Honest Ticos - Nov 2016

We all complain about the Gringo pricing – where it appears that Gringos get a different price than Ticos. And the car mechanics and electricians and property surveyors, etc . etc that have two sets of prices… it may not be illegal, but it sure leaves a bad taste in your mouth.

But it is apparent that there are many honest Ticos.

Here’a a story from a recent Facebook post…

With the recent spate of robberies and all the bad news stories regarding the downside of Costa Rican living, I think a good news story is in order. Yesterday I went to town and stopped at the Co-op in the afternoon for groceries. I was in a hurry to get home so I unloaded my cart and left the cart in the lot (I know….bad manners but I rarely do that). About 5 last evening, I got a call from a gentleman asking for me…all in Spanish so he gave the phone to me. My Spanish is passable, not fluent, but I gathered that I had left a card of some kind at Co-op, even though I knew I paid in cash for groceries. He said he had the card at his home in Estranrillos. I took the man’s name and arranged to meet him Saturday morning at Co-op and hung up. Then I began to wonder what the card could be and went searching for my wallet. Yup….no wallet. Now I’m in a panic….all my ID, credit cards, driver’s license, not much money but that was minor in comparison. I ran through my brain what I would have to do to replace all this, especially here! I checked the phone to call this man back and the record of the call said “no number”. So what now? Do I cancel the cards and go through virtual hell to get it all replaced?

I knew I couldn’t wait overnight, so we got in the car and drove to Co-op …maybe he is an employee who found my wallet and took it home for safekeeping. We got to Co-op and to my great relief, saw Sylvia at the outdoor café. This lovely lady put aside the work she was doing and agreed to help me and we spent some time going from employee to employee asking if this man worked at Co-op (no) and did anyone know him? (again, no). I have to admit, my hope was sinking. Finally we figured out where he might live (I was confusing the local name) and Sylvia made contact with a woman from the same neighborhood. By chance, she happened to be at Co-op and came out to give directions to this man’s home. Off we went and sure enough, we found the house and the most delightful man and his wife returned my wallet to me, completely intact including even a ring I had removed and left in the change compartment. I had, apparently, left it in the cart outside. Such a huge relief and such wonderful people and yes, I did reward him. Thank you Sylvia, I could not have done it without your help. Above all, thanks to the gentleman for his honesty and diligence, finding my husband’s phone number on a scrap of paper among many scraps, in my wallet…I hope this helps to restore some lost faith…Pura Vida!

Mark Van Patten writes a blog called Going Like Sixty and has been married to the same woman since 1968.



Time Travel - Oct 2016

I performed a little time travel while in the shower this morning and, actually, what better place? Water activates both the imagination and the subconscious like nothing else that I’ve ever found. While washing my hair I thought, what if it were normal for us to live to the age of 200? How would I feel at this moment if I didn’t have the sense of time running out? What if, instead of only about twenty years left to do all the things I want to do, I had over a hundred? So then I thought, what if I just lived as if I had all that time? Instead of mentally limiting myself (as I all too frequently do), why don’t I try to live without that mental stricture? Instantly, I felt lighter, less pressured, and freer from the chains of my mortality.

Aging is something I’m having a very hard time with, you know. I don’t mean the loss of my looks. Besides the sense of my time running out, I mean the waning of my vitality, energy, passion, and the regard people no longer pay me. Where I once was considered interesting, even fascinating at times, I’m now tolerated, if I’m heard at all. Where once eyes peered into mine with rapt attention, I now see a glazed expression wash over people’s faces. I see them turn off. Worse, they pretend to listen while checking their Facebook and texts. No one pays attention to anyone anymore. Looks be damned! It’s watching myself become more and more invisible that’s the hardest thing. This isn’t vanity, it’s a yearning for continued significance. I still matter. And I’m not playing that game anymore. I will pay attention when people speak to me and if I perceive that I’m not being listened to, I’ll simply shut up. Be the change you wish to see, and all that.

For me as a woman this invisibility isn’t all bad, however. I no longer feel like a piece of meat when I walk past young men who, before, would have stared a hole through me. I don’t feel that I have to look my very best when I need to make a quick run to the store, and I can enjoy a quiet glass of wine in a public place without having some guy breathing down my neck. But as I said, my personal angst doesn’t stem from a need to be eternally youthful and—let’s just be blunt—fuckable; I appreciate not being reduced to an orifice. But, damn it, there always was much more to me than that. It’s just that back then, people were also interested in ME. Does this sound vain or narcissistic? I don’t mean it to, and I really don’t think it is. When I see that glazed look cross someone’s face I want to physically turn their eyes to mine and say, “Look at me. I am not an old person in here. I’m as young and I matter as much as I did when I was your age. You don’t want to look at me because I reveal to you who you’ll be in a few short years.”

Steph Waller is an author and composer. Books One and Two (With A Dream and With A Bullet) of her rock and roll series, Beyond The Bridge,  takes places in late 70s London. Read more at Bucksnort Chronicles and



Solo Trip - August 2016

An occasional solo trip gave me the taste for alone time in the middle of nowhere.

But as I stood on the back step of Flash Dancer kitted up with scuba gear and stared out at the stormy sky and the black deserted ocean I wondered at the wisdom of what I was doing. Solo boating amongst reefs is tricky. Solo diving requires careful planning — but solo diving in current prone waters with nobody on the boat as back up was a little daunting. Maybe just plain Dumb??? Shit!!! I extended my” swept away rope” out the back the boat to 75 meters and double checked tides and current. Anyhow now I look down I feel better, the waters aqua clear, my feeling of stupidity is replaced by awe and I drop in to feel the 29c water wash over my body and uplift my soul. WOW!

Eighty kilometers out to sea from Townsville the diving is fantastic. I was anchored on a small sand patch in 18me of water; the boat wasn’t going anywhere. Eighty meters on one side was a glorious bommie rising from 33 me to within seven me of the surface, pelagics of all sorts cruised thru the bait fish in nature’s dance of survival. On the other side, 50 meters away brought me to the edge of a  spectacular reef and in 5-10 meters depth with every sort of coral formation, reef fish, turtles and reef sharks in abundance.

I stayed there for seven days, got hit with two short storms bringing gusty winds and welcome torrential rain that washed the decks clear of bird droppings from the hundred odd noddy terns that called my boat home each night. I spent 13 hours diving and took about 1000 pics….I love my underwater digital camera set up….It was worth spending the kids inheritance to get it.

Robin Jeffries is semi retired over 50 guy from Queensland, Australia who loves cruising, diving, travel beautiful scenery, serenity, adventure, using his imagination & following his dreams. Read more about his adventures and view his fantastic photos at Cruising the Edge.


Storm Warning - July 2016

When I moved from southern California to Tornado Alley in 2000, the prospect of tornadoes chilled me to the bone. I was assured time and again, however, that Stillwater usually escapes these annual monsters because it lies in a slight bowl, topographically; most storms split up about five miles west of town and then reform a few miles to the east. Once in while our tornado sirens come on, usually because a tornado has touched down somewhere in Payne County, which covers about 697 square miles. I’ve never seen a tornado, but I’ve learned to have a healthy respect for them while not allowing myself to fall into a fit of fear and panic when the sirens blow.

This evening, sometime around 6:00, I fixed myself a taco salad and sat down to enjoy it. The sirens came on, which surprised me because I didn’t know we’d been in a tornado watch all afternoon. Because the light outside was bright and clear—not the eerie yellow-green that accompanies a potentially dangerous storm—I carried on with my dinner while checking my usual weather sites and radar maps. The storm was north of town and blowing slowly eastward. No reason to herd the cats into the closet and get ourselves into the interior bathroom. At last, though, I gave in and went outside to have a look. Sure enough, a monstrous wall cloud was slowly passing north of us. This was a big one, and I finally saw what makes a tornado. It’s an odd feeling watching these things pass by. I noticed this while watching my first wall cloud move across the sky in 2001. It’s like watching a lazy dragon fly by, daring not to breathe in case it notices you and changes its course.

Fortunately, it passed by us without touching down, and after about 45 minutes of sirens and public announcements, we were given the All Clear.

I’m actually rather proud of myself. This was the first tornado warning I’ve been through that didn’t send me into terror. Not bad considering it was the worst one I’ve experienced. Once everything was okay I went into the kitchen and baked several dozen chocolate chip cookies. Ah, life at Bookends Cottage.

Be safe!

Steph Waller is an author and composer. Books One and Two (With A Dream and With A Bullet) of her rock and roll series, Beyond The Bridge,  takes places in late 70s London. Read more at Bucksnort Chronicles and


Shells on the Move - July 2016

It’s hard not to be curious when you notice a sea shell moving about, with legs and feelers protruding.

While other crustaceans scamper, bury, and hide; not hermit crabs—they are slowly dragging their appropriated spiral shell houses along—which makes them easy to get to know.

To be able to grow they need to change shells to bigger and better regularly. It’s their habit of trading or even stealing shells from other hermits and their gregarious nature that is so fascinating.

There’s about 500 hermit crab species world wide and many live for over 20 years. In Australia you are most likely to meet the two land based varieties: the pale brown “Aussie crab” found along the far north coastline, or the “Red Hermit crab” which is abundant on coral cays on the GBR and Coral sea.

Under the water, it’s a similar story. Small snails would seem to be slowly walking across the bottom, but it’s the intertidal species of Hermits, usually the hairy legged varieties that you are seeing.

Like their land based cousins they have a soft abdomen that is coiled in the same direction as a typical snail shell. Usually found in tidal pools but have been seen as deep as 100m. They are often close to gastropods, whose shells they use. Their enemies include seabirds, fish, octopus and other crabs.

For the naturalist’s within, their plodding nature makes them a wonderful target to study.

Robin Jeffries is semi retired over 50 guy from Queensland, Australia who loves cruising, diving, travel beautiful scenery, serenity, adventure, using his imagination & following his dreams. Read more about his adventures and view his fantastic photos at Cruising the Edge.

The Creeks - July 2016

My father and mother and my one-year-old brother moved from Hazlehurst to Jackson, Mississippi when I was almost six. I started the first grade in the fall at Byram School. I thought it was very big and white. It had water fountains in the hall. Each pupil had his or her own desk. When we had to go to the bathroom, we went to the "basement" and it smelled bad. Like urine. The walls were wet. There were always big boxes of dried apricots and green beans outside in the basement hallway.

You went to Byram from the first grade through the twelfth grade. I still remember all my teachers' names: Edna Yarborough, Mildred Rooker, Thelma Davis, Mrs. J.W.Taylor, Dorothy Henderson, and Margaret Haynie. Mrs. Rooker read part of a Psalm to us each day, and said a prayer. Mrs. Haynie read parts of John Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath to us. After I got a little older, I found out why she couldn't read anything but parts, because there were some bad words in it. It was also very long.

In the first grade I learned the alphabet, how to print my name, and how to count. It was easy. I could read pretty well by the second grade, and in the third grade Mrs. Davis let me help Larry Williams, who read real slow. We played football at recess, and some of the boys used to always try to pull one of the girls' dresses up over their heads before the teacher yelled at them to stop. We built forts out of sticks, and played army and cowboys. When I was in the fifth grade, I played football for the Pee Wee team.

I took the yellow school bus every morning to school and rode the same one home. It was Number 57, and the driver was Jimmy Applewhite, who was in high school. The bus picked me up and let me off in front of my house.

About a mile down Highway 51 from my house toward Byram we passed Caney Creek School. It sat on a hill not far from the highway. To get to the front door, you had to go down a narrow road that had a lot of ruts in it, then up a little hill. The school had several windows in it, and was not painted. Some old cars were rusting in the front and side yards. Jimmy told us this was the colored school. I didn't ask about it again for a long time. I have never forgotten that school.

