Top 3 Things I’ve Learned in Our First 6 Months Living in Nicaragua

View of San Juan Del Sur from a lookout point under Cristo De La Misericordia

Hard to believe that we have already been out of Canada for 6 months. As I look back on our time here, is does not seem to have been that long, but at the same time it feels like we’ve been here forever. It has been a bit of a whirlwind as we found our community, adjusted our mentalities, and learned/still learning how to slow down and enjoy the little things again.

First thing I’ve learned… Parenting is HARD… no matter what country you are in. Finding our balance has been one of my biggest challenges. One of our biggest reasons for making this move was to give our kids more life experiences. To that avail I guess we’ve succeeded so far. Both our kids play outside more, we’ve been to more beaches in the last 6 months than we’ve ever been. We get daily doses of awesome nature to explore, be it the pelibuey that roam the roads (they are a breed of sheep/goat only found in Nicaragua from what I’m told), the horses that don’t seem to have barriers, the frogs that only come out at night or the scorpions that lay in wait to scare you. One of our favorites are the house geckos, they come in a range of sizes and move so fast they scare me at first, but they keep the other bugs at bay. I knew parenting was hard before leaving Canada… I don’t think I anticipated exactly how much harder solo parenting 2 kids under 6 was going to be. I had never had to solo parent before. My husband has always worked out of town but I relied on my parents a lot for support when we were in Canada. Moving here while my husband was still at work smacked me hard in the face with parenting. After my mom flew back to Canada I was all of a sudden solo parenting both of my kids for the FIRST time ever… and I was in a new country… Those first couple of months I questioned my sanity on multiple occasions. These kids tested my boundaries and my patience often… I had to constantly remind myself that they were adjusting also. They were in a new place, meeting new friends, with none of the comforts of home.

Second thing I’ve learned since being here… everything we thought we knew and things we had planned… didn’t run so smoothly. We had every intention of moving here to live a more simple life, be more active, eat healthier, save money and start the journey of a minimalist, traveling homeschooling family. We are now 6 months in, and we are nowhere near where I thought we would be. My children who ate everything under the sun when they started eating now eat only the same 4 foods, I haven’t been nearly as healthy or active as I had wanted. We definitely have less stuff than when we lived in Canada but even as I was unpacking our suitcases I realized I packed too much. The challenge with a journey like this is you really have no idea what you are going to need. Now I know how much ‘stuff’ I can still get rid of if/when we decide to pack up and head to another location. We have moved houses since getting here as our first house was always supposed to be short term temporary until we found something else. Bills on a monthly basis cost way less than in Canada (our rent and all our bills cost the same as a 2 bedroom apartment rent only in Canada) so in that sense we are saving money. However, with moving here we have had unexpected expenses, we bought a truck and since have had to put money into it (which is normal for here), we’ve had to make improvements to our house so we can stay for a year without challenges, and we’ve had to learn how/where to shop. When you first get here you try to keep some of the comforts of home which makes you end up spending more money because all those things are imported. The more ‘local’ we get with our choices the cheaper they get. We know we want to stay here for at least a couple of years so we don’t have to put our dog through the stress of travel again, so now that we are in a long term house we finally feel like we can settle in, try to get our groove going and get our budget under control.

Third thing I’ve learned… the importance of letting go of expectations and being more present. In Canada finances were a constant stress for us. Always weighing on us. Moving here and thinking we would have all the opportunity to save from day one was unrealistic. I’ve needed to learn to roll with our changing situation. Now that we are set up in a long term rental and feel comfortable in town, have build incredible relationships with the local expat community we can see this incredible adventure through open hearts and fully enjoy the experience. Yes, we are not where we thought we would be… but, we can see the light on the horizon. We expected life to simply role right into line after moving… thinking of it now we were naive. We have had to pivot more than once and the adjustment period was longer than we anticipated… but, by letting go of the things we can’t control and keeping our faith alive that we are doing something that is going to bring our family closer together we are starting to figure it out.

