Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Tourist Visa Renewal in Bluefields, Nicaragua

Migracion y Extranjeria in Bluefields, Nicaragua
Can you believe that it was time for us to renew our visas again?

When we first moved to the Atlantic Coast I was worried that we would have to return to Managua to renew our visas - a very time consuming and expensive proposition. Not looking forward to such a trip we started asking around to see if it was possible to extend our visas closer to home. We were told that all we had to do was head to Bluefields and they had an office there where we could get our renewal done in a matter of minutes.

So, today was the day to see if the information we were given was correct. After a couple of days of almost steady rain we took the 6:30 a.m. panga from Pearl Lagoon to Bluefields under clear skies - well, ok, there were black clouds in the distance but we managed the trip without a shower. Once we arrived in Bluefields and hitting the bank we took a taxi to the "Immigration Office" (12 cords each). When we arrived at the office the clerk reminded us that we needed photocopies of the data page of our passport as well as the page that has our "Entrada" or entrance into the country. Thankfully, there is a store a short distance away where we could get copies done at only 1 cordoba per page. When we returned to the office the clerks filled out our forms. We actually felt it was easier when we filled them out ourselves, but the service was nice. After paying our fee we only had to wait a few minutes and our passports were ready to go. I'm guessing that it took less than 1/2 hour to complete the process - pretty good compared to the time it takes in Managua. The costs are the same: 1500 cordobas for 90 days extension plus 5 cords for the form (each).

After completing a few errands and picking up some supplies that we can't get in Pearl Lagoon we were on the 12 o'clock panga back home. Renewing your Tourist Visa in Bluefields is a very quick and easy process.

View of Bluefields, Nicaragua from the panga

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Where's Pancho?

It's amazing how well camouflaged Pancho is - he really blends in when you put him into the bushes. Can you find him hiding in the bushes in this picture?

Pancho hiding in the bushes
 Maybe this picture will help you to locate him:

Pancho enjoying some outdoor time

Did you find him? See if you were right - check out the picture below:

Can you see Pancho now?

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Delicious food delivered right to your door.

Miss Yaya with Banana Cake
There aren't very many job opportunities in Pearl Lagoon and many families have to be very enterprising when it comes to earning a living.

 Many families earn their living by the sea, others take advantage of the tourism opportunities there are in town and work at one of the hotels or restaurants but for others they decide to take a different route. They put their cooking skills to good use and make food to sell in order to earn their livelihood.

Miss Yaya and her daughter Jean are only one example. They can frequently be found selling delicious pieces of cake (banana is our favorite), rice pudding or in the summer season flavored shaved ice. Miss Yaya is often called upon to make cakes for special occasions.

Less frequently Miss Yaya and Jean will make an entree such as Chicken Fried Rice or Chop Suey. They usually "pre-sell" these meals buy making tickets and keeping track of how many meals are required. On the "cooking day" the meal is usually ready by 12 noon and you can pickup and pay for the meal at their home or it will be delivered to your door.

Their prices are very reasonable too - only 20 cords for a piece of cake and 10 cords for Rice Pudding. If you have decided to try one of their meals they usually cost only 60 cords - a nice economical meal.

Rice Pudding

Chop Suey by Miss Yaya and Jean

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

How is Pancho?

Pancho eating a mango (note his "featherhawk"
Quite often we are asked, "How is Pancho?" As, many of you are aware our little chocoyo, Pancho, suffered an injury in May wherein he lost part of his scalp. If you haven't read the story you can read it under, Living in a community where there is no vet.

At the time that it happened we weren't sure whether Pancho would be able survive with his injury - after all his skull was exposed. We soon realized that Pancho was a determined little bird and even an injury like he had wasn't going to keep him down. Within a very short time he was back to his chirpy old self and even for a while sported a "featherhawk" as his feathers were a little wild around his injury.

After a recent birdbath we noticed that there seemed to be some "skin" growing on his head and we wondered if it would eventually grow some feathers.

