Nicaragua Feed

Nine years in Nicaragua

It’s just a few days shy of my nine year anniversary of moving to Nicaragua. My decision to move her shocked many people, but now many are inquiring about doing the same. I had a three year plan, but fast forward nine years and I am committed here for a significant portion of my future. I developed a beautiful group of friends, a business that I always dreamed of with a great staff who always have my back, a house (rented) at the edge of the forest and just one kilometer to my shop, which I can walk to along the beach, and an overall happy existence. 

Today someone mentioned how nice it is that there are many women entrepreneurs here and what a nice resource that must be for me. I hadn’t really thought of it that way, but we do have a large group of strong, intelligent, ambitious women who have left their mark on this town. Our successes feed each other, but we sometimes take it for granted and do not always take the time to acknowledge it because everything feels so normal in that it is no big deal. My friends have started an all girls surf camp, yoga studio, school, restaurants, property management companies, horseback ranch and B&B, hotels, gift shops, clothing lines and shops, consulting services....and most started these businesses on their own as opposed to as a couple. It’s quite empowering when I think about it.

One of the strange, positive effects this has had is that living in Nicaragua, I am closer geographically to my sister and I see her far more often than I did when I lived in the US. I have been blessed with a bookstore operation that that allows me to travel to the US several times a year to purchase books and hang out with my mom, sister and her family in a gorgeous little beach town in close vicinity to Goodwills and thrift stores where I can restock while hanging out with my family. I have been able to have a close relationship with my niece and nephews because of this, something that would have been much more difficult if I still lived in the US. I build the cost of the airfare and car rental into the price of the books, so most of the time it is a greatly subsidized vacation affording more opportunities to buy pretty clothes and sandals of which I have xx number of pairs, a secret because I do not even know how many pairs I have. When I moved here, I loathed flip flops. I was a Teva girl. Now I can walk up my insane hill in flip flops. I hike through the jungle in flip flops. Columbias and Sanuks, mostly.

It is a small country and I can usually go to any other town or city and run into someone I know or someone who knows of me. It’s all one big blur at times. Sometimes we complain about living in the fishbowl, especially as foreigners who stand out, but in the end we all choose to live here and this fishbowl gives us a sense of community that many of us did not feel and missed when we were living in larger areas and suburbs where we are disconnected from our neighbors. 

I do not remember the person I was when I moved here. I am freer. My creativity has moved into a higher dimension. I am happy. I enjoy my life. Although I don’t have enough time in the day to do everything that I want to do, I have enough time to do everything I need to do. I meditate (but not as much as I should lately). I make altars. I pray. I sing (though still not ready for a solo). I started to learn the guitar and I may get back at it in October. My wardrobe consists of funky skirts, dresses and shorts topped with tank tops. I have three more cats than when I arrived and learned to accept it and not be afraid of being called the crazy cat lady. I am more accepting of my faults, idiosyncrasies, and other shadow elements and I am less judgmental in my view of the rest of the world. The hardest lesson to learn was resistance is futile, go with the flow. The first few years I did not flow. It was hard to flow when I had to chase the Parmalat (milk) truck around town because Vladimir the driver would not stop at my store. I had to physically block the truck on more than one occasion to prevent him from refusing to sell me milk. Friends would call with milk truck sightings. “Block him!” I shouted as I jumped on my bike to find the elusive milk truck. Mind you, I purchase more than most of the little pulparias. Supply and demand are on two different tracks and resistance is futile.

For a year I would wait in line at the bank for no less than an hour to get change, only to here the infamous words, “No hay.” I stopped at a casino in Managua once to get a bucket of change because there was the great one cordoba shortage. We spent an hour each day begging our friends to count all the loose change on their dresser so we could make a bank. 

