Retiring (Temporarily) to Paradise

An old friend who retired early to a hacienda by the sea in Nicaragua sent me an e-mail recently, responding to my question about his life there. His answer wasn't exactly what I expected, but it made perfect sense.

If you’re an advisor, perhaps a few of your clients have mentioned the possibility of retiring someplace warm, unhurried and inexpensive, like a beach town in Central American. Sounds like bliss, right? Well, yes and no.

Not long ago, through Facebook of course, I contacted a fellow I knew long ago and far away. His passion at the time was composing music, but I didn’t know whether he pursued it or not. At one point, I had heard that he retired early to the tropics. For personal and professional reasons, I wanted to find out how it worked out.

Here’s what he wrote back:

My wife and I retired in 2004 after years in the music business. We bought a house here in Nicaragua eleven years ago. By then my parents had passed away—we spent years taking care of them—and our kids were in college. So we sold our apartment in Manhattan, rented a smaller apartment there, and hit the road. We traveled all over the world for about four years, using our rental in Manhattan as a pit stop.

At one point, we were in Uruguay, in a fishing village called Punte del Diablo on the border with Brazil. We met an American there who had ridden his motorcycle from San Francisco down the west coast of South America to Patagonia and was heading back up the east coast. We asked him what his favorite place had been. He said, “Nicaragua.”

A year or two later our daughter was working on a water project in Costa Rica, so we went down. We rented a house and hung out there with our three children for Christmas and New Year’s. My wife and I felt Costa Rica was too developed. You have to remember we had lived in New York City since 1973. We’d both been in the music business. We had a house in the Hamptons. We were dealing with type A personalities. We felt surrounded and just wanted to get out.

On our travels, we found that we felt most at home in Third World countries. Costa Rica is First World. It reminded us of LA, which we hate, so we left and went north to Nicaragua. We found a house in the middle of ‘National Geographic Nowhere’ and bought it. We’re very remote. The nearest town is ——-, near the Costa Rica border. We are about fifteen miles south of it, via dirt road.  

Mark Blatte

We bought the house in 2006, traveling back and fourth to New York. Finally I told my wife, I couldn’t take the city anymore and wanted to try going down to Nicaragua full time. So we put everything in storage and came here. Surprisingly, it ain’t cheap. We figured out that it’s more expensive for us to live here than in most places in the States.  

During the last two years, we took part two huge charity projects in remote villages. My wife worked with a Canadian foundation to put in playgrounds and early this year she, I and our daughter raised money to have a well dug in a village that had had no potable water due to a drought—which we suspect was caused by climate change. The well will serve from 400 to 800 people. Good things to have done.

Then, three weeks ago, my wife took a bad fall. It scared me to death. She’s OK—nothing broke. But it shook me up. I told her I was ready to move back to the states. So we just put our house on the market. We need to be near good medical facilities. The nearest one to our home is two and a half hours.

In just 500 words, that letter may tell you more about retirement in Central America than you’d learn from hours of browsing the Internet or talking to real estate agents on the phone. It tells me that, if I decided to move to an exotic locale, I should do it during my so-called go-go years of early retirement, not the slow-go years of mid-to-late retirement. It also suggests that, even if we initially surrender to the magnetism of paradise, we’ll eventually feel the gravitational pull of home. Especially if our children, and grandchildren, are waiting for us there.  

© 2016 RIJ Publishing LLC. All rights reserved.