Reflecting back on the version of myself that moved to town 7 years ago, I cringe at my naivety. Ignorance is most certainly bliss. I don’t think I even knew what dengue fever was when I moved here. But in the same vein, I am thankful for all the things that blossomed with experience. There’s a big difference between trying to make a living here and trying to make a life.
A healthy life in San Juan del Sur is founded on authentic friendships, compromise and gratitude. It exposes weakness, disregards prestige and has no room for pride. At times it calls for humility and others courage – sometimes in the same day. Over the years my attitude has changed. It’s not better, or worse, it’s just different. My filter of expectations has adjusted and I’m a lot happier for it.
So in no particular order, here are a few nuggets of wisdom that took me far too long to learn.
If the power goes out, just go to the beach.
Don’t fight it. Don’t even complain about it. Be happy that it’s socially acceptable here to turn a random weekday into an unproductive beach day because of a power outage. And be thankful that we have a plethora of beautiful beaches in close proximity.
No expat living here does exactly what they planned to do when they came.
Once you accept that reality and abandon your expectations, you’ll open yourself up to amazing opportunities that Nicaragua has a unique way of attracting. We’re all just trying to survive, making adjustments along the way. So dream big and don’t be afraid to fail (a few times).
If you want to get something done in this town, give people a concrete deadline.
The mañana mentality is contagious. And it’s always a good day to go to the beach.
Accept that you’ll never be completely fluent at Spanish, but never stop trying to learn.
Visitors ask me all the time how long it took me to learn Spanish. I never know how to answer. One day I’m surprised at a deep conversation I have about politics or religious beliefs with a native speaker and the next day I can’t remember the Spanish word for cucumber. Or worse… I realize I’ve been mispronouncing a word all these years. The learning process is slow and choppy, but don’t stop trying.
Accept that you have more in common with the weird person sitting across the bar from you than you’d probably like to admit.
Realizing this can be scary. It can also be quite comforting. We all have a common thread. It does you good to find it.
If you’re honest and hardworking, you’ll get found out. If you’re lazy and deceitful, you’ll get found out.
It’s a small town. Enough said.
Any issue you didn’t deal with before moving here will find you.
You can’t run away from your problems. Borders won’t keep them out. Whether it’s childhood scars or relationship weaknesses, they will all catch up to you here. The sooner you learn to be honest with the person in the mirror, the more freedom Nicaragua offers.
Everything involving paperwork requires at least three tries to accomplish.
On your first trip to an office that requires formal stamps it’s unlikely that you’ll have all the documents needed to get the task done. Your second trip will likely expose yet another missing layer of documentation. You’ll also usually need your passport. Just set your expectations to a three attempt mission and you’ll be a lot happier. Because then if it takes two tries you’ll be thrilled, if it takes three you’ll be satisfied and if it takes four you’ll have a good story.
If there’s somebody in town that you are trying to avoid seeing, you are guaranteed to run into them.
There’s no getting around it. So make your peace.
If there’s somebody in town that you really want to see, you will not run into them.
And to make matters worse, the local cell phone service provider will also not relay your text messages and your calls will go straight to voice mail. In these moments, it’s best practice to just trust the universe.
And finally, a few life lessons that San Juan del Sur didn’t necessarily teach me, but often reminds me about.
1. Don’t try the homemade hot sauce on the dinner table until you have a cold beer in your hand.
2. Respect the ocean.
3. Respect the locals.
4. Give more than you take.