How shrimps made me mindful – about Spanish classes and a homestay in Nicaragua

After two weeks in Nicaragua Simone feels she needs to improve her high school Spanish to be able to really connect with the locals. She decides to combine classes and a homestay to work on her skills. With that, she gains a good insight into rural life. Eating rice and beans three times a day, learning about big age differences and experiencing how shrimps made her mindful.

Early morning rites

My alarm goes off. It is 7 in the morning. Through the walls of my room, I can hear the television loud and clear. I untangle my mosquito net, get dressed and enter the living room. Yaqueline, my host mum, wishes me a good day and leaves for work. I know my host dad Vladimir left for work an hour ago. Life starts early in Las Salinas, Nicaragua. And I don’t blame them: the daytime heat is scorching. The earlier you get things done, the better.

All of a sudden the television turns off. Most days there is no electricity from this hour, mainly because the villagers don’t pay their bills. Some months money just runs out. The power company then shuts off the energy until people start paying again. In the evening it always works, though. Apparently, you can’t deny them their evening television rite: loud poor-quality telenovelas (soap series). For me, the evening electricity is a blessing for a different reason. Without a fan, sleeping is nearly impossible due to the heat and vicious mosquitoes.

I enter the kitchen and am welcomed by a loud “Ya?!” from Socoro, the cleaning and cooking lady. When she first did that, I thought she was angry with me. I now know this is just the way she speaks. I sit down, breakfast is served. Rice and beans. Again. I ask her what the fried item next to it is and she laughs. Can I not see? It is fried queso – cheese. As I think to myself “Why on earth would you deep-fry cheese?!”, Socoro asks me if I want a coke. Seriously? It is 7.15 in the morning! I politely answer that I don’t often drink sodas because of the sugar. She looks puzzled. “But do you like it?” I nod. “Why would you not drink it if you like it? I like it a lot.” She takes a sip from hers. I decide to leave it.

Learning Spanish (and cultural differences)

After breakfast, I do my Spanish homework. Granny drops by and she can’t help but ask curious questions about my home country. “Do you also eat rice and beans?” “When are you going to marry your boyfriend?” “Are all people there as tall as you?” I show them a photo of my boyfriend (they don’t like his beard) and tell them I don’t want to get married, it being so expensive. I prefer to travel with the money I save. Later I overhear her telling this animatedly to several other family members.

After lunch (guess what: rice and beans!), it is time for class. I need two fans next to the desk to bear the heat – and the subjunctive, by far the most ridiculously difficult tense to apprehend. Part of the class is reserved for conversation. This gives me the chance to ask something I have been wanting to for a while. I have noticed that in a lot of Nicaraguan families there is a big age difference between kids. I ask my teacher Jose. “Lack of sexual education,” he says straight away, “especially here, in rural areas. Young couples hook up and get pregnant. They then have to marry, but can barely take care of a child. They have learned their lesson and wait a couple of years. But they DO want another one. Here, kids still are the pension for your latter days.”

How shrimps got shrinky

Back at my host family dinner is served. Rice and… ah well, no need to repeat. But there is more! Earlier this week grandfather came back from fishing. The catch? Loads and loads of little shrimps. The ritual that followed made me appreciate all the times I bought a packet of shrimps in the supermarket so much more. For three days he and all the women in the family were busy sorting, peeling and weighing shrimps. The biggest challenge is to cool the little buggers: every hour or so someone takes a big ice block from the freezer, hits it to pieces with a rock and splits it over the buckets. Knowing the work it took, my shrimps taste so much better tonight. Even with rice and beans.

People work hard and earn little. But do I ever see someone stressed out? Nope. Not even once. Things don’t need to get done ahora (now), but ahorita (in a little bit). There is a lot of loud talking, but hardly any fighting. People laugh a lot, too. Even though most of the time I am sweaty, covered with a mixture of dust, sun screen and mosquito repellent, it doesn’t bother me. There is nothing to complain about. For the first time in months, I feel OK with my status quo. It is pure mindfulness being here.

I ask my host mum for a coke. I don’t mind. Not today.

Do you want to combine Spanish classes with a homestay too?


  • In Nicaragua, most Spanish schools are located in Granada and Léon. Mine, called Popoyo Spanish, was more off the beaten track in Las Salinas (close to Popoyo Beach).
  • Jose and Alex teach Spanish classes for all ages and levels. My classes were one on one, but they also teach in groups.
  • The classes are taught in their eco-friendly home. They built their house with locally sourced materials, only use solar power and collect rain water in the rainy season for later use. A great way to limit your ecological footprint while travelling!
  • Classes cost only $5/hour. You can also choose a 20-hour package for $80 (which is what I did). Note: this was February 2017 and prices might be subject to change.
  • Jose and Alex teach classes of four hours; either from 8 am – noon or 1 pm – 5 pm. Consult Alex and Jose if you prefer a different schedule.
  • I stayed with the Mendoza family for a week. This cost me $15 a day and included my own bedroom (with mosquito net), three meals a day and unlimited filtered drinking water. Pay cash in advance so the family can afford the extra groceries.
  • From this host family, you can walk to Jose and Alex’ house in about twenty minutes, but they are also more than happy to lend you their spare bicycle.
  • Las Salinas itself is not a very touristy place. It is rural, with only dirt roads and lots of animals around. Nevertheless, there is enough to do: surf at Popoyo or Guasacate Beach, chill at one of the beach bars, bike/walk through the mangrove around Río Nagualapa, visit the hot springs, climb the Magnific Rock…

Want to know more? Feel free to ask me any questions!

  1. Simone,
    What a great story! I love your writing style…you are able to make me laugh out loud one moment and be very touched by your story the next moment. Can’t wait to read more!

    • Hi Lydia, thank you so much! It is great to hear that my story has these effects on you. My next one will be up in a week or two!

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