People have often asked us how we retired in our 40s. While living in Ajijic, Mexico we were interviewed by Jerry Brown along with his wife, Lori. They have a YouTube channel called "Jerry Brown Travels".
You can see the interview in its entirety by clicking on the link below. Make sure you check out his other videos as he has a wealth of information about living abroad.
I knew I was overdue by about six months for my annual "lady parts" check up. Since we pay as we go for health care during our overseas travels, I want the best health care options at the most affordable price.
I happened to be on a Facebook page for ladies living in the Ajijic area and found a great post. It was from a fellow expat who was advertising a "Ladies' Health Package" via the local doctor's office here in town. The package included transportation by a private driver to and from Guadalajara City's medical center, a digital mammogram, a breast ultrasound, a PAP smear and a bone density test. When I saw the price listed, I thought it was a typo at first. Only 1500 pesos?! Wait! That's only $81! How can that be?
Needless to say, I called Dr. Leon's office and spoke to Marlene, his English speaking nurse. She assured me that the package price was indeed only 1500 pesos and scheduled me to go the next week (this package is offered twice monthly). The receptionist told me that the driver would leave at 9:30 a.m., and the trip into Guadalajara would take about an hour. After all my tests were completed, I would be driven home in time for lunch....amazing!
When my driver pulled up to the Chopo Clinic in the city of Guadalajara, I was pleased with how modern and professional it was. I was greeted in the reception area and quickly registered for my appointment. The staff is very friendly, but their English is limited, so it's best to either take a Spanish translator along with you or have an online translation app handy for some of the more technical medical questions the staff will ask you during your appointment.
After waiting for about ten minutes, I was called back to have my mammogram. The tech talked me through the process in a combination of Spanish, English, and pantomime. We had some giggles over our communication blunders but it was not an unpleasant or painful procedure at all.
My next stop was a bone density test. This was my first one so I was a little curious/nervous about what it would entail. It turned out to be completely painless. I had to lie face up on a table while an x-ray type machine scanned me head to toe from above. That test only took about five minutes.
I was then escorted to my breast ultrasound. The tech was very thorough and even had a flat screen HDTV mounted on the wall for me to see my ultrasound being done in real time. I, however, chose not to look at it. I have too many "lumps-n-bumps" that it would freak me out to see her stop at each one to measure and record it (shudder!).
My final station was the vaginal exam and PAP test. This test is always my least favorite but all the techs during my exams were female and very professional. They made sure I felt comfortable and informed. Before I knew it, I was getting dressed again and my driver was waiting for me in the lobby.
At around 1:00 p.m. I was returned to Dr. Leon's office in Ajijic and the receptionist told me that my results would be available to me the following week. Then Dr. Leon told me that if there were any concerns I would hear from them in 48 hours or less, which gave me peace of mind.
The results? All is good with my "lady parts" and my bone density test showed no signs of early osteoperosis, which I attribute to my years of running and weight bearing exercise. Whew! It was a relief to get back such a good report and to have it done and over with for another year.
I would highly recommend this health care package to any ladies in the area. It was an unbelievable price for a state-of-the-art experience in a first class medical facility.
Next appointment I am overdue for? Colonoscopy. Fun times ahead for me, right?
It's hard to believe that we've been in Mexico for two full months already! The time has really whizzed right on by. We are really looking forward to celebrating 2017 in our temporary "home" of Ajijic. Here are a few things we've already observed about this area that makes it one of the most desired retirement destinations in the world for expats from both the U.S. and Canada.
Cost of Living:
As of today, the exchange rate is 20 pesos to the dollar. In my elementary math mind, it's easier if I simply think of it as every 100 pesos I spend is equal to approximately $5.00. The rate of exchange here has doubled in the past ten years! That means our dollar is worth twice as much now. Mexico is ON SALE, people! The cost of living here is one of the main draws for retirees who are looking to stretch their Social Security and/or retirement benefits. There are retirees who are able to live on just their monthly Social Security check. Seriously!
