What is it like to live in Granada, Nicaragua? I am pretty confident that if you are interested in that answer or are even reading this blog, you are currently entertaining a case of persistent wanderlust that has you scoping out family-friendly venues abroad for your itchy, adventurous feet.
I am very familiar with that unrelenting desire and challenge to find the right exotic destination to satisfy the impulse for change. But as you probably know as a mom or dad planning a major trek abroad with kids, there is a whole other layer of parental responsibility to your voyaging deep into the unknown that will have to be addressed, as well.
(And yet, I messed up).
Admittedly, I have made some bad calls in that regard. I started this journey in an area of Northern Nicaragua that wasn’t right for my son, Aiden or me. It was too different for a long-term stay and we excessively struggled with our surroundings. We stayed much too long and although we both can definitely say that yes, we can survive a hardship post (for years!), it’s not the bragging rights that a twelve-year-old yearns to exercise among his peers or across his resume (not applying for a foreign service position, yet).
It has taken me some time to win back his trust in that regard. Aiden had left everything behind in Charlotte, North Carolina: his childhood home, neighborhood, and friends that he had known since he was two years old. Kids don’t really have a choice in these big moves, they come along with parents who are questing, and they are trusting that we are going to make the right choices. And sometimes, although we mean well, we make mistakes. We blow it. And then the next choice, well, it had better be good because getting it wrong the second time around could be even worse, right?
Oh, gosh. It might be just another fruitless quest, but I want to try Granada.
We didn’t go back to the US. It was risky and there was big potential for failure. Our spirits were not riding as high as they were on the initial move. Our eyes were open much wider to the realities of living in a developing country. But my gut told me to try one more place in Nicaragua that I knew well enough to lay a somewhat calculated bet. But Granada was the last stop before going home to the United States. If it couldn’t work in the most beautiful, international city in Nicaragua, then Nicaragua just wasn’t for us.
Whewww. Just writing that, reminds me of all that challenging decision-making into the unknown that could have ended another year rather badly. If you are still working on all these questions, I can relate to everything that you have to weigh over and pray to get right. Maybe that’s why I am so passionate about writing about Granada and encouraging families to try a voyage abroad specifically here. Because for us, and I say this with no shortage of gratitude, Granada was thankfully that good life choice that turned out right for us when I really needed it to do so.
It’s always a good day when you have seen the other side of paradise.
So to be honest, when I answer friends and strangers what is it like to live in Granada, ten times out of ten, I respond that it is going well. Having seen the other side of a misfired journey, I am mindful to give high marks where they are deserved. Beautiful, graceful Granada welcomed us in every possible way and there were opportunities for engagement everywhere. It did take a good year for both Aiden and I to get into our current Granada groove, but then all of sudden we were back to living on ‘Normal Street’, again, if I kind of squint at it just right…
I could describe our life here in Granada as normal in most respects:
I write, Aiden goes to school. We recreate, we eat out, we eat in, I exercise, we hang out with our friends, enjoy day trips and overnighters around the country. Really, quite normal.
Except...on the other hand, this has developed into something special and I think that I am ready to stop squinting at it now and see this for what it is.
Now I write about what I love: travel, adventure, personal health and family goals. Aiden’s chosen school is different, too. He is able to go quite affordably to an excellent bilingual school where he oscillates between conversing fluent Spanish and English with an international student body of really nice kids from all over the world.
When it’s time to recreate and reconnect we are exploring sleepy volcanoes and wading in ancient craters full of healing mineral waters. This is the healthy, outdoor life I had dreamed about having year round back in the States.
Life here in Granada is very economical compared to the cost of living in the United States. This makes it easier for parents to slow down, enjoy working less, and spend quality time with their kids more. It also means more painless splurging in fun and eating out. I love other people’s cooking, so I personally value that when ordering and dining out I don’t blanch at the totally modest bill, so we most often do it daily!
My normal exercise? It’s pretty extreme, actually. Here in Granada, I can build my morning around my personal fitness goals six days a week with amazing instructors and personal trainers from Florida and the Netherlands, who thankfully thrive on living in Granada, too. When I ask you, when did I make time for any kind of training in the United States? I feel in control about my health and energy, again; I have to recognize that I am also substantially a different person here, too.
Our normal family weekend trips include breezy excursions to the Pacific Ocean where Aiden and his friends can surf, boogie board, and eat freshly caught shrimp and fish to their heart’s content (even for breakfast). Or out to an old-fashioned swimming hole where howler monkeys urgently call out to each other from around the jungle way (kids get rewarded when they answer back). These moments are precious and create layers of bonding that we can fall back on in the challenging teenage years up ahead.
Granada is one seriously social city and hanging out in good company with friends is happily frequent. Families from around the globe intermingle with like-minded people who understand and appreciate that crazy wanderlust impulse that pulls them out of their familiar digs and tells them that it’s time to uproot. It’s nice to not be the only ones! We are not alone (and neither will you be).
And by the way, as you may already well know, the bar for adventure is a target that moves in real time. I love living in Granada and I still get thrills just from talking to folks on the street who have lived through a brave revolution and defended it in war. But I do crave the big jolts of travel adrenaline and culture shock that I can only get when we dive into unknown lands for the first time and take a satiating swig from the world’s well of faraway, foreign destinations.
For this reason, Aiden and I plan to head to Morocco this summer break for some slow travel and world schooling in Arab life and language. This trip is to make sure that our senses stay sharp and that I respond to Aiden’s persistent request to begin learning Arabic. But all the same, Granada is the homebase to which we will gladly return at the end of the summer.
This is it! We’re finally doing it. We’re living it.
Are there down days, detractions? Probably, I guess so. But frankly, I ignore it.
Yeah, I know the usual complaints, but I don’t care if it’s hot. It’s okay that the faucet is barely trickling water this morning. That all the good shopping is in Managua. I can live with that. I don’t mind anymore if the taxi driver is so up on me again honking his horn that I can read the small writing on the front of his t-shirt. He’s now part of my Granada adventure, too.
I love this period of my life too much to burden my happiness with petty skepticism. I’ve seen the other side and I appreciate everything that we have and enjoy every day.
Anywhere you live, there are going to be features and events that don’t conform to your ideal. But some places (like people) will jive so well with your spirit that you can push that all out to the edges of your vision, so that what you really like comes into focus.
There would have been other times in my life that I wouldn’t have known how to be deliberate in seeking out the pleasures and blessings of the day. Thankfully, I have now lived and traveled long and far enough to be grateful for all the details of this particular, grand adventure.