The Secret to a Young Life

“Men do not quit playing because they grow old; they grow old because they quit playing.” ― Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr.

Since returning from the states the end of June, I haven’t felt like playing. Honestly, I haven’t felt like doing anything. We both got Zika, which is like Chikungunya light. But, Zika amplified our ongoing arthritic symptoms from Chikungunya, which we got a year ago. Sigh! I feel so old and exhausted.

On top of our mosquito borne illnesses, the electricity has been horrible this month. Every other day, the power shuts off at six in the evening and blinks on at nine. Some people suspect that the Ferris wheel is the culprit, others say the new Pali grocery store is consuming too much of the electricity.

Whatever the reasons for our unstable power, sometimes I feel like Nicaragua is killing me slowly. I am tired of playing detective. Who hot wired our dune buggy? Who stole my friend’s bicycle, which was chained to her porch? Is it possible to flip a switch and turn off the electricity in our community when there is a big fiesta or bullfight in the next town? Why is my internet so slow? What tropical illness do we have now…parasites, Dengue, Chikungunya, Zika, Swine flu, food poisoning, Cholera, E coli? We’ve had them all.

Is it Nicaragua or is it me?

What is the matter with me? Why can’t I play? Nothing excites me or stimulates me in Nicaragua anymore. Is it just a phase? We’ve lived in Nicaragua for 12 years. When they shut off the city water, we built a gravity fed tall water tower. When our internet was too dang slow, I made a woktenna. We’ve shoveled sand to build a road when a flood in 2010 washed our road away.

IMG_2235This new phase makes me wonder…should we stay or should we go? Where is my playfulness, my curiosity, my motivation?

IMG_2230We’ve built a beautiful life in Nicaragua, yet this life has worn us down and made us think about our future. Do we want to spend the rest of our lives here? We are too old to start all over again. It makes me tired just thinking about it. What happens when we physically can’t play anymore?

IMG_2231We are fortunate to have many options. Many expats don’t. We are not stuck here and I don’t want to dwell on the word “stuck” because it exaggerates my lack of playfulness.

We can travel six months out of the year on our pensionado visas. We can choose the worst months weather wise, like the oppressively hot and dry months of March, April, and May and the rainy and mosquito ridden months of September and October.

IMG_2234The problems we face in living in a developing country full-time are common for most expats. The lack of infrastructure, the lack of stimulation, the tropical diseases, the poverty, the opportunistic crimes….it is a huge challenge.

Yet, there are many aspects of living in Nicaragua that we love. The people sold us on retiring here. Nicaraguans are vivacious, carefree, and giving. Where else can we live on a giant lake, wake up to fishermen casting their nets and retire at night to gorgeous sunsets? We live on a Biosphere Reserve, where international travelers come to our doorstep daily.

Nicaragua has provided us with unlimited opportunities to live simply and within our fixed income, to creatively explore ways to enrich our lives and the lives of others. My children’s library is a perfect example. It is my refuge and my solace.

IMG_2229It is a life in which we have worked hard to make it the best it can be for us. It is impossible for me to think of letting it all go. Instead, we want the best of all worlds.

IMG_2224We realize that we are too old to build a new life elsewhere. Frankly, we do not want to let go of the life we built here, the friends we made, and the projects we developed. Living abroad is like a marriage. When it sours, you compromise and find ways to make it better.

IMG_2227Those of you who know me, know that I am an optimistic doer. I creatively try to solve problems and fix things. But, how does one fix the lack of playfulness that has washed over me?

Our story is one of passionate travel, of taking calculated risks. We’ve built amazing lives filled with playfulness, fun, and happiness. Now that the building phase is complete, we feel like we are in maintainance mode.

IMG_2228I am sure that many expats can relate to what I am saying. It doesn’t help that we have been sick since we returned from the states. But, exhaustion, sickness, and a lack of playfulness give me an opportunity to be introspective…to explore our options, to deeply contemplate the questions we have as older expats, and to plan for our future.

IMG_2236And what options do older expats have when one feels that the playfulness has abruptly left their lives…if only temporarily? What is the secret to a young life in an older aching body?

