Adios 2019!

I know I didn’t write on our adventures in Mexico like I said I would so here is a brief update. Mexico is and always has been a magical place for me. I feel like I truly belong in the Riviera Maya and that my feet long for the sand and my soul for the ocean after I have been away too long. With that said, since we stayed in an a mega resort this last time, we didn’t experience a whole lot of Playa del Carmen. We did take a day off from the resort and tax a cab into town to the Mega store to stock up on food and water because the resort we were at was not all inclusive and had prices relative to the USA. Tip! At checkout, you are expected to bag your own groceries or tip the person who does it for you. If you are interested in my review of The Grand Mayan, you can find it here. We went Scuba diving while there but it was delayed several days due to adverse current and weather conditions so our dive wasn’t as magical as the one from March in Cozumel. I really think it would take a lot for me to say it was a bad dive, is there such a thing? Even if the clarity isn’t fantastic and the current is strong, you still get to experience total zen and mindfulness. We have another trip planned for Mexico though this time to the Pacific side next November to check out Puerto Vallarta and that area though I am not convinced I will like it. I grew in Southern California and the ocean there has nothing on the turquoise waters of the Caribbean. I’m doing my best to ensure that I am not being too short sided and doing as much reconnaissance as possible.

I think 2019 is going to be a hard one to beat but we are going to try our best πŸ™‚ It has been a good year for me and my family. We are ending the year with everyone healthy, kids are achieving their goals and dreams, work has had some real highs and some real lows but that is to be expected. My sister, who has been missing for several years, showed up out of the blue when a person contacted me on Facebook asking if I was her sister. That was pretty mind blowing!

We have our big trips mapped out and Lisa and I decided we will use our upcoming trip to Jamaica (Celebrating her 50th birthday!!) in March to obtain our PADI advanced open water certifications. I am very much looking forward to learning underwater navigation, how to safely dive in a wreck, deep water diving, etc. Jamaica will be all vacation-no recon. I would like to get another trip to RM in there somewhere but I am not sure I can talk Lisa into doing a shorter stay in PV and then head to RM but I am going to try! The price of housing in Puerto Vallarta at least double that of Riviera Maya so there is another strike.

One thing I know for sure is that you cannot accomplish something you don’t actually plan for. I follow a few really interesting and inspiring women on Instagram who travel and I came across this post this morning from Jen Winston. I really love the idea of vision writing so that is what I am going to do to step in to 2020 with the best frame of mind to achieve my goals. (There are so many bad puns to be had here…) While planning for your dreams, it is important to remember that if something comes up as an absolute roadblock or you find yourself on a detour, be open to why that is. Sometimes the universe has a great way of saving us from paths not meant for us. So, what are you planning for 2020? Wishing everyone a healthy, happy, and successful new year!

What an adventure! Part 1-Colombia

We just returned from a 3 week whirlwind trip that included New York city to celebrate our wedding anniversary, Cartagena and Santa Marta Colombia and winding down in Playa del Carmen Mexico. If you have followed this blog at all, you will know that we have been looking for a place that fits our needs/budget so we can pull off an “early retirement.” Colombia and Mexico had been on the short list for sometime so this trip was a long time coming. I am going to break this into two separate posts as there is so much to cover. You can also check out the reviews I have left on Tripadvisor for more detailed information and places I have left out of this page πŸ™‚

Colombia…wow. What a lesson in first world problems, humility, culture, food, and privilege. It is not like I went in blind. Colombia is a third world country and I expected a lot of what I saw. What I didn’t expect is how absolutely desperate people are there for food/money. I have been to plenty of locations where there are street hustlers, beggars, etc but the beaches in Cartagena trump it all. You will be asked several times a minute if you want, xyz and you will need to say no repeatedly and often times, that isn’t enough. Some of the vendors took no for an answer and would move on but several did not. It appeared to be especially true of female vendors who would offer a massage. They would start by asking you, telling you some story about starving children, you can say no repeatedly and they would persist. Often times moving into your personal space and touching you while stating you are so tight, you need a massage. When you continue to decline, some would say that because they touched you, you now needed to pay them, even if you never accepted the massage. We had to physically get up and leave. When I mentioned this at our hotel, the staff said that was unfortunately normal and that the beaches are just not safe. This is an absolute shame as the beauty of Colombia is unparalleled but you can’t go anywhere in Cartagena (Boca Grande is the area we stayed in) without actually being accosted.