As the days go by his wound is becoming less apparent and although his head doesn't look as "smooth" as it was before the accident it is looking better and better all the time. Pancho has discovered a new love in life - mangoes! It's very likely that he always liked mangoes but he wouldn't eat the little pieces that we would put in his cage. No! he was holding out for the real thing - he has to have a whole mango to himself!

Pancho's head wound

Now, if we can get him to stop plucking out his chest feathers!

Pancho enjoying some time outside

Monday, July 22, 2013

Pearl Lagoon takes aim at mosquitoes!

fogging the exterior for mosquitoes
I've always hated mosquitoes. Mainly because they've always liked me. I am always the one that gets bit - they ignore Pat and head straight for me! Mosquitoes carry a number of serious and potentially fatal diseases including dengue and malaria which are very common in Nicaragua. There have been 1,543 reported cases of dengue and 4 deaths so far this year due to dengue. So, I wasn't too sorry when I heard that the town of Pearl Lagoon had decided to visit all the barrios and KILL the mosquitoes.

We've seen the procedure a number of times when we lived in León - a couple of men walk around the homes with a "fogger" filled with insecticide or some ladies stop by and sprinkle some powder into any standing water you have on your property.  The method here in Pearl Lagoon is a little bit different in that they not only fog the outside areas but they also enter your home and fog inside too. This is a logical step since most homes here don't have any screens on their windows and the houses are filled with mosquitoes.

In preparation for the treatment we made sure that all food was safely stored away in the refrigerator and that all dishes were tucked away in the cupboards. Also, we moved Pancho outside so that he didn't become a casualty of the poison. Although the procedure itself took less than 5 minutes but we had to stay out of the house for at least 20 minutes to allow for the smoke to dissipate. When we re-entered the house there was still a very strong chemical smell and so we set the fan on to clear out our bedroom before it was time to go to bed.

fogging the interior of the house

the house is filled with "smoke"

smoke still pouring out the windows

What are some practical steps you can take to prevent yourself from being bitten by mosquitoes?

Using mosquito repellent is a good step but you may not want to be wearing it all the time - especially if you are just relaxing in your home. When we moved into this house in Pearl Lagoon we purchased a roll of nylon screen material in Bluefields and put it up on all of our windows using a glue gun to affix it to the window frame. We also decided to have screen doors made so that we could have the nice cool morning and evening breezes without having to worry about mosquitoes and flies. Granted, our landlord didn't cover these expenses but we feel that for our own peace of mind and comfort it was money well spent. Another important step in preventing mosquito bites is to sleep with a mosquito net. We were able to purchase one here in Pearl Lagoon for less than 300 cordobas but I understand they are cheaper in Bluefields or Managua.

Queen size mosquito net for our bed

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Friday, July 19, 2013

What Is This?

Update July 26, 2013: So - it's seems like we have you all stumped with this picture. We've had a number of guesses here on the blog as well as on Facebook but no correct answer yet. 

Yes, this is a door - but to what? Keep guessing!

Can you guess what this is? Please leave your comments as to what you think it is, and watch for our post in two weeks.

What is it?

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Is the water safe to drink in Pearl Lagoon?

Typical water bottle and dispenser

The availability of drinkable water is a common concern when people are visiting or living in Pearl Lagoon. And no wonder since so many people get sick each year from drinking contaminated water.

Although the town has a water purification system there still is concern about the quality of the water that it produces. Therefore, many people - ourselves included - opt to purchase bottled water. The problem is that this water is shipped in from Bluefields and during the hottest months bottled water is in huge demand. There have been a number of times in the past few months when our bottled water has run out and there hasn't been any water to buy in town and a shipment wasn't due for a day or more. Pat has literally picked up the water at the dock when it arrived and on a number of occasions we have been only able to replace two of our empty bottles rather than the three .

