Guatemala part 4 of ??? Antigua, 7 months and counting…

Gotta love the chicken buses.

Last night, I cried. I cried because I was angry. I cried because I was frustrated. I cried because I have no control or say of when we get our car back. I cried because I’m still here. Here in Antigua, Guatemala. Don’t get me wrong, comparatively to other people who are suffering fates worse than this I realize that my situation is trivial, but nonetheless, it’s not where I want to be and I have no control over that right now. We have been trying to get out of Guatemala with our car to continue our world trip since April. Since the world closed. Every time we come within a day of leaving, something happens. First it was Covid which closed all land borders around the world. Then it was the car, next it was a hurricane, then again the car, then again another hurricane and once again the car.

For those of you who don’t know, we broke some teeth off of our front differential while climbing the wash of Volcan de Fuego back in September. While we were at El Paredón for a month, we had some friends come and take the front axle to try to source parts and repair the diff. Well originally, the 4.10 parts they found didn’t work. So, we decided that if we had to order parts from the USA, we’d just as well re-gear the vehicle to the 4.88 to give us a bit more power for pushing up the hills that we, at some point on this journey, hope to encounter.  Well, when we contacted our friend, he told us that all parts were on back-order for two weeks due to Covid. Fucking Covid. Not only is it ruining lives and killing people, it’s brought industry down to its knees and nobody can get anything they need because manufacturing has all but closed its doors. So, after a three week wait, our parts finally shipped, but then we had to wait another week while it was held up at customs. Customs wouldn’t release the parts until we paid the customs and shipping fee, like the shipping fee from the US wasn’t already paid, but what else were we going to do? Literally it felt a bit like extortion. After paying for that, the parts were brought to our mechanic who was helping us in his off-time, so patience is a virtue, one that I am severely lacking. After getting the parts and beginning to assemble them, they realized that the bearings and spacers were missing from the kit they had sent, so we had to wait an additional two weeks for that. Once all of those arrived and were assembled, our mechanic took it out for a test drive and found slight noises coming from the diff still. So he took it all back out, disassembled everything and took it back to the shop to have the mechanic who set the ring and pinion re-do the entire thing. So, here we are, three months later and still no closer to leaving than we were in September. The only difference is that now, the borders are open, except for Costa Rica (depending on who the border agent is at the time you plan to cross) and we CAN’T leave.

In the meantime, we’re still in Antigua after returning from the beach and spending two months with our friends in Chimaltenango. Our friends were gracious enough to allow us to stay with them while we were waiting for our vehicle to be finished. Well, that was only supposed to last for two weeks, which turned into 4, which turned into two months. I was going crazy being there. It’s been a long time since we lived with anyone and the comings and goings, the noise, the fact that we were urban living… Those things are not things that we’re used to and the stress of not having control of all the stuff with the car was just wearing on us. We lived in the mountains for 13 years before setting out on this adventure. We are not city dwellers, we don’t like noise, we don’t like being in concrete jungles. We thrive in nature. Out in the wilderness in near isolation. That is what we’re good at and it’s what we enjoy. So after two months, we packed up our belongings and moved into another house in Antigua. The streets might be a bit busy, but it’s quiet. The feel is different. Though it’s “urbanized” it is a very colonial town, easy to walk around and surrounded by nature. We literally were able to walk in the first two days of being back in Antigua, more miles than we walked being in Chimaltenango for two full months, even-though we walked to the gym every day.

I love Antigua, don’t get me wrong. One of our friends said it’s like “Hotel California” you can check in anytime you like, but you can never leave. It really feels like that right now and I hate feeling trapped. It doesn’t help that we’re just a few weeks from Christmas and I was really hoping to be spending the holiday in Nicaragua with a tiny Christmas tree and baking cookies for Kaden. Living life on the road presents plenty of challenges and since we have always made the holidays a special time for Kaden, it’s something of a tradition that Kaden looks forward to since none of the rest of our lives are based in any kind of tradition, at least we got to celebrate Thanksgiving.

None of these things really would be a big issue, except that we need a timeline. There is paperwork that needs to be done, insurances to buy, covid tests that need to be taken and only 72 hours to cross borders before we have to get them again. If we stay through the end of December, we will have to renew our visas, and Kaden’s Passport expires in January, so he’s not eligible for an extension, not to mention the Embassy here in Guatemala has been closed since June, and we’ve been trying to get his passport renewed since April. All other embassies in central America are open and accepting appointments for passport services. Why not Guatemala? They are only open for emergency travel back to the US or an emergency passport to repatriate. Well, I’m not doing either of those things. Going back to the US is not on our list of things to do right now. And I certainly don’t want to spend my time in Airports that are germ infested with rampant Rona out of control, where I’ll potentially be in contact with Rona only to be picked up by someone who I might end up infecting. That’s not how I want this to play out. I’m safe here and everyone else is safer if they can limit their exposure to others. Since we’re trying to get into Costa Rica and the borders remain closed, we figured Nicaragua is a good place to get Kaden’s passport renewed while we potentially have to wait until March to cross into CR. Since Nicaragua is part of the CA-4 (Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua) you get a 90-day tourist visa stamped into your Passport book, and you only have 90 days to explore all of those four countries on the same stamp. You don’t get a new stamp in your passport to renew your time, you just get the days remaining from the time you first entered any of those four countries, hence our visa run to Mexico back in March. Due to covid restrictions of locking down the borders and grounding all flights, Guatemala and the CA-4 had stopped counting the visa days until the borders reopened and countries reopened, which for us just happened October 1. So, we had only used 2 days in march and our remaining 88 days didn’t re-start until October.

On December 16 we will have officially been in Guatemala for one whole year. This is the longest time we’ve spent in any other country outside of the USA. In that one year, we have moved to more places than we had moved to in 13 years in the mountains and we love that. Every time our view gets a little tiresome, or the grass gets a little too long, we pick up and find somewhere else to live. Moving is a lot less cumbersome when it consists of a computer bag and duffel bag of clothing. Of course it’s all made easier when we have our own vehicle, but walking to the market and asking someone if you can use their truck to move your entire house for $10 is much easier and cheaper than trying to rent a u-haul.

While all of these things mount up and push us to our breaking point, (even the ones I didn’t mention) cry as I might, I know that we have each other and I’m not the only one feeling this way. We (usually) have back up plans and no matter what happens or how hard things get, together we always pull through and I’m thankful for that.

Guatemala Part 3 of ??? Visa Run and Chiapas, Mexico

Kaden filling out his immigration form for entry into Mexico

After leaving Pana in March, it was time to hang out in Antigua and wait for the much-anticipated arrival of Semana Santa (which happens usually the first week of April and lasts a full week), but before we could do that we had to do a visa run to the Mexico border to renew our visas. We could have opted to just go to Guatemala City and head in to the immigration office and request an extension, but there was so much of the country we still wanted to explore before heading on to our next country. We were already planning on being up near the Mexico border, so we decided to just do the visa run, and see what we wanted to see in the northern territories.

We moved in to a little townhouse in Antigua that we rented through April (so Kaden would have kids to play with) and a few days after “moving” we set out on the road to explore some places we hadn’t yet seen. We left March 4 and decided to head out with our friend from Guatemala City to do a short, 10-day overlanding trip. Well, his Landrover broke down three times in 40 miles, so he decided to just give us names of his contacts in the areas we were headed to for safety purposes, this way we could get in touch with people nearby if we needed to.

The first night, we met a contact in La Union, he showed us a way to hop the Mexico border without having to stop at a border and go through all the customs and stuff. This was a good option because we weren’t ready to go through the Aduana and all the customs stuff just yet. I literally felt like a spy, secretly meeting someone in a red car at the corner of X and X looking for a man wearing ABC, and following him to a corner where he says “this is as far as I go, when you get to the four corners, turn left, go through the ranch and pay 50 pesos to the rancher and you’ll be allowed passage into Mexico.” We did just that and were at our camping spot in Mexico in a short 15 minutes after finding the dirt road that we were supposed to take through the ranchers land. We missed it the first time because there was a couple of dirt roads that were possible to take and each of them appeared to go in the same direction and there, of course, was no signage.

