News Flash! I am no Ashton Kutcher.


Hi everyone!

As you know, we’ve been living and traveling through Latin America since we sold V in September of 2017. It’s been an incredible experience, and one that we never imagined would have continued for this long. Initially when we sold the boat, the plan was to spend a few short weeks in Antiqua, Guatemala while we hatched a plan to get back to the states.

This many months later, the experience continues and it’s been both challenging and rewarding. Recently, after a lot of soul searching, Mel and I made the decision to return to the states after the first of the year. We’ve been away from family and friends for almost two years and it’s time to reconnect and spend some quality time. Even though we’ve made the decision, the plan seems to change. From minute to minute; day to day.

It plays out something like this. “Okay, we’re going back and it’s going to be so fun to see everyone again!” Then, over coffee the next morning; “Wow, it’s going to be so expensive. We’ll have to sign a lease. We have no furniture. Maybe this isn’t the best idea.” Now, I don’t know if you experience this sort of wavering on a regular basis, but second guessing is not fun. We flip-flop so often, we could run for office.

“We’re in! Oh, wait. I’m sorry… we’re not in.

“Yeah, let’s buy another boat! Another boat? That’s a terrible idea.”

It’s in these moments where I begin to spin like a small dust storm. One that picks up small farm animals and deposits them on top of a Walmart miles away. I start looking at every option available that might keep us from becoming snared in the normal life trap that we worked so hard to escape from in 2o12. And, when I say every option, I mean EVERY option.

I could totally live in this little beauty, but I think I’d be doing it as a single man.

By now I don’t have to tell you that I’m a huge fan of tiny houses. I love everything about them. First, it’s tiny and I’m all about small spaces. Cozy, well-lit spaces are calming to me. I also like the challenges that small spaces present. One must be concise and a master of efficient design to make it both comfortable and functional. Most tiny houses are mobile. After living on a sailboat for six years, I cannot imagine being stuck in one place for long periods of time. The ability to move a house that was specifically designed for the way we live is absolutely mind blowing to me.

Just one of many great designs driving the tiny house movement

Of course that’s also a big downside to owning a tiny house. Where do you park it and what do you pull it with? That’s the big one for Mel. The constant worry about having to move our house would become a stress that would offset the benefits. Yes, there are tiny house communities springing up all over America, but a lot of them are incredibly expensive. I mean, what’s the difference in paying $1000.00 a month in rent or paying the same to park on someone else’s property? The out-go is the same.

Once we realized the tiny house wasn’t an option at this time, we revisited the idea of another sailboat. It’s a life we know well and one we absolutely love. The freedom and simplicity are huge pluses for us. But the reason we moved off the boat was Jet’s health, which has actually gotten worse. Getting on another boat, even if we weren’t actively cruising, would be putting him back into a difficult environment. Add to this the fact that we don’t have the budget to buy the boat we truly want and it becomes evident that we’d be making a lateral move.

Honey… I got a great deal. We can park it on the dinghy dock!

I think upon reading this, Melody will discover for the first time that I’ve looked into purchasing a yurt. Yep, I said it. A yurt. There are several on Craigslist or (my personal favorite) one of these babies. Now, before you go all half-cocked; they are strong, simple – utilitarian structures that can be as luxurious or as spartan as you want. They are affordable and easy to move. How can anyone argue against a dwelling that’s been time tested by nomadic Mongolians for thousands of years?

3000 years of R & D

If you plan to leave your yurt for an extended period of time (like say to go cruising on a sailboat- ahem), a twenty-foot yurt can be packed into a van and stored in a very small space. When you return to chill for hurricane season, it can be set up in less than an afternoon. That is awesome! BUT- there’s always a but- where does one put their yurt? Do I want to set it up in my mom’s back yard? Nope. Alas… no yurt.

This ain’t your mama’s yurt!

How about a converted school bus? Ashton Kutcher lived in a converted bus. Mel said, “You’re not Ashton Kutcher.” RV? Too expensive. Mobile home? Um, those things are anything but mobile, not to mention tornado magnets.

Okay… so Ashton’s “bus” is a stretch. Btw A.K., this could fit way more than 2 1/2 Men.

So where does that leave us? The answer is, I’m not sure. Our time in Oaxaca comes to an end in few weeks when we’ll be schlepping our little gypsy caravan eleven hours north to the city of Guanajuato. What’s there you ask? We don’t know yet. We’ll be spending Christmas and New Years in a fresh city. We’ll count our blessings and make a plan. And, like every plan we’ve made thus far, it’ll change.

If you’re living the minimal life, chime and let us know how you’ve been successful. We love hearing about how others have paired down and solved their homesteading issue. Living minimally is something we are hugely passionate about. While we aren’t extreme to the point of living in vans or tents (we still love some creature comforts), we believe in living on less, consuming less, and experiencing more. Tell us how you guys have met some of these challenges.

Until next time, take care Vacilando Crew! Remember… Be Nice & Do Good!

 

The post News Flash! I am no Ashton Kutcher. appeared first on Vacilando.

Sometimes You Have to Disconnect to Reconnect

We’ve all done it at one time or another, ignored something that we knew was going to be a source of stress or discomfort. No, it’s not the most adult way to handle it I agree, but it happens and I’m guilty. I’ve been ignoring my blog. This blog. It’s nothing personal mind you, it’s just that I haven’t felt great about my writing lately. I’ve been struggling to find a voice now that we’re not sailing and quite frankly, posts like my last one about sleeping in airports have left me uninspired. I can only imagine what you felt having to read it.

This blog has been tapping me on the shoulder for the last couple of months; whispering in my ear, “Christopher, you need to write a post or people are going to stop reading. They’re going to lose interest and your analytics are going to drop.”

I understand completely. I am well aware that when I don’t post on a regular basis our Google analytics drop drastically, book sales falter, our downsizing course gets less traffic and therefore fewer sales. I get it. But I can’t post something for the sake of posting and because I can barely stomach another sleeping in airports post, I took a break. Sometimes you need to disconnect in order to reconnect.

