Home is where the dog is.

After six months of criss-crossing a solid quadrant of the globe, from Mexico to Alaska to the PNW to the Azores to Panama to Memphis, I am back in Puerto Vallarta with Porkchop and smelly dog kisses never felt so good. This beast has my heart, for better or for worse.
It is because of that that I’ve decided to set up a permanent home base here in Vallarta. I got back here around the first of February and camped out at a friends Air BnB while looking for a long term place.
I think I’ve found the perfect fit.
Oddly enough, it is the very first place in Vallarta that I inquired about when searching for a rental from Alaska back in December 2016. It is much bigger than I need for myself, but a reasonable walking distance to all of my favorite things (20 minute walk to my favorite beach bar, El Barracuda,) and there’s a fantastic taco stand on the corner, and it has a rooftop pool and bar with a bit of a view out to the sea. The price is right at 6000 mxn per month (About $325 USD at current exchange rate,) and Porkchop does really well on the roof by himself when I need to run errands, so we’re going with it.
20180218_085513.jpgThis house, I’ve dubbed it Casa Demasiada, is so very different from my last tidy concrete box on the sea. The house itself is so empty, as it came unfurnished and more or less remains so, and echoes with all the tile and concrete typical of Mexican construction. It is an open air apartment, second story with tall ceilings. It feels like a big, bright cave filled with all the noise of the neighborhood below.
And there is so much of that! Where before I listened for the chacalacas and the slap slap slap of the pangas on the waves, here everything is so much more…alive.
Early in the mornings the roosters start crowing, then the dogs start barking as their owners wake and let them out onto rooftops and sidewalks to do their business and see what’s what. The vendors all have megaphones attached to their trucks announcing the arrival of gas, or water, or vegetables, or pastries. The radios from the day laborers working on new construction all around come on mid-morning, battling for air space for a while before one wins out and the tapping of rubber mallets leveling new-laid bricks or the scrape of hoes mixing concrete add to the rhythm of it all.
In the afternoons when the children get home from school, they kick the soccer ball around and play and fight outside in the street, occasionally getting a cackle from an errant hen whose scratching has been rudely interrupted. At night, everyone gathers on the sidewalks with the music playing again…usually a calmer a tempo with rich, crooning tenor.
20180309_192535.jpgI felt like I lived in a secret garden before. Here it feels like I am a part of life. I am participating in this beautiful circus that rises up in waves all day, swelling around me and reminding me of my own presence in this moment. And then it calms to a quiet murmur at night as I lay on my back on the roof and look at the stars and count constellations and watch the moon rise above the mountains behind me as I tangle my fingertips in Porkchop’s fur.
This is good. It is what I needed. It is what I was looking for.

A Series of Unfortunate Events

I don’t know why other people travel. There are all kinds of reasons to do so, I guess. Some of them are really great, some of them are total shit. Apparently there’s been a huge uptick in global travel and tourism in recent years and I find it fascinating in a morbid kind of way. I want to dissect it and see what’s going on and there are all kinds of plausible theories from oil prices to the balance of power and privilege to the sick slow bloom of globalism that offers the tantalizing chance for each and every one of us to be worldly and cultured beyond our bounds. (Not actually each and every one of us, I’m being sarcastic.)
I’ve seen Digital Nomadism become a thing and the idea of “Gypsy” become romanticized whereas in the very, very recent past both nomads and gypsies of every creed were derided for their lifestyles and frowned upon and persecuted by “fine upstanding civilized society.”
What the serious fuck is this all about.
I don’t know. I’ve dabbled in it all. I am a shameless rambler, myself. No, that’s not quite right. There is often something akin to shame creeping under my skin. I think it’s married to the anxiety. I am a traveler with constant and perpetual travel anxiety and stress. I keep pushing myself through these things because I think surely eventually I’ll get used to it. It will feel normal. I’ll learn to go with the flow a little better and it won’t twist my nerves in knots every time. So far, after maybe fifteenish or so years of this…it still does. And I still keep doing it because I don’t know what else to do with myself.
That’s it.
That’s the only reason I travel. I just don’t know what else to do.
Other people have set up careers or they go the family route or they find a cause they feel passionate about and it grows into their soul like some permanent part of themselves. I’ve never had any of that. I feel passionately about things often and invest myself heavily into various projects, but I am not a lifetime cause kind of girl. Everything I learn and read and experience shifts my perspective; sometimes incrementally, sometimes violently. And it changes how I interact with the things that matter to me. I don’t think this is an unreasonable way for a human being to react to the world around them—we should all be analyzing the information coming in to us and adjusting accordingly.
But it does make life difficult. Especially when you’ve never entrenched yourself into any one culture or lifestyle that you’re forced to commit to for extraneous reasons.
Here’s the nuts and bolts of things as they stand now: Way back in March I went out on a limb and booked a big trip with a flight to Barcelona and then a transatlantic cruise from the Canary Islands to Panama. In July, shit kind ofhit the fan in Mexico and I decided I needed a break (so. much. drama) so I hauled up to Alaska with plans to drive my RV down to Seattle to meet with business partners and then hop to LAX for that Barcelona flight. I ignored the fact that funds were running low and I had absolutely zero faith in myself driving my 1978 Toyota Dolphin (stick shift) from Anchorage, Alaska to Seattle, Washington all on my lonesome. It’d all work out somehow, right?
Well, yesterday I had a moment of reckoning in the way of a mild panic attack after jolting my way across town in the RV, clearly indicating I have no business attempting to drive the thing in traffic without further lessons. I sat in a Wal-Mart parking lot for four hours trying to work up the nerve to drive it back to my friend’s house and finally he came and picked me up to try again today. Upon attempting to retrieve said motorhome today, we discover it had been towed. TOWED. Overnight. From a Wal-Mart parking lot which has long since been the iconic redneck urban boondocking mecca.
I’m not really one to believe in “signs” per se. But after the things that transpired in Mexico to make me feel like I needed a break, and the shit that’s going on here now…I feel like I’m doing something wrong in life. I don’t know what to do except keep at it, keep going. If I stop…it’ll be a hard stop and I don’t know what it might require to recover from that.
I don’t know how to fix it alljust now, so I’ve paid the piper and I hit the road ASAP headed South. It’s all I know to do. I’m feeling very…human. Almost fragile, even. There are many worse things happening in the world at this moment, but my own hard won mortality feels like it’s rising to the top at the moment. Kind of bubbling under the surface in thick viscous boils that could pop at any moment. Who knows.
Wish me luck.

