Expat Extremophiles


In August, a U.S. expat chopped up his Nicaraguan translator and drinking buddy in Jinotega, Nicaragua. He stuffed Harley’s dismembered head and other assorted body parts in garbage bags and placed them on the curb for the garbage truck. When the police arrived, they found the confessed murderer calmly eating lunch and surfing the web. Basil Givner, 56, confessed, ” I couldn’t stand him anymore.” See article here.

I posted this article on Facebook because  I met this confessed murderer in Jinotega when we were visiting last September. He had just returned from the states and was staying at our hotel until he found another house to rent. He appeared to be friendly and talkative, which led me to wonder about the masks of sanity that some expats wear and why we become expats. One of my local friends commented,” This may slightly change the way some Nicaraguans treat their foreign neighbors, don’t you think?”

What do I think? I responded to my friend, “I’m more afraid of some of the expats in Nicaragua, than the Nicaraguans.” Are we all expat extremophiles? Extremophiles are microorganisms that live life on the edge. They are adaptable and flexible organisms, which have made extreme environments their home. Some are cunning escape artists, who through the process of natural selection, have adapted to incredible worlds of extreme hot or cold, radiation, darkness, or other harsh environments in which humans could never hope to survive. They had no choice: It was survival of the fittest.

As human beings, we like to think that we are flexible, adaptable, and capable of thriving in a variety of environments. As expat extremophiles, we do have choices. We consciously choose to expatriate and settle in environments very different from our former habitats. Like the microorganisms, we adapt to extreme changes in our environment. Unlike extremophiles, we can move on if things don’t meet our needs.

  • But, why do we choose to live life on the edge? Why have we left family, friends, security, and all comforts of familiarity to move to an alien environment that challenges us daily? We are not political refugees, although I know many expats who use the term to describe their reason for expatriation. Join the forums, NicaLiving or The Real Nicaragua, and you can find many political refugees wrapped in blankets of conspiracy theories.
  • We are not pedophiles. Walk the streets of Granada and you can find places nicknamed, “Pedophile Perch”, where old demented gringos lie in wait to buy young, underage Nicaraguan boys or girls. In their sick expat extremophile world, they believe they are helping to support an impoverished family. See recent arrest here.
  • We are not criminals or cult leaders, like Pierre Doris Maltese. We’ve never been arrested or convicted of money laundering, murder, or drug offenses. I got a couple of speeding tickets in my lifetime, but I don’t think that counts.
  • We aren’t trying to escape from a heinous past. We aren’t victims of our life experiences…nor are we bitter, jealous, or revengeful.  We are not alcoholics, or drug addicts. We don’t stumble through the streets of our local town disheveled and dirty,  looking for our next connection or our next fix.
  • We are not medical refugees…knock on wood! I know several expats who were forced to move to Central America because they were denied health insurance for pre-existing conditions. They found affordable health care here at a fraction of the cost in the states. I admire these expat extremophiles because they aren’t afraid to explore alternative health care in the form of herbal remedies and homeopathic care options.
  • We are not International Real Estate developers, like most of the International Living folks. We don’t buy ocean front properties for pennies, kick out the locals, and then hire them to be our maids and gardeners.
  • We don’t want to start a hostel or an eco-friendly resort, or develop programs in permaculture or a surf camp.
  • We are not Peace Corp, missionaries, or NGOs, another admirable type of expat extremophiles.
So, who are we? Why have we moved to Nicaragua? I don’t think we fit into a group of expat extremophiles. Not that it matters anyway. We just want to live comfortably, simply, and cheaply immersed in a new culture….one more adventurous journey around the sun…one day at a time.
I guess the closest we could come is to be categorized as economic refugees who thrive on challenges of growing a tropical garden, helping our neighbors and friends, and exploring the mysteries a new culture presents. We are just your normal expat extremophiles…and that is an oxymoron if I ever heard one.
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16 thoughts on “Expat Extremophiles

  1. The person in this story, the translator… is my friend. Harley Jose Silva is the father of my nephew. Your perspective is interesting. My heart races as I write to someone who has crossed paths with this evil horrible man, and you are here to write about it. Please being so far from the location with the internet filters and lack of press, our information is limited. Please can you tell me more about this? Did you ever meet Harley?

