I Hit the Jackpot in Torrevieja

Life-size bronze statues of a director and five musicians pay tribute to the rich musical legacy of Torrevieja.

Life-size bronze statues of a director and five musicians stand on the Paseo Vista Alegre in tribute to the rich musical legacy of Torrevieja.

This was the final week of the Tapas Crawl, the 10th Annual Ruta de Las Tapas. We set out for the town center to check out the annual Book Fair on the downtown waterfront. Florence and I are avid readers, and we were interested to see if there were many books in English available at reasonable prices. Granted, the local library has a decent English language section, mostly fiction. A range of restaurants would be serving their best tapas for whenever the hunger bug hit, but first a little shopping was in order.

The annual book fair consists of six large book kiosks on the seafront pedestrian walkway.

The annual book fair consists of six large book kiosks on the seafront pedestrian walkway.

We were surprised to learn that Suzy and Rob, purveyors of the Bargain Books shop downtown, were the only outlet for English language books in town. I would have thought there would be demand for more given the large English expat population in Torrevieja. According to Suzy, that used to be the case. However, the other businesses folded, and now she and her husband have the last remaining English language bookstore.

Tomato and cheese pizza - 7€ ($10), and plenty left over for later

Tomato and cheese pizza – 7€ ($10), and plenty left over for later

We had eaten light that morning. Then it was time to ‘tapa off’ our appetites. I was already salivating in anticipation of our return visit to La Mila-Grossa, the Argentine restaurant we had discovered the previous weekend. We made a stop at La Bella Lola, which offered an excellent toasted tomato and cheese tapa. Next stop – La Mila-Grossa Restaurant.

Empañadas with Salsa de la Abuela - As soon as the aroma hit my nostrils I knew I was in for a treat.

Empañadas with Salsa de la Abuela – The aroma told me I was in for a treat.

We started with some fine appetizers. However, we had the main courses in mind. Florence longed for a vegetarian pizza, and I planned to make a meal of the house specialty empañadas. I had sampled them the weekend before, and the anticipation was killing me. When the empañadas arrived, I inquired if they had hot sauce thinking I had spied some on a side counter. Our server, Mariano, asked if I wanted ‘picante’ – the hot stuff. Oh, yeah!

Let me interject here that I love hot, spicy food. I have not tasted a decent hot sauce since we left Mexico over a year ago. Suddenly, a plain bottle with a generic skull ‘n’ crossbones sticker appeared on our table. I was as nervous as a teenager on a first date. Could this be the moment I had been waiting for? I put a taste on my fork and licked it off. A tense moment passed, and then a small fire started on the tip of my tongue. The juices that formed in my mouth were as sensuous as my first French kiss! I thought I heard angels singing. My heart beat and breathing sped up. It was delicious!

The handsome, young Mariano made me a gift of his grandmothers salsa.

The handsome, young Mariano made me a gift of his grandmothers salsa.

I had a pleasant conversation with Mariano after we had eaten. He told me he was from a town near Mar del Plata, Argentina, where his mother lives. He now lives here in Torrevieja where his father’s family originates. As we were preparing to go, I asked if the picante sauce served with lunch could be purchased. ‘Le gusta?’ he asked, pleasantly surprised. (You like it?) Then he told me his grandmother makes it for the restaurant, and yes, I could have some.

Mariano brought a generous container of the heavenly elixir from the kitchen. I asked him how much. He handed it to me and said, ‘Esto es un regalo para usted.’ (This is a gift for you.) Mariano had given me a gift of liquid gold which I now call Salsa de la Abuela, grandmother’s salsa. I had hit the jackpot! Muchas gracias mi amigo.

Note: All photos are the copyrighted property of Florence Lince.
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Traveling and Living Abroad Cheaply

Even the automobiles are preserved in historic Colonia de Sacramento, Uruguay.

Even the automobiles are preserved in historic Colonia de Sacramento, Uruguay.

My experiences traveling and living outside the United States over the past two years have provided me with some insights which I will share here. Please add ideas from your own experiences so that those who follow in our footsteps might benefit. I am not addressing traditional vacationers who travel on a larger budget and stay in more upscale resorts or who prefer cruises.

