Accidental Nationality


“Everything you are used to, once done long enough, starts to seem natural, even though it might not be.”
― Julien Smith,
The Flinch

 

Marina’s daughter gave her a chicken killing dog. She tied it to the Mango tree in the front yard because it is a good guard dog. The other day, it chewed through the frayed rope, flew over the barbed wire fence separating our properties, and attacked one of our chickens. She apologized in the only way she could; she made us a pot of chicken soup. Yesterday, her daughter bought a muzzle for the dog. They showed us how the muzzle worked by untying the dog from the Mango tree. It flew over the barbed wire fence, and pounced on one of our chickens, flattening it like a tortilla. This time Marina asked to borrow our machete. I was afraid she was going to kill the dog, so I told her to make us another pot of chicken soup. Ahh…life in Nicaragua. It is beginning to seem natural.

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I am an immigrant from the United States, now living in Nicaragua. My nationality was accidental. I happened to be born on one side of an imaginary line, instead of another. If I would have been born in another country, I would feel just as connected with my heritage, social norms, and culture as I do now.

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A Plunge Pool in Progress


Floating in a pool free of gravity, I discovered that I don’t need to be in survival mode throughout the end of the dry, hot season in Nicaragua. A plunge pool sets me free. Free from the oppressive heat…from strangling dust that seeps into every pore and orifice in my body…from the brutal sun.

For several years I tried to convince Ron to build me a pool. His reasons for not building a pool were: 1. expense  2. maintenance  3. We live on…literally on the lake shore.

My reasons for building a pool were: 1. a plunge pool is cheaper to build  2. No filter needed and low maintenance  3. We live on the lake with a giant caiman lurking around our beach.

I won after Ron floated blissfully in my friend’s plunge pool in Granada. His sighs of content could be heard echoing all the way to the hardware store for materials to build our little rectangle of cool delight.

We decided to build the pool behind our house on the back porch for privacy. Plus, we have a view of our active volcano Concepcion. Work on the foundation began a few days after we returned from Granada.
IMG_7612We hired Raymond and Jose to build the plunge pool because they are experts in working with cement. The walls are going up and up.
IMG_7614The dimensions inside our pool are 4 ft deep x 48″ wide x 80″ long.
IMG_7618Raymond puts a fine coat of cement over the pool. It is called repayo in Spanish.
IMG_5289The floor is paved with bricks, then topped with a piece of mesh fencing we had leftover. Then the cement is poured on top.
IMG_5282I wanted a shelf on one side of the pool for flowers, cool drinks, and candles.
IMG_5293Next, tile lines the top of the pool.
IMG_7620Raymond smooths the cement around the tile. We didn’t want any sharp edges around the pool.
IMG_7621Then, we added a step to enter the pool from the front, and another one at the side of the pool. The bench and a drain in the wall complete the inside of the pool.
IMG_7627We wanted a tile patio in front of the door, so Raymond and Jose prepared the foundation.
IMG_5306I think the tile is beautiful. It’s slip resistant and will help control the dust and dirt in the dry season.
IMG_7629Next, we filled the pool for two days to help cure the cement. Of course, we had to dip often. I bought a food strainer for 1 dollar to clean the pool. After it is painted and filled again, we’ll add a teaspoon of pool chlorine and drain the pool once a week. We’re going to put a mosquito net over the pool to keep out leaves and flying insects. It will hang over the pool just like the mosquito net over our bed.
IMG_7635I am sad to report that we drained the 720 gallon plunge pool this morning. Monday, we  paint the inside of the pool with special pool paint made specifically for swimming pools. The outside of the pool will be the same mango color as the walls.

Pool is painted inside. Now, we wait for it to dry for 3 days before filling it with water.
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We will start the landscaping next week, too. We’re going to build a stepping stone patio around the pool, make new flowerbeds, hang a hammock between the Neem trees, and move some of the electrical wires that are dangling from our internet tower.

I’m in the process of designing a mural for the wall behind the pool. I’m planning to add colorful, whimsical fish. I also decided to make a Pre-Colombian pottery shard caiman mosaic on the front wall of the pool. Take that you sneaky caiman! You won’t keep us from enjoying April and May floating blissfully in our new plunge pool.

The pool was built in one and a half weeks, and the total cost of the pool materials and the labor was less than $400. I believe plunge pools are the wave of the future. They are economical, almost maintenance free, and use very little water.

Stay tuned for the finished pool. Come float with us, soon!

Spring Cleaning and a Plunge Pool


Everyday is spring cleaning day this time of the year in Nicaragua. It’s so hot, dry, and dusty that we have to clean our houses early in the morning because there is a fine layer of dust over everything. Then, in the late afternoon, we do it all over again. Sigh!

I thought I would take some photos of my clean house, because in an hour it won’t look like this.

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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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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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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.

Someone Else’s Island


I don’t often respond to the WordPress Daily Post, however Someone Else’s Island spoke to me personally. Ron recently asked me, “Debbie, what would we take if we were forced to leave Ometepe Island?” My post is a twist on Someone Else’s Island, instead of being stranded on an island, what would we take if we were forced to leave?

Everyone is nervously awaiting the construction of the Nicaraguan Canal by the Chinese. Construction is supposed to start on December 22nd. I am taking this personally because what if Ometepe Island becomes someone else’s island? I heard rumors…that’s all we get…that over 300,000 Chinese will be granted Nicaraguan citizenship to work on the canal.

The map below shows that one half of our beloved island will be controlled by the Chinese. Everything in red along the canal route.

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