Our Pretirement Experiment


“The goal of retirement is to live off your assets-not on them”
― Frank Eberhart

I have had many people ask me how we decided on retiring abroad and the process we went through. Although most of the information is in my unfinished book, Pretiring With the Monkey Lady, here is a preview of our serendipitous moments the first time we pre-retired in Nicaragua.

In 2004 we jumped. Trapped in new teaching jobs we hated, we felt as if our lives were bound tightly in Kudzu.  We bought a new home with a hefty mortgage and rented our old home. Our son was in his junior year of college. Finances were tight. How could we possibly escape from the bureaucracy that was strangling the life out of us? What was the alternative? Our gypsytoes were itching to travel.

Enter Bill, the eccentric entrepreneur from Nicaragua.  When an ice storm canceled school on a snowy January day, Bill sent us an email. “How would you like to live in Nicaragua and manage my youth hostel on Ometepe Island?”  We thought about it for three seconds and responded, “Yes!”

In an adrenalin rush, we made plans to finish the school year, sell the house we bought six months before, move everything back to our old house, and jump into a new life. We took out an equity loan to pay off the mortgage on our old house and had a small amount left to live on for a year in Nicaragua. Our son moved into our house, transferred to a closer university…and we jumped.

But, managing a youth hostel was not for us. You’ll have to read by book, Pretiring with the Monkey Lady, to understand the problems we encountered. Here is one chapter of the 25 chapters I’ve finished. California Dreams and a Scottish Cowboy. What was the alternative? We couldn’t return to the states because we sold our cars, gave away all our winter clothes, and were both unemployed. So, we jumped again.

Ron wandered the sandy beach paths in search of a cheap shack to rent. About two kilometers south of Moyogalpa, Ron found this little beach house and it was vacant. We found the landlady in Moyogalpa and rented it for $100 a month with a six month renewable contract.

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The Gypsytoes Gene


“To travel is to live.”
― Hans Christian Andersen, The Fairy Tale of My Life: An Autobiography 

 

IMG_7542I am consumed by wanderlust, nourished by voyages and treks regarded as less than desirable in popular tourist guides, and gorged with peregrination. Traveling is my life. I am lucky in love to have found a partner who shares my enthusiasm and passion for the roads less traveled.

Yet, I often wonder, “Why us?” Neither sets of our parents or grandparents, had the urge to jump into an exotic new life, even temporarily. They were content to stay on their farms, or the small towns in which they lived. They reacted to our gypsytoes with nervous, worried, and dismayed comments. My mother insisted on telling her church companions that we were missionaries in Nicaragua. Ron’s father scratched his head with puzzlement, “Why would anyone ever want to leave home?”

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Things I’ve Learned About Life After 500 Blogging Posts


500Yesterday was a milestone day. I wrote my 500th post on my blog. Believe it or not, becoming a blogger was never something I planned. I was looking for a way to network and market my book, Pretiring with the Monkey Lady. But, a strange thing happened along the way in my little corner of the blogging world.

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Caiman Point


“Crocodiles are easy. They try to kill and eat you. People are harder. Sometimes they pretend to be your friend first.”
                                      ― Steve Irwin

 

The Punta Jesus Maria is a beautiful point of land on Ometepe Island. It entices many tourists where the sweet waters converge and swirl around a long, narrow spit of sand, which extends into Lake Cocibolca. It also entices investors, like the Chinese, who want to build a Tourist Volcano resort at this point for one of their tourism sub-projects.

The entrance to the Punta Jesus Maria spray painted in protest of the Chinese.

The entrance to the Punta Jesus Maria spray painted in protest of the Chinese.

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The Papagayo Winds


“A sailor chooses the wind that takes the ship from a safe port. Ah, yes, but once you’re abroad, as you have seen, winds have a mind of their own. Be careful, Charlotte, careful of the wind you choose.”
― Avi, The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle

 

The Papagayo winds shriek across Nicaragua blanketing everything in dust in the dry season, especially in January and February. Often, the hurricane force winds topple trees, rattle tin roofs, capsize pangas and halt ferries and small boats coming from and going to Ometepe Island due to the high waves in Lake Nicaragua.

