Category Archives: This ‘n That

A Lot of Travel and a Few Complications

We’ve put a lot of time in airports this month traveling around the US and visiting with family and friends in New Jersey, Virginia, Washington, Colorado and now, Texas.  However, it wasn’t the time on the road that’s become the glitch in writing the blog or the time spent shopping for new gear for the next leg of our travels or even the time spent catching up on all that’s happened in the two years we’ve been gone.  Replacing our heavier and older computers with newer models using Windows 8 has proven to be our downfall… ARGH!

So we’ve decided to take a break from posting stories of our travels and places we’ve visited for a couple of weeks.  This way we can figure out the intricacies of our new computers and the Windows 8 operating system, catch our breaths and kick back for a few days.

Look for our next post on Saturday, September 6th, where we’ll finish our Panama series and then…Ecuador!

Thanks for reading our blog.

Anita and Richard, August, 2014

 

 

The Panacea: Do Nothing, Just B-e-e-e-e-e….

Panacea de la MontañaJust down the road from where we’re housesitting is a nondescript sign on the side of the highway announcing “Panacea de la Montaña” which leads onto a rutted dirt road of dubious worth.  After the initial slog you arrive at a junction on a level flat. A quick glance at the road ahead informs you that this is the time for four-wheel drive for the final push up the steep grade.  Panacea de la Montaña

The discreet sign alongside the highway and the pitch of the daunting road may be inadvertent but no one arrives at Panacea de la Montaña unintentionally. It is, in fact, an end destination of repute; a boutique yoga retreat and spa visited by individuals, groups and aficionados intent on participating in a sublime physical and spiritual experience set inside the forested canopy of the coastal mountains of Costa Rica.Panacea de la Montaña

And when you reach the crest near the top of the mountain there is a vista of a lush and fertile valley below and mountains in the distance all swathed in variegated hues of green.  Panacea de la MontañaAn infinity pool seems to drop into the valley so that the vast expanse spread out before you can be admired and contemplated, a hypnotic and mesmerizing view. Panacea de la Montaña

Once you leave the common area of the pool, patio and cocina (kitchen) and pass by the yoga pavilion you enter the more private space of the cacitas, the individual residences for the guests.  The little dwellings, seemingly set down on the mountainside randomly, offer private views of spectacular scenery from the covered porches.Panacea de la Montaña

Trails meander around the mountaintop and slopes, spread with white rock for easy visibility and edged with larger river stones.  There’s a feeling of discovery as one wanders about this little bit of paradise; every turn reveals something new such as a totally unexpected labyrinth amid the trees or benches here and there for contemplation. Panacea de la Montaña

And interspersed throughout the walk are signs painted by guests with meaningful bits of wisdom or river rocks decorated with pithy expressions of inspiration and insight.Panacea de la Montaña

Upon our arrival in Tamarindo we were introduced to the three owners of the yoga retreat by Tineke, for whom we were housesitting.  Mary leads the yoga classes and Debbie, who is also a yoga instructor, acts as gourmet chef extraordinaire while Peter deals with the business side of living in nirvana as well as teaching aqua fitness classes and providing reflexology treatments.  We signed up for four weeks of classes and, from our novice perspectives, were  bent sideways, forwards and backwards, stretched out and relaxed within an inch of our lives. Here, amid the greenery of the coastal forest and accompanied by the twittering of birds, the flitting of multi-hued butterflies and the baleful calling of the howler monkeys, we slowly stretched and breathed to the measured and calming cadence of Mary’s expert instruction.   Each class was unique and had the successful goal of making us feel refreshed both mentally and physically. One of our favorite sessions (no effort involved!) was a restorative yoga class that focused on us moving our bodies into a variety of comfortable positions fully supported by various pillows and cushions and concentrating completely on doing nothing, breathing deeply in and out and just b-e-i-n-g.  And, at the end of every class, when the cymbal would chime softly, the realization would slowly creep into our minds, “But, surely that wasn’t ninety minutes already?”Panacea de la Montaña

And all too soon our time, not just for the day, but for Panacea de la Montaña had come to an end.   But we gained, with the aid of Mary’s classes and instructional materials, the ability to continue with our practices as we decamp again for parts further south.Panacea de la Montaña

By Anita and Richard

Slow Traveling: Putting Down Shallow Roots

Boy with a stick & tire We like to travel slowly.  When we came back from Big Corn Island to Granada at Christmas we almost felt like we were coming home. Neighborhood Kids  True, this was our third trip back in as many months and there was that warm, fuzzy feeling of the familiar.  True, it was great to return to a city we knew and nod again at familiar people on the streets.  True, it was so much easier to know already which direction to go to find the shops and visit favorite restaurants than to set off on the initial exploration of a new city.  And true, it was wonderful to see and talk to friends we had met previously.

