Monday, May 15, 2023

Ten Year Anniversary of Nomadic Life--and a Book Birthday!

This month marks 10 years of the traveling life for Dave and me. Ten years since I signed my retirement papers at San Jose State University and we left Santa Cruz to live without a house for a year, just to see what would happen. 

We had no idea we were joining a movement of people who were embracing versions of the itinerant life. From retired full-time travelers to digital nomads to those deemed "location independent" to world-schoolers who take their kids along. 

Housesit = Petsit

We also hadn't yet discovered housesitting (click here). Or the little casita we'd end up buying in Baja. We hadn't known I'd have two major health crises that both would require surgery--and that instead of scaring us into stasis they'd fire us up to keep traveling. 

We hadn't known we'd befriend people all over the world. Or that we'd encounter wild animals on land and sea. We didn't know that we'd travel more as wanderers than strict planners, taking advantage of opportunities that floated our way.

I'd hoped but hadn't known for sure that my literary life would expand--that I'd teach writing workshops in Thailand and California, that I'd publish articles and four books, that we'd move to China where I'd teach Creative Writing at Guangxi University.

I'd suspected I'd write about this but didn't know in what way. First came Call It Wonder: An Odyssey of Love, Sex, Spirit, and Travel and then  Wanderland: Living the Traveling Life. Its birthday is TODAY! 

Wanderland is about housesitting and nomadic life and reflections on home, and it comes out at an interesting time--just as I've been thinking of Baja less as "home base" and more as "home."

We recently became Mexican residents, complete with driver's licenses and Baja plates on Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, our blue Subaru that has carried us along thousands of miles whenever we weren't in a plane, bus, boat, taxi, Uber, or tuk-tuk.

This doesn't mean we won't continue to housesit, explore, wander. I still love the feel of flying, of being unrooted. At the same time, we're intertwined with our community here, and I adore this area and our casita. I'm glad it's small because, as I write about in both books, living light has always appealed to me. 

Ten years has taught me a lot--especially that the world is mostly an inviting place, and that I'm more flexible and adaptable than I ever believed. 

When we left California ten years ago, I couldn't have imagined this life. Back then I had more of a feeling than a vision. A feeling of leaning into expansiveness. And while this life isn't perfect, it fits us well. 

You can order Wanderland: Living the Traveling Life from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, my publisher, or through any bookstore. See my other books at my website

Wednesday, April 26, 2023

It's Never Too Late: Debut Author at 76


Lareida Buckley and I met three years ago on the Big Island of Hawaii when I was housesitting for her neighbor. 

On a stroll with several of her woman friends, Lareida mentioned she was curious about my work as a writer and editor. I asked her if she, too, wrote—and when she said yes, her friends turned to her in surprise saying, “You do?” 

Lareida explained that for years she’d been working on a story collection based on her small-town Texas upbringing. Her father had been the sheriff and her family lived next door to the jail. “I want to finish it. I’m not getting any younger,” she’d said in her soft Texas twang. 

Later, she sent me some pages, and I immediately knew her voice had to be out in the world. Filled with passion for a project I believed in, I supported her in finishing and submitting the manuscript—and now Stories From the Sherriff’s Daughter, has come out TCU Press, making Lareida a debut author at age 76. 

I decided to interview her to share her story with the world.


How long were you working on your stories, and why didn’t your walking group friends know?

I always wrote stories, ever since college. About twenty years ago I wrote more seriously and put these stories together as a collection while participating in a very informal writing group, just for fun. I toyed with making it into a novel, tried making the voice reflect the narrator’s age, and other false starts. Life intervened, and I set the project aside for years. Though when I met you I’d finished what I thought was a pretty good rewrite, I hadn’t shared the stories with anyone except a few close friends in many years. When I got the book deal, friends and family alike were amazed. Me too.  


These stories are autobiographical in that you grew up the daughter of a sheriff in small-town Texas and lived in a house attached to the jail. Why did you decide to write this as fiction rather than memoir?

When I started these stories, I’d been gone from Texas for many years. It had been a long time since my father had passed away, so I felt I couldn’t write a memoir at that distance, both in time and place, and do it justice. Also, taking situations and people that I remembered, making them fictional and more interesting, was way more fun. I could add excitement or humor where there might have been none. I could try to bring my childhood to life. Creativity was the draw for fiction.