Onward and the Revolution

Learning things about yourself is different as you get older. When you’re young you are learning these things for the first time, and you embrace is eagerly as if you have finally found the answers you were seeking in some conclusive fashion. It is truly self discovery, you are blazing trails into the unknown and shedding light on things that have never been seen before and it feels glorious.
As you get older, though, it seems to change. It shifts from self discovery to self revolution. We are re-shaping the things we thought we already knew about ourselves, and it’s a much slower process, I think. More difficult all around. We are trying to change the paths of things that have been flowing through us like relentless rivers in the bedrock for sometimes many years, and it’s daunting. It’s not the exciting, painless process it used to be…but rather tortured. It’s a struggle to accept these sometimes radical shifts in our self-perception.
This is all to say: I am discovering I might not be as nomadic as I thought, and it’s an unpleasant revelation.
This week I have been struggling with a dark cloud as my time here in my apartment between the mountain and the sea draws to a close. I have such an exciting itinerary planned for the next few months and then on to more exciting things in my business world…but I find I can’t enjoy these prospects properly because I am dreading leaving this place here. My home.
As I swept the flurry of termite wings off the balcony this morning and made my coffee, the notion crystallized. I have left tiny pieces of my heart in every place I ever lived. I loved them all, to varying degrees. I certainly miss a few more than others, though, and this one will be one that will stick in my craw with a pang of regret and loss for many years to come. I will miss my mornings out there on that tiny balcony, swatting mosquitoes away and watching the water for divers and dolphins. I will miss the cackle of the chacalacas and the noisy rush of water over the cliff after a hard afternoon monsoon.
I will miss the sunsets most of all. My daily dinner companion.
How could I love somewhere else more than this? I could count one hundred ways in which it’s lacking, but I’ve been here just long enough to accept its flaws the ways you come to accept the shortcomings of a lover. The seventy-two steep and lopsided stairs that leave me bathed in my own sweat by the time I reach the top; the land crabs clacking under the bed at all hours of the night; the tarantula guarding the stairs with some imagined ferocity; the long ride into town and those infernal late night waits for the last bus home…They all somehow endear me to this concrete box.
I suppose I’m just a sentimental sort. I spend a lot of time in my home and I develop a relationship with the places I inhabit. In a way, they inhabit me too, taking on personalities all their own and becoming, somehow, so much more than just a place to lay my head. I know this is not an unusual way to feel, but I am not sure it is common for those who have spent only six months in a place. I guess I fall hard and fast in this regard as well.
Today is soft and gray and cool. A welcome change from the muggy sunshine typical of the season. The butterflies are furiously grooming the pollen off of the flowering vines that have wrapped themselves through all the trees and the ants are busy sweeping up whatever carnage they can glean in the aftermath of last night’s storms.
I have laundry to do and errands to run and only one week left to be in love.

Fishing Mexico with a Handline

When I fished as I child I was generally handed a cane pole pre-baited and set up and sometimes already cast. The crappie, usually, would bite and I would pull it in and someone would take it off the hook and put it on the stringer and put another cricket on the line for me until I was big enough to learn the whole process myself.
Of course, as a Southern teenage girl more interested in listening to Muddy Waters than spending all my time around actual muddy waters, I lost touch with fishing. To be honest, there wasn’t a lot of appeal to the culture I perceived to surround fishing down South. I associated it with a lot of things I spent the following years trying to separate from entirely which is too bad, because I kind f threw the baby out with the (muddy!) bath water for a while there.
When I moved to Alaska, fishing took on this new mystique for me. Suddenly it involved people who were interested in culture and conservation AND beer and camp fires! This was the REI version of fishing I never knew existed, and it turns out fishing cleans up really well. I wanted in, but I didn’t even know where to start. This was uncharted territory and my cane pole and crappie experience was laughably useless.
Consequently, fishing became one of those things I waited a long time to take up on my own because people always said they would take me, teach me, and they never did. I didn’t grow a set and buy my own stuff and start figuring it out on my own until, oh, maybe two years ago.
Today, I own a small collection of gear stuck in storage up North, mostly selected for various Alaskan salmon runs, costing perhaps $800 or so in total. This is an extremely modest collection as I mentally survey my friends and their respective kits. Fishing, like pretty much everything, can quickly become a total gear head hobby, and as a fisherman here in Mexico currently without the gear she’s become accustomed to, I have been frustrated.
Enter the handline.

Hand line spindle with old line and a rebar weight for practice casts.

