Blog Comments

  1. MizBrown's Avatar
    Simple. Don't drive. I never have problems with the traffic cops.
  2. prpcof's Avatar
    I am starting to believe! I wish I could say this about the toll takers. (traffic police) I have had to pay them on makeup traffic violations. I am going to resolve this by paying it like I am supposed to. Bite the bullet so to speak. Especially when I was not wrong.
  3. MizBrown's Avatar
    I'm still 100% mail sent is mail received to my P.O. Box -- and the person who addressed the envelope forgot to put in the country, but the PO in the US seems to have figured out that Jinotega, Jinotega is in Nicaragua, not Nigeria or Chile. And this latest was a check. (The bank clerk seems to have to call in a specialist to get my US origin checks deposited.)

    Pickpockets and professional burglars who can actually pick locks tend to show up for festivals. I think there's enough of an immigrant history in Matagalpa that nobody has any real biases for or against cheles as a number of people have German or Danish ancestors and there's a Palestinian group there now, and some Chinese, plus some others.
  4. Chuky's Avatar
    Thanx for insights on EXPAT 101...........I'm having a great time in Matagalpa so far (less than 2 months)........Doing much better on the basics (shelter, food, beer, cable TV, internet) than I could ever do with my "fixed" income on the mainland.........I'm different from the locals; I know they can pick me out on the street .........But taking basic precautions, I feel no danger and I plan to be in Nicaragua until next summer.......PS- I'm saving money currently too!!!!.........
  5. MizBrown's Avatar
    I read it in the statement above my last -- "One advantage of buying books from Amazon is that if it is a book only order it does not go to customs so they do not have an opportunity to steal things." is from the person I'm replying to.

    Even that's not even factual in my experience -- Aduana can and has opened boxes of books. They can open anything coming into Nicaragua. And not a single thing from my mailed packages has gone missing. They even slipped up and let some popcorn in with one mailed package.

    Another example, from Face Book's Expats in Nicaragua group: "
    Personally, I would NEVER have anything mailed here!!! Bad experiences ... customs "steals" stuff ... removes stuff .... claims it got lost but STILL charge you .... what a rip!!!!" That was from someone who hasn't been in Nicaragua a year.

    I have heard other people say the same thing in person.

    One other poster on the other group said he believed that Aduana stole seeds for personal use when Aduana finally cracked down on unauthorized seed imports.

    Not just the poster I was replying to has made that claim. Lot of people pay extra for NicaBox because they think paying extra to have something shipped here and having someone who isn't them deal with Customs will do something special.

    If people go back to the US often enough that they can bring things back in luggage, fine. I did that with my A6000, but I don't go back to the US that often most of the time (three times over the last year and a half on family business, but that's done).

    If you're agreeing with me that the incidence of theft in the US and Nicaraguan mailing chain is not always a Nicaraguan problem, or even a common problem, we're in violent agreement.

    So, this is a meme among at least some expats, including the guy who I was replying to. One of the things people have to sort through is when are expats being bigots and when are they reporting true things about Nicaragua. Most of the most negative stuff seems to be exaggerations and trolling the newbies. I also think that North American men are more likely to assume that they can tell women what's what as much or more than Nicaraguan men.

    My own experience with clearing one box in Managua was a half day, but it was still more time than I wanted to spend waiting around.

    (And yeah, I did sent a private message to the person who had all the exclamation marks and told her that was not my experience in four years of living here).

    So, you don't like me calling a friend of yours on what he said. Tough. That's my duty. I'm tired of seeing people try to scare the newbies.
  6. billbudsocket's Avatar
    Who says this "aduana steals stuff"? Sounds like a strawman you've invented, again. I think everyone objects to having to go to the customs warehouse at 7:30 in the morning and not getting their boxes until 6pm, which is normal from my experiences clearing boxes in Managua, which means wasting 16+ hours for nothing for someone who doesn't live in the Managua area. I don't ship anything to NI now, it's far easier to bring it down on a plane.
  7. MizBrown's Avatar
    I haven't had any experiences with Customs stealing, even buying things for a camera system that's sold in Nicaragua. If you've had personal experience with this in the last four years (my time in Nicaragua), then I've been lucky, and I believe that one of the folks here had iris rhizomes go missing (screw-up or theft -- I'd bet screw-up and over-officiousness was as likely as theft -- could have looked like food, and could have been insect-infested despite promises of the seller). One guy has had bank cards go missing (I haven't so this may be a Managua thing vs. a Jinotega thing, just as my lost packages in NYC were an NYC thing). I've had so much stuff not go missing, including checks, that I simply get annoyed with people who want me to imagine this vast thieving Customs Warehouse.

