Sunday, June 19, 2016

Pattyns on Travelling Mexico and Central America


Since we are going to be blogging about all our wonderful adventures in the retirement that we have (literally) been waiting for a lifetime for, I thought that the best place to start would be at the planning beginning.  The beginning really is the dreams and whimsical thoughts that we all allow to flutter around in our brains, the daydreams, the thoughts of what would I rather be doing?  However, lets be practical, that blog would have started many years and a vast number of pages ago.  

Preparations is the part that so often gets overlooked, when you read about peoples adventures, about how they drove across Mexico or into Central America, do you get to be privy about how they put it all together before they started out?  I haven't seen anything like that yet so here is my version.

Get rid of the stuff that is trapping you into one place.

We started with an attitude change and a big adjustment in lifestyle.  We balance each other in that he is a pack-rat and I am a minimalist so this first stage was much easier and less traumatic for me that it was for my dear patient husband.  As the owners of a 2400 square foot house in one of the best parts of a Montana small town, we had a comfortable home with a yard that we loved, nice furniture in a 4 bedroom, 3 1/2 bathroom newer house with 2 car garage.  We were gathering 'stuff' in that big home because with just the 2 of us, there was initially plenty of room.  It is amazing how quickly you gather more "things", parents pass and it is difficult to part with memories, then you need a new china cabinet to hold those family pieces - it snowballs and it keeps you there because it is easier to stay than to let go and move on.  We did move on, we had a few garage sales, several trips to Goodwill and even a couple of trips to the dump.  When we sold the house, we even sold quite a bit of the furniture with it so were ready for the next step - all our belongings in a 16' rental truck and a 3 day trip from Montana down to San Antonio Texas.

In San Antonio we now have a little 2 bedroom apartment and no garage - we are realizing that we still have more 'stuff' than we need.  Recent floods were another wake-up call as to the real value of possessions, I felt so sorry for those who lost everything in the flood and realized that it doesn't hurt if you don't have anything that you really can't live without.

Now that we are in the stage of turning dreams into goals, we have just signed another lease on the apartment for 13 months and decided that is it - when that lease is up we are going to retire and be ready for the adventure of a lifetime.  We have already started the second downsize phase and it is much easier this time, there is less emotion involved because we know that if it doesn't fit in the car, it either holds us back or it doesn't come with us.  Well we are going so the stuff has to go. Now don't misunderstand, we never had a place jam packed with stuff, but still we had a bit more that we really needed - I mean, you can only bake in so many casserole dishes at a time and we can only use one drill at a time and are we even using it now that we are not home owners?  This time we have used Craig's List (much better response in San Antonio than in small town Montana) and have been making some fine donations to Salvation Army.  We also spent a day at Trader's Village and had a wonderful time meeting people and chatting with other traders and anyone else that wanted to talk.  This gave us a better insight into what our future life is going to be like because we are going to be driving through Mexico,and Central America down to Panama.  Life is going to be total immersion of the local culture, we want to live like locals and absorb as much of as many different cultures as we can.  We don't know where we are going to end up but we do know that we are going to have fun getting there and we will know where we want to spend more time, when we get there !

Less Tangible Stuff to get rid of

We had a time-share that we had not had time to make much use of and we were very happy to trade it in as part payment for a travel agency plan with reduced rate hotels, flights etc.  Now the fun part really begins because we had points that we had to use up.  What better way to start retirement and our life adventure than having a vacation of a lifetime using those time-share points.  We spent a good half a day planning our trip through Mexico making use of time-share weeks - we had four to use.

Cross 1 item off the To-Do list - vacation weeks booked and documented.  Our weeks are going to be in Mazatlan; Puerto Vallarta; Acapulco and finally Cancun.  Needless to say there are several days travelling between some of those vacation weeks so another good day has been spent planning the route going for cheaper option hotels through the new Travel Agency plan that we bought into.

With a whole year still to go, the excitement is already building as I start looking at all the old colonial towns and where we will probably spend a couple of days exploring archaeological sites (I wanted to be an archaeologist among other things when I was a kid).

Update 6/16/2016
Believe it or not, one of the most difficult parts of the cleansing process is getting rid of paperwork - we have religiously filed 'necessary' documents, memorable documents, years of printed copies of our tax returns and more stuff than I can to think about.  We spent a stressful day shredding a couple of weekends ago but there is still a safe and a large lateral filing cabinet full of documents and all those cards, invites and other mementos that ust beg to be kept.  This is the one area that causes friction between us - getting rid of so much even though we are already down to so little.  Today with 9 month still to go (6/19/2016) we made a breakthrough by agreeing that we each have 2 suitcases and 1 computer bag that we will be able to take with us.  Suddenly it is so much easier to wage that shredding battle and we got rid of a huge sack full of shredded documents - sure we still have a lot to do but not nearly as much.  We are so lucky that we are living in a digital age and are using the cloud to store digital documents - we will need to set aside some serious time to scan photographs and store them out on the cloud so that we can dispose of the printed copies of them too.  The battle continues but we are stronger.

Auto insurance - I did a quote here at Sanborns Mexico Insurance and came up with a premium of $439.41 for 182 days with coverage of Liability: $300,000 - $150,000 Excess Limit and $20,000 Medical Limit with $500 Physical Damage and $1,000 Theft deductibles (10%)

What do you really need to take with you.