An average meal for two, including drinks (beer or soda) at a local Mexican restaurant only costs us about 100 pesos ($5) total, with tip. There are also many more international and upscale restaurants in town which can double or triple the cost. However, the price we pay at a more upscale restaurant here in Mexico for a 12 oz. filet mignon with salad, bread and baked potato is still only 180 pesos ($8.72), or a third of the price we'd pay stateside.
If you've been following our blog, you know we also found a bargain of
an apartment here in a Mexican neighborhood....
Pretty much anyone who gets to know me, finds that I am not a fan of hot, humid weather. At all. Our first year as early retirees in Chiang Mai, Thailand had me really weary of the daily oppressively steamy heat after only a few months there. I managed to stay indoors in the air conditioning during the hottest parts of the day, but I felt so out of sorts in that year round hot climate.
I knew, from talking with friends and from doing some research, that Lake Chapala, Mexico has the second best climate IN THE WORLD! The #1 climate is found somewhere in Africa and I'm not ready to live that far away, so Lake Chapala was our next choice for a long term stopover.
From the minute we moved here, I knew we'd made the right choice. The average temperature here year round is in the mid 70s. The winter mornings are cooler (in the 50s/60s) and the afternoons are warmer (mid 80s). We enjoy dry air, blue skies, very little rain, and light lake breezes. The sunrises and sunsets are stunning as well. I really enjoy having mountain and lake views from our apartment's mirador (upper terrace). The birds and flowers here are some of the most vibrant I've ever seen anywhere. It's a veritable kaleidoscope of color all year long!
People we meet:
It's rather rare to find a place where it's just so easy to meet new people. From the moment we arrived in Mexico, the warmth of the locals and expats alike was immediately evident. Everyone just seemed so...happy! We would go out for a bite at a cafe and strike up a conversation with other expats who have either just moved here or have lived here already for decades. They all agree that we made a perfect choice in Ajijic. We have had so many invitations, outings, and events to attend that we are exhausted, but in the best way. The retirees here, although many are older than us, outlast us by far most days in their energy level. We often need to apologize and tell them that we're beat and have to get to bed while they're still laughing and chatting (and dancing) the night away together. We definitely have to learn how to pace ourseslves or we'll get burned out....haha!
The local Mexicans are amazing as well. Their sense of family unity, generosity, and bright smiles that light up their entire face, are all such a blessing to behold. Older Mexican men gallantly tip their hats to me as I pass by and always give me the greeting of the day. The women and children are lovely as well. I would compare the sense of community here in Ajijic to that of the 1950s in the U.S. Everyone is out and about, children play happily in the plaza parks with no apparent supervision (and are perfectly safe), and neighbors stop to chat with each other on every street corner. This idyllic, interactive setting lends a great "vibe" to the place. Even with the obvious language barrier, we have had nothing but positive interactions with the Mexican people we've met while we are here.
Things to do:
One of the reasons we felt that it was time to leave Panajachel, Guatemala, was the lack of activities for us to choose from. It's a much smaller community; more geared for tourists who come to the lake for their weekend getaway and like to shop for Mayan handicrafts. I found a Zumba class and we had good friends who we met up with regularly, but Randy was left with not much else to do to keep himself fit and busy.
Coming to Ajijic was the perfect advice from our friends, Billy and Akaisha. They had lived in this area for four years and they felt it would be a much better fit for us as far as quality of daily life. We are happy to say they were spot on! Due to the large number of expats here (approximately 10,000 and growing!) we have a plethora of events to fill our calendar such as attending plays at the little theater, playing softball, live music/happy hours, fiestas with the locals, ladies' nights, volunteering with local orphanages, and countless other activities we have yet to discover!
2017 is looking like it will be a great year for new discoveries here in Mexico. We will keep you updated on our travels here as well as our house and pet sitting plans for the coming months. Hoping you all enjoy a happy, healthy, and prosperous New Year, wherever you may be.
Click on the photos below for captions and more information about life here in Mexico.
We have also added a new travel picture page titled Travel '17-. You can see more pictures from Lake Chapala and soon we will add pictures of our beach trip to Manzanillo.
