About Gypsytoes

A boomer traveler beyond 60 with many tales and tribulations.

A Wheelbarrow Full of Kindness


“Your one random act of kindness may not change the world but it might make a difference in the life of someone today”
Maria Koszler

Our winter resembles this tangle of wisteria vines in the front of our house. It has been a surreal experience in cancerlandia. The best way for us to survive the maze of doctors, treatments, and medical opinions without getting sucked into the vortex of cancerlandia has been to find enjoyable distractions, such as landscaping.

 

We took our old chainsaw to the repair shop, and Cory and I began to tackle the jungle of dead trees, the overgrowth of vines, and piles of composting leaves that had taken our property hostage.

I needed a wheelbarrow to haul the cut branches and logs to the woodpile located near the basement and our wood stove. A trip to Lowe’s was in order.

 

I found the perfect wheelbarrow, a cute cobalt blue one. We eyeballed our hatchback Honda Civic and hoped the wheelbarrow would fit inside the trunk.

Uh oh! No way! This really made me miss Nicaragua and my creative Nicaraguan friends because if we bought something too large to take home on our motorcycle, there was always a way to get it home cheaply and safely. Where were my Nica friends? They would offer to put it on the roof of a Tuk Tuk or wheel it to our house a kilometer away along the shoreline’s sandy path.

Instead, we asked how much it would cost to deliver it. $59? Outrageous. Maybe we could strap it to the roof? But, we had no rope and blanket to protect the roof. Maybe we could take it apart. So, Cory went into Lowe’s to get a wrench, while I stood in the parking lot beside my cute cobalt blue wheelbarrow, scratching my head in befuddlement.

Surprises await under the composting leaves…wild irises.

 

People stopped, we chatted, and we laughed together at my predicament. They offered crazy suggestions like attaching it to the bumper and dragging it home. I told them about the time a Nicaraguan friend spotted a person in a wheelchair dragged on the interstate at night by a motorcyclist and two flashlights illuminating the way. Nothing was impossible in Nicaragua. I missed that!

Lester’s photo of the wild irises blooming on his property. Spring is on the way.

 

A couple pulled into the parking spot beside me and asked where we lived. “Hey! That is on our way home. Today is Sunday and you have been blessed. Let’s put your wheelbarrow in the back of our Subaru and we will follow you to your house,” they said.

We were incredibly grateful. Cory and I laughed on the way home. What if they don’t follow us and speed away with my wheelbarrow? “Remember Mom,”Cory said, “ It is Sunday and we have been blessed.”

My daffodils are blooming! A delightful rememberance that spring is coming.

 

They refused gas money. They told us to pay forward their kindness by doing a random act for another stranger. So, Cory ran into the house and returned with his 1890 sour dough starter because he learned, while chatting with them, that they enjoyed making bread.

Their one random act of a wheelbarrow full of kindness, didn’t change the world, but it made a difference in our lives. Spring is on its way…Ron is getting stronger and healthier everyday…and most importantly, we are grateful for a tiny random act of kindness to help us untangle the wisteria vines and realize what really matters in this mad, mad world!

 

Comparing Cost of Living in USA and Nicaragua: It will surprise you!


“Everything costs something.”
Zara Hairston

When we lived in Nicaragua, we occasionally referred to ourselves as economic refugees. We took early retirement and lived off our small teaching pensions. We did everything financial experts advised to prepare for living abroad such as, becoming debt free, having an emergency medical fund, purchasing international health insurance plans, saving money for unexpected emergencies like trips back to the states to help our families, and living within our budget.

Thank goodness we didn’t burn any bridges. We rented our house in the states and kept our stateside bank account and address, which was important in keeping our U.S. credit card.  We were legal residents of Nicaragua and Tennessee and had the best of both worlds.

When the Nicaraguan crisis and Ron’s lumps in his neck made us reconsider moving back to the states, we were concerned about the cost of living after spending more than 10 years abroad with cheap, cheap living and all the comforts of home.

