Saturday, November 8, 2008

Philanthropy 101 in Nicaragua

Most of us come to countries like Nicaragua because we are looking to share in the simple way of life, fresh air, fresh food and outdoor eco-tourism activities or sports that Central America is famous for. We love and respect this country so much, that we want to buy a property of our own to enjoy it to the max, or better yet invest on a variety of levels.

After a couple times visiting or investing, however, human compassion kicks in and we tend to feel the need to "give back" and contribute to the economic or overall well being of these third world developing countries that have offered us so much to enhance our own quality of life. But HOW?? As foreigners, we are sometimes conditioned to think that one has to either have money or a specific philanthropic organization in order to "make a difference". This couldn't be farther from the truth. Whether it's selecting an independent organization or governmental agency that you believe in or identify with, or something as simple as bringing down old clothing or sporting equipment for locals, we can all do something to improve conditions in the countries we travel to.

At Century 21, Barry Oliver (owner of the franchise) and other partner owners sponsor local children to attend school. We also sponsor a local baseball team with uniforms and equipment, donate money for road improvements and church activities and emergency funding for projects.. I personally encourage all my clients to contribute an extra $10 or $20 when investing and making escrow transfers, that can be donated to Century 21's local sponsorship and volunteer efforts.

My first year living in Costa Rica in 2002, I became involved in an event called the Pura Vida No Pro for orphans in San José. I am still involved today. Click here for a current interview on the event in Drift Magazine, or if you are in the St. Augustine area, pick one up!

My first year living in Nicaragua, I joined the Day of Light Love Light and Melody event at La Chureca land fill in Managua. Click here for that story as well.

No matter how small your contribution, I encourage all of you thinking of living in, investing in or visiting Nicaragua to get involved in an annual charity event or contact an ex-pat organization or think about a way you can help make life better for the nice people of this country, like our friend and client Archie Newell.

Click HERE to help and get involved!


Tuesday, October 21, 2008

So is the market down now in Nicaragua?...

...No, it's not. As the mass economic hysteria continues in the US of A (you would think this was our country's 1st period in history of slow market growth!?), life as usual continues in tranquilo countries like Nicaragua.

In what may seem like and ironical twist, we have seen business actually increase noticeably in recent weeks. Why-you might ask?

The answer is simple (here it is from an ethnocentric perspective): When the market is good, people have extra cash and confidence to "take risk" and invest overseas. When the market is bad, smart investors continue to invest overseas and people who are now scared to invest domestically look for more tangible investment opportunities in growing markets.

The bonus: Now you can do the same, even if you're cash strapped. today overviews a few new programs to encourage lending in Central American, developing countries.

I'm a very patriotic person, but I also can't help but find some amusement in the fact that it may be easier for one of us "gringos" to get a loan in Latin America than it is in the US right now.

Instead of expending negative energy complaining about your fund manager who just flew the coop making off with the last 10 years of your bond earnings, maybe look south of the border to make up some of that lost ROI?

You could be staring at a palm tree instead of a red balance sheet...

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Nicaragua Top 5 Real Estate Markets in Latin America

Well, well, well. And where is Costa Rica on this list? ;)

"Nicaragua appears to be an investor's dream, offering an ideal retirement and vacation destination for millions of people, especially Americans and Europeans."

Click here for the low down!-

Monday, October 13, 2008

Is Nicaragua Dangerous???

GEEZ. If I had a dollar for every time someone asked me that question....

How did a country oozing with friendly, peaceful people develop such an incredibly devastating reputation for violence?

State's NBC's TODAY Show Travel Analyst Peter Greenberg: "[Although the TODAY Show feature on NIca reached 12 Million viewers], there are an incredible percent of people who are still misinformed about Nicaragua."