    Some North American and some European expats seem to be really unhappy if they have to submit to any form of Nicaraguan authority in person and make up excuses to avoid it (my experiences with Nicaraguan bureaucrats have been neutral to quite helpful). I know from personal experience that some Nicaraguans are bad boys, but my sample of expats in Jinotega who flout Nicaraguan law (up to murder) is larger than the number of Nicaraguans who've stolen from me (one).

    I now don't trust anyone who claims Aduanas habitually steals stuff. Do individuals working for Aduanas steal occasionally? Possibly, hasn't happened to me. I don't order thousands of dollars worth of stuff at a time, and I pay for tracking most of the time if the value of the stuff is more than $200, so that may be a factor. I find North American guys who try to explain Nicaragua to me to be far more annoying than the guy on the bicycle who declares "mi amour" every time he passes (I haven't seen him lately).

    My first mail here was a box of books and one other item that I mailed myself from DC, sent book rate if I'm remembering correctly. Aduana opened it and noted the item that wasn't a book on its inspection list, though there was no charge (item was a notebook cover with a WW II photo in it).

    When I first got here, lots of expat guys were telling me I had to have an extra-special lawyer to deal with Intur and Migracion, that both organizations were arbitrary and fickle and lost stuff. That also didn't match my experience. I think most of this Aduana steals and Migracion is impossible to deal with directly is just smugglers not willing to admit they are smugglers, or that Nicaraguan laws shouldn't apply to special snowflakey them because they just need whatever it is they're smuggling into the country.

    Stuff that happens to a friend of a friend didn't happen; it's just expat echo chamber vibrations gone gonzo. I'm really tired of it. It's like racists rattling paranoia back and forth to each other.

    So, after four years of not having anything go missing, I hear "Aduana steals" as "I got caught smuggling."

    Newbies tend to foolishly believe all this crap and start smuggling themselves because "OMG, Aduana steals." Then they get caught one trip and Aduana confiscates their stuff, and it's another round of "OMG, Aduana steals. They took my tomato seeds."

    People who move here need a certain amount of caution with employees, with other expats whose pasts seem never to be the same from story to story, and Nicaraguans or expats who declare instant love. With Nicaraguan officials, not so much, at least in my experience and the experience of others I've talked to.

    "Aduana steals" is either "I am a smuggler" or "I know someone who smuggles" or "I'm just paranoid because people don't speak English for me."

    I have not lost anything here, and I can't say that for either New York or Philadelphia, or Southern Pines, NC (the post office there apparently confiscated my copies of the East Village Other newspaper) or Critz, VA (the post mistress gave my mail to my grandfather, not to me, and I didn't get all my copies of Rolling Stone).
  8. MizBrown's Avatar
    I was getting the impression that getting stuff here that way was like getting stuff here through UPS or FedEx (trip to Customs Warehouse). I've done that trip once and paid $124 for camera parts not to do it again. I suspect the next Kindle upgrade I get will be muled in, or I'll just switch to on a tablet.

    There's a list of things not to mail out at the local Correos office and I suspect they can tell you what can't be mailed in. I suspect Aduanas found too many family packages with too many cell phones and cameras (a young Nicaraguan acquaintance has told me how much cheaper black market items were), so now do the "Open this in front of us please" routine at their warehouse, rather than dump them into the mail system for a local Correos office to check (I used to be asked to open all my packages in front of the Correos clerks).

    Aduanas had opened the box before this one. The international conversion plugs were scattered around the box and not in their package (someone was in a hurry, apparently), but none of them were missing. This most recent box didn't appear to be opened as the B&H tapes were still intact.

    I looked at the tracking website yesterday and noted that the one thing that doesn't get logged is delivery to the local Correos, so, yeah, expect the package a day or two after it clears Customs and start asking if it's arrived yet at that point. Once I signed for it, that was recorded as delivery.

