Friday, April 29, 2016

Tengo dos costillas rotas (I have two fractured ribs)

This is Mike...
Well, now that I am able to walk a little better I went down to the radiology center to determine what is going on with my ribs. They took an X-ray image and it appears I have two hairline fractures on the 11th rib and also on the false rib just below. The doctor informed me of some options like wearing a girdle-type garment to hold my ribs and stomach snug. He also mentioned getting a CT scan to determine if other measures are necessary. Right now, I will pass on both options as I could not even imagine wearing anything tight like a girdle in this climate nor do I see obtaining a CT is of any value. I will continue popping opioid pain meds until I either become a great artist or my bowels explode due to constipation. Even after consuming biblical amounts of Miralax, the fact I cannot squeeze my stomach leaves me in a tough position, if you know what I mean.  
   The experience was as positive as one could expect given that I had to visit a doctor. Having said that, the total waiting time for an unscheduled visit was under 30 minutes. Fees, including doctor visit and X-ray were $20 out the door.

X-ray tech

I am holding the X-ray image.

Closing in on a long term rental

This is Mike...
   Finding a long term rental anywhere can be a challenge and Granada is no exception. Renting a temporary place for a month was the best decision as it allows us time to get educated and search around. Granada is similar to many tourist areas in that there is a clearly defined peak and trough of visitors. We initially thought we could get great deals for a yearly lease as we were arriving during the slow time. What we found out is very important for anyone considering coming to Granada for an extended period of time. Essentially the the real estate companies here make commission per transaction. Thus, the more transactions they can generate per house means more money earned. This probably runs contradictory to what the landlords want but is how it is with the big real estate companies over here.
   We initially went to a clean North American type real estate office only to hear they have rentals  until December or January and so on. We are leery about doing a rental that ends when peak season begins and would have to start the process all over again at the worst possible time. We are a family and the less movement between rentals the better. We started asking many of the expats for their opinion and the advice they gave was priceless. Basically, speak with Nicas and or go to Nica based businesses for the best deals without the games. You know what? They were right. We found a place for a full year right away and in the neighborhood we were looking at. I don't usually market for other companies but Casa Granada was a great and honest resource for us. We consulted with all the other large real estate companies in town but going local was best.
   As for the rental, we are trying to negotiate different beds so the girls can be in the same room but in separate beds. The place we are inquiring about is less than 100 meters to the kids school and very close to a wonderful bakery. In fact, the rental shares a wall with Granada's most exclusive restaurant and cigar lounge. We don't want to get our hopes up too high before signing the lease but are optimistic we can get in after this temporary rental expires. In sum, if you are coming here for the long term, allow some time in a temporary rental so that you can choose the best property for your needs.


Thursday, April 28, 2016

Trash day in Granada

This is Mike...
Trash collection in Nicaragua is similar yet different to what we are accustomed to in the states, and as the whole is more labor intensive and less mechanical. In addition, trash pick-up days are more frequent at 3 times per week. Collecting garbage around the world is a rather thankless job, but without these guys cities would be buried by their own waste. The images below demonstrate just how un-mechanized it is down here relative to the industrialized world.
    Prior to the garbage collectors ever claiming your curbside trash it is picked clean of most recyclables by the extreme poor. You heard it right, the trash is usually picked clean of items of value prior to the refuse collectors ever showing up. Thus, most of what actually gets hauled off is non-reusable trash. The guys on the truck still do find a few missed cans, plastic bottles, etc. which are collected in big bags for sale after the work is done. The proceeds of the recycled items are split among the men. In a way, this system ensures recycling and minimizes what ends up in land fill areas. Though it was hard to see at first, there is a silver lining to this method of trash collection. 

Men manually loading the truck and separating garbage.

Men quickly sifting through the rubbish before more gets piled on top.
The large sacks are filled with cardboard, cans, plastics, and anything else of value.

Ox drawn carts and horse drawn hearses

This is Mike...
   For some reason, that I have yet to discover, I really dig ox drawn carts. Some men like red fire trucks or steam engine locomotives, I happen to like carts pulled by oxen. Every time I see them on the road I wave to the drivers. My wife and kids think I am a dork, but I don't care. These carts are slow and steady and the animals work very hard. There is a lot to appreciate about them even though the carts are not as decorated as they are in Costa Rica. Maybe they are symbolic of a bygone era, I will never know. In the meantime, I will continue waving and appreciating the old timers working their oxen in such a stylish way.

