The next morning we slept in a bit more but not much, knowing that we would have a long night at the Nica wedding near Aposentillo outside of Chinandega. We met the group traveling from Leon at Brett’s house, where we had visited the night we arrived, at 1:30 PM. Prior to that we spent the morning relaxing, doing some new house stuff (we recently closed on a house and had some lingering paperwork), and had a nice French toast breakfast at the Azul Restaurante and Hotel.
Brett had organized a bus that left his house around 2PM due to a few late arrivals (8 or so people going to the wedding caught the bus from Leon). Brett, Silvia, the families, and Derek had left for the beach area the previous night to set everything up.
The bus ride was a grueling, sweat soaked, cramped (tiniest seats ever!) 60 minutes rolling over numerous speedbumps on a small road leading north through Chinandega, and then over a dirt road for the last 30 minutes – 90 minutes in total including the 2 times we got stuck on the dirt road and bottomed out. Nobody on the bus had really ever been to where we were going before either, including the drivers – so some guess work and deduction was definitely involved to figure out that the wedding was in fact not being held at Al Cielo, the guest house and restaurant Brendan had visited the last time he was in Nicaragua. However, it was being held at the very end of the same road, in a villa on the beach. As we pulled up, we were rewarded as we disembarked in to paradise.
The owners, Christopher and Marlena, were friends of Brett and well-connected to the expat community (Chris had previously been in the UN, and Marlena fought in the revolution), and had graciously offered to host the wedding. Brett and Silvia (and the wedding planner) had organized all of the decorations and turned the villa into a magical white-wedding party locale. The floral arrangements and lighting were our favorite parts, as well as the Sunset on the Beach punch which made another appearance and was welcomed by the sweaty mess of us who came off the bus.
We spent the first hour or so finding our bearings, cooling down in the shade, and catching up with some people we knew as well as some people Brendan hadn’t seen in 5 years (like Javier, one of the owners/chefs at Al Cielo). Around 5:30PM we were all called down to the beach for the ceremony. The bus was headed down but a few of us chose a short walk down a dirt path instead. The beach had already been set up with about 40 chairs and the bamboo gazebo Brett had made that we had seen at his place on Thursday night. It was a beautiful display.
Cervezas were handed out to continue the pre-game and to keep us cool, and we enjoyed the sights and sounds of the ocean. 30 minutes later, around sunset, the ceremony begun. Words were said in Spanish (the legal aspects), and vows were said in English and Spanish (with translations) over a microphone so we could all hear (barely). Unfortunately, everyone was standing in the audience which made it very hard to see. However, the vows were sweet and heartful, and more importantly the ceremony was short! They were pronounced man and wife as the sun went down, and then we all went back up to the villa for drinks, dinner, dessert, and dancing.
We were seated at the San Cristobal table with the English speaking expats. They were all lovely, interesting, well-traveled, and well-connected in Nicaragua. All of them owned property or land in the country and had a lot invested in keeping Nicaragua the way it was so that it “didn’t become Costa Rica.” The elephant in the room that was never addressed, however, is that Nicaragua is a dictatorship that could seize private property at any moment and expel foreigners. It was clear that nobody was really worried about that, however.
The neighbors on our left, Ester and Tony, lived in Los Angeles in the Eagle Rock community and ran a holistic health and healing business over the internet, with all leads generated by word of mouth. Tony had bought land 15 years ago in Nicaragua, nearby on the beach, and then developed it afterwards. He and Ester met after he had already bought the land but now have been coming back for years. The neighbors across from us, EJ and Vanessa, recently bought land from Brett and were planning to develop it eventually. They lived outside Calgary when they were not down south, and we think they said they worked in the limestone construction industry. Vanessa was one of those free spirits that was nice to everyone, inclusive, and fun to be around, like my friend Raquell. The gentleman to Brendan’s right, named Jay, came to Nicaragua to visit with EJ and Vanessa and owned a mountain biking company in Banff. He had a mountain biking accident a few years ago that left him paralyzed with a prognosis of never walking again, which he overcame to become once again fully functional, and mountain biking and adventuring as much as he could. This was an amazing set of people.
