Passing the pandemic in paradise

It was February 26th when I last saw my youngest daughter. It was early January when I last saw my oldest daughter. As I write this, it's September 2020.

On Feb 26th I traveled to Nicaragua. I live in this Central American paradise half the year. I've got a whole life here: girlfriend, house, truck, friends, etc. I was supposed to return to LA in early April. Well, COVID-19 had other plans.

On March 2nd I was at a birthday dinner for my girlfriend when out of nowhere, I felt very sick. This is roughly 5 days after traveling, via LAX, to Nicaragua. Before California was shut down and definitely before the mass hysteria kicked into gear over COVID (at least in the states).

Vomiting, diarrhea, fever, intense chills, extreme fatigue, body aches, stomach pains, slight difficulties breathing but barely noticeable. No dry cough, so I thought it couldn't be COVID. I could hold my breath for 10 seconds without issue, oh then for sure it's not COVID. I finally went to the hospital and was told I had a stomach infection but the doctor said it was strange because my lungs were "working harder" than normal to breath while at rest.

As I start to recover after about a week I notice something weird. The skin on my hands, and feet, is peeling off. And not like, light sun burn peeling. I mean like every inch of my hands and feet has skin peeling off. The hands I chalked up to the huge amounts of hand sanitizer we were using now but my feet?

A week or so later I read an article in Science Magazine that discussed all the things that was then known about COVID and it's symptoms. Turns out it was fairly common to be infected and have symptoms just like I had. Still, with no tests in the country, I chalked it up to a stomach infection. I continued reading and read that the tissue on your hands and feet may die and peel off.

Well, that sold me. I had COVID.

Trapped in the tropics

In March, the infection rate was starting to really rise in the Americas. El Salvador was the first to close their airports and borders completely in Central America. Many other countries followed.

I got an email from the US Embassy here in Managua saying that I should make plans to immediately return to the states or be prepared to self isolate "indefinitely" here in Nicaragua.

I honestly didn't think there would be travel disruption lasting more than a few weeks so I stayed put. Well, as I said above, it's now September and I still haven't been able to leave the country. There are no commercial airlines flying here right now due to the Nicaraguan government regulations and closures.

There are a few charter flights that I think are way too expensive and after a couple of the first ones were loaded with infected people, I was too worried about taking one. So I've been waiting it out here.

The good

Honestly, there probably aren't many places better than here to pass the pandemic. Unless you're very ill and need COVID specific hospitalization (yea, you don't want to do that here), then this is a safe and warm (hot) place to chill and wait for all of this to pass.

The beaches are beautiful and most are so remote you won't see another person within 200 meters of you. The natural lagoons and mountain jungles are empty.

A lot of places are closed, especially initially, but now are opening up more and more. The businesses and people of this country have, for the most part, taken all necessary precautions to live safely in the times of COVID.

We were in a very strict quarantine for a couple of months and finally couldn't take it anymore. We started spending a lot of time with responsible friends at their houses or in ours. Quite a few beers and even more bottles of rum have been enjoyed over this pandemic.

Because it's so warm here it's normal for many places have outdoor and patio seating. Throw in proper distancing so you can safely enjoy a beer overlooking an active volcano. You know, if you'd like to.

Prices have obviously increased a bit but the cost of living is so cheap here that I still mark that as a positive. I personally prepare 95% of my meals anyway so eating out isn't typically a big expense for me.

The bad

The absolute worst part of this situation is that I miss my 2 daughters. I've missed my oldest daughters 21st birthday and I've missed helping her move into her very first apartment. This really upset me.

The trapped feeling is real. I have no real desire to return to the states during the current climate in the country (I'm not just talking about COVID) but the inability to return -- even in an urgent emergency -- is really scary. I keep thinking what if my mother gets COVID (it would be very serious for her) or what if one of my daughters gets into a car accident and I can't get back to be there for her. This fear is constant and really causes me a lot of stress.

For the next group of points I feel like I should give a little disclaimer, so here it is:

I'm a legal resident of Nicaragua. Not a citizen. Basically it's the equivalent of a green card holder in the US. As a legal resident I have all the same rights as a Nicaraguan citizen except the following 3 things: I can not vote, I can not run for public office, and I can not meddle in politics. That said, the points that follow here are solely based on my own perception of things in the country and not a political message in any way.

The transparency of the infection and death rates has not been accurate. One agency says one low number while another agency says a much higher number. Based on the worlds infection rate, I'd go with the higher numbers as more accurate.

You see videos of midnight burials, families accusing the government of lying, etc. This is in the news, videos passed around via Telegram or Whatsapp, etc. I personally have not seen anything like that, just what's shared.

As of a month or so ago, testing is finally available here. However it's very expensive. Roughly $150 per test. This is very far out of reach for the average Nicaraguan.

There has been no major stimulus of the local economy. As such, the people here are hurting badly. This has dropped the price of manual labor so it's a great time to build or do the projects you've been putting off. Also that means that people are having to make do with less and at a time that daily necessities like rice, beans, coffee, etc. are rising in cost. A rise of say, 5 cents a pound for rice may not seem like much but to the average family here, that's a noticeable dent.

Note: I would like to point out that most of the points above could easily apply to the United States as well.

Continuing On

My latest flight home was scheduled for early October 2020. Yesterday I got an email from United Airlines that the flight has been canceled. Again.

I can't blame United for this. Apparently the rules the Nicaraguan government is putting on commercial airlines to return to the country are extremely difficult and expensive to abide by. So airlines are simply postponing another month to see if changes can be worked out.

I also can't blame the government for this either. Some say the guidelines are way too strict but with a country as poor as Nicaragua, I understand their reluctance to let in potential COVID carriers.

Some local travel agencies are arranging a few charter flights every month. They're way over priced and a little risky as I mentioned before. Others who took them say it was a super long process but they got home safe. I'm still debating this but as of now, it's my only real option.

So here I am, along with many other tourists and residents like me, trapped in paradise. It's both a good and a bad thing.