Here in Oaxaca, Mexico, October is supposed to mark the end of rainy season. So, I thought it was the perfect time to visit a place I’ve been wanting to see since we arrived back in March, the Pueblos Mancamunados. Thirty-miles east of us, perched high in the Sierra Norte mountains, are 8 indigenous villages connected by over 100 kilometers of hiking trails, goat paths, and fire roads. This remote community is heralded as a shining example of how indigenous peoples can manage the delicate relationship between responsible eco-tourism and respect for the local culture.

It’s quite clear that my map has seen some abuse

Developed in 1998, when the Zapotec communities that have existed for nearly a millennia were crumbling, a group of friends saw an opportunity. They created a program that would foster economic development in these remote communities while at the same time, protecting the sensitive cultural and natural heritage of the area.

Today, nearly 17,000 people make the trek to visit the area each year. Ten percent of all the money taken in goes toward administrative costs. The rest goes directly to the towns. It’s used to fix and maintain trails and roads, supply electricity, and build schools. Funds can also be distributed directly to the community.

Melody got to visit a while back when a dear friend came for an extended stay. After her glowing endorsement, I considered grabbing my backpack and setting out on foot for a ten day trek through the woods. That plan soon gave way to another and the one I ultimately chose, I’d ride my bike.

If there is one thing I love as much as sailing, it’s riding my bike. Although I can never seem to explain this in any cohesive way that seems to make sense to the person listening. Maybe a quote would help?

When man invented the bicycle he reached the peak of his attainments. Here was a machine of precision and balance for the convenience of man. And (unlike subsequent inventions for man’s convenience) the more he used it, the fitter his body became. Here, for once, was a product of man’s brain that was entirely beneficial to those who used it, and of no harm or irritation to others. Progress should have stopped when man invented the bicycle.
–Elizabeth West

Once the idea was hatched, I spent the next couple months tweaking my bike, my gear, and my body. We had a few interruptions, one being a minor back injury (unrelated to biking), the second being a robbery. Yep- the house we’re staying in got broken into and although they stole our computers, cameras, and some other stuff, they didn’t steal my bike. I’m not sure why. For a time, I considered abandoning the entire trip, but after some serious discussions with Mel, I decided to scale back the original 10 day trip to about a week and still go.

The ride from our little hacienda in San Felipe to Benito Juarez plotted out to 60 km. Using my Gaia gps app, I planned my route to take me through the smallest towns via any dirt road or goat path I could find.

My bike is a Surly Wednesday. The tires are oversized, fat; made for sandy, loose soil. It’s built to carry heavy touring gear and still be able to perform well on the most demanding terrain. By the looks on the faces of the locals, I might as well have been riding a spaceship. It was a great conversation starter but after some further thought, I believe it may have been a bit intimidating and kept most people at a distance, not what I was hoping for.

The morning of my departure was filled with nerves and a little apprehension. I was starting to second guess the whole silly endeavor and I if I didn’t get on that bike and leave immediately, I might have talked myself out of it completely. So, I kissed my beautiful wife good-bye and headed up the hill.

An hour later, I took a quick detour into the town of Santa Maria del Tule, which is famous for a particular tree that stands in the town square next to a church that would normally be the attraction. Not here. Not in Tule. Instead, El Árbol del Tule, a Montezuma cypress tree that is said to date back nearly 3,000 years and stands nearly 150 ft. hight takes center stage. It’s a sacred place in a quaint and colorful village and a UNESCO World Heritage sight. It’s a sight to behold. I’ve seen it twice and each time I’ve visited all I can do is stand there and stare up in amazement.

After a few sips of water and some photos, with my head heavy with thoughts and wonderment surrounding that amazing cypress, I pedaled hard for my next stop. The village of Teotitlán del Valle sits nestled in the foothills of the Sierra Norte range and it’s the starting point for the climb to Benito Juarez, my first destination. This village is famous for it’s naturally died textiles and woven rugs. Natural dies made from everything from plant matter to insects.

In fact, one of the most amazing things I learned is that the beautiful and most vibrant red that you see in these woven designs comes from a very small and specific bug called the Cochineal. Carminic acid is extracted from the female when she dies and then exposed to hot water and sunlight to produce a vibrant crimson red. The story of this bug is told in a fascinating book aptly named, A Perfect Red.

I also learned that this little village dates back nearly 7000 years! As old as the Ancient City of Damascus. Both are believed to be the oldest continually occupied places on the planet. Get your head around that. Now, Imagine sitting on the curb in front of a beautiful church, noshing on some incredible tacos. Sadly, there are no photos of said tacos. I ate them in record time while fending off the town pooches and a local named Jose’ who desperately wanted to trade bikes with me.

After dispersing the local stray dog community with my remaining scraps of tortillas, I mounted my faithful steed and prepared myself for the most challenging part of the trip, the 20km climb from my already elevated 5000 feet to the village of Benito Juarez, cloaked in a somber, gray mist at 10,000 feet above me.

If the roads leaving Teotitlan were any indication, I got a pretty clear idea of what the next 20km were going to inflict on my body. The streets were steeper than anything you’d find in America. The rough concrete reverberated through both of our frames.

I stopped one last time at a small tienda to grab a Gatorade. The shop owner was quick to engage and interrogate me about my bike. He spoke broken English, eager to practice and patient with my horrible Spanish. He pointed a finger and tossed his head in the direction of the hill. “Arriba la montaña?” He said. “Yes, I’m headed up the mountain.” He smiled, turned away and over his shoulder he shot, “Buena suerte, amigo! Buena suerte.”

I had been told it should take two to three hours to ride to the summit. Leaving the village at 11:00am, I would be more than satisfied to arrive by 4pm.  Five hours; an incredibly conservative ETA, I thought.

The bike was heavy, 65lbs. I had one change of clothes, a sleeping bag and inflatable sleeping pad, tent, tools, clothes for sleeping in (that wouldn’t ever be exposed to the the trail), a small alcohol stove, 160z. of alcohol, some tortillas and minimal snacks, and one incredibly bulky foully jacket that would be my only solace against the rain and cold that would greet me at the top.

At 52 years old, I have no interest in hot-dogging or false bravado. My approach was to take it easy on my bad knees and nurse my sore back. I planned on a 2.5 to 3 miles per hour average going up. That would put 20km (12.5 miles) behind me in approximately 5 hours. No sweat.