We set up camp and stayed there for a couple of days before heading back into Guatemala to explore the northern areas of Huehuetenango (Way-way tay-non-go). While on our short overnight trip into Mexico we went to Lagos De Colón. This place is far less known than Lagos De Montebello, however, it is equally beautiful with a much more local flare. It is also a Nature Preserve, you do pay admission to it, however, the place we camped was actually a family’s residence. They open it up for campers and have a couple of little casitas to rent. There is also day use with some palapas with electricity for use as well. You can rent them overnight for something like 50P-100P ($3-$6 USD) per night. Kaden made some friends and taught them how to play UNO and frisbee. They sang songs (in Spanish, none of them spoke any English). They spent time playing hide and go seek, soccer and just chasing after each other.

After spending a couple of days there, we ventured back into Guatemala, using the same route as we used to cross into Mexico. This time we didn’t have to pay the rancher, and there was a lot of traffic back and forth.

Nevermind that we did this totally illegally….

When it finally came time to cross the border into Mexico, since we were already in the northern area, we decided to try crossing at Gracias A Dios. This is open for pedestrians, but there is no SAT office or Aduana for vehicle renewal, cancellation or importation. They will not let you pass with your vehicle. The nearest border you can get a vehicle extension is over in La Mesilla, a 2  hour drive south. It was earlier in the day, so we decided to take our chances and cross at La Mesilla. Well, on the way, we hit numerous road blocks, police checkpoints and traffic from cattle herds crossing the roads or just standing in the roads. The 2 hour drive took almost 5 hours and when we got to the border we arrived 10 minutes after the border closed. No crossing for us until the next day. We turned around and found a hotel that cost $12/ per night. Nothing special, but it had a bathroom with hot water, 2 beds, it was pet friendly and just a two minute drive from the border with private, secured parking.

The next morning, Wednesday March 11 at 8am, we went to the SAT office Aduana and passport control. They explained to me that Covid restrictions would be in place and that the President planned on closing the Country on Monday. I explained that we were just crossing in to Mexico for a Visa run. They said to make sure we were back by Sunday morning at the latest or we would likely not be allowed to reenter Guatemala. After a little confusion with the SAT and renewal process of the vehicle import (mostly on the different agents at the SAT office) we headed in to Mexico. There was no exit fee and because we were traveling in the “zona libre” we didn’t have to get another import permit in Mexico, and the entry was free. We explored Lagunas de Montebello National Park and camped there for a couple of nights before heading back across the border Friday morning.

As soon as we arrived, the SAT officers recognized us (our vehicle is pretty recognizable) and waved us through to the Aduana. When we exited our vehicle, we were required to undergo a new health screenings and the health officials were telling us we needed to quarantine for 2 weeks. I explained to them we had just left and crossed into Mexico for two days just to renew our visas and that we were living in Antigua. They took our temperatures stamped our passports, renewed our vehicle permit and inspected our vehicle and we were on our way. 15 minutes start to finish. We returned on Friday just to make sure we had extra time if the president was planning on border closures, I didn’t want to be stuck out in Mexico when we already rented a house for two months in Guatemala.

When we reentered Guatemala, we checked out other places in Huehuetenango and drove through countless villages. Many of which don’t recognize Guatemalan government as their governing branch. They consider themselves sovereign states. They are scattered throughout the land all throughout Guatemala, but the signs posted speak for themselves. They denounce any form of government rule. Many of them are poor villages, uneducated but hardworking people. They live in shanties and are extorted by the cartels around every turn. They don’t make money, but some suffer violence at the hands of Narco traffickers if they don’t concede parts of their land for use by the cartels. Many people looked at us, very confused as we drove by. They aren’t used to seeing vehicles like ours driving out that way. Mostly small pickup trucks, tuk-tuks, chicken buses and scooters. I think some of it was fear. Fear that we were the latest round of Narcos coming for their money or land. As we waved and passed by, most of them waved back and gave us nods and smiles.

Guatemala part 2 of 4 (or more, who knows?) Panajachel

Kaden at the overlook in San Marcos at Cerro Tzankujil

So we’ve caught up to the first two months in Guatemala. Only 7 (as of this moment… Okay, now it’s 10) more months to catch everyone up on….

After spending a month in Antigua, Sacatepéquez and a month exploring around Petén and Cobán, we decided to head up to Sololá and spend some time at Lake Atitlán; Panajachel to be precise. We chose Pana due to the ability to actually park our car. They have a great camping area, but at the time we had Bronson’s mom visiting and splitting her time between Antigua and Pana. We also had friends coming to visit from the US, so we decided that renting a house would be best. We could park, do laundry, have a yard for the kids to play in and enough space for all 7-10 of us to be comfortable. In an area that relies on public transportation in the form of small Toyota pickups and tuk-tuks, there isn’t much room for our vehicle, albeit, we did see plenty of chicken buses driving through these tiny streets. We however, didn’t want to chance anything. We spent a month in Panajachel and explored all around the lake. While it is possible to drive around this lake, which is literally half the size of Lake Tahoe with similar attributes, the roads are narrow, steep and super windy, and you’re better off in a tuk-tuk. The trip around half of the lake will take you about 3 hours by car. The easiest way and pretty economical way is to either use a public boat to transport you to any of the other tiny villages that dot the lake for $1.75 each trip, or hire a private boat. We hired a private boat for an entire day and it cost us less than $100 for all 7 of us. They took us to every town we wanted to visit, waited for us while we explored, gave us tips about each village and even had guides waiting for us at each village ready to take us wherever we wanted to go. The price included tip. The guides at each stop was extra, but a tuk-tuk driver, personal chauffeur for the time we were in each village ran us about $15/ per tuk-tuk. That was going the expensive route. You can always walk the towns which is free, but some of these places, you’ll be wishing you hired the tuk-tuk. Your calves will burn and it’s the best butt work out since lunges and squats, but in the heat of the day… You’re secretly hoping an empty tuk-tuk drives by so you can wave them down and they can whisk you away to the safety of the cool, refreshing water in the lake.

Panajachel (pronounced Pana-ha-shell) is the biggest town situated on the lake. There you can find a large central market, lots of tiendas (stores) carrying any variety of items and a few larger grocery stores. For those of you who are organic conscious, they have a market for whole foods, though real, fresh milk is hard to find outside of a private ranch. Most milk is like the equivalent of evaporated milk, super-ultra processed for shelf life and rarely do you find any refrigerated milk. They have all the modern food choices that you have in the US, but not as many. They have great restaurants and easy access to all the other villages. It is the main thoroughfare, so it’s quite busy all the time. We were there in February and the weather was pleasant with abundant sunshine. Keep in mind, things we get in the US that are imported are more expensive in Guatemala as they aren’t part of NAFTA. They don’t have trade agreements like the US does (or did until recently). Vehicle parts are expensive, imported fruits and vegetables, clothes…. You name it. If it’s not made here in Guatemala, it’s expensive relative to the US.

