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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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.


Fun at Monteverde

Trip to Monteverde, Costa Rica

Our friends had a vacation to Monteverde booked and their United States friends ended up not being able to go, so they invited us! We jumped at the chance to take a vacation to a part of Costa Rica we had heard was magical. Monteverde is in the cloud forests in the northwestern part of Costa Rica. It is known as the birth place of zip lining, or canopy tours as Costa Rica and Nicaragua call it. It seems like most places also have suspension bridges, Tarzan swings, and bird watching trails as well.

Crossing the Costa Rican boarder
                      Crossing the Costa Rican boarder

We hired a van to take us to the boarder and then rented a car through Alamo on the other side of the boarder in Costa Rica. We had a lot of stuff and were worried about carrying it all the way through, but luckily they had guys with carts waiting right at the entrance to the boarder so we didn’t have to carry much ourselves. We paid them about $8 since it ended up being two guys who had to pass our luggage cart once entering the next country.

We stopped at the Africa Safari Adventure Park on the way, which ended up being a great stop for everyone and since is was almost halfway through our travel day, a good break.

About an hour before Monteverde the roads got pretty bad. Very bumpy. We even pulled over once thinking we had a flat! It was getting dark and rainy so the last hour wasn’t a pleasant drive.

Stella's Bakery
          Playing in the tea cup outside Stella’s Bakery
Fun with animal statues
                                     Fun with animal statues

Our friends had rented a house and it ended up being in a great location. We could walk down to a coffee shop called Stella’s Bakery, a place called Whole Foods (no, not that Whole Foods), and there was a little park with statues the kids could climb on. It was only a 10 minute drive to the main town of Santa Elena and about 20 minutes to most of the zip lining places.


The first night we ate at a far too fancy Italian place called Tramonti. They had a lot of glass & knives pre-set on the table and did not give off a kid-friendly vibe. My mushroom pasta was delicious though! After dinner we stopped by a market for a couple items and then headed back to our house.


Even though it was quite windy and cold the first day, we decided to go to Sky Adventures and do the suspension bridges. We were worried that the conditions would be worse the next day. Kharron doesn’t own a jacket, so after eating breakfast at the house we went into town to find some rain coats and parkas.

Sky Adventures was really fun. We did a small loop on the suspension bridge before our reservation on the gondola/Sky Tram ride up to the top of the mountain. It was truly freezing up there, so while the ride was neat, the visibility was lacking and the weather made it barely enjoyable. We drove into town for a substantial lunch at Treehouse Restaurante & Cafe and then went back to Sky to do a larger loop on the suspension bridges.

I'm Hidden

Waiting for dinner
 Waiting for to-go dinner

That night we thought it would be easier to pick up to-go food from Monteverde Beer House, but it took awhile to get our order and didn’t make for great to-go food as the name would suggest.

Orchid Cafe
             Daddy trying to work during breakfast

The next day ended up being beautiful and our friend Jason and their son Brooks wanted to go zip lining. We first went out to a delicious breakfast at Cafe Orchid Coffee Shop while Kharron tried to get some work done. Then went back to the house for some relaxation. After all of us ate large burritos at Taco Taco, we dropped Jason & Brooks off at Selvatura Park and went back to the house for naps for the little ones. When we picked them up they had had a blast. A couple of the zip lines were really long, the longest being 1000 meters!

Monteverde sunset
                              Monteverde sunset from our house

On our last night Kharron made us an amazing beef straganoff dinner. It was nice and cozy in the house and we all had fun playing around. After the kids went to bed the adults played a short game of Heads Up before calling it a night.



The next morning we ate a quick breakfast at home and were on the road by 7am. A hurricane was approaching the east coast of Costa Rica and Nicaragua and we wanted to make it back through the boarder before the heavy rains started. We all made pretty good time and drove straight through except for a quick lunch stop at a fried chicken restaurant that had a kids play area. Returning the car and getting through the boarder was quick. It helps to have kids because you get to cut the line.

We really like traveling with this family. They have a similar schedule and same pace of day. Sharing a home is family friendly and fun. The kids are close in ages so everyone has a friend. Azalea plays very well with Brooks (usually) and it is adorable watching them together. I’m sad to say that they have decided to move back to New Mexico earlier than planned. We are truly going to miss them.