At 1:00pm, after a couple hours of riding, I found some protection from the mid-day sun and sat for a 30 minute break. Nosh down a Cliff Bar and a banana. Hydrate. Pace yourself, I told myself. There’s only one goal; make it to the top.

At approximately 3pm, a small tuk-tuk chugged up from behind. A nice young man named Rafael said he was a park ranger and offered to give me a ride. I thanked him and declined. Then he offered to take some of my stuff to the ranger station and hold it for me if I wanted to lighten my load. Again, I thanked him for his kind offer and declined. Rafael told me the rain was coming. I shouldn’t delay. Before he departed, I asked, “Cuanto tiempo más?” His answer surprised me. “Dos horas.” Two hours! I was four hours into this climb and I still had two more to go?

At 3:30, just like Rafael predicted, the rain started. Slowly at first and then in a steady, rehearsed downpour as it did every afternoon around this time. I donned my bulky sailing jacket and tucked all my electronics into their dry bag. I could feel the lactic acid in my legs and it was time to stop screwing around. If  Rafael’s estimation was correct, I still hand an hour and a half to go and I was soaking wet and getting cold. Never a good combination.

Another hour had passed. The rain was unrelenting. I had to keep moving. I didn’t want to think about hypothermia, but my brain was barking out orders to a pair of legs that were bent on staging a mutiny of sorts. I wasn’t upset or regretting my decision to do the climb. And I wasn’t thinking about quitting.

While I was wrestling with my bike in the mud and rain, I thought about the villagers who lived in those mountains who were walking in the same downpour, only they were walking with bundles of firewood on their backs because if they didn’t, they wouldn’t have a hot meal or warmth for the night. Me? I chose to be there. At any point I could make camp on the side of the road and get warm. But that wasn’t going to happen.

It’s in these moments that my mind releases the senseless bullshit and finds a focal point. I know, it’s crazy but that’s how it’s always been for me. In these moments I see how utterly silly it is to become mired in the pettiness of self criticism and false worry. I’m guilty. I admit it. If I could change anything about myself it would be to do away with the immense pressure I put on myself and my work. It’s crippling at times and I’m at my worst when I’m idling. I begin to wobble like a top, abandoned by the forces that keep it spinning. I being to question everything. I can feel it coming on but sometimes it gets the better of me.

And that’s why I rode my bike to the top of that mountain. Not to prove anything to anyone. Not to brag about the accomplishment, but to remind myself how lucky I am to live this wacky, beautiful life. To remind myself not to waste a single second on negative thoughts. I do it to reset the belief that you can do anything you set your mind to. I don’t normally need reminders. It’s just that sometimes I forget to remember. I need to disconnect to reconnect. Unplug it and plug it back in. Sometimes that fixes everything.

When all was said and done, I arrived to Rafael’s office at 6:00pm. It took me over an hour to do the final 2km (1.6 miles). An iceberg drifts at 0.7km an hour. That’s about how slow I was moving. Daylight was fading and I was probably a sight to behold. Soaked through, caked with mud, and babbling like a madman. I booked a small, unheated cabin for 250 pesos (12 USD). Thankfully, my sleep gear, wool socks, and sleeping bag were dry. I quickly made a fire, strung up some twine between a couple chairs and hung my sopping clothes.

The climb I had been dreaming about was now behind me. My legs ached but my mind was clear. I missed my wife. I knew she was worried but there was no way to contact her to let her know I was safe. I would seek a brief connection once the sun came up. Slowly the warmth returned and the shivering subsided. I don’t remember much after that. I slipped away quickly to the lullaby of crackling pine and falling rain.

The post Sometimes You Have to Disconnect to Reconnect appeared first on Vacilando.

How to sleep (like a boss) in an airport

You’re flying and you missed your connection. Mother Nature decided that your plane just didn’t need to go anywhere for the next nine hours. Whatever the reason, you’re stuck in an airport and it looks like you’re gonna have to spend the night.

The chairs are uncomfortable, the “food” is anything but edible. The lighting is equivalent to sleeping in grocery store and the ambiance is anything but soothing and relaxing. If there’s one thing I know, it’s how to sleep in an airport. Truth? When it comes to part-time living in airports, train and bus stations, I’m a pro. I have the curved spine and matted hair to prove it. But the times they are a changin’ kids!

I recently traveled to the U.S. to reset my visa and help a friend with a project. Due to the schedule differences between Oaxaca, Mexico City, and the U.S., it’s the usual practice to spend a lot of time waiting in Mexico City for the connection through Dallas or Miami. Sometimes you can wait 12 to 16 hours. I’ve done it and it’s not fun.

But on this recent trip I discovered something incredibly cool and I’m completely baffled why they don’t yet exist in America. People, meet the sleep pod!

Photo Courtesy of Trip Advisor: This photo of the “Pod Room” is way too bright and not what it looks like when you arrive

The company is Izzzleep. You can rent by the hour if you just want a short nap and a shower before your connection, or by the day. The cost for the day is about $30 USD. Check in is after 1pm and check out is before 10am the next day. I chose to book for the entire day. My bus from Oaxaca arrived around 6pm and my flight to the states didn’t leave until the following morning at 6am.

When I checked in, I was given an electronic key-card, a new pair of socks (because shoes are not allowed once inside the main area), a pack of earplugs, and a bottle of water.

Lockers to the right and sinks to the left

Each numbered pod has a corresponding locker where you can store your luggage and shoes. Inside that locker you’ll find a small blanket and a towel. There are shower stalls, sink basins, and separate toilets. The above photo of the locker room is accurate. It looks just like this when you arrive.

But once you pass through that brown door, the main “Pod Room” is futuristic and moody. It’s eerily quiet and looks more like this:

This is what it really looks like! Shhhhhh…

Inside each pod, you’ll find the same blue lighting and a few overhead reading lights. There’s a drop down TV if you want to watch Johnny Depp’s Spanish rendition of Secret Window. The wifi is strong, and the air-conditioning goes low enough to chill a side of beef if that’s your thing. A small fire extinguisher gave me the willies.