Old transport shares the highway with modern transport.

Oxen are used to pull, harvest and deliver items throughout the land.
   Though I am always happy to see ox drawn carts, I wouldn't be so happy to see a horse drawn hearse show up in front of my house. The horse drawn hearse waits for the call to pick up those who expired. I guess if you see the horse drawn hearse galloping through town you'd know business was booming. Other than that scenario, I can't imagine too much excitement really happens when operating a hearse business. However, for the owners of the hearse business it is at least a recession proof industry.

The hearse was en route for a pick up

First day of school and other stuff

This is Elise.  The last couple of days have been kind of crazy.  There has been a lot of good and some bad.  The good news is that it rained.  For a country in a severe drought and a heat wave that's a big deal.  The temperature dropped to just hot instead of unbearably hot.  Just in time too because the water was out most of the day.  When the water came on, in the afternoon, the power went out for a few hours.  Luckily, we have a pool to cool off in, and today we used it to bathe in as well.
   I was nervous about the girls first day of school.  The first day of school is always hard but even more so in a foreign country at a bilingual school.  Some of the courses are taught in Spanish but all the teachers can speak English.  We really want the girls to learn Spanish so we felt that this school met our goals the best.  People speak highly of the school and of the people who work there. The other big advantage is we can walk to it in town.
   I was pleased and relieved when I picked them up at 3pm and they were both smiling.  They said the day went well and Zoe even said she had made a friend, who lives in the forest.  The little girl must live outside of town in the tropical forest that surrounds Granada.  The school doesn't have a purpose built facility so they have to go the park a block away to have recess.  Both girls said they felt safe at recess.  I only realized how important it was for them to have a good day when I felt how relieved I was to hear the day went well. I had to fork over over $600 in registration and tuition this morning so I guess that was part of it.  I have never had to pay directly for school before.  It is only $290 per month for both of them but with the registration fees it added up.

I have also been searching for a place to rent.  We don't love the rental we are in and would like to find something else.  The plan was to rent this place for a month while we find a furnished rental for a year, then figure it out from there.  We are having difficultly finding a rental available in the center of town for a year.  There are places on the edge of town but I wouldn't want to walk around as much then and would need a car.  We want to try walking instead of driving everywhere.  Plus, we would like a cute, colonial place with a pool and a yard.  Anyone who knows me know that I am picky about where I live.  There are colonials with yards and pools in the center of town in our price range but they aren't available.  We are going into the slow season so there is some availability but we are worried if we get a six month rental and get kicked out in December then we will have a really hard time finding a place in the busy season.
   I have been looking a places on my own while my husband is recovering from a fall.  Mike slipped and fell on the stairs just after getting out of the pool.  He landed on his back on the corner of the step.  He has been in excruciating pain ever since. He thinks he cracked a rib or two and since he broke ribs in the past he probably knows best.  We have the number of a doctor who makes house calls but we haven't bothered to call.  There is not much a doctor can do for broken ribs. I was able to purchase some codeine with a NSAID without a prescription.  It has been keeping the pain at bay while Mike recuperates in bed.  I have been walking around keeping us all fed, taking the girls to school, buying painkillers, looking at houses to rent, in 98 degree tropical heat. I still prefer walking to driving, at least I am burning calories.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Nicaragua's renewable energy

This is Mike...
Nicaragua's renewable energy grid can easily be seen in and around the department (state) of Rivas. This tiny country is trying to breakaway from fossil fuels and hopes to do so in a matter of a few years. We saw the many windmills last year and have since grown to appreciate the countries efforts to go clean. Though oil has dropped significantly since then making renewables less profitable, the government is still pushing forward with their agenda. As it stands right now, Nicaragua's Achilles heal is the high cost of electricity for its residents. For example, the average cost of a kilowatt hour here is 36 cents which almost 6 times more expensive than in Texas. In fact, the electricity expense here is by far the highest in all of North America and is even higher than Hawaii's rates. Many locals are hoping that a combination of schemes involving wind, solar, geothermal and fossil fuels will bring down the costs of electricity in the future.  Right now though, there are many rural areas off the grid. Ultimately, electrifying the remote rural areas will be capital intensive projects meaning high costs will persist into the foreseeable future.
Windmills over ranch land, in the department of Rivas, Nicaragua.


Sunday, April 24, 2016

Is San Juan del Sur for us?