In the book, the narrator, Dolly, starts out as a nine-year-old girl and we see her grow up living next to the jail. How do you think Dolly’s life would have been different if her mother had had her way and moved the family away from the jail permanently?

Her life would have been dramatically different. Though people coming to the door with terrible calamities and tragedies became normal to her, and me, it still affected us all to one extent or another, making us into more compassionate and caring people. Had she moved out, as her mother wished and even tried to accomplish during those early years, Dolly would have missed out on contact with people of all races and all walks of life, as well as the appreciation of how hard life can be.


The book has a wide array of colorful characters. How were you able to write about so many different people richly and authentically?

To say there were colorful characters around the jail is an understatement. I could often describe on the page the characters exactly as they were in real life, could have them act exactly as they did. Real people living real life adversity—and the people who tried to help them—made for authentically colorful characters I could portray honestly.


You do a beautiful job in the book of dealing with both humor and tragedy. Was it your intent to grapple with both? If so, why was that important to you?

Actually, the tragedy was more obvious, and it stood out more clearly in my memory, making it easy to write. Humor is how I’ve dealt with difficulties in my own life. It was simply a part growing up and came naturally in my writing. I especially used the grandmother to add humor throughout the stories.


Was your real-life grandmother funny?

Some of her jokes and snarky comments were really my own or others, but I enjoyed the persona she took on as the stories progressed. I imagined she would have, too. 


I was moved by the loving relationship Dolly has with her parents. How are they similar to or different from your own parents?

That relationship was easy to write about because it was absolutely real. Busy and absorbed with law enforcement as they were, they were wonderful and loving parents in the midst of all that.


Why did your father want to be sheriff? And is it true, as in the book, that your mother later became sheriff herself?

I’m not sure if he wanted to be sheriff. He was a kindhearted man, involved in community activities and helping people through various organizations, like the church, and the Masonic Lodge long before he became sheriff.  Perhaps he saw it as a way of making that work a true vocation. He’d been a dairy farmer, and the dairy business was changing with pasteurization, milking machines, and other modernizations that might have been beyond his means. His visits back to the dairy farm on a regular basis, and how important those visits were, always made me wonder why he’d moved on to law enforcement. I tried to show that dichotomy in the stories. And he was never the stereotypical gun-toting authoritarian Southern sheriff you might picture. He was a quiet man who in his years as sheriff never fired his gun. My mother took the job because she didn’t know what else to do when my father died, but she was never the typical sheriff either. Her gun was never fired either.


Was it true that the boys you dated were more entranced by your dad the sheriff than by you?

Some definitely were! It’s absolutely true that years after relationships were over, several old boyfriends would keep coming by to see him, ride around with him on patrol, even when I was away at school. It became a family joke.


As a white Southerner, how did you address racial issues in this book?  Did you find this difficult, and if so, how and why?

We must have been a liberal family for that time, though I don’t think I thought about it then. It was all I knew. But I say in the book, and I felt it to be true in our years in the jail, that race didn’t determine character, and there were good and bad people, black and white. Also, we had much more contact with black people than most families ever did during those segregated years. Not only with black prisoners, but with their families, lawyers, teachers and preachers. I tried in the book to show that racism was definitely there, but not as much in evidence in our family or around the jail. It seems unbelievable, but I remember there being two water fountains in the courthouse basement, one labeled for whites and one labeled for coloreds. In my lifetime! With that sort of thing surrounding my formative years, I worried that I might not be able to treat those issues with the respect the people of that era deserved, so I tried to take care with it. I can only hope that I didn’t offend anyone.


How was it that you were able to finally finish the book after all these years? What was it like getting the manuscript ready to send out?

I have a lifelong friend who took my stories more seriously than I did. She encouraged me, bullied me, made me finish them. I’ve read that writing is really revision, and these stories were revised so many times, I think making them better in the end. The fact that I’d just done a massive rewrite with my friend’s encouragement right before I met you was serendipity, and then your edit was the final powerful push. I was finally, to the extent an author ever is, satisfied with the work, and was preparing for a long process of submissions and maybe even self-publishing.


What would you like people to know about getting your first book published in your seventies?