My answers to those questions are good health, an optimistic attitude, and options to stimulate the lack of playfulness. Even if it is simply riding the toy horse in the playground…it is a beginning.

These feelings will pass, I am sure of it. We are exploring our options and very grateful that we have options. We plan on traveling more and maybe building a casita on our property for a caretaker or a like-minded couple who can watch over our home and pets. Meanwhile, we will never stop playing, for the secret to a young life is playfulness.


The photos above are of our newly remodeled park in Moyogalpa. It even has free wi-fi and garbage cans!  It is a wonderful place for all to play.

What is your secret to a young life? How do you deal with the lack of playfulness we all experience at one time or another in our lives? 

42 thoughts on “The Secret to a Young Life

  1. So sorry to hear that you are sick again Debbie! Sends well wishes for a speedy recovery! Great post. I am sure there are pros and cons to every place. But never think you are too old! That is what you think in your 80s . You and Ron are very young and fun!

  2. Chronic illness is debilitating both physically and mentally and living where you are has to take huge amounts of can and will-do spirit to make it work. As much as Nicaragua stole our hearts and we have fantastic memories of the time we spent traveling in Central and South America, we also worried about the energy necessary to live in a developing country. I think your future plans to up your travel are a great way to get your mojo back and stimulate your sense of discovery plus shake up the ho-hum of a routine. And, if you feel the urge to leap the Atlantic, come over and visit us in Portugal. Darrell and Amy loved it! Anita

    • You have such an eloquent way with words, Anita. Those are our exact thoughts. The chronic pain with Chickungunya is debilitating, especially as we age. Presently, it only affects me for about an hour in the morning. It is hard to walk and to grasp things. I just wish it would go away. It has been over a year, now.
      Last year, we wanted to take the repositioning cruise to Lisbon like Eden and Denny, but the timing was off. It leaves Panama the end of May. We’d love to do it next year, but I think the timing will be off again. We will see. We definitely want to return to Portugal.

  3. I think you have had so many serious illnesses that this certainly has to have drug you down a lot as well as the sad situation with your neighbor. I think if you can get healthy again that will go a long ways towards making you feel better!

    But, that doesn’t take away your concerns about staying on Ometepe for the rest of your lives. We also thought about living on Ometepe but then we thought about everything we would be giving up – reliable utilities, hospitals nearby, shopping, everything a city has to offer but we still have the Latin culture, the wonderful people, the nice climate, and a beautiful country. There’s lots to do here, and even more going on in Boquete.

    You have options and possibilities. You have a great home, roots in the community, and reasons to stay but there are other houses and communities if they would suit your future life better. Feel better! When you feel healthy and well again but still feel the same way, then you can do more thinking about this.

    • Ahhh…thanks my amiga for the support. Today is the first day I felt almost back to normal again. Sickness and stress really wrecks havoc on me. But, I am grateful that it gave me an opportunity to think out loud about our future as we age.
      Today, I painted a pumpkin patch on our front gate post, complete with a Jocote gourd I painted to look like a pumpkin. Ron said it looks weird because I painted a bat flying in front of a half moon, but it made me happy and people don’t really celebrate Halloween here. I think tomorrow I will start on the mural above our plunge pool.
      We plan on doing lots of traveling next year and hope we can make a trip your way. Love you mucho.

  4. I have really enjoyed reading your bog over the last year or so. My husband and I spent 6 months in Granada recently, and are planning on returning next year. Some days while I was there felt like an endurance contest, especially during April and May, but I’m glad we stuck it out. Not feeling well really takes a toll on your psyche as well as your body, but I am sure your current feelings will pass and you will want to “play” again. You have done amazing things for your community during your time on Ometepe, and your presence will be a gift wherever you decide to land. Hang in there.

  5. Just today I told someone that the ‘press’ seemed to focus on Zika, but to me, Chikungunya is evil. I then told them that you were also still suffering with the arthritic-type pain. Each morning my hands are swollen and don’t look like they are mine, but thankfully in another hour they are better. If I grip a pair of pliers, the fingers spasm and contort, but as long as I treat my hands as if they belonged to a princess, it’s ok.

