You wake up one morning, rub your eyes, stretch a bit, head’s still foggy… you open your bedroom drapes and bare witness to this:
You curse your great-great grandparents for choosing such a place to begin with, wishing that the view out of your bedroom window looked more like this:
Now show of hands… who here has a secret (or not-so secret) desire to ditch the cold and settle some place tropical?
Ah-ha! That’s what I thought. Lots of hands shooting up.
Well Twiddle Dee and Twiddle Dum here gave it a try back in 2016.
We checked our winter white, porcelain skin and city slicker personas at the door and spent six months in Nicaragua, experiencing wet season, dry season, remote mountain living and inner city living.
Here is an honest account of what we experienced when we stepped out of our comfort zone and dove into a daily life of tropical living in Nicaragua. If you’re only familiar with vacation resorts, you’re in for a shock!
TROPICAL LIVING: THE PERKS
The picture you paint in your head when envisioning tropical living is quite accurate. There is plenty of sunshine, beaches are often not too far away, an abundance of fruits growing freely everywhere, and plenty of vegetation and beautiful flowers. Your surroundings can charm you quite easily as you ease into a slow-paced life, filled with such beauty.
Watching the sunrise over morning coffee while listening to the breeze and sweet birds sing along with echoes of monkeys nearby is as serene as it can get.
Having lunch by the water, going for a swim or paddle boarding becomes your new reality.
If water isn’t your cup of tea, a nice hike up in the mountains is always a treat!
City living is also an option, where there is a plethora of gorgeous homes available for rent, such as the colonial home we stayed in while in Granada.
Featured are indoor gardens, parrots in your kitchen area, and open concepts... all accessible if that’s what you desire your tropical living experience. The house in Granada was so huge that we playfully named parts of the home East Wing, North Wing, West Wing, chicken Wing… OKAY, I made that last one up.
Now hold on… Before you rush into things and book your next flight out of your frozen misery, you need to know about the potential downsides of tropical living. Everything I previously mentioned comes at a price. I’m not talking about a financial price either! I’m talking about challenges you may face on a daily basis.
Oh this is going to be fun!
TROPICAL LIVING: WEATHER
How hot do you like it?
The reason I’m asking is because this is how hot it was indoors in our open kitchen area:
Sophie called it a "perimenopausing" nightmare! Not the ideal weather conditions for anyone “blessed” with hot flashes. You know it’s truly hot when walking around naked in your home still leaves you drenched in sweat. And of course, with sweat comes chaffing! Chaffing in between your thighs, your butt cheeks, your armpits. Sounds delightful doesn’t? It’s like someone came and sandpapered your body while you were sleeping.
You always have the option to live mountain side for a more temperate, manageable climate, but then you’re most likely far away from the beaches and major cities, leaving you isolated and car dependant.
Living near a beach is also an option as you get a nice breeze that cools things down a bit, but sand does get everywhere in your home and I do mean everywhere! Ah… Just get a broom. Hahahahaha
That covers about half the year.
You ARE aware of rainy season, right? Where four to six months out of the year kind of looks like this:
Depending where you live, you might be subject to hurricanes, cyclones, mud slides and earthquakes (if living on the ring of fire). The Ying to the sunshine’s Yang.
Rainy season is when most of the bugs and pests come out.
Which leads me to…
TROPICAL LIVING: BUGS!
Snakes, bats, spiders ranging to the size of a softballs, tiny scorpions and even scorpions the size of baby lobsters, cockroaches, geckos, ants, mosquitoes, centipedes… sometimes found outside while sometimes they can be found inside your very home!
Ideally you shake your bed sheets before turning in to ensure no creepy crawlers are nestling in between your sheets. A mosquito net above your bed or at the very least a few fans blowing towards your bed to keep the mosquitoes away is also a necessity. And of course, pulling your bedframe a few inches from the wall is always a good idea.
Cooking can be challenging as well due to the frequent appearance of ants. As soon as you start laying all of your ingredients out on the counter, the ant army comes marching in. Meal preparation becomes a race. Who will finish first? You or the ants?
Sometimes they even help themselves to the dry cat food!
There's always a possibility of ants in your cupboards, cockroaches on your toothbrush, scorpions in your shoes. You have to check everything before every usage and seal everything when putting it away.
Our cat didn’t seem to mind the bugs at all. Countless times we found chewed up geckos and headless bats inside our home. Fun for the whole family!
TROPICAL LIVING: HEALTH
Don’t kid yourself, you WILL get sick! It’s just a question of time. No matter how much bug spray you apply or how careful you are with the water you drink, eventually something’s going to strike.
During the summer we spent in Granada I’d say about half the population had zika, walking around town covered in red polka dots. The World Health Organization (WHO) reports are only worth the paper they’re written on as we soon realized amongst the people in our community that doctors wouldn’t admit it was zika when consulted with our illness, thus not reporting it as such. “Can we run a blood test to see if it’s zika? No es necesario”. One can only assume that the real numbers would probably be too harmful to the tourist industry.
Which one will you get? Dengue? Malaria? Chikungunya? Zika? Diarrhea? An infection? Open sores?
Spin that wheel! See where it lands!
TROPICAL LIVING: DAILY LIFE
Living in a tropical country is a lot like stepping into a time machine and going back to much simpler times. That is compared to what our reality is back home. You can smoke anywhere, if that’s your thing. You can be a passenger in the back of a pick-up truck or go to the market and get to know the vendors on a personal level.
