The day I lived life like a rock star

Last week I was livin large. It didn’t last long, but for several hours, I was livin like a rock star! Today it’s back to reality, but last week I had a pretty cool experience I want to share. But first, let me set the record straight. In this blog I’m gonna wax poetically about a new hotel in Morelia, Mexico. And no, they didn’t give me a free room, or a free spa treatment, or promise me any future compensation for writing about their excellent place. I’m writing about it of my own free will because it’s worth sharing.

Recently, I was having breakfast to celebrate a friends birthday. I decided to take her to breakfast at a really swanky new hotel a 10 minute walk from where we’re now calling home. I’d heard that the Hotel Masion Solis by Hobson was absolutely gorgeous and super exclusive.

Morelia certainly has a lot of lovely hotels. Including my absolute favorite, the Hotel Soledad. I was wondering how this new hotel would compare.

While we were enjoying a fancy breakfast of poached eggs benedict, a scrumptious vegetable laden avocado toast, fresh pastries and a fantastic fruit salad, a Mexican man approached our table. He started staring at me and said, (in flawless English) ‘I think I know you, haven’t you stayed at the Hotel Soledad before. My name is Francisco, I recognize you. I’m their former manager”.

I explained that yes, I had stayed at the Hotel Soledad several times before and that this was my first time visiting the Mansion Solis. Francisco told us that he was the hotel manager and invited us on a private tour after we finished our breakfast!

The Suite Life

There’s a lot to this hotel as it’s quite large. Our tour started with a tour of their suites. They have several suites and we saw two of three. Upon walking in, I was thinking, “oh, this must be how rock stars live!” The hotel manager then told me that many rock groups stay in these suites when playing in Morelia. In fact, one of Mexico’s most famous musicians, Mark Antonio founder of the famous Mexican band, El Buki has a large house right next to the hotel and they share the same pool! I also think that he may be a hotel investor.

Check out these incredible suites.

Even though their two and three bedroom suites were STELLAR what really impressed me was the rest of the property.

A Spa Better than the Four Seasons

I’ve seen some really nice spas in my travels, but the spa here really blew me away. First, when you walk in, you pick a photo from a series of small thumbnails that is meaningful to you and then the team at the spa builds your entire spa experience around this photo! What a cool concept. The manager of the spa was kind enough to give us a private tour and explain the spa concept. I picked a photo of Japan (naturally) and the manager explained that a personalized aromatherapy experience would be customized to match this photo as would other parts of the spa treatment. One thing I really liked about the spa is that each treatment lasts at least 3 hours! And you have the entire spa to yourself. You don’t have to share the jacuzzi with anyone who is not in your party. The same goes for lovely appointed spa and steam room.

Rockin at the Pool

After the spa treatment, you can sit by their super chic pool, also included when you book a spa treatment. The pool is absolutely gorgeous and the pool-side food and beverage service will make for a really lovely afternoon. The guitar shape is fun and kitschy.

Who doesn’t love a guitar shaped pool?

A few more things to enjoy

The hotel also has a very cute on-site coffeeshop where digital nomads can happily drink their favorite cup of Joe and happily work away. The coffee shop sells pastries and has both an outdoor patio and indoor space.

There’s also a really large rooftop bar space which serves a wide-range of cocktails and has some very-high end Mexican tequilas, and don’t forget to take advantage of the weight room, boutique gift shop and the lovely hotel restaurant. Trust me, this is a completely top-notch, hotel experience.

I do think this hotel is a LOT nicer than the Hotel Soledad. Unfortunately, it’s not located in the historic district of Morelia, but a quick 10 minute cab or Uber ride will get you there. While it lacks the Mexican decor and feel of the Hotel Soledad, the abundant amenities make up for this. It also features many incredible works by local Mexican artists.

The opportunity to relax in their top-notch spa, enjoy their large spacious rooms and live in the lap of luxury is worth the steep price they charge. Even their basic rooms are really lovely.

Don’t hesitate to enjoy a few days here. You won’t be disappointed. You’ll feel like a rock-star too-even if it’s just for one or two nights.

A move, and another, and one more!

Dear readers of beleiveitohrnot,

I think the last time I posted was in December. My lack of posting is not due to laziness, its just that I haven’t had much to say. But now I have big news to share!

But before I get to said news, I’ll provide a short recap of what we’ve been up to since the first of the year. We spent January and February in Zihuatenjo (on Mexico’s Pacific coast). We spent two happy months in Zihuatanejo hanging out with my mom. We had plenty of relaxing beach days and we sweated a lot because Zihuatanejo is hot year-round. This year we even surprised my mom with a surprise visit from my sister, Pam. It was so much fun and my mom was really surprised. I alway enjoy my time in Zihuatanejo, but I am always happy to leave. It’s just too small for true city dwellers and the small town of 150,000 lacks the modern city amenities we both enjoy.

After Zihuatanejo, we were hoping to return to Japan and possibly Korea to enjoy the spring cherry blossom season, but due to covid Japan remained closed. Instead of moving to Asia, we decided to mosey back to Morelia, Mexico a city of 650,000 people in Central Mexico. We’ve lived in Morelia for anywhere between 3-6 months for the past five years and have always loved spending time there. If you haven’t already read it, check out my old blog post about Morelia.

For our first two months in Morelia, we stayed in a beautifully restored colonial house owned by two Americans who returned to America for a short time and asked us to housesit for greatly reduced rent. The house was ideally located on a quiet street, and just a ten minute walk to the main cathedral. After this stay, we moved two door down, (lugging our stuff in suitcases and laundry baskets) and now are staying in a nice colonial three-bedroom house until June 13.

What’s next?

When we got to Morelia in March, Andy and I had no idea how long we would stay in Morelia. We’re actually quite casual about making decisions about where to live. Our four main concerns are:

  1. The overall cost of living
  2. Easy access to cafes and restaurants
  3. A warm climate
  4. Decent internet since we both are still working

Once we returned to Morelia, we again became enthralled by the fantastic weather, dancing fountains and numerous cafes. And, I was really happy to be in a place where we know so many people! After many years of meeting people here, we now have a good social support system. I was happy to reunite with friends I hadn’t seen in about a year.

So here’s the big news! We’re staying in Morelia at least through mid-November, our longest stay in one place since we began our nomad lifestyle. It’s very exciting.

Why not enjoy so many fun fall events including the Morelia International Film Festival, Dia De Los Murtos (Day of the Dead) and the Jazz festival? Why not attend the hot air balloon festival in Patzcuaro in July? Why not stay in a place which has continual free musical events, parades galore, and sunny warm days and cool nights?

Once we made up our minds to stay here, we connected with a Mexican real estate agent who serves the ex-pat community. He showed us two promising properties right in the center of town. We loved them both and we were ready to sign a lease for a furnished property. Unfortunately, after weeks of negotions one property ended up being unavailable, and the other property was way too expensive ($2500 USD a month). We experienced many weeks of frustration and disappointment house hunting, and thought we might have to leave. It’s very easy to find furnished rentals in Morelia in the newer part of town. In Altazano, (a really nice part of Morelia) we could easily find a nice furnished house for $900-$1000 a month. But these houses are not in the area of town we want to live in. We really need to stay in El Centro where we can walk everywhere since we don’t have a car. A huge part of Morelia’s charm is its city center. We’ve always lived in El Centro and we were determined to find something! With and without the real estate agent, we saw about eight properties in total. Many were simply uninhabitable. Due to the age of the buildings here, (1600’s) many buildings are in a state of disrepair. Other places are unfurnished, or lacked nice furniture. It was a miserable search process and I was getting more and more discouraged. I did look at some Airbnb’s online, but they seemed vastly overpriced and many were also in the newer part of Morelia. And those that were located in El Centro were really, really old and looked very, very dreary.

