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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Coming Home?


“There is a kind of madness about going far away and then coming back all changed.”~ Gypsytoes

Madness describes my feelings about returning home. I haven’t written on my blog for months because what can I say that hasn’t already been said before? With mixed emotions we left Nicaragua mid July. I don’t want to go into all the gritty details of the move. Instead, I want to try to explain the emotional turmoil I have felt since returning home.

Where is home? We have no idea. People say that home is where the heart is, yet my heart is broken for Nicaragua and for the United States, thus I can’t honestly say I am anywhere close to home at this point in my life. The week we arrived, we bought a car and drove to Canada. 5,200 miles later, we have returned to our rented house in the states where we have a little bedroom. Thank goodness we didn’t burn any bridges and our good friends who rent our house feel comfortable letting us stay for a while.

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The Nicaraguan Evolution Continues: Basta Ya!


“Remember, remember always, that all of us, and you and I especially, are descended from immigrants and revolutionists.”
― Franklin D. Roosevelt

63 dead, 15 still missing, many injured
I’ve written regular updates to my family and friends on Facebook and others have asked me to share them. So, below, I share my personal reflections on what is happening in Nicaragua.


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Evolution in Nicaragua


                     “Those who do not move, do not notice their chains.”
                       ― Rosa Luxemburg


I don’t know where to begin to tell you what has occurred in Nicaragua since last week. It is a unique experience for us. I think it may be an evolution of the Nicaraguan people. I prefer saying evolution over revolution. Evolution has never been just a scientific theory. Ever since it was first formulated by Darwin, the theory has been used to advance a variety of political projects. Although evolution is a directionless process in nature, in ethics and politics the idea of evolution is joined with the hope of improvement.

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What People Miss and Don’t Miss when Leaving Nicaragua


“Anyway, it doesn’t matter how much, how often, or how closely you keep an eye on things because you can’t control it. Sometimes things and people just go. Just like that.”
― Cecelia Ahern

My good friend, Sharon, is leaving Nicaragua. I am torn with feelings of sadness for me and joy for her. We met in 2004 in Granada, when Granada only had a few expats…all characters! There was stinky Steve, the transgender airplane pilot, and pedophile perch. Bobby had a guest house and Bill had the only hostel in town, Hospedaje Central. There were only a handful of restaurants and tourists trickled through town.

Those were the days! Yet, I understand that most things are out of my control and sometimes people just go. I am going to miss her tremendously. I’ll miss her wit and humor. We laughed a lot when we were together. I’ll miss her adventurous spirit and her insightful thoughts, kindness, and helpfulness. Yet, I know that we will see each other again. I am already planning our summer trip to Canada.

If you wonder, like me, what people miss and don’t miss when they leave Nicaragua, Sharon explains it all with humor and understanding. Enjoy her read!

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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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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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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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