What we learned surprised us!

Most retired expats in Nicaragua will tell you that their main reason for moving abroad was affordability. They said they had a hard time living on a fixed income in their home countries.

But, what they don’t tell you is that everything costs something! It is cheap because there is no quality control, the education system does not prepare employees to be productive and skilled laborers, the infrastructure such as roads, utilities, and internet are pitifully unreliable (and many times unsafe), and most materials and foods imported come with a hefty price tag. In other words, you get what you pay for…and it isn’t much!

So, I made a comparison of the cost of living in Nicaragua and the USA for the month of February. I used eight general categories and color coded them the same in each pie graph.

The monthly cost of living in our home in TN is $1,626.20. The largest slice was miscellaneous, which included paying off our credit card in full each month. We rarely use cash here and pay for almost everything with our credit card. I missed that so much in Nicaragua, because I can always accumulate enough reward points to pay for several airline tickets.

Surprisingly, several items are cheaper in the states, like gasoline for transportation. It is $1.80 per gallon with my grocery store discount card. The package deal for fast internet ( I mean really, really fast…100 mbps) and cable TV is $101.24 a month. I paid much more in Nicaragua for the internet, not including the maintenance of a very tall microwave tower that was always breaking. And…AND…the speed, if we were lucky, was 8 mbps, when the system was working. The internet blinked on and off daily many, many times.

We have a heat pump and several small portable electric room heaters for the winter months. February is usually the most expensive electric bill according to our past usage. In the summer, we have whole house air conditioning and our electricity averages $75. Most of the time we don’t use the air conditioning. We prefer opening the windows and every room has ceiling fans and window fans.

We own our house in TN and are mortgage free. Rents are reasonable in our small town, averaging $871 per month for a 1 bedroom house or apartment. For a single person a monthly cost of living on average is $1,600.

 

In Nicaragua, our monthly expenditures were  $1,341.00 Our cell phones were cheaper… we had two cell phones and only one with unlimited data from  Claro. The data transmitted was only 3g and service was spotty depending on where we were in Nicaragua. In the states, I have 4g and unlimited data with free calls and text in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico with AT&T prepay.

Transportation was more expensive in Nicaragua for two reasons. Gasoline is very expensive and taxis are expensive. Usually, we took a monthly trip to Managua with our taxi driver, Francisco. The cost round trip was $60 and we tipped him $10 and bought him lunch.

Although we had an abundance of fruits on our property, we enjoyed some imported foods like peanut butter, dill pickles, chocolate, and wine, which increased our monthly food expenditures.

Nicaragua is a cash society. We seldom used a credit card. Our miscellaneous fees included propane for cooking, house repairs, and workers.

We still support our goddaughter and my children’s library and librarian, so that has not changed.

 

Overall, the difference in monthly costs is about $300. When the weather warms, our electric will go way down and make up much of the difference. We can reduce our monthly internet/cable TV service by cutting the cable cord. The only reason we have cable TV is so Ron could watch his sports throughout the long winter cancer treatments. We can stream everything we want to watch, so the cable will be cut soon.

Our annual expenses are comparable in some areas, and more expensive in others.

Comparable:

1. International health insurance in Nicaragua and Medicare with Medicare supplemental insurance in the U.S.

2. VPN service for our internet remains the same.

3. Amazon Prime yearly bill is the same, but living in the states we have used it so much more for free shipping and streaming movies.

More expensive:

1. Property taxes $650 yearly in the states vs $60 in Nicaragua.

2. Car insurance is much more in the states. We bought and paid cash for a car when we returned…and we have to have car insurance. In Nicaragua, we had our dune buggy and our motorcycle insured for $75 a year. However, there is no telling what the insurance would have covered if we had an accident in Nicaragua.

