We’re back in the U.S.A. for the summer to see family and friends, get some routine medical procedures done and decide where we’re going to live as non-vagabonds. Just like last year, we are lodging at the Hyatt House in Warrenville, Ill. They must be glad to have us back. They even gave us the same suite we had last year!
Our two-year quest for a new home is over — or is it? Leslie and I have lived as locals (or as close as we can get) in Spain, Malta, Costa Rica, France and five cities in Mexico. And, of course, San Diego, which was always Plan B.
As I noted in an earlier post, our worst fears have come true — it’s a tie! We’re trying to decide between Ajijic, Mexico, and Montpellier, France. Two very different places with lots of pros and very few cons. We rejected Malta and Costa Rica, as well as Mérida and Playa del Carmen in Mexico. Also-rans are (not in any particular order) San Miguel de Allende and Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, and Spain’s southern coast: Alicante, Malaga and Cartagena (or maybe Valencia on the eastern coast). Any of those places would be just fine if the first choices don’t work out, or if we need some variety.
I think the most important thing we’ve learned over the last two years is that we don’t have to pick one place and live there forever. If we go to Ajijic, for example, and decide a year from now that we don’t like it, or if things change so much that it’s no longer good for us, then we can pack up and move. Our preference, of course, would be to assimilate into our new community — pick new doctors, volunteer in the community, make new friends, learn the language and generally immerse ourselves in our new home. But we’re retired, remember? We can go anywhere.
To do that, though, we need resident visas. Either a temporary or permanent visa that lets us live in another country indefinitely. It will take time to get visas, at either the Mexican or French consulate in Chicago, so we need to start that process soon. We hope to begin our relocation by Nov. 1.
Do you have an opinion on where we should live? If so, post a comment with your favorite — and why it’s your favorite. Then watch this space for the big decision!
Good news! Leslie saw her surgeon today (Thursday, Feb. 27) for a follow-up. He says she is “good to go.” Her recovery is actually a bit ahead of schedule, as he sees it. She’s really looking forward to a glass of wine with dinner tonight!
Now we can reschedule our Costa Rica trip and get this show back on the road. It’s just a matter of working with the airline to find a good date for heading south, and I will do that soon. We have accommodations lined up beginning March 10, so we’ll be shooting for something between now and March 9.
I’ll post when we have a departure date. Thanks again for your prayers!
Tuesday, Feb. 13. Ash Wednesday is tomorrow, but Leslie has already given up her gall bladder for Lent.
The surgery went about as expected. Dr. Bench used a robot to remove her gall bladder laparoscopically. The procedure took about 45 minutes. He said the gall bladder definitely needed to come out, since there were some gallstones still in there waiting to drift out and cause more problems. After she spent a couple of hours in recovery, Stephanie and I brought her home. Full recovery in about two weeks.
In that time, we will work on getting back on track. We should be in Costa Rica by March 10, maybe sooner if everything falls into place.
In the last post I said Leslie was tentatively scheduled for surgery on Saturday, Feb. 3. Didn’t happen. Her surgeon, Dr. Bench, didn’t like her test results, He preferred to wait until she recovered more fully from acute pancreatitis, which is what landed her in the hospital. And by the way, Dr. Bench was busy saving someone’s life in the ER for most of Saturday morning.
So Leslie was released from Sharp Memorial Hospital on Sunday, Feb. 4. We’re bunking with our daughter Stephanie temporarily. Leslie’s gall bladder removal is now set for Tuesday afternoon, Feb. 13. If there’s no further delay, we should be able to resume our travels in early March.
“Mom, if you wanted to stay with me longer all you had to do was ask,” said our daughter Stephanie as she and I hovered over Leslie’s bed in the emergency room.
No, we’re not in Costa Rica. There’s been a slight delay and we’re still in San Diego. But while I’m staying in Stephanie’s guest room, Leslie is a patient at Sharp Memorial Hospital on the city’s north side. I’ll try to make a complicated story as concise as possible.
After suffering with abdominal pain all day Monday (Jan. 29), Leslie asked me to take her to Urgent Care on Tuesday morning (Jan. 30), just to make sure she was OK to get on an airplane to Costa Rica the following day. Urgent Care did some tests and sent her to the ER at Sharp Memorial, where she was admitted with acute pancreatitis — probably caused by passing a gallstone Monday (hence the pain) — as well as pneumonia.
Since then they have pumped her full of antibiotics and other meds. As of Friday (Feb. 2) afternoon, her condition has improved to the point where a surgeon may be able to remove her gall bladder Saturday morning, tentatively at 9:30 a.m. The gastroenterologist who treated her in the ER said her gall bladder was “full of sludge” and she might have more stones in the future. We agreed that doing the surgery now will help avoid the possibility of throwing another gallstone while we’re on a cruise ship in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean!