Cartagena, CO

The walled city in Cartagena was absolutely beautiful and full of history and culture as well as little boutique shops. We experienced several vendors and children begging for money saying they were from Venezuela but it was nothing compared to the beaches.

We took a bus from Cartagena to Santa Marta. After much research, we settled on Marsol for transportation. They picked us up (late but that was to be expected, it’s been my experience that almost everything runs on different time in Latin America) from our hotel and dropped us off at our hotel in Santa Marta. You need to text Marsol using Whatsapp to get a reservation. It was $50,000 COP (about $15 USD) per person and the van ride was ok. We scheduled a time slot where there was no stop in Barranquilla but it still took about 5 hours. This is where the biggest shock came. We chose to take the bus instead of flying because we wanted to see the land and area between Santa Marta and Cartagena first hand. After passing Barranquilla, you enter the small fishing town of CiΓ©naga. Until that day, I had never seen actual slums. Skid row in LA? Yes, small fishing villages in Belize? Yes. Ghettos, bad neighborhoods, poor tribal reservations, and my own research could not have possibly prepared me for what I saw on that bus ride. Children playing in pools of what I can only assume is contaminated waste water. Dogs, trash, rubble… and it went on for miles. Here is a good article that talks the death of Cienaga .

In 2007, the city built a highway at the edge of the Cienga. These houses right agaist it flood when it rains and are not connected to the sewage system.

When we arrived in Santa Marta we could tell the vibe was different than Cartagena. The poverty didn’t seem as pervasive and the vendors were not as aggressive. We spent only a day in Rodadero which is considered the “ex pat” section and to be honest, we didn’t really care for it. The beaches are beautiful but it just seemed so cut off from the rest of the area. We did look at an apartment for rent/sale while we were there and were impressed with the location and value. The big advantage i felt Rodadero has over SM is the breeze! Nothing feels as good as the breeze coming down from the Sierra Nevada mountains on a very hot and humid day. I could totally see spending the day on a hammock on the balcony. Oh and if anyone is wondering, yes, there are lockers for rent on the beach! I searched forever for that info and never found any πŸ˜‰

The beach in Santa Marta isn’t as pretty but the Marina is very nice. And lets be honest, after the experience we had with vendors, we weren’t going to be hanging out on the beach. While we were in Santa Marta, we found plenty to do besides hanging out on the rooftop bar/pool. The big adventures were trying to navigate the city and find the best restaurants. I think we were pretty successful, the food there was amazing! We really had a great time even though our level of conversational Spanish is minimal and practically no one in Colombia speaks English. We flew out of Simon Bolivar Airport south of Santa Marta to Bogota on Avianca where we connected to our flight to Cancun, also on Avianca. One of the most stressful parts of the trip was trying to navigate the airport in Bogota having arrived on a domestic flight and needing to make our way to the international terminal where there were literally no signs. We had to ask two different people and it involved a long walk, going down several flights of stairs, leaving the terminal we were in and walking a bit more to the international terminal. If you are planning to do this, allow plenty of time to get lost, get through customs and get to your gate. Both flights were pleasant, on time and without issues.

We went diving with Caribbean Pro Dive while we were in SM and had a great experience diving at Tayrona Park. It was just the two of us with the divemaster and a photographer. We left from the marina in a small dive boat and they provided snacks and water. Two tank dives with equipment was $180,000 COP (about $52 USD) Later that week we took a sailboat excursion back to Tayrona to spend the day at the beach. Similar vendor issues but they took no for an answer much more readily. The sailboat trip was booked through Tripadvisor- Tayrona Bay Sailboat Trip

Final thoughts on Colombia…. It was an experience of a lifetime, it really helped shape my perspective. The people there are mostly friendly to foreigners though Lisa caught a handful of dirty looks. I am not sure if it was because of her looks (blonde/blue) or? I did not catch a single one though maybe I am more oblivious. Most people assumed we were travel partners, and the one time someone asked for clarification they were genuinely shocked when I said she was mi Esposa. I would definitely go back to Santa Marta to visit though I think it is safe to say we have ruled it out as a possible future home. Mexico on the other hand…. More to come!

