A Wheelbarrow Full of Kindness


“Your one random act of kindness may not change the world but it might make a difference in the life of someone today”
Maria Koszler

Our winter resembles this tangle of wisteria vines in the front of our house. It has been a surreal experience in cancerlandia. The best way for us to survive the maze of doctors, treatments, and medical opinions without getting sucked into the vortex of cancerlandia has been to find enjoyable distractions, such as landscaping.

 

We took our old chainsaw to the repair shop, and Cory and I began to tackle the jungle of dead trees, the overgrowth of vines, and piles of composting leaves that had taken our property hostage.

I needed a wheelbarrow to haul the cut branches and logs to the woodpile located near the basement and our wood stove. A trip to Lowe’s was in order.

 

I found the perfect wheelbarrow, a cute cobalt blue one. We eyeballed our hatchback Honda Civic and hoped the wheelbarrow would fit inside the trunk.

Uh oh! No way! This really made me miss Nicaragua and my creative Nicaraguan friends because if we bought something too large to take home on our motorcycle, there was always a way to get it home cheaply and safely. Where were my Nica friends? They would offer to put it on the roof of a Tuk Tuk or wheel it to our house a kilometer away along the shoreline’s sandy path.

Instead, we asked how much it would cost to deliver it. $59? Outrageous. Maybe we could strap it to the roof? But, we had no rope and blanket to protect the roof. Maybe we could take it apart. So, Cory went into Lowe’s to get a wrench, while I stood in the parking lot beside my cute cobalt blue wheelbarrow, scratching my head in befuddlement.

Surprises await under the composting leaves…wild irises.

 

People stopped, we chatted, and we laughed together at my predicament. They offered crazy suggestions like attaching it to the bumper and dragging it home. I told them about the time a Nicaraguan friend spotted a person in a wheelchair dragged on the interstate at night by a motorcyclist and two flashlights illuminating the way. Nothing was impossible in Nicaragua. I missed that!

Lester’s photo of the wild irises blooming on his property. Spring is on the way.

 

A couple pulled into the parking spot beside me and asked where we lived. “Hey! That is on our way home. Today is Sunday and you have been blessed. Let’s put your wheelbarrow in the back of our Subaru and we will follow you to your house,” they said.

We were incredibly grateful. Cory and I laughed on the way home. What if they don’t follow us and speed away with my wheelbarrow? “Remember Mom,”Cory said, “ It is Sunday and we have been blessed.”

My daffodils are blooming! A delightful rememberance that spring is coming.

 

They refused gas money. They told us to pay forward their kindness by doing a random act for another stranger. So, Cory ran into the house and returned with his 1890 sour dough starter because he learned, while chatting with them, that they enjoyed making bread.

Their one random act of a wheelbarrow full of kindness, didn’t change the world, but it made a difference in our lives. Spring is on its way…Ron is getting stronger and healthier everyday…and most importantly, we are grateful for a tiny random act of kindness to help us untangle the wisteria vines and realize what really matters in this mad, mad world!

 

Comparing Cost of Living in USA and Nicaragua: It will surprise you!


“Everything costs something.”
Zara Hairston

When we lived in Nicaragua, we occasionally referred to ourselves as economic refugees. We took early retirement and lived off our small teaching pensions. We did everything financial experts advised to prepare for living abroad such as, becoming debt free, having an emergency medical fund, purchasing international health insurance plans, saving money for unexpected emergencies like trips back to the states to help our families, and living within our budget.

Thank goodness we didn’t burn any bridges. We rented our house in the states and kept our stateside bank account and address, which was important in keeping our U.S. credit card.  We were legal residents of Nicaragua and Tennessee and had the best of both worlds.

When the Nicaraguan crisis and Ron’s lumps in his neck made us reconsider moving back to the states, we were concerned about the cost of living after spending more than 10 years abroad with cheap, cheap living and all the comforts of home.

What we learned surprised us!

Most retired expats in Nicaragua will tell you that their main reason for moving abroad was affordability. They said they had a hard time living on a fixed income in their home countries.