There are some positives here. First, we’re in San Diego where Stephanie can be with her mom, and where doctors and nurses speak English. Second, Leslie’s room is on the seventh floor of the acute care wing with an amazing view of the Pacific Ocean. Well, it’s several miles away, but you can see it if you look closely. And the sunsets are super!
We have cancelled the first part of our trip to Costa Rica, the house in Atenas, but everything else is unsettled. We hope to rearrange accommodations in the beach town of Jacó so we can arrive March 1 and leave April 10. That way we can still evaluate Costa Rica as a possible retirement location, but give Leslie plenty of time to heal and still take the cruise to Europe.
First, the good stuff. Leslie and I have completed our Costa Rica plans, renting a condo in the Pacific beach town of Jacó (ha-KOH) for five weeks in March and April. So we have solid plans through the end of April.
Here’s how it plays out: We fly from San Diego to San Jose, Costa Rica, on Wednesday, Jan. 31, arriving late in the evening. We’ll spend that night at the Hampton Inn (great breakfast!) and then move on to the Central Valley town of Atenas (ah-TAY-nas). We’ll be there until March 10, when we go to Jacó. International Living has named Costa Rica the top retirement destination of 2018, so we’re excited.
On April 11 we fly from San Jose to Miami, then take a shuttle up the coast to Fort Lauderdale to board the Celebrity Reflection. We set sail the afternoon of April 13, arriving in the port of Rome on April 27.
That’s where it gets fuzzy. The plan is to be tourists in Italy, like we were in the U.K. in October 2016, for two or three weeks before taking up residence in France. In the coming days, we plan to nail down some of that Italian tourist stuff and decide which city in France will be (hopefully) the final stop on the two-year Vagabond Tour. We’ll be in France until late July, when our 90-day tourist visas expire, and then back to the Chicago area.
Now on to the fun stuff, completely unrelated to our travels. On Saturday, Jan. 20, Leslie and I joined more than 37,000 of our closest friends for San Diego’s version of The Second Annual Women’s March in Waterfront Park. You already know about this if you’re Facebook friends with Leslie, and some of the photos below will be familiar.
We took the San Diego Metropolitan Transit System’s trolley (light rail) from our condo to Waterfront Park. Walking there was an option, of course, but there’s something weird about walking to a march! Getting off at the Little Italy stop, we could’ve turned right to go to the weekly farmer’s market, as we have done several Saturdays since our arrival. Instead, we turned left and followed the crowd into the park.
We couldn’t get close enough to hear the speeches well, but we were there and supporting the cause. Progressive rallies and marches are lots of fun, in my opinion, because the signs are so creative. The signs also feature correct spelling and proper grammar (usually). However, halfway through the route, just as the crowd turned to head back to Waterfront Park along a different street, I said to Leslie, “I don’t know about you, but I’m ready for lunch.” She quickly agreed and our need for a burger won out over our desire to march for anything. Lots of other marchers had the same idea. We both had burgers at Barleymash (I highly recommend The Volcano burger!) in the Gaslamp Quarter, then went home and took naps!
We both took lots of photos, and I leave you with some of my favorites. Next post from the land of Pura Vida: Costa Rica!
You may recall that Leslie and I originally planned to go from San Diego to Costa Rica, but those plans changed because of scheduling issues. So we decided to take a cruise through the Panama Canal instead. A great way to celebrate our 25th anniversary, we thought. Well, we’re back to Plan A again!
It’s a long story — here’s the short version. The company we were working with to book the Panama Canal cruise failed miserably, so we called on USAA* for help. They quickly verified that canal cruises in the time frame we wanted were sold out. After some discussion about our options, they booked us on a repositioning cruise from Fort Lauderdale to Rome in mid-April. So we return to Europe in spring when temperatures are milder than in February!
That, in turn, caused us to take another look at Costa Rica, and we found what appears to be a good place — under budget — in the Central Valley town of Atenas (ah-TAY-nas). The plan is to be there for about five weeks, then head to a Pacific coast beach town for another five. Still working on the beach town. More on that in the next post.
The 14-night transatlantic cruise takes us from Fort Lauderdale to Civitavecchia, the port city of Rome, with stops in Tenerife, Canary Islands (Spain); Malaga, Cartagena and Barcelona, Spain; and Ajaccio, Corsica (France).
While we’re presently not sold on Italy as a place for us to live — at least not right now — Leslie and I would like to check it out and do some touristy stuff, like we did in Scotland and England when we started this journey in 2016. So the plan is to spend two or three weeks in various parts of Italy and then head to France for about six weeks, probably in Languedoc-Roussillon in southern France, or maybe in Provence. Details to come.
If all goes well, we will be back in the Chicago area in late July to see our doctors, catch up with friends and family, and make a decision on a retirement location. By the end of this year, we hope to be vagabonds no more!
