THE Countdown

It’s funny to me that no matter how much planning one does, it seems that when it is down to the last few days everything gets crazy.  There’s never enough time.  We are down to 7 days.  That’s right, only 7 days till we leave the US of A.

Last weekend we headed to San Antonio for sightseeing and today we hop a plane for Denver to visit family.  We even get to meet and hang out with our grandnephew.  Happy 2nd Birthday, Ryder!

You may have noticed the countdown in the sidebar.  It says that our next stop is Panama.  We told most folks that our first stop would be Cotacachi, Ecuador.  A couple of things have changed that plan.

First, we have not had a chance to study Spanish near enough to feel comfortable to be in a totally unfamiliar place.  Not that we’ve really been to Panama (saw it from the deck of our cruise ship ;)).  But most tourist visas are for 3 months, and Panama’s is 6 months.  So we’ll be able to stay in one place for a longer period of time and that will enable us to be settled a bit more while learning the language.

Second, we changed our minds about starting in a mountain region.  Since we got our dive certification, we decided to be closer to dive spots so we can get out as often as possible.  Anywhere in Panama is close to both Caribbean and Pacific coasts.  In fact, there are diving tours that hit both sides in one day!

Third, and possibly most important, we have friends in Panama.  Austin and his wife, Delmira, are opening their home to us while we search for a rental.  And if that’s not enough, they are going to be our taxi and interpreter as well.  We are so blessed to have friends like this 🙂

When we get back from Denver, it’s all about our repacking.  We bought dive equipment and changed from going to a mountain town (cool like springtime) to a beach town (hot and humid).  Big priority will be exchanging any cool weather clothing for dive equipment.  Plus having lived in Texas in this interim period, we also realized that we packed “important” things that aren’t so important after all.  At least it’s only 2 suitcases and not a closet to go through!

So between now and next Friday, a trip to Denver and repacking, I will try to get a posting in about San Antonio, Denver and our final impressions of Texas.  There’s so many things to show you and so little time…

A Brand New World

Guy has always been a fish.  He and our sons, Micah & Jacob, love the water.  Could live in the water.  I’ve always enjoyed water, but never really felt like a swimmer.  But I’ve always loved Jacques Cousteau and nature-type shows.  I had always thought that it would be so cool to dive, but knew I never would.

And, to be honest, I’m not really good with certain things, like putting my face in water (even in the shower), going out from shore very far at the beach, being in cold & dark places.  Very real fear factors for me.

But we both love fish and underwater life.  It’s so fascinating.  When we first got married we had 7 different fish tanks, including salt water.

Guy has always wanted to scuba dive.  With our plan to travel in Central & South America, diving in the Caribbean and the Galapagos was almost assumed.

I knew that scuba would be a huge challenge for me.  But I also knew that if I didn’t at least have lessons, I would regret it.

As it turns out, Uncle Ray’s a scuba diver.  He suggested W.W. Diving in Humble (the H is silent), TX.  Guy called them and explained that we really wanted to get our certification so we could dive during our Caribbean Cruise.  (He called about 9 days before the cruise!)  Rebecca and John worked with us to get us equipment and certification before our departure.

John was our teacher.  He’s amazing.  Very easy going and knowledgeable and super encouraging.  From the first time we went underwater in scuba gear, I knew that I’d be able to do it.  And each following dive got better and better.  I was so anxious that I hardly slept all week. But I was actually getting excited about diving in open water (not a pool) for the final part of certification and LOVED it.  With the exception of certain fish…

We dove at Twin Lakes Scuba Park in Manvel. The water was really warm and a bit murky. Visibility was about 5 feet. Surprisingly, I wasn’t too spooked.  There was a submerged platform where we did our exercises.  All in all not my favorite place ever but I was pretty calm.  Until the fish arrived.  At first they were cool, cute and I felt really happy to be in the water with them.  Then I got bit.

One of the 3 places I got bit. Got bit here 2-3 times. You can see the shape of the bite if you look closely. The brown spot in the middle is 1/2″.