Right after we found a place to live while in Ajijic, Mexico it was time for us to take care of some (health) business. As medical tourists, we carefully research the recommended doctors and dentists that we may need when we're in a new country. Through a Facebook page dedicated for visitors to this area needing health services, we discovered just what we were looking for.
From other expats living in Ajijic, we found a highly recommended dentist who was just a short bus trip away from us. Doctora Candy Ugalde ("doctora" is Spanish for female doctor) was trained in Guadalajara, speaks perfect English, and has a cheerful, calm, and professional demeanor. We stopped by her office one afternoon just to meet her and her staff, and our first impressions were very positive.
Dra. Candy, even though we had no official appointments scheduled yet, took us under her wing and assisted us with filling out the necessary new patient paperwork. She and her staff spoke English, asked us the necessary health history questions, and clearly listed their prices for each service we may need. We were pleasantly surprised to learn that the initial check-up at the beginning of the exam was free. We would only be charged for cleaning and any x-rays, if needed.
When it came time for our scheduled appointments, I slyly cut in front of Randy and quickly volunteered to go first, mainly just to get it over with. Teeth cleaning is not my favorite way to spend the morning, so the sooner it was over with, the happier I'd be. When Dra. Candy led me back to the exam room, I was very impressed. It looked just like a nice dental office stateside, and maybe even better. I soon noticed a flat screen television mounted on the ceiling and curiously asked about it.
Dra. Candy smiled and said that she had a television installed to make her patients feel more comfortable and distracted while having their dental procedures done. She told me I could pick anything from a Netflix drama or comedy series, to a YouTube concert, to zen meditation videos. She wanted me to relax and enjoy the experience as much as possible.
Dra. Candy began with a complimentary dental exam. After the exam, she cleaned and polished my teeth, which only took about a half hour. She was thorough yet very gentle, and explained each step along the way. After my teeth were sparkling clean, she put a small camera in my mouth and gave me a tour of my dental issues. She turned on the screen above my head and showed me very specifically what she had found. I was not thrilled to see that I had one or two minor cracks in a few of my back molars and a possible cavity forming as well.
Her recommendations were for me to stay away from my favorite snack, popcorn (most likely the cause of my superficially cracked molars), keep the areas cleaned and flossed daily, and to return in six months for a follow up exam to check the cavity. She predicted that eventually the cracks would be deep enough to warrant a cap over the tooth, but for now, I'm off the hook. Whew!
Randy's turn went just as smoothly. He had a few minor flaws too, but Dra. Candy's professional opinion was that we were good to go for another six months before she reevaluates our issues.
When we walked back up to the front desk to pay, we were a little nervous. Not having health insurance means we pay as we need treatment in countries where we are staying, and costs can vary widely all over the world.
The grand total for our exams and cleaning was 400 pesos ($21)! We literally only paid 200 pesos ($10.50) EACH for this visit! It was one of the most professional and pleasant experiences we've ever encountered at any dentist. When we were living in the U.S., an exam and cleaning like this would run us at least $100 or more each.
We would highly recommend Dra. Candy Ugalde at Dental Health One in Ajijic, Mexico for all your dental needs. She's even conveniently located directly across the highway from WalMart! We feel like we're in very good hands here across the border.
Our latest adventure has brought us to central Mexico on the shores of Lake Chapala. This is Lori's first time to visit Mexico, and my second. I was here briefly as an exchange student in my teens. It's interesting to return and delve into the Mexican culture for a longer stay.
After a short 30 minute taxi ride ($26 w/tip) from the Guadalajara airport we disembarked in Ajijic. It's a beautiful lakeside town known for its artsy persona, lots of retired expats, and a myriad of international restaurants and activities to keep us busy.
As usual, we had previously booked a cheap little B&B right off the main plaza in the middle of town. For future reference, don't book near Plaza Ajijic during festival time, like we (unknowingly) did. The fireworks WILL keep you up at night.
