Time flies……

I can’t believe we have been here 5 months. I also can’t believe that I haven’t managed a blog post since June, but….. here we are.

Our first month or two just felt like we were on an extended vacation and month 3 started to feel like groundhogs day. I decided to pick up some piece work to give me more to do while Lisa is contently working on her puzzle or living her best life in the Ocean. We did not start having guests until August so we had plenty of time to settle in. Since then, we have had either friends or family down on a pretty regular basis. First my my 3rd oldest son and his friend, then Lisa’s niece and her family came, then my second youngest and his girlfriend, then my best friend and her children (though they stayed at a resort up the road) but Lisa and I happily hosted their 25th wedding vow renewal at our house, at sunset, under the palapa-it was magical! I have my friends and work colleagues coming in tomorrow for a week, I am sure there will be work done, for tax purposes 😉 next up is my sister in law and her son, then my youngest will arrive the last week of November. Tired yet? My oldest son will make the trip at some point. We are going back to Washington to spend a month next summer so it may be until then that I see him but he calls me frequently so I am not complaining.

So what’s it been like? It has been great! I feel like I know the Cancun airport, Playa del Carmen and all the local cenotes like the back of my hand. It took me FOR EVER to get an RFC (tax ID) number to open a checking account but I finally got that done last month. It was a challenging experience since I have limited Spanish reading skills but the employees at the SAT office were helpful and patient. There was a local man there who could not read sitting next to me while we were filling out forms and he asked me what his paper said, I can’t describe the feeling that left me with. There is very much a class system in place here and dare I say that the original settlers of this land are treated the worst. You could draw parallels from the Mayans to the Native Americans except that here, the Mayans don’t have much protection from exploitations. Work environments, tools, etc. are very archaic and that is the typical job for a Mayan, a laborer. Watching a man at work with a pix axe-going at limestone- in 90 degree weather makes my work ethic look questionable, if not almost embarrassing. When we hired a local contractor to install a pergola for our car, this is exactly what I witnessed as well as several workers, sitting on the supporting beams of the pergola, nailing in sticks of wood by hand in the middle of a thunderstorm. A power tool was used once… Even for workers who are paid legally, the Mexican minimum wage is 172 pesos per day (about 8 usd) and I can tell you that the cost of food and gas down here is only slightly less expensive than in the States because we live in a tourist state but that doesn’t mean they get paid more. One more before I get off my soapbox, in Mexico, it is very common to have a housekeeper and for her to come several times a week (Once is good for us). The pay is more than the minimum wage (usually) but not by much. My neighbors maid offered to clean our house when our housekeeper was away once and we took her up on it. She showed up with her 12 year old daughter as she was her apprentice, she was teaching her how to correctly clean houses, make the beds, etc.. I know not all kids go to high school here (and by here, I mean Mexico, not this privileged little community that I live in), some stop at 6th grade so they can work and help support their families but to see what that looks like left me extremely humbled and full of guilt. It is, after all, only a fluke that I was born in the States and yes, white privilege is real, even here.

If you look closely, you can see two extension cords strung together behind the man

Going to the store, out to eat, driving, shopping etc. has all become very normal. When we first moved down, I was hypervigilant about everything, now I am only hypervigilant about some things. We have the water delivery schedule down as well as the Gas guy (Propane home) and it feels….like home!

We went to Oaxaca in July for my birthday, it was truly a unique experience. We were lucky enough to go during Guelaguetza! This is a celebration of traditions and culture from the surrounding communities. Let me tell you, Oaxacans are some amazing and proud people and they now how to party! The food, the historical tours, the food, the mezcal, the food, the cooking class, the food, the ruins of Monte Alban, the food…Yes, it was amazing! We had no idea the parade route would turn right in front of our hotel, Casa de Siete Balcones. The hotel purveyors set up the rooftop for us so we could watch. It was a once in a lifetime experience.

The prices of food and items in Oaxaca were close to half of what they are in Quintana Roo. We are very much looking forward to traveling throughout Mexico and hope to do so next year. As for now, we have set up our home here on a few different home exchange sites and have several upcoming trips. We are exchanging homes over Christmas/New Years with a couple from Manhattan and next spring, we have exchanges set up in Spain, France and Italy! So far this, BBYODO thing is really panning out 🙂

TTFN!

Life in Mexico

What an adventure these last several weeks have been! We left Washington state on May 7th and spent a few weeks traveling to see friends and family. We arrived in Mexico on May 23rd with 6 checked bags, 2 carry-ons and 2 backpacks! Everything else was gifted or sold. We each stored a small box of keepsakes back in the States but that is it. Lisa insisted her Ninja Blender make the trip, I can’t fault her there, my Le Crueset french oven also made the trip. While you can buy just about anything you need here, electronics are a premium. Amazon. Mx does not disappoint!