One day, I saw an really nice, new apartment advertised on the ex-pats Facebook page. I contacted the owner and he told me it was available. Score! Unfortunately, I didn’t realize his rental was a studio apartment. When I notified him that a studio would not suit our needs, he mentioned that he knew the owner of a loft exactly in the location we wanted to live! Said loft is on the same street as our past two rentals, (it’s a long street) and is only a 6 minute walk from the main cathedral. Walo, the owner of the loft told me someone was soon moving out and that it would be available for the time we needed it! After a bit of negotiations which included the purchasing of a new fridge, (it only had a dorm style fridge) and the inclusion of bedding and towels, a five-month lease was signed!

The loft is located in a corner of a small plaza in front of a church. Every day when we pass by this plaza, we see people sitting on three benches in front of it. It’s a serene, beautifully shaded area and the location is incredible. The loft is only a one-bedroom, but it’s very spacious. In fact, it has two distinct sitting areas. The downstairs sitting area has two couches and the upstairs bedroom also has a sitting area with two couches. This is great because we both want our individual space. The art inside the loft is absolutely stunning. It’s modern, colorful and very Mexican. The owner is one of Morelia’s most respected art collectors. He owns a large, stunning art gallery right next to the loft! The gallery is closed to the pubilc, but it does open sometimes for private concerts and has a piano for musicians to practice. We expect many lovely sounds to emminate from its walls! Walo told us we can use the gallery to read or work when the gallery manager is there, so we have that to look forward to. Walo also has an incredible personal art collection at his house including a small Picasso and a Goya painting. When we went to his house to sign the lease, we couldn’t believe how extensive his personal art collection was.

While we wish the loft had two-bedrooms to host guests, its lovely furnishings, and great location won us over. Also, unfortunately, while living in the loft, we’re going to be eating our meals at a small breakfast bar, or sitting on the downstairs couch with plates in-hand since there is no dining room table. No dinner parties at the loft, but maybe we’ll rent the gallery space and throw a fun shindig. Will you come?

Here’s a Youtube video (in Spanish) of the art gallery and the loft space. It’s a bit long, but if you watch the whole thing, you’ll first see some great shots of Morelia, then shots of the art gallery next door to the loft, and then finally of the loft.

Stranded in Rome?

Greetings from Rome, Italy.

I’m an idiot! I fully admit it. When a good friend who used to live in Rome told us we mustn’t skip this grand city during our visit to Italy, I scoffed. I told her we probably wouldn’t have the time — after having spent eight days in Umbria/Tuscany, a week on the road that included Sorrento, Capri and the Amalfi Coast, and five enjoyable weeks in a more-drizzly-than-expected Palermo, Sicily — and that Rome would be too cold for us to fully enjoy, anyway. Because she’s a very kind person, she didn’t call me out on my stupidity. But I really think she could not possibly fathom my idiocy. She did politely mention Rome to me a few more times when I was talking to her about our trip, casually mentioning what a great place it is and how much she thought we would like it. So here’s to you “J” for your persistance.

Yet even with my friend’s proding, we only came to Rome for one reason: To visit the Mexican Embassy. Due to some recent changes in the amount of time one can stay in Mexico on a tourist visa (everyone used to get stamped for 180 days, no questions asked, but now that’s far from guaranteed, and many people are getting way less time) we decided to apply to Mexico for temporary residency. You have to start the process at a Mexican embassy outside of Mexico, and most people do that in the U.S., but with loads of people now wanting to apply, appointments have been impossible to come by. So I got the idea to check if we could apply in Italy, and I found out we could do it at the Mexican Embassy in Rome — and then, just like that, we had an appointment for Monday, Dec. 6! After compiling some 60-80 pages of financial documents, proving that we won’t be a financial liability to the Mexican government, we were on the train from the island of Sicily to Italy (they actually tote the train across the strait on a ship, though we got off and took a faster ferry). The plan in Rome was to stay for a weekend, get our visas on that Monday, maybe stay one or two more days, and then fly to Zihuatanejo, Mexico. I was very, very wrong. The embassy said they needed up to 15 business days to process our visas! Hence, we have become stranded in Rome … “stranded” for two weeks since the day of our appointment.

Stranded in Rome … Holy moly! What an incredible place to be shipwrecked. We’re staying one block from the Colosseum in a lovely, one-bedroom Airbnb. Thank goodness it was still available after our initial four-night booking; we were able extend by 15 nights! And now we’ve extended again (sort of). We’ve taken a another Airbnb unit in our same building (ours was rented), for another week. It’s not easy to find places to stay in Rome during the holidays, because many Italians love to come here to see the holiday lights and the amazing sites, and shop on the quaint streets and alleyways. Here’s a link to our unit if you want to see it. It’s got everything we need and has incredible Wifi, to boot, which has been fantastic change for us after four months of crappy Wifi in San Cristobal de Las Casas, Chiapas.

There’s so much to say about Rome! It’s incredibly beautiful. Historical sites are around every corner. We never tire of seeing the Colosseum or the incredible old buildings, or the fountains. Additionally, the Christmas decorations are fantastic. I’m not sure I’ve ever experienced the spirit of Christmas so fully in other large cities. Getting lost in Rome’s alleyways leads to pure joy, the restaurants are great, and the prices are reasonable. It’s not quite as cheap as the South of Italy, but we’ve found the prices to be on par with a moderately priced American city: Cleveland, perhaps?

We’re not sure what’s on Andy’s nose. It’s some kind of weird light reflection

What about Covid?
Friends and family in the U.S. and Mexico ask me if I am worried because Italy recently went up to Level 4 “do not travel” as determined by the CDC, although things in Italy are generally good compared to many European cities, and things in Rome are even a bit better. I am worried, but Andy and I plan to leave Italy either immediately after the paperwork comes through, or maybe a few days after that. To reduce our exposure to Covid, we do not go to bars or concerts or any closed-in spaces. We rarely eat inside at restaurants, and now, we probably won’t do that at all (restaurants are suppoed to check EU Green Passes, equivalent of a CDC vaccination card). When asked to show ours, we’ve been simply showing our CDC cards, and we’ve never been turned away (a bit more on that later). Some restaurants are pretty lax, so we don’t go inside those places, nor do we go to inside pastry counter, for example, if a place is crowded or is cramped with low ceilings. Luckily, a lot of places in Rome have outdoor cafes with heat lamps so we can stay outside even in the cold.

Need a boost?

In June 2021, Andy and I traveled from Chiapas to California to get our Covid-19 vaccines. We picked Johnson & Johnson because their one-dose regime seemed easiest on our time schedule. Of course, with all the uninspiring updates on J&J, we decided to try to get booster shots as soon as we could — in Italy! That was not our original plan, but with our potentially waning immunity, we wanted a Moderna or Pfizer booster. We started to hunt one down weeks ago in Palermo, then in Rome, then Omicron surfaced. Then we really wanted it.

Let me be clear. I never expected we would receive boosters in Italy! I don’t have that sense of entitlement. I would never, ever take shots away from people that really need it. But in Italy, there are plenty of vaccines available for its population. I never felt entitled to get vaccinated here — but at the same time, I was prepared do everything I possibly could to make it happen. Getting turned away a few times wasn’t going to dissuade me from trying and trying again. But what would be the best way to find out the information we needed, especially because we don’t speak Italian?