Then there were the roads. And the police points and the fines for imaginary infractions and tales of aduana (customs) and hassle after hassle. The robberies and the tens of thousands of dollars of stuff that has disappeared over the years here...it’s not cheap or easy to replace any of those things, either. There were serious incidents of violence, the second so brutal that I wanted to leave, but in the end I knew that it was not the fault of the country and I understand the lesson behind it, much of which connected me to my spiritual nature in a way that I could never have foreseen. Detachment from material goods is key, as is embracing life and going with the flow with full faith that the universe is taking me in the right direction. In the end, I feel happier, safer, and freer here than I do elsewhere. I have so much gratitude that I was able to create this life, and grateful for all of the help I have had along the way. 

Nine years with many more to come.


El Gato Negro - The New Menu

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I may have set a world record for longest menu, which probably doesn't surprise anyone that knows me.  There are 12 pages of food, several pages of superfoods and health information, the FAQ and several pages of random book notes before getting to my list of favorite books.   Each time I edit it, I add pages. 

You can see my 36-page menu in PDF format here:   Download El gato negro menu

The menu goes into effect Wednesday morning.

You can see photos pf my store here, though it hasn't been updated for a while.  We have a Facebook page thanks to Rob, but it's his domainand he is bad about putting up photos.

The menu covers are homemade, abstract collage creations.  This batch was not quite as interesting as the last menus, which included the sex menu cover: a collage of a brochure from The Vagina Monologues and The Dysfunctional Family Doll Set with cross-drssing dad, S&M mom and the psychiatrist in the pink rabbit suit.  I have a twisted sense of humor.

Despite the uniqueness and intricacy of some of the menu covers, most people don't notice them.  Or they notice them they are falling apart becasue we haven't updated the menu and prices in more than two years and  it's costing us money on any item with blueberries.  But in good condition many people never noticed that they were holding the sex menu cover, Playboy centerfold and all.  

I am also working on coffee bag labels and because I have to be different, I am using several different cats and mixing them with vibrant labels, of which there will be almost limitless color combinations. On top of the labels. I am creating 5x6 postcards and two sizes of stickers.  I like that I can sell my art in my store!

Off to the printers tomorrow.  Here are a few more of my images:

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Why I hate TripAdvisor

Some of my friends are obsessed with their TripAdvisor rankings, believing it will make or break their business.  I suppose it is more important in the hotel rankings as opposed to restaurants.  Anyone looking at the Top Ten restaurants in San Juan del Sur can see that there is something funny with the algorithm, especially when a sleazy sports bar with prostitutes standing in front of the place occasionally gets a number two or three ranking.  Restaurants that are closed and have been for some time occasionally appear on the list. 

I once went nine months in between reading the reviews, and then another six after that.  It doesn't matter what my rank is (and it is abysmally low given my sales and the generous accolades from my customers and in comparison to some of the other places reviewed)  - el gato negro is still the most popular spot in town in the morning and the vast majority of my customers are returning guests, sometimes even returning two hours later for lunch.  It can't be perfect all the time and when it isn't, there is a good chance somebody will bitch about it on TripAdvisor.   I have also learned that spurning the sexual advances of an insecure man can induce the spurned into making false claims on TripAdvisor in a pathetic attempt to discredit the business (hint to the spurned: you need a better synonym for your favorite term).  Some businesses offer free lunch or beer for a good review.  Some business owners have faked reviews and trashed their competitors, but at least there was karmic blowback.

Rob has recently had the unfortunate luck to be appointed by me as the person in charge of responding to bad Trip Advisor reviews.  I prefer to put my head in the sand and have never responded to any of the complaints.  Some say that is bad business, but I have a hard time dealing with petty whiners - and I am long-winded to boot.  And sometimes mean.  This is my first and only response to a recent negative review.  We'll see if it makes it past the censors at TripAdvisor.

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This is one of the owners of el gato negro - the sometimes sarcastic, often long-winded at the keyboard one.