But, what they don’t tell you is that everything costs something! It is cheap because there is no quality control, the education system does not prepare employees to be productive and skilled laborers, the infrastructure such as roads, utilities, and internet are pitifully unreliable (and many times unsafe), and most materials and foods imported come with a hefty price tag. In other words, you get what you pay for…and it isn’t much!

So, I made a comparison of the cost of living in Nicaragua and the USA for the month of February. I used eight general categories and color coded them the same in each pie graph.

The monthly cost of living in our home in TN is $1,626.20. The largest slice was miscellaneous, which included paying off our credit card in full each month. We rarely use cash here and pay for almost everything with our credit card. I missed that so much in Nicaragua, because I can always accumulate enough reward points to pay for several airline tickets.

Surprisingly, several items are cheaper in the states, like gasoline for transportation. It is $1.80 per gallon with my grocery store discount card. The package deal for fast internet ( I mean really, really fast…100 mbps) and cable TV is $101.24 a month. I paid much more in Nicaragua for the internet, not including the maintenance of a very tall microwave tower that was always breaking. And…AND…the speed, if we were lucky, was 8 mbps, when the system was working. The internet blinked on and off daily many, many times.

We have a heat pump and several small portable electric room heaters for the winter months. February is usually the most expensive electric bill according to our past usage. In the summer, we have whole house air conditioning and our electricity averages $75. Most of the time we don’t use the air conditioning. We prefer opening the windows and every room has ceiling fans and window fans.

We own our house in TN and are mortgage free. Rents are reasonable in our small town, averaging $871 per month for a 1 bedroom house or apartment. For a single person a monthly cost of living on average is $1,600.

 

In Nicaragua, our monthly expenditures were  $1,341.00 Our cell phones were cheaper… we had two cell phones and only one with unlimited data from  Claro. The data transmitted was only 3g and service was spotty depending on where we were in Nicaragua. In the states, I have 4g and unlimited data with free calls and text in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico with AT&T prepay.

Transportation was more expensive in Nicaragua for two reasons. Gasoline is very expensive and taxis are expensive. Usually, we took a monthly trip to Managua with our taxi driver, Francisco. The cost round trip was $60 and we tipped him $10 and bought him lunch.

Although we had an abundance of fruits on our property, we enjoyed some imported foods like peanut butter, dill pickles, chocolate, and wine, which increased our monthly food expenditures.

Nicaragua is a cash society. We seldom used a credit card. Our miscellaneous fees included propane for cooking, house repairs, and workers.

We still support our goddaughter and my children’s library and librarian, so that has not changed.

 

Overall, the difference in monthly costs is about $300. When the weather warms, our electric will go way down and make up much of the difference. We can reduce our monthly internet/cable TV service by cutting the cable cord. The only reason we have cable TV is so Ron could watch his sports throughout the long winter cancer treatments. We can stream everything we want to watch, so the cable will be cut soon.

Our annual expenses are comparable in some areas, and more expensive in others.

Comparable:

1. International health insurance in Nicaragua and Medicare with Medicare supplemental insurance in the U.S.

2. VPN service for our internet remains the same.

3. Amazon Prime yearly bill is the same, but living in the states we have used it so much more for free shipping and streaming movies.

More expensive:

1. Property taxes $650 yearly in the states vs $60 in Nicaragua.

2. Car insurance is much more in the states. We bought and paid cash for a car when we returned…and we have to have car insurance. In Nicaragua, we had our dune buggy and our motorcycle insured for $75 a year. However, there is no telling what the insurance would have covered if we had an accident in Nicaragua.

In making comparisons, the best decisions we made were to pay off our mortgage in the states and buy our house in Nicaragua. Our house is rented in Nicaragua now. The worst case scenario would be that our house in Nicaragua would be confiscated by the government. If that would happen, because of our wise financial decisions, we would not suffer, nor would our retirement  funds be affected. We are not in any hurry to sell our place, nor do we feel pressure to sell. Although we will probably not return to live in Nicaragua, we have no regrets about financial decisions we have made throughout our lives.

