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Feb 07

Bed and Breakfast Owners – Prevent Burnout! Take a Vacation!

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After an intense 2013 season, we planned a trip away to a tropical sunny paradise. It was recommended by a friend whose daughter has built a house there. We found a whole-house rental via VRBO (Vacation Rental By Owner) that sounded like It met our requirements for king sized bed, swimming pool, reliable water and electricity, relative solitude, good view of the ocean, a kitchen we could cook in, and WIFI internet access that was not subject to frequent outages. Where? In the mountainside surrounding San Juan del Sur, on the southern Pacific Coast of Nicaragua.

We were ready for a slight change of pace from our usual vacation spot. Nicaragua also sounded cheaper than our favorite spot just south of Nicaragua in Ojochal, Costa Rica. That tiny town is home to ex-pats who have established an fantastic restaurants that feature cooking from Indonesia, Italy, France, Italy and Germany to supplement the usual pizza and local Tico family-run chow-stops. Five trips there left us feeling pretty darned comfortable. Sure, we had experienced problems with reliable water, electricity and WIFI access, and the back roads accessing our house rentals were at times long and arduous, but we liked it. However, prices seemed to be getting out of hand, and so we were looking for a change. No, we don’t speak more than about 15 words of Spanish, but it had never been a problem for us in Costa Rica.

Part of dealing with the stresses of a typical intense B&B season is the ability to look forward to what has become a month-long far-away vacation for us, with complete detachment from people, a chance to write, do some day-trips, identify some birds we haven’t seen before,  think about things other than the  B&B, and to read a few good books. Heck, now with our iPads in hand, a couple sets of Bose earphones, and a NetFlix streaming subscription, I was going to be in heaven.

I uploaded the Nicaraguan map from the internet onto our GPS and carefully stashed the device with my other electronic devices and digital camera equipment into a carry-on backpack. Minimal clothing, some must-have cooking equipment (tongs, knife sharpener, potato peeler, grater, zip-lock baggies, stuff like that) that I knew would likely be absent from our rental home kitchen. Plus the usual other necessities like prescriptions, anti-itch creams, insect repellent, SPF 30 sunscreen that we’ll probably never use, Aloe gel that we will need as the result, hygiene stuff, all in small quantities. Anything we don’t have, and need once we get there, we’d have to pick up or live without. Passport and license photocopies, in color, stashed.

We contacted the bank, our credit card companies, arranged for internet payment of our usual bills, arranged for Patty, our wonderful friend and cleaning lady, to watch our doggie Lena and our house, got our necessary immunizations. Our friend and local kayak/canoe outfitter, Kenny, agreed take care of getting us to and from the airport. Itinerary e-mailed to family members, check. Car insurance, check. Car rental, check. All systems go. We were closed for three months, and ready to rock and roll for the first of those 3 months. Ready to detach and realign ourselves, re-balance and re-energize. I suggest some such getaway for every B&B owner. To someplace that makes you feel gone, safe, happy. I would not suggest unstable areas of the world like in the Middle East. We were getting away from the coldest winter Minnesota has experienced in recent history. Someplace wonderful, like Nicaragua.

So here we are, 3 weeks into our vacation. One more week to go. And it’s been a mixed bag, to be honest.

I am more relaxed, yes. I have had exactly zero exercise, but my blood pressure has dropped to 114/51. That’s pretty darned good. We have taken a daytrip to the city of Granada, which has a reputation for being quite a 15th century Spanish colonial hotspot for culture and museums. We also traveled by car to nearby Masaya and the surrounding little villages with their local artisans, volcanic geological scenery. That trip was pretty benign in terms of adventure.

I almost got thrown out of a modern grocery store in Granada for taking a photo of a Mennonite woman. A regular Mennonite woman, not Old Order, which is known for avoiding any photos of themselves because they’re considered graven images, which is bad, I’ve heard. I came to find out later that the Mennonites in the area are hiding an American lesbian-turned-straight woman who abducted her daughter from the USA in order to escape a court ruling that awarded her lesbian partner shared custody of that daughter. She fled, with the Mennonites’ help, to the shelter and protection of Nicaragua, where now the FBI is relentlessly searching for her. So I can understand the sudden alarm and reaction of the Mennonite woman and her husband when I snapped a shot or two of them in the grocery store. They must be just trying to stay off the grid with the FBI.

