This is a story written about Ira for International Living. Ira has generously given Hiker Bible his consent to use it. Thank you Ira!
A Song And A Country Changed My Life
Ira Stephenson was a drywall construction worker in Sacramento, California. Without going into detail, suffice it to say that Ira was one of those Americans whose life was fine one day and the next everything went awry. After a severe work injury, several misguided surgeries and just plain bad luck, Ira found himself unemployed, disabled and with very little money. His government disability check of $800 a month was just not enough to live in the United States, let alone California. Ira says, I heard Peggie Lee singing her song…Is That All There Is….and that was it. The song spoke to me. A couple days of deep thinking and I came to the conclusion that I still had 1/4 of my life left and I still had one more hurrah in me.”
Today Ira is a happy man, retired and living nicely with his wife and children in Matagalpa, Nicaragua. Rather than struggling in poverty in the United States, Ira discovered a quality life in Nicaragua where $1000 USD a month not only sustains him and his family, but gives him wiggle room to travel, meet friends, and have what he calls “a fun life.”
Matagalpa sits in the mountains, about a two-hour drive from Managua. With a population of over 150,000, a solid infrastructure with all the amenities you need, a springlike climate and some International cuisine, this city is just starting to be discovered by foreigners. Hiding like the shy child behind the top three retirement destinations in Nicaragua – Leon, Granada, and San Juan del Sur – Matagalpa offers an even more economical lifestyle and is rapidly climbing as a destination with a lot of retirement possibilities. You can choose to open a business, or just live out your retirement as its meant to be – relaxing and working on your hobbies. Because of its altitude, this beautiful city is surrounded all year ’round with lush green forests, lakes, rivers and waterfalls. It’s a place with many hiking and walking opportunities, ways to commune with nature and sunny days.
Once he left the United States, Ira decided to try out Central America since he was not exactly sure where he wanted to settle. Realizing that he could live a better life abroad with much less money, he lived awhile in Costa Rica and Guatemala. However, he kept coming back to Matagalpa when he passed through Nicaragua. After exploring some other cities in Nicaragua, he finally settled on Matagalpa and has found some real happiness there. Married to a Nicaraguan woman, Ira has two children living with them and another one on the way. Back in the States, he never had time for fun or a relationship because he had no money. In Nicaragua you don’t need a lot of money and you can still do all the things you want to do.
Ira and his family live on a $1000 budget; his social security check provides their income. They have a 3-bedroom, 2-bath house with a garage and backyard which they rent for $300 a month. He puts aside $100 a week for food and clothes, spends $75 a month on utilities and the rest is spending money for his wife, or to use for whatever they want. Ira says, “Once you live in a more economical place, you get used to it and the cost of living becomes cheaper.” Ira’s life is simple, but that’s how he wants it. The stress that he lived with in the U.S. is gone; he has the perfect retirement. He emphasizes that the reason for moving to Matagalpa was NOT because it was cheap to live there. Actually, he considers that the icing on the cake. He chose Matagalpa because it provided all the elements he required for a happy life.
Ira says, “Now close to four years later and 66 years old, I am still here and married to Yolanda. I have made many friends here, I have a house full of furniture. I have hope again. I do not like the hot weather that most of Nicaragua has, but it’s not hot here in the mountains; it’s a perfect temperature all year. I do not like the tourist places. I like going for days in Matagalpa and not seeing another foreigner because the city is pretty big. Here I am just another person. I like how sometimes a Nicaraguan will shake my hand and thank me for choosing their country to live in.”
A day in Ira’s life consists of taking a 3-mile walk with his six dogs, reading, using the Internet, being with his family, perhaps meeting some foreign buddies for beer and traveling around Nicaragua, one of his favorite things to do. He’s already visited many off-the-beaten track places and plans to continue traveling around.
“Life here is just easy. I have learned passable Spanish since moving to Nicaragua. I love Matagalpa just the way it is. I do not like seeing Burger King, Subway or the small malls like they have in other cities. I like simplicity. If change comes I will be OK with it. After all, it is up to the locals to decide,” says Ira.
“Matagalpa is my home. I love my life with Yolanda and Axel (10) and Keythelin (5). I am happy and very content with my life. I am never bored….how can I be? I am someone again,” says Ira. And that my friends, is how you can rediscover your life in Nicaragua.