Tag Archives: consumerism

So This Is Christmas

When we left the US in early November the hype for the Christmas season was already in full swing, the stores decorated and temptations arrayed with SALE! SALE! SALE!  The ads on the TV bombarded us with visions of an idealized Christmas with attractive, middle-class families smiling and having the best of times, SPENDING! SPENDING! SPENDING!  It was the perfect time to flee…

Thankfully no one we know!

Thankfully, no one we know.

This is our fourth consecutive Christmas outside the US and except for missing our family (Yay Skype) we’ve enjoyed some holiday time with new friends we’ve made along the way in each of our temporary homes.  We’ve appreciated our role on the sidelines watching long-established celebrations with the emphasis on family and community traditions rather than the commercialism, excess and high expectations that we were a part of for so many years.

Mexico, 2012

Mexico, 2012

Nicaragua, 2013

Nicaragua, 2013

Colombia, 2014

Colombia, 2014

As we’ve walked and driven around and about Lagos we’ve discovered, somewhat to our surprise, that the city’s decorations are very low-key with few outside ornaments and lights although many of the store windows around the central plaza have a Christmas themed display.

A lurking Santa and an unlit Christmas light display

A lurking Santa and an unlit Christmas light display

Santa's sleigh

Santa’s sleigh

In fact, until you duck into the larger stores or souvenir shops you might not even know that Christmas is just around the corner.  But if you look up you might catch a glimpse of Santa clambering about the rooftops.A tiny Santa checking out the chimneys

And what will we do for the holiday? Since we’re still in the settling-in phase in our newly adopted city our answer is a very contented, “Not much.”  We have our poinsettia plant which has been shedding leaves steadily as our lone concession to decorating for the season and we’re already wearing our Christmas presents that we bought a few days ago at a Christmas market: shearling slippers. shearling slippers for Christmas

Christmas Eve we’ll celebrate in one of our favorite little restaurants with a British style meal of turkey and the trimmings and just enough Christmas carols to get into the Christmas spirit.  And, if we can keep awake long enough, maybe we’ll drive around the city to see how others make merry.  As for Christmas Day?  There are miles of nearly deserted beautiful beaches nearby…  Does it get any better than that?

Christmas elves

Christmas Elves

Feliz Natal y Feliz Ano Nova to you and yours,

Anita and Richard

 

Back in the Land of Too Much: Round Pegs in Square Holes

We returned to the US with a mission: Obtain approval from the Portuguese government for a long-term visa.  In addition to amassing the documents and jumping through the bureaucratic hoops we looked forward to visiting with friends and fam.  However, our return to “The Homeland” seemed to be a slow downhill slide from simplicity to unanticipated complications.

Now don’t get us wrong; we are true-blue, passport-carrying Americans.  We like to think of ourselves as a contented mix of sunny, southern California and mountainous, western Montana (the hot and the cold, the yin and the yang) who willing relocated in 2002 to North Padre Island in South Texas. Having experienced the phenomenon of reverse culture shock previously we prepared ourselves again for the symptoms and looked forward to our return with great expectations and anticipation. That was until things began to go decidedly south.

It began just before we left Portugal for a return to the States, three days before our departure, with a scramble for alternative accommodations after we received news that the place we were going to stay was no longer available due to a family emergency.  Summer in Corpus Christi is high season and, as beachgoers pour into the city to visit the seashore and island, availability goes down as prices go up.  We reached out to our former property manager/realtor who scoured her listings and found us an efficiency apartment – overpriced but within our budget and on the island for our stay.

Miles of beach and open sky - Padre Island

Miles of beach and open sky – Padre Island

Our second indication of the deep do-do which awaited us was found at the car rental counter of the airport in our adopted city. We had reserved a rental car for a couple of days with the idea that we’d find a cheaper rental offsite later. It was during this transaction that we discovered if you did not own an automobile, which was of necessity insured, you could not cover a rental with your car insurance. Well duh! So, (and here’s the rub) if the car was X dollars per day to rent the insurance was a whopping 2X dollars per day. Somehow $111.95 per day was a bit steep for a sub-compact auto which barely held us and our luggage.  We tried another car rental agency the next day with a representative who oozed charm (but no ethics) and tried to finagle the insurance issue.  Luckily for us, our insurance agent called him on the slight-of-hand, the distinction between renting and leasing a car.  If we’d had an accident it could have been ugly. And so we accepted that a rental car was not an option.