The next day, we hit the ground running, looking for our next long term stay. Our criteria was that we needed a furnished one bedroom, one bath apartment that rented for under $400 per month. We also needed a month-to-month lease, rather than the usual six month or yearly lease that is the standard here. From what we researched we thought we would have a very difficult time finding someplace to meet these specifics. We knew we were arriving right in the beginning of high season, when all the Canadian and American snowbirds fly south for the winter. However, we remained hopeful as we began our search throughout town.
Tip: When looking for anything in a new town/country ask the locals! Every shop or restaurant we walked into we would smile, say hello in Spanish, and ask, "Do you know someone who is renting?" You would be very surprised at just how many people said "yes" or that they knew someone else who was willing to rent. If you choose to go to the local rental agencies or official real estate offices instead, you will probably pay "gringo" prices as well as an additional finder's fee.
We had a few leads from our initial inquiries and stopped by one recommended apartment building where we met an expat gentleman coming right out his front door. We asked him about his apartment and he invited us to come right on inside and have a look around! It was a nice place with a shared traditional Mexican courtyard for only $425 per month. It included WiFi, electricity, and water, but he had to purchase his own bottles of propane for the stove and his own drinking water as well. We took note of the apartment landlord's contact details and said we'd think about it. Then, the hunt continued.
Before arriving in Ajijic, we had put out some inquiries on a few Lake Chapala Facebook pages and got a response one morning from a local realtor named Carlos. He showed us a place that afternoon that was just too good for us to pass up. It was a traditional Mexican apartment, not a typical Western-style "gringo" villa that most expats choose. Those villas run at least twice the amount our self-imposed rental budget. Anyway, we preferred the idea of living more locally rather than being sequestered behind a gated community.
We really wanted to search for apartments in some of the other towns on the lake as well, but with it being the start of high season and places going at lightning speed, we didn't want to miss out altogether. We later found out that the place Carlos showed us hadn't been rented for over a year. Hmmmmm...we'd soon find out the reason for the long gap in renters.
We liked the place Carlos showed us immediately. Lori described it as "Mexican shabby chic", with the emphasis leaning slightly more toward shabby than chic. However, it was airy and the plethora of windows allowed in lots of sunlight and lake breezes. We also really loved the added bonus of having both mountain and lake views. It even came with a gardener! The final deciding factor was that the location was perfect, just a short walk away from the center of town, and near a bus stop if we needed to roam farther.
Upon closer inspection of the apartment, however, we soon discovered that there were a few things that needed attention before we could agree to sign off on a month's lease. The propane did not flow smoothly out of the stove like it would in the U.S. The flame was almost nonexistent, even on high, so boiling water or cooking took a bit longer. The cable TV was mostly in Spanish with only 5-6 English channels from which to choose and the channels with NFL games were snowy looking. And as of this writing, the internet is STILL in question. We need a whole new cable installed that will run from the apartment out to the street. Let's hope that this gets resolved sooner rather than later. We keep asking our landlord daily about the internet and every day he cheerfully says, "Oh sure! They will fix it today." We've heard this for two weeks straight now. New culture, new time table, we're guessing?
Our little apartment is in a local Mexican neighborhood, but overall we still feel pretty safe. There's a locked gate at the front of the apartments that only residents have access to. So far, there have been no problems (other than the roosters and dogs next door waking us up at 3 a.m.) but one always must remain vigilant when traveling anywhere in the world. We don't venture out on foot late at night and we don't carry lots of cash or wear flashy jewelry. I know we'll never "blend in" like the locals, but we also don't invite ourselves to be easy targets.
Our apartment was priced at $350 per month and that includes electricity, water, cable TV, WiFi, gardener, and propane. The only thing we have to pay for is our bottled drinking water, which costs us only $1 per five gallon bottle each week. Our landlord also agreed to our month-to-month lease stipulation, which is a rarity in Mexico.
We have now moved into our little place and have happily made it our temporary home. See the picture gallery below for a grand tour of our tiny abode.
Click on pictures below for captions and a larger image.