    Prolonged pain and chronic exhaustion will wear on anyone.. it’s very normal to feel discouraged and frustrated, while your heart and mind are arguing.

    Most likely the property here will be changing ownership soon, and as much as I miss the coast, need to visit those whoh lost loved ones, etc etc, I have a strong sense of foreboding about Zika and possibly another strain of dengue and we also have Bird Flu wiping out some – probably some who are suffering from complications from the mosquito-vector viruses….

    Me thinks I’ll focus on a series of paintings in the Andes!

    Sending my love and empathy,
    your partner in suffering,

    • Oh, Lisa. You are exactly right. Chikungunya has worn us down. We wake up in the morning and shuffle around on painful feet. Our hands are swollen and it is hard to grasp things. Within an hour all seems better. I have learned that I can’t stay in a sitting or laying position for very long, which is hard when I am sick and don’t want to do anything but lay around. Chikungunya is evil.
      So, are you saying that you are selling your place on the coast? Will you stay in Ecuador? We love the Andes and find it so refreshing and you don’t have to worry about the mosquitoes, either.
      I can’t wait to see your new series. Love you mucho and thanks for being my companion in Chikiness. Lol

      • Si – swollen hands, and this morning I tried to figure out how i held the hair brush.. I sort of use the ball of my thumb and grip it with the other four fingers extended… it’s been so repetitive that i barely notice anymore until i look in the mirror and see someone looking quite spastic! my hair isn’t falling out anymore, thank goodness!

        twice a day i make a papaya/pineapple smoothie and hope the papain and papain help with the joints… i’m not faint-feeling anmore, and thank goodness the standing or prone options don’t bother me.

        may you both get well pronto!

  6. Wow, well if Debbie and Darrell & Linda are all having these thoughts, our little expat world of Nicaragua is a changin’ … I think what saves me is that Managua has much more of the mod-cons that I would miss if living at the beach or on Ometepe. Also, having people from all around the world visit is good to keep me feeling somewhat plugged into what the zeitgeist of the day is in the greater world out there…but there’s still a whole other level of feeling like you’re getting run down and that the 3rd law of thermodynamics aka Entropy is a tough one to fight against in this country.

    • You are right, Mike. Entropy is a difficult thing to fight in a developing country. I’ve narrowed my anguish down to two main culprits: the epidemic of mosquito borne viruses, and the uncertainty of finding responsible housesitters.
      i think we can come up with some creative solutions for these two culprits enabling us to stay in Nicaragua, yet leave when we need a change. Change is good. It stimulates us. We want the best of all worlds and I know it is possible.

  7. You’ve addressed a problem that many expats are in denial about: living in developing nations, as they age. Some developing nations are harder than others. I’m still working and have lived in Thailand, China, Mexico and Taiwan since leaving the US. The only two I would consider are Thailand and Taiwan, with Taiwan being the most practical and Thailand the most fun.

    The big change is statistically around mid-70’s as you slide from old to old old. Some people may live healthily until 100 plus but most won’t no matter how high of a quality of tomatoes they eat. Developing nations are built around the idea that you either have family surrounding you taking care of you when you age and especially when you encounter the downside (e.g., broken sidewalks, mosquitoes, or bureaucracy) or you are among the elite and have an army of helpers to assist you. Many expats are in neither category and I think it will be hard for many of them to deal with getting old, old in developing countries, especially countries in Central American with mosquito born diseases, poor infrastructure, violence, a culture that does not stress the importance to accountability in public (which, on a positive note, Taiwan has in spades) and high quality first responder emergency medical.

    Good luck

    • Wow! This is so insightful and it really makes me think about the future. I am not in the old, old stage, but I have expat friends who are. Most of them have left Nicaragua because it is too difficult to live here. Very little is handicapped accessible. There are hidden traps everywhere and one little fall can be devastating to an older expat. The heat is sometimes brutal, there is always an epidemic of something, infrastructure is poor and can’t keep up with the demands…so many things that make living here a challenge for the young, let alone the elderly.
      When we moved to Nicaragua, we did it in stages. We lived here for a year and rented before we made the final decision to move here permanently. We explored many areas in the world before making our final decision. But, we were much younger, too and we didn’t understand the problems we would face living in a developing country as we age.
      Now, we are in another transition stage. Again, we will transition slowly and thoughtfully. Spending more time away from Nicaragua will give us a different perspective. We moved here taking baby steps, and we may leave here taking baby steps.
      Thanks so much for your insight.

