The World’s Top Retirement Havens For 2011

Nicaragua leads off the list of the world’s top retirement havens for 2011 in Kathleen Peddicord’s recent US News and World Report article:

“As we move toward the start of the new year, it’s time to take a look at the world map to identify the world’s top retirement havens for 2011. Depending on the size of your retirement budget, here’s where you should be looking to realize the adventure-filled retirement of your dreams.

Super Affordable

1. Nicaragua—specifically Leon, Granada, and San Juan del Sur. Nicaragua is more attractive than ever for one important reason: It’s a super cheap place to live. I’ve been a fan of this misunderstood country since my first visit nearly 20 years ago. Property values, especially for beachfront property along the Pacific, reached bubble status last decade. Today prices are more realistic and more negotiable. In the meantime, the cost-of-living has remained seriously low. And last year Nicaragua inaugurated a new and improved foreign retiree residency program. For all these reasons, 2011 is the time to put this country at the top of your super-cheap overseas retirement list.”

See the full article at:  http://money.usnews.com/money/blogs/On-Retirement/2010/11/15/the-worlds-top-retirement-havens-for-2011.html

Can “Survivor” redefine Nicaragua’s image? – Tim Rogers Article

Can “Survivor” redefine Nicaragua’s image?

Nicaraguans like that “Survivor” is highlighting its harsh environment.

By Tim Rogers — Special to GlobalPost
Published: September 7, 2010 06:45 ET in The Americas

MANAGUA, Nicaragua — “Survivor” contestants are infamous for their petty catfights, but Nicaragua’s tourism industry is holding out hope for something more.

When 20 American contestants face off for the $1 million grand prize on “Survivor Nicaragua,” about 13 million Americans will tune into watch — giving the country a level of pop-culture exposure like never before.

The Emmy award-winning reality TV show, which begins airing Sept. 15 on CBS, has promoted this season with a dramatic trailer highlighting Nicaragua as an exotic and untamed land of “impenetrable terrain” and “savage wildlife.”

But following Nicaragua’s only other experience on American prime time television — the brutal U.S.-funded contra war in the 1980s — a show focusing on Nicaragua’s harsh and uninviting environment is considered positive press here.

And tourism boosters are thrilled. That’s because the American audience that tunes in each Wednesday represents the otherwise “impenetrable terrain” of a mass market that Nicaragua can’t possibly tap with its own resources — a paltry $2 million in annual promotional funding.

“The country does not have enough budget for promotion and marketing to reach an audience of this magnitude. Therefore, the filming of “Survivor” in Nicaragua constitutes a huge opportunity for us,” said Javier Chamorro, executive director of the Nicaragua’s investment-promotion agency ProNicaragua, which played a key role in convincing the producers of “Survivor” to come here.

For a country whose tourism industry has yet to reach the 1 million annual visitor mark, even a relatively small boost from curious “Survivor” fans could have an enormous ripple effect on the economy here. Tourism Minister Mario Salinas notes that if only 1 percent of “Survivor” viewers decide to visit Nicaragua, it would represent a 50 percent increase in American tourists — Nicaragua’s main market.

Salinas said the government and its public-relations agency in Los Angeles are already working to answer the increasing demand for information from U.S. travel agencies that are experiencing an uptick in interest about Nicaragua as a result of the thousands of articles that have already been published to promote the new season of Survivor.

And Salinas said he’s not worried about the show labeling his country as “savage.”

“I don’t think it has a negative connotation — it’s associated with pure, virgin nature that is uncontaminated,” the tourism minister said. “In other parts of the world, nature is domesticated, designed and arranged. But people don’t want that from nature; they want it to be authentic. And that’s what we have in Nicaragua.”

Lucy Valenti, president of Nicaragua’s National Tourism Chamber, agrees that the country could use “Survivor” to spin its “savage” image into a positive catchphrase — similar to Colombia’s recent campaign to turn its perception as a violent and dangerous place into the catchy tourist slogan “The only risk is wanting to stay.”

Valenti said the reality show could also give Nicaragua a unique chance to showcase its underdevelopment as an unexplored tourism destination for adventure and nature.

