Adventures for the new year

Hello and happy New Year from Oaxaca, Mexico. We arrived here from Panama City, Panama on December 23.

Panama City, Panama wasn’t my favorite place. Andy liked it a little bit more than I did. Some cities are soul filling, and some cities are soul sucking. Panama City, Panama sucked my soul. Maybe my opinion was clouded because of the pandemic. Maybe the unbearable heat and humidity made for a less than optional experience. Living in Panama City was very much like living in the United States. In fact, if Spanish had not been spoken everywhere, I would have thought we were living in the United States. Panama even uses the U.S. dollar as its main currency (in addition to Panamanian currency). In my prior post, I talked about how expensive things were, even pricier than our time in Japan.

We rented two places in Panama, a modern, hip loft, and a super chi-chi Airbnb, something we normally don’t do. But due to Covid 19, the owner cut us a great deal. After the loft, we stayed on the 29th floor of a three-bedroom five bathroom penthouse in a secure building in a hip neighborhood called San Francisco. The penthouse had a stellar, jaw dropping view of other high rise buildings in Panama and of the ocean. If we looked really carefully, and squinted a bit, we could see ships lining up ,waiting to enter the Panama Canal! We spent a lot of time in the penthouse, happily starting out the floor to ceiling glass windows.

We never tired of our incredible Penthouse view.

It was magical, a once in a lifetime experience (especially for the price we paid) and the owner turned out to be a great guy. He asked us for several suggestions on how he could improve his already amazing place, and when I emailed him my long list of suggestions, he took them all!

The neighborhood where the penthouse was located turned out to be great too. At first glance it seemed to be mostly residential consisting of high rise after high rise, and a smattering of regular houses. But once we started exploring, we realized that it had a lot of great high-end grocery stores, nice cafes, and a high-end cheese shop where I bought some divine truffle cheese.

We didn’t really get to check out the Panamanian countryside, which is really unfortunate because we’ve heard this is the best part of Panama. Perhaps the best part of being in Panama City was the incredible Covid 19 precautions the entire country took. We never saw ONE person without a mask in our 7 week stay. Our temperatures were taken in every single place we went and we were always offered gel. We felt really, really safe. We left just as the country was cracking down on its population. A strict stay-at-home order was ordered for Christmas weekend and for New Years weekend. Everyone was asked to just stay inside. And during the week, women were allowed to shop only during certain days for two hours, with men being allowed out other days. And an evening curfew was set for 7 PM countrywide.

Now we’re in Oaxaca, Mexico which is simply incredible. We’ve been to Oaxaca once before, two or maybe three years ago? I think we came for 2.5 weeks and we stayed a bit outside of the city center. I don’t actually remember that much from the trip here, but here’s what I do recall.

  1. I left my brand new Google Pixel phone in the back of a taxicab. Goodbye phone! We spent 2 days using the “Find my phone” feature but never found it.

2. We stayed in a nice apartment complex where many American’s stay. It was called Suites Le Fe. The apartment was nice, but it had a lot of ants! We came in low season and we were the only people in the entire complex for our stay.

3. We took a day trip and visited several small towns where we saw a lot of fantastic indigenous art.

4. We ate a few really great meals, including one of the best meals I’ve ever had in Mexico. I think we will go back again this trip.

Now we’re staying at an Airbnb about 10 minutes outside of the city center. The house is great! It’s got three bedrooms and 2.5 baths. It’s in a great area, and because it was designed by an architect it’s got a great aesthetics. We are very glad we rented it. Unfortunately, the only thing it doesn’t have is comfortable furniture. The couch isn’t a great place to lounge. And it’s a bit dark inside, but it’s still a beautiful house. You can see the listing here.

We’ve been spending our days working, and going to outdoor cafes. Unfortunately, Oaxaca is not doing very well Covid wise. Cases are rising and rising. For this reason, we are trying to spend more time at home than we would normally spend. We rarely go out for dinner, and we try to avoid the tourist center. There are many unmasked people in the tourist center–sadly they seem to be mostly Americans. I am saddened by the disrespect they show for the Mexican people. They do not have the common decency to wear a mask to protect anyone–especially the local indigenous population. The hospitals in Oaxaca are already saturated and if a local person or even if an American gets sick, I am not sure where they will be able to go to get care.

Even though we are not visiting as many cafes, shops and restaurants as we would normally visit, we are enjoying the vibe of Oaxaca tremendously. The weather is fantastic! Sunny days (78 or so) with cool nights. There is no humidity and this climate feels great after sweating it out in Panama. We are enjoying all of the art surrounding us. We see beautiful murals on so many buildings. We see stunning examples of modern Mexican architecture and great examples of old, historical buildings. Then there’s mezcal galore, and chocolate, and mole. I have a sneaky suspicion we’re going to want to spend a significant amount of time here in the future. Our hearts still belong in Morelia, but Oaxaca is giving Morelia a good run for its money!

In February and March, our plan is to hangout in Zihuatanejo with my mom for two months. Then we are not sure where we will be or what we will do. We don’t have any definite travel plans for 2021–although I would love to do an extended trip to Asia including Thailand and Japan. But we cannot make any plans until the pandemic gets more under control.

I will write again when we get to Zihuatanejo

Finding our groove in Panama City, Panama

Hello from Casco Viejo, Panama. Before I start this post about Panama, I just want to thank everyone for sending so many greetings & well wishes as I approached my five year cancerversary. It was super heart-warming and I very much appreciated seeing all of your messages.

Now on to Panama. For the next week, we’re staying in an incredibly beautiful part of Panama City. It’s called Casco Viejo and it’s very similar to the French Quarter in New Orleans, or perhaps even Old Havana. We’ve never really stayed any place like this. We’ve rented a fantastic one-bedroom loft for the first two weeks of our stay. The loft is really spacious and it has a really nice kitchen, so I have happily been cooking in it most nights. If you need the perfect loft to stay in, and I do mean perfect, send me a private message and I can tell you more. We’re loving how comfortable it is.

This is the upstairs sitting area
The kitchen area is fantastic!