You claim to have been traveling all day and couldn’t wait to get to El Gato Negro.  This brings you to our store near closing time at 3 p.m.  You then state that our prices are higher than the local area, but your post implies that you had just arrived in town.  You should work for a travel guide publisher because you managed to travel all day and instantaneously knew the selection and prices of all of the other restaurants upon your arrival, much like the “writers” of guidebooks of all countries across this cut-and-paste world.  Can you tell me what the average price of a Smoked Turkey Club with fresh, thick cut, locally smoked bacon, garlic cream cheese, provolone cheese, avocado, tomato, cucumber and onion on an imported NY style bagel served with organic field greens and a blueberry smoothie with maca, bee pollen, chia, coconut oil, raw cacao and goji berries costs you at other restaurants?  Or smoked salmon from Chile (which is healthier than salmon fished from the Northern Hemisphere) on a cream cheese bagel with capers?  No, because that quality of sandwich and smoothie does not exist at other restaurants in town or Nicaragua.  How many coffeehouses have you been visited where they roasted the coffee on premise?  Where do you suggest one find a better deal for coffee in San Juan del Sur, since you obviously know so much about the local offerings having just arrived into town.  Your TripAdvisor reviews under this name consist of solely of El Gato Negro.  If there are better places for a better value, why haven’t you listed them?  Oh, you probably just need a little time to digest the overwhelming beauty of the cheap advertisements for beer, rum and cigarettes illuminated by white fluorescent bulbs at the the fine dining establishments, 90 percent of which have a big bottle of MSG next to the stove.  I anxiously await your review of the 70 cordoba gallo pinto breakfast at the mercado, especially if you eat from the comedor famous for its toxic effects to your digestive tract, specifically the the lower tract.  But you in your infinite wisdom, you already now which one I am talking about.   

 You claim that my employees were talking rudely about you behind your back and they did not know that you spoke Spanish.  I don't believe your claims.  You have another agenda for saying that.  Whatever transpired was filtered by your attitude at that point, but my employees were not trashing you.  They would certainly have waited until you had left the store before engaging in that kind of gossip.  They have manners.

 And might I ask why you think you can walk into a BOOKSTORE (or any business) and recharge your phone and computer without at least inquiring about it first?  You state that my staff was rude, but walking into a business and acting as it is a fundamental human right that a BOOKSTORE provide you with a free charge for your phone seems rude to me.  Why is it my duty to recharge your phone or laptop?  One of the reasons for the charge is that we do not want people sitting for hours nursing a coffee, staring into a not-so-smart phone like a zombie while using our internet, which is not advertised as “Free wifi”.  We graciously allow clients to use our PRIVATE internet connection for free.  We are not an internet cafe, nor are we a recharging station.  (By the way, it costs $3 to recharge a phone at one major US airport.)  We suggest that references to wifi signal be relegated to reviews of Internet cafes should such a category exist.  We would prefer people spend their time finding the right book to balance the negative vibrational energy of their electronic addictions or a book on survivalism, the Kindle version of which will be useless in a power outage.

Some people complain because we charge $1 to charge a laptop or iPhone (which uses more electricity than you think and in a country with the highest electricity rates in the Americas), but we do not want to cultivate a culture of entitlement.  Your life is not going to end if you cannot check your email and Facebook account 80 times a day.  We do not feel any desire to help you live in the electronic world while you sit in a real BOOKSTORE with a huge collection of books you will find nowhere else in the world.  Complaining about your battery recharging experience in a bookstore/coffeehouse will not elicit any sympathy from us.   

We always have a manager on duty; you could have asked to speak to one.  Getting your point across would be easy since you speak Spanish, right?  Sometimes our bills are confusing because the menu price includes the 15 percent sales tax created by the vultures at the IMF and World Bank, but the lengthy complexities of the Nicaraguan accounting system require us to back it out of the price and rewrite it as the tax on the official factura, all of which takes time.  Again, you could have spoken to someone if you had a problem before whining here.

The petting zoo is not a petting zoo and it is not ours.  It belongs to our landlady.  She has chicken and geese, which she raises for eggs.  Geese keep down the insect population, especially tics.  I am not a fan of the pigs, but since I love to eat bacon and try to promote a self-sustainable lifestyle, who am I to criticize her anmimals?  The kids love them and the geese are super friendly - and they are fenced in.  Finally.  