Our initial plan in December was to spend Christmas in Granada and, at the beginning of the New Year, make our way through Costa Rica with a visit to the Caribbean side and head to Panama.A smile and a wave  But… we couldn’t get excited, even as we stared at the map at places that had previously stirred our imagination.  We felt kind of fizzless.  When we looked at bed-and-breakfast places, hostels and hotels all we could see were the hefty dollar signs attached and we lacked the enthusiasm to dig a little further for places to stay that were more reasonable.  Our act of procrastination and deciding to not decide on the next step presented a third option:  Why not stay a couple of months in Granada?

Pigs in a poke (kind of)And so, we reached out to the expat community.  During our previous visits we’d heard that there was a monthly meet and greet of expats who were establishing and reinforcing business contacts but then we learned there was also an informal gathering every Friday in front of the Grill House on Calle Calzado.  A few people, foreigners who now lived in Granada, both permanently and for shorter stays, and also people passing through would get together around 5:00.

Catching a bite to eatWe almost missed our first meeting. A rainstorm had us waiting in the inner courtyard with no group of expats in sight  When we gave up and came outside, though, there were a couple of tables pushed together and a few people sitting at them conversing.  We boldly walked up to the table (we never would do this in the US) and asked, “Is this the expat get-together?”.  In short order we had new acquaintances, an appointment to see an apartment, a list of places to inquire about volunteer opportunities and an invitation to lunch the next day.

A working familyThat is one of the beauties of slow travel. Since there is seldom a fixed itinerary there is no reason not to extemporize on the travel agenda. We have great latitude in deciding to extend a stay in places that please us, settle a bit more into a community and explore previously undiscovered places.  The only requirement of slow travel is that the roots must, of necessity, be shallow. For at some point we will pack up and be moving on again.

La fiesta - Granada, NIC 2013

La fiesta – Granada, NIC 2013

By Anita and Richard, January, 2014

 

A Year’s Accounting or…We Spent What?

money-stream roadA pox upon budgets We’ve never budgeted in our lives. The whole notion of a budget was antithetical to our concept of being. Yet, when we first started planning our great adventure one of our foremost questions was “How Much”?  We diligently researched destinations across the globe and avidly read travel blogs and how-to books on retirement in various countries that broke down costs.  Some articles boasted that expat couples were living in Ecuador and Nicaragua for as little as $800 per month Chiapas Mexicowhile others said $2500 a month would entitle one to a lifestyle one could only dream of back in the States. When we hit the road in September of 2012 we started tracking our daily expenses and charted it in a monthly spreadsheet.  This was basically to give us a baseline and to anticipate future costs. We also had to learn and adopt a lifestyle that was both commensurate with our desires and our bank book. Lodging is the largest single cost and our criteria have remained consistent: safe, clean, affordable. When possible we look for weekly or monthly rental bargains. Caveats Medical costs are excluded; these are too idiosyncratic. All costs associated with life back in the states are excluded such as costs associated with our house that we are currently leasing (and plan to sell this year), charitable and Christmas gifts, etc.

Mean Monthly Costs by Category for Calendar Year 2013 in Dollars per Month

ITEM                                 MEAN            MAX             MIN

Clothing                  44          115            5

Food                      368          632          77

Classes                   164          400           0

Meals                     407          587        202

Misc.                      190          383          80

Rent                       875        1697          22

Tours                      136          511            0

Transp.                    240           503          13

Total                     2367           N/A         N/A

What’s Included:

Clothing: Clothing covers everything from rain ponchos, sunglasses and second-hand shirts to Teva sandals shipped in from the states.

Fruit and VeggiesFood: Includes consumable items as well as household products (shampoo, soap, paper goods, garbage bags, etc.). Many times we buy gringo foods at gringo prices and, obviously, this would be a perfect place to economize!

Lessons: Spanish lessons and, most recently, the services of a professional trainer. These are intermittent costs. We don’t incur them every month.

Traditional Mayan FishMeals Out: Any meals eaten outside the home including drinks and snacks. The figure is a real eye-opener!

