By overcoming her self-doubt, and the doubts of others, Bonnie Hayman has been able to make a better life for herself in Nicaragua. ©Jason Holland
I sat with a friend on the beach in San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua, marveling at the most spectacular sunset I had ever seen…gold, purple, orange, pink, and blue. I made the decision right then and there to live in this unbelievably beautiful country. And I wasn’t going to wait for retirement.
Three months later, I was ready. I closed my technical writing business, had my early retirement party (11 years early), put my furniture in storage, found a property manager to rent my house, and looked forward to my exciting new adventure.
On the Sunday before I left, my close friends decided to throw a going-away dinner for me. Only it was more like an intervention. After a couple of glasses of wine, we sat down for dinner and Bob, the selected spokesperson, told me I wasn’t moving to Nicaragua. He said, “You’ll die there.” I replied that I planned to live there the rest of my life. That started a flurry of comments and opinions that I’d rather not have heard. These were my best friends—and they thought I was crazy.
As I drove home from dinner, self-doubt crept in. That night I couldn’t sleep. I’d bought a house impulsively in Nicaragua. It was a much better house than my San Diego townhouse, and only a third of the price. My two-bath, two-bedroom Nicaragua cottage on half an acre had an ocean view and tons of flowers and fruit trees in the yard. I’d put a $25,000 non-refundable deposit down on the house. Now I was in a bind. Lose the $25,000 and stay in California? Or bite the bullet and go see what happens?
“This was a stupid idea,” said the little nagging voice in my head. “You don’t know anyone there. How do you know you’ll make friends? Or that there will be anyone there that you like? You are all by yourself, and you don’t even know if it’s really safe there for a single woman. You’re kind of a loner, you know, and a bit quirky. What if no one likes you?”
I tried meditation. Didn’t work. Tried yoga. Didn’t calm me down. Visualization techniques helped a bit, because I pictured myself in that cute little house in Nicaragua: no more financial worries, eating healthier, and free to be myself in a beautiful sunny climate, looking at the ocean every day.
In San Diego, I had to worry about what I said (I stayed mum on political issues, for example), how I dressed (being older means you can’t wear high heels anymore…according to the latest internet study on aging), what car I drove (it better not be older than five years…).
Something was definitely wrong with this picture. And with visualization, Nicaragua was winning the battle. A simpler, cheaper, healthier life with adventure—something the U.S. (for me) had lost a long time ago. Everything there was predictable, draped in shades of white, beige, light blue…nothing too bright, nothing too shiny. Basically boring. I knew I had to go.
With only 48 hours left, those uncomfortable thoughts started creeping in again. “C’mon Bonnie, do you really want to do this, or do you just want to show everyone you can? Are you on board, or are you just being your dramatic self, always looking for an adventure?” I didn’t sleep that night, either.
One day left. I packed everything I thought I needed into six suitcases. Imagine: My life fit into six suitcases. Everything else I left behind. The packing itself was incredibly freeing. I started feeling lighter, better. I reasoned that if I didn’t like life in Nicaragua, I could always sell my house and come back. I left the next day.
I landed in Managua with my daughter Shanna in tow to help me get settled in San Juan del Sur. We took a taxi to my new home. After unpacking, we went to town for breakfast and people said hello. It didn’t seem like it would be difficult to make friends, and it wasn’t. And I quickly realized how much more affordable life in Nicaragua would be. For $2.50 I had a delicious breakfast of two eggs, red beans, cheese, avocado, fried bananas, tortillas, salad, and coffee. That same meal would be about $12 in San Diego.
I realized a lot of other things during the next two weeks. There was no traffic, one of the big stressors back home. Everyone, especially the Nicaraguans, was very friendly and eager to help me get settled. When the front axle broke on my Toyota 4Runner during my first three months here, Nicaraguans came en masse to lift my car out of the road and gave me the name of a great mechanic. That same day I had my car back, all fixed, for $400.
It was easy to meet people. Here, everyone allows you to be yourself. The resulting feeling of freedom was something I was not used to in the U.S. In San Juan del Sur, people don’t judge you like they do in San Diego. “Live and let live” is the mantra.
Now, nine years later, I can’t think of living anywhere else. I can’t go back to the States. Even though I love San Diego, it’s way too expensive. (I was paying $8,000 a month to live in California, versus $1,000 a month here.) Now I live in a place just as beautiful or more, with less stress and more peace in a healthier, happier atmosphere. All my moving worries were silly, even though they were real. Actually, it’s much easier to move abroad than you think. I’ve made great friends, found sources of part-time income, and wake up happy every day.
I’ve found my place in the sun. And you can, too…if you are willing to discard all those nagging thoughts about moving. Just do it—you’ll be so glad you did. And your friends? They’ll come around…
Editor’s Note: This article was taken from a past issue of International Living’s monthly magazine. Delivered straight to your door each month, we delve into the details you need to take action. We share our contacts. We lay out the pluses and minuses. And we keep you up-to-date on the latest developments with the best havens abroad, including…7 Great Retirement Towns You’ve Never Heard of…
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