While in Pana, there are lots of things to see and do. You can hike a volcano, go zip-lining and see a butterfly sanctuary, walk around Santander (the main tourist street) where you get haggled from every vendor at every store, peruse the central market, visit the other towns that line the lake, even an island in the lake. If playing in the water is the thing you want to do, the best place to do that is at Cerro Tzankujil in San Marcos La Laguna. You pay Q15, which is the equivalent of $1.75 per person and you walk on the trail until you reach a wooden platform where you can jump about 30 feet (10m) to your death. Okay, okay, not really your death, but when you’re staring at it from up there is sure seems like it could be the end of you. There are tree limbs that hang over the water and a ton of rocks at all different heights to jump from. There are benches along the path that you can claim (by leaving your stuff on it) and relax at while taking in the beauty and serenity of the lake. To get there from the town takes a little imagination as the pathway isn’t really clearly laid out, at least it wasn’t when we were there. You take some back alleyways to get there and you feel like you’re trespassing on private property or at the very least you feel like you’re sneaking around just waiting to get caught. But I assure you, these tiny little alleyways are public and they pass just outside of people’s private property, so you’re safe. If you get lost, you can always ask the villagers, you will no doubt, pass by them around every turn and in all of these alleyways.

All of the towns around the lake have something different to offer. Many of them have women weaving the traditional traje (shirts and skirts) that the Mayan men and women wear. It is amazing to see them work. Their clothing is dyed naturally using plants and bugs they find in the wild. They spin cotton by hand here still and the things they make are mostly handmade. There aren’t very many big factories here and they don’t make it a habit to import a lot of stuff because it’s too cost prohibitive for them economically. Most everything that we’ve bought here has been of the highest quality and hand made (even the chocolate, my favorite chocolatier is featured in the last picture, Dina of Dina’s chocolates). I bought a leather purse and got to choose the fabric I wanted to embroider it with. Bronson and Kaden both got leather backpacks and chose their fabric as well. All three bags high quality and handmade by the shop owner who you were able to talk to and personalize your order with. No middleman, no management hierarchy. I asked for him to make a shoulder strap for my purse as it didn’t come with one. He put loops and a leather strap on it for me too. All customizable and for less than picking ONE run of the mill leather bag from any leather store in Anytown, USA.

All in all, Lake Atitlán is quite an amazing place, there is a town for everybody. There are tons of things to see, plenty of delicious foods to choose from and the textiles are beautiful, though my favorite patterns originate in Chichicastenango. That’s where the pattern that all three of us chose for our bags originates, just to give you an idea. Each department has their own unique style and the longer we stay, the more apparent they become. Each style represents a different tribe of Mayan people and each tend to speak a different Mayan language. Guatemala is really a fascinating country with so much to see and do and so much culture to learn about. If you ever venture out to Guatemala, give yourself some time. NOTHING happens fast.

Guatemala part 1 of 4

Bronson being hounded by local Mayan kids. It’s not very often they see fair skinned people around and they were fascinated by him.

While the rest of the US seems to be grappling with issues of race, gender identity, personal beliefs vs rights, and wanting to forget that history ever happened, people keep asking how we are down here in Guatemala. So, here’s our update.

We’ve been in Guatemala since December 16, 2019. As I write this today, it’s June 21, 2020. We had intended on only staying through Semana Santa in April, but then #RONA hit and ruined our plans to go further south. During the first three months, things down here were wonderful. Everything was open, you could move freely anywhere at any time on any day. We spent the first month exploring the northern Petén region of Guatemala which is full of lush jungles, tiny villages and lots of indigenous Mayan people. It has a ton of Mayan Ruins, the most famous being Tikal. It is also a region that is so dense with jungle that Narco traffickers use it as a major trafficking route. Luckily throughout our exploration of the region, we didn’t run into any problems. We drove all the way from the Belize border to the Pan-American highway, took the Pan-Am for about an hour before veering off to another unpaved highway (that was only 28 miles long) to get to Lanquin on the way to Semuc Champey. The drive was beautiful, but the roads were awful. The 28 miles took us 3.5 hours. It was windy, rocky, single lane with passing traffic and by that, I mean micro buses.

This road took us 7 hours and three of those hours were just the last 28 miles, from Poptun to Semuc Champey.

When we arrived in Lanquin, we stayed at this little hotel, about 30 minutes from Semuc Champey which reminded me of Agua Azul in Mexico. A lot of small, cascading waterfalls with lukewarm, turquoise water. It’s a short hike down, and the scenery is phenomenal. There is a hike up to the look-out where you can view the entire cascade, but we didn’t take it because my knee wasn’t feeling like cooperating with us that day. You can walk on the sendero (trail) from the eastern most part to the west part and back up to the parking lot. It’s not really that far, but it’s kind of steep to get down, nothing dangerous. There were lockers you could put your things in, but you have to bring your own lock. There were people in the parking lot trying to sell us things, trying to get us to pay for a guide. Haggling.  This used to bother us, but after being in so many different places and realizing that this is their job, and if they don’t hustle, they don’t put food on the table, it bothered us much less.

After leaving Semuc Champey, we went to Coban, ate lunch and headed to Chimaltenango. We rented a house there for Christmas and were invited to a Christmas celebration by a neighbor around the corner. For two whole weeks, fireworks were being fired off in the streets at all hours, day and night. On Christmas day, we were getting ready to take the dog for a walk, we opened the door and as we were putting her leash on, she freaked out from all the explosions and bolted across a highway where she got hit by a car. We scoured the neighborhood for 6 hours before we finally found her hiding out in some random garden on the side of the highway, a couple of blocks from the house. She had a puncture wound and she was limping, she had crepitus when we would pet her. I decided to take her to an emergency vet. It was 11 pm. The nearest emergency vet was in Guatemala City, nearly an hour away. Kaden was crying hysterically, thinking Roxy was going to die. And honestly, I wasn’t too sure she was going to make it either with the way she was guarding and her shallow breathing. She was in a lot of pain. The good news was, she was fine. The Vet kept her overnight to monitor her, cleaned and glued her puncture which was superficial. No dying for our dog that day, thank our lucky stars.

While in Chimaltenango, we met a lovely family who eventually became like an adopted family to us here in Guatemala. I now have three more brothers another sister and another mother. It’s wonderful to make these connections. We were invited to a parade for New-Year’s day, which we ended up being part of.  From Chimaltenango we went to Antigua where we rented a house for a month, exploring coffee farms, taking tours of neighboring towns, taking in the magical colonial town that is built on old Mayan ruins, and when walking around town, you find random ruins scattered throughout the town literally everywhere on nearly every street. They are not hard to find by any means. The main Mercado (Market) is right across the street from one and backs up to another.

Our new, extended Guatemalan Family




This country packs a lot into such a small country. From vast jungles, to beautiful oceans and mountain towns, desolate tiny villages and enormous cities. There is surely something for everyone; if you’re willing to trade luxury for minor inconvenience.

Money Matters!

credit cards

Nobody likes talking about finances, well hardly anyone. In the USA it’s pretty taboo to even speak of money in conversation. However, in this post, I’m going to address some issues of money matters while traveling abroad and help inform you readers of what you can expect if you’re planning on visiting another country and need some cash.

If you’re up to date with technology, meaning 21st century, it’s likely that you bank online and have apps installed on your phone to monitor your credit cards and bank accounts. If you do, just make sure you’re checking all that stuff on a secured network, not an open network. People can steal your data really easily from an open network. Since we’ve been traveling out of the USA, we’ve been unfortunate enough to run into a gamut of problems with the safety feature, two-step verification for all of our accounts. I’m talking any account that holds any payment information from Hulu and Netflix to Amazon and our Banks. All of the banking apps we have on our phones these days require a two-step verification process if for some reason you lost your phone or forgot your password or changed your phone number or e-mail address. This is a great measure of security, but when traveling abroad for any extended period of time and having to do banking can often be a little stressful. For example, we have credit cards with Capital One. They have been awesome. Every time I’ve ever had to call, I don’t wait forever to talk to a live human being and they have always been able to resolve any of the issues I’ve had. The problem comes when you change your SIM card while traveling abroad and then try to login either with your fingerprint or with your password. The online system will lock you out. I actually had to set up a skype US number that I can use for all of my two-step verifications. This was $50.00 for the year. However, there are still some companies that won’t verify through a VOIP program because the phone number doesn’t have a “user account” associated with it. Meaning, the number is unregistered with any company and they can’t verify who actually owns or has possession of that phone number.