Our stay in a less-than-wonderful hotel in Granada was uneventful, except that we noticed that the locals in the park across the street (who were selling their wares) and in the hotel breakfast service area were maybe just a touch disinterested in us Gringos unless there was a direct financial benefit. To them.

We got a little daytrip in, finding our way to the National Park featuring a view of the active volcano, one of several in Nicaragua. Except that we couldn’t see down into the crater that day because of weather conditions. Oh, well. We did get a couple photos of the area and of volcanic rock with graffiti.

Anyway, we got back to the rental house and stayed pretty close to home until it was time to go to pick up Daughter Jill at the Managua International Airport, predicted to be no more than 3 hour drive. She would be staying with us for a week. We started out early, around 8 AM, armed with a couple PB&J sandwiches for breakfast, bottled water, GPS functional and back-up road map in hand. On the way, we were stopped twice by local National Police for traffic violations that didn’t seem to apply to the local Nicaraguans, but only to us Gringo’s who happened to be driving rental cars. It was pretty traumatic, being motioned to the side of the road, asked to hand over our driver’s license, lectured at in a foreign language that we did not comprehend, and then commanded to hand over cash. We made the mistake opening up Dave’s wallet, showing the cash contents, both American and Nicaraguan (Cordoba’s) currency, and the Police Officer seemed to openly salivate. What should have been a simple 100 Cordoba payout ended up being 4 of the 500 Cordoba bills, the equivalent of $80.00 US. And that was for just one of the two stops that day. A few minutes later, a young female National Police officer motioned us to the side of the road again, and we were nailed for an additional $20.00 US for some vague transgression that we could not comprehend. My blood pressure was climbing. Dave was strangely silent. We continued our journey to pick up Daughter Jill at the airport in Managua.

Jill arrived without incident, a slightly delayed flight of no consequence, and we headed back to Granada, about 40 minutes from the airport in Managua, for an overnight there. We enjoyed a step up stay at a premier hotel, located a block away from the less-than-premier spot we had stayed in a week earlier. This one was about the same price but had premier service (Hotel Plaza Colon). We enjoyed a great dinner, a nice stroll through the central park and a lovely breakfast. The buffet breakfast service was impeccable, although watching our server pick his nose over in the corner was a little disconcerting. Something any B&B owner would take note of.

Finding our way out of Granada was difficult, because we found ourselves on the narrow, thronging street that contained every type of conceivable merchant, stretching about 8 blocks, and filled with people who could care less that we were trying to get through in our white SUV. We did not run over anyone, by some miracle, and finally found ourselves on the road out of town, where once again, we were pulled over by the National Police. Peering into our car,, which they had already obviously identified as a rental vehicle, they found their basis for yet another “fine”: Daughter Jill, in the back seat, did not have a seat belt on. Despite her pleadings, we handed over our third fine in less than 48 hours.

We did manage to do some local sightseeing before returning to the rental house. But now we were ready to stay put for awhile. Off the highways. Away from the National Police, which seemed to be targeting the Caucasians, especially those driving rental cars that had those bright red stickers in the upper right corner of their windshields, visible from a distance.  THs is something that was substantiated when we did some internet research later on. But, what the heck. We have spent most of our time here ever since, rather quietly. We’ve enjoyed the sunshine and the solitude, as we have re-grouped.

Some challenges have been those Nicaraguan Police, as well as the dreadful road conditions up to our rental house (I call them jaw-breaking roads), and the critters. I am not a wuss. A few bugs and spiders don’t make me crazy, but the snake on our porch was a little over the top for me.

I must say though, that was balanced out by the amazing visit from about 14 Howler monkeys this afternoon, moving through the bamboo trees just feet from us at the house. The sunset view of the ocean, and the sight of dolphins and a spouting whale in the distance are now lodged in our memories.

Amazingly, the WIFI, electricity and running water have all worked here, unlike our experience in Costa Rica. In our business, staying in touch through the internet is a plus. Can’t really get away from those reservation requests, right?  The solitude has worked its wonders. We’ll be ready to head back when it’s time. Back to Minnesota’s below-zero temperatures. Well, not ready, but maybe more prepared.