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Location, location, location!

Lately we’ve been receiving a lot of emails from followers with questions regarding real estate in Nicaragua. We are far from experts on this subject, but we have learned a lot in the last sixteen months that we’ve been here. 

One thing in particular we’ve learned is that locale is paramount for us being happy long term.

Prior to making the move to Nicaragua our home was in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. We were a one hour drive from the beautiful snow-capped Rocky Mountains, but a ten hour drive from the ocean. 

Rocky Mountains

Canmore, Alberta, Canada

Our plan when arriving in Nicaragua was to move around a bit in the first year, so that we could get a feel for where we wanted to settle down. And that’s exactly what we did. 

Our first rental home was situated on the tranquil beach of Poneloya. Falling asleep to the sound of the waves crashing on the shore was amazing. 

This way to the ocean...

– Having the sand right at our steps was even better

But unfortunately it didn’t take long to learn that life in Poneloya wasn’t for us. This lovely little beach town was too tranquil for our liking. After a couple of weeks there we were already craving more stimulation. 

We also learned that owning a beach house doesn’t come without drawbacks. Salt air does major damage to a home. It causes electronics to expire long before they should. And, unless you paint it multiple times throughout the year, metal will rust.  Wood work also needs to be stained or painted annually.

After one month in Poneloya we moved into a guest house in the bustling city of Leon. 

Dining Tables

– An affordable and comfortable housing option in Leon

Although there’s a lot to do in Leon, there aren’t many expats living there. Getting to know a few locals was great, but we soon realized we needed at least a couple of friends with similar interests, outlooks and life experiences. 

Another downfall of Leon is the unbearable heat. 

During the last month of dry season temperatures soar upwards of 40 degrees Celsius (that’s 104 Fahrenheit for y’all Americans) with nearly 100% humidity and no breeze for relief.

When there is wind, it comes from the inland volcanoes rather than the ocean. It blows across the dry, dusty fields and into the city.  There were days in Leon when we felt like we were standing in a giant hair-drying sand blaster.

Granada was the next city we called home.  It’s similar to Leon in size and pace, but offers cool lake breezes. 

Granada, Nicaragua

We loved the location of Granada. It is close to Managua, the airport, Laguna de Apoyo and the National Handicraft market in Masaya.

Granada also offers more westernized options to coincide with the plethora of expats. But unfortunately for us, our parents fit in much more naturally with the age group of most expats who are currently living there.  

Mojito Friday at Grill House

– Mojito Friday with the gang at Grill House was always a good time!

Next stop? The coastal town of San Juan del Sur.

The Bay of San Juan del Sur

The Bay of San Juan del Sur

Originally we thought San Juan del Sur would be too small a place for us to settle down in, but boy were we wrong.  Within a very short period of time the town had won us over.

Even though San Juan del Sur is touristy, there is a great mix of locals and expats in all age ranges. The expat community here is very diverse. 

Location, location, location!

– Here in San Juan del Sur we have many great friends from all over the world

The house we currently rent is located in town about three blocks from the beach. We are up on a hill so we can take advantage of the cool breezes from Lake Nicaragua. 

Sounds great?  Right? 

Well, it probably would be if dogs and roosters weren’t barking and cock-a-doodle-doing all day and night. Last week they were competing to be heard over parades, firecrackers and the techo beats of Semana Santa. It seems as though every second week there is a holiday accompanied by a celebration, that can sometimes last for days.

After sixteen months of moving around we think we finally have figured out it. 

The San Juan del Sur area is definitely where we want to settle down. We have been (and still are) passively looking for a property to call our own.

In a perfect world our ideal location would meet the following criteria:

  • Close to town
  • On a hill (so we’ll have breezes)
  • Ocean view
  • Jungle-”esque”
  • Close to a beach
  • Priced right
  • Away from dogs, roosters, parades and fireworks
  • Flexibility and options for house construction

Our list is long, but amazingly enough we think we’ve found something that gets a check in all the boxes. 

We are super excited to be meeting with a friend (and developer) later this week to learn more about his plans for his 100 acre development located just outside of town.

We’re Moving to San Juan Del Sur!

Since Elisha and I arrived in Nicaragua 8 months ago we’ve managed to live in 5 different towns.  Our Nicaraguan expat adventure began in Poneloya and from there we moved to Leon. The next city we called home was Granada and then we were off to the spend some time at Apoyo Lodge in Laguna de Apoyo.  And finally here I am in San Juan del Sur searching for yet another rental.