"Day of the Dead" is a celebration in Mexico to honor the deceased. It coincides with the Catholic holiday called All Saints Day. (Nov. 1 & 2) The Mexican people believe that the gates of heaven are opened at midnight on October 31, and the spirits of all deceased children (angelitos) are allowed to reunite with their families for 24 hours. On November 2, the spirits of the adults come down to enjoy the festivities that are prepared for them." (http://www.mexicansugarskull.com/support/dodhistory.html)
All over town you will see shrines to loved ones that the locals are honoring. They are set up in homes with candlelit pathways to help show the spirit the way home.
In all the towns you will see street art, handmade skeletons, and decorated skulls made from sugar. Flowers are bought by the bushel to adorn shrines and gravesites in the cemeteries. Parades and fireworks fill the day and night as street vendors supply ample food and drink for everyone.
One of the coolest things you will find during this festival are the skeletons (calacas). These skeletons ironically represent that not even the very rich can escape death. That is why they are always well dressed and adorned with jewels. School children create many of these statues and place them all around the plaza for people to view. You will see many costumes on these skeletons, from bakers to doctors, to represent all walks of life.
If you are ever in Mexico near the end of October, make sure you hang around for a just few extra days and check out Dia de los Muertos for a truly unique and interesting festival, that enthusiastically celebrates (rather than fears) death.
Click on a picture for captions and a larger image.
Why a blog post titled "731 days" and not two years, you ask? Since this is now considered our lifestyle, we decided to measure our spending day by day, rather than year by year.
The result? After some number crunching on our spreadsheet here is our conclusion. Over this entire time frame while in early retirement, we have spent an average of $75 per day. This includes ALL expenses! Not too bad considering we wanted our budget to be under $100 per day or less than $3000 per month. We were well under that projection.
What our tracking data showed us is that some days we spend more, some days less, but overall our daily average is below our intended projection. This is the reason for our goal of slow travel. Airfare is always a major expense. Therefore, if we can stay 90-180 days in one location, then the price of the airfare gets offset by the longer length of stay.
The same can be said for accommodations. If we stay for only a brief time in one place, hotel fees can add up. However, if we stay longer in one place we can usually negotiate a better price with a hotel, apartment rental or B&B.
This summer, our expenses in May started out higher on a daily basis due to the fact that we took a repositioning cruise from the US to Europe. We also spent a little time in England and Scotland, locations that are more expensive to visit. To offset these higher cost travel days, we took a house sitting job for the summer, so the overall average of the three months fell right in line with our planned expenditures, keeping us on track.
As each day, month, and year goes by, our daily spending average will adjust over time. Hopefully it will continue to decrease as we find other inexpensive places to travel.
Wonder where we may be heading next? Stay tuned for our next adventure and find out if this budget-friendly spending trend continues.
Our final week in Europe took us to the city of Amsterdam in the Netherlands. We have tried to get to this city several times in the past and it never worked out. This time we would not be denied.
Once we booked our tickets back to the states out of Amsterdam we immediately went online to get tickets to the Anne Frank House. Lori has wanted to see this historical spot ever since she read Anne Frank's famous diary back in elementary school. It is a highly recommended stop and millions visit her secret hideaway each year. We were fortunate enough to see her actual diary, which is sometimes out on loan to other museums around the world.
If you plan on going to visit the Anne Frank House, we would recommend you purchase them online as soon as the date you choose becomes available (two months before your arrival date). If not, you will have to wait in line beginning at 3 PM to get same day non-reserved tickets. But beware. You could wait in line for hours (outdoors in inclement weather) and still not get in, so be prepared.
We purchased a two day transportation ticket (tram, bus, metro) for 12.50 euros each. The more days you purchase, the bigger the discount. We used the trams exclusively instead of the subway because we wanted to be able to see the city as we rode from place to place. And here's an important transportation tip: be sure to validate your card (hold it against the scanner on board) when you get on and off the bus, tram, or subway. If not, your card will become null and void. It's very expensive to be ticketed by law enforcement for not having a valid transportation pass.