Was it my time?

Obviously not or I wouldn’t be writing this. Could it have been the day my ticket expired? Maybe. Last Monday morning I didn’t sleep well, waking frequently with a mild headache and a general feeling of unease. I woke my 16 year old that morning by knocking on his door and went downstairs to finish getting ready. When he came down for breakfast we started having a conversation where my words were coming out slurred. He asked me if I was drunk and I said of course not, it was 8:30 in the morning! When I answered him I could hear it, the slur. I said a few more things that became even more slurred and he said, well then you’re having a stroke. It was the most surreal experience I’ve ever had. It was almost as if I was looking at the scenario as a third person. I remember thinking, hmm maybe he’s right, I might be having a stroke. The rest of the morning is a blur, filled with the emergency room, a CT scan, and people talking to me too fast for me to process what they were saying. I had become unable to speak shortly after I arrived at the ER. I was given TPA, which is a clot-busting medication and transferred to the ICU. I was very lucky my son was home because I don’t know that I would have had the wherewithal to know what was happening or call someone for help if he wasn’t here. Now I get to spend the rest of my days listening to my youngest son tell me he saved my life inferring payback is warranted. I say that jokingly. It scared the crap out of him but it didn’t take long for him to start cracking stroke jokes after he realized I was going to be okay.

When my wife and other children showed up I was not able to speak. I really did not want the kids there because I didn’t want them to be scared. It’s weird the things that you think of when something like that happens. I was more worried about them being worried than about myself. Anyway it’s been about 10 days now and I need to keep that in mind when I become impatient with myself. I am not a patient patient.

I’m grateful that I still have 6 weeks before our big trip. I am worried about my abilities and I’m actually a little scared. We have so much on our agenda, New York for 3 days, Cartagena Colombia for 3 days, Santa Marta Colombia for 5 and then 7 days in the Riviera Maya, Mexico. This is where reminding myself that it’s only been 10 days and not to future trip would come in handy.

Well; if I wasn’t already committed to retiring early and getting the hell out of Dodge, I would be now. My job, that I love, is extremely stressful. I went to work on Tuesday and didn’t say anything, I mostly just observed Court and by 3 in the afternoon I was exhausted. I run three businesses so easing back into work is almost a joke but I have excellent colleagues and co-workers that are making it as smooth as possible.

I’m 43 years old. My sister died of a ruptured brain aneurysm at 47. I have another book to write (both literally and figuratively) and I’m not ready to go. I finally have everything in order. My kids are almost all adults and doing well, I have the woman of my dreams, and I have plans!! I am extremely grateful the universe extended my ticket with a reminder to be brave, you only die once.

But what about family?

Today is the last day of school for my 16 year old son, next year he will be a Junior. He is the last of 4 boys who range in age from 16-25. My family is, and has always been, the focus of my life. Slowly becoming an empty nester has made this inevitable transition easier. I have gone from buying 2 gallons of milk at a time to 1, then to a half. I remind myself that one of the two things guaranteed in life is change, the other is death.

Moving to another country, away from my children, will not be without struggle. Even though the majority of them have moved out and are adults, we still have regular family dinners, celebrate holidays and birthdays together and have the random lunch dates just to catch up. As exciting as it is to plan for the future, I continue to have a little momma bear sitting on my shoulder, whispering to me horror stories that might succumb the children if I am not physically present. I flick her off and remind her I have tried to teach my children to be brave, fearless, and to pursue their dreams. Who would I be if I let her keep me from mine?

