Americans in Spain

I know this is a travel blog and I try to avoid politics when writing these articles. But as I was halfway in to writing this, I asked Cheryl her opinion. “Is this appropriate for Travel Morsels?” With knitted brow and increased volume, she exclaimed, “TRAVEL IS POLITICS!” Cool! I take that as a yes.

Guinness Storehouse, Dublin 2014

Having lived exclusively in the U.S for the majority of our lives, we found through traveling that our view of the world had been quite narrow. During these past 20 years of increased globetrotting, we’ve unknowingly widened our perspective. This realization first occurred in October of 2004 just before George W. Bush won his second term. Cheryl and I traveled to Lahinch, Ireland with some friends to play golf and sample some of the Emerald Isle. It seems at night you hang in the pubs, drink a Guinness, and possibly catch a futbol (soccer) match. As we settled in at a pub, a brave spokesman from a group of locals approached us and in his thick brogue asked, “So what do ya think of your president”? Not being fans of the current regime, we truthfully unloaded our disdain. I think within five minutes, our entire group was staring at a new Guinness sitting before us, purchased by the inquisitive Irishmen. We were a bit surprised they were so tuned into American politics. I didn’t know the name of their… Well wait a minute what do they have, a Prime Minister, a President? I didn’t know. For the same reason I speak only one language, I’m aware of only one country’s politics. Blinders are the reason which, by the way, slowly dissolve as you add stickers to your backpack. Looking back from afar, you can actually get the lay of the land. The big picture.

Currently in Spain, Cheryl and I picked up a four week house sit (as we did the year before) to escape the cold Pennsylvania winter. We arrived at Mary’s place a day early so she could introduce us to her dogs and go through the systems of the house before she left on holiday. OMG, a solar unit on her roof, as it should be. We were invited to dinner that night with Mary and her two friends, Pete and Jackie. All three are British expats. Over dinner the discussion turned to politics. BBC had been airing the Trump inauguration for days. Our British compadres were as informed as we were, if not more, on the issues. We became educated on the impact Brexit will have on theirinterests. Specifically, if Great Britain secedes from the EU, British citizens will no longer be residents of Western Europe and may have to leave after three months, like us on a tourist visa. They have all been here in excess of 10 years or more and own their own places. Wow! I thought we had problems. Great Britain seems to be as divided about Brexit as we are about Trump. During the same time, the EU Council has sworn in a new president and the labor party lost.  Another split issue.

Brexit series for FT.

At times in Spain as well as South and Central America, I watch the local news. Yes in Spanish, but sometimes with English captions. I see the people of these regions protesting regularly. Masses of people gathered to hold their governments accountable to the will of the people. It must be our turn. It’s always our turn. As they say, freedom isn’t free. One thing’s for sure, through our regime change with it’s aggressive start up, it sure has mobilized the masses in the U.S. The millennials with all their tech savvy ways have finally been shaken hard enough to pull their noses out of their phones and realize only through protest and the persistent calling of Congress members can the will of the people be brought to the foreground. Wait, maybe they didn’t pull their noses out of their phones. Only with the advent of social media are we able to connect and share our accounts of daily happenings unencumbered by paid pundits spouting whatever they are paid to say. Vive la Resistance.

2017 Travel Challenge

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Budget travel is our passion! A passion born of necessity! Our travel addiction coupled with our limited incomes creates this need. As many of you know, we try to escape the winters in Pennsylvania. This is our third annual escape! With each subsequent year, we have extended our time away from the US. We continually sharpen our travel hacking skills.

Home – January 2016

This winter we are traveling for almost eight weeks.  The challenge —  live on $40 a day/person! That will include all transportation costs (airfare and rental car), lodging, food and entertainment!  A tall order to be sure!

We are on Day 21! With airfare factored in, we have spent a daily average of $16.16 each! Two factors that have helped keep our costs so low so far are housesitting and cheap airline tickets! You all know my “hobby” is searching for hot deals with the airlines! Last year, we started playing the credit card points game.  We each signed up for a Bank of America Travel Rewards card that awarded 20,000 frequent flyer miles after we spent $2,000 in the first 3 months. No problem! We charge our gas, groceries, some household bills and anything else we need. We carefully put aside the cash as we charge and then pay off the balance when the bill arrives. We also earned an additional 1.5 points for each dollar charged. I found tickets on Norwegian Air for $363.80 round trip from NYC to Malaga, Spain.  Then we cashed in the points!