Looking back at the last post, I’m afraid it may have left you with the impression that we don’t like San Diego. We love San Diego, but our focus is to live in another country. Plus, the cost of living in southern California is quite high, so things will have to change dramatically for us to retire here.
There are lots of great things about San Diego, though. One of them is not even in San Diego — it’s St. Paul’s United Methodist Church, the “Church of the Voyager,” on Coronado Island. We’ve made some good friends at St. Paul’s and have learned a lot from Pastor Robb’s sermons, like his current thought-provoking series on the Gospel of John. Anytime we’re back in San Diego, we will return to St. Paul’s.
I’ll close with this: Stephanie’s Christmas gift to us was tickets to the musical “Hamilton”! All three of us went on Thursday, Jan. 11, to the San Diego Civic Theatre. Wow! This is the best show I’ve seen since “Les Miserables,” which is my all-time favorite. The music, the staging, the singing, the dancing — all just incredible. I’ll admit I was prepared not to like it because I’d heard some of it was in rap. But the rapping was like the recitative, or spoken words, in opera. It worked really well. I highly recommend “Hamilton.” Go see this one, it’s definitely worth the price!
The music is the real star: songs like My Shot, The Room Where it Happens, and Washington On Your Side, just to name a few. They’re not tunes you can hum while walking down the street, though. They are rich and complex, like fine wine. One of the most impressive things about this musical came after the last notes died away. The entire cast took a bow together. Curtain calls didn’t start with the minor characters and end up with the stars getting the most applause. No. The cast appeared at the end as equals, no matter what role they had. It made me think about Mr. Jefferson’s eloquent words, “…all men are created equal.” Too bad we have drifted so far away from that idea.
*We use San Antonio-based USAA (United Services Automobile Association) for car and home insurance, life insurance (Mike), banking and investments. In fact, I’ve never had any other brand of car insurance — over 45 years with the same company. The bank and investment services are available to anybody, but the insurance is sold only to current and former military officers and certain non-commissioned officers. The company offers many additional services to members, including a car buying service and a travel agency. If you ever served in the military, go to their website to see if you qualify to become a USAA member. And no, they didn’t pay me for this advertisement!
In the last post, I said one part of the plan for San Diego was to spend the holidays with our daughter Stephanie. Another part was to continue being warm — or at least warmer than we would be if we were still in the Chicago area. So far, so good.
It was over 80° F. on Thanksgiving Day here in San Diego. Leslie and I enjoyed a great Thanksgiving dinner with Stephanie. The list of things we’re thankful for begins with Steph. Being here in San Diego to share the holidays with her ranks right up there. And leftovers, of course. I’m always thankful for leftovers!
We got the festivities started a little early. On Nov. 18 (the Saturday before Thanksgiving), we enjoyed a “Friendsgiving” celebration with Stephanie and more than 40 of her closest friends. The hosts provided a roast turkey and a turducken. All the women brought a side dish and all the men brought two bottles of wine. There was a lot of great food, and a lot of wine! Leslie made her famous home-made cranberry sauce (way better than that gelatin stuff out of a can) and Stephanie made some amazing mashed potatoes. The party was on the rooftop of a condo building where one of Steph’s friends lives. Long walk for us — almost a whole block from where we’re living now.
Plans for Christmas Day haven’t been formalized yet, but we had dinner with Stephanie last weekend and helped her put up her Christmas tree. In keeping with tradition, we watched the 2003 Will Ferrell movie “Elf.”
This week Leslie and I have been going to a number of communities in and near San Diego to see if maybe we could live here. We still plan to live outside the U.S., but San Diego has always been “Plan B.” There may come a time when we would need to be closer to Stephanie — driving distance rather than a potentially long flight.
So far we have visited places as close as North Park, La Mesa and El Cajon, as well as farther-flung haunts such as Carlsbad, Temecula and Poway. We also drove through the coastal villages of Solana Beach and Encinitas, both of which are very similar to Carlsbad. And we have a few other places to check out.
The leading candidates appear to be Carlsbad (a quaint beach town) and Temecula (inland, lots of wineries). It’s jarring, though, to look at tiny apartments — two-bedrooms, about 850 square feet — that would cost us three, four, even five times as much as a nice furnished home or condo would in Mexico.
And so far, all the independent senior housing we’ve seen has been at a very high price and includes three meals a day in the facility dining room. We’re not interested in that — not yet, anyway. We want to cook most of our own meals. If you’ve tasted Leslie’s cooking, you understand.
UPDATE: We’ve been struggling with where to go after San Diego. The original plan was to spend some time in Costa Rica before heading back to Europe to check out France and Italy. But we couldn’t seem to find appropriate housing in our preferred area of Costa Rica, the Central Valley. The other problem was how to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary, which is Feb. 6, 2018.
