So….when we last wrote about Covid-19, we thought we were going to hunker down in Ecuador to ride out the Covid-19 storm. We had a large, safe and comfortable apartment and the rent was affordable. We had figured out how to order groceries and have them delivered (maybe…our delivery was initially scheduled for March 24 but got pushed to April 2 so we will never know). Ecuador was taking the virus seriously. They had locked down the country. They weren’t even letting their own citizens return (the first known case of Covid-19 was brought in by a citizen who had returned from Europe). The mayor of Guayaquil had actually ordered vehicles out onto a runway to prevent planes from landing (not the wisest decision, as the planes were supposed to evacuate foreigners back to Europe). Everyone was under a curfew (4 pm to 5 am in Guayaquil,, which has now changed to 2 pm to 5 am everywhere in the country). Nobody was allowed to leave their homes except to get groceries and go to the pharmacy and bank. Even then, only one person per family could leave at a time, and cars could only be driven every other day depending on which number your plate ended in (even the taxis were bound by this rule). Groceries were limiting the number of people allowed to enter at any one time (and moving to a system that only allowed each person to enter two particular days a week depending on the last number of their identity document). Mobile internet providers had been ordered to increase speed (yes, increase). Visa requirements had been waived (both for people inside the country and those outside of it) until 30 days after the crisis ended so tourists would not be overstaying their visas and those trying to get residency wouldn’t have to start from scratch. Food was being delivered to at least some poor people. The government had assured the populace that certain services like electricity and internet would not be disconnected and nobody would be evicted even if bills were not paid during the emergency. The military was getting involved to ensure compliance with the various lock down rules. And, the word was that health care workers would actually come to your home to evaluate you if you thought you had the virus. (No, I’m not joking.) We watched how little was being done to flatten the curve in the US, how many Americans were “preparing” by buying guns and ammo, and thought “hmm…we are safer in Ecuador.”
When we first read about Minca, it sounded like a wonderland. The blogs we read used words like “paradise” and “idyllic” and “picturesque” and “lush” with “cool mountain breezes.” It was “the real Colombia,” or so we read. Lies, all of them, lies.
So, wow, this is one strange year, right? Things were going along just fine and then “boom” the entire world changed almost overnight. At least for us it did. We were having a grand old time in the Galapagos Islands (I’ve included some photos now because it may be awhile until I get to those posts) when we got an email late on a Saturday night from the U.S. State Department saying that Ecuador was closing its borders in 24 hours for tourists and 48 hours for citizens. We frantically jumped on our devices to try to get flights off of the islands and to Guayaquil on the mainland and then out of Ecuador (even though we weren’t sure that was the safest course of action). And, then, we watched as website after website refused to load or crashed just as we thought it was going to load. Gotta love the internet in the Galapagos. Not. We were finally able to determine that we could get a flight off the islands on Monday (only a day earlier than planned) but it would cost about $600 per person. That was expensive enough that we couldn’t bring ourselves to pull the trigger immediately. Big mistake. When we looked again, the tickets were long gone.
Hey! Get your head out of the gutter (I’m talking to you dad)….this post is about the famous door knockers of Cartagena.
Cartagena is yet another UNESCO world heritage site. I don’t think the doors or the door knockers were included in the UNESCO listing, but perhaps they should have been.
One of my favorite critters in the entire world is the sloth. They are just as cool as can be. (Robert thinks they are kind of creepy. He is so wrong….) So, imagine my excitement when I learned there were sloths in the heart of Cartagena. And, imagine my squeal when I actually saw one….
One of our favorite places in all of Medellin is the Medellin Botanical Garden (or, in Spanish, Jardin Botanico de Medellin).
The botanical gardens are free to enter and are a great place to spend a couple of hours away from the noise and traffic that is ubiquitous in Medellin. Supposedly, the gardens cover about 34 acres of land, but they didn’t seem that large to us — we walked the path around the gardens twice in one afternoon. The gardens consist of a tropical forest (with a raised walkway through the forest), a small lake, a desert garden, a bamboo forest, a butterfly house, and a few other things.
We love street art so, when we read about the Bogota graffiti tour, we knew we had to sign up. The Bogota graffiti tour is one of those free tours where you are expected to tip at the end of the tour — we were told the going rate is about $10 per person — and the tour was worth every penny.
Year two of retirement is in the books (and has been for some time but, as previously noted, we post things in order and we are way behind schedule). But, boy, it sure wasn’t the year we were anticipating. And, not in a good way. So, as you can well-imagine, we were glad to see the end of 2019. Anyway. Enough of that.
Let’s start by answering the same questions we asked ourselves last year.
Do we regret retiring, selling everything and traveling the world? No, not even a teeny, tiny bit. It was and still is the right decision for us. We are happy and healthier than we ever were in Chicago. That said, we do find ourselves wanting to slow down a bit. So, going forward, we are planning on spending slightly longer time periods in some of the cities we visit. We hope to find a few places to stay for a full month, and we don’t intend to spend less than a week hardly anywhere.