In making comparisons, the best decisions we made were to pay off our mortgage in the states and buy our house in Nicaragua. Our house is rented in Nicaragua now. The worst case scenario would be that our house in Nicaragua would be confiscated by the government. If that would happen, because of our wise financial decisions, we would not suffer, nor would our retirement  funds be affected. We are not in any hurry to sell our place, nor do we feel pressure to sell. Although we will probably not return to live in Nicaragua, we have no regrets about financial decisions we have made throughout our lives.

It feels kind of weird to say we aren’t expats any longer. But, we are redefining the term expat. Possibly global citizens would be a better term. I’m in the process of writing a post about that. Stay tuned while we rewire.

 

 

 

Travel Apps, Maps, and More Bang for Your Travel Bucks


Nothing is ever called Welcome back without a Journey. If you desire to get results, you work it out, rather than hoping and wishing. Hope you understand this my friend.

Travel has always been our passion. Now that we are temporarily homeless due to unforeseen circumstances in Nicaragua, we are planning a six month journey to tropical countries. Although, we have been to Panama, Colombia, and Mexico, we are returning to visit places we haven’t seen before and do a short week of house sitting for friends in Colombia. The Dominican Republic will be a new country for us on this trip.

While waiting for Ron to have surgery ( nothing is ever quick in the U.S.) I planned our trip. Now, that his surgery is over and has been very successful, we are off on another adventure for November-May. Since I am obsessive about staying within our budget, I want to share some travel apps, tips, maps, and other services that have saved me money and time in planning and traveling.

I. Google Flights

I booked six flights using Google Flights. I really appreciate that I can find the cheapest dates to fly using the price calendar and the price graphs. I can track the price of the flights and book when the price is lowest. Also, there are certain airlines I won’t fly and I can check the airlines that I use often. I know you are wondering which airlines I won’t fly, right? American Airlines for their poor customer service and Spirit Airlines are the top two I avoid. Southwest Airlines and AeroMexico, which we fly often, are not listed in Google Flights, so I have to go to their airline websites to find comparable prices. And I have been so pleased with Delta, that I often send them a tweet saying how much I appreciate their service!
Since we are flying internationally, most of our flights are one-way, from one country to another. Most airlines now require proof of exiting the country on a one-way ticket, so I had to book every flight and keep the confirmations in a separate folder in my email so that I can prove we are leaving Panama, or Colombia, or the Dominican Republic. Our Southwest tickets are round trip, to Mexico from the states, so I don’t need proof of returning to the U.S. for that ticket.

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Reverse Culture Shock


“When you travel overseas, the locals see you as a foreigner, and when you return, you see the locals as foreigners.”
Robert Black

“Reverse culture shock is the emotional and psychological distress suffered by some people when they return home after a several years overseas. This can result in unexpected difficulty in readjusting to the culture and values of the home country, now that the previously familiar has become unfamiliar.”

I wouldn’t say I am distressed, but it certainly is different from life on Ometepe Island, Nicaragua.

You know you have reverse culture shock when…

1. There are an overwhelming number of choices

I am lost and bewildered when I enter a grocery store. Yesterday, I stood in front of the canned baked beans and cried…10 different types of baked beans? In Nicaragua, it was always fun to shop; I never knew what unexpected treasure hidden among the shelves I would find. Dill pickles, pretzels, and dark chocolate were treats. Now, with too many choices, it is more of a frustrating experience.

2. The leaves change color!

Oh how I love fall! In Nicaragua the leaves crumble and fall off the trees without changing colors. The gorgeous displays of the Maple leaves are eye-popping.

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Part Two: Collective Mentality


“From one dog all the dogs bark.”
Marty Rubin

 

Please read Part One: Opposition or Enemy first. I believe it will help you to understand my train of thoughts as I venture into the twilight zone in Part Two.