Little buggers thought a spot on my leg was food.  Nice.  I got bit about 5 times.  Made it difficult to pay attention to John.  It’s a little creepy to look down and see 4-5 fish in an arc looking at your legs.  We all kept trying to get them to go away, but they kept hanging around.  I never panicked and really never felt nervous until I had to use both of my hands to practice and exercise.  Mostly I was mad.  Those bites really hurt!

But I survived and got to log my first 2 dives ever 🙂  And now a brand new world has opened up to us that, though possible, I never thought probable for myself.

So then it was off on the cruise.  Very excited, but still really nervous.  The night before our first dive in Roatan, I again did not sleep much.  But I made myself be calm and once I did my first giant step into the water, I was completely at ease and so happy!!!

As for the camera, the GoPro Hero3 worked like a charm!  I had bought filters for the dive, which I couldn’t find until the day after the last day (grrr!), so the videos are not as bright as they could be, but I think that you will like them.

In Roatan we dived at Anthony’s Key Resort.  Beautiful location.  I would like to go back and stay for a diving vacation. I didn’t have a chance to check out the rooms, but could see them across the lagoon.  These bungalows were situated on stilts, right on the water.  They have water taxis that carry you back and forth to the island.

The locations we dived at in Roatan were Green Outhouse and Deep Eel’s Garden.  For our first saltwater dives, they were super cool.  Visibility was about 50′ (it was overcast and rainy.)  The water was 85 degrees.  Super nice.

We saw so much.  Different corals (staghorn, sea fan, brain) and fish (grouper, barracuda, lionfish, squirrelfish, french angel, dog snapper.)  Guy got some great video of a green moray eel.  I kept pinching myself and thinking, “Wow, I’m really underwater seeing all this stuff.  For reals!”

In Cozumel we dived with Sand Dollar Sports.  The 2 locations were Chankanaab and Paradise Reef.  Here the visibility was much clearer, up to 100′.  It was a much sunnier day.  We saw much of the same stuff here as in Roatan, but our preference is Cozumel.  We haven’t quite figured out why and we only dove 2 spots in each location.

Here are a couple of videos that we put together of the dives.  Even without the filters, the GoPro is a very cool piece of equipment.  They are about 2 minutes each.

We so LOVE diving.  So much so, we almost booked another cruise while on the ship.  Talk about impetuous :).  But we maintained control and are waiting until we get to Central America.

Our plans regarding Central & South America, by the way, have changed a little bit.  More on that next time!

What We’ve Been Up To…

Becoming a resident of the great state of Texas was not difficult but we had a couple days of running around.  However, we got our car registered, the insurance updated, a mail box set up and, as of yesterday, we got our DLs in the mail.  We are officially fer real Texans!  So happy 🙂

Recently we drove 3+ hours into Louisiana to hang with our California friends, Liz and Khailyn, while they were visiting their family, Kim and ONeal.  Kim made us AWESOME home cooked Korean food.  It was fried pork ribs.  Total yum!!!  Then breakfast in the morning.  I felt so pampered. 🙂

Kim & ONeal live in Leesville, LA.  If you’re ever there, you’ve got to try Frozen Spirits, a hangout of Liz and hubby, Jerry, when they were younger. Think: Spiked Slurpee.  Your choice of about 25 different flavors.  And you can try a couple flavors before making your decision.  Service could’ve been better, but we just smiled and ordered.  Connected to the shop is a small restaurant and pool table hall.  We didn’t get any food there, but Guy, Liz & I did play pool.

The amazing thing is that if you didn’t finish your cup and wanted to leave, you just had to get a new lid.  If you had a lid with a straw in it, it would be considered an open container.  Crazy!

We also went onto Fort Polk.  We saw a small but cool park with military vehicles and a couple memorials and went to the PX.

If you look at the sidebar, there is a little countdown I have posted for upcoming plans Guy & I may have.  Currently we are heading to the Caribbean on a cruise.  Yay!  In preparation, Guy & I are taking SCUBA lessons.  Guy’s always wanted to and I’ve always thought it seemed like a cool idea.