Journey to Nicaragua

So let me start off by saying I was absolutely CRAZY to think that I was going to easily handle moving to another Country with 2 kids, a Dog, 6 large suitcases and 3 carry-ons by MYSELF… I don’t know what I was thinking.

Backstory… My husband and I traveled to Costa Rica and Nicaragua through December and January 2018-2019 to look at potential places to live. Living in Alberta Canada we found that the cost of living was increasing and our quality of life was decreasing. I made a shift to start working remotely and landed myself a few clients that allowed me to work from anywhere. My husband works seasonally in the Alberta Oilpatch as a B Pressure Welder. He typically works 3-4 months in the spring and 2 months in the fall. Living in Alberta we found that when he wasn’t working I needed to work my old job full time in order to make ends meet. So we never saw each other and didn’t get to spend any quality time together. So fast forward to our winter trip. We went to 3 locations… Jaco, CR… San Juan Del Sur, Nicaragua… and Uvita area, CR. It was the trip of a lifetime for our family. We’d never taken a family vacation before.

When we were in San Juan Del Sur we absolutely fell in LOVE. With the people, the community, the school, and the lifestyle. None of us particularly like the winter months in Alberta so the idea of living somewhere tropical was too good to not think of. We researched all the countries in Central America before deciding on the 3 we visited. We did extensive research on health care, education, safety, logistics… When it came down to it, on paper San Juan Del Sur checked all our boxes. It has an AMAZING international school for our kids (age 5 & 2), it has a huge Expat community, it has lower cost of living, it has a brand-new hospital… Despite the recent (April 2018) political crisis which was mainly experienced in the larger cities, San Juan Del Sur managed to stay this sleepy little surf town that only experienced a decrease in tourism during that time.

Fastforward… We get back from our vacation and the planning began. We had secured a temporary rental in San Juan Del Sur before we left. Scheduled to come back down for March 15, 2019… That gave us only 2 months after returning from our trip to get organized to go back… Well it obviously wasn’t enough time lol… We ended up postponing our arrival date to April 7th which worked out great for the people we rented the house from. So our plan was set… now the fun… We had to seriously downsize our life (again). We went room by room and either packed it, donated it, or tossed it out. While this was happening I was working from 7am – 1pm building my remote client basis and servicing my current clients, then would work 3pm – 11pm at my JOB with Alberta Health Services. We gave our 2 year old vehicle back to the bank (it wouldn’t make it on some of the northern roads my husband has to drive on) and we kept our older SUV. Then 2 weeks before we are supposed to leave my husband gets called to work.. I mean it was great.. we’d been waiting for the call.. we prepared for this. We knew there was a chance I’d be taking the kids to Nicaragua by myself… And that’s what we planned.

Those 2 weeks before we left I stopped working at my JOB because my husband took our only remaining vehicle up to work. It was good timing though because I was able to focus on the packing and downsizing and my remote business. I managed to get our lives crammed into 9 Large suitcases. 6 of which would be coming down with me and the kids. So here I was.. totally confident in being able to do this on my own… Then, 3 days before we left my mom agrees to fly down with us. So now I’m scrambling to change my youngest one way plane ticket (thankfully I had purchased him his own seat) to a round trip ticket for my mom. Needless to say, I managed to change the flight so she could come with us. I strategically split our travel into 2 days to make it more bearable with the kids and the dog.

Day 1: we were picked up at 5:30am to go to the airport in Edmonton. It took us about 2 hours to get all of the bags checked and through security. We had a double bike stroller, a dog, 2 kids, 4 carry on suitcases and 2 carts with the 6 large suitcases.. How did I think I was going to do that all by myself? I realize now it would have been absolute crazyness! Our very excitable Boxer who was traveling with us was my main concern before leaving. I got him into a very lovely veterinarian who gave us some heavy-duty medication to help him relax for the flights. He was a peach! I mean he was heavily sedated but who cares he did so wonderful. He was great through the airport, he slept the whole flight on the floor by our feet. It was a great experience. So we all make it to Houston, Texas where our overnight layover was.

