The House of Unfinished Projects Part 1

Buying a “fixer upper” in Nicaragua has presented it’s fair share of challenges.  Deciding what should be done first, locating material and hiring competent help has been interesting.  We are always in the middle of several projects at the same time and sometimes it can get very frustrating. In the beginning Mike tended to start projects that we had the materials on hand and stop once we needed to purchase more leaving a lot of things unfinished for months at a time.  It has gotten better now that we have pretty much run out of materials and everything has to be purchased.  We had no ceilings in the house for the first two years because we knew we needed to rewire the house before we could put up ceilings.

the old wiring was just scary, I am surprised the house never caught fire.

the old wiring was just scary, I am surprised the house never caught fire.

much safer

much safer

I waited 2 years for ceilings, love these.

I waited 2 years for ceilings, love these.

We now have cane ceilings downstairs which I love and will soon have them upstairs as well.  The wiring was the big project and Mike decided to do it all himself after seeing what passes for acceptable wiring down here.  We had security doors and windows installed downstairs and getting used to the welder’s work ethic took some patience.  He would tell us he would tell us he would be here first thing in the morning and then show up at 2 pm the next day. A project that should have taken about a week took over a month and the welder saw no problem with this. The kitchen was pretty disgusting when we bought the house

as bad as it looked I could still see the possibilities.

as bad as it looked I could still see the possibilities.

, peeling paint, missing cabinets and a window with a missing pane nailed shut.

rehanging the missing cabinets and fresh paint really helps

rehanging the missing cabinets and fresh paint really helps

At first I liked the countertops, stones in concrete, but I soon realized I didn’t have 1 flat surface in the entire kitchen and with all the crevices the counters are hard to clean. We decided to add some new concrete counterskitchen during 4

adding counter space

adding counter space

and replace the existing ones with concrete also. I plan to keep the stone backsplash and add one to the new counter as well. I was so excited to get the top finished and installed in the kitchen, the only thing left was to seal it. We bought the sealer and were about to apply it only to read that we have to wait 28 days before we can apply it so I still have to wait almost a month before I can use the counter.

We have also started working on the front of the house. This house had absolutely no “curb appeal”. The yard is horrible, random plants with no rhyme or reason with a few patches of grass. The house

the front of the house started out very ugly.

the front of the house started out very ugly.

itself looks like someone was actually trying to win an ugly house award, it would be hard to make a house this ugly without trying. The first thing we have started is installing an awning along the front of the house.awning 4

adding a new tile awning across the front of the house should give it more character.

adding a new tile awning across the front of the house should give it more character.

. After that I want to put some shutters on the upstairs windows and some window boxes on the downstairs windows. If anyone has any suggestions (other than changing the roof, too expensive) I am open to any ideas.

Electricity, or lack of it

Living here on the beach in Nicaragua we experience frequent power outages.  When the electric company is doing any work on the power lines they just turn the power off while they do it, usually for about 4 or 5 hours and always during daylight hours. Not having power for a few hours down here is no big deal, but the other day we had an outage that lasted 22 hours.  It really drove my husband crazy since he had projects planned and needed his power tools.  A lot of our friends have generators but we have not yet found one necessary.  I remember reading an article on the internet written by a woman in the US about how her family “survived” a three day power outage during the middle of the summer and I found it very amusing how much more necessary electricity is in the US than it is down here.  We don’t have air conditioning or a hot water heater, our stove is propane  (that is the norm down here), our house has lots of windows  and doors to let in light and breezes from the ocean.  We were able to go about our daily lives with pretty much no disruption (except for the power tools).  I was able to sit in the living room and read a book, take my normal lukewarm shower, cook meals in my kitchen, we had friends stop by and had cocktails out on the porch,  Since we have just recently gotten internet at the house I didn’t really miss it and we usually only watch TV at night but since I had enough battery power on my computer we were able to watch movies I had downloaded from the internet.  In short, not having power here didn’t affect us the way it would have in the states.  There I would have been lost without electricity for a day.  How would I charge my cell phone, heat up my microwaveable Lean Cuisines, (or even cook since my stove was electric) or check my email.  Houses there are not designed to be without electricity, you need air conditioning because even if you could get a nice breeze by leaving your doors and windows open all night how many people would feel safe doing that, there are no water storage tanks allowing the water to be heated by the sun so you need a water heater, the water coming out of the pipes comes from underground and it is cold. While I have no intention of ever going “off the grid” it is nice to know that the lack of electricity has very little affect on us here.  I will admit I was very glad when it came back on because even being very careful to only open the fridge when absolutely necessary the beer was starting to get a little warm.