**Tip, if you have a Delta credit card, you get your first bag free for you and your companions, if you fly first, the allowance increases by 2 bags each. The flight cost between economy and first were minimal and more than paid for the cost of luggage had we had to pay for it. Also the weight allowance increases from 50 to 70 lbs 😉

We picked up our new Honda the day after we arrived. I had pre ordered and paid for it back in January due to the chip shortage. The process was less painful than any car buying experience in the States. Prices for new cars are static here, there is no negotiating and it includes tax. I did pay am extra $1500 pesos for them to register and plate my car for me so I wouldn’t have to deal with that as soon as we landed. We got our Mexican drivers licenses a few weeks later, it was a piece of cake. The State of Quintana Roo was running a discount through the month of June for half of the cost of a license. This blew me away! It was advertised on Facebook and the department of transportation was even responding to questions about it. Juxtaposition to Washington and California DOL/DMV is striking.

During our road trip, Lisa ended up with bronchitis. Even though it mostly cleared before our flight down, she never really fully recovered. Last week we finally decided to seek medical attention. Our community doctor came to our house the morning after I contacted her through Whatsapp at 7pm the night before (if you travel and don’t know what this is, look into it! ) the housecall was 1,000 pesos (50 usd) she ordered several tests to check her blood, thyroid, Immunoglobulins and a throat culture. Total bill for the labs was $1100 pesos. We have insurance, the deductible is 31,000 pesos so like most people, we just pay cash and hang on to the factuta (receipt). Interesting side note about deductibles here-it is a one time charge per incident or illness that is never paid again regardless of how much time has passed. For example, you have lukemia, you pay your deductible once, even if you are treated for it over several years. I digress, the entire cost of Lisa’s visit, labs, etc was roughly $120 usd! We were emailed her test results later the same day.

I am still trying to figure out my role here. I’m not working as much as I thought I would be and now that we are all settled, I’m becoming a little restless. I am going to the special needs school across the highway tomorrow to see how I can help over there. Next month we had to Oaxaca, I can’t wait to explore the smaller villages, ruins and of course, the food!

A life of travel and beaches is certainly something to be grateful for but I will always need purpose 😊

And… We’re off!

So much has happened in the last two months and I don’t have time to do a break down but I will when we settle. Unfortunately, right after my last post my wife and I came down with COVID that knocked us down for several weeks. Triple vaxxed and still, but I digress..

I have often looked to the universe for signs. Good, bad, indifferent, I have come to rely on signs to point me in the right direction. If it is meant to be, it will. If it isn’t, stop fighting and listen. We have gone from a dream, to a plan, to an action. We sold our home to friends during this crazy market. It has reaffirmed our decision and it felt so right. We have sold our cars without issue, donated, gifted or sold the rest of our belongings and the path has remained clear. We will be leaving Washington state later this week for a, ” farewell tour” to California to see my family before boarding a plane on a one way ticket to Mexico later this month.

I will update next month after we settle in. Until then-Saludos!

T minus..STRESS!

Yes, of course, moving out of the country is going to be stressful.  This is especially true when you combine it with being a mom, a small business owner, a home owner, a commercial office owner, a pet owner, etc. etc.

The last few months have consisted of check boxes and to- do lists.  One of my pressing issues is to ensure my physical health is on order.  I’ve done several things to naturally reset my immune system but tomorrow I see a cardiologist and this makes me nervous.  I recently saw my rheumatologist who was very impressed with my numbers and what I’ve accomplished (I contribute this to 72 hour fasting, look up Dr. Longo at USC and his various fasting studies. I hope I get the same ringing endorsement tomorrow.  Since I had 2 sisters pass away in their 40’s, I want to ensure we aren’t doing all of this so I can up and die in the next few years.

Work has been hectic but retirement news has been well received by both my colleagues and my wife’s. We joke that she sold her soul to the county when she was 20 to be able to fully vest in her retirement now.  It will be much stranger for her than me since I’ll be working very part time but she is ecstatic to do nothing for awhile.  I’ll be happy to get out of of the secondary trauma of child welfare.  To say it negatively impacts my health would be an understatement.  When we sent out our retirement announcements, I can’t say any part of me had second doubts.  I love(ed) my job and have for the last decade but I am ready to move into a place of being gleefully ignorant of the abuse and neglect that happens on a daily basis for so many children.

