Price of beer in a bar: This town is lousy with brew pubs. I can get a good stout for less than $5/pint.

Song currently stuck in my head: Lebanese Blonde (Thievery Corporation)

Preparations are underway. We’re providing hospice care for a loved family pet, so the timetable is undetermined but the outcome imminent. I’ve hucked my computer and 24″ monitor in favor of an X series Thinkpad that I’m trying to grow accustomed to. I hate laptops; they’re underpowered, overpriced, the screens are too small and about 18″ lower than they should be and the pointing devices fall far short of the mice we’ve been using for 25 years. They’re similar to mobile devices (Android, Ios, etc) in that they’re just good enough to be tolerable. Not to sound like a snob, but with my IT background of tens of thousands of hours at a keyboard, my standard is a bit higher than ‘tolerable’.

But, these devices travel. And that’s why we gnarl our hands onto and around these miniature keyboards.

There are alternatives. I could go for a high end ultrabook. They’re not even that expensive. But I bought this used for $40 because when I travel I want everything I carry to be more or less disposable.

I could get a Chromebook, but I don’t think I can rely on near constant connectivity and without it those things are doorstops.

Maybe a tablet? Get serious.

Price of beer in a bar: Continues to outdo it’s self, regularly reaching $9 for something less than a pint.

Song currently stuck in my head: Stations (The Gutter Twins)

The Merino wool addict and backpack capacity-phobe Eytan over at Snarkynomad traveled Central America recently and has a write-up on doing so with a 25 liter carry on pack.

I traveled with a carry on sized pack last summer and when I returned, US Customs got really shitty with me about it. It was 2 am and the first guy was pleasant enough but apparently he wasn’t fully satisfied with some of my answers.

“Where did you fly from?”

“Costa Rica”

“How long were you there?”

[counting on my fingers…] “I don’t remember exactly, it’s been a weird few days, but I think it was less than 2 days. Or maybe just over.”

“You were only gone two days?”

“No, but I was in Costa Rica less than 2 days, I think, and that’s where I flew from. I was in Nicaragua for about 90 days before that.”

“Please step in line over there.”

The guy “over there” (secondary search with x-rays and such) was the only impolite US Customs agent I ever remember dealing with. Generally these people are the height of professionalism, even at 4am, though I’d never previously dealt with second-tier personnel. Thenew guy had real issues with my backpack being smaller than he expected. He kept asking me over and over where the rest of my bags were, eventually yelling it at me. He said to his co-workers, loud enough for me to hear (I think that was the point): “He’s been gone for 90 days and he says this is all his luggage.”

I remember thinking, How do you think this works? I take 90 pairs of pants? I’m pretty close to the carry-on restriction with this airline as it is and they’ll charge me US$100 to check anything.

Eytan also has some cost-of-travel info for Guatemala, a place I like but seldom visit.

Price of beer in a bar: In my absence it’s climbed to about US$7 for a pint of craft on draft

Song currently stuck in my head: I’m Waiting For My Man (Lou Reed)

It looks like we’ve run out of content, at least for the moment. I think all of the interesting photos have been posted and most of the relevant ramblings have been expressed. I still owe you a summary and cost of living spreadsheet for Leon and have some notes that might warrant additional ink, but this post marks the end of the 3-a-week cycle that I’ve been maintaining since I began this summer trip.

Posting will be sporadic until the next time I’m somewhere worth writing about.

I kind of hope it’s Uruguay.

Price of beer in a bar: Continues to vary between US$0.98 to US$1.57.
Song currently stuck in my head: B. O. B. (Outkast)

What does moderate drinking look like when you live in a tourist town? A 375ml bottle of rum with lunch? One rough Sunday morning a month? Like anyone else, the vices I enjoy pick up momentum if I let them. Keeping them in check (rather than allowing them to get noticeably out of hand before I reign them in) requires me to keep careful track. Psychologists call this the hedonic treadmill; we habituate to our indulgences. What were once our occasional treats become our new normal and fail to wow.  I’m American and we’re famous for failing to resist this tendency; our houses, wardrobes, waistlines and credit card bills grow ever larger, a side effect of our need for the unnecessary but pleasing ‘new’. In most ways the spartan conditions you acclimate to during backpacking and other forms a ‘traveling light’ serve as a reset for these luxuries-come-necessities, but not when it comes to drinking.

Where does this leave me? Physically, I’m in an expat town on the beach, which generally means the norm is to drink slowly but constantly and daily. I’ve been there, it’s a good time and an easy habit to slip into. It tends to be opt-out, meaning the slow heavy drinking is the default, even amongst the people who arrive as lightweights, and you have to make a conscious decision to abstain. So far I don’t have a balanced strategy for that. I arrived in Nicaragua on a strict diet (managing a different but overlapping pattern of diminishing indulgence) which didn’t leave much room for booze and I’ve loosened it only slightly now that I have more calories to play with. But I’m living in a Corona ad; I can walk 3 minutes and I’m in a beach bar lounge chair under an umbrella, kicked back on the sand with a gorgeous view, surrounded by merry makers with 10 different reasons to celebrate. Where does the beam that holds up “long term health” and “missing out on a good time” find balance?