This is Mike...
We spent the weekend looking at San Juan del Sur (SJDS) as a possible place to live. I have to say we are still torn on whether Granada or SJDS would be better for us. The private school school in SJDS is as well run as any school in the U.S. In fact, the school teaches in English and devotes just one class per day for Spanish. We were really hoping to get our kids immersed in Spanish while they were in school.
    As for the community in SJDS, it is deficient in some of the basics, thus from a business standpoint might be a good place to settle. It is true that SJDS lacks charm and some vital necessities but it makes up for it with the beauty of nature and good waves. There are certainly a lot of tourist in SJDS, so finding a way to accommodate them might be a way to sustain our lifestyle. Either way, we are still conflicted on whether to go "Urban" walking community or "Rural" driving community.

Body surfers in training. 

630 in the morning waves are the best.

Watching kids have so much fun is a nice feeling for a parent to have.

Chuck, a hotel owner, moved over from N. Carolina and loves it in SJDS.

Monkeys 70 feet out of  the town.

SJDS main drag along the ocean.

Bicycle rally was going on while we were there.

The church in the main square of town.

Sundays are slow days in town.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Initial first week expenses

This is Mike...
Here are some of our first week expenses based on an exchange rate of 28 Cordobas to the dollar . Though these expenses are for a family of 4, I would imagine that adding or subtracting a couple people would still be around the same cost. Some of these expenses will be reoccurring while others won't but still gives an idea of what to expect in the first week. In the case of groceries, we do have a few days of supplies still available that will go beyond the first week. Thus, we could have spent less if we chose to. Regarding supplies, we did purchase items for the kitchen, toiletries and other non food items. By prorating the rental, the initial first week expenses came out to $709.59. 

Private minivan from airport, $70 after tip
Various tips for luggage handling etc. $12
House delivered fruits and veggies, $20.68
Groceries and supplies (including cat stuff) $199.42 we still have enough groceries for about 3 days.
24 Yoga sessions and 1 month gym membership for Elise, $49
Massage for one hour $31
SIM card for my iPhone with additional minutes $15.82
Multiple in-town taxi rides $8.73 
Vacation rental $1100 for the month which equates to $275 a week.
2 Dinners out for family of 4,  $26.80
Three 5 gallon water bottles delivered to house $5.90
Ice cream, shakes and smoothies $10.38
Multiple stops for fresh pastries at our favorite spot $6.70
Two "Free" kittens, dipped and treated by the veterinarian for every parasite known to man $14.30

Clean supermarket right around the corner from our rental.

Well stocked shelves at this supermarket.

Similar to any grocery store in the U.S.

Taxi driver and her son picked us up from the airport in Managua.

Our favorite smoothie shop is located just off the main tourist street in town. Large fresh fruit smoothies run about $2.


Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Kittens and touring schools

This is Elise.  It is a different world here.  Going from a place where people buy organic treats for their pets to a place where people don't have money for an $8 flea and tick bath is an adjustment and it will take time.  The lady we got the kittens from lived in an incomplete house, missing some windows and nearly all of the finishings one would expect for a home.  She was feeding these very young and tiny kittens hard, dry adult dog food and they don't have the teeth to chew.  They were covered in ticks and fleas and had worms.  We can't find any kitten food but we are giving them canned food and treating them for parasites.  A far cry from the animal shelter in Austin where the strays are well cared for.  Sierra is worried that her kitten isn't that cute but I assured her it would get cuter as it gets healthier and its coat fills in and gets shiny.  The smiles on both the girls faces as they went to sleep last night makes it all worthwhile.

Tikka, Sierra's kitten
Tibbs, Zoe's kitten

We toured two private schools yesterday, one urban and one rural and liked them both. The rural school doesn't have any girls in 4th grade for Sierra which was a bummer since we liked it more. Good news is both private schools have small class sizes with a lot of personal attention. We are going to drive south to San Juan del Sur in the next few days to check the schools there as well. We want to be sure the place we pick is without regrets.

In town school

Rural school

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Granada's slower pace

This is Mike...
This produce was delivered to our house for $3.80
It's difficult to convey the differences between "Big cities" anywhere, and colonial towns. Our children feel the energy in the streets, hear the obnoxiously loud music, and smell the aroma of spices and cooked food wafting in the air. Our children also watch out for potholes in the sidewalk, the occasional passed-out pissed-on drunkard, and other similar nuisances while walking. This isn't a warmer version of Kansas, this is somewhere totally different. Most businesses here have zero internet marketing and yet still connected to WiFi. This is a land of beer deliveries, produce deliveries, anything deliveries. As long as a human can do it, it will be done for a fair price, meaning they can feed their families and you get a good deal. No droids, bots, drone deliveries, needed here.