    • Hola Summer,
      I am so sorry that I never had a chance to meet Harley, although I do know a friend who lived in the same town who knew him. I’m not sure how well she knew him, but she was very upset about this horrible murder and said that Harvey was well liked and respected. Again, my condolences. I wish I could give you more information.

  2. You will get plenty of books. I can get them in bulk on eBay ~$1 each and I’m also checking the local thrift stores. What reading levels do you need most? Two of my grandkids ages 6&7 are in a bilingual education program at school and using books with subjects written one paragraph Spanish and one in English. Could you use books like these? I could also use a list of commonly needed school supplies generally unavailable there. I will use my free checked bag for this as all I need is a carryon when traveling.

    I will be leaving in a month but for once I’m trying to do things in advance. Feel free to email if that’s easier.

  3. While getting ready for my first Nicaragua trip I have gone through various blogs and well, yours is stunning. I probably should have started from the oldest entry but it would have taken longer to get to two magnificent posts- this one and the one following which brilliantly summarized Nicaragua’s history in just a few paragraphs.

    I will probably never really be an expat as my family and friends mean too much to me, but only plan on being in my house 2-3 months a year and checking out the world 2-4 months at a time. Kind of like my previous life as a merchant seaman but without having to work and with much less money.

    When I lived in Costa Rica in 1984-86 my new friends made references to William Walker whom I had never heard of. They were incredulous that I didn’t know of him. There were a lot of things they didn’t tell us in school during the 50s and 60s and he was one of them. My closest connection to the Contra war was when I met John Hull while in San Jose, C.R. and was invited to his ranch near the Nicaraguan border. At first he seemed OK but I disliked how he spoke to the help, then bragging about CIA connections- a favorite theme among some of the crazier expats in those days- which I found out a year later were true. I got out of there. My radar got much better after that encounter.

    On your theme of expats one of my pet peeves is when they move out of the US with the dream of their Social Security paying for a maid, a driver and a hacienda instead of an apartment in New Jersey and then complain about… well, everything. It’s so nice to read about acceptance and sensitivity and compassion. In a later post about getting taken for money, I think of a time when my car was stolen in Nayarit, Mexico about 40 years ago with all my tools and my visa inside. So many of the people in town helped me, one driving me 20 miles to the nearest police station to report it (no telephone in the town), others came to my house with food and beer and sympathetic ears, that I actually felt better than before the car was stolen. It’s not about the one person who does bad but the thousands we come in contact who do good. Those are the ones who really matter.

    • Wow! What awesome comments. Thanks, Brian. Where will you be in Nicaragua? If there is anything I can do to help you, please let me know. I just finished a good book called “Tycoon’s War”. It was the story of William Walker and Cornelius Vanderbilt during the 1850’s. There were so many new and interesting facts about William Walker. One that surprised me was that William Walker was a child prodigy. He graduated from medical school at the age of 18, then went on to become a lawyer, and ran a newspaper until he became a filibuster and took over Nicaragua. The older I get, the more I enjoy history and investigative journalism. I’m planning a post of history books I’ve read about Nicaragua. I think I’ve read most of them. Stay tuned.

      Thanks again for your interesting comments. Nicaragua has taught me to look through my eyes without borders. It’s a new, refreshing perspective for me. There is always something to write about, and I won’t tire anytime soon. Enjoy your visit to Nicaragua. I hope you have plans to come to Ometepe island. If so, look up the gringos in La Paloma. 🙂

      • I’m writing to this thread because it’s out of the way. I plan to be in Nicaragua in the middle of March and sometime after in Altagracia to brush up on Spanish at Doña Rosa’s school. It’s been a long time and I can’t hold much of a conversation any more.

