I have been a lazy blogger. Perhaps I should say, more accurately, I have not been a blogger for close to a year. My last blog post reported on my early months in Nicaragua, after I moved to the beach town of San Juan Del Sur at the end of September, 2016. Now a year has passed, and in early October, 2017 I left San Juan Del Sur and traveled by road, with the vast majority of my worldly goods in eight footlockers, three suitcases, and two carry-ons, with a couple of giant garbage bags protecting my made-in-Nicaragua rolled-up orthopedic foam mattress topper, to Progreso, a beach town on the northern (Gulf) coast of the Yucatán Peninsula, in Mexico.
I guess I owe my loyal audience of four or five readers an explanation, so here goes.
In October 2016 I settled in to my friend’s former apartment across from the library and behind the church in San Juan Del Sur, and discovered that living there made me feel younger, more contented, and more alive. Between the singing coming from Jehovah’s witnesses’ Kingdom Hall on my block, surrounded by three or four schools, and the daily chattering and calling out of students, the singing and the drumming practice, punctuated by parades and processions, the frequent tsunami drills (involving walking uphill out of town on the main road towards Rivas), the setting off of firecrackers by the church on the street outside for every saint’s day and who knows what other celebrations, many of them powerful enough to shake the walls of my apartment, the circulating vendors every morning calling out their wares: “Nacatamales!” “Aguacate!” “Piña!”, the buses, motos and heavy-duty construction trucks rumbling past my bedroom window—life going on all around me—I took to sleeping with ear-plugs, night-owl that I am, so I could manage to sleep past the 6:00 a.m. church bells.
Over time I gradually found my favorite affordable restaurants and take-out places, the best places to buy my favorite produce, a good hairdresser for cuts and another good at color, continued with Spanish lessons and gradually made some friends and acquaintances. Every Monday night I went to Big Wave Dave’s for their superb chayote soup and then joined a team to play Trivia. The winning team each week won a bottle of Nicaraguan Flor de Caña rum, which was served on a tray with multiple shot glasses so they could treat all the losing teams as well as the winners. For a while there I spent Friday afternoons at Hotel Monte Verde, out on the notoriously pot-holed, unpaved road known as the Chocolata, enjoying the pool, a beer or two or Yong’s famous strawberry daiquiris, and 10-cent chicken wings with friends. Later, it was “Taco Tuesdays” at Rojo Loco, also on the beach, and another Canadian-owned and run establishment, or falafel at the stand next to San Juan Del Sur’s Chabad House, where I was always given a warm Israeli welcome. Another favorite was restaurant El Timon’s happy hour, where one could order a couple of large plates of fish carpaccio and a veggie wrap or chicken wings for a dollar a plate, right on the beach, while watching the sun set over the ocean.
I went with my Spanish school to Ometepe Island for a day, and with friends to Granada for a long weekend. There were trips to the beaches, and cultural, fund-raiser events held in bars, restaurants, and elegant resorts up in the hills. I even wound up being granted residency in Nicaragua, although by the time it came through I had already decided to leave the country.
What prompted that decision? A smaller-than-optimal pool of expats in a smaller-than-optimal sized town, despite the growing awareness that it matters to me to live close to the ocean—it brings me peace in a very embodied, physiological way, that I don’t experience away from the coast. In addition, I felt that the availability of emergency medical care was less than optimal, and that worried me about a place that I had been contemplating as the location where I would grow old. In addition, while Nicaragua does actually have some decent grocery stores and a couple of PriceSmart stores (like, and formerly affiliated with, Costco), none of these were within shouting distance of San Juan Del Sur, which is served by a small branch of the lower-end grocery chain owned by WalMart, mercado vendors who purchase their wares from the larger mercado in Rivas, and re-sellers of items purchased in the better stores in Managua. I’m not the kind of expat who craves treats only to be found in the U.S. or Canada and that can usually be purchased only at stores catering to expats, such as Doritos, particular brands of mayonnaise, steak sauce, etc., but I passed an entire year never seeing asparagus sold locally, and when I did see it, in Managua, it cost $12 a pound (I realize that Nicaragua doesn’t provide the correct growing conditions for asparagus, and other produce that requires frost or cold temperatures). So I was able to admit to myself that there really were some things I missed in my everyday life that I did not anticipate seeing any time soon in my current town, although it is the largest coastal city in Nicaragua. Above all, I realized that I just wasn’t ready, a mere year after retiring from my last place of employment, to “settle down” somewhere!
So at some point between a March/April trip to Miami to catch up on my health care with Medicare doctors there, and July, when I unexpectedly received the call to go to Managua to pick up my cédula (residency card),
despite never receiving the expected interview with Migración, a plan to move north (but still “furthersouth” from California, where I was living when I started this blog) began to formulate. I think Mexico had always been in the back of my mind as a Plan B, though initially I was unsure if I would meet the criteria for residency there. I was fairly confident, having experienced two very satisfying 3-week trips there in the 80s, that I could find somewhere in that vast country that would suit me and that it would be more likely to meet my needs as I aged. Moving lock, stock and barrel to Mexico, then putting most of my possessions in storage there for a while, would also give me a virtually unlimited time to explore and discover what town or city felt right to me in which to settle down.