Wow!!! What an amazing and weird experience, to be underwater and breathing.  Guy is taking to it like the fish that he is.  I, on the other hand, am a bit more stressed out.  It’s overwhelming with all the things to learn and consider.  Especially since it’s UNDER the WATER.  But I think it’s a lot like when I learned to drive a motorcycle.  Tons more to consider than driving a car, but practice made me a lot more comfortable.

We will be diving in Roatan and possibly Cozumel as well.  I think that once I get under water and see all the sea life, I will be super glad that I did it.  Right now, I’m just kinda glad but nervous.  We have class and pool time Monday and Tuesday and an outdoor dive on Wednesday, I think.  It’s definitely challenging my boundaries.  I shall update in a few days to let y’all (that’s Texan, you know ;)) know that we accomplished our goal and received our certifications.

Texas

One of the best parts of our plan to relocate is that we are not really sure where we want to go.

After much research and talk, we came to the conclusion that we can’t decide on where we want to go. Many countries have beach areas (hot and humid) and mountain areas (eternal spring, so they say) and, of course, whatever is in between.

Early on we came up with the idea of staying in country for the length of the tourist visa, which is usually 3 months. This way we can research the one country, narrow down to 2-3 towns we want to check out and then stay in those areas for a few weeks each. More than enough time to get a feel for the locale and an idea of whether or not it would make our personal International Home Hunter List.

Part of our preparation before we actually set up house outside the US of A is to get:
1. mail service
2. bank accounts
3. residency in a non-state-income-tax state.

Hence, our decision to move to Texas. Plus Guy has family here. We have been fortunate enough to get to know some of the sweetest people on earth, Ray and Denniece. They have opened their home and hearts to us for our stay in Texas and have treated us so much like royalty. Love them!

Mail service is available all over the place. But in Texas we can get a service that will provide us with a Texas primary address, receive and scan our mail, then allow us to review it online and decide what we want them to destroy and what we want them to forward to us once a month or so wherever we may be in the world. This saves us from paying for junk mail and the more costly shipping if each envelope was sent separately.

We are going to be in several different countries so having a bank that services most or all of the countries we will be in will be beneficial. I think that although we could probably have set up accounts in California, flying back to Texas for anything needing our face to face attention will be much quicker.

And just the fact that we got to take 10 days to travel and sightsee between California and Texas was very cool 🙂

We’re Moving to Central America

People often look a little surprised, even confused, when we say that.

They ask, “Why would you do that?” and “How did you ever think of that?”

Let me begin 7 years ago….no worries, this won’t be a 7 year diary. I can condense it down to OUR 5 STAGES TO GET TO PARADISE!

STAGE 1: FREEDOM
After staying in vacation condos for both long and short trips, we began to fall in love with the idea of going on vacation with only what fit in our suitcase. Clean, comfortable spaces that had what we needed yet no clutter that we had to look at or take care of. This gave us the sense of freedom that we love.

STAGE 2a: AWAKENING (at least for Guy)
The start of the second stage of our mind reformation was Guy talking to friends. Chuck often spoke of his trips to Costa Rica. He, in fact, had decided to retire there and had even purchased a home. Austin was retiring soon and moving back to Panama with his Panamanian wife.

Guy would tell me stories of the beauty and inexpensive living that could be had in these countries. His eyes were filled with excitement and wonder. He wanted to live in these places, even if only part time. I was incredulous, “Why would I live there? I wouldn’t even go on vacation there!” Poor Guy…

STAGE 2b: AWAKENING, this time me 🙂
I love cruising. It’s fun & easy. And safe. I don’t have to worry about public bathrooms or weird food or anything like that.

We were coming up on several significant milestones in our lives and decided to celebrate with a cruise. I asked Guy where he wanted to go, assuming Alaska since he loved the wild and preferred the cold. Surprisingly, he said the Panama Canal. He has always been a Roosevelt fan and has always wanted to see the Canal. So I got busy looking for a cruise (yay for sun and heat :)) and found an 18 day Holland America Panama Canal cruise. So in April of 2012 we set sail from Port Everglades.