Stepping back in time also means your electricity and water might not be as reliable as you’re used to. Shortage of the two are a pretty common occurrence, depending where you live. Your showers could possibly only have cold water or very low water pressure.
Using something as basic as a washing machine becomes a project. In fact, everything is a project and comes with a story:
“It hasn’t rained for three weeks so there’s no more tap water. You have to use the water from the reserve tanks by activating the water pump, but not right now because the electricity is down. Don’t worry, the officials said that the electricity should be back mañana *wink* *wink*. Once the electricity is back on, you need to hit the bottom of the water reserve tank with a broom handle so that the water starts circulating down into the water pump, then that should be fine. Excuse me… what? Oh… you’re down to your last pair of underwear… you’re going to have to hand wash them in the sink using your bottled drinking water”.
If you don’t own a vehicle and walking isn’t a feasible option, getting around can be challenging as public transportation is scarce in some rural areas and not always on time.
Local bus rides can be an “exhausting” ride as you do the milk run amongst the chickens, pigs and other farm animals that sometimes ride alongside the passengers:
For comfort and security, taxis or hiring a personal driver are your only other options, but it gets pricey quite fast if used regularly.
Probably the best life lesson that local living in the Tropics instilled in us is that you must adjust your daily pace. Book only one important task per day!
If you are a Type A personality where you’re the king of multi-tasking and have long TO DO lists, you will loose your frikin’ mind!
Business hours are suggested, not certain. People are relaxed and choose to put life ahead of business, so don’t be surprised if a store is closed even though the business hours at the door indicates otherwise.
When businesses are open, long line-ups and slow counter service ARE definite. Something as minute as going to the bank can easily take up an hour, if not more.
It’s hot! People slow their pace to not overexert themselves. Besides, it’s great for socializing and chatting with the locals.
Every time we had to go run some errands, Sophie would always quip: “Time to go lose my youth in line!”.
It’s important to realize that errands are not about getting the task done, it’s about the people you meet en route and the interpersonal connections you make along the way.
Don’t fight it, just embrace it! It’s an opportunity to slow down, lower your blood pressure and make new friends! And don’t forget… mañana doesn’t mean it will happen tomorrow, it just means that it won’t happen today.
TROPICAL LIVING: MR. POPULAR
You’re pale-ass, fresh off the plane, and you’ve become an instant celebrity!
Look at you! Everybody wants to be your friend!
Taxi.. taxi! Tour? You want a tour? Give me one dollar! Hello my friend! Mister… Mister!
After getting some color and living there for a while, it does die down, but somehow Jorge won’t get the memo and will still chat you up every single day, multiple times a day, trying to get you to buy one of his tours.
Sophie’s pretty Zen when it comes to touts, but alas it is still my Achilles tendon whenever I’m abroad.
This makes it difficult at first to integrate with locals. It's possible, but surely challenging and requires a lot of time and patience but once your in, your in! You’ll get to experience Nica local life first hand and become an extended part of the family.
TROPICAL LIVING: CULTURE SHOCK
Sophie always compares travelling with going to the carnival. There’s the roller coaster ride, the merry-go-round, the house of horrors, and the hustling vendors! Your eyes, your ears, your nose, all of your senses are at attention and you just never know what your day will be like.
That’s what makes travelling so appealing! When you’re tired of it, you punch your ticket home and wait it out until you get that itch to go to the carnival again.
Our biggest culture shock by far was witnessing just how deeply rooted the catholic religion is in Nicaragua. O…M…G…
We’d just arrived in Granada and witnessed our first religious parade:
Then later that day, we see another one… then another one!
What’s going on?!?
Every… single… day… at least three religious parades. As early as 4:30am to as late as 9-10pm at night. Marching band roaring on, blocking all traffic behind them.
The start of each parade is announced with a barrage of fire crackers, shot off from a mortar launcher installed on the steps of the church.
During Virgin Mary month of May, which lasts from the last week of April until the first week of June (don’t ask) we heard on average about three hundred ear-piercing firecracker explosions per day. But don’t sweat it, once that “month” has come and gone it dies down to about half that amount.
All twelve or so daily masses are broadcasted live on TV. Prayer groups assemble in people’s living room multiple times a week.
Like I said, it’s like time travelling back to my grand-parents era but on steroids!
Treatment of animals
By far THE biggest struggle for us is witnessing the poor condition and quality of life of animals.
There are a disappointing number of street dogs who are mangled and starving, horses that are over-worked, underfed and skinny to the bones. Many dogs with barely two feet of leash, attached to a post, were left out in the sun for hours on end.
Without going into too many harsh details, let’s just say that we’ve seen and heard enough animal misfortunes imaginable.
TROPICAL LIVING: SHOULD I STAY OR SHOULD I GO?
So… do you think you have what it takes to settle down in a tropical country?
Each personal experience is unique. As straightforward as we are about our tropical living experience it doesn’t guarantee that any of these are going to be your reality.
Different city, different country, different continent, different results.
Not long after our Nicaragua adventure we spent three months in South East Asia and although certain realities remain the same regarding tropical living, some aspects are completely different. Same-same but different!
We know expats first hand who love it. It all comes down to knowing yourself very well and sometimes just diving in and trying it out for yourself, like we did!
BONUS SECTION: REWARD
For those of you who’ve experienced long-term tropical living, this travel badge is your reward:
One travel badge per Road Stories article. Let’s see how many you collect over time.
BONUS SECTION AGAIN!
Now that you've read about it, come and see for yourself:
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