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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 greatmap 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!
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, HanukkahSameach!! Stay safe and healthy.
May is “Mental Health Awareness” month. Okaaayy. So what does that actually mean? I am sure for each individual, the meaning is different and highly personal. Some of you may be fortunate enough to not really know someone with mental health issues (though that is exceedingly uncommon, you probably do there is still just so much of a stigma) or some of you, like me, work, breathe, live, and die by it. I am not inferring that I am a mental health professional, far from it! But I can say that it has touched every aspect of my life. From myself to my mother, my sister, my niece (and her mother,siblings,cousins,friends) and even my own children. We have all had varying degrees of “mental health” issues.
My sister Marcie lost her life to mental illness. It took her long before her premature heart attack in March. She died just days after she turned 49. Our oldest sister also struggled with mental health issues and the circumstances around her disappearance,reappearance and sudden death at the age of 47 are eerily similar. It would appear that she had several good, stable years before her sudden passing caused by a brain aneurysm. She had been lost to us for years before I tracked her down on Facebook in September of 2012. I barely got a chance to know her before she died 3 months later. Since she was 11 years older than I am, we were not that close growing up.
My mother had her own issues, she was an alcoholic who suffered from depression. Her 3rd husband, my sisters’ father, was rumored to have killed himself or that he “accidentally” drove off a cliff.
My beautiful niece committed suicide in 2016 at the age of 16, she would have been 20 this earlier month. My children have had varying issues-mostly with anxiety and some depression ,especially after that tragedy. One of my children needed inpatient treatment, it was the hardest experience I have ever lived through. I am sure the same was true for him.
My children have decided that they do not want biological children of their own. We know that a variety of unsavory genes are passed down and even with the best nurture, nature plays a huge part. Unfortunately for me and my siblings, we did not have much of the nurture part and it has been apparent in each of our lives in some significant way.
If you are not familiar with the ACE’s study (though I think I have blogged about it on this site before) I highly suggest you familiarize yourself with it. ACE stands for Adverse Childhood Experience. Even if your score is high, you are not doomed to a life of medical complications and early death but you are certainly more at risk. I look at how my sisters have died. I look at my life. I look at my priorities and it has been the driving force behind my desire to retire early. I have already had way too many health issues and feel that I am on borrowed time. I hope the work that I do with children in the foster care system some how balances the powers that be. Don’t get me wrong, I do it because it is so near and dear to me personally. Each of my sisters had a score of at least 8, likely 9. Mine is right there with theirs. My children’s score (that I know of) is 2-4, depending on the child. They are 10 years apart and my oldest had a much different upbringing than my youngest. So try as a I might….the generational and biological trauma can’t be outrun-but you can build protective factors to beef up resilience and that can make or break a person.
If you know someone who is struggling, say something. Even if it is just a , hey I am here if you want to talk or text. If you work or live around teenagers or anyone struggling with mental health, I urge you to get and share information from the suicide prevention hotline. Post something on your social media. Share a story, give some hope and let others know you see them and whatever version they are in the moment is accepted, cared for, and loved. If your loved one is struggling and identify as LGBTQ+ the Trevor Project is an excellent resource.
So what is Mental Health Awareness? This. This is me and my attempt to be brave enough to share part of my story with you, hoping to take some of the stigma out of mental illness. Trying to raise awareness that not only does it affect that persons mental well being, it affects their lifespan, physical health, their family, their children and their children’s children. Trauma is an intricate web. It touches every aspect of a person’s life and like a stone thrown in the river, the ripples are far and wide.
So what does Mental Health Awareness month mean to you?
In my last blog post, I shared with you about finding my sister, who had been missing for years and presumed dead. My twin brother and I went out to see her in Las Vegas and we were all so very relieved that she was OK and had not died the way we had imagined. My sister has a long history of mental health and drug addiction issues so after a few years of not hearing anything from her nor being able to find her with a PI, we assumed the worse.
My mom passed away in 2016 and one of her last requests to me was to try and find my sister and look after her. It was heartbreaking for my mom to not know what had happened to her daughter. I made that promise, almost reluctantly because I did not believe she was still alive but my mom did.