The house is sold, along with most of the furniture, cars and the cats.  The cats are likely going to the new homeowners (and friends of ours) but we shall see how the integration over the next few weeks goes- they are coming to live with us before the move to see how well they all adapt.

I spent last weekend going through momentos with my older 2 boys, I have the younger 2 to go but we are are 90% done.Pretty damn amazing if I don’t say so myself. 

Next up,  changing of addresses,  closing of accounts, final touches, last days of work, and then our hasta luego party to say goodbye to friends and family.  Deposits have been placed on our new car (chip shortage) and Lisa’s custom golf cart 😅. We have a 2.5 week trip through California, Nevada and Arizona to say our final farewells before using our one way tickets to Cancun in late May. Today marks the 1 year anniversary of closing on our home in Mexico.

Villa de Chicas 2021

Put in the work.  If it was meant to happen, it will. If you are met with a closed door, be grateful.  That is the Universes’ way of keeping you from people and places not meant for you.

Adiós for now.

2022

Wow! It been a hot minute since I’ve updated anything. To pick up where I left off, we had just finished the consulate process in Seattle and we had appointments at INM in Playa del Carmen in the 9th of November. This was the perfect way to spend our wedding anniversary. The process was relatively easy and we did not have to wait long at the office to be processed and receive our residency cards but that was largely because we used Milly Arceo at Legally in Mexico to complete the paperwork on the Mexican side of the border.

When it was time to come back, the depression set in. Everyone wants to spend more time in Mexico, sure, but the dread of returning to the States and to work is more pronounced each time. What made that return trip home is we knew it would be the last one before the final move. It was hard to say goodbye to our friends and our home. The entire Riviera Maya just feels so magical, it has a
a pull on my soul that I cannot put into words. We both planned to make our retirement announcements soon after our return.

December was a hectic month, I had surgery, we had the holidays, the important people Lisa needed to talk to before announcing it formally had taken time off and we ultimately pushed the announcement off until just a few weeks ago. The presiding Judge was not at all surprised, she had known we had bought a home and obtained residency. Some of the other Judges took it a little harder. Lisa has been such a pillar of strength and leadership over the last 30 years, it is no surprise that many of her co workers had mixed feelings about the announcement.

My announcement followed hers and while I won’t be officially done working, I will shift my focus to business operations and will no longer be the program manager. A decade and thousands of cases of abused and neglected children later, in an era where children’s rights and interests are largely placed on the back burner, has really taken a toll on me. I will miss many of my colleagues and some of the great reunification and adoptions I’ve been apart of but I am more than ready to separate myself from the secondary and tertiary trauma that comes with this line of work. Our last days at work will be April 15th!

So what’s next? The universe is still creating a very easy path for us. We already have our house under contract(and they are taking most of the furniture!), one of my vehicles is already promised to a buyer, I’ve sorted and organized 30 years with of kids art work, photos and other keepsakes. Our house is set to close May 6th and we have airline tickets for May 7th to spend a month traveling California and Arizona to see family before we make the trip from LAX to Cancun in late May. It’s hard to believe it is so close when it feels like we just started this journey. When it’s right, it’s right. Until next time, mi amigos. Salud.

The Mexican Consulate

Also known as, Consulado de México. This is where you start the process of legally entering Mexico if you want to stay past the 180 day tourist visa. Obviously our intent is to stay for an undetermined amount of time. Could be a several years, could be forever. The one thing I can say with absolute certainty is the only thing that is consist between consulates is that their Visa requirements are all different. Covid has restricted some consulates to only serving people in their geographical area, as determined by them. Portland, for example, is currently only serving Oregon and southern Washington state. Other consulates, like Las Vegas, are serving anyone. We chose Seattle because A) that’s our closest office. B) They were only asking for 6 months of financial documentation (which was still 35 pages) and C) They were conducting the initial interview via Zoom. All good things. In my last entry, I had just been notified that we had been processed and they had offered us an interview date!

Fast forward several weeks, our Zoom interview went very well. We were asked questions surrounding why we chose México, what ties we had there, and other basic questions. While I was nervous about the interview, I knew our intentions were solid and reflected what they wanted to see in someone seeking permanent residency. It helped that we are homeowners there and had already established solid ties to friends and our community, I’m on our HOA board and we had made several trips down over the last few years. It also helped that my wife lights up every time we talk about México and what she loves about the people, culture, and of course, the food. We were approved for our Visas and I can tell you that I genuinely felt welcomed to Mexico. Our agent was extremely helpful and kind throughout the process. This is not a new feeling, most Mexicans are extremely kind and welcoming to foreigners in their country so long as you show some respect and leave the entitlement at the border. We then needed to appear at the consulate in person to have our fingerprints and photos taken. I returned the next day to pick up our actual visas. This is what it looks like, they place it in your passport. You have 6 months to enter México to finish the process at INM (Instituto Nacional de Migración/Immigration) and exchange your visa for your resident card. Once you enter, you have 30 days to start the process.

