Thursday, December 7, 2017

Working online while abroad

Its now December and we have been in Tola for about 8 months now. There have been some unexpected challenges, but overall we have managed to pull through and our circumstances are much better now than before. We deeply miss Corn Island and just can't stop thinking about our time there. Its still our hope to some day go back.

Remembering Corn Island
The main reasons we were forced to leave the island were A: The time it took to make necessary trips off-island, and B: No job. We had no way to make a living on the island. We were able to scrape by selling pizza on the street, but it wasn't enough to cover the unpredictable travel and immigration expenses. I had to keep going to Costa Rica every 6 months, and extending my visitor visa in Bluefields ever 3 months in between. With each trip taking a week minimum that got costly fast.

Once we moved to Jinotepe I was able to get a job teaching English over the internet, which was quite a blessing for a while. Sadly the company I worked for gradually changed their policies and their contract (Apparently they have a different idea of what a 'contract" is). In the end I was making about 1/4 the income and doing 2x the amount of working hours. I won't mention the name of this company because they don't deserve the publicity.

The good news is, I've been hired now by a better company that offers about 4x the pay per hour, even more than I would expect to make per hour in Canada. They use the same type of software and teaching materials so its a really smooth transition. I will include a link later in the post to their application page for those interested in working for them. I will confess also, at this point, that if anyone uses my link to apply and gets hired I will personally receive a bonus, so if you're looking to work online please USE THE LINK ON THIS PAGE it will help me out a lot.

Below I have assembled a quick guide to how you can get started working online. I will specifically talk about my company DaDaABC, but the principles apply to most ESL teaching businesses you might apply for.

What you need:

A good headset and microphone
- I want to emphasize the word "good". in this case you really can't cheap out. The quality of the microphone is very important and makes a huge difference. 
- Over-ear headphones tend to be better in my experience and help you understand the students pronunciation, which might be terrible so you need to listen closely to know what they are saying.



A good laptop or desktop computer
- Again you don't want to get just any computer. Your entire income depends on this machine so make sure it is up to the task. Remember that with computers more expensive doesn't mean better. I know a lot of people that teach with a Macbook and do fine, but a $300 windows computer might have double the processor speed and three times the RAM. A good graphics card also matters so make sure to know what you have. The custom applications used by DaDaABC and many other teaching companies actually demand quite a bit from your computer for live video feeds, interactive whiteboard and animations etc.



REALLY GOOD Internet
- This one is probably the hardest. We had internet on Corn Island but it wasn't stable enough. DaDaABC requires that you have UNLIMITED internet with a minimum download speed of 10 MBS, and upload of 2 MBS. It must also be a wired internet connection. Which means you have a router in your house with an ethernet cable connecting it to your computer. They feel that wifi is less reliable and require that you use ethernet. Claro offers a package in Tola with 10 MBS download and 2.5 upload for about $80 per month. Isolated communities do not have this service so that really limits where you can go, at least in Nicaragua. 3G and 4G are not permitted (aka the claro stick)
- If you're not sure what any of these numbers mean you definitely want to do some research, its important.



A Quiet place with lots of lighting
- Kind of self explanatory. You need a really quiet place to be teaching. There can't be roosters or dogs barking or traffic in the background. I'll be investing in a slingshot soon to deal with the former myself.



A UPS/Backup battery
- To work for an online tutoring company like DaDaABC you need to be more reliable than the services of the place you live. Power outages happen fairly often in Nicaragua and many other developing countries. You have to keep teaching, so having a backup power supply can be useful. Furthermore, standards for electrical work are different here. I've already had one computer get fried by faulty wiring and don't care to repeat that. A device known as a Utility Power System (UPS) can help. It plugs into the wall, and then has its own outlets for your important devices. It contains a self charging backup battery that automatically kicks in when the power goes out, so if you're teaching and your router, lights, and laptop are all on the UPS... you're students won't even know anything happened. Most UPS also protect against power surges and irregular voltages, thus protecting your devices as well. I got one for about $50 at maxi pali that lasts my laptop, the router, and a bright LED light well over an hour without power.




Those are my tips, Finally here is the company I mentioned earlier. They are called "DaDaABC". I don't know, maybe the name makes sense in Chinese. They are based in Shanghai, and they pay quite generously by the hour. The actual rate is based on your experience and qualifications (TESOL etc), but even their minimum rate is significantly more than minimum wage in most of Canada. Working hours are very early in the AM for the americas, so that means working 4-7 AM. It sounds horrific but its not that bad after a while.

