Christmas and Summer Vacation Rolled into One


Sometimes you’re just the sweetest thing. Like Christmas, summer vacation, and a brand-new puppy rolled into one. ~ Haruki Murakami

School is out! This year flew by so quickly. For children in Nicaragua, Christmas and summer vacation is rolled into one. The Nicaragua school season is from February 1st to December 1st. Like children all over the world, they eagerly look forward to Christmas and summer vacation, and in Nicaragua they celebrate them together.

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The Concept of Just One in Nicaragua


Just one step. Just one mile. Just one dollar. Just one kiss. Just one person. When we look at life through the lens of ‘one,’ everything becomes that much more attainable. ~Mark Ebeling

The other day, I ran out of ink for my printer. Since there was no ink available for my printer on Ometepe Island, I sent Maxwell, my librarian, to the mainland to buy ink. It is time to make him a new work contract, so I figured he would be happy to ferry to the mainland so I could print him a new contract…and he was!

I gave him an old cartridge and asked him to buy just one black cartridge. He called from the mainland to ask me, “Do you want the $13 cartridge or the $35 cartridge?” “What’s the difference?” I asked. “One cartridge is 1/4 full of ink and the other is full of ink,” he said.

I laughed because I had never heard of selling an ink cartridge only 1/4 full. I told him to buy the $35 black ink and a 1/4 full tricolor ink because who knows when we will have to replenish the ink supply and make another trip to the mainland.

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Airbnb Hospitality Around the World


“Whenever you go on a trip to visit foreign lands or distant places, remember that they are all someone’s home and backyard.”
― Vera Nazarian

If you follow my blog, you know that we are passionate travelers. However, the older we get, we find that our travels center more around Airbnbs. We used to be hostel and camper travelers and moved quickly from one location to another…but those days are gone. Now, we travel slowly centering our travels in an Airbnb for a week and take day trips from that location.

We love Airbnbs! They offer more space for less price, kitchens, and better amenities. They are generally in local neighborhoods, rather than tourist areas where the hotels are, so they are authentically fun. The property owners offer wonderful hospitality and since they live in the area, they can offer off-the-beaten track recommendations for restaurants and activities.  Plus, the wi-fi is free and fast.

We even thought we would sell our home on Ometepe Island and live in Airbnbs around the world like this couple...Airbnb: Retired Couple Travels World, Spends 1000 Nights in Airbnbs. 

Meanwhile, until we decide whether to make the BIG move, we are planning our next trip to Uruguay and Argentina…and of course centering our day trips around Airbnbs.

Some of our favorite Airbnbs around the world…

Cuenca, Ecuador. 

Juan’s place was in the center of the historic district of Cuenca. We were surrounded by gorgeous cathedral domes that lit up at night casting a blue hue into our windows. We ran out of propane for cooking, and Juan delivered a new bottle to us within an hour.

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Experimental Photos


The Weekly WordPress Photo Challenge is experimental. 

I downloaded a photo app called Prisma and I enjoy experimenting with the moods I can apply to my photos.

Waiting for the show to begin at my local elementary school.
Pumpkins are expensive in Nicaragua, so we make-do with squash and watermelon.

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Nicaraguan Superstitions


“What we don’t understand we can make mean anything.” ― Chuck Palahniuk

Isn’t that the truth? You probably have a few of your own superstitions. I know I have many. I’ve skirted around the ladder propped up in our backyard when our workers were on our roof. I always find pennies or cordobas on the road. If they are heads-up, I take them because they are good luck.  If they are heads-down, I ignore them.

Yet, why do we behave this way? We learn superstitious behaviors through a simple reinforcement process. If a certain action appears to lead to a desired outcome, we do it over and over again. And why do we repeat these actions? Because we like to have some semblance of control over uncertainty in our lives. If we are unsure about an outcome, we try to find a way to control it. Thus superstitions are born.

Nicaraguans have many superstitions, too.

Our friends visited us with their newborn. He was wearing a bracelet with a red band and two seeds on the bracelet. I’ve seen these before on newborns, so I asked about the significance. Apparently, one of the maladies parents must watch out for is called calor de vista. Babies get feverish and sick when people who have been drinking alcohol gaze at the baby. The new Papa explained to me that even families and friends who drink too much can pass on their oncoming hangover instantly to the baby. The bracelet is protection for the baby against drunks.

OH NO! A drunk must be nearby! Quick, hold up your bracelet!

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Review of WEA International Health Insurance


I want to give you a quick update on our WEA International Health Insurance. In 2015, we explored options for Health Insurance coverage in Nicaragua. See my post below:

Part One: Let’s Get Real about Health Insurance in Nicaragua

After much research, we opted for WEA Signature Plan excluding coverage in the United States. See my post below:

Part Two: Let’s Get Real About Expat Health Insurance

We have now completed two years with WEA Signature Plan and are currently renewing for our third year and this is what I have learned.

1. Deductibles
Each year, as we move into a different age bracket, the cost rises, like all health insurance. We counteract the rising cost by increasing our deductible. Our first year, our deductible was $250. Our second year, our deductible was $1,000. This renewal year since we both have moved into a different age bracket, our deductible is $2,500.

Living in Nicaragua, the cost of procedures and hospital care is much less, thus we pay out of pocket for small procedures and apply them to our deductible.

2. Claims
Our second year with WEA ( Nov. 2016-Nov. 2017) was the first time I had to file claims. I had two eye operations at Vivian Pellas Hospital in Managua with a wonderfully competent retina specialist, Dr. Juan Rivers.