How much does a 5 gal bottle of purified water cost? The cheapest that we have found is at the Moravian Church where they sell the water for 45 cordobas. A group from the US are currently installing an extra filtration system to purify the town water so that it will be unnecessary to have the bottles shipped in from Bluefields. It is anticipated that this will reduce the cost of the water. There are a few other locations in town that sell the bottled water and the price varies from 50 - 75 cordobas. It certainly pays to shop around!

What can you do when your bottled water runs out and there isn't any available in town? For us the option is to boil the water and let it cool. We've had no ill effects from doing this at all. Another option is having a backup clay filtration system like you see in the pictures below. We haven't seen these kits available here in Pearl Lagoon but have found a website that advertises them for sale: Filtron Water Purifier

Clay Water filtration system

Instructions for using your Clay Water filtration system

Monday, July 15, 2013

Our Nicaraguan "story" is published on is a website designed to help people decide where and when they would like to retire. They focus on retirement in 6 different countries - Belize, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Malaysia, Nicaragua and Panama.

The website has information in regard to cost of living, infrastructure, internet, visa requirements and climate for each of these countries. I'm sure you would agree that this is information we are all interested in when we are looking to move to a new country. Besides country specific info they also provide general information on retirement such as financial planning, retirement planning tools, retirement jobs, hobbies and much more!

What I like about this site is that they encourage "real life" stories - they want your take on what life is like for an expat (good and bad) in your retirement country of choice.

Our written submission about moving to and living in Nicaragua has just been published - you can read about it here: Living in Nicaragua and loving it

Awas, Nicaragua

Saturday, July 13, 2013

8 Must try eats in Pearl Lagoon

There are many new and delicious foods to try here on the Atlantic Coast. Coconuts are plentiful and therefore you will find coconut in many foods. The oil of coconuts is also delicious and is used in many recipes which gives the food a unique taste.

While you are in Pearl Lagoon be sure to try some of the following:

coconut curry fish with shrimp - Casa Ulrich

1.  Coconut tarts from the Coconuts Delight Bakery.

2.  Fresh picos are available almost everywhere and sometimes are even sold door to door. Picos are a mixture of sugar, cheese and spices wrapped in dough. Our favorites are found in the blue house on the last east/west street closest to The Point. They usually sell for only 5 cords.

3.  Patties - these too can be found at the Coconuts Delight Bakery but they are most commonly sold on the street. Often you will see someone carrying a basket calling out "patties". Patties make a tasty, inexpensive snack.

4.  Don't miss out on a fresh fish or shrimp dinner at Casa Ulrich. My favorite was a fish cooked in a coconut curry sauce with shrimp - truly delicious!
roast turtle meat (only when in season)

5.  Fresh, hot out of the oven coconut bread by Miss Tina. You can't miss her little home bakery if you are on the road between the Concha and the hotel Casa Blanca between 7 - 7:30 pm (Miss Tina is about 1/2 way on the street and you will find her house in behind the small store) - just follow the wonderful smell of baking bread. If you can't find it - just ask!

6.  In the mood for chicken? The Queen Lobster has a Pollo Frito that's not to be missed. Not only is the price budget friendly at 60 cords but you get a huge plate of fried chicken with plantain strips and fresh cabbage salad.

7.  Try fresh turtle meat (when in season). We were invited to a friends house and tried it made in two ways - in Rondon and the roasted turtle back. We preferred the meat roasted - nice and spicy and delicious with a side of cassava (called yucca on the Pacific coast).
    8.  Finally, don't miss out on Miss Yaya's fresh baked cakes. She is well known in town and is frequently found selling her "cake of the day" - chocolate, vanilla, carrot or banana. Our favorite is the banana cake - simply irresistible!

    Pancho took no time in devouring his pico! (ok - only part of one)

    Thursday, July 11, 2013

    I'm seeing spots before my eyes - What do I do now?