I've only just started with them but I will say they seem very professional. There are two others in the congregation here in Tola working for them and they are very happy with their jobs. I was hired within a week of applying via a link just like the one below, and there was a lot less nonsense I had to wade through than with some other companies (i.e. hours and hours of training videos). They use their own software rather than Skype or zoom, which includes a whiteboard and lets you see the student, as well as their mouse cursor. They also provide ample lesson material so you don't spend much time at all preparing in advance for a class. More like helping them read slides and asking them questions on it, with the occasional grammar game/puppet show. Most students are children.


Click here to apply for DaDaABC: https://www.dadaabc.com/teacher/job/p0R2Y2G5o005

Once you apply, they will contact you on skype or by email and walk you through the rest of the process. It usually involves a skype interview and a demo class after watching some training videos.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Tola, September 2017

We have a few months in Tola now. We're really enjoying the change so far, and starting to learn more about the area and the community. Its been somewhat challenging being completely immersed in Spanish for the first real time, that is to say being in a Spanish congregation with completely Spanish territory. But at the same time not quite as hard as expected.

We also got cats!



Their names are Whiskey and Brandy. We adopted them from a sister in Masaya whose cat had kittens. When we got them they were incredibly tiny, but in just two months they have grown very fast. At first they were terrified of everything and wouldn't come out from under the couch, but within a short time they became very social, affectionate and even jealous for attention. They never scratch or bite, and they help keep down the insects like scorpions and other pests like mice and rats.

Getting pets has also brought to light for me some more cultural differences that I wasn't aware of before. I've gone through all the stages of culture shock over again since we moved to Tola, not realizing how deeply different it was here from the Atlantic coast and from my own culture. 

For a good while I was just frustrated and upset with everything that was "wrong" but I've come to terms with it now. A lot of the big differences I've noticed lately is in regard to animals. Admittedly, animal cruelty and neglect is a big problem in Nicaragua and its often quite hard for tourists and foreigners to deal with when they see it. But not everyone is completely cruel to them, for the most part they simply have a different view of animals, one very different from that we have in North America. Back in Canada people pamper their animals too much, sometimes treating them better than human children. This is obviously wrong as well, but on the other end of the spectrum.

Its a bit hard to express accurately, but from what I can tell here in Nicaragua people do not see animals as "alive"... What I mean is they don't think of them being able to feel pain or any kind of suffering or pleasure. They seem to put them in the same category as plants. Having a chicken is like having a fruit tree, a dog like a shrub to keep nosy neighbors out.

The idea of having a pet is completely foreign. Pet stores are rare and cater to foreigners who bring their pets with them. Veterinarians do exist but the majority of their work is vaccinating cows and pigs. Of course they are capable of looking after your cat or dog as well. 

As I mentioned dogs are kept for security, but when it comes to cats things get really different. Cats are not pets, in fact many see them as dirty animals, some people even having a phobic response to seeing them. One lady said she would much rather have rats in her kitchen than a cat. This may stem from some superstitions or possibly misinformation. We were told by a few people that we shouldn't have cats in the house because their hair will make you go blind. 

Now normally I couldn't care less what people think if I have two cats in my house, but it gets hard when you try to find the basic necessities. If someone here has a cat, firstly they do not feed it, they expect it to hunt. So don't expect stores to sell cat food. Then comes the litterbox. Since cats make you go blind no one would ever have one in the house, so obviously they relieve themselves outside. If they get fleas, rabies, or any other disease is the cat's problem. We made our own box easy enough, but getting the sand was hard. We managed to find some bags at the maxi pali in rivas, but they were in the food section (I think the staff actually thought it was cat food). Unfortunately there wasn't much available and the bags were not big enough to even properly fill the box. But we made due. 

Then the food. They do sell it in big stores like Pali, but because only foreigners buy it, it is priced accordingly. Cat food costs more than many basic staples for human beings, ranging from $1.50 to $2.00 per pound. Cat litter (AKA grey catfood) is even more expensive.

I'm beginning to understand and accept the differences in thought now though. Its actually quite reasonable that someone wouldn't bother buying food for an animal when they can barely afford their own food, and why buy something for the animal to poop on when you have no toilet paper.

I still find it amusing though when the neighbors or friends come and see our cats and their jaws drop because of their size. The cats are only 4 months old but because they are fed regularly and given parasite medicine and needed shots they are already bigger than most of the street cats.

In other news were looking to move to another house soon. Another cultural quirk of Tola is that everyone has to have a rooster. Even though we made it clear to the landlord we needed a quiet place it seems they spent the rent money on pigs and chickens. My clients are starting to complain so if we stay here I risk losing my job. The place we've found is much quieter so hopefully it will be a good move. Internet is still good though and it sounds like moving our connection to the new house won't be an issue.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Island of Ometepe

This month we had the chance of going to visit Ometepe Island, which is really not far at all from Tola. In fact, from some parts of town one can see the principal volcano on the island, Volcan Concepcion.