    I don't know if full tracking keeps people more honest or not. I have had packages sent without it and they also arrived just fine, though some were very much later than average. $68.75 buys a certain amount of piece of mind and is still cheaper than UPS, and quite a bit cheaper than FedEx. For books and socks, I haven't bothered.
  9. el duende grande's Avatar
    On the family package thing now sent by boat or plane the recipient now needs to go to customs and walk the box through, with cedulas, marriage certificates etc, to get the $500 exemption. If you get a 10am or earlier appt, you might just squeek by and get it all done in one day. They also charge about $20 per package. If your box includes a lot of little things, best to bring a second person-- one to talk to the clipboard guy and one to watch that the helpers are not slipping small items into their pockets while you are distracted. I had no problems with the valuations, just the nuisance of going to Managua and the thievery. net net, between the cost and the hassle of shipping a box, it no longer works for me. I pitty Nicas who don`t travel and are awaiting goody boxes from relatives abroad. If you ship a box, also be aware of the restricted items including food, medicines, etc.
  10. el duende grande's Avatar
    Amazon and banks will accept secondary addresses which makes it possible to send stuff abroad. I have not yet tried it with Paypal. As an anti-fraud thing they will only ship to address of record, but if you have 2 addresses of record it should work.

    Also, there is some law, I forget its name , which came with the Patriot Act that makes State Dept. licensing necessary to ship certain things that are considered ``military``, even if it is just a crappy hunting knife, as well as other restrictions on the freedom of Americans. One major publisher of police/militarty/ self defense books now declines international shipment. So much for the first amendment.

    One advantage of buying books from Amazon is that if it is a book only order it does not go to customs so they do not have an opportunity to steal things. The couple times I bought books they arrived un-opened at the post office. I have found it cheaper to buy used books in the States and haul them down on the plane and occasionally getting a Kindle download on my PC. a kindle machine is on the wish list.

    Somebody moving down here should call their bank and see what they advise. Nicaragua is very close to Nigeria, so banks would be quite justified in questioning foreign transactions that just pop up. Speaking of Nigeria, I just had an interesting conversation with somebody in a call center.with a very strange accent who wanted to know what state Nicaragua was in. You gots to roll with the punches.
  11. MizBrown's Avatar
    B&H has been doing international business since as long as I've known them. They send me a Spanish language catalogue. Amazon is fine with me most of the time for books and I have found some associates that ship internationally. Some companies don't allow their things to be shipped internationally at all (I emailed Baratza which makes electric coffee grinders and found that they didn't want to deal with warranty hassles, so bought Orphan Espresso hand-operated coffee grinder instead -- which Customs listed as a cafeteria, so no duty). I've gotten an Aeropress for coffee and an Eheim aquarium heater from Amazon associates who were willing to mail here. I'm thinking about importing Eheim filters for two of my tanks, but that's a want, not a need.

    I use 0000 if I have to fill in a postal code -- and most of the time that works. If not, I find some Social Security paperwork and use whatever they use, which I believe isn't right either.

    Netflix now accepts out of US subscriptions.
  12. bill_bly_ca's Avatar
    OK.. Most sites will not even send to Canada by post either if the shipping address is not equal to the billing address.

    Although most just do a numerical comparison to the postal code to the one on file with the card. For example some some people I know can buy a hulu subscription (Not to be sold to a Canadian Credit card) but if the numerical value of the Canadian postal code can be crossed to a valid US Zip code (By an online converter tool) then the translation will work.
  13. MizBrown's Avatar
    Yes, and this is why I can't get things sent UPS (street address doesn't match the card except for city and country and they won't deliver to a PO Box).

    FedEx makes it cheaper to buy at Sony Center, Las Gallerias.
  14. bill_bly_ca's Avatar
    How do you get the address of the method of payment to correspond to the shipping address? Does your method of payment have the same PO box address ?
  15. MizBrown's Avatar
    This is inside the ceiling beam in the back of the passageway.

