FAQ from my readers!

 NOTE:  I was having some issues dealing with formatting for this blog post, it may look a little strange.  

Dear readers of Believe It Ohr Not:

Recently on Facebook, I asked you to send me questions that you might be interested in having me answer.  Thank you for heeding my plea and for sending me some very thoughtful ones.  I was touched so many of you took time out of your  busy schedules to compose them.

Here’s my answers to your queries.

Do you ever hide being American?
 No. We have never, ever hidden being from the USA.  In our travels people don’t automatically assume we are American. They assume we are either 1) Canadian
2) European 3) American, but not always in that order. It just depends.
Once we tell them we are from America, they usually ask us “what do you think of your president”. When we tell them, they smile, nod and that’s about it.  It’s never been an issue, and we don’t feel like we have to hide where we are from.   IMG_20170910_124823
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What do you wish Americans visiting Mexico would know?
I wish people in the United States really could see just how warm the Mexican people are. It’s hard to explain their warmth and vibrancy. They have a real zest for life. They live each day to its fullest. They are always smiling and joking, even though many people here have very hard lives and work very hard to support their families. They are always up for a celebration which I love!  Mexico does have its problems, politically and economically, but much of what you read and hear on the news is not reflective of our interactions with the population as a whole.     IMG_20170911_120921
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Are there ways we can help – things we can bring – when visiting to donate to local schools, orphanages, etc

Yes!  Local schools need basic school supplies, especially some of the more remote schools in Zihuatanejo. If you want to bring supplies when you come to visit us in Zihuatanejo, I can put you in touch with people I know that work closely with a local school in the hills of Zihuataenjo.

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How’s the snorkeling?

Not horrible, not great. It’s better on the Caribbean side near Cancun, but I’ve gone in Zihuatanejo before and it’s not horrible.

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How do you know where it’s OK to eat?

We don’t always know where it’s OK to eat. Generally, as a rule, I don’t eat street food, unless someone recommends it, or we see the vendors taking advanced hygienic precautions. This includes serving food on plates that have been wrapped into plastic wrap, and serving food with gloves on.  We also try to locate vendors that do not touch food and collect money at the same time. Sometimes we’ll bend these rules and I will eat plain cheese quesadillas.  Andy is not as strict as I am. He’s way more open to eating street food. The sanitation rules in Mexico are not as advanced as the U.S., but they are improving.   darngoodmole

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How do we find such cool restaurants?

We use Lonely Planet a lot!  We find that they have good restaurant recommendations. We also use TripAdvisor, (but it can be hit or miss).  While traveling, we always ask ex-pats to recommend their favorite places.

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How much Spanish do you speak now?

Not that much. But I continue to try.  I can successfully order food in a restaurant most of the time. I can tell people where I’m from. I can ask for things in a store.  Andy’s Spanish is way better than mine on all levels. But I continue to take lessons and hope for a miracle!  My comprehension is improving. Actually, my vocabulary is improving too, but I can’t string together sentences very well.   IMG_20170910_202658

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How much money do I need to do the same thing?

I can’t answer this question. This is too individual. But if you are seriously interested in doing something like we are, I will happily help you prepare a budget. And I can share our budget with you.  I can tell you that life in Mexico is way, way cheaper than life in the U.S, especially life in the San Francisco Bay Area.

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How long can you stay in Mexico?

Right now are are on tourist visas. This means we can stay in Mexico for 180 days. After 180 days (six months) we have to leave Mexico–for how long we are not sure. We’ve always left for at least a few weeks. Sometimes people do border runs to the U.S.A or Guatemala, or Belize, and return in very short amount of times.  Eventually we may decide to apply for permanent residency, but this process has to be started outside of Mexico and we’ve not had a chance to start it yet.

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What is the coldest it’s been?
In Patzcuaro, it’s probably been in the low 40’s at night. It can get very cold in some parts of Mexico. In Oaxaca at night we need jackets. Andy wears his new wool cap from Guatemala.  He won’t be able to wear it once we get to Zihuatenjo and it’s 90 degrees every day!  hatboy
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How would you define “home” now?

I think Mexico is starting to feel like home. I’m not sure I would actually call it my home, but the longer we are here, the more it feels like it.

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What has been your favorite city in Mexico u have traveled to and why?

 I cannot answer this. Mexico has tons of cities I love.  I always, always wax poetically about both Morelia and Zihuatenjo, but I also love Oaxaca where we are now.  I’ll blog about Oaxaca soon, but it has blown me away for many reasons. I guess Morelia still would have to be my favorite city, (with Oaxaca a close second) because it’s vibrant, old, beautiful and it has a certain buzz that I can’t adequately describe.  It’s a city that lives.