I noticed a lot of people here along the Banderas coastline carrying around fresh catches and standing on the rocks or on the beach casting…but there was never a rod or reel of any configuration in sight. Finally up at Boca de Tomates I got close enough to watch a handline in action. It was a weird eureka moment—people have been successfully catching fish for millennia with extremely rudimentary tools and it’s a craft that is alive and well here on the Pacific coast of Mexico.
The locals here seem to prefer a small black spindle, about 8″ in diameter with a groove down the outside center formed by an up-turned lip on either side—one straight up and one angled out—to hold the line. The rigs I have inspected so far really only have three things in common—a length of heavy line, a weight, and one or more hooks. The tackle has been arranged in all the same arrays of configuration that you might see in other salt water fishing rigs, as have all other techniques.
To cast, a length is pulled from the spool and swung lasso-style above the head before releasing towards the water. (Apparently. With practice. At least Paul can show you how it’s done in the video below.) I had a lot of trouble coordinating this motion while holding the wheel just so to allow the line to spool off over the edge without gripping the whole thing in a death grip and stopping the line short. It is certainly something that takes a lot of practice and skill to achieve accuracy and distance and I particularly enjoy the extreme hands-on approach. My beginner casting was so poor that I spent most of my time on the beach spinning just the weight above my head in practice casts so I never got to experience a fish on, but the thought of bringing one in on such a simple rig is quite a thrilling prospect and now that I finally have my own handline all set up, you’ll probably be able to find me on the rocks most mornings.

Aside from the extremely intimate and organic feel this kind of fishing produces, there is another benefit—literally all you need to replicate it where ever you may find yourself is a length of heavy line and a hook. These rigs are often recreated using household objects and actual garbage (glass and plastic bottles, especially those that narrow a bit and have a good neck, are perfect,) and I have seen weights consisting of rocks, short bits of rebar, spark plugs, and yes, even traditional fishing weights all used. You can get fancy with your tackle if you want, but I’ve seen a lot of fish pulled in without it.
My current salvaged set up.

The funny thing is that suddenly…I’m not feeling that much urgency to get my gear down here. This has stirred up all kinds of funny Swiss Family Robinson, can-do make-do sorts of feelings. Somehow I feel inspired to master this most simple version of fishing—partially out of necessity and partially because the challenge is irresistible. Looking back, I find it funny that I eschewed those early days with bamboo poles and crickets in favor of expensive rigs, frequent frustration, and gear woes.
It is liberating to lose the excess in these things, too, it turns out.

A few of my favorite handline resources

Extreme Adulting Day 3: Beauty & the Beer

I’m tired. I don’t want to be writing this post, actually, but I feel compelled to keep it going and keep producing, even though I’ve spent so many hours today already writing and working on this little blog of mine.
(Yes. Hours.)
I woke up this morning in a fit of indecision…actually quite a bit like the one I described yesterday in my challenge post. I wanted to go to the beach and go fishing, but I had a lot of work to do. Especially homework. Ultimately I rolled over to sleep on it and awoke an hour or two later decided—I would go. I would rather take the opportunity for a ride out to some little beach I’d never seen before and a day learning a new skill than work on homework. Even if that means shit grades.
A girl’s gotta have priorities, you know. Who moves to Mexico to sit in the house and study and work all the time. Not this one! And this may seem irresponsible and not very “adult-like” behavior, but when you’ve invested so much in being in a place and experiencing it, it would be a damn waste not to do so.
So I crammed in some morning work before catching my ride to Boca with Porkchop in tow, and we all loaded up in the panga to head out to the rancho somewhere past Quimixto but before Yelapa. We landed on a small beach full of big granite boulders and awash in seaweed. The big brown mountain rose up sharp behind it and a little hut stood off to one side behind a green iron gate. The whole property past the beach was ringed in rusty barbed wire and termite-tasted posts, and it instantly took me back to my youth of tetanus shots and tick checks in the evenings and I loved it.
Back-story —the writing malaise is lifting, can you tell?—my fishing companion for the day is Paul. Paul is a 65+ year old guy who has been enamored with me and regaling me with fascinating stories since I met him a week or two ago on the bus. He is from LA and owns a house up in the hills somewhere in Vallarta. He wants me to watch his house in his absence because…well, he still has a few years of probation left in the states apparently.
I take all of Paul’s stories with a grain of salt because they are some pretty wild tales, but he launches into them with such a genuine enthusiasm (and repeats them so often,) I actually am beginning to believe them all. I’ve also seen first hand the way he operates is such that the situations he describes are fully plausible. Paul is fascinated with the idea that I’m a writer and will someday tell all of his stories, but I won’t get into all of that just now. (No, not even the one involving myself tagging along with him to “look for his old girlfriend” in a series of Vallarta’s finest strip clubs.)
Anyway, part of what makes Paul believable is that he has a lot of obviously very old friends around and one of them owns this rancho on this little isolated beach in between all these crazy tourist destinations and eco resorts and that’s where Porkchop and I got to spend my day. We putzed about a great deal and Porkchop chased crabs on the rocks and I explored the tide pools after tiring of my casting practice. (Read more about me and learning to fish with a hand line.) There was a nap involved, at some point, followed by some adventuring up the hillside.

Paul’s friend, whose name I wouldn’t know how to spell even if I could correctly pronounce it, has been working on the hillside all this time, clearing off all the brush and digging out the dirt beneath the massive rock shelfs. I asked how the prevented erosion when the rains came and was confronted with a surprising answer—all of this was to ENCOURAGE erosion. The summer rains would come and wash all of the exposed dirt down off the hillside into the retaining walls at the foot of the mountain, effectively building up new flat space to build.
Coming from a state which harbors several communities in states of emergency due to erosion, I have personally never been able to picture it in a positive context and so I found this interesting. It’s a brilliant way of letting nature do some of the work for you, though certainly clearing the steep hillside is no easy task.
Despite all this, I found myself hankering (yes, hankering) for a beer or a cocktail because beaches and beers just go so damn well together. It was the first time so far I found myself slightly disappointed in my commitment to sobriety, but I stayed preoccupied and drank lots of water instead and successfully marked one more day off the Sober Month Calendar.
Yay me!