The truth is Nicaragua can use all the positive spin it can get these days. Since President Daniel Ortega returned to power in 2007, stories about Nicaragua in the international media have focused mostly on the Sandinistas’ political shenanigans, claims of electoral fraud and tiresome tales of political crisis and ungovernability. While tourism continues to grow in Nicaragua despite all that — and even during a global economic downturn — the number of American tourists coming here is showing signs of leveling off for the first time in many years.

So the dirty tricks and cutthroat politics of Survivor contestants in the reality show competition will come as a welcome distraction from the real thing in Nicaragua’s government. Plus, by becoming part of mainstream American TV culture, Nicaragua will be able to reach out the large segment of people who otherwise may never have considered this country as a place to spend a week’s vacation.

“’Survivor’ is a unique opportunity for a host nation to reach out to the world,” said Leisa Francis, the show’s co-executive producer. “The show is created in a way that highlights the host nation’s scenic beauty, its wildlife and its culture. Survivor delivers a video postcard of the host nation. The promotional value is extraordinary.”

That’s particularly true for Nicaragua. With remote white-sand beaches and lush tropics — all within a two-hour flight from Miami — Nicaragua hopes to benefit from the “‘Survivor’ effect” more than previous countries that are either too large to notice any effect, such as China and Australia, or too far off the map to be helped by reality TV, such as Gabon, Vanuatu and Samoa.

Realtors — a motley group of national and international salespeople who haven’t had much to cheer about for the past three years — report that “Survivor” is both a selling point or something to refrain for mentioning, depending on the potential client.

“Most clients assume that the show will bring good publicity to the area, thus making their investment now a good idea to get ahead of the rush,” said Justin Fahey, of San Juan del Sur’s Aurora Beachfront Realty.

However, he added, “Some clients couldn’t give a crap about a reality TV show that is in its millionth season, clinging to relevancy. Many people come to Nicaragua and buy land here to retire or vacation away from 24/7 news cycle and rat race. So mentioning ‘Survivor’ to them might be construed as a negative — they want to experience authentic Nicaragua as a contrast to life in North America.”

But for people who already bought here, Fahey said, “Survivor” has become a bragging point among their friends and family back home in the U.S.

Expats and investors now “feel legitimized” in their decision to buy here, Fahey said. “It’s like they’re saying, ‘Ha! My friends back home said I was nuts to invest here, but now I tell them, ‘You can see my beach this fall on “Survivor!”‘ ”

The Comedy of Errors, Which is Our Life in Nicaragua*

San Juan del Sur is a colorful town and I’m not talking about the buildings, though that is also true.  No, I am referring to the people: the colorful and often crazy-ass people.

On Sunday, after a lovely anniversary weekend with my darling husband, I rolled our car into a cement wall and broke the rear windshield.  It was certainly unintentional, but entirely my fault just the same.  Justin, meanwhile, was waiting for me at Bambu Beach Club with a specially prepared dinner, courtesy of our wonderful chef friend, German Eric.  Yes, we call him German Eric, not because there are other Eric’s in town, which there are, but simply because he’s German and thus deserving of the distinction…I guess.  There are plenty of other people in this town with similarly obvious and/or wonderful nicknames, including Irish John, Irish Peter, oh and Irish Paul.  There’s Yoga Larry, Bitchin’ Bill, the Chicken Lady, T-shirt Kathy, Hot Carl, the list could go on…

But that’s not who I’m talking about either…I am actually addressing the mentally distraught crazy people in this town.  Judge me for my lack of political correctness and empathy, but it’s true.  As my dear friend Sarah put it, “San Juan imports crazy people, remember.”

Today, not 24 hours after we got our car back from the mechanic with a glistening new rear windshield, someone threw a rock through it and broke it again.  Someone out for vengeance?  Nope.  Someone trying to break in and steal our radio…oh wait…that was stolen last year, so no.

I found out after Justin messaged me “guess who just smashed our rear windshield?”  Naturally, I assumed he was joking since we had just repaired the thing yesterday.  “Please tell me you are kidding,” I wrote back.”  “I am NOT kidding,” he says “Naked Guy.”

