Unencumbered

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This was my original luggage plan. Only the big duffel remains and it stays home at my daughter’s house.

I have been an unknowing minimalist for at least a decade now, developing over time into a knowing one.

My theory is that most people who have ultimately become minimalists don’t come by it through theory but rather by some circumstance of their life. I came into my own through falling in love with a movie – as I have done in so many of my life changes.

It was the 1991 film My Girl, in which a young girl goes through a series of changes in her own life, one of which is acquiring a stepmother – Jamie Lee Curtis – who arrives in an RV. Curtis is a single woman traveling around in her little “house-on-wheels” and I instantly wanted to be her. I distinctly remember that in one scene you see the inside of her tiny domain and she has turned a railing into a bookshelf of paperbacks. That was the clincher.

My own RV came along in 2009. The previous owners called her Wanda and she was 23 feet long and fit my dream beautifully. Over the next 6 years I became a minimalist as I adjusted to living in Wanda. It happened slowly as I became aware that going to places like Wal-Mart were no longer a free-for-all for me. No amount of organization could expand my space and I realized I didn’t actually need most of the things I automatically threw into my shopping cart.

That knowledge changed my life. Never having been much of an accumulator anyway, it wasn’t seismic but slowly I began to look at my possessions differently. Near the end of my days as a home-(RV)-and-car-owner, a propertied woman, I began culling through things, selling most in preparation for my travels and giving away many. I pared them down to a couple of plastic bins of memories, two suitcases and a huge duffel bag of things I thought I had to keep. Over my eight months in SE Asia, I ended up dumping the second suitcase and lightening the duffel bag. At my daughter’ home, I still store those bins and that huge duffel bag filled with clothing I change out each trip.

Now, while traveling, I simply have one large suitcase and a regular backpack, not the monstrous kind. Oh, and a camera case and purse. But even the biggish camera case fits inside my backpack with my laptop and some emergency supplies, like an extra set of clothes. This trip, to Mexico, I even ended up with extra room in my one big piece of luggage. I didn’t know what to do!

There is a tremendous amount of freedom in not owning things, or in reality, being owned by them. If you really need or love a thing, you carry a fear of the loss of it, unless you are an extraordinary individual and have managed to overcome that particular anxiety. So, I have felt lighter in general, but hyper aware of the whereabouts of those things that I still possess: my phone, my laptop and my camera.

Things are not all you give up in a life of minimalism. Friends or relationships that not do have meaning on some level tend to fall away. You also give up a sense of normalcy. You are different than most people. For me, this really hits home when I visit the States, because I’m no longer interested in doing the same old things I did before – like shopping. I thought I would be hungry to shop when I returned after my first big trip, but quickly realized I wasn’t shopping in my previous sense of the word, but rather restocking. There’s a big difference.

And it’s tremendously hard for me to spend money on “going out”, which really means eating and shopping, maybe the movies. Now that I’ve lived in other parts of the world, I automatically translate that money into what it would buy overseas. Years ago, I had that problem with slot machine gambling – mentally converting quarters I squandered into loads of clothes washed at a laundromat. Unfortunately, I got over that.

So, in conclusion, I like to think of myself as unencumbered, but in truth, my encumbrances have simply changed. Where I no longer need to acquire stuff, I am more deeply attached to what I do own. While I don’t pursue relationships that were mainly built on activities like shopping and dining out, those that are much deeper require more upkeep and I treasure them much more than I did before.

Now, however, I wouldn’t use the word “encumbered” because what’s left doesn’t weigh me down. I think of it as converting a bunch of “stuff” into gold coins I carry around in a leather pouch, close to my body – a much lighter load, but still precious.

The word “attached” is now a much better description.

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My much lighter load. Both camera case and laptop are in that backpack!

Time is not Real

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I got this picture by just “hanging” out. Time wasted? I think not.

Some famous person said something like this – “Time is an artificial construct, invented by man.” When you take the time to truly conceive of that, it is very freeing.

Since “time” is not a real thing, we cannot waste it so all those “should be doing” moments of guilt can simply melt away.