Visa that goes into your passport
Permanent resident card (RP/Residente Permanente)

Depending on your finances, age, and intentions, you may be approved for temporary or permanent residency. The only difference is that temporary needs to be renewed, sometimes annually, for up to 4 years at which time you will have to roll it over to permanent or leave the country. The one upside to temporary (TP/Temporal Residente) is that you could bring a foreign plated car into México via a TIP (Temporary Import Permit) for a long as your visa is valid. Qroo Paul has an excellent blog with endless information about moving to Mexico. You can read the article here for more information on the ends and outs of bringing your car.

If you are offered permanent residency and have no intention of bringing a car, take it. Nobody wants to spend their time, money, or patience having to deal with immigration in Mexico. Further, if you are not fluent in Spanish (reading and writing) and don’t have a bunch of time, money and patience, I highly recommend using an immigration specialist to help you complete the process in Mexico. There are several throughout the country, search the Facebook expat boards for recommendations.

That’s all for now folks! Happy fall and safe travels.

We did it!

I apologize to those of you who had been following along. I have dropped the ball. Life has been CRAZY this year.

Previously on, BBYODO, we had just returned from the Riviera Maya and purchased a home in Puerto Aventuras. I had a horrific diving accident at 100 feet that landed me in the chamber with the bends and I thought I would likely never dive again.

Shortly after we returned from Mexico in November, we began plotting a return trip to get the new house ready. We had hoped to close on our property in January but the seller lived in Colorado and the secretary of state there was backed up for weeks due to Covid. She need a letter apostilled so her attorney in Mexico would have power of attorney to sign all the documents on her behalf. We were able to do the same in Washington and it only took a few days. Our trip back to Puerto Aventuras and our new home had been booked for late February. Well, closing day in January came and went and we agreed to an extension to early February. That day came and went… at this point, we were becoming very nervous about the entire process. We had already wired all of our money to the escrow account set up by our agent and it wasn’t that we were concerned about that, we were concerned that the seller would fail to preform and we were already committed to this house emotionally and financially. Ultimately, the night before our flight, we agreed on a soft close. The form that we had been waiting for from the State of Colorado finally came the first week of March while we were there. SUCH a relief!

While we were down in February, I knew I was not ready to go back to diving. Instead, we made our way to Akumal and spent the day snorkeling with the Turtles in Akumal bay. By the way, there is a trick to avoiding all the people selling tours, etc. Go grab some breakfast at Lol-Ha where you can park close to the bay or consider visiting Akumal Dive Center to rent a locker or gear if you need it. From Lol-Ha, walk down toward the bay and slightly to your right. You do not need to buy a tour to swim in the bay but these rules are constantly changing. You do need to stay out of the roped off areas but there is still plenty of bay to explore on your own. Here is a great map with tips and tricks I found for Akumal bay. Turtles galore! Make sure you wear biodegradable sunscreen and don’t wear fins.

I am not going to lie, just having my face in the water with a snorkel was anxiety producing. At one point, I ended up leaving Lisa to do her own thing while I collected myself. I had no expectations of being able to go diving but I was surprised that just being in the ocean was PTSD provoking. This is not ok! The whole reason we chose the area of Mexico that we did was so we would have very easy accessibility to the ocean, diving, etc. It was about this time I befriended a woman named Robin who owns Aquanauts dive shop in Puerto Aventuras. I shared with her my experience and fears and she confidently told me that she would be ready to help me get back in the water when I was ready. Having the correct fitting gear and the right instructor were going to be the answer. She even offered to let me try out her own wing style BCD to ensure proper fit (Women, especially big busted gals don’t fit into standard BCDs…) and having a BCD with integrated weights was going to be a must for me but I just wasn’t ready in March.