Now picture this… we get off the plane in Houston… I’m thinking the dog needs to go outside, it’s been 6 hours since he was outside. So I get directed out this set of doors with the dog. My mom takes the kids to the baggage claim. Then when I try to come back in I’m stuck… on the non secure area of the airport. I had to talk to 5 different employees to get to where my mom and kids were. Had an anxiety attack complete with tears and all. Was threatened to be arrested (I wandered into a secure area of the airport where I wasn’t supposed to be) It was crazy! Not the best airport experience that’s for sure. After what seemed like forever I finally found my mom and kids. Then we filled the shuttle to the hotel and off we went. It was an exhausting first day. We got some food and relaxed in the hotel room… except we needed to rearrange some of the suitcases so they were all under 50lbs. (I was not paying the overweight fee a second time). Mom takes an Uber to Walmart to get an extra carry-on bag and a scale. Comes back with both PLUS an array of snacks with the most sugar content she could find I swear lol. We got all the bags organized and it was bed! Our flight wasn’t super early in the morning but we were exhausted.

Day 2: Wake up, load up our 6 suitcases on hotel trolly and head down to the shuttle. Mom took the kids to eat breakfast while I loaded the dog and bags into the shuttle. As we are about to leave the hotel I get an email from United Air telling me our flight was delayed by 10 HOURS!!! I just about threw up… I had already dosed the dog with medication, I didn’t want to have to do that again. Or wait in the airport for 10 hours. So the hotel told us to go to the airport to check our bags in and they would hold our room for us for a couple hours just incase we were actually delayed 10 hours and needed to come back. Now the hotel is 5 minutes from the airport. By the time we got to the airport, unloaded the bags, get ourselves into the line to check in I get another email saying they re-routed another plane and we were only going to be delayed an hour. Thank the heavens! So much better! the second flight went really good. We get into Managua, Nicaragua and I was relieved to see how small the airport was. It wasn’t crazy, it was easy to get to the baggage claim, pick up our bags and head to customs. We go through customs, get our stamp in our passport, pay the $10US entrance fee, head over to the luggage scanner, toss everything on the belt and load them up again. Now I had to go with another airport person to give them my paperwork for the dog and pay the $10 import tax for him. We met our transport driver, loaded up and hit the road to San Juan Del Sur.

About 2 hours later… we arrived… It was a little surreal that we were actually here… Arriving at the end of dry season meant it was so HOT, but we were here. It took all of 5 minutes for our suitcases to explode all over the house while we unpacked. Then our friends came over and picked us up and we took my mom out for her first dinner in Nicaragua!

The adventure has begun!

She is very excided to be back in Nicaragua!

Tattoo Therapy

Barbershops, Beauty Shops, Nail salons, Local Dive bar… these places have always been the go to when you need to get things off your chest. How many times have you chatted with a bartender or barber/stylist or nail technician about your life woes? Even the movies portray these places as a great place to get some thinking out. Places you go when you need to vent or just talk things out with someone other than yourself.

For me my outlet is tattoos. I struggle with depression and anxiety in daily life and I don’t really talk about it. Something that I have just accepted as part of my life and it’s not going anywhere, so I better get used to it. It’s hard to talk about it with close family members who really don’t understand what you are going through or how to help you. Most times you don’t end up needing actual help but just someone to listen.

For me, I’m not good at keeping my emotions in check. I tend to ‘think I’m fine’ which is just me ignoring the problem. Then emotions start to compound. This is when things get ugly. Seemingly small things end up causing anger, frustration, and outbursts. My capacity to deal calmly with a 5-year old and 1.5 year old gets significantly smaller and I end up with little patience. To be honest it’s not fair to my kids and I know that. I try to take that step back and think before responding to a situation but when emotions are high sometimes that doesn’t happen and I end up yelling. I hate yelling at my kids… It’s one more thing that adds to my onslaught of emotions. The guilt… Guilt of not being a good mom, not listening to them, not comforting them… when in all reality, it simply is me not having anything in my tank to give out.

Have you ever been there? Things continue to pile on top of each other until it feels like the world is closing in. Everything gets so heavy that it’s hard to pull yourself out of bed. You have so many things to carry out but it’s all so overwhelming that all you can do is sit in the dark and cry… The saying goes ‘you can’t pour from an empty cup’ and so you need to take care of yourself first.