Over the years, I kind of thought of myself as a writer, even though in my real life I had a country mail route along the ocean in Hawaii. I even had business cards made once. Lareida Buckley, Writer. Actually, Reader would have been more accurate. I listened to literally thousands of books over my 25 years on the mail route. My sage advice, from the vantage point of 76 years, is don’t give up on a dream. I’m a prime example. I’m Lareida Buckley, Writer. It really is never too late.

Tuesday, March 28, 2023

The Web of Connection

I'm practically in a tizzy over the beauty of my book cover!
Wanderland is coming June 1. 

One of the themes of my new book is the Web of Connection we've woven as we've traveled around the world. 

We meet other travelers. And those who are rooted. We connect with friends old and new. I hadn't realized when we started living this itinerant life how many *people* would enliven our path.

We belong to a number of online traveling groups, and it's strangely wonderful to meet up in real life. For instance, two couples (Amber & Greg and Diana & Mike) happened to be in the Bay Area on our most recent visit. Our robust, chatty, online relationships easily transferred to physical presence.

with Amber & Greg, who were Bay Area housesitting
after a Christmas in Amsterdam 

Mike and Diana write about their traveling lifestyle here

We met another traveling couple during our Oahu housesit. Brooke is also a writer whose books I'd read. Turns out they were living a block from where we were staying! They showed us some of their favorite spots, and we talked about one of the best nomadic topics: how living in unconventional ways makes life extra juicy.

Buddy and Brooke were wonderful tour guides.

Kuli'ou'ou Beach Park at sunset...
an example of Dave's wonderful photography

Another online-to-IRL experience came when we met up with Yvonne and Michael, a nomadic couple stopping off in Oahu on their way to S.E. Asia. 

With Michael & Yvonne at the Outrigger Reef Waikiki Resort

Our Hawaii housesit came about through Nadia, a woman we met in Baja years ago. We reconnected with her and her family in Thailand--and then after she moved to Hawaii, she asked us to housesit. Talk about a web.

loved our housesit view

Also nearby on Oahu lives a high school friend I hadn't seen in nearly 40 years. We had a sweet time with Cheryl and Gene, eating meals together, going on a stunning hike, and spending a day on their boat.

Hike to the top of the pali

Kayaking, Cheryl & I gossiped about our high school days.

Captains Gene & Dave

My signature synchronized swimming move at Kaneohe San Bar

Another longtime friend, Candis, also lives on the island. One night we had dinner made with fresh produce from her garden, follow by a jam session with two mandolins, a guitar, my uke, and a stand-up bass.


Turned out that Sarah and Jimmy, whom we'd met in Panama while they were also housesitting, were coming through Oahu! We hiked the Makapu'u Lighthouse trail and spent relaxing time at Waimanalo Beach. It was a little surreal seeing them after having just hung out in the Panamanian jungle. 

Fun with Sarah at Alan Davis beach


Byodo-In Temple

On our swing back through the (brrr...cold!) Bay Area enroute to Baja, we luckily were able to see old friends. 

Brunch with Kelly and Daisy
Hiking with Roger and Marilen

Ah, it felt great to be back in Baja. But I didn't get to slow down for long because I'd enrolled in the Todos Santos Writers Workshop, expressly to work with Janet Fitch, whose writing I deeply admire. (My god, if you haven't read her latest two books about the Russian revolution, do so now!) Keeping with the web-of-connection theme, my good friend Stacey knows Janet and told me what a great teacher she is--which proved to be true.

Janet Fitch and husband, the writer Andrew Nicholls

Here's what working with Janet did to my manuscript that I thought was finished:

And Janet is the one who came up with Wanderland as my title. When such a great writer who has been an Oprah pick and has sold millions of books makes such a suggestion, I listen!

And the webby theme continues: My friend Lisa, whom I hadn't seen in about thirty years, happened to attend the workshop as well. Being with her, the prism of years made me feel thirty and sixty. It was as though our hearts had been connected all this time.

On Cerritos Beach with Lisa and Andrew

Funny that I'm publishing a new book that explores the question, "What is home?" at the very time I'm starting to feel like Baja is home. We finally completed the process of becoming residents--which means we don't have to leave every 180 days. Even our blue Subaru, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, now has Baja plates.

residence card

Not that we won't be continuing to travel and weave our web. But there's something about being here this time that feels...settling. In a good way. As though nine years in, my heart knows that no matter where I go, our Mexico nest awaits.