Final price for our international flights:

  •  Mitch $111.39
  • Cheryl $60.83

When we landed in Malaga, we had a free room for two nights courtesy of some old points I had earned on my Citibank card.  That card is now retired! Those two nights were at the Hotel Zen in Torremolinos, Spain. It is a short distance from the airport and they offer a complimentary shuttle. There is a nice little restaurant/bar on site. What a welcome sight after our transatlantic flight. A pizza with a few beers and we were ready to tuck in to our room for some seriously needed zzzzz’s.

We paid $33 for our third night’s lodging at the Hostal Sol y Miel in Benalmadena. Clean and located in a more Spanish neighborhood as opposed to the beach which is very touristy. Since then we have been house sitting. Needless to say, this saves a lot of $$! Free lodging in exchange for caring for the dogs and watering the plants!

I will post occasional updates on the budget. At the end of the trip, I will let you know how it all turns out!

 

 

 

 

 

 

   

Day in the Life of a Housesitter

We are just two days away from finishing a fantastic housesit in St Croix, USVI!  This has been a six week stint and we have relished every day of it!  The weather has been perfect – warm breezes and temps in the upper 80s.  As with Florida weather, there is often a brief period of rain each day but before you know it, the sun is shining and there may be a beautiful rainbow to enjoy!

 

Several friends and family members wonder what we do all day…..aren’t you bored?!  The answer is a resounding no!  You may even think that we would be getting on each other’s nerves by now.  Not really.  We do enjoy each other’s company and since we have different sleep patterns, we each have a portion of the day for “me” time.  My time is in the morning as I can’t seem to ever sleep past 8 am. Mitch, on the other hand, is a night owl after so many years of musician hours!  So, he will be up and prowling around for several hours after I konk out.
But anyway, back to the daily life here…..There are the usual household chores to do – cooking, cleaning, laundry, shopping for food. Then there are plenty of plants to tend to and the pool to clean.  Now that the Christmas winds have kicked up, cleaning the pool has become a bit more time-consuming.

Food shopping in St Croix can encompass the better part of the day.  Everything here is imported.  And other than booze and cigarettes, it is quite expensive.  I think the mainland prices are catching up, but we shop at Aldi’s when we are home, so these prices leave us in sticker shock!  It is time-consuming to review all the store ads and drive from place to place to get the deals!

What else do we do?  Being away from the work world (for the most part) has afforded me the time to pay more attention to my health.  I have been walking 4-5 miles almost daily.  Mitch joins me more and more often.  We have to keep our health together so we can continue traveling. It is quite hilly here. And there’s nothing like hill workouts to get a good sweat going!

Home Sweet Home

The driveway alone is killer. We both had shin splints for several days from the walk down the driveway.  I am not exaggerating when I tell you it must be a 65 degree angle at the least.  Following the walk, a dip in the pool is an absolute must to recover!  We had hoped to do more swimming on this trip, but the pool isn’t that long and the water is a bit to cool for me.  The walking has been working out fine. One of our walks is rather flat.

Cheney Bay

This is the 5 mile one. Only problem is that the turnaround point is a beach bar, so Mitch has been successful (on more than one occasion) into talking me into a cold beer break before the return!  Seems a little counterproductive, but who can resist this view?

Cheney Bay Beach Bar

Then it’s time for blogging.  This has turned into a longer learning curve that I realized it would be.  Picking the right name was a long process.  And we needed two names.  One for this blog and one for our housesitting site. Next step, web hosting.  Reading other blogs for inspiration, watching youtube tutorials, pitching ideas to each other…..editing, photo runs, more editing, #*#@*%!.. We have to discipline ourselves to block out the Caribbean, the pool and the beverages so we can be somewhat productive on this goal every day.

We have both been able to work on this trip.  Not nearly as many hours as we put in at home, but more than enough to keep us going.  It’s nice not having to dip into our savings to cover food and entertainment.  And the bills back home don’t disappear, so we have that to think about as well.  Mitch has made some new contacts for gigs down here. He is gigging at least three times a week.

Cafe Fresco

Meanwhile, I have been covering some shifts at Cafe Fresco. Fresco is owned by our friends Damon and Yonka Maynard – transplants from nearby Maryland. Delicious food made with the freshest of ingredients and generous portions! Check them out if you get to St Croix! http://www.cafefrescousvi.com