In researching Colombia, it appears that when we apply for a (M) Migrant or (R) Resident Visa, that children under the age of 25 can obtain a beneficiary Visa. That takes care of my youngest 2 of 4 should they want to spend some time in Colombia. My oldest is a frequent traveler to Costa Rica-he is a bit of a gypsy so I imagine he will make his way to visit plenty of times. My second oldest son talks about traveling with his long term girlfriend during a gap year to Central and South America. My hope? They love it and want to stay but even if they don’t, who is going to pass up a couple of weeks a year with mom on the Caribbean coast? We are keeping some property in the US, whether it is our family home that we rent out or a small apartment is yet to be decided but there will be plenty of coming and going We are trying to be as realistic as possible so we are concurrently planning on returning to the States after a decade or so, should we chose.

As much as I remain family focused, I also remain committed to living my life to the fullest and being the brave, daring, bold, mother that has tried to teach them that they can do, be, accomplish whatever it is that sets their soul on fire. I just might do so while wiping away tears in the grocery store while buying a quart of milk.

Santa Marta, here we come!

It’s been awhile since I have been able to write. Unfortunately, my life doesn’t slow down despite my desire to spend more of my time daydreaming about where we might land in a few years.

It’s been a hectic few weeks; I am training a new class of CASAs (Court Appointed Special Advocates for children removed by the state) and that will roughly take up the month of April in conjunction with everyday work and life. We spent last weekend in Vancouver BC where we experienced the most amazing P!NK show and we are trying to unpack our things since we decided to pull our home off the market and pursue early retirement abroad instead.

With all of this going on, I managed to map out our upcoming trip and purchase our airline tickets and it goes a little something like this… SEA to JFK to enjoy New York City and have some really good food and unparalleled entertainment for our anniversary, JFK to CTG where we will spend 1 night in Cartagena, rent a car the next morning and make the drive to Santa Marta where we will spend 5 nights, SMR to BOG where we will spend 2 nights in Bogotoa, just checking things out, BOG to CUN to spend 7 more nights in Rivera Maya and finally CUN to SEA to be back in time for Thanksgiving. Fun side note, you can fly intercountry in Colombia for about $25 USD so while it is a 4-5 hour drive from Cartagena to Santa Marta, we are choosing to do that to see the the coast. Who knows, there may be some amazing beach town we drive past that we would never have known about otherwise! We are then flying from Santa Marta to Bogota for $25 where we will spend a few nights and then take a direct flight from Bogotoa to Cancun. We are not checking any bags so we can travel pretty freely and not have to worry about delays through customs, lost luggage, etc. I picked up a pretty awesome Travelpro carry on size suitcase on clearance at Macy’s that will easily hold everything I need to bring with me as well as my own snorkel gear. I was able to book the above itinerary for less than $1,500 per person using mileage points, perks, hotel reward points, etc.

I have never planned out a trip this extensive and I am sure some thing will not go as planned but that is all part of the experience. You may wonder why we are spending more time in Mexico since we just returned but if you’ve read my previous blog posts, we have decided to keep the Riviera Maya area open as a possible retirement location. Akumal, Tulum, Playa del Carmen-they all give off a mystical feeling. The Mayan culture, the beach, the people, the food, the cenotes… they call my name. The downsides to Mexico vs. Colombia on paper is rather extensive though. The medical care is not as good as the States and Colombia is significantly better than both. Cost of living is on par with Santa Marta though that is only if you are willing to swap an ocean front condo in Santa Marta for one that isn’t in Mexico. Residency is easily established in both. Mexico has really developed a reputation for being quite unsafe these days and that’s true even in Rivera Maya but of course, Colombia has its own sordid history but history is the key word. There are still plenty of travel advisories for both countries, check before you book! Common sense is your friend. There are plenty of places in the states, especially Seattle that I would not walk around at night and alone. Upsides for Mexico, English is much more widely spoken than in Colombia and its a 6 hour flight home instead of a 12 from Colombia. With that said, I have always felt like a flight is a flight so whether you are a 2, 6, 12 or 18 hour flight away, it is still just a flight. πŸ™‚ Since we aren’t exactly looking for another America just in a cheaper location, I am not sure that part of Mexico would even give me the foreign experience that I want.