    On the panga. Notice the worry - or is it the wind?
    One day I noticed that I had a black spot that was floating around in my right eye. The next day there seemed to be more. And on the third day even more of them! What I feared most was that my eye problem was a complication of my Diabetes - though Debbie told me it was more likely to be related to old age.  Since I was really concerned about the spots in my eye I took a trip to the clinic here in Pearl Lagoon. They said there was nothing they could do for me and referred me to an Ophthalmologist in Bluefields - Dr. Horell Marti Úbeda López.
    Doctors Office
    Now I was really worried! So, bright and early the next morning I took the panga into Bluefields and prepared for a long day of waiting. Arriving in Bluefields at 7:30 I had a long wait until the doctor's office opened at 2 pm. Yes, I could have taken a later boat but I wanted to make sure I got to Bluefields without a problem (see our post about being stranded in the Lagoon). When I arrived in Bluefields the first thing I did was to locate the doctor's office. Since it is on a main street it was easy to find - the office sign was visible and had the phone number on it. I phoned to see if I could get an appointment to see the doctor that afternoon; again this was no problem. Unlike the doctors in big cities where you have to make an appointment, sometimes weeks in advance,  this doctor could see me that very afternoon. All I had to do was show up at 2:00 pm.
    Finally 2:00 pm arrived and I was sitting on the doctors step anxiously waiting for the door to open. I was happy to find that the doctor spoke English and we were able to communicate easily . His office had all the modern equipment that was necessary to check my eyes. First he checked my glasses to see if the prescription was still good and thankfully they still are. Next, he performed a number of diagnostic tests to test the health of my eyes. The final test was to put some drops in my eyes so that he could determine whether or not my eyes were damaged due to Diabetes. You can imagine my relief when he said that everything was OK. There were no holes or tears in the retina and no deterioration due to Diabetes.
    Through the years, I've had many visits with ophthalmologists and I must say that my visit with Dr. Úbeda was just as professional as any I had in Canada. How much did his services cost? Only 300 Cordoba's ($12.61Cdn)

    Here is his contact information:
    Dr. Horell Maril Úbeda López
    Barrio Punta Fria Frente a C.I.D.C.A.
    Bluefields, R.A.A.S.
    Telephone:  25722414   cell: 88512421
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    Sign for office
    While wandering around Bluefields I saw a excellent use
    for shipping containers

    Wednesday, July 10, 2013

    How can you survive with no Bank in Pearl Lagoon?

    Banpro - Bluefields
     For years we have been doing all our banking online - we very seldom had cash in our pockets in Canada. All our bills were setup to automatically come out of our accounts and we paid by debit card at practically every store - even if we ordered a pizza and had it delivered. We have had to make a lot of adjustments since we moved to Nicaragua - especially Pearl Lagoon.

    Did you know that there is no bank in Pearl Lagoon? There are no ATMs or debit card machines either. Since Pearl Lagoon opperates on a cash basis where do we get our money? Each month we take a panga (small speed boat) to Bluefields and use the ATM at the Banpro Bank. We take enough out of our account to pay our rent and all of our monthly expenses (food, internet, lights, water, etc.) The Banpro will dispense both US dollars as well as Cordobas.

    Where is the bank? If you are arriving by panga from Pearl Lagoon you will take a left at the first street. The bank is just a 1/2 block up on the right (across from the large Moravian church). There are two ATMs out in front in booths where you can privately make your transaction. There has been a security guard outside each time that we have visited the bank for added protection.

    A few lessons we've learned:

    1. Before you leave home make sure you have your bank card with you! On our first trip to Bluefields neither of us brought our cards - it's a good thing that we had extra money with us so that we could get back to Pearl Lagoon and return another day. 
    2. Know or have access to your account number. I tried to take money out of the bank and my bank card wouldn't work. I had to call the bank in Canada and I needed my account number in order for them to help me. 
    3. If the ATM says "there is no cash available in the machine" don't assume that the bank is aware that the machine is empty. If the bank is open, go in and speak with one of the bank employees.

    Are there other options for getting cash in Pearl Lagoon? Yes! Although we haven't used the service there is a Western Union in town. You will find it opposite the Municipal Wharf. Many travelers and residents find this an easy solution to get cash.