The work around? I have the app on my phone and I login from my laptop. Capital One asks to send me a verification code and they default to your US phone number, which is great… If you still have it. They give other options, one being a phone call (You can’t use skype until you update it in your account contact information) and the other being opening the app from your phone and verifying that you’re actually trying to access your account. The caveat— Don’t replace your phone and computer at the same time, then you’re shit out of luck and have to call them. I was fortunate enough to be able to verify through the app and it logged me in on my computer. From there, I went in and changed my contact info and updated with my Skype number and set it to default. The online system gave me the green light and said that I could now use that number for notifications. I still have yet to see if it will.

Our bank had the same problem. Even if you have a travel notice set with the company, if you change the SIM card in your phone, they will request a two-step verification to make sure it’s actually you trying to access your account. I love this option in theory. When I’m in Belize and I’m trying to get money from an ATM machine and the ATM says “unauthorized, contact your bank” it really puts a damper on the trip. I will usually try logging in from the app and verify the purchase, then it will allow me to withdrawal money. If it doesn’t show that I even tried to access money, I then have to call the bank and figure out what the hell is going on. Usually it’s a problem with the ATM server not communicating with our bank. This happens a lot in Guatemala. Often times the merchant’s bank is not authorized to connect to an out of country server, which is why it’s super handy to be able to access cash from an ATM. We’ve run into this problem a few times with merchants, online purchases and ATM’s. They all have different parameters they work in. In larger, more developed cities, you’ll have an easier time using a debit card for Point Of Sale purchases. In most smaller towns and villages, cash is king- still, and always.

Mint Mobile

One way we’ve been able to work around it is using Mint. You can purchase a SIM card for $5.00 USD at Best Buy. They give options for calls, SMS and Data and plans start at $300.00/year. Yes, you read that correctly. Three-Hundred dollars per YEAR. I had the 12 Gb plan and it was $130 every 3 months, but if you prepay your whole year, the cost decreases. We also don’t do a lot of streaming, so we don’t really need Unlimited data. With Mint, you pay in advance for a 3-month, 6-month or 12-month plan. The network is great and we never had a problem connecting while in the USA or Mexico. They also offer a roaming package when you leave the US. When in Canada and Mexico, the rates are very reasonable and international data can be bought in $10 or $20 packages. They charge you per minute (something like $0.02 per minute and something Similar per Mb of data.) Our data, phone and SMS service in Mexico went far. I never had to recharge my international roaming balance while we were there for the month. Once you’re out of Canada or Mexico, Mint still works, but the cost increases significantly. You can really burn through your data on the plan, so if you want to use it and are going somewhere else outside of the US, Canada and Mexico, make sure you turn off your roaming data. Then you can turn it on when you really need to access it. We are still able to use the Mint SIM, but I’ve opted to put it into our Verizon jetpack MiFi. This way I can still receive texts for the two-step verification and I don’t use any data, so I’m not spending a ton of money trying to keep my balance in the black. We’ve tried using Verizon and getting the daily package, but it’s expensive and nearly NEVER works. You’ll have better luck with T-mobile. In Mexico, T-mobile works on the Telcel and Movistar networks. We get SIM cards for our phones in whatever country we’re in and send our new info home on a VOIP program like Viber, Skype or WhatsApp. This way we can be contacted from home and local companies and new friends can contact us on local numbers. We’ve found it very helpful to have local numbers when you’re staying abroad for an extended period. More about communications in another post later.

ATM's

No matter where you go, money matters. We don’t like carrying a lot of cash, but it’s necessary in many small towns and villages. If you don’t mind carrying cash, try to order cash from your home banking branch prior to setting out on your trip. The exchange rate is about the same as you’ll get at an ATM machine, but if you’re unfortunate enough to have a bank that charges international banking fees, the cost of withdrawing money from a foreign ATM can end up costing you a small fortune. Not even kidding. Credit cards (depending on who you use) often don’t have the international fee’s the banks charge. Check with your bank prior to take off to see if they charge international exchange rate fees. Many ATM’s in foreign countries will charge you, then you’ll get hit with the exchange fee from the bank, plus the ATM fee. If you bank with USAA or US Bank or Charles Schwab (to name a few), they don’t charge you the international fees or ATM fees or will reimburse you for all ATM fees you incur. This could save you literally hundreds of dollars for your trip, depending on how often you need to withdrawal money. I suggest pulling out as much cash as you can in a case like this, because it prevents you from having to visit the ATM as often.

What About Sex?

When we tell people that we’re traveling the world in this ambulance over the course of the next 8 years, a very common question is what we do about having our adult time and how to have sex in such open and close quarters.

The answer? It’s difficult. Constantly having to be quiet, or not move too much to avoid shaking the ambulance and waking the kid. Sometimes we send him out under a palapa in the hammock or in his own tent with the dog and his toys at night so we can have our separation. It’s not ideal, but neither is the way we are living our life to most people. We use stolen moments. For example, if we find a shower (think USA Federal and State parks), we’ll pop in there and do our business. Recently, we’ve been finding it difficult as we travel the interior of Mexico to find places to camp and spread out, so we’ve rented houses for two weeks. That has been helpful because we each have a separate room. Other than that, we make Kaden play outside until we tell him he can come back inside. Or if he’s out and about playing with other kids too busy to notice we’re not there, we take those moments. The short of it is, we find stolen moments and use them when we can. The topic comes up so often, I’ve consorted with other families doing the same thing. Some of them have actually built separate sleeping quarters for themselves away from their kids. That would be awesome, but our configuration doesn’t allow for that and many others in this lifestyle are driving vehicles smaller and more confined than us.

Another question we get is, how do we fund this trip? Are we super wealthy? The answer is: No. Not by a long shot. We have endured a great many hardships to get to where we are, as have most of the people traveling like we are. In the crash of 2006-2008, we lost everything. We lost a home to foreclosure because we moved and couldn’t sell it, changed jobs, filed for bankruptcy, had a baby and moved again to a family-oriented community. We re-built our credit and learned from the last crash, what not to do. We started watching the financial markets and looked into diversifying our investments. The thing we did have going for us was, we had always thrown money into a retirement account. Both of us had been saving for retirement. I started when I was 16, Bronson started when he was 23. When we transferred to public safety, both of us were able to use the money in our retirement accounts and roll it over to purchase an additional 5 years of service. We also took every pay raise and put that money into our retirement accounts. We looked at cost cutting around every corner, and never bought anything on credit. If we couldn’t afford to pay cash, we couldn’t afford it. Every credit card we had was always at 0% interest and would be paid off every month. We would buy things with credit cards to continue to build credit, we just never carried a balance. We’ve been living like this for the last 13 years. When we were both forced to retire, because we had already been living on so much less than we actually took in, the loss of income didn’t hit us very hard. I collect only 23% of what I was making when I was working and Bronson collects 52% of what he was making. We literally average less than 40% of our working salary, and we are still able to afford to travel around the world and not have to work.