Day in Bullets:

  • Pesos Spent: $15 for a bag of plums before the plum lady got off the boat in Quimixto.
  • Alcohol Consumed: Zero!
  • Fish Caught: Zero.
  • Ticks Found: Two.
  • Homework Done: One biology lesson.
  • Pitches Sent: One, unenthusiastically.
  • State of the Porkchop: Thoroughly exhausted, impossibly sandy, curmudgeonly about tick check, and dreaming of crab catching.
  • Pictures Taken: About a million.
  • Sunburns Acquired: All of them. (My 30spf waterproof sunscreen was no match for the 11+ UV index today.)
  • Watch/Listen: Lauryn Hill’s Video for “Doo-Wop (That Thing)”  This one popped up in my feed today and was just such a delicious pop of nostalgia I thought I’d share.
  • Link: “The particular beauty of Naples, an incomplete list” by Sara White on Verbalized. I loved this travelogue today. It’s such a great style, and reflections on these small things are the ones that make them special to us—not the grand tourist attractions, no matter how spectacular they are. It got me thinking about what this list would look like for me here in Vallarta.
  • Link: “The Personal-Essay Boom Is Over” by Jia Tolentino for The New Yorker. This is such a great piece picking apart a portion of the night mare freelance writing is right now. There’s a lot to this and I love how it puts things in context—all that time I spent on LiveJournal and Blogger as a teen is what gave rise to the army of poorly-paying and non-paying “writing gigs” out there because there was more flashy content available coming from people who were already accustomed to not being paid. What I hope this all means, ultimately, is that people are beginning to turn away from the milled-out Thought Catalog essays (like the one I recently submitted out of frustration,) and towards real writing—thoughtful, researched, edited writing that is bought and paid for with real money instead of internet fame. It seems weird to be writing this in a blog chock full of personal essays but…such is life. I’ll end the night with this tidbit:

The commodification of personal experience was also women’s territory: the small budgets of popular women-focussed Web sites, and the rapidly changing conventions and constrictions surrounding women’s lives, insured it. And so many women wrote about the most difficult things that had ever happened to them and received not much in return.


Extreme Adulting Day 2: Clarity

Clarity is a funny thing. You can go through life doing things blindly without understanding why, or even realize that you are, until…wham. One day you’re confronted with proof positive that other people think the same way you do on certain matters.
It’s kind of an amazing thing.
Recently, I’ve read two books that have done that. These two confirmed to me that I was on the right path on matters I’ve felt compelled to invest myself in without really knowing why, or even realizing there was a subconscious method to my madness. Goodbye, Things and The 4 Hour Work Week are not necessarily groundbreaking reads…unless, that is, that these happen to cover issues that pluck a chord.

  • Goodbye, Things: The New Japanese Minimalism was actually a quick and easy listen via Audible. It was really helpful in clarifying some of the ideas and philosophies behind minimalism that had already made it appealing to me and reaffirmed my interest in maintaining as few belongings as possible. One particularly memorable passage discussed the link between excess belongings and anxiety. The author, Fumio Sasaki, absolutely nailed the scene that would play out nearly every single day back in Alaska—waking up in the morning and feeling so overwhelmed by your to-do list, largely revolving around the various and sundry maintenance of “stuff”, that it became incapacitating and the day would be wasted under the weight of indecision. This happened to some degree every single day I had off. All of the days, in other words, that didn’t command a specific starting point to the day’s activities.
  • The 4-Hour Work Week has a long-established cult following and more or less is the authority, and perhaps the inventor of, ::dun, dun, dun:: lifestyle design. First published in 2007, Tim Ferriss uses the book to outline a lifestyle I’ve been kind-of sort-of striving to achieve without his guidance for quite some time. Most of the information in the book is nothing new to me, but I enjoy the anecdotes and the organization of the information. It, too, is reaffirming in that it assures me I’m not the only one who thinks it’s ridiculous to willingly work harder rather than smarter. Clearly I haven’t mastered any of his crazy money generation methods, but being confronted with the potential of a lifestyle I’m already largely living is…motivating. And confusing. It makes me question whether or not it’s actually something I want and whether or not I want it for the right reasons. (The answer to the former being boredom and the latter being no.) At any rate, his weekly e-mail, Five Bullet Friday, was also part of what inspired me to work on this—my bastardized version of bullet journaling. (It also reminded me that I used to do very similar things on Pulp Faction and it was awesome then, so why not.)

In Other Bullets:

  • Pesos Spent: $220 for mineral water and cheesy beefy quesadillas. $18 for bus fare. $238 total for dinner on the beach while Porkchop played. ($12.75 USD)
  • TV watched: Zero! I watched enough yesterday for the entire damn week.
  • Books Read: Also zero, but I’m putting together my Epic Mexico Summer Reading List, so stay tuned.
  • Homework Done: Not enough. Deadlines Sunday and Monday.
  • Spanish Studied: Argued with the bus driver about letting the dog on, and spoke only Spanish to my waiter. (It’s the small things.)
  • Pitches Sent: Officially, one. Several contacts were made for collaborations, and I researched several outlets for my work. Also made arrangements to write a band bio and press release for a very interesting up-and-coming Memphis act.
  • Beverages Consumed: Alcohol, zero; Caffeinated, lost count; Water, only about 60 ounces. (Sad.)
  • Weather: Chilly with a chance of rain? IE; 76 degrees, 6 mph winds, 85% humidity, overcast with the tails of Tropical Storm Beatriz churning our way across southern Mexico, but apparently little to no chance of getting rain from it.
  • Shared: The National Institutes of Health reveals a study that links autism to an increased incidence in heavy metals in baby teeth. The study covered a small sample size, but is particularly interesting because it utilized twins who would (presumably) have the same nutrition en utero at the stage in which some of the significant differences in heavy metal levels between autistic and non-autistic children were noted.
  • Shared: An 18-year old from Oaxaca was crowned men’s world champion surfer in France yesterday.
  • Shared: KFC reveals a pizza utilizing flattened fried chicken as a “crust”. Earlier I asserted that I was fine with this. That was before dinner. It is a natural next step from the “double down” thing of whatever that was in which they used two pieces of fried chicken breast in place of bread in a sandwich, but this is a food evolution that is just…not ok.