We are very excited for our trip to Colombia and the reason we aren’t staying longer is the fear that the humidity will be so oppressive that we will want to take Santa Marta off our list. If we do, that doesn’t mean Colombia is out. We want to spend two nights in Bogota on this trip just to see and feel the capital, we would not consider residency there but we want to return for at least a week long trip to Medellin and it’s surrounding areas for that purpose. Our stays in both countries will be research so that means that while we will likely dive and enjoy the beach, the whole idea is to rent a car, drive around, look at properties and neighborhoods at night as well as during the day. This isn’t a, sit on my rear and have a server bring me food and drinks all day while enjoying the Caribbean sun poolside, trip. The idea of being in Colombia thrills me. The people have a reputation for being extremely kind and open to foreigners and there is something uniquely empowering about forcing yourself outside of your comfort zone and submerging yourself in another culture especially when you don’t share a common language.

Decisions, Decisions


Where is my magic 8 ball?

When it was decided that our family needed to move from our state of origin (California) in 2011, it wasn’t all that hard to pick a location. We knew we wanted to stay on the west coast, we wanted a small city with plenty of things for the kids to do, we wanted good schools, good weather, and decent home prices. We were able to whittle our list down to one city in no time. We flew up to visit during the rainy season to ensure it was tolerable and then moved that following summer. From the time we decided to move to moving day was about 8 months. Pretty short considering we had never lived more than 2 hours from where we were both born and raised.

While you would think moving a family of 6 to another state knowing absolutely no one would be difficult, it was surprisingly easy, no 8 ball needed. If only identifying a country to retire in could be the same. If you Google, “best Countries to retire in,” or “best Countries for expats,” there are some really tough contenders. What I do know is, it needs to be affordable, it needs to be easily accessible from the States, It needs to offer good healthcare, people need to be friendly and welcoming , my marriage needs to be recognized (No countries like Malaysia that criminalize homosexual behavior-You can be sentenced to 20 years with or without fines and whippings.  ) but more important than all of that, It needs to call my name. We are talking about leaving all my family and friends, not only does it need to call, it needs to SING my name.

So who’s on the list? Colombia to start. Mexico is also in the running. Costa Rica is out and so is Panama. While both of those countries make the top 5 list according to International Living, they are too expensive and too far away to be worth it. Yes, Colombia is further but it is about half the cost of Panama and half as empty (this is a +!) as Costa Rica. While the Riviera Maya area of Mexico may be more expensive than the Caribbean side of Colombia, it has some real benefits. Most people that I have encountered in Mexico speak at least a little English.
The majority of people in Colombia do not speak English. Given that I only speak a little Spanish, this is a big plus for Mexico. Though I am dedicated to spending the next few years working on my Spanish. Since the majority of my top retirement contenders are in Latin America, this seems like a no brainer. I used to fantasize about retiring to Italy, and I might! Even in that situation, a good Latin base will be extremely beneficial.

Easy access to the States is essential. I have been playing with flight schedules over the last few months trying to figure out how to get to Colombia and back without wasting two days of travel each way. The issue is compounded by the fact that I am trying to travel on JetBlue because I have a hefty credit from when we decided to focus our time and money on early retirement instead of a lofty vacation in the Caribbean. This issue is further compounded by the desire to check out inland areas of Colombia, east of Medellin. You can’t just drive around Colombia, it would take days to get over the windy mountainous terrain so maybe that will have to be tabled for another trip. Most people can pop a sleeping aid and catch some zzzz’s on the plane. Not for the life of me do I fall into this category! I learned this the hard way on a red eye to Ireland. An Ambien and massive time change later, I was a mess for days. We will have a little over two weeks in November to explore Colombia-I don’t want to waste 4 of those days traveling with two of them sleep deprived. At least the time change is only a 2-3 hours,depending on our daylight savings, major bonus!