Another question is “what about school?” The answer is: “what about it?” Having been on the road, non-stop for the last 8 months, we’ve been doing an online homeschooling program. I originally looked in to numerous state sponsored programs that were free. The problem is they require in person meetings every week and you get your homework assignments for the next week on Friday of the previous week and all assignments are due on the following Friday. We knew going into this that wasn’t going to be an option. Many places we plan on being are not going to have internet connection and I’m not flying home every week to have a meeting with a teacher for an hour. I found a great online private school called Keystone Online. They’re based out of Pennsylvania and the cost is around $2500.00 per year. They have a curriculum to follow and it can be done at your own pace over a 12-month period. It is 100% online and they also send you school books and materials so you don’t have to worry about coming up with a curriculum on your own and trying to register it with your home state. They offer Diplomas when the child has completed high-school and you are assigned a homeroom teacher should you have any questions. A friend of mine recently told us about a program called “out-school” You pay per course and you have numerous courses to choose from and the classes are scheduled on certain days and hours. There are programs like Khan Academy, Southwestern Advantage and International school online. I like Khan academy, they’re free. Southwestern Advantage is $20.00 USD per month, but I think you have to buy the equivalent of the set of encyclopedia Britannica in a set of 6 books. This set of books has 3 different ways to teach your child everything they need to learn in school all the way from Kinder to College. The courses include Language Arts, Mathematics, Social Studies, Science etc. They also send 6 additional books about anatomy and physiology, space/astrophysics, zoology, earth science and so much more. The subscription also allows you to login to the Southwestern Advantage site which has a parent corner. The parent corner discusses all sorts of issues from scheduling as a new homeschooler, behavioral issues with the children, how to recognize when you the parent need a break and what to do. There’s a whole community out there waiting to help you if you need it. The short of it is, you need to find a program that works for whatever it is that you’re doing. I can e-mail Kaden’s homeroom teacher and tell her what our plans are for the day and have it take the place of his history lesson if I want. The school is very flexible with what you can substitute for learning as long as it fits within the category of Language arts, Science, Math, Social Studies or whatever elective course you’re taking.

The next question we get often, mostly from American and Canadian travelers who go to the same places year after year for decades is “aren’t you scared?” Our answer: “Scared of what?” The same things that happen anywhere you go is the same thing that will happen in your home country, state, city or town or province. It’s all relative. Often times I should have been way more scared to show up to work than to leisurely travel the world with my family. Sure, I may not be able to bring my weapons with me, and if I’m lucky, I’ll never have to use it for my personal protection. The same thing could be said for me being at home. I could be at home when something bad happens and guess what, I don’t wear my gun on my hip when I’m home. I could “what if” the shit out of the what could happen, but it doesn’t do me much good to overthink it. If I did that I’d never have left my house. The problem we see, as I can really only speak for America, is that our news is so tainted with all the bad shit that happens everywhere. What you don’t see is where those things are happening. It would be like me saying “there was a terrible mass murder in California, don’t go there.” Well folks, California is a big state with nearly 40 million people living in it. It encompasses nearly 164,000 square miles. If this mass murder thing in California happened in Los Angeles, does that mean you shouldn’t visit San Francisco which is 380 miles and 7 hours away? No. We don’t let fear govern our lives. We are smart about the places we go and the things we do. We don’t paint big targets on ourselves by having and showing off expensive stuff. We do our best to blend in where we can. Some places we go, the boys are so light skinned they stick out like a sore thumb and others where I am so dark I stand out. Just be smart about where you plan on going. Map a route to get there. Check resources on the internet and ask other local people. We were just told yesterday by a guy at the suspension shop that traveling south and east from here in Guanajuato is very safe, but still try not to drive at night unless absolutely necessary and if we do, stay on the toll roads. He also said it’s best not to drive at night because sometimes on the toll road, there are corrupt officials that will pull you over and impound your car and you’d have to wait to see a magistrate until the morning to get your vehicle back or pay them your hefty fine on the spot. So, note to self, don’t drive at night unless absolutely necessary. Just be vigilant and do some homework and make sure to have a back-up plan. Sometimes it’s best not to let the officials know you speak Spanish. You have to be able to read people and gauge a situation. Don’t do dumb shit.

The hardest thing about traveling in the interior of Mexico has been the lack of open camping. It seems that everywhere you go there is private property or a city. The streets in these places are pretty narrow once you get off of the Carreterra. We’ve had quite a few near misses that gave us pucker factor for sure. And since losing our ladder and partial solar panel with a hole through our roof under a “Puente” that was rated at 2.5 meters and we’re 2.5 meters tall we’re a little gun-shy about going under some of these bridges and in some tunnels where we can clearly see that tall vehicles have completely scraped the rocks with their roofs. I don’t want to do that again, it was bad enough the first time. Driving this ambulance in these cities is tough. Huge blind spots, you can’t look out to see behind you because you have an entire additional foot of space behind you that is blocked by the ambulance box so you only have mirrors. Usually I’m the one getting out and guiding Bronson to either back up or move into traffic. We can see behind us, but we can’t see to the sides of us and that’s a huge blind spot.

The next hard thing is that we have no personal space. This one is huge for me. I have always been independent. I love having my own space with my own stuff where I can go away and have total and complete quiet. Well, since being on this trip I’ve had none of that. NONE. And neither have they. We get on each other’s nerves all the time. There is some yelling, every now and again the crazy side of me comes out and I look and sound like the devil, but hey, I own that shit.

It’s not easy doing what we’re doing, but we make the best of it. The boys seem to throw their shit everywhere and cannot keep the inside clean. I’m constantly nagging them to pick up their shit and then they are always asking me if I’ve seen their stuff. No, I haven’t seen your stuff, but I guarantee if you always put it back in the same place you’ll never lose it. This concept seems to be lost on the boys and I can’t stand it. I’m constantly sweeping the floors, wiping down the countertops and dusting. I’m not saying I’m perfect. That is so far from the truth it’s not funny. We all have our shortcomings. I’m sure if I sat down and thought about it, the list of my shortcomings would be much longer than the boys combined. Bronson is by far the hardest worker of all of us. He researches everything that could and will go wrong with this vehicle. He’s already researching our next vehicle when we sell the ambulance and trade down to something smaller and more maneuverable. Yes, I said downsize even more. He is a tinkerer, so he’s really good at seeing how things function and can troubleshoot just about anything. Kaden is a sponge, so he’s soaking up a ton of knowledge about vehicle maintenance, school, chores, history, responsibility, self-initiation and getting a first-hand lesson of how pride can get in the way of your ability to learn. I’m the translator, teacher, grocery list maker and shopper, safety officer, finder of everybody’s everything, navigator and interior cleaner. We each have our roles and the longer we’re on the road, the more our roles change and intertwine. It’s important to stay fluid in responsibility. If one of us adults gets hurt, the other has to know how to take on the other roles.

We argue, we yell, we cry, we laugh. We even laugh sometimes because we can’t cry and it won’t do us any good to yell because there’s nobody to yell at and place blame on. We take the good with the bad because we are a family. Together there isn’t anything we can’t get through.

 

Ambulicious

After so much time deciding what kind of vehicle we were going to purchase we thought the Nissan NV would be the vehicle until… We drew out the space in the garage and stood inside it without anything built in. The first thing we noticed was, we barely had enough room to move around in it with just the two of us without our son or cabinetry/bed/kitchen space. I quickly decided it was not going to work for our intended purpose and nixed the idea.

So began our search for a new vehicle… After looking at box trucks, moving vans, military vehicles and such, we decided to look at ambulances. Sure, some of you might think it’s gross, unsanitary ot haunted, but the reality is, they’re not, it’s not. Speaking practically, the box is big. It has all the lights, pump functions, heat and air, full bench seat and rotating jumpseat. They also have mass amounts of “counter” space and the kicker??? Complete internal and external storage built to withstand any type of crash test you could put it through and built to run forever (taking the box and putting it on another chassis, that is).

We searched high and low to find one and managed to locate one that had originally been specked out to a volunteer fire department. Come to find out, that department had only used it as a support vehicle, so it never carried patients.

When we bought it, it came complete with lights, sirens, comms system and PA still working. It had all the EMS decals and some basic original equipment. We saw it online and 3 days later we flew to pick it up and drive it home.

W

e named her Ambu-licious. We retrofitted he interior invluding a new leather RV couch/bed, acacia wood floors, butcher block countertop and leather jumpseat complete with massage and heat.