Jean and I along with my sister and her family went together, cramming 6 of us in a small car. Our trip started early in the morning as we left from Tola for the port of San Jorge near Rivas. I was really surprised to see how different the transportation systems are here on the Pacific than on the Atlantic coast of Nicaragua, and felt a bit sad for the people on Corn Island and what they have to put up with.

To get to Ometepe, one can take a ferry from San Jorge. There are several different boats run by different businesses that travel several times every day, usually once in the morning and once in the afternoon. The boats are very large and also comfortable and well maintained. You can also take your car, so we hopped out just before my brother in law drove onto the ship, where he was told to cram it into the corner so tightly the doors wouldn't open, so he had to get out of the passengers side door.

El Rey

Deck 4
The boat we went on was called "El Rey" or "The King" in English, which we read in some places was the nicer of the boats, and it certainly was a nice one. There are 4 decks, the top being open air with benches, and the other floors having more comfortable padded seats and tables, but being closed in by windows. The lower deck also had a small store selling phone credit as well as snacks. The trip to the Island takes about one hour, and is generally very calm as it is across a lake rather than the ocean.

Deck 3
The trip costed about 50 Cordobas per person, and as we came into view of Ometepe we had some breathtaking views of the two volcanoes that make up the island.




Jean giving me attitude

What stood out about the Island the moment we arrived was how lush and green it is. It is the rainy season, and its true that all of Nicaragua is relatively lush and green. But something about Ometepe takes it to another level. Not only are there a lot of trees but they are also huge. Perhaps it is due to the local government's strict rules on protecting the islands ecology, or maybe because of the rich volcanic soil. Whatever the case, this place is intensely green, and everywhere you go you are overwhelmed by the majestic view of the enormous volcanoes. I really had no idea of how big they were until we got closer. For perspective, the larger volcano was even visible from our balcony in Jinotepe.







Jean has always been a bit nervous about volcanoes, talking about stories she always heard about Mt. Vesuvius and Pompeii. I kept reassuring her that although Concepcion (the bigger one) is indeed active, its not "that kind of volcano". To reassure her further that it was safe I did some research on volcanoes, different types, and the history of concepcion. To my surprise, Concepcion IS in fact "that kind" of volcano. According to wikipedia it is a "stratovolcano", some famous stratovolcanoes are Mt. Saint Helens and Mt. Vesuvius... And Concepcion's last major lava spewing eruption was in 2015...

Anyways... Ometepe is pretty. We stayed at a hotel on the eastern coast of the Island, between the two volcanoes. On one of the days of our trip we went to visit a really amazing place called "Ojo de Agua" which means "Eye of water". It is a naturally occurring spring reinforced into a swimming area in the middle of the jungle. Despite being a popular tourist destination it was very quite and peaceful. There is a well equipped restaurant up the hill and vendors by the water serving rum inside coconuts.



Another highlight of the trip was when we went horseback riding up to a waterfall on Volcan Maderas, which is definitely not "that kind" of volcano. It is in fact, extinct and has a lake in the crater. For our horseback tour we went down the town of Merida on the south west side of the Island. Along the way we met some of the witnesses who were out in the ministry, completely at random as they were walking along the dirt road in the forest, Coincidentally we knew one of the couples as they were old friends of Jean's from Bluefields. There are 6 congregations on the Island of Ometepe despite its relatively low population.

We understood that it would be a 2 hour ride on horseback to a waterfall. We weren't sure if we were going up the volcano very far, we imagined not because it would be a really long distance. As it turned out we were confused, the ride was 5 hours and we were climbing the volcano on horseback. The waterfall was right at the point where the volcano pokes into the clouds. 1 hour in we were already feeling sore, none of us having any experience with horses. Once we started to climb the views were spectacular. The road narrowed into a rocky path through the rainforests which blanket the bottom of the Maderas Volcano. As we got higher the bush became more and more dense, we heard and saw howler monkeys and many other exotic animals and birds. According to the information we had, at certain altitudes Maderas changes from rainforest to cloud forest. What this means is that because of the extreme humidity and cooler temperatures brought by the clouds the plant species in the area are completely different. By the time we reached this point we were a little light headed, and it was time to get off the horses and climb the rest of the way. The plants were absolutely enormous. There were ferns with branches the size of a house hanging from cliff sides overhead. the white haze of the lower fringes of the clouds drifted across the pathway. despite exhaustion and some dizzyness we made it to the waterfall. Words really can't describe the place, but the cool mist spraying off the fall was very refreshing.






The way back was less exhausting as the horses were a bit tired and didn't feel like going so fast. Except for the part when they realized they were going home and decided to gallop at full speed. Its been about a week now and my blisters from the saddle are just starting to heal. For a couple of days all of us had problems walking, but it was worth it.

