After spending 3 months on this popular Indonesian island I have a good grasp of costs to live here. All of these numbers are just for a single retired man. No dog. No wife. No kids. Just me. Here we go with Bali cost of living… The cost to rent on this island, in popular areas, can be absolutely amazing low and can go up as high as “are you kidding me”. For example I booked a few hotel rooms, normally referred to as a “home stay”, for as little as 7 USD per night and this included breakfast!! I Read more…
Meanwhile: Thailand 2018
Hello and welcome, again perhaps, to my blog about retiring in paradise. It has been a very long time since I wrote anything here. I am not exactly sure why this is, but probably a combination of reasons. Without further ado, here is a quick update about me for the last 18 months and my retire in paradise for less events:
Since January 2015 I have actually travelled to Thailand 5 times. For the first 3 trips that I left Thailand, it was to “move back to Mexico”. I was very hard on myself (aren’t we all?) and was disappointed with myself for not being able to choose a home country. Looking back I now know how ridiculous that thinking was.
First of all the fact that I COULD travel between Mexico and Thailand was in itself a wonderful thing to have. Second, I had the GUTS to do such travel. I am now 66 years old and I still enjoy the adventure with all its challenges. Fortunately, my health is still excellent, because I know that having poor health is a real game changer in our lives. How lucky I am to have this “problem” of choosing which country to live in!!
So about 18 months ago I decided never to say to myself or others that I have decided to “MOVE” anywhere. I simply say that I am travelling to such and such country or city and I am not sure for how long. having said this, I have decided to return to Mexico next week, for good. Ha ha ha. Uups, did I just break my own rule?
I enjoyed living in Thailand this past year because I am/was living at the beach in Southern Thailand. The beach here is idyllic, coconut palms, smiling Thai faces and a very relaxed small town on the eastern coast of Thailand called Khanom . No Starbucks, few shops, a nice marketplace and a population of about 20.000 in the town itself. I rented a house here, 1 bedroom with a kitchen, bathroom and living room for 280 USD per month. This includes electricity, cable TV and an internet connection. Very inexpensive. I will write a separate post about this house and Khanom later.
So was there anything wrong with my newfound paradise? Well yes actually, there was not enough opportunity for social interaction. As I age I have found that I need companionship more and more. It’s not because of my age, its simply knowing what I need now. In the 3 years that I was living in Thailand, on and off, I had met 2 ladies who were very nice and I pursued relationships with. However, thier lack of English skills and my almost zero Thai language skills meant that conversation beyond daily pleasantries was impossible. For many, this sort of dialogue is sufficient, but not for me. I have also missed laughing and chatting about things that are American or British, an opportunity that would be impossible with Thai people. Thai men interact with me very very little, as opposed to Mexico where Mexican men with their families often would see me sitting alone enjoying a coffee or a beer and they would invite me to join them. This never happened in Thailand.
Laughter is a very healing fun thing to have in one’s life. Finding like-minded people to share similar situations and events from our younger decades is a powerful connection for me. Wit and sarcasm cannot be found in the Thailand language and trying to converse with Mexicans and introduce wit and sarcasm is very difficult for me at my Spanish level. I really miss this sort of banter with Brits and Yanks.
So next week I am flying to Mexico City to be at least closer to the opportunity of having these types of friendships. My friends and acquaintances in Mexico are many, many times more than I ever met in Thailand. It is my opinion that these cultural differences can make or break a lasting, healthy life in a chosen place to live.
Which items to sell or pack?
Whether I am packing for a weekend getaway or planning my move to Mexico, “what to pack” is always an issue for me and my guess it is for you also, right?
Because I drove from Tucson Arizona to my chosen town of San Miguel de Allende Mexico, then the space in my mini-van, afforded me the luxury of moving not just my clothes but many items including a 52″ flat screen televison. Although I do know a few female friends who may be the exception and my mini-van would be only just big enough for their clothes, and shoes.