After six long hours in the brutal heat, the line was moving again. This time, I noticed people depositing their lawn chairs on the side of the road, or carrying them back to their cars. Earlier in the day, Ron went dumpster diving and returned to the line with his treasure…a lawn chair! It now dawned on me why people were leaving their lawn chairs behind. The doors had opened into Freedom Hall and lawn chairs were not permitted inside.

The crowd was subdued and we were all anxious to get a reprieve from the heat. The air-conditioned building was only a few steps away! As we stood in line to have our belongings inspected and pass through the metal detectors, a large screen flashed images of the 2016 election results, along with the faces of Hillary, Pelosi, and President Obama.

Then, the collective chanting began…”Lock her up! Lock her up!”

I laughed to myself. The election was over. Trump is the POTUS. “Lock her up for what?” I asked myself.

People were chatting about fake news, and laughing about a protester in a wheel chair who was allegedly arrested by the police because she dissented outside of the assigned protest area. “She can walk,” one Trump supporter said. “Yeah,” responded the chanters. “She can walk. She can walk.”

There was an announcement over a loud-speaker. If a protester was spotted in the protected area, people were to point at them and yell Trump, Trump, Trump and the police would come and remove them.

I looked around suspiciously. Did anyone suspect that we were the opposition? Did we stand out among a sea of red MAGA hats, Trump 2020 t-shirts, and Finish the Wall signs? Would people yell Trump, Trump, Trump and point their fingers in our direction?

I began to feel tinges of uneasiness, but I brushed them off as silly. How did our friendly line neighbors feel about us? They offered us pizza! They offered to drive me to a bathroom so we wouldn’t lose our parking space! They lent me an umbrella to protect me from the harsh sun!

“Silliness!” I reassured myself!

Yet, the large screen kept flashing propaganda, inciting the crowd, encouraging them to mob together in a collective mentality of anger, revenge, and an ‘us against them’ mindset.

We passed through the check point and metal detector. The security officer inspected everything in my backpack… my camera was taken apart and all my credit cards were removed from my wallet and inspected individually. When he pulled out the large plastic bag at the bottom of my pack he asked, “Why do you have a plastic garbage bag?”

Wisely, I knew not to make any wise cracks, but oh! there were so many answers I had on the tip of my tongue. Instead, I politely responded that the grass was wet, and I used the plastic bag to sit on.

The capacity of Freedom Hall is 8,500 people. We ordered our tickets a week in advance and I had my phone ready for them to scan our tickets. Surprisingly, no one asked us to show our tickets or IDs. Nothing! We were told to go to the sections behind the podium and find seats. The problem with that was that we had been in the hot sun for six hours waiting to see POTUS and the seats were behind Trump. I wanted to see him from the front of the podium.

We found another section closer to the front and convinced the aisle attendant that we were told to sit in this section. Later, we realized that they wanted the seats packed behind POTUS, if there were empty seats in the auditorium.

It was fascinating to watch the crowds file to their seats, the technicians line up the cameras, journalists perfect their commentary, and the Secret Service and local police inspect every detail to insure the safety of everyone.

A wave began! Ron joined in the fun, while I prepared my camera. The crowd was enthusiastic and Freedom Hall was at capacity. I expected the venue to be packed. We live in a very red state.

Yet, when Trump arrived, the dynamics of the rally changed. At first, we were excited to see POTUS. We respectfully clapped and stood when he entered the arena. Up to this point we were feeling comfortable. We had nothing to hide. We never felt like we were enemies. We were here to be a part of history. No agenda, no fear!

Trump was feeding off the energy of the crowd. Maggie Koerth-Baker pointed this out in a fascinating piece at FiveThirtyEight. “The technical term is “emotional contagion,” the same kind of effect that occurs at big football games, comedy clubs, and political rallies.”

I never considered the difference between individual and collective mentalities. But, she makes some interesting points in describing what we perceived at the rally. People tend to mimic the behavior of the group. Ron described it as a mob psychology. In the late 19th century, an anthropologist named Gustave LeBon came up with the idea that “being part of a crowd turned civilized people into barbarians.”

