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.
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.
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.
I wrote previously about what to expect from a street festival in San Juan Del Sur and here are a couple of pictures. These were taken early, when things weren’t quite swinging yet, but the party went late into the night. The last photo is the local pool hall. Billiards are popular in Nicaragua.
From the top, the bakery between the park and bus stop has typical Central American bakery fare, perhaps above average. I think they sold me one of those small loaves in the left (your left) half of the case for ~ US$0.60. Next up is a plate of shrimp in garlic sauce from La Lancha, across from Elizabeth’s or a block East of the bus stop. It’s a great deal at US$5.88/plate. And last is a ~14″ pie from Mauricio’s San Juan Pizzeria. He has a second location on the beach, about 2 blocks away.
Price of beer in a bar: US$1 happy hour specials abound, some of them will only end up costing you US$1.
Song currently stuck in my head:
So my place is a US$350/month (all in with periodic cleaning, laundry, internet and all other utils, which are not dependable in this town) 1 bedroom with no real living room. My kitchen has an oven, which is kind of rare and unlikely to see use this month, a microwave (I used the one in the shared kitchen once and the owner insisted I take it to my apartment), a medium sized fridge… all and all I rented it for the location, amenities and kitchen. The “indufoam” mattress and the wonderful onsite landlord are unexpected bonuses. Living in a vacation destination is like living in Manhattan; you overpay for tiny amounts of square footage and abridged facilities with the intention of enjoying your time out; a capsule hotel with a nice courtyard would probably suffice, or the Nicaraguan equivalent, a hammock with a locker. Still, this would be a tight fit for the The Girlfriend and I together. I looked at a 2 bedroom sublease for $350 and they were willing, impromptu like, to throw in water and electric at that price so it shouldn’t add to much. That would have been plenty of space; enough to accommodate a visiting guest or two. There was no view to speak of, but a bit of yard and a porch big enough for 2 hammocks and some chairs. Adding internet would be the biggest additional expense. The place we used to rent has increased in cost by 33%, from US$300/month to $400 (+ all utils).
There used to be ramshackle buildings in town, often in the process of falling down, where you could get a liter of cold beer for US$1.65 and similarly economically priced food. One in particular was caddy corner to Casa de Oro and was a wonderful place to enjoy a couple of plates of fresh grilled tipica and a bottle or two of icy beer on the streetside porch; no music, no traffic, just cool evening air and the sound of surf if it was particularly stirred up that night. I loved it; it had a distinctly Caribbean vibe. It’s the one place that I really miss this time around, but it certainly seems like anything even resembling it is gone. I haven’t re-explored the area along the river, over by The Crazy Crab Disco, but it seems like in-town SJDS is no longer a place for your average Nica to hang. The only remaining economical beach bar from our last time around has been overhauled and now has tablecloths (though the seasonal vendors in tents that pop up along the beach during holiday weeks/weekends still cater to Nica crowds).
Property in-town is at a premium; geographically it’s bordered by an Ocean, 2 steep hillsides and a river, so there’s only so much town to fill. The wide open (though sloped) area over the hill to the South is beginning to developed; roads are carved, some power lines run, a small handful of nice homes are in place. The views are terrific, especially if you can angle a line of sight down the Southern coast towards Costa Rica. I’ve heard lots go for about US$40k. Survivor is in town, filming another Nicaragua season or two, and confounds any conclusions I could draw about how tight the rental scene is since they tend to eat up quite a chunk of the local availability.