I'm going to clear some things up right here, right now:

To be honest, foreigners and their families are more safe in Nicaragua than any other country in Latin America. Global authorities also agree. Below I am going to go into detail on the crime factor in Nica. Unfortunately, sometimes it is not represented correctly and Costa Rica takes the limelight of being the “safe haven” when that can’t be farther from the truth. For example, I only know one person who has been the victim of an assault/robbery in Nicaragua, while I could quickly make a list of over 100 close friends in Costa Rica who have been assaulted in the last year alone. Most murders in Costa Rica, on the other hand, never hit the press due to covering up and censorship by local authorities.

Click HERE and HERE for some recent press about crime in Costa Rica, a country flaunted by the US government for its safety in order to protect diplomatic relations.

The OIJ international police is actually instructed to cover up violent stories and prevent them from hitting the news!

Here are more stats regarding crime:

Costa Rica is #19 highest murder rate in the world, with .06 per 1,000 people.
The US, with its nearly 50 murders per day is ranked safer at #24. Another "safe" country, Australia< is #43.

Nicaragua doesn’t even break the top 75. They are somewhere down the line at .00034 murders per 1,000 people.

Q. How safe are you in Nicaragua?
A. According to INCAE, the Harvard Business school affiliate in Latin America, Nicaragua is the safest country, and Granada is one of the safest cities, in all of Central America.

A popular way to measure a country’s level of violent crime is using the murder rate.

"Nicaragua suffers only 3.4 per 100,000, making it the least violent country in Central America and one of the safest in all the hemisphere."

The world’s homicide rate is currently 8.86 per 100,000.
The U.S. murder rate is 7.1 per 100,000
14.8 per 100,000 for Los Angeles,
21.9 per 100,000 for Chicago, and
41.8 per 100,000 for Washington, D.C.

Costa Rican homicide rate is 7.2 per 100,000.
El Salvador at 117 per 100,000,
Guatemala at 45 per 100,000 and
Honduras at 41 per 100,000.
Latin America as a whole has a rate of 22.9 per 100,000.

Hopefully this has given my readers more insight into the safety of Nicaragua. The point I would like to make is that, in reality, Nicaragua is the safest country in Latin America and safer than the US, UK, Australia, Poland, Finland, Portugal, Hungary, France, Canada, Iceland, Chile, Italy, Germany, Spain, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Ireland, Switzerland, Greece, Japan, Hong Kong and many other countries that the world may perceive as “safe”.

I recommend that all of you come to Nicaragua and see for yourself. It couldn't be farther from the unfortunate picture painted by the biased US media during the 1970's.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Finally, a Surfing Breakthrough

“Dunphee! – I’m so sorry I was in your way! Did I ruin that barrel for you or did you make it out?”

“Huh, what? Ahh, no, I didn’t even see you; all I could see was, like, barrel.”

Up-and-coming pro Michael Dunphee used hand motions to show me just how much tunnel vision he had focused on that barrel. The kind of tunnel vision where whilst getting so shacked, one doesn’t realize he trimmed casually over the head of a blonde wahine, whose life was spared by a mere millimeter of God’s good grace. I’m a realist, and my take is that this can usually only be attributed to being… a guy, a male an XY’er. When it comes to “pulling in”, we chicks tend to over-analyze the situation in a split second and almost decide how we’re bailing before the peak even swings our way. Straighten out, pull through the back, pray… there are a handful of survival strategies for barrel dodging and fleeing from a ravaging lip. Surfing Booms doesn’t make it any easier. Ana from New Zealand put it best after popping up from a failed duck dive yesterday morning (alas, board-ditching is common here), exclaiming, “This wave is brutal!!!” I don’t think anyone who has surfed here would disagree.