To say that our experience in Casco Viejo has been strange, would be a tremendous understatement. Overall, the neighborhood is beautiful. Everywhere we look we see lovely colonial type buildings and small squares with parks. There are many upscale restaurants and hip hotels. Unfortunately, most of the buildings, cafes, shops, and restaurants seem to be completely empty. We can’t tell if it’s because of Covid 19, or because the buildings are so new. Casco Viejo used to be a pretty dodgy part of Panama City. But a few years ago, the Panamanian government decided to restore it to its glory and examples of this restoration are everywhere . You can’t turn your head without seeing massive construction projects, construction workers and active buildings being renovated.

Right next to these beautifully restored buildings and squares are several buildings which look just awful. I’ve included some photos in this post.

I know these buildings still have people living in them. I surmise that this massive restoration project displaced a lot of poor people when it began. I don’t know enough about the history of this area to know where the people have moved to, but the area surrounding the renovations looks very, very poor. I also have read that this area used to be considered very, very dangerous. Now there are police officers on every single street corner, and our Airbnb is right around the corner from a police station so it feels very safe where we are.

Back to the lack of open places. It’s hard to tell what hasn’t opened yet because a renovation is finishing up, or what has shut down temporarily or for good because of Covid. Panama just re-opened on October 15 to foreigners, so perhaps more places will open up shortly. During the day, there are some cafes and restaurants open, but for the most part this area of town seems like a ghost town. It’s a weird experience to staying here during this time. In the evenings, it does seem to pick-up with young people partying at drop dead incredible roof top restaurants. Andy and I ate at one of these fancy rooftop restaurants last week and it was fantastic! We had some unbelievable fusion food. But it did empty out early because there is a countrywide curfew starting each night at 11 PM, so people head home.

As expensive as Japan?

Before we embarked on our Panama stay, we did some research to find out the cost of food and entertainment. We’ve come to the conclusion that Panama is more expensive than Japan! We can eat cheaper in Japan than we can eat out in Panama. Groceries are also cheaper in Japan. Perhaps it’s more expensive to eat out in Japan at super high-end restaurants, but a simple and filling bowl of ramen is cheaper than the cost of a typical lunch in a coffeeshop. Tofu is way, way more expensive here.

Recently we went out for lunch to a local cafe. Andy had a smoothie and a burrito, I had a salad and water. Our bill with tip was $31.00. My $12 salad was delicious and fresh and Andy did like his burrito so were both happy campers, but a similar plate lunch in Japan would have cost us $17 tops.

Groceries are very, very expensive too. Much more than Mexico and much more than the United States. If we lived here full-time, I think a $550-600 a month grocery budget would be needed. That would include the purchase of some American products including Beyond Burgers, and other imported items. Fruits and vegetables also seem pricey to me. An apple costs 50 cents, but an artichoke costs $4.50! A small container of mushrooms is around $4. We’ve been careful to keep our grocery budget down so far and we haven’t bought many American products (except for Fieldroast which I love) and some bagel thins. As in most places around the world, beans are cheap. I think pineapple is reasonably priced too. Other staples like rice do not seem reasonably priced to me. We miss Mexican $4.50 breakfasts terribly.

Covid 19

Having to spend a little bit more money on groceries and on eating out at restaurants is worth it when you get to live in a place with such stringent Covid 19 restrictions. It’s really incredible to see how much the population has embraced mask-wearing. We never see people without masks here! Everyone is fully masked at all times. When we enter a store, or restaurant, or cafe, we are forced to submit to temperature checks (usually with fancy machines) and we are always forced to use gel. In Mexico, temperature checks and gel happened about 40 percent of the time. Here’s it’s 100 percent. Plus, in general, Panamanian’s seem to respect social distancing. People stay far away from one another. They don’t crowd one another on the streets, and when they take their masks off to eat, they put them back on immediately after eating.

We’ve got one more week here in our loft. Then we’re going to move to a different part of town. I think we might rent a car next week for a few days because we have a parking spot here we can use.

Bubbly to celebrate a special milestone

Dedicated to friends I’ve lost (you will not be forgotten) and those currently struggling.

I love me some champagne. I’m going to drink some today. Maybe a glass–maybe a whole bottle. I don’t know what kind of champagne they have in Panama, City, Panama, but I will soon find out. My favorite kind of champagne is pink champagne. Something not too dry and not too sweet.

Today is cause for major celebrating. Today is my five year cancerversary! Five years ago today, I finished 18 hellish weeks of chemotherapy for advanced stage ovarian cancer and I’m still a part of this (mostly) beautiful world!

This photo was taken the day I was diagnosed in May of 2015. I attended a fancy party at the San Francisco Jewish Community Center. It was a fun event, despite me getting such crappy news.

I’ m being totally serious when I tell you that me being alive today is kind of a miracle. Only 46 percent of people who have all types of ovarian cancer survive for 5 years after diagnosis. Luckily, the stats improve for my stage and cancer situation. When diagnosed, I learned that my cancer had only spread to my abdominal area, but had not metastasized to other organs.

What’s more incredible is that my cancer hasn’t come back yet–which my oncologist fully expects to happen. Ovarian cancer comes back within 18-24 months in 70-80 percent of the population. For me to have remained cancer-free this long is incredible. People with BRCA 1 genetic mutations which I have, generally have longer periods being cancer-free and react better to chemotherapy, so perhaps this is why I’ve done so well. Or perhaps, I’m just really lucky. I’m really not sure.

For many people, once they have reached the five-year mark, they can feel pretty confident their cancer will not return. I’m not at that point yet, but I still feel like it’s very important to celebrate this very incredible milestone. Let the bubbly flow and let the good times roll! You have to live for the moment and I plan on doing just that.

Happy cancerversary to me.

Adventures ahead in Panama and Oaxaca

Dear readers of Believe it Ohr Not,

There have been only a few times in the history of my blog where I have written something and decided not to post it. Usually I write it up, and up it goes. On very rare occasions, I might sit on a post for a day or two, making several edits, but even that’s pretty rare.

Several weeks ago, I worked on a post talking about how I didn’t know where we were going to be living come Nov. 1 — but I didn’t really like its tone. It sounded like, “Poor us, we can’t travel the world during Covid-19, waaah, waaah, waaah.” Because I didn’t want to sound like a spoiled brat, I ended up not posting it.

But today is another day. This post isn’t like that. And I want to tell you a little story.

