Expat Interview: Uli Bartke of Casa Cubana B&B in Granada Nicaragua

The best thing about our world travels is that we meet very interesting expats from all walks of life living out their dreams. In our interview series we share their stories. Today, we’d like to share the story of Uli Bartke, owner of Casa Cubana B&B in Granada Nicaragua. We were fortunate to be his guests for 3 weeks and loved every minute of it.

Uli Bartke, Owner Casa Cubana

Uli Bartke

  • Where is/was “back home” for you?
    • Home was in Burcot (near Oxford, UK) on the river Thames, still own a property there, which is rented out long term.
    • home now is where I am
  • How long have you been an expat?
    • Started travelling 5 years, 11 month ago
  • Outside of your “home” country, where else have you lived/worked?
    • Worked in various positions in pharmaceutical industry  in Germany (Berlin, Hildesheim, Munich) as well as 4 years in UK and 2 years for a company in NY
  • Why and how did you choose these places?
    • Driven by job opportunities
  • How long did you stay in each place and what is your opinion of each?
    • Berlin: 8 years at a time, when the city was still enclosed by the wall: now a great place to live
    • Hildesheim: 12 years: medium sized town in northern Germany, good schools, great place to bring up kids
    • Munich: 6 years: fabulous city, great location close to the Alps and Mediterranean, great outdoors (skiing, hiking)
    • Burcot (Oxford, UK): 5 years: great University town, lots of young people and activities
  • What motivated you to “leave home” and
    • 1. Travel
      • I spend a lot of time travelling during my working life, typical business travel (airport, hotel, conference room, airport). In the 1990s I (with my family) did a 6 week trip in a motor home through western Canada and really enjoyed it. Always wanted to experience the many national parks in US and Canada and to do it in a motor home is the way to go. In 2006 my partner Lesley and I were both between jobs and we decided to have a new life time experience. We rented out our home in UK, bought a motor home near Philadelphia and started travelling North America. At that time it was not planned as a permanent change in lifestyle, initially we were thinking 6 to 18 month. So I was still in contact with headhunters, even attending job interviews. After 12 month Lesley and I decided to continue the travelling lifestyle as long as we were enjoying it. We ventured out into Mexico, spend 3 winter seasons there and really liked the country. With growing confidence we decided to travel Central America for the next 15 month. When we came to Granada we fell in love with the city and after 3.5years continuous travel we were ready for another life time experience. We loved the colonial house style there and decided to build us a home with a view to spend a significant time every year in Granada. After one year of project work, building and finishing the house, adding garden, pool, searching for furniture etc. we continued travelling south in Costa Rica, Panama and northern Colombia, ready to do 2 year travels in south America.

Only at that time we decided to make use of our home in Granada as a B&B while we were on the road. We found a professional girl from Atlanta to take on the job as a B&B manager.