Plan B, suggested by our insurance agent – with rhyming first and last names, a wide and very white smile, brightly colored talons, who called us “Sugar” and blessed our day – was to lease a car. We grasped the lifeline and decided upon a $1300/month car from the only short-term lease agency in town.  We’d gotten our insurance down to a manageable rate but the 2000 a month mileage cap, which we’d been assured was something we could negotiate, was chiseled from granite.  A short time later, wiser and poorer, we finally shed ourselves of the lease vehicle and settled on Plan C:  We bought a car.  The deed was accomplished in less than three hours with the assistance from a friend who was also manager of one of a multi-sited, new/used dealership; we were the grudging but proud owners of a 2014 Toyota.  From dedicated minimalists to All-American automobile owners … again! We were going in reverse!!

But now, back to our temporary abode at the “resort.”  (Caution! Whining involved!) We’d always thought resort sounded a bit posh but found the name to be only a hopeful aspiration. Since our apartment was on the third floor we’d asked, and been assured that there was an elevator which we (kind of ) assumed worked reliably.  We did our grocery shopping during our stay with the idea in the back of our minds that one of us might have to lug that 10 pound watermelon up three flights of stairs.  We hung bags of Damp Rid around as festive decorations  to combat the atmosphere of cold clamminess resulting from a temperamental air conditioner. And, after a couple of years traveling in Central and South America where our lips touched only bottled water, we came home to a boil water order. However, we were still begrudgingly pleased to have a place in which to spread out, cook a few meals and call home as we visited with friends and family and worked on gathering the necessary documents for the long-term visas for Portugal. Never mind that we had to buy our own Wi-Fi hotspot for the apartment rather than trek to the common area, sans air conditioning, sweltering and seemingly dedicated to the idea of defining “humid.”  All in all our home-sweet-home was a place to flop and infinitely preferable to a motel on the sleazy side of the city.

And so it was that we chipped away at the tasks of daily living, with the attendant aggravations of all of the above mentioned, and worked on jumping through hoops and the issues of starting the process towards obtaining residency visas in Portugal. And slowly the tide turned.  We were fortunate to have been given an opportunity to housesit for very dear friends for three weeks and we gratefully escaped the 3rd floor apartment. We flew to Washington D.C. to present our long-term visa request to the Consulate’s Section of the Portuguese Embassy and visit family.  We spent a lot of time at the beach and catching up with friends. We made arrangements to store our car with other family members near Atlanta, a boon over storing it in a secured lot with no attention in south Texas. And we whiled away the remainder of our waiting period by taking off on what we called “Our Epic Road Trip” which encompassed crisscrossing the country a couple of times.

image available atbwww.jokesandhumor.com

image available atbwww.jokesandhumor.com

In the end the salient points were driven home amid the strangeness and the familiarity.  America is the land where what you need is available and what you want is within tantalizing reach.  It’s the land of too much, the land where things are expected to work. In return, each must play their role. Deviating from the act of acquiring is not an admired trait – it is met with incredulity, intransigence and roadblocks. Without a home, a car, a cell phone, internet connection, insurance, ad finitum, ad nauseum you are at the mercy of the marketeers. We felt but a smidgen of this disfavor and it was uncomfortably frustrating.  We were, in a real sense, strangers in a strange land.