A couple of months in each location has allowed us the time needed to see past the tourist scene while figuring out the true flavour of each town. That being said 2 months (or less) in a each place was not nearly enough time for any one place to feel like home.  Eventually we both want to settle down in one place, but for now we’re looking forward to spending some time in Nicaragua’s tourist playground.

– A shot of the bay of San Juan del Sur taken on my morning run

The fact that San Juan del Sur is a tourist hot spot means that there are lots of places to stay, but unfortunately there are few options that actually meet our needs. Most monthly rentals here are vacation homes with rates starting at $100 plus per night or Nica style homes that are quite “rustic” and somewhat undesirable.

With Elisha back in Canada visiting family for a month I’m left to house hunt in San Juan del Sur all on my own. Lucky for me our friends Jon and Quinn have been living in San Juan del Sur for the past three months.  During that time they’ve come to know the little ins & outs of the town and were more than happy to fill me in on all they’ve learned about Nicaragua’s favourite beach town.

– Our friends Quinn & Jon

When I arrived in town Jon & Quinn introduced me to the family that owns Elizabeth’s Guest House.  They helped me get set me up in a private and comfortable room so I could take some time to find an apartment.

– Elizabeth’s Guest House

Just as they had done with Jon & Quinn, Elizabeth and her family took me in like one of their own.  In fact, it was my first night in town when Elizabeth’s husband Orlando decided to get me drunk on rum.

– Elizabeth’s husband Orlando

The next day I woke up feeling a little rough, but fortunately Elizabeth fed me and nursed me back to health.  I’m sure glad she did because I had some work to do – it was time to begin my San Juan De Sur house hunting mission!

Chocolate Charlie & The Gang

For anyone that thinks that Elisha and I are care free and always ready for adventure I have a story to share with you. It goes like this…

On February 9, 2012 I received an email from a blog follower.  It read as follows:

“My name is Cameron, fellow Canadian. 5 years ago some friends and myself bought a beachfront lot with a beat up house on it (sight unseen).  Up until now nobody has been able to go down there and check it out.  My wife and two young daughters 4 and 6,  plan to drive to Poneloya in mid-March and stay as long as we can.  3 months or so.”

Cameron went on to ask us if we could take a look at the house for him as he only had pictures from when the house was purchased.  His pictures showed a house that was rough around the edges.  What we saw was a few walls, no roof and a lot of garbage. I guess what Cameron didn’t know was how hard the ocean and heat is on homes that close to the sea. We replied to his email explaining that the house was in pretty bad shape, but we didn’t include any pictures.

Fast forward to yesterday…

Elisha and I were visiting our friend Carlos in Poneloya when we decided to go for a stroll down the road. 5 minutes into our walk and we see a guy up the road a bit waving at us and calling my name.  Oddly enough, this isn’t the first time someone we have never met recognized us from pictures on our blog and flagged us down on the beach in Poneloya.

This time it turned out to be none other than our fellow Canuck, Cameron Yee.  We learned that him and his wife Ashlie have been on the road for three weeks, traveling with their two children Lila and ChynaMae in a big diesel van that they have nick-named Chocolate Charlie. They started their journey from their home in Oregon and have traveled through the United States, Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras to arrive here in Nicaragua with their two daughters.

When Cameron and Ashlie saw the house they were shocked and a little dismayed at the state that it was in.  Their daughter Lila, ever the optimist declared,

“It’s beautiful Mommy!” and then ran toward the beach with her sister in tow.  

It became abundantly clear that Cameron and Ashlie would need to switch to Plan B and find somewhere else to stay.  Normally this would be easy, but since we are in the middle of Semana Santa celebrations every hotel, hostel and rental home is full.  The short term solution is to park inside the gates at Carlos’ place Hostal El Pulpo, run an extension cord to an air conditioner in the van and camp out.

Over the last couple of days we’ve had an opportunity to spend some time with the Yee’s.  As you would expect they are easy going and a lot of fun.  Their girls are super cute and excited to try new things.  

Less than an hour after landing on the beach ChynaMae spotted a huge Brahma cow, not too far from where she was building her sandcastle.  She took off running after it with her Mom, running behind her.  She eventually got close enough that the cow noticed her – stopped and swung it’s head around – and stared her straight in the eye. That was enough to stop her in her tracks. Mae’s selective hearing finally tuned in to her Mom’s calls and she turned back and ran for the water.  This should give you a bit of a glimpse into the girls’ personalities and why they are so much fun to hang out with.