    Western Union - Pearl Lagoon

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    Monday, July 8, 2013

    Visa Renewal in Costa Rica and a stay at the RIU Guanacaste

    view from our room at the RIU Guanacaste
    In order to renew our Nicaraguan Tourist Visa we only need to leave the country every 180 days (roughly 6 months). I think it's funny that before we moved to Nicaragua I thought how fun it would be to have a "forced" vacation every 6 months. In reality though, we have found that a trip to Costa Rica hasn't been as carefree and fun as we anticipated. It's not that we have encountered any dangers, and Costa Rica is certainly beautiful but somehow we've always come home feeling that we "missed" something and the expense of the trip wasn't worth it.

    In April it was time to leave Nicaragua to renew our Visa but this time we decided to have a different experience in Costa Rica. Instead of having to "count our pennies" for every expense we decided to try something totally new for us - an all-inclusive resort. Yes, I hear you! Anyone who knows us has heard us say that we don't think an all-inclusive vacation is the way to go.... So.. we are eating our words! After checking out some of the resorts in the Guanacaste area of Costa Rica we finally decided on the RIU Guanacaste. Now, according to the folks on TripAdvisor this resort has a sketchy past in regard to it's treatment of the environment and although I respect their concerns we decided to stay there because the reviews from travelers were mostly favorable and they had the best price.
    Chizu and Pat at the border

    A few days after we booked our 3 nights at the resort we found out that our good friend Chizu was going to be visiting us and wanted to come to Costa Rica with us. We couldn't be happier to share this experience with her. We did have to change our plans to a certain degree. In order to meet her at the airport we needed to arrive in Managua the night before she was due to arrive. We opted to stay at the Best Western Las Mercedes across from the airport.  Although they aren't what you would call "budget accommodations" we enjoyed the opportunity to just relax and not worry about anything.

    Chizu's flight was at noon and after grabbing a quick bite to eat we headed to Casa Silas in Granada for the night in preparation for an early departure the next morning. We again traveled to Costa Rica on TicaBus but this time we left from the Granada terminal. The trip across the border was uneventful and we arrived in Liberia about 11:30 a.m. We had scheduled a transfer to the RIU Guanacaste with Maleku Tours since there is no bus service that would take us past the resort.

    front lobby heading towards the pool - RIU Guanacaste
    We arrived early at the RIU Guanacaste - long before the official check-in time - although our room wasn't ready they gave us our bracelets and told us to go and enjoy lunch and return later to check into our rooms. We were starving by this time, so we literally raced down to the buffet lunch and dug right in! We were almost overwhelmed by the selection - remember we have been in Nicaragua for a year - there was so much to choose from. Check-in was a breeze and we were happy to find that we had adjoining rooms. The rooms were nice but not extra special. We had a view of the ocean from our little balcony but didn't spend any time out there. The grounds are well kept and we enjoyed walking around them. We saw quite a few iguanas sunning themselves on the pathways.

    buffet decoration - RIU Guanacaste
    We found that the food was good whether you ate at the buffet or at one of the specialty restaurants. The only restaurant that we didn't have a good experience with was La Toscana - the Italian one. While the food was good, we found the service was terrible. The table that we were seated at was totally blocked from the view of the waitstaff. Others that came in after us were served before us and we had to ask for everything - bread basket, wine glasses refilled, dishes cleared etc. The night that we were at this restaurant we were asked to fill out a survey - and you can bet we did!

    On our last night at the resort we enjoyed the Grill and Steakhouse - you have to make a reservation to eat here. The food was excellent and the portions were huge. We also loved the location because it is the closest restaurant to the beach and so there was a beautiful sunset while we enjoyed dinner.

    pathway leading to the pool - RIU Guanacaste
    So, besides eating what else did we do at the RIU? Well, the pool was a huge draw - and not just because there was a swim-up bar! Although the resort has a nice beach area we found that there was a big undertow and Pat (who can't really swim) didn't feel safe - so we spent most of our time in the pool.