July rolls around and we head back to Mexico. (see why I have had no time to blog? I can’t wait until I am no longer working full time and the move is over!) At this point, we had submitted 48 pages of documents to the Consulate and were awaiting an email regarding our residency applications. If you learn anything about Mexico from this blog, know that the only thing that is consistent is inconsistency. If you are thinking about applying for residency, I highly suggest you visit websites for each one within your area to see what they are requesting. Even if you give them everything that they are asking for, it is at their discretion whether you are approved or not and for what type. (permanent or temporal) The main Consulate website can be found here. Other important tip, you cannot start the residency process within Mexico! If you head down and fall in love with Mexico, you have to come back to start the residency process. Visitor visas are good for 180 days. While we were down, we received an email with our appointment date for our interviews for residency. Yay!!! We had not received any sort of confirmation that our papers had been received and the website states to not follow up with an email to check the status. It is a, don’t contact us, we will contact you, mañana, process. More to come on that later. By the way mañana doesn’t actually mean tomorrow, sometimes it does but it really just means later. So far, this experience has been an excellent exercise in patience, letting go, trusting the universe, and trying not to lose my hair in the process.

Circling back to what I had said about Aquanauts, I had decided that I was ready to ease back into some scuba gear, in a pool, and work with Emilio (DM) on skills and reestablishing my confidence. After a 3 hour session, I was feeling pretty confident. I was able to relax and enjoy my trip back in the water and I really just cannot say enough awesome things about Robin, Emilio and their whole staff. I wrote a pretty detailed review here. Safe to say, I am looking forward to buying my own equipment and many more dives with Aquanauts and grabbing a margarita or two with Robin! Until next time- Salud!

Mexico, here we come!

2020 is almost over, thank goodness! I realize it has been quite some time since I have written anything- I think we all got sucked into the COVID abyss. While the end is coming to a year, 2020 has been full of as many ups as there have been downs. Big news!!!! We bought a place in Mexico! That’s correct, a place to call our own in the Riviera Maya. We made a trip down in November to complete our PADI Advanced Open Water dives since our training was about to expire and to check out some locations we had narrowed down. I will post separately about my horrid, near death experience with Seth Drabinsky through Seth Dive Mexico though you can read my review on TripAdvisor and his completely inappropriate and unprofessional response to it until then. I did find out the hard way that the healthcare providers in Playa are pretty top notch (for a gringo with money and good insurance) and I received better care there than I have ever in the US. I was treated by Playa International Clinic– Dr. Denise and my nurse Paula were amazing. Lisa was able to stay the night with me at the clinic in my room and they kept an eye on her for decompression illness and even fed her for free.

After spending countless hours on the computer to research areas, we narrowed our search down to Playacar, Puerto Aventuras, and Akumal. All of these areas are within 30 minutes or so from Playa del Carmen. We looked at several properties and were torn between a home in Playacar and one in Puerto. It was a very difficult decision but we went with home in Puerto. While Playacar is absolutely lovely, Puerto has it beat when it comes to snorkeling and a marina and it is about half way between Akumal and PDC. The beaches in Playacar are stunning but there is nothing to see in the water there. Puerto also has a variety of shops, restaurants, etc and was designed as an expat neighborhood. Don’t read that as expats just from the US, Puerto is like a giant Epcot center and right across the highway is where most of the locals live. We wanted something safe and in a gated community but what we did not want was a community that is filled with Americans. A big motivator in moving out of the country is to experience different cultures, people, and places.

I can tell you that buying in Mexico is not for the faint of heart, obviously. There is something about having the right realtor and attorney that can ease your fears but standing in your bank, wiring your 10% earnest money to an escrow account in Mexico takes some serious nerve. We are working with Marieke Brown, a very respected, straight shooting realtor who has talked me down a few times so far. We will be using our attorney to sign closing papers for us, I can say as someone who trusts no one, this is quite the experience. We will be back down several times (COVID/Vaccine willing) before our final move in 2022.

Flying during COVID was also something that caused a great amount of distress. There are tons of articles and studies surrounding COVID and the risk of contagion on an airplane. The risk is extremely low. We put on our N95s and sanitized everything. Alaska Airlines did a phenomenal job and I did not see a single person wearing a mask incorrectly and they blocked out middle seats. We were disheartened to see so many tourists not respecting guidelines once we got to Mexico. My biggest fear was what if we gave it to some poor local. They do not have the resources or hospital infrastructure to handle the COVID crisis. Read, Why Mexico is failing to confront the COVID crisis. With that said, I felt way safer in Playa del Carmen that I do here in Washington state. It isn’t a political issue for locals, they take it seriously. I just wished more tourist would have as well. We tested for COVID before our trip and then 6 days after we returned home. Side note- Mexico, at least the state of Quintana Roo, is very LGBT friendly. We felt extremely comfortable working with realtors, attorneys, etc. and have never felt discriminated against during any of our trips down.

I am sure most of my 2021 blog will be filed with the ups and downs of buying internationally and obtaining permanent resident status. Until next time, Hanukkah Sameach!! Stay safe and healthy.

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 🙂 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 🙂

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 Ciénaga. 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 😉

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!