It feels kind of weird to say we aren’t expats any longer. But, we are redefining the term expat. Possibly global citizens would be a better term. I’m in the process of writing a post about that. Stay tuned while we rewire.

 

 

 

Travel Apps, Maps, and More Bang for Your Travel Bucks


Nothing is ever called Welcome back without a Journey. If you desire to get results, you work it out, rather than hoping and wishing. Hope you understand this my friend.

Travel has always been our passion. Now that we are temporarily homeless due to unforeseen circumstances in Nicaragua, we are planning a six month journey to tropical countries. Although, we have been to Panama, Colombia, and Mexico, we are returning to visit places we haven’t seen before and do a short week of house sitting for friends in Colombia. The Dominican Republic will be a new country for us on this trip.

While waiting for Ron to have surgery ( nothing is ever quick in the U.S.) I planned our trip. Now, that his surgery is over and has been very successful, we are off on another adventure for November-May. Since I am obsessive about staying within our budget, I want to share some travel apps, tips, maps, and other services that have saved me money and time in planning and traveling.

I. Google Flights

I booked six flights using Google Flights. I really appreciate that I can find the cheapest dates to fly using the price calendar and the price graphs. I can track the price of the flights and book when the price is lowest. Also, there are certain airlines I won’t fly and I can check the airlines that I use often. I know you are wondering which airlines I won’t fly, right? American Airlines for their poor customer service and Spirit Airlines are the top two I avoid. Southwest Airlines and AeroMexico, which we fly often, are not listed in Google Flights, so I have to go to their airline websites to find comparable prices. And I have been so pleased with Delta, that I often send them a tweet saying how much I appreciate their service!
Since we are flying internationally, most of our flights are one-way, from one country to another. Most airlines now require proof of exiting the country on a one-way ticket, so I had to book every flight and keep the confirmations in a separate folder in my email so that I can prove we are leaving Panama, or Colombia, or the Dominican Republic. Our Southwest tickets are round trip, to Mexico from the states, so I don’t need proof of returning to the U.S. for that ticket.

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Reverse Culture Shock


“When you travel overseas, the locals see you as a foreigner, and when you return, you see the locals as foreigners.”
Robert Black

“Reverse culture shock is the emotional and psychological distress suffered by some people when they return home after a several years overseas. This can result in unexpected difficulty in readjusting to the culture and values of the home country, now that the previously familiar has become unfamiliar.”

I wouldn’t say I am distressed, but it certainly is different from life on Ometepe Island, Nicaragua.

You know you have reverse culture shock when…

1. There are an overwhelming number of choices

I am lost and bewildered when I enter a grocery store. Yesterday, I stood in front of the canned baked beans and cried…10 different types of baked beans? In Nicaragua, it was always fun to shop; I never knew what unexpected treasure hidden among the shelves I would find. Dill pickles, pretzels, and dark chocolate were treats. Now, with too many choices, it is more of a frustrating experience.

2. The leaves change color!

Oh how I love fall! In Nicaragua the leaves crumble and fall off the trees without changing colors. The gorgeous displays of the Maple leaves are eye-popping.

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Francisco’s Plight


“Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”
― Robert F. Kennedy

 

This is Francisco Flores and his family. Francisco has been my taxi driver in Nicaragua for over a decade. But, he is more than our taxi driver, he and his family are our dear friends. I am acting to improve his lot in life after an unfortunate accident that occurred last Monday in Jinotepe, Nicaragua.

A little background information on Francisco from a post I wrote in 2013.
Guide to Taxi Service in Nicaragua

And another post when we went with Francisco’s family to the Ballpark.
Cultural Lessons from the Ballpark. 

Last week, Francisco returned from Managua after dropping off a client. It was late at night by the time he passed through Jinotepe on his way home. Suddenly, a motorcycle came out of nowhere and there was a horrible accident.

Francisco was fortunate to walk away with no bodily damage, but the motorcycle driver lost his leg as a result of the accident. In Nicaragua, it is common practice to place both drivers in jail until lawyers resolve who is at fault. But, in this case, only Francisco was  jailed in Jinotepe.