How to Move Abroad on a Whim (And Not Regret It)

There are a lot of variations on the idea that if you sit around waiting for everything to be perfect, or waiting for the right time, or even waiting for Mr. Right, you could wind up waiting forever. Don’t get stuck on waiting to move abroad if that’s what you really want. The truth is that things will probably never suit our idea of the “the perfect time” since life rarely cooperates, and the best we can hope for is a felicitous series of make it work moments that actually work.

Taking all of that into consideration, I’ve been thinking about a few guidelines to smooth the path for such a large transition as a move abroad. These are based on my own experiences and countless conversations with others who have successfully made the transition and lived to not regret it. They are very general and could be applied to a move to just about any country, in my opinion, but you may need to make some changes. (Visa requirements of other countries might make this list very different, for example.)

For reference, I personally decided to move to Mexico in mid- to late-December 2016, remotely signed my lease and put a deposit down on my apartment on January 1, and landed in Puerto Vallarta on February 10, 2017. So…being generous we’ll say it was a two month turn around. This may not be enough time for many, but for others who maintain relatively light existences, I believe this is adequate.

So, based on these factors my best advice for successfully Running Away to Mexico follows.

BYOJ (Bring your own job)

This is the number one thing that makes picking up and moving abroad possible. I always pause when people ask about what the job market is like around here because, honestly, I don’t know and it really shouldn’t matter. If you aren’t bringing a skill set that can’t be filled by a local or filling some other in-demand niche in the local work force, I kind of feel it’s unethical to head to another country and take work away from someone who’s already there that needs it.

Furthermore, in Mexico specifically it creates a lot of other problems for picking up and relocating on a whim. For example, instead of coming in on a tourist visa you’ll need a temporary residential visa, which requires considerably more time and paperwork, or you’ll need to locate an employer who will sponsor you and they can only do so if you fit the description I list above. (IE; nobody in the local work force can do the job you’re being hired for.) It is possible to find work under the table here, but again—ethics.

There are tons of options available for working remotely and finding your niche. Developing a career online totally frees you up from all of these pesky legal considerations and enables you to be much more mobile with virtually no cap to your salary.

Find a Launch Pad

Everyone has a different vision of paradise when imagining their ideal new home abroad, but I’d recommend suspending nirvana in favor of necessity for a moment. Your perfect paradise might be in some remote place with little to no “expat” community because, after all, you aren’t moving to another country to spend all your time with folks from home, but there are a lot of reasons to start off in a city or town with strong immigrant infrastructure, regardless of where you ultimately want to live.

Doing just that has been easy for me to get the hang of things here and feel comfortable because the local immigrant community has been extremely supportive in helping me learn the ropes. Furthermore, my clumsy Spanish is not a total roadblock in daily interactions (but I still have plenty of opportunities to practice,) it was relatively easy to find housing, and because of good public transportation I have had all the access to mobility that I need. All of these factors are important to help make a comfortable transition and keep you from feeling like you made a mistake and they are things that aren’t readily available in many smaller towns with fewer or no immigrants.

It might also be prudent to consider that if you are not yet ready to establish a residency visa, that you will need easy access to an affordable way to exit the country every six months. For me, Puerto Vallarta was perfect because they have affordable and fairly direct flights to most of the places I want to travel to in the U.S.

Divest Yourself of Earthly Belongings

Ok, that was cheesy but it’s totally true. Getting rid of all your stuff can be really hard and I’ve written entire posts on the subject before, but there is a certain sense of freedom that comes with owning very few things that you just can’t beat.

People are always asking what they should bring with them when they move here. I get it. You feel like a pioneer, you are heading into the unknown and you want all of your known creature comforts to accompany you. But the reality is that you probably don’t really need most of the stuff filling your house and your life, and those things that you do need be acquired here.

So get rid of everything that doesn’t fit into your suitcase allowance. Or, if you can afford it, put all of that stuff you just can’t quite let go of into storage and revisit it when you make a visa run in six months. If you’ve found yourself missing anything in particular, bring it back with you, but get rid of everything you haven’t needed or missed or already replaced.

People most often seem to ask about their kitchen stuff. For some reason folks are especially attached to kitchen stuff. Even I went so far as to mostly fill one of my totes with kitchen things, and I look back now and realize how silly it was. The only two items I brought that couldn’t be replaced here for a few pesos were my stovetop espresso maker and my cast iron skillet. Everything else was a waste of space. (Granted, I generally abhor small appliances but even if you’re a fan, you can probably find replacements here.)

Realistically, in order to make a big move like this and enjoy it you’re going to have to find some way to detach from all of the stuff we tend to accumulate. This is more than a physical process, it’s a mental one, too. It’s going to take some work to let go, and how much varies from person to person, but the better you accomplish this the more freedom you will have and the fewer regrets you will harbor.