Interior with the snazzy Tron lighting

The ear plugs came in handy when something very large tested the structural integrity of the pod above me and began to growl, obviously not traveling with its sleep apnea machine. That seems to be the only real drawback to these things.

The noise travels through the thin plastic doors without much interference. While they appear all space-age and shit, they’re more akin to a plastic folding table from Walmart. Once I put my earplugs in, I worried that I’d miss my 4am alarm and the quality of my sleep quickly diminished.

But here’s the thing. All things considered, I wasn’t balled up on the floor in the terminal with a jacket over my face. I wasn’t curled up on a chair, sticky from a spilled Starbucks mocha. I was pretty damn comfortable and I actually got some rest.

I woke up before my alarm and after a hot shower, I turned in my key and walked right out into the terminal. It was storming outside and I didn’t have to deal with it. No morning traffic. No taxi communication snafus. Nada. I was through security by 4:30 and sitting at my gate with a coffee by 4:45.

And that is worth the price of admission.

The post How to sleep (like a boss) in an airport appeared first on Vacilando.

The Sweet River

If you’re a regular reader here, you most likely sail, dream about sailing someday, or like to read about those of us who suffer from this incurable disease called, Wanderlust. Maybe you are one of the afflicted as well. I cannot shake the desire to move and travel. To see what’s around the next bend, whether it’s a bend in a river or a winding stretch of road. I have to know.

Recently, Melody and I were talking about where we are and where we’ve been. She mentioned to me that I’d never written anything substantial about our time in Rio Dulce, Guatemala. I couldn’t believe it, so I looked and she was right. Knowing how special a place the Rio holds in my heart, I can’t imagine how she slipped through the cracks.

Looking back now, I realize we had a lot going on. Little did we know the Rio would be the place where our lives would be shaken to bits and we’d be forced to take an unintended detour. If you’ll indulge me in a look back, I’d like to revisit my beloved sweet river and see it through the lens of time gone by.

We checked into Livingston at the Caribbean entrance to the Rio at the end of April, wanting to make our May 1 reservation at Monkey Bay Marina. After four months of cruising through Cuba, Mexico, and Belize, we were taken aback by the murky river water and black mud that came up on our anchor.

Livingston – Servamar is where you go for immigration paperwork
Livingston is a lovely town

We had been snorkeling in water so clear it was hard to tell the difference between five feet and twenty-five feet. This river water was so different, but I was happy that “V” had fresh water flushing her pipes after years in salt water.

What struck me was how the flat, palm tree-laden beach landscape disappeared and so quickly transformed into sheer, 300-foot limestone cliffs that dove straight into the water.

The gorge area, known as La Cueva de la Vaca (the cow cave), is home to monkeys, toucans, parrots, and countless varieties of orchids and other tropical species. Vines and lush vegetation dipped and swayed in the swift current. A current trying its best to push us back out to the Caribbean. For a moment, I remember thinking that maybe we should let it turn us around, back to a world we knew pretty well.

Our normal. Crystal blue water and white sand beach.

15 miles up from Livingston, the Rio opens wide as you enter the Golfete, where you’re likely to catch some manatee if you time it right. A few more miles up river is the one road town of Fronteras.

Just off the water’s edge of this intense village is the main anchorage and several marinas. A large and legendary bridge connects the two sides of the river. It’s a perilous structure, so old and questionable that there are men stationed at each end to keep two tractor trailers from passing over the middle at the same time. A structure that raises my blood pressure at the mere thought of crossing over or under it.

The dinghy ride to Fronteras and the infamous bridge

Our first trip to Fronteras hit me like a shot to the temple from Ali. When we summitted the crooked, concrete steps that lead from the gravel path to the main road, fumes from the tractor trailers choked my throat.

Noise. Heat. People. Totally different environment from the one we’d been living in for months.

Just a normal day in Fronteras

Fruit and vegetable stands were less than a meter away from the mud-caked cattle trucks. In between was us, the pedestrians. Guatemaltecos in straw cowboy hats and dusty boots carried large sacks on their backs. Motor bikes buzzed around and honked impatiently.

The sensory overload assaulted our laid-back beach personas. This place was hazardous to flip-flops and it was evident we’d need to harden up… fast.

Once loaded down with tomatoes, eggplant, broccoli, peppers, eggs, and beer, we made swift for the dinghy. We were in full retreat back to the dock at Monkey Bay. There was no road to get us there. No bar and no restaurant. Just a couple of hammocks and a cooler full of beer.

If you’re looking to be in the mix, but not right in the mix, this is the place.

Monkey Bay Marina at sunrise

Jim and Kitty on the sailing vessel Dream Away run a lovely spot with some of the best showers on the Rio. It’s a tropical setting where howler monkeys growl at you from overhead and orchids cling to species of trees I know nothing about.

Hummingbirds flit from blossom to blossom on the huge mimosa that covers the Ranchito. Every afternoon we’d gather in the large, open palapa to recount the day’s events, catch up on the chisme (gossip), and share a rum or cold Gallo.

Enjoying the afternoon Captain’s Hour in the Rancho

With the timing of a Swiss watch, the afternoon winds arrived to chase down the heat. Being the tropics, the rain, thunder, and lightning followed. On the Rio it’s unlike any I’ve ever seen, but never seemed to stop the activity on the river. A few times it was fatal.

The days went quickly while we were there. So did our cruising kitty. We were at the end of it and trying to replenish. We released Burning Man and Mel took on a few new clients. It was difficult at times working remotely when the wifi or the electricity (which powered the wifi) would go down without notice and be down for an unknown amount of time.

If you told me there was wifi at all in jungle, I wouldn’t believe you. If you said it was down because a howler monkey chewed through the cable, well… let’s just say it puts an entirely new twist on the term working remotely.

One of the many howler monkeys who started off our day each morning

The Rio was also the place where we realized Jet’s eyesight was worse than we imagined. After he took a couple of scary falls off the boat, we began the discussion about selling and finding a patch of land where he could grow old without the stress of moving around in a cramped cockpit.

We thought it would be a long and drawn out process. We thought we had time. But we never know how much time we have do we? I can’t think about this too much or it winds me up tight, like a garage door spring.