What not to do

7 Things not to do in Nicaragua

7 Stupid Things Tourists Do

1. Feel sorry for the people.

Often I hear tourists talk about how sad it is for the people of Nicaragua. That they are so poor and must be miserable. If they took off their North American lenses, they’d see the genuine smiles I admire daily on local Nicaraguans. Tourists see laundry drying on a line, a small home, and people sitting out in front of their house at night in plastic chairs and assume that they are unhappy. Don’t mistake cultural differences with happiness.

2. Want to bring one of the poor animals home.

Tourists have an urge to adopt. They want to give that poor dog they see on the street a better life. I can tell you, my dog has never been happier than living here in Nicaragua. In the United States, all she did all day was sleep on her pillow-top bed under an attached blanket. The highlight of her day was one trip to the park (if I had time) and dinner. Here, she spends her whole day hunting inside bushes, chasing birds, watching geckos crawl across walls, and following our gardener around the large yard. She gets to go to any beach off leash and most restaurants find no problem with a dog coming inside. Most of the dogs here roam free. They are allowed to dig in trash cans, urinate & dedicate where ever they want, chase people, make doggy-friends, and fornicate when nature calls.

I think as Americans we believe that dogs are happiest on top of a nice, overly-stuffed bed with an owner who treats them like a human. I have to disagree. Looking back, I think my dog was bored. She didn’t have anything else to do but sleep and eat. I took her to the park for maybe 30 minutes a day. She was overweight and possibly depressed.

3. Rush around.

Every visitor we’ve had greets us with an air of expedition. This is supposed to be a relaxing vacation and they are in a hurry to go someplace to relax. They want to plan multiple things to see and are nervous that it might not get all done. How can they see fit in relaxing at the beach on the same day as seeing a volcano? They need to swim in the lake at Laguna de Apoyo, but might as well quickly check out Granada while so close. Even my retired parents found themselves frustrated by the pace of Nicaragua. Why does the food take so long at a restaurant? Can’t they open another line at the grocery store? Why are there so many bikers in the way on the road? I find myself relating less and unable to process the nervous energy of my guests. Its like the Tanzanian Devil walking beside you on the beach. A cloud of dust swirling around, unable to land and truly enjoy anything.

4. Assume that everyone speaks English or wants to learn.

We made the same mistake when we moved to Nicaragua and were slapped in the face by the fact that many people here neither speak English nor desire to learn it. We have struggled to learn to communicate with the locals. We try daily through much frustration to master Spanish. It is painful to hear tourists passively say that Nicaraguans need to learn English. That is a ludicrous statement and equal to a Mexican in California saying that California’s need to learn Spanish. Would both parties benefit from the ability to speak the other language? Yes. But that does not mean that the person will never be able to meet their full potential if it is not learned. The native language here is Spanish, so do your best to try to communicate in that language. There are many phone applications now that can help you do this with ease. Nicaraguans are very accepting people and with a little bit of effort you will find they have great patience and enjoy the chance to help you learn their native tongue.

5. Get robbed.

Charlie on Travel wrote a great article about how not to get robbed in Central America. Let me sum it up for you: don’t wear your most expensive jewelry or go parading around in name brand attire & accessories, don’t keep your whole wad of cash in your wallet for everyone to see when you’re making purchases, don’t get so intoxicated that you loose your wits about you, don’t leave your valuables on the beach/table/bar/community dorm room.

If you must carry a phone- especially an iPhone- always be conscious of where you leave it and where you’re using it. If its only to take pictures, then consider using an actual camera. If you wouldn’t do it in Los Angeles, then what makes you think it would be safe to do it in the second poorest country in the Western Hemisphere (*Forbes)?

6. Expect Nicaragua to be just like its neighboring countries.

Is the United States just like Mexico? Then why would you think Nicaragua is? I often hear tourists surprised that Nicaragua is so different than their trips to other Central American countries. This is not to say that some days I don’t long for the civil engineering of Anywhere, Mexico, but I did not land here expecting it. Every country has it own attributes. That’s why we travel to different countries, not to see how they are all the same, but to experience something different.

7. Give money to beggars.

Our little town, San Juan del Sur has a drinking and drug problem. The sweet little kids who sell hammocks are high on glue, the man mumbling to himself and asking for money is drunk and will be passed out in the street in a few hours. These people don’t need your money. If you are in the donating mood, there is an abundance of non profits you could give to and insure your money is going to the right cause.