Traveling to and from Cancun or Cozumel is a piece of cake on just about any airline. It takes half as much time to get there than it does Cartagena. As you can tell from my previous post, Ahhhh the Riviera Maya there is much love for Mexico. That was my 3rd trip to the area. I have been to Cozumel, Cancun, Rivera Maya, and Progresso. Disclaimer, I have only been as a tourist. I think we are kicking ourselves now that we have returned for not checking out the local scene but what a better excuse do you need to return? I know the weather is warm and humid but tolerable. I fear that Colombia will be similar to Jamaica and I could hardly stand it there. The humidity is oppressive, even in the shade with a breeze. If we get to Colombia and it is similar, that part of the country gets a big red line through it on the list. There are much milder areas of Colombia, Medellin is actually named the city of eternal spring. Moving to a big city is not on my list though. I want the Caribbean Sea. I want to scuba dive frequently and do nothing while enjoying the white sand just as often.

Medical care in Mexico is not nearly as good as Colombia, touting a WHO ranking of 22. The US ranks 37 and Mexico claims the 61st spot. Interesting side note here. When we came back from Mexico, Lisa had a cold, then I got it. I have spent the last 9 days trying to fight off who knows what she caught on the flight down. I do take immunosuppressants for an autoimmune disorder so it may have been complicated by that. You can’t even assume you won’t catch measles anymore! Digression… Anyway, we picked up some cold medicine that worked really well in Mexico for about $1.50. I have some cold medicine that I had from Canada that works OK for about $5. Then I went out and bought somewhat similar (though not because of the regulations on pseudoephedrine) for $13 that didn’t work at all. $13 vs. $1.50- Works vs. Doesn’t. Hmmmm

As you can tell, it is all very much up in the air. One of the greatest benefits to writing is the ability to see things more clearly, however, If anyone see’s my magic 8 ball, let me know.

Next stop, Colombia

Though not why you would think. I have been extremely inspired over the last year or so to really listen to my inner voice and pay attention to what the Universe is trying to tell me . We had put an offer in on a house that we didn’t love but thought it would be a good investment. After a few bumps, and the sellers thinking they should have listed it for more, we walked away from it. We had already said that we would accept what was meant to be and clearly, that purchase wasn’t it.

Since I have almost always been self employed, I have no pension. I have a few small retirement accounts but nothing huge. My retirement plan has always been to sell my home and downsize. The falling through of our most recent financial venture has spurred some pretty interesting ideas. Kids are almost all grown, I am not getting any younger, I would like to retire from my rather emotionally draining and somewhat PTSD triggering , though very rewarding and at times, cathartic, career while I still have some physical get up and go and certainly before I end up being totally jaded and dead inside. I would also like to finish my second book but have decided I can’t tackle that while in my current profession. Lisa is almost at her 30 year mark at work, shes been there since she was 20. I’m sure you see where I am going with this.

We have decided to check out what Colombia has to offer us as expats. We are going to visit the Caribbean coast of Colombia from Cartagena to Santa Marta in November. Nothing has been decided yet, obviously, but my research on Colombia has proven to be very promising. It is very easy to obtain a resident visa, their universal health care is quite good, they even have a Johns Hopkins hospital in Bogotoa. The WHO ranks Colombia #22 in the world, easily beating out the USA at #37. Oh, and it is cheap. Really cheap. The cost of living index in Santa Marta is 74 compared to 196 in Seattle. If you were interested in buying a 2/2 new condo on the beach in Santa Marta, you could do so for about $100,000 USD, about 3.2m COP . The Colombian Peso is very weak against the dollar and has been for years.

This blog is all about living life to the fullest and this is me, putting my money where my mouth is. For those of you who are wondering about the safety of Colombia, the days of Pablo Escobar are long over. Sure, there are places you probably should go alone or after dark but that is true even in my little town in the PNW. The Government in Colombia is set up very similarly to the US-three branches of government, a democracy, an elected president, etc. Colombia has a tragic history but it is one of the most beautiful,safe, and biodiverse countries in the world. It is also one of the best countries for Expats, continually ranking in the top 10 according to International Living, beating out Spain and Portugal. Colombia is one of the most LGBTQ friendly countries in Latin America and same sex marriage has been legal in Colombia since 2016.