His eyes may not be as clear as they once were, but his heart is as big as a house.

This is the point where the story of the Rio meets the story of Vacilando being lovingly passed to her new owner. It’s been written.

As I write this recap of the Rio, I’m staring out at the Sierra Norte mountains here in Oaxaca, Mexico, far from any water, amazed that I’m okay with that for now. The sun is blazing, like it does in the mid-afternoon. The purple, red, and peach bougainvillea burst from patches of dark green and hummingbirds flit from blossom to blossom. An afternoon breeze has just kicked up.

It reminds me of a very special place. A place filled with incredible people telling equally incredible stories of how they got to a far away river in southern Guatemala.

The post The Sweet River appeared first on Vacilando.

La celebración!

It’s a very big weekend here in beautiful Oaxaca, and all over Mexico for that matter. Today is the biggest election in Mexican history and people are buzzing in our little hamlet of San Felipe del Agua.

The music spilling from tiendas competes with the church bells, and kids storm the school playground while their parents wait in line to cast their votes. It’s very cool to see it all happen from a different perspective. We are excited for the people of Mexico and hoping for a peaceful outcome.

There is yet another reason for the palpable sense of crackling ozone around here. Mexico’s futbol team has made it to the round of 16, and tomorrow morning, they face number one Brazil in an elimination match.

Frankly, I’m not sure what they’re more nervous about. For us, it’s incredible to see from another perspective and I’m pulling for a big celebration tomorrow! And they sure know how to celebrate around here!

I don’t know if you’ve ever had a Tlayuda before but if you haven’t, you’re seriously missing out. The tlayuda is native to Oaxaca and basically, it’s a gently roasted tortilla filled with refried beans, quesillo (Oaxacan cheese), and other ingredients such as chicken or beef.

Oaxaca is also famous for their mole (which is sometimes found in the tlayuda), pazole rojo, and their chapulines (roasted grasshoppers). And let me tell you, the fame is well deserved. The chapulines are an acquired taste and I’m not sure I’m there yet. I’ve tried ’em, but I need another run at it.

Tlalyuda served with peppers, radish, and chapulines.

As if this wasn’t enough, the humble crew of Vacilando is celebrating yet another event. Today marks the official launch of our online course, Downsizing For A Life Afloat. For years we’ve been asked how we went about downsizing to move onto our boat.

So, with the tiny movement growing by leaps and bounds, and more people than ever investigating living a smaller, more adventurous life, I thought I’d try to fill a void that I saw. While there are many resources about downsizing in general, nobody was offering a course tailored towards people who wanted to move onto a boat.

If you or someone you know is dreaming of living on a boat, in an RV or tiny house, or simply wanting to getting rid of some serious clutter, this might be just the course to help get you started!

So, that’s what’s been happening and what is happening on our little hill.

We’re being fueled by locally grown coffee and taking full advantage of the beautiful weather. Tomorrow morning, you’ll find me at cafe’ Lola in front of the massive 10 foot wide television with mi amigos screaming my head off. And who knows… I might even drink a beer. Down here they add tomato juice and it becomes health food!

Michelada… the breakfast of champions you know!

The post La celebración! appeared first on Vacilando.

La celebración!

It’s a very big weekend here in beautiful Oaxaca, and all over Mexico for that matter. Today is the biggest election in Mexican history and people are buzzing in our little hamlet of San Felipe del Agua.

The music spilling from tiendas competes with the church bells, and kids storm the school playground while their parents wait in line to cast their votes. It’s very cool to see it all happen from a different perspective. We are excited for the people of Mexico and hoping for a peaceful outcome.

There is yet another reason for the palpable sense of crackling ozone around here. Mexico’s futbol team has made it to the round of 16, and tomorrow morning, they face number one Brazil in an elimination match.

Frankly, I’m not sure what they’re more nervous about. For us, it’s incredible to see from another perspective and I’m pulling for a big celebration tomorrow! And they sure know how to celebrate around here!

I don’t know if you’ve ever had a Tlayuda before but if you haven’t, you’re seriously missing out. The tlayuda is native to Oaxaca and basically, it’s a gently roasted tortilla filled with refried beans, quesillo (Oaxacan cheese), and other ingredients such as chicken or beef.

Oaxaca is also famous for their mole (which is sometimes found in the tlayuda), pazole rojo, and their chapulines (roasted grasshoppers). And let me tell you, the fame is well deserved. The chapulines are an acquired taste and I’m not sure I’m there yet. I’ve tried ’em, but I need another run at it.

Tlalyuda served with peppers, radish, and chapulines.

As if this wasn’t enough, the humble crew of Vacilando is celebrating yet another event. Today marks the official launch of our online course, Downsizing For A Life Afloat. For years we’ve been asked how we went about downsizing to move onto our boat.

So, with the tiny movement growing by leaps and bounds, and more people than ever investigating living a smaller, more adventurous life, I thought I’d try to fill a void that I saw. While there are many resources about downsizing in general, nobody was offering a course tailored towards people who wanted to move onto a boat.

If you or someone you know is dreaming of living on a boat, in an RV or tiny house, or simply wanting to getting rid of some serious clutter, this might be just the course to help get you started!

So, that’s what’s been happening and what is happening on our little hill.

We’re being fueled by locally grown coffee and taking full advantage of the beautiful weather. Tomorrow morning, you’ll find me at cafe’ Lola in front of the massive 10 foot wide television with mi amigos screaming my head off. And who knows… I might even drink a beer. Down here they add tomato juice and it becomes health food!

Michelada… the breakfast of champions you know!

The post La celebración! appeared first on Vacilando.

It’s Four O’clock Somewhere

By now we’ve all heard that we should be taking 10,000 steps a day for a happier, healthier life. Devices like the Fitbit make it easy to record your strides through out the day. At the end, if you’ve managed the requisite 10,000 steps, you’ll have logged about 5 miles. Not four miles or six but — five.

While researching this post, the number 5 kept popping up. I couldn’t get away from it. I dare say it might be the most important number ever.