Beer Deliveries made easy.

Eggs taste so different here, that it makes me wonder why there is such a difference with our eggs in the states. Zoe had some pineapple yesterday and said, "Oh my gosh, it tastes better than sugar. Nothing is better than this Pina!"  This is why flying here versus driving here is more of a shock to your system. Your body doesn't have that gradual build up of smells, tastes, and images. It is as if you overload the senses right away. 

   On a different note, we left huge traffic jams back home for adorable horse jams here. No joke, horse jams! Any level of urgency is not visible to the newcomer's eye. Yeah, it's true, the power goes out on occasion. In fact, water stops working for hours at a time, and fairly frequently too. We experienced these things last year and survived. We remarked back then, that it was amazing how little one needs, when not in a rush.
   The kids are slowly starting to snap out of their sadness funk, which is nice for us as parents to see. Talk of a new school and kittens helps, but so does swimming in the pool all day long, at our rental. Exercise and a change of scenery helps them to clear their minds. We will still give our kids lots of space and support to adjust with the move though.

Horse drawn veggie cart en-route to the market
Horse jam at its finest. 

Horse and buggy taxis are still widely used by locals and visitors alike.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Cacao oil massage in Granada

This is Mike...
Today, I was massaged by a linebacker with fingers the size of Bratwurst and thumbs twice the width. The massage started out kinda funny with me being completely disrobed, except for my ponytail holder, laying there vulnerably on my stomach. I relaxed there for a while before the masseur came in and the very moment the bamboo door closed I heard that distinctive bzzz sound of a drill. I looked up, thinking what the heck, and then I heard the sound again. As it turned out, the staff were hanging a couple pieces of art on the other side of the bamboo wall.
   As for the massage, he adjusted my back and neck first, then lubed me up with cacao oil and then went to town. Lest one would think I smelled like a "Snicker's Bar" on a massage table, allow me to set the record straight and clarify that the oil was odorless.  He dug into my muscles with his fingers or elbows until the tips of my fingers and toes tingled. I ordered a deep tissue treatment and for the first time in my life got the massage I ordered. The masseur periodically checked on me to see if I was OK, and I kept grunting, "Si, si, mas." I was barely lucid by the time the hour passed me by. Yes, for those wondering, I will be going back, and at $28 for the second best hourly activity money can buy, why not?

The hotel where massage dreams come true.

The cacao museum and curios.

First day challenges

This is Mike...
Challenges are as much a part of life, as water is to rain. First day challenges are extra special though. First day in school, first date, first whatevers, all have those butterflies in the belly feeling. Today was no different for us. Someone knocked on our front door and said, "There is a rat in the house!" I replied, "Rat, huh? Where is it?" and the man urgently replied, "It ran under the door and in your house, somewhere!" I thanked him and ran upstairs to make sure it did not scurry into my wife's undergarments, currently residing in a suitcase on the bedroom floor. As I ran up the stairs and around the corner at mach 5, the rat was in the hallway staring me down like the shoot out at the O.K. Corral was going to happen. I freaked, it shrieked and we both ran down the stairs. The rodent finally hid behind the trash can, whereby I tilted the can to trap it. OK, now I got a pissed off rat under a trash can, now what in the heck do I do? I searched the house for a stick and the only thing I could find was the broom. Zoe kept screaming and yelling at me to "Save the rat!" Sierra was talking but nothing could be deciphered due to Zoe's shrilling orders of animal protection. As the rat's head popped out from under the trash can with his steaming mad eyes of fury, I whacked it with the end of the broom. There it was, a dead freaking rat. Zoe screamed, "Did you kill it? Did you?" I replied, "Yes, I did" with that exhale of fatherly victory. Zoe lit into me saying, "I can't believe you killed that rat like a caterpillar!" I said, "Huh, what? What does that mean?" She said there are mean boys at her school that step on them and I am no different. I said, "Zoe, its better you're mad at me than mommy, and if that rat went in her bras I would be the one fixing the problem, not you." Sierra agreed and we were all glad Elise was out doing Yoga ($7 a class) than back home adding to the commotion.