This article addresses two distinct groups:

  1. those who wish to travel abroad cheaply, and
  2. those who wish to live abroad cheaply.
We learn how easy it is to make new friends at the Backpacker Hostel in Iquique, Chile.

We learn how easy it is to make new friends at the Backpacker Hostel in Iquique, Chile.

The former group consists of those whose objective is to see some of the world on a tight budget. These folks typically backpack, camp, couch surf, utilize hostels, and travel mostly by bus. They will discover places they love and perhaps one day they will return to live for awhile.

I enjoy traveling with this group. Hostels are great places to meet travelers and there is a constant turnover of people. The hostel is a communal environment, and everyone has a story to tell. Also, hostels provide the use of a community kitchen where we can prepare food ourselves rather than eating every meal at a restaurant. Think twice about hostelling if you like to go to bed early because hostel folks are generally better at partying than us older people.

An incredible variety of fruits, nuts, vegetables, meats, etc. is sold at the Central Market in Valencia, Spain.

An incredible variety of fruits, nuts, vegetables, meats, etc. is sold at the Central Market in Valencia, Spain.

Most people decide to live abroad because it is less expensive. They have a source of income, and most often they are retired. I am a member of this group. I have spent time in a dozen countries. In each locale I ask myself the question, “Would I want to live here?” Here are some sample criteria, all of which pertain to quality of life:

  1. Is living here affordable?
  2. Would I feel comfortable going for a walk or bike ride here?
  3. Is the air clean?
  4. Are there interesting things to see and do?
  5. Is the climate agreeable?

Once you find a place where you would like to live, here are some basic tips:

It takes two Walk lights to cross the Av. 9 de Julio in downtown Buenos Aires, Argentina.

It takes two cycles of the WALK light to cross the Avenida 9 de Julio in downtown Buenos Aires, Argentina, the world’s widest boulevard.

  1. Rent, do not buy. Anything can happen to change your mind about where you wish to live. Do not get tied down until you have lived someplace for an entire year. If you decide to buy a home, make sure you fully understand the laws governing property ownership. And yes, you will probably need to consult with a local attorney, so ask around for a good one.
  2. Determine if you will need a car. Is the local transportation system reliable? You can save a lot of money doing without a car, and you can always rent a car for special outings.
  3. Learn the language. Even if you only know a few words in a foreign language, use them. And keep studying to improve. The more you learn the more you will enjoy the local culture.
  4. People typically over-pack. Go light where you can, especially with books. (Invest in an eReader.)
  5. Make sure you have a good internet connection. This is how you will stay in touch with the folks back home.
  6. Be flexible in your plans. You may discover something better than what you planned once you hit the road.
  7. Start researching now for the lifestyle you wish to pursue later. Get excited!

My blog is all about the places we have seen and the places where we have lived. We do not plan to stay in one location for more than a year, so we will not be buying a house. We are already thinking about the next place we wish to live. Until then I will be sharing my stories from Cuernavaca, Mexico.

Uruguay – South America’s Well Kept Secret

Montevideo's Plaza Independencia features a mixed of architectural styles.

Montevideo’s Plaza de Independencia features an interesting mix of architectural styles.

If you know little about Uruguay, that is understandable. Uruguay seems to fly under just about everyone’s radar. The country is largely agricultural with an emphasis on farming, renewable forestry, and grazing land. Little manufacturing takes place in Uruguay, perhaps because her larger neighbors are so dominant at producing and shipping goods. Uruguay seems comfortable wedged between Brazil and Argentina. With over 400 miles of Atlantic coastline and situated at a temperate latitude, Uruguay is perfectly situated to serve as the playground for its wealthier neighbors. Its 68,000 square miles of rolling, fertile countryside, about the size of Missouri, serves as a relaxed getaway for all who come to enjoy the highlights.

Having arrived at the Montevideo airport around midnight, we glimpse silhouettes of palm trees on the drive to our hotel. September is still winter in Uruguay. We wake up the next morning and venture out in the brisk air to gather our first impressions, and we see Montevideo is peaceful, clean, and welcoming. A day tour takes us by train to Juanico to visit the Don Pascual Winery about 20 miles north of the capital, and the award-winning wines we sampled were every bit as good as the fine wines from Argentina and Chile.