Since I’m out on the “that’s a bold statement limb,” I might as well go a bit further and say, I don’t think you need to take 10,000 steps to live a happier life. I think you need to take five. Five steps.

What in the hell am I talking about? Right… let me explain.

My wife and I just returned from a long weekend away. We drove to a very small and undiscovered beach on Mexico’s Pacific coast. From the outside, it looks as if we live a carefree existence. But we too tend to get bogged down by the daily B.S. that seems to circumnavigate the globe, hustling to make ends meet, to be productive, and to stave off the worries of the future. While we are away in every sense of the word, every now and then, it pays to get farther away.

From a weather-worn Adirondack chair perched a couple meters above the toasty sand, I watched the sun sink behind the cliffs. When it disappeared, I watched the people around me and I noticed few, if any of them, were staring at the palm of their hand. At a device.

Except for the annoying, selfie obsessed couple from who-the-fuck-cares, most were strolling along, lost in thought. Some played with their dogs, while others just sat on the sand, watching the same sun I was watching; staring out at the surf break.

As the condensation from my perfectly-chilled Victoria dripped down my shin, I realized just how much life we miss every day in our distracted lives. I’ve known it for years. We all have. Technology served up the false promise that with it, things would be easier. And we swallowed it — hook, line, and sinker.

Phones with the computing power of spaceships hypnotize us. Our refrigerators will order groceries when it detects we’re running low. God help us if they ever perfect the self-driving car. How far removed from life do we need to be if we can’t stop long enough to drive ourselves.

I’m sorry… I’m out.

It’s become glaringly obvious to me that people love their distractions. They love distractions almost as much as they love their excuses. Having an excuse gives you an out. It gives you a reason to remain just as you are. You don’t have to lift a finger to change because — [insert excuse].

Hell, if you do it correctly, being distracted keeps you from ever having to make the excuse. It’s a perpetual cycle that prevents many of us from noticing the ticking of the clock. I know this, because I made excuses for years. Fed myself Bullshit Flakes for breakfast and created a forcefield fed by the power supply, “I’ll be happy when…”

When we left to go sailing in 2012, I made a promise to myself that I’d stop. I shut down the forcefield and it worked for a while but — like everyone else, I got distracted. I’m now redoubling my efforts to focus on what is and not on what is… ahead.

Just for fun, I googled “How to be happy.” 204,000,000 results. Damn! That’s a lot. I clicked the top result: wikiHow: 3 Ways to Be Happy. There weren’t 3. There were 22 different steps. See the irony?

My friends, there’s no riddle to life. If there was, there would most likely be 3 or… 22 different answers. We hear all the time about the secret to happiness. I’m here to tell you, it’s not a secret. And there aren’t 3, or 22 or 10,000 steps.

From that Adirondack chair I deciphered the Code of the Perpetual Wanderer. Wanna take a guess at how many steps to happiness there are in my code? Exactly — 5. Just five simple steps on the Path of the Perpetual Wanderer (It’s a very short path).

  • Simplify. Everything
  • Move more — eat less
  • Get more sleep
  • Get off your fucking phone
  • Walk barefoot

The universe has been trying to tell us about 5’s importance all along. We’ve simply been too distracted to notice. How many fingers do we have? 5. Toes? 5. Senses? 5. How many Jackson’s were there? 5. We don’t call it a four o’clock shadow, and everybody knows about the five goldennnn rinnnnggggs!

There are 5 days to a work-week, 5 Great Lakes, 5 vowels (a, e, i, o, u), 5 food groups, and 5 boroughs in Manhattan.

Chanel No. 6 would have been a bit over the top, and Jack Nicholson would never have wasted his time on a movie called Two Easy Pieces.

There are the 5 Epochs of Civilization, 5 Pillars of Islam, and 5 Precepts of Buddhism.

I’m not done yet.

Five elements in Western alchemy (earth, air, fire, water, spirit) and 5 in Chinese philosophy (wood, water, fire, earth, metal). There are five stages of grief, five guys named Moe, and when cut horizontally, an apple has five seeds in the shape of a five-pointed star. Go ahead, look it up.

I assure you, deciphering the Code of the Perpetual Wanderer was not an easy task. Countless cervezas gave their lives in the name of discovery. The above 5 tenets have been time-tested and painstakingly pondered over the last decade at least.

Please — be careful with the aforementioned information as it may lead to sudden job-quitting, debtlessness, and a heightened sense of I don’t give a fuck-itis.

Don’t believe me? Care to remain as you are? No problem. Keep doing what you’re doing and I’ll keep enjoying that secluded beach and chilly Victorias.

After all, it’s 4 o’clock somewhere.

The post It’s Four O’clock Somewhere appeared first on Vacilando.

Still Living Tiny: From Sailboat to Suitcase

As you all know by now, we sold our boat. And, after a decade of working towards our goal of living tiny aboard a sailboat, we now find ourselves traveling via the Shoe Leather Express instead of aboard our trusty steed, Vacilando.

I’m not going to lie, it’s been hard. We’re having (I’ll speak for myself here), I’m having a bit of an identity crisis. At least once a day, I think to myself, this has been a really cool break but, I can’t wait to get back to the boat. Then, the reality hits. We don’t have a boat.

We’ve gone from house to sailboat to suitcase and it got me thinking. Is there life after living aboard?

The Church of Santo Domingo; Oaxaca, Mexico

The short answer; not really. Living and traveling aboard a sailboat is unlike any other experience I’ve ever had. When you travel with your entire house, much like in an RV, I’d imagine, you’re never without a place to stay. You have all of your stuff and you never have to worry if you left the iron plugged in back at the house.

Is it difficult? Yes, of course. Nothing worth having is easy. Scary? At times, sure. The weather these days has changed and sometimes storms at sea can be downright terrifying. But, along with the weather, technology has also changed. It’s much easier to keep track of the weather and plan accordingly. It’s been the most incredible and rewarding experience of my life. I’ll go all in and say the same for Melody, too.

Living aboard, as we did for six years, we became professionals at living small. Tiny, even. Our 35-foot sailboat had about 115 square feet of living space.