Meet Ex-pats of Rome

In every city we live in for more than a few weeks, I join their ex-pat Facebook group. I’ve met some really nice people this way, and I find out a lot of good information on all sorts of topics. When I first posted my question about getting vaccinated as tourists, we were in Palermo, and group members recommended two communal vaccine centers. The first place, across town, told us sorry, but boosters at that point were only for 60-and-overs who had received their second shot (or J&J) at least six months ago. Strike 1 and strike 2 against us, and we didn’t even get to strike 3 (no Italian health number). We left dejected, but not deterred. A week later, people under-60 were now eligible. We walked to a hospital-type place that Andy espied on a walk as a possible vax place, but it was the wrong day. They told us to walk to the train station about 20 minutes away. We wandered. Nothing. They sent us to a nearby pharmacy. No dice. No vaxes there.

One day I decided to reach out to the American Embassy in Italy for help. They just sent us back a form letter. It sucked and provided no additional information.

On our train ride to Rome, we stopped over in a small coastal town, Scalea, for two nights. Our lodging manager told me of a huge vaccine tent a few blocks away. We found it easily! We walked in confidently! Alas, it was only a Covid testing site, not a vaccine clinic. There was a clinic in town, but not on the days we were there. Two U.S. expats who had just moved to this town told us about a foreigner-friendly vaccine clinic an hour away, but we were off for Rome. Many had something to say, especially Facebook users of course, about how to make it happen, but most of the info didn’t pan out.

In Rome, we happened to be walking past the main train station after our Mexican Embassy visit. Outside in the parking lot was a huge vax center in a series of tents. The entrance was packed, with someone checking health-code numbers. We walked all the way around and a door was open. We strode in, and I even made it to one of the check-in desks. Things looked promising, perhaps. But they turned us away – no Italian health card number, no Italian fiscale code. Go to the Italian health care executive offices, they told me, scribbling down an address. Damn. Another failure.

The ex-pats of Rome Facebook board helped. People directed me to a vax registration website, where maybe I could sign up without Italian documents. Andy and I tried filling out the form (in Italian) several times, but we constantly got unspecified error messages. Then one day Andy entered the phone number of our Airbnb host. Bingo! We had made vax appointments. Just to make sure we’d qualify, I messaged the NGO offering the shots, Sant’Egidio. Someone told me in no uncertain terms to not show up! As tourists, we would be turned away. But a different Sant’Egidio person via a different Facebook message said to show up, even though I explained our tourist status, so we gave it a go. But we weren’t optimistic.

Off to the Trastevere neighborhood we went, to the complex of Sant’Egidio, a worldwide organization that generally serves the indigent and homeless. At the clinic, we saw hundreds of people, a lot of recent immigrants, students studying abroad and what seemed to be well-heeled, average Italians, but no one looked homeless or indigent. I had a great conversation, mainly in Spanish, with someone from Mexico City studying in Rome. They were giving first, second and booster shots.

Our appointment was for a first/second jab, a risky move on Andy’s part because the earliest booster signup slots weren’t until late December. Then another risky move, or bold. At the check-in point for our appointment, they were handing out numbers: for first/second jabs and for boosters. Andy asked if we could have booster numbers instead of the other one, and the guy seemed confused, but he went of it. That was very important. An hour later, one hour later than our appointment time, we made it inside and were shuffled to a desk for some basic questions (when/where did we get our earlier vax? how long did we plan to stay in Italy). The man there spoke good English and jokingly told me he had lived in America, but didn’t like Americans! He said we’d qualify because we had our first booster and planned to stay in Italy at least three months. OMG could it be happening?

But wait. There we were, being shuffled off to another desk. First we had to get assigned Italian health card numbers. A few computer clicks later, we each had the vital numbers that would allow us to get booster shots! So back to the first desk, to complete that phase of the registration, then off to another area and another desk to get interviewed by a doctor. Then into the semi-private space, and the needle! Hooray!

Navigating Italian  bureaucracy was the nightmare that everybody told us it would be. It took about 11 hours of doing research, plus three hours of visiting vaccine centers which didn’t pan out. There are many, many details about just how difficult the proces that I am not including in this piece. Suffice it to say that this is a time in which perseverance really paid off. We asked for and received a lot of vital help and support, notably from the Rome ex-pats Facebook group. We are also extremely grateful to the  Italian government for providing us with an health number. And we are very grateful to the community of Sant’Egidio for hosting a vaccine clinic (We’ve made a donation to say thanks).

Getting boosted in Italy protects us and Italians from Covid. Now that we are boosted, we even have EU Green Passes! In a sea of Italian bureaucracy, it seemed like it might take miracle to make it happen. We needed this (didn’t have it), and we needed that. But after some research by Andy and some figuring out of some more forms in Italian, we were issued by the Italian health ministry a QR code that we import into a Green Pass app, which we can begin showing as needed. No more need to show our CDC vax cards anywhere in Europe!

Now we wait
The Mexican Embassy in Rome is closing soon for Christmas. We’re still waiting for them to tell us when our paperwork will be completed. But now we have an Airbnb in Monti (one block from the Colosseum) through the 30th, so we can be a little more chill. Staying that extra time in Rome we also allow us to play it extra safe and smart while Omicron rises and our Moderna boosters kick in (it’s been a week as I write this). After that, will come travel, to Mexico, if travel is still a thing by then. If not, then perhaps I’ll have to write “Stranded in Rome, Part II.”

The magic of Italy

Dear readers of Beleiveitohrnot,

Greetings from Palermo, Italy where we’re mid-way through week three of a five-week stay. Palermo is on the island of Sicily. it’s the largest city in Sicily with a population of 673,000. We knew zilch about Sicily when we decided to make this our 5 week homebase. The only thing we knew was 1) It has a large history of being associated with the Italian mafia. 2) In October and November the weather was supposed to be quite balmy and very sunny. Did someone say balmy weather? Count me in!

When we first got here, it was raining. Then it rained on day two, and day three, and day four, and day five. Are you starting to see a pattern here? I had told Andy to expect sunny days with temps in the high 60’s to mid 70’s. But every single day we experienced drizly or plain old rainy weather.

Amid this dreary weather, I’m happy to report that we have experienced a few incredible days as well, but the dreary weather always seems to return. Our landlord, Luigi told me that all of the rain is highly unusual, but based on all this gloom, I don’t know what to think. Even as a write this blog, the weather simply sucks. We’ve had four or maybe five days of straight rain.

Fun times in Umbria

Before we arrive in Sicily, we were in the Umbria region of Italy for a week. I had heard very little about the Umbria and Tuscany regions of Italy before our visit. Thanks to some friends who live in Switzerland, we got invited to join them, and several other couples in a magnificent Italian villa right on the border of Tuscany and Umbria. The guests were incredibly kind, interesting people. We only had our friends in common–none of us knew one another before the trip. What a great time we had!

We had our days to ourselves to explore all of the fascinating and beautiful medieval towns in this part of Italy, including Montepulciano, a city I really liked. Every day we’d go explore one or two new cities. We’d take long drives in the beautiful Italian countryside, stopping along the way at farm fruit stands–and we’d venture into small towns to enjoy cafes. A few days we had picnics in the vineyards. We’d return to the villa mid afternoon to enjoy some reading, or maybe do a tiny bit of work. Then in the evenings we’d all meet to enjoy home-cooked meals. Each night one couple was responsible for cooking for the entire group. People made some really great food! A few nights the staff cooked for us. One night we had a homemade pizza dinner and one night we took a pasta making class and then ate the pasta we made. I had never made pasta from scratch before. The ravioli (spinach and cheese) could not be beat!

