A Nicaraguan Point Of View
It was a 2 ½-hour drive out to the coast. We had time for a nice chat.
“I don’t know why the people elected Ortega again,” my new friend and driver for the day Pedro remarked.
“But now they know they made a mistake. I guess they wanted to give him another chance. To see if all his promises of change were real. Now we see, though. He isn’t keeping his promises. He won’t be elected again. The people know better now.”
Pedro is Nicaraguan. He’s never been outside his country. He has a family, three children, and a great job. He’s part of Nicaragua’s expanding middle class.
And he remembers when things were very different in this country. He was a child when Ortega ran the show the first time around.
“I was very nervous when I was 15 years old. At 16, every boy had to go into the army to fight for Ortega. I didn’t want to go, but I knew I had no choice.
“Then, just before my 16th birthday, the war ended. And I didn’t have to fight.
“Things were very bad in my country then. But then, when the fighting ended and Ortega was gone, things got better very quickly.
“Those people who voted for Ortega this past time, who got him elected again, they won’t make that mistake again. Now we see. He’s a crazy man.
“We just want things to be better…for our families.”
Ortega makes a big case within Nicaragua for his efforts to improve the country’s economy. In truth, his position back in the driver’s seat nearly halted Nicaragua’s foreign-investor economy overnight. In the months leading up to the election, the rest of the world pulled back to wait and to see. Then, with the announcement that Nicaragua had again an El Presidente Ortega, foreign investment fled.
I’ve been actively involved in this country as a foreign investor for more than a dozen years…and I’ve been leading tours and doing business here for more years than that. I can tell you: Things were good in the few years leading up to Daniel’s re-election. The renaissance this country was enjoying was exciting…and heartening to those of us who had been pulling for Nicaragua The Underdog.
Then…crash. No one called it at the time. No one invested in the market wanted to admit it. Today, though, two years later, if you were to graph out the number of real estate sales to foreign buyers over, say, the past five years, you’d have something resembling an upside-down “V.”
The property sales market, the rentals market, the resort trade…these things have taken big hits.
Everyone I’ve spoken with in the country this week, though, maintains that the worst seems over. Things are beginning to pick up…slowly.
What this means for you, dear reader, if you’ve any interest in Nicaragua, is that right now is the best time in many years to plan a trip…to take a look…and maybe to stake a claim. I’m returning to Panama City today, but only because I want to get back to Jack and Lief. If they were here with me, I’d change my ticket. We’d stay on. The opportunities in this country today merit close inspection.
In my few days here, I’ve seen three things in particular that I want to draw to your attention. Three special properties, each very different, each appealing for its own reasons…
And all making very special offers right now. The market is showing signs of beginning to return, but we’re still a far cry from where we were pre-Ortega. Meantime, the deals and discounts being discussed and proposed are, in some cases, too good to ignore.
Not everything is a buy, though, just because it’s for sale at a great, even too-good-to-be-true price. Some things are cheap for a reason.
Others are cheap because of market timing. You’ve got to know how to tell the difference.
That’s why Harry and I came to Nicaragua this week. To sort some wheat from the chaff.
More next week, when we’re back in the office.
P.S. I’ve waxed poetic about Nicaragua this week, but I’ve neglected the practical.
Here’s the important practicality to recognize about this country: It remains a true bargain.
Twenty years ago, Mexico was truly cheap. Ten years ago, Panama was truly cheap. Today, Nicaragua is still truly cheap.
Harry and I took taxis, ate out, enjoyed our share of Flor de Cana, and made a point of stopping in shops as often as we could. Everything from shampoo, bottled water, and pineapples to electronics, duffle bags, and washing machines is cheaper in Nicaragua than in Panama and, as far as I could tell, a bargain.
Breakfast for the two of us at my favorite Granada haunt, the Alhambra Hotel, was so cheap I re-checked the bill. Two plates of eggs, bacon, and toast, plus orange juice and hot tea, for about US$5, including tax and tip. In Paris, you can’t buy two croissants and coffee for US$5…and, here in Panama, for 5 bucks, you and your dining companion are eating empanadas out of a cart.
Nicaragua remains the kind of place where everything is so affordable you never have to tell yourself no. Want to dine out? Enjoy late-afternoon aperitifs on the square? Drink and dance ‘til dawn? Take a taxi to Masaya or Catarina for a day at the market? Take a boat tour on the lake? Why not? Your budget, even if slight, can handle it.
I’m speaking anecdotally. Our editors have figured the cost of living in Nicaragua more formally. They say you can live well in this country on as little as US$954 a month.
P.P.S. I spent the day with one gentleman who showed me the house he’s building for US$55 per square foot. Nice house…with raised and vaulted ceilings, mantles over the windows…
FROM THE MAILBAG:
“Could you give us some ideas about living in India, cost of living, health care, etc.?”
— Sonia S., United States
Correspondent Paul Terhorst, traveling in India, replies:
“I’m in India right now and plan to spend six weeks here. I’m getting the lowdown on visas, foreign ownership of real estate, construction costs (less than US$300 a meter, even today), and travel. I’ve found both a city (Trivandrum) and a tropical paradise (Kovalam) where Vickie and I might like to live.
“Right now, Jose, my traveling companion, and I have a US$9-a-night room with a balcony overlooking Kovalam Beach, Kerala, in South India. No roads come down to this three-block-long beach; that means no motorcycles or cars. There are sea breezes, red sunsets, and waves crashing practically at our door. There are fishing boats, and, yesterday, we saw a huge container ship out beyond the surf.
“Indian men and women, boys and girls, run into the water with all their clothes on, jumping in the surf and squealing with delight.
“For meals there’s red snapper cooked in coconut milk, cold Kingfisher beer, coffee on the beach in the morning.
“What an experience. We could easily spend several months here.”
Paul promises more soon.