The often hurricane-strength winds happen when cold air from the North American winter moves south over the Gulf of Mexico. The air, drawn toward the warmer, moist atmosphere over the Pacific Ocean, is channeled through a gap in the Central American Cordillera Mountains and through Nicaragua’s Lake district. (NASA, Earth Observatory)

This year, the Papagayo winds have collided with the weather condition known as Madden and Julian Oscillation (MJO). The MJO is simply a strong coupling with the surface (usually the Pacific Ocean) and the upper atmosphere in tropical regions.

José Milán from the Instituto Nicaragüense de Estudios Territoriales (INETER) reports that the strong winds that accompany the MJO will last 60 days and will cover the whole width of the country. Other than being annoying, the phenomenon can cause serious damage to soils by removing valuable moisture acquired during the rainy season. The MJO affects Nicaragua on a regular basis and the last time was in December 2012 and January 2013.(INETER)

This January, the strong winds have affected us in many ways. Transportation to and from Ometepe was stopped for several days throughout January. That means no supplies come to Ometepe, people are stranded either on the island or on the mainland, and the fishermen cannot fish because the waves resemble ocean waves.

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Duped on Ometepe Island?


         “Tricks and treachery are the practice of fools, that don’t have brains    enough to be honest.” ~ Benjamin Franklin
 

 

I think I have been duped! Last week, a Department of Health medical brigade (MINSA) came to Ometepe Island offering medical services. They walked door to door accompanied by a police officer on a motorcycle.

It’s common to see a MINSA medical brigade here. When severe flooding eroded the shoreline, MINSA came door to door passing out free antibiotics for Leptospirosis. During the rainy season, they pass out a poison powder to sprinkle in standing water where mosquitoes may breed. But, they never come accompanied by the police, and they are always local MINSA employees.

Marina was cleaning my house, and I was raking the yard when I saw the medical brigade come to my door. I didn’t catch the beginning of the conversation and my Spanish vocabulary with medical words is severely lacking. Although much of the conversation was lost in translation, this is my interpretation of the conversation that took place:

Male nurse: We are offering free medical exams at the hospital on Friday and Saturday.

Me: Great! Sign up my husband and me.

Male Nurse: No. I can’t do that. It is an exam of your ‘bahena’.

Me: What is a bahena and why can’t my husband get the exam, too?

Me: Is it an exam for your heart? For your stomach?

Laughter all around.

Marina: No. It is an exam of your ‘bahena’ and a papagramo exam. ( she said while holding back a chuckle)

Male Nurse: Laughing, while he pointed to my vagina.

More laughter.

Me: Oh, I get it. You are offering free vaginal exams and Pap tests. Sign me up.

I signed a sheet of paper and included my telephone number so they could call me for the time of the appointment. Friday and Saturday passed, and I never received a call. Then, I read this in La Prensa:

courtesy of La Prensa

courtesy of La Prensa

 

For three consecutive days an alleged brigade of the Ministry of Health, heavily guarded by police, has tried uselessly to get into the communities of Sacramento, Moyogalpa, Ometepe Island, where residents maintain an armed encampment with sticks, stones and even machetes. Alberto Lopez, the county Esquipulas, Moyogalpa, said villagers reject the action of MoH for ordering information and ask their opinion on the Canal.

Here lots of times have been brigades of the Ministry of Health, to vaccinate and dispense medicines and they have never come up with police and military riot police, so people joined and they will not be allowed to come to our communities, Lopez said.

He noted that the communities where the brigade is interested in the survey is in Esquipulas, Los Angeles and Sacramento. People decided to keep them out because we want to tell you that nobody here wants to sell their property, are in our territory and we are defending what is ours, argued López.