One last thing about how I spend my days – planning the next voyage or two.  I have spent many hours searching the cheapest airfare for our trip to Ecuador which will be in April.  There was also time spent figuring out the cheapest way for us to get from home to JFK at the end of January when we leave for our next housesit in Spain.  Yes, it would be easier to leave from Baltimore or DC, but the airfare out of  JFK was $300 less/person.  That extra $300 each will allow us more money when we are actually in Spain. The most cost-effective way from home to JFK would be to use Megabus from Harrisburg, but the schedules didn’t coincide. Looks like we will be taking Amtrak from Harrisburg to NYC.  Then the Long Island Railroad from midtown Manhattan to the airport in Queens.  The flip side of that (when we return in March) is we take the LIRR back to Manhattan and then the Megabus from NYC to Philly where we will catch another one to get us back to Harrisburg.  Many logistical hoops to jump through?  Yes, but this cuts our travel expenses to roughly $60 each and we avoid paying airport parking fees, tolls and gas.  Parking alone would be over $450.  Oh, I failed to mention that I scored us a free hotel room right by the airport on the night of our return.  Thank you AAAdvantage Award points!!

Hey Diella, would you bring me another Presidente, please?

 

Fairly mundane, right? Since we have been here so often, we haven’t been doing much of the touristy stuff. Sunday is almost alway beach day with our friends Damon and Yonka and their kids. A great way to recharge before the start of another work week for all of us!

We had a great time doing those touristy things when our friend Chris came to visit from Pennsylvania!  It’s always fun to show someone new the amazing things that St Croix has to offer!

Sailing to Buck Island

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Hashers

If you are looking for some budget entertainment and a good workout while you are traveling, find a local chapter of the Hash Hound Harriers. They are an international group with chapters all over the world. www.gthhh.com or www.gotothehash.net

Cheryl learned from our house sit host, Mary, that there is a Hasher group that meets bi-weekly in this area of Spain. Mary informed us we were welcome to join in and hash along. As an added bonus, it would give her younger dog Carlo a good workout.
The Axarquia Hashers, a group of expats who meet every other Sunday, do a hike that kinda turns into a scavenger hunt. There’s a 4€ buy in (hash cash) that includes soda, water, snacks and beer.

Flour Blob

The trail is marked with flour clues (blobs) to insure you’re on the right path. Occasionally the trail splits and the flour shows a y with an arrow for each way. If you go the wrong way, another clue called a check back (CB) appears informing you’ve gone the wrong way and must return to the y and eliminate the wrong arrow for the following crowd. Now you can continue on the right path. When you see a blob, you yell “ON ON” to assure your fellow hashers that they’re on the right path.

There was a meet and greet at a parking area above the village of Canillas. The group was 20 strong. Water and soda were available as we got acquainted. Everybody had a “hash handle” and we were required to call them by their handle while the hash was on. Names like: Up The Creek, Pocket Rocket, Second Guess, Routemaster, Bunion, Zulu, and Plummet are a few Cheryl and I recall. One of the ladies (I don’t recall her handle) distributed homemade lemon marmalade to the group and we were more than happy to receive a jar.

Alright! The hash is on. “ON ON” exclaimed the grand master and the participants scurried to the beginning three options. Shortly thereafter, we heard “CHECK BACK” from one of the paths and then another signifying the left path up the hill was the correct course. Things settled down to a good hike up a narrow dirt road with an occasional “ON ON” heard in the distance to ease our questions. Cheryl hooked up with GiGi and Pocket Rocket and exchanged conversation on topics of Brexit, Spain as a home, and the new President Trump. How embarrassing!

Carlo

Four dogs joined in on the hash. One was our Carlo. What a time he had! Our daily walks involve a leash, but the hash was untethered and Carlo was able to do dog things with his buddies and check back after half-hour romps to God knows where! I didn’t ask!

The whole affair took upwards of two hours
with a serious hill climb in loose stone that I thought would never end! But it did and soon a Land Rover appeared with coolers of soda and beer. Cheryl and I took the latter. We then rendezvoused back at the parking area. Once again, we formed a circle with the Grand Master in the middle to dole out penalties for “transgressions.” The penalty was one down-down (chugging a cup of beer) while the group sang their club song. If you didn’t chug the beer, they would pour it on your head! Cheryl and I were first in the circle as we were hash virgins. Plummet and another were chastised for wearing shorts as this was a rugged hash and it was pointed out on the web site to wear trousers. Their bleeding shins were noted as they were handed their cups. Several more transgressors were called in to the circle for their punishment.

After the festivities, we loaded up and headed for the Mirador Restaurant in nearby Canillas. We ordered 2€ glasses of wine… twice… before we ordered our meals. After a serious two hour hike, that was more than ample to grease the conversation. For 10€, I had Pollo Indonesia with three sides which was awesome. Cheryl had the equally enjoyable salmon for the same price.

I knew it all had to end eventually and following the meal, promises were made and hasta prontos were shared by all. Cheryl and I packed up Carlo and headed back to Comares and our house sit. We fed the dogs and loaded back in the car to make a birthday party at the nearby Table Rock Restaurant in Los Torrenos. But, that’s another story.