Once upon a time there was a young couple, very much in love, that dreamed of traveling the world slowly — spending a month or two (or even more) in far away places. They were two (mostly) frugal individuals who lived relatively simple lives. They liked coffee, Japanese food, music, Scrabble, baseball, fancy cocktails and their well-traveled rolly backpacks.

Before Covid-19 hit, they roamed the world using Mexico as their home base. They funded their adventures using income from renting their small house in Oakland, Calif. One day they decided to sell their house so they’d have more money to travel, so they’d be free from the burdens of property taxes, property management fees, garbage bills, mortgage payments, home insurance costs, all that good stuff. They wanted, well, they wanted nothing to hold them back.

So in February of 2020, they sold that little house and just about everything they owned, except for 11 or 12 boxes of stuff now in a tiny storage unit in Alameda, CA. It was time to take their travel fantasies to the next level! And then, one month later, the coronavirus hit.

The end. Kinda.

Of course, this story is our story. And it’s not quite finished.

Covid 19 almost ruined our travel fantasies, but not really. After all, we’ve been in Mexico for pretty much the entire Covid era (minus a five-day trip to San Diego at the beginning of October).

And recently, as we approached four months in Morelia — which followed two scheduled months and two unscheduled, stay-put Covid months in Zihuatanejo — we decided to embark on a new adventure.

But where would we go? We really wanted to visit Asia (Japan, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia and/or Korea), but sadly most of Asia remains closed to tourists. Many Caribbean islands are open, but tropical island living isn’t super appealing since we plan to return to beachy Zihuatanejo, Mexico for February and March.

We thought long and hard about moving onward, not knowing if we should hunker down in Mexico or leave. For a few weeks, we were mentally immobilized unable to make a decision. Every day I would scour the internet to see which countries were open to tourists, which were anticipating an opening, and which ones probably wouldn’t open up until 2021. And we carefully looked at each country’s Covid restrictions and statistics. I was mainly interested in three things: Warm weather, low rates of Covid (far lower than Mexico) and a location where we would not have to quarantine upon arrival.

Now, after lots of research, and recent bookings, I am here to say our backpacks will soon be rolling again.

But first, a test!

A big test helped us feel confident that we could indeed travel. In early October, we flew to Tijuana, entered the U.S. from the airport using the Cross Border Express and “vacationed” in San Diego for five days, largely to get medical tests (we both keep ticking and remain cancer-free). In order to feel comfortable flying, we bought special face shields and paid extra for exit rows, to ensure better social distancing (only one other person was in the 12 combined exit-row seats). As an extra precaution, we wiped down our armrests and tray tables, and took careful measures in our hotel rooms. Everything went fine, giving us confidence to feel like we could begin to safely travel again.

We’re moving to Panama City, Panama

Our adventure will begin on Nov. 1 with two days in Mexico City, then catching a 3-hour, 41-minute Copa Airlines nonstop to PTY (Panama City). Upon landing, we’ll get a instant Covid-19 test for $50 each before baggage claim. Results should take 30-45 minutes. If we wanted to, we could arrive at PTY with a negative test and be waved right in, pretty much, but the 48-hour window and the costs ($140-$170 USD per test in Mexico City) helped us make up our mind.

Before we check into our first Airbnb, we’re going to be staying three nights at a swanky, downtown, high-rise hotel with a view of the Pacific Ocean’s Panama Bay. Why? Because we’ve got something wonderful and incredible to celebrate on Nov. 5. But more about this in a later blog post, coming to you on … Nov. 5.

We actually know very little about Panama as of right now. It wasn’t high on our to-visit wish list, but it’s close to Mexico, and Panama City is considered by some to be the Hong Kong of Central America. Plus, it’s a Spanish-speaking country so I can continue to work on my Spanish while we live there. While not ideal — due to its well-developed, U.S. feel (they even use U.S. currency there) and an overabundance of retired Americans and Canadians — it does have a lot of interesting features including beaches, modern city living, tons of nature and good weather when we’ll be there.

For the bulk of our time in Panama City, we have rented two Airbnbs. The first one is a hip loft in the old section of Casco Viejo. The neighborhood of cafes and restaurants (some outside! many on rooftops!) in old buildings is supposed to be fantastic, albeit maybe a bit too well-scrubbed, and the loft is modern and has two lovely sitting areas. It’s also got parking if we decide to rent a car for a few days. We’ll hang our sombreros there for 15 nights. The second location is a three-bedroom, five-bathroom, ocean-view penthouse in a high-rise building with a gym and with a pool (gulp, both are open — we’ll have to see if maybe a sit by the pool will be OK). We’ll be there for nearly a month.

In both locations, I was able to get a good deal, well below list price on Airbnb, from the owners, as they don’t want their properties to sit empty (although Panama did reopen to tourists on Oct. 12). It’s a win-win for both them and us: They get renters for two weeks (the loft) to almost a month (the penthouse), and we get killer places!

From what we have been reading, Panama is just starting to come out of some heavy quarantining. For months, they have had very strict regulations, namely restricting people from going outside by employing an every-other-day policy (men can go out one day, women the next) — and on Sunday, everyone was fully quarantined. And overnight hours every night were quarantine hours. The men-one-day, women-the-next system has recently ended, and this weekend they are ending the Sunday quarantine, though the overnight quarantine will remain. Beaches reopened this weekend, too, with strict regulations on gatherings and spacing, but bars, gyms, schools and other places remain shut.

It’s not perfect, but this strict, smart way of living has kept Panama in pretty decent stead in terms of Covid — less than 20 deaths per day countrywide since mid-August, and a flattened and even downward-in-places curve in number of active cases since late July (although their cases per 1 million and deaths per 1 million residents is in the same ballpark as the U.S.).

After Panama City, toward the end of December, we’ll go someplace nice to celebrate our 24-year wedding anniversary (perhaps to a nice resort in Panama, or maybe even to neighboring Colombia) before heading back to Mexico, where we will put down roots in Oaxaca for January, staying in a modern property named the “architect’s house”.

After we get to Old Panama, I’ll post more about our first Airbnb, as well as my take on how people there are following (or not following) the Covid guidelines. Stay tuned. And don’t forget to look for another blog post on Nov. 5 with details of a special anniversary.