Domestic Help

While growing up in a middle class family in the US and having to do “chores” as a child I used to always wish we were rich and could afford a maid.  Well living in Nicaragua you don’t have to be rich to have one and we have a caretaker who takes care of the grounds and provides security at night and his wife cleans the house for us.  There are definite advantages to this and I love being able to have domestic help but there are also some cons as well.  I don’t want to sound like a whiney princess just give you an idea of the pros as well as the cons.

The pros are rather obvious,

They do the work so we don’t have to and they do a better job than I would.

We have security at night, the caretaker gets up 3 times a night to walk the property and he has contacts in the community so he knows when other properties have been experiencing problems.

They don’t speak English so we have no choice but to learn Spanish.

They will dog sit for us if we want to be gone for a few days.

They have lived in the area for most of their lives and know where to get things locally.  If I forget to buy eggs at the grocery store they know where to get some here so I don’t have to drive 17 miles to Diramba.

Now the cons:

They live (in a separate house) on property so they are here 24 hours a day, while they normally are only in our house during the day they may pop up in the evenings as well.  You really have no privacy.

Even though we bought a washing machine because we were tired of having our clothes “washed to death” on the concrete wash sink if I don’t wash the clothes in what they consider a timely manner they will do it for me.  They just don’t understand we don’t want our clothes threadbare and stiff as a board.

When they clean they really clean, they move all the furniture out of the room when they mop which is fine except I was sitting there, I just got up to go to the bathroom and when I come back the room is empty.

All that being said the pros far outweigh the cons and I am very happy to have them, they are a very trustworthy family and make our life here in Nicaragua much more enjoyable.  I just never considered all those years ago when I dreamed of having a maid that I would miss being able to walk around my house in my underwear.

What I have learned my first year in Nicaragua

They say your first year in Nicaragua is like a college education (and will cost you almost as much) and lately I have been looking back at all the things I have learned in the last year and decided to make a list:

Manana does not mean tomorrow, it just means not today.

Hot water is not necessary. (although some mornings it would be nice)

If the price is listed in dollars you are probably going to pay too much for it.

If you have to go to the bank on Friday go to the bathroom first, that is at least 1 hour of your life you will never get back. 

There are some types of cheese I don’t like.

Rosetta Stone may teach you Spanish, it will not teach you Nicaraguan.

My legs are irresistible…….to mosquitos.

Do not assume you will have electricity all day long

Roads are not just for cars & trucks, expect to see ox carts, horses, pigs, dogs, pedicabs, motos (3 wheeled vehicles that only go about 35 miles per hour) and people just sitting (or laying) in the road.

Rice & beans get old very quick.

Every sunset is worth watching.

Getting “dressed up” can still include flip flops.

A bus is never full, if there is no more room inside it is OK to ride on the back bumper, the ladder or even the top of the bus.

4 people will fit on a motorcycle although usually 2 of them are children.
The plastic bag is the national flower of Nicaragua (you see them “growing” all along the side of the road)

You don’t need a lawnmower, grass is cut using a machete.

Relaxing in the hammock is a worthwhile pastime.

Milestones

 