Clinton Smith is a recently-retired Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Mississippi School of Medicine. He and his wife, Lois, have seven children: his, hers, and theirs.


He's My Pilot - May 2016

When you drive anywhere in LA you have to be blind to not notice that ironies abound. For writers and observers the mining is rich. One must be attentive or risk being t-boned or otherwise slammed by distracted drivers. It takes constant vigil but the upside is that with all of that noticing, there is a lot to take in.

Seven boys, who have grown from grade school to middle school age in the last three years, cross a major road each day at the same time I pass through the intersection. I have wondered what they talk about as they carry huge backpacks, mitts, the occasional lacrosse stick or even a bat. They push the cross-button and wait to for the green light. I have never, even once, seen goofing in the crosswalk or anyone jumping out. It seems like an unlikely confluence except that the neighborhoods they come from are all about families who seem to be (blessedly) teaching their children well. Seeing them, all slender seven of them, walking in a polite and organized group, smiles wide, uplifts me. I wish happy lives for them and hope that they will always remember being young and healthy and free to walk to the school bus stop each day.

Today I saw the boys and then realized, too late, that a blue SUV aggressively cut me off as I was making the turn. I ended up behind a car that had just been following me as it jerked back into the line, unable to move further, due to the single lane. While vanity plates are common, the one I was now following made me take a second look. The plate spelled GODZGIRL and the frame said, “He’s My Pilot.” What the……?

I got my answer at the next light, a half a mile down the road. The SUV pulled over to the right, at a “no turn on red” sign. “Ha!” I thought, “Karmic. Where’s your pilot now?” I looked over, planning on giving the driver the stink-eye, and saw a severe older looking nun at the wheel. No stink-eye from me, just a wry smile.

Kim Kohler writes on the uncertainties of living in a liberal hot spot where everybody has an opinion, every opinion counts and nobody uses turn signals.


Tumbled from the Cosmos - May 2016

Life in Latin America seems to share some similarities between countries. Having traveled in both Central and South America and living in both Ecuador and now Mexico, I’ve noticed that work often performed by machines in the States is frequently done by manual labor in these countries. While heavy equipment is used for the big jobs, smaller jobs rely on manual labor. It is clearly a matter of economics. Labor is cheap and machines cost money to purchase and maintain. Shovels and picks rarely break and if a handle does break, someone with a machete will cut a new one from a tree and work resumes in 15 minutes.

Seeing a hard working crew again this morning reminded me of an observation I made in Ecuador a few years ago. I needed to run some errands in the small village of San Vicente. While there I noted the heavy road construction happening only a few feet from me as bucket loaders and graders were removing the old road bed in preparation for a new road bed and paving. About ten or twelve feet from me were two men, construction workers with rags tied around their heads to keep the muddy sweat from rolling into their eyes as they dug. They were covered in the dust and grime that hangs in the air around projects like these and were using shovels to move large piles of dirt from the sidewalk areas into the street, one tiny shovel-full at a time.

What I also noticed was that these men were about my age. They were 60+ years old and still working at a back-breaking job, six days per week to support themselves and their family. We were about the same age and for a moment, I was stunned at the immediate contrast. I felt almost ashamed at my good fortune.

By absolute luck, I had been born a white male in the United States of America. That fact, alone, put me into a number of privileged categories; white, male, and a citizen of the United States; three things that, merely through chance, offered exponential advantages to me over many on this planet.

I realized once again that so much of our lives…the lives many of us take credit for, is pre-loaded simply by the chance genetic code assigned to each of us at conception; Black, brown, yellow or white? The nation into which you are born provides your cultural launching pad and educational opportunities as well as a general world view. Not your choice.

I don’t believe those old men chose to be born in Ecuador. And I can’t imagine that they would have chosen a life of hard physical labor, working well into their golden years, if there were other viable options available to them. They tumbled from the cosmos just as I did but arrived in a different place and into different circumstances.

Donald (Don) Murray is a retired guy living in Cancun with his Pocket Babe, Diane. You can follow him on his blog, He has written a top-selling Kindle book, Our Ecuador Retirment...Part Two is available for download from Amazon. He now spends his time doing whatever the hell he wants!



Surf's Up - April 2016

The other day we went to lunch at a new place we had visited just once. We could sit and watch some surfers and waves rolling in. It was closed – this is often the case here in Mexico – hours are very flexible. Do not come to rely on consistent operating hours – no matter if they are displayed or you have to ask.

We went to another place. At the other end of the restaurant there were a couple of surf boards leaning against a wall. They had prices written and taped to each. One very colorful one caught my eye.  It was a 5 foot 11 inch length board for the low, low, price of 800 pesos (about $50 usd). Those beauties are over $700 usd!

After eating I walked over to take a closer look at the colorful board. This was a Channel Island Surfboard made in Santa Barbara, California – a lovely specimen. It included fins which was noted on the for-sale notice scotch-taped to the board. I am sure Anita thought I was crazy (something she is quite used to). I mean a 69 year old guy eyeballing a new sport vehicle. Is 69 too old to take-up surfing?

But my intentions were related to decorating. We have some tall ceilings and a generous amount of space to add color and even an oddity like a 6-foot surfboard. After all we live at the edge of the Pacific Ocean – lucky us!

I think I have mentioned that we have not painted our stucco’d walls. We opted for color from masks or carpets or how about a surfboard? Yup I liked the idea and the board. I came back to the table with my idea. Anita was non-committal which in her case is pretty much a go ahead.

So I put in an offer of 500 pesos explaining it did appear to be very ocean worthy, but our intentions were to hang it rather than hang-ten in Puerto’s challenging seas. These slabs of designer fiberglass start at around $700 usd new – so it was a low bid. A shot in the dark. The waitress took our written offer on a cocktail napkin – it included our phone number. Did you ever just throw out a number figuring if you got it that cheap – well ok! Where to put it.

No more thought on it.

But, the other day a phone call. The owner was accepting our offer. We would be in to get it – yum another huge veggie burrito was in my future. Oh and an ice cold Corona – going with what works!

Now to figure out how to mount (hang?) the board (we are calling recycled art). More on that when it happens.

John Calypso lives outside Veracruz, Mexico, as well as Puerto Escondido. Back in the 60s, he was a very hip guy living in Hollywood and rubbing shoulders with Beatles and Monkees. Read lots more in his blog, Viva Veracruz and Viva Puerto Escondido.


Hot Dog Metaphor - March 2016

While I was rummaging around inside the refrigerator deciding what to put on my hot dog, I was remembering a recent conversation with Diane regarding moving back to the United States. This wasn’t the first time we have discussed this issue. In fact, the last time it came up for serious discussion was about a year ago, just after my 3rd heart attack and subsequent coronary bypass surgery.

I eyed the usual condiments lined up on the shelves of the refrigerator door; perhaps 5 different mustards, ketchup, mayonnaise, pickle relish, several bottles of hot sauce as well as my favorite and moderately spicy Salsa de Casera. Then there were the exotic and oft-overlooked possibilities such as a couple of jars of pesto, pickled onions, black and green olives, 4-5 bottles of salad dressing and finally, some of Diane’s amazing home-made chili leftover from dinner a couple of nights ago. There were also several cheeses along with three different types of onions. The possibilities seemed almost endless.

My experience in preparing a simple hot dog is a clear metaphor for how we all live our lives, isn’t it? We all want to make the best possible choices which will provide the best experience given the possibilities at hand, right? I’ve now lived long enough to know that the choices we make will often bear fruit long after the original criteria for making that choice have been forgotten. No worries. If things aren’t working out, make another choice. After all, nothing is permanent.

But the larger truth is that our life as expats here in Mexico is a grand life. We have slowly assembled the big and small things, one on top of the next, to create a very comfortable and affordable existence. We have friends, some that are here year-round and others that return seasonally. The current exchange rate on pesos has provided us with the equivalent of increased income. We have favorite restaurants, a local neighborhood bar with the best Margaritas in town, a dry cleaner complete with seamstress, a great local pharmacy, a free physician for routine care, wonderful modern super markets and quaint local shopping mercados. We are surrounded by a rich Maya culture, modern infrastructure and, oh yeah…the Caribbean Sea at our doorstep. The climate suits us (okay, the heat of the summer can be oppressive some days) with zero chance of snow in any forecast. I still appreciate the beauty of our surroundings every minute of each day.

So, although we discussed moving back to the states once again when an extended lease opportunity arose, we simply could not find a reason to do it.

I recently told Diane about a sale I saw on a recliner for the living room. That settles it. If I’m buying a recliner, I’m home!

Donald (Don) Murray is a retired guy living in Cancun with his Pocket Babe, Diane. You can follow him on his blog, He has written a top-selling Kindle book, Our Ecuador Retirment. Part Two is available for download from Amazon. He now spends his time doing whatever the hell he wants!


¿Comprende? - Feb 2016

A reader asks, “Is it feasible for a single English speaking North American with virtually no Spanish speaking ability to spend and enjoy extended time (couple months or longer) in Puerto Escondido?

There are variables in that question that could be complicated when addressed in detail. That disclaimed: Because Puerto is a vacation destination foreigners are better served than in some areas of Mexico. The short answer is I would guess you could function with a level of confidence towards getting around – lodged, fed and entertained.

This is a two edged sword in that when a Mexican National (MN) sees a visitor, many automatically assume they will NOT comprehend what they say – thus Spanglish does not go as far as it might in areas less visited by foreigners.

Many MN will be patient and may even appreciate an awkward effort to communicate in their language – so do not hesitate to make best effort.

Many restaurants and even small markets may be ran by foreigners – again making the vacation destination an easier go of it. Most restaurants offer bi-lingual menus here about.

I have lived here in Mexico for ten plus years. Honestly my Spanish is not much more than first year high school capability. The more common words will collect in the head as time goes on – even for a blockhead with no foreign language skills.

Anita speaks pretty good Spanish with the added advantage of looking Latino (because she is). But most seem to know she is not a MN – even before she speaks. Perhaps green eyes and being taller than most MN hombres is a dead give-away? When we are together a MN will tend to ignore my speaking efforts and look to Anita for an interpretation. She often suggests they listen again to my statement or question; and they often do and get it. I am amazed at how I can say something in Spanish that will not be understood. Anita repeats. To my ears sounding exactly as I had said it – yet I was not understood. I still have not figured that out. Anita thinks they tune me out when my broken Spanish hits the air – drives me a little nuts. Remember no male MN will admit they do not know direction to…. Be patient, do not panic and remember there are more things different than the language here about – adventure abounds do not miss it.

So my advice to the reader is GO FOR IT! Mexico is worth it.

John Calypso lives outside Veracruz, Mexico, as well as Puerto Escondido. Back in the 60s, he was a very hip guy living in Hollywood and rubbing shoulders with Beatles and Monkees. Read lots more in his blog, Viva Veracruz and Viva Puerto Escondido.


Super Traveler - Jan 2016

See, the thing about retirement is that I do only those things that I really want to do with my time. It has now become painless to say “no” to all the crap in life that used to rob me of precious minutes, hours and days. Now that I have far less time ahead of me than behind me and no one to please but myself, I spend my time as if it was money, carefully choosing to do only those things that I find time-worthy. That choice, I think, may be my greatest luxury! The truth is that it took awhile to realize that I could say no. I had been programmed to perform for others in trade for a paycheck or for approval, which is also a powerful payment. Saying no took practice. Now, I’m an expert without an ounce of guilt!

I verbally express my gratitude on a regular basis, along with my astonishment at how my life has unfolded based on choices born from near-desperation some years ago. Now, with the understanding that our standard of living may be different from place to place, we have gained the skills and confidence to live anywhere on the planet that we choose and there are nearly limitless and wonderful choices, should we ever decide to experience other cultures.

