Part I: Will We Return to Nicaragua to Live?


“They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”
Benjamin Franklin, Memoirs of the life & writings of Benjamin Franklin

One day tourism is booming, my local neighborhood friends are buying taxis, expanding hotels, and competing for wealthier tourists who have recently discovered Nicaragua. Literally, the next day tourism is dead, taxis are repossessed, hotels close, and my friends are struggling to make sense of it all.

People ask us all the time if we will return to Nicaragua. Now that Ron is cancer free (after a long, dark winter of treatment), we think we know the answer, but life altering changes happened so quickly that we don’t trust visions of our future anymore.

I still harbor anger toward the government of Nicaragua. Ron tells me that I have to be careful what I say and write because we have property and a house in Nicaragua. We all know that pent up anger is not good! Therefore, I catch myself directing and projecting my anger toward those expats with vested interests, like businesses in Nicaragua, who say that Nicaragua is safe and everything has returned to normal, while blaming me for their suffering because I post factual articles about Nicaragua’s ongoing crisis.

For me, safety is not the issue. Crime is more rampant because unemployment is high. So, tourists do need to exercise caution when traveling in Nicaragua. I have been reading on the expat forums about more scams and robberies. This one just this week on Ometepe.
But for me, the issue of returning is a moral issue. I cannot support a government that tortures and kills its people for speaking out against human right’s violations.

Believe me when I say I understand their fears and stresses, although I am still bewildered by some expats’ reactions to my posts.  Compound our fear with choosing to leave our home AND a diagnosis of cancer. I get it. We have been vested in Nicaragua for 16 years. We are legal residents. We took the time and effort and found it important to learn Spanish, become legal residents, and fulfill dreams. Nicaragua presented an opportunity for us to become culturally immersed in a small all Spanish speaking community. We jumped…and flew!

Our little beach-front home in 2003 before remodeling, and the day we left Nicaragua in July 2018.

 

Since 2003, we have generously supported our Nicaraguan friends both monetarily and emotionally. In return, the people of Nicaragua have given us their kindness, their time, and their knowledge. Generally speaking, we would trust our Nicaraguan friends over expats in a time of crisis. Throughout our lives on Ometepe Island and Nicaragua, whenever we were lost or confused, our Nicaraguan friends were the first to lend us a helping hand.

This is an old post about our goddaughter’s sixth birthday party in 2005. It explains our love for our Nicaraguan friends perfectly. The Birthday Party

Therefore, in making a decision to return to Nicaragua to live, there are many factors to consider. I have listed them in order of priority.

1.Freedom of Speech, Repression, and Human Right’s Violations

Returning to Nicaragua is a moral issue for me. We didn’t live in a gringo bubble or gated compound. We were immersed in a small rural neighborhood, surrounded by farmers, a local tourism organization, and the local elementary school where I house my children’s library. 

Ometepe was under heavy police presence during the height of the unrest, and though things have cooled down, the Ometepinos are still under constant watch.

Tourists feel uncomfortable at Ojo de Agua. Photo taken in July, 2019.

I chat daily with my local friends. They are afraid to say anything or even wear a blue and white t-shirt for fear of being put on a “list” as a terrorist. Over 500 Nicaraguans have given their lives to protest human right’s violations. 60,000 Nicaraguans have fled the country. Until the country stabilizes, until Ortega is tried and convicted, until the basic human rights of the Nicaraguan people are restored and they can speak and protest freely and openly without fear, until I can speak freely about a repressive government, I cannot morally return to Nicaragua to live.