Punta del Este's world famous sculpture, El Mano

Punta del Este’s world famous sculpture, El Mano

We choose public transportation to tour the countryside, first to the coast resort cities of Piriopolis, Maldonado, and Punta del Este. Almost everything is closed until the holidays when Argentineans with their families pour across the border by the thousands to summer homes in fancy neighborhoods. Punta del Este actually has a suburb appropriately named Beverly Hills, and it rivals its namesake with its stately mansions and its luxurious estates.

The hot springs near Salto have been turned into a great water park.

The hot springs near Salto have been turned into a great water park.

Our next stop is Cabo Polonia National Park on the Atlantic Coast. This isolated seaside village, accessible only by safari truck, is home to a large herd of seals and features scattered quaint summer cabins, a Coast Guard lighthouse, a couple of restaurants, and a couple of hotels, one of which opens just for us thanks to advance reservations. There are perhaps ten other people in the village, and five of them are in the Coast Guard. Blanca, the hotel housekeeper, prepares us a room and opens the kitchen at dinnertime, providing us with our choice of fried fish or baked fish, with or without mayonnaise. She fires up the hotel generator for an hour or so of light before bedtime. The portable propane heater supplements the wool blankets to keep us warm. The highlight for me is when Blanca shuts down the generator and I step outside into total darkness to see the Southern Cross and strangely new constellations for the first time. It is literally like being on another planet.

The central park in Fray Bentos is scenic and inviting.

The central park in Fray Bentos is scenic and inviting.

Our travel route takes us clear across the country to the western cities of Mercedes, Fray Bentos, Salto, and eventually back to Colonia de Sacramento. Each of these towns has a unique and special appeal. Mercedes has a beautiful riverfront park and spectacular cathedrals and plazas. Fray Bentos is the quaintest of these towns. It features one of the few factories in Uruguay, a paper fiber plant that produces cardboard boxes, mostly for shipping customers in Buenos Aires. Argentina is just across the bridge over the Uruguay River. Salto has an historic playhouse that oozes charm, and there is a nearby hot spring park that we enjoyed on an uncrowded day.

The Street of Sighs retains its appearance from Portuguese colonial times.

The Street of Sighs retains its appearance from Portuguese colonial times.

Colonia de Sacramento was an appropriate location to end our three week tour of Uruguay. The oldest of Uruguay’s cities, it was settled by the Portuguese in 1680. The Spanish and Portuguese fought over this strategic port during colonial times for 150 years. The city changed hands a dozen times between Spain, Portugal and Brazil before it became part of the independent Republic of Uruguay in 1828. One highlight in the historic center of Colonia, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is the Street of Sighs. Some say this historic street derived its name from the prostitutes who served the desires of sailors visiting the port. Regardless of the story, it remains much the same as it was in colonial times with its cobblestone streets and low stucco houses that now serve as shops to the many tourists. Buenos Aires is 45 minutes away by ferry, and that’s where our travels take us next on our Vacation of a Lifetime.

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Retirement – It’s Not What You Think

Statistics tell us that 10,000 baby boomers in the United States will reach the retirement age of 65 every day for the next nineteen years. Some will keep working either because their retirement savings were wiped out in the banking crisis or because they have worked all their adult lives and that is all they know. Those are not necessarily bad decisions, as long as those decisions are made for the right reasons.

Hiking up Cerro Negro in Nicaragua

When I announced to friends and acquaintances that I was planning to retire at age 62, I cannot tell you how many people tried to warn me against that idea. The reasons given were typically:

  1. You will be bored.
  2. You will lose 25% of your Social Security benefit, and you won’t have enough to live on if you live to a certain age.
  3. Inflation will eat up your purchase power when you are on a fixed income, and you will not be able to maintain your lifestyle.
  4. The cost of health insurance will eat up your life savings, especially if you become ill.

While none of those ideas are wrong, they all have one thing in common. They are all rooted in fear. Fear of the unknown. The unknown is often scary. Anyone without a sense of adventure will always seek the most comfortable, the most predictable, and the most secure path through life. This story is not for those people. My message is for any younger reader who wants to know what retirement might have in store for you, because unlike life after death, I am still able to contact you from the other side and give you a glimpse of what retirement might be like.