Why, you wonder, are you bothering me with this? What made this subject suddenly so important you had to write about it? What is this crap?

All good questions, and since there is no time measurement or value to place on answering your questions, I shall.

I spent hours this afternoon enjoying the feel of a strong breeze entering my bedroom window and wafting its way over my body.  Every hour or so, I’d sense a feeling of guilt enter my consciousness but I successfully batted it away and went on just enjoying the pure luxurious sensation. I had a home in the San Fernando Valley where my bed, situated below two corner windows, drew the afternoon zephyrs regularly and I nearly always partook of the same pleasure then. And felt the internal blame game.

So, originally, this train of thought was simply a rationale for loitering, however I stayed on its trail long enough to develop a new mantra – “Time is not real.”

This probably seems wholly unrelated to Stephen Hawking. But it’s not. Here’s why. I have heard other people thinking out loud what I have often thought, “What a terrible waste,” referring to a brilliant man like being trapped in a body that does not respond to his will.  But it’s not.  Here’s why. Everything is relative and had his disease not kept him inside his own mind, who knows what would have not been. What would not have ever occurred to him.

In the same way, our concept of time can either trap or release us to do things, conceive of ideas, experience or not. We are all kept within boundaries by our preconceptions, time being one of them. I’ll no longer be restricted by my own concept of time passing and what should or should not be done with our time.

Time isn’t real.

Hug a Pink Elephant – #1

 

When I was writing my book “Hug a Pink Elephant:  Simple Ways to Add Adventure to Your Life” last year, I was so excited and it was pure joy for me. I had begun the greatest adventure of my life – international travel – and so many people were commenting on my bravery. But I didn’t feel brave at all, because I was just pursuing my dream – adventure.

Many people I know – especially women – would love to have a more adventurous life but really have no idea how. So, I’ve decided to print selected excerpts from Hugs right here every few days. Hopefully, someone out there will find inspiration and take on the adventure of their life. Or maybe they’ll simply begin to have adventures in their every day life.

You folks who are adventuring yourselves don’t need my thoughts on the subject. Carry on…

This is the beginning of the book.

 

Final cover Hug a Pink Elephant
Published on Amazon – Kindle & Paperback

 

“Life is a blank canvas, and you need to throw all the paint on it you can.”

― Danny Kaye

 HAVE YOU EVER HUGGED AN ELEPHANT?

The first question most people have asked about this book is what the title means. A friend suggested a title based on pink elephants and it took me a minute to get it myself.

In the beginning of my current adventure, the second country I visited was Thailand. I stayed in Chiang Mai for a month and, about two weeks in, I visited an elephant sanctuary in the hills outside this lovely town.

I had lucked out in finding a remarkable tuk-tuk driver, who spoke English well and took great pride in his work – Tony. He not only drove me out to the elephant camp, but walked with me, taking pictures along the way. At one point, he asked me if I’d like to go to the nursery, an area not on the regular tours. Excitedly, I said yes.

We trekked a bit to get to the area, secluded from the touristy part of the camp, and when we got there I was a tad disappointed there were no babies to see. But off to one side was a grown female, rocking agitatedly in her own pen. We found out she had recently lost a baby and was so distraught they were keeping her off by herself.

Tony asked if we could feed her. Her trainer hesitated and then nodded handing us a bunch of bananas. I went into the pen and fed her the fruit, which was quickly consumed. Then I began to rub her trunk, sides and ears. She quit rocking. Eventually, I stepped in close and hugged her several times. She was very gentle and sweet.  Her Thai name, which I can’t remember, meant Full Moon. She was lighter than the other elephants and had a large pink patch on her face and some smaller ones on her ears. Full Moon was my pink elephant.

Even now, as I write this, I can see and feel her and I feel joy. In those few minutes I had truly made contact with something greater than my daily life, something beyond, and I felt an enormous affection overtake me.

On this trip, I have had many wonderful moments, but that one still remains the pinnacle of my search for adventure. I had hugged a pink elephant and it was wonderful. It was also unexpected and not part of any plan.

This is the whole point of this book. I will hopefully teach you how to find more of these moments in your life, whether you are still firmly dealing with the rat race or already on a journey of your own.

