May 1-6 , 2005 // CONSTRUCTION LOG #30
Synopsis: This is mainly a travel log of our trip to Nicaragua.
Permit: No news; we wait.
Clean up work: site clean up and organization as well as tool repair and maintenance. We did some more minor deficiency work in Unit 108 -other than that, twiddled our thumbs.
New Designs: (Units 121, 122, and 123) I finally got the floor plan revisions which reflect the changed entrances and second floor terrace. These will be posted on the web and sent to a number of people.
VOIP phone: I haven't had a chance to deal with it as you'll see below..
Website: I've sent many changes to Maria in Argentina for her to update. I have several more and then the website is more or less current. Hopefully the changes I made to the web site have been uploaded. Now, only the new floor plans and renderings for Units 121, 122, and 123.
We were planning on taking several people and ourselves to the east coast, south of Limon, where we have heard various reports -some love it- some don't. We were going to check it out for ourselves. At the last minute we decided to go to Nicaragua; As "tourists" in Costa Rica, we are suppose to go out of the country every three months for 72 hrs. We'd overstayed that time due to lethargy, being busy and hoping immigration wasn't really enforcing this. Given the lull in the construction, it seemed like a good idea to get that issue behind us. On Wednesday evening, Lita and I took a flight to Managua , Nicaragua.
Upon arrival at 11pm, we judiciously sidestepped the large, expensive hotels and found a nice little 7 room hotel in a converted house -immaculately clean with wonderfully decorated rooms, wireless internet (which, for some reason, I couldn't connect to) and a nice breakfast.
Assessments made here are purely mine and based on only limited observations; I do not claim that any of these assessments are thoroughly researched and not without factual error. Other people are entitled to there own and different observations and assessments.
We used a driver to show us around Managua:
...and I thought San Jose was a dump -SJ is not exactly paradise but Managua --wow!!! Managua covers a huge area, relatively low density, many vacant lots and just undeveloped areas, single story buildings - most all of which are in various stages of disrepair. The city is so strung out, you need a car to go anywhere; there is no city center, no focus, just an assemblage of buildings with connecting roadways. There are a few people along the streets and moderate traffic but nothing like the concentration of people and cars that exist in San Jose . The lake on which it borders is a cesspool; one can't get close to it for the smell. Most cities bordering oceans or large lakes take pride in their waterfronts and that is where development often begins. Not so in Managua; it's not likely to happen here for generations.
In the evening, I asked the driver to take us to a restaurant area where young locals would be. I wanted to see what it was like I felt they represented the future of the country. While there, I asked the driver where they made their money I was told (rightly or wrongly) that most were probably the sons and daughters of the government officials living on daddy's (the government's) expense account. That being the case, they don't create any wealth; just spend the efforts of others. I was further told that if there were an incident, eg. a car accident involving one of these people, they wouldn't be charged -not that much different than in many countries but in a country where there is such a fine line between existence and starvation (forget insurance) it is a sad commentary.
After one day we decided there wasn't much more to stay for in Managua so moved on to Granada.
Granada is an old city which has renovated it's old Spanish colonial core buildings. Over the years, I'd read about it and decided to take this time to view it. It's nice; they are trying to make it a tourist destination and to some limited extent, they are being successful. They are continuing to fix up the city -some new renovation work on some of the old colonial buildings, some street improvements, but nothing on a large or coordinated scale- there is no appearance of any master plan. The Spanish style architecture with traditional ornamental facades and architecture are nicely redone. Here there are horse drawn carriages for the tourists; some interesting tourist shops, internet cafes serving food and drinks as well as coffee, traditional fare, pizza (where hasn't pizza gotten to in the world?); there are no MacDonalds or BurgerKings (that I've seen). There is a very large lake, someone said to be the size of Rhode Island in the U.S. It looks polluted to me but not the cesspool that was the lake near Managua... There are 14 catholic churches in this city -why so many- is a wonder and their usefulness could be debated vs. other types of social overhead capital investment like roads and sewers and better sidewalks. Actually, the sidewalks in Granada are much better than in San Jose -but then that is not much of a basis for comparison.
We stayed in the Colony hotel; I had read about it over a number of years. I was disappointed and felt it was highly over rated. There are a lot of other hotels there ranging in price from $35 (and less) to the Colony at $75.