As for retirement, it definitely does not suck!! I can sleep as late as I want, go to bed any damned time I want, take naps anytime or anywhere, wear mismatched socks, leave my bed unmade (Diane usually makes it), use disposable kitchen ware, wear Superman underwear, eat a chili dog for breakfast and engage in lengthy, spontaneous conversations with interesting people because I finally have time! And, I have time to write which is nothing but pleasure for me.

I’m sometimes asked why I write. “I thought you were retired” some say or “Why don’t you really retire” as if their definition of my retirement was a directive I have failed to follow. Well first of all, %$#@  you! I am doing exactly what I want to do. Our collective retirements should be held in high regard. There are many countries and cultures where such a luxury is not possible due to the economic hardships of their realities.

I think something happens to us as we age. Something wonderful. We stop caring so much about what others think of us and how we live our lives. Not caring so much about what others think opens many more doors than you can possibly imagine. Hell, you may just run off to some exotic foreign country and start wearing superhero underwear!

Donald (Don) Murray is a retired guy living in Cancun with his Pocket Babe, Diane. You can follow him on his blog, He has written a top-selling Kindle book, Our Ecuador Retirment...Part Two is available for download from Amazon. He now spends his time doing whatever the hell he wants!


Mira, Mira - Jan 2016

Here are some general observations regarding living in Mexico as an expat. They are in no special order – but something to think about.

About half the vehicles on the road have no brake lights or at least one signal bulb burnt out. It would seem that once blown – end of story. Equipment failures definitely not enforced. This kind of puts a face on the NAFTA agreement of Mexican trucks having terrible equipment and safety compliance.

MANY Mexicans simply do not follow through with financial commitments. You can take this to the bank: Unless debt is paid off one will never be able to continue borrowing. Certainly not paying your debt and not keeping your word weakens you. Credit is earned by good faith. Credit is relatively new to the average Mexican. Interest rates are extremely predatory – one might assume to balance the poor payment habits?

Been said before, but, NOISE is a free for all zone here in Mexico – make as much as you want because they do.

Much less road rage in Mexico – couple that with a high percentage of terrible drivers. We assume they simply accept gawd-awful driving habits.

Food is more flavorful, spices a plenty! Meat is tough (good place to be a vegetarian, even better as a vegan). Grocery bills perhaps 20 percent less as compared to the U.S. More if tequila is on your shopping list.

Mexico is more about the Virgin Mary than Jesus. Mary appears very little in the Bible – but she rules the roost here in Mexico.

Mexico’s involvement in religion is worn on their sleeve (at least the women’s sleeves).

Fast food has not caught on beyond the large cities.

Corner markets are probably not operating tax compliant; and they are slowly disappearing.

Mexicans do not really embrace foreigners. However gringos do not feel put upon – they typically do not seem to embrace each other either – not a country of brotherly love.

Animals and pets have it much tougher here in Mexico. Poor people love to own a few dogs – go figure.

The action of NOT LITTERING is 20 years behind Amerika. From our observations the parents are NOT teaching the children; and so it goes.

Building codes are ignored or non-existent. Zoning and Covenants, Conditions, and Restrictions are pretty much non-existent.

It would be hard to go back to the U.S. Mexico is a better place for us.

John Calypso lives outside Veracruz, Mexico, as well as Puerto Escondido. Back in the 60s, he was a very hip guy living in Hollywood and rubbing shoulders with Beatles and Monkees. Read lots more in his blog, Viva Veracruz and Viva Puerto Escondido.



Waiting for Change - Dec 2015

A while back I belonged to a writer’s group that started each session with a writing prompt. We wrote for twenty minutes and then read our work out loud to the group. I do not consider myself a humorist, so when my “audience” was laughing out loud, I was puzzled.

So, the prompt was “Waiting for Change.”

Waiting for change always seems to take longer than you would expect. You stand there in the checkout line concentrating on looking casual while your jaw clenches tighter and tighter. You take a few deep breaths without making any noise lest your impatience becomes noticeable making the cashier nervous causing her to miscount due to the anxiety you have instilled in her, and she has to start over.

I’ve taken to carrying small bills and two change purses in addition to my wallet. One holds only pennies while the other keeps the quarters. The change compartment in the actual wallet has the nickels and dimes. Whenever I can whip out exact change, I do so; down to the irritating little penny.

Once in a blue moon there is a standoff. I have deftly slipped out exact change never taking my eyes off the three designated purses which are lined up on the counter. With fingers flying, I race through the main players; the quarters and the pennies. I love the penny holder – it’s made of red satin Chinese printed fabric and was designed to be a lipstick holder with a built-in mirror on the inside of the cover. If I hold it up to shoulder level, I can sneak a peek at the person behind me in line to check the annoyance level. If it’s mild, I continue. If I see blood boiling, I whip out those paper bills. When I have exact change ready and the cashier has already counted out the change anticipating my payment by the reserve $20 bill I have tucked between my fingers, I lower my head and look through my eyebrows. That look says, “Don’t make me return these coins to their individual purses. Return your counted out coins to the black compartments in the register, smile and say ‘Have a nice day’ and everybody will be happy.”

Everybody else in the group wrote about “Life Changes.” Tells you something about how I think.

Carole Connolly is former expat who makes an adventure out of anything and find humor in everything. Her blog, Carole Jean's Capers covers expat life as well as stories from her former lives as an international flight attendant, real estate agent, and dancer.



Expat Flavor - Nov 2015

I recently read a piece from a writer in Ecuador questioning all the hype that Ecuador receives as a premier retirement destination.

I’ll paraphrase his thinking. “If Ecuador is such a great place, why do so many expats leave?” His claim is that roughly half the folks who retire there leave after a couple of years.


It was almost exactly two years, to the day, when Diane and I left Ecuador for our next chapter here in Mexico. In our case, our move was prompted by my heart condition. After 2 years, we made the decision to move, not back to the states, but to a modern city in Mexico. Cancun is a short airplane hop to Florida and also has 7 major hospitals, for emergencies.

First, there is no correct way to live the life of an expat. Some move to one location and like the settlers of our early days, establish deep roots and vehemently defend their personal life choices against any and all. They often scoff and snarl at those whose choices may be less permanent. It’s as if another’s choice somehow diminishes the settler’s choice.

Expats come in an infinite number of flavors. While I believe all expats are pioneers and explorers, some will become settlers. Settlers are strong, sturdy and wonderful people often married to the same person for 30-40 years. They find something they like and stick to it!!! They grow deep roots and regularly fertilize them by actively engaging in their communities. They often and eagerly buy property in their adopted country, anxious to reconstruct the stable life they left behind.

Other expats prefer more shallow roots, often renting a home or apartment rather than buying. These are the scouts. They want to check things out and are curious about what’s around the next bend…what’s in their next chapter. I suspect more than a few of the scouts will have had more than one partner in life. They have no problem moving on, whether it’s back to the states or to the next country on the list.

The next group I call the voyagers. These are the party-peeps, the free spirits who are completely comfortable as serial relocaters. From the outset, their plan is to spend a limited amount of time in a place and then move on to the next. They may or may not establish an offshore residency. There is a lot of the planet to see and they want to see it.

Some folks will never make the move to an expat lifestyle because of fear. Well guess what. Each of us who have lived the life of an expat has experienced some level of fear at some point in the process. But after having lived overseas for nearly 4 years, I can tell you that the fear goes away. You learn that you can do it. All the expats I know no longer allow fear to be the thief that steals the life they want.

Whether you are a settler, a scout or a voyager, you will find others who share your core beliefs. And if you should make the decision to return to your home country at some point, Congratulations! You will have done something that the vast majority of people have never even tried!

Donald (Don) Murray is a retired guy living in Cancun with his Pocket Babe, Diane. You can follow him on his blog, He has written a top-selling Kindle book, Our Ecuador Retirment. Part Two is available for download from Amazon. He now spends his time doing whatever the hell he wants!


Tall Hombre - Nov 2015

At my peak I was a 6 foot 1 inch plus hombre – not sure where I stand now – surely an inch or more shorter I estimate.

The average male American men’s height is 177 cm, which is 69.7 inches, which is approximately 5 foot – 10 inches tall. (this for white males).

The people of the Dinaric Alps (South Slavs) are on record as being the tallest in the world, with a male average height of 185.6 cm (6 ft 1.1 in) and female average height of 170.9 cm (5 ft 7.3 in).

So I am equal to the tallest average height in the world. My son is 6 foot 3 inches plus. Tall is in the genes. That brings me to today’s lesson. Even though I have been here in Mexico for the last past 10 years and more I am still banging my noggin on low hanging things.

The Mexican male seems to clear these protrusions by a good 12 inches or so. And if you haven’t been advised on this before – believe that the Mexican people utilize space both on the vertical plane as well as the horizontal. So there is a lot of stuff hanging low: awnings and their framework; doorways; hanging racks; hanging pots and pans. You get the idea.

There is a lot of head banging at these heights when you are the average of the tallest peoples of the world.

I am currently suffering three lumps having just recently recovered from a couple of bang-up wounds. I decided it is time to remind myself and you my readers that you must watch for low non-flying objects when in Mexico – you must!

And for you ladies that might be feeling left out there is another part to this: The ground is seldom smooth, flat and predictable here in Mexico as well. Many a visitor and surely most transplants have experienced a twisted ankle or worse from this condition. Mexico ain’t flat baby!

So I guess I am advising you need to look up and down ahead of you at all times when in Mexico.

John Calypso lives outside Veracruz, Mexico, as well as Puerto Escondido. Back in the 60s, he was a very hip guy living in Hollywood and rubbing shoulders with Beatles and Monkees. Read lots more in his blog, Viva Veracruz and Viva Puerto Escondido.


LA Fall - Oct 2015

Late September in L.A. has a tone. People are upset that you can’t see a Dodger game unless you get the Dodger channel or go to Chavez Ravine. As good as Vin Scully is, in his next to last season, his voice is lost to all but the ‘special people’ who can afford a game or the right cable. Or, there is radio. No one really expects the team to be in the World Series.

Everyone is cranky when the Santa Ana winds blow. It usually means the start of Wildfire Season. The daily news isn’t complete without a fire report. Reporters on the lines are usually breathy, excited and wearing full make-up and baseball caps. If there is any relationship between arsonists and fire fighters then it probably also exists between arsonists and adrenaline fueled reporters. When you smell smoke in the fall it’s usually not barbeque.

Late last week it all got predictably weird. Reports were full of shark and weather warnings. El Nino and La Nina are not uniquely L.A. but the city has adopted them like necessary, problem stepchildren. Those two Pacific Ocean currents have more to do with how we live in California than just about anything else. Everyone expects the news reports, accompanied by ominous photos from space showing various shades of doom lurking and undulating along the coastline. Add smoke to the mix and it becomes the apocalypse.

“Awards Season” another uniquely L.A. phenomenon, begins about now with announcements, nominations and hype. Soon there will be red-carpet events where stars will pose in beautiful clothing while fans scream. More than once the craziness has included fierce Santa Ana’s, blowing hot across the city. Catastrophic hairpiece incidents are prevented by “Stick-it-to-Me”, a hair spray glue product favored by a present GOP candidate and others.

Halloween stuff has been on grocery shelves since July and by now is “On Sale.” Well before October 31, Thanksgiving and Christmas goods need to be put out. In the middle of it all are Jewish New Year decorations, nearly always metallic blue. All the above can be had, mostly year ‘round, at the ubiquitous dollar stores. Turns out, the Beverly Hills (adjacent) 99-cent store is usually packed!

Driving here is always a perverse adventure. A hard rain in the middle of September is rare but most welcome in the parched region. Less welcome is seeing a dirty red and once-white fur Santa hat washing down the gutter toward the ocean, a reminder that there can be no real seasons in L.A.