Best,

Stacey

A visa extension on humanitarian grounds

Several months ago, we read that it was possible to get a visa extension of 180 days (due to the Covid 19 crisis) by filling out some paperwork and taking the forms to immigration. Andy found the required forms on-line, filled them out and collected our passports to take to immigration in Zihuatanejo.

We tried to renew our visas in Zihuatanejo, but we were unsuccessful. The clerk flatly refused to change them and told us to come back in a month. We could not figure out why, until much later, when it donned on Andy that our visa wouldn’t run out until late June.

Today Andy and I moseyed down to our local immigration office in Morelia, Mexico. Our 180 day tourist visas expired yesterday. We’ve never overstayed our visas before. Never. Usually we fly some place else before our visas expire, although a few times we’ve left on day 180. If people do overstay their welcome, a small fine needs to be paid. We have always preferred to go the legal route and abide by Mexican rules.

This morning when we got to the immigration office in Morelia they checked our temperatures, gave us some gel and told us to go inside. The office was mostly empty with only one couple ahead of us. Score! We brought our friend Lisa with us since she’s fluent in Spanish and we thought we might need some translation help.

After we handed the clerk our paperwork, he told us that we hadn’t filled it out correctly, and we had to bring it back because we didn’t include our middle names on the forms. And, more importantly, we needed to submit a letter in Spanish indicating we were requesting a visa extension for humanitarian reasons. Unfortunately, the man at the counter, wasn’t willing to modify our forms on his computer. Luckily, Lisa lives very close to the immigration office and she has a computer AND a printer so we went to her house to redo our forms.

The humanitarian letter was easy to write since immigration was kind enough to let us take a picture of a prototype we could use. We copied it word for word in Spanish, changing our names and maybe adding one or two additional sentences. Lisa looked over all of our paperwork, deemed it acceptable and about 1.5 hours later we returned to the immigration office. There was no wait this time. The nice clerk made us sign our names 6 or 7 times on a bunch of forms, then told us to come back on Thursday. We’re pretty sure we’re going to be allowed to stay in Mexico for another 180 days which is very, very exciting! We’re both not very keen on flying right now.

The Mexican government created this cool superhero to help people learn about social distancing. More people need to practice this art!

We’re thrilled to be back in Morelia. Here’s why:

  1. The weather is picture perfect. It’s 75 and sunny most days with brief afternoon thunderstorms. We no longer are dealing with the oppressive Zihuatanejo summer heat. The heat was just too much for us to handle, even though I really do like hot weather.
  2. Most things are open in Morelia including cafes, and restaurants so our general quality of life is much, much better. We stayed home day-after-day for almost 3 months. The heat and boredom was really started to take its toll on us.
  3. We can get everything delivered here, usually within 45 minutes. It’s simply unbelievable. This isn’t true in Zihuatanejo, although they just started grocery delivery. Our friend Mike, told us about a service called Rappi. Rappi delivers everything–food from restaurants, groceries from grocery stores, games, alcohol, snacks, everything. The only bad thing about it is that Rappi grocery delivery limits you to just 15 items at a time. If we have a large grocery list, we can’t use it, but we can use the regular grocery store app. After trying out Rappi, we decided to join Rappi prime. It’s $6 a month and we get free delivery on almost everything for this low, low price.
  4. Safety- I estimate that 65 percent of people in Morelia are wearing masks. In Zihuatanejo my estimate was only 35 percent so it feels like people are taking Covid 19 a bit more seriously here.
Cool building near our house

I’ll write more about our lives in Morelia in the next few weeks. When and if Covid ever ends, we’d love to have you come visit us. Our rental house is perfectly set-up for company.

Stacey

The Tale of the Talking Bird

I really love birds. In fact, I’m a former bird owner, having had several parakeets as pets. And whenever I go into pet stores, I immediately head toward the bird section for a visit.

In Mexico, a lot of people have parrots as pets, especially in Zihuatanejo. We often hear parrots jabbering from people’s yards and houses when we walk around town. On the street we live on, Bruno lives a few doors down and we sometimes hear him talking when we walk by. Though we can see only a small part of his cage through the fence, we always try to say hello. Around the corner, there’s another parrot. He’s got a lot to say, but like Bruno, we’ve never seen him. We can only hear him.

And then there’s Loreto!

BeautifulLoreto

Loreto is an Amazon parrot who lives on the rooftop patio of the house next door to ours. Though we can’t see him at all, as the roofs are separated by a concrete wall, his voice carries through an opening and comes right down the stairwell to our front door and windows — meaning he has entertained us since we moved in on February 1. His silly chatter and loud squawking will put a smile on anyone’s face. He says “hola” and “Loreto” and “agua” and “pretty bird,” and a whole lot of other things we can’t quite make out. He’s especially talkative in the morning and in the early evening. Sometimes when we are having coffee on our front balcony, he just won’t shut up.

Every time we would hear Loreto talk or squawk, Andy or I would get up off our couch, stand at the base of the stairwell and shout or whistle Loreto a greeting. My go-to has been “Hola, Loreto!” But often we’d whistle to him, or sometimes try to imitate his cackling laugh. In short order, Loreto began warming up to our voices and whistles, and he would respond, usually quite excitedly. He would meet an “hola” with an “hola” back. Or when Andy whistled to him, his reply would mimic the pattern. Often he’d go into a speaking, squawking and whistling frenzy.

These experiences of communicating with Loreto left us feeling super happy, especially during shelter-in-place, and we would get very excited whenever he was in one of his talkative time periods.

Finally, after several weeks of talking to Loreto but not seeing him, we both knew the time had come for some personal interaction. The house next door is owned by the sister of our landlord (which is how we knew the bird’s name in the first place), so he helped us let her know that that we wanted to meet him. She happily invited us in, and took us up three flights of stairs to her rooftop patio. There he was! “Hola, Loreto!!”

To say Loreto is beautiful would be an understatement. As soon as I saw him up close, I was in love! After visiting there for a few minutes, his owner asked us if we wanted to take his cage next door and hang out with him. Hell yes!