When his family told me that the injured driver’s family was requesting $6,000 for his personal injuries, I wasn’t surprised. I know several people, locals and foreigners, who have been in jail because of accidents and they must hire a lawyer and usually have to pay exorbitant amounts to the other drivers, even if the accident wasn’t their fault.

That’s the way Nicaraguan law works. I will never be able to understand it, but I had to do something to help Francisco and his family. Francisco has a large, loving family and many foreign clients. The Rivas taxi drivers took up a collection for Francisco and said that they were expecting something like this to happen to a taxi driver sooner than later. They explained that reckless motorcycle drivers create safety hazards for their clients and drivers. I believe them and have been witness to many dangerous situations and tragic motorcycle accidents due to carelessness.

Francisco’s family collected enough money to pay for the lawyer, but they said it is almost impossible for them to collect $3,000 so that Francisco can be released from jail, and $3,000 more dollars a month after he is released.

To top it all off, his family was frantic with worry when the violent protests in Nicaragua occurred due to a reform of the Social Security and Pension law ( see my previous post ) and afraid for Francisco’s life in Jinotepe, where there had been protests and some fires.

That’s why I am asking for your support for Francisco and his family so that he can be released from jail to go back to work and support his family. Also, your donations will help to support the injured driver and his family because he cannot work.

Here is a link to my YouCare fundraiser. Two Nicaraguan Families in Crisis Need Your Help. 

Thank you so much for your support. I have $2,300 ready to be delivered to Francisco’s family. With your help we can have him released from jail soon.

Francisco’s family wants all the people who donated and shared to know that they are very grateful for your support.

 

Tigre, Argentina: Where the River is Always at Your Door


“But just as the river is always at the door, so is the world always outside. And it is in the world that we have to live.”
― Lian Hearn, Across the Nightingale Floor

It is a rainy day in Buenos Aires, Argentina, which gives me an opportunity to relax from the tourist mode and write about one of our recent adventures, the Delta of Tigre.

Getting to Tigre from Buenos Aires was an adventure itself. Transferring from the green line subway to the blue line subway to the train during rush hour was an experience in which we not only survived, but thrived! With over one million commuters daily, we were jammed and packed like sardines into the subways and train. It reminded us of the chicken buses in Nicaragua, except the train had air conditioning! Good thing we went heavy on the deodorant. All I could see above me were armpits!

An hour and a half later, we arrived in Tigre ready to board the vintage mahogany commuter boat bus to explore miles and miles of interconnecting streams, rivers, and channels through the delta.

Tigre is the starting point to the Paraná Delta. Once home to jaguars, or tigers, the charming waterways are lined with spas, hotels, restaurants, mansions, and thriving water communities. The river is always at the door.

We have always preferred to explore on our own, and found the local Interisleña boat buses, which truly function like buses, dropping off and picking up people along the numerous waterways in the Delta. For $15 rt for both, we could hop on and off to our wandering delight. It sure beat the crowded and expensive tourist ferries and catamarans that only travel on the large rivers and drop off tourists at the most expensive restaurants on the river.

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Humans of Nicaragua: Don Alberto’s Dream


“It’s the possibility of having a dream come true that makes life interesting.”
― Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist

When Don Alberto was in his thirties, he had a magnificent dream. He was so inspired that he consulted with a priest to see if his dream was possible. The priest gave him wise advise like Paulo Coelho in Brida, “When you find your path, you must not be afraid. You need to have sufficient courage to make mistakes. Disappointment, defeat, and despair are the tools God uses to show us the way.”

Don Alberto was pleased with the advise, and the next day, he chose his sharpest stone-carving tools, which consisted of two sharpened pieces of rebar, a stone hammer, and a metal blade, and trekked through the valley below to find the perfect cliffs to begin his once-in-a-lifetime dream of honoring God, family, and love of nature and animals.