The Yee’s will be connected to the world again soon via a Claro 3G rocket stick.  If you’d like to read more about the adventures of this super cool and fun family check out their Nica Bound.

Personally, we can’t wait to see where their adventure takes them next!

Snapshots: Leon, Nicaragua

Click on any thumbnail to view the full size image.

Kix for the Kids

After being at Hostal El Pulpo for two days looking after the place for Carlos Gord and I were anxious to get out for a walk. As we sauntered up the main, typically quiet road in Poneloya and we were surprised to see a crowd of people. 

Men, women and children were lined up on either side of the street and gathered around the entrance of the church. We were definitely curious and wondered what was going on.

As I wandered around taking a few photos, trying to figure out what was going on a woman with blonde curly hair approached the fence.  I asked her what the nature of the event was. She was less than forthcoming with information and was only willing to tell me that she was here on a mission from the US.  She didn’t give her name, nor did she specify what organization she was with, which frankly, seemed a bit odd.

I asked how many pairs of shoes were they able to bring and she stated,

“Enough for all the children”.

Anxious to get inside the gates and take a closer look at what this mission was all about I asked her if I could come in and take some photos for my blog. She said that she could not allow my entrance to the church, but said I was free to take pictures outside the gates.  This also seemed odd to me. First of all, if you were doing missionary work wouldn’t you want to talk about what you were doing, promote your organization and welcome any additional publicity you could get?  Secondly, since when aren’t “all of God’s children” welcome in the church.

I eventually figured out that part of this mission was to provide new and gently used shoes to the children.

The kids were excited to pose for pictures with their new sneakers and as always giggled when I showed them their image on the display screen of my camera.

Other items that were being handed out were stuffed animals, pens & pencils and fleece blankets.  The blankets must be for those cold winter nights when it dips to 25 degrees celsius???

As we headed back to Carlos’ place a little girl across the road gave us a friendly wave, smiled and  said “adios”.  I was quite sure she wanted her picture taken so Gord and I made our way over to take a quick snapshot and say hello.

With the help of Google I’ve learned that Solidary Foundation is the name of this group that was in Poneloya on Sunday.  Ms. Zulma Gallego is the lady I spoke with.  Why she was so unwilling to give me information  – I’m not sure.  To be honest, she made me feel as though I was not worthy of her saintly time and certainly not her respect. 

I guess the important thing is the smiles on the children’s faces and  how happy they were to have a brand new pair of sneakers or a stuffed animal to snuggle with at night.

Near Perfect Packers

Initially Gord and I thought we would have a significant list of items that we should have left behind in Canada, but after some contemplation we have come the conclusion that we are actually deserving of the title,“Near Perfect Packers”.  

If you missed our post on “What We Packed in Our Suitcases” and would like to read it now click here.

As we packed up for our move from Poneloya to Leon we decided to leave a few things in storage with Carlos at Hostal El Pulpo.  Although our warm weather clothing will come in handy once we head up to the mountains, we definitely don’t need jeans and hoodies here in Leon.  Our linens will be used again when we get a place of our own, but for now, they too are in storage.  We aren’t sure when we’ll be using our snorkel equipment but are still happy we packed our masks and snorkels.

The one and only thing we figure we should have left behind was the misting system we purchased online before we left.  It’ll be great to have once we get settled into a place of our own, but seeing how that won’t be for awhile to save on weight and space in our luggage we should have left it behind.

As surprising as it may seem there isn’t any one particular thing or things that we didn’t pack in our suitcases that we feel we should have. A couple of things that would be nice to have include a sharp kitchen knife, my Spanish workbook, our bathroom scales (so we know when to lay off the gallo pinto and cerveza) and bug spray with deat.  

All in all we are patting ourselves on the back for a packing job well done!

The Wheels on the Bus Go ‘Round & Round’

Without thinking twice the lady in the seat in front of me drops her plastic Fresca bottle out of the bus window.  To my left I can see Volanco Momotombo. The air is filled with the smell of smoke from the burning palms; it’s the “smell” of Nicaragua. A pop song I recognize (but can’t recall the name of) is blaring from the speakers.  

As the bus slows to pick up more passengers, ahead in the distance I see a herd of 50 or more cattle blocking the road.  The driver approaches slowly, honks the horn and plows through the herd, nearly missing a few of the lazy ones.

Two seats ahead of me a Gringo lady with heavily black lined lids cuddles with her little white dog; he seems to be enjoying the ride.  She’s seated with a local guy.  This is the 2nd time I’ve seen this couple while traveling on the bus and I wonder what their story is.  