        But the reason I’m writing is to ask what I can bring to, say, a school in Altagracia and one near you for about $50-100 each that would help. If you have any ideas please let me know. Thanks.

        • Hola Brian,

          School just started yesterday. I have a bunch of school supplies to deliver to several schools..crayons, pencils, scissors, glue, etc. I have a mobile lending library and I deliver 100 children’s books in Spanish to our local elementary schools. It is painstakingly slow getting children’s books to the island. If you have room in your suitcase for a few books, I would appreciate it. I have 4 schools involved in my mobile lending library and as I get more books, I add another school. I swap the books every two months. Let me know if this is something you would be interested in donating. The schools are always in need of school supplies, too. Thanks so much for your offer.

  4. Thanks for such a thoughtful and thought provoking response. You really do have a great perspective and a balanced view, and that, I suppose, is one of the many reasons I enjoy your blog! I live in Southern California at the moment – people comment that everyone in the OC is shallow and focused on their looks, and while there is that element, there is everything else in the spectrum too. Sounds like the expat community down there is similar. Thanks again for the response! Mel

  5. This post really gave me pause! I am considering a move to Central/Latin America in the next year, simply for adventure, experiencing a new culture and challenging myself. I’m a 45 year old single woman who can fund myself for several years without working but would like to try writing, english teaching, etc. The response I get most often when I tell people I want to do this is that “everyone who moves down there from the US is a misfit and unable to make it in their home culture . . . and an alcoholic”. I have always maintained that you find all types everywhere . . . good and bad. But if the expats are horrified by the other expats . . . that is disturbing. I would love to hear more on this topic!

    • Hi Mel,

      Thanks for visiting my blog, and expressing your concerns about being an expat. You are right, you do find all types everywhere…good and bad. We’ve lived in Nicaragua on and off for the past 8 years..the last two years permanently. I don’t want to portray ALL expats as horrifying because that is not true. Who am I to judge? But, I am concerned about the image that we, as expats portray to our adopted country. Recently, I have worked very hard to expose a dangerous cult leader living on our island and in Granada. I am horrified and appalled that people would choose to move to Nicaragua to hide out and abuse/endanger children. Fortunately, Nicaraguan laws are changing. More is being done to protect women and children. It is getting harder and harder to live in Nicaragua as a perpetual tourist (One without legal residency), and for that I am glad.
      I can’t paint a rosy picture of Nicaragua all the time…paradise does not exist anywhere. I do think that we are all expat extremophiles, because as you say, you are looking to challenge yourself. The challenges are great, but the rewards are many. We’ve learned to avoid “high profile” places where the disreputable expats hang-out….and that includes some online forums for expats moving to Nicaragua. It’s the same in the states. We have a good reputation here and we try to help others the best that we can. You will, too! But, please don’t let my post discourage you from moving to Central America. Times, they are a changin’…for the better.

  6. Everyone has a reason to leave their home country. some for good reasons, others for evil reasons. The best you can do is be friendly to people and if you do not feel comfortable with the person, i suggest you not talk to them. You get a weird vibe from people who are up to no good. At least, I do.

    • Rod,

      It is so strange that I never got a weird vibe from the guy that chopped up his Nicaraguan translator. I think he must be a psychopath…they have an amazing ability to send out good vibes before they kill you. You are right, Rod. I am a friendly person, but, lately, I’ve been jaded with the number of bad apples living in Nicaragua. I’m so thankful that I live on Ometepe Island. We have a lovely community of expats, very helpful, and altruistic. I’ve met wonderful expats in Granada and elsewhere in Nicaragua, too. I don’t mean to portray that all expats are serial killers or pedophiles. But, the few that I do know…I can’t help but try to do something to get them out of Nicaragua. I have a difficult time sitting by and watching them weave their evil tapestries.

  7. Nicaragua captivates Foreigners because of its natural beauty, people and simple/joyful way of life, It is acountry for the pure of heart(No Sissies Allowed). There are bad apples everywhere, I tend to look at people in terms of their inviduality, each mind is a different world; at least that is what my mother told me 🙂

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