to know what he was talking about and convinced us to spend over our $4k budget so that we would have less problems. He advised us to spend at a minimum $10k, but that was not financially possible, so we agreed that he’d look in the $5k-$6k range.

After test driving a few SUVs he found one that needed a clutch, but he could get that fixed and all said and done it would be $6k. We agreed and wired him the money to purchase our 2007 Mitsubishi Montero. When Joe picked us up at the airport he had our car waiting for us at the hotel in Managua. It was really great to immediately have wheels and a way to get around town. We had a list of items we wanted to purchase before we moved to San Juan del Sur a week later.

getting-tires
            Getting new tires put on

Since that day, we have made many repairs on our vehicle. It turns out Mitsubishi’s have computerized engines so when something goes wrong, the mechanic needs a diagnostic computer to tell what that problem is. This is super easy in North America, but we only found one mechanic in San Juan del Sur who has that computer. The abundance of bumpy dirt roads in San Juan del Sur is rough on cars. It is common to replace bushings annually and hoses come loose often. One of our sensors needs to be cleaned every so often or our car doesn’t start. This is always fun when you have everyone loaded in the car in the morning for school.

Car getting worked on
                   Car getting worked on
Burnt engine
Burnt engine

We found a mechanic we really like, but he is located in Rivas which is 30km from San Juan del Sur, so depending on the issue, it is sometimes hard to get our car to him. Slowly we’ve been ticking off a list of fixes our car needed, but then on our way home from Matagalpa our car finally took a dive. There was a hole in a water tube that caused the engine to overheat. A nice Nicaraguan towed us the 9km to our mechanic.

Over the last 2 1/2 weeks we’ve been having our engine rebuilt and got it back yesterday. Thank you to the “collectivo” for being a cheap was to get to Rivas to pick it up. We are hoping this major rebuild will solve most of the issues and we can finally feel confident in our car.

Mechanic receipts
                       Mechanic receipts
Ready to Sign

Buying Real Estate in Nicaragua – Part 2

Property MapThe day finally arrived when we could sign the paperwork and take ownership of our piece of land. We had already found & measured our lot and had been waiting for the surveyors to complete the required map. We did this crazy thing to pay the fee to get it approved & expedited. We put the needed $120 in an envelope, paid a “collectivo” taxi the $2 fair to Rivas, and sent the envelope of cash in a taxi to be delivered to surveyor’s office. I guess this is done all the time, but the process was very strange, and took some faith on our part.

We met at the attorney’s office at 2pm on a Thursday afternoon. Both parties did not fully trust the other. We were skeptical to wire the money before the seller signed and the seller didn’t want to sign before he received the wire. We worked it out that we wired at the attorney’s office and showed him the confirmation. We had previously wired a chunk of the money in our Solo 401k account to our personal bank account so that we could easily send a wire over the internet the day of. There were a couple hiccups like needing to have a SafePass account to wire an amount larger than $1k & not having a USA phone number, but a quick call to a responsible friend to see if I could use her number and she could send me the code made the process work out easily.

After a few minutes we showed a confirmation to the seller and then we stepped into the conference room where we were all read the whole real estate contract out loud. While in that room the seller and I received confirmation emails that the wire was sent, and the mood became much lighter. We paid a reasonable $520 attorney fee and drove back to San Juan del Sur with nervous & hopeful smiles.

The next day we quickly got to work clearing the property and looking for someone to start digging the well.
Property getting cleared  Cleaned property

 

Carved watermelon ready for judging

Does Nicaragua Celebrate Halloween?

No, but San Juan del Sur does!

The October festivities started the Friday before Halloween with a watermelon carving PTO fundraiser. Pumpkins are harder to find, and watermelon is not only easy to carve, you also get to eat the insides! The proceeds went to fund scholarships for local kids to attend San Juan del Sur Day School. If you’d like to donate for that cause, please click here. Obviously providing excellent education for our adopted country is important, but it is also important that our kids socialize with the local people & envelop themselves into the culture. I believe the more a person travels, the more tolerant they are to people’s differences. Tolerance & kindness are important attributes that I want my kids to learn.

Anyway…The event was held at a restaurant, Bocadito, where families and people in the community came to carve a watermelon and enjoy a plate of tapas and a sangria for a good cause.

The crowd of carvers  Dads & Daughter Creating

Pumpkin carving is something I do every year, so I pre-planned my, er, um, I mean Azalea’s creation. Many said that we cheated by bringing props, but Zombie Elsa was a hit with the judges, so say what they will.
Zombie Elsa  Zombie Elsa at night

On Halloween a group & I had organized the annual “Dulces y Disfraces” (Candy & Costume) event. Through October we asked businesses in town if they would volunteer to pass out 100 pieces of candy to 100 kids. The library kept a sign up list for 200 kids. Then we made 2 routes of businesses leading from the library to a restaurant called Crazy Crab. At Crazy Crab we set up a haunted house, 2 piñatas, and a Halloween music playlist blasting for the kids.
Some of the kids lined up for a photo  Trick or Treating at a hostel in town

The Princess & The Basketball Player  Pinata time

Backpacker costumesAfter the event we ate at our friend’s delicious restaurant, Jicaro Garden. Kharron & I dressed as backpackers in tank tops from Sunday Funday, the pool party crawl that backpackers flock to San Juan del Sur to attend.

November 2nd every year is Día de Los Muertos. The Nicaraguans celebrate it by going to the cemetery where family & friends are buried. They bring the deceased person’s favorite foods and spend the day cleaning, decorating, and spending time around the grave. It is truly a special day here to honor loved one who have passed.

Dia de Los Muertos here in SJDS

 

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.