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.
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.
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.
Download WhatsApp on your smart phone. – This is the way that a lot of people communicate here. Most restaurants and bars have WiFi and have no issue giving you the password. This way it is easy to let your taxi driver know you’re ready to be picked up, or set up a time to meet with that cool person you just met.
Download Waze on your smart phone. – This application is the best for navigating Nicaragua. Google’s navigation will take you on the shortest road, but since it isn’t used as often, it can’t calculate that the road is dirt, through a neighborhood, and will take 5 times as long. Since Nica’s use Waze it always knows the best routes, it will steer you around a traffic jam, and there are lots of fun voices you can download to make your drive more fun.
One of the few things that Nicaragua cares about is the importation of cell phones. It is best to keep your cell phone in your pocket so it is seen as personal use and not to be sold. If they don’t like something in your bag it’ll get pulled to a side table. From what I’m told if you only speak English to these guys they get frustrated and let you go. It worked for us (by default) when we first got here with two packaged iPhones in our suitcase. Which is really all they’re looking for, iPhones. They didn’t bother us about the other 3 phones in our pockets, 2 tablets, 2 laptops, car stereo, etc.
There will be young men in white shirts lined up asking if you need help with your luggage (in Spanish). Use these guys! Pay them about a dollar per bag. Which means have some small bills on you when you land. You need about 1 guy for every 4 bags. Save each bag sticker you get when you check your luggage in your departure city and have them ready to give to the guys with your bags after they’ve collected them. There will be a man who checks your sticker to make sure it matches to your bag. The young men will carry all of your luggage to a conveyor, place it on there, then they will take it off and load it up into your mode of transportation.
After you get your bags you are ready to exit the customs area into the swarms of people pressed up against the glass windows peering at you like your are their next meal, like a scene from The Walking Dead. As frightening as this may look, its only people looking for their loved ones to chauffeur them home.
There are very few street lights outside of Managua. – You most likely will land at night, that seems to be when a majority of the flights aboard come in. If that is the case, then expect chaos in Managua and darkness anything outside of that. There are not many street lights on the freeways in Nicaragua and people, cows, horses, and bicyclers seem to have to no qualms meandering in the middle of the dark road. Which leaves me to my last point…
Hire a driver and have transportation set up. – We still do not feel comfortable driving outside of San Juan del Sur at night, and even here can be sketchy. There are many shuttle companies in place to make this drive for you. Then all you have to do is close your eyes and hold on tight until you get to your destination.
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.
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.