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A lot of us are quarantined and few of us are traveling, so how about a trip report that I never got around to writing back when I was a Serious Blogger? This one took place in January 2018 when my wife and I packed up the kids for another voyage to Nicaragua to visit her family. On our previous trip in 2015-16 we figured out a way to go over Christmas and New Year’s on points, but this time around we were not so clever and went in mid-January when fares are cheaper and award availability is better. We were also fortunate that our visit coincided with a Pointsbreak opportunity.
Enough setup, let’s get to the pictures! I always enjoy the approach into MGA airport as you get a nice view of the lake and volcanoes, and this trip was no exception. In the picture below (click any of these to enlarge) you can see the Apoyeque volcanic complex which is just a few miles from Managua. It sits on a peninsula, so Lake Managua is both in front of it and behind it, and the blue body of water in the middle is a volcanic lagoon:
Behind Chavez you see some of the ubiquitous ‘Tree of Life’ sculptures the government put up to beautify the city. I’m not sure if they are still ubiquitous as some of them were toppled during the civil unrest that took place after our visit. Anyway, after we unpacked at the hotel we went to the supermarket to stock up on essentials. Foreign supermarkets are fascinating as you see what’s important to the national palate. Nicaraguan supermarkets, for example, have a rum aisle. And lot of fresh, cheap tropical fruit! Pineapples are two for a dollar (the exchange rate was about 30 cords to the dollar back then):
The oranges there are greener (apparently oranges ought to be green) and at ten cents apiece they are much cheaper than in the U.S.:
A lot of people think of Nicaragua as an exotic destination but there are (or at least there were; things have changed there in the last two years and I’m not up to date) plenty of fun things do with small kids there. The day after our arrival, we headed to the Nicaragua Butterfly Reserve in Granada. If your kids like bugs, or even if they don’t but they still like butterflys, they’ll have a blast. Up close and personal with a blue morpho:
Butterfly feeding time:
There was a friendly cat too:
After that we headed into the colonial city of Granada, one of my favorite places in Nicaragua. We stopped at a chocolate museum to check out the exhibits. It’s in an old villa you can wander around. Here’s Mrs. PFD on the second floor:
A few days later, we headed over to Catarina, a small town not too far from Granada. It’s a decent place to buy local arts and crafts…
…but the real reason to go there is that it overlooks the Laguna Apoyo, yet another scenic volcanic blue lagoon:
It was a hazy day and my phone camera isn’t all that great, but you can just barely make out Granada in the distance beyond the lagoon.
You can also ride horses at Catarina. $2 will get you a 10-15 minute ride (led by a handler). The kids loved this:
After Catarina, we headed over to Masaya Volcano National Park, which I wrote about four years ago if you’re curious. But if that’s not enough for you, here’s a photo of one of my daughters peering into the abyss:
Don’t worry, it’s not as dangerous as it looks. Here’s my mother-in-law taking in the sunset looking across the volcano.
The combination of the sunset, the clouds, and the sulfuric steam from the volcano made for interesting lighting conditions. Somebody with a good camera, good lens, and more know-how than me could have taken some spectacular pictures.
A few days later we headed over to downtown Managua. This is the old Managua cathedral:
It was heavily damaged in the 1972 earthquake and subsequently condemned; restoration efforts have proceeded haltingly since then. You still can’t go inside but it sure looks nice from the outside, which is more than you can say for its replacement.
Nearby is the National Palace of Culture, a museum focusing on Nicaragua’s history and culture:
Here, the kids are checking out an old stone carving from the pre-1492 era:
My wife’s late father was a farmer in Chontales, a couple of hours east of Managua. He’d occasionally unearth things like this and turn them over to the local museum there. I once went to this museum and was randomly interviewed by a local TV news team (I can’t even remember what it was about). This was the first and hopefully last time I’ve had to use my Spanish on television.