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How does it feel to have accomplished (and endured) more than you thought possible in terms of physical effort while traveling in Guatemala?

I’m surprised that I could do what I did. As I often recount, I’m not a good hiker, I don’t handle hills well, and I get winded easily, because I’m not in tip-top physical shape. Still it felt good to challenge myself while in Guatemala.     The water/cave hike was most memorable. Kanbucaves

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What happened to the Giant Flying Cockroach hiding in Andy’s clothes on the wall?

Thankfully, I never saw the cockroach again, so I don’t actually know.

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Is the tap water okay to drink during your travels?

It depends. It was fine to drink in Japan and South Korea. But it is not fine to drink anywhere in Mexico, (unless in a fancy resort with filtered water). It’s was not OK to drink tap water in Guatemala. I know this question is not about river water, but several months ago, I drank water from a river spring ONLY because an ex-pat told me it was a pure source, directly from  and because he drinks from it every day. I didn’t get sick, but eventually I developed a parasite. It could have been from the river, it could have been from something else.  In Mexico you just never know. No more river water for me!

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Have you discovered any different and interesting food in Guatemala?

Guatemala is not known for its food. I did really enjoy eating beans and rice, though. I liked the black beans a lot.  I also liked the fact that the food was not as spicy as Mexico, but it’s very similar. I was a big fan of a Guatemalan white fish. I also enjoyed snacking on fried fava beans. They were my favorite Guatemalan snacks.

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What do you do if you need minor or major medical attention?

 I go to the doctor!  I have a great oncologist in Morelia, Mexico who I see every three months.  I’ve had to seek medical attention in Israel, Belgium, and Japan and all of these experiences have turned out fine.  I do recommend carrying travel insurance whenever you travel.  

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Have you ever felt unsafe anywhere you’ve stayed are traveled?

I didn’t feel completely safe in Livingston, Guatemala on the Caribbean coast. But I didn’t feel threatened either. Safety, thankfully has not been an issue for us.  Livingstonwaterfall

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Have you encountered many “ugly Americans? Would you recommend retiring in Mexico? If so, which part(s)?

We haven’t encountered many ugly Americans. I would say that the opposite is true. For the most part, the Americans we have encountered love and respect Mexicans and Mexican culture. They go out of their way to show respect in their daily interactions. But, I also attribute this to the fact that with the exception of Zihuatanejo, we’ve not been in places with tons and tons of tourists. However, even when we’ve stayed at all-inclusive resorts with a lot of gringos, we’ve seen tourists trying to be respectful.

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Can you talk about finding and using travel agents?
We tend to book most of our travel ourselves. For instance, when we went to Korea and Japan this past spring, we did everything ourselves and it worked out fine. However, for this recent trip to Guatemala,  there were too many things we felt like we needed help with. Andy went into a travel agent and booked a one-day hiking trip and it worked out well, so we decided to return to the same travel agency and book many more excursions, and van travel. They did a GREAT job. They gave us their cell phone number so we could text them when issues came up, and the travel agent spoke fairly good English.

 In order to find good travel agents, I would use two sources 1) Word of mouth  2) online reviews from TripAdvisor.

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What new food have you tried that you’ve really enjoyed? Really not?

In Guatemala I really liked the black beans they served with many meals.  In Mexico, I have a soft spot in my heart for beers mixed with tomato juice. It’s super refreshing even thought it sounds disgusting. I’ve also developed an appreciation for mezcal since we’re now in Oaxaca.  Don’t get me started on the chocolate from Oaxaca, especially when combined with the local chili.  It’s fab.  grasshopper

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How do you channel your inner “superhero”? You are so courageous to be living the life you are! I’m too scared to take those kinds of risks.

I’m not sure I would consider myself a risk taker by nature, but I know many readers of my blog would disagree.  I think my “superhero” shines brightly because I simply do not know if and when I might get cancer again.  Right now, I’ve been in remission for two whole years! Amazing.  I don’t know how long I’m going to be around and I don’t know how healthy I’m going to be.  This allows me to do things I wouldn’t normally do like do a cave hike.

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What was something you expected that was true?

I expected that I would not miss working 40 hours a week. This has proven to be true.

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What was something you didn’t expect (not including your last hotel room) that surprised you… good and/or bad?