If I look to the established expats, as I do for many things, then I’m looking at a pattern of boom and bust; flood and drought. A common scenario is to come down, drink heavy until you hurt yourself or your situation, and then swear off the stuff for the rest of your days or implement strict rationing. I know a guy who, last I knew, drinks 2 beers a day; never more and I doubt ever less. He enjoys them, I get it, and I think he’s found his answer. But I prefer to get a little tuned up when I drink. Doctors hate this; the current wisdom seems to be that more than 4 ‘drinks’ in a given day breaks the threshold for an onslaught of health problems. I need to look at that primary research and understand it’s limitations; it’s hard to imagine a that guys whose annual alcoholic intake is a night of 2 shots, 2 beers and a flute of champagne at midnight have a demonstrably higher rate of stomach cancer. I don’t think they’re saying that, but when you translate complicated research into sound bytes a lot gets lost.

I know, I know… who’s counting, right? People tend to take the most simplistic approach (hence the feast and famine pattern) and wince at the idea of quantifying anything. But quantification of another type is probably what drew you here to begin with; obviously I don’t consider it heavy lifting.

If that’s not what brought you, check out the spreadsheets linked as “(Cost of Living)” in the right column, many people find them useful.



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Typical street scene in San Juan Del Sur, why you don’t walk distracted in Central America and Pali, the Walmart owned budget grocery chain. There are 65 Palis in Nicaragua, not counting Maxi-Palis. It’s a 3 or 4 isle grocery with a meat counter, generally affordable goods and confusingly expensive produce.

3 buildings


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We used to live across the street from the first house; it’s not in a great neighborhood or anything, it’s just close to the beach. I don’t think anyone lived there full time, it was probably a Managuan family that partied there occasionally. The second place is near the park. I like the “fully secured porch” setup; you have added security for your house and you don’t have to take the chairs in at night. The last place is probably unfinished, but that can be a perpetual state around here and doesn’t mean no one’s living in it.

Price of beer in a bar: Routinely varies between US$0.98 to US$1.57.

Song currently stuck in my head: Sometimes Things Get, Whatever (Deadmau5)

I knew sooner or later I’d find myself asking for cocaine around the local markets. This is kind of a coke heavy town, the local demand fueled by eager participants in the hard partying backpacker scene. I haven’t been to “Sunday Funday” (video), but people who love it and people who hate it describe it in pretty much the same terms and it sounded like a fast trip to dull molars. I can almost forgive the Europeans, for whom drug possession is generally a minor, ticketable offense, but the North Americans should have some idea what kind of penalties they’re looking at. I’ve always been told they don’t feed you in Nicaraguan prisons; you’re on your own. A lot of expats make “prison buddies” quickly, a safety net agreement that says “I’ll bring you food and get you a lawyer if things go unexpectedly horrible and vice versa”. So when I wandered into the local market and mispronounced an inquiry in Spanish about “powdered cacao”, there was some context. The words for cocaine and cacao are close enough in both languages that I figured this was likely to happen eventually. When it did, when I poked around the market stall, leaned in and asked in confident Spanish “Do you have any powdered cocaine?” three old women’s jaws literally dropped open and continued to gape.

After 2 beats they laughed hysterically as I backpeddled. I thought about cracking a joke about needing powder, specifically, because I’m classy, but even if my Spanish were up to it (it’s not), they would lack the cultural understanding of the American view that cocaine is glamorous, but becomes dirty and shameful when you mix it with baking soda and buy it by the chunk. I’m glad they saw the humor in the situation, though, because I’d have been much less comfortable if they’d thought I was really looking for drugs and admonished me (or, worse, tried to hook me up). You don’t want to be known as the guy looking for coke at the market and this goes double if you actually are a guy looking for coke. You know, now that I think about it, I ended up getting a great price on that pound of powdered cacao in a market with notoriously aggressive gringo pricing. Maybe this is a solid bargaining technique; perhaps they were too floored to remember to bleed me.

Speaking of ground cacao, Nicaragua is a “superfoods” paradise. I don’t necessarily ascribe much value to the “superfoods” tag, this usually just means food with some high concentrations of specific vitamins and minerals but costs more than a commensurate amount of a more common source. I can drink 3 ounces of expensive pomegranate Juice instead of 6 ounces of cheap grapefruit juice? Why the sudden need for efficiency? You weren’t getting fat off of all that broccoli, there’s no need to eat less of it. Here it isn’t superfood, it’s just food and you buy it at the market, often in bulk. If memory services, Chia seeds cost me around US$0.13/tbsp in Leon and I bought the afore mentioned pound of raw cacao for US$2.35. There’s a ready made business model for a Nicaraguan Smoothie chain in The US; as I’ve pointed out these people have been smoothing everything in sight for generations. The supermarkets are small but they have a significant amount of shelf space dedicated to powdered shake additives. Tamarindo juice with chia is damn good, and I’ve never seen it on offer at Jamba Juice.

I’ve also been drinking raw milk here, pretty much daily. The Girlfriend said this concerns her parents, both of whom are medical professionals, and mentioned botulism. I assume something got lost in that particular game of telephone, because I was under the impression that botulism needed an anaerobic environment to exist (or, at the very least, come into existence). Thus far I haven’t had any digestive issues that I can attribute to the milk and I’m drinking about a liter of it a day.

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