When I was contacted in December by a woman named Johna via Facebook messenger asking me if I had a sister named Marcie, I was beyond shocked. She told me Marcie was sitting in her living room and asked if I wanted to talk to her. She was able to find me by using one of those people finder services and it said Marcie might be related to a Stacy Ziegler. Marcie knew I had moved to Washington back in 2011 from California so luckily I wasn’t that hard to find.
When I spoke to Marcie, I cried. I mean really cried. I am not a crier but I was so relieved that she was alive and did not meet the demise I was sure she had. I asked her why she never tried to contact me and she said she didn’t think I would want to talk to her. This was heartbreaking to hear. She had lived on the streets and was in and out of mental health facilities and group homes and had several delusions about her family. Johna had been her caregiver for awhile and decided she was going to help her find her family, for that I will always be so very grateful. She was not very well, physically, she had COPD at only 48 years of age but she had always had health problems and had heart surgery when she was 5 so it wasn’t that surprising. Originally my other sister and her daughters, who all live in California, planned a trip to Vegas to see her. I had decided to go on a separate trip as i thought that would be overwhelming for Marcie and to be honest, me. I don’t have a close relationship with several of my family members. During the planning stages, Marcie was hospitalized for congestive heart failure and her daughters and my other sister decided it was not the right time for them to go and see her so my brother and I decided to go.
Seeing Marcie for the first time in several years was so surreal! She was so happy. I don’t think I had ever seen her that happy in her entire life. We spent three days together catching up and hanging out. Unfortunately she had been moved to a SNF (Skilled Nursing Facility) after a brief hospital stay for her COPD in N Las Vegas that wasn’t taking very good care of her so we took her to get her hair cut and spruce her up. She had obviously suffered some cognitive deficits due to a variety of reasons over the years as she sometimes appeared to be very child like but she was so sweet and repeatedly said how much she loved Mike and me and you could tell she was really happy. We decided she could not stay in the SNF, they were not meeting her needs and it was a pretty desolate place. We began working on a plan to move her closer to her younger daughter in California. We were timing it so she would arrive just as I was getting back from my vacation so if anything happened or needed my attention, I could go to California. While I was in Las Vegas, I became her power of attorney so I could advocate for better conditions, treatment, and overall care.
On Thursday, March 12th, three days after Marcie’s 49th birthday, Johna packed Marcie’s things in the car and they began the trip to California from Las Vegas. They were singing songs and talking about California and how excited Marcie was to see her daughters after all these years. Unfortunately, Marcie never made it to California. She suffered a major heart attack and passed away. I will forever be grateful for the very short time I got to spend with her and I take solace in knowing that she died knowing that she had family who loved her and wanted to take care of her.
Life is fleeting, you never know if and when you will ever see your loved ones again so people, don’t take that for granted. Especially during this current time. I know it will never sit right with my sister or her daughters that they never got a chance to see her. Thank you Johna. And thank you to all the people out there like Johna who care deeply for people who aren’t their blood. Johna was the best sister Marcie could ever have had.
Where have I been? Where has she been? And by she I mean my sister who has literally been missing for 6 years and presumed dead.
I need to update my blog much more often than I have been and for that, I apologize. The purpose of this blog(beside keeping my readers informed) is to help me keep a timeline so when I finally pull the trigger and dive in to the book, I have a lot of the material and the timeline solidified. Boy am I blowing it.
Tomorrow, Lisa and I leave for Jamaica to celebrate her 50th birthday. We plan to complete our advanced scuba dive certifications while we are there and if I can get myself to dive back into reality, I will post about what has transpired over the last few months and my very recent trip to Las Vegas to see my long lost sister, obtain power of attorney and scrabble to come up with a plan after and some of her immediate family decided it was too much. Oh and I got to meet Christina Wilson. Such a wild and crazy life I lead at times.
Anyway, that’s the brief(?), disconnected, discombobulated update for now. I will update more the next few weeks, I promise. The take away is my sister is alive and knows that she has family who love her. My wife, brother and his girlfriend made sure of it. Here’s a picture of Marcie, my twin brother Mike, and me. Probably the first one of us together in 30 years
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!
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.
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 .
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!