This section of the city is right by the water (the same Lake Managua seen in the very first picture of this post), so we headed over to the waterfront promenade:
Another day we went to a guava plantation where they make guava jam. We had gone to an orange farm on a recent trip to Florida and that was pretty fun, so we figured we’d check out the guava scene. In the office lobby, they had some artwork that was reminiscent of a certain sugary beverage mascot:
Hard at work:
Out in the guava field:
The guava operation was near Granada, so back we went! This is the Granada Cathedral:
Unlike its Managua counterpart, this one is fully operational, so you can go inside and climb the tower for some nice views. The parque as seen from the tower:
And that’s about all the tourism we did for this trip, though there was plenty of visiting with family. Clearing customs and immigration at MIA is way better in late January than it is on, say, the first Saturday after New Year’s, which is when we’d returned on our two previous journeys. On one of those trips the flight was so crowded that Delta offered all six of us a $700 voucher each to get bumped, but we were so exhausted from packing and corralling the kids (who were younger and more labor-intensive back then) that we just couldn’t bring ourselves to do it. Regrets, I have a few…
About three months after this trip is when the protests and civil unrest started. It got so bad Nicaragua was actually in the news in the U.S., which is not something that happens frequently. Things have simmered down somewhat but tension remains. Coronavirus doesn’t help, obviously. Hopefully we’ll be back sometime but we don’t know when.
Howdy folks! Long time, no see. I’m not planning on getting back into blogging on a regular basis, but this story was interesting, financially speaking, and I thought I’d pass it along.
I started a new job in late November. The health insurance for my old job ran through the end of November and the health insurance for my new job didn’t kick in until January 1, leaving me without coverage in December unless I wanted to do COBRA. I did not want to do COBRA since I would have had to pay the full cost for the month–that is, not just the employee part but the employer part as well, or about $1,600 for one month of coverage. My genius plan for December: “Okay kids: none of you are allowed to get sick this month, is that clear?”
You scoff, gentle readers, but this plan came so close to working. For four weeks, our household was as healthy as it’s ever been.
Then came December 28. Right after midnight, our oldest son came to our bedroom complaining of a stomach ache, then barfed. He threw up a few more times that night and the next morning. His appetite had disappeared as well (very unusual for this one), so we took him to the doctor in the afternoon. The doctor’s verdict: “It’s probably nothing, but there’s a small chance it could be appendicitis, so keep an eye on it. Here’s some medicine to suppress the vomiting.”
We kept an eye on it and it got worse. Finally at about 9:00 that night we went to the emergency room. At 11:00, after some tests and an x-ray, the doctor informed us that our son has appendicitis and we need to get that thing out now before it ruptures. Surgery began around 2:30 am and finished up around 3:30 am. Success! I’m pleased to report it went smoothly and there were no complications. They put him in a recovery room and we chatted with the doctor, and my wife stayed with our son while I went home around 5:00 to sleep for a few hours. He was discharged at 11 am that very morning and was more or less back to normal two days later.
It was quite a 12 hours for the family.
A few weeks later came the bills. I’m used to insurance-adjusted bills, so I was curious how high they’d go. The final tally:
$25K, give or take! The reason I could approach the bill-paying part of this with curiosity rather than dread was because COBRA insurance is retroactive–you don’t have to sign up for it immediately in order to get it. I’m going to quote the interwebs here, but please don’t take anything I pass along here as gospel and please do your own research if and when you need to make a COBRA decision:
COBRA beneficiaries have 60 days to decide whether they want COBRA coverage. If you enroll in COBRA before the 60 days are up, your coverage is then retroactive, as long as you pay the retroactive premiums. This means that if you incur medical bills during your “election period,” you can retroactively — and legally — elect COBRA and have those bills covered.
Pretty cool, huh? It’s a heads-I-win, tails-you-lose proposition, with “you” being your prior health insurance provider. That’s why I didn’t bother signing up for coverage initially. We only had a one month gap to cover, so going without coverage was risk-free in our case, aside from the risk of forgetting to enroll within sixty days. If we made it through the month without anybody having serious medical bills, great. If we didn’t, no problem–just enroll retroactively.