After 7 months, 3 weeks and 2 days of living within a 5-minute drive from this wave, one would think I would have it wired by now. I’m pretty competent in the water, have about 10 years of competitive and travel experience under my belt. I even spent a 3-month stint living right in front of it at Hotel Chancletas! But this is no ordinary wave. Unless you are a high-ranking WCT surfer, the wave at Chancletas will humble you. I say this after nearly a year of having witnessed pros on photo trips and Average Joes fly or drive in from around the world to a perfect looking, seemingly innocent line-up at The Boom, only to come in from their first session with head hanging, a broken board, or worse. The most agile athletes start to “hold their own” after a few sessions or sometimes a week, but let’s face it, we females are either much smarter or much safer about our surfing, given that most guys break more boards in a week than I have broken all year.

The elusive barrel~ I would pull in here and there; a calculated tread amongst dodging the obstacle course of closeout walls. On every wave I would have one eye on potential surfers (accidents waiting to happen) floundering in my bottom turn vicinity and one eye on the lip, making for some frustratingly interrupted and mediocre surfing. Focus! Obviously, living here I’ve had my fare share of perfect waves and tubes, but had never really shaken the anxious flutter in my chest of navigating a 12-inch thick pitching lip while trying to avoid a poor soul in the impact zone. Until yesterday, that is.

Yesterday, everything just clicked. Energy seemed to surge out of my arms as I paddled. Each wave I mentally knew I was going to make it no matter what. Despite the very large, very perfect bombs pulsing through consecutively, I was unfazed. Wave after wave: push over the ledge, bottom turn, set, locked in, spit out. Or the other strategy: drop and stall, hand lightly trailing across the face of the wave as if it hadn’t crossed your mind that you skirted absolute disaster by a split second; the aftermath of the wave would have provided you a quick lesson on the physics of what I like to call the Black Hole (aka face slammed into volcanic sand).

Sure, after about 15 perfect waves I took about just as many on the head. And yes, I’ll admit the absolutely flawless surf helped make this breakthrough possible. But nothing could ruin the feeling of realizing that today I too had tunnel vision. Sitting sola in the still pumping line-up after while everyone, exhausted, was on their second breakfast, I couldn’t have been any more content. Today, it was more of the same.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Fruit glorious Fruit

Tropical fruit is bountiful to say the least, here in Northern Nicaragua where the soil is some of the most fertile in the world. Papayas can be 3 feet long, watermelon redder than thought possible (and as sweet as it looks), avocados the size of your head (I'm only slightly exaggerating).

Most people might not know that although we're in the midst of a global food crisis, Nicaragua still has the cheapest food in all of Central America. Especially produce.

Some of the fruit you can find here in abundance is:
-Pineapple (gold and white varieties)
-Star Fruit
-The best tomatoes in the world
-Huge variety of Bananas
-Huge variety of Mangoes
-Passion Fruit
-Much more!

The most expensive fruit on this list is a watermelon for $2. I can't get enough!

Monday, August 18, 2008

¿Where does the time go?

People frequently ask , “What do you do all day, living in Central America? Don’t you ever get bored?!” These queries are understandable from newcomers; it is common for most people to have a travel experience in Central America that consists of an all-inclusive resort or a trip from the vacation rental to the local pulperia to refill the stock of margarita mix in the fridge. Fortunately, when one decides to make the transition from tourist to ex-pat in Central America, s/he can expect to develop new interests, meet new people and even revisit old hobbies. In essence, create a new life experience in a foreign country.

In an effort to bring insight to a potential future ex-pat’s lifestyle ideal, the following is an example of how his/her day might go:

5:15am-Why am I awake at 5:15am? Is my clock right? Does it always get light this early? Note to self, drink more Chilean Malbec tonight.
5:30am-Cup or organic coffee (or green smoothie), perhaps and select one of the following options:
Check surf
• Bust out fishing rod
• Yoga on ocean view patio
• Run on beach
• Horseback riding on beach (if low-mid tide)
• Collect seashells
• Make business phone call to Japan
• Go back to sleep

8am-By this time unless the waves are epic or the fishing is good, you will probably be making your way back home for breakfast. Say, a fresh tropical fruit plate or scrambled eggs with gallo pinto and toast (fresh baked bread, of course).