I get it… I’ve been there…

What do you do when the world feels like it’s collapsing on top of you? How do you get yourself centered again? Get your emotions in check, wrangle what feels like an immense amount of responsibilities flailing in the wind.

For me I’ve learned that my greatest outlet is a tattoo. Now I’m not someone who takes a permanent alteration of my body lightly. I’ve known what I wanted for tattoos for many years, just never found the right artist to do the work. I wanted someone who would be as invested in the piece as I was. Someone who genuinely cared about the meaning behind the pieces and was able to turn out beautiful artwork. When you find the right artist, you just know it. I found mine; on a whim I tried her out for some smaller and more simple pieces. What I got was a whole lot more. My artist allows me to be human; she listens to me when I have challenges that I need to vent about; she doesn’t judge me for any aspect of my life or mental health; and she genuinely cares about her clients. She puts an amazing amount of effort, combined with incredible talent to give me memorable and meaningful tattoos.

The process of getting a tattoo for me is methodical, and purposeful. It allows my brain to focus on one thing. It wipes away the weight of the world that seems to be crashing, and forces me to be in the moment and focused on one thing. It’s a release that is very therapeutic. A physical release of the pain that I feel on a daily basis. As the needle hits the skin, with every stroke a little bit of tension and pain escapes. Emotionally; little by little I’m able to let go of the things that have had me feeling strangled. It allows me to forget about everything that was unnecessarily burdening me. I can be vulnerable… In this space, at this time. Sometimes I cry, sometimes I don’t, but the tears do not reflect the pain of the tattoo but rather the peace that fills my soul.

I’m able to reset… back to ‘factory settings’ you could say. Yes I need to take better care of my mental health and stay on top of my challenges… But I know that when the day comes where I feel like I can’t take anymore, that things are beyond repair, or I cannot handle one more thing… I know I can call my artist, and she can help me create something incredible to represent this season of my life. I am forever grateful to have found someone who can assist me in my healing.

Living with Chronic Pain

Every day you wake up; you brush your teeth; you get dressed and start your day. If you have children then you do the same with them, except sometimes you have to wrestle them to do all of the above lol. Let’s be honest they aren’t the easiest of beings to manage sometimes.

Now imagine you couldn’t do those daily mundane things… What if the things you are so used to doing now become some of the most difficult things to accomplish? What if you didn’t have a choice but to still do these things but you fought tears doing them.

Have you ever injured yourself badly? Or overdid it in the gym and were sore for a day? How would you rate the worst pain you’ve ever experienced on a 1-10 scale? Now imagine living your life regularly at a 6 out of 10 on that scale. What if it took every bit of energy you have just to get yourself out of bed?

A day in the life of a person with Chronic pain caused by a degenerative disorder…

Wake up and slowly change position in bed for 15 minutes to settle the pain and spasms enough to roll out of bed. Careful, don’t move too fast or you are going to be stuck in bed for hours with painful spasms. Head to the bathroom at a snails pace because every step vibrates in your spine like the flick of a snare drum. Use the bathroom and brush your teeth, then have to sit down because your body isn’t ready to be standing that long yet. Getting dressed is one of two ways… either extraordinarily fast so you don’t feel the individual pain of getting your legs into pants and your feet into socks; or; slow and with breaks between clothing items. What used to take you 15 minutes in the morning now takes a minimum of an hour just to get going.

Now with children… imagine having to wrestle them out of pajamas and into clothing while your back screams in agony at the strain. Imagine not being able to pick your children up from the floor because it is too much weight for your back to handle. Imagine not being able to bend down to help them put on their shoes and instead you have to sit on the floor and then take 10 minutes just to get back up after helping them. Imagine having your kids want to run and play with them and it takes everything you have just to walk down the street with them. You desperately want to play with them as they make memories. Every day, you do these things because they need to be done. You get ready and manage your day, cook meals, read stories, get some cleaning in… and at the end of the day you are in tears because of your pain. You need many medications just to be able to function like a regular human being. Meanwhile, by the time you take yourself to bed, you can barely get into the bed because your body refuses to move. You need multiple pillows to make yourself semi-comfortable, you need medication to help stop the pain enough to hopefully fall asleep.

