“Every man is an island, and every heart seeks the ferry to cross the main…”
― Mykyta Isagulov
Sunday evening, I was invited to speak with a group of women from Finding My Place, a travel agency for women who want to explore living abroad. It was a lovely gathering with well-traveled women who are exploring Nicaragua as a place to hang their hammocks. Many of the questions they asked revolved around the pros and cons of island life. Below are some of the things we discussed, which may be of interest to you, too.
Islands are slow and far away from many distractions. Ometepe Island, Nicaragua is no exception. Island living is not for the faint of heart, yet the rewards are many, tranquility is abundant, and our lifestyles are simple.
1. The stunning beauty of our natural surroundings reduces stress and contents me. Living with an active volcano in our backyard that entertains us with constantly changing cloud formations and an enormous lake in our front yard with the ebbs and flows of life entrances me.
2. It is a great place for walking and hiking. We get lots of exercise daily because we can walk everywhere. Island living is easy to navigate.
3. Living on a tropical island sets me up for appreciation success. I am naturally inclined to appreciate the things around me without the constant buzzing and annoyances of city life.
4. I am more creative. If we want something that is not available on the island, we make it. I’ve made lamp shades, buttermilk, nancite wine, and even PVC pipe shutters for our casita. Googling has become my door to the world of make-it-yourself.
5. I get to experience a radically different lifestyle because there are no gated gringo communities here. It’s total cultural immersion where you must be able to communicate in Spanish and immerse yourself in small villages dotted throughout the island.
6. It is cheaper. Comparing expenses with San Juan del Sur or Granada, we can live much cheaper on Ometepe Island than the bigger cities.
7. It is cooler. We live lakeside, and we constantly have a nice breeze. Cities in Nicaragua are hot, hot, hot.
8. It is safer. We are predominantly an agricultural island with fields of beans, plantains, rice, bananas, and tobacco. We have strong communities where everyone knows everything! Mainly crimes of opportunity exist, meaning that you don’t leave anything outside and unprotected. The problem for thieves on an island is that they have to get the stolen goods off the island to sell them. When a robbery occurs, we generally call the police and the police station themselves at the ferries to check for stolen goods… that is only if your neighbor doesn’t know the thief. Usually the neighbors know exactly who stole what!
1. There is limited access to medical care. We have two hospitals on Ometepe Island and many small clinics. In an emergency after the last ferry has left for the mainland, we have a medical open air panga that will transport people to the mainland. If you suffer from a medical condition in general this may be a big factor to take into consideration.
2. A social life with other expats is limited. We have about 100 expats living on Ometepe Island. They are scattered throughout the island and mixed with our general population of 45,000 islanders. It is difficult to get together regularly. If we want to visit friends on the other side of the island, it takes us over an hour to get there. Then we leave before it gets dark because it is dangerous driving on the unlit roads at night with the wandering horses, cows, dogs, pigs, and people walking and riding their bicycles.
3. Sometimes we are stuck on the island. During the windiest months, occasionally the ferries can’t run because of the strong winds and high waves. When that happens, we are trapped on the island until the winds are calmer. The docks turn into refugee camps with tourists waiting for word that the ferries can leave. All commerce comes to a halt. Sometimes we run out of food or supplies.
4. A slow-paced island lifestyle can be frustrating, too. If we encounter a problem with our SKY satellite TV or our internet tower, the main offices are on the mainland and we may have to wait for days for a technician to come and fix our problem.
5. There is limited access to some goods and services we need. Ten years ago, we had to go to the mainland to use an ATM, to buy peanut butter and other gringo food we craved, and to get building supplies. Today, we can get almost everything we need and want on the island, but it is cheaper to go to the mainland for some supplies. It is almost Thanksgiving, and that means a trip to Maxi Pali in Rivas for a frozen turkey and a trip to La Colonia in Granada for pretzels and cranberry sauce.
6. The infrastructure isn’t as reliable as on the mainland. Currently, our electricity is produced on the island with diesel fuel. The power goes off daily for a few minutes…I think that is when they add the diesel. If there is a big fiesta in a neighboring town..like a bull-fight that requires a lot of bright lights at night, or a concert, then the little villages, like ours, go dark for a couple of hours.
However, the big news is that we will soon receive our electricity and fast internet with a fiber optic cable from the mainland. They finished stringing the cable in the lake from San Jorge to Ometepe Island. In December, we should start getting our electricity from Rivas making it cheaper and more reliable.
Island living isn’t for everyone. Yet, for me, the pros outweigh the cons. When my heart seeks the ferry to cross to the mainland for a few days, I will always return to my island of peace with a full heart knowing that I found my place in the world.