9am-Unless the waves are going off, at this time you will be getting into your main activity of the day. This can be any of the following options (including but not limited to):
• Go to work (that would be me)
o Put out fires, make pho calls, check e-mail, run to nearest civilized town for some sort of meeting or errands
• Check on construction, like my friend Holly Beck
• If you have a house, do some gardening or planting
• Hang out in pool at the Marina
• Read a book
• Test out machete technique on unsuspecting tropical plants
• Head to nearest civilized town for grocery shopping, bank, yadda yadda yadda and maybe pizza or Subway

Noon-Even if the waves are still firing, by this time people are starting to drop like flies. The rest of us are still out and about but thinking about lunch, at least by 1pm.

2pm-It’s hot at 2pm. Hopefully you’re somewhere with a/c (doubtful) or an ocean breeze and a beer (probable). Also a good time for a dip in the ocean or nap in the hammock. For me, if it’s a day at the office I usually have an appointment with clients from

3-6pm. If not, I could be anywhere from the border of Honduras to the border of Costa Rica to an island in the Caribbean, you know, scouting out property.

5:30-Sunset. What, sunset already? Yes, sunset. Daylight savings time is an invention of the US. Again, I can’t stress enough how important it is to have beer in hand and be strategically positioned with view of and breeze off the ocean. Only not for the heat this time… mosquitoes…

7pm-After some good conversation with whomever you were watching the sunset with, it’s dinnertime! A possible menu could be the following:
• Fish you caught in the morning (snook, mahi, snapper or corvina, likely)
• Fish that the guy who took you surfing in the boat caught (see above)
• Ceviche or cocktail of shrimp or clams
• The chicken that either a) you almost hit driving this morning or b) woke you up with its squawking
• BBQ Peliguey, a cross between a sheep and a goat (don’t knock it ‘til you’ve tried it)
• Any of the above accompanied by rice, beans, salad, vegetables, fried plantains and some salsa picante. And beer.
• If you’re a veg, replace the fauna with a soup, salad or stir-fry prepared with any selection of the plethora of fresh veggies available in the area. Buen provecho!

After dinner-When you live in Central America, it takes longer than 30 minutes to eat dinner, because we are not rushed and enjoy our meals here. By now it’s probably close to 9pm. Or if you are my French neighbors, you start eating after 9pm. The following are some standard options:
• Switch from beer to Flor de Caña, chilled, with lime (get ready for karaoke of Red Red Wine later)
• Continue chatting with friends and/or listening to music
• Leisurely read a book or magazine
• Call it a night and sleep (or other)

See!? Time flies when you’re having fun. Of course, other life responsibilities will get in the way of having a perfect day every day, but just by rotating the above activities you will wish the days were longer.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

What's in a Name?

So many Anglo-Saxon names are difficult to pronounce to people’s native tongue in Español. Let’s face it, not as many first world tourists have problems pronouncing cerveza as locals here have saying the name Jimmy, for example; it comes out yim-nee.

Another case in point: Kristin (me) and Shannon (my sister).

Kristin:is commonly but butchered in the following way:

And Shannon…
Cha- know
Sha- whoa + many other variations we haven’t yet figured out how to put in writing. Thus, we’ve decided to alter our names: Kristin has become Kristina and Shannon converted to Shakira.

The results have been encouraging and deemed success as of yet, especially Shakira. Who doesn’t like this peppy, blonde, spiral curl head super star? Facers light up immediately when we introduce the former Shannon as Shakira. A glimpse of recognition flashes across their faces of if to say, “Hey, I know who Shakira is. I know you already!” Then, they get suddenly timid as they begin to ponder whether or not she really is the real thing. It’s a win-win, as they’re as happy they can pronounce our names as we are.