So, in typical Facebook-Dependant Style, I posted incredulously…”sooo…just repaired a broken rear windshield yesterday. Had the car for less than 24 hours and today, crazy guy in the street threw a rock at it and broke it.  Seriously? Really need to catch a break here…”  Those who live outside San Juan or Nicaragua replied quickly with “oh no’s” and “that sucks.”  One friend even suggested that I throw a rock back.  But those who live within the walls of this colorful little town inquired, “is the crazy stone-thrower back??” and “was it the semi-naked blond or the tall dark one??”  In a small town of just 18,000 people, we actually have such an array of certifiable residents that it wasn’t clear to anyone which crazy guy I was talking about.  “Always something interesting,” said George.

As Blue added, it “does make you wonder….I think those of us that live here have a line item in our budget ‘Nicadness’ which includes damages by crazy naked people, voodoo doctor requests etc.”

With little faith in a response or action, Justin made his way to the police station to report said crime.  In a surprising twist, they told Justin that they were aware of the problem, they’d received more complaints this week, and they were looking for the window smasher.  They even said they’d take him to a hospital in MGA to get some help.  Then the policeman added, “you should have just beat the shit out of him and thrown him in the estero (estuary).  At the very least, as Cesar put it, “These guys need to find a new hobby.”

[* kudos to Julie for the fitting title]

A brief follow up to our bad car karma – while the mechanic was working to repair the second broken windshield, he managed to smash our rearview mirror…

On Motherhood

I’ve known for a lifetime that I wanted to be a mom.  I’ve known for 6 months that I was going to be a mom.  But I didn’t truly feel like a mom until last week.

A local four year old boy was hit and killed by a car last week.  He was playing on the sidewalk in front of his house.  When his mother crossed the street, he ran to see her.  His life was over in an instant.    I did not know the boy or the mother, only a passing acquaintance with a relative, yet I experienced such a strong visceral reaction to this devastating news – as if it were my own. 

Last night, I re-watched an old episode of “Six Feet Under” that dealt with the death of a 3-week old baby.  While processing the moment, Brenda says, “You know what I find interesting? If you lose a spouse, you’re called a widow, or a widower. If you’re a child and you lose your parents, then you’re an orphan. But what’s the word to describe a parent who loses a child? I guess that’s just too fucking awful to even have a name.”

How true.

A Slice of Reality: Getting Pregnant and Giving Birth in a Foreign Country

I sliced my finger on the lid of a spaghetti sauce can last night which sent me into a tailspin of panic.  Though painful and bloody, the cut was seemingly benign.  Nothing that a few stitches and a tetanus shot couldn’t take care of.   Yet my reaction was Oscar-worthy, rivaled only by the time I was dumped by my college sweetheart and slipped into a 2-month depression.

Since our move to Nicaragua, I’ve fallen down concrete hills, stepped on stingrays, and boarded down a volcano and survived, all of which resulted in memorable scars of our journey in Nicaragua.  So why was this latest notch on my bedpost of injuries invoking such anxiety?   The answer – I’m 5 months pregnant. 

Justin struggled to understand my hysteria.  As he fumbled thru the house in search of Band-aids and Bactine, I sobbed into the blood soaked towel wrapped around my finger and fretted about the possibility of a trip to the local Centro de Salud.  Having only been there once before for an anti-parasite prescription, I conjured up visions of rusty needles and disgruntled nurses.

My already pregnancy-laden hormonal thoughts had spiraled out of control into a place of utter fear that had very little to do with my finger and much more to do with this looming birth.  What if I went into labor early and couldn’t make it to Managua in time?  What if I had to give birth at the Centro de Salud.  What if I went to the Centro de Salud for this cut and they prescribed me something that could ultimately harm this developing baby inside me.  If Justin couldn’t find the Band-aids, how was he going to find the hospital in Managua, two and a half hours away?  What if, what if, what if?