By Richard and Anita

Back in the U-S-S-A

The sun was well up as the plane descended into the Miami International Airport.  It was just shy of twenty-three months since we’d loaded up two cars, deposited the keys with the property management company who would handle leasing our last substantial possession, our house on Padre Island, and headed north to drop off the last of the belongings with our son in Denver, CO. From there we’d flown to Mexico for several months of traveling around the Yucatan Peninsula followed by wanderings that encompassed every country in Central America.  And now, we were coming back “home”; wondering if we’d experience the reverse culture shock that we’d heard about from other long-term travelers.Flag photo from Padre Island

In Latin America we’d found border crossings to be either ridiculously easy affairs or protracted and potentially problematic even though we’d experienced nothing worse than inconvenient delays, minor price gouging and nasty public toilets. But the effortless return to the States was totally unexpected. We were directed to the Global Entry kiosks where we scanned our passports, filled in a bit of data, mugged for the camera, grabbed our print-outs and went to the friendly customs agents who welcomed us back home. Claiming our bags was not a problem and with no more than a nod and a smile we wandered off to find our next terminal to re-check our baggage en route to our first stop, Newark. So easy. It was all coming back to us. This is the States; things worked here, just like they were supposed to.

Since we’d been gone so long visiting family and friends was a priority and so we spent the month of August journeying from New Jersey to Virginia and then Washington, Colorado and, finally, Texas.  However, besides catching up with F&F we came to S-H-O-P. We were consumers with a mission to replace everything that was battered, tattered and worn from months on the road.  We needed new laptops; the original ones we had purchased were too large, too heavy and needed some major fixin’ expertise. New Kindle Fires had been ordered and awaited us at a relative’s home as well as new I-pods and all the other things that may not be essential but certainly make life easier as well as more enjoyable. We also replaced our luggage in a successful attempt to shed pounds by swapping out the 24-inch hard-sided, spinner-wheels suitcases. They were durable but not really practical for use on cobblestone streets or rutted roadways. And clothing; what we hadn’t abandoned in our last month in Panama was faded and limp, much of it obtained from the Nicaraguan stores called “Ropa Americanas” that sold slightly used clothing unwanted in the US.  And so we shopped from the east coast to the west coast to the Gulf coast for the light-weight, quick-dry, no-fuss clothing necessary for the tropical climes.  Lastly, we snagged new light-weight backpacks at REI in Denver as well as countless other little things on the list like vitamins, sunglasses, etc.

Consumerism is a crass word; it’s so negative and judgmental. It’s also quite apt. We shopped unabashedly. We shopped with glee and gusto. We shopped until we nearly imploded from sensory overload. It’s not possible for us to describe the experience. But a friend named Peter, a transplanted Floridian living in Costa Rica, referred to the US as the “land of too much”  and in this we can wholeheartedly concur.

And the take-aways? The reverse culture shock we’d been told of by fellow travelers? There were a few moments that were a bit disorienting, especially in some of the mega-grocery stores but the culture shock was much less than we’d expected.  However, some observations were duly impressed upon us.

Long distance travel in the States requires air transportation; flying is a necessary evil. There are really no practical or economical options. Of course, there’s Amtrak or Greyhound but chances are the destinations are not on the route or out-of-the-way. And, if you find a workable route it can take, literally, days to reach your destination and may actually be more expensive. For long distance traveling flying the friendly skies is really the only practical option. And for short distances it’s a private vehicle. Buses are inconvenient, cabs are prohibitively expensive and most cities are too spread out to be pedestrian friendly. Quite a contrast to our life on the road using feet, buses, shuttles, tuk-tuks, inexpensive taxis, pangas and water taxis; all forms of economical travel that don’t require an airport or SUV.

We put our home on North Padre Island on the market with little sentimentality and concern only for the market realities of supply/demand and what we may be able to pocket from the transaction.  It was a wonderful place while we were there and we’d intended it as our retirement home. But, it became our last possession that kept us rooted to a place that no longer fitted our needs. We suspect that we’re abnormal in this regard but there are a whole lot of places yet to be seen.

So no; there was no culture shock. But there was no culture fixation either. The US is unique both in history and in current time. It is pre-eminent for many reasons. And we love it dearly. It has given us the freedom to pursue this passion of ours for travel and new experiences. We are not spurning the US; we are bidding a temporary adieu. We shall return to visit and okay, “consume” quite often.

By Richard and Anita

 

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