Let’s Get Real About Safety in Nicaragua

“I finally figured out that not every crisis can be managed. As much as we want to keep ourselves safe, we can’t protect ourselves from everything. If we want to embrace life, we also have to embrace chaos.”
― Susan Elizabeth Phillips

Our house is surrounded by ornamental iron keeping us safe from unwanted intruders.

Our house is surrounded by ornamental iron keeping us safe from unwanted intruders.

September 2018 Update and December 2019 update: Things are still bad in Nicaragua.

Unfortunately, this post is old. Nicaragua is not safe to visit at the present time. The Ortega regime continues to repress freedom of speech, thousands have left the country, more than 400 people have been murdered, thousands injured, hundreds arrested, imprisoned, and tortured. We left Nicaragua mid July and have no plans to return anytime soon. 😢😢😢

Now, that’s the truth! No matter where we live in this mad, mad world we can’t protect ourselves from everything. Like most expats, I grew up in one country and moved to another country. My idea of safety abroad revolved around; Don’t drink the water. Always shake out your shoes for scorpions. Don’t wear a lot of bling bling in big cities. My learning curve was steep for keeping myself safe the first couple of years living in Nicaragua.

I’ve categorized four main safety concerns in Nicaragua. Unless you are Bubble Boy, you will probably deal with one of these safety issues at one time or another in Nicaragua. We have dealt with safety hazards from all four categories, but we have never considered any of these safety issues life-threatening.

When moving to a new country there can be a host of hidden hazards that aren’t covered in the tourism brochures. Although no one wants to be ruled by fear, it is better to be aware of what’s out there from disease to crime. So…

  Let’s Get Real About Safety in Nicaragua

Continue reading

Let’s Get Real About Gun Ownership in Nicaragua

UGH! I am so frustrated with the politics in the United States over gun-control. I am not sure what can be done to stop the massacres in the U.S. So, I did a little research on where are the world’s guns and which countries have the highest rates of firearm murders.

Piecing the information together, thanks to Gun Homicides and Gun Ownership listed by country, gave me a better perspective of Nicaragua and where it stands in relation to  other countries in the world.

Let’s get real about gun ownership in Nicaragua. What are the laws, the procedures, and reasons to own a gun in Nicaragua?

The average total of all firearms in Nicaragua is 350,000. The average number of firearms per 100 people is 7.7.
Screen Shot 2015-10-03 at 8.29.51 AMThe average homicide by firearm rate per 100,000 people in Nicaragua is 5.92.
Screen Shot 2015-10-03 at 8.32.11 AMThe percentage of homicides by firearms in Nicaragua is 42.1% or 338 firearm homicides.
Screen Shot 2015-10-03 at 8.33.37 AMThe information from this article tells me that the U.S. has the highest rate of gun ownership in the world – an average of 88 per 100 people own guns. Nicaragua’s rate of gun ownership per 100 people is 7.7… which is considerably lower than the U.S.

The U.S. does not have the worst firearm murder rate in the world. Honduras wins the prize with a staggering 68.43 murder by firearm rate per 100,000 people. Nicaragua, which shares a border with Honduras, has an average of murder by firearm rate of 5.92 per 100,000 people. This indicates to me that Nicaragua is one of the safest countries in Central America and they must be doing something right to halt gun violence.

What are the laws of gun ownership and the procedures for registering a gun in Nicaragua?

Thanks to Darrell Bushnell ( a U.S. expat living in Nicaragua) and Paul Tiffer ( a Nicaraguan lawyer) this article explains everything you need to know about Registering Firearms in Nicaragua.

One overlooked item in this list by many countries: certification by a psychologist or a doctor to prove that the applicant is mentally and physically able to carry and handle a weapon.

An expat friend bought a gun in Nicaragua and registered it according to the laws of Nicaragua. His psychological examination was done in Spanish with a certified psychologist.

I understand that gun-control and registration vary from state to state in the United States. However, it is of my opinion, that if the federal government enacted a law that specifically required a psychological and physical examination for prospective and legal gun owners,  then we could better track the people with mental illnesses applying for and/or registering already owned guns. This appears to be a practical solution to reduce gun violence in Nicaragua.

I also find it interesting that a gun must be concealed at all times in Nicaragua. There are no special licenses for concealed weapons.

Why do people own guns in Nicaragua?

First, the majority of Nicaraguans do not own guns, at least not legally registered guns as reported in the statistics. How would one find the number of illegal guns possessed throughout the world? They can’t gather statistics on guns that aren’t legally registered.  The population of Nicaragua is 6.17 million people. The average total of all firearms in Nicaragua is 350,000 with the average number of gun owners being 7.7 per 100 people.

Guns are expensive to buy in Nicaragua. The registration and licensing procedures are time-consuming and expensive for the average Nicaraguan. 48% of the population lives in poverty and 40% of the population lives on less than one dollar a day.

Nicaraguans cherish their machetes. They use their machetes for work, for protection, and for safety. They are cheap and readily available. Now, if I could find homicide rates by machete for Nicaragua, I suspect they would be very high, certainly higher than homicide rate by firearm.

What do responsible gun owners do with their guns? I really don’t know the answer to that because there are so few people that I know who own guns on Ometepe Island.  Our expat friends who have legally registered guns use them for protection. We have a pellet/BB gun that we use for shooting rats in our garden. I only know of one incident where a legal gun-owner in Nicaragua used a gun to protect his family from a home invasion. The perpetrators entered the home with guns, and were shot with the homeowners’ legally registered guns in their attempts to strangle and possibly rape the homeowner.

Paul Tiffer concludes by saying, “You may buy or own as many guns as you wish but you will need a separate permit for each one. You should use a lawyer or perhaps a friend in the police department to help you walk through the process. Having a firearm without a permit is automatic confiscation, jail time and a fine on top of it.”

This information was an eye opener for me. I hope you find it helpful.

If you live abroad, do you know the legal process to buy and register a gun? What are the statistics on homicide rates by firearm where you live?

Drugs, Poverty, Violence, and the Child Migrant Crisis

IMG_0957“We cannot live for ourselves alone. Our lives are connected by a thousand invisible threads, and along these sympathetic fibers, our actions run as causes and return to us as results.” ― Herman Melville

Cause and effect! Choices made, whether good or bad, follow us forever and affect everyone in their path.  For several weeks, we have been bombarded with the Central American child migration crisis in the United States. I believe that this crisis cannot be solved without first delving into the causes.
Please read on. Moe ideas about the causes of violence.

Canadian Documentary of the Cult Ecoovie

The Anatomy of the Cult Ecoovie is my most popular blog post with 2,683 hits and 15 shares. Since seeing is believing, I am sharing the Canadian documentary called The Face of Evil, about the life of Pierre Maltais, the cult leader of Ecoovie.

You don’t want to miss the rest of this post, read on!

Guide to Taxi Service in Nicaragua

Nicaraguans undergo a strange personality change behind the wheel of a taxi. In every other setting in Nicaragua, aggression and speed are frowned upon. The Nicaraguan mantra is, “Manana” or “Tranquilo”. But, put a Nicaraguan in the driver’s seat and he portrays all the calmness of a hooded bandit in a lynch mob.

I shouldn’t be so hard on the taxi drivers in Nicaragua, but it took us many drivers before we found one that we can trust with our lives, our possessions, and our pocketbook. Apparently, there are no standard rates, nor do the taxis have meters. So, how does one know how much a taxi ride should cost in Nicaragua? Below, you will find my guidelines for getting a taxi in Nicaragua, but first a little about my favorite taxi driver, Francisco.

Francisco is our local taxi driver. Since we don’t have a car, nor do we want a car in Nicaragua, Francisco takes us everywhere. The first time I met him, he offered us a ride in Rivas for 10 cordobas. We had just turned down a $10 taxi ride to the ferry…a little over a mile, and I was hot, tired, and angry with the taxi drivers in the market for trying to rip us off. When I asked for Francisco’s telephone number, he handed me a crumpled Winnie-the-Poo sticker from his son’s backpack and scribbled his number on it. After that, I was sold on Francisco’s warm smile, his honest taxi service, and his safe and tranquilo attitude.

I wanted to help Francisco increase his business, so I offered to make him some business cards. Since my biggest complaint is that we never know how much a trip will cost, I convinced Francisco to put the prices on the back of the card. As a result, Francisco is the first taxi driver to have his prices on a professional business card and his service has increased daily.

Guide to Taxi Service in Nicaragua

1. How much should a taxi ride cost?
A good rule of thumb is to plan on paying around $10 for every 20 kilometers.
Distance calculator in Nicaragua
2. Never get in without agreeing on a fare. Period!
Since none of the taxis in Nicaragua have meters, it is very important to agree on the   price before getting into the taxi. Make sure the rate is per person or for more than one person. Does it include luggage? We’ve made this mistake several times and ended up paying 4 times the normal fare. I hate to be taken for a fool. If you are only going a short distance, from one street to another in the same town, ask for a collectivo. A collectivo generally has a standard rate in town and they will pick up and drop off many passengers.
Standard rates for collectivos in Rivas are: 15 cordobas per person
In Granada: 10 cordobas per person
3. To put your luggage in the trunk or not?
BF ( Before Francisco), I never put my luggage in the trunk of a taxi. If I was going to have a big dispute over the agreed upon fare when I got out of the taxi, ( and you probably will at one time or another in Nicaragua) I wanted to have all my luggage with me. If your luggage is in the trunk, it is easy for the taxi driver to hold your luggage for ransom during a dispute. Plus, I always carry my laptop in my day pack on a longer trip and I don’t want to subject it to over 100 degree temperatures in the trunk of a taxi.
4. Have the proper change.
The story of our lives in Nicaragua. Don’t go anywhere without the proper change. It always amuses me when a taxi driver requests a $15 fee and when you arrive at your destination, and hand him a $20 bill, he looks at you shocked that he is supposed to make change. Usually, after a little argument, I give up and tell him it’s a tip. It’s not worth the hassle. Bring small bills and give the taxi driver the exact change. On another note, I always give Francisco a tip, but that is not the norm in Nicaragua unless you have an amazing taxi driver. More chances than not, you will be overcharged just because you are a foreigner who doesn’t know any better, and I consider that the tip. It may be calloused, but I’ve learned the hard way.
5. Check the condition of the taxi before getting in.
I’ve ridden in some literal death traps in Nicaragua. The doors don’t unlock, the windows don’t work, the tires wobble…oh the tales of horror. Unless you know the driver or have a recommendation for a good driver… if the car looks unsafe, don’t get in. There are plenty of other taxi drivers in large cities. Just say, no!
6. Just say, NO!
It’s perfectly fine to be aggressive and just say, NO, especially if you get a strange feeling. Some taxi scams in Nicaragua:
The buses aren’t running scam.
You are on your way to the bus station in a crowded market to catch a bus. A taxi driver yells,” Where are you going?” You respond, “Granada.” The taxi driver says, “You just missed the last bus to Granada. There are no more buses today. I’ll take you, cheap.”
Taken to an isolated spot, robbed, and dropped off in the middle of nowhere scam
You are waiting in a market for a bus. A friendly local strikes up a conversation with you. “No need to take a bus,” says the local. “I’m waiting for my friend who is a taxi driver. He’ll take you to Granada after he drops me off.” You get in the back of the taxi, and your local friend gets in beside you. Then, the taxi driver picks up another person, who gets in the backseat on the other side of you. You are driven to an ATM and forced to withdraw money…usually at knife point or sometimes by gun point. Then, you are forced back into the taxi, driven to an isolated spot, beaten and sometimes raped, and thrown out of the taxi.
I really hate to scare you, but these incidents have happened often in Nicaragua. In both cases, JUST SAY NO! Walk away. Trust your intuition. If something doesn’t feel right…just say NO!
7. Get the directions in Spanish
You will be lucky to find a taxi driver that speaks English. If your Spanish is poor, always get the directions to your location in Spanish. Most hotels and hostels have brochures or business cards with their addresses printed in Spanish. Grab one and stick it in a safe place. After a night out on the town, you can simply hand the taxi driver the card or brochure and tell him to take you there. If you want to do a day trip to another place, ask your hotel or hostel employee to write the directions for you in Spanish and you can hand it to the driver.
8. Ask your hotel, or a local friend for recommendations for a taxi driver
Hotels and hostels want customers to return, so they will usually have taxi drivers available that they recommend. Always ask them for recommendations. The only bad experience we had in this area was my last trip back from the states. We stayed at the Best Western Hotel across from the airport in Managua and Francisco was to return to pick us up. My flight was canceled at the last-minute to Nicaragua, Ron was waiting for me in Managua at the hotel, and his Spanish was poor. So, he asked the desk attendant at the Best Western to call Francisco for him and tell him to pick us up the following day. The desk clerk called Francisco, but he told Francisco that my flight was delayed and not to pick us up. Ron wasn’t aware of what the desk clerk told Francisco and the desk clerk was hoping for a commission from his taxi driver.  The next day at 11:00am we were waiting for Francisco. Thirty minutes later, Francisco wasn’t there, which was very unusual. A few minutes later, the phone in our hotel room rang and it was Francisco. He asked me how we were getting back to Ometepe because the desk clerk told him not to pick us up. I was furious. Francisco arrived an hour later and I told the desk clerk about the incident and said he just lost two good paying customers. We will never stay there again.

Overall, we are fortunate to have found a wonderful and trustworthy taxi driver in Nicaragua. I consider him to be my friend, as well as my taxi driver. I hope these tips are helpful and I haven’t scared you. It’s always better to be knowledgable about the taxi service in Nicaragua or you could be in for a wild ride! 🙂

Below are a few interesting links to articles about taxis in Nicaragua.





Timeout: Difficult Lessons

“That’s the thing about lessons, you always learn them when you don’t expect them or want them.”
― Cecelia Ahern, If You Could See Me Now

Crimes of opportunity. We should have known better than to leave our Brazilian hammock swinging on the second story porch of our casita. Rain pounded on our tin roof muffling all sounds, our hammock swayed lazily in an unprotected and dark area, our dog too was sick to bark at intruders…all were signals for an opportunistic ladrón (thief).

We should have known better. In a three-year period, we’ve lost a bunch of bananas (over 50 pounds of bananas), a long hose snaking through Ron’s garden, a sharp machete, Ron’s new hiking boots, an iPhone, and now our Brazilian hammock. These petty crimes of opportunity make me want to cry!

IMG_3425Though, we should have known better. We installed a bright light on the casita porch, took down our rope swing hanging from a mango tree, rolled up the remaining hose, and stored assorted rakes and our kayak on the gated porch of our main house….a real fortress. “What about this old mop and the broken plastic bucket?” I asked Ron. “Debbie, if some thief wants that old mop and bucket..let them have it,” he laughed.

I’ve followed trails of bananas and washed out partial footprints in the sand…all leading to a dead-end. I’ve warned all the neighbors that a ladrón is in our neighborhood. They have all had experiences with petty crime, too. In a way, it reassures me that we aren’t targeted because we are foreigners. Yet, it infuriates me that a stranger invades our private property.

The advice from the locals is to: get a mean dog or two or three, lock everything up at night, and spotlight the property with bright lights. It won’t help to install a high razor topped fence around our property. First, it is too expensive, and second, if a thief wants something bad enough, they’ll find a way. If they can easily shimmy up a coconut tree, a fence will not deter them.

We should have known better. But, we got lazy and didn’t expect a ladrón. That’s when things happen…when you least expect them. Lesson learned…again and again. It could have been worse. I won’t live in fear, but I’ll sure keep everything locked up tightly in our house from now on.

I still want to cry. The hammock was given to us as a gift when we visited Brazil. In Zeebra Designs and Destinations this week, Lisa quoted Kahlil Gibran, “I have learnt silence from the talkative, toleration from the intolerant, and kindness from the unkind;  yet strange, I am ungrateful to these teachers.”

I’m working on learning to be grateful for these lessons…but, sometimes you just gotta cry.
A friend sent me a picture she took of her toddler when she laid her down for her nap. Her expression is priceless and demonstrates the feelings I had last week. I’m practicing sketching hair..I still have more practice to get it lifelike. YouTube had some excellent lessons on drawing hair.

Lost in Translation

It is the season of hope and thanksgiving…the time we profess to care..to love others…to offer help and encouragement. I’ve stepped beyond the words. I’ve lived hope…breathed understanding…and walked a compassionate path. Love is a verb…an action. It requires that we DO something to show our support…our concern…our love for our fellow human beings. Yet, today in the season of hope and thanksgiving, I feel abandoned and betrayed…as if everything has been lost in translation.

My words of hope are swirling out of control…my actions are tainted with a bitterness that is difficult to swallow. I could blame sickness on my feeling of depression. I’ve been sick most of the month of November. It could be Dengue, then again, it could be a horrible case of the flu. I just can’t shake it. It leaves me exhausted, questioning my sanity, and wondering why I am still here.

However, I believe the real cause behind my feeling of despair centers around my loss of faith in people I have trusted on Ometepe Island. In a year of posts, I’ve written about the importance of cultural immersion, humorous daily life with our neighbors and local friends, and living a simple, carefree lifestyle. I debated whether to write this post and click ‘send’ because I don’t want to give the impression that I’m a whiner…generally I’m not. If there is one thing I’ve learned while living in Nicaragua, it’s to keep a sense of humor and have the patience of a saint.

I scoffed at expat statements: “Don’t get too chummy with the locals.” “They are expert con artists.” “They will patiently groom you and pretend to be your best friend, then rip you off… zooming in for the kill before you know what happened.” Instead, I believed in the goodness of people. I thought we could transcend cultural differences by understanding our similarities. I thought we could form lasting friendships that sliced through cultural norms. I was wrong in one situation.

What do I do when the dawn brings lies..when I awake to a realization that I was used because I am a gringa, not because I am a trusting and compassionate friend? I wanted two things at the same time; I wanted revenge and I wanted to rise above the situation and offer forgiveness to the people who wronged me. But, I could do neither because I saw  half-hearted forgiveness as coming off as condescending in my present frame of mind and revenge would only make me feel as bad as the people who hurt me…who took advantage of my kindness and generosity.

Believe me…I am NO saint. I sent the threatening guilt-laden text messages…”I am contacting a lawyer.” “I am going to the police.” You should be ashamed of yourself for lying to us.” “You are no man, you are a thief.” “May God have mercy on your soul.” Everyday, for two weeks, I sent the horrible translated text messages. It took me hours to translate and pitifully punch in the letters one at a time. I wouldn’t win any prize for texting rapidly. Punch…punch…punch…anger…anger…threaten..shame…shame…shame.

Everything was lost in translation…there was no response. I was a tormented texter…a vile victim…a grief stricken gringa. So, how could I get out of this rut and the feeling of betrayal and emotional pain that accompanied it? Well, I’m still working on it, but here is some advice from a slowly recovering expat realist…me.

1. Never lend money. As an expat living in an impoverished country, the local people are always going to ask for money. The little kids in the barrio down our street are trained by well-meaning tourists to say, “Dame un dollar.” It must work because tourists take pity on them and hand them a few coins. Instead, offer them food or a job for a day or two. Once walking back from town, I was carrying two heavy grocery bags, when one of the kids asked for money. I handed him my heavy bag of groceries and asked him to help me carry it home. Then, I paid him for helping me carry my groceries.

We usually never lend money, but in this one circumstance, after a relationship for two years, we thought that we could trust this family. We had the father sign a notice of debit and made an installment plan for paying back a little money each month. Unfortunately, he lied about the reason for needing the money and has left the country…probably never to be seen again.

2. Face it. It is going to happen someday. You will be ripped-off and betrayed by people you thought you could trust. When it happens, stand back and gain some detachment. View yourself as the helper and not the victim…if only for your own sanity. It’s important to grieve and to feel the pain of betrayal, but chalk it up as a learning experience and move on with your life.

3. Living abroad is challenging. Communication is difficult. Cultural immersion is still a very important part of my life, but it is important not to lose myself, my own cultural norms, values, and traditions. I am a foreigner, I will always be an outsider. I will probably never completely understand or fit into the Nicaraguan culture, nor do I want to be a Nicaraguan.

4. When chaos ensues and you feel like you are spiraling out of control, or homesickness blankets you with melancholy, or a tropical bug bites and infects you with some weird disease, or the heat becomes unbearable, seek a confidant..someone who has survived the same betrayals, illnesses, or homesickness and has come out the other side.

5. Work for a tomorrow that will be better than yesterday. It is all too easy to become fixated and obsessed with being wronged. The obsession and need for revenge can turn a loving, caring person into a bitter, paranoid, and very angry person. Who needs it? Life is too short, there are still many seasons of sweet mangoes to pick.

6. Live in the present and don’t idolize the past. We worked hard to fulfill our dreams of moving abroad. I am blessed with an abundance of beautiful sunsets over the lake every evening, lovely neighbors, and a friendly safe community. I simply won’t let one betrayal or one nasty bug bite, or one day of chaos destroy my dreams.

In the end, forgiveness belongs to those who know how to love in the first place. Nicaragua has shown me much love and once I come to my senses again after this bout with illness and betrayal, I’ll be walking the compassionate path in this season of hope and thanksgiving…living hope…breathing understanding…and offering help and encouragement to others.

Thanks for listening to me..it’s not my usual style of writing..but sometimes, I have to express my vulnerabilities and my fears…my naked truths of living on an island in the middle of a huge lake, in the middle of Nicaragua, in the middle of Central America.




Binders Full of Nicaraguan Women

Thanks to tumblir for the picture

Mitt Romney’s faux pas during the second Presidential debate would NEVER be understood in Nicaragua. When he claimed to have been presented with “binders full of women”, my only thought was of the plight of Nicaraguan women. There are many dusty binders of Nicaraguan women stacked on police officers’ shelves, only they are full of  reports of domestic violence, abuse, exploitation, and sex trafficking…certainly not women’s resumes.

How do I explain equal rights to my impoverished neighbor with three children under the age of three, who washes dirty diapers by hand in the lake, cooks every meal over a fire, while sweeping the trash from her dirt floor into the street, and tending to the needs of her invalid father-in-law? Adioska doesn’t have a clue about resumes or equal pay in a country where the average take-home pay for men is $100 a month. She lives in survival mode daily… from one crisis to another.

What can I tell her? It’s your duty to fight for women’s rights? Last October, a 12-year-old girl, who was raped and impregnated by her step-father, gave birth to a five-pound baby boy.  “According to the Strategic Group of the Decriminalization of Therapeutic Abortion, 1,453 of the young girls (ages 10-14) who were raped in Nicaragua last year were forced to give birth due to Nicaragua’s total ban on therapeutic abortion.” See article here. Under Nicaraguan law, the 12-year-old mother was denied access to a therapeutic abortion, becoming a poster child for the Sandinista government’s ban on abortion in all circumstances.

Gender-based violence is a serious problem in Nicaragua. Poverty, close family ties, and a lack of basic education contribute to thousands of victims’ inability to escape abuse and exploitation. Although the majority of Nicaraguans oppose gender-based violence              (including men), the challenge is what to do once the abuse has occurred. But, not all remains dire in the binders of Nicaraguan women.

On January 26, 2012, the Nicaraguan Parliament unanimously approved a Comprehensive Violence Against Women’s Act.  This law recognizes femicide ( killing of women) and other violence against women as criminal acts and punishable under Nicaraguan law. The government established a commission, strengthening government agencies that provide services for women and children, as well as providing training and information for all government officials and the general public. Female police officers specializing in domestic violence are available in every department of Nicaragua. We even have a trained specialist in our little port town of Moyogalpa! Of course, funding for human service programs is a universal problem.

Domestic violence safe houses are popping up in local communities. The Solidarity House, a shelter for women and girls, is located in San Juan Del Sur. It is one of five shelters in Nicaragua that provides assistance to women and young girls. The other shelters are in Managua, Waslala, Ocotal, and Puerto Cabezas.

It is a fledgling beginning. Meanwhile, the little 12 year-old who gave birth to her stepfather’s child, is living at home. Her mother lives with the rapist of her daughter, as if nothing happened. She has been robbed of her childhood…her self-esteem…her life. Adioska continues to nurture and care for her family. She’s too busy to attend the rallies advocating for women’s rights, but she is aware and encouraged by the attention and focus given to women in Nicaragua.

There is still a long way to go before women’s rights are fully recognized in Nicaragua. Yet, the binders are slowly filling up with new laws protecting women and children. Maybe someday, we can hope for binders full of women’s resumes, instead of reports of violence. That’s my wish for Nicaraguan women and children. Poco y poco.


Expat Extremophiles

In August, a U.S. expat chopped up his Nicaraguan translator and drinking buddy in Jinotega, Nicaragua. He stuffed Harley’s dismembered head and other assorted body parts in garbage bags and placed them on the curb for the garbage truck. When the police arrived, they found the confessed murderer calmly eating lunch and surfing the web. Basil Givner, 56, confessed, ” I couldn’t stand him anymore.” See article here.

I posted this article on Facebook because  I met this confessed murderer in Jinotega when we were visiting last September. He had just returned from the states and was staying at our hotel until he found another house to rent. He appeared to be friendly and talkative, which led me to wonder about the masks of sanity that some expats wear and why we become expats. One of my local friends commented,” This may slightly change the way some Nicaraguans treat their foreign neighbors, don’t you think?”

What do I think? I responded to my friend, “I’m more afraid of some of the expats in Nicaragua, than the Nicaraguans.” Are we all expat extremophiles? Extremophiles are microorganisms that live life on the edge. They are adaptable and flexible organisms, which have made extreme environments their home. Some are cunning escape artists, who through the process of natural selection, have adapted to incredible worlds of extreme hot or cold, radiation, darkness, or other harsh environments in which humans could never hope to survive. They had no choice: It was survival of the fittest.

As human beings, we like to think that we are flexible, adaptable, and capable of thriving in a variety of environments. As expat extremophiles, we do have choices. We consciously choose to expatriate and settle in environments very different from our former habitats. Like the microorganisms, we adapt to extreme changes in our environment. Unlike extremophiles, we can move on if things don’t meet our needs.

  • But, why do we choose to live life on the edge? Why have we left family, friends, security, and all comforts of familiarity to move to an alien environment that challenges us daily? We are not political refugees, although I know many expats who use the term to describe their reason for expatriation. Join the forums, NicaLiving or The Real Nicaragua, and you can find many political refugees wrapped in blankets of conspiracy theories.
  • We are not pedophiles. Walk the streets of Granada and you can find places nicknamed, “Pedophile Perch”, where old demented gringos lie in wait to buy young, underage Nicaraguan boys or girls. In their sick expat extremophile world, they believe they are helping to support an impoverished family. See recent arrest here.
  • We are not criminals or cult leaders, like Pierre Doris Maltese. We’ve never been arrested or convicted of money laundering, murder, or drug offenses. I got a couple of speeding tickets in my lifetime, but I don’t think that counts.
  • We aren’t trying to escape from a heinous past. We aren’t victims of our life experiences…nor are we bitter, jealous, or revengeful.  We are not alcoholics, or drug addicts. We don’t stumble through the streets of our local town disheveled and dirty,  looking for our next connection or our next fix.
  • We are not medical refugees…knock on wood! I know several expats who were forced to move to Central America because they were denied health insurance for pre-existing conditions. They found affordable health care here at a fraction of the cost in the states. I admire these expat extremophiles because they aren’t afraid to explore alternative health care in the form of herbal remedies and homeopathic care options.
  • We are not International Real Estate developers, like most of the International Living folks. We don’t buy ocean front properties for pennies, kick out the locals, and then hire them to be our maids and gardeners.
  • We don’t want to start a hostel or an eco-friendly resort, or develop programs in permaculture or a surf camp.
  • We are not Peace Corp, missionaries, or NGOs, another admirable type of expat extremophiles.
So, who are we? Why have we moved to Nicaragua? I don’t think we fit into a group of expat extremophiles. Not that it matters anyway. We just want to live comfortably, simply, and cheaply immersed in a new culture….one more adventurous journey around the sun…one day at a time.
I guess the closest we could come is to be categorized as economic refugees who thrive on challenges of growing a tropical garden, helping our neighbors and friends, and exploring the mysteries a new culture presents. We are just your normal expat extremophiles…and that is an oxymoron if I ever heard one.

The Anatomy of the Cult Ecoovie

Pierre Doris Maltais on Ometepe Island in the beige shirt and sandals.

William Norman (Man to his followers), whose real name is Pierre Doris Maltais was born June 27, 1937 in East Angus Quebec, married in 1961,and had three children. He is known as an “omniscient master”, skillful manipulator of noble ideas, and a dangerous cult leader. Through my investigations, I have discovered that there have been a number of naive idealists (scientists, environmentalists, politicians, businessmen, police officers) who have been taken in by his specious verbiage. He is alive and well and living in Granada, Nicaragua! His son[Osagi, I recently found out is not his son, he is a business partner] manages the Indio Viejo in Moyogalpa, Ometepe Island.

Osagi and Annie copy 2The picture above is of Osagi, in the middle, and Annie. Both Osagi and Annie manage the Indio Viejo. I recently heard that Osagi’s real name is Stephen and he was adopted by Pierre Maltais. ( added March 2013)

Ecoovie, a cooperative in experimental green living, began in 1978 in Paris.  Its mission was ecology and natural food. Pierre Doris Maltais, the founder, claimed to belong to the Micmac Tribe, in Gaspé, Quebec. Ecoovie humbly began in 1973 as an eco-naturalist group in Quebec, known as The Tribe. In Paris, its members become “écoopérateurs” volunteering for Ecoovie.

“William Norman”( one of his many alias’)  founded the University of Ile-de-France  in 1980. He renamed his university, University for Peace (Pax-UNI) in 1983. Through the establishment of a false university, he was able to secure funding to lead his ‘flock’.  In March 1983, he convinced the founder of the United Towns Organization, Jean-Marie Bressand, to sign a memorandum of understanding, and he was elected Federal Secretary for Peace, Disarmament and Human Rights at the 29th Session of the International Council of the UTO.

William Norman then founded the University’s new traveling group (UNI-R), through his newly elected status as Federal Secretary for Peace. The UNI-R was launched on March 21, 1984, called the March of Return: 170 people, including pregnant women and babies, were expected to perform around the world on foot and sixteen on a raft expected to cross the seas and oceans.

The University of Peace proposed to the UTO “the pursuit of common goals: peace, solidarity and harmony between men and peoples”; the University of  Peace formed the traveling group and advocated a World March for “a return to the global awareness of problems, peace, racism, and world hunger. “The World Council of Peoples was intended to” protect and promote respect for life in all its forms, freedom-friendly, all natural and human heritage. “

The expedition marched through France, Spain, Portugal, and sailed to Ceuta (Spanish Morocco). Shortly after establishing the UNI-R, word spread that William had scammed the UTO. The Congress of the UTO (September 1984, Montreal) dismissed Jean-Marie Bressand of his presidency (He founded the UTO in 1957).

As for the designs drawn from the primitive customs of the Indians of North America, the followers of the Tribe, guinea pigs. were tested at their expense. The group left Paris in its entirety on March 20, 1984 (day of the equinox) with luggage, tents and Indian children, to travel around the earth. Their travels lasted 16 years until 2000. Former cult followers testified that sanitary conditions were poor, work was unpaid, and medical care was non-existent, but the members had deep convictions.

It was a Danish woman who broke the silence about the cult, Ecoovie. Her name is Jill. For ten years, she lived among the followers of Maltais. She was 18 when she left Denmark to join the sect. She heard of Ecoovie for the first time when she was in the private school, Andebolle in Funen, Denmark. The idea of living like Indians fascinated her. July 27, Jill confided her ordeal in “Jyllands-Posten.” the largest Danish newspaper. (…) I hated the society. Actually I was weak and without insurance. I thought it would make me strong.

At first, Jill felt that she was about to discover the meaning in her life. However, the relationship with Ecoovie ultimately cost her two children. At that time, the followers lived in the forests or mountainous regions in France, Portugal, Spain, Morocco, Belgium, Sweden, Denmark. Finland, Haiti, and Italy in tepees made of sticks and straw. Alcohol and tobacco were forbidden. The food consisted of roots, twigs and leaves. They were required to lie on the ground in Indian tents or teepees, to find the original heat (heat supplied by the winter compost liter) and droppings around the tent. Not to break the vibratory circuit of soil-plant-eater-alluvial ground, they were forced to defecate on the floor like animals.

 There were no medical or pharmaceutical supplies. William Norman, to this day, claims to be a doctor and claims his recipes are magical. He demanded treatment of diseases in plants, clay poultices, fasting and incantations. It was nature itself that had meant the end of this sinister enterprise, in the form of diseases caused by malnutrition and lack of hygiene: typhus, furunculosis, dysentery, jaundice, and still births. Survival for a traveling group in Finland was even more catastrophic, given the weather conditions (temperatures down to minus 30 ° C), and certain months of the impossibility of finding food locally.

“We had to work six hours and sleep and two hours,” Jill stated. “During the breaks we were often awakened. It follows that we were always stressed, because plans always changed, and we had to decamp to go further. After some time, we were so feeble, that we begin to believe that the enemy “society” was the cause, just as we believed that Maltais was always right and he knew everything.”

Free and community homosexuality was imposed by William Norman (it would allow the transmission of knowledge through semen, according to Indian custom). Maltais had separated men from women. For minors, he had invented the “passages” of sexual initiation rites with the onset of puberty that allowed him to take an interest in children 12 to 16 years. In its report (Belguim Parliamentary Commission, 1997) , the Committee concluded that the touching took place under medical pretexts. As for the conception of children, since men and women were separated, it was Maltais who undertook to “convey the seed”.

“Maltais wanted men and women to live separately … and did not want them where he lived. Instead quantities of young men, had sex with him at night,” said Jill. Her account corroborates the TV Canadian documentary, where two former followers admit:” We had to lick his body. He was sick and he said that we gave him [and] juvenile forces “. One of them said he was 15 years old then.

In 1985, Jill was pregnant. The followers had walked about 1,000 kilometers, across Europe. She weighed only 45 kg. “I asked many times to be excused from work, especially when I was tormented by contractions,” recalled Jill. The answer was always this: It’s a dry race we do. ( I am uncertain of this translation)

On September 25, Jill goes into labor. “The contractions became more frequent and the amniotic sac breaks. I had to say nothing because I was hysterical and cataloged as pain in the neck. However, the pains were so strong that I could neither walk nor stand up.”

For four days, Jill continued to work and walk on the roads. Shantig was finally born between 10 pm and midnight September 29, 1985. The baby weighed only 1,630 gr. and remained a little over a month in a neonatal unit, said the mother.  Concerned cult followers hid Jill from Maltais and took her to a hospital against his commands that she deliver the baby in the forest.

At Ecoovie, children were not especially welcome. If followers gave birth, the child was deprived of his biological parents and placed in another camp. “Maltais did not want the parents to begin to bond with their children. The attachment could violate his plans”, Jill said.

“My daughter, Shantig, was moved to another camp a little time after hospital discharge,”claimed Jill. She gave birth to her son Gisga in 1989, when she was only in her 29th week of pregnancy. Two years later she gave birth to stillborn baby boy. For her, it was clear Ecoovie was responsible for this death. The crusade could begin.

In 1991, when she delivered a stillborn, she realized then that the lifestyle had killed her child. A year later, pregnant again, she finally left the cult definitely also for fear of losing her unborn child. She was then admitted to Rigshospital (Copenhagen University Hospital), where she has received psychiatric care for almost a decade.

During this decade, Jill  fought to get her children out of the sect, who refused to say where they were. For three years, her son, Gisgas, remained in Finland. Sick, he refused food for a month. Photos taken a month before his death showed his swollen belly. One day, Jill received a telephone call. The female voice said to Jill, “Your son is not here. He was taken elsewhere.”Jill  immediately left for the northern part of Finland. It took days to reach the camp lost in the forest. When she arrived, she was told that Gisgas was cremated yesterday. After consideration, the authorities had concluded that an infection was untreated and that was the cause of his death. Investigations have shown a number of deaths of children and adults in Ecoovie. Former followers have reported to Jill, then on TV that Gisgas, who had been in the group of boys of Maltais, died of exhaustion and with large pustules on his body.

The same year Jill gave birth to Sami. “Maltais psychically destroyed my daughter,” she reported. It took another five years before she got him to release Shanting, who was then 13 years old.” When I saw her, I have cried endless,” she reported. “She was tiny, delayed, skin and bones. She spoke only French and did not know me. Initially she was afraid to be with me. They told her that I was a demon, very few can understand how this can happen,” said Jill.

“I survive. It makes me strong to love my children, and think that we will overcome Maltais. I do not know what is the strongest [in me] of love or revenge, but the death of Gisgas can not be forgiven,” she said.

Meanwhile, in 1985 William Norman transferred some of his followers to Belgium, where he resumed his undercover naturo-led humanitarian scheme. He rented a castle in Belguim and led a frivolous high-society lifestyle. He received funding from supporters and affiliations with his  World Council of Peoples, a European Foundation of associations, association Re-source, and also a center flanked by a Franciscan Ecumenical theological faculty born in Brussels in 1985-1986. William Norman became Minister General of the Order of Friars Minor Recollects under the name Brother Maolinn Tiam.

While it is impossible to determine how many suckers, young and old, have monetarily supported William Norman and his fraudulent schemes, one horrific fact remains.  While his followers were reduced to living in squalor, surviving on leaves and twigs, and enduring painful ailments without medical care,  Maltais lived in apartments, comfortable hotels, castles, and ate in fancy restaurants in countries where he led a strange business under false identities to make off with the profits with little risk. In Belgium, he had retained a suite at the Metropole hotel under the false name of Henry Bridge. There  he led the good life, and in the private dining room reserved for gourmet, he entertained a parade of investors  interested in funding his world fabulous projects. Keteller Gustave was one of his business partners, he served four months in prison, like Maltais.

 Maltais created SOS-Deserts, in March 1988, aimed at greening the Sahara Desert and presented an international project, “the front of the Sahel”, estimated at $15 billion. Many people had been deceived by his charm and pseudo-friendliness.

Excerpt from an open letter from the UNI-R to the authorities of Ceuta (October 9, 1986): “[…] we are a group of thirty-five to forty people, doctors, engineers, technicians, teachers, students and other professionals who have decided to go around the world on foot in sixteen years. This is a project we prepare for over thirteen-years, a multidisciplinary international shipping and ecumenical […]. We also participate in a huge project: to fight against the desert, called “Front of the Sahel”. This is a program for greening of the Sahara made from a chain of 35,000 localities between Senegal and Ethiopia, thus constituting the “front” whose purpose is to stop the steady advance of the desert and start its regeneration. This project was developed within an international organization: the World Council of Peoples […]. We also chose a diet called “vital and sports’ for economic reasons and physiological: we do not smoke, we do not drink alcohol, we do not consume coffee or tea or other drugs.

We do not eat no meat, no milk, no new or other animal products […]. The socio-economic reasons that we have decided to choose this diet were reinforced by excellent and dramatic physiological results to be published in a medical thesis that we are now finishing to be presented in future years. We also chose to eat only after sunset […]. We do not participate in the race for money but more a race for survival of the planet. We live just like the Franciscans, and indeed, we were moved, as the Franciscans have been learning about the history of Daniel and his companions at the gates of Ceuta in 1227. These Franciscans live with Buddhists, Catholics and others interested in the Islamic tradition … “

William Norman was arrested in December 1988 in Belguim, and was jailed for four months , then out of the prison Saint-Gilles, April 14, 1989, and was expelled from Belgium. In December 2, 1991, the 49th Chamber of the Court of Brussels condemned him to three years in prison for forgery and use of forgery, fraud, embezzlement, false names public port and criminal conspiracy.