She gave us his big cage, and Loreto rode over to our place on top of it (we were assured he wouldn’t fly away). We hung out with him on one of our two back balconies, hoping he would soon start talking to us. Well … he didn’t say a word. We were bummed. We tried everything, all the familiar phrases and whistles, but he was nervous and unfamiliar with his new surroundings. Then I got a bit closer and started chattering to him. He still didn’t say much, but he did make some babbling noises, but it wasn’t even close to the bubbling verbosity we had been hearing for weeks. He seemed more intrigued with the railing of our balcony, hopping onto it and checking out the scene (we live on the second floor, overlooking a small pool and our landlord’s backyard patio). He was having a grand old time — until he lost his footing and fell onto the patio below, frantically flapping his clipped wings on the way down. Terrified he was hurt, we dashed from our balcony down to the patio. Fortunately he was OK, and I picked him up with a mop handle (he happily climbed aboard) and brought him back upstairs. We hung out for a few more hours. He hopped around, fell one more time (!), played with the wire on his cage, and he seemed quite content, even giving us a few short bursts of whistles and sounds.

Visit two

A week went by, and we really missed Loreto. We knocked on our neighbor’s door and she immediately invited us to come up and get him. Again he was atop his cage as we carried him over, but this time we brought him to our rooftop patio, which is much larger and breezier. We scooted a chair next to his cage, and discovered he really loved it, hopping around on it and biting the plastic strands (biting is an important part of this species behavior). He was having so much fun on the chair, and he clearly was getting more comfortable with us, that he finally started answering our barrage of chatter and whistles. He came much closer to us this visit. He wasn’t as scared. He especially liked nibbling on my hair and glasses.

Loretobitesmyhair

We fed him some corn nibblets, which he ate directly from our fingers. He nibbled on Andy’s shirt. That evening, after we took him back home, we heard him chattering so we went into our hallway and talked to him. When he heard our voices, you could tell how incredibly excited he was. He started jabbering back to us, repeating what he were saying to him. It was super cool!  <<Click here>> to watch a video of him whistling and speaking.

Visit three

Yesterday was our best visit with Loreto yet. He didn’t talk much at first, but we could tell he was happy to hang out with us because he was exploring the space around him quickly and without much hesitancy. He played with my hair right away and started chirping and saying his name. Then he came really, really close to my face and he started “eating” my glasses! It was so cute! We had bought him some walnuts, and he seemed to like them. He was really, really talkative during the visit and we were sad to have to take him back (albeit after five hour!).  

If we didn’t travel so much (during non-pandemic times, of course), I think we would enjoy having a pet bird. But having Loreto hang out with us – and talking to him throughout the day from our apartment and the stairwell – is a joyful diversion from our quarantiney lives.

LoretoandStacey

 

Sharing a very, very dirty secret!

Sharing a Secret

Dear readers of beleiveitohrnot,

Let me share a very dirty little secret with you. Sharing this secret may have some negative consequences in my life, but I’m sharing it with you at great peril to myself because I think this dirty little secret will bring major benefits to your life–and hopefully it will rock your world like its rocked mine.

I’m a law breaker. I’m a major scoffflaw! I have way, way more than one library card which technically isn’t so kosher. I’m ashamed and even a little bit embarrassed to tell you how many library cards I actually have. It’s more than 7 and less than 22. Shall I say perhaps the number is in the double digits?  True confession… I have a database to keep track of all my cards. The database is pretty well organized to. I cherish them all.

Libraries- My first obsession

I’ve loved libraries for a very long time. My love of libraries started when I was a young girl. I used to ride my bike to the Southfield Public Library in Southfield, Michigan and check out books.  I really loved the young adult librarian. As a child, my nose was frequently buried in a book.

But I don’t just love the services libraries offer. I love possessing library cards and visiting libraries.  I adore visiting libraries all over the world. So far, I have two favorite libraries, one in Toyama, Japan, and other one in Salt Lake City, Utah. Honorable mention?  The Rockridge Public Library in Oakland, CA.

The library in Toyama, Japan is killer cool. It shares a space with the Toyoma Art Glass Museum.  Andy and I saw an excellent Dale Chilhuly exhibit there and then we walked around the library. It also had a nice cafe space where we had some hot beverages. The woodwork was stunning.

Toyamalibrary

We spent a very happy afternoon at the library in Toyama, Japan.

The Salt Lake City Library comes in at number two. It really is a cool space to behold. It functions as a shared retail and library space. The bottom space houses several cool retail shops (and a cafe) and the top floors contain the library. This mixed use space is incredible. In our former life, sometimes on weekends, Andy and I would pick out a few libraries to visit located a few hours away from our house, and roadtrip to check them out. Those were good times!

SaltLakeCitylibrary

I think mixed us space libraries are smart. This is the Salt Lake City library.

Enjoying the selection process

Filling out a library card application is very easy. It takes under five minutes. In California, most libraries (but not all) will let you get a card even if you don’t live in that city. You can just walk in, show your driver’s license, or another form of ID and they will happily give you a card. Many libraries allow you to apply for a card online, and then you can bring in your documentation at a later date and pick your card up.  Now, in the age of Covid, many libraries are closed and many libraries will give you a temporary card you can use online to checkout books and movies electronically.

If you are really, really lucky, you may be presented with the opportunity to pick your own library card with a design of your choosing. Getting to choose the design you like is so, so fun!  Sometimes they have contests where library users can submit design ideas. The kids submissions always look great on the cards. Not all libraries offer you the opportunity to select your own card, but many do!

librarycardselection

Here are two of my favorite library cards. I like San Jose’s California’s card because I think it really represents the culture of silicon valley.  Computer chips are neato!  I also like the Livermore, California card (shown right) because it has a grapevine on it and the library is located in a vineyard. How cool is that?

San Jose Library Card          Livermorelibrary

 

Recently, I found some amazing new features offered by my home library in Oakland, CA  and I’m bursting at the seams to tell you about them.  Two services in particular have made me gush with intense pride about my home library.