I really liked Ometepe. Too much in fact. It has made me realize that I have a problematic addiction to exploring new places. When I go to a new place, I tend to like it so much and be so excited about it that I have a burning desire to go and live there. We JUST moved to Tola and that is just not an option, and theres no really good reason to do it either. The congregation needs us here, plus it was a lot of work to move all our crap. So, definitely not moving to Ometepe. Even though part of me wants to. Being on an Island again brought back a lot of nice memories from our year on Corn Island. We're looking forward to the next time we can go back there, maybe this time I'll actually have the money to get a diving licence.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Getting around on the Emerald Coast

Now that we have been in Tola a few weeks we are learning some things that one has to be here to know about. One of the things we learned has to do with getting around. Because the beaches of Tola are a popular tourist destination, and also being close to San Juan del Sur, there are quite a few options for transportation. Of course having your own vehicle makes things easier and this is what many here have, but if you don't have a car or you are just here for a short visit you still have a lot of options.

Sadly, many tourists get stuck with an opportunistic taxi driver that charges them astronomical prices, essentially a penalty for their ignorance. Taking the bus is very easy just like anywhere in Nicaragua. From Rivas which is the main city in the department, there are buses directly to Tola, Playa gigante, popoyo, San Juan del Sur, and many other locations. most of these cost less than a dollar, including the one to San Juan Del Sur. These buses run every day, so be careful not to be fooled by a sly taxi driver. Many times we have been approached by one and told "there are no more buses today, you will have to wait until tomorrow... but I can take you" Or something along those lines. They have no shame in lying about the bus schedules and the prices.

SJDS

Now if you have some bags and you're not comfortable riding the chicken bus you can take a taxi. But be careful of any taxi drivers that approach YOU. It is better if YOU are the one to select the taxi. The car doesn't have to be pretty, but in Nicaragua the law is that all taxis have a special liscence plate, this means they are a legitimate registered taxi. It is white with black letters/numbers and TWO RED BARS. One at the top, and one at the bottom. If there are no red bars, it is not a taxi. Anyone can buy the yellow taxi sign, it has to have the red bars on the licence plate. Another tip is if they tell you the price in dollars, just walk away. Also avoid people that speak English. They learn English in order to take advantage of white tourists. Its helpful to look online, some expats in San Juan del Sur have a facebook page that includes average prices for taxis to common locations.

Colletivo terminal in Rivas
The other option with taxis, and this is personally one of my favorite, is to take what is called a "collectivo" or "collective taxi". These are licensed taxis that are contracted to run one particular route. They sit in the market right next to the bus terminal, and wait until they have enough passengers going to a specific place to fill the car, and then they leave. A collectivo to San Juan del Sur from Rivas costs 50 cordobas. That is less than two dollars. To Tola from rivas is 25 cords, just less than one dollar. You may have to wait 5-10 minutes but you will get there twice as fast as the bus. A private taxi will rightfully charge more than this, but if someone comes up to you asking $20, just walk away, don't bother negotiating the price with them because you already know they are a thief.

Riding in the Collectivo
Blue dot is the location of the collectivo
taxis for both SJDS and Tola
I'm not against paying more money for a service that may be better, and its totally fair that some people don't want the hassle of finding the Collectivo, or asking prices in Spanish. But the real danger is that if someone is opportunistic and dishonest enough to target a foreigner to try and take advantage of his ignorance, what else is he capable of doing? I heard one story here in Nicaragua where a wealthy individual offered a taxi driver $150 to drive them around all day. That was a generous offer as they probably would have normally made $10-$20 in the whole day. Was the driver grateful? No... upon learning that her fare had that kind of money she decided to meet with some friends and rob the person of everything else they had, which was a few thousand dollars in cash. The driver was arrested of course and got away with nothing, but it just shows the danger of flashing large amounts of cash around.


Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Tola

On may first we successfully made the move to Tola. It was a great help that my Brother in law was able to come with his truck and we could pile everything in there so as not to move all our belongings using the chicken bus, which would have been challenging to say the least.




Our apartment in Jinotepe was fully furnished, so one adjustment has been moving into an empty house. We had to get chairs, various appliances, and somehow find a place to store our clothes and other things. We still have our metal grid that snaps together that we got as a wedding gift, so that worked for the clothes. Right now we're working on getting some concrete blocks and planks to make other furniture such as a counter top and a bench/couch. I may post pictures later on, depending how good (or bad) it looks when I'm done. We may also try with palates, although apparently in Nicaragua used palates are not cheap since they are so sought after that no one gives them away for free.