2. Economy

I fear Nicaragua is headed for a severe depression. My friends tell me how expensive things have become like food and utilities. Their taxis, cars, and rental bikes have been repossessed by the banks because they can’t afford to make the payments. Banks are closing and on Ometepe Island, there are no more ATMs on the Maderas side of the island. Sending money is becoming more difficult. Now, I must not send over $500 to our goddaughter or librarian for fear of them being questioned, harassed or audited by the government.

a recent post by a foreign expat in Nicaragua

3. Convenience

Not everything is crisis related. Truthfully, our time on Ometepe Island was coming to a close before the crisis. We couldn’t decide whether to sell our place or travel more often, so we decided to travel 6 months of the year, and prepare our place for sale in 2018.
Gypsytoes or Stickytoes 

Who wouldn’t want to buy our place located very close to Punta Jesus Maria.

But, before we could sell, Nicaragua exploded in a political crisis. We tell ourselves everyday, how lucky we are not to have burned any bridges. We still had a mortgage-free house in the states and returning was not dependent on selling our house and property. I wonder if that is why some Nicaraguan expats are angry with me and in denial that there is a problem in Nicaragua? They cannot leave…they burned their bridges…they are stuck in Nicaragua with no options.

But, I digress. Conveniences. The older we get, the more challenges we face with the lack of conveniences. The quirkiness became old. We were ready for reliable utilities, more transportation options, a library, and free shipping from Amazon.

4. Stimulation

One of my most popular posts is Pros and Cons of Living on an Island. 

Ometepe from above.

 

It still holds true today. Social life with others was limited. We wanted to go to a library and read, or audit classes at a university. We had the seven year itch of “been there…done that”. It was time to move on.

5. Medical Care

This is the biggie! Ron found a lump in his neck in November 2017. In May of 2018, he had it biopsied in Nicaragua. When the results were in, we couldn’t get back to the mainland because of political violence in Rivas, so our friend called the doctor for the results. Fortunately, or so we thought, it was benign. The doctor diagnosed it as a pleomorphic adenoma and said it should be removed soon because it could become cancerous.

We couldn’t travel to Managua for an operation, again because the roads were blocked and the doctors were fleeing Nicaragua because they were deemed terrorists if they helped any protesters. So, we decided to leave Nicaragua and return to the states to have the lumps removed and wait to see what happened in Nicaragua.

Medical care in Nicaragua was always difficult for us because we had to travel to Managua to see a doctor we trusted and who had the proper equipment. Now, with the violence, the doctors we really liked fled Nicaragua to Costa Rica. They still haven’t returned and I doubt that medical care is like it was pre-crisis. I am not sure how many doctors remain and how good can they be if they refuse to help the opposition?

Now we have Medicare in the states and when Ron’s neck tumors were diagnosed as throat cancer, we traveled 10 minutes away from our house to excellent medical facilities where Ron was admitted into a clinical trial for mucositus during radiation (and he was the only patient the doctors had ever seen who experienced no sores or throat pain from the radiation), and he received excellent treatment and was cancer-free in two months.

6. Climate

Climate change is wrecking havoc with Nicaragua. We have noticed many traumatic weather events in Nicaragua. Fires, floods, landslides, droughts, intolerable heat seem to be more prevalent. The aquatic mites, called chayules, swarm more often around the lake. The wet season is not predictable like it used to be. Farmers have a hard time deciding when to plant and harvest their crops. There are more insect infestations and molds on the coffee plants and blights on the bananas. It must be very hard to be a farmer with climate change.

Presently, there is an epidemic of Dengue in Nicaragua. When we tell people we had Dengue, Zika, and Chikungunya, they wonder why we lived in Nicaragua as long as we did. Chikungunya still hits us with bouts of arthritic pain, three years later. Mosquito borne diseases are practically unavoidable in Nicaragua. Let’s hope the vaccine for Dengue is approved soon!

Check out my post, You Know You Have Chikungunya When…

So, if you were wondering if we will return to Nicaragua to live…the answer is probably no. It is time for us to move forward with our lives. We are going to travel more, laugh more, and live with more gusto and compassion.

We’ve accomplished our dreams in Nicaragua. I have no regrets. Now, we are free to roam the world and return to our home in the states whenever we get tired of traveling.