It’s a Homer!

Cheryl and I have been serious dog and cat lovers since the beginning of time. We both had that childhood pet that seemed to live forever. When you’re a kid, thirteen years is your entire school career (plus one hopefully). When you get older, thirteen years pass rather quickly and you realize you’re gonna have to go through another passing of a best friend. Nigel our black lab is thirteen and he is getting close. Rear end is about shot. I have to lift him up on the sofa when he looks back with those sad eyes. Good god, it takes both of us sometimes to get him up there and my rear end is starting to go too. We look like a hook and ladder truck when the coffee table is in the way. Anyway, the day will undeniably come. We frequently tell him he’s our last dog, our last heartbreak. Pet-wise that is.

Which brings me to a solution to this problem. Since Cheryl and I have been house sitting for over a year, we’ve had the opportunity to keep several pets. They’re like grandkids, ya love ‘em, then you can give ‘em back. With a new pet, it takes a few days to feel each other out and, of course, they will test you like that 2 year old nephew that just gets a timeout when he acts up. “Why my ol man woulda,” wait… that’s for the therapist. We’re dog people dammit and we know the drill. “Don’t you look at me with those big brown eyes… You’re not getting the last bite of my hotdog!” We’ve made the mistake of allowing Nigel table bites and there is hell to pay because of it. Never again.

imageHomer, on the other hand, has been handled much better in this regard. He must sit on a small rug and “shake paws” to receive that treat. Knowing the error of our ways, we are very careful to adhere to this regimen. This nine month old yellow lab crossed with beagle or something is a large part of our current house sit in Sedella located in the Andalusia region of Spain. Homer’s owners told us he is a rescue dog and he has separation issues. Actually, I don’t see any issues. Our dog Nigel gets mad when we go grocery shopping. We used to take him but we have to… Ya know that hook and ladder thing again. Nigel weighs 105 pounds! Uh! My back! Homer on the other hand is a sleek 48.5 pounds (22 kg). Heck I can Richard Kimble (one arm man) him into the car. Cheryl is already in the habit of walking Nigel every morning for a mile or so. Homer… same thing. But he wants it at 6 am and it’s dark here. Did I mention this house sits among the steepest of the Sierra de Tejeda mountains? That’s right, it sits in the shadow of Mt. Maroma at 2,068.5 meters (6,826 feet). Not the tallest, I said steepest. I previously said Homer was a lab crossed with maybe a beagle, but after a couple of days I’m thinking goat. Yes, I take the evening walk with Homer and Cheryl and at first I said things like, “Wait! You want me to walk down there?… Is there a tractor or something that’s gonna come get us?” Mind you I hike the Appalachian Trail and I’m no slouch carrying 30 pounds on my back and navigating some challenging topography. But these are goat paths image(and I know this because there are goats right over there with a shepherd and dogs and everything). After about five days of this, I became acclimated and could handle the steep terrain. It was always a workout though and building a fire and helping prepare dinner afterward was a joy.

There happened to be a cat detail affixed to this house sit that was a big concern to Homer. There were 7, no 8 (not sure) feral cats that the homeowners were feeding and we marveled at the pecking order, rules, and social proprieties. Homer seemed to tolerate the ruling three, but the others, not so much. The three rulers would not flinch when Homer passed by and would continue issuing their orders such as “r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-roooooul (must imagebe Spanish with the rolled R) which meant time to rotate since there were only three bowls. These cats would announce to us each morning it was time for breakfast. Cat mess was at 9 am (but we would get the call at 8:45 to give us time to prep).

When taking a break, we glance out across the peaks and valleys and see two men teams trimming the olive, almond, orange, and carob trees, as well as the grapevines, that thrive here in this dry soil. Too steep for tractors, plowing is done by mule. They plow frequently, so the earth accepts the small amount of rain yielded by this arid climate. This ensures low noise so you can hear the wind and the bells from the ever-moving goat and sheep herds that mow under the trees growing on these steep slopes. It’s extremely remote out here in the mountains. I think it’s like five km to the hard road, then another two to the nearest small town of Sedella. It seems we’ve lost this simple agrarian way of life for the most part in the US. Right before my eyes as a matter of fact. And the quality of food, wine and olive oil is so noticeable in this region. Hand raised, free range, farm to table. It’s very inexpensive as compared to home. I can actually survive on the pittance social security gives me and eat noticeably better. Hopefully Homer’s folks will take another trip come next winter. If so, as Arnold said, “I’ll be back”.