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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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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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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The Minimalist Challenge


“Simplicity is complex. It’s never simple to keep things simple. Simple solutions require the most advanced thinking.”
― Richie Norton

I’ll confess! I don’t walk willingly into the minimalist world. I constantly fight it because I am a collector of artifacts, travel mementos, of everything! My life is one big collection of memoirs! Yet, living on a small island, in the middle of a huge sweet sea, in the middle of Nicaragua, in the middle of Central America, I have been forced to reduce and reuse because: we have NO trash pick-up, there is no Super Wal-Mart or even a mall on Ometepe Island, and life is undeniably simpler.

I guess that can be a good thing. Right? I am forced to reduce my carbon footprint. My neighbor, Marina, cleans my house three days a week. She constantly reminds me that I have many “chunches” (things) as she waves my dirty old underwear, used as a cleaning rag, under my nose. “Look at this dirt!” she says shaking her head and waving my old underwear.

So, I will…reluctantly…take Annette’s Minimalist Challenge because I know I must figure out a way to actively reduce the amount of plastic and tin we collect around the house.
“I would like to challenge YOU, my reader, to think of at least one action you can adopt in 2015 that will reduce plastic and other throw-away products; that will bring down energy usage; and/or minimize unnecessary consumption of any kind.”

I started feeding my dog and cats a little canned dog food every day as a treat. These tin cans add up, so this year I made a Christmas tree out of them.
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A Natural Christmas in Nicaragua


“Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before! What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store. What if Christmas…perhaps…means a little bit more!”
― Dr. Seuss, How the Grinch Stole Christmas!

 

There are a few traditions that I cherish on Christmas, but not many. We haven’t decorated a real Christmas tree for over a decade. My old Christmas decorations are sitting on someone else’s mantel, hanging on someone else’s tree, or given to Goodwill long ago.

In Nicaragua, our lives are very simple during the holidays. I still have icicle lights hanging on my front porch, but they hang year-round. Instead, I find Christmas colors and surprises in my natural surroundings.

Our hot peppers become festive lights, swaying in the tropical breeze.
IMG_5651I know it’s corny – but I love ‘Jingle Bells!’ ~ Dolly Parton

That Dolly! I agree with her, but instead, our Jingle bells are on a long, pendulous banana stalk with dusky purple bracts.

IMG_5668“He who has not Christmas in his heart will never find it under a tree.”
― Roy L. Smith

My favorite mango tree gifts us with small flowers in December. In January and February, we will be picking delicious Rosa Mangoes.
IMG_5670“I love snow for the same reason I love Christmas: It brings people together while time stands still.” Rachel Cohn

Yet, Christmas in the tropics delights us with soft tussles of feathery snow-like grass.
IMG_5658Christmas comes in many forms and colors. I’ll still make my Christmas cookies to share with all my neighbors and friends. I’ll still sing Jingle Bells. And most importantly, I’ll remember that Christmas doesn’t come from a store.