Saturday, December 31, 2022

Happy 2023: The Year of No Improving!

San Pedrito Beach, Baja California Sur, Mexico

In 2022: 

We did 11 housesits in 3 countries (including 3 U.S. states). 

Along the way we took care of:

15 dogs

3 cats

and 1 guinea pig

I finished writing my book about our itinerant life (title still in flux) and am hoping 2023 gifts me a publisher! In the meantime, you can read an excerpt that appeared in HuffPost. The piece makes clear that our lifestyle isn't all champagne and roses.

You can also watch this interview with Dave and me about housesitting all over the world. 

Also, a piece I wrote about housesitting in Mexico appeared in House Sitting Magazine

landing in Baja

We had one flight cancellation...our first in nearly a decade of nomadic living. Our flight out of Panama was cancelled. After a debacle of waiting for hours for our luggage and organizing all the passengers, American Airlines redeemed itself by putting us up in an all-inclusive resort for the night, including food and fancy rooms. They put us up in a crappy room the next night in Miami, but they paid so we couldn't complain (much). 

It felt amazing to return to Baja and to our home. We hadn't lived in it for two years, so we had a lot of projects facing us, but we took them poco a poco. The area has exploded with construction so there's definitely more people and noise--and we lost our slice-of-ocean view. 

Day of the Dead in Todos Santos

But we still have a nice view of the hills and there are also more restaurants and activities. We saw a great outdoor production of A Midsummer Night's Dream, went to a music festival, attended the consecration of a Buddhist stupa and enjoyed a fantastic Day of the Dead celebration. We were happy to reconnect with our community and had a wonderful visit from our friend Nicole.

With Nicole on our rooftop

In the meantime I turned the epic age of 60. Especially after facing two major health crises in my fifties, I was grateful to be alive. But I kept seeing ads and articles for getting rid of wrinkles, for getting thin after menopause--voices that insist that "60 is the new 18!" or whatever. 

And I thought NO. Just NO. 

I'm grateful to be 60. Too much of my life has been taken up with thinking that my body should be different than it is. So I decided that at age 60, I'm letting go of body shame and the toxic diet culture mindset (often wrapped in a pretty bow of "wellness") run by those who cash in on making us feel badly about ourselves and keep us on the "never good enough" treadmill. 

Pema Chodron says that constantly focusing on improving is a violence to the self.

Besides, aging isn't a disease or a problem. It's a privilege.

This leads me to my mantra for my sixties: NO RULES! I want to live improvisationally, allowing whatever is in front of me to inspire me to act rather than deciding in advance what I should/shouldn't do. 

I'm inviting in joy, relaxation, nature, naps, ambiguity, softening, reading, music, peace, creativity, humor, true connection with others, surrender and being here now

Speaking of reading, I read 65 books in 2022 (see my reviews here) and am constantly grateful for those who tell their stories.

Shannon, Anne, Laurie, Nancy & me

To celebrate my new decade, four amazing women joined me in Cabo for a week at a wellness retreat center. I know each one from a different part of my life; together we created a colorful mosaic of friendship. I ended our time together floating on a cloud of love.

Walking on Cerritos Beach with Deva, our neighbor's dog.

I think my sixties are going to be cool. Is it a cliche that I started playing Pickleball and went to my first Zumba class? I'm not sure if I'll continue on with either one regularly. No rules, remember? I'll decide each day, sometimes each moment, how I want to spend my living time.

Me with Mom, 60 years ago

The actual day of my birthday in November we spent with my sister and some friends at her new, gorgeous house in Todos Santos. The food (especially my sister's homemade carrot cake) and company were great, as was the music jam: three guitars and my uke.

Hawaii housesit view from the lanai.

We left Mexico after two months to housesit in Hawaii. So we will be ringing in the new year in aloha spirit. But after this we are headed back to Baja to settle in for a while. 

Happy New Year to all. Here's a Tibetan Buddhist Blessing that I send to everyone:

May you be filled with loving kindness. 

May you be well. 

May you be peaceful and at ease. 

May you be happy. 

Saturday, November 19, 2022

Panama Highs & Lows

Villa Palma Boutique Hotel

No other trip in our time as nomads has taken us to such highs and lows as Panama. 

We began the journey in Panama City, staying in a darling hotel in Casco Viejo, the old quarter built in 1673 after the original city was burnt to the ground. The Governor had it set on fire when he got word pirates were coming to attack and loot it. That's one way to spite your enemies.