Kim Kohler writes on the uncertainties of living in a liberal hot spot where everybody has an opinion, every opinion counts and nobody uses turn signals.



Corny But Sweet - Oct 2015


I love corn! My earliest memory of corn is vivid and indelibly imprinted on my brain. I was four years old and living in Kansas City, Missouri. My brother, Robert, and I were just two little kids sitting in the back of some old grey car. I don’t know the make of the vehicle, but I can still smell the interior of that car.

My Mom was in the passenger seat looking a bit stiff and uncomfortable. There were some dead squirrels on the floor of the back seat. I don’t remember my dad getting out of the car to shoot them; I just know they were laying there. Robert and I were so quiet, you wouldn’t even know we were there.

Who wouldn’t be? Dad screamed at us, “You kids! Don’t make a sound or I’ll take the belt to you when we git home!”

He pulled the car over to the side of the road. Mom turned to the back seat and put her index finger to her lips. We got it. I felt my heart pounding in my chest and hoped the loud noise it made in my ears couldn’t be heard by my dad.

The back door flung open, and a whole bunch of giant ears of corn were dumped into the car on top of the dead squirrels. The door slammed, and Dad pulled the already running car onto the road and sped off. Although I knew we were doing something bad, it didn’t affect my enjoyment of that corn; sweet and delicious right out of the field.

When my friend, Bill, told me he was driving through Iowa on his way home to California from Michigan, I gasped, “Corn!”

“Uh, yeah … corn. There’s plenty of corn  – miles and miles of corn. Corn as far as the eye can see.”

“Please, please, please – could you bring some? I love corn!”

He laughed. “I’ll see what I can do. There may be a problem getting through the agricultural check station crossing state lines. I don’t want to get arrested for trafficking corn,” he joked.

Bill Brought Me Corn!

Bill came to see me a few days later and brightened my day with an armload of corn. I don’t know if he schlepped it from Iowa or picked it up at Safeway. It makes no difference – it was just as sweet! As is Bill – he also brought me flowers. I like those better than dead squirrels.

Carole Connolly is former expat who makes an adventure out of anything and find humor in everything. Her blog, Carole Jean's Capers covers expat life as well as stories from her former lives as an international flight attendant, real estate agent, and dancer.


My Way Cool Tribe - Sept 2015

70 is much closer than 60, I am constantly amazed by my own life. I just spent a few minutes chatting with a colleague in Ireland. She is an editor I have worked with for a few years and is amazingly gifted and talented. She is also authentic to her core. I’ve never seen one ounce of bullshit inside this woman. I had a moment where I suddenly realized how lucky I was to have her for a friend and then it struck me. My life as an expat has accidentally assisted me in making some WAY COOL friends all across the globe! I know a number of other people who are also intelligent, talented and authentic and each of them has moved away from the U.S. or Canada to live a life in another country. In fact, many of my friends, these days, have lived in several countries and have travelled across the globe.

Living the life of an expat and writing for International Living and its affiliates have allowed me to meet some of the most wonderful and adventurous people in the world; not only expats but those friends I now claim who were born and raised in Ecuador, Mexico, Costa Rica or Ireland. After nearly 7 decades, I have FINALLY found my tribe and a wonderful tribe it is!

These guys have pushed through their fears to explore other cultures and live their lives across the globe. They (at least those I claim as friends) are intelligent, broad minded, inclusive and curious. The vast majority is, to some extent, bi-lingual and many share a common world view.

The fact is that living in one place, especially the very privileged United States, cannot provide much perspective and offers little in the way of cultural education or acceptance. One’s world view is greatly influenced when you subject yourself to a significant cultural change. To use a common analogy, you can’t see much looking through a soda straw!

I hope you are living the life you want to live. Only a few years ago, I made the decision to live the life that I want to live without compromise. Once I retired and moved to Ecuador, that was the catalyst. The doors to my past were closed and new doors were waiting to be opened. My tribe is really cool and they get around. I’m damned glad that I finally found them! Oh, we have room for more members! Believe me, it’s a way cool tribe!

Donald (Don) Murray is a retired guy living in Cancun with his Pocket Babe, Diane. You can follow him on his blog, He has written a top-selling Kindle book, Our Ecuador Retirment...Part Two is available for download from Amazon. He now spends his time doing whatever the hell he wants!


No Pants, No Speak - August 2015

I attended my first town council meeting.


I got thrown out of my first town council meeting.


Monday evening, some of the residents of Guacimo de Atenas decided to register their displeasure with lack of action to repair the road from Atenas to Guacimo.

We decided that I should attend the meeting as a show of support for our neighbors. I wrote out a little speech to deliver in Spanish and everything.

They threw me out before I could deliver it.

I was wearing shorts.

The first order of business was to swear in newly elected officials.

They read their second order of business and voted.

Then the woman running the meeting (not the mayor) made a statement, looked at me, and every head in the room swiveled and looked RIGHT AT ME.

I made a goofy embarrassed face and stood. I said (in Spanish) that my Spanish was not very good and I didn’t understand. As per usual, she said the same thing – and everybody looked at me AGAIN.  A woman in the back said

El no comprendo.

A young man caught my eye and said (in English) “You can’t be in the meeting wearing short pants.”

I would have been very happy if a sink hole would have opened beneath me and I disappeared forever.

It didn’t. I got thrown out.

I said in Spanish “I’m sorry, I didn’t know. It is my fault. Please excuse me.”

Getting thrown out is hyperbole of course. Everybody was very understanding. They said I was welcome to sit on the bench outside and listen through the windows. A woman soon followed me out and pointed to her knee length pants and did the circle-the-ear gesture and said. “Loco.”

After I took my place on the bench, Carmen, a council member who spoke english came out and explained the reason I was thrown out.  She asked if I was with the Guacimo contingent to address the meeting. If so, she could be happy to stand with me in the doorway and translate. Very very nice gesture.

The meeting continued and I could not understand ONE. DAMN. WORD. A combination of amplified Spanish, cars, motos, and bus traffic, pretty much guaranteed that I was doomed.

BUT...As they say in the newspaper business, I’ve “buried the lead.”

Our road will be asphalted.

I’ll believe it when I see it. But everybody in the meeting seemed convinced that the road will be asphalt.

There were ideas for fiestas and a tope to celebrate.

I will be there --  in shorts.

Mark Van Patten writes a blog called Going Like Sixty and has been married to the same woman since 1968.



Airplane or Hot Air Balloon? - July 2015

There’s a reason why I have always flown airplanes rather than hot air balloons. See, with an airplane I can be precise in my navigation. I can choose to follow a variety of electronic signals guiding me to my destination or, I can simply follow compass headings, allowing for wind drift and such. I can fly across an entire continent and arrive at a pre-determined patch of earth smaller than a football field if I choose.

Pilots of hot air balloons do not wish to be that precise. They simply allow the winds to blow them along at the whim of the wind gods, knowing in advance only the general direction they will go but not knowing exactly where they will end their journey.

That sort of “letting go” and allowing the winds of life to blow me along as they may sounds almost irresponsible to me and yet, in reality, that’s what happens anyway whether I choose it or not. At various times in my life, I have set a course and moved in the general direction of my goal only to be detoured in an entirely new direction by circumstances far beyond my control. I may as well not have planned anything at all.

As the currents of life move me along, I now know that I will be just fine, regardless of where the currents take me. I can try to move against the currents but why? Once I realized that, like the pilot of a hot air balloon, I will land safely even though I had no precise plan, the journey has become much more enjoyable. No need to worry about all that troublesome navigation through life’s complexities.

Learning to trust that Diane and I will be just fine regardless of the variety of circumstances we encounter along our path may be the most important lesson in my lifetime. In fact, it may one of the most important lessons of those considering the life of an expat. As much planning and research as one does before taking the leap, there will be many things that could not be foreseen and must be dealt with at the time. Often, those things are significant and go against decades of habits and cultural norms learned “back home”. You will be okay!

Some days, I still prefer to be an airplane pilot, going through the motions of controlling my life with as much precision as possible. Other days, I am content to be a passenger in a hot air balloon, allowing myself the freedom to release the control and just roll with it as it comes. I suppose that’s okay.

Donald (Don) Murray is a retired guy living in Cancun with his Pocket Babe, Diane. You can follow him on his blog, He has written a top-selling Kindle book, Our Ecuador Retirment...Part Two is available for download from Amazon. He now spends his time doing whatever the hell he wants!


Maui Magic - June 2015

Between graduate school and my first teaching job I did just about the only unplanned thing of my then-life. My radical answer to finishing college in the late 60’s was to buy a $69 round trip ticket to Hawaii. For $15 dollars more I added on “unlimited-as seats are available” flights to all the islands. I planned to stay for six weeks and then come back to real life in Orange County. It was 1970. My brother was at war in Southeast Asia, my parents were stupefied with worry, and I packed a duffle with shorts, t-shirts, one swimsuit, one dress and one towel. I also packed a bottle of Coppertone that was my only touchstone to home for the six weeks. The smell was so familiar and common that each time I opened the bottle my family’s faces entered my head. They had no expression and seemed to be just watching.

I stayed with friends, old and just-met, but it seemed like I was mostly alone.

I took a bus to the far side of Maui early one morning. We were all let out with the admonition that we’d better be back on the side of the road at the bus stop by 4:30 for our “Return to civilization.” The driver had stopped at a shaved ice place on our way there, only because some of the riders had asked. I was pretty sure that his idea of civilization and mine were different.

 I followed a path, using an amateur map printed on scarf. The ocean was drawn as a string of cursive C's and the palms looked like sparklers from the 4th of July. Absolutely nothing on that faded map prepared me for the view that emerged when I walked through the jungle of vines and roots and arrived at the beach. The water was the most intense blue-green imaginable. Each outward layer of water was deeper in color, until a wave broke and the turquoise erupted into prisms. The ocean would then settle back into bands of color. Something mysterious, perhaps great depth, saturated the water with the impossibly blue color.

The image stayed in my mental portfolio. I recently thought about how volcanic islands produce violent natural occurrences. And magic. That intense lapis water was made even more dramatic by the sand; it was the darkest ebony, and as fine as powder.

Kim Kohler writes on the uncertainties of living in a liberal hot spot where everybody has an opinion, every opinion counts and nobody uses turn signals.


Dust Control in Costa Rica - May 2015

As a country boy, I can remember the good old days when a dusty road was controlled by spraying used motor oil on it.

In eco-friendly Costa Rica, they banned this practice because all the oil eventually ends up in the rivers which lead to the oceans.

Our house sits about fifty feet above the a dirt road. As you can imagine during the dry season the few cars and trucks that do pass by can raise a pretty good cloud of dust.

This year has been unusually windy – there are seasonal “Winds of Christmas” that normally start Mid-December and end Mid-January. This year they are still blowing.

In the past, we have gutted out the inconvenience of having dust blowing in and covering everything. But this year it’s different.

When we first moved here, the contractor that build our home-addition said that they former owners put “honey” on the road.

We asked the gringos around if they had heard such a thing, and most responded like we had two heads. (Of course they all live on paved roads/streets.) Our Spanish was no where good enough to ask a Tico.

Honey. It just didn’t make sense… even though honey is sold everywhere so there must be a lot of hives, but how much honey would it take to fill a 55 gallon drum? Plus honey has some value so it just seemed silly to put it on the road.

But Molasses! Now there is the solution! Molasses made from sugar cane. Tons and tons of sugar cane is harvested this time of year.

Honey? Molasses? Sweet sticky stuff. Now we know what our contractor was talking about.

Our friend Pat found this great story about a Costa Rica town where the business pay to put honey on the streets.

One quick search on Facebook and I made contact with the woman in the story and she gave us the low-down.