When I began to unpack the items I bought, from the cardboard boxes, I was soon rolling my own eyes and asking myself “what was I thinking” when packing certain items. I had packed a small canister vacuum cleaner. Stupid idea. First off 99% of flooring in Mexico is tile or concrete of sorts. Second, I had a maid that was included with the apartment rent! Third, the maid like all other maids that I had heard of here, did not like using such complicated contraptions. My maid was typical of all the rest: a broom, a mop and a duster, cleaned the floors and walls just fine. I bought too many dishes and glasses and they did not fit the decor of my very Mexican style home I now had. I bought far too many tools with me; it’s a guy thing I suppose. Living in a home without my own full set of sockets and several adjustable wrenches seemed somehow “wrong”. I arrived with one and a half cartons full of tools including an electric drill. However, I left Mexico with a large zip-lock bag full of hand tools. The electric drill was useless anyway. First when you rent, someone else does all the work and second, the walls were very, very solid masonry walls about 20 cm thick.
My van actually ended up being a boat anchor! First of all, parking in my small town was at a premium and knowing where to park legally became a nightmare on holiday weekends. This is Mexico and religious holiday weekends are all the time! After my car was towed 3 times, I decided that a car was more of a liability than an asset. The van did a great job of transporting and storing my stuff, but now Mexico’s great buses and local taxis whisk me around at low cost and in great comfort. I sold the van.
OK, now for silly things I brought to Thailand. Socks. Ten pairs of them to be exact. Really nice good quality cotton, dress socks. Just one teenie problem. I wear flip flops or sandals 99.99% of the time here! My white, no-show, sports socks I have worn a few times because they can be more comfortable with slip on shoes. I have worn them 3 times in 4 months. I bought two 30 inch suitcases with me and each one was full to the allowed, USA, limit of 32 kg each one. Even now, I think I overpacked coming to Chaing Mai and I think if I had really been more brutally honest with myself then one 32 inch suitcase would have been just fine with a small backpack.
Be very careful about what you take with you. If you just “think” you will use the item, then chances are you won’t. Plus there is very little that can not be replaced new or used in either Thailand or Mexico, and also Ecuador I would imagine.
I did bring some very useful items! San Miguel is about 2,000 meters above sea level and winter nights are chilly often less than 7 Celcius. Remember that in Mexico very few homes have central heating or cooling. My apartment had a nice gas fire, but the bed would have been very chilly to get into and to sleep without my heated mattress pad. I can highly recommend THIS mattress pad to do the job; no heavy blankets, easy to pack and very low cost to keep you warm.
A cool idea, says me: paper is very heavy! So, instead of packing photographs, medical records, paper memorabilia and other paper items I photographed each item. If I get the urge to print out any of those images I can do that here in Chaing Mai for very little cost. I also scanned hundreds of slides and photographs before moving to Mexico and hundreds more before leaving Mexico for Thailand. Everything is now digital and stored safely on a local hard drive and 2 online backup services.
A good take way from this story I think: One of my greatest personal achievements in recent memory was arriving in Chaing Mai with just 2 suitcases. Trust me, it is NOT easy to do. The “what to keep what to take” task is not easy at all. I have no storage locker full of stuff somewhere in the USA and my family in England have nothing stored for me there in over 30 years! The freedom I feel in my life at the moment is wonderful. I rent my condo and have my “stuff” in such a small amount that I can leave here whenever I want and head someplace else. That sounds like a segue to a story that I have NO idea where that will be staged. Stay tuned.
Maids, Mariachi bands and siestas in Mexico
Living and being retired in Mexico comes with several perks that make my life here just absolutely wonderful. It is often stated that “old people” need more naps. People make fun of this fact! Why? I think they are just jealous. There is nothing wrong with a 60-90 minute nap every afternoon, especially if you live in a hot climate like San Miguel de Allende in the summertime.
Staying indoors and relaxing/sleeping makes perfect sense in such hot weather, especially if you participate in the Mexican party life: which will mean staying out until 2 am or even later. You may need a sleep mask to cover your eyes and ear plugs because neighborhoods are noisier at 4 pm.
Maids in Mexico
Maids are an integral part of many Mexican homes owned or rented by Gringos. In another post, I describe how my rent, of $550 includes a maid twice a week. I have a sweetheart of a maid. She not only cleans my home, she will prepare food, cook the food, go shopping for groceries and even has sewn damaged jeans! I pay her extra for these chores but still – one stop shopping!
My maid, Sofia, does not speak a word of English and so one more added benefit: a Spanish teacher too! Sofia has also taught me a lot about Mexican produce and how to cook it. My attempt at any sort of soup in the USA was pitiful, but now I can make a really full bodied chicken soup with a big kick! Many skill sets I now have are partly attributed to my maid Sofia.
