Mikes Gringo Life Home Site

April 2008

Mike Cobb's Nicaragua’s Update - April 2008

Normally, the Gringo Life update focuses on our lives in Nicaragua. However, since we are working on our new project in Belize, I've been spending additional time there again and enjoying the sites and sounds of the tropical Caribbean. Gently swaying palm trees, aqua blue waters, and 180 miles of living reef are hallmarks of this tiny country just south of Cancun. It is best known for diving and fishing, but more and more retirees are headed there, because unlike the rest of Central America, English is the official language. For ease of transition, this can be a huge factor. I know. Five years into living in Nicaragua, I still struggle with my Spanish.

Later in this update I’ll fill you in on my house saga (it broke) and include a couple of anecdotes about the girls and their adventures. But first, I want to share some thoughts about a friend of mine who lived a great, long life and passed away last year. He was a real-life shipwreck survivor and his story is quite incredible.

You don’t get to meet many shipwrecked people in life. This is something usually reserved for books written in the 1800's about islands in the South Pacific, or more recently a Tom Hanks movie about a Fed-Ex executive. Interestingly, these books and movies usually pit man against nature in a solitary environment. The battle is both outside and inside, fighting for survival, but also coping with incredible the loneliness of being stranded.

Emory King’s case was very different. The year was 1953 and he and two shipmates washed ashore on a coral reef 15 miles off the coast of Central America. They struggled across open water and through the mangroves, eventually making it to land and then onto Belize City. His two sailing companions then headed back to Florida, where this ill-fated journey had begun.

Emory, at age 22, with just the cloths on his back, decided to "stay a while." He found that he liked his random destination and the reality he created for himself was full and social, a far cry from the tales in the books and movies. A while turned into 54 years.

I'd gotten to know Emory pretty well over the last 13 years. You'd see him having lunch in the Radisson Fort George Hotel most days. He was usually dining with one of Belize’s rich and powerful folk, yet he always had time to stop by your table and relate a story or tell a joke. Then he would ask how you were doing and he wanted a serious answer.

Emory had many roles over the years including the founding of an insurance company and two television stations. He was a real estate developer, sales person, author, and finally Belize Film Commissioner. His books include many on the history of Belize with wonderful narratives and detailed descriptions of the life and times of its people and heritage. My personal favorite is his Road Atlas, the absolute best road map of Belize. In a country without many signs, he used descriptive phrases like, "Mile 29: Sawmill. Mile 37.6: A serious curve here. Approach with caution. This is a right angle turn to the left. Slow down.” Many a car and life have likely been saved by this kind of detail.

Emory was also a gifted speaker and headlined many of our meetings and events throughout the years. He always enjoyed a night or two on the island and would hold court long after his speech and meal, spinning stories of Belize and life there before tourists and divers "discovered" this small gem of a country tucked into the Yucatan Peninsula. Once you visit, it is easy to understand why he never left. Belize can capture your heart and if you are someone like Emory, you just decide to stay.

I'll miss Emory, as will many, many people in Belize and around the globe. He touched people in a special way with his humor, stories and books. He was a tremendous spokesman for the country and always had something significant to say. Emory King was a larger than life individual and he decided to stay where the winds of fate had driven him and make a new life for himself. And quite a life he made. We'll miss you Emory.

Returning back to the Cobb family life in Nicaragua, here’s a brief update about the ongoing house saga. As many of you know, we started building a home in Managua about 2 years ago and had moved in last April. Finally after 4 years of living in Nicaragua we were in our own home and we loved it. The neighborhood was excellent and friendly and the house was just what we wanted. It was a mix of indoor and outdoor space that flowed seamlessly through sliding glass doors that were always open. The breeze worked its magic keeping the inside spaces comfortable without the need of air conditioning. We hung our pictures, found a few more from some spectacular local artists and Carol created a wonderful home for the family.

However, because of some poor compaction in the fill under the house, the foundation began to crack and eventually the patio separated from the house and we had to move out. Initially, the prognosis was to repair the house, but after they began work, it became apparent that the only option was for the house to be torn down and rebuilt. This was quite a shock. We had only been in the house a few short months.

The developer has been incredibly responsive and has stepped up to the plate to rent us a house in the short term. He is now moving us into the house he built for himself in the neighborhood while they rebuild our home. Unfortunately, of the 35 homes in the development, we got the lemon. The developer is doing the right thing, and that makes all the difference. The positive side to the story is that we get to have a “do-over” and will make some changes to the plans that will make our new home even better. Small consolation, but a consolation nonetheless.

On a more positive note, we are having fun in the family regarding professional football. Growing up in Slippery Rock, Pennsylvania during the 1970’s it was hard not be a huge Steelers fan. Carol grew up in Arlington, Virginia and is a Redskins fan so there has been some in-house lobbying to swing the girls to one team or the other. So when we signed Pittsburgh Steeler and Hall-of-Famer Franco Harris to market and promote ECI in the region, it was my big joy to have some pictures taken with he and the girls. Amanda cooperated, but still insists that the Redskins are her favorite team. A mother’s connection is hard to overcome, even with bribes of sandwiches, chips and ice cream while watching the Steelers play. Emily refused to face the camera and we have the back of her head. Oh well. There will be more chances for pictures in the future.

The Cobb Family and Franco Harris

Also on the good news front, we have created another hiker. Emily made her first unassisted ascent of the Selva Negra Mountain. The climb is long, steep and when we were there, very muddy. Dad hung back with Emily and we took our time while the rest of the crew blazed ahead. Emily made it, and although she may never remember, it was a huge milestone for dad’s shoulders and back.

The German School continues to be an excellent choice for the girls. The curriculum is taught in Spanish and then they have a German class every day. Amanda is now reading in Spanish and English, and starting to read in German. It is amazing that she can keep the rules for each language separate, but the brain of a child is incredible.

Emily is likewise bi-lingual and both girls are bi-cultural. Amanda seems to fit in the United States better than Emily at this point. It is surprising what impact the first 2 years of life have in enculturating a child. Amanda had two years in the US while Emily has only lived here in Nicaragua. The way they interact with kids in the States is different; Amanda flows between the cultures, while Emily has to adjust. Emily will always be more “Nica” than Amanda, and we can see that now.

Finally, just a thought in passing. It is once again mango season. It is perhaps our favorite time of the year. We all love mangos. But not just for the sumptuous, ripe and powerfully flavorful fruit, but also because it is beach season and the ladies do love the beach. No one believes me when I say that the Pacific really warm here, in fact it is 80+ degrees right now. Swimming is delightful, and the waves are just right for body surfing and boogie boarding this time of year. Our home at the beach is almost complete and we are looking forward to some long weekends by the sea in the near future.

Coming full circle, I have to say that sometimes I feel like a shipwreck survivor. Goodness knows, Carol and I really had no intention of ending up in Nicaragua, but now that we are here, we’ve decided to stay a while. We’ll see what that turns into.

Many of you appreciate knowing about upcoming events where I’ll be speaking and a big one is coming up at the end of May in Cancun. I'll be there along with about 100 other speakers regarding all aspects of real estate in Latin America. Click the link below to see more details.


As always, I hope that you enjoy the stories, thoughts and reflections. They are really for the girls, but it’s nice that you want to share them with us. Take care and until the next time, all the best.

Mike Cobb

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