Living in Nicaragua and Stumbling Upon Happiness

May 18 – Granada Nicaragua

I love Granada but I am looking forward to leaving soon. James and I have been here since mid-March and the town and people have treated us well but the weather is chasing us away. A first time visitor will equate a walk down a block to a hike up a steep mountain due to the hot, humid, weather. Expats will tell you that your body will adjust. My body has adjusted and I keep a red handkerchief in my back pocket to wipe the sweat off my face every few seconds. Face sunscreen is a joke! One of the most annoying routines everyday is applying face sunscreen because it sweats off immediately and I’ve given up on make-up altogether.

I told James that if I had known that it would be this hot, I would’ve rented our place for less time.

“But then you wouldn’t have all the opportunities that you got.”

Good point.

I was slated to be Local Director for a tour operation in March but when I learned that the tour was in shambles, I quit and began my own tour–same idea and everything but with a different owner. We worked hard to make the idea work but marketing it was a challenge and after a few weeks, we revisited the reason for our decision to travel Latin America for a year and realized that we were missing the point. The point was to get away as far as possible from the 9 to 5 job and do everything we wanted to do but couldn’t do in San Diego. Aside from exploring new countries, we wanted time to read and exercise more. James wanted to focus on his writing and learn Spanish. My goal was to create a habit of meditating every day; I also wanted to read in Spanish, experiment with my cooking skills and watch Seinfeld. We were doing none of that so we decided to take a break from traveling, look for jobs instead and live in Granada for a few months. So what if we got paid substantially less, if it’s enough to pay for the groceries and some alcohol, sign me up! We found a furnished room with private bath, shared outside kitchen and swimming pool for $350 a month. The rent includes cleaning service once a week, all utilities and petting access to the dog and three well behaved kids who we share this big home with. For a Nicaraguan, $350 is expensive but for us who lived in Hillcrest, it was a steal so we slapped down $700. So what if we didn’t have jobs, we’ll figure it out because we’re a team! I’ll ask around, I’ll show off my bilingual skills and the photo I took of my BA diploma from UCSD (I could find a job teaching English!), I’ll check the workaway website and work at a restaurant for tips. The latter made me laugh because I had been a waitress twice before and twice I failed. I recalled my friend Theresa from Toastmasters telling me how much she made on tips by working part-time as a waitress, she’s been doing it for more than 10 years and she loves it! She said:

You would shine at it!

That’s what I thought but the last two times I tried, once I got fired, the second time, they downgraded me to a host and then a busboy. A busboy! I asked to be called a busgirl but they said they don’t have those there.

Anyway, back in Nicaragua, my landlord offers me a part-time job as a bartender/waitress at one of her restaurants. She said that it’s real chill and that I would be working the bar and talking to people who will want to know, “What the hell is an American doing living in Nicaragua?”

My qualifications were: an upbeat personality and good bilingual skills so that I could communicate and joke with the cooks in Spanish and switch back to English for the customers. I accepted the job but my misqualifications haunted me for a week and I hated the guy I worked with because he did not smile and he was always on his phone. I’m going to call this him Facial Paralysis guy. I didn’t want to lose it so I increased my sitting time saying, “om” from 15 to 20 minutes. That helped. But then my patience wavered and I ceased the friendly chit-chat one Saturday afternoon after waiting two tables with 13 people who asked for separate checks. I told Facial  Paralysis guy, “You don’t help out, you expect me to run drinks and wait tables by myself, you don’t smile, you’re always on your phone, and then you get mad AT ME when someone walks away on their bill? The only thing you’re good at is pissing people off.”

He was stunned. I wonder how often women talk to guys like that in this country? That was the last thing I said to him and it was the last time he worked there. He’s Nicaraguan and I feel that his main challenge was taking orders from women.

On a side note, the machismo here isn’t as bad as some places like Honduras but it’s there. If you’re a girl then guys will hiss at you. Also, almost every Nicaraguan women I know here is a single mother, has been divorced once or twice (a common reason is that the guy cheated on her) and has at least two kids.

A few weeks later my boss offered to pay me three weeks worth of pay if I could create a Customer Service seminar and train her waiters for a week. I accepted the challenge. And that’s the second opportunity I got for having stayed here this long.

Meanwhile, James has started doing legal work for one of his friends in New York and it has been great. We’re making it work! We plan on spending a week in the San Juan del Sur beach next. My boss knows many people there so who knows, perhaps I’ll get a gig there and if not, I know someone who could use my help at their bar. After that it’s Costa Rica, Panama, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru. Then we’ll fly home for a month, then back. The plan is to visit every country in the Latin American continents. The plan is subject to change of course depending on income. That means that if we run out of money next month, we could be coming home sooner. But since we need so little to get by it seems like we will make it work.

I will return to the states eventually, but what’s the rush? I am young!  I don’t have kids, I don’t have a mortgage, I don’t even have a pet. I don’t have any stakes in the ground! I am from California so my life will not ends at a certain age if I don’t get a career or have kids. I am traveling, I am meditating every day, I am reading, I’m cooking, I’m writing, I’m working and I am waking up every morning (whenever I want) next to my best-friend, my partner in life, el amor de mi vida, James Miller. I’ve never been this happy in my life.