So far we are enjoying our new town. We are close to the street so we have some traffic noise at busy hours but otherwise its a very quiet town. Going in service is amazing, as we have mostly rural territory, and since we are a now in a Spanish congregation we don't need to do search work. This means long walks through the jungle going to farms and plantations, and also witnessing to staff members at beach side restaurants.


Getting internet here was not too difficult either. We tried with CooTel first, which is a new company in Nicaragua. They offered a wireless router with speeds up to 1.5 mbps upload and download unlimited for $20 a month. This is pretty great, since upload is the one that really matters for teaching online. We had a $50 per month deal with Claro in Jinotepe which gave us 3 mbps download, but only 0.3 to 0.5 upload (we were paying for 1 mbs upload which is the fastest they offer). Unfortunately the signal did not reach our house and we had to take it back. I asked very clearly several times and made them confirm that if it didn't work I would get my money back. Imagine my surprise when we took it back and they said they would not offer a refund. So now I am the proud owner of a useless orange box with an antenna on it.

Reluctantly, we went to the Claro office to see about getting a contract for internet, having in mind all the horrible customer service experiences from the past, and the constant, sometimes month long service outages of the Atlantic coast. Happily though, they surprised me this time. Apparently the company is under different management in each department, and the Rivas department of Claro runs a very different kind of business. We filled out the papers in Jean's name (I could have done it in my name, but they wanted a larger deposit for a foreigner than for a local). On the way home we stopped for Ice cream, and then continued walking. We were passed by a small white van with a ladder on top and we started joking that it was Claro on the way to our house to set up the internet. When does a cable company ever come the same day, right?



Well the van pulled over next to our house and then Jean's phone rang. Guess who?
Within about an hour we were set up with the fastest Internet I have ever had in Nicaragua. We are paying for 4 mbs down and 1.5 mbs up, we get about 5 and 3 mbs, regardless of the time of day. Along with that package we get cable TV... if only we had a TV. So next to our router there is a lovely coil of black cable waiting for a TV to appear so it can fulfill its life purpose.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Throwback Thursday

While we are having a very busy month already with our planned move to Tola, we decided to squeeze in a visit to Pearl Lagoon. Jean's mom had gone through a period of sickness and also had a surgery on her hand, so we felt we needed to go and spend some time and help out around the house.

We started out by catching the circuit assembly in spanish in Ticuantepe. This is the circuit assembly for the Tola congregation so it gave us a chance to meet some of the brothers in our new circuit. Even more exciting, my nephew got baptized. I am still so amazed that my family are here in Nicaragua to stay, and that my own nephew was answering the questions from the platform with "Si" instead of "yes". Right after the assembly my Brother in law gave us a ride into Managua. He insisted on driving us all the way to the bus terminal even though none of us were sure how to get there. We had always gone by taxi in the past. We consulted google maps to plan our route through the city, which gave us a very quick and direct way to get there. Unfortunately Google Maps does not have ALL the information... It didn't send us the wrong way, into any dead ends, or down any one way streets... but it did give us a lovely tour of the ghettos of Managua. We drove fast and kept the doors and windows locked, and we made it to the terminal. My brother in law and family took a different, somewhat longer route along the main highways to get back out of the city.

We were able to get our tickets that same day from the Wendelyn Vargas terminal at the Ivan Montenegro market. The bus would depart at 9:00 pm and travel to Rama overnight. We like this method for several reasons, one being that the night bus is always "express" meaning that it doesn't pick up extra people along the way. The trip took us about 5 hours, our chicken bus rolling through the night like a disco ball. We were in rama by 3:00 AM. Our bus ticket also garunteed us a seat on the 6:00AM panga to bluefields. The town of Rama never sleeps, so we were able to get some good breakfast for about 30 cords each while we waited for daybreak.

Another panga and lots of heavy rain and we were in Pearl Lagoon. The town has changed a little bit since we were last here, but not that much. It is still a quiet, friendly and slow paced town where it is easy to feel relaxed. Everywhere we go people are waving at us and shouting greetings from inside their house. "Ey! Wen yu reach back!?" And things like that. It looks like the rainy season is starting, although it's still fairly dry for lagoon. The entire area is still Incredibly lush and green compared to the pacific right now, due to the atlantic getting regular rains all year.

The congregation is also just as we remembered. Warm, friendly and crammed into a tiny house for the meeting. Although word is that they will be renting a larger house out towards Haulover to accomodate the rapidly growing congregation. Just like before it was so hard to get out the door of the kingdom hall because nobody wants to leave after the meeting.

It all feels so nostalgic being back "home" in Pearl Lagoon, the place we met and were married. We celebrated our 1 year and 6 month anniversary by having dinner at Casa Ulrich, the same restaurant where we went on our first date and where we had our wedding reception, which is still the very best in town, maybe even the best in Nicaragua.