Along the stone paths worn by his daily treks, he planted coffee trees, bromeliads, and orchids that he treasured. Today, Don Alberto’s 40 something years of stone-carving are his tribute and gift to Tisey Estanzuela Natural Reserve outside the town of Esteli that he calls home.
Welcome to Finca El Jalacate, sculptures in rock.
Don Alberto is a spry 72-year-old, with a snow-white afro and suntanned skin with weathered lines etched into his face that kind of resemble his carvings. He attributes his healthy lifestyle to working every day of his life. He said that even when he is sick (which isn’t often), he prefers to carve rocks than stay in his bed. He enjoys visiting the 60 thousand visitors he has had throughout his adventures in rock carving, and explains with joy the many details in his carvings.
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Stranger Things in Nicaragua


“This is the strangest life I have ever known.” ― Jim Morrison

I recently binged on the Netflix series Stranger Things and it reminded me of the stranger things I’ve seen in Nicaragua. Nicaragua is the land of quirky! We lovingly refer to Nicaragua as the land of the not quite right. If you enjoy belly laughs and giggles at daily life, you will love living in Nicaragua because some days, You just gotta laugh.

As you can see, I fit right into the funky Nicaraguan lifestyle. Join me for a photo essay of Stranger Things I’ve seen in Nicaragua.

It all started when I purchased a coffee maker at MaxiPali. There were two coffee makers left on the shelf. One was a black five cup coffee maker, the other a ten cup white coffee maker. Other than the size, both were identical in their functions and brand. However, the black five cup coffee maker was 150 more cordobas than the larger white one. When I asked why, the clerk responded, “I am surprised that you don’t know that all black appliances are more expensive.” Hmmm…

If you are wondering why the license plate is sitting in front of the coffee maker, we had to buy a placa or plate for our motorcycle. We waited six years for the government to make license plates! Yes, six years! The strange thing about Nicaraguan license plates is that they don’t come with predrilled holes to screw the plate to the motorcycle. We had to drill the holes ourselves. Who does that?

Stranger Modes of Transportation

One day, the rodeo came to town. There are a variety of wacky rides for the kids, and you can also get your picture taken on a giant plastic horse. This was a tough move for the owner of the horse because he had to bring it from the mainland on the ferry. Imagine our surprise watching the rigamortised horse lifted off the ferry.

Our school kids ride chicken buses to school, and sometimes they ride motorcycles.

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Our Road Less Traveled


“Look for chances to take the less-traveled roads. There are no wrong turns.”
― Susan Magsamen

We have always tramped the road less traveled. It keeps us young and energetic. When we moved to Ometepe Island permanently in 2010, we built our house during the worst flood of the century. The lake rose into our property beyond our coconut trees. 👇

As a result, the road in front of our house was destroyed and never repaired. We dealt with the inconvenience by shoveling, ditching, and filling in holes and ruts with rocks and coconuts. All by hand! Our road less traveled became a hindrance and impossible to maintain without heavy road equipment.

Last week, we had an amazing surprise. Cappy ran to our gate and barked at the tanker truck, the road grader, the dump truck, and the bucket truck roaring back and forth in front of our house. What in the world was happening? And who was paying for this?

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Pondering Progress in Nicaragua


“The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.”
― Franklin D. Roosevelt

Economic growth is one of the main factors in determining the progress of a country and its potential to satisfy the wants of individuals in their society. I am convinced Nicaragua has made significant progress in utilizing their abundance of natural resources to produce more efficient wind and solar energy. Technological development has played a role in Nicaragua to connect the population to the outside world through fiber optic internet cables. Ometepe Island public parks now have free wi-fi access due to a fiber optic cable strung under the lake from the mainland.

Yet, I wonder if all progress and advancements I see in Nicaragua truly benefit the majority of the people living below the poverty line. Are we adding to the abundance of the minority of Nicaraguans who have so much, and are we providing enough to the majority who have so little?

Last week I traveled to Managua for my regular check-up with my eye doctor. Arriving at the port in San Jorge, I noticed a new ferry, a desperately needed ferry because many people on Ometepe Island must travel to the mainland daily for work. This progress benefits everyone. And I have seen much growth in transportation with new airports, shuttles, taxis, and lots of cute tuk tuks that buzz around newly constructed roads like little mosquitoes.
The San Jorge port had a magnificent facelift. Restaurants, vendors, hotels, and major work on the sea walls benefits everyone, too.
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