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June 17- Walking Frida From Costa Rica

IMG_1622Since Guatemala, We’ve been hearing Costa Rica That is expensive! Costa Rica is like the Switzerland of Central America and the minimum wage is $ 15 an hour. So we DECIDED, okay, we’ll pass through it and spend only four days in the country and three weeks in Panama but this hostel Entered Then we called, Hostel Park Which is more than just a hostel in front of the vast national park . This place has a kitchen with an island in the middle, two cast iron pans, a huge wok and a commercial size stove. A sunny lit living room leads to a TV room and a courtyard with a picnic table outside. The wifi connection is superb Which Means That We can work in peace. Perhaps the best part is Frida and Karla, the dog and cat WHO will someday inherit the place. Frida is a Shepard puppy, only two months old and growing fast. The other pet is a feline Calico, About four years old and still getting used to the “new girl”.IMG_1624

I’m going to give you a quick tip on making a few bucks while traveling. After spending three nights at this hostel, Frida the dog and I got along. I love dogs and this one Reminded me of my niece Vienna, an Australian cattle pup With the same energy. The pup is teething and the owner Roger, apologized to me for the harmless bit. Then I noticed really occupied Roger Being With renovating the rooms for the hostel and I noticed Frida treating the world like a chew toy so one day in the kitchen, I tell him, “My boyfriend and I really like San Jose and we would like to stay for a few more days if You Could cut us a deal. I can also walk Frida for a discount. ”
He says yes, let’s discuss it later today. Fact is, the hostel is so Popular with backpackers seeking a calm, non-party like environment, and Roger has-been so occupied attending to Their needs plus With the renovations, That the dog has not had a chance to see how other dogs mark Their territory-she Average User Walked in days. So we talk in His office and it feels a bit familiar, I realize it’s a job interview.
“Yeah, Frida reminds me of my sister’s dog. Ever seen an Australian cattle dog?”
“Yes!” he said with enthusiasm.
“I Walked That Dog a few times. Frida is nothing I can not handle.”

Apparently, cattle dogs look good on your resume. We Agreed on $ 5 for a 20-30 minute walk every other day. I’ve Walked Frida Already for four consecutive days and I have a feeling That I will be doing it everyday for as long as I’m here. Our room is a bit pricier than what we are used to but we love it! The bed is big, the mattress is comfortable and the covers are cozy. The room itself is huge and the dark wood floors add a touch of luxury. A full size wooden desk faces the wall and is parallel to the door; the bed Takes up almost half the space adjacent to the desk and the bathroom is shared but nobody has checked in to The Room That connects to it. We paid $ 35 our first day, we made a deal to pay $ 25 for a longer stay and walking the dog with me, we’re paying $ 20 a night. And did I mention the location? It’s near an area that looks like the South Park meets Hillcrest (in San Diego) only with a lot more bars, way more live music and an all around younger crowed. The area is sort of on a hill with downtown being only 15 minutes away by foot.

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Walking Frida is a win-win situation Especially Considering That I take her out for almost an hour. While she smells the flowers (or whatever it is That dog gets all riled up), I do my squats. One time I read a chapter off my book and yesterday, she tagged along with James and I When We Walked downtown in search for the Tica Bus station and That was a two-hour trip. Poor pup.

Our friend from Belize is flying in to San Jose on the weekend of the 27th to have a business meeting with us. He’s a lawyer and wants to Talk About How We Could Establish help His online presence With SEO and social media. Also I’m fairly sure That I wants to party, I’s a fan of San Jose. At first I was concerned about the change of our plans Because as I’ve Mentioned before, stepping foot personnel in Colombia is my goal. I backpacked through esta continent alone When I was 19 so I need to add a new stamp to the raggedy old passport. But since we solved the money issue, Could we now take our sweet time walking over to Colombia. Our Efforts to work online is picking up. Aside from Facebook, I’m Also using Linked-in to Strengthen my client’s social media presence. And aside from SEO and grant writing, James, who’s HAD years of experience training His assistant, is now doing his assistant’s work for a couple of lawyers. At the same time, I’ll be keeping my eyes peeled for small opportinities like being somebody’s temporary dog ​​walker. Life is good.

That's James giving me a break on our way downtown. The streets of San Jose are sprawled with murals like these!

That’s James giving me a break on our way downtown. The streets of San Jose are sprawled with murals like these!