And our lawn-care guy, Mario, knew just the place to find a good supply of molasses. He arrived this morning bright and early with his crew, two 55 gallon drums full of molasses and another empty drum for diluting the molasses 50/50. (In case you need a weekend DIY project.)

Mario said he brought the “postre para las vacas” (dessert for the cows.) We wondered if the cows that wander up and down our road from farm to pasture… maybe some “dulce leche” (sweet milk) will be in the offing?

They had a large bucket in which they had punched multiple holes in the bottom to make a giant sprinkling can.

In a matter of a few hours they had done the stretch of road in front of our house and the dust is gone.

We’re not sure how long it will last. Seems that in Playa Guiones the molasses is effective until the first rain. I’ll keep you posted!

Meanwhile, we already know the molasses on the road is working.

Now if we just can find a way to get rid of the dog hair!

Mark Van Patten writes a blog called Going Like Sixty and has been married to the same woman since 1968.


Divorce Old Life–Start Dating - March 2015

We’ve been fortunate to have been visited by two different parties who have come to Mexico to either check it out for a future retirement destination or just to goof off.

New expats, filled with hope and enthusiasm, arrive in their new homeland. They feel all the excitement of someone on vacation in an exotic land. But then time passes…years may pass and one day, they realize that they are no longer thrilled with their choice. I think it’s like any other relationship. Some will last a life time while others will last only a few chapters. So what?!?! If you are retired and have not anchored yourself to any particular geography, it’s absolutely fine to move. See some more of the planet. Divorce your old life, and start dating a new one!

The truth of the matter is that a significant number of expats will not stay in teir newly chosen homeland forever. Some may move back to their home country while others move on to another expat destination. Those of us who have chosen the life of an expat have faced the numerous challenges associated with such a move. Some folks truly adapt to their new lives, their roots growing deeper and stronger with each passing month. Those folks love their lives or at least, claim to love their lives while others struggle to merge into a new culture.

And to be perfectly candid, some who are living on the financial edge may be trapped in their new expat country without the necessary resources to make a change even if they wanted to. Many have said the language barrier provided a greater challenge than anticipated. Some, like Diane and I, discovered that medical services were lacking in some critical disciplines and moved to another location for access to improved medical care.

We have structured our life so as to be able to cross borders and breathe the salt air of a different sea or ocean anytime we choose. Our lives now fit into 6 suitcases (okay…maybe 7 or 8) and if the need dictates or the whim arises, we can simply buy a couple of airline tickets to begin our next chapter. There is nothing more important to us than us and we now have good friends on several continents who share similar philosophies. We belong to a wonderful tribe of folks…folks like you! We are Expats (or future Expats)! We are adventurous. We are bold and we are grateful! But most of all, we are happy!

Donald (Don) Murray is a retired guy living in Cancun with his Pocket Babe, Diane. You can follow him on his blog, He has written a top-selling Kindle book, Our Ecuador Retirment...Part Two is available for download from Amazon. He now spends his time doing whatever the hell he wants!


Canyon Rocks - Feb 2015

Rock N’ Roll provided an early opportunity to become a home owner for me. My first casa was an older two story doll house in Laurel Canyon, in the Hollywood hills. I have stories…but I digress.

Down at the bottom of the Canyon right on Laurel Canyon Boulevard where I would turn up to my street was the now famous and historical Canyon Country Store. It was rather magical even then -- the makeshift cultural center of Laurel Canyon for a full century. Immortalized in the Doors song “Love Street,” this deli-market is not a venue, but it’s got historical music importance to spare, and continues to be – as my long ago deceased friend Jim Morrison put it – the “store where the creatures meet.”

Now here we are, The Calypso Couple, these MANY years later living at the bottom of Mexico, and we have such a store right here. Calling it magical may be a bit over the top, but the fact that I am able to put the two places together in my head is good enough.

This “canyon” store is in the flatlands far beyond the beach and in the heart of housing; casas built property line to property line. The lyrics from one of my Laurel Canyon neighbors swirls around in my noggin “They paved paradise to put up a parking lot with a pink hotel… oooh bop bop bop – Joni Mitchell’s ‘Yellow Taxi’” Our little ‘country’ store here in Puerto has incense, homemade cheese and handmade soap among other same products.  It is the closest thing to hippie that you will get here in terms of commerce.

Our new red scooter makes us more adventurous in that we can usually scoot around or at least to the front of any line of traffic. Of course we can always find a place to park. So in spite of safety concerns on this day we ventured out to get the best baked bread, bar none, in Puerto. This would be at Señor Salud’s little ‘country’ store over in the west end of town. Located in a colonia (fraccionamiento) called “Costa Chica”.

Señor Salud carries nuts, cheese; coffee; natural tooth paste, soap mosquito repellant; homemade pasta, homemade bread and more. Placing our safety aside we go for the bread.

The owners are a charming couple. He, best guess is Italian, and she Mexican. It is a friendly zone (as is most of Puerto) and welcome by we gringos that are made to feel a little more like home with the many healthy items and food available there. It is highly recommended. If you have any Doors tunes slide one into your player in front of Senor Saluds – it might just magically take you back to a better time. PEACE.

John Calypso lives outside Veracruz, Mexico, as well as Puerto Escondido. Back in the 60s, he was a very hip guy living in Hollywood and rubbing shoulders with Beatles and Monkees. Read lots more in his blog, Viva Veracruz and Viva Puerto Escondido.


Put On a Happy Face - Dec 2014

We are a bit UNHAPPY to have heard that the pump (a pump?) in the community water system was stolen and has left us without our tanks getting filled for 10 days with no fill-up in sight. The usual is twice a week the water comes on for one half day. We have three storage tanks that fill when the water comes on. Who steals a community water pump? (short answer -- some ladrones here in Puerto Escondido).

This is the first stolen pump story, but we have had a water delivery disruption for various reasons  every year we have been here (now in our fourth). One time we were without tank replenishment for 5 weeks (conservative yes – we had to buy a fill of water from a truck that time). Dare I suggest those delivery truck people might be complicit – no.

Regardless of who the thieves are while we are a dry community we can raise our glass (beer more available than Scotch and WATER) to a new report from the Pew Research Center that declares Mexican people the happiest in the world!

While the wealthy who live in advanced economies say they are happier with their life situation, those living in emerging economies are close to the same level of satisfaction, according to a new Pew Research Center report.

The survey asked respondents of 43 nations to measure their happiness on a scale of 0 to 10, where 10 represents the highest rung of life’s ladder. Those who answered between 7 and 10 were counted as being happy.

Mexico, a country plagued with crime and corruption, had the overall highest score in the survey, measuring in at 79% satisfaction in life.

Mexico’s response represents a shift in what The Economist called a “fraying link between happiness and income.” On average, people residing in countries with advanced economies like Germany, France, Japan, and the US answered with a median of 53% of having a comfortable and gratifying life. Of the 10 countries with advanced economies, Israel is the leader of the pack at 75%.

Half of Mexico’s counterparts, like Venezuela and Brazil, weren’t too far behind by listing their lives as highly satisfying. Meanwhile, people in countries in the Middle East, including Tunisia, Jordan, and Egypt, said they were the least satisfied among the emerging nations.

We Are ¡Numero UNO!

So know we are a happy lot down here. We will have water again – soon we hope.  Stay Tuned!

John Calypso lives outside Veracruz, Mexico, as well as Puerto Escondido. Back in the 60s, he was a very hip guy living in Hollywood and rubbing shoulders with Beatles and Monkees. Read lots more in his blog, Viva Veracruz and Viva Puerto Escondido.


Practice Being An Expat at Home - Nov 2014

The Pocket Babe and I have been living outside the U.S. for the better part of 3 years, now. That’s not a very long time but it is much longer than your average vacationer spends outside the states. I frequently meet other expats here in Cancun who have been here over 25 years and we know a handful of long-timers in Ecuador too.

We also regularly meet short-time vacationers here in Cancun who are easily identified by the colored wrist bands they wear designating their status at one of the many all-inclusive resorts. They are also usually the ones with the worst sunburns, their skin painful to look at.

Sometimes we see a couple who has obviously just arrived, looking like they haven’t seen the sun in decades. Their skin is so white they could easily hide and never be found in a small sandbox filled with Pillsbury baking flour. In 24 hours, their skin will be the color of a ripe tomato as they spend way too many hours in this very expensive sunshine often purchased at 18% interest.

The vacationers always presume we, too, are here on vacation.

“When do you go home?” they ask.

“We are home…this is where we live.”

So what does it take to be a successful expat, move overseas and start a new life? In a word…flexibility! If I had to pick one trait that is shared by all of them, it would be flexibility or rolling with the punches. Are you married to your routine? Won’t consider trying other brands of your favorite products? Live your life by the ticks of a clock? If so, you may want to consider loosening up a bit!

If you are considering the life of an expat, you can start now to increase your flexibility. Go shopping for needed items in different stores than is usual for you. Expand you menu to include different foods that aren’t usually on your list.

And here is possibly the best exercise you can do right there in your home town. Change brands from all the favorites you’ve used for many years to other brands you’ve never tried. Personal items, toilet articles, clothing, and most certainly…food! Change it all! Also, practice carrying toilet paper with you wherever you go. You’ll understand later!

Not all are destined for the life of an expat. Those seriously considering making the move can begin practicing some practical flexibility in your hometown right now. It’s a start!

Donald (Don) Murray is a retired guy living in Cancun with his Pocket Babe, Diane. You can follow him on his blog, He has written a top-selling Kindle book, Our Ecuador Retirment...Part Two is available for download from Amazon. He now spends his time doing whatever the hell he wants!


Lessons from Mrs. Goodfellow - Oct 2014

When I was in college, I spent summers waitressing in a perfect, perfectly charming historic inn in Maine.

One of the delights was to be assigned to a table of summer "residents" -- guests who came to stay at the hotel for a month or so, who had been coming to the inn for decades.  One of these was Mrs. Goodfellow.

True to her name, she was a delight to be around.  Just taking her order for breakfast or dinner was a lesson in grace, old-school courtesy, and a pinch of old-girl mischief.  A spry octagenarian, she was my lifetime role model.

Her birthday was August 3, and somehow, I always remembered it.  The dining room in those days was low-key and tables were covered in ancient white damask, and the atmosphere was genteel and calm, with the most beautiful view of Somes Sound and Acadia National Park. Men in jacket and tie, ladies in dresses. Mrs. Goodfellow shared her table with another widow and a spinster, all from Philadelphia.  They were a jolly trio.  If you could look forward to serving breakfast (and I did) it was for those three ladies.

On my morning walk to work, I strolled past all the most beautiful Maine wildflowers.  So, for Mrs. Goodfellow's 83rd birthday, I picked her a bunch of lupine and Queen Anne's lace, black-eyed susans, added to a mass of of fragrant phlox and roses from our family's garden.  I arranged them artfully in a vase and set it at her place before she arrived for breakfast.

She exclaimed over the thoughtful gesture even more than was necessary, her luminous blue eyes shining, lighting up my day.

Sometimes being the giver of a gift is happier than being the on the receiving end.  That's certainly how I felt giving that simple bouquet to Mrs. Goodfellow.

The next week, after the flowers had faded, she returned the vase to me.  With a box of chocolates inside.  "Mother always said to repay a kindness with a kindness."

That was lesson #1.  A life lesson, and I have never forgotten it.

A few weeks later, I was about to depart Maine for France to begin my junior year abroad.  At tea time on the porch, as we sat chatting, Mrs. Goodfellow quietly slipped an envelope into my waitress pocket. Patting my arm, she said, with a twinkle in her eyes,  "Mother always said, 'When travelling abroad, take twice the funds and half the clothes that you think you'll need.'"

The wisest travel advice ever.

Thank you again, Mrs. Goodfellow.  And Happy Birthday.