At times, like after a week straight of rain, it could feel like the inside of one of my nasty running shoes. And then, just like that it could change. A hot shower and glass of wine after a frigid day on the water and it was better than the Ritz Carlton. Hitting both ends of that spectrum might happen within the same hour sometimes. That’s what was so cool about living on a sailboat. That’s what we miss.

Happy crew!

For the last seven months, we’ve been landlubbers. After selling V and leaving the Rio Dulce, we rented an apartment in Antigua, Guatemala for 6 months, then Xela (Quetzaltenango) for a month, and now we are in another apartment in the hills above Oaxaca, Mexico.

We’ve experienced a lot of change. What hasn’t changed though, is our ability and desire to live small. Simple. Going from sailboat to suitcase hasn’t been too difficult because we’ve trained ourselves. If we buy something, we usually get rid of something. We try to keep a zero balance with what he have to drag around with us.

Our glamorous purchase. Be jealous. Very jealous. (It’s hard to make a spatula sexy)

While in Antigua, we bought a spatula. Yep… a spatula for .75 cents. Melody bought some beautiful hand-made boots and a poncho. In Xela, we found a gorgeous hand-made wool blanket and, I too got a poncho. I had been wanting one since we got to the interior towns of Guatemala where they’re famous for their wool products. It’s stuff we may never have the chance to get again.

This is how we’re viewing this section of our journey. A lot of what we took off the boat was the stuff we didn’t want to buy again when we got the next boat. Navigation tools, chart books, and not much else. That’s all been shipped back to the states.

Handmade boots and our coveted wool blanket.

Before we left Guatemala for Mexico, we went through all 14 pieces of luggage we made off with when we left Vacilando for the last time. Our room looked like a cyclone hit it. “Why are we keeping this?” Mel would ask. “I have no idea, let’s get rid of it.”

After two days of that, we donated several pairs of shoes, jackets, sweaters, GoPro accessories, cups, coffee mugs, and God knows what else. And, you know what? It felt great! Just like it did when we downsized to move onto our sailboat the first time.

We transited the border with 11 bags, one guitar, a dog, and yes — the spatula. Our traveling band of gypsies is slowly making its way north. To what end, we have no idea.

I know blue water, beach and sunset photos have been conspicuously absent from my recent posts. Some folks have unfriended us on our Facebook page, I guess no longer feeling the need to follow a “bunch of quitters.” But, I assure you all; our feet may no longer be sandy but, our souls are.

We are forever sailors. We will never be able to return to the life once lived. The life pre-boat. I’ll admit, at the moment, life is weird. That’s not a word I use, ever.

Our little apartment in San Felipe is absolutely beautiful. Jet has trouble with the stairs. I carry him up and down several times a day. Just like I used to do to get him up and down the companionway ladder. So, as far from the water as we may be physically, I am ankle deep in salt water in my mind.

I peruse sailboatlistings.com at least once a day. I fantasize about a day sailor, just until we’re ready to go again. Then, I think about our savings. I think about the plan we made and I come to grips, once again, with the reality that we are just having to change — for the moment. The way one has to change when the wind shifts.

Jet is definitely not suffering.

This is our wind shift. I hope some of you hang around to see what happens at the weather mark.

Be good. We miss you guys!

 

The post Still Living Tiny: From Sailboat to Suitcase appeared first on Vacilando.

Her name is Xela.

Her name? Quetzaltenango (ket-zal-ten-an-goh). Her Mayan name is Xelajú (Shay-la-ju) but, everyone just calls her Xela. She’s the second largest city in Guatemala and widely referred to as the cultural capital of the country. Sitting at eight-thousand feet above sea level, Xela is big city with over two-hundred and fifty thousand people. The architecture is strangely more inline with New York City or Boston than the Spanish colonial style seen in Antigua.

The vast city’s skyline is dominated by peaks and volcanoes. In fact, the name Xelajú translates to “under ten mountains.” In the 1930, Xela had the first electric railway. How amazing is that! Of course it was demolished by landslides three years later and that’s the hard part. Earthquakes and volcanoes limit mass transit options around these parts to smoke billowing buses and may be why the tallest building is only fifteen stories tall.

Xela isn’t on the “gringo trail.” You have to want to get here. We came because we wanted to see something other than Antigua. We’d been there for five months. If we stayed any longer, we might not have left at all. Traveling with Jet makes things interesting so a little extra planning is required whenever we want to move. We can’t just jump on the local chicken bus or collectivo with our big dog and all our bags. The three times we’ve moved, we arranged private transportation and while not super expensive, it does add significantly to the budget. It’s an easy trade off for us; stress vs. dollars.

If you’re serious about your Spanish study, this is where you need to be. Antigua is great too but, there are so many places in Antigua that speak and understand English, you aren’t hard pressed to use your Spanish. You can get lazy. Here in Xela, good luck finding anyone outside the hostel or hotel that understands a single word you’re saying.

This past weekend, Melody and I hopped on a chicken bus (sans Jet) and took a long ride to an even higher town about an hour and half away called, Momostenango, a small mountain pueblo famous for its wool. We were the only pale skins for miles. The looks were priceless. Normally, I’d go on for days, rambling about just how beautiful it is in Guatemala but, I’m not going to. I will however, share the photos and you can create your own stories.

You see, I stand by my assessment that travel bloggers are ruining everything but, we’ve worked really hard on this blog for over a decade so it’s difficult to let it go. I truly believe that travel is the death of bigotry and ignorance and I’m conflicted when I think about how I present things now. I believe that everyone of us should have to stand in the middle of a market as the minority. And, I won’t ever forget the times I’ve butchered my Spanish asking for directions or needed help ordering a meal and, expecting a look of frustration, received nothing but a smile and a laugh in return. Go somewhere you’ve never been. Do something you’ve never done. Be patient. Be kind. Take care.

The post Her name is Xela. appeared first on Vacilando.

Por Qué No? The Coolest Restaurant on the Planet.

I grew up in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the youngest of five children born to Italian parents. It’s 1975. The Vietnam war ends; the Dow closes at 858, gas costs an astronomical 44 cents a gallon, and some kid named Bill Gates creates a little company called Microsoft.