We sent her to get the engine bullet proofed. By that I mean we sent her off to basically have everything in the engine re-done and beefed up and tuned for horsepower and oxygen efficiency at high altitudes. When she was done with those things, we sent her to get a 4wd system and a 6″ lift.

After all the work was done, we flew out to pick her up. 30 miles out of Salt Lake City, one of the inner cooler hose blew. Of course, it would be THE THINGS that weren’t replaced initially. We turned around and went back to the engine shop, got that replaced and headed back out heading home. Thirty miles out of Salt Lake City, we blew another one. Turned back around and got that one replaced. Now we have new everything under the hood. We made it home and took her out for her maiden voyage camping trip that night.

We drew lots of attention at the campground. We even “showcased” it. People we’re intrigued by it, but it also sparked ideas in many of them.

The next day, we took Ambu-licious to an engineer to work out Solar for her and figure out battery life to run everything without the engine. He’s also custom building a front bull bar with winch. That should be done in a few more weeks.

Unrealistic Expectations: What you don’t see Vs. What you do see

Today I was thumbing through my friends posts on Instagram and Facebook looking at pictures of everyone in their Halloween costumes.  All the smiling faces and perfectly done make-up. I have to say, this year, we KILLED it with our costumes. Not that there aren’t better costumes out there, but we pieced our costumes together (though our little guy insisted on being Master Chief from HALO and I’m not good enough to make that shit) and spent hours perfecting the make-up. It’s awesome to see the finished product, but what about everything not photographed (or maybe is) and the reason we choose not to post them?

I think most of that is due to self preservation. First off, we all want a presence on social media without being too revealing. After all, some things in life are definitely meant to be kept private. More often than not, we really only show what we want people to see. Guilty as charged. All too often pictures are photoshopped or in some instances the phone has a setting that automatically does it making you or your landscape look “perfect.” But here’s the deal, NOBODY/NOTHING IS PERFECT! We typically post things we are happy to let people see, but not the entire scope of how we got that really awesome picture. I’m not just talking about portraits. I’m talking about sitting at the right place at the right time to get the perfect exposure. Adjusting the camera’s settings just to the right ISO, adjusting the aperture and getting just the right angle in hopes of capturing the beauty of which your eye sees.

What you don’t see is the arguing about where the fuck we are and where we’re supposed to be. You don’t see the anger and frustration of the indecisiveness of either party. You don’t see the temper tantrums of a young kid that’s hangry. Yep he turns in to quite the devil child once he gets hungry. You don’t see the disruptions of travel plans and the angst from hundreds of travelers when we’re all on a train at 11 pm heading to Rome when suddenly the train stops and everyone is ushered off the train to busses in order to continue the trip with no explanation, yet we all know the trip is now going to be an additional 3 hours come to find out someone decided to end their life by jumping onto that railroad. I’m sure with that revelation, we can all spare 3 hours. You don’t see our frustration when we’re reading and following a map, but the map is wrong (think Venice, Italy) or there’s no legend to follow so we have to hope we know which direction is North on the damn thing. We may even get lucky to have a local give us directions specifically by the number of turns we have to make and the number of doors we must count to arrive at our final destination. Yet despite their best efforts and our best attempts, we still get lost over and over again while the sun is setting and we have yet to find our hotel. You don’t see the anger we exude when we’re trying to use the GPS to map our location, but the GPS is delayed and so we circle around the same roundabout 4 times waiting for it to catch up and continue to do this while navigating the streets of London and Paris (it started out funny, didn’t end up funny). We’re too busy being pissed and arguing with each other to even think about snapping pictures. What you do see is this:

The issue is, we have expectations. When our expectations are not met, we get irritated. Irritation turns to frustration which turns to anger and eventually a melt down if you can’t get control of yourself and your emotions.

We expect a map to be correct, the GPS to work and track our location. We expect to have cell service or at least wifi, and to have an eventful trip without too much hassle. We expect a level of cleanliness when we book a hotel or home or room. We expect that hotel standards around the world would be the same as in America. We expect to have our meals served with a smile and we expect that we’re going to have to leave a tip. We expect the food we ordered will come in a timely fashion and that we’ll have extra time budgeted so we don’t run out of time to see the things we vacationed to see. We expect when we are seated at a restaurant, the server will come offer us drinks and then take our order when our drinks arrive. We don’t expect to have to ask for any of these things because we’ve been trained as Americans to expect these things will just happen.

When we vacation, we’ve learned to leave our expectations at home. Mostly because if you have too many expectations you’re asking for a trip full of disappointment. A girlfriend of mine once told me that we  “are travelers, not vacationers.” In a way, she’s right. We travel to immerse ourselves into other cultures and learn more history about the places we visit. We venture into areas most tourists won’t go because it’s out of their comfort zone. We talk to locals and ask them where they go to get away from tourists and we go there. We’ve stayed in some pretty dank places and some areas that really had us questioning whether we should cancel our booking and find somewhere else to sleep or just chance sleeping at a train station. We’ve hopped on the back of a random person’s motorbike to catch a ride back in to town with varying degrees of mistrust. But we always have found that we can rely heavily on our instincts to guide us in the right direction.

When you’re walking through the ghetto seeing graffiti, and you spot your “hotel” room you start questioning the area… Then you get up to your room and see the XXX Adult shop across the street, next door to the liquor store and you kind of know it was probably a bad choice. But we still give it a chance, unless there’s something egregious that jumps out at us that makes us run for the hills. We make sure to pack light, just in case we need to get out in a hurry and we generally don’t travel for less than 3 weeks. If it doesn’t fit in our backpacks, it doesn’t go.

You may not see pictures of us arguing, or giving each other the cold shoulder or getting short with our son, but you will see unadulterated pictures of beautiful scenery and us in our natural state of being. Sometimes I don’t want to pose for a picture and sometimes I don’t want to hike up that f%&*ing mountain. I can even be seen flipping off the camera in those instances. We don’t photoshop and we don’t try to show things that aren’t there. We try only to capture the things we see with our eyes. Often, the way we see it through our eyes cannot truly be captured in a photo. So we stop expecting things to be what we want and start accepting the way things truly are wherever we go.

It’s All About the Journey

 

 

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Umpteen years ago, I was walking in to work at 0-dark-o’clock and said out loud, “I can’t wait until I can retire.” My co-worker and friend said “really, what are you going to do in retirement, find another job to occupy your time?” I looked at her with a look of extreme puzzlement on my face and said “There’s a whole world out there for me to explore. I’ll never be able to see everything I want to see in my lifetime.”

We’ve been fortunate enough to be able to take a month off at a time which is nearly impossible for most American working class. Many other countries get 4-6 weeks off every year rather than the 2 we are allotted as Americans in this working system imposed on us to do more with less and make shit work.

Over the course of the following few years, I had so many of my co-workers and friends ask me “where to this time?” I usually have an answer without hesitation because I usually start planning our next trip as soon as the current trip ends.

When I told this particular friend of mine that we were going to Croatia, she said “Croatia? Who goes to Croatia? How did you even think of that country to begin with?” The answer is simple. I look at pictures, I read travel books, I read reviews on cities, I make contact with people who live there or have been there and what they recommend. We take under consideration, the time of year we plan to go and what the weather will be like, the type of things we want to see (historical, beach, mountains, seclusion or city, etc.) and how much time we have to spend traveling.