Luckily, Andy and I got assigned the final night to cook dinner, and by that time, we were just party of 6, instead of a party of 12! We really lucked out because I was quite nervous about cooking for so many people. While I do like to cook, I’m best at cooking simple things. In the end, we ended up making lentil soup, (it was a big hit) quiche, roasted cauliflower twice baked potatoes, and ice cream with fresh persimmon for dessert. Empty plates came back to us–always a good sign.

If you want to read more about the incredible villa we stayed in, here’s the link. It was a stunning villa and definately a one-in-a-lifetime experience. It was such a privilege to spend time with people I really like, but rarely see! And meet some really nice new people too.

Fun on the Almalfi Coast

After we left the villa, we hopped into our awesome Fiat rental car and slowly made our way to the Almalfi Coast where I had been one time before with the same people who invited us to the villa! We spent three nights in Sorrento and stayed in small boutique hotel. At first, I wasn’t that happy with our room. It was spartan and a tiny bit on the small side. But looking back, the hotel turned out to be great. Our room was very, very inexpensive and was located smack dab in the center of town. In hindsight, I would stay there again. What it lacked in bells and whistles, (like a nice lobby, and bar area) it made up for in service location and price.

During our stay we did two great things. One day we took a short ferry ride to the Island of Capri, and the other day we took a day-long driving trip along the Almalfi Coast. The scenary was stunning. I told Andy that it was the nicest (a#1) coastal driving trip we’d ever taken. The scenary was jaw-dropping. It was also terrifying due to the small roads, and the crazy driving, but Andy handled it quite well. I would not have had the patience to be the one behind the wheel but later Andy revealed that driving in Guanjuanto, Mexico had prepared him for this white knuckle drive.

I think this photo is from the internet!
It was a rainy day on the Almalfi Coast but it was fun anyway

Sicilian Life

After the Almalfi Coast, we headed towards Sicily. The drive from the Almalfi Coust to Sicily was just about 12 hours, but instead of driving we decided to take the overnight ferry. I’m glad we did. It was an easy, cheap and fun way to travel. We drove our car onto the ship, checked into our simple, but spartan overnight cabin with two twin beds, had some bad dinner in the ships cafe, and then went to sleep. When we woke up at 6:30 AM, we were in Sicily. Easy Peasy.

Now that we’re checked into our one-bedroom Airbnb, we’ve been spending our days exploring all of the cafes here, venturing out into the great fruit and vegetable markets, and working. It’s been nice. We haven’t explored as much of the city as we would like due to the crappy weather, but we have two more weeks to go. Someone told me that the weather gets even better in November, so I’m hopeful.

One of the greatest things about living in Sicily is that there is a lot of English spoken here. At least in the restaurants and cafes. Because we’re staying in the historic center where many, many tourists stay, most restaurants have menus both in both English and Italian. This has made going out a breeze. Although, as I’m learning, Italian and Spanish quite similar. It’s fun to see and hear so many of the same words used.

Ode to the rice ball

I will really miss these delectable delights when we leave Italy

The first night we arrived in Sicily, we went out to dinner a few blocks from our house. After dinner, Andy said “oh look they have rice balls here”. I jumped for joy as I love, love, love rice balls. I was a bit surprised when he told me they had them. We walked a little bit further and he said, “look, there’s more”. My excitement quickly turned into utter disappointment! In my stupidity I thought Andy was referring to onigiri, Japanese rice balls which I adore. Ooops! Wrong part of the world. Silly, silly me!

In actuality, he was talking about aricini. Aricini is an Italian rice ball and it’s a staple food of Siciliy, and they originate in Palermo. They are not popular in the United States or in Mexico, but perhaps you’ve had an encounter with some of these tasty treats. For some reason, I think they actually sell them at Trader Joes!

A ricey, but not pricy bite of paradise

There are many, many arinici stands around Palermo where they sell gigantic fried rice balls for a little more than $3 each. These perfectly fried balls contain incredible, perfectly cooked creamy risotto, along with a favorite filling of your choice. You can get them filled with risotto and mozerella cheese, or cheese and mixed mushrooms, or something as delectible as swordfish and fresh tomato which I had last week and was super yummy. I also like the ones filled with cheese and spinach. They make the perfect pre-dinner snack, and can be eaten while walking down the street. People in Palermo seem to love them as much as we do. We see happy visitors eating them day and night!

A creamy risotto-filled rice ball has my vote!

Next stop Mexico

We have a big occasion to celebrate in December. It’s our 25TH wedding anniversary! Our original plan was to spend the month of December in Chaing Mai, Thailand, but we’ve now scrapped that plan for a few reasons. 1) Thailand is just opening up and we’re not sure how easy or hard it would be to get in. 2) It seemed like a big expense to go for a month to Asia and not visit other parts of Southeast Asia while there. Instead of Asia, we’re decided to head back to Mexico. We think we’ll spend most of December in Mexico City, and then stay in Zihuatenjo hanging out with my mom in January and February. As usual, we’ll have a spare apartment in Zihuatanejo for anyone who wants to come visit.

My next blog post will be about some of the great foods we’ve been eating and enjoying while in Sicily, stay tuned.

A Covid Cruise?

Dear readers of BelieveitOhr Not,

We just returned from our Norwegian (NCL) seven day cruise to the Greek Islands and we had a wonderful time. A summary of the Greek Islands makes for very boring reading, so I’m not going to go into Island deets, but Rhodes was my favorite Island, followed by Santorini. The best part of the cruise was spending time with our friends Dana and James. They were excellent traveling companions! I’ve known Dana since 7th grade (social studies) and it was a real privledge and honor to get to spend time with her and get to know James better.

Our friendship has spanned many, many years!

The food both on and off the ship was incredible and the Greek people were warm and very helpful. Additionally, they spoke very good English so we didn’t really have any language struggles. This was definitely an unexpected bonus. If you haven’t visited the Greek Islands yet, I highly recommend visiting them in the off-season like we did. With the exception of Santorini, we didn’t experience major crowds and overall the weather was quite nice. We had two rainy days out of seven, not bad at all. Most days we could visit Greece’s lovely beaches and we experienced weather in the 70’s.

Covid Criuse?

I had a lot of reservations about taking a cruise while the global pandemic was still in full swing–but I’m glad we made the decision to go. Here’s why it turned out to be the right decision for us.

  1. Everyone on the cruise had to be fully vaccinated including 100 percent of cruise staff.
  2. All passengers got tested immediately before boarding. Testing was quick. If you tested positive, you were denied boarding.
  3. We also got tested the day before the cruise ended. All testing was done at the ships expense.
  4. The ship had implemented other good (although not perfect) Covid protocals. Here are a few I really appreciated.

Washy Washy
Stationed at each buffet entrance was a smiling NCL employee. They always said, “washy washy” and pointed us towards a hand washing station before we entered. At the hand washing station, they had two sinks, soap and steaming, hot water. Everyone entering the buffet had to wash their hands and the employees were very strict about this protocols.

Buffet service
A self-service buffett was not offered as a part of this cruise. There was a large and quite tasty buffet, but NCL employees served food from it. You simply pointed to what you wanted and they put it on your plate. All employees were masked and were wearing plastic gloves when serving. I liked this a lot for two reasons. First, it felt way safer than having hundreds of guests handling food utensils and potentially contaminating them. 2) Having employees serving food keep portion sizes down to a managable level and controlled potential food waste.