It took me a year to overcome my identity crisis. I am no longer Rewired and Retired in Nicaragua, so my next post will be my last one for this blog. It has been a great run! Thank you all for your support and love.

Stay tuned for Part II: How you can help the people in Nicaragua. And there are many ways to help without actually visiting the country, if you feel the way I do.

Also, stay tuned for my new blog… My Teeth Dropped Off the Charles Bridge~Tales of Travelers Beyond 60.

Touring Ometepe Island


Travel makes one modest, you see what a tiny place you occupy in the world.~Gustave Flaubert

We’ve had company most of the month of February. I love when friends come to visit because it gives us an opportunity to tour them around the island and visit places we haven’t explored thoroughly. It also makes me appreciate what a tiny, yet beautiful place we occupy in the world.

We usually hire one of our neighbors to take us around the island. Luis just bought a new Suzuki 4 door vehicle. He will take us anywhere we want to go and his cost is $60 for the day. He says the more tours we take the sooner he will own the car instead of the bank.

Since we’ve lived on the island for over a decade, we know the places tourists like to visit. This February, we toured familiar places and one new-to-us place. Join me for a tour of Ometepe Island.

First Stop, El Ceibo Museo

It has been years since we visited the Pre-Colombian pottery museum. Named for a giant Ceibo tree at the entrance to the long dusty road that leads to two museums, the Pre-Colombian pottery and the coin museum, this is the place to learn all about the pottery excavated on Ometepe Island.

Along with the museums, they have added a hotel, pool, and a new restaurant/bar, where we were treated to shots of cojoyo: a potent fusion of corn, rice, pineapple, and sugar, made on the farm. The indigenous people of Ometepe had consumed it for generations. Our guide poured the syrupy liquid into shot glasses made from black bull horns. We drank it like tequila, with a lick of salt and a bite of mimbro, a very sour fruit resembling a small pickle. Strong, but rico! The other drink he poured reminded me of chicha, a potent fermented corn drink that I sampled in Peru.

The museum had been remodeled since the last time we were there. The guides told the same intriguing stories about the pottery and its uses. There were scalpels made from sharpened obsidian, volcanic tools and arrowheads, burial urns of all sizes called zapatos, and an intact burial site with gifts for the deceased for his/her onward travels.

 

Continue reading

What’s in an Expat Fridge?


“Drink from the cup of life, you will be fulfilled.
Yet…
drink from the milk container in the fridge,
and your wife will make you wish that you had drunk from the cup of life.”
― Anthony T. Hincks

I am on a housesitter’s forum on Facebook because it helps me get contacts for good housesitters. Also, as a homeowner, we sometimes get trashed on these sites because housesitters complain that our homes are too dirty, or our fridges are full of rotten, moldy food, or our pillows are too soft or too hard, etc. Sometimes I feel like I have to defend the homeowners.

A housesitter posted a list of questions she asked prospective owners. Most of the questions were reasonable like, “How many pets do you have? Are they up-to-date on their vaccinations? Is the closest town within walking distance?”

But then I read this, “Post a photo of the inside of your refrigerator.”

Hmmm…So I asked why. And she responded,

It’s something we ask after getting surprised one too many times with refrigerators not sanitary in any way, shape, or form. We’re not looking to see what you have per say, as much as the condition you keep your fridge because we’ve found that to be a good indicator as to how clean you keep your home as well. It really sucks when the first thing you have to do upon arrival to a home is spending 4-6 hours cleaning the fridge just to make sure you don’t get food poisoning. Not to mention, quite often the rest of the home is just as dirty. And we aren’t there to be your house cleaners. After experiencing three like that in a row, we now ask to see what the fridge looks like. 

I thanked her for her response and checked her off my list as a potential housesitter.

Although this post isn’t about housesitters, I became curious to know what is inside expat fridges because they do represent a different way of eating and storing food, especially in the tropics.