Another great part of the preparation stage was looking for a water purification system to take with us - that took us into REI where we had a VERY long chat with a rock climber who works there.  We swapped stories of adventures and upcoming adventures, of what his experiences have been driving in Mexico and how we plan to cope with different scenarios.  

Cultural Preparation

We want to fit in and don't want to go on our travels being 'those arrogant Americans' so we are learning Spanish.  There are several very good free online language sites and I have found that after reaching a certain level with one course, I am using other courses at the same time. This is helping to prevent any sort of boredom and complacency as well as ensuring that I get the exposure and understanding of several dialects.  Having paid out previously for a very well known language course, I really prefer the free ones that I am currently working with (Memrise and SpanishDict).

Gather Information wherever we go

International Living is an invaluable resource - I seriously advise subscribing to their daily postcards and buying into the monthly magazine for at least a year - it is not at all expensive and they constantly have special offers on subscription.  Try to attend at least one of the many conferences that they have in various venues - some in the US and others on  location in Central America.

While following email links about travel and vacation offers, it is amazing how much information can be picked up.  For example, when clicking on a link for a vacation in Mazatlan, I found this information at the resort site:
Mazatlan Cathedral 
This large 19th-century cathedral, right in the heart of Old Mazatlán, has high, yellow twin towers, a dramatic interior and some beautiful statues. Built from 1875 to 1890, it faces the Plaza Principal, which has lush trees and a bandstand.

WikiHow is also invaluable - there are so many articles with conflicting information everywhere - at times some of these articles have almost made me wonder if we are mad taking on this adventure, being advised how unsafe it is to drive in Mexico.  The other day I came across an article that said stop reading those, stop reading all the dire warnings put out by the state department because they are over-dramatized (this from a resident of one of the 'most dangerous areas in Mexico').  Today I came across this WikiHow article when searching about driving in Mexico - interesting read even if it is filled with huge unnecessary photographs of speedometers etc.


It looks look Hepatitis A, Typhoid and Tetanus shots will be needed with possibly Diptheria and Rabies when visiting rural areas.

Water in bottles or marked 'drinking/sterilized water' can be drunk without precautions. All other water should be boiled or sterilized before consuming. Milk in major cities, hotels and resorts is pasteurized, otherwise it will probably be unpasteurized. Travelers concerned about drinking unpasteurized milk will find powdered or tinned milk readily available. Only eat well-cooked meat and fish, cooked vegetables and peeled fruit.


Drive the magnificent Avenue of the Volcanoes between Cuenca and Quito (45 plane trip).  Both great expat locations.  Cuenca has the biggest expect community in a city with a small town feel and laidback attitude - quaint and somewhat isaled until more recently.  Same resources as the larger city of Quito, just less of them and most close between 1 and 3.  Quito's expat community is more spread throughout the city.

Carry small change - if you pull out a $20 you will probably have to wait for the vendor to go and find someone with change.

Don't open a bank account until you know where you will live - best to have one close to home and have a personal relationship with your banker.
There are only 2 banks in Ecuador that can accept direct deposits of US Social Security benefits : Banco Guayaquil and Produbanco

Tips (servicio or propinas) may already be added to bill - check before adding another tip.

Water and property tax bills etc won't be delivered to you - it is up to you to find out when they are due and go to the proper office to pay them .


is the capital in northern Andes (9,350 feet)
Hospital Metropolitano is one of the highest rated in all of Latin America.


in the southern Andes (8400 feet).

Staying a while in Ecuador?

A couple can join IESS, the Ecuador subsidized healthcare system—that covers all your healthcare cost, including prescriptions—for just $81 a month? It's true...and you'll be accepted no matter your pre-existing conditions.

Virtual Mail

US Global Mail (owned by Google) - $10/mth INDIVIDUAL $15/mth family
scanning at a fee???  this sounds expensive

Stuff to Take?

Our USB Travel Monitor monitor is going to be a boon to use with our laptops, as is the foldable little windows keyboard that we picked up recently.

Sawyer Mini Water Filter - handles 100,000 gallons - $24.95 @ REI or $17.80 @ Amazon

Deflecto Early Warning Road Safety Triangle Kit, Reflective, 3-Pack $19.98

3M Scotchlite Reflective Tape, Red, 2-Inch by 36-Inch $6.81

Space Saver No Vacuum Bags by Acrodo: 5 Jumbo, 5 Large Rolling Bags for Travel $19.97

Guatamala Volunteering

Another lead while enjoying some time in REI again (what a great place with a great bunch of people to talk about this type of thing with). an all volunteer operation funding a school and home for street kids in the area and kids at risk of becoming street kids.  This is such an exciting possibility for us but I think we are a bit old for the hiking part because they are all much younger than us and more into sleeping out in the bush.  What we are really excited about it helping out in the school and home - I can put my teaching literacy skills back into practice, 

Gerald can use his extreme patience skills with the older kids and I can share hugs as needed with the younger ones as well as teach English.

To apply, contact EDELAC directly at
La Cortesia etc:

Expat in Ecuador

Bits and Bobs: We also bought a very handy corkscrew/bottle opener which is much better than the one we have now and much better for travelling as the screw is not exposed and it neatly collapses to the size of a very small pocketknife.  Got to make sure that we have the important things covered :)