Not all food was served to you, though. The buffet had a few areas where you could take small pre-plated dishes such as small salads, mini-sandwhiches and small desserts. I really liked this option because you could grab those dishes directly.

Low occupany rates at the Inn & Social distancing
The Norwegian Jade had a capacity of 2,400, but sailed just above half-full. The ship never felt crowded, so it was fairly easy to employ social distancing. In several sections of the ship, sections were roped off to discourage people from sititng near you. Unfortnately, people didn’t always pay attention. Several times in bars, people were sitting close to me and I decided to move. Due to crowds, we didn’t check out any shows (I’m sad about this since I love shows), so I can’t remark on the social distancing used in the theaters.

Masked Men
Due to Greek law, everyone had to wear masks when moving around the ship. For the most part everyone followed this rule. People did not walk around the ship unmasked, even when outside on deck. Once seated outside (on deck chairs or inside restaurants & pubs) people removed their masks. Thankfully, it was rare to see people walking inside maskless. I can only count a handful of times I saw this.

A better approach?
I have no regrets taking a cruise during the pandemic. Hats off to Norwegian cruise lines for doing a noteworthy (but not perfect) job of keeping everyone safe. Truthfully, I would have preferred a cruise where people were not allowed to disembark. This would have felt even safer, but I guess the cruise lines thought having sea day only cruises would not appeal to a mass market. I understand their reasoning, since most people do not want to experience endless sea days. We’re the exception, since we love sea days!

Enjoy these brief cruise pics!

Bad Karma?

Not complaining…well maybe just a tiny bit. Our lives are pretty incredible. Pretty effing great!

But today, well today was hard. Yesterday, our second day in our Palermo, Sicily Airbnb, we noticed we had no hot water. Andy took a nice hot shower, and then when I showered, it was lukewarm turning quickly cool. I was thinking we might just have a small water tank and that we would probably have to stagger our showers. Then last night when I did the dishes, I noticed we had no hot water at all–none in the shower or in the kitchen sink. This morning, we still had no hot water. In fact, after I ran, I had to take an unbelievably cold shower, which I really hate. Brrrr.

We’re renting a nice one-bedroom in a large remodeled building with 60 units. The manager Luigi, told us to knock on his office door whenever we needed anything so we located him and told him that we had no hot water. He seemed really surprised. He came up to the apartment with Andy (I was waiting downstairs) and told Andy that the circuits and fuses are very old in this building and we can’t keep everything plugged in! He thought we may have overwhelmed the electical circuits and tripped the hot water tank circuit. Andy thought this sounded hghly unlikely. After more research, it was determined that the apartment needed a completely new water heater and Luigi told us that the plumber would come by at 4 PM this afternoon. Andy and I joked that we might have bad housing karma. This is the second itme this has happened to us. Last year when we rented a fancy house in Oaxaca, Mexico, the same exact thing happened on day 2.

When Andy and I returned from our morning walk, we entered an apartment which not only had no hot water, it had no electricity, or internet. I went off in search of Luigi again. He came to our apartment, flicked on a few fuses (Andy had already tried this with not good results) and brought the power and internet back up. He told us that hot water tank was the culprit of plunging us into darkness, but all would be better shortly.

The plumber came exactly at 4 PM with Luigi in tow. He took out the old hot water tank and replaced it with a spanking new hot water tank. 15 minutes later, I turned on the convection oven to cook dinner, and we lost power again! Luckily, Andy was able to tinker with the fuse box, and we unplugged the brand new hot water tank temporarily. The lights and internet stayed on.

Sometimes it’s just too much…. I just want to live in a place where we have no move-in issues. I want to settle into a place where we don’t have to buy dish towels, salad bowls, or even a spatula. I want to come into a casa and not be stressed out like I was today. We both were in horribly foul moods.

Luigi was very, very apologetic and highly responsive. And this Airbnb is very well equiped. We even asked the owner to buy us a few things (3 good knives, dish towels and a small trash can) and she happily did. Plus, we got a really great deal on this rental. But if I count the number of properties we’ve rented, and all the problems we’ve had, it all starts to add up. Luckily, we’ve had very responsive owners each time we have had a problem. But today I just wanted everything to work–and it didn’t.

Tomororrow is a new day and it’s not a big deal to have to unplug the hot water tank when using our large toaster oven. It’s a minor hassle, nothing more. I’m sure once we get used to it, it will become an easy habit.

Here’s the link to our Airbnb if you want to check it out. It’s in a great location and the building is very, very secure.

I’m just finishing a blog about our recent cruise to Greece and I’ll post it shortly.

Stacey

The richness of frugal living

Dear readers of BelieveitOhrNot,

How can we continue to afford to live the lifestyle we live? Are we rich? Are we living off retirement savings? Do we have an endless supply of money? No, no and no! We’re definitely not rich. We are not living off retirement savings and we 100 percent do not have an endless supply of money at our disposal.

This blog post is about how we can continue to live a cool and perhaps even envious lifestyle. I’m gonna share what has worked for us the past 5+ years, and how you can do it, too!

For the past almost six years, we’ve both gotten our Ph.D.’s in the art of living very, very frugally. What does frugal living mean to us?

There are three basic points I’d like to share:

  1. In our day to day lives, we live EXTREMELY frugally. Really, really frugally.
  2. We have very few monthly expenses besides food and rent. I’ll outline some of our expenses to further illustrate this point.
  3. We both still work. Andy’s monthly salary as a copy editor for a San Francisco newspaper usually covers all of our basic living expense IF we are frugal. My salary can be saved for things like nice vacations. Some months his salary doesn’t cover our living expenses. When this happens, we siphon money from our vacation fund. But, Andy’s salary working 10-15 hours a week is usually sufficient. My salary can be saved for the fun stuff!

What does living frugally mean to us?

To make our lives work, we keep a good handle on our monthly expenses. We try to keep them as low as possible. Here’s how we do it.

  1. We eat 95 percent of our meals at home. We’re pretty careful with our grocery budget too. I estimate we spend somewhere between $80 to $100 a week on groceries, including fresh fruits and vegetables.
  2. We rarely eat out. Once every other week we probably eat breakfast out. We eat dinner out on average once a week, and when we do, we spend $30 tops — and that’s for a pretty nice restaurant. If we eat lunch out (once every 10 days or so) we spend about $15-$20.
  3. We buy almost nothing besides food. Really. Let me repeat. We buy very little. This is what we aim for every single month. I also think this is the key to our success.

Some examples of expenses

Clothes

When you live out of a tiny backpack, you can’t buy anything. There’s just no room.Therefore, our budget for clothes is very, very low. I estimate we spend about $350 a year on new clothes for us both. While I do buy an occasional new shirt, or dress, our clothing purchases are sporadic. Andy mainly buys new clothes only when we visit the U.S. and even then, it’s only two to three shirts, a pair of pants and/or a new pair of shoes.

Toiletries

Every since we moved into our apartment at Hotel Casa Mexicana, we’ve spent very little money on personal care expenses. Soap, shampoo, conditioner, and toilet paper is provided every day. Therefore, we’ve saved a a bit of money over the last four months not having to buy these types of items. Do you know how long one deodorant lasts? I do. A long, long, long time! And, generally speaking, deodorant, Q-tips, toothpaste and the like are generally cheaper in Mexico by $1 or $2 over similar (or the exact same) products in the U.S.