Amsterdam is filled with history and wonderful architecture. The muddy canals are indicative of the color of swamp water. Why? The city was built on a swamp. Everywhere you turn, you see innovations of the past that are still used today to prevent the inevitable floods that happened often. The buildings are slanted and hooks are placed in the top of them in order to hoist the furniture and goods to the top floors without destroying the exterior of the home during flooding. The stairs are typically too narrow to use to move large items quickly.
If you love cheese, Amsterdam is the place to visit. The origins of Gouda and Edam cheese can be found nearby in the cities that bear those same names. Don't forget to visit the many shops that surround the downtown area. Free samples are offered in every one.
No trip to Amsterdam would be complete without a stroll through the red light district. The oldest profession in the world is made famous here in Amsterdam. The business of prostitution is legal here and is as highly regulated and taxed as any other profession. If it weren't for the red lights, one might not even know you were in this famous district. On one street in the red light district we found a church, a kindergarten, a sex shop, a flower market, and girls on display in their "office" windows. The government's rationale for this, was to make every neighborhood as normal as possible in order to deter crime.
The other infamous attraction in Amsterdam are the ubiquitous "coffee houses." Cannabis is legal in Amsterdam and a plethora of tourists flock to this city to partake in this adult play land. In fact, as you walk through the city, the smell of marijuana is very prevalent around every corner. You can walk into any of these coffee houses and the employees behind the counter will assist you with your desired effect. Prices on the menus will vary depending on the quality of your choice. So, if you'd like an actual coffee, avoid the coffee houses altogether and head to a cafe instead.
We didn't get into the countryside like we wanted to, but we will be back. Amsterdam is a wonderful city and full of life. Don't miss out if you have the chance to visit.
We have uploaded the rest of our Amsterdam pictures to our travel section of this blog. Click "Travel 15-16" at the top of this page and then scroll to the bottom to see the rest of the pictures of our time here.
We have always said that slow travel is the best way to connect with a place. Last fall when we visited Europe, we were trying to see as much as we could during that trip. This time, we stayed in Germany for two months and our only agenda was to soak in the culture of Europe.
We have stayed the majority of our time in the small town of Vilseck, Germany. It is the quintessential Bavarian town minus the Alps. We are a little too far north to see those. Lawns are perfectly manicured and there are hiking and biking trails all over the place linking villages to one another.
Having a central hub to live in has allowed us to interact with the locals and to explore the surrounding towns more intimately. We had schnitzel in Wieden, (Remember, the German W is pronounced with the V sound.) went to the movies in Amberg and even visited the Cinderella Castle (Neuschwanstein) on a trip to Garmisch.
This part of Germany is so close to the Czech Republic that Lori even went on an overnight spa trip with some of her girlfriends. It was a smaller version of her birthday trip to Chodovar last fall. (http://freetirement.weebly.com/blog/celebrating-50-years)
Having no trip agenda allows us to meet locals and see how they live on a day to day basis. Biking and walking the trails around the villages and communing with nature is a legitimate prescription from doctors here before they start prescribing medicine. We have gotten to know the ladies that work in the local Metzgerei (butcher), where they have daily lunch specials of traditional German foods. They also know us in the Edeka and Netto (grocery stores) where we shop daily for fresh fruits and vegetables.
A tradition here in Germany involves honoring Sunday as a day of rest. Nobody is allowed to do work such as mowing lawns or washing cars. It is meant for families to be out in nature together enjoying a more quiet time. Therefore, we have made Sunday mornings our weekly date. We stroll to the local bakery in Vilseck where we enjoy seeing the neighborhood pass by our window as we sip coffee and share a warm apple strudel. Afterward, we may walk one of the local trails and feed the ducks along the way. Sundays were never more enjoyable than here in Germany.
This is what slow travel is all about. It allows us to get involved and learn from the culture of our temporary host country. We hope you get the opportunity next time you travel to do it more slowly. Absorb the culture and embrace the differences. We promise, it will make a lasting impression on your life.
(Click on the pictures below for captions and a larger image.)
We are early retired teachers and empty nesters in search of adventure during the next phase of our lives. The world awaits and we are ready to get out there and take it all in!