We spent February in Key West, Florida, a place full of history and interesting people. Then we left the country for arty San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. In May we traveled to Baltimore to see our daughter, Stacy, receive her master’s degree from Johns Hopkins. The month of June in Boston allowed us to spend time with both our beautiful daughters. Then on July 2, we jumped the Atlantic to Scotland for two wonderful weeks. In mid-July we boarded a ferry cruise ship to cross the North Sea to Amsterdam. On August 17, we flew to Slovenia to meet up with our son. After this whirlwind seven months, Betsy and I are renting a house on the beach in Ecuador. Some days in those first hazy moments after waking, we have to ask ourselves: Where we are today?
Our month in Key West was enough, we wouldn’t change a thing, but it was time to go. It was like we entered a reality show with a cast of characters we won’t forget. Joyce is one-of a kind, a lifetime of ballet behind her in NYC, she moved to Key West and eventually fulfilled her dream of producing The Nutcracker with a Key West twist, in fact, an award-winning documentary called, Underwater, the Making of the Key West Nutcracker was made chronicling her herculean efforts. We rented a room in one of her beautiful homes in the historical district of Key West. We enjoyed the warm weather, explored Key West, spent time on the beach, and worked and enjoyed getting to know Joyce, Carlos and the rest of the Key West cast we met.
We lucked out in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. Out of the chaos of Key West we settled into the tranquility of San Miguel and a pleasant routine. It now seems like San Miguel will provide the litmus test for places we could consider living outside of the U.S. The city has near perfect weather and a dynamic cultural scene. We enjoyed our yoga practice and Spanish lessons, attended several plays, enjoyed live music, and explored the art community and shops. We constantly met new people with interesting stories. San Miguel may not be for everyone; it may not be for us, but it is easy to see why some 10,000 expats call it home.
The pace quickened again as we traveled to Baltimore for Stacy’s graduation from Johns Hopkins. Two weeks later we helped Stacy move from her apartment of two years, and were on the road to Boston.
Finding a sublet in Boston was a challenge but we finally did, a two-bedroom apartment at garden level (read basement). It worked out fine, Stacy stayed with us as she searched for an apartment where she will live while working toward her PhD. We had planned a month in Boston with her and our daughter, Kelly, who would soon begin her second year of her master’s program. The month went by too quickly.
Along the way, we discovered an apartment in Amsterdam we could sublet starting in late July.
With a two-week gap between Boston and Amsterdam, we planned a trip to Scotland (and here, here and here). The first week we rented an apartment in Edinburgh and toured the city, then we rented a car for a road trip around the country for the second. We traveled some 1,000 miles, never staying two nights in the same place. We saw much of the country’s Highlands and highlights. At the end, we returned the car in Newcastle, England, and jumped an overnight cruise boat to Amsterdam.
The Amsterdam apartment worked out well, it was spacious and functional for us with a nice park a block away. Just south of the city centre, it was located in a family neighborhood with local bars and restaurants. During the first weekend there, our son Donald and his girlfriend, Neva, visited from Berlin and we toured the city relentlessly. After they left, our pace slackened and we cherry-picked the places and sights we wanted to explore. We even spent a couple of rare sunny days at the nearby beach.
For me, Amsterdam is a model, a world-class city that embraces diversity and personal freedom. Rather than controlling personal behavior, the city allows for individual expression of lifestyle choices. Given the strict moral and legal codes in wide swaths of the U.S. and the belief that enforcement gives us order, Amsterdam shows us another path. I won’t take the time here but you can compare any number of indexes to our most conservative cities, for example, teenage pregnancy, high school graduation rates, alcoholism, drug addiction, crime, and so on, and the path is obvious. It was re-affirming to see the progressive model at work during our stay there.
Then it was time for a long-planned rendezvous in Slovenia for a week with our son and his girlfriend who is from Kranj. We had talked about this trip since Berlin 2010.
It was a special week with extraordinary hosts, the Nahtigal family. We hung out with Donald and Neva, spent a day in historic Ljubljana, met family and took an amazing three-day road trip. The centerpiece of our stay was Donald’s 30th birthday which we shared with him in the coastal city of Piran. We feasted on a seafood dinner and then stayed with a friend in the nearby port town of Kopra high in the hills overlooking the city. We partied on the patio with the city lights as a backdrop until 3 in the morning. The next day we traveled through Triglav National Park among the mountains, spent the night in a small village and then hiked along the coral green Soča river.
All too soon, we said our emotional parental goodbyes to Donald, not sure when we would meet again. From Ljubljana we caught a shuttle to Venice then a flight to Barcelona with an eight-hour layover that allowed for minimal sleep in a nearby hotel. After a bastard flight from Barcelona to Rome to Miami to save a few hundred bucks, we landed in the states in time to find out our connecting flight to Guayaquil, Ecuador, was canceled because of hurricane Isaac.
Dazed, tired and frustrated from two days of travel, we sought refuge in a hotel, worked out a new flight schedule for the next day flying into Quito, Ecuador, rather than our planned Guayaquil, with the attractive twist that we would have a two-day layover to see Quito. It was a short flight to Guayaquil, an overnight hostel, then we hopped a bus to Montanita along the Ecuadorian coast to start our planned extended stay on the ocean.
Two weeks later, several coastal villages, Bahia and Manta in the past, we finalized on a month stay on the beach in a fishing village north of Manta. The village has a few kiosk-type stores, a small pharmacy and a dozen or so restaurants. Dirt roads, wooden shacks or cement block homes, some with windows others not, dot the coast. Here poverty and wealth (more or less) live side-by-side.
I can’t be sure of all the numbers but we have touched down in at least eight countries, lived in five apartments or houses and rented 20 or so hotels or hostels during the past seven months as we have moved more or less gracefully from Key West to Ecuador.
The psychological term, mindfulness, has several closely linked definitions, but for us it involves a daily focus on the newness around us. There are few habits of behavior for us to rely on. It involves the simple things, like finding the correct light switch or the cupboard with the glasses or hunting until we find the silverware drawer, and the more complicated, like orienting ourselves to new places and people. In our latest house in Ecuador, we struggle not to stumble over the two-inch step to the bathroom and mastering the winding stone tiled steps to the second floor. These challenges are constant and involve focusing on the moment. Hopefully we will reap the benefits mindfulness research claims.
For the last week we have enjoyed the stabilizing constant of the beautiful blue Pacific Ocean out our front door and from our balcony. The breeze is fantastic! The waves lap the shore relentlessly. That much is timeless.