There is one style of music in Mexico that is very Mexican, mariachi bands originated in Mexico several hundred years ago and as far as I know only exist for real in Mexico and with some USA tourist places. I absolutely love the sound that these bands make. If anything in Mexico romanticises this beautiful and exciting country, this music is it! In all cities and even small towns mariachi bands play in a plaza or maybe some civic or private event.
Dating in Mexico
As a single man I thought it would be a good idea to write an article with a brief outline of what dating, romance and love can be like in this beautiful country called Mexico. A lot of you have read, or are familiar with the book “Men are from Mars, women are from Venus”. Just like the books basic premise is that men and women think differently then so it is with how Western style romance is approached differently than romance in Mexico.
The first thing that comes to mind is money. A Mexican woman expects you to “take care of her”. A woman with children and whose parents are alive may also need financial help from you to care for here extended family. But that’s getting a little too far ahead. That will come at date #3. OK, that’s an exaggeration, just a little. A Mexican man will always be expected to pay for everything, the meal, transportation and so on. Sometimes your date will show up with friends, yes you pay for everyone. This gives the man an opportunity to flex his power and machismo. My Western wallet and mentality does not agree with this. I do it.. but I still have a hard time understanding why I pay for everything. A male friend of mine who lives in Mazatlan was very sad and a little angry when his Mexican girlfriend of 6 months and aged about 52 years old informed him that he would have to pay for their house rental, food, clothes.. everything!! He was perplexed because his girlfriend was 52, had a good business going and lived alone and so she was already able to pay for her own life. This is the way love works here in Mexico. Deal with it.
There are 2 things at play here with my friends situation. His ability to pay for his girlfriends life with him and his willingness to pay for her. This may end up with a resentful husband or boyfriend who is spending all of HIS money and the girl is SAVING here money.. often helping her family with their own finances.
Need info on Gringas dating a Mexican man? Well, honestly I have few data points except those of two friends of mine who are (trying) to date such a man and had a hard time getting the Western “dating” concept across to their boyfriends.
Public displays of affection here are over the top. In my local plaza young couples, as young as middle school, are often kissing, hugging and holding hands. People here are very affectionate and very open about it. Family is #1 in this culture and so you may find yourself taking a back seat to your wife’s/husbands parents or siblings. Their family needs always come first.
Senior Living in San Miguel de Allende
This article will be a more in-depth look at my life, my “senior living life”, in San Miguel de Allende. I hope you find this real-world information useful.
Today is my birthday and tonight I will be going to the local Gringo bar, Hanks. This pub/restaurant used to be called Harry’s up until 2012 and Bob, the owner has this New Orleans style establishment in about 4 different locations in the USA and 2 in Mexico. The food is moderately priced (for SMA) and the quality is excellent. Try the salmon BLT, wow! That sandwich with a ton of french fries is priced at 140 pesos, about 10 USD. I do not eat here a lot because frankly, $10 for me is too expensive for my tastes and totally not necessary, plus I would put on weight if I were here more than a few times a month. The music is also awesome at Hank’s playing mostly 70’s music along with all the standards. All in all a great place to hang out, good food, music, decor and vibe with both Mexicans (the wealthier ones) and gringos alike. The later, enjoying their gringo senior living life here in beautiful San Miguel de Allende.
At the other end of the dining-out scale is street food. Eating a taco from street vendors can be very hit and miss. However I, fortunately, do not have any first-hand information on the bad ones that may/will give you a stomach upset or worse. Word-of-mouth can be a killer for any place of business so how accurate these second-hand accounts are I am not really sure. I go to one street vendor in the evening, for beef tacos and they are just mouth-wateringly fantastic and cost 10 pesos each.
The nightlife for me may mean that I sit on a park bench in front of La Parroquia and watch the families, kids playing soccer, young teen lovers and often a town organized art performance. These performances include music for all tastes, folk dancing, choirs from local schools and more. The plaza is also a huge source of people watching for most people. The Teatro Angela Peralta, in the town centre, has events on a weekly basis and also offers a wide range or live performances and some movies. Speaking of movies, we have 2 movie theatres here in San Miguel de Allende. A short bus ride out of the old city centre takes you to a small shopping mall, which has a large multi-screen modern movie theatre. They offer movies in both Spanish and English dialogue, but some with only English subtitles.