Let’s do this thing!

Cost of Living in Manzanillo

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The dog likes Manzanillo, too!

I have finally found the perfect retirement location – for me. I’m sure there are others out there, but this spot is the first that meets and exceeds all my requirements. A big part of the equation is affordability, but before the big reveal – and you will be astounded – I want to give you a good idea of what I need to be happy, in the order of importance.

  • A place that has some element of beauty. In Lake Atitlan, Guatemala, it was the lake itself and the surrounding volcanos. In Chiang Mai, Thailand, it was all the amazing temples, the mountains and the markets. In the historic district of Guadalajara, Mexico, it was the plethora of plazas and the colonial buildings that surrounded them. Here in Manzanillo, it is looking out at an ocean view every day.
  • Lots of interaction with the locals. I thrive on trying to connect with people and cultures. Although I’ve had lots of that everywhere I’ve traveled, here in Manzanillo I see the same people often enough that our relationships have grown, even over less than three weeks, because my language skills are evolving and they are willing to help me by talking with the gringa who speaks Spanglish.
  • Because I don’t have or want a car, there needs to be good, inexpensive transportation. Here I hail a taxi from the curb outside my building (just like in NYC but it costs me $2.50 one way – with tip – to go to the mini-mall). The bus to the smaller town of Santiago is 7 pesos each way (about $.30) and the four-hour luxury bus trip to Guadalajara is $25 each way.
  • I need convenient shopping, so speaking of the mini-mall: it is where I grocery shop, will eventually go to the movies, and can just hang out if I want. It’s also where the best ATM is, so I end up going there about once every 5-6 days.
  • Finally, I need to feel safe. I haven’t had any fear in most places, but of all of them I’ve visited, I feel the safest here. My neighborhood is mostly tourist-oriented, but it is also a haven for the middle class, even drawing people in from outside the hood to frequent the restaurants regularly.
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The courtyard area downstairs!

Manzanillo has all these things. So, I’ll be returning to the States in June to care for my mom after she has knee surgery but I’ll be coming back to Manzanillo when she’s up and running around again. I plan – at this point – on staying about 6 months. I may buy a bicycle when I come back, because I still want to have an epic bicycle adventure in the US but first I’ll return here to build up my nest egg. Here come the figures you’re dying to see (and the reason why I want to come back to save up some cash for the next big adventure). These are monthly cost of living figures:

$300 – Rent for a two-bedroom, fully furnished apartment with A/C and Wi-Fi, no TV (Yay!) which covers everything.

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My bedroom

$100 – Groceries – but I’m vegan so my food costs are way less than others. I’d double that for “normal” eaters.

$50 – Eating out (again, I only have guacamole, smoothies etc., so less than most people)

$60 – For a weekly treat of either a facial, massage or pedicure.

$15 – Laundry (washed, dried and folded) about one load every 5 days.

$60 – My insulin for the month

$30 – Transportation (taxis & local buses)

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The second bedroom

$15 – I don’t need a whole lot of entertaining – this is based on going to a movie three times a month. This would be a much bigger number if I went out or drank (more than the occasional 2/1 margaritas and beers). I’ve had one poolside beer since coming to Manzanillo, so I’m not a big boon to the restaurants or bars.

$630 Total – That’s so low I must go back and double-check. Just a minute……..I’m back and yes, that’s right.

Now that is based on what I’ve spent to date on regular items. I did buy two summer dresses and two pairs of shorts – for just under $30 – and spent about $40, setting up my kitchen supplies, buying a rice cooker and my very own broom (so I don’t have to borrow the café’s).

So simply put – if I ever just want to settle down again, I know where to come – MANZANILLO!

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The red door leads upstairs to my temporary home.

Wandering

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Lake Atitlan, Guatemala

How many readers out there knew that this great saying – “Not all those who wander are lost” – comes from a poem by J.J.R. Tolkien, written for The Lord of the Rings? Well, I didn’t know and I was wholly surprised when I Googled it for this article.