Bittersweet victory, Zoe was scolding me silly while Sierra took this picture.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Arriving in Managua

This is Mike...
   We flew on two very full planes, both to Miami and then on to Managua. We were charged a fee for extra baggage which we richly deserved, considering we had 10 large pieces with us. Flying here in a few hours is sooo different than driving here in three months like the first time around. The airport was clean and as Elise mentioned earlier, the staff at immigration and customs were friendly an made fun of our luggage-zilla monster as we pushed it through the airport. We weren't bothered by immigration about not having return tickets, as some on Face Book had mentioned could happen. Basically, traveling with a family is a golden ticket in Latin America. Just as in our last trip, my kids horsing around are passports to easy times, which we so needed today. We have already been invited to people's houses next week and our first night is still young.
   The temperature is sultry at 96 degrees and the people here are begging for rain. We arrived to a terrible drought with many food crops failing. Fruit and vegetable prices are spiking but still very cheap by our standards. We are getting excited about visiting some schools next week for the kids, and of course we will keep everyone posted on the details, expenses, etc.

Last year at this time Mombacho volcano was wrapped with clouds every afternoon.

The grasses are kindling material at this point.

My girls are getting all grown up reading books at the airport, while tuning out the world with their headphones.

The lakes are receding and wildfires on the move.

Flying over Managua.

Droughts are costly events for farmers and ranchers alike.

Leaving Home

This is Mike... We had a hectic time packing right up to the end, but we did it! In the last few days I was so tired that I slept everywhere I sat down for more than 30 seconds. We were all pooped from our emotions, physical work and mental exhaustion of planning and re-planning.
   Our neighbors helped us a ton, from moving furniture, prepping meals for us to eat, to outright invites for dinners and cocktails. The help our neighbors gave us will never be forgotten. Having said that, few things in life are as uniquely difficult as saying good bye to loved ones. We were so blessed to have had neighbors whose doors were wide open, both literally and figuratively. To you we say, "Nuestra casa es su casa."

All dressed up for the airport ride at 430am. The Anderson's made our last night and trip to the airport worry free.
 This is Elise.  We made it to Granada safely after a long day of travel.  I was worried that I would have second thoughts when we got here.  It's not as clean and pretty as Steiner Ranch but for some reason, I really like it here.  Even the guy at immigration was nice.  I had no trouble changing some money and going grocery shopping.  I can walk everywhere here. I did take a cab back from the grocery store because the bags were heavy.  It cost 10 Cordobas for the taxi ride (at 28 Cordobas to the dollar.)  It's hot but the plunge pool cooled me right down then I swayed in the hammock with my wet bathing suit.  So relaxing.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Final details before flying to Managua

This is Mike...
We either sold or packed up nearly everything and are now in the final few days before signing the closing documents and boarding the plane for Managua. We booked a temporary place to stay in Granada for the first month. Having a temporary base allows us focus on schools, cheaper longer term rentals, and to test out the community. We chose one of the many on-line resources for booking homes abroad. The rental is more expensive but does include utilities and thus minimizing our hassles for the first few weeks.

Our rental property in Grenada.

   Because of the ungodly amounts of luggage we are taking, we pre-arranged a minivan to pick us up at the airport in Managua. Part of our agreement with the kids for going abroad was they can take their most prized possessions with them on our journey. Unknown to us was just how much of their stuff was "Prized". Either way, as parents, we are happy to accommodate them on this difficult transition of losses and new beginnings.
   We are currently living, shopping and planning our days based on checklists. With so many whirling parts, checklists are the only way to know if you are actually accomplishing anything. Forwarding the mail, notifying the school, packing, and on, and on. I hate to admit it, at present, we are more "Warriors" conquering individual tasks rather than people living in the moment.

Our empty living room of many beautiful memories.

Upstairs was a kid's wonderland and is all cleaned out now.

Our kitchen was our hang out spot and is the last place to we will pack.

Our back deck that was once filled with our neighbors and friendly cheer is now empty as well.

        As for enrolling the kids in school, we scheduled a meeting with the private school administrators 4 days after arriving in Grenada. We could do homeschooling again but have decided against it, so that our kids could meet other children as quickly as possible. A few blog followers asked if we will enroll our kids in public school down there. We checked into all the options, including public schools, but they are simply bursting at the seams. In fact, public elementary classes of 50 to 60 students and only half them receiving desks is not uncommon. This is why charities like which we visited and supported last year are so important for the tiny tykes. For our school charity post from last year, visit our blog post dated, 5/14/2015 Casa de los suenos, a great charity.

Staff prepping for the lunch rush that so many of the students truly need for their daily nutrition.

Great school changing the world through deed.