Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Further Reflections on Life Abroad

The view I wish I had from my swivel chair at work.
Ensconced here in Seattle for eight weeks, I'm enjoying couch surfing through the spare bedrooms of my friends while I do contract work for my old employer, Harborview Medical Center.  I travel light, carrying along my three pairs of pants and four shirts bought at Goodwill.  After one week staying in the house of one friend, I pack it up and take the bus to Olympia where Connie picks me up and I stay with her for the weekend. We work on her rental house trying to rescue it from the disaster caused by her good natured but clueless renter.  Then Sunday I take the bus back to Seattle and land in another friend's house and their spare bedroom for a week. So far, it is working out pretty well and the cruising kitty is starting to move in a positive direction instead of a negative direction.  I said I'd never go back to work. I was wrong.

Coming back to the States for these few months makes us think, and consider our decision to live abroad.

Typical cubicle / mariner trap
One reason we left to cruise the Mexican Pacific coast was because we thought we could do so cheaply, so cheaply that we could stop working and live off savings until I reached retirement age.  And that part has somewhat proven to be true.  I say "somewhat" because we have yet to meet our $18,000 per year budget.  Last year's expenditures were double that and so might this years become. What pushes us over budget is big ticket boat repairs and purchases.  Of course we didn't plan on all the boat upgrades and repairs, thinking our boat was more ready than she really was.

As for everyday living, we most assuredly have met our budget.  18k per year is $1,500 dollars per month.  We lived on less than that during those months when we had no large repair or outfitting bills.  So as we calmly drifted from anchorage to anchorage we lived lean. Maybe next year we'll not have to buy another engine or some other big ticket item.  Coming north in the summer to do some work is very helpful to our budget. Thank you, my employers; the work is much appreciated.

Coming north in the summer is also helpful to the psyche.  By the time June rolls around it is just too darn hot to enjoy living on the boat in Mexico.  I've told you how we became hot, cranky, and stupid from staying south too long.  When we hit those cool nights in the mountains of Arizona and Utah our bodies relaxed and our minds started to function properly again.  Connie started playing music again. I started smiling.

Oregon hills as seen from my folding chair last month.
After some thought, sitting there in my folding chair looking out upon the national forest in Oregon, I realized that an important part of my big sigh of relief was the loss of tension, the letting down the guard that we maintain all the while when in a foreign culture.  I love Mexico and most of the Mexicans I've met have been wonderful people: friendly, family oriented, honest people. But all the while in Mexico we are the outsiders, the visitors. We are not "in the know" about everything that is happening around us.  I've realized that the Mexican culture and the Mexican language is very complicated. And as an English speaker I'll never quite understand everything that is happening around me.  Here in the states I'm much more confident about what is happening around me because I've lived here for so long.  Sure, there are undercurrents of things happening here that I don't know, things such as illegal activities, private connections, different customs and laws, but for the most part I see things at their true and face value.  Back in the States, after a while, I relax and feel comfortable, thinking I know what's happening.

I didn't realize that I was carrying around this tension while traveling in Mexico but I realize it now.  Don't get me wrong, though. We are going back to Mexico and some year we will go further to Panama or the South Pacific.  But when doing so, the guard will be up a smidgen more than when I'm in the states.

Another thing I've appreciated about the U.S. is how clean and tidy everything is.  Private property is normally kept decent looking and the public spaces are spectacular when compared to most of Mexico.  In Mexico the pride is inside the property.  There is a wall around the property and everything inside is nice.  But outside the wall it can be dusty, dirty, rock strewn, and ugly.  Sidewalks can be treacherous and except for the town square, public places are pretty rough. You pay to pee and don't want to sit on the porcelain.  In the states, the public bathrooms can be wonderfully clean and modern.

Heading south to cruise Mexico's coast is not all beautiful beaches and cheap fish tacos.  I'm glad we had the experience and enjoyed it so much that we're going back in the fall.  But I realize that the 1st world countries, while expensive, have a lot to offer too.

So, as in many things, moderation is the way to go.  We'll spend six months in Mexico and six months in the states for the next couple of years until we head across the Pacific.... or some other place.
We'll get the best of both worlds.

My advice for those who are planning on heading south is to figure out what you'll be doing during the time when you are not in Mexico.  Make sure you have a nice place to visit, a place where you can relax in your folding chair and breath in the cool, moist air.  As we get better at this "snow bird" mentality Connie and I are looking for summertime options.  A cabin in Colorado, an apartment in San Diego, a house in Tumwater, a yurt in New Mexico?  You gotta have a place to go on vacation from your vacation!

Oh yeah, don't forget to budget in a new engine or two.


  1. Sounds so familiar!! We are currently living in a 5th wheel down by the river. It is working for us. Put the 5th wheel in storage when we are in Mexico, come home to all our summer home.
    See you in the fall!

  2. I forgot to mention, this is cyndi and marcus from SV Rebecca!