Upon embarking on our trip to Croatia, we flew in to Budapest and spent some time in Hungary. Attended a festival we didn’t even know existed which happened to be the biggest music festival in the world. We bathed in the roman baths, went spelunking, ate wonderful Turkish food, sweat out every ounce of water we drank and at times felt like we were suffocating in the heat of the hottest summer Hungary had ever experienced…EVER. We sat on trains with no air conditioning and even with the windows down, no air coming in because the air was perfectly still outside. Totally miserable yet at the same time, exhilarating seeing the beautiful architecture and smelling the deliciously mouthwatering food from all the street vendors. Walking through huge meat and farmer’s markets in the middle of the city and watching people on trains and busses about to lose their dinner after drinking too much. We drank wine in a cave and got lost too many times to count, but that’s always been the best part traveling to us. Even-though we argue and sometimes I feel like going fists to cuffs, we always end up making it through the rough patches, but those are the things we remember the most.

To get to Croatia, we went through Slovenia. A beautiful country in its own right. So many beautiful buildings, colorful architecture, cobblestone streets and lines zig-zagging every which way on the street that I’d never be able to figure out how to drive there. Trying to speak any Slavic language is totally beyond us and Google translate only works if you have downloaded the language to be used offline or have internet connection. We stopped numerous times to ask for directions and information about what trains to take to get us where we wanted to be. Most of the people we’d encountered were very courteous even if they didn’t speak our language even though they knew we didn’t speak theirs. They’d ask if we spoke any Hungarian, Slavic, German, or Turkish because just about everyone we’d encountered spoke at least 2 or sometimes 3 of those languages. They’d even say they speak “a little” English. Well, their idea of “a little English” is a lot different than our idea of “a little.” They were all damn near fluent in English. Add that as language #5 for the Hungarians and Slovenes!

We spent some time at Lake Bled which by all means is a “Little” Lake Tahoe. It’s surrounded by beautiful tree covered mountains and has its own island with a sprawling cathedral. The water is cold but swimmable and so clear boats look as if they’re floating in air. You can also see the Julian Alps in the far distance towering above the tree line surrounding the lake.  Swans frequent this lake as do many locals hanging out along the beach.

Stopping along our route in Zagreb, we went to a small museum called “The Museum of Broken Relationships.” Funny and not so funny. People send in their memorabilia of a relationship that broke their heart and send in a short summary of what happened. Some stories about revenge were hilarious, and others were absolutely heartbreaking. We hadn’t planned on stopping there, but after climbing up Lotrščak Tower with our backpacks on in a space just wide enough for my shoulders to fit while scraping against the walls, we saw a really intricate rooftop with a coat of arms in its design. On our way to find out what that building was, we haphazardly stumbled upon the museum. Turns out, the rooftop we had seen was the Church of St. Mark. Such a beautiful city filled with wonderful people.

From there, we headed to the coastline, first Split. Split was a gorgeous and bustling city. Miles upon miles of beautiful coastline and shopping galore. Since shopping really isn’t our “thing” we opted for more history and museums. The city turns into a wonderful menagerie at night consisting of light displays on the exterior museum walls and bustling nightlife of food, drink and music. Music everywhere. From Split, we went to the island of Brač (pronounced Brach). This island had to be THE highlight of our trip. Completely unplanned. We happened to be talking to a couple of locals in Split, who recommended this island compared to the Island of Hvar, where everyone goes. We hopped onto a ferry and took the ride over. Once we got off the ferry, there were numerous people waiting at the port offering places to stay for CHEAP! We saw a really friendly fellow toward the back who was unassuming and politely waiting (which I imagine wouldn’t be good from a business standpoint, but since he wasn’t pushy, I’d opted to see what kind of accommodations he could offer). We made our way to that man and he walked us to his “hotel” which was 100 yards from the ferry, right in the center of the town. They had an entire night life filled with family friendly things to do such as outdoor trampoline arena, shopping dining, and entire inflatable waterparks. They had a scooter/motorcycle rental place nearby and since it’s a mostly undeveloped island, there aren’t many other forms of transportation there.

We decided to rent a scooter and drive it around the island. At first we stayed on the roads and went through numerous fishing villages and saw some cemeteries with graves dating back to the late 1000’s. Then, somehow, the road stopped and turned to dirt. We opted to take the dirt road around the coastline and see what was around the coast. We came to a few small coves, completely deserted except for the occasional passerby that was on their way home for the day. We jumped into the water in the coves to cool off and got back on the scooter to continue our trek around the island. We ended up in another fishing village with an entire beach filled with families. Out in the near Adriatic Sea, there was a ship that resembled an old pirate ship. Such an awesome sight to behold. Clear blue skies, deep blue sea, gentle breeze blowing and a picnic on the beach. It wasn’t easy getting there though. On our way, we nearly ran out of fuel, I crashed the scooter once on a rocky uphill. Turns out, the scooter didn’t have enough power to get us up the steep terrain together or individually, and we eventually just decided to walk alongside it while occasionally revving the engine and giving it enough gas to crest the top of the hill. It wasn’t too far, but it was damn hot.

While there, Bronson lost his sunglasses and I lost my hat. SOOO, started our tradition of choosing each other’s sunglasses and hats when we are abroad on vacation. Usually we try to find items that are a far extreme from what we would normally wear and whatever we pick for each other, we HAVE to wear. Quite funny actually, because every time I look at him wearing the ugly thing I made him buy I laugh and vice versa.

After spending a couple of days in Brač, we decided to head down to Dubrovnik where we would spend the remainder of our time in Croatia. While there, we stayed at a place that I booked online just before we got there. In the description, it claimed to be a hotel. We hopped in a cab and gave him the address. He dropped us off on this long dirt road that stretched for miles along the Marina. He pointed out the address and there was a solid wood gate blocking any entrance and it appeared to be a three-story house. We decided to open the gate, completely unsure that we were even in the right place. There were no “hotel’s” or anything resembling a hotel anywhere near us. As we opened the gate, we were greeted by a table of people eating dinner and were welcomed with open arms. Turns out, this was the correct place and though it was listed as a hotel, it was actually a residence that rented out rooms. The host was very kind. She cooked us breakfast and dinner, did our laundry and kept our room clean and she was a great conversationalist. She told us all about what it was like during the Serbian/Croatian war and told us about the war museum they had at the top of the gondola overlooking the “Old Town” Dubrovnik.

We went to the museum, where it told a grueling story of how the Croats survived the war with the Serbs. Amazing, considering the Croats had no military, and all their firearms were from WWII. It was fascinating, humbling and deeply touching to see how they survived and rebuilt and have a much better relationship with the Serbs, albeit not perfect by any means.

We went down to the Old Town which had been a fortress. We jumped off of rocks into the crystal clear, warm Adriatic Sea. Walked miles up and around the Old Town walls, and up to a patio where they serve fresh squeezed juice. After a long walk in the sweltering heat, a fresh cup of OJ never tasted better! In the evening, we would jump on crowded busses to get back to our hotel, and even in the most crowded of busses, the young men and women always offer their seats to the elderly. It was so refreshing to see that people still have respect for their elders.

After our adventures checking out the Old Town of Dubrovnik, it was time for us to head to Dublin, Ireland. We got into Dublin and toured around the city for a few hours. On our way into the belly of the city, we watched as the Police flew down the streets with lights and sirens blaring. They all (4 of them) jumped out of their vehicle, grabbed a man cuffed him and hauled him away. It took less than a minute. That would never fly in America. People would think the Police just kidnapped someone. Apparently, it’s pretty commonplace there because nobody blinked an eye. Nobody was out with their phones trying to catch the incident and nobody even seemed to care. As we were walking by people, they were commenting that whoever was just picked up “obviously got what they deserved.” Coming from America, that was a little shocking.

We were supposed to have a 19-hour layover which would have given us just enough time to get a small taste of Dublin. Later that evening, we met a fantastic couple and had drinks with them at Temple Bar, where we got the 101 on how to pronounce Smithwicks. Yep, they definitely know if you’re not from around those parts. It’s pronounced Smidiks- no “thw” sound. We finished our evening reveling in the cool, crisp air as we headed back to our hotel to be rested for our long flight home to the States the following day.