2. Become an expat in Nicaragual?

    • We decided for Granada because we fell in love with this colonial city and the time was right for us to have another lifetime experience. Liked the year round warm climate, the mixture of locals, expats and tourists which provides for a buzzing and colorful environment, variety of restaurants and things to do. It is a safe environment, lowest crime rates in Central America and low cost of living contributes to a great quality of life.
  • Exactly what do you do to earn a living?
    • I have income from properties in UK and Germany, the properties are rented out and managed by professionals, so I am not involved in day to day management.
    • B&B in Granada, Nicaragua, managed part of the year by myself, majority of time by professional
  • Describe your current lifestyle (Travel & Run a B&B, else?)
    • Travelling in a 31 foot Winnebago motor home for most of the year, currently in Bogota, Colombia. Planning to travel South America for the next 2 years along the Pan-American to Tierra de Fuego
    • Living in Granada and managing Casa Cubana for about 2-3 month / year
    • Visiting family and friends in Europe for about 6 weeks / year
  • How do you see the move to Nicaragua impacting your life?
    • I have lived in Granada for about 18 month now, on and off. Every time I go back to Granada, I like it again. Fabulous town, nice vibes, great mixture of locals, tourists, expats.
  • Describe the local folks in Nicaragua from your perspective?
    • In general very friendly and curious people, happy to help, if you need help
  • Were the localsfriendly and tolerant? How were you treated as a foreigner?
    • Very friendly and tolerant in general. Locals are used to foreigners, as Granada is a tourist center. From time to time you might get a stare, especially if you are tall and blonde. Kids might try a few words of English on you and adolescent boys might call you a Gringo, nothing to worry about! As Nicaragua is a poor country, you will have beggars in the streets asking you for money and handouts. In the tourist spots you will experience local vendors trying to sell to Tourists everything from handcrafts to cigarettes and chewing gum.
  • How did/do you feel for personal safety?
    • Nicaragua is considered the safest country in Central America and it is politically stable. In Granada itself you can walk anywhere in the center of town during day and night. I would not recommend to walk outside the center (in the barrio’s) during night times, taxis are plenty and cheap so why take a risk. Lots of tourist police on the ground, patrolling the central areas and parks.
  • How did you find a place to buy?
    • Used a realtor to show us around, she provided a good overview of what is available, both, fully restored colonial homes and fixer uppers and anything in between.  We looked at places in town as well as in the vicinity.
  • Please give us some highlights of your colonial B&B project?
    • Bought an old colonial house (375 sqm, 5 accomodations) in the central area of Granada, which was half way restored: new roof, back part of the house newly build with open kitchen and 2nd level accommodation.
    • Build ensuite bathrooms  into each room
    • painting, decoration and furnishing of the rooms,
    • tiling of staircase and 2nd level accomodation
    • outside fencing,
    • new central water system
    • build in pool and garden
    • woodworks: restoring all doors, windows and all ‘old’ furniture
  • Have you had any need of healthcare services while traveling? How did that work out? Are you satisfied with your access to health care?
    • I had no need for serious (hospital) treatments so far, access to doctors and dentists and medical labs in Granada is easy on short term notice and cost for medical service is very low compared to US and Europe. For example, I had some significant dental work done in Granada and I am very satisfied with the quality and extremely satisfied with the cost.
    • Granada has a local hospital but most expats prefer to go to the Pellas Hospital in Managua where medical service is on par with any good hospital in US, as I have been told. The Pellas hospital is about a 35 min drive from Granada.
  • How is your expat life better? Can you give some specific examples? Draw a contrast between the home life and the new one.
    • I very much enjoyed my previous ‘executive’ working life with a nice income, lots of perks, travelling around the world in business class, staying in 5 star hotels, a nice home.
    • But this life came at a prize: stress, not enough time for family and friends, no time to explore what else is out there in the big world. I always felt, there is more to life than just working and making money. For a long time I had a personal goal to be able to stop working when I turn 50 and to be able to do different things in life and with my life.
    • My new life is very different: no more 5 * hotels, gold cards gone, air miles gone, no use of business class lounges at the airport, no preferred treatment at check in, the list is long… But now I have all the time in the world to stay at places and with people I like, to explore the wonders of nature, where I find them. To go on a chicken bus with the locals, to enjoy a winter in Mexico, Nicaragua or any other place I like. There is a great feeling of freedom now and I have not missed my old life for one day!
    • Do I feel bored sometimes? Missing the structure of a 9 to 5 job? No way, there is always projects around the corner, try volunteering in an animal rescue station, or work with children or do some serious hiking, learn diving…..
  • Ok, we saw your wonderful B&B in Granada. What are your future plans? Will you still remain a few months out of the year there? Do you see yourself settling down somewhere else? Do you see yourself travelling in another 5 years?
    • I am planning to be in Granada for 2-3 month in a year, enjoying Casa Cubana and life in Granada.
    • For the next 2 years I am committed to travel South America, after that, the jury is out. I am planning to travel parts of Africa and Asia, but at this stage it is more ideas than firm plans.
  • What sort of advice would you offer somebody interested in doing what you did?
    • What are you really interested in and what is the driver to change your life? Escape the rat race? Different life experience???
    • Read up on experiences others made, keep in mind, that other people not always telling you the whole story….
    • Give it a try first, without burning all your bridges
    • Get clarity on your financial situation, income, savings, budget, do you need to earn money while being Expat? Remember, cost of living is cheap in many places, but opportunity to earn money is also limited
    • If you have a partner: is she/he on board and do you share the same goals
  • Final thoughts you want to share?
    • Put a date in your diary, otherwise it is not going to happen!
    • Initially it was a bit scary to leave my old life behind and to go for the unknown. My concerns were in 3 areas: Will my relationship with Lesley be ok, living together in a 31 foot motor home 24/7? Will I be ok financially? Will I place myself out of the job market if I take a ‘holiday’ of 18 month
    • You need to get comfortable with your new life as well as saying good bye to your old life, which you know well and are so used to.
    • I found this process takes 6 to 12 month.

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