The Nuts & Bolts

  • Forget the residency visa. For Americans and Canadians traveling to Mexico specifically, plan on coming in on a tourist visa and leaving for a vacation or a visit home in six months. This requires no additional paperwork before your trip, relieves the pressure of commitment, and gives you time to consider your options as well as time to emotionally separate from whatever you may have left at home. For U.S. citizens considering other countries, here is the list of visa requirements around the world.
  • Find your launch pad. Don’t be a stranger to Facebook. It has been the single best tool I can recommend for connecting with the immigrant and expat communities abroad. Search for groups for expats an immigrants in the town you are considering and make friends. This is helpful in every possible way, and if you get in there and ask questions and interact you might just be lucky enough to have a solid network of friends waiting for you when you land. You can also inquire about housing in the Facebook groups as offerings on AirBnB and Craigslist can be slim and overpriced.
  • Get rid of your stuff. When I moved out of my house and into my friend’s house in Anchorage, I grouped all of my belongings into very broad categories. Stuff to donate, stuff to trash, stuff to keep, and stuff to sell. I hate dealing with a lot of people and abhor hosting garage sales, so the “stuff to sell” wound up in two or three different lots on Facebook buy-sell-trade groups. They were auctioned off to the highest bidder, winner MUST take all, and if the winner didn’t show at the designated time with help to load and cash in hand, I was prepared to go to the next person on the list. This didn’t net the largest profit, but it resulted in the least amount of headache. After donating and trashing the rest, I found my “stuff to keep” pile getting smaller and smaller as well. Something about getting rid of stuff is addictive, and once you bite the bullet and start the process it gets much easier to whittle your belongings down to, say, a couple of suitcases and a couple of Rubbermade totes. (Which is what I brought, and later realized was far too much.)
  • Work remotely. This is a daunting topic because there is absolutely a glut of information out there. My best advice would be to consider your skill set and think about how that translates to the online economy. Many industries are now beginning to offer full- or part-time remote employment in everything from teaching to customer service and your usual coding and data entry, etc. Others have found that working for themselves is a better route and they choose to freelance as writers, designers, coders, marketers, and more. If you’ve somehow managed to get to this point without any skills at all that translate to online work (doubtful!) then the world is your oyster and I’d recommend looking into starting from scratch to learn coding or some other marketable skill that appeals your own interests. This is definitely a topic that deserves further and more detailed exploration, so I’ll be working on a piece about that in the coming weeks and update here as soon as it’s done.

A Few Personal Notes

Things that made it possible to drop everything and move quickly:

  • I had already divested of a large portion of my belongs and was renting a furnished room.
  • Not married and no kids.
  • I already had a couple of online marketing accounts to start me off for a steady source of remote income.
  • I had a very good bartending gig which allowed me to save a chunk of money in a short amount of time after I identified a goal.

Things that proved to be challenges:

  • Finding a place and traveling with my dog in cargo in February from Alaska to Mexico was nerve wracking.
  • I still had a lot of stuff to get rid of, including my truck, and other things I needed to put into storage.
  • I had managed to misplace my passport and with such a short amount of time and the rush on the passport offices at the time, I was worried about this. (Proved not to be a problem as I got my replacement back in less than a week with expediting it.)

Always remember that there truly is no time like the present. I don’t want to get all “inspirational poster” about things up in here, but if you have the privilege of being from a place like the U.S. or Canada, can wrap your head around working online and living light, and know how to play nice and make friends—the world is your oyster. Dropping everything and moving abroad doesn’t have to be a unachievable dream, even if you have a family. It just takes a little motivation and knowing where to start.
Good luck!

RELATED: Seaside in Puerto Vallarta for $800 Per Month

Extreme Adulting Day 1: Welcome to Sobriety

I started my sober month with a hangover because…well, of course I did.
Nothing coffee and chicken tacos couldn’t take care of, but I have to admit—there wasn’t a whole lot of adulting going on today. I mean, I binge watched the entire second season of UnREAL on Hulu.
Aside from that, I guess my big adulting accomplishment involved a lot of self-reflection on my relationship with drinking. I already talked about how I acknowledge the considerable negative impacts alcohol has on my life. Let’s delve a little further into that shit show, shall we?
My last name is Drinkard, in case you didn’t know. A name like that comes with certain expectations, it seems. Realistically, I’ve probably been an alcoholic since I was 18 or so. I definitely was by the third or fourth 21st birthday I had and by the time I got fired from my first job at Princess in Denali because I’d made myself so ill with alcohol that I couldn’t get out of bed to get to work for a week. It’s pretty much always been a central character in my adult life, which is odd because my family is mostly made up of non-drinkers and I wasn’t raised around that at all.
Maybe that’s what attracted me to it, in part. It was a part of an identity of my own, not just a part of my name. It helped me find a voice and an angle as I developed my first blog and came to be known as a party girl. And frankly, I did need it in my own ways—I was shy and alcohol helped me forget that. Sometimes too much so.
As an adult it has become a crutch for all kinds of things. It helped me forget about things that upset me and it helped quiet the constant noise and chatter in my mind. Actually it was the only thing that could put a stop to the hamster wheel of thought that kept me up all night creaking away the hours.
It certainly wasn’t a healthy way to self-medicate, but when I consider the things so many of my friends and aquiantances turned to as their own solutions, I feel lucky that I’m “just” a bit of a drunk. And since I’ve begun to acknowledge the unhealthy relationship I have with alcohol, I’ve been better at controlling its influence over me when it starts to be too much.
The problem is, however, that I suck at moderation. I have an addictive personality and it tends to manifest in all kinds of “all or nothing” sorts of ways, including drinking. So, when I need to get a handle on it and reel myself back in a bit, I’ve got to haul my ass back up onto the wagon for a while because “taking it easy” ain’t gonna happen. Abstinence, however, I can do.
I realized I was past due for this sober month earlier this week when I literally had to take a shot of tequila in order to work up the courage to send a big pitch out. It shouldn’t be like that. I don’t get to talk about being brave and finding your courage when I’m hobbling along propped up by the liquid version. Honestly, I don’t know if I’ve ever done anything “brave” while I was sober. I don’t think I applied to work in Alaska when I was sober. I don’t think I decided to go back to school when I was sober. I don’t think I booked my tickets to move to Mexico when I was sober.
And let’s face it—Mexico isn’t an easy place to be sober. Like Alaska, it seems like alcohol is a particularly large part of life here. Yesterday, for example, I met business contacts and discussed plans over drinks, as I usually do. I don’t think I’ve ever put a toe in the sand at the beach unless a margarita was involved and like a pony with a carrot dangling in front of it, a good beer or cocktail propels me through everything from errands to workouts. It will be interesting to experience these things without this weak reward mechanism and I’m looking forward to seeing if I replace it with something else, or if the activity itself becomes its own reward.
Who knows, maybe I’ll like Mexico when I’m sober. Maybe we’ll go more than a month.