First, you will not be bored. Boredom is for people who never developed any interests outside of their careers. And you will finally have time to do many of the things you put off while pursuing career goals, raising a family, or seeking to fulfill your version of The American Dream. You will suddenly have time to go hiking or skiing, time to play with grandchildren or nieces and nephews, time to volunteer at a school or a shelter or a hospital. And perhaps best of all, now you will have the time to travel! All those expensive vacations you put off your whole life, other than maybe Hawaii or The Bahamas, are now a real option.

Macaw photo op at the Bird Park in Iguazu, Argentina

I don’t have time to be bored. I am doing things I always wanted to do and didn’t have time. I am writing for three blogs and I have a children’s book ready to self-publish. I am traveling (40k air miles in 15 months). I also just completed training to be a Certified International Tour Manager through the International Guide Academy. I am now qualified to work as a tour director anywhere in the world, and I am applying for jobs I only dreamed of when I was younger. Who knows what 2013 will bring?

If retirement is not what you think, then what is it? In a word, it is opportunity – the opportunity you have worked your whole life to experience and enjoy. It is a gift of time, something you haven’t had enough of since you were a child – time to read, time to write, time to play, and time to work at whatever you have been putting off.

You don’t have to be all that adventuresome to enjoy retirement. You just have to decide what is important and to live within your means. I accomplished this by moving outside the United States for the time being. I have been blessed with excellent health my whole life, and that is a gift I don’t intend to squander by sitting around. I still have three continents I haven’t yet visited, and I have my blog name to live up to. Part of my legacy will be that of a global explorer.

Florence and I in Argentina near the majestic Andes Mountains.

Vacation of a Lifetime – Part 2

 

The snout of Perito Moreno Glacier towering over sightseers.

After leaving the steaming jungles of Iguazu (see previous post), we find ourselves in the southernmost city in the world, Ushuaia, Argentina.  This part of the island province of Tierra del Fuego is a breathtakingly beautiful home to alpine skiing, cross country skiing, and dog sledding during these winter months.

The calafate berry gives the town its name.

It is almost spring, and we have one last destination in southern Argentina to visit on the shores of magnificent Lake Argentina filling a deep, glacier-carved basin covering nearly 600 square miles (1,500 km²). We are flying into El Calafate over a vast grassy plateau that spreads out like the Great Plains. It is an artsy tourist town pretty much in the middle of nowhere. The town features numerous hotels, hostels and restaurants, a variety of shops and bookstores, and one of the finest assortments of artisan chocolate shops to be found in the western hemisphere. Prized for making mouthwatering jams and jellies, the calafate berry provides the ideal creamy filling for gourmet chocolates, reminiscent of sweet cherries, only better! Had I known then how difficult it would be to find calafate anywhere else on this journey, I would have purchased a pound or more to energize our final seven weeks.

Calafate is a tourist shopping Mecca when not out sightseeing the vast countryside.

We visit Argentina’s Parque Nacional de Glaciares and view Perito Moreno and Ipsala Glaciers, just two of the 30+ glaciers comprising the Andean Ice Shelf, second only to the Antarctic Ice Shelf in size and among the last remaining glaciers on the planet not shrinking. At last the fulfillment of my lifelong dream is realized – to stand amid the vast expanse and beauty of Patagonia, and I am not disappointed.

Our journey continues by bus across the border into Chile. We are immediately impressed with the infrastructure. Roads are paved and lined. And there are road signs! (We take much for granted in the northern hemisphere.) We have chosen Punta Arenas as our weeklong resting spot before the six week long driving tour the length of Chile, analogous to driving from Los Angeles to Ketchikan.

Florence visited historic buildings and the cemetery while my hiking guide took me to a historic fort with

Magellan National Reserve is just outside of Punta Arenas.

stunning views across the Beagle Channel where Darwin journeyed in 1833. But the highlight of Chile was the daylong driving tour through Torres del Paine National Park. The towering granite peaks thrust so dramatically skyward that the peaks rival the most impressive mountains anywhere. The most interesting discovery I made was what I call “God’s wind chimes.” One of our excursions was a walk along the shore of Grey Lake, a landlocked, mile-long lake at the base of the Grey Glacier. As icebergs calve off of the glacier and float with the wind, they melt into smaller and smaller chunks of ice.

