Frustrating and Worrisome Travel Days

Not all is glorious every day on the road. While we have many carefree, low-stress days and an overall calm existence, there are days where we are filled with concern and our bodies are on high alert. These days are our most stressful ones and tend to be the first few days in a new city when we need to find a place to live. We've done this twice.

The first time was when we landed in Panajachel, Guatemala and lived in a hotel for 3 days. In the end, we had tremendous luck and found an amazing house in the middle of town and a 5 minute walk from school. Because I was teaching at the school, we had the benefit of automatically connecting to a group of expats that could give us contact information for everything from water delivery to laundry. Don't get me wrong. It was still tough. We had to learn where to food shop and how to engage with the local community. 

We avoided almost all of this stress when we landed the house sitting gig in Costa Rica. We knew exactly where we'd be living and easily followed in the footsteps of those house sitting before us. 

The second time we landed in a new town and had to navigate settling into a new city was when we arrived in Esteli, Nicaragua. After 90 days in Costa Rica, our time was up. We needed to leave on day 90 or the Costa Rican government would impound our car. (No joke.) We decided to head North and chose the mountain town of Esteli, Nicaragua. 

On Day one, we navigated the borders - leaving Costa Rica and entering Nicaragua. We spent the night at a lovely hotel, Casa San Fransisco in Granada, where Ken and Tag stayed on their way South. It was a long day in the car with 7 hours of driving and 3 hours at the border. Luckily, we were never pulled over by the Nicaraguan police at a road check. 

On Day two, we drove the remaining 3 hours to Esteli, and checked into the nicest hotel, the Hex Hotel. Because we had all of our Central American possessions in our car, it was imperative that we stayed at a hotel with secure parking. Since Ken would be working from the hotel, it was even more important that he have a strong internet connection. 

Stress 1:  We were paying $95/ night for the hotel. How fast can we find a place to live so we can stop paying this fee? 

While $95/night might seem reasonable to most people, it's actually quite expensive for long-term travelers. And while we can afford it, paying this drives me crazy. Several days of this quickly adds up to an entire month of rent. 

Stress 2: We arrived on a holiday! Seriously, we had no idea. We arrived the same week Nicaraguans celebrated Independence Day. That means more businesses are closed and people are less available to show us housing options. Ugh!

Stress 3: None of the coffee shops or hostels had posters advertising places available for rent.  While this was commonplace in other cities in Central America, this is not the way to find a place to live in Esteli. 

In order to find places to rent, we needed to walk/drive the streets and hope that people were home. People were less likely to be home since it was a holiday. 

In order to find places to rent, we needed to walk/drive the streets and hope that people were home. People were less likely to be home since it was a holiday. 

This sign actually has a phone number! This person is definitely interested in renting. 

This sign actually has a phone number! This person is definitely interested in renting. 

Stress 4: Every real estate broker we tried didn't have anything furnished available. We kept hearing from the locals that it wasn't likely we'd find a furnished place. We're only planning on being here for 90 days, and furnishing a place isn't an option. 

Stress 5: There was almost nothing available online and when I did send an inquiry, I never heard back. In other cities with a larger expat community, there was a stronger market for people like us. 

We heard rumors that this was a house with several rooms for rent with a shared kitchen and other common spaces. Notice that there is no sign. We drove by several times and yelled from the street to see if anyone was home. Once I parked across the street and staked out the house for an hour hoping that someone would come or go. No luck. After we found our place, a new friend confirmed that there were 2 rooms next to each other available. 

We heard rumors that this was a house with several rooms for rent with a shared kitchen and other common spaces. Notice that there is no sign. We drove by several times and yelled from the street to see if anyone was home. Once I parked across the street and staked out the house for an hour hoping that someone would come or go. No luck. After we found our place, a new friend confirmed that there were 2 rooms next to each other available. 

Stress 6: Driving around town meant navigating several one-way roads. We quickly learned that our best bet was to drive the streets and look for signs with phone numbers advertising places for rent. While this is easy enough, we were constantly looking for the road signs telling us who had the right-of-way at intersections and which way traffic flowed. We both found ourselves driving the wrong way down an one-way. 

Driving here can be tricky. This is a fairly nice sign as it is easy to read. 

Driving here can be tricky. This is a fairly nice sign as it is easy to read. 

Another easy to read sign, but notice that the arrow telling you which direction to go is on top of the stop sign. The arrow in the previous picture is below the stop sign. 

Another easy to read sign, but notice that the arrow telling you which direction to go is on top of the stop sign. The arrow in the previous picture is below the stop sign. 

This town is made up of mostly one-way streets. Obviously it means no right turns. It also means that I have the right-of-way because it's not a stop sign. 

This town is made up of mostly one-way streets. Obviously it means no right turns. It also means that I have the right-of-way because it's not a stop sign. 

Stress 7: Spanish! When we did finally get a lead, it was unlikely that that person would speak English. While Ken is doing great with his Spanish, this meant it's much tougher for me when he is working and I'm on my own. 

Stress 8: Location! There were several leads for furnished places on the edges of town. After being in relative isolation in Costa Rica, we were dreaming of a home near the middle of town where we could walk to everything. Was this too much to ask? 

The Search! We got creative and looked at several options.

  • Ken inquired about us renting two rooms in the back of a hostel. This meant sharing a kitchen with whoever happened to also be staying there. We'd do all our homeschooling at the tables in the common areas. $400/month.
  • The four of us looked at two rooms in a private home. This gave us access to a nice backyard space with tortoises. However, we would have no access to a kitchen. It also looked and smelled like an old folk's home. 
You never know what you're going to find behind the gates of Central American gates. Inside this gate was a nice house owned by an older gentleman who rented out several rooms to the elderly. While he wanted to rent to us, the smell and the lack of kitchen kept us away. 

You never know what you're going to find behind the gates of Central American gates. Inside this gate was a nice house owned by an older gentleman who rented out several rooms to the elderly. While he wanted to rent to us, the smell and the lack of kitchen kept us away. 

  • I toured two rooms with a shared kitchen in a private home. Maybe if it was only us and the other family, it would have been ok. However, the house was also shared with several parakeets that pooped all over and several turtles that had the run of the place. It smelled like a pet store. $250/month. 
  • Ken toured a home outside of town without furniture. It was on a nice street and it was suggested that we buy a plastic table and plastic chairs for 3 months. $500/month.

Without a doubt, I recognize that the stressful days are few and far between. Reflecting on this transition, I'm proudest at how Ken and I kept it together. We had one silly spat in the car, but otherwise he was my rock. His confidence that everything would work out kept my expectation in check. 

I think we're doing pretty good at this slow travel thing. 

And where are we living? Make your own prediction in the comments. We'll let you know in our next post.