I’m a nine-year-old with crud under my nails, ripped Toughskins, and a foul mouth. Things move slower. Nobody has a smartphone, families eat meals together. Food connects us.

(I wish I had access to my old photos for this part)

I can remember how my cousins and I spent many a Sunday afternoon at my grandmother’s West Philly row house watching the Eagles play. Pots taller than me bubbled away on her pink porcelain stove. If you’ve never bathed in the aroma of home-grown tomatoes reducing in red wine, garlic, onion, and oregano, you haven’t lived.

Constance made everything from scratch and picked most of the veggies from her modest garden. She used both veal and pork in her meatballs, soaking day-old bread in whole milk before mashing it into the meat with her crooked hands.

My grandmother has long since passed. Things…life…moves at a rapid clip, which is starkly juxtaposed against my current existence. I live on a sailboat with my wife and our dog. To give you an idea, it takes us a full day of sailing to cover the distance most vehicles cover in one hour.

For the last six years, I’ve felt how a bubble might feel (if bubbles had feelings) floating through Manhattan. It can be difficult to keep up. If there’s no wifi, I’m off the grid. No email, no Facebook, no texts. It’s wonderful.

At the current moment, I am connected. We’re taking a break from sea life and have landed in Guatemala. Antigua, Guatemala to be exact. And this is where the story begins.

A few weeks ago, Mel and I strolled the cobblestone streets on a chilly, moonlit night. Neither of us knew where we were going, but neither one of us wanted to go home. We wandered by a place a few blocks from our apartment and decided…check that. We didn’t decide anything, the place pulled us in. We didn’t have a choice.

Once inside, I knew I had found the coolest restaurant on the planet.

It’s the tiniest restaurant on the quietest street, far away from the main square. If you blink, you could miss it.

There are no windows. There’s barely a kitchen. Some people see it and walk right on by. Some might stick their head in the door and say, “What the hell is this place?” Some might not dig the Robert Johnson or Chet Baker wafting from crackling speakers.

View from the loft

The graffitied walls might scare others. Names, countries of origin, poems, and plain gibberish cover the place from floor to ceiling. It’s not for everyone…and that’s just fine. Because what makes this place so special is that it’s just right for just the right people.

I like to think of it as the “Goldilocks” of restaurants.

The entire place is covered

Por Que No began six years ago quite accidentally, when a young couple, deciding they didn’t want to raise their daughter within the madness of Guatemala City, moved an hour west to the city of Antigua. In their new city, they struggled to make enough money to make ends meet.

One day while walking through the neighborhood discussing their dwindling savings, Carlos and his wife, Carolina stumbled upon a small vacant building.

“I was standing there with tears running down my face and Carlos says, “let’s open a restaurant. Right here.” Carolina laughs as she recounts the details. “I said, honey… You don’t cook. We have no idea how to open a restaurant. He knocked on the door and after speaking to the owner of the building for a few minutes, rented the place on the spot. We immediately started cleaning.”

They opened two weeks later using pots, pans, plates, and utensils from their apartment.

Por Que’ No is…compact. The main floor is about 1o’ x 10′. Upstairs in a small loft, you’ll find six tables, each one bearing the scars from the conversations of movers, shakers, lovers, and leavers. The “staircase” leading to the loft is so steep, a rope runs the length of it so you can pull yourself up. If you arrive early, you’ll be rewarded with one of four bar stools and oh, if you’re looking for a sign, forget it. When they opened they couldn’t afford the permit for one. There’s still no sign. Just an old weathered chessboard nailed to the wall above the door.

The “stairs” far left of frame. Might wanna rethink that second bottle of wine! (Carolina & Carlos)

The food is fantastic, but it’s only part of the appeal. And that’s what got me thinking about all of this in the first place. Yes, it starts with the food. It has to. But, everything about Por Que No seems to be about drawing people together rather than focusing on the individual dining experience.

Sometimes the line stretches around the building, but nobody gets upset. When Carolina apologizes, patrons say, “It’s cool. We’ll wait.”

And wait they do because it’s worth it.

Curried Shrimp (Camarones)

Carlos cooks five feet from the bar over open blue flames, and there are no plans to expand. I could go on and on about the love and attention to detail Carlos bestows upon the tenderloin or curry camarones, but it would fill volumes.

Honestly, the aromas shooting through the air on a heavenly cloud of combustion has to be experienced in the flesh. You have to feel the steam on your face when he hits the pan with a blast of water or cream for the reduction. You can’t focus on one aspect of Por Que No without including the others, just like you can’t focus on one single string on a guitar.

In an age where a single scallop, centered on a 14-inch plate, grazed by a molecule of wasabi mayo, and garnished with a feather cut from virgin kale masquerades as a meal, places like Por Que No are more valuable than ever.

As far as I’m concerned, you can keep your slick 3000-square-foot Manhattan restaurant that charges $24 dollars for a martini. Keep their 6000-bottle wine cellar and their ‘82 Lafite Rothschild.

For me, food isn’t fashion and fashion isn’t food.

Por Que No isn’t just a restaurant, it’s a tiny little window to your soul. It’s not for everyone. And thank God for that.

The news is getting out. Travel magazines, bloggers, and foodies from all over the world are now seeking out this magical little place. And, I have always said, when a restaurant or bar starts printing hats and shirts, it’s over. But… I may have to change my position on that.

Carlos has a collection of old basses. His version of the sword of Damocles.

If you go, make a reservation. Dispense with any notion that you’ll be popping in for a “quick bite.” If there’s a line, you’ll have to wait.

Carlos won’t rush to turn tables over. His food is his handshake. The ever charming Carolina will keep you entertained with her amazing personality and Nalo will pour you a lovely Carménère if you like.

But you’re still going to have to wait.

Lest we forget, our diners, pubs, and funky neighborhood joints are our identity. They tell the story of who we are. Where we came from. When a stranger wanders in, they do so with the hope of discovering something new about themselves and their surroundings.

Even at our most nationalistic, if we’re honest with ourselves, we’ll realize we are a community of wanderers from the farthest reaches of the planet who’ve decided to mash our crooked little hands into the meat.

The post Por Qué No? The Coolest Restaurant on the Planet. appeared first on Vacilando.