Polly-Vous Francais is a Boston-born Baby Boomer who is back working in Paris (yay!) and is blogging about it at Polly-Vous Francais. © 2006-2014, all rights reserved.


Childhood Memories Remixed - August 2014

The first time I met Paul Bunyan I wet my pants.

In my defense, I was only four years old — a skinny, sickly kid who was scared of most everything.  That summer our family had traveled to Brainerd, Minnesota to spend the day at Paul Bunyan Land, a small amusement park that had recently opened.

Unbeknown to my older sisters and me, my dad told the person at the ticket window the name of his three young daughters.

As we walked through the park’s entrance we caught a first glimpse of the gigantic Paul perched in a sort of rustic log cabin setting high above the tourists.  Mesmerized by the enormous figure in the plaid shirt, I followed my sisters to stand at Paul’s huge feet where we gazed up in awe.  Babe, Paul’s trusty blue ox stood off to the side.

I remember thinking Paul’s face had a cartoonish look, but overall he appeared kind and impassive.

Suddenly Paul came alive, swiveling his huge head and raising an arm in a jerky salute. His  booming voice addressed my sisters and me: “Welcome to Susan, Barbara and Nancy from Sauk Centre!”

Paul Bunyan knew my name!  He knew where I lived!  I felt dizzy and I’m sure my heart missed a beat.  It was all too much for a little girl who rarely left her small hometown.

Wet pants ensued.

Since that sunny, summer day, I’ve seen many giant statues of Paul Bunyan (along with his trusty blue ox, Babe) and I am proud to say have never wet my pants again.

Why does the legend of Paul Bunyan resonate today? The tall tale of Paul Bunyan was probably the creation of lumberjacks telling stories around the campfire.  They wove tales of a giant logger with superior strengths.  Over many years, Paul Bunyan stories spread steadily by word-of-mouth.  Paul first appeared in print around 1916 in an advertisement for the Minnesota-based Red River Logging Co.

Although I now recall it as an fun family outing, the grainy, black and white pictures of our long-ago trip to Paul Bunyan Land tell a different story.  I’m crying in all of the snapshots  and no one in my family looks as though they are having a good time.

Yet, I choose to look back with fondness and weave my own Paul Bunyan story.  Don’t we all make our own family folklore and remember what we want rather than what was?

Nancy Wurtzel  writes about making big changes at midlife in her blog Dating Dementia. Read about Nancy’s often humorous and sometimes twisted journey as a baby boomer, single woman, empty nester, feminist and caregiver.


The Best Margarita In Town…Puerto Morelos - August 2014

We were sitting in a rustic, mostly outdoor beach bar in the small town of Puerto Morelos on Mexican’s Mayan Riviera sampling what the bartender promised was the best Margarita in town. The temperature was about 85 degrees Fahrenheit and the ever-present sea breeze was wafting in from the Caribbean. Shore birds were circling overhead in a cloudless blue sky. From time to time, one would fold its wings tightly against its body and dive into the brilliant aqua waters to snatch a small fish from below. Only a few yards from the bar’s entrance, two men were lounging in hammocks playing their guitars and singing in wonderful, Spanish harmony. It was as if the Chamber of Commerce had staged this entire scene just for us but I knew better. This is really our  life!

Five years ago, our circumstances were much different and the future of our retirement was grim. We left the states in 2012 after realizing that our life as retired expats living offshore could be much better than remaining where we were. After significant research, we moved to the coast of Ecuador. Our lives in the small fishing and farming community of San Vicente, Ecuador allowed us to observe life at its most basic level; a place where our rudimentary Spanish language skills were developed through immersion as virtually no one spoke English. After two years, the need to live closer to first-world medical care rose to the top of our priority list and we moved from Ecuador to Cancun on the Caribbean coast of Mexico.

Puerto Morelos is one of our favorite places to visit and a great place for a day trip but we love living in Cancun. Our condo is situated on a strip of land with the Caribbean Sea on one side and a large lagoon on the other side.

Cancun offers all the modern conveniences one would expect from a world class destination including large malls, major shopping outlets, more restaurant choices than one could visit in a lifetime and great hospitals. Cancun is the most popular destination in the Caribbean and hosts a modern International Airport. Direct flights from Miami take about 2 hours.

So, this is our retired life! I say that out loud several times each week just to be sure I’m not dreaming. Every day as we watch airliners departing in the distance, I realize that most of those passengers are headed back to a job and a life somewhere else when many of them would rather be here….where I live.

I have to go now. Maybe Diane will join me in the pool before a lunch of fresh mango and pineapple.

Donald (Don) Murray is a retired guy living in Cancun with his Pocket Babe, Diane. You can follow him on his blog, He has written a top-selling Kindle book, Our Ecuador Retirment...The First 8 Months available for download from Amazon. He now spends his time doing whatever the hell he wants!


Little Red Schoolhouse - July 2014

Growing up in central Minnesota, little country schools didn’t seem so special. They dotted our landscape and were just a part of life. By the late 1970s, the one-room school had become the relic of a bygone era.  Public school buses picked up country kids so they would have the larger, town-school experience.

Sadly, most of the one-room schools had simply outlived their usefulness. Most often, they were neglected and eventually torn down or sold. However, a few were preserved some became small stand-alone museums or were incorporated onto the grounds of other museums.

This is the case of the Little Red Schoolhouse that sits in a park in my rural hometown in Minnesota.

If you saw it, you’d agree it is an interesting school that has been lovingly preserved and restored.  The school has the original chalk boards, old pull-down maps, framed pictures of founding fathers, an American flag, a bell on a rope and hooks along the back wall for hanging coats and scarves.  Sturdy, much-used wooden desks and chairs are bolted in neat rows lined on the creaky wood floors.

It is indeed charming.

The little red school is open only for special tours. The first time I visited it as a museum, it brought tears to my eyes.

I knew this place.

Several of my good friends attended this very same one-room school, before “coming into town” in seventh grade to attend junior high. I spent countless days and sleepovers at the farm of my good friend, Kathleen, whose father donated land so the township could build a school, just as my grandfather had done in Iowa so many years before.

This school is the perfect example of ‘the circle of family life’ in small town America.

There are still about 200 of these single-room schools still operating today, down from 200,000 at their height in the early decades of the twentieth century. Today, kids attending these tiny but modern-looking schools use computers and study the very same curriculum that students learn in big schools. It’s not quite the same schooling that Kathleen experienced.

Am I glamorizing the one-room school house and farm life in the Midwest?

No doubt. In reality, I couldn’t wait to leave my small town and see the greater world.

Moving far, far away, I created a much different life for myself. However, the older I get, I more I realize that I can never really escape my upbringing. At the heart, there is a small town inside of me and a one-room schoolhouse off in the distance.

Nancy Wurtzel  writes about making big changes at midlife in her blog Dating Dementia. Read about Nancy’s often humorous and sometimes twisted journey as a baby boomer, single woman, empty nester, feminist and caregiver.



Two Lies - June 2014

1. Atenas Costa Rica has the best climate in the world according to National Geographic magazine.

2. Costa Rica has two seasons: The Dry Season and The Green Season.

The first is easy to debunk. The National Geographic magazine NEVER wrote that… but like all good marketing campaigns, it has a life of it’s own and is often repeated as fact. I have no problems with a good marketing campaign, I do have a problem with attaching it as a quote from a reputable magazine. It’s the definition of “Truthiness.”

The second lie having to do with the two seasons… it’s also truthy, but the seasons are “dry” and “wet” or “brown” and “green.” Mixing the two is like putting ballerina slippers on a rhino. It may look cute, but it will never be graceful.

Calling it the “green” season may sound nicer, but it doesn’t change that fact that everything gets wet and stays wet until the dry season.

We got our first overall soaking rain this morning. It’s been at least 100 days since our last good rain. Consensus is that the “green” season has started … ugh.

I didn’t move to Costa Rica to be wet. I’m not crazy about the onset of rains and clouds. Having never-ending muddy dog prints everywhere, dealing with breeding grounds for dengue mosquitoes… and having to unplug electronics at the first hint of a storm. And dog-killer toads breed…

Other names for the season that isn’t “dry”:

• Muddy Dog Feet Months

• High Humidity Heydeys

• Roads to Rivers Revival

• Dengue Days

• Unplug Upturn

• Toad Time

I put the “I-Love-Green-Season” folks in the same boat with “I-Love-Snow” folks.

They are “special.”

Mark Van Patten writes a blog called Going Like Sixty and has been married to the same woman since 1968.


Couch Surfing - May 2014

Nearly two years ago, my wife and I retired to the coast of Ecuador in South America. The cost of living is a fraction of what it was in the states, we love the culture and our Spanish is improving daily. It’s almost perfect…almost!

Returning to the states is expensive! While our income is more than sufficient to provide a very nice life here (complete with a housekeeper/cook), purchasing a couple of roundtrip tickets to the states, hotels, meals and a rental car for a week or two can quickly do some serious damage to the checking account.

I recently needed to return to Florida for some required medical stuff. There were no friends or relatives nearby where I could crash.  I have always been fundamentally opposed to the notion that I must pay someone to sleep so I sought alternatives to conventional hotels. My wife remembered meeting a young couple traveling through Ecuador. They had mentioned something called Couch Surfing.

It took only a few minutes to find their website and register. The concept is quite simple. One opens their home to fellow couchsurfers and there is no charge for the guest. You can review profiles, pictures and reviews of any particular host.  You also make your home available to accept couchsurfing guests seeking a place to stay in your area.

Each member creates a profile and describes their accommodations and any restrictions, such as “no smoking”.  Most offer kitchen privileges as well as a willingness to provide tours of the area. Some, indeed, offer couches while others have complete private rooms and baths available.

I submitted my request to a handful of potential hosts who seemed compatible and in just a couple of days, had connected with someone. My experience was extraordinary! My host was a wonderful and generous person who loved to cook, and prepared complete and scrumptious meals for me. I had a private room and bath in a spotless home and great companionship when I returned each evening.

I can’t imagine that I’ll ever need to stay in a hotel ever again, anywhere on the planet. Couchsurfing Rocks!

Donald (Don) Murray is a retired guy living on the coast of Ecuador with his Pocket Babe, Diane. His South American life can be followed on his blog, He has written a top-selling Kindle book, Our Ecuador Retirment...The First 8 Months available for download from Amazon. He now spends his time doing whatever the hell he wants!


Surrounded by Storks - May 2014

All around me, big white storks lounge around on their king size nests, bird versions of those tourists you hear about, the ones that come to a nice warm beachy destination on holiday and like it so much they forget to go home.

These Iberian White Storks should spend their summers at home in their European nest and then migrate to Africa for the winter via Gibraltar. While not very good fliers, they are great at gliding the thermal air currents.  But even gliding is still an arduous journey only to be repeated in the spring when they have to glide back home.

Ten pairs of storks own homes in my new neighborhood. I say own because they stay in their nests for decades.  They live 20 to 30 years!  Never having been around storks before, I am totally enthralled with so many living right next door.  Even when it’s cold and raining, you’ll find me still sitting on my balcony surrounded by computer and binoculars, swathed in sweaters watching “my” storks and Googling anything I can find out about them.

When they are feeling frisky, I hear lots of clattering and see head bobbing.  This means the eggs will show up in a month, then the babies a month later.  From what I can see from my balcony, there will be little stork-lings come April.  Mr. Stork will be the Baby Daddy for all the little ones; Iberian White Storks don’t fool around like some of those other storks. All the babies are treated the same, from the meekest to the meanest, they all get the same amount of food and the same chance to grow up and probably stay in the Algarve.

