Cancer-The great instigator

Me being diagnosed with advanced state ovarian cancer in May 2015 was a life-changing event. Dare I say even a blessing????  Well, maybe blessing is the wrong word, but my cancer diagnosis and three words from my oncologist to ‘live life now” changed everything for us.

Cancer was the great instigator. Should I say thanks?

Every since Andy and I got married 20 years ago, we’ve always talked about moving abroad for our retirement. We knew we could successfully live abroad because we did it in our early 30’s as Peace Corp volunteers in Jamaica and we were jonesing for a repeat performances. We talked about moving abroad at least once a week during our entire marriage, so the thought of not being able to do it was simply terrifying to us both.

We jumped and we haven’t looked back.

Now we are a bit over the half-way mark in our six-month stay in Zihuatanejo, Mexico. In May, we will have lived in Mexico for a year and we continue to love the scenery, people and culture. Now it’s time to make some major decisions about what comes next!

Here’s where the wind will take us in the next few months.

First, the first week of February we have been invited to San Miguel de Allende to attend the 50th birthday party of a close friend. She’s asked 10 of her besties to join her. All are coming from the San Francisco Bay Area and Los Angeles to participate in four days of festivities.


The house we are staying at is two blocks off the main square

San Miguel de Allende is about 8 hours away from Zihuataenjo and we’re going to be traveling for the first time by first class bus. First class buses in Mexico are supposed to be very nice. They have bathrooms, seat chargers and they show movies. After the party, my friend, and the birthday girl, (Shannon) will bus with us back to Zihuataenjo and stay for a few nights but first we’ll stop in Morelia for a night of big city living. We will once again stay at my favorite Mexican hotel, the Hotel Soledad.

Then, visitors a-plenty start arriving from the middle of February through the middle of March pretty much non-stop. I’m looking forward to the company. Unfortunately, there’s NO MORE room at the inn for this remaining winter season. We’re completely booked. Sorry peeps.

At the end of March we’re being kicked out of this great country. Our 180 day tourist visas expire at the end of March. Mexican law requires that we flee–anyplace is fine as long as it’s out of Mexico for at least 24 hours. Then we can come back for another 180 days.

Asia here we come!  We’re off to Korea and Japan for some new adventures.

Hello Cherry Blossoms

I’ve always loved cherry blossoms. Whenever I see them a complete feeling of peace envelops me. Since we have to leave Mexico, we decided to take a seven-week trip to Korea and Japan in the spring to become cherry blossom groupies. I’ve been to Japan twice for work, but never with Andy. I really love all of Asia, but I’m particularly fond of Japan and I’m excited for us to travel throughout Japan together. I’m also excited to take my first trip to Korea.


Being a cherry blossom groupie isn’t as easy as it sounds.  When we first booked our tickets to Asia, we didn’t quite understand that cherry blossom season is short. The trees have a very short viewing period and variations in temperature can affect when they bloom from year to year. The Korean and Japanese governments both provide excellent guidelines to help tourists follow their foliage, but it’s all based on speculation until the season draws closer. Another drawback…hundreds of thousands of people want to see them, so it’s hard getting hotel rooms in many cities. And if there are hotel rooms available, they cost over $150 a night for a budget property. Nicer hotels are running closer to $200 a night. That’s a bit steep for our budget, especially when we are used to paying $50 a night for fancy hotels in Mexico.

But we’re not daunted. We’re pushing on. We’re mostly planning our trip to geographically follow their sproutage, but we may be SOL depending on the weather. Already I know that while in Tokyo we’ll probably miss them by a few weeks. In many of the other cities we plan to visit, we could be several days early or even up to a week late, or we could hit the cherished “full bloom” state as I anticipate we will while visiting Kyoto. Thankfully, we were lucky enough to get lodging at a very huge and famous Spring cherry blossom festival in Takayama and I’m sure this will be one of our highlights of our trip, especially our stay there in a youth hostel!

To fund this amazing adventure, we’re mostly using hotel and airline points. In our former professional lives, we  both traveled extensively for work. Over the last 15 years or so we’ve become serious hotel and airline point hoarders. We’ve even sat through some very long and pressure -filled timeshare presentations just to earn extra  Starwood points. That’s dedication!  Now it’s time to reap the rewards and go on a point spending spree!

First we’ll stop in the Bay Area for 3 days to see my oncologist and to pick up some appropriate traveling clothes. I can’t go to Asia wearing nothing but sun dresses. I will look sorely out of place!

Then we’re flying business class to Seoul, Korea on Asiana airlines and then we’re going to be using hotel points to stay at a brand new Starwood property, an Aloft. Alofts are cool. We like the brand and stay at them often.  Then from Korea we will fly to Japan.