We always try to be flexible, so here’s the new plan: A Panama Canal cruise for late January and early February. That would allow us to see a bit of Costa Rica, as well as some of Panama and Colombia. It would also get us from the west coast to the east coast while crossing the Panama Canal transit off both our bucket lists!
Getting to the east coast (Florida) sets us up to take a repositioning cruise to Europe (up to four weeks). That should make for a nice vacation — like the one we did last year in the U.K. — and it’s a little less expensive than airfare. Plus it gets us to Europe in spring when the temperatures are more amenable. Yes, we’re still leaning toward Mexico for our retirement home, but we need to give Europe another shot.
More on that later. I leave you with photos of Stephanie’s cats, Louis and Piper. They’re both Maine Coons, which is the third most popular breed in the U.S. right now.
Leslie and I love the beach. Since we moved to Chicago’s western suburbs late in 2000, most of our vacations have been on Caribbean islands. In February. It helped us survive Chicago winters. So it seemed natural that a place like Playa del Carmen, right on the Caribbean Sea, would be a strong candidate to be our new home. Wrong. We would love to come back here for a vacation, but living here permanently is out.
There are some positives. Let’s look at those first:
It’s a small city, only about 150,000 people, and relatively walkable if you live between the beach and Highway 307.
There’s a lot to do here. Playa is a major tourist destination, so you can visit Mayan ruins, swim in cenotes and go to water-related theme parks on the Mayan Riviera. Oh, and there’s the beach. We will miss our wait-person Luis at Kool Beach Club. He tried to teach us some Spanish: “Estamos bien, por ahora.” (We’re good, for now.)
Excellent restaurants, and not just in the tourist areas. And not just Mexican food, either. We had terrific gazpacho and paella last night at Mar de Olivo.
Good public transportation, especially the vans they call colectivos, which will get you around town and to other cities on the Mayan Riviera. Lots of taxis available, too.
But the negatives are strong:
We’re looking for warm temperatures and Playa has that. But the humidity is 80 to 90 percent or more. We’re tired of sweating constantly when outside. The deodorant works, the antiperspirant does not. It wasn’t so bad when we were here seven years ago in December but again, we’re looking for a year-round home.
We’ve been unable to find an English-speaking church. In three other Mexican cities, we have thoroughly enjoyed attending Anglican church services weekly and meeting some terrific people.
As a consequence, we’ve been unable to meet other expats. There doesn’t seem to be any organized group here as there were in San Miguel de Allende and Puerto Vallarta, and to a lesser extent in Mérida.
We’ve also been unable to find any cultural events, such as concerts or lectures we might want to attend. This town appeals to a younger, hipper crowd. One of the biggest annual events is the DJ Festival at Mamita’s Beach.
Playa is a big-time tourist trap. We gringos cannot walk peacefully down Fifth Avenue. We are assaulted by people selling tours, fishing trips, diving trips, cenote trips, tacky souvenirs, Cuban cigars and lots of other stuff. “Vivimos aqui, amigo,” (We live here, buddy) usually works, but it’s easier just to avoid the street.
And as mentioned in a previous post, it seems most of the housing is vacation rentals rather than traditional Mexican homes for more permanent residents. Prices seem a little on the high side.
Did I mention the humidity?
So we’ve learned that the Yucatan Peninsula is not for us. Great for vacations, but not more.
We’ve been on the road for nine months now. Time to take a break and head back to the U.S. to take care of things that need our attention and to see friends and family. Our flight from Cancún lands at O’Hare tomorrow afternoon (Saturday, July 15). We will be in the area until the end of August and possibly for the first week or two in September.
What happens after that? You may recall from a previous post that Leslie and I visited the Lake Chapala area for a few days at the end of March to reconnect with an old friend from Texas. At the time, I said this deserved a closer look. So we’ve secured a two-bedroom house in Ajijic for mid-September through the end of October.
Ajijic is similar to San Miguel — high altitude (5,000+ feet), warm days, cool nights, low humidity. The expats who live there say it’s the best climate in the world. And we really liked their downtown weekly farmers market. It will be our fifth, and probably final, Mexican home. Leslie wants to try Ensenada in the northern part of Baja California. I think it’s too close to the border, which is where a lot of the drug cartel activity is. We’ll see.
After that, we’ll be in San Diego for November and December. That lets us spend the holidays with our daughter Stephanie, and it gives us an opportunity to see what it would be like to live there. It is possible, after all, that someday we would want to be closer to her. Knowing, however, that moving in with her for two months would be nearly impossible, we have secured an East Village condo about three blocks from her place.
As 2018 begins, we plan to check out a couple of highly recommended towns in Costa Rica’s Central Valley, and then do another three months in Europe — France and Italy are on the agenda, but we may also try another city in Spain. This time next year, it will be decision time. Where will our new home be? Vegas oddsmakers are already hard at work!