Miscellaneous:  A sampling of expenditures reveals moneys that were spent for laundry, haircuts, massages, entertainment, a travel alarm clock, housekeeper gratuities, baby, graduation and quinceanera gifts, volunteer supplies, replacement computer mouse (mice?), fees to use public bathrooms and handouts to street beggars.

Online: This includes fees paid online for e-books, I-tunes, Netflix, Hot Spot (our virtual private network), Dropbox, Skype membership, etc.

Vista MombachoRent:  This year we paid for lodging in Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Costa Rica. Our most common lodging is at B&B’s but this also covers homestays and housesitting and includes any utility costs when paid.

Tours/Excursions: Entrance fees for museums, archeological sites, historic sites such as cathedrals, National parks, guided tours and the like.  Also included are entrance or exit fees at border crossings between countries.

Tuk-Tuks Santa Elena, GTMTransportation: If it moves and we’re on board it’s included. That means tuk-tuk, taxi, bus, shuttle, panga, launcha, ferry and airplane fees. We’re not absolutely convinced that this budgetary spreadsheet is necessary or advisable. But we’re finding it interesting to see how we spend our money and tracking our expenses has become a habit. So, we reckon we’ll keep at it for another year and see what changes in our spending behavior…

Through the roof!

Through the roof!

By Richard and Anita, January, 2014          

What We Fear Most or … Danger: Sidewalks Ahead!

Pick left or pick right...

Left or right?

Extensions for more obstructions

Extensions for more obstructions

Drug cartels, kidnapping, bribery, robbery, extortion, murder! These were all concerns expressed by our friends and relatives when we broached the subject of extended travel SOTB [south of the border]. Now admittedly, these are all legitimate worries. But, being the fuddy-duddies that we are we do not loiter in bars and cafes or parks much after 9:00 PM, pull out rolls of cash, flash lots of bling or explore neighborhoods that look sketchy or that we’ve been cautioned to avoid.

Makes sense to us...we think?

Going up?  Going down?

Watch your step!

Watch your step!

But honestly, no one warned us of the sidewalks. These pedestrian pathways designed to promote safety have caused us as much physical damage as Montezuma’s Revenge or the mosquitoes and sand flies. The sidewalks have been the cause of trips, slips, stubs and dings far out of proportion to their posted hazard. And this little talked about and unreported evil is nearly universal both in large cities and small towns throughout Latin America. No place we’ve visited has been exempt from the ravages of broken, uneven, malformed concrete, bricks or cobblestones, twisted and narrow steps, curbing that can be grotesquely elevated or nearly non-existent. It may be glossed over in the newest and trendiest of neighborhoods, but walk a few blocks and the scourge returns.

Around or about or through?

Around or about or through?

Now, there are sidewalks that are tastefully, even artfully, done and meticulously maintained. While we appreciate and celebrate their existence we don’t take them for granted as they are conspicuously uncommon.  They are usually associated with buildings that are well-maintained such as the central park, up-scale housing developments or fronting ritzy buildings.

But, as in the US, they are primarily bread-and-butter, utilitarian and functional except when they ain’t. And when they ain’t they can be accidents waiting to happen, annoying or, occasionally, amusing.

Squeeze through the opening and then walk at a slant!

Squeeze through the opening and then walk a little crooked

Watch your feet and head

Watch your feet and head

So next time someone you know or love proposes to venture SOTB be sure to warn them of the unknown dangers lurking under their feet.  Oh yeah, and while they’re gawking at the beautiful parks and churches ahead or  looking sideways into various businesses and stores remember to tell them to check occasionally for obstacles jutting out of buildings at shoulder and head level too!

By Richard and Anita, October, 2013

City workers improving (?) the pedestrian walkways

City workers improving (?) the pedestrian walkways

A Place For Dr. Seuss

Shade and respite for Seuss lovers

Shade and respite for Seuss lovers

Okay, here’s the question?  Who isn’t a big Dr. Seuss fan?  Who doesn’t have his thirty life-changing quotes as their computer screen saver?  Hey, this guy’s a home-grown philosophizer!

The Jade Seahorse

Entering The Jade Seahorse

Our usual inquiry about places to visit brought several responses, one of which was to visit The Jade Seahorse, a short ten minute walk from our apartment. It was recommended that we visit it at least twice, once during the day and once at night, to fully appreciate its uniqueness. In other words, to paraphrase Dr. Seuss, “…this place is Fun and Fun is Good”.

A conglomeration

Art using old circuit boards, computer discs, broken glass, you name it!