Two excursions changed my thinking. First was a boat tour in Costa Rica, second, a tour of the Mayan ruin of Tikal, deep in the jungles of Guatemala. At one point I turned to Guy and said, “I could do this. I could live here. I LOVE it!”

STAGE 3: RESEARCH
Guy, of course, wasted no time. I think he started checking out everything he could online as soon as we got off the gangplank in San Diego.

He subscribed to 2 online companies, Live and Invest Overseas and International Living. These companies are heavy on sales, but have a ton of information without having to buy everything. You have to be willing to read past a lot of it to find the gold. For my part, I purchased a book (the old-fashioned paper kind) and read it cover to cover in about a week. It turned out the author, Kathleen Peddicord, was the publisher for Live and Invest Overseas.

Now armed, in fact, overloaded with facts and excitement, we headed into Stage 4.

STAGE 4: PLANNING
This part was the most fun. From May 2012 to July 2013 our focus was definitely to GO. Pretty much the idea was always to go south but in the beginning it was like innertubing on a wide river, meandering slowly along the curves, enjoying the relaxing, dreamy pace. We were always headed south but had little changes along the way that brought interest to our float down this river. It was so cool reading about all the places we’d see, things we’d do and people we’d meet. Plus the cost was so minimal that our desire to be debt-free was not just a some day plan but serious reality.

We had always said that we’d be leaving maybe July-ish or August-ish of 2013. Then in March we got our tax bill. YIKES! So we began to step up our plans and get them from the dreamy “some day” to the reality of an actual date. The river narrowed and the current began to speed up.

STAGE 5: ACTION
At this point along the river analogy we were entering into the rapids. All the maybes, what ifs, how abouts, etc., had to turn into decisions to act on now.

We decided to sell, give or throw away everything that we weren’t taking with us. We got 2 suitcases each (seriously!) and narrowed our life down to all we could fit into them. We upgraded our laptops (soon to be our primary means of communication). We both got iPhones so we could purchase prepaid SIM cards in other countries. We got Spanish lessons (video, audio and books) so we could learn the language. We had already sold our house and were living in a rental so we put in our notice.

Then we were packed and on June 29 drove away. And we were……homeless.

AND NOW….

Okay, so we were homeless. But we didn’t have to live in our car thanks to the goodness of our friends, Frank & Susan and Bob & Kim. We stayed with them for a couple of weeks sorting out the last of the last of the stuff we were taking with us and headed off to Texas.

WHAT??? TEXAS???
That’s not exactly tropical paradise!?

To be continued….

Link

We have sold, given away, donated and trashed EVERYTHING we own except what we could fit into 2 suitcases (each, of course.)

We said good-bye to our mechanics, Frank & Frankie, at Frank’s Auto.  We drank our last long islands with Lily at China Palace and ate our last bi bim bop & ramen with Hai at Big Grill BBQ.  We ordered our last bouquet (for MK’s big #8) from Diana at Stems and had our last Venti French Roast and Trenta Green Iced Tea Unsweetened with the gang at the Vineyard Starbucks.  You all ROCK!!!

Guy had his last shave & trim with Ramiro at Kuts & Colors. We said good-bye to Natalie (you’re the awesomest), at Canine Concepts and handed off care of Fraser to Mikayla (and, of course, her Mom, Dad and Jayce).  Fraser will miss Jackie at the dog park (and Bob too!)

We’ve partied with and said good-byes (some rather tearful) to friends & family.

As we drove away from everything that we’ve ever known, it hit both of us…we are really doing this.

And if we were not so convinced in our hearts that this is the right thing for us to do, we’d probably have turned back.

We have crossed into new territory.  We’ve never been here before.  Super apprehensive…super excited….and, after the last few weeks of preparation, super tired.

But we both know that we know that we know:  this is the right path for us.

The oft spoken words of Peter Pan come to mind, as together we step off into the unknown with the hopes and dreams of what adventures lie ahead:

“Here we gooooo!”