We have been here for almost 3 months now and today we reached one of the many milestones expats encounter, time to get our visa’s renewed.  There are several options for this, you can make the trip down to Costa Rica and get your passport re-stamped when you come back into Nicaragua, by law you are supposed to be out of Nicaragua for at least 72 hours but several people I know have just walked across the border, had lunch and come back.  That is what we will have to do next time if we don’t have our residency yet but since this was the first renewal we were able to do it here in Nicaragua.  There is now an office in Granada where you can go and drop off your passport, they will send it to Managua for you and you can pick it back up in a few days in Granada.  We were going to do this but we got a call from the broker handling our car saying we had to come to Managua and bring him our passport and the paperwork for our car because he would have to get an extension for the car and fill out the paperwork to get us a RUK (something like a tax ID number).  We get to Managua to meet with him and of course he is a few hours late and by the time we had finished with him we find out the main immigration office is closed (they close at 2 pm).  We had been told the main office was the only place we could renew our visas but a nica friend who was with us called someone he knew that works for immigration and he said we could get it done at any office so why not give it a try.  We head over to Las Americas shopping center and were able to get it done at the office in the mall.  When you walk in the door you have to buy the paperwork from the guard, it was 5 cords per sheet.  The form is in Spanish and you have to fill it out in Spanish so thank goodness we had our friend with us, if not we would have probably had to buy every copy the guard had.  Once you get this done you will find out you need copies of the picture page of your passport along with the page with the entry stamp and a copy of the small paper they give you when you come in the country.  Well conveniently the motorcycle shop next door to immigration has a copier and will make you copies for 5 cords per page.  You can choose how long you want your extension for, either 1 month, 2 months or 3 months and it is 500 cords per month.  I have heard in the main office you have to go through 3 different lines to complete the process but here at the mall office we did everything at one counter and didn’t have to wait in line at all.  The girl working the desk was very friendly and I’m pretty sure her and her friend were having quite a few laughs at our attempts at butchering the Spanish language, we were done in 20 minutes and out the door.  Before we left the cashier asked me if I wanted a receipt for the money we paid because if I did she would let me take her copy of the receipt next door and have a copy made….I couldn’t help but laugh.  After this we made our first trip to Pricemart.  A friend of ours let us borrow his card in exchange for bringing him back a box of cereal.  Everyone I know talks about all the things you can buy at Pricemart so I was expecting a really large warehouse, it was big but not as big as I expected and the selection was limited.  We were pricing freezers and they only had 2 to choose from.  I was also looking for a calculator; my options were a scientific handheld calculator or a large printing calculator that would sit on a desk.   We did break down and fill up our cart with beer, soda, frozen pizza and my personal favorite, cheddar cheese.  Now with our pockets about $100 lighter we are back on our way home.  Our friend asked us to drop him off at a local bar so we stopped and had a beer with him and a few of his friends.  One of the guys at the bar starts talking to me using our friend to translate and I try to respond back in Spanish only to have my friend have to translate my “Spanish” into Spanish…..all those hours spent on Rosetta Stone and I still can’t even have a conversation with a drunk in a bar.

The first month

We have been here a little over a month now and things are going well.  We have the business up and running and showing a profit for the first month, very small but at least we are not in the negative.  We are going to have to show more profit if we are going to be able to stay in Nicaragua but we are headed in the right direction.  We have been reluctant to spend much money on the house that wasn’t absolutely necessary so a lot of projects are on hold.  I have been concentrating mainly on cooking and Mike has decided to strip all the windows in the house, the last owner painted all the wooden windows brown so he wants to strip them down to the wood and just put polyurethane over them for protection.  I have to admit the one he has done looks really good and it keeps him from wandering around the house looking for things to do.

 I made my first real batch of cheese today after doing a small test batch the other week.  It won’t be ready until tomorrow but I am looking forward to having something I can use to make lasagna.  I also found recipes for home make crackers and really good humus made from black beans which are readily available and cheap down here.  Last night we had stingray in a roasted garlic cream sauce which was wonderful.  I’m guessing most people are turning up their noses at stingray but it is really good.  You may have had it and not known it because it is one of the things some restaurants will use to make fake scallops and it taste just like scallops.

We had some new neighbors move in a few miles down on Wednesday.  They are teachers and able to spend the summers here in Nicaragua and then back to Canada for the school year.  It is great seeing other expats moving into our area, while we do have several friends in Granada that is a long drive just to visit someone so it will be nice to have another couple to hang out with  We have started Spanish lessons but in true nica fashion our teacher is unable to show up for just about every other class so they are going slowly and he is the only Spanish teacher in the area so if I fire him we will have to drive all the way into Granada for classes so I am hoping he will still work out.

I have gone over our spending for the first month, we had set a budget of $1000 per month for normal expenses; food, power, water, salary for the caretaker, basically everything not related to the business or legal expenses to get our residency here.  I was hoping that we had set it high and would come in way under but right now we are only about $70 under, hopefully next month we can beat that, I would like to get it down closer to $700 which I think is doable, we just have to stay out of La Colonial when we go to Granada, they do have cheaper beer and cigarettes than the local pulparias here but we always end up buying other stuff that we shouldn’t, if we could only get the Tona truck to stop at our house J.

Packed and ready to go!!!

ImageImageIt took 3 days to load the SUV but it is now ready to go.  We had to leave some room for Macy, our dog, but every other square inch is full.  I have made detailed lists and taken pictures of everything so I hope Mike won’t have to unload the vehicle at every border crossing.  Has anyone out there had any experience with this?  Any advice is appreciated.

The only thing we are waiting on now is the paperwork from the USDA for Macy, hopefully it will arrive today and we can leave tomorrow morning.  Mike & his friend Mark headed south and me to North Carolina to visit family for a few weeks.  They hope to make it down in about 8 days if everything goes as planned so I am allowing two weeks because I’m sure things won’t go as planned :).