Trump used the Johnson City rally to attack three potential Democratic rivals in the 2020 presidential election. “They got some real beauties going,” Trump said of the potential Democratic field. He criticized Cory Booker, called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas”, then went after the former vice president, describing him as “1 percent Biden” until former President Barack Obama “took him off the trash heap.”

He defended Kavanaugh and asked us to pray for his family. I questioned his lack of empathy and understanding for all the victims of sexual abuse and Dr. Ford’s heart wrenching testimony.  Why not pray for them, too? Is praying polarized now, too?

The crowd roared. They booed at the mention of the word Democrats. They chanted “Lock her up!” “Build that Wall!” For me, it was a horrifying display of a crowd gone mad.

Do people lose their will, control, and ability to reason when they become part of a crowd? Have my new friends in our six-hour line lost their minds, too? What about my friend who is an avid Trump supporter? She arrived at 6 am to be sure she and her husband got front row seats in the rally. Was she chanting and booing? Does she think I am the enemy?

“People don’t lose control, but they begin to act with collective values,” says Stephen David Reicher, a sociologist and psychologist at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland who has studied violence among modern-day soccer hooligans, race rioters, and, this year, Trump supporters. “It’s not your individual fate that becomes important, but the fate of the group.”

That sense of collective identity describes why the crowds were subdued while standing in line. Until Trump incited the collective mentality of hatred, intolerance, and division, the people we met were polite, respectful, and friendly. He is a master of manipulation and deceit.

When Trump said, “The Democrats are the party of crime” that was the last straw. I shook with anger and an overwhelmingly profound sadness for our country. We left the rally with a sense of hopelessness and fear for the direction our country is headed.

The Trump rally taught me a lot about relationships. Individually, we can be kind and helpful  to each other as long as we don’t broach the topic of politics. I don’t know if we will ever to be able to talk politics with our friends. Trump has polarized us. The United States has become a place with a sense of fear and anger…fear that what we value will be taken away. Trump incites this fear at his rallies. He shouts that what we value is under threat and will be taken away, that in order to make America great we need to exclude those who threaten our values. Anyone who opposes him becomes the enemy.

His rhetoric amplifies the collective mentality. In their eyes, I am now the enemy, one to be shunned and feared because my beliefs and values do not sync with the crowd. For me, it is a dangerous path to go down. I see no light at the end.

Finally, I have never been to a Democrat Rally. We wonder if we will see the same division and hatred. Probably so! The world is mad! Character assassinations exist on both sides. It truly saddens and repels me. We should all be insulted by politics and lousy corrupt politicians with vested interests. I ache for my country!

Part three is my interview with my friend who is an avid Trump supporter. She has graciously allowed me to ask questions about her perception of the Trump Rally. I trust her and she trusts me. I told her I would not use her name, but I want her honest opinions and I know she will help me understand how we can begin to heal our divisions.

 

 

Coming Home?


“There is a kind of madness about going far away and then coming back all changed.”~ Gypsytoes

Madness describes my feelings about returning home. I haven’t written on my blog for months because what can I say that hasn’t already been said before? With mixed emotions we left Nicaragua mid July. I don’t want to go into all the gritty details of the move. Instead, I want to try to explain the emotional turmoil I have felt since returning home.

Where is home? We have no idea. People say that home is where the heart is, yet my heart is broken for Nicaragua and for the United States, thus I can’t honestly say I am anywhere close to home at this point in my life. The week we arrived, we bought a car and drove to Canada. 5,200 miles later, we have returned to our rented house in the states where we have a little bedroom. Thank goodness we didn’t burn any bridges and our good friends who rent our house feel comfortable letting us stay for a while.

