Traveling? Find Someone to Look after Your Home and Pets Cost-Free

Guest post by Rachel Martin of TrustedHousesitters.com 

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An old conundrum

Planning a vacation or a longer trip away can throw up a few dilemmas.  Leaving your home empty could be a security issue and if you have pets, who will care for them?  Traditionally, homeowners would either leave their home empty putting their cats and dogs in kennels/catteries or pay for expensive house sitting services. However, today there is a more ideal solution. You can find a trusted house sitter – free of charge – who is willing to care for your home and pets while you are away, no matter if you leave for short or long periods of time.


Win-win solution

TrustedHousesitters.com offers hundreds of experienced house sitters who are happy to house sit in your area, with no charge to you.  It’s a win-win solution. The homeowner gets peace of mind knowing home and pets are cared for, and the house sitter gets a free retreat and the chance to love pets as if they were their own.

As a home and pet owner, there are stressful pet concerns and housing costs that you can’t ignore even if you leave on vacation.

House sitting is a win for the home owner and a win for the sitter

Pet stress

According to British Veterinary Surgeon Katie Blackburn, taking pets out of their home environment can be traumatic for both owners and pets, and it is well-documented that pets prefer to remain in their natural environment rather than in kennels. Cats in particular can get highly stressed when out of their natural environment, especially when put in close proximity to other cats. Having a house sitter will ensure that you’ll return to calm and contented pets.

Even if you do take pets to kennels, this can be a costly venture and can expose them to unwanted illnesses such as kennel cough. Sometimes finding an ideal kenneling facility locally can be a challenge.

Home security

Whether you live in Mexico, Costa Rica, the USA or anywhere else in the world, leaving your home empty can expose it to burglars. Having a house sitter is a great deterrent, and if your pets are staying at home, this can prove to be an impediment to thieves too.

Depending on where you live, insurance coverage can be void if you leave your home empty for 30 days or more.

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Home maintenance

Who will look after your plants and garden? Both indoor and outdoor plants are at risk of withering away if left without water for anything more than a few days. If you have a lawn that needs attention, it doesn’t take long before the grass grows and provides a natural advertisement to potential burglars that your home is empty.

Having a house sitter is also a perfect solution for keeping your second home in good condition. If your cottage or vacation home is left unattended for long periods of time, do you really want to spend your vacation time cleaning the house and maintaining your garden when you really just want to relax?

If you have a pet or love pets, this option is for you

Why impose on family or friends?

It used to be that you could ask a neighbor, a friend, or a family member to look after your home when you go away. But sometimes this can be an imposition, especially if you want to be gone for longer than a week or two. Having a person committed to caring for your home and pets enables you to come home to a spotless house, a happy pet and, more often than not, dinner waiting for you so you don’t have to cook after a long journey!

With a trusted house sitter, home maintenance issues – anything  from burst pipes to the air conditioner breaking down – can be dealt with efficiently so you can return to a fully functioning home with no surprise maintenance problems. This can make your entrance home from vacation a seamless event.

Choose your sitter or become one

Having to pay traditional style house sitting agencies can cost anything from $50-100 per day to look after your home and pets. Trustedhousesitters not only offers sitters that don’t charge, but you get to choose your sitter too.

Profiles of many experienced house sitters, including veterinary staff, retired police, magistrates, animal rescue centre workers, medics, retired FBI special agents and air force personnel as well as retired professionals keen to look after homes and pets to save on the cost of vacation accommodation are all available on site.

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Hundreds of retirees who are happy to house sit long term may be looking for a cost effective way to enjoy their vacation time while you are looking for a dependable and experienced house sitter while you enjoy your own travels.

Homeowners can securely advertise and search for house sitters, read reviews from other house sitting assignments and relevant pet sitting experience. They can also view references, photos, video profiles and police check information to help give peace of mind.

House sitting provides a great solution for anyone needing to find an ideal sitter when they go away – they are also a fantastic resource for finding a wonderful and ideal retreat worldwide – the chance to visit a region or country that you may not have considered going to before.

We love the opportunity to care for people’s pets, as if they were our own.  It offers us a chance to live somewhere different, be part of a community and live like a local rather than the usual uninspiring hotel room.  It’s an added bonus to us to have pets to love, as we no longer have our own and the emotional attachment we develop gives us so much joy.  When we leave an assignment we always ensure there are fresh flowers in every room and Val prepares a wonderful meal for the owner’s return. – Ed and Val, seasoned sitters

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Lodging and Local Happenings in Panajachel

Hi Akaisha and Bill

Enjoyed reading about your very pleasant-sounding stay on Lake Atitlan.

Would be interested to know about your living situation. Are you renting an apartment for this long stay? Is that easy to do there? Would you mind revealing how much you pay per month, and also if finding somewhere to live for a few months that has an internet connection is difficult. Thanks for any information on all this.

I’d love to hear how the expat community (and you?) are involved in local happenings!

My husband and I will be starting our world travels, open end, as of January 2013. (Exciting and a little scary too…………..)

Thanks for your help.

Stay well

Regina

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Hi Regina,

Thanks for taking the time to write. We appreciate it.

Lodging is easy to find here at Lake Atitlan. We are living in Panajachel and hotels, homes, and apartments are all available. It depends on what style of living you would prefer.

Other towns around the lake (each with their own distinct personality) also offer lodging of various sorts and you can find this information posted – usually at restaurants, cafe’s, and certain sundry stores. Or just ask around. Everyone is interested in renting out a unit to someone.

Pana offers natural beauty and social engagement

Apartments can run from $250USD a month to $800 a month + and homes are a bit higher – from $350 to $1,000 month +. Some include furniture, some don’t, but most will require you to pay for utilities and internet. Several hotels will allow you to live full time or for months on end and can provide you with an affordable monthly rate. Depending on the hotel, it can run $200 to $500++ per month. Some hotels will give you access to cooking facilities. These hotels and other accommodation are available all around the lake.

The positive about living out of a hotel room is that most will supply wifi connection, Cable TV, maid service and of course your linens. Some apartments and homes will require you to provide your own linens and your own cable connection and wifi. Dongles (a thumb-drive satellite internet connection) are available here and that will cost you about $100 a month, or you can visit an internet cafe.

Many places (hotels included) have lovely views of gardens, the volcanoes or the lake.

Gardens and pool are offered at this hotel

I can’t imagine being bored here at Lakeside. “Local happenings” include live jazz, salsa, and Latin music, indigenous cultural events, parades and markets among other things. Some expats start their own businesses producing honey, locally made coffee, or they open a cafe, a restaurant, a small specialty grocery store or an import/export business selling the high quality Maya weavings or beadwork.

Opportunities for volunteer work runs the gamut and is incredibly interesting. There are those who are working with the Maya midwives around the lake and are teaching the young midwives a combination of Maya healing techniques along with Western medicine nursing approaches. Teaching English as a second language, or helping to install solar coffee bean driersfor the indigenous, teaching locals about sanitation practices, or helping to install purified water systems or solar light bulbs to villages are all projects that are useful and satisfying.

Cross the lake for a different perspective

If volunteer work is appealing to you, this is an area of interest and a location where you can make your own mark because the need is great here. One young couple has a small organic farm from which they sell their vegetables and teach classes on sustainability.

Turning Trash into Beauty explains a volunteer training program to teach literacy and financial management to mothers in Guatemala City. While this one particular project is based in Antigua, the idea could be utilized anywhere there is a town or city garbage dump.

All of the above are only examples and there are dozens more.

I hope you find the information which I have offered you here to be of interest. Good luck, and do keep in touch.

Best,
Akaisha

Pana will offer you peace and projects

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Where Is the Best Place to Retire?

Hi !

I would like to know which location do you consider to be the best place to retire early as being a healthy, quiet, cheap, quite warm temperature and sunny place … basically I am not sure where to start … I have heard about Vilcabamba …

Thank you !

Best regards,

Jean-Marc

Hi Jean-Marc,

Your question is a good one.

We have found that the places with the most consistent temperate climate seem to be the ones at high altitude in tropical latitudes. Take a look at our Relocation Page and you will find several Expat websites which give you direct access to those who are already living in various locations around the world. You can join these forums and ask them questions about the cities and towns they would personally recommend from first hand experience.

Vilcabamba, Ecuador is a lovely place – a smaller town more like a neighborhood – with a focus on nature, spa activity and with a 1970’s feel.

Panajachel and the Lake Atitlan, Guatemala area would also fall into the category of sunny climate (especially during the dry season) with a small town feel and with lots of different perspectives depending on which town around the lake you would prefer to live.

San Cristobal, Chiapas, Mexico is another international type of place with plenty to do and, except for a few months during the winter where it does get cold (about 40-50 degrees and sometimes rain), it is a beautiful and convenient location.

There are relocation websites (also on our Relocation Page) where you can answer a questionnaire about what matters to you the most: climate, size of town, availability of libraries, culture, fine dining, etc.) and then they come up with suggested towns and cities that fit that description. They might have an international section, but for sure, they will give you a list of North American options.

The most important thing is to know what you are looking for and what matters the most to you. The second thing is to know what you are willing to trade off in order to have most of what you want in a retirement location.

I hope you find this information useful.

Please feel free to write any time and let us know how things are going for you.

All the best,
Akaisha

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Identifying Wolves in Sheep’s Clothing

Hi Billy and Akaisha,

I admire your free spirit, and hope to travel in Latin America someday.

One thing that concerns me is reports of apparently friendly people in Latin America who turn out to be surprisingly evil. For example, there’s “Wild Bill Cortez” and his wife, Americans who befriended people, then killed them, took their belongings, and took over their properties. (Stealing Paradise)

And Javier Martin, who became friends with Don North, after Don rescued Javier after his boat sank in a storm. Javier later killed Don for his property and money, and also killed a French boat owner for his property. (Dark Side of Paradise)

I know bad things happen everywhere, including the US, but with the social support of friends and family, we have a little more resources for dealing with some of these situations, compared to being in an unfamiliar location and at the mercy of strangers. I also recognize that the majority of native Latin Americans, as well as expats are goodhearted peopled. Do you all have any suggestions about how to identify these wolves in sheep’s clothing?

Joan

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Hi Joan,

Your questions are excellent ones and we thank you for taking the time to write.

We are familiar with both of those stories, the one about Wild Bill and the one about Javier Martin. In fact, a few nights ago we just watched the TV story about Don North being killed by Javier.

Several years ago I read a book by Gavin de Becker called The Gift of Fear.

Mr. De Becker takes the position that violence isn’t just ‘random’ and that clues and access to information which can prevent us from becoming a victim is available to us beforehand. He explains that caution is different than fear, with fear actually being a gift that can save our lives. He explains how gut instinct is much different than an over-active imagination.

The information in this book is good, solid advice to use anywhere, including your own home town.

A very high percentage of victims of violence will admit that they knew ‘something wasn’t right’ or that they felt strangely before violence struck. They shushed themselves up and went ahead into the dangerous situation anyway. In other words, we as human animals ‘know’ but often don’t take our warning signs seriously.

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Violence doesn’t normally happen to someone who looks confident, or appears to know where they are going and walks with a purpose. Perpetrators look for someone who is distracted or lost, seems weak, has their purse, money bag or belongings helter-skelter while they are looking at a map. They could have their hands full and generally they appear worried or look down at the sidewalk when they walk. Criminals seek the weak not the strong.

If you are lost or trying to get your bearings, step inside a building and gather yourself, then go back onto the street.

Distraction or desperation brings with it a high probability for trouble. Walk confidently and with a destination in mind. Give the impression of being self-possessed when you are traveling and walking around in unfamiliar locations.

Desperados don’t want trouble, they want an easy take.

In most situations, using common sense is … well… common sense.

Keep a low profile, avoid being loud or argumentative, and if you meet friends at a bar, don’t get so looped that you can’t find your way back home. Too much alcohol consumption contributes to situations we call ’leaving your brains at the border.’ Keep a certain ’situational awareness’ about yourself at all times. This situational awareness is probably your #1 defense mechanism – that, and how your gut feels about anyone you meet, no matter how nice they seem to be.

When complete strangers get overly chummy or street or beach vendors ask politely ‘Where are you from? Where are you staying? Where did you have dinner?” realize that these people want to know this information for a reason. Vendors (and criminals) have years of experience sizing up tourists in order to see if you are a good target or estimate what price they might be able to extract from you for their goods – they are not ‘just being friendly’. When you divulge too much information about yourself, your whereabouts and what kind of money you may be carrying, you are clearly asking for trouble.

If you travel dripping of jewels, yielding loads of cash, staying in high end resorts with a false sense of security, brandishing an attitude and generally not aware of the impression you are giving to poorer locals or those with mal-intent, you are setting yourself up to be a target for theft or worse.

Remember, in most circumstances you are not at the mercy of a stranger. You make decisions every day with confidence. Be willing to use all of your abilities — the rational, conscious mind as well as the subconscious mind which picks up hundreds of clues and thousands of bits of information in seconds, processing them more quickly than the rational mind is able to do.

Do not be taken in by a stranger in strange circumstances. If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck it’s probably a duck. Politely and quickly disengage yourself from the situation and get out of harm’s way.

Violence and the unexpected can happen anywhere, including your own home city, with or without your loved ones being nearby.

Put things into perspective, trust your abilities and enjoy your life wherever you are.

Thanks again for taking the time to write, and I hope you find these tips and the insight I have offered to be useful.

Stay well, and keep in touch.

Akaisha

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Installing Solar Coffee Bean Driers – Guatemala

Bored in retirement? Enjoy this guest post by Ben Etnier who helped install solar coffee bean driers at Lake Atitlan, Guatemala for the local Maya coffee workers. Mix adventure with helping others.

Our first day

Breakfast was served to us at 7:30 a.m. by Erma, the wife of Rufino, and her sister.  It is common practice for the Maya women to be service oriented, and these two sisters cooked us breakfast and lunch on every day except for Sunday. The days we worked in Godinez, supper was provided for us when we returned home.

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After eating, we began to assemble both ourselves and our equipment. To begin making the solar driers, we needed to take the lids off hundreds of 12 ounce soda cans that had been collected by our host, Rufino, and his family.  It takes 289 cans per solar panel and we were making two panels. Right away we found out that these aluminum cans were not the same as we have in the States.  It seemed like almost every can was different and this part of the project proved to be a bit more work than we anticipated.

Solar Coffee Drier 4

Soda cans in tight rows and columns

A glimpse into the future?

The best part about opening the cans was to see Jonathon and Carlos, Rufino’s children, interact with us and wanting to help.  We were so happy to see the children interested in our project!!  Our entire group from Illinois Central College knows that it’s the children who need to be taught, and they are the ones who need to take a hold of our concepts and implement them as they grow older.

At this point we volunteers split into two groups. One worked on opening cans, while the other began to assemble the 4 ft. x 8 ft. solar panel frame to hold them.  The wood here in Guatemala is harder, more crooked and more brittle than the kiln-dried wood we are used to in the States, so because of this, we had to make some adaptations to our frame.

Solar Coffee Drier 2

Completed panels side by side

By the end of the first day we were able to have one panel frame constructed and accomplish a good start on the aluminum can columns.  We will need 17 rows with 17 soda cans per row, painted flat black. Feeling good about the progress made, at this point we were looking forward to another day closer to assembling our panels.

Little did we know what was only a few hours away.

Mother Nature brings a glitch

The morning of day two brought about a windstorm carrying 54 mph sustained winds and knocked out the power in several villages around the lake for 36 hours.  Because we couldn’t use the electricity to cut the wood needed to make our second panel, we couldn’t assemble our cans and paint them.

We didn’t expect this glitch from Mother Nature but decided to make the most of our down time. Since we are in coffee country after all, why not take a trip up to the coffee Co-op and investigate the drying process already in place? These local Maya workers would have knowledge regarding the agriculture here, and that information would help us in creating a better finished product.

A commercial operation

We were able to see the system that is already in place and were elated that it was so efficient.   The locals were very eager to share their knowledge with us about the coffee bean drying process and took the time to explain in detail the procedure from beginning to end.  The manager of this commercial coffee operation has been schooled in agriculture and in speaking with him, that education was very evident.

The manager and his staff of 10 take the wet coffee bean inside a cherry-like shell to a dried product ready to be roasted. The beans are placed on a concrete patio and the workers rake the coffee every 30 minutes by hand throughout the day to rotate them. With dry weather, this drying process can be completed in 6 days.

How the solar panels make a difference

The solar panels we were installing were for the benefit of the smaller Maya farmers. With these panels they are able to dry the coffee beans themselves before they send them to be processed at the above mentioned facility. Having the solar panels to dry their beans saves the smaller farmer money. He does not have to purchase fuel for a diesel powered drying machine nor do they have to pay the large Co-op to do the drying for them.

Solar Coffee Drier 3

Fan directs heat from solar panel to chamber

Rufino and other small farmers were excited to have this new idea. With a little more working time and a bit more instruction on the project, this would be an easily transferable skill to other workers.

Related Posts:

Spending My Retirement Helping Others

Turning Trash Into Beauty

 

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A Reader Asks About Volunteering in Chiang Mai

Hi Akaisha and Billy,

We’ve spoken in the past and I’ve found your encouragement and information valuable. While I’ve moved to San Miguel de Allende, I’m currently exploring SE Asia. I find myself in Chiang Mai, enjoying the city but, after Vietnam, a little tired of the tourist routine. 

I recalled some photos you had of working at a nearby village with children. Could provide contact information for a person or organization there? I’ve seen some listings in which you pay several hundred dollars a week for the privilege, but I’m really just wanting to contribute a little bit during the next couple of weeks. I could tutor English — or whatever.

Gracias!

Dan
Hi Dan!
GREAT to hear from you again! As you know we love Asia. Surely hope you are having a good time checking things out. Did you find someone to watch your much loved canine companion while you are on the road?

RE: volunteering in Thailand…  We never went through a group or organization – we always did things on the fly or as we saw the need. However, you could do several things:

Check out the Chiang Mai Expats Club and see if they have a project going on where you could join in or contribute.

Contact Hugh Leong of Retire 2 Thailand and ask him what is happening with any kind of volunteer projects. Hugh has lived in Thailand for some years and is married to a Thai – so he would probably have some inside scoop. If you would like an email introduction, just let me know and I’ll do that for you.

Speaking of email introductions, I know of 2 other gentlemen who live in Thailand full time and who are great conversationalists, musicians, writers and such… if you would like email introductions to them, just let me know and I’ll do that right away. They’ll answer any questions you have about living in Thailand and specifically, CMai.

Also, you could go to any Wat and see if there are projects you could get involved in or go to any school and volunteer your time. There are 2 prisons in Cmai – a men’s and a women’s prison — and my experience in that category is that these people are starved for conversation, interaction and any kind of training that you could give.

For the women’s prison, I gave material and patterns for the women to make things and then they sell those things for extra spending money for toothpaste, combs, shampoo or snacks…

This should keep you busy for a little while. Let me know if you have any other questions or would like any introductions.

Best of luck and have a great time there in Asia.

Thanks for staying in touch,
Akaisha

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Are You a Cruiser?

Years ago when Billy and I were working 80 hours a week at our restaurant, we would treat ourselves to cruising holidays through the Caribbean. We loved these vacations away from work and worry.

Cruising

Cruising is an exotic way to travel

These days one can go on cruise ships that will take you all over the world from Antarctica, South Africa, The Mediterranean, South America, Alaska or the Canadian Fjords. It doesn’t matter which season it is or what the weather is like at home, it’s always a good time to go cruising.

Because cruise ships offer so many activities to passengers, trips via ship work well for family reunions, weddings, or any sort of large gathering for celebration. Having assorted choices available of learning salsa dancing, seeing a Vegas-style performance, taking a culinary class, lying by the pool or spending the day being pampered at the spa, fill the various needs of family and friends, taking the burden off the host of the event.

Cruising

Activities for every age and interest

There are lots of reasons to go cruising. For one thing, all inclusive packages save you money. Once the ticket is purchased, you have your room, your meals and snacks, on board activities and entertainment all paid for. You don’t have several different hotels to call to confirm reservations, and you don’t have to drive to restaurants or fight traffic.

Some cruising companies offer Family Holiday packages where children under 18 cruise free. That’s a huge savings. And if your teenager wants his own spending money for his vacation on the ship, you can purchase a prepaid teen card which acts like a credit card but without any devastating monetary surprises.

The fact that you only have to unpack once and yet be able to see several exotic locations is another benefit to taking a cruise. You get yourself comfortable in your cabin or stateroom and leave the transportation to the captain and crew. Every morning could be a new destination, but you don’t have repack, load your car up and unpack again.

Cruising

Host an event or take a vacation on a cruise ship

Some cruise lines offer theme style cruises where you can meet people who share your same interests. They might be an educational cruise, one on finances and investing, wine and food, photography or architecture and history. Finding those of like mind and sharing these adventures together can be the basis for new friendships developing.

Cruising has come a long way from where only the super rich could enjoy the experience. Now, cruise lines are geared to attract all age brackets, financial levels and individual interests.  

What sort of cruise might you like to take?

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Spending My Retirement Helping Others

Akaisha,

Where is the least expensive place I can retire and live like a king and help the people and children of that area? I have retired and am looking to maybe do like you all did for a while. Travel around for low dollars and live well with people.

Gabe

  Volunteer. Change a life!

Hi Gabe,

Congratulations on your retirement! Wow! Good for you!

There are literally dozens and dozens and dozens of places you could go and “live like a king” while helping other people.

Akaisha with hill tribe children, Thailand

I think it would help if you clarified certain things like:

* Would this place be a temporary stop over or are you looking for a permanent location? It’s hard to make a permanent decision when you won’t really know a place until you live there for a time, going through all your seasons. Or maybe you would like to live in various places until you find the one that grabs your heart.

* Weather. That’s pretty important for the long run. If you like hot and humid, Asia, the Caribbean (Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic or even Belize) or the Philippines would be excellent choices. If you like cooler or more temperate weather, Mexico, Ecuador, and certain places in Central America would be good choices.

Billy built new tennis courts in Chapala, Mexico

* Do you want to do a project on your own with your own funding? Or would you rather join an organization which already has things set up? We just recently met a woman who has an organization that has been going to Haiti for decades. (talk about need! Take a look here: Colorado Haiti Project)

We lived in Chapala, Mexico for years, and did our own projects – Billy worked with the city to build tennis and volleyball courts (Tennis Court Construction, Light, Tennis, Action! Tennis and Volleyball Courts) and I taught English as a second language to kids, built a handmade note card business where I utilized local labor and taught them how to do this, and I also taught massage for free to anyone who wanted to learn.

Akaisha teaching Thai massage to locals in Mexico

There is need everywhere, Gabe. You won’t find a shortage, believe me.

Here in Guatemala we have seen volunteer groups set up clean water sources for the Maya villages in the mountains. Others are putting together solar coffee bean driers made out of painted soda pop cans, and another group is bringing in a method of solar light to homes using plastic liter soda bottles (See Liter of Light Programs)

You could check with your local contacts (Church groups, charity groups, University volunteer programs) or check our Volunteer Page for ideas and how to contact organizations that are already doing these things. Of course, you could always do a Google Search on the topics that most interest you like bring clean water or mentor in Central America or Expat Volunteer Groups– anything like this.

Billy sharing computer photos with hill tribe family, Thailand

Would you want to utilize the products of local labor and export them? Would you like to teach locals a new trade or skill so they would be more employable? Would you like to build schools or medical clinics?

Once you get started the opportunities expand exponentially. Then you just choose what interests you most. Cost of living in these locations is far lower than in the States and you may also find that over time, you will “need” less as well.

Indigenous woman selling silk weavings, Laos

Please, if you have any questions or want to know more, write and let me know. In some cases I could give you an email introduction, let you know about available medical care, tell you about climate of an area, or help you in some other way to get connected.

With your talents and experience, Gabe, you will be in great demand just about anywhere. And I know that you apply yourself so you will turn this into another great opportunity for everyone.

Keep in touch,
Akaisha

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Affordable Beach Places to Stay in Mexico

Billy,

What is the affordable top three places to stay near the beach in Mexico?

Thanks,

Phil

Hi Phil,

Thanks for writing.

Your question about the most affordable places to stay near the beach in Mexico is a little more complex than you might think on the surface.

First, it depends on the sort of beach experience you prefer. If you enjoy resort style living with para-sailing and jet skiing opportunities and drinking, dining and dancing in the evenings that is one sort of beach. If you like undeveloped beaches with not much more than the beach itself, body surfing, some palapa restaurants for great seafood and maybe hire a local for a boating excursion, that’s another style.

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In either case, what you pay for lodging has a lot to do with what you will spend for your time there at any beach. If you have a middle-to-top-of-the-line room, and eat where the tourists eat, those two categories will affect your budget substantially.

We tend towards simple, undeveloped style beaches and we like to stay in clean rooms with a view if possible, without resort style activities, the crowds and noise. We eat where the locals eat not in tourist locations.

So, with all of that in mind, I would say our favorite locations tend to be on the Mexican Pacific Coast . We especially enjoy Caleta de Campos with its wide expanse of beach and delicious seafood. San Juan de Lima is also very beautiful, but the town is pretty undeveloped. Zihuatanenjo has a LOT more going on and while it is more touristy, you can find quieter sections of town, restaurants in any category, and plenty to keep you from getting bored.

Another one of our favorites is Zicatela Beach, part of Puerto Escondido. But please note that this beach is going through dramatic changes leaning towards the cutesy touristy towns/expensive offerings. You can still find reasonably priced lodging and lots of food options. The waves are terrific for body surfing.

La Manzanilla, Melaque and Tenacatita on the Coasta Allegre are some nice beaches also. They have gotten developed somewhat, bringing higher costs, but you can still find some quieter places in that area.

It has been too long since we have visited Puerto Vallarta and Mazatlan for me to give you any current information, but we enjoyed both those beaches immensely. We stayed in the older, colonial section of town in Mazatlan which was close to the beach, and we paid $5 a night for our hotel. Today, that same room with Wifi access runs about $12 a night when you stay multiple nights.

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We just spent some time in Tulum, in the Yucatan Peninsula. The beach there is the classic Caribbean style beach with turquoise water and talcum powder white sand. There is still very affordable lodging available and some good eateries in town. The restaurants on the beach are more expensive but still delicious if you are deciding to spend the day at water’s edge.

I hope this helps you a little bit. Mexico is a huge country and worth exploring. We have lived there off and on since 1993 and we are still discovering locations we enjoy.

We wish you all the best,

Akaisha

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First Hand Account – Feb. 6th Earthquake in Cebu, Philippines

A whole lotta shakin’ goin’ on

On Monday afternoon, February 6, 2012 at 11:49 AM, there was an earthquake of magnitude 6.8 centered about 100 kilometers from Cebu City. This is a city of about a million people located near the center of the country of the Philippines on the island of Cebu and it is where I am currently living.

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The earthquake was closer to several other smaller population centers where it caused more destruction. With no active faults nearby, damage was minimal in Cebu City itself, which is not normally prone to earthquakes. This is about as bad as it gets – which is to say, not really that bad.

Geography protects Cebu

There are other nearby islands and larger islands further off which enclose Cebu island. This and the fact that Cebu Island is long and narrow reduces the probability of dangerous tsunamis here.  This current earthquake happened off the other side of this mountainous land mass.

Travis earthquake

Tsunami destruction FOR EXAMPLE ONLY NOT OF CEBU

Safety measures taken

People were predictably and justifiably frightened after the earthquake, and most big buildings were wisely evacuated as a precaution. Around noon one could see many employees milling around the streets, especially in front of big buildings.  Most malls were not allowing more people in as a precaution.  There were a couple of milder aftershocks.

About an hour after the earthquake, things were returning to normal, and employees were reentering the big buildings.  Almost everyone understood the magnitude of the earthquake and where it was located.

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There was a tsunami watch issued right after the quake as a precaution, but it was canceled by 2:00p.m. The alert said no evacuation of coastal areas was needed, just keep an eye out.

Delayed panic, false rumors

The strange part happened next.

Just after 2:00 p.m., over 2 hours AFTER the earthquake, panic gripped the entire city.

People were receiving text messages of a tsunami having overtaken parts of Cebu City. If you understand Filipino culture, you know that text messaging is almost the major method of communication here, almost on a par with talking face to face. False rumors started spreading.  Others claimed to have seen the tsunami and started running inland. People all over the city began running away from the ocean, many of them barefoot having lost their sandals or taken them off so they could run faster.

Travis earthquake

Panicked people FOR EXAMPLE ONLY NOT OF CEBU

Trying to gain perspective

My hotel is located about 2 kilometers from the ocean.  I noticed people screaming and running in the alley where my hotel is, about 50 meters off a major road.  I went out to see the commotion. People said a tsunami was on its way!

So I went and turned on my TV. Nothing.

I looked on the internet. Nothing.

I went to the roof of my four story building, and there was no water approaching. This panic, with the timing so long after the quake – which was not a major quake and centered on the other side of the island – made absolutely no sense to me. So I just stayed put and figured this was a false alarm.

Naturally, I also felt pretty safe being so far inland.

Terror prevents seeing the truth

But the truth didn’t seem to matter.

People all over the city literally ran for the hills.  This was happening a full 2.5 hours after the earthquake.  If there were a tsunami, it would have hit minutes after the quake.  I got text messages that certain parts of town were underwater (including parts I knew would not be underwater even in a real tsunami because they were too high and too far inland).

I received texts that EMall and ACT University, located about 1 kilometer from the ocean, were flooded. Later, we talked with the guards who said people were pleading to enter these buildings so they could go to the upper floors.  The guards sent someone to the roof of the 10 story building to look out with a periscope before allowing people in.  However, they saw nothing but calm seas.

Travis earthquake 4

People can fear the unreal FOR EXAMPLE ONLY NOT OF CEBU

Residual fear and looting

Cars were abandoned on the streets as some motorists fled. Markets more than a kilometer inland were left abandoned and goods were stolen in their owner’s absence. Whole work groups of professionals fled buildings and were running for their lives from an imaginary tsunami.

I have to admit, this is one of the most bizarre incidents I have ever encountered.  Even by late afternoon, many people who had fled numerous kilometers inland on foot, refused to believe that there was not a tsunami and were scared to return.

And yet, there was no tsunami. There was no surge, no somewhat big wave…

Just nothing.

It was all a fantasy and rumors fed by false text messages and false beliefs.

Making the best of a bad situation

I took the opportunity to work out at the running track downtown, an area that many thought was underwater. Usually it is crowded, but I got to work out with almost no other people there, because they were scared off by a tsunami that never happened.

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There were articles about this panic in the paper on Tuesday, the day following the quake. I read that the panic ultimately caused more damage to daily life than the earthquake itself. Authorities were seeking some individuals for prosecution for spreading false rumors.  Other officials want to revamp a sort of Emergency Broadcast System of some type.

While life here in the Philippines may be confusing sometimes, at least it isn’t boring…

T.

Travis earthquake 5

The big wave that never happened

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