Casco Viejo

We visited the remains of the original city, now a World Heritage Site, with Carlos, our guide. He was the first of many amazing people we'd meet in Panama, a highlight of our time there. 

Carlos & me

Originally from Venezuela, Carlos is a single dad to two teens boys. I was amazed by his resourcefulness. During the pandemic his tour guide business tanked so he started cooking and selling food to neighbors. He did some legal consulting work, and he recently became a day stock trader. He pulls together all of this employment to support his family and so that his kids can go to a private school and play club-level soccer.

Screw Tower

His knowledge of the city was mind-boggling. When we drove around, he pointed out the wacky design of one high rise called Screw Tower, which he joked houses lawyers. We also saw the financial district, toured the high-end Jewish area that housed descendants of many who escaped the horrors of Europe, and crossed the Bridge of the Americas for lunch on the peninsula. Later, at the Panama Canal, we watched the technological marvel of a ship coming through the locks.  

the canal

Carlos pointed to a statue depicting Panamanian students who pulled down an American flag and put up a Panamanian flag in protest of the occupation. One was shot and killed, and that sparked deeper sentiment to oust the U.S. military. It took another forty years, but the U.S. finally ceded its massive landholds that had excluded Panamanians, including high-end properties and even the first McDonald's that allowed only U.S. citizens.

Lots of murals everywhere

I asked Carlos how the U.S. could have done better, and he said investing in the Panamanian economy and integrating into its society over their 80 years in the country. I hadn't realized that part of the U.S. military agreement to exit included dismantling the Panamanian military. So everyone we saw in a uniform was some version of police, not military...even those guarding the President who lived down the street from our hotel. In return, the U.S. agreed to have Panama's back in any conflict. Let's hope that is lived up to if, god forbid, it is ever needed. 

Panama City skyline from Casco Viejo

I love meeting world citizens and learning about their lives...and soon had another opportunity. At a restaurant eating breakfast, we chatted with the only other guests, two women with an adorable toddler. 

The mother is a 32-year-old German who has lived most of her life in the U.S. In her early twenties she worked as a cocktail waitress to save up money to travel the world for four months before entering medical school. Now she was a traveling M.D. who went all over the world to practice. Two years earlier, she got medically inseminated and became pregnant on her first try. 

The other young woman was her au pair from South Africa. She does MMA (mixed martial arts), bakes wedding cakes, models part time, draws animation, has exquisite tats, and has volunteered as a teacher for street kids. She loves traveling so this was the perfect job for her.

about to land at Bocas del Toro

Soon it was time to head to our first housesit, so we boarded a small plane that took us on the one-hour flight to Bocas del Toro, an island archipelago on the Caribbean. While we waited for our luggage at the tiny airport, a local guy played the guitar and sang "Don't Worry, Be Happy" and other island-inspired songs.

The homeowner, Carmen, gave us the biggest heart-hug I've even gotten from someone I'd met only by text. We followed her through the dusty streets of Colon, the central of nine main islands that make up Bocas del Toro. Most of the islands are car-free. I liked the feeling that I was plopped down into a completely new world, where people speaking a melodic Patois sold fried chicken and empanadas and meandered around on bikes and by foot. 

You can see the house we stayed in nearly hidden in the palms.

Carmen, who is Dutch, led us to a dock, where we boarded a boat for the 15-minute ride to Bastimentos Island, our home for the next month, caring for two loveable dogs, Stormy and Thunder.

Stormy on the dock

Carmen and Marcel's place is a BnB with several rooms and their own open-air home with a big kitchen where Carmen whipped up delicious food. Her culinary skills were the highlight of the five-star TripAdvisor reviews I'd read. Usually we secure sits through a website, but in this case I'd posted about us on a Facebook page featuring Bocas del Toro housesits...and a few days later a Carmen had contacted me.

exploring Colon

Renting power-assist bikes made for a fun day.

We'd been excited about the idea of living on an island--and indeed, the place had warm turquoise waters, palms trees, the works. However, challenges immediately became apparent. That night we found it hard to sleep in the humid heat with no A/C or a circulating fan, unsupportable in this off-grid place run on solar. While I worried about my ability to adapt, I tried to focus on the adventure of it all. Sitting in their home overlooking the dock and watching a spectacular sunset, my inner kid got a little giddy at the notion of living in the Swiss Family Robinson treehouse with a dock where we could jump in the kayak and go snorkeling at nearby reefs.