    [IMG]InsideOverheadBeam by rbb_56, on Flickr[/IMG]
  16. MizBrown's Avatar
    Couple of people found out the hard way that if water ever gets into mud and cane walls (oldest type of housing here) or adobe, the walls can actually collapse (Granada, close to it in Matagalpa by a third hand report). People here often replace adobe/mud and cane with cinderblocks reinforced with rebar. This house has at least one non-bearing wall (separating my passageway from Geraldo's house) that's tufa block reinforced with rebar and concrete and there's rebar and concrete in the ceiling over the end of the passageway (Fausto chipped away some of the concrete to have rebar to tie a boxing bag to which I use for my clothes line. The visible house gable is brick. I don't see the sorts of cracks that I saw in the other house I lived in (those cracks were active cracks and would reopen after they were repaired).

    My guess is that people who are actually physically building their own homes, with some hired help but doing the material purchases themselves and not using a contractor, can build for relatively little. People who are hiring a supervisor/contractor probably aren't going to come out any cheaper than building in the less expensive areas of the US.

    Problems with this house are minor compared to the problems with my house in Philadelphia which had a rusted out Ideal Bend in the upstair bathroom that intermittently overflowed (my plumber showed it to me and I've got a picture of it somewhere), a couple of rotten and cracked treads on the stairs (my dog was afraid of them and they were covered with carpet strips so they weren't obvious, and the leaky roof that I left to the guy who bought it.

    One of my friends in Philly said, "You buy an old house to build a new house inside it." But Philly house prices were very low for the Northeast. I paid $61K for mine in 2000 and sold it seven years later for $120K. Spent circa $10K on repairs, and bailed before getting into the roof job. The guy who bought it was a landlord with a crew and could get the work done (heard that he put a skylight so he did do something to the roof).

    Renting a house with option to buy has some real advantages. I know the house after living here for over a year.

    Current house was rehabbed inside not that long ago. My German friend did some of the cabinet work and knows the species of wood that Geraldo said was used in the rafters. I'll ask him peal back one of the zinc panels to see if there are any surprises.

    The rental in Annadale was a converted tool shed . Wouldn't have bought it. Hate carpet and plywood floors.

    My guess is that people who have houses with leaking roofs that can't be repaired easily get rid of those. My Philly house had already been roofed over old roof enough to have three roofing layers. The next roof, to be legal, needed to be a complete take off, repair rafters if necessary, replace plywood deck if necessary and then do a membrane roof over the deck. The property had been a rental and the city put a lien on it because of the leaks from the bathroom area into the dining room. Seller wasn't interested in putting more money in the house so sold it since it couldn't be rented without a major plumbing repair, which I had done. Eventually, I sold it on, but I didn't hide the problems.

    Getting rid of houses that need major work is a thing that anyone buying an old house anywhere in the world needs to watch out for. All of them are going to have something that will need work, just how much work is the big question.

    I've noticed that Nicaraguans don't tend to be sentimental about old houses and build new if they can. I know my dentists looked at my former house, but ended up building new.
  17. el duende grande's Avatar
    Housing is a real shocker here. The ``average`` house is of such low quality that a US shed would have more potential. I fell into the trap of NL and others that you can build a house for $10 to 15 /sf. Once I started building I found out the truth and have been fixing up/adding on ever since.
    A lot depends on where you lived in the US. If you were in an area away from the job markets and in the Sun Belt with relatively new/modern housing, you are used to low prices for the quality. If you lived in the big cities you were used to high prices. I have some Nica relatives renting a 1br apartment in L.A. for a grand a month. In small town AZ you could BUY 2 houses for a grand a month!
    One caution I would make to anyone buying an old house here is to check to see if there is any cement/iron in the walls. A lot of houses have none and it is all covered up with stucco so you cannot tell unless you drill into it. One common type of construction here in the past was to have wood framing in a brick wall. Among other things, when the wood rots there is nothing to connect the rafters to. Some friends went through this and cut out the wooden wall sections and put in the cement and iron pilares and vigas. Not the end of the world because their son was an engineer and masonry work is fairly cheap, but it was an extensive repair job with the added cost of refinishing and painting the walls on top of fixing the roof which is what started the whole process.
  18. MizBrown's Avatar
    Today, I talked to Geraldo, who used to own the larger house that's now divided into three. He bought the whole house about 30 years ago. Now, he uses his part as a weekend get-away from Leon. His mom lived in this part. After his mother died, either Geraldo's sister or niece owned it before giving it to the couple who has it now (Fausto and his wife). The properties have been legally divided, and Fausto put in a lot of rehabbing here compared to Geraldo's side which is rustic (not their primary home). Geraldo also told me that replacing the rafters with metal wasn't necessary -- the wood (canela?) used for them is something that resists insects and they were in good shape when he re-zinced his roof a few years ago (obviously, part of the cost of having a house here).