Organic Farms & the Nica Interior

Going 3 years traveling in, about or around Nicaragua, most of my time has been spent surfing, walking coastal farms or searching for beach side property. I’ve scoured out practically every surfable wave between Gran Pacifica + Jiquilillo over the past 6 months. I also love my beachfront rancho-style hideaway. But living in Nica, part of the job and responsibility of being a foreigner here is learning about the different people, culture + attributes of other regions of the country besides San Juan del Sur, Popoyo + the Northern Coastline. So over the weekend, on a whim at 4am, Shan and I decided to visit the more temperate climate of the mountainous agricultural dept of Estelí.

The fresh air, green valleys and mountains were reminiscent of Costa Rica. All types of produce and coffee is grown here. The trip from Chinandega/ Acerradores was a solid 5 hours, with each roadway an education into a different etapa of Nicaragua history. But, the destination well worth it. So what if the tobacco factory where Cuban puros are hard rolled was closed, and we had to switch hotels after checking into a place with not-so-hospitable hospitality. We now know where to go/where not to go, and were at least able to buy 3 lunches for ourselves + trusty driver for $4 including fresh pineapple juice, plus purchase hand carved marble earrings for $1/ each.

The highlight of our night in Estelí were the delectable margaritas at Café Vuela Vuela dowtown. I was also super excited to visit an organic farm and do some Swiss goat cheese tasting (Who knew!) in the farming cooperative and protected land of La Garnacha. Shannon made fun of me because organic celery and bok choy excite me. There was also a beautiful “mirador” where you can see lake Managua, Volcán Mombacho, Cerro Negro + San Cristobal all from one look-out.

We were a little bummed that with all the fertile land sprawling the countryside, the 22 people on 140 manzanas at La Garnacha are the only ones we have heard of besides hear near Ometepe who take advantage of the ability to farm organically. We bought a few plant to add to the ever–growing garden at our new Century 21 Marina office on 5 acres of land, while the coop also gave seeds for veggies and pine trees to my driver. His family has always been agricultural but hopefully now Osmar will bring back some of the education he got at the farm to the locals in his own community of Acerradores “Poco a Poco”, hopefully we foreigners can make a different here and share new, more advanced ways of doing old tasks.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Day in the Life

It was hot. Sweltering even. Hot in the way that that thin layer of sand kicked up by your flip flops as you walk over the dunes sears the sales of you feet as it sifts between the rubbery plastic and your skin. Hot in the way that as you gaze down the coast, you notice the heat rising off the ground before noticing the dark green barrels with light offshores spilling empty along the coastline. Every time, it makes me ponder the strange extremes of my occupation.

If you asked we who I was, I probably wouldn’t say “real estate agent”, but I do specialize in structuring investment opportunities and finding properties for foreigners relocating to Nicaragua or at least establishing some sort of a presence here. Because I am the only foreigner myself (that I know of) performing these actions in the Chinandega area and one of the few in the developing coastal areas of Northern Nica, my job is loosely structured. Responsibilities can span an array of activities. There is no exact formula for efficiency and success, but years of experience, fluency in Spanish + respect for local culture can help support making successful connections between buyers and sellers.

Most everyone asks me if I moved here specifically to surf, but that’s not quite accurate. I regularly go consecutive days and sometime even weeks without getting in the water. Occasionally, work and pleasure can mix and I’ll surf with clients or discover a new wave while searching for property. A perfect example is the other day when I happened to be able to enjoy the best of both these parallel worlds: surfing perfect barrels with my friend and Nica co-patriot Holly Beck and her boyfriend Ryan, the same day as discovering really fun looking beach break with no one out at Salinas Grandes. One of those better days on the job that I wish happened more often!

Friday, June 20, 2008

The First Post

So blogging... sounds like fun; sounds like either a release from day-to-day life or a good way to connect with the world... especially if you have been living "off the grid" in Central America for the past 3 years.

That's what I've been doing myself, coincidentally, and I receive constant pleas to start a blog of my own to document the beauty of this place I call home and detail the random adventures that could only occur when you are a Gringa living in Nicaragua.


Kristin Wilson