It’s 4:30am. I’ve been up since 3:00. The roosters are crowing, and for awhile the innkeeper had “2 1/2 Men” on in his room adjacent to the lovely lobby. Two orange kittens are chasing each other around on the cool tiles. I don’t know where the coffee is, but we got some Coke Zeros last night and put them in the fridge (20 cords each, so about 85c – not bad for a soda here), so I have some caffeine.
This is our 9th day, but I already feel enough at home that I was shocked when a man (a curmudgeon if I ever knew one!) lectured us last night about living here. I’m not saying 9 days has made me an expert OBVIOUSLY, but it made me realize how much we have learned in such a short time, and how many amazing people and resources God has put in our path.
We left Las Peñitas and headed north to the campo outside of Chinandega. We were supposed to have Jorge, the driver who did our transfer from Managua, but we had his uncle, Daniel, and an old taxi instead. The car’s 5th gear wasn’t working so we never got over 45 kilometers per hour… The drivers side door didn’t work so I had to get out for Daniel to get out. The seat didn’t work so Chuck had to sit in the back so his knees weren’t up to his chin, and the windows didn’t work so we were HOT.
About 5 min into the drive we decided to rent a car in León because this was NOT going to work. Daniel took us a to a local car rental place and interpreted for us, but the guy clearly wasn’t too interested in renting a car to us – he was going to charge $60 a day for a 10 year old Nissan, and the insurance didn’t cover anything except if someone else hit us. (And wouldn’t that be THEIR insurance anyway?!) Scratch? No cover. Glass broken? No cover. Tire? No cover. $60 per day, $100 deposit, all cash.
So back in Daniel’s car we went, and off to Chinandega. I will say that the road from León to Chinandega is beautiful. Old trees line the road, you drive right by Cerro Telica and Volcán San Cristobal, and (right now anyway) it’s lush and green. We were getting passed by overloaded lorries and scooters… But hey. We got there.
In Chinandega, we basically stopped in the middle of the road, got out, and waited for Daniel to find a taxi to take us west into Asseradores and the campo. That vehicle, by some cosmic twist of fate, also didn’t go over about 50 kilometers per hour… Do the cars attract like cars?! And it was tiny, as all the taxis in Chinandega seemed to be. BUT, we loaded up, paid Daniel (whose fee was suddenly $20 more than we’d agreed on), and set off.
We met Brett at Al Cielo, which is a couple of kilometers off the brick paver road, and on a gravel/dirt typical third world road that made Chuck (and the taxi driver) very nervous. But when we got to Al Cielo, everyone got over it – it’s absolutely gorgeous! They have about 8 manzanas (the Nicaraguan measure of land, which is 1.7 acres), and have built a beautiful hotel and restaurant up there. It’s in the middle of nowhere, otherwise known as the campo, or countryside.
We had lunch and then headed out to look at property. Brett had told us to dress for a hike and he was right! We saw an 11 manzana piece of land by following a guy with a machete to the top. One of the most beautiful view was from the only house we saw – about 5 acres on the Pacific that almost all can see El Salvador to the north.
The best was a 5 manzana piece that also required hiking (but no machete). From the top there was about a 220 degree view of hills, valleys, and several different ocean views. That one was just stunning with a ton of potential for an Eco-lodge because it’s just a mile from The Boom, a famous surfing spot. But what we realized is that we really don’t feel qualified to build from scratch (yet), and that we really don’t want to live in the campo. Even though it’s just a half hour from Chinandega, it is REMOTE. We’d have to out in everything: a road, a well and water containment system, power, septic, and all the buildings. And there’s nowhere to eat around, really, so you’d have to offer all meals. That’s just more than we want to do at this stage. But that land… Who knows, maybe God will make a way for us to buy it as an investment for later on when that area has grown a bit more.
We spent the night at Al Cielo, then headed to Matagalpa in the morning. We did rent a car at Budget in Chinandega for the rest of the trip – a newer car for $20 a day less than the local guy in León, and with actual insurance! Plus we can leave it in Managua.
Anyway… The drive to Maragalpa is absolutely beautiful! The mountains are lush and green, with rocky outcroppings, men on horseback, ranchos and haciendas, school children in uniforms. I didn’t get many photos because the vistas would be behind us before I could get out my camera!
We were underwhelmed when we got to Matagalpa, though. While it’s a picturesque city when seen from afar, nestled in a valley, up close it’s a crowded city with tight streets and a serious signage problem. After driving around for an hour we finally found a hostel/hotel with rooms, and checked into La Beuna Orna. Very modest but FULL (and apparently always full) this hostel knows its niche and fills it well. (We took a lot of notes!) And they had the fastest and most consistent internet we’ve had so far.
Since we knew right from the start that Mataglapa wasn’t going to be a place we’d consider living, we didn’t do too much. We visited the coffee museum, had meals, found an ATM that would take our debit card, and caught up on Internet. The weather was lovely, and I went to bed with a sweatshirt on! It was 64 in the morning… A nice respite from the heat we’d had all week. We also found out about some things to do in the area that we will go back for one day: white water rafting, jungle trekking, an eco lodge.
The following day we left and headed for Granada. There was a short area of pretty driving, and then we were on the Pan American Highway with a whole lot of other people. It was about a 3 hour drive, so not too bad.
We’ve been in Granada two nights. It’s a pretty city, and cooler than the León and Chinandega regions. It’s a lot more developed and touristy, too, and therefore more expensive. There are a lot of restaurants along a mostly pedestrian strip that runs from the central square down to the water, and also a TON of street vendors hawking hammocks, clay whistles, palm frond animals, sunglasses, and various other items. The problem with this is that it’s CONSTANT. You can’t just sit outside (and all the seating is outside) and have a beer or a meal and enjoy it, because you are hassled literally every 2 minutes. Oh, and don’t forget the people who come play music even though you say “no, gracias” and then demand money. We had one kid, who we’d said no to at least a half dozen times but who’d “given” us 3 palm creations (which we left on the table) follow and harass us for at least 7 blocks after dinner. It was a little scary, to be honest.
Lake Nicargua is beautiful. And polluted. You can’t swim in it, and it smells bad. We had thought we’d do a boat tour of the isletas, but changed our minds after walking down to see it. It’s really too bad – I think the government is trying (or planning) to clean it up, but it’s going to be a long process.
There are a lot of expats here, but the prices make it pretty prohibitive for starting something. And while the weather is nicer, it just doesn’t have as good a vibe for us as the Las Peñitas/León area. There are also some pretty bad parts of town, and since the town isn’t huge, that’s a concern. But our main complaint is the street vendors and the constant harassment. You’d always be the gringo here, so I don’t know that they would ever stop. The local expats say they just ignore it… That’s not my idea of a relaxing place to live!
Today we’re heading farther south, to San Juan Del Sur. This was the place we’d thought we might want to settle when we first started looking at Nicaragua, but we’ve since changed our minds. It’s pretty much a party place, and over 10% of the population are expats. But it’s beautiful, with 22 beaches, and we definitely want to see it since it is the most developed of the beach towns in Nicaragua. We also know one person there, so hopefully we’ll meet up with her for lunch or dinner. We’ll spend 2 nights there, then head back to what we are increasingly feeling is “home” – Las Peñitas.
We’re meeting our real estate agent and an attorney on Monday morning to talk about buying a house we’ve seen, and residency. Amazing.
When God sends you, just go! You have no idea what He has in store if you’ll take that first step of obedience!