  1. Kanopy!  Kanopy  an amazing movie service offered by my library.  Using Kanaopy, we’re allowed to stream up to 5 movies a month. With all of our binge watching, five movies a month, just won’t cut it. More library cards=more opportunities to watch killer movies!  We love old movies and Kanopy has tons and tons of great films. While it’s not old, we just watched the animated film, Loving Vincent (about the death of Vincent Van Gough). Fantastic film!
  2. Let me read more! The Oakland public library offers an amazing service where you fill out a short on-line form indicating what kinds of books you like to read and what books you don’t like and then the librarian sends you back a comprehensive, personalized reading list. A week after I submitted my form, the librarian sent me back 13 book recommendations-all geared towards what I had told her I like.  I’m super psyched to read theses great novels about family relationships that span several generations and are about people from different cultures. Private message me if you want me to share the list with you.  It’s pretty comprehensive.

And then there’s Overdrive and Libby!

Overdrive and its younger, cooler cousin, Libby, are web-based apps that allows people to download library books directly to a reading device of ones choice.  I like reading on a Kindle Paperwhite, but other people read on their Iphones, Ipads, or Kindle Fires. Once you download the app, you can sit in your living room and download free books. There’s nothing better than getting a brand new book (or two, or three)  to upload to your e-reader while sitting on your couch enjoying your favorite beverage.

Reading date?

On of my favorite things to do is to set-up virtual reading dates.  You pick a friend or relative to read with, then you both read at the same time virtually. You begin by sending your partner a photo indicating you are in reading mode and your partner does the same. You don’t have to be reading the same thing, (but you can). I usually have two or three reading partners and I try to read with them for 30 minutes a week.  If you want to make a reading date with me, just let me know.  I’ve always got time for some readin!

 

A degree from Johns Hopkins

Dear readers of BelieveItOhrNot,

At the ripe old age of 54, I started (sort of) studying at Johns Hopkins University … and I couldn’t be prouder! Yesterday I received a certificate in contact tracing!!

fb_img_1589405330041

Did you ever want to study something “just because?” Did you every want to learn a new skill not knowing what you would do with it but just because it sounded “cool.” That’s me and my highly unusual interest in contact tracing.

For the past several weeks, we’ve all heard the term contact tracing. Contact tracers get in touch with people who recently have been diagnosed with Covid-19 and find out where they’ve been and who they’ve been in contact with. Reportedly, more than 100,000 contact tracers will soon be needed, as more and more states start “opening up.” Part detective, part social worker, part therapist, contact tracers are employed by local county and state departments of health, and they must display special skills.

A few days ago, I noticed that Johns Hopkins was offering a free, online certification course to train contact tracers … so I enrolled and began my life as a reentry student. And such a prestigious school, to boot!

The fairly simple online course was a ton of fun. It was conducted by Cosera, an online platform which I had never used before. The course took me about 6 hours and covered a lot of cool things.

  • It described the natural history of SARS-CoV-2 , including the infectious period, the presentation of Covid-19, and evidence for how it is transmitted.

  • It defined an infectious contact, and gave a timeline for public health intervention through contact tracing.

  • It demonstrated the utility of case investigation and contact tracing, and identified common barriers (and the strategies to overcome them).

  • It presented some ethical considerations around contact tracing, isolation and quarantine.

I went through the various modules in the course, and all of them kept my attention. After each, I had to take a short quiz. Some were harder than others,  but generally the material was easy.  If I failed a module, I was allowed to review the material (if I wanted to) and take the test again (and again). The only module I didn’t do well on was math, which contained info on how to calculate infectious periods and periods needed for quarantining.  It’s a bit complicated.

I especially liked the modules teaching tracers how to build rapport with the people they call. There were sections on how to construct open-ended questions so people could talk about their symptoms, and when to use closed-ended questions. I also liked the examples of how to use reflective listening skills, and how to demonstrate  empathy. They also had several role-play scenarios in which contact tracers demonstrated both good and bad phone skills. (Cutting people off? Bad! Paraphrasing what the client just said? Good!)

The final module included a 40-question, multiple-choice exam which I felt pretty ready for. I needed 85 percent to pass. The system would have allowed me to take the final exam two times  in a row, but after two failures, one would have to wait 72 hours to retake it.

Now that I am fully certified, I am filling out a few applications for part-time remote work. However, I doubt I’ll get hired because most of the openings are for full-time workers.  That’s not in my wheelhouse. Plus the salaries seem dismal, with some of the jobs paying $10.50 an hour. It’s shocking that such an important job pays so poorly. Completely despicable!

Still, I have no regrets, and I have a cool, new skill. I got to take some cool exams. I killed six hours and it made for a good blog post.

fb_img_1589405340492

 

 

 

 

Covid-19 in Mexico: an update

Dear Reader of BelieveItOhrNot,

Hello from the very beautiful city of Zihuatanejo, Mexico, on the Pacific coast well south of Puerto Vallarta and about four hours north of Acapulco. Population of Zihuatanejo is 120,000, diagnosed cases of coronavirus: 3. In no way do I believe this very low number, but that’s for another blog post.

“Been there, done that”

I’m living through the worst case of deja vu I have ever experienced. It’s not just that we wake up every day to a life that looks very much like yesterday’s life.  It’s much more than that.

For weeks, we’ve been following the news in the United States, watching the death toll rise and rise. For weeks I’ve been thinking (and telling the few Mexicans I talk to these days) that the same thing might happen here (Mexico is about three weeks behind the U.S. in terms of the outbreak, when it had its 1,000th positive case, 10,000th, etc.). But I have quickly learned that while most Mexicans have a good sense of what has happened and is happening worldwide, they (generally) do not think Covid will have a mass impact on Mexican life in generally and on their own lives in particular.

Some Mexicans I spoke with initially told me that they thought the heat and humidity would keep the virus low here, while others told me that even if it did come to Mexico, there was no way life would shut down like it had in the United States, Italy and Spain. Close the beaches countrywide during the Easter vacation week? Unthinkable! Stop school? Ridiculous! Close restaurants and cafes in a city that caters to not only U.S. and Canadian tourists, but thousands of Mexicans every weekend, and especially Easter weekend? Was I high?

The general consensus seemed to be that Covid-19 was an “other world problem” and that Mexico would not shut down because 1) the people here would never agree to stay at home; it’s just not part of the fabric of life. And 2) the informal economy consisting of beach vendors, street merchants and other street peddlers would not stop working out of sheer economic necessity. Again and again, I was reminded that half of the Mexican population lives in poverty, so shutting down their means of sustenance was simply out of the question.