We exchanged travel and relationship stories over drinks and food, got lots of tips on Costa Rica, and were basically told that we probably wouldn’t be able to make it across the border and to Liberia in a day. We really started to fret about the next day, knowing that there would be one or more hitch(es) in our well-laid plans of hiring a car to the border from Leon, crossing on foot, then hiring another car to take us to our rental car agency in Liberia. The horror stories of the border crossing and the unreliability, inefficiency, and poor quality of the roads came at us from every direction at the table! Needless to say we were not feeling confident.
Moreover, nobody really had good things to say about Costa Rica, other than “it’s beautiful, but it’s played out.” We noodled out that Costa Rica was probably a lot like Nicaragua 30 years ago, in the 80s, but obviously embarked on an economic development plan centered around ecotourism and relationships with other countries to build up the infrastructure and the tourism industry to a modern-day standard. Nicaragua had done no such thing, which the expats all liked – to them, Nicaragua was pure, unexploited, and authentic. The flip side of this of course is that it was hard to get around, hard to get anything done without connections, inefficient, corrupt, and slow. This barrier to entry obviously kept out a lot of the expat riff-raff seeking “fake” surface-level experiences, and also kept costs low, and allowed expats, like the ones we met, to build vacation homes at low-cost.
Talking with EJ, he thought that the villa we were partying at probably cost a maximum of $200,000 for the land and the structures. It was very luxurious and modern, despite not being able to throw toilet paper in the toilets (something ubiquitous throughout Nicaragua and Costa Rica, we found). The down-side of course is that these beautiful beaches are remote, difficult to get to, and not near anything, so the operating costs are probably fairly high. The plus side is that you can have a beautiful house and a private beach for a trifle. The bottom line is that you still need money to build out the land and actually do something with it and keep it running. Additionally, because there are no loans available, you have to have cash to do anything, which means it may take you 10 years to build out your house to the specifications and standards you desire. It was honestly a lot of sweat equity and hard work, with a very high total cost of ownership which nobody really spoke about.
Appetizers of beef kabobs and plantain chips were brought to our tables, as was plentiful champagne and wine. Dinner was served buffet style and was rice, mashed potatoes, a lovely salad, steamed vegetables beef, and chicken – a kind of fusion between American and Nicaraguan. Dessert consisted of some beautiful cupcakes that we had been eyeing since we arrived, proudly displayed on a three tiered hand-carved wood table that Brett had made. We danced intermittently between courses and enjoyed lots of American pop music as well as some new Latin hits as well, including a few we knew like “Despacito.” A few of the Nicaraguan couples danced salsa and put us all to shame. Here is the happy couple during their first dance…
And toasting the guests.
The party began winding down at 930PM, but our bus didn’t depart until 11PM. I was starting to cough again and by this point was pretty worn out. The last 90 minutes went the slowest, despite some stimulating conversation about politics, science, Boston (Chris went to school there), family and education with Chris and Marlena, the hosts, and a few more toasts with the wedding party. It turns out their daughter lives in Colorado, and now we have another person to look up when we get back! Colorado was looked on very positively by everyone we met, and we were proud to live in one of the most well-respected US states internationally. One side note – Chris reminisced over the Obama days and regaled us with a story about one of the Obamas’ law professors at Harvard. This professor said the two most gifted students he had ever taught constitutional law to were Barack (#1) and Michelle (#2) – that Barack had the charisma but Michelle had the work-ethic and the brains. Chris did not think the US was quite done with Michelle Obama. Interesting expat ruminations in Nicaragua and the things you learn.
We caught the bus back at 11PM as promised, and it was another grueling journey through pot holes, getting stuck, and many stops to drop off wedding staff on the way. We were home around 1245PM after the short walk from Brett’s place, and we quickly showered and fell in to bed, shoring up our energy for the dreaded, long and painful day ahead of us of attempting to cross the border by foot in to Costa Rica. I thought about the saying “Here’s to well laid plans” as I drifted off to sleep.