In another article, I describe my USA plated van here as a “boat anchor” and so I got rid of it. Getting around San Miguel is often accomplished on foot now. I live at the extreme east end of the cento area and to walk across town to the west side is about 1.5 km and 20 minutes of walking. Mostly downhill and returning home a 30-minute walk, uphill. This town is not for everyone. The altitude here is about 2,000 meters, so less oxygen available for stuff like breathing. It is also a VERY hilly town and there are not too many occasions that will not take up a rather steep hill. The stroll across town can also be accomplished in a tax for 35 pesos and the 10-minute bus ride to the shopping mall is just 5 pesos.
Many people have accidents when walking in San Miguel de Allende. All the streets are some sort of cobblestone. Very smooth and slippery cobblestone. My feet are big, so my shoe spans at least one stone, those with smaller feet do not and sometimes twist an ankle or worse while navigating the beauty of the street! This town is like many others (all perhaps?) in Mexico; there are lots of obstacles on the sidewalk that, if you are not paying attention, will trip you up. Friends have had their foot/leg trapped and broken down deep holes, fallen through storm drains, and tripped over the myriad of smaller stuff that sticks out the sidewalks. Welcome to Mexico and Third World Country, culture?
Getting around Mexico from San Miguel de Allende is easy without a car. First class buses travel from SMA to all over Mexico and these buses are very comfortable indeed. These buses often having luxurious seating, WiFi and electrical adapter and even a cappuccino machine on the ETN bus line! The cost is around 100 pesos for each hour of the journey. Book online for discounts. If you are over 60 you can use your INAPAM card for a huge 50% discount on the bus fares. The cost of plane fares are on par with those in USA, so not cheap and trains only connect a few cities. Driving a car here is only cost effective when there are 3 or more in the car. The cost of petrol, maintenance, meals along the way and the road tolls add up to a 2 or 3 person break-even cost. Add to that the stress of driving and well, why bother with a car?
Lastly, there are the holidays and processions. Holidays in San Miguel de Allende are amazing festivities of light, colour, and sound. Most of the events are centred around Catholic holidays and tradition. Semana Santa, Easter was the end of March this year, is perhaps the biggest of these celebrations. People from all over Mexico come to this pueblito for the Semana Santa procession and cultural events. The next biggest holiday is the celebration, September 27, of Mexican Independence from the Spanish. The fireworks are not to be missed and this festival last about 5 days!
My life and your life, here in San Miguel de Allende can be as lively or as quiet as you want. A low budget can still be a lively time here because all the cultural events are for the public in the streets and plazas. Plan a visit soon, you will have no regrets.
Cell phones overseas
A common question when traveling overseas is “can I use my cell phone in xyz country?”
The short answer: maybe.
1. Assuming you are just visiting for a holiday ask your cell phone provider for their rates and also, VERY important, ask them to remove any restrictions on using your phone overseas. This is my personal least favourite way because it usually is so damn expensive.
2. Ask yourself.. do you really need the phone (4g) part of your cellphone? ALL cell phones can connect to ANY WiFi in any cafe or hotel anywhere in the world. Via WiFi you can look up maps (take a screenshot to save the map when you are not in a WiFi area), retrieve your email, post Facebook updates; in fact you can do anything but make a phone call. But wait, you can use WiFi based Skype or LINE to make a phone call.. for free! If this is the case any cellphone, iPod or tablet will also suffice.
3. If your phone is UNLOCKED and is a GSM type of phone then you can make a call and connect to the internet via a cell tower data connection. Before you leave your home country, ask your cell phone provider to UNLOCK your cellphone, you then take the phone to a provider at your destination. They will sell you a “SIM” or “chip” for your phone. Your current SIM is removed and replaced with the new SIM. Keep the current SIM in a safe place for your return home. Assuming you will return one day :). The next step has many variables.. but basically you need to add money on to the new SIM in order to use the phone. This is my favourite way to use my cell phone.. it is usually a much, much cheaper method and I can connect to maps, email, Facebook while I am anywhere with a cell date data connection.
If your phone is not unlocked or if your phone is not a GSM cellphone then your options are limited. Check before you leave your home country. A fourth option is to simply BUY a phone at your destination.. this cheap.. cheaply made… cheap to buy cell phones, come with call time already available, but these cheap phones can only make calls, but sometimes may include free Facebook or LINE communication.