So I stopped talking about what was happening in the U.S., though I continued to watch as American life unraveled. I was shocked and saddened at the sheer volume of things closing down, and watching a worldwide meltdown was sad and scary.

But please don’t think this is a “I told you so” piece of journalism, because it’s not. It’s just about what happens when you get punched in the gut … and then you get punched in the gut again three weeks later.

Fast forward to what’s been happening here. First, the government of Mexico decided to shut down schools and universities for two weeks, lengthening its spring break. Then, day by day,  more and more things started shutting down. I knew things were really serious when all the beaches throughout the entire country closed. I knew the situation was bad when Mexico shut down all of its beaches during Easter, a time when Mexican families flock to them. Suddenly tourism in Zihuatanejo was at a complete and utter standstill. Then came the final nail in the coffin. We started hearing that tourist hotels here and in nearby Ixtapa (10 minutes away) were closing until the pandemic had passed. No more guests drinking from plastic party cups at all-inclusive resorts, no more tourists grabbing beers on the beach, no more shoppers buying trinket after trinket to take home as souvenirs. Even the Zihuatanejo airport stopped international flights eventually, although there are a scant few flights Mexico City (and one to Tijuana, I think) a few times a week.

The current situation

In the last few days, the death toll in Mexico has risen like crazy. It’s horrifying. We have about 16,752 positive cases and 1,569 deaths so far, and the situation is particularly bad in Mexico City and in Guadalajara. That might not seem like a lot compared to the United States (or Italy or Spain or elsewhere), but we are still early into the pandemic here. May 8 through 10 are anticipated to be the worst days. Luckily, the state where we are currently residing, Guerrero, hasn’t had that many cases (239 current positive, 39 deaths), and the numbers are extremely low in our “metro” area of Zihua and Ixtapa.

Mexico has a well-thought-out and comprehensive strategy approach to this contagion (and others previously, such as as H1N1 in 2009), and a very good approach to public health communications. This communications strategy has allowed them to quickly inform large numbers of people about Covid-19. There are continual public service announcements (PSAs) on the radio reminding people to stay in their houses, and there are similar TV spots encouraging people to stay at home, and there are even municipal-government cars that drive around beaming important messages (via a microphone and/or loudspeakers) to various communities and neighborhoods (many of them poor). It’s a great way to reach the people quickly.  There are also huge billboards around town, homemade signs and grassroots art encouraging people to not leave their houses. In my last blog post, I introduced you to Susana Distancia. She’s my Covid-19 superhero. She wants you to keep your safe distance (su sana disancia in Spanish means “your safe distance!”

Susana Distencia

 

Distancia1

fb_img_1587608705981

What’s the situation like in Zihuatanejo?

I am happy to report that a lot of people in Zihuatanejo are staying home, and many have been doing so for quite a awhile. (You know how they say thousands of lives in New York could have been saved if stay-at-home started sooner; well, here in Mexico, it pretty much did start sooner). These days, some sections of the city are absolutely empty. The usually foreign-tourist-dominated area of La Ropa beach (where my mom lives from Oct.-March) doesn’t have a soul in sight, neither on its world-class long beach nor on the streets where some stores and restaurants, and tons of condos and casitas and hotels, are located. Where we live, closer to downtown, most of the streets are not very crowded, but they are not as empty as the La Ropa area. The amount of foot traffic is half of what it normally is, or perhaps two-thirds on one particular street that is loaded with fruit/veggie stores, pharmacies and loads of small stores catering to everyday Mexicans’ everyday needs.

Sadly, those who are out and about (and by that, I mean Mexicans, because only about 150-200 foreigners have remained in the area, according to one media report) generally are not practicing social distancing and are doing their shopping while very close together. About half are wearing masks. This is the case in the fruit and vegetable district a couple of blocks away from our house. Andy and I shop for our fresh fruits and vegetables only in the “off hours” (generally early evening) because we don’t want to be near people who are not practicing physical distancing. When we do go out now, I always wear a mask, too. I just bought these two fashionable beauties.

About our living situation

While it’s very difficult staying home day in and day out, we are really happy we made the decision to ride out Covid-19 in Zihuatanejo rather than returning to the United States.  Rene, our landlord is taking great care of us. His family home is on the ground floor below our rental unit, and though we keep safe distances, he checks with us several times a day to make sure all is well. We feel very well taken care of.  I have mentioned before about the generosity and lovely spirit of the Mexican people, and Rene has treated us like his own family. We are very grateful to him and to his family.

In addition to side-by-side, fully equipped, one-bedroom apartments with a/c, we now also have access to the empty apartment across the hall, mainly its huge front balcony overlooking our quiet street (we have coffee out there nearly every morning nowadays). We also have access to a huge rooftop terrace and a small backyard pool. And everything is kept immaculately clean. Since Rene’s taxi work has completely dried up, he is spending nearly every second of his days meticulously cleaning, mopping, and doing improvements to the property and its two empty units.

It’s a great living situation, and while we were hoping to be back in Morelia on May 1 (following a trip to Michigan for what was supposed to be my dad’s 80th birthday celebration on April 25), we’re safe and well taken care of here. Andy still is working about 15-16 hours a week and it’s proven to be a nice distraction. I’m working a bit, as well, but having a hard time concentrating for long stretches at a time. I continue to run on a paved path three mornings a week, we take short walks on the others days, and we are very fortunate that two friendly dogs live with the family downstairs (one is a rambunctious terrier mix who loves to fetch), and we play with them at least once a day in a big, gated, garage area (think of the carport area in “Roma” times three, minus the car and doody). And we watch a lot of classic, old, foreign movies by some of history’s great directors. We found a great free, streaming source via our local library (Kanopy). We’re also power watching “Malcolm in the Middle” (which we both enjoy) via the free on-demand option on our Mexican cable service. And we managed to save “Tiger King” on Netflix for weeks; we just started it last night.

Some days are harder than others and, yeah, life isn’t easy these days But many people have it a lot worse, so I try to focus on gratitude — that is, when I’m not feeling short-tempered and on edge. Our plans are to go to Morelia as soon as it’s prudent; the colonial home we had for six months last year is waiting for us. I hope we will be there by June 1, but we might be hunkering down in Zihuatanejo a little longer depending on the situations in both areas and the country in whole.