Unreal colors

I admired Carmen and Marcel's ability to relax into island life as lived by the locals. They were around our age but totally adapted to things that were a steep learning curve for us, such as walking the dogs on narrow, steep and often slippery pathways; handling all the house systems and their backups; and making meals from limited available foods. We also soon learn we'd have to try to sleep with late-night night party music blasting from the other side of the island. 

Swiss Family Robinson-esque

In our few days together, the hosts generously fed us, showed us all the important details (such as propping up a flag at the end of the dock to signal a water taxi to come get us) and took us out to dinner one night on Colon with ten of their good friends. There we met the owners of the Floating Bar, and another couple who picked us up every Monday in their boat to take us there for live music.

Laura, the Floating Bar owner, jumping into the Caribbean Sea.

What a cool scene, to be dancing with a crew of Panamanians, expats and travelers then, hot and sweaty, jumping into the sea. I also attended a few morning yoga sessions at the Floating Bar.

Floating Bar band

Because Bocas del Toro was a happening tourist spot, there were many kinds of restaurants on Colon, including a delicious Chinese place run by Chinese immigrants, as were the grocery stores. Hearing them speak Mandarin flooded me with memories of our time in Nanning, and I greeted the cashiers with a smiling nihao. 

We also found several places that served delectable whole fried fish. However, prices weren't what I'd call low...and getting to these places required paying a water taxi $5 per person each way.

Through our online groups, we discovered another nomadic couple from the U.S. housesitting the next island over. We ended up spending some wonderful days with Sarah and Jimmy, going out on boats to explore Red Frog Beach and the remote Zapatilla Islands, the definition of paradise with pure white sand and swimmable turquoise waters.

On one of our adventures.

On the way to Zapatilla, a glimpse of which is in the distance.


We loved the Bocas boating life, the people we met, our time in the water, the creatures we saw. We agreed we would return if we had a place where we could retreat from the elements. The off-grid rain forest island life was sublime yet physically demanding and could be mitigated with a sealed, cool room to retreat and rest.

For our next sit we headed to Playa Morrillo, on the Pacific side of the country, taking a four-hour bus ride from Panama City to Santiago and were picked up by Gisela, the Swiss homeowner--and once again I was struck by how cool it is to meet a virtual stranger whose life we'd be living.

kale and lettuce, freshly picked

She took us grocery shopping in the city, encouraging us to stock up because we'd be spending six weeks at their home in Punta Duarte, nearly two hours away on mostly bumpy dirt roads, and food acquisition would be limited with two small grocery stores and a produce stand. There were a few restaurants, mostly small local places called fondas, which served meat or fish, rice, beans and plantains. We also met a guy who cut greens directly out of his garden to sell. What a character. He toured us around his property and chatted for so long that a trip to get veggies took nearly two hours.

View from patio off living room.

The house was a stunner. It had a huge kitchen and living room with plate glass windows that overlooked the yard and pool--and, thank god, fans and AC. In fact, our hosts insisted we run the AC in the main house and the three casitas for several hours most days to keep the mold away. 

Most days we hiked to the beach with the dogs and trudged back up steep and slippery terrain, stripping off our clothes and diving in the pool. Cheers to no visible neighbors! The gardener who came every week didn't touch the pool or mow, so pool and lawn maintenance were left up to Dave. Similar to the Bocas couple, this couple was about our age and hearty as hell. In spite of the AC, living there and taking care of our tasks was like pounding out hours at the gym every day.

Loved this daily beach walk with the dogs.

Dave and I talked about how every time we do a housesit there's an adjustment to the pets, neighborhood, house, location--which can be fun and stimulating, but also demanding. Both of our housesits in Panama turned out to require significant adjustments and more work and discomfort than we'd been prepared for due to their off-grid natures in humid environments. Living off-grid in Central America is peaceful yet it's not for wimps. 

In the thick atmosphere and howler monkeys eerily baying in the trees, it felt like being on another planet. At times I'd be walking alone through the jungle then emerge at a secluded beach and feel like I was the only person left in the world.

One of the many creature sightings.