The unusual, well-manicured Municipal Cemetery of Punta Arenas.

Eventually, the ice melts down to the size of ice cubes that line the shore. The light chop of the water’s surface causes the cubes to gently collide with one another causing a bell-like pinging like faintly tapping a water glass. The faint sound can only be heard within ten or fifteen feet of the shore and it sounds just like wind chimes. The ice cubes are perfectly clear without fractures because they come from glacial ice formed over millennia under tons of pressure. A tradition here is to bring glasses and your favorite liquor and pour a drink to share with these centuries old pieces of ice.

Centuries old ice cubes tinkle in the breeze.

On the three hour drive back to Punta Arenas we see dozens of grazing wild guanacos (llama family), a few cassowaries (emu-like flightless birds), and a fox or two. We sort of regret not stopping for a day or two in Puerto Natales, which we pass through both going and returning to Punta Arenas because the four day ferry trip to Puerto Montt passes through the wildest, loneliest, most stunning coastline and archipelago imaginable. That’s going to be worthy of a return trip in itself someday.

Our adventure to explore Chile by car from south to north is about to begin. It would be appropriate here to begin a slide show, because words themselves cannot do justice to the string of cities and the memories evoked by Puerto Varas, Valdivia, Pucón, Santa Rosa, Concepción, and Valparaiso/Viña del Mar. And that’s just the southern half of Chile. I will add another installment of this vacation to do justice to the beauty and diversity of Chile.

As always, your comments are welcome.

One of the source rivers of Lake Argentina with the Andes in the background

A hawk watches our approach to the Punta Arenas overlook.

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Vacation of a Lifetime

Near Ushuaia, Argentina – September is still Winter

I was so tired of my job. I was 61 years old, almost a year away from eligibility to file for Social Security early retirement. My wife missed traveling, something she had done a lot before meeting me on a cruise ship to Alaska in 2005. One day we were discussing retirement plans and she asked me, “What’s on your Bucket List?” Without even a pause I replied, “I’ve always wanted to see Patagonia.”

My wife, “The Count” muppet of planning (I love to plan things – mwahahaha!), immersed herself in organizing what became known to friends, acquaintances, and eventually to us as The Vacation of a Lifetime. In June, 2011, we gave notice and we sold our cars, house and furniture. We hauled everything remaining, mostly clothes and tools, to my brother-in-law’s airplane hangar in Southern California and launched a four month adventure in Latin American. We felt my Spanish was adequate to satisfy us that we could get by in foreign lands.

We picked the top five countries we would consider as places to live. Ultimately, our choices included Panama, Nicaragua, Uruguay, Argentina, and Chile. (Panama and Nicaragua inspired previous posts. Uruguay and Chile are on my to-do list.)

Iguazu Falls from the tour boat; the revving motors are drowned out by the roar of the falls crashing on the rocks. The mist is like spray from fire hoses.

After a week in Buenos Aires, we were ready for some open country. First stop, Iguazu Falls. Selected as one of the New 7 Wonders of Nature, Iguazu is a mile wide river splitting into 275 separate waterfalls and cascading 269 feet over the cataracts. Like Niagara, the falls need to be experienced from each side.

With the roar of the falls still ringing in our ears, we board our flight to the end of the world, Ushuaia, Argentina, and just like that it’s winter. Good thing we packed lots of extra clothes, because we used them all! The thrill of seeing the Andes Mountains up close for the first time is the fulfillment of a lifelong desire. I drink up the views of towering, snow-capped peaks as the low angle of the sun reflects off their summits. The pure, clear water of the lakes and rivers and the pristine forests are like an elixir that clears my head and buoys my spirit. The mountains are like temples of the gods. How else to explain their grandeur.

Patagonia is a region that includes part of southern Chile. How was I to know the best was yet to come? The next installment of Vacation of a Lifetime will go there.

Part of the mile wide Iguazu Falls as seen from the Argentina side.

With the roar of the falls still ringing in our ears, we board our flight to the end of the world, Ushuaia, Argentina, and just like that we switch from summer to winter!

Lake Fagnano and the Andes Mountains from the road 10 miles outside of Ushuaia, Argentina.

September is still winter in Tierra del Fuego. These huskies love to run. We Huskies (University of Washington) love to hang out together!

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