I saw numerous expatriate drop-outs who seem to have opted for a different lifestyle. None appear to be overly successful financially; who knows if their lifestyle expectations are being met. We didn't speak with any. Regardless, they add variety and interest for tourists -pizza, Italian, French cuisine, bistros and coffee houses, etc.
Generally, however, Nicaragua is so very, very poor. It's so sad to see the effects of troubled politics and military intervention -and I don't think all the trouble is behind them. People with any money have gotten it out of the country and others are not investing there because there is no confidence in the future. No investment, no jobs, no hope, no future -doesn't sound alike a country that is ready for me.
Most all buildings are in need of repair, many, in need of major repair; we never did see a "supermarket" or anything other than small, traditional grocery stores and fruit stalls -certainly nothing like we have in CR; limited - never saw a movie theater; parks and public areas do exist but are in disrepair; very, very basic "homes" mostly without paint and one can only guess at interiors and water, etc... Fewer and older cars than in CR; and it's HOT -we became sloths sucking back the beers, siestas, and late night dinners (so as to fit in).
Having said that, Nicaragua has a certain Central American cultural charm that is lacking in CR. Here, there is the vestige of an indigenous culture -there are artifacts -bowls, pottery, paintings, etc.-which I associa te with Central America. Women carry baskets filled with various things on their heads. Home made corn brooms sold door to door. We saw a traditional dance competition of young people in the park; ; many of the people have indigenous Indian features; there are horse drawn working carts; more bicycles than in CR often times taking their wife on the crossbars someplace; buses are filled to capacity, rarely does one see a pickup truck without passengers in the back etc.
I saw ReMax and Century 21 offices. I've looked over their advertised "listings" and didn't see any bargains. I had been told property was cheap in Nicaragua ; while I didn't due an exhaustive study of it, nothing jumped out at me as being "cheap" in fact, I found it surprisingly expensive. I saw rental ads on bulletin boards as well and I also found the asking price relatively expensive. I recognize that these marketing efforts were directed at the N Am. expat and as in CR, probably don't represent the best values, so it may not be a fair bases from which to make an assessment. In fact, the cost of living for an expat appeared more expensive than I had been lead to believe -guess I'm just cheap, cheap, cheap.-but I just didn't find that much value. (There is another issue at work here and that because of Lita's eyesight, I really couldn't do much exploring as I would normally do.) However, in my assessment, one has to accept a lot of tradeoffs in Nicaragua ; not so where we live in CR.
While I saw some new commercial developments, I did not see one housing development. In fact, I don't remember seeing one new house being built anywhere in the country. I don't know the economic demographics of this country, but there doesn't appear to be much of a middle class. In addition, there does not appear to be much of a banking system. Banex, a Panamanian based bank which is financing a lot of construction in CR, pulled up stakes and left because they couldn't trust the government (at least that is what I understood from our driver). If there isn't a banking system, then investment capital is harder to assemble and the concept of "mortgages" is non-existent. In CR, when the banking system developed to a point where mortgages became available in an orderly way, house construction started to boom. Given that the wealthy continue to control the money and there not being an alternative to assembling capital for construction, it's unlikely that a construction boom is going to happen.. If that's the case, I have to ask: Why should foreigners invest in the country????
My sister tells me that there have been many articles in U. S. publications on Nicaragua as the up and coming place and I, too, have read some of these in "International Living" and other places; -I have to disagree. ONLY, if one had risk capital and a 20+ year time horizon and perhaps limited expectations, then perhaps -but I'll still stick with Costa Rica .
Having flown to Managua on TACA, on reservations which had been made by my accountant, TACA forgot to collect the fare at the airport. We were issued our boarding passes and were actually lined up to board when we realized that we hadn't paid. When in Granada , it seemed like a good idea to return via TICABUS since we didn't relish returning to Managua. So $12 each and 7 hrs. later we arrived in San Jose having seen the country between Granada and Liberia which we hadn't before seen. We arrived Sunday night having been gone 4 nights / 5 days. Home feels great!!!!
Brian, Lita, Hugo who missed us,and Vicka (the pigeon toed parrot) who squawked in someone elses ear.