General housing expenses

Our rents rarely exceed $800-$900 a month, and this is expensive for Mexico! Right now we are in a small apartment (kitchen, bedroom, living room and a stellar shower-bath bathroom) in a super convenient location in the town center for about $750 per month. Even when our rent is a bit higher, it usually includes internet, cable TV, the water bill and electricity. Sometimes (such as at Casa Mexicana) purified water is also provided, but not usually, in which case it costs us about 50-75 pesos ($2.50 to $3.50 USD) per week. In some places we stay, we might have to pay some of these expenses, but it’s pretty rare.

Our U.S. expenses

Since we sold our California house, we have drastically reduced our expenses. Here are some monthly expenses that we do have.

Car storage, $60

Storage unit for household goods, incl. insurance, $75

Insurance for our 2010 car, $50 (we keep our coverages very low, only bumping ’em up when we are about to return to the Bay Area to use our car. Geico allows this!)

Mailbox at a mail house, $18

U.S.-based Google cell phones, $120. Unlimited data plan.

Spotify, Netflix and MLB app, $300 a year (approximately)

Car registration, $225 annually

Health insurance. Since our annual income is quite low these days we qualify for Covered California and receive a monthly subsidy. This is a significant benefit.

I’m sure there are some things I’ve forgotten about, but not having a house any longer has greatly cut down on our monthly expenses. Plus, we no longer have to worry about paying property taxes, homeowners insurance, (a huge savings) or a property management company (as we did when we were renting out our house to create income), which is a huge deal. And, no mortgage, of course!

Splurges and more splurges!

Even with this tight budget, we have some splurges. I treat myself to a massage ($35) once a month. I also sometimes get manicures and pedicures, but not weekly.

Our travel budget is somewhat of a splurge. When we travel, we have chosen to not live as frugally as we live in our daily lives. For example, in early October we’re taking a Greek Islands cruise. But even then, we booked an inside cabin to minimize costs. We actually like inside cabins! But keep your fingers crossed because Norwegian (NCL) is entertaining bids for an upgrade to a balcony room. We bid the lowest amount possible, $150 apiece for the full one-week cruise. We felt like this was worth it, especially since we’ve never had a balcony. We haven’t heard yet if our offer has been accepted but we’re hopeful. A tiny splurge for sure.

Then there’s airfare. We will splurge to travel business class whenever it’s financially feasible, especially for short-haul flights in Europe and Mexico. Unlike in the U.S., the price difference is minimal (maybe $30-$35 to be in business class rather than the main cabin for a 90-minute flight) — and usually bags are included in the higher class, plus lounge access, which I absolutely love.

Regarding hotels, while we generally don’t book expensive hotels, we don’t book the cheapest ones, either. We like to stay in nice properties, but try to spend no more than $130 a night. We don’t usually order room service or sample treats from the mini-bar, but sometimes a room service breakfast can’t be beat!

Our frugal lifestyle feels just about right to us. We sacrifice O’plenty in our day-to-day lives, just enough to feel a tiny pinch, but not enough to feel resentful. These daily sacrifices allow us to live more extravagantly when we travel. To us, it’s completely worth it.

In the next few weeks, I’m sure I will have more to say about leaving Mexico and relocating temporarily to Europe. After three days in Athens and a one-week cruise to six Greek islands, we’ll be flying to Rome (2-hour flight, business class for $125 each!) and renting a car (about $850, yes, a big hit, but worth it for what a car, rather than trains, will allow us to see and do) for two weeks. Some friends have invited us to stay in a villa in Tuscany for a week, then we’ll tool around the Italian countryside, hit the Amalfi Coast and end up in Palermo, Sicily, where we hope to rent an Airbnb for a month.

More details to come. If you want more information about our day-to-day expenses, I’d be happy to share.

Stacey

Why I hate San Cristobal de Las Casas (Chiapas)

We’re just wrapping up our four month stay in San Cristobal de Las Casas and I can’t wait to leave. When we first arrived here in April, I could wax poetically about the amazing vegetarian food, the smiling indigenous people, the fantastic hippie vibe, the incredible culture…now I just want to scam. After a four month stay, (broken up by a stay in the USA), it’s time to get out of dodge. Europe is calling. I’m alone in my mini disdain for this place, for Andy does not share my discontent.

Health Issues

In San Cristobal de Las Casas, a lot of foreigners get sick. The ex-pat boards are filled with stories from people suffering from a multitude of serious stomach aliments. Andy got very sick when we first arrived back for our second two month stay. In fact, I’ve never seen him deal with such a bad stomach problems. He took a course of antibiotics and soon was feeling better. Then, four or five days later he got sick again! Tests showed a different type of parasite the second time around, and he was able to take a different type of medicine, but the continual stomach problems we both have faced (and continue to face) have really put a damper on our stay. Sadly, we can’t figure out the cause of our problems. It could be from our purified hotel water, or from just eating out–which we have basically stopped doing because we’re so freaking sick of dealing with intestinal maladies. While we’ve encountered stomach problems in other parts of Mexico, we’ve never been as sick as we have been here–especially Andy. Sadly it’s put a real damper on our San Cris experience. I don’t know if it’s the poor sanitation, poor overall hand washing practices, or something else, but it’s simply maddening.

After a house call, Andy felt better for a few short days. Then he was sick again.

Andy was so sick he needed a house call and a shot. The doctor was great and spoke amazing English.

Not only have we dealt with severe stomach issues, I’ve also dealt with some nasty bug bites which made my arm swell up and took five days to heal. I suspect a spider to be the culprit! But I’m really not sure. A scorpion may have visited me in the night.

I think a spider got me!

Little buggers!

The Hippies

San Cristobal de Las Casas is filled with liberal, cannabis/peyote/mushroom loving hippies. Tons and tons of them. Hippies from Mexico, and hippies from many places in Europe. Surprisingly, I’ve gown to dislike them. Why? Because they have no respect for the indigenous people who live here. They walk around everywhere maskless, putting regular folks and the indigenous population at great Covid risk. Furthermore, they are militant in their anti-mask and anti-vaccine views and they regularly post about their disdain for the “sheeps” of the world. Their live and let live philosophy is annoying to the nth degree. I clearly understand I am being judgemental about their lifestyle choices, which I don’t like to be, but it’s a daily struggle to respect their live and let live choices. Put on some shoes and mask up, please!

Streets/Mobility Issues

Walking around San Cristobal is dangerous and downright scary. The sidewalks are very, very narrow and very slick in places due to the types of stones they use. In some sections the streets are completely buckled. Walking around is basically nightmarish. Additionally, you need a mountaineering certificate to descend some of the curbs. Walking in the street isn’t much better because the streets are so narrow. Yesterday I was waiting at a traffic light, and 3 seconds after the light turned green I started walking across it, and a motorcycle almost clobbered me! No fun.

The high curbs make walking around a real challenge.

Weather

We’re in San Cris during the rainy season and the weather is quite unpredictable, which I do not like one bit! In Morelia, it rains a lot in the summer, but the waterworks are usually short-lived and occur during the late afternoon. Here it can be sunny one minute, and rainy the next. Some days we don’t see the sun at all–although this is not the norm. Finally, the weather peeps can’t accurately give correct forecasts! Right now it’s raining, but the forecast says no rain until 1 AM. It’s 5:36 PM this very second and it’s dreary and rainy!!! What gives???

The power and internet issues

When we first arrived in San Cristobal de Las Casas, we had tons and tons of internet problems. Wifi here is very, very weak and some days we had to go to a co-work space just to get work done, and even then the wifi wasn’t great. The second or maybe third week, our hotel wifi improved, at least in the main lobby of the hotel and we had better luck. But even then it wasn’t super reliable.

