“The goal of retirement is to live off your assets-not on them”
― Frank Eberhart
I have had many people ask me how we decided on retiring abroad and the process we went through. Although most of the information is in my unfinished book, Pretiring With the Monkey Lady, here is a preview of our serendipitous moments the first time we pre-retired in Nicaragua.
In 2004 we jumped. Trapped in new teaching jobs we hated, we felt as if our lives were bound tightly in Kudzu. We bought a new home with a hefty mortgage and rented our old home. Our son was in his junior year of college. Finances were tight. How could we possibly escape from the bureaucracy that was strangling the life out of us? What was the alternative? Our gypsytoes were itching to travel.
Enter Bill, the eccentric entrepreneur from Nicaragua. When an ice storm canceled school on a snowy January day, Bill sent us an email. “How would you like to live in Nicaragua and manage my youth hostel on Ometepe Island?” We thought about it for three seconds and responded, “Yes!”
In an adrenalin rush, we made plans to finish the school year, sell the house we bought six months before, move everything back to our old house, and jump into a new life. We took out an equity loan to pay off the mortgage on our old house and had a small amount left to live on for a year in Nicaragua. Our son moved into our house, transferred to a closer university…and we jumped.
But, managing a youth hostel was not for us. You’ll have to read by book, Pretiring with the Monkey Lady, to understand the problems we encountered. Here is one chapter of the 25 chapters I’ve finished. California Dreams and a Scottish Cowboy. What was the alternative? We couldn’t return to the states because we sold our cars, gave away all our winter clothes, and were both unemployed. So, we jumped again.
Ron wandered the sandy beach paths in search of a cheap shack to rent. About two kilometers south of Moyogalpa, Ron found this little beach house and it was vacant. We found the landlady in Moyogalpa and rented it for $100 a month with a six month renewable contract.
We lived like Nicas with a frayed electric line that sagged from our neighbor’s wobbly pole, a stainless steel sink with running water ( although we didn’t know where it was running from), a cement block cubicle attached to the outside of our bedroom that contained a rusted flush toilet, a termite encrusted plunger, and a cold water shower minus the shower head. Life was perfect!
We made chocolate pudding for our neighbor kids. Ron started a thriving tropical garden. I wrote and painted. Life was good.
When the mangoes were ripe, we’d invite the neighborhood kids to share in our bounty. We hired Robinson to teach us Spanish and gave him his first paying job. Adrian, the Peace Corps volunteer taught Robinson and within six months he was fluent in English. When Adrian’s tour of duty was over, he handed over his English students to me and a new world opened before our eyes fresh without borders.
The second week after Adrian left for the states and we were settling into our little beach house on the shore of Lake Cocibolca, a parade of bicycles and bleached white school shirts arrived at our three front doors. “Hello Deborah. How are you?” they sang like well rehearsed choir boys. “Hello boys. How are you?” I asked rather surprised that they found our house. “Beddy Goot,” they sang in unison.
“Are you here for English lessons?” I asked. “Of course!” they chanted. “Alrighty then,” I chucked as they jabbered away in Spanish and looked at me inquisitively. ” Let me brush my teeth and put on a bra, then we’ll begin,” I said knowing that they didn’t understand a word I said.
Our lives in La Paloma were never the same after our first encounter with ESL and five adolescent boys desperate to learn English. Word spread like a brush fire that two native English speakers were giving free English lessons. Our classes got so large that I had to recruit Ron for the wee one’s class, which he held under the lemon tree.
The sounds of repetitive pronunciations of the letters M, TH, SH, and V drifted through our little community, while songs of “You Are My Sunshine” and “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes” drowned out the beach bar music down the road. The laughter of children dancing the Hokey Pokey and the Patty Cake Polka incited curious stares from strangers passing by and howls from wandering, bony dogs. Life was “beddy goot.”
My intermediate classes invited us to their family gatherings, birthday parties, weddings, and parades. Our Spanish vocabulary increased tremendously because in 2004-2005, we were the only foreigners living on the Concepcion side of the island.
We fulfilled our passions for cultural immersion, however all was not “beddy goot” in our pretirement experiment.
Our son quit college so he could afford to live in our house. Our old Labrador died, and our money was running out. We knew it was time to enter the real world again. With ten years before we could collect our social security, we were running out of options. We made lists of 100 things we could do to make a living on Ometepe Island. My favorite thing was to make giant chocolate chip cookies to sell, but realistically it wouldn’t pay our son’s college tuition or repay our equity loan.
When we returned to the states, we set a goal to officially retire on Ometepe Island in three years. It took us five years, each of us working two and three jobs at the same time to become debt free. We were both hired in local universities, which gave us a 50% discount on tuition for our son. He returned to the university and completed his degree in Outdoor Education.
We added five more years to our teaching experience, enabling us to take early retirement and collect our teaching pensions. In 2009, we returned to Ometepe Island and bought the little beach shack we had rented. In 2010…we made our last jump.
We remodeled our beach shack, added a guest house, and continue to rent our house in the states to good friends. We’re not ready to sell our house in the states because I still have too much junk to sell. You see, I am a sentimental hoarder. I’m working on it. 🙂
Life is very comfortable now. If it wouldn’t have been for our pretirement experiment, I wonder if we would have ever jumped. We have more knowledge and understanding of how things work…or don’t work in Nicaragua because we took a chance and jumped. Life could have remained a distant dream instead of a mysterious reality.
I am a firm believer in a gap year for grown-ups. Our experimental year abroad changed our lives, intensified our awareness of serendipitous moments, and gave us an opportunity to rewire our lives. Life is good, retirement is better, a pretirement experiment is priceless.
Have you experienced a gap year for grown-ups? How did it change your life?