Stay safe!  Be healthy!  Be kind!

Coronavirus in Mexico-Part three

Amigas Y Amigos,

Hola!  Welcome to Coronavirus in Mexico part 3. It’s been several days since I updated you on the situation here in Mexico, so I thought I’d take this opportunity to share the latest and greatest news.  It’s not particularly good.

I’m composing this blog post from my mom’s condo. Andy and I have moved here for one week starting today. Sadly, my mom isn’t here with us. She’s on a plane back to Detroit via Chicago. She was planning to ride out the virus here in Zihuatanejo with us, but sadly immigration would not let her stay in Mexico. Like us, shes on a 180 day tourist visa and the Mexican government would not let her extend it. Luckily our visas won’t expire until June 1, so we have a few more months to stay here.

Since her original flight on April 4 got canceled, she had one more week remaining in her lease. Andy and I jumped at the opportunity to move into her digs, for a week. We’ll move back to our pad close to downtown after a 7 days respite, although we’ll move back and forth a bit to get clothes and assorted items whenever we need them. We moved to her three bedroom condo overlooking La Ropa beach for the following reasons:

First, she’s got an incredible view of the Zihuatanejo bay!  I’m sorry the photo I included in this blog does not do her view justice. We love watching the boats in the Bay, the parasailers (aka dopes on a rope) and the  other happenings. Also, at night, the hillside really twinkles and it’s muy romantico!

img_20200328_135442

She’s got an amazing, amazing view of the Bay of Zihuataneho.

 

img_20200326_190130-1It’s also much cooler where she lives. Even though we only live 1.5 miles apart, she gets a really nice Bay breeze. It’s getting hotter and hotter here but it’s way cooler at her house.

Other reasons include the following;

  1. A three bedroom condo is more spacious than our one one-bedroom apartment. We can spread out more here and since we’re together night and day, the space break is nice.
  2. She’s got a really nice swimming pool at her condo which is usually empty. We can bring our small cooler up to her pool and chillout.

3. In addition to having these sweet digs, She left us tons and tons of food! And she also left me a brand new bottle of a spectacular tequila, Don Julio 1942! I highly recommend you get yourself a bottle during these trying times 🙂

In addition to staying at her condo, we now have the added luxury of having a car, until May 1 when we hopefully leave for Morelia. We asked her landlord if we could rent her car for another month and he said yes. This is a big benefit for us. Under normal circumstances, we do not want a car, but since we are trying to practice social distancing, it does not make sense to be on crowded city buses, and we’d rather not use taxis so having a short-term rental car is a smart decision.

Mexican response

To say the Mexican government has done nothing to prepare for the virus would not be a factual statement. Things are starting to change here. We’re finally seeing evidence of large-scale shutdowns in the city of Zihuatanejo. Many restaurants in downtown Zihuatanejo have closed or plan to close. The beaches are emptier and emptier. A few days ago, the President, affectionately known as AMLO, finally asked people to start practicing social distancing. But it took a long, long time for him to do anything of substance. Like the United States, State governments have taken it upon themselves to coordinate local responses. Some states moved into action early and some states reacted more slowly. There has not been a country-wide mandate on how to respond to the virus which is discouraging.

However, the Mexican government did invent this cool cartoon character to help people understand what social distancing is all about. Let me introduce you to Susana Distencia!   She kicks butt!

Susana Distencia

Unfortunately, from what I can tell, many  Mexican’s don’t really appreciate or heed her message to stay apart. It just doesn’t seem to be sinking in quite yet.  I do think that many people are heeding AMLO’s message to stay at home more, but when they are out, they are not staying very far apart.  We see people crowding onto buses, moving close together on the streets, and not respecting individual space in the markets. 

On a more positive note, the government has begun putting up signs in some places including convenience stores and banks and some banks have even started limiting how many customers they allow inside at one time, but I fear these actions have come too little, too late. All signs indicate that Mexico will get very hard hit by the virus and they do not have good medical care to support their citizens. AMLO has said publically that Mexico is well prepared. We will see.  At the time of this blog post, Mexico has only 711 cases, (none in Zihuatanejo), but they have conducted almost no testing and I don’t trust these numbers.  Mexico City will be very, very hard hit. In the next week, I suspect more people will start staying home more and more.  In a prior post, I mentioned I was worried about what will happen when Easter comes since tons of Mexican’s go to the beaches for Easter, and Zihuatanejo gets packed, but we’ve been hearing rumors that they might close them. We’re both hoping this happens. If you are interested, hotel occupancy is Zihuatenjo was eight percent this last week, and Ixtapa occupancy was just 16 percent. Horrible for the economy, but promising to help reduce the spread of the virus.  Furthermore, usually on the weekends (like today) Zihuatanejo beaches would be packed with bus loads of people coming from surrounding areas. Today we only counted six buses. A normal Saturday might garner 50. 

A look inside our lives

We continue to take walks in the early evenings and  I try to run 3 times a week. We haven’t eaten out in a restaurant in about 2 weeks. And I don’t really like takeout so I have been cooking a lot.  We sometimes have coffee out, but only if the cafe is fairly empty. Now that we have a car,  we hope to go to some beaches about 30-40 minutes away.  During the week, these beaches are empty. We’re usually the only people so if they remain open, we feel safe going. We’ll also go back and forth between our apartment and my mom’s to get clothes and other items and to play with the dogs of the family we rent our apartment from. We’ll study Spanish. We’ll go to my mom’s pool. We’ll sit in her hammock and read.  We’ll watch CNN and try to keep up with what’s happening.

Oh, we also created this nifty day-to-day chart to keep us from getting too depressed. We’ve been doing a good job of following it so far.

mvimg_20200324_163746

Finally, we just heard that the U.S. Ambassador to Mexico is strongly encouraging all ex-pats to go back to America if they can. Right now this is only a suggestion, not something that is mandated. Our plan remains the same. We will continue to stay here for the foreseeable future. It’s a bit surreal because both places Andy and I would normally return to (California and Michigan) are absolutely getting clobbered with the Coronavirus, so for now, Mexico continues to feel like the best option for us.

We appreciate your texts, phone calls and electronic communications. We will keep you updated about the situation here, but for now we’re good.

Remember to be kind to yourself and to one another!

Stacey