Besides highly wonky internet, we lived with daily power outages for weeks and weeks. Usually the power would go out for an hour or two mid-morning. But then the outages started lasting longer and longer. We lived with this annoying situation for several weeks, but finally we talked to the hotel manager and he got someone to fix it. We haven’t experienced any outages for the past 10 days which is a great relief.

Harassment by street vendors

There are a LOT of street vendors in San Cris. They come from surrounding small towns such as Chamula and bring shirts, jewelry and other local crafts to sell. We’re used to vendors approaching us in many Mexican towns, but the sheer amount of vendors here makes sitting outside challenging. Not awful, but sometimes not entirely pleasurable. Many vendors leave when we simply say “no gracias” but some do not leave our table quickly. They try to give us the hard sell and it wears us down. We’ve not encountered this problem in other Mexican towns, but then again, we’re usually not spending time in such tourist locations–even Zihuatanejo doesn’t seem to have so many “hard sell” vendors.

Generally the street vendors are respectful, but some are a bit annoying.

Regrets???

I have NO (not even one) regret about coming here for an extended stay. Let me make that clear. Chiapas is a very, very interesting part of Mexico and this area feels quite safe. We’ve loved living in the hotel Casa Mexicana. We have loved our simple one-bedroom apartment and having daily housekeeping services has been super cool! We’ve loved the hotel staff and the location of our apartment can’t be beat. However, I don’t see us coming back here in the near future. Four months was enough.

Next steps

Soon we’re off to Mexico City for two nights to meet my business partner and friend, Lisa Cortes. Then we’re going to go to the Bay Area for some routine dr. appts. Then we’re flying to Athens to board the Norwegian Jade for a one week cruise to the Greek Islands. A friend from the 7th grade and her husband will be joining us. How cool is that? Then we’ve been invited to an Italian villa in Tuscany to join some other friends (and 7 other couples who we don’t know). After Tuscany, we hope to move to a small apartment in Sicily, Italy for a bit. Of course, all this depends on Covid as our plans are quite flexible.

I’ll be sure to post another blog about our travel plans as they get firmed up.

Independence Day is coming soon so the town is getting ready with colorful flags

Leaving is such sweet sorrow!

Dear readers of BelieveitOhrnot,

Greetings from Chiapas, Mexico. We’re just wrapping up our 2 month stay in San Cristobal de Las Casas and it’s been a fantastic stay.

We just got back from experiencing some of Chiapas natural wonders including some very incredible waterfalls and it was a relaxing and fun trip. Here’s a few photos of the waterfalls. We also went to Comitan, a small tourist city where we stayed at a really cool, small hotel.





A big change of plans!!!

For the first time in many, many years, we’ve decided NOT to spend the summer in Morelia. I’ll explain why below.

But now it’s time to leave Chiapas. Next week, we’re high-tailing it out of here to go to San Francisco for a month to get our vaccines, then we’re going to go to Michigan to visit my family (maybe with a quick side trip to Chicago) then it’s back to San Cristobal de Las Casas!

An unbeatable living situation!!!

It’s simple. We just could not pass up this easy and unique living situation. Living in this hotel has been fantastic! When we found out the apartment was going to be free this summer, we sat down and made a pro and con list to determine if we should stay in Chiapas, go to Oaxaca or hunker down in Morelia. San Cristobal won. We like the vibe and the people are so interesting. It’s got tremendous energy and staying just felt right.

There are a lot of interesting people here. Like this stilt walker!

We appreciate a good thing!

  1. We are enjoying hotel living tremendously. We have housekeeping services every single day here. We get new sheets at least 4-5 times a week, someone makes our bed, then cleans our tiny kitchen. Then she cleans our bathroom and mops our entire apartment. Yes, we’re getting spoiled.
  2. We have very easy access to an unlimited supply of clean water for drinking and cooking, supplied by the hotel. It’s right out our door.
  3. The location of this hotel cannot be beat. We have access to thousands of cafes, stores and restaurants within a five minute walk.
  4. Next door they roast coffee every day in the coffee shop one door down. The delicious aroma makes us giddy.
  5. There are a lot more high-quality cafes we want to check out but haven’t had the time to do so yet.
  6. We have great access to vegetarian food items including a Japanese shop which makes their own regular and fried tofu. Score.
  7. We can easily get groceries delivered and because we don’t have a car, this is a big plus.
  8. The cost of living is a tiny bit cheaper than Morelia.
  9. The lobby in the main hotel is unbeatable. The center of the hotel features a large jungle like area, with small couches and tables surrounding it. We love to work here. It’s peaceful and the view is super pretty.
  10. We’ve got a gigantic bathtub! I love taking baths and this is a real, real treat. Plus, we have an unlimited supply of hot water!
  11. The hotel annex where our apartment is located is completely empty. A few guests may show up on the weekends, but we have an entire building to ourselves most days. The annex also has a beautiful courtyard with sculptures, trees and flowers. Super peaceful and great for working.

Another reason we’re so happy here is because of hotel management. They have treated us with so much kindness. The manager of the hotel, Thomas, is from Switzerland. He speaks perfect English and always meets our requests promptly.

See, life is so easy here. We have everything we need. But, that’s not to say life is picture perfect here. The weather isn’t great as we entering the rainy season. Now it rains every day. And the hippies (the city is packed with them) need to start darning some basic footware, and wearing some masks. Additionally, the internet remains a problem, but none of this deterred us from wanting to come back in mid-July. We know we’re going to miss Morelia a lot, but this town has great energy and want to experience more of it.

It’s Greek to Me (and Andy, too)

After San Cristobal de Las Casas, we’ve got some really exciting plans!!! In October we’re going on a seven day cruise to the Greek Islands with a very old friend. Someone I’ve known since 7th grade!!! After the cruise, we’re going to be staying in Europe instead of coming back to Mexico. Our current plan is to move to Italy for 6-8 weeks. We’re focusing on the South of Italy (Scilly and Polermo) since this is the warmest part of Italy during this time frame. I’ve been to Italy once, Andy has not. It will be fun to be there in the fall.

Southeast Asia anyone?

Then in mid-November or in early December we’re going to relocate to Chaing Mai Thailand for at least a month. It’s our 25th wedding anniversary in December and we wanted to do something cool. Iv’e heard great things about Chaing Mai, Thailand and I can’t wait to check it out. Then in January and February we’ll return to Zihuatanejo.

Of course, all of our travel plans depend on the Covid situation. I think Thailand is having a bit of a resurgence in Covid 19 so they may chose to not open to tourists. We’ll have to play it by ear and go to locations that are safe and open.

If you want to hangout with us in San Francisco, drop us a line. We’d love to get together for coffee, beers, dinner, etc. And, if you are feeling up for some travel now, I encourage you to hangout with us in San Chris. It’s an easy flight from Mexico City. We would love to introduce you to Chiapas.

Wifi woes in San Cristobal

Hello readers of BelieveitOhr Not, believe it or not, this is my 100th blog post. THANK YOU for reading my random musings about our lives in Mexico and other locales. I appreciate your comments and support more than you know. It’s been fun sharing our adventures with you.

Let me get straight to the point. If you are a digital nomad, stay away from San Cristobal de Las Casas. It’s not a place a digital nomad would want to be. The wifi is spotty on good days, unusable on many other days of the week. If you need reliable wifi, choose another place. Your working life will be miserable, guaranteed.