So, here is a picture of what’s inside my fridge. Notice, it is clean, no rotten food, no mold, nothing that would cause food poisoning. Although, I have to admit that were notorious for keeping some moldy leftovers in our fridge in the states.  But, living on a tropical island has changed our fridge contents and our respect for food drastically. Let me explain why.


1. Sanitary conditions

 Living in the tropics, nothing is sacred to the infestation of bugs that swarm annually. Everything must be sealed tightly and even then, the tiny insects can always find a way to ruin your prized pumpernickel bread you found at La Colonia. All perishables go into the fridge or freezer.

Currently we have an infestation of tiny book lice. Fortunately they don’t like my food, but they are building nests inside my Kindle. ( And yes, they are really called book lice! ) Their only entrance is through my charger hole, so I had to find a way to deter them. After shaking hundreds of tiny book lice gently out the charger hole, I discovered that a drop of neem oil around the charger hole keeps them at bay.

Things rot quickly in the tropics. We experimented keeping our tomatoes out of the fridge or inside. They rotted within two days outside the fridge, and stayed rock hard inside the fridge. Nicaragua doesn’t have a good selection of tomatoes anyway, so we chose to refrigerate them so they would last longer.

All fruit is either refrigerated, processed and frozen, or canned. We freeze mangoes, water apples, Jackfruit, and Suriname cherries from our trees and bushes. We used to make mango jam and salsa and can it, but unless we started at 4 am, the day was too hot to keep the water boiling on the stove for canning.

Milk comes in cardboard containers and when we open it, the container goes into the fridge. We keep our eggs in the fridge, too. I know that is not custom here, but if we don’t put them in the fridge, we need a safe spot so our kitties won’t swipe them onto the floor. They are little rascals like that!  Continue reading

Weekly Photo Challenge: Bridging Gaps in Nicaragua


The Weekly Photo Challenge is Bridge.

For seven years I have tried to bridge cultural gaps in Nicaragua. One of the most difficult gaps to connect is the lack of reading for pleasure in Nicaragua. So, three years ago I started a children’s library in my small La Paloma Elementary School.

One day, I delivered office supplies to our local police department, and in turn Juan Carlos asked what he could do for me. I had just the thing! “Juan Carlos, how would you like to come to my library and read to the preschool class?” I asked. He was thrilled! And so were the preschoolers. Bridging the gap of reading is fun!

El Castillo on the Rio San Juan River in Nicaragua is literally a horse town. No cars here!  Boats, horses, donkeys, canoes, and a few foot bridges tie the communities along the river. To market to market to buy a fat pig!

Continue reading

Cuba is More than Havana


“When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world.”
― John Muir

Walking through a small art gallery in Havana, I became mesmerized by this painting. Is this in Cuba? I have to go there! As we discovered, it was Viñales and we visited after we left Havana.

Ron and I both enjoy traveling through cities, but we are really country people at heart and prefer mountains and lakes to oceans and cities. We read that Viñales is the gateway to the Sierra de los Organos Mountains and the Viñales Valley. The valley’s steep limestone hills, called mogotes, draw many rock climbers. We hoped to report excellent climbing conditions to our son Cory, who is a rock climber.

The Viñales Valley offers Cuba’s best hiking, caving, rock climbing, horseback riding, and cycling. Just down a hill from our casa particular, we entered a magical world with trails leading in all directions. The rights to roam and climb are relaxed in this part of the world, so we were free to explore as we tramped under fences, through farmers’ tobacco fields, and climbed steep mogotes to view mystical vistas.

Continue reading

Fruitful Times


“Don’t sit at home and wait for a mango tree to bring mangoes to you wherever you are. It won’t happen. If you are truly hungry for change, go out of your comfort zone and change the world.”
― Israelmore Ayivor

I love this quote! It really represents our life in Nicaragua. We definitely moved out of our comfort zone 13 years ago when we first moved to Ometepe Island. But now that we have settled into our little boomer nest, we are experiencing fruitful times.

Our last rainy season just ended and what a glorious rainy season we had. The past three years have been exceptionally dry, but now with the abundant rains, we have new fruits popping up everywhere.