Did we manage to stay on budget this year? Um, no, not even close — we were about 6% over what we anticipated. We chalk most of that up to our extended time in the U.S. and, in particular, the month plus we spent touring the country and visiting our friends and parents. That said, it isn’t the end of the world as our budget is very conservative and the market did well in 2019, so we aren’t too worried.
Where did our money go this year? Although last year we were hoping that our housing budget would decrease in 2019, that wasn’t the case. In fact, in 2019, our housing budget ate up an entire 25% of our budget. We really aren’t sure how that happened, but I’m guessing it was due to our many expensive hotel stays in the United States and Europe. Another 23% went to food and beverages. Another large chunk — 22% — went to health care costs. And, 15% went to transport — this was extremely high as we had to rent cars while we were in the U.S. We also had some “fun” expenses that can’t be overlooked. For example, we paid 64 cents in elevator fees, due to an apartment in Italy that charged 0.05 Euros each time we took the elevator. We paid $33 dollars in late check-in fees, due to an apartment in France that charged a fee if you checked in after 6 pm. We paid $4 in bathroom fees — and the bathrooms often weren’t even clean. And, we paid a whopping $92 in ATM fees (charged by the local banks, not our banks).
What did we miss the most this year? In a word, dogs. We missed dogs. We try to pet dogs whenever we can, but dogs are going to be our downfall. We also really missed going to live concerts. We managed to sneak in a day at Riot Fest while we were in Chicago and it really made us remember how much we miss listening to random bands at Chicago street fairs.
What’s on tap for 2020? Plans are still a bit up in the air, but definitely Colombia (which is where we have been since January 1) and Ecuador (we fly there February 24). We are then hoping to meet some friends in Mexico, then head to Central America, then head to Mexico for a friend’s wedding, and then back to South America to see Argentina and Uruguay. But, don’t count on that, as I’m sure things will change.
And, now, on to our final thoughts for 2019.
We really wish we knew when it became socially acceptable to watch tv and video games without headphones while on public transportation. I can’t tell you how many times we had to bite our tongues to stop ourselves from saying something we would regret as we listened to bad music at outrageously loud volumes….
We were astounded to see so many NBA jerseys being worn outside the U.S. Most of them are still Jordan jerseys, even though he hasn’t played in decades.
Robert says that coffee in SE Asia is barely coffee — it is really just a coffee-flavored milk and sugar concoction.
We — ok I, — ate far too many Snickers this year. They are an affordable snack choice in SE Asia. Oddly, the Reese’s peanut butter cups are way more expensive than the Snickers. If anyone knows why, please feel free to share.
We are still sleeping 9-10 hours a night most nights. It is a thing of beauty.
When you are a budget, small luxuries are sometimes worth every single penny. For example, in Mexico, we could have easily hung out on the beach for free. But, for $10, we got a comfy beach chair, clean beach towels, a shower, a clean bathroom, and wifi. Worth. Every. Penny.
We still don’t have our packing down. This year, we added the following things to our bags (ok, fine, these all went into Robert’s bag): a Koozie, chip clips, a spatula, and a pepper grinder.
The Euro currency is far too reliant on coins. We both had pockets full of coins. No doubt that is why the French often just leave their change behind as a type of tip.
Europeans still smoke way too much. Ugh.
The last few months of 2019 we were frequently switching between French, Spanish, and Italian. I can’t tell you how many times we said “please” or “thank you” or “white wine” in the wrong language. First world problems, right?
Electric scooters are a scourge on the earth.
We both love the signs in Europe that say “all directions” are straight ahead.
When we finally settle down again, we need a place with the bread and pastries of France, the coffee and wine of Italy, the ham of Spain, and the spices of Thailand. If anyone knows where that is, let us know….
And, finally, if there is anything you would like to see us focus on more (or less) in the blog, let us know. Feel free to leave a reply to any of our blogs or shoot us an email at email@example.com. You can also “like” posts if you like them, which will help us know what people are interested in reading. Sadly, there is no “hate” button if you hate our posts so you will just have to keep that sentiment to yourselves….
So….we spent far too much time in the U.S. in 2019. We started with about three months in Kentucky (including quick weekends in Nashville and Louisville). As some of you know, Robert’s brother was diagnosed with cancer and we moved into his house for three months to help care for him. Then, we took a road trip through Iowa and Minnesota (where we saw some good friends) and Wisconsin (where we visited my parents) and finally back to Chicago (to see doctors and visit friends). After the road trip, we made a quick visit to Arizona to see Robert’s parents. Then, after a month out of the U.S., we returned to Chicago for a couple of days. And, at the end of the year, we returned to the U.S. to visit doctors in Chicago and to see my parents in Florida and Robert’s parents in Arizona, with a brief stop in between to visit Vegas for Christmas. When 2019 started, we never dreamed we would spend so much time in the U.S. And, as you can imagine, our perspectives on the U.S. were really marred by the reason we came back in the first place. That said, outside of seeing friends and family, we can’t say we really enjoyed our time back in the U.S. in 2019 And the tone of this post reflects that. Sadly, nothing too funny to see here. Hang on, this is going to be a bit of a bumpy ride.