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The Rocky Road To Success ( Opening a hotel in Nicaragua )

Ever daydream of throwing off the nine-to-five rat race yolk, finding an exotic, sunny climate and opening a hotel, bar and restaurant where the palm trees sway and the snow never falls? Listen to the story of someone who did. "The first six months were a nightmare. We had tiles falling off the roof on to cars in the street, we had to get permission to do everything-even to put trim around the doors. It took six months to get our cargo containers trough customs when it should have taken two," said Ellen and Marco Snoek, a Dutch couple from near Amsterdam. What could have been done to prevent the nightmare? "Nothing." Would they do it all over again? "Absolutely.

" Both has successful careers -he the director of an aluminum awning company, she in sales for Heineken- but long hours in the office left little time for each other. The idea to start a business somewhere with lots of sun had been born on their honeymoon. "Why do what people expect you to do?" they said. So they began spending their vacation searching for their dream spot. First in Sri Lanka, then Thailand, Singapore and Malaysia.

"We love Asia but the cultures were too different," the said. They tried Mexico, Peru and Ecuador, but nothing seemed just right. On their next trip to Central America they had hopes for Costa Rica," but after five days we said no way. It was like a zoo-too many animals, including the people." And there was the incessant rain. Then a friend told them about Nicaragua. They visited Granada and fell in love with it. "It was like another life, back in time, and there was sunshine," they said. They drove around with a realtor for three days until one big old house, built in 1869" grabbed our hearts. It was like an old abandoned castle.

We had to kick the door open for all the bat and pigeon droppings on the floor." They made the down payment that day by credit card, signed the purchase paper in Spanish, of which they didnít speak a word, went back to Holland and with no residency or place to live, shipped their possessions and the supplies needed to open their ®dream® hotel. A few days later the realtor called. The seller wanted to increase the asking price by 10 percent, even with the papers signed. "The dream is over I told Ellen." But after consulting with a financial manager, they decided to go ahead. To this day, they donít know how someone can ask for more money after the papers are signed. " To begin construction, they simply opened the doors. "People just showed up offering to work." Men pulled up with horse drawn wagon to haul off debris for 20 Cordobaís a load.

Masons, carpenters, electricians all knocked on the door offering their services. "We would hire them at a preliminary rate and then watch them. If they were competent we paid them more. If not, we would tell them to leave." The construction workers were "loyal and hardworking, but prankish; they like making fun of us. I didnít speak any Spanish, and now all I was learning were dirty words." Marco would spray orange marker paint on the walls and floors where he wanted things to go, then point and gesture. A lot went wrong "because of them and because of me, but I would tell them to tear it down and do it again. Labor here is so cheap." Inspectors from the city appeared daily.

"We needed permission to do the smallest things. We were constantly getting 50-cordobas fines. One day the police came and tried to fine us, saying we were building to near a school, while pointing to a nearby bar. So Marco went to fight city hall. "It was from one office to the next, back and fort. The architect couldnít agree on anything. I had a meeting with the mayor with a translator and was yelling at the mayor in English. I found out later he understood." Ellen, meanwhile, handle customs.


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