The Downside to Life in Nicaragua

Everytime I talk to someone back home it seems like the one question that always gets asked… ‘How is life in Nicaragua?… It makes me think… How many times have you been asked ‘How is life in Canada/United States?’ What would you say?

Canada/United States: ‘Life is good… we commute to work, the kids go to school, we have all the kids activities and school functions, we see our whole family together for dinner and bedtime… (some families don’t even get that). It made me think of my answer to people when I’m asked about living in Nicaragua.

Playa Maderas
Just Beachin’

Nicaragua: Our days are pretty simple… I hike up a mountain that overlooks the ocean 5 days a week. Most of those days are with my 40lb toddler on my back. I work in the mornings while my daughter attends half day kindergarten, and we have a lovely Nanny that comes to our house to play with my son while I work. She also cleans my house which is AMAZING because it’s something that I never had/could afford in Canada. My son is exposed to Spanish language all morning while he plays. My daughter has an abundance of friends in the community. In the afternoons we choose between going to the beach, spending the day in the pool or just enjoying our time together. We are looking at Spanish classes, and horseback riding lessons, surf lessons and music classes as potential activities to fill our afternoons, but we are in no rush to fill the time. We are outside every day… even if it’s just to swing in the hammock with a book.

So, what’s the downside? It sounds so terrible right? Social media doesn’t show you the things we struggle with… it’s not designed like that for anyone. It is designed for people to ‘put their best selves out there’. Well even though life is overall wonderful here in Nicaragua we still have struggles… Here are my top 4 personal struggles with living in Nicaragua.

Making the Most of our Circumstances

1) Maintenance… OMG the maintenance on things that break… EVERYTHING breaks here. In the last 3 months we’ve been without a vehicle more than we’ve had one. It’s been hard… relying on friends for grocery and water runs… taking taxis… walking everywhere we can… At first, it was frustrating, having to keep sending my truck back to the mechanic. Then I started to change my mindset… it’s 30 degrees outside every day, and we live in paradise so ‘put your sneakers on and get to walking’. It has helped me to appreciate when we actually have our vehicle and are not house bound. Having an amazing community of friends here helps immensely. Without them I wouldn’t make it.

2) The trash… unfortunately this little town grew very fast. With increased tourism came increased need for single use plastic items to accommodate the ‘North American comfort levels’ of the tourists. As a result, way more trash litters the back roads and fill the landfill than you would typically like to see. Don’t get me wrong, there are efforts like beach cleanups, roadside cleanups, and plastic art initiatives, but it’s hard to teach a community about things like recycling and composting when the problem didn’t originate from them. It absolutely is a result of North American culture invading a small fishing village at a rate it was not prepared for. My hope is that there is a solution that can be found to benefit everyone.

3) The animals… the number of animals that I see that give me a pit in my stomach is really hard to handle. From the street dogs (which increased in population when the political crisis arose and many foreigners abandoned their dogs as they fled in fear – unjustifiable reason to abandon your animals in my opinion), to the work horses that have clearly been put to work too young and are not properly cared for. As an animal lover it is really hard for me to see as I have that bone in me that wants to save ALL of them and it’s just not possible. Now, there are a LOT of animals that are cared for properly here, but the ones that aren’t definitely pull at your heart strings.

4) My Husband… the BIGGEST downside to us living in Nicaragua right now is the time we have to be away from my husband. In most cases if we were in Canada we wouldn’t get to see him very much with him working up in a camp but the amount of distance between us is difficult. It’s hard for me to solo parent our two kids for most of the year… it’s just as hard for him to be away and not get to be there for our kids for most of the year. Lately I’ve been reminding myself and him that this is temporary… because we made the choice to move to Nicaragua (where cost of living is substantially lower than Canada) by the end of 2020 we will be in a financial place to have him semi-retire and only work 3 months a year. 3 months a year will be amazing! Being able to have him here for 9/12 months is more time than we’ve ever gotten to have him home consecutively.

Our Hearts
Just a Beach Bum

So yes, there are downsides… just like any place you will live… but the positives outweigh the negatives for us, and we are focused on our family goals. When I weigh out the differences between living in Canada and living in Nicaragua all I see is the better quality of life that we have here, the very real possibility of reaching our financial goals just 1.5years after moving… and while being away from friends and family is difficult, I see my children thriving in this environment and my health has never been better.

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!

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.