As we walked through the gates onto the grounds our smiles stretched wide.  Everywhere we looked was a  colorful assortment of mosaics forming underwater corals, marine life flashing and shining; broken mirrors, tiles, marbles, glass bottles arranged into new and ever more pleasing walkways and walls representative of, well, anything you wanted!

Mosaic designs

Colorful whimsy – mosaic designs with tiles, marbles, glass and conch shells

Color and light shifted, refracted and reflected from amazing conglomerations and hanging art as we walked into little spaces and gazebos, climbed onto platforms, ascended and descended winding stairways and bridges into the artist’s vision, laughing and pointing out various discoveries to each other along the way.

An arch inviting us to make more discoveries

An arch inviting us to make more discoveries

A whatchamacallit

A whatchamacallit !

The Jade Seahorse is the ever-evolving design begun at least twenty years ago by a former LA school teacher and artist, Neil, and his chef wife, Julia.   Neil worked on it part-time during winter and summer vacations using flea market finds, other people’s rejects and recyclables from LA and other objects from trips to Guatemala and Honduras. Julia tended to the restaurant and growing the business on Utila on a full time basis.

Elevated walkways, sitting areas and views

Elevated walkways, sitting areas and views

following the path

Meandering paths and beckoning archways

The grounds are occupied by Neil and Julia’s home, the Treetanic Bar, built as a shipwreck high off the ground in three mango trees, the restaurant and a few independently standing little bungalows which are for rent.   And the space in between the buildings, above and below too, is a fantastic carnival celebrating life and the pursuit of happiness.

Habitats for rents too!

Habitats for rent, too!

P.S. If the original guest register existed, I’m rather certain you would find a familiar signature: Theodore Geisel.

By Anita and Richard, September, 2013

Becoming Minimalists or “How Heavy Is That Suitcase?”

Blog0511-1010-1423-4936_Black_and_White_Cartoon_of_a_Girl_Carrying_a_Heavy_Suitcase_clipart_imageWe were enthusiastic and competitive participants in the game of life called “He who dies with the most toys, wins”. That is, until we decided to change our lifestyle to become perpetual travelers. In the year that we took to prepare for our new lives we had to make a huge shift in our attitudes about potential purchases. Almost overnight we went from active consumerism to answering our gold standard question “Will this fit in my suitcase?”

When we first moved to Padre Island in Corpus Christi, Texas, we drafted a hurricane evacuation plan in the event that we were forced to leave the island. This was a great rehearsal because it made us prioritize, select the few things that we could not replace and fit them in a finite space, our car. These items included: household files and documents, photos, family keepsakes and a few select pieces of art. When we started getting rid of our stuff, we tackled the irreplaceable list first.

blogfileCartoon 17611) We toted bags of files to a shredder service and finally winnowed our files and documents to a couple of envelopes that would fit in a safe deposit box. We made notarized copies of documents to take with us (birth certificates, background checks, university diplomas, etc.) and uploaded copies to Dropbox, a cloud-based file storage service.

2) As for the pre-digital era photo albums, I divided our pictures into two groups: a few quality professional photos and a huge quantity of not-so-great pictures taken over the years with point and shoot cameras.  After receiving a quote from a professional scanning service (the Scan Cafe), we boxed up the better quality pictures and old family photos, and mailed them off. The service took about a month from the time the pictures were mailed to when they were returned and cost about $150. blogkkin186lThe remainder of the photos we scanned ourselves into the computer.  I saved just a few pictures after our son, no sentimental slob, convinced me that he did not want the photo albums and would be content with a disc and to view the albums online. The last of the originals worth saving were mailed to friends and family. In the end, were able to take our pictures with us.

3) Richard had collected oil and water-color paintings, pen and ink drawings etc. during our marriage. He was able to place a few pieces with the Montana and Oregon Historical Museums (and console himself with the thought of sharing these with others). Many pictures were shipped to family and friends as gifts, a few were donated to charity fund-raising auctions and some were sold.

Blogpban8l4) Family Keepsakes. Again, we contacted various family members and shipped off what was wanted. The rest were sold.

One of the ways to keep our sentimental emotions tamped down as we shed our former life was to remind ourselves that all this stuff prevented us from doing what we wanted to do: travel. In the end we disposed of everything through two yard sales, Craig’s list, gifts to family and friends or charitable donations.

Throughout the year-long process of changing our lifestyle we tried to laugh as often as we could and worked hard to keep our sense of humor.blogggm090721l

By Anita and Richard, July, 2013

 

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