Here in Portugal if a person has bad luck, the old saying was “he must have killed a stork”.  If you were caught killing one, your hand was cut off, and that’s pretty bad luck right there.  Living here, surrounded by storks I am lucky if I can accomplish anything anymore.  When the sun rises and silhouettes the towers of the old sardine factory, I stare at my winged neighbors, vision magnified with binoculars. I have become a stork stalker of the worst kind.

If I ever become so jaded by life that my heart does not leap out of my chest when these magnificent birds swoop by me as I quietly watch in awe, it is time to send me back to where cubicle walls defined me.  The breathtaking beauty of being surrounded by storks, or whatever your “stork” is, your passion, is a wonder to cherish and delight in each and every day.

Constance left the U.S. not for spiritual enlightment (Eat, Love, Pray), or to run away from anything, but to challenge herself in a new culture, living a simple life. Portugal seemed to be the best fit, and so far it is just the right size. Read lots more at her blog -- An Adventure Abroad.


Costa Rican Shoe Tips - April 2014

Crocs for gardening, hiking boots to fend off snakes, rain boots for you know what, cowboy boots for horseback riding, water shoes for the beach, wedgies for height, running shoes for exercise, and flip flops for any other time. But the number one type of shoes to bring to Costa Rica: Stilettos! Huh? Really? And to think, I gave away dozens before moving to Costa Rica. I didn’t know. Before moving to Costa Rica as a full-time expat, I spent most of my time at the beach community of Nosara. The beach lifestyle is mostly barefoot; flip-flops are the shoe of choice, with the occasional donning of running shoes if you are going running on roads instead of barefoot at the beach.

My husband and I moved to Atenas, a Central Valley community not far from San Jose. On my first outing to the town, I saw women in dresses or nice jeans with blouses and on their feet – stilettos! My jaw dropped as I watched them maneuver the uneven sidewalks and streets riddled with potholes, cracked cement, tree roots, uneven brickwork, crazy staircases, wooden ramps, and the occasional horse-dung pile.

Determined to re-build my stiletto stash, I found a shoe boutique in town, purchased a modest pair, and made a dinner reservation at the nicest place in town. The gravel road leading to the restaurant was hazardous, so we made a plan: I carried a large purse which housed my lipstick and the shoes. I wore flip-flops to the edge of the smooth walkway leading to the restaurant. My husband, Don, promised to be Prince Charming and place the shoes on my feet before entering the restaurant. We entered the dining room of what we were told was a five star restaurant, and saw that we were the only guests, other than the huge dog sleeping in the corner.

I proudly strutted to the table in my new shoes, crossed my legs with my foot sticking into the aisle to show off the ‘choos’, ordered a martini, and enjoyed the moment to the fullest. The dog perked up when he heard the “click-clack” coming across the tile floor; I‘m not sure he had heard that sound before. This was mostly a gringo place; most gringo expats do not wear stilettos. I have since discovered the tico places where my shoes and I fit right in.

Next thing you know, I’ll be zip-lining in stilettos!

Carole Connolly is an American expat living in Costa Rica. She makes an adventure out of anything and find humor in everything. Her blog, Carole Jean's Capers covers expat life as well as stories from her former lives as an international flight attendant, real estate agent, and dancer.



This Side of the Tree Line - April 2014

"Business Insider Magazine conducted a poll in 2013: “Which State has the Worst Scenery?” Kansas got the most votes, not New Jersey (which came in 2nd), or Iowa, Nebraska, or Nevada (which were tied for third). Now why would that be?

Classmates of mine coming from “back east” to college in Colorado often complained about the drive across Kansas. They said it was boring. (It is a long drive, over 400 miles, 6 hours at 70 mph on Interstate 40.) Some said it was so flat. (Look at a topographical map closely along the James River in Virginia or the Ohio River in southern Indiana; now those places are flat.)

But the Worst Scenery? It took a while thinking about why that would be, but I think I get it. It takes time to come to a point where a person really “sees” Kansas. Those of us who grow up on the plains come to know it, even feel it (I'm from Hoxie). But folks particularly from "east of the tree line" don't get it at first.

The newcomer is overwhelmed by the vast openness, all that sky, horizon to horizon unbroken by trees, mountains, or cityscapes. The colors appear drab - various shades of brown, large expanses of subtle green (if Mother Nature has brought rain for the pastures), or field after field of wheat or corn. But always the wide-open spaces, horizon to horizon.

My wife (who is from New England) observed as we drove west approaching Hays on the way to Hoxie: "There's nothing out here." Then as we turned north on K-23, crossed the railroad tracks with the Grainfield elevator passing out of view to the left, with no power lines or fences along the highway, she said "Now there's even less." It is true, there is less - nothing as far as one can see (say 20 miles?), not even a farmhouse or barn anywhere in sight.

Today, having lived in the west for 4 years (albeit New Mexico), she sees beauty in the sky, in the subtle colors of the prairie, in the sunrises and sunsets that are often 360 degrees around, the changes in the seasons and weather that are so evident throughout the year, and not least the openness and friendliness of the people who are molded by this environment. It's beautiful, but it takes time and an openness of spirit to see it.

George Young
is a hiker, bicycler and pilot who is always on the move, unless he's working on building a strawbale home in Manzano, New Mexico. And yes, he's a native of Hoxie, Kansas.


The Costa Rica Noise - Feb 2014

I used to get aggravated sometimes in the old country at the noise.

We lived on the flight path for the small airport with no commercial airline service. On the weekends it could get very busy with small private prop planes and corporate jets flying in and out. There were enough corporate jets coming and going at an altitude of a hundred feet on approach that it could be really irritating. Of course, a lot of my aggravation came from the CEO’s that worked in the town, but lived in posh Chicago suburbs and commuted courtesy of the shareholders.

And the hobby pilots would practice touch-and-go landings and approaches. Those little prop planes can be really noisy when flying low and slow.

When we were looking for a place to live in Costa Rica, we knew that this is a very noisy culture. They love their loud motorcycles, loud music, loud car alarms, loud dogs and loud talking (aka yelling.)

Apparently this is a surprise to some people. On a Facebook group, a guy asked…

if I had to sum up this area, it would be… “car alarms, barking dogs and loud ‘music’ briefly interrupted by very short periods of silence.” For those that have figured out how to avoid the noise, how do you do it?

The answers ranged from sleeping with an iPad with headphones on, to ceiling fan white noise, white noise machines, even earplugs!

Others are trying to accept the noise level as just a concession to all the other pluses Atenas offers:

After living in CR 16 years( 12 in Atenas) I need to say: Costa Rican´s love noises, you just need to take that or leave….I personally somehow learn to take it and tolerate all , but never will like that!

One soul is peddling the idea that the noise is a positive:

They were people I knew; kids laughing, husbands coming home from work, women chatting for a moment as their friend walks by, the guy who whistles as he walks down the street every evening at 9pm, coffee trucks full of fresh beans, horses trotting by, dogs barking because their owner was coming home, trucks honking to say “hi” to their friend, etc etc etc. Sound lets you know you are still alive. They were the sounds of the reasons I moved here….the people, the culture, families, and freedom.

Others are just tolerant of the noise that surrounds them.

This is where the strategy of “rent, rent, rent…” before you buy in Costa Rica fails. Renters usually want convenience and that means closeness to the community center – often within walking distance. These are the same attributes a Tico would be looking for in housing. That means living in a medium to high density area.

The only solution to find peace and quiet means moving to the country where roads are poor, and bus service is poor or lacking, and other services (cable tv and dsl internet) may not even exist.

So if you’re gonna live here, or visit for a long period of time, you need to ask yourself how you will handle the noise. We’re fortunate (for now) that most of our noise comes from the cows bellowing from the field across the road.

Mark Van Patten writes a blog called Going Like Sixty and has been married to the same woman since 1968.


Army of Ants - Feb 2014

Soldier. My, what long legs you have!

When the army ants come, get out! That’s the word on the street. I heard it when we first came to Costa Rica in 1989, and I still hear it today.

Last Tuesday I came home from Dance-Fit class at Su Espacio, and Don was in the carport working on the car. His greeting: “You just missed the army ants!”

“They came and went? So fast? I’ve only been gone for an hour. How big?”


“Huh? No, how big was the column?”


“Yeah, but how wide? Two inches? Six? How wide?”


“Ayyyyy! O.K. honey, what happened? Did they march through the house?”

“Well, yeah. They just seemed to come out of nowhere, and the next thing I knew, the floor was solid black. The whole mass moved like a unit, up and over the door, across the floor and out the back door. There are a few stragglers on the back patio. I’ve never seen anything like it! They cleaned the floor pretty well though; no bugs.”

The stragglers on the back patio were running back and forth in a two inch column. That’s when I remembered: solid! In 1992, my kids and I were visiting Nonnie in Nosara., and we rented the house next door. Our first night there, my daughter, then nine years old, starting screaming from her room, shouting: “Get them off me! Get them off me!”   Thinking she was having a nightmare, I rushed in, flipped on the light and the entire floor was black. Yep. Solid with ants. They weren’t just large black ants, though. As I took a closer look, there were smaller red ants in the mix, and they appeared to be fighting. This was not our war! I grabbed Chelsea, threw her in the shower and got the ants off her. I was thankful she didn’t have too many bites, all things considered.

We ran in the night to Nonnie’s house and hung out until morning. We went back after breakfast and all the ants were gone. The army ants haul everything off to the bivouac. Yes, they ‘bivouac’, not nest. They make temporary dwellings out of their own bodies. I learned that recently from reading about army ants. I found out about the different sizes: drones (small, no mandibles), soldiers (large body, gigantic head, big hooked mandibles), and the enormous queen. They are mostly blind, communicating by pheromones. The good news is they don’t attack humans, although they will bite if threatened.

Be on the look-out. If you see them coming, head for the hills. No, not the hills, they like hills. Head for Happy Hour. It’s 5:00 somewhere!

Carole Connolly is an American expat living in Costa Rica. She makes an adventure out of anything and find humor in everything. Her blog, Carole Jean's Capers covers expat life as well as stories from her former lives as an international flight attendant, real estate agent, and dancer.



Latin Ninjas - Jan 2014

I’ve lived in many places across the globe and regardless of where I lived, there were houseflies. Now, I am certain that there were subtle biological differences between them from one continent to the next but to me, they all looked the same and behaved in the same annoying fashion; that is until I made contact with the Ecuadorian version of the common house fly…the Latin Ninja! These flying nuisances make all other houseflies seem like warm, snuggly kittens in comparison.

I am absolutely certain that some devious, whacked out geneticist has intentionally engineered these demons using a bit of Bruce Lee’s DNA, combined with a bit of DNA from Rodney Dangerfield. They are not only brutal and cunning in their repeat attacks but combine their brutality with all the annoying qualities of Dangerfield, going for all the weak spots in typical Dangerfield fashion!

They land on my eyelids, my lips, the tip of my nose and attempt to get into my ear canals.  They take great glee in landing on the backs of my hands so that I will try to swat them, only causing harm to myself. These attacks go on for tens of minutes before they retreat to plan their next sortie.

I recently bought one of those electric fly swatters shaped like a small tennis racket. It holds an electrical charge and crackle-fries the little terrors in mid-air as I practice my best John McEnroe vocalizations. I’m an animal lover but apparently, I have limits.

In their most recent and bold assaults aimed at provoking me even more, they land on the back of the hand holding the electric racket and I swear, they do some kind of an end-zone victory dance as if they’d just scored a touchdown.

Yesterday, I was working at the computer and there were, perhaps, 3-4 of these Ninjas taking turns. One would repeatedly land on my wrist while another kept trying to do a water landing on my eyeball. I kept typing while waving my free hand and shaking my head like I was under the control of a drunken puppeteer. Eventually, I reached my limit, stopped working, grabbed the racket (which I have now named Fry Baby) and began to stalk my tormentors in earnest.