Twice a week Dave got up at 6:30 a.m. to pick up the house cleaner and then return her a few hours later, a 45-minute ride down rutted roads each way. The homeowners left the money for her pay and gas, and we appreciated having a clean home. Also, she was a lovely woman, and I liked speaking Spanish to her because she'd correct me when I said things wrong. 

howler monkey

But the first day Dave got in the car to pick her up, it wouldn't start. The truth about living in the rain forest: the climate breaks things. Fortunately, we were able to borrow a car from Roger, the neighbor who, with his pack of dogs, was often the only other one at the beach. While we were grateful to have a vehicle, this was his beater car, an SUV with mold-eaten interior. It was like sitting inside rotting walnut.

jungle walk

Once we were driving with Beto, the gardener, in a downpour and the windshield wipers stopped, blinding us to the road. Beto told us to stop at a road crew construction site where he spoke rapidly in Spanish to a guy who dismounted from a tractor. It took him five minutes to fix our wipers, and he wouldn't take the money we offered. Later when we passed another road crew, I asked Beto if those guys were also his friends. He laughed and said, yes, they all were!

Parrots hung out near the house.

And then guess what happened? We caught Covid. Ironic that we'd contract it in one of the most isolated places we'd ever been. Must have happened at the tiny grocery store with dusty shelves. While we miserably nestled in bed, the dogs had to walk themselves (owner-approved) and returned looking like mud mummies. Had I mentioned it was the rainy season?

With Roger, may he rest in peace.

Fortunately, a week later we were back to our chores, sweaty walks, and heavenly pool swims. But then the unthinkable happened. We went to return Roger's car, only to discover he'd died the day before after having had back surgery in Panama City. Stunned, we thought about how life can change dramatically in one breath. 

I thought about all the people we'd met in Panama, and all across the globe on our journeys. Even though he left this plane, Roger would always be part of our web of connection.


Have a look at the video interview we did with Travel Live Learn:

House sitting in retirement – 9 years of freedom! - YouTube

PS: Books make great holiday gifts!

Call it Wonder: An Odyssey of Love, Sex, Spirit & Travel (award-winning memoir)

For the May Queen (coming of age in the dorms in 1980, with lots of sex, drugs & rock n roll)

Complementary Colors (what happens when a straight woman falls in love with a lesbian)

Revolutionary Kiss, co-authored with Mary Janelle Melvin under the name Mary Kate Summers (love story set during the French Revolution)

Friday, September 23, 2022

Housesitting near Lake Chapala, Mexico

Dave and Chloe on the San Antonio malecon

Our home base is in Baja Sur, but there's so much of the huge country of Mexico that we haven't seen. So when an opportunity came up to do a six-week housesit near Lake Chapala, the largest lake in Mexico which is surrounded by mountains, we jumped on it. 

Along the San Antonio malecon
the most pastoral of the three.

The Chapala community is primarily made up of three towns on the north shore of the lake: Ajijic, San Antonio Tlyacapan (where we were), and Chapala--each with a town center and a malecon or esplanade along the lakeside. 

Ajijic malecon

Ajijic is a charming pueblo, heavy with expats, covered in murals and dotted with boutiques, galleries, open-air cafes and specialty restaurants. San Antonio Tylacapan is much smaller, with a pastoral malecon and a downtown so tiny it's easy to miss. Chapala is where Mexican families tend to come from Guadalajara a weekend or longer holiday. Its malecon is lively in the afternoons and evenings, with vendors and big, touristy seafood restaurants playing live music.

One wall in Ajijic...

...and another.

A two-lane road winds through, connecting these communities. One main road means traffic, especially since the area has experienced a growth boom. Fortunately, there's also a bike path. 

vegan tamales & cacao drinks in Ajijic

non-vegan tacos

Green drink for me, fresh OJ for Dave in Chapala.

The growth is due mainly to retired expats, primarily from the U.S. and Canada, coming to a place where prices for real estate and health care are much more affordable. The good weather (it's usually in the 70s) is a draw as well. Food, however, seemed to us to not be as low cost, unless you bought street tacos and shopped at fruterias. That may be because a lot of the restaurants and grocery stores are geared to the expats and Mexican tourists. This means, too, there are many places to eat delicious meals.