    The animation team put on Water Aerobics everyday which Chizu and Pat eagerly joined. There was also a nature walk that took us along the beach and the guide pointed out different plants and animals. The highlight of the walk was seeing a large troupe of Howler monkeys with a number of babies - they were a lot of fun to watch. I would recommend joining this free tour if you ever stay at the RIU Guanacaste. There was also nightly entertainment - a Michael Jackson show, karaoke and another show that I can't remember the name of. The shows were both ok - fun to watch but they won't win any awards with them.

    So... all in all, I must say that we thoroughly enjoyed our 3 night vacation at the resort. In fact, we were talking about meeting Chizu there again next year! We found that we definitely got our moneys worth going the all-inclusive route and we came away relaxed and happy with the overall experience.

    Pat, Debbie and Chizu enjoying a cold one in the pool - RIU Guanacaste

    pool aerobics - RIU Guanacaste

    view from the Steak House - RIU Guanacaste

    fabulous steak dinner - RIU Guanacaste

    From the Grocery Bag

    For the last little while we have missed the veggie truck and been purchasing our veggies from a local tienda. While this has been convenient, due to the fact that they are close to the house, we have found that the veggies haven't been of the best quality.

    So, you can imagine how happy I was when today I heard the familiar voice calling out, "cebolla, pi
    ña, tomatoes.....". I dropped what I was doing, gabbed my money and ran down to the basketball court where the truck was - I wasn't going to miss out this time!

    Boy - am I glad I did. Did you know that it is the beginning of pitaya season? I didn't. We were able to get two beauties! Aslo, the carrots and onions looked way better than the ones I have recently been buying. So, for only $240 cordobas or just over $10 CDN this is what we bought:

    • 2 lbs of onions
    • 2 pitaya
    • 2 piña
    • 1 lbs of tomatoes
    • 2 chayote
    • 3 green peppers
    • 2 lbs of carrots

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    Saturday, July 6, 2013

    Rainy season blues!

    rainwater running off the roof
    We've actually had sun most days this week - but I'm still going to talk about the rainy season. I've been told that this has been a "dry" year in comparison to other years. However, I must say, that it has already rained a LOT!

    Often when it rains, it isn't a nice gentle sprinkle. No, it's a full-out downpour! It's like someone taking a bucket full of water and turning it upside-down. One minute you are dry and the next you are soaked to the skin - but at least the rain is warm.

    One thing that I have noticed is that a lot of people collect the rain water. You can see in the picture above that there is a barrel covered with plastic. The barrel contains rainwater that they have already collected and are storing. This water is used for washing and sometimes even for bathing. The municipal water comes with a charge - rainwater is free.

    This time of year it's important to be prepared for the rain to start at any time. Take along your umbrella and wear shoes that you don't mind getting muddy and soaked. We have started to wear our "Crocs" all the time. Many times the downpour doesn't last that long and you can wait it out until it's over and then go on your way. Most people don't mind if you duck under their porch until the rain passes - sometimes they will even bring out a chair for you to sit on!

    A sudden downpour kept us indoors for about 1/2 hour

    Arriving home just in time - look at those clouds!
    Getting your laundry dry can be especially difficult during the rainy season. Having a "dry" place to hang your clothes helps. We have installed lines under our porch to hang our clothes but sometimes the rain comes in sideways because of the wind and they don't dry. So, we have a secondary place to hang them - inside in our spare bedroom. It can take a couple of days for everything to dry properly.

    Clothes drying on the porch.

    Drying clothes in-between showers

    Riding through a huge puddle on the road to Raitipura

    The ducks enjoy the opportunity for a bath
    During this time of year you can hear frogs singing and if you aren't careful you may step on them as you walk up to your front door. In the ditches on the side of the road you will find a lot of tadpoles. When I checked out one ditch I couldn't believe how many of the tadpoles had already turned into small frogs. Check out the video.