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Ruth, the souvenir seller in Antigua, Guatemala

And I love the saying. It is certainly true for me. I often find myself trying to explain what I’m doing and why, because when I tell people I have no home and no car but simply travel all the time, it is not enough. Sometimes, I can see in their eyes the idea that I must be lost without a home.

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The craziness of Ho Chi Minh City

The truth is that the corner I cannot see around is my focus, or the door that blocks my view to the interior of someone else’s space. That ship unloader I can spy just over the treetops at night intrigues me, as does the destination of each city bus. Curiosity leads me to the next thing and sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes, I’m completely content to simply sit and watch things pass me by.

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Melaka’s Riverwalk

I am a wanderer who became a wife and mother, a worker in the corporate world, a business owner, unable to travel for lack of funds and time. Although life allowed me to see much of the US over my lifetime, I didn’t venture outside it until 2015. Now that I’ve been “let loose” I find I treasure my international adventures jealously, and my most favorite times are those when I stay somewhere long enough to “wander” into a neighborhood and become part of it for an extended time.

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One of Ipoh’s many famous murals in Malaysia.

 

I started my journeys in SE Asia with an Excel spreadsheet and set times I would stay in an area. I hadn’t learned how to wander yet. Now, I rarely know where I’m staying in a city more than a couple of days in advance and never how long I’ll stay somewhere before I get there.

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Time with my daughter on Playa Grande beach in Costa Rica.

It is necessary for me to get the “lay of the land” and if I find joy in the place I’m visiting it is very hard for me to leave. Guadalajara was like that for me. I was so tempted to stay on for a couple of months. Now that I’ve found Manzanillo, I’m so glad I didn’t.

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Atop the wonderful cathedral of Leon

In SE Asia, my long-term stay was Melaka, Malaysia (where I wrote a book over a two-month period). During my Central America trip, I ended up with two such places – Potrero, Costa Rica and Lake Atitlan, Guatemala. Here in Mexico, it very nearly became Guadalajara (I was set to return by bus after three days) until I stumbled on Manzanillo.

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The incredible Angkor Wat in Cambodia

When I began my vagabond lifestyle, I didn’t know all that it could be. I didn’t realize that planning was the antithesis of the freestyle living I could embrace. Now I’m an old-hand at it, although, like everything in life – there’s still lots to learn.

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The stunning Doi Suthep temple outside Chiang Mai, Thailand

Ultimately, wandering is not for everyone. I have met several people for whom seeing as much as possible is their goal and others for whom my often-rudimentary housing would absolutely be a deal-killer. Scheduling, as I once did, is a must-have for most people – in part because their time is limited. Mine isn’t, and I’ve come to understand everyone travels in their own way.

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Ubud, Bali – view of a restaurant

But if you can do it someday and it suits you, I highly recommend the leisurely exploration of another country – even your own country with no agenda. I plan to someday travel a bit more of the US at some point, when I can figure out how to afford it.

I’ve included random pictures of some of some of my wanderings. Enjoy.

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Where it all began – in the Philippines with Vanessa!

 

Settling into Manzanillo

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Welcome to my world! The RED door to the upstairs apartments.

I woke from a lovely nap feeling ready to pounce on my creativity. I took a cool shower, slipped on my clothes and grabbed my camera. One of the reasons I love where I’m staying in Manzanillo is that the surroundings are fill with eye candy. Everywhere I look, inside or outside my apartment, there is something to delight.

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Dusk in Manzanillo

I started out in Manzanillo at a budget hotel, fine for a couple of days but not a place I could afford or would want to stay longer than that. I’ve posted the story of how I landed at this lovely place on Facebook, so here it is again (for those of you that read this blog AND are a FB friend):

“A WORD ABOUT FATE! I have had another lovely quirk of fate today. I was trying to figure out where to go next all last night. I woke up this morning (well, really just before noon) ready to book a flight and hotel somewhere else.

As fate would have it (intentional) the little cafe next door – called Crepes and Cafe – isn’t a breakfast place at all and was closed. There were no restaurants open, so I decided to return to my hotel and eat breakfast out of the vending machine. It ate my money instead. So, frustrated, I asked the girl at reception where there was a mini-mart. She told me to go right, cross the street at the corner and it was right there.