As a self-proclaimed control freak/hypochondriac, pregnancy is bound to cause some level of anxiety in an expecting mom.  DSM-IV diagnoses aside, Pregnancy can cause moments of anxiety in any mom.  Mix it all together with a birth planned in Nicaragua, with Spanish speaking doctors, thousands of miles from family and you have the perfect recipe for an all out freak out, which is exactly what I did last night.  The finger will heal, with or without stitches, but what will happen to me and more importantly, to this baby that I have already been waiting 5 months to meet?

20 Weeks

Our original plan was to live in Nicaragua for a year, evaluate our experience, and then perhaps move back to the States, get desk jobs, set up home in an insanely expensive Boston suburb that we couldn’t afford and procreate.  Well, that was my plan.  But, as one year crept into two, both Justin and I began to discuss the possibility of having children abroad.  I wasn’t getting any younger and the economy in the States wasn’t getting any better.   After reviewing numerous birth scenarios (go home now, get jobs, get insurance, get pregnant; get pregnant here, get on a plane back to States for delivery; get over it and just do it), we decided to ignore the one piece of advice that my physician father tried to impart on us during regular visits, “just don’t get pregnant down there.”  Four months later, I was pregnant and we were overjoyed. 

By that time, we had met with one of the top OB-GYNs in the country at Vivian Pellas Metropolitano Hospital, discussed a prenatal plan, and witnessed some of our best friends, here in Nicaragua, get pregnant and give birth to happy, healthy babies.  Just as in the States, my OB here recommended the regular battery of pre-natal tests, exams, and vitamins. Moments after we watched the tell-tale pink line develop, we were on the phone to my OB discussing necessary appointments and ultrasounds.  Since that day, we have received top-notch care that rivals the assistance that my sister has received at state of the art Boston-area hospitals.

So, you know the old adage that “women have been giving birth to babies, alone in the middle of fields since the beginning of time”?  Well, it’s more or less true.  And more importantly, women have also been having babies in Nicaragua this whole time.   Giving birth is an incredibly natural life event.  You can prep all you want with doctors and specialists, but ultimately, this little creature is going to enter the world on her own terms at her own pace.  And that, she can do anywhere. 

Later that evening, after my finger was carefully washed and bandaged, Justin quietly offered to pack my “hospital bag” so that we are ready to hit the road when labor begins.  With more than 4 months to go until the arrival of Baby Fahey, I’m thinking that maybe Justin really will be able to find the hospital after all.    

The Meat We Eat

Many people say that the best way to pay homage to an animal that you plan to consume is to understand and appreciate its life cycle (from birth to free grazing farm to supermarket).  There is a prevalent belief that those of us eating meat without a full understanding of where it originated is not only ignorant, but sacrilege.   Some even go so far as to assert that one must be a participant in the slaughtering of the animal to truly honor the life of the animal that they are about to eat.  I can’t say that I ever paid much attention to any of these concepts and probably made more of an effort to avoid having this knowledge for the majority of my life.  Now, living in Nicaragua, this concept is much more real.  More often than not, the meat we eat is no longer from Arkansas (Tyson), but is from our neighbor’s front yard…literally.

The other day, I came home from Managua on a sunny afternoon to find a slaughtered baby pig hanging from a tree in our driveway.  This was no religious sacrifice, but preparation for a party to be hosted by my landlord later in the week.  I had the train-wreck syndrome;  I was equally horrified and curious and couldn’t decide whether to stay and stare or run into the house.  I chose the latter only to be confronted by Wilbur at the party a few days later.   That evening, Justin feasted on the piglet, while I stuck to the homemade bread and marmalade.  Ironically, I also ate some bacon wrapped dates, but somehow, this felt less abusive than eating the pig direct from the carcass.  A 4 year old at the party grilled the host on why he had killed the pig.  To placate the poor girl, he described an elaborate story in which he came upon a suffering pig along the side of the road and after a failed attempt to revive the pig with CPR, it passed away peacefully – then he cooked it.  She walked away semi-content with the reponse.  The 32 year old inside me felt a little better, too.

More and more, I have struggled with the concept of dining on the chickens that I valiantly try to avoid hitting with my car as I drive home each evening.  I am mildly excited when someone on our sailing trip catches a fish, but the moment it is reeled in, I move to the other end of the boat.  I can’t handle being the metaphorical fish out of water.  Try watching the real thing.  It’s difficult having items from my grocery list as neighbors.