After each operation I filed the necessary documents they requested. My first surgery was considered an emergency, so I did not have to be pre-approved. My second surgery, I requested approval and received it before the operation.

Filing the documents was very simple. I took pictures of all the documents provided by Dr. Rivers, including receipts of the costs of the operations. Then, I attached them to an email to the claims department.

I received instant notification that they received my documents and was assured that they would contact me if they needed additional information. So far, so good.

Then, I waited and waited. They say that all claims will be processed within 22 days of receipt. However, that was not the case. I began to worry when we got closer to our renewal date of Nov. 7th because how could we renew and why would we renew if my claims were not approved.

The closer we got to the renewal date, the more I panicked. I sent emails every day to the claims department. Finally, with the help of Robert Tillotson, the Offshore Health Benefits, LTD and my awesome agent, my claims were processed a day before our renewal.

3. Reimbursement

All of my claims were approved and I received almost total reimbursement for everything, except for my initial exam. My exam cost $220, and I was reimbursed for $70 because I had exceeded the maximum benefit for my policy.

My first reimbursement check was sent to my house in the states. All other reimbursement checks are deposited into my bank account.

4. Customer Service

Except for the lateness of my claims, they were efficient, polite, and responsive to my inquiries. If they were not in the office, they responded with an auto message email that said they had received my email. I think the claims department needs  some encouragement to respond to their customer’s requests, but then I had Robert that pushed them into action. Thank you so much Robert!

I know many people interested in getting WEA Signature International Health Insurance asked me about the claims process. Now, I can respond with my assurances that viable and documented claims will be reimbursed, but not with speed! You must keep on top of them.

Overall, I am pleased with their service and grateful to have insurance that can be used in 182 countries, excluding the U.S.

 

Building Our Way to Hell?


“Excessive gentrification destroys the biodiversity and ecosystem of a community.” ― Khang Kijarro Nguyen

We are in the process of big renovations to our house: a new roof, drop ceilings, repainting, new electrical wiring…the works. It is long past due, however I wonder what our neighbors think? Are they upset or jealous or angry that we have the money for renovations to our house? Do they resent us because they live beside “rich” foreigners?  Will we be less accepted because we may be perceived as flaunting our “wealth”? Are we flaunting, taunting, or demonstrating that we are better people because we are not living in poverty? Do we want to live like Nicas?

The big bad G-word is gentrification. By definition it is the process of renovating and improving a house so that it conforms to middle-class taste, or since we live abroad…to gringo taste. Although gentrification is a term applied to urban areas, I believe extreme gentrification can be used to demonstrate “building our way to hell” all over the urban, rural, underdeveloped and developed world.

I don’t like the words extreme gentrification because it has a bad connotation. Instead, I prefer integration. The difference is that we have integrated into our all-Spanish speaking community. We have simply moved from one place to another. Extreme gentrification on the other hand, is kicking poor people out and replacing them with rich people.

Gentrification is happening, especially in the coastal towns and colonial cities in Nicaragua.   And some areas have experienced extreme gentrification. Some cities are suffering with growing tourism and no regulations for short-term rentals. Rent prices are completely unaffordable for the average Nicaraguan. Landlords are evicting people to start touristic businesses everyday, and land speculators are buying land for peanuts that has been in families for generations and then selling outrageously expensive housing compounds to foreigners forcing the local people to move to the outskirts of cities or towns.

Extreme gentrification is happening in cities all over the world. Take a look at some of the major cities throughout the world where the G-word is a bad word. “We are building our way to hell”: tales of gentrification around the world.

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Playing Possum


Animals, even plants, lie to each other all the time, and we could restrict the research to them, putting off the real truth about ourselves for the several centuries we need to catch our breath. What is it that enables certain flowers to resemble nubile insects, or opossums to play dead, or female fireflies to change the code of their flashes in order to attract, and then eat, males of a different species?
— Lewis Thomas

 

Ron yelled into the house, “Debbie! Come quickly and bring your camera.” When I arrived at the corner of our fenced property, I asked, “What am I looking for?” Jose, our yard worker said it was a giant rat called El Zorro.

“Oh, there it is,” I pointed. It looked kind of like a tiny kangaroo frantically trying to find a hole in our fence so it could make a quick escape from our prying eyes.

It was a cute intruder with big brown eyes and tiny hands that could grasp the chicken wire fence to inspect for holes.  It had a long tail, similar to a giant rat, and two large white spots above its eyes. But, I had no idea what it was.
After some research, I concluded that it was a Brown Four-eyed Opossum. Now it made sense why it looked like a tiny kangaroo because it is a pouchless  marsupial. Jose said they used to be very common on Ometepe, but now they are endangered.

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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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Love Your Country or Leave It?


“Loyalty to country ALWAYS. Loyalty to government, when it deserves it.”
― Mark Twain

Usually one of the first questions I am asked about being an expat besides the “What do you do in Nicaragua?” or “Are you a missionary?” is “Why did you leave America?”

My response is that I never left America. I am still here. I live in Central America. If that doesn’t piss them off, then I could say that I am a political refugee from the Divided States of America. But, I never say that because first, it is a lie, and second, I love my homeland and I really don’t like to create tension or controversy unless it is a last resort. I am a mediator at heart, I seek peace.

So, when angry people respond to me in a political discussion, “Love it, or leave it!” what is the appropriate response? Why is it that expats are seen as less patriotic than those who stayed in their home country? Can expats be patriotic? If so, how?

Photo credit to Larry Wilkinson

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