I nodded, but for some reason, went left instead and walked three blocks until I spied a coffee bar that looked nice – and had yummy looking buns on the counter – and went in for a cup of joe, etc. I spied a nice area in the back and walked through to the spot in the pictures. The owner came to wait on me and mentioned she had rooms to rent. After my breakfast, she took me upstairs and showed me a full apartment – very comfortable, with kitchen, Wifi and a view of the ocean from my bedroom – and told me it was $300 a month.

Guess who is staying in Manzanillo for at least a month, maybe a few.

Now, consider this – if I had gone right instead of left I would never have found this place. If the vending machine had been working – I never would have found this place. If I had woken up earlier and eaten breakfast at the hotel, I never would have found this place.

Wow! – that’s all – just wow!

Pictures of the actual apartment coming when I move in on Friday. In the meantime, this is the “patio” for the apartments and for the cafe. I can’t wait.”

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That’s my bedroom window on the far left!

That post was uploaded on the 8th, I moved in on the 9th and this is the 15th and I haven’t yet come down to earth. I’m busy taking it all in and have decided to stay here for three months total. It is only partly the amazing apartment and little café downstairs that has captured me. I’m also enjoying this little town.

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Part of the cafe downstairs.

Manzanillo isn’t the cultural mecca that Guadalajara is but it has its own richness. And by no means have I adequately explored it. I have ventured a few blocks either way from “mi casa” and enjoyed the beach in the afternoon and dusk. The local “supermarket” – Soriana – is surrounded by small businesses, some as familiar as GNC and Sally Beauty Supply and a three-screen cinema, which I’ll visit as soon as I manage to time it right for an English showing of either Kong or Logan. Basically, I feel at home, with just enough foreigner mixed in to make it exotic.

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See! Eye candy!

There is much more to see and I’ll get around to it, but in the meantime, I feel my muscles relaxing and my mind opening. In Asia, I found my nest in Melaka (and wrote a book), in Central America it was Lake Atitlan in Guatemala and now I’m centered in a smallish port town with a nice, if somewhat rundown, tourist area.

It’s perfect.

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Have a seat! Just one of the places to relax in my new environment.

Tapatio Tours in Guadalajara

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My bus!

Many of my readers here also followed my travels through SE Asia, where twice I experienced – with great joy – the double-decker tour buses. Well, I’ve been at it again.

I enjoyed the Turibus in Mexico City – very much – and made the Tapatio tour the first thing I did in Guadalajara. If you haven’t tried these two-story wonders, please do next time you have a chance.

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A wide variety of wares are available from the vendors in Tlaquepaque.

They are fabulous for getting an overview of a city, so you can pick and choose where you what to spend more time during the rest of your visit. And they are cheap. In Malaysia, I spent about $9.00 for a full day of touring (Kuala Lumpur and Penang separately), while in Guadalajara it cost me just 70 pesos or $3.50 (because I’ve hit the magic age for ½ price!) – the full fare per person for all three area tours which take 5 hours total is $7.00.

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Tlaquepaque is a pretty little town.  Spot the owl?

 

I found the Tapatio Tours to be not as exciting as the others I’ve taken, but it took me to Tlaquepaque (a little touristy town known for its artisans)and that alone was worth the ride. I had intended to ride the Tap back for a full day there, but never quite made it back.

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A happy place! Jewelry!

There’s no real route that takes you around the historical district, but that’s fine because that’s so doable on foot, yet if it wasn’t for the tour bus I wouldn’t know that there is a fine downtown and business district in Guadalajara, as there was in Mexico City.

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My chosen spot for an Americano!

Again, you easily find where you want to spend your time. I ended up devoting the rest of my stay to exploring the Centro Historico – a lovely way to while away three weeks! Discovery is the very best sensation for me, and I found that every corner I turned offered something new in my beautiful Guadalajara.

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This display of collars made me stop in my tracks.

Tip of the Day – bring a hat to shade you upstairs and a bottle of water, because it can be brutally hot, especially while waiting in traffic.

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Enormous carving in a shop window.