So, am I making the natural transition to vegetarianism?  Is this how it all begins?  Eating meat directly off the bone has always made me feel a bit cannibalistic.  But more recently, I have found myself hesitating with chicken breasts, fish filets, and hamburgers.  Perhaps it has something to do with the winding pastoral landscapes complete with grazing cows and lamb (chops).  The first trimester of my pregnancy didn’t help, as a slight discomfort with certain meat turned into an all out chicken aversion for three months.  For whatever hormonal reason, the very thought of eating chicken could make me gag.

I attempted vegetarianism once in my life.  After a summer away at sleepover camp, I came home to my parents and proudly proclaimed my new vegetarian status.  My parents smiled and commended my efforts and promptly turned their backs to share a questioning glance that asked, “how long will THIS phase last?”  Not long.  I struggled to justify my new-found vegetarianism to friends and neighbors and most importantly, to myself.  Had I really adopted this new diet for reasons beyond the fact that it’s what the cool kids were doing?  Two weeks later, I was sinking my teeth into juicy burgers at the neighborhood party.

As a “mature” adult, I’m still not so sure that I’m ready for the vegetarian commitment.  It’s an even more difficult feat to achieve here in Nicaragua.  Though the country is poor and the diet subsists primarily on rice and beans, Nicaragua is still a meat country at heart.  Just count the number of fritangas (chicken ladies) in the street every evening around supper time, cooking up chicken, pork, and beef on their outdoor grills for a few cordobas.

An Irishman, Justin has meat and potatoes in his genetic makeup.  He would never make the transition with me.  And, if we ever moved back to the States and I had a little distance between myself and the local farm, will the plight of Bessie and Nemo become but distant memories?

For now, with a baby on the way in need of a well-balanced diet (which I don’t have the knowledge to provide sans meat), I won’t make any drastic changes.  But rest assured, it’s only going to get harder.

New Digs

Justin and I moved into a new place a little over two months ago.  We are still in the little neighborhood, tucked back in the hills of San Juan, but we have upgraded to a 2-bedroom, 2-bathroom, air conditioned apartment (!!!) with full kitchen and large patio with an incredible view of the bay…

Sunset from our balcony

 

View from our bedroom

 

View from balcony - dry season

 

Balcony, left side

 

Kitchen

 

French doors to balcony

 

Panoramic from balcony - dry season

Good Reads on Nicaragua

Thinking about visiting Nicaragua?  Read up on its incredible history first.  Below is a small sampling of books, but visit these links for more: So you’d like to… Learn More About Nicaragua  and Nicaragua: Surviving US Terrorism.

Blood of Brothers: Life and War in Nicaragua by Stephen Kinzer

In this well-written survey, the former New York Times Managua bureau chief analyzes the roles of the Sandinistas, the Catholic Church and the Reagan administration in modern Nicaragua.

The Country Under My Skin by Gioconda Belli

Motherhood and love affairs under fire, gun running and media work, poetry prizes and exile, and ceaseless combat against misogyny and despair, Belli’s powerfully told story reveals the symbiotic give-and-take of body and soul, art and politics, and altruism and pragmatism that make up the human continuum. A tribute to beauty, valor, and justice, Belli’s giving and clarion book is also an antidote to fear and apathy, and a reminder that freedom is always a work in progress.

The Jaguar’s Smile: A Nicaraguan Journey by Salman Rushdie

Written in the mid 80’s, when Sandinista was a household name in the U.S., the book recounts Rushdie’s whirlwind tour of the small “beautiful, volcanic country” for three weeks in July.
Nicaragua : Living in the Shadow of the Eagle by Thomas Walker 

This new and thoroughly revised edition of Nicaragua details the country’s unique history, culture, social reality, economics, foreign relations, and politics. Its historical coverage considers Nicaragua from before independence as well as during the nationalist liberal era, the US marine occupation, the Somoza dictatorship, the Sandinista regime, and the conservative restoration following 1990.