Deb just informed me that this week we will have been living outside the U.S for an entire year. Yes, of course Puerto Rico is the United States but it doesn’t always feel like it. Let’s just say we’ve been outside of the “States” then. But a year, is it really that long already?
Well, let’s see. When we retired we moved to Florida and became FL residents in the first half of 2017. From there, we wanted to go to Vieques, PR. Our original flights were set to be on September 26 & 27, 2017. This would have been a redeye from Denver to Miami and then on to San Juan and Vieques the next day. But we all know by now about the Hurricane named María which hit Puerto Rico on September 20, so those flights were not meant to be.
We had little time to spare because, remember we had sold all our STUFF, and were homeless. We didn’t even own a car. We were staying in Deb’s Dad’s basement and borrowing his car. This wasn’t exactly how we had imagined our retirement going!
So without the usual detailed planning that my engineering brain prefers, we rebooked our flights to go to Utila, Honduras. That was on October 3, also a redeye out of Denver to Miami, but instead of PR it was off to Roatán and a puddle jumper to Utila. So yes, it was a year ago that we left the United States behind. Wow.
I’m not really big on anniversaries for the anniversary’s sake, for the sentimental part. But I do like to look back and figure out what I’ve learned in the past so that I can use it for the future, or maybe get a laugh over what I was too dumb to learn. Anniversaries are good times to do that. It was a year of travel, of seeing beautiful sights, of sleeping in strange beds, of tropical heat and humidity, of meeting new people, of drinking light beer.
We knew from the start that the actual travel wasn’t the fun part, especially with the pups adding to the work, cost, and stress. But we didn’t get those little guys 10 years ago just to dump them because we changed our plans. So along they came, and at this point they have now been in 7 different airports and on 13 separate plane flights. They’ve been real troopers too, great companions for us.
But there are great rewards for having to deal with the travel, starting with the wonderful sights we’ve seen. We walked around Utila, Roatán, and Ambergris Caye, Belize on a holiday side trip. We learned in these places that walking is the best way to see things, to really experience life. That would be the life of the people on the streets, the local peeps. It’s good for you too. As we wore out our sandals, we lost weight and gained calf muscles! 🙂
We also learned that tropical heat and humidity aren’t so bad. We had a couple of weeks in Utila when it was so hot and humid it was comical. Any effort greater than walking across the room, and sometimes even that, would result in sweat pouring down the face, in the eyes, on my eyeglasses, and dripping on the floor. We had a handful of nights when we ran the AC in the bedroom in Utila, but other than that we’ve spent this entire year in the tropics without running the AC.
In Roatán during the rainy season it wasn’t as hot but the moisture in the air was truly amazing. Although it didn’t stop us from getting around, it rained 29″ there in the month of January. We had mold growing on everything we owned, which admittedly wasn’t much. But our luggage was fuzzy, our refrigerator had fuzz on it, even my glorious little fine art statue (which is definitely not porn) had green fuzz all over it.
But the real payback for all this travel has been the people we’ve met. It’s been fantastic for us to force ourselves outside of our comfort zones (we’re natural introverts) and talk to strangers, often in a different language. This is a new-ish habit I learned from my step-mother Mary Grace, who always struck up conversations with people she hadn’t met before. She’s passed on now, but we carry this habit from her into the future. The reward for us has been interesting stories and wonderful relationships, even when we know those relationships will be short-lived. Some people refuse to get to know tourists or other transient people because the relationship will end shortly. But we do it anyway and I will tell you it’s worth it.
Talking with strangers has allowed us to get to know real native Islanders in both Utila and Roatán, Honduras. They have a pride in their unique history apart from the rest of Honduras, and their primary language is English, although they are almost all fluent in Spanish as well. Honduran mainlanders are primarily Spanish speakers and have a bit of a rivalry with the Islanders. This is likely due to the physical separation and probably also because the islands tend to get special treatment due to the tourist money they attract. But mainlanders are good people too! We met people from all over the world in Utila, it was a huge part of the fun on that leg of the journey.
In a short trip over to Belize, we met a guy, a midwestern Statesider who was a real treat. He just kept talking about how thankful he was to be living there, enjoying his life in the sun. He said if his life ended that week, he’s already lived a full and happy life. That’s a pretty nice lesson for all of us – live a good life, a life full of gratitude, and you’ll have no regrets at the end.
On the street in Roatán we met a guy named Santi who sold soccer (futból) jerseys and other items to tourists. He was such a sweet person and not just because he helped us when I left my credit card in the ATM machine! He was a genuinely great guy. One day I tried to buy him a beer at the mercado and he said he couldn’t drink alcohol, it made him loco, but I bought him a Coca-Cola and he was very grateful for that on a hot day. If you don’t talk to strangers (in this case all in Spanish) you don’t bring back memories of wonderful people like this.
Here in Vieques, the people have been wonderful as well. We meet a lot of Statesiders, mostly from up and down the east coast. Puerto Rico seems to be a key vacation spot because it’s so easy to get to from the cold environs of the Northeast and the Midwest, whose residents really appreciate this place. West of the Mississippi, the beach vacations are much more centered around Mexico, because the distance to the eastern Caribbean and the time zones work against the traveler. The first time we took a red-eye, that time to Eleuthera, Bahamas, I said “I’m too old for this [email protected]!”. Yet here we are, taking red-eye flights almost every time we visit Colorado.
So it’s mostly east coasters and mid-westerners we meet here, and they’re not as bad as I thought they would be! Just kidding of course, we have really enjoyed the people here from the States, and the local Viequenses also. We have heard about a few bad characters on the island but we have met so many friendly locals that it’s hard to get too jaded. Next door is an older gentleman who was born here and talks about “my Vieques” with such love in his heart. Our other neighbors are very friendly even though most of them don’t speak English, or they’re not comfortable with it. And the folks down at our neighborhood bar have been really welcoming too. In fact, when we signed a new lease on this house the neighbors were a big part of that decision.
Finally, we have learned that all islands have chickens. Just random, loose chickens running around everywhere and cock-a-doodle-doing. And they all have potholes. And tarantulas. And mosquitoes of course. But not all islands have snakes (this one in particular has no snakes because somebody imported mongooses a long time ago!). Some have iguanas. So there you go.
A year in the books (minus the 5-week wedding vacation to Colorado) and we’re still here. We’re still figuring it out, learning as we go, and enjoying the heck out of this strange ride, even if we do have to drink light beer!
TODAY’S SPECIAL: “Old Blue Chair“, by Kenny Chesney – looked at my life, where it’s goin’, where it’s gone.
Final Note: We are so sad to report this week that one of the great ladies of Vieques passed away, a sweet woman named Joanne Hamilton. We met her early on and saw her at lots of places and events in the coming months, always with her friendly little dog Harry. She was a gentle soul, but Joanne had that island toughness that it takes to stay here for decades (and survive that hurricane last year!). She told me that her family wanted her to go to back to the States but she didn’t want to leave. She got her wish and lived a great life here on Vieques – R.I.P. Joanne. We miss you already.