Juan Barrios, who lives in the Sacramento community, again reported that island communities have returned to ring their church bells to alert the public when pollsters brigade and police and riot police trying to enter the community.

For three days straight doing this encampment to ask these interviewers leave here and the police will say we are not willing to get us out of our territory. Today (last Friday) morning, the police tried to persuade for maintence, but the response of Sacramento was to leave here said Barrios.Juan Barrios, a resident of the community of Sacramento, said when the brigade withdrew assumptions threatened to not send medicines to the health center of the town and told not to return for that place. Villagers said they will not move until the brigade and the police desist from entering the community to ask personal data on the draft of the Grand Canal.

So what exactly did I sign? Who knows? I had been warned by local friends…after the fact…never to sign my name to anything. Have I been duped? Probably. I may have signed a petition in support of the grand canal. They never asked me any questions about the canal…I suppose that once they figured that I didn’t know what a ‘bahena’ was that I would stupidly sign anything. And, I did!

We assume so many things in living in Nicaragua. I want to believe that the police are here to protect us. I want to believe that the Ministry of Health is only offering medical services that we are unable to get on Ometepe Island. I want to believe that the Nicaraguan government wouldn’t use tricks and treachery to gain support for the Nicaraguan canal.

I’ve learned never to assume anything and never to sign anything without questioning.  Always expect the unexpected while living in the land of the not quite right. Life goes on…but I’ll always wonder what I signed…and probably never find out the truth.

 

Illegal Immigrants and Perpetual Tourists in Nicaragua


Last week, I went to Granada to visit friends. Not only were there throngs of tourists, but there appeared to be many new foreigners moving to the Granada area. Fancy hotels and condos sprung up in Granada, practically overnight. New restaurants and bakeries cater to the tastes of foreigners. Relaxing spas and swimming pools bathe and soothe foreign bones and tired muscles.

I wondered how many of the new foreigners moving to Nicaragua were pursuing legal residency in Nicaragua and/or their reasons for not choosing the legal path to residency. Ron and I lived in Nicaragua two years before applying for residency. We got tired of crossing into Costa Rica every 90 days to renew our visas. For us, the process was a bureaucratic nightmare, mainly from the U.S. side; however, for many the process to legal residency is almost impossible.

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Serenity Now


“We are not going to change the whole world, but we can change ourselves and feel free as birds. We can be serene even in the midst of calamities and, by our serenity, make others more tranquil. Serenity is contagious. If we smile at someone, he or she will smile back. And a smile costs nothing. We should plague everyone with joy. If we are to die in a minute, why not die happily, laughing? (136-137)”
― Swami Satchidananda, The Yoga Sutras  

Within kayaking, biking, and walking distance from our house is a serene point of land called Punta Jesus Maria. We often take Sunday trips to the Punta to relax, hike, and swim in the refreshing lake water. At the Punta, I am always reminded of the meaning of serenity.

Serenity is becoming part of the silence.
“In order to see birds it is necessary to become a part of the silence.”
― Robert Lynd
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Ignorance is Our Deepest Secret


“There are no foolish questions and no man becomes a fool until he has stopped asking questions.” ― Charles Proteus Steinmetz

Fifteen years ago, when we explored our options to retire abroad, I joined many expat forums. Most of the forums were on Yahoo, but today you can find a variety of expat forums on Facebook.

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Hats for Lamps


“Life is a continuous journey of transformation”
― Sukant Ratnakar, Open the Windows

 

“Tienes sombreros para  lámparas?” I asked the shopkeepers. (Do you have hats for  lamps?)
“No hay sombreros para lámparas aqui,” they always responded. (There aren’t hats for lamps here.)

Without a doubt, I have learned that life is a continuous journey of transformation while living on a tropical island. If no hats for lamps could be found, then I had to make my own.

Theresa brought her frames from her three old lampshades and I had a frame made for a floor lamp. New Year’s Eve we spent the day covering her lampshade frames with canvas.

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