Guatemala – Hippie Lodging, Alcoholic Flasks and Exchange Rates

June 8 – Islas de OmetepeGranada

Goodbye Granada! After living there for almost three months, we finally packed our bags and left for the pacific coast where we spent four nights in the beach town of San Juan del Sur.  We are now in Isla de Ometepe. To get here, we took an hour long chicken bus ride, a taxi and then a boat to the destination whose name means: The island with two mountains (they are actually volcanoes). We are staying at a lodge called El Zopilote. The place seems to cater to hippies with cell phones, munching on granola and organic yogurt while surfing the slow_but_working59876355 Internet. El Zopilote is a finca, the place practices permaculture, they have a free yoga class every morning, instead of flushing you throw rice shells into the compost toilet, and the showers are outdoors because “it makes you feel closer to earth”.
    Our cabaña hut is made of a palapa thatched roof, bamboo windows and there is a sexy violet mosquito net that hovers over our bed at night. To get to the restaurant/reception, to the toilet, showers or a sports bar, you have to hike a bit. Volunteer opportunities to help out in the farm abound.El Zopilote
    The place is a great idea and I’m happy to have spent two full days here. For $18 bucks a night! It was one of the most idyllic places I’ve ever stayed at but I am over it. It helps to point out that rain poured during our first night here, making the roads muddy and that nixed our plans to rent a motorcycle and explore the island the next days. As I type this, torrential rain continues to fall with random bursts of thunder. Boom!
    Some popular activities here include: horseback riding on the Santo Domingo beach, swimming inside the jungle like pools near the big town of Altagracia, venturing Altagracia, hiking up one of the two volcanoes and hiking to a waterfall. We did none of that. Our spirit to prance around the island was lost with the expensive gas prices, meaning that flagging down a cab was next to impossible. So we stayed in, I took the yoga class and ate the rest of my book. James and I put in about two hours of work (I have a remote job as well which I’ll describe later), then we had lunch and did a quick walk to the petroglyphs. We watched the Playoff games at a bar called Little Morgans, got some free beers and rum shots for being Cavs fans, then made the hour long hike back to our lodge in the rainy and very dark stormy night. Side note: there were two friendly Australians who worked there and were pleased to learn that Dellavedova is an Aussie as well. If cell phones didn’t have built-in flashlights, I don’t know how we would’ve made it back without bumping into a snake, a frog or a wild pig. Actually, we walked right over a harmless snake during that stormy night. But HOW did you know the snake was harmless? I don’t know, it was small. Look ma, no bites! And earlier that day, James got to pet a wild horse and a wild pig within 30 seconds of each other. It looked like James and the horse had an understanding; the pig hated it.El Zopilote
Quick Trip Advisor review for El Zopilote:
You’re on your own here. If it rains, they won’t sell you a poncho. If you go out and return really late, then they won’t warn you about how dark the hike back will be. The bus schedule posted on the wall is off by an hour but there is no sign of that anywhere. All of this can seem frustrating or typical for a backpacker but for me it added to the allure of the 360 degree view of fields of green type of environment.
    They have a stone brick oven so for breakfast, try the fresh bread with their homemade peanut butter. The Nica staff can seem unhelpful but they understand enough English so just speak up if you need anything. BRING A FLASHLIGHT AND A PONCHO.
4 stars
Continuing:
    After five and a half months, James and I still have plans to travel for a year, perhaps longer. Yes, our savings account is dwindling and it was at a fast rate during the first couple of months. As it turns out, my gig as a bartender in Granada did not break us even. Some of the reasons for that include: eating out once a week and splurging on Mondays at pub quiz i.e., drinking. So a few days ago, we sat down and discussed how to make the money stretch. Words like cooking! Couch surfing! Flasks and sandwiches sprung up… The following will discuss cooking.
I love to cook and I love garlic!  Especially when married with onions. They’re the perfect match. I love garlic and onions! Could that be the secret to Peruvian cuisine? But wait, there is also chile. Ahh so it’s a three-way.
      Okay! When traveling for a long time, cooking your own meals will make a difference in your budget. The cheapest meal we found was for $3 a plate, this includes rice, beans, a piece of meat, fried plantains and maybe even a disgusting slab of salty fried cheese. Now if I make my carrot pasta sauce (inspired by my mom) with canned mushrooms and throw in two avocados (because I can) plus the ménage a trios I will get three meals out of it and each plate will have cost $1.50. That’s a huge difference!
Now with work, many of James’s friend’s are lawyers and a couple of them need help with marketing their business via SEO and social media. Since I have experience with the latter, he’s handed that to me. James is also doing some grant writing. All said and done, he’s putting in four hours of work a day, I’m putting in two. Until I get another writing gig on Elance or a bartending job (which will happen when we get to Colombia), I will cook, contact people on Couch Surf, and figure out this thing called Travel Hacking. I’ve done it before and got a free RT flight to South America.
Alcohol! Giving it up has not been an option. We like having a few beers once or twice a week. And the rum in Nicaragua has been exceptional. A rum and coke (here it’s called a Nica Libre) cost about $1.50 at most places but a can of coke is under a dollar. Take a flask and that can of coke will yield you 4-6 drinks.

“The flask was a great idea,” James said. Yes! It was my idea to purchase the party flask at Bevmo a few nights before my flight to Cancun; we’ve since upgraded to packing a 32 ounce water bottle with our favorite Flor de Caña 7 years rum (that was his idea). Working remotely, eating in and drinking out is how we will save.

Right now, we are foolishly waiting for the rain to stop so that we can leave Nicaragua, somehow, but it looks like we will have to tough it out and make the grueling hike down and out of El Zopilote to catch the bus to the ferry. We have on big backpacks and we look like tortoises. Here we go.

Mom, dad, grandma, I’ve translated this to Spanish to the best of my abilities. I hope you enjoy it!