June 1, 2017 Bullets

  • I don’t really understand bullet journaling, but I’m going to do it anyway because it’s supposed to have the power to change your damn life. I figure between bullet journaling and maybe an increase in my kale consumption, I should be good to go.
  • I had dinner last night up at this crazy weird restaurant called Las Carmelitas. Hands down the most stunning view of all of Puerto Vallarta I can imagine, but I was amused by a review I read today about how a lady felt totally creeped out by the place and many reviews lamented poor service and less than stellar food. I can see it, kind of. They have this beautiful place up a creepy one lane road at the top of a mountain. There was nobody there but a couple of staff and some chickens and goats. The place has this odd unfinished, isolated feel to it, but I personally thought the food was pretty good and I’d totally recommend it to anyone wanting a quiet place with a stunning view. Then again, I like weird shit.
  • Today was gloomy. The sky was overcast and the sea was choppy. I put a sweater on a bit ago. It was supposed to get hot in June, but June didn’t get the memo.
  • I don’t feel like I started this big month off very strong, but I did send a pitch out, I did practice my Spanish (for like ten minutes,) I talked to my awesome sister, and I got some studying done.
  • Also made plans to have my first booze-free beach day with my friend Robina tomorrow and she doesn’t know it, but she’s going to be my first business networking meeting for the month because her shop, La Sirena, is awesome and she’s an inspiration.
  • I also made my grocery shopping list. Ten ingredients, 30 days of food. Should be good.
  • What I’m thinking about: Two websites have hit my radar this week and I can’t stop turning them over in my head. What could I do with Patreon that would be worthwhile? Also really into Help a Reporter Out (HARO). There’s something to these two and I’m still working it out…but they’re both playing into my bigger picture.
  • What I’m watching: UnREAL. It’s such a sleeper. Everyone’s being all classy and cultured and watching the latest House of Cards, and here I am totally unable to get enough of of this trashy network drama about reality TV show production. You should check it out.
  • What I’m listening to: “Extremely Bad Man” by Shintaro Sakamoto

Ultimate Monthly Challenge: Extreme Adulting

Why is it that the best motivator is always being told “you can’t?” It’s been this way for me for as long as I can remember, and while certainly it’s got me in trouble, it has also been the single biggest catalyst for all the most interesting stuff that’s ever happened in my life.
The other day I broke away from the navel gazing on this little ol’ blog of mine and posted up something folks found useful…or at least interesting. At any rate, the whole bit on living here on $800 a month seemed to get an awful lot of attention and more than a few people’s panties in a twist. They say it can’t be done, over and over and over again. Of course there are plenty of us out there who know better and are actively doing just that, but a few good points were brought up. Primarily that my budget didn’t really account for any of the more irregular life expenses like health care, vet care for the doggo, incidental purchases for replacing clothing and such, and travel. All good points. Taking all that into account, I do admit that $1,000 usd per month vs. my aforementioned $800 would be more comfortable. (But hey, why stop there. $5,000 would be downright cozy.)
At any rate, for June I’ve decided to track every last peso to share and see if I can repeat my fabulous May on the cheap. I’m actually not going to set a budget, it will be what it will be, but I predict it will be under $800 without depriving myself at all.
That being said, there are a few other things going on in June as well. I always enjoy a good monthly challenge, but I haven’t tried one in a while. I’ve had a lot to think about lately, it’s resulted in quite a few goals that I was interested in pursuing. I decided to combine them all into my Ultimate Monthly Challenge—Extreme Adulting Edition.
So without further ado, here’s some of what I hope for that to entail in addition to the budget listed above:

  1. Sober Month. I pull a dry month periodically for both my mental and physical well-being. I find that it helps to remind myself that I can function just fine without the social lubricant I tend to begin to lean on after a while. I also find I tend to have more energy, have a sharper mind, lose a bunch of weight, and save a ton of money. Knowing all that, why would I drink at all? Eh. It tastes good and it’s fun and I’m an unapologetic hedonist. End of story.
  2. Summer Semester. I’m attempting 9 credit hours plus a Spanish course this short summer semester so I can have a reduced workload this fall for travel. It will be the most intense semester I’ve put myself through so far and while the material isn’t necessarily difficult, it will be time consuming and require a lot of discipline—something that isn’t necessarily my strong suit.
  3. More Work. I’m still learning the ropes of a new business I’m working to bootstrap, but in the meanwhile I need to make sure the money comes in instead of just going out. I am loving writing so much lately that I’m aiming to hit the freelance field hot and heavy again in the coming months and find steady and fulfilling gigs somewhere in between all this other stuff. For the challenge I am translating this to sending out one pitch every single day and spending time with someone I can learn something about work, writing, entrepreneurship or business from once a week.
  4. Personal Goals. I gots’em. When I go off the bottle I tend to ramp up the diet and exercise bit so there will be a lot of foodie and cooking posts, I imagine. (I’ll spare you all the minutia of my workouts.) I aim to start really pushing a few other things as well. Specifically, I’m wanting more time in and around the water. I’ve never spent much time in the sea itself (in a boat, yes, but not in the water,) and only this month have I realized how uncomfortable I am with it. That’s not cool, considering the sea is currently my closest neighbor. We need to be friends. Swimming and snorkeling are things I want to feel natural to me by the end of the summer. Spanish competency, of course, is also always on the list of self-improvement stuff.
  5. Journaling. This is where you come in, dear reader. I’ve been reading up on the bullet journal thing and while I get the appeal of a physical book full of paper and stuff, it’s just not for me. I’m a digital girl living in a digital world, and thus my bullet journal will be online. I’m still working out the exact contents of my digital bullets, but the aim is to record them here on FRR daily. Some of it will be to track progress on these aforementioned goals, but also to record my tastes in music, reading materials, and inspirations in general. (And I promise, they will be worth reading. I won’t subject you to boring shit.)