  8. Debbie, I never thought I’d read a post from you about leaving Nicaragua, or exploring the option to do so. I think being sick always affects one’s attitude toward life. After twelve years, I’d be very tired of things like water and electricity that are never dependable. Also diseases you mention and theft. I, too, would want to get away from the terrible times weather wise. If you can afford to do so I would definitely travel then if you find the appropriate house sitters who can care for your animals. That way you can enjoy yourselves and not worry the whole time.

    I have to agree that there comes a point that we do get too old to start over, but we can still do things in life that excite us. Maybe instead of the maintenance routine you’ve fallen into, you need to find a new project that will bring you joyfulness. You need some kind of new mental stimulation. I agree with the folks telling you to travel to places totally unlike Nicaragua, and if it’s possible stay there a while until you have your fill.

    After reading all the comments, it sounds like you aren’t alone in your thinking, so there is some comfort in that, at least in my point of view. I would be very tired of all the things you have to put up with daily to live there, even though your friends are great. You have to ask yourself would it be better to move and spend a couple months here and there in Nicaragua when the climate is good and you can see your friends then. (Reverse the situation you were talking about – living elsewhere and visiting Nicaragua a couple times a year for a couple months each time) You are lucky you do have options some people don’t have. You have plenty to think over.

    All the best to you.

    • Sunni, I think we all feel restless at different times of our life regardless of where we live. Of course, it doesn’t help not feeling well, but it runs deeper than that. I think that there are some people who just have gypsytoes, and I am one of them.
      We’ve moved every decade of our married lives. It was exciting to set up a home, explore the area, and build a new life. But, there comes a time as we get older that starting all over again isn’t possible for a variety of reasons.
      I have the “been there, done that” attitude. Now, it is time to compromise, travel more, and find good housesitters because you can’t leave a house empty in Nicaragua. Never!
      Thank you, Sunni, for your heartfelt comments. It really means a lot to me when people express their feelings on my blog and you have a way with words that always is encouraging and thoughtful.

  9. I’m so sorry to hear that you’ve been sick, Debbie. Not feeling well makes all the other not-good feelings worse, so perhaps when you feel physically better, that will help. Sounds like you got some good advice already from people living in a similar situation, which we don’t. Wish I could help more. Swinging (on swings) always makes me feel better, if only for a bit. Travel is a good one for me as well.


    • Ahhh, thanks Janet. My thoughts when I am sick are always an awakening…sometimes even to me. 🙂 Many times when I put my thoughts out there, the answers come in unusual ways. Not always as expected, but definitely the answers will be here when we need them the most. We just have to keep our eyes open.

  10. Hi there!!!
    Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmm and hmmmmm,,,I agree ..,,, no play is a dead day…..

    Everything changes ,,,



    Perhaps its just …time to go …

    it was 12 years …time to go ….

    OLD ???????

    you will get older hanging in a place your done with ….

    The adventure is in the newness, the build , the …whatever your into at the …..moment ..

    so what ..

    move FORWARD,,,U CAN DO IT…!!!!!!!!!!!

    Sail into NEW waters , NEW adventures , learn , grow …GO!!




    BE COURAGEOUS ,,,,U ONLY LIVE ONCE…..or …do we??????????

    Best of all , pray for guidance ….GO AND GROW!!!!

    NOW THATS …FUN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! !!


  11. I haven’t been here as long as you but tend to think in terms of living as close to possible my life in the US, with the same hobbies, some improved by being here (growing orchids). Make friends with people who share your interests and whose economic lives aren’t desperate (as much as we might like to do things to help the very poor, that’s a bottomless money sink for individuals). Realize some of this is post disease depression. Make sure you have bed nets, clean up all standing water in and around the house or put mollies in it.

    For vacations, consider places that are the opposite of Nicaragua: London, NYC, San Francisco. Every place stops being exotic in three years. To a California born friend, SF was just that big city with bad traffic, nothing special. I understand the traffic has gotten even worse.