Gosh, some of these questions are hard!  I guess I’m surprised at how much we love Mexico and how much it fits in with our lifestyle.  Before we started this adventure, I had been to Mexico many, many times but primarily only to the Yucatan and Zihuatenjo. I didn’t realize what a beautiful and interesting country Mexico would turn out to be. I didn’t realize how much we would fall in love with the people.  And I really didn’t realize how much the Mexican way-of-life (cultural tempo?) would fit into our lifestyle.    beachRioDulce

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Tell us about the weavings in Guatemala.

Throughout Guatemala, many, many women (and often men) wear traditional clothing.  It’s beautiful, colorful and a feast for the eyes!  Most women wear clothing that does not match.  Every region has a different style of clothing and many indigenous people can tell where someone is from by the pattern of their clothes. Handmade clothing is for sale everywhere in Guatemala, but much of it is expensive.  I didn’t buy any shirts in Guatemala because they seemed very heavy and hot. I didn’t think I would be able to wear them while in Mexico so I passed.  IMG_20171015_123224

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 Is finding a restroom ever an issue?

Yes! Many Mexican restrooms are not nice places.  In Japan, I felt like I could eat off the floor easily in the restrooms. They were always spotless including public ones. Not true in Mexico. It’s not always easy to find a clean one. Usually, when taking a driving trip, highway gas station restrooms are decent, but often public ones are not good. I close my eyes and do my business as fast as I can!

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What do you miss the most about the Bay Area?

I miss our super big and super comfortable couch at our house in Oakland. I miss hanging out and exploring cool Oakland neighborhoods. I miss sushi and I miss dim sum. I miss shopping at Trader Joe’s.  I miss my friends and mother-in-law!! 

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Thanks again for submitting questions. I had a lot of fun answering them!

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2 cockroaches– 2 ladders– and 2 much fun!

The love of my life is currently lying next to me in our hotel room in Livingston, Guatemala. He really doesn’t look so good.  About 4 AM, he woke up with stomach problems which got worse as the morning progressed, but I was fine. Then after breakfast, I wasn’t so fine anymore. And  although we both managed to go on two great outings today, once we got back to the hotel mid-afternoon, we both crashed, with Andy feeling much worse than me.

Ugh, now he’s in the bathroom making a lot of coughing and retching noises. That’s probably not a good sign. I fear I’m next. I may have to put this yarn spinning on hold to pay my respects to Mrs. Porceline–but hopefully not.

In general, I’m fairly cautious about what I eat and drink when I travel, but lately, I’ve let my guard down. It’s very hard to be diligent when you are on the road for an extended period of time. Case in point…I love me some green apples. I eat them all the time in Mexico. But, in Mexico, I always wash them in blue drops. While we’re on the road, we don’t have the luxury of soaking everything for 15 minutes. And yeah, when possible I try to eat bananas and safe things, but I crave green apples, so Andy bought me three lovely green specimens just the other day. Yesterday I snacked on one sans washing. Well, maybe that wasn’t so smart. Or, maybe it was the the ice that accompanied my dinner drink last night.  Or perhaps it was swimming in the bat infested water cave. Whatever the case, I’m pledging to be more cautious for the rest of our trip in Guatemala and Oaxoca.  Right now my head is pounding, and I’m starting to feel not-so-good. And from the sounds of retching coming from behind door number 1 either is Andy.

Trip recap

Right now, we’re staying at one of the finest hotels in the Rio Dulce area of Guatemala. We’re currently on the Caribbean Coast.  It’s quite nice, but it’s very much like a full-service resort that was built in the 1960’s and never updated. Everything is faded and crackly, but clean…except for the huge hairball in our shower that was leftover from the last guest. Our room is nice and large, it has decent (one setting) air-conditioning and it has a killer view of the Bay of Amatique.  It’s where the Rio Dulce empties into the ocean. Simply beautiful.

Today marks the 1/2 way point through our 52 day Guatemala/Mexico adventure. Here’s what we’ve done.

  • We left Morelia and spent 10 glorious days in Zihuatanejo.
  • We flew to Guatemala from Mexico City and spent two weeks in Antigua. While in Antigua, Andy hiked up some volcanoes and I went to Spanish school. We toured coffee plantations, went to an organic farm,  and drank a lot of amazing Guatemalan coffee. We also went to a really neat kite festival to celebrate Day of the Dead. And we went to the largest crafts market in Guatemala.
  • We went to Lake Atitlan and toured the lake district. We stayed in a really posh airbnb, starred at the lake and visited a lot of Mayan lake towns.
  • Then we went to Semuc Champey. It was a hellish journey.  It took us 8 hours by van, and then we had to transfer to a big pick-up truck and travel another hour. Luckily I got a seat in the truck, and I didn’t have to stand-up in the back with eight other people. Now we are in the Rio Dulce area.