We got to the airport a couple of hours early the next morning and were advised the flight was delayed 2 hours. Every 2 hours for the next 10 hours they kept telling us our flight was delayed. After spending the entire day in the airport waiting for a flight that never came, the airline shuttled everyone to different hotels and paid for lodging and food. The following day we again got to the airport early and again the flight was delayed. 2 full days of flight delays only to find out the plane was having mechanical issues and couldn’t take off. There was another plane across the tarmac in a hangar that they just weren’t using until over 200 people complained about needing to get home. Finally, on the 3rd day of our 19-hour layover, we were the first flight, America Bound. What pissed me off the most, was we sat in the airport for 2 full days, wasting our time when the airline absolutely knew they couldn’t get us home. Do they even know how much we could’ve done in those 2 extra days we all sat there in the airport waiting for something that was never going to happen in the first place? All of us passengers were incredibly angry and for all the trouble, they issued us a $200 voucher each. Really? How about offering us a first- class upgrade for your total and complete fuck up? You’ve wasted our time and made others miss meetings or have to book on another airline to get home on time for work which cost way more than $200 when you’re trying to book for that same day. Needless to say, I’ll never fly that airline again if I can help it.

All in all, we had an awesome time, met some great people, ate great food and ended up in places we’ve never heard of before where we enjoyed ourselves the most. After all, life is a journey and if you never take the risk, you may never get the reward.

Is Time Always Working Against Us?

I was watching a video today about time. The amount of time we as Americans spend working. I’m not talking hours in a day or week. I talking over your life time. The average person will work for at least 40 years, chasing the dollar trying to earn enough to live comfortably so they can retire. Think about that number for a minute. 40 years.

I remember when I was just in my first year as a Deputy Sheriff and I was talking to a co-worker. We were walking through the doors at our detention facility and I said “I can’t wait to retire.” She looked at me and said, “Really? Exactly what do you plan to do once you retire? Work somewhere else? Doing what?” I told her once I retired there would be no working again. I then explained that there was a whole world out there to explore and that “one day” when I retired, I would travel the world. I just really didn’t understand the reality that most people who retire, end up finding another job usually because either their retirement isn’t enough to live on or they’re bored and need something to do. I don’t really understand that concept. I always said, once I retire, that’s it. Retirement, as I see it,  is meant for people to enjoy the rest of their lives doing whatever they want. I didn’t know I’d be forced to retire so early with so little money.

With this retirement, I had to re-evaluate my life. I needed to make changes. I went to a vocational rehabilitation specialist who had me take a series of different tests. IQ tests, personality tests and timed tests of reading, math, cognition and pattern identification. In addition to all of those, I also had a psychological examination. I scored so high on the exams they said that I could choose to do any one of the jobs listed in this 6 page booklet. There were 3,000 jobs to choose from. This testing was designed to narrow down the scope of jobs I’d be qualified for. How was I supposed to narrow it down from 3,000 jobs?

It took me 2 years to decide that I was going to stick to my original plan and just not work. I was looking for a job that allowed me the same luxuries as being a public servant. I wanted ample vacation time, sick time, a retirement package, medical, dental and vision benefits with a schedule that allowed me to work only 3 days per week and get paid for holidays. Nothing I looked into; except nursing and public service (and yes, I looked into almost 600 of the jobs that appealed to me the most), allowed me more than 2 weeks off per year. I understand that’s what the average American gets every year, but  I’ve never  only taken 2 weeks off. Two weeks isn’t enough time to even relax into vacation mode. That’s just enough time to get used to having the time to learn how to relax and let shit go. Then you’re back into the grind only to have to wait an entire year before you get to have another vacation. Vacation is essential to my lifestyle. It helps keep me sane and happy.

See, I consider myself to be relatively healthy. I eat nourishing foods, not crap. I exercise regularly and I try to keep my stress levels down by doing things I enjoy. Despite these things working in my favor, I was diagnosed with Thyroid and Lymphatic cancer when I was 30. It was shocking because I had no family history of Thyroid or Lymphatic cancer; All other cancers, yes, but not these ones. All the doctors I saw asked if I had been overexposed to radiation. The only radiation I’d been exposed to had been medical imaging for various reasons like broken bones and dental x-rays. The doctor’s considered me an anomaly. It only took 10 days from the time of my diagnosis to the operating table because the cancer was spreading so fast. My whole body imaging showed the Lymphatic cancer had spread to the lymph nodes in my arms, abdominal area and legs. Bronson and I had to have “the talk.” The “what happens if I die from this? What will you do with your life after my death,” how will this affect our son, who was only 2 years old at that time? After a series of radiation therapies I had been given the all clear. I am a Cancer Survivor (I just found out that my cancer markers are up again, so I have to get more testing done, ugh!).

We really don’t know how much time we have here on Earth. Everyday should be a day that you wake up and are able to enjoy what you’re doing. If you’re not enjoying what you’re doing, and you’re in a job you don’t like just because it has great benefits, or it pays well  or you have seniority doesn’t mean you have to stay there. You’re only limited by the limitations you put on yourself. If you’re not willing to make sacrifices and take risks, you will always be stuck. If you continue to tell yourself you can’t do something, you’ve defeated yourself before you even gave yourself a chance. There is a certain amount of risk involved when deciding to do what you want vs. what you think you need to do and not everyone is comfortable with that and that’s ok.

In many other countries,  Finland for example, people aren’t tied to jobs they don’t like just to have benefits. Benefits are something awarded by their government. That means people can go anywhere to any job that they enjoy doing because they don’t have to worry about benefits, they’re covered. They also have one of the best school systems in the world, and guess what? The kids in primary school only go to school on average, 3 hours each day and don’t have homework… So what are we doing wrong in this country that we’re rated number 25 out of all of these countries, yet we are a “world power?” With being a “world power” I would imagine we could be so much better in our school system.

 

When you venture outside this country, you see that many other places, not all, but many, move at a slower pace. They try to make the most of their time. They spend their lunch hour (or hours) with friends and family, the spend the weekends with friends and family, they travel all over the world. We rush to get our lunch eaten or an errand run before returning to the grind. We don’t make time for our friends and family during this time and so many of us take a “working lunch.” Why is that ok? Why do we think this is normal behavior? So many of us work a 9-5 grind with 2 weeks off per year. I know people who have never taken a vacation in their entire career. I know people who feel guilty for taking vacation because there is nobody to fill their job while they’re gone. I know people who refuse to take vacations because they have so much work that comes to them that they can’t afford for it to get backed up on their desk waiting for them to come back from vacation to take care of it. It seems we care more about our jobs than our friends and families. WHY HAVE WE MADE THIS THE NORM?

You only live once (unless you believe in reincarnation), and life is too short to continue playing by someone else’s rules. We don’t all have the option to up and quit a job we hate and find another one. I know this. I don’t live in a fantasy land. But if we never speak up and we continue to be silent about it and we don’t start asking questions, we will forever be stuck in that cycle. Don’t be afraid to be the one to stir the pot, we need those people on such a basic, fundamental level. Until the innovators and entrepreneurs decide that when they hire people, they will allow flexible schedules, remote work and additional time off and benefits to all employees not just the full time ones, we will always be scrambling to find the time to do the things we enjoy. By the way, as a side note, the Trump administration is trying to pass a bill that if you have more than 30 employees they no longer have to offer you health benefits, meaning, if your employer fits into this category, you’ll be paying those expenses yourself in addition to what you’re already paying. Yay! (sarcasm dripping from my lips). We will continue in this perpetual cycle of playing catch up on the weekends. This is not how I want to spend my life, working or not. I don’t want to “catch up” to my life. I want to be present always in my life, after all, it is MY life, not my job’s life or my supervisor’s life or anyone else’s life. What about you? How do you want to spend your time? Just think about it.