They stayed in low formation, flying among computers, speakers, printers, cables and stacks of papers. A swift swing of “Fry Baby” in that tangle would surely damage my stuff and the Ninjas would escape. I waited.

Eventually, the pair lost their focus and landed together on the back of a chair. In an instant, I anticipated and calculated their departure route. I began my swing and, as hoped, their flight path intersected with Fry Baby’s swift justice about 2 feet over the top of the table. Two bright flashes provided visual verification and two loud electrical crackles added additional confirmation. They had met their end.

Speaking as a fellow aviator, I have to admire their courage as well as their flight skills. Unfortunately, they picked the wrong target too many times. Brave and skilled aviators for sure… but stupid!  What the hell…they were only flies and there are plenty more. As a matter of fact, two of them have been bugging me while I’ve been typing this.

Gotta’ go. Fry Baby has been charging and it’s time for justice!

Donald (Don) Murray is a retired guy living on the coast of Ecuador with his Pocket Babe, Diane. His South American life can be followed on his blog, He has written a top-selling Kindle book, Our Ecuador Retirment...The First 8 Months available for download from Amazon. He now spends his time doing whatever the hell he wants!


Mercado - Dec 2013

A Mexican Mercado is like a Farmers Market. While not unique here in Mexico they are ubiquitous. Nearly every pueblo has a Mercado of some kind. Puerto Escondido is no exception. At the entrance to Lic. Benito Juarez Mercado the sign lends as much space to the bathrooms as the Mercado itself.

In fact as Mexican Mercado’s go, Puerto has a pretty good sized one. You will have to spend some time if you plan on visiting the many shops, stands and street vendors populating the huge open air covered awning that encompasses an entire city block or more.

You will find grains, nuts, fruits and veggies, meat, fish, fresh cut flowers, pottery, pans and cooking utensils, sandals, straw hats, table cloths, furniture, hammocks, candy, candles, tamales, caged birds, baby chickens and rabbits and many prepared food vendors and stands. There are key makers, cobblers, clothes menders and makers, and much more. Most everything can be found in booths under a huge awning type roof. Most of the time trade spills out on to the sidewalks and streets nearby.

They are organized in the sense there is the fish aisle, the carne (meat) isle, the pollo (chicken) aisle etc. All the cut flower vendors – one aisle. It is rather amazing that side-by-side vendors selling essentially the same products, usually at the same price, seem to remain in business. How does one choose from a half dozen or more vendor stations selling various fresh fish on ice? We have yet to figure that one out.

There are two more U.S. typical grocery stores in town. Both are Mexico grocery chain stores. How do we choose the Mercado or Chedraui?

Well it is mostly a learned system from experience. We know on Wednesdays (Chedraui’s sale day)

vegetables are less there – particularly avocados and tomatoes (very much staples in our diets).  Fish is always cheaper and fresher at the Mercado; although there are also fish specific markets and sales boat side. Cut flowers – better deal at the Mercado. Grains, seeds, chilies – Mercado. Canned goods and such – Chedraui.

We might visit the Mercado once or twice a month. Chedraui’s at least once a week. We are glad we have both options.

John Calypso lives outside Veracruz, Mexico, as well as Puerto Escondido. Back in the 60s, he was a very hip guy living in Hollywood and rubbing shoulders with Beatles and Monkees. Read lots more in his blog, Viva Veracruz and Viva Puerto Escondido.


You Say Tomatoes - Dec 2013

Tomato sauce in zip-lock bags and crazy versions of tomato soup are frozen solid, stacked in the freezer, jars of spicy salsa and chili sauce line a shelf in our refrigerator. The kitchen resembles the aftermath of a slasher film. From three little packets of seeds grew an extraordinary amount of tomatoes.

We weren’t prepared for the abundance of Roma, cherry and those fat silly looking heirloom tomatoes that took over the citizen’s first Algarve garden. Was it the judicious use of the soil from the old chicken coop? He insists the secret is weeding early and often then watering every day at the same time.  Each time I compared the healthy basket-loads of our daily harvest to the sad shriveled tomato plants of our neighbor, I am reminded that karma works in mysterious ways.

We don’t have only tomatoes.  Basil, oregano, dill, rosemary, lemon grass, mint, parsley, thyme, (no sage, sorry) little very hot chili peppers and big mild chili peppers clutter the path to the kitchen door.  A season of spinach and now green peppers are looking very healthy.  This is being gown by a man whose only previous farming experience was growing a pineapple plant in an office window planter.  It was a lovely pineapple plant if you ignored the cigarette butts people would grind into it and the parked dumpster nearby.

I am from the United States; eating produce from a supermarket in the States is similar to eating the waxed props you see in furniture stores.  However, these fresh organic “wolf peaches*” are so good I eat them every day (sometimes, twice a day). Slice a few, drizzle them with azeite, balsamic vinegar then sprinkle a bit of Algarve sea salt, oh my, lycopene heaven.

My doctor, hairdresser, real estate agent, therapist and favorite characters about town have all been gifted with mixed bags of fresh picked tomatoes garnished with a bundle of herbs.  The “Connie Tomato-Seed” of Lagos, casting seeds of friendship into the fertile life of my new home and crossing my fingers for a sustainable crop.

In the distance I see smoke as the real farmers are clearing their fields for whatever farmers plant next.  The cute little cherry tomatoes are still hanging on, the last of the crop.  In the nick of time, my imaginary  friend, TV chef and fellow adventurer, Anthony Bourdain showed me a recipe using the little cherries. Cut them in half , toss with croutons, herbs, azeite and balsamic vinegar.

Sprinkle a bit of the Algarve sea salt on, it will be fabulous.

*Wolf peach is derived from the tomato’s scientific name, lycopersicum.  It comes from German werewolf myths.  Since the tomato belongs in the nightshade family of plants, all sorts of evil were associated with my innocent little fruit (berry if you really research it).

Constance left the U.S. not for spiritual enlightenment (Eat, Love, Pray), or to run away from anything, but to challenge herself in a new culture, living a simple life. Portugal seemed to be the best fit, and so far it is just the right size. Read lots more at her blog -- An Adventure Abroad.


Magic Summer in France - Nov 2013

Forty years.

Forty years ago today, I boarded an Air France flight at Orly to return from France to the U.S.

It had been a magical summer. My first time ever in France. A life-changer.

That June I had graduated from high school and had gone on a three-week whirlwind tour of Romania with my school glee club.  In anticipation of the flight's stopover in Paris, earlier that spring I had begged my parents to see if they knew anyone in France with whom I might spend some or all of the summer.

Hooray!  As it turned out, there was a family.  Friends of friends had lived in Paris working for Time-Life; eight years before, in 1965 when they were leaving Paris, they had brought along a lovely young Parisian, Marie-Noelle, to Connecticut as an au pair so that their children could keep up their French.

Fast forward to 1973: Marie-Noelle was now in her late 20s, in Paris, married with a baby of her own.  Her extended family (grandmother, parents, and sisters and their families) spent the summer on Ile de Ré.  They would be delighted to have me as an au pair for the summer.

Back then, a fille au pair was not hired help, not a euphemism for a nanny.  Au pair meant on a par.  (In fact, I was never paid a cent.  In retrospect, I should have paid them.)  From the beginning I was treated as a younger sister or cousin, completely part of the family, who earned my keep by lending a hand with the children and household duties, mostly with the assistance of Mamita, the grandmother.

For eight weeks I was immersed, submerged in French family vacation life.  Upon my arrival, they asked if I would rather speak in English or French.  "En francais!" I blurted rather vehemently.  Oh-so-politely, not another word of English was spoken to me all summer.  (Except most evenings when Marie-Noelle's husband Jacques would re-re-fill my wineglass at dinner, joking, "Just a leeeetle drop, Pollee?")

It was a summer of transformation.  Twelve years of classroom French, filled with Moliere and Sartre and verb conjugations, rapidly transformed into must-use everyday French.  Who the heck knew what a biberon was?  Une couche?  I thought une couche was a layer. Baby bottle and diaper.  Got it. But in short order the learning curve became so fast I didn't have time to translate:  I just had to figure it out.

Example:  I knew the word for floor was le plancher.  But when someone said "Tu peux mettre cela par terre," I had to do some quick mental leaps to figure out that it meant "Put that down (on the ground)."  Finally the mental leaps were arriving at such locomotive speed that I put away my mental French-English dictionary and just went with it.  And French food and cooking lingo deserve their own chapter...

I had to keep up daily with spoken French on all levels:  toddler and pre-school age; vivacious sophisticated Parisian 20-somethings with their large entourage, with full-on colloquialisms, at dinner or dancing at island nightclubs or sailing; kind and worldly grandparents whose English far surpassed my faltering French; and the clear-speaking but cryptic Loma, the ancient, tiny, widowed great-grandmother swaddled in black. To me, it seemed Loma parsed out wisdom in 19th-century French haiku.

But it was far more than just a language-learning experience.  For 8 weeks, every minute, every hour was an awakening.  This life is what I was meant to know, I thought.  This is where I belong. French beach picnics -- feasts, not just sandwiches! -- boat outings, everyday summer dinners, daily shopping, meal preparation, everything about French lifestyle was both eye-opening and instantly right. The pace of life and the focus. I found my true sense of self.

I was eighteen.

Reality check:  1973:  no cell phones, no internet, no TV on the summer island; and a long-distance call was prohibitively expensive, ergo was for emergencies only.  Thus my only communication with American family and friends for eight weeks was via postcard or aerogramme.  Bless my mother, who saved all my letters home.  By mid-summer my English syntax was down the drain, and the vocab was slipping:  "We go every day to the plage with the children,"  I wrote.  I wasn't putting on airs, I was losing myself in French and France.

And that is how I really learned French. I lost my American self in the French world.

I think I never fully returned.

Oh, I physically returned to America on that Air France flight 40 years ago.  I had flown from La Rochelle airport to Le Bourget (I think).  I know I took a connecting bus to Orly. Gilles, my handsome summer-unrequited-crush who had spent many July and August weekends as a guest with the family, was waiting for my bus as it pulled in to the bus lane at Orly (he worked for Air France, as had his uncle, Antoine de St. Exupery). Belmondo-esque, he stood at the entrance, one leg perched on the barrier, leaning and smoking a Gauloise. My heart fluttered.

I attempted to haul my embarrassing, oversized, orange, too-American Tourister suitcase from the luggage compartment of the coach.

"Laches," he asserted gently, grabbing the handle.

Lâche raced through my brain, seeking quick processing.  Lâche, poltron, couard, peureux went the brain scan in a nanosecond from senior-year Advanced French language class when we had to memorize synonyms.  Why was he calling me a coward? My heart pounded.

"Laches," chided Gilles, tugging more firmly.  I finally released the handle to him (which was what he was in fact saying: "Let go"), banking on the body language, still unsure why I was a coward. Did he think I was grasping so tightly because I was embarrassed at the weight of my suitcase?

He bought me an Orangina, got me checked in with his svelte, perfectly perfumed young French colleagues at the desk, and finagled as much VIP treatment as a junior Air France worker could finagle.  After some final chit-chat, address exchanges and "Oh yes, we'll keep in touch" banalities, he accompanied me to the gate.  A total gentleman, truly and genuinely so.

It didn't register -- actually at that point, I couldn't really fathom what it meant -- that I was leaving France and returning to the States.  A seven-hour flight was not enough time to adjust, linguistically, emotionally, or culturally.

I had become a different person.  I was still Polly, but who was she?

Three days later I was sitting in a freshman "French class" in college in Connecticut: nothing French about it, at all, really.


Polly-Vous Francais is a Boston-born Baby Boomer who lived on the Left Bank in Paris and is still blogging about it at Polly-Vous Francais. © 2006-2013, Polly-Vous Francais, all rights reserved.