So, that’s it. That’s a sneak peek at next month in a nut shell. Classes started last week, but the rest of the list will wait ’til June 1.

Flying with Your Dog to Mexico: New Health Certificate Rules

There are probably a hundred reasons I could give for moving to Mexico, but one of them most definitely is that it was the easiest place on my list to bring my dog, Porkchop. Porkchop is a five year old brindle mutt weighing about 30 lbs. For most of his life he has been A Very Bad Dog, but after five years, several thousand dollars in professional training, extensive efforts to socialize and correct my bad parenting, and a couple of months of Prozac, he’s turned into a mostly pretty good guy and I’m extremely grateful for his company. He’s my “kid,” ya know? Obviously, leaving him behind in Alaska was NOT an option, but flying him to Portugal or Spain (original top destinations) seemed like an impossibility for a poorly crate trained dog that had never flown before.
Enter Mexico, stage left. Mexico seems to be one of the more dog friendly countries you can haul your pet to outside of the US (and easier than Hawaii.) They require little more paperwork than a standard health certificate, and if your vet is like mine that extra form shouldn’t cost much, if anything.
HOWEVER, there has been a shakeup in recent months, and Porkchop and I were “lucky” enough to experience the results of that first hand upon entering the country at Puerto Vallarta airport in early February.
A subtle line regarding endo- and ectoparasites has been causing some pet owners to be delayed at customs, often having to wait for a local vet to be called in to administer a wormer or parasite control of some sort before being allowed to leave. This can cause you and your pup (or cat) to be held up for extra HOURS (depending on who is available to make an airport call) and may cost a good deal of extra money.
There has been much debate in various forums as to whether this change is a NEW rule or simply a NEWLY ENFORCED rule. Either way, it’s important to note and clarify with your vet before boarding a plane with your pet.
This is what my certificate said:

This is what the OISA officer showed me as an example of what they wanted:

What the rules say

Per the Mexico equivalent of the USDA (SAGARPA-SENASICA,) these are the latest requirements to import dogs and cats as of November 2016 as run through Google Translator:

Upon entering Mexico …
You must contact the official SAGARPA-SENASICA personnel to make a  Certificate of import  of your pet, for this purpose, the official will perform a  physical and documentary inspection, to verify compliance with the following requirements:
1. Present a  Certificate of Good Health  in original and simple copy with the following elements:

  • Issued by an official veterinarian of the competent authority or if it is a particular one, on letterhead, with the number of the professional certificate printed or a photocopy of the same (or its equivalent).
  • Name and address of exporter (in country of origin or provenance) and importer (destination address in Mexico).
  • Date of application of the rabies vaccine and its validity (animals under 3 months of age are exempt).
  • That at the pre-trip inspection, the animal or animals were clinically healthy.
  • That the animal or animals have been dewormed internally and externally within the previous six months and are free of ectoparasites.
  • If you do not comply with the above, you must contact a Veterinarian (of your choice and for your account in Mexico), who will issue the health certificate and apply the corresponding treatment.

2. Your pet must enter a carrier or container, clean, without bed, without implements or accessories (toys, sweets, prizes or other objects, made with ingredients of ruminant origin), otherwise they will be removed for destruction. The carrier or container will receive preventive treatment by sprinkling by the official staff of SAGARPA-SENASICA; You can enter with your necklace, strap, etc.
3. You can enter the ration of the day of balanced food in bulk. We remind you that in Mexico we have this type of food that has the Registration and Authorization of SAGARPA-SENASICA.
4) If you send your pet documented as cargo, check the requirements on the airline of your choice and consider the need to use the services of a customs agent for release to Customs.

See the original here.
It does seem that OISA is less inclined to let things slide lately that they might have previously overlooked, so be sure all of your I’s are dotted and T’s are crossed. A few things that have hung people up recently include having a stamp or computer generated signature instead of required hand-signed original certificate and a lack of official letterhead and/or license number.
One excellent tip we found in discussion was to have your vet e-mail the pertinent certificate and information along with your flight information to the proper authorities at your destination airport to ensure it is acceptable and expedite the process on your arrival. (Be sure to still bring the original plus copies.)
In Puerto Vallarta, send that information to:

Contact: Amaro Venegas Castillion
oisapvallarta@hotmail.com or oisapuertovallarta@senasica.gob.mx

You can find contact information for other airports here.
Another good reminder is to have things to clean up after you pet within easy reach as sometimes the wait can be long and you must clear customs completely before taking your pet out to relieve itself.

Bottom Line

BE VERY SURE your certificate includes all possible details of all recent parasite treatments for internal and external parasites, including brand name and active ingredient. Bring receipts if you have them.
If you typically administer something like Frontline or Revolution at home, space it out in such a way as to allow your vet to administer a dose at your health certificate appointment as many vets will not put it on the certificate if they haven’t applied it themselves.
If your topical external parasite treatment does not include coverage for internal parasites (such as Revolution does,) ask your vet a dose of a mild wormer such as a pyrantel just to be on the safe side. This is a very gentle and inexpensive wormer that is commonly given to puppies and kittens and will satisfy the authorities and save you a $50+ additional vet fee at the airport.

Quick Links: