We Give Back

“Help others without any reason and give without the expectation of receiving anything in return.” ~Roy. T. Bennett

I’ve been in a funk this season of giving. Maybe it is because of the political situation in the U.S. Possibly it is because of the crowdsourcing scams I’ve seen in Nicaragua and my island home of Ometepe. And then again, it could be because lately I’ve been disappointed in people in general.

Whatever the reason for my funk, the only way I know how to get out of it is by stressing the goodness of people, the selfless acts of giving, and promoting people who give without any reason and without the expectation of receiving anything in return.

For this reason, I would like to introduce you to two expats on Ometepe Island who give back selflessly to their communities.

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Five Business Skills We All Need

“The true entrepreneur is a doer, not a dreamer.” ― Nolan Bushnell

Luis, our 15-year-old yard worker, wants to go to his cousin’s quinceañera in Costa Rica in November. Although, he only works for us on Saturday, he wanted to work after school to save money for his trip. We are preparing for a new roof in November, and we needed someone to remove the old roof tiles.

“Luis, how would you like to make enough money to travel by removing our old tiles and selling them?” we asked him.

Thus began the lessons in entrepreneurship and starting a business.

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Lasting Impressions of Cuba

“Anarchy is like custard cooking over a flame; it has to be constantly stirred or it sticks and gets heavy, like government.” ― Tom Robbins, Even Cowgirls Get the Blues

Anarchism as a social movement in Cuba held much promise for the working class during the 19th and 20th centuries. I won’t go into the sordid details, you can read the history here Anarchism in Cuba.

Yet, what I would like to discuss are my lasting impressions of Cuba. First, Che is everywhere. Forty-five years after the death of Ernesto “Che” Guevara — the Argentine doctor who led the 1959 Cuban Revolution alongside Fidel Castro — his portrait is the most reproduced image in Cuba.

His face appears repeatedly on murals, water tanks, billboards, and even plates, t-shirts, coffee mugs, beach towels, and bikinis. While extraordinarily popular as a figure of revolution where children are taught to see him as a hero from a very young age, his image is used to promote commercialism in Cuba. My impression is that he has become a pattern and a design to sell to tourists, and I think they have gone too far and misrepresented Che. Would you buy a bikini with Che’s face on the butt of a bikini bottom?

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The History of Airbnbs in Cuba

When President Obama’s administration opened the door to improve relationships with Cuba, Airbnb announced that it would offer accommodations to guests from around the world. Airbnb started by licensing U.S. travelers’ accommodations in April 2015, and last April 2016 the U.S. Department of Treasury granted special authorization to allow the company to advertise accommodations in Cuba to non-U.S. travelers. Today, Cuba is the fastest growing market in Airbnb history.

Since we are U.S. citizens it is difficult, if not impossible, to use our U.S. based credit and debit cards in Cuba. We knew we would have to exchange our dollars for Euros before we arrived in Cuba because U.S. dollars are not accepted and we would be charged a hefty 13% commission if we exchanged dollars for CUCs.

Overlooking Havana from our Airbnb balcony on the malacon.

Cuba is predominantly a cash society. Even though Cuba is one of the safest countries we have visited, mainly because the people are petrified of the government if any tourists are harmed, we didn’t like the idea of carrying around large wads of cash.

Therefore, Airbnb was a great option because we could pay online in full with our U.S. credit cards. We stayed in two Airbnbs, one in Havana and the other in Trinidad. Now, we’ve stayed in Airbnbs all over the world, and Cuba’s Airbnbs are a little different.

Reading some of the reviews, I noticed that some people were surprised when they rented an Airbnb in Cuba because the water was not reliable, toilet paper was scarce, the internet was advertised but not available in the house, and the owners lived in the house with the guests.

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Cuba’s Four-Wheeled Zombies

Driving the dead! Cuba’s car culture fascinated me. They have the most resourceful drivers and mechanics who defy the odds and break all the rules to make sure that the American 50s classics…really never die. The four-wheeled zombies are alive and well in Cuba!

Before visiting Cuba, I thought that only Havana’s streets would be like a 1950s Hollywood movie. However, the old classic cars are everywhere, used for everything from taxis to tourism novelties, and incorporated into daily life in every aspect of Cuba’s culture.

The four-wheeled zombies rose from the dead on February 8, 1962. With a stroke of President John F. Kennedy’s pen, the noose was dramatically tightened on an existing trade embargo that prohibited most Cubans from buying brand new cars after Castro took the reigns in 1959.

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Why We Need Cabinets in Nicaragua

We hope that, when the insects take over the world, they will remember with gratitude how we took them along on all our picnics. ~Bill Vaughan

I spend my life in Nicaragua sweeping up bug carcasses. No space is sacred, nothing is left untouched. We have regular infestations of termites, ants, spiders, and chayules (aquatic mites that swarm from the lake). See my life in Battling Bugs.

Herman, the master cabinetmaker, came into my life when I needed an enclosed space to put my collection of Pre-Colombian pottery pieces I find on the beach. The bugs particularly liked to nest in the ancient pieces. Master Craftsmen in Nicaragua

When the ants attacked all the food that was sitting on open shelves, Herman returned to build me kitchen cabinets. The Heart of My Home

Now, Herman is back with his latest masterpiece, cabinets for my office.

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When Wal-Mart Comes to Town

“I don’t know what would have happened to Wal-Mart if we had laid low and never stirred up the competition. My guess is that we would have remained a strictly regional operator.” Sam Walton

Wal-Mart entered Nicaragua in 2005 and became Wal-Mart Centroamerica in 2006. The total retail units in Nicaragua are 89 (as of 2015). This includes 64 Pali stores, 16 Maxi Pali, 1 Wal-Mart Supercenter, and 8 La Unión stores.

And now, make that 65 Pali stores because Moyogalpa on Ometepe Island had their grand opening on June 30th.

IMG_2194Wal-Mart has been part of our lives in the United States for over half a century. Debates continue to rage as to the impact on the U.S. economy and society, as well as the positive and negative influences of this powerhouse. Time will tell what impact Wal-Mart has on our little island, but I already see some changes.

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Humans of Nicaragua: Ever Builds a New Community

“What should young people do with their lives today? Many things, obviously. But the most daring thing is to create stable communities in which the terrible disease of loneliness can be cured.”
― Kurt Vonnegut, Palm Sunday: An Autobiographical Collage

On October 8, 2014 Ometepe Island, Nicaragua had heavy rains that caused rock and mudslides to slip off Concepcion Volcano and destroy the lovely indigenous community of Los Ramos. A five year-old girl was swept away in the strong current. Their homes were inundated with 2 ft. of mud and water supply lines were crushed by heavy boulders. There was no electricity, and their fields of plantains and beans were destroyed. They lost everything. My post Broken Lives.

My dear friend Ever Potoy was part of the destroyed community of Los Ramos. I have known Ever for about 10 years, yet it wasn’t until my son Cory and his friend Sam, worked with the community of Los Ramos to help them develop cultural tourism programs in 2012, that I really got to know Ever.  Here is my post about their work in Los Ramos: Tourism: Embrace the People, Not Just the Place.

Ever is 27 years old and an only child. He is the director of the Los Ramos Cultural Tourism programs and has a degree in English. Several generations of Potoys lived in Los Ramos, with his grandfather being one of the founders of the community many years ago.

Ever described his community as friendly, close, and hard-working. His mother was an elementary school teacher in Los Ramos. His father is a farmer and works in agriculture. He plants beans, rice, corn, wheat, plantains, and watermelons. His father inherited the land in Los Ramos from his father and continues to carry on the tradition of farming in this predominantly agricultural community.

More than 600 people lived in Los Ramos before the landslide. It was a good place to grow up because it was safe.

When Ever was young, his first job was to walk two kilometers to the lake to get water from the well, then haul it uphill to his house.

When I was young, I had to walk to get the water, but when I got older, I took a horse.

Ever copy

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Humans of Nicaragua: Sergio’s Faith

“Sometimes beautiful things come into our lives out of nowhere. We can’t always understand them, but we have to trust in them. I know you want to question everything, but sometimes it pays to just have a little faith.”
― Lauren Kate, Torment


IMG_1500Sergio was one of my ESL students in 2004. He took his studies seriously and when he graduated from high school in 2006 he was valedictorian of his class. Now, Sergio is manager of the Corner House Restaurant and Hotel in Moyogalpa on Ometepe Island.

But, how did a small-town country boy become a manager of one of the most popular restaurants and hotels on Ometepe Island?

Sergio says, It is because of faith. It is not important of my actual situation in life because I know that when I have faith in the future, I will have a better situation in life.

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Apps and Internet Links for Expats

“Mobile is the digital gateway for the real world.”
― Tomi Ahonen


Screen Shot 2015-11-13 at 8.22.23 PMI predict that soon becoming an expat will be common. There are massive economic and technological forces that are moving ordinary people abroad by the millions. Do you know that you can even become a virtual expat with the help of technology?

I have searched the internet for apps and links that will make your life easier as an expatriate. Enjoy this list and add your favorite apps and links below.
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