Next, we’ll visit the ruins of Tikal, visit another colonial city called Xela (AKA, Quetzaltenango) and then we will spend 17 days exploring Oaxaca, Mexico. Then it’s back to Zihuatanejo for four months.

Not allowed in the United States!

During our recent stay in Semuc Champey, our tour guide took us on a tour of an underwater bat cave. This is something I really wanted to do because I love to swim and I thought a swimming hike would be fun. I asked the tour guide if the hike was difficult since I had read on-line that it was scary and very challenging. He said “no problem”.  But just to be sure, when we got to the hike location, I asked a bunch of people coming out of the cave if it was difficult, they all said “not really”.  They all told me it was AWESOME and I should go for it. Note to self…don’t ask young 20 somethings if things are difficult.  They were just plain wrong.

So the hike begins with ONE guide for 20 people. We all have lit candles and we approach the cave by hiking up  a pretty steep path. Maybe 150 steps?  Then we go down a steep set of steps and enter the water-filled cave. We’re traipsing through a very scary and dark bat cave, sometimes swimming, sometimes, holding onto a rope to guide us. Then all the sudden we’re climbing wall hugging ladders with rungs that barely have any place to place ones feet. We’re also inching along small ledges, and stepping on small and large stones in the freezing cold water that are either a) jagged or b) very slippery. And I’m having the time of my life! Really, I am. Me. The person who is scared of literally everything.

Kanbucaves

This photo is from the internet, not from our hike, but you get the idea.

Of course, me being me, eventually I sort of crumple to my knees having just completed the top rung of a very difficult ladder: unfortunately I was right on the edge of a perilous cliff when this happened.  Thankfully I wasn’t hurt, but had I been seriously hurt, I would have had to be driven 12 hours to the nearest hospital. The guide and Andy helped me get up…did I mention there was ONE guide for 20 people????  I’m not sure how I managed to get myself up, since I can barely get myself up when I’m on the mat at yoga, but I think my adrenal must have kicked in big-time. Onward I trudged with Andy holding onto me tightly. Sometimes another hiker gave me his hand in places where I had to hoist myself up.  In a few other tight spots, the guide came to my rescue. That’s when we wasn’t helping the 19 other people!!!

After the hike, Andy told me that this was the most adventurous things he had ever seen me do in our entire relationship.

A dark cave hike would never, ever be allowed in the U.S.  They had zero, I mean zero safety standards in place. We didn’t sign any release forms, we had no proper gear (but I was wearing water shoes thankfully). The entire thing was just so sketchy. I’m not even sure the guide had any special training although he did help me a lot.  Also, there really needed to be at least 2 other guides accompanying our group. In hindsight, it’s a good thing we took out travel insurance. Other people who have done this hike came out with busted knees, broken ankles and tons of other maladies.  I know this because I read about it on Tripadvisor, and we have a few friends who told us what happened to them after I posted about my hike adventure on Facebook.

Today we went on a much easier, short river hike to see seven river pools. I only saw two pools because the hike got to be too difficult for me.  It was very rocky. It ended at a waterfall and Andy took a dip.

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I wanted to do more of this lovely river hike but it was too rocky.

Livingstonwaterfall

Andy had a nice dip in this waterfall. I didn’t make it this far.

After the river hike, our boat took us to a private beach. It was really relaxing, but we didn’t go swimming because the water looked murky and gross. However, the beach itself was lovely. We listened to some music and just chilled.  Instead of swimming Andy took a nice nap. Guatemala is not known for its fine beaches, although nearby Honduras and Belize have some very fine beaches.

beachRioDulce

The beach looked nice, but it wasn’t a swimming beach.

AndyinhammockLivingston

Andy had a nice nap in the shade.

BeachchairsLivingston

Why 2 cockroaches, 2 ladders and 2 much fun?

2 cockroaches: I saw two giant cockroaches in our hostel in the jungle. Faithful readers of this blog know that I’m terrified of them. One bolted out of Andy’s boxer shorts which were hanging on a wall, and I saw another spooky one in our bathroom at the hostel.

2 ladders: I had to go up at least two ladders during our cave hike.

2 much fun:  Needs no further explanation. It’s what this adventure is!!!