Then even with medication, you spend half your night having to change positions because of too much pain or numbness or full on muscle spasms and seizures in your body. Then you wake up and start all over again.

How would you manage a day like this? Think about the things you do on a daily basis. Think about everything you take for granted as just a part of your day. Now imagine you couldn’t do those things. How would you fight the invading depression of not being able to function normally? How would you have to adapt your current lifestyle?

How would you cope?

Why Central America?

When we made the decision to move to Central America it was not a spur of the moment decision. From when our first child was born in 2014 we started discussing options for our family. Our main discussion for the first 3 years was around school. We knew right from day one that we didn’t want to send our children to traditional mainstream public school. So being in Alberta that left us with Private School, Catholic School or Homeschooling. These were the options we had so we researched them all.

When we started looking into potentially homeschooling we were reading articles that documented things like ‘Homeschooled children are more prepared for life’, ‘Homeschool children are more adjusted and have less anxiety and depression’. These things were not only alarming but also made us really get into the root of why we didn’t want a mainstream school for our kids. My husband and I both grew up in the ‘go to school, get good grades, get a good job’ era. However, that mantra in school never dove into the ‘you better like what you do because you have to do it for 40years and retire’ except school didn’t teach us how to prepare early for ‘retirement’ and in this day and age the age of retirement has extended because inflation has caused such an increase in the amount of money you need to survive.

Aside from the idea that mainstream school only prepares you to work a job and not plan a life we started discussing things that we wanted our children to be able to learn. Things like life skills, communication, human interaction, compassion, creativity, imagination, commerce, financial knowledge, future planning. When you compare the education system in North America to those of places like Sweden, Norway or China, North America is seriously lacking in the adaption of changing times and society. We are behind the times and the core of education doesn’t match the needs of the upcoming generations anymore. Just look at the generation of Millenials who are internet sensations… They sure didn’t learn those skills in school. (Not saying every kid needs to be full of some of the nonsense displayed on the internet). We just wanted more for our kids. The idea of homeschooling opened up our options and our minds a little bit more.

We sold our house in Alberta and when we started looking at where we were going to live we couldn’t in good conscience say we wanted to spend the next 40 years stuck doing the same mundane things we were currently doing because all it had gotten us was debt, stress, and unhappiness, along with some physical ailments.

So we started looking at alternatives. I transitioned to online business and we looked for somewhere we could start our family journey. My husband is able to work seasonally in Canada so we wanted somewhere that we could live better but for less money. When we were researching we found that on paper Nicaragua seemed like the best start. Despite some recent Political challenges the country itself was beautiful, warm all year round (We hate snow lol), there is a decent healthcare system, cost of living is significantly lower than Canada, the town we decided on had multiple options for school for the kids should we decide not to homeschool, AND a flight from Alberta to Nicaragua cost the same amount per person as flying from Alberta to Ontario!! (that, however, is a whole different rant) So we decided to check it out.

We spent 6 weeks in Costa Rica and Nicaragua. In San Juan Del Sur Nicaragua (the town we wanted to try our for staying) we found an incredible community, an amazing international school and we all felt like we were supposed to be there. When we returned from that trip we already had a rental in place for 2 months later and we knew it was exactly where we were supposed to be.

Bottom line for why we wanted to move is we wanted more QUALITY time with our children. We wanted to be present for them. We wanted to be more present with each other. We wanted to give our kids’ life experience instead of ‘things’. We just wanted MORE.

So here we are… preparing for a serious life change. Downsizing our lives, packing our bags and moving our life to another country. One where we need to learn the native language, we have to get used to the wildlife, and we feel is the perfect place to start our journey. Our family may have started in 2014 when our daughter was born… but our adventure is just beginning and we can’t wait to share it with everyone. The struggles will be real, the experience will be exceptional and our future is a trail to be forged as we go. We hope you can come prosper with us.