In another post I plan to make a tourist map for Pearl Lagoon much like the ones I made for Corn Island. It will Include an up to date list of hotels and restaurants and also some travel tips, like how to get here and how to evade the town drunks.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Moving again!

When I was younger I wanted to travel and never stay in one place for too long. I wanted to see and experience as many different places as possible. Now I'm tired and moving seems like more of a burden than adventure sometimes... With that in mind we are hoping to become more stable and stay in one place, and more importantly one congregation for a longer period of time. HOWEVER, before that happens we're moving again. I won't say this is the last time and I won't make any claims about how long we are going to stay in our next location because I learned that is something we can never predict. Circumstances change.

We have enjoyed our last 6 months living in Jinotepe a lot. The weather has been great and everyday life here was a lot easier than on the Atlantic Coast. We really, REALLY miss Corn Island though, and if they had reliable internet we would probably still be there. According to Claro's website they do have coverage on Corn Island, but when you go to the office to sign up you are met by three... individuals... sitting down chewing gum, who respond with phrases such as "We no have change." or "Ova there no got connekshan" or even simply "nah".

Anyways... My sister along with her husband and two children have moved down to Nicaragua and we would

like to be in the same congregation as them. They are now settled in the municipality of Tola, which is in the Rivas department. The town of Tola has a brand new congregation that still meets in a private home, and a very large and very responsive territory. After some consideration and investigation of what life would be like in Tola we have decided to move. Hopefully, this move will be more long term.

Our rent will be about half of what we are paying now, although we will have to pay the internet bill and buy furniture, but we still end up saving a lot. Thankfully, shortly after moving to Jinotepe I was able to get a job teaching English, and interestingly now make more money per hour than I ever did working in Canada. I am fairly confident that this is Jehovah's blessing and a reward for not giving up and going to Canada to work while Jean stayed behind. We still have hopes of going to Canada some day to visit if Jean is ever granted a visa, but now it won't be an emergency.

Tola is an interesting place, very different from other parts of Nicaragua in regards to landscape and climate. It is part of the area known as the "Emerald Coast" of Nicaragua. Right now in the dry season it looks very dry but has a lot of trees and large forests. The town itself is quite small, I'm not sure what the population is but its bigger than Pearl Lagoon and smaller than San Marcos. For some reason it reminds me of some small towns in Saskatchewan that we would drive through on the way to visit my grandparents when I was a kid. Maybe its the kind of trees or the way the countryside looks.

In other news, as a new feature of my blog I will now start including videos when I can. You may notice that a few older posts have had video clips added to them. On my same Youtube Channel you can find some other random videos that I have uploaded that are not related to any particular post, Some sights from Corn Island for example, and also some silly/stupid things I did for fun. (bottle rockets)

Here is a link to the channel:
https://www.youtube.com/channel/UChr_gi6q-sCFl40y8M0BWJw

Thursday, April 13, 2017

The Cost of Living

The number one question that people want to know when considering a move to another country is always "What does it cost to live there?" Well recently I was discussing this with my family and we were looking at some online tools that show cost of living. At least with Nicaragua, there seems to be no agreement between online sources on what it costs to live here, also when you ask people who are here that question the answers vary greatly. Some say you need more than $1,000 US a month, whereas others say that with $100 you will have money left over at the end of the month.
Of course, people's expectations of comfort and their lifestyle have a lot to do with this. Obviously Nicaraguans who make $150 a month with a full time job are not starving, but they also rarely pay rent. Anyways, in order to make these calculations easier, I have made this list of real prices of every day things here in Nicaragua. With this information you can make your own budget and figure out for yourself what you would actually spend in Nicaragua.

The food prices are taken from our own grocery receipts from Pali, which is the most common grocery store in Nicaragua, its a branch of walmart and all the locals go there for nearly everything. Prices are in Cordobas and USD

Ramen Noodles -------------- 7.75   - $ 0.26
Head of lettuce --------------- 15.00  - $ 0.50
1lb rice ------------------------ 11.00  - $ 0.37
1lb beans ---------------------- 14.00 - $ 0.47
1L of Milk -------------------- 27.50 - $ 0.92
1lb Carrots -------------------- 9.00  - $ 0.30
1lb Potatoes ------------------- 13.00 - $ 0.44
1lb Onions -------------------- 11.00 - $ 0.37
1lb Tomatoes ----------------- 7.00  - $ 0.25
Avocados indv. --------------- 30.00 - $ 1.01
Bottle of wine ---------------- 130.00 - $ 4.37
Loaf of Bread ---------------- 37.50  - $ 1.26
Big package of cookies ----- 44.00 - $1.48
bag of chamomile tea ------- 3.00 -  $ 0.10
Pineapple jelly --------------- 21.00 - $ 0.71
Tang package ---------------- 5.00 -   $ 0.17
1 lb garlic -------------------- 55.00 -  $ 1.85
1 lb flour --------------------- 12.50 -  $ 0.42
1 lb cane sugar -------------- 10.00 - $ 0.34
200g sea salt ----------------- 3.00 -  $ 0.10
6 pack of local beer --------- 126.00 - $4.26
bag of coffee ----------------- 99.00  -  $3.33
bag of pasta ------------------ 7.50    -  $0.25