The windows are down, but the breeze blowing in is balmy. The frequent stop and go motion of the bus makes me feel nauseous and a little bit dizzy.  Finally, we arrive at our destination. As I stand up the back of my legs are sticky with sweat and I think to myself how crazy and amazing it is that I am living in Nicaragua!

His and Hers Treats

I guess you could say this is a continuation of a previous post “How much do things cost in Leon and surrounding area?“,  but today it is accompanied with a little story.

Elisha and I were roaming around the hot bustling city of Leon today checking out some rental homes to see what types of places are available. Who knows, Leon may be of the next places we choose to live?  It offers a nice mix of tourism and local commerce that seems to strike a balance that is rarely achieved. There certainly is a great energy that you can feel as soon as you step off the bus and into busy streets. Foot traffic is more prevalent, especially the six or so blocks surrounding the Central Cathedral.

We finished our time in Leon getting a big load of groceries. Elisha decided that she was well deserving of a little treat and of course I concurred. Happy wife, happy life.

Instead of spending 20 cordoba to ride the bus (45 minutes to an hour) to our home in Poneloya she wanted to hop in a cab for 200 cordoba (15 to 20 minutes). Elisha pitched this idea as we were getting ready to leave the grocery store and just like in a Seinfeld episode things have a way of evening out.

I looked to my left and didn’t I see a treat for me that would cost just 1 cord less than Elisha’s. There it was gleaming like a sacred jewel in the sun. A package deal for 2 litres of rum with a bonus of two pocket rockets for the “make me stand up and shout” price of 199 cordoba.

That’s right!  Do the math, sweet sister. In Canadian terms that’s about 82 ounces (or enough to get me Rum Dumb not twice, but thrice) of Nicaragua’s finest for $8.69!

A relationship built on sharing and equality never tasted so sweet. I suppose the new saying should be,

“Happy Wife, Baracho Husband”

Surreal Christmas Day

I need to give you a little background so that you can fully appreciate our realization today.

We live in Poneloya, which is a small beach town 20 minutes away from the Leon, Nicaragua. Poneloya and Las Penitas are separate towns in name, but are really just two ends of the same beach with a population of possibly ten thousand (and that might be generous).

The locals tell us that from December 25th – January 2nd the Leoneses (population 200K+) flock to the beach. I would say by the dozens of buses and pickup trucks packed tight with people that the town has swelled to twenty times it’s regular size. The restaurants that used to be reserved solely for our pleasure are now full to capacity.

In our travels we have noticed that locals always get preferential treatment and with us being the only two whities in sight we didn’t think that we would even get into any of our regular restaurants. Hungry and thirsty after walking the 100 or so yards from our house to the centre of town we went to see if we could squeeze in anywhere. As we approached one of our favorite spots the staff saw us and waived us over. The place was packed with people, but after a few minutes of our waitress running around she were able to free up a table and coax a few chairs away from other groups so that we would have a spot to sit.

We realized that even though we were the only Gringos on Poneloya beach we were actually the locals and these Leoneses were just tourists in for the day. This was further corroborated when we walked past numerous local Poneloya entrepreneurs who stopped serving to the Leoneses throng long enough to make eye contact and give us a friendly wave and a shared smile at all these “crazy tourists” invading our little paradise.

Today we got to see things from the opposite side of the coin and it was interesting to say the least. In hindsight I should have realized that I was accepted as a local before Christmas day. On Christmas Eve I went to my favorite beer store to replenish my dwindling stock. Anna didn’t have change for my 500 cordoba bill ($25), so she shrugged and told me to take the beer and pay next time. This amount may seem insignificant to you, but many people here work for a week to earn that much.

I guess Elisha and I are a little more Nica every day.  Special thanks go out to the girls at the restaurant, the old Checkers master, Hazel the Coconut Girl and Anna the Beer Slinger.

Open on Christmas

Dinner for Two: Bar Y Restaurante “Katy”

Poneloya has a dozen or so restaurants, all very similar.  On the menus you will find typical Nicaraguan fare such as ceviche, shrimp cocktail, soup, fried fish and chicken.  

* Prices on the menu are shown in cordoba.

Last night we enjoyed red snapper at Bar Y Restaurante “Katy”.  Our fish was cooked to perfection.  A squeeze of lime and a sprinkling of salt on top of the crispy skin equaled pure goodness.  The fish inside was tender, light and flaky. Simply delicious!

Dinner for two (like this) with 1 litre of Tona in Poneloya will set you back about $12.00 USD.  

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