However, if you are a sun-drenched, blissed out hippie, you should get your vaccine, and board the first plane here. You will love it. There are old hippies and there are young hippies. Many are from Mexico, but other long-haired manbun wearing visitors are from Europe. These well-traveled youth do not believe in mask wearing, which has made our time around them less than enjoyable. Most of them seem to be from Sweden, Italy, Spain, Israel, Norway, etc. We do not see many American folks, or people from the Maple Leaf country here, but there are some. Their mask-wearing is a tiny bit better, but overall it’s simply pathetic.

We’re entering week four of our stay in Chiapas and this place is quickly turning into one of my favorite places in all of Mexico. We like it so much, we’ve decided to extend our stay here for another month. We’re really loving living in a small one-bedroom apartment in this hotel. What’s not to like? The location is perfect–the entire world is outside our door, we get daily housekeeping service (I haven’t made our bed in weeks) and since a 25 person conference left the annex where our apartment is, we have this whole incredible wing of the hotel to ourselves. Why ever leave?

Poke Me

Even thought we don’t want to leave Mexico, we need to return to the U.S.A to get our Covid 19 shots. We don’t want to get the shots they are using here in Mexico, (Sputnick, the Russian vaccine and Sinovac, the one shot Chinese vaccine). They might be using others, but this is dependent on your location in Mexico. Research has shown that the shots they are using here are not as effective as the shots they are using in the United States, so our plan is to return to California. We hope to get Johnson and Johnson, but our provider (Kaiser) doesn’t let you choose–perhaps this will change in the future. We were actually dreading spending so much time in California because renting a house in the Bay Area is so expensive! A monthly rental could have set us back around $2,500! But luckily, I remembered my friend has a really great studio apartment in the lower Richmond District, right near Golden Gate Park. A prior two-week stay there a few years ago worked out great! I asked her if her studio was free, and she said it was! And she gave us a killer deal to boot!!! We’ll be enjoying the avenues, sunning ourselves in Golden Gate Park and eating Asian delights while we wait for our shots to take effect. After California, we hope to go to Michigan to see my family. After Michigan we’re not sure where our next destination will be. We might return to Mexico, (Morelia?) but we might head East to Asia if it’s open for tourists and safe. We really don’t know.

We are toying with coming back to San Cristobal de Las Casas, but only if we can find good housing. Staying at this hotel long-term won’t really work because 1) we need more space 2)we can’t handle the inconsistent wifi. We’ve looked at two places so far, and both were really bad, really, really bad. The first place was a two-bedroom apartment complex with three or four other units. It had moldy walls, (a common problem due to all the rain in San Cristobal), and the bathroom was disgusting. We told the agent we needed something more modern, so the next day she found us a house.

The house was in much, much better condition than the apartment, but it was gigantic, and had uncomfortable furniture. Plus it was pretty dark and the bathrooms needed a lot of updating. It did have a nice kitchen, though.

I can’t seem get a handle on the housing situation here. People seem to be living in incredibly cheap housing, but I think these folks are the happy, sun-drenched hippies I mentioned. I’m seeing local places advertised on-line (not on Airbnb) and some of these places cost just $200-$400 a month. They are pretty dreadful, but they are certainly cheap.

The house we saw was $1,200 a month, but we were told we could have it for $1,000. (gringo prices for sure). I’m sure we could get a pretty nice place here for about $700 a month with just a tiny bit of legwork.

In any case, we are not in any hurry to decide our next destination. We’ve got a few months to decide.

What’s so great about San Cristobal de Las Casas?

  1. The climate is great. It’s not too hot-and it’s not too cold. It’s very, very sunny too. The days are about 76, and the nights re about 55. I understand the rainy season starts in May, but so far we haven’t seen very much rain.

2. The prices- This is the cheapest part of Mexico we have lived in. Food in both the grocery stores and restaurants is very, very cheap. I won’t go into a list of prices, but it’s at least 30 percent cheaper than
Zihuatanejo and 20 percent cheaper than Morelia.

3. The energy of the people. There’s a lot of artistic energy circling these them hills. People give classes in many alternative things like Thai massage, and various types of energy work including types of energy work I have not heard of. People also sell organic food to make extra money including hummus, Indian food, “happy cookies”, chick pea and potato cheese (we tried it and loved it) fresh artisan bread, kombucha, dumplings, healing oils and other related things.

4. The vegan/vegetarian food scene is great! It’s packed with inexpensive vegan and vegetarian restaurants serving inexpensive, high quality food.

5. The international food scene is very, very good. There are many Asian restaurants, Italian restaurants, and other restaurants focusing on international cuisine. Last night we ate dinner at a Korean restaurant and we both really, really enjoyed it.

6. The tourism industry is well-developed. You can easily find a tour company to take you on a plethora of interesting day trips to waterfalls, hiking places, lakes, and other natural wonders. You can also take a van to Guatemala. We haven’t taken any tours yet because we are reluctant to board vans with other non-mask wearing tourists. But we’re exploring some private tours and we hope to get out into the countryside this week and next week.

7. The coffee scene is fantastic! I highly suggest you trying some coffee from the Chiapas region. In addition to good coffee, they have a lot of cool cafes perfect for reading, game playing and quiet conversation. We always enjoy cafes, and we’ve found a lot here we love.

The coffee is great here. Andy’s been enjoying it a lot.

8. They have nice squares guaranteed for top-notch people watching! I am especially enjoying seeing all the young hippies in love, and watching the indigenous vendors because they are always dressed in simply beautiful Chiapas dresses, skirts and shirts. (photo far below).

Now for the not-so-good

  1. We are not used to living in a city populated by so many tourists. As such, we are hit up many times a day by indigenous people asking us to buy shirts, scarves, bracelets, bags, and other hand-made items. Usually when we say no (in Spanish) and say a few more sentences, they are quite respectful, but sometimes they try to give us the hard sell. We do not mind being approached, but we can easily be approached 25 times in a hour if we are sitting at an outdoor cafe having coffee. It gets a little tiring to be approached so often, but I do like seeing all of the vendors selling their wares.

2. The wifi is consistently bad, I mean really bad. I usually can’t get through a whole on-line Spanish class with my Spanish teacher without having to 1) change locations 2) call her back a few times. It just starts to wear you down, especially if you have a lot of work to do. Sometimes the wifi at our house is good, sometimes not so good. The same situation applies to most cafes and local co-work spaces. It’s just a drag. It’s a conversation topic at least 2-3 times a day on the message boards. Because Chiapas is the poorest state in all of Mexico, it does not have a strong infrastructure for power, water, and unfortunately, the internet.

3. There is a lot of child labor here and it’s heartbreaking to see. We often see children in Mexico selling trinkets and other things to support their families, but here we are seeing way, way more children and they seem too young to be out on the streets alone. I understand it’s a struggle to support ones family, but the child labor situation is very disheartening.

4. The mold. We haven’t experienced much mold because it’s not the wet season yet, but we understand it gets very wet and cold. This leads to mold development.

All in all, I’m really glad we extended our stay in Chiapas. It’s been so much fun to live in the center of town. It gets a bit loud with the constant fireworks going off, the loud music from the local bars, (Thursday-Saturday is really loud) and trucks navigating the narrow streets, but we actually like it. We thought Guanajuato was the loudest place we have ever lived in Mexico, but now San Cristobal is giving it a real run for it’s money!

Post 101 coming soon!!!

In the meantime, if you want to hangout with us when we are in the Bay Area, we arrive June 2. Private message me if you want to get together for socially distanced coffee or a hazy IPA.

Stacey