All of these prices include the sales tax in Nicaragua which is 15% on everything. Most stores include it in the price so you won't even notice it. Here are some prices of other things that we have paid in the past.

Rent:

2 bedroom house in the city
furnished
internet/utilities included
$300/month (reduced after long term)

1 bedroom apartment in the city
furnished
internet/utilities included
$250/month

2 bedroom house in a small town
unfurnished
water/electricity included
$140/month

Internet:

Claro (the worst internet provider on the face of the earth)
$30-$70 per month depending on speed. (0.2 mbs download to 10 mbs download, upload speed is capped at 1 mbs for all packages)
The only reason to ever use claro is because there is no other provider in many parts of the country

CooTel (patiently waiting for them to set up in Carazo and Rivas)
$20 per month OTE (over the air, 1.5 mbs)
$25-110 per month fiber optic (2-20 mbs)

Taxis

In most parts of Nicaragua, Taxis charge a flat rate stipulated by the government. Some towns they are allowed to negotiate, like San juan del sur and Managua, in these cases the price may be according to your skin color and how lost you look. Prices are per person.

Most parts of Carazo, Rivas, Granada, Masaya - 10 cordobas ($ 0.34 US)
San Juan del sur - around 30 cordobas ($1 US)
Managua - 50 cordobas average, 80 if going across the city ($2-4 US)

Hopefully these numbers can be useful for you to make your own calculations of what it costs to live in Nicaragua. Of course rent can vary from one town to another by quite a bit, but Pali for example is the same everywhere.




Friday, January 27, 2017

But what if I get sick?

I mentioned in a previous post that I was overly worried about getting sick on my trip to Nicaragua when I first came down. Today I'm going to go a bit more into detail about what I've learned and actually some fairly useful information I didn't know about the medical system in Nicaragua.

Ironically, as I write this I am in fact rather sick. No, not Malaria... nor dengue... nope not Zika. No there is not a gigantic worm crawling out of my eye socket.... I have a cold. Yesterday I went to a "Farmacia" and spent about $1 on some kind of cold pills recommended by the employee there and I'm feeling a lot better now. Pharmacies in Nicaragua are very common and easy to find, even in the smallest communities. Furthermore they are very inexpensive. They sell the same medications you are used to, even the same brand names at a fraction of the cost you would pay in north america. The medicines they sell you are just as strong, they are not different. Some of the local brand names are in fact more effective.

Now, lets say its something more serious and you need to see a doctor. Being from Canada I'm really not used to the Idea of paying for medical services, but I understand that in the US the thinking is that "you get what you pay for" in terms of medical treatment. Nicaragua has both private and public health services. There are private doctors, hospitals, and clinics that charge a wide range of prices for their services. There are also public clinics and hospitals which are a bit more commonplace. The public health services in Nicaragua are 100% free, sometimes including the medications they prescribe you. This includes foreigners. On my first trip I spent a ton of money on health insurance only to find out the doctors here are free, no one told me that. You as a foreigner can in fact come to Nicaragua, walk into the health center and be treated without paying a single Cordoba and no one will look at you funny (However you do need to speak Spanish or bring an interpreter).

Many people coming from countries where it is necessary to pay for medical treatment tend to feel that paying more will result in a better treatment. Now, its not my place to make medical decisions for people, that is up to you. But from my experience and those of friends and family, the idea that "you get what you pay for" does not apply in Nicaragua. Many private doctors have a bad reputation here in Nicaragua, and some of the most expensive and prestigious private hospitals have a long track record of botched operations. The doctors in the public health centers are often more experienced, as they deal with anyone and everyone that comes to them. The clients of the private doctors are almost exclusively wealthy tourists that come to them once in a blue moon. Another myth is that the public health centers are "filthy" and "disgusting". This might be true of one or two hospitals but they are the exception not the rule. Most are clean, efficient, and well equipped.