    Spend a week in Managua in an air-conditioned hotel and get either Mike Quinn or Andrew Colucci to show you around. See some movies in the mall there. Managua is my quick and easy escape to the land of malls when I need a break from Jinotega in the urban direction (ten years of country living in rural Virginia was mostly as much rural as I will need).

    I don’t think excitement is a steady state part of my life — it comes and goes.

    • Thanks for the advice, Rebecca. What you recommend is spot on for us. Yet, it is impossible to live in a bubble in Nicaragua. We take all of the precautions for mosquitoes, and although we rarely see them here because we have steady breezes from the lake, they still find us.
      Funny you should say about taking vacations that are drastically different from Nicaragua. We were in Las Vegas in June. THAT was the extreme opposite of Ometepe Island. It was exciting and fun. Exactly what we needed to experience an overload of the senses.
      I think much of our anxiety comes from finding the right people to stay in our house when we travel. But, it will all work out. We have some good options, we just need to decide which option is best for us so we can keep our home here as a home base and continue to travel.

  12. Here same amount of time, read a post you wrote the other day mentioning the “Quirkiness”
    that drew you here and that was what drew me, but it is getting tiring. I have seen little progress in the past 10+ years, something is not working, always. Not High Magic.

    I do not want to leave, but I am not certain I want to stay either. Been doing lots of Soul Searching lately.

    Meantime I am constantly plant Trees, it’s what I do. Look for the Good and try to deflect the Bad.

    • Thanks for your honest thoughts, Kevin. I remember a quote that says, “A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they will never sit under.” If that is the case, then we must have helped to create a lot of great societies because we have planted over a half million trees together. 🙂 However, we planted lob lolly pines all over the southern US for paper companies when we were young. So, we helped to make a lot of toilet paper.
      Seriously, the point is we are torn, like you. We always get restless after ten years in one place and move on. But, we simply cannot start all over again. It takes too much energy. So, our best scenario is to travel more frequently during the most miserable times of the year in Nicaragua. Our original intentions were to make Nicaragua our home base and continue to travel. But, you probably know how that goes…you set up a life, get rescue animals, plant lots of trees, start a garden, and before you know it, you are tied to your home base.
      Thanks again, Kevin and I will keep you posted as to our plans.

      • And sounds like you have had about the same luck as me with House sitters, DISASTER. That makes it so difficult to even think about travel.

  13. We keep busy with the business we started, take trips for the business and play a bit, explore other places that we have not visited, drive down the road that we have not been down before.

  14. Michoacán awaits you. The infrastructure is more developed here. (Bed, Bath and Beyond just opened in Morelia, our state capital.) The climate is relatively benign. We are closer to the U.S. Best of all, you have friends already in place here. Unfortunately, the Cost Of Living is higher, but the dedicated, budget minded expat can live more cheaply than we do. You just have to limit those trips to Costco and to fancy steak restaurants.

    Don Cuevas

      • If you’re thinking Mexico, check out my adopted home of Guanajuato – also in middle of Mexico but the climate is a best-kept secret. It would be fun having you and Ron as neighbors, and I’d love to talk with you about it (although I strongly feel that Nicaragua is your chosen forever-home.). Hugs

        • I love beautiful, fantastic Guanajuato for a visit, but the hills and callejones, without vehicular access are deal breakers to living there. We are more and more embedded in our house in this rural ranching community.

          Don Cuevas

    • Michael, I have been meaning to send you an email. I love Michoacàn. We are seriously thinking of spending two months in the area next March and April. Ron is already googling the area and looking for a two month furnished rental. I will send you an email soon.

      • Debbie, we can be looking for rentals for you. It would be fun to have you as neighbors, although not immediately next door.

        I will email you in a while.

        Don Cuevas

    • Darrell, I suspected that this post would relate to many longtime expats in Nicaragua. No, you are not alone. It is exciting exploring our options and I am sure we will find the best alternative for us soon allowing us to keep our life in Nicaragua, yet bring back the excitement and playfulness we yearn. Have fun exploring your options. 😀

I'd love to read your ideas and thoughts below....

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.