It actually gets even better because of our particular case. The way it works (this is what they told me, anyway) is that you continue your exact same health care plan right where you left off through the end of the year. Since we have four kids, two of whom have enough allergy issues that we usually hit our deductible for the year, we were at that magical point where incremental health care costs are mostly absorbed by the insurer. Here’s what we actually paid (after coughing up that $1,600, of course):
I don’t know why the big hospital bill went to zero. They never sent me a bill after I submitted my insurance information, so I logged in and it said we have no balance. I’m not sure what to think about that.
My takeaways from all this:
I haven’t blogged much in the last year or two, so announcing my retirement may be a little redundant but… I’m done for now. I may post the occasional trip report in the future, and I’ll still hang out on Twitter, but it’s hard to imagine being as fully immersed in blogging as I have been in the past. As you all have noticed, the points and miles scene is both a lot less interesting now compared to when I first started the blog years ago, but even beyond that I’m starting work on a master’s degree in statistics while still working full time and I don’t anticipate having the bandwidth to even think about blogging in the future. I haven’t taken a rigorous math course in about two decades, so… it’s on! Let’s see how this goes. No guts, no nerd glory.
Anyway, this is as good a time as any to write a self-indulgent “Nick’s got opinions!” column. So here goes…
I’ve had a theory for a while now that customers who sign up for credit cards via links from bloggers who carefully explain how to game the system are less profitable than customers from other channels. If that were true, however, you would think the banks would have figured that out by now and cut off the flow of marketing dollars to bloggers. There are a few possible explanations as what’s going on:
Or maybe it’s some combination of the three. I don’t know. Still, the business model used by the likes of BankRate and TPG is fragile: if a couple of big players decide they don’t like that marketing channel, the business model vanishes. I’m curious to see how this ends up.
Not blogging anymore is the right thing for me now, but I’m really glad to have blogged. When I started blogging I was in a rut, careerwise, with a string of dysfunctional job situations (I had about ten managers in the course of two and a half years, plus a layoff–it was quite a run). I started the blog first and foremost because I figured if I was spending all of this time tracking all of this stuff, I may as well try writing about it as well. But I also started it because with all the chaos going on in my professional life it was nice to have a venture, however small, that I had some degree of control over and could put my creative energy into. That’s why things like, for example, a certain large bank getting annoyed about the “Ask the Hawaiian Airlines World Elite MasterCard” advice column amused me. Don’t get me wrong, it’s nice to have some extra spending money, but I was never after a second job with this thing, I just wanted to shoot the breeze about credit cards.
And you know what? It was a great experience. I learned new things (WordPress plug-ins! AdSense!) and met interesting people. So if there are any impressionable youngsters reading this, I encourage you do think less and do more. Try new things. It’s fun to daydream and toss around ideas in your head, but it’s a lot more rewarding to get off your butt and do something. Especially if you get in the game early like FTG, TPG, or MMS.
And about those guys: look, I know a lot of you reading this (assuming anybody is reading this, I think I only have about six readers left by this point) don’t like the big-name bloggers for various reasons, but here’s the thing: of all people, we should know that people respond to incentives. I mean, if credit card companies give people the incentive to buy gift cards and then cash them out, it’s a no-brainer that that’s going to happen, right?
Well then if credit card companies give people the incentive to promote a luxury travel lifestyle while surreptitiously acting as credit card salesmen, it’s a no-brainer that people will do that too, right?
So while I’ve called out people for blogging excess once or twice, I don’t get as perturbed by it as others. Getting annoyed at “greedy bloggers” is like blaming gravity for a plane crash. I mean, sure, maybe they are greedy, but so what? If any particular blogger didn’t exist, another one would step up to fill the void. It’s, like, the system, man! I have all the respect in the world for Will at Doctor of Credit for doing what he’s done and I think the world would be a better place if everyone followed suit… but at the same time, given the world we live in, I respect how others (though not particularly the big names mentioned above) balance sales vs content. It’s not easy.
Finally, thanks to anybody who’s read this blog over the years, and special thanks to all the other bloggers who have linked to it and/or shown up in the comments over the years. It is a privilege to write stuff and have strangers read it, and I deeply appreciate it. Happy churning!