I also was quite worried about getting all the "injections" that I needed before coming to Nicaragua. I thought that I had to have certain vaccinations or I wouldn't be allowed off the plane when I arrived, and as such had a printout of my vaccination history. This wasn't true... and honestly I wasted a lot of time worrying about taking care of medical things before leaving for Nicaragua. I also had that mistaken attitude that Nicaraguan doctors were somehow inferior and couldn't help me if I got sick down here. In reality, Nicaraguan doctors know a lot about Nicaraguan illnesses. In my opinion, one is better off to wait until they are here and ask a local if they have some health problems. An illness that is common and easily treated in Nicaragua might be unheard of and have no treatment available in Canada or the US. Parasites for example are super easy to take care of in Nicaragua. The pills are available everywhere and they are dirt cheap, and they do work.

These are just my opinions, your decisions about health matters should not be based on the ideas of any one person, but hopefully this information will help anyone coming down here to make an informed decision about what kind of medical care to choose, and maybe address some fears that people may have before making a trip. Good health to you!

Friday, January 20, 2017

Volcano Boarding, Finally!

When I first was planning to come down to Nicaragua, one of the things I saw on the Internet and really wanted to do was Volcano Boarding. And recently, I finally had the opportunity to do it!

Now, what comes to your mind when you hear the words "Volcano boarding"? What you imagine is, unfortunately, probably a lot more awesome than it really is. No, I was not riding down a glowing red lava river on a snowboard. That would be neat though. Actually, volcano boarding is riding a wooden sled down the slope of an active volcano, but not on lava. It has to be the type of volcano that spews ash. When you have this kind of volcano, on the down-wind side the soft black ash collects and reaches a near snow-like consistency, allowing one to slide down the slope as if tobogganing.

To do the trip we left Jinotepe in the morning, a long with a group friends and family including Jean's younger brother and his girlfriend visiting from Australia. We took the bus to Managua, and then another to Leon. From Leon we met up in the office of the tour business, which also offered tours of the rum factory near by in Chinandega... That may have to be on our next trip. They took us by bus down a dusty road, which eventually became completely black as we got closer to the volcano. The ash from the same Cerro Negro volcano had blanketed the entire landscape in soft, black ash.

We got to another small office at the base of the volcano, and were able to see on the horizon a string of active volcanoes that reach from the northern parts of Nicaragua, all the way to Ometepe Island. They told us that all of these volcanoes are active and are connected to each other. Cerro Negro stands out because it is completely black, covered from top to bottom by ash and stands about 600 meters high.

We were each given a bag, containing a denim jump suit for protection, a pair of gloves, and a pair of safety goggles. We were also given a board. What I didn't know, is that we had to carry all that all the way up to the top of the 600 meter high volcano. And there was no "path", we had to hike it over the rocks at a 45 degree angle, some times steeper. The hike was completely exhausting. You cannot do this tour if you are not in very good shape. If you have heart problems or asthma or any kind of disability, don't do this. I'm 26 and felt like I would die by the time I got to the top.

That being said, the view was worth it. At the top you are walking along the ridge of the crater of an active volcano, on your left is a steep drop to the bottom of a huge mountain, and on the right a smoldering pit of steam and sulfur. (Insert obligatory ash-hole joke) Its so high up that you can see the ocean on one side, and the rest of the country on the other side. This is a moment few people get to experience in their life, so its totally worth it, even if you can't work up the nerve to slide down. When you're on the down-wind side of the crater you can smell the volcano, which smells quite similar to spent matches. Inside the crater there are many different colors of rock, mostly black, red, and yellow. There is also a rather ominous bulge in the center, but hopefully some volcanologists are on top of that already.





Volcanic Ridge

The Crater

Before we slid down we walked around to a secondary crater, where we could see steam coming out of the ground, and if we dug a small hole with our shoes in the gravel, we could put our hands on the ground and feel the warmth and moisture coming through. The deeper one dug the hotter it would get, to the point that the moisture would boil and create steam, just from digging a few inches.

The Rim
Then came the time to slide down. I was really scared actually. The further up you go, the less you want to slide down, but there's no turning back as the side you climb up is too rocky and treacherous to try and climb back down. The only safe way to get back down is to slide. We got to the "track" where we were supposed to slide and I thought "this has to be a joke" the angle is easily more than 45 degrees and back in Canada no sane person would sled down a hill like that. I also thought that you only slide part way, but no. You slide from the top to the VERY BOTTOM OF THE ENTIRE MOUNTAIN.

Well, despite extreme terror and seriously regretting coming this far I slid down. And actually, it wasn't as bad as I thought. There is a lot more friction than there is when sliding on snow so you don't actually go that fast, and you do have control because you dig your feet into the ash to steer and control your speed. I was actually overly cautious and went a bit slower than necessary. I'll definitely be doing this again but next time I won't brake so much so that I can get some speed.





October 2, 2018

We spent a whole three months in Pearl Lagoon, our plan was to stay there much longer. At least a year was our idea. We kept ourselves busy ...