Four years after the events in Belguim, William Norman fled to Finland in early 1993.  Armed with the label “Indians Quebec,” Norman William and his followers infiltrated the environmental movement for Finnish subsidies. William reported to the Parliament in Helsinki in March 1993 for a conference on ecology, because of his research on the conditions of survival in cold weather! The Finnish government was aware of his background and ordered the expulsion of these unfortunate ecologists (120 were identified).

The French écoovistes identified in Finland, and also in Sweden, all returned to France, where they lived underground.  An investigation was opened by the prosecutor in Nantes, in the wake of death in Sweden of a man from this city, recognized as a member of the Tribe of Man. William Norman returned to Quebec in 1994. Jacques Godbout, Canadian filmmaker and writer, who knew him since 1960, made a documentary film, the “Norman William Case,” which was presented in September 1994 at the International Film Festival in Quebec.

This blog, was written by a traveler who met Abi and Osagi on Ometepe Island. At first he recalled them in a favorable way. The blogger later went back and included a warning at the top saying that Abi gives off a good impression at first, but is a very dangerous man.  Below this warning in red are 4 links to a CBC (reputable news agency in Canada) 4-part documentary about Norman William and Ecoovie.  It is in French.    Read it here.

The Canadian documentary showed Maltais experiencing European hotels, but with 14 false identities. Piel Petjemaltest (aka Pierre Doris Maltais) conducted a series of property transactions for a sheik from Saudi Arabia. Other times it was Norman William or Manolin. He managed to defraud humanitarian organizations out of thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands of dollars for nonexistent projects.

In 2003,  there was a child abduction case in Canada that involved Pierre Doris Maltais. He was accused of molestation of minors. Ten children were, at that time, excluded from this sect. Among them, the three grandchildren of Helen Martin. “At 8, the eldest still could not read and write. They were totally under the domination of vegan tenets of this sect. My daughter thinks I tried to take away her children. All I want yet is that they have a normal life, they can go to school. and I can see them simply as a grandmother,” she said. Justice Canada released Maltais, and then released the children to their mother … “Which will vanish soon in nature to follow his guru.”

 “This decision is incomprehensible. Again, we must try to locate them. They would still be about thirty, including several children, to surround Pierre Doris Maltais,” denounced Janine Tavernier, former president of the Association for Family and Individual (LISA).

In 2004, my husband and I moved to Nicaragua to run the Hospedaje Central ( renamed El Indio Viejo by an Indian Chief from Canada called Abi) on Ometepe Island. We stayed at the Hospedaje Central in Granada to train for our new jobs. Bill Parker, who owned the Hospedaje Central in Granada and leased the Hospedaje Central on Ometepe Island introduced us to a group of people who were members of an Indian tribe from Canada. They were staying at the Hospedaje Central in Granada. Their leader, Pierre Doris Maltais, was called Abi. The only thing I knew about this strange group was that a young street urchin had been befriended by Abi and one day, Abi reported that the street urchin had stolen $4,000 from him, which had been hidden in a dirty sock.

Bill died Christmas Day, 2004 of cancer. His Hospedaje Central in Granada was sold to ‘Abi’, and they took over the lease on the Hospedaje Central on Ometepe Island, changing the name to El Indio Viejo. A year or two later, he sold the Hospedaje Central in Granada  and his entire tribe moved to Ometepe Island.

In October of 2011, a Nicaraguan National Police helicopter arrived on the island to rescue a young boy, who reportedly had been kidnapped by Pierre Doris Maltais. We heard many rumors, the most prevalent being that this young boy had been chained up and abused in the Hospedaje for several years.

Update: According to the police report, this boy was from Haiti and “adopted by Pierre Maltais, 74 years old and FRANCOISE, MARIE, JACQUELINE, ODILE, EDITH, POUDRE, 51 years of age. 

He was reportedly suffering from malnourishment, reportedly had mental challenges (or retardation), and was locked in a house alone near the church in Moyogalpa. He was discovered naked laying on the floor, surrounded by a few coloring books and some ropes ( of which I am not sure what they were used for. One can only surmise.) The house had no furnishings. He slept on a mattress on the floor. The police took the teenage boy off the island, after a complete physical and psychological examination was completed, and will not give him back to Abi.

Shortly after that, most of the Ecoovie members fled and dispersed to….? An old man that made delicious sour dough bread for the tribe returned to Granada, where he continues to make his delicious sourdough bread.

Osagi (son of Maltais) returns to the island frequently, but he’s not there all the time. An older woman is currently running the Indio Viejo with a young volunteer. Several weeks ago, when Jerry died, Osagi offered to buy Yogi’s Place. He said he wanted to buy it for his brother, who was moving to the island. He also said that his father (Pierre Doris Maltais, aka Abi) was a biologist and was interested in doing ecological research.

I suspect that their lease on the Indio Viejo is going to be broken soon, so they are scrambling, and I hope, leaving the island for good. But, look out Granada, because another unverified rumor is that Pierre Doris Maltais bought a hotel on the Calzada in Granada.

How in the world does this “Face of Evil” avoid getting caught? It reminds me of the movie, “Catch Me If You Can.”  All I know for sure is that I spent a considerable amount of time researching Pierre Doris Maltais and his cult, Ecoovie. The problem with Nicaragua is a lack of communication and a lack of resources to investigate most crimes, which makes it a perfect location for Maltais and his cult members of Ecoovie, or whatever they call themselves, now, to hang out unrecognized.

So, when coming to Ometepe Island or Granada, please be on the lookout for this face of evil. Beware, use caution, and please spread the word. We don’t want him in Nicaragua! Spread the word for Gisgas, for Shantig, for Jill, for Helen Martin’s grandchildren, for the countless number of children and adults abused, malnourished, and abandoned by Pierre Doris Maltais. Spread the word for the abuse of power, greed, fraud, and the innocent conned into his evil trap. Spread the word in the name of humanitarianism, peace, and truth.