    One real advantage of living somewhere a while is being able to ask people about various neighborhoods and the history of properties.

    Probably easier to sell later if I raised the roof in front and added another bedroom, but Geraldo said that I'd have to build a new wall since the existing wall is a party wall and probably wouldn't take the weight of a second floor. My further guess is that eventually someone will want to buy all three properties and either tear them down or do a serious remodel to bring them all together again. Geraldo has the patios with fruit trees; I just have a passageway; and I don't know what the guy in back has, or even where he gets in to his back house.

    My German friend said that he's seen houses here for more money here with no interior partitions or kitchens, and no laundry hook-ups. This one had been remodeled relatively recently, though the green paint almost sent me running. Prices is roughly $10K lower than the next cheapest asking price, but those people said they would be willing to negotiate (but the house was much narrower and the interior rooms were plywood partitions and the kitchen was smaller and the bathroom not as nice as this one).

    I think some people bring their US price expectations with them and can't imagine that a sub-$100K house would be worth buying. I saw something offered on one of the FB groups for $65K in the Managua area and one poster immediately wanted to know what was wrong with it. And then I saw something that looked quite nice south of Managua on the Nicaragua Craig's list for under $30K, and know of something that was bought for $30K on Ometepe which was featured on House Hunting International as a $130K property.

    I've been looking at photos of the place I lived in when I was in the DC area and photos of here. About the same space -- $150 a month here; $1150 there, a thousand dollars difference for more yard, and I had to have a car there.

    House in Annadale:

    [IMG]HouseInAnnadaleExterior by rbb_56, on Flickr[/IMG]


    [IMG]Jinotega-2.jpg by rbb_56, on Flickr[/IMG]

    I had more stuff then . The bedroom was a 20 by 10 upstairs loft, and the bathroom was downstairs at the opposite side from the stairs, so this one is way more convenient for this old lady.
  19. el duende grande's Avatar
    congratulations, you have been here long enough to make an informed decision. My late mother-in-law bought a similar house in (greatlly over-priced) Esteli about 5 years ago for 15k, but it was not finished. She had to pave floors, paint, etc. Its a shame she never got to see the city finally get around to paving the street.
  20. MizBrown's Avatar
    Vinyljunkie77003 -- Yeah, I think the exotic wears off sooner than that, and people either figure out how to find people who share their interests in Nicaragua (FB Spanish language groups are good for that, also force me to practice my Spanish more) or they end up in all expat groups and often those become echo chambers of expat paranoias about Aduanas and the mail. One other expat has college-educated Nicaraguan friends who surf.

    Jinotega has a number of people who've lasted more than a few years -- though one of them has left Jinotega something like seven times before deciding that he's going to get residency. I've heard some are leaving and some show up who don't last the year (and some not the week). More people who haven't got a clue are likely to show up in the more highly promoted places.

    Catahoula Fan -- The price for this house strikes me as reasonable. The rent's reasonable for what it is (lot nicer place than the first rental I had where the asking price of the house to gringos was $50K and the current asking price in Encuentra24 is $46K US, and the total rent when I left was $200 a month (two apartments at $100 a month). At the 10 year rule, that shouldn't have been more than $24K, but the owners turned down an offer of $43K, then changed their minds but the guy had already bought something else. The house I'm in now is in better shape, just doesn't have a big patio.

    I'm looking over Encuentra24 now and basically the asking prices in Jinotega are more than what the asking price on this is, though most have more bedrooms (which I don't need, one is fine). I haven't found that dickering over prices worked here. Used to be able to get house here for $8K, but that hasn't been the case since I moved here. Cheapest I've heard of something going in the last four years to a gringo was $15K and I don't know what shape that was in, and that was about three years ago.

    Some photos of the house:

    This one is of the sala looking into the kitchen. My landlord had four dogs, so there's some damage from wet dogs wiping themselves off against the walls.

    [IMG]View into kitchen area by rbb_56, on Flickr[/IMG]
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