Vegan burgers in Ajijic

We flew into Guadalajara, and the hosts picked us up and drove us an hour south to their home, a lovely place with a pool and a view. We didn't make much use of the pool, however, because it never got hot enough to be appealing--and eventually because of all of the rain, the gardener was having a hard time keeping it clean. 

The lake is picturesque but unfortunately too polluted to swim in.

We were there during rainy season, a time of year many said is their favorite because there are fewer people around and less dust. Several times storms woke us in the middle of the night. Once, for at least an hour, the rain dumped like someone had overturned the lake in the sky, during which time there was no space between thunder and lightning. The booming exploded and flashes lit up the bedroom in a continuous, epic melee.

Happily there was a green space where we could walk
Chloe off-leash not far from the house 

All this rain meant we got to see waterfalls in action when we went hiking in the mountains. Nice trails are easily accessible from Ajijic. We also walked with Chloe, the sweet dog in our care, every day. The walks weren't easy, though, since we had to get acclimated to the 5,000-foot elevation and also because the streets out the door were sharply hilly and unevenly cobbled. Those charming but challenging cobbles are a feature everywhere in the area. 

our digs

back yard

Before they left, the homeowners introduced us to their neighbors who were heading out in a few weeks and who, in turn, introduced us to their housesitters, Cathie and Brian, a couple from the U.S. who were traveling throughout Mexico with their dog.

Sunset from Cathie & Brian's pad

I received a message from a friend in Baja who told me that her housesitters scheduled to arrive in a couple of months, Dodo and Sven from Germany, were currently in Ajijic. So we six housesitters met up a couple of times and shared stories about our wanderlust. 

roaming housesitters unite!

We'd heard that about an hour away furniture is manufactured in the town of Ocotlon. The beachy budget furniture in our casita, which we bought more than eight years ago and has endured dozens of renters, was in sad shape. Baja, being nearly an island, can be a hard place to find such things at decent prices. So one day we headed out to do something we rarely do: shop for non-edible things. 

We stumbled across a Pride celebration in Chapala!

Octotlon was a dreary, gray grid of dilapidated buildings. We spent hours walking through furniture stores that varied from warehouses to elaborate displays. Fortunately we didn't want traditional "rustico"-style Mexican furniture, because we didn't see a single piece. Everything was modern, and a lot of it looked alike. Dizzy, hot and hungry, we straggled into the tenth store and struck gold. In one fell swoop we bought a couch, love seat, coffee table and dining room set. We think it's going to be delivered in November when we get back to Baja, but I'm hoping something wasn't lost in translation...

Cathedral de Guadalajara in Centro

Chicos playing in the fountain in Guadalajara

Another day we took the bus to Guadalajara to meet up with our friend Leah, who now lives there. There was no bus schedule (get used to it, it's Mexico) so we stood in the drizzle at the place we thought it was supposed to arrive, and eventually it did. It was great to see Leah, and in our short time together she toured us around the city she loves. We started in Centro, gaping at the grand colonial buildings and murals. And then we took the bus to the outskirts, through neighborhoods lined with towering trees. We had lunch on the sidewalk of a seafood place that looked unremarkable but the food was incredible.

Back at Chapala, we geared up to leave, doing a big house cleaning and getting our last massage. Did I mention the masseuse came every week at about $20 USD per person? She was a true healer and also a single mom who told me she used to work for a company who took half her earnings. She took a risk and went out on her own--and is now doing very well. I share this because I love hearing people's stories and, better yet, we spoke mostly in Spanish.

I'd gotten pretty attached to Chloe, so it wasn't easy to leave her. I was also verklempt when we said goodbye to Cathie and Brian, but with nomads you never know when you'll collide again in another place. With Dodo and Sven it was "hasta luego" because we will see them when we get to Baja!

But first, we were headed to Panama. Next up: Adventures in Panama City, Bocas del Toro, and Playa Morrillo!


PS: Want to stockpile some good fall reads? All my books are price reduced right now...and they are also available as audiobooks:

Call it Wonder: An Odyssey of Love, Sex, Spirit & Travel (award-winning memoir)

For the May Queen (coming of age in the dorms in 1980, with lots of sex, drugs & rock n roll)

Complementary Colors (what happens when a straight woman falls in love with a lesbian)

Revolutionary Kiss, co-authored with Mary Janelle Melvin under the name Mary Kate Summers (love story set during the French Revolution)