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Lines of the Andes Mountains


The Weekly Photo Challenge is Lines

“Nature creates curved lines, while humans create straight lines.” ~Hideki Yukawa

In Mendoza, Argentina, we followed straight manmade lines along the road which wove into the Andes Mountains. We headed to the boundary of Chile and Argentina, 4000 meters high.

Erosion carved wiggly grooves and furrows into the rocks.


Scored
into the rock, bands of rock like fences reminded me of demarcation lines.
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Tigre, Argentina: Where the River is Always at Your Door


“But just as the river is always at the door, so is the world always outside. And it is in the world that we have to live.”
― Lian Hearn, Across the Nightingale Floor

It is a rainy day in Buenos Aires, Argentina, which gives me an opportunity to relax from the tourist mode and write about one of our recent adventures, the Delta of Tigre.

Getting to Tigre from Buenos Aires was an adventure itself. Transferring from the green line subway to the blue line subway to the train during rush hour was an experience in which we not only survived, but thrived! With over one million commuters daily, we were jammed and packed like sardines into the subways and train. It reminded us of the chicken buses in Nicaragua, except the train had air conditioning! Good thing we went heavy on the deodorant. All I could see above me were armpits!

An hour and a half later, we arrived in Tigre ready to board the vintage mahogany commuter boat bus to explore miles and miles of interconnecting streams, rivers, and channels through the delta.

Tigre is the starting point to the Paraná Delta. Once home to jaguars, or tigers, the charming waterways are lined with spas, hotels, restaurants, mansions, and thriving water communities. The river is always at the door.

We have always preferred to explore on our own, and found the local Interisleña boat buses, which truly function like buses, dropping off and picking up people along the numerous waterways in the Delta. For $15 rt for both, we could hop on and off to our wandering delight. It sure beat the crowded and expensive tourist ferries and catamarans that only travel on the large rivers and drop off tourists at the most expensive restaurants on the river.

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Thankful, Cautious, Shrewd, and Charitable


“Be happy when you work, thankful when you earn, cautious when you spend, shrewd when you save, and charitable when you give.”
― Matshona Dhliwayo

This is a quote we live by…our mantra for financial security and happiness.
We leave for Uruguay and Argentina next week, so I have to prepare for our house sitter, which includes paying bills and planning ahead financially.

It is always a good time for me to report on our monthly expenses because I have receipts and bills spread out on my kitchen table. This time, I am dividing our financial “happiness” into four categories. Let me explain how this works for us. But, first a breakdown of February 2018 expenses.

Total February 2018 expenses = $1,467 Plus, $31 a month for SKY TV.  I forgot to include SKY when I made the pie graph because it is the only bill we pay with our credit card and I didn’t want to make a new pie chart.

My children’s library topped our expenses this month because I gave my librarian a raise and put him on a yearly salary including health insurance. Then, our internet provider GGnet, graciously provided my library with free internet if I would purchase the equipment.  The dish, cable, router, special surge protector, and installation was $500…but well worth the expense to open the door to the world of education through technology for the teachers and students.

The utilities include water ($3), electric ($58), internet ($115), phone plan ($52), and SKY satellite TV ($31).

The monthly university tuition for our goddaughter is $100. That includes her food, lodging, and books and materials she needs. She is starting her third year of university in March. She is a communication and theater major in Leon and we are so proud of her.

Our property taxes are due once a year. If we pay before March 15th, we get a 10% discount. $39 for two houses and 2 1/2 acres of beach front property on the lake. Not bad, huh?

Miscellaneous includes a bottle of propane, gas for the motorcycle, and emergency money for our house sitter.

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Monkey Mugs


The Weekly Photo Challenge is A Face in the Crowd.

Growing up in the states, we only saw monkeys in a zoo. Now, we live with them on our Island of Peace. However, the Howler monkeys sure aren’t peaceful with their loud, ear-piercing howls that can be heard miles away.

I don’t think I will ever tire of watching these faces in a crowd!

This rambunctious Howler is not embarrassed to show off his junk.

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