Just how far outside the box are you willing to go in your pursuit of happiness?
We really weren’t sure when we first set out on this adventure. Friends who’d visited the north Pacific coast of Nicaragua over many years and actually ended up buying here recommended it as a safe, peaceful place to decompress. Fresh from All The Awful and ready for a major change, we set out to find a place for rent near the tiny fishing village of Jiquilillo.
A cursory look in Google Maps at a few properties we were considering on VRBO.com suggested that the one we liked in Aposentillos was probably close enough to our friends in Jiquilillo.
Unfortunately, Google Maps was a liar. (Alright, I should have done more than a cursory check. But anyway.)
The property pictures were gorgeous and promised a stunning view of the Pacific from several acres of park-like tropical paradise. And you know what? It really was. The positive reviews were spot on. They just weren’t from people like us. And by “like us,” I mean those who rely on the Internet to keep a roof over their heads and food in their bellies.
We only made it 6 days in that rental, but in that time we learned there are a quite a few things we just don’t want to deal with at this point in time. Were we retired or independently wealthy or otherwise not reliant on the availability of Internet, we probably could have made it work with some minor adjustments. But the purpose of this venture was really to give ourselves the time and space to work on the things we need to feel like human beings again. Creating more stress and struggle was a step in the wrong direction.
It turns out we were willing to go pretty damn far in our pursuit of at least healing, if not happiness–5,816 km, in fact–but there were some things we found just too much of a stretch. Things like…
Getting Up Close & Personal with the Wildlife
I’m not saying we don’t want to live on a farm; we just didn’t think that’s what we’d rented when we got into this. If we were going to live on a farm, it would probably be in Canada, where it’s not 37 degrees (99 for my fahrenheit-loving friends) at 8am. This beautiful, park-like property was actually grazing grounds for at least one local herd of inquisitive Nicaraguan cattle, a very confused rooster who crowed on the hour religiously from 4am til 8am, and several large pigs with bad attitudes.
The property also had an outdoor shower under a centuries old guanacaste tree, which sounds really awesome, right? And it was, the first few times I used it… right up until I was confronted by a large, angry rodent who joined me in the shower without even asking. Have you seen the squirrels in Nicaragua? They’re HUGE and have no manners at all.
Lack of Transportation
The ad said a vehicle would be useful. We should have taken that more seriously than we did. It wasn’t until Trevor took that first walk to the closest pulperia for a 5 gallon jug of drinking water that we realized it was over a mile away (not an “easy” walk, with ). On the way there, our poor cab driver (Augustino, you’ll read more about him later) bottomed out his car 5 or 6 times on the hellish ride from the main road. Trevor and I exchanged more than a few nervous looks as the road narrowed, became increasingly washed out, and eventually became little more than a single lane dirt cowpath. What you really needed to get there was a 4x4 truck… in fact, that’s what we eventually called to get us out of there.
No Access to Food & Money
Because we thought we were closer to Jiquilillo than we actually ended up being, we thought we had food supplies and shopping all figured out. We had packed our cab driver’s sub-compact with dry and canned goods (on top of suitcases, on top of ourselves) in Chinandega, and planned to buy produce, fish and eggs from local vendors. Too bad we were actually 10km (6 1/4 miles) down the beach from Jiquilillo.
We chased a produce truck down one day–the only one we’d seen all week–and were dismayed to find that he only sold bananas and potatoes. I’d looked forward to buying fresh fish when the local fishermen came in but again, that was not where we actually ended up renting. There was no ATM, or no safe in the rental house. It quickly became apparent that cabbing it all the way to Chinandega ($40 return) was going to be our primary method of getting anything at all.
We booked a place with a night guard. What we actually found was a beautiful property with a rickety barbed wire fence and a neighbour who occasionally checked in. That became a serious issue for us the night the power was out for 12 hours and we listened to people shouting in Spanish and walking around til about 2am. We had a dog the caretaker called “Gringo” for about 8 hours a day, but he went home to his other (namesake) gringo family around dinnertime. Is it a dangerous area? It doesn’t appear to be. But we like to take at least the same precautions we would at home. Back in Canada, I wouldn’t choose to sleep in a ground floor bedroom with a flimsy sliding lock on the window shutters, nor would I stay in a remote home without a phone. Which brings us to…
Phone & Internet
I was upset about this, to be honest. We’d emailed the property owner months ahead of time and were assured that either Movistar or Claro would be fine for Internet. I had explained how important it was that we have Internet access, so I could work each day (which has to happen, in order to pay for the rental).
There was no Internet. No cell signal. At all.
Cheery tropical birds serenading you from high atop lush fruit and palm trees, with only the ocean as background noise–not a vehicle in sight–should be totally soothing, right? Except it’s hard to focus on all the zen when you’re having a panic attack about getting fired by your clients.
I called the local property management company, who sent over a rep. He was surprised the owner said we would have Internet. “No one ever gets a signal out here!” Ummm…
Wandering around with our cell phones held high overhead, we discovered two signal bars in the very front corner or the covered porch. I could connect; I just couldn’t move from that spot. A signal booster would have been an option, were we able to get to a store.
Proximity to Other Humans
This ended up being a big one, which was surprising since we had been in search of some peace and quiet. Complete and total isolation though is a far cry from a nice break from close neighbours. We were hoping to improve on our very limited Spanish, but didn’t meet a single other person who spoke even a word of English–we couldn’t even arrange lessons. In fact, the only people we met the entire week were people Trevor ran into on the road. The beach was completely desolate. What few houses were nearby seemed like empty vacation homes.
The real deal breaker though was when we discovered that the closest restaurant, which we’d been told was an easy 10 minute walk down the beach, was a hard 35-minute hike over volcanic rock, through the forest, and across another barren stretch of rock beach. You’d better time it just right, too. After guzzling down a Tona to ward off a heatstroke and inhaling our tapas as fast as we dared, we groaned and geared up to haul ass back over the beach to get home before sunset. Over the rocks, through the forest, down the dirt road past the summer homes and abandoned buildings, back onto the beach and then OOPS! up through someone’s backyard as the ocean devoured the path ahead of us.
What was the point of all that? Oh yeah, a relaxing night out!
Overall, some of the things we knew we were signing up for ended up being not quite what we needed after all. There wasn’t anything earth-shattering, but the sum of the whole was that it wasn’t a place we felt we could relax, unwind and focus on the things that matter to us right now. It’s all part of the process; getting outside our comfort zone and discovering what truly matters.
We ended up chalking that up to an experience and calling the amazing crew at Al Cielo to get us back to civilization. They showed up in a 4x4 truck, loaded us up and took us back to their beautiful property closer to the main road, where you can enjoy freshly baked French baguettes dripping in honey with your fresh brewed cafe con leche at breakfast. Stay tuned, that’s a whole other story…