Ron planted several avocado trees five years ago. This week, I noticed one avocado tree blooming and it is beginning to produce baby avocados. Last avocado season there were few avocados. The extended drought took a toll on the trees. But, this should be a great avocado season. It is still early, yet I am finding local avocados in the grocery stores now.

img_3070

Last year we had one cacao or chocolate pod on our cacao tree. I was so excited because although the tree is seven years old, we never saw any pods develop. However, the pod cracked and fell off the tree last year. I think due to a harsh dry period. But, this year, we have a couple of pods developing and one is the size of my hand.
img_3060

Continue reading

When Mango Trees Hit Back


“Of all the trees we could’ve hit, we had to get one that hits back.”
― J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Oh, I love this quote! I remember that scene from the Chamber of Secrets well. It reminded me of our mango tree, one of the five mango trees closest to our house. It is an Indio mango and the fruit isn’t as good as our two Rosa mango trees.

Two times a year, this tree drops hundreds of mangoes on our roof. At the peak of mango season, we fill three wheelbarrows every morning with rotten mangoes. They bounce off the roof in the windy season like a rapid fire machine gun. Bam! Bam! And then they roll off the roof and scatter in the front yard.

We’ve tried everything to stop the almost constant supply of Indio mangoes, except for toppling the tree. It is too tall to spray or blow off the blossoms so the fruit doesn’t produce. And, it is a wonderful shade tree!

Last year, I researched an injection that I could put in the trunk of the tree called a fruit inhibitor. It isn’t a pesticide and will actually sterilize the tree so it won’t produce fruit. There were two problems with this; first, it had never been tried on a mango tree, only walnut trees in the states, and second, although it isn’t a pesticide, the container looked like it was a pesticide, which is prohibited on airplanes.

So, it was back to the old climbing the tree and cutting the limbs that hung over our roof. Jorge to the rescue!
img_3001 Continue reading

We’re Leaving Our Babies


We’ve lived in Nicaragua on and off since 2004, and for the past six years we have been here permanently. We decided this year that we are going to wean ourselves off Nicaragua for six months a year. It is time for a change, if only temporarily.

We have had a love/hate relationship with Nicaragua for many years. The hate part is mainly because of the unreliable infrastructure and the brutally hot and dry months. The love part will always be the people.  Yet, as we age, we realize that maybe Nicaragua isn’t the best place for us to age gracefully year-round. After much thought, we decided to scratch our gypsytoes by traveling six months of the year.

img_1976

Our sweet bananas are ready to be harvested by our house sitters.

The best of all worlds is possible. Our goal was always to make Nicaragua our home base and travel extensively. But, that has not happened as much as we would like because we  built a thriving life in Nicaragua by planting many varieties of fruit trees on our property, rescuing dogs and cats, and developing a children’s library.

img_1964

The baby breadfruit tree needs TLC during the dry season.

Continue reading

Weekly Photo Challenge: A Tropical Look Up


The Weekly Photo Challenge is Look Up.

Living in the tropics in the rainy season if you don’t look up, you will miss out on some wonderful surprises. Take a walk with me around our finca this morning as we look for new life blossoming in the tree tops.

I love the shade our mango tree provides, but the termite nests and the mangoes dropping like bombs on our tin roof…not so much.
IMG_1681The sour sop fruit is almost ready.
IMG_1677 Continue reading

Chocolate in My Veins


“What is happening to me happens to all fruits that grow ripe.
It is the honey in my veins that makes my blood thicker, and my soul quieter.”
― Friedrich Nietzsche

 

I awoke to find three chocolate (Cacao) pods ripening on our Cacao tree. For five years, the tiny blossoms clung to the trunk of the tree, yet never produced fruit. Last year, our grand Pera tree, which was shading our Cacao tree, snapped and fell to the ground scattering ripe Pera fruits in all directions. When Great Trees Fall

Continue reading