You state that you are never coming back.  That is fine.  We do not want the energy from clients who forget that they are in the Third World, regardless of the cool and funky aesthetics of the interior of our store.  We do not want clients to treat our establishment as an internet cafe or a battery charging station.  We do not want clients who demand a Four Seasons experience on a taco cart budget.  There is a reason that TripAdvisor is known as WhineAdvisor amongst hospitality business owners around the world.  You have reinforced this stereotype.  You have taken it upon yourself to ANONYMOUSLY write ONE review of ALL the places that you have visited in your travels because your experience in a COFFEEHOUSE/BOOKSTORE IN THE THIRD WORLD wasn’t perfect.  Perhaps it wasn’t the second coffee that was bad; maybe it is something inside you.

The worst thing you can do is try to compare ANYTHING that happens in Nicaragua to your experience in the US.  Lead floats here.  Just above that on the list of Things Not To Do in Nicaragua is to judge a place by your first impression, especially if you plan on sticking around in place with a limited selection of food.  If I was angry and wine-typed reviews of my favorite restaurants in San Juan del Sur on TripAdvisor, I could HONESTLY write, “Steak so tough I needed the Heimlich Maneuver”  and “Bit into bread crust and swallowed part of my molar” and “Last bite of chicken was raw and so is my esophagus” amongst other literary gems.  Sometimes I get bad service in my own restaurant and I have given up trying to understand why.  We all have bad days, especially at the end of our summer season.  It is hot, dusty, humid and uncomfortable, making everyone grouchy.  Let’s face it, my zinc roof store is  hot in the afternoon and the girls are anxious to get home.  The aren’t perfect and I cannot complain because I would only be a hypocrite.   

I am sorry that there is so little to be grateful for in your life that you felt the need complain vociferously and publicy about your coffeehouse experience.  Remember, you are the creator of your experiences.  Peace to you, wherever your travels take you.


Art Night at El Gato Negro

Shameless plug for my store for those of you in San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua this weekend! 


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ART NIGHT

September 14th

6-9 p.m.

at El Gato Negro

 

 

 

 

 

 

Join as at El Gato Negro on Friday, September 14th, for a night of decadence, featuring art, food and music.  See and experience new works by local potter Gwendolyn Beachy, who will unveil her new Goddess Gear line, and artist Karn Knutson, who specializes in watercolors and pastels.  Take in all the art while enjoying  scrumptious delicacies.  We will have special evening hours from 6 -9 p.m. for this special event. 

The menu for the evening will be green vegetarian lasagna; watermelon gazpacho; brie with raspberry sauce , apples and crackers; red velvet cake; death by chocolate cake; lemon bars and a wide variety of homemade chocolates.   All items are a la carte.


Baby Sloth

I took this photo of a baby sloth at my friend Fred's development, El Encanto del Sur. I was photographing the bark of this tree when I noticed what appeared to be the top of an egg.  I looked from the other side of the tree and it appeared to be the fuzzy head of a bird.  Just then my friend Carmen said, "I I see a head!"
"You see a bird?" I asked.
"It's a face!"
I walked to the other side of the tree, expecting to see a baby bird when all of a sudden this cute little thing appeared in the crook of the branches.  I have never seen a baby sloth in the wild, so this was a special treat.  I wish I had my Nikon with me (it would have been a National Geographic shot), but that's another story.

Sloth
copyright Kelly Ann Thomas
All rights reserved.


Nicaraguan politics

I captured this image in Granada, Nicaragua.  The woman in the picture is the wife of the President, a woman who  chose political power over family.  Her daughter claimed that as a teeneager she had been raped on many occasionse by Daniel Ortega, her step-father.  Her mother believed more in the man whose role in the revolution was that of a strog man and bank robber than the words of her own daughter.  The daughter never recanted her story, but after Ortega's election she wrote an editorial calling fpr peace and reconcillation.  Numerous people believe that the familiy (or government) paid the daughter to remain silent after he 2006 election.

For me, this image represents mre than just some raggedy political posters.

Graffiti granada nicaragua rosario

copyright Kelly Ann Thomas

All rights reserved.