Over the course of one month,  we’ll stay in many different places including an airbnb in Kyoto. Supposedly the bathroom/shower is so small that Andy will have to crouch down to shower!  When we can, we’ll stay in a youth hostel or two, with a smattering of luxury Sheraton and Westin properties thrown in so we can cash in points. I like the approach of staying at both low-end and higher end properties when traveling. It makes for many fun adventures. I’m also lobbying for us to stay a few nights at the St. Regis in Osaka (on points) where every room has private butler service!  After traveling around Japan for a month, we’re going to board a Celebrity repositioning cruise on the Celebrity Millenium outside of Tokyo and take a 14-day cruise from Japan to Vancouver. If you are not familiar with repoisitioning cruises, they are dirt cheap. They are cheap because they have tons of sea days, as opposed to port visits and they need people to fill up the ships as they transition to another season. In our ships case, it had been cruising throughout Asia, but come the end of May it will start its spring and summer season in Alaska. Along the way we will visit Sapporo and Hagadote, Japan and one port in Russia called Petropavlovsk.  I’m super excited about the cruise because it was much, much cheaper than flying home and way more fun!  We’ve booked a basic interior cabin but don’t expect to spend much time in it. We’ll spend long sea days playing cards, reading and watching movies. Paradise. After we disembark in Vancouver, Canada we will stay with close friends for 3 or 4 days.

After Vancouver we will fly straight to Morelia, (the greatest city you have never heard of) to begin a four month stay.  Book your reservations now. We already have a lot of people who have expressed an interest in coming to visit.  After Morelia, we want to spend the month of October in Oaxaca. Then, who knows where the wind will take us? We’re strongly considering returning to Zihuatanenjo, and we are going to make a final decision soon.  Life is just a little bit slow-paced here for me. While I do love it, it doesn’t have any of the big city life I crave. But after four months in big city Morelia, I may be ready to return to paradise. We’ll have a better idea of our plans in a few more weeks. Until then, we are in full Asia planning mode.  Have you ever used Tripit to organize a trip?  If not, check it out. I’m finding it to be a fantastic planning  tool.

Misc Musings:

1. I had a wonderful time with my dad who came here for 9 days. He was a really easy guest and we did a lot of fun stuff including visiting Ixtapa Island.

2. Last night we ran out of propane gas and today the gas man came with his huge truck and refilled it. Total cost $107.00.

3. Having no gas means having no hot water. When the gas tank was filled, the stove and oven started working again, but the hot water did not. Andy could not light the pilot light try as he might. Andy sent our landlords a message about two hours ago via email and they are already here trying to fix it.  They are so amazing and helpful. And the adventure continues!


Old West-style shootout

A few nights ago, captain Andy and I were chilling around 11:15 p.m., Andy in the living room watching TV and me in the bedroom reading. Suddenly I heard some very strange sounds. Andy came in the bedroom and said, “Did you hear that? I’m pretty sure it was gunfire.” It was a bit off in the distance, but it sounded like a shootout in the Wild West. Over the course of about 10 minutes, it sounded as if 100 or maybe even more than 200 rounds had been fired, by machine guns. Late in the sequence, we heard one short barrage of gunfire from what sounded like the street behind our backyard.

I was shocked. I was scared. This was the first time we had ever heard gunfire in our safe neighborhood in Zihuatanejo, Mexico. We’re still not fully sure what happened, but from the local news reports we’ve read, it appears as if cartel (ie. gang) members in two cars, after being spotted driving oddly by law enforcement officials, started to trade gunfire with said law enforcement officials — a confusing web of municipal police, state police, federal police and military, all of whom constantly drive around town in military-type Jeep vehicles, some with a mounted machine gun at the ready.

Perhaps the badmen engaged the police; perhaps it was the other way around. We’re not really not sure. But after the shootout, three men were reported dead with four wounded, including a policeman who sustained minor injuries.

I’m upset. I’m perplexed. I’m sad. I’m speechless. What I am not is worried for our overall safety. As it turned out, even though it sounded close at times, the shootout happened a mile from our house in an area where we would not be late at night. It’s not in a bad neighborhood; just a place we wouldn’t be. Still, no matter where it occurred, the shootout was a sad commentary on the state of life in contemporary Mexico, where cartels have too much influence, and politicians have either too little (or are controlled by cartels or corrupted by other influences).

I pray for people’s safety and security. I pray that an increased police and military presence around town keeps Mexicans and tourists safe. I pray that those of you who want to come visit us still want to come, because I remain positive that we and you will be safe. I pray that those of you who are new to Mexico learn to love it as much as we do and that you get to experience true Mexican hospitality and a nation’s zest for living.