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?


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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.


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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.


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,

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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 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.


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.


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


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.


  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,

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Affordable Beach Places to Stay in Mexico


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



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,


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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


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…


Travis earthquake 5

The big wave that never happened

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Our Readers Worry About Medical Insurance

Dear Akaisha and Billy,

We are looking at retiring in a few years and believe we will be comfortable with our savings.  However, the one area that has me worried is medical insurance.  What information can you give us in that area.

Thank you!

Have a Great Day!
Dave and Coleen

Hi Dave and Colleen,

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

Health care is a big issue for many retiree hopefuls. There is no one-size-fits-all solution and with the administration of health care in such flux in our nation right now it’s hard to know what the future might bring.

We have written on this topic fairly extensively, both in The Adventurer’s Guide to Early Retirement and also in Your Retirement Dream IS Possible. We take a different tack in that we promote Medical Tourism as an affordable and viable option.

You can take a look at our Health Page on our blog for some insight into this topic. Also our Preferred Links Pages have 4 Medical Pages one of them being Medical Tourism that will link you to hospitals, clinics, dental clinics, translators and businesses who will take you door to door if you want their help.

Simplify, simplify, simplify

We fully realize that this idea would not appeal to many people, especially with growing families and a full work and school schedule, but for retirees who do not want to carry a policy that costs them thousands of dollars a month this is a workable option. Billy and I have seen and used good medical care in Mexico, Guatemala and in Thailand and feel comfortable with this approach.

More and more businesses and countries are setting themselves up to take advantage of the health delivery crisis in the States by offering affordable services.Regardless of what you choose to do, it is good to be aware of this alternative.

Hope you find this information useful. Feel free to write any time.
Best to you both,

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Meet Two Mexican Road Warriors

We often get mail from our readers expressing concerns and curiosity about driving in Mexico and what it’s like to own a car here. Doubts about safety are often first on their list.

While we have moved into being Car Free, Lynne Metcalf and her physician husband, Bernie, are true roadsters, and have a completely different travel style than Billy and I do.

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Meet two road warriors

Originally from Arizona, Lynne and Bernie have lived in Chapala for three years. They began visiting the area when their business partners and friends moved here eight years ago and decided they liked it so much, they would make the move themselves. But they weren’t strangers to Mexico. They knew Puerto Penasco (otherwise known as Rocky Point, a popular vacation destination of U.S. visitors) years ago when it was just a stretch of beach and nothing more.

Crossing the Mexican border twice this year alone, they log thousands of miles on the roads of Mexico in their Toyota Highlander visiting well-known archeological sites as well as small villages to get the real flavor of Mexico.

Mexican Road Warriors

The Metcalf’s 35 ft. 5th wheel with garage to hold motorbikes

Freedom is paramount

“No tours for us” Bernie says emphatically. They like the freedom, privacy and spontaneity that having their own vehicles allow them. Aside for one time when they had a flat driving through Mexico, they have never had vehicle trouble while on the road.

Mexican Road Warriors

Lynne on her motorcycle, riding through northern Arizona

“Six men came out of nowhere in the mountains and helped us with our flat. I was pulling a small trailer at the time and my little car jack couldn’t lift up the car far enough for me to change the tire. After assessing the situation, the men went back into the woods, and returned with a railroad tie that had a slanted broken place on the end. Although my Spanish is limited, they instructed me to drive my car over that slanted edge and we used it as a fulcrum and got my tire changed. Incredible experience. Mexicans are very creative thinkers.”

Angels on the road

“The Green Angels are everywhere on the roads of Mexico. We have never had to utilize their services, but we see them all the time,” says Lynne.

Mexico’s Ministry of Tourism provides roadside and tourist help through a fleet of trucks known as the Green Angels which passes by a location on a major highway at least twice a day. They aid drivers in need, offering repair, tow truck service and medical assistance throughout their patrol area. These utility trucks carry spare gasoline, diesel fuel, and miscellaneous car parts. While service is free, you will need to pay for parts and a tip is always appreciated.


But isn’t having your own vehicle stressful? What about finding gas stations, reading road signs in Spanish and very importantly, how do you keep your ‘stuff ‘ safe overnight?

Mexican Road Warriors

Bernie with his bike on one of his many motorcycle trips

My inexperience with cars and using this style of travel didn’t faze Lynne and Bernie in the slightest.

“Gas stations are everywhere, and since the government owns them, prices are the same at each station. There’s no need to go scouting around for the best deal.” Bernie says matter-of-factly. “Years ago we memorized the universal shape of signs to know what they mean.”

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“And we always travel with a Spanish-English dictionary. If we don’t know a word we look it up on the spot,” adds Lynne.

Advice from the masters

The Metcalfs seek out hotels that offer parking, and they always bring their valuables inside nightly. If they stop for a meal along the way, they choose a public place with lots of traffic in which to park, such as in front of a Cathedral or Plaza, they lock their vehicle doors, and cover their belongings to keep them out of sight.

They make it sound so easy, don’t they?

When I asked for advice to others who are considering bringing a car to Mexico, both the Metcalfs stressed not to purchase a new luxury car. “If you don’t bump, scratch and dent the car, someone else will,” Lynne maintains. “Sometimes there will be trees overhanging the roads, or a sign that is lopsided and while your eyes may be on the road, you car can take the beating.”

We discussed the current unfavorable view of Mexico in the news North of the Border. Right now, people seem very afraid to visit Mexico due to the prominence of reporting of the drug gangs. I asked if they could offer any other safety tips.

Mexican Road Warriors

Lynne in Acapulco

“So much of this is common sense, “ Bernie states. “You must know where you are, and what you are doing. You don’t put your fat wallet in your back pocket with money hanging out, you don’t open it up and flash cash.”

“No glitzy jewelry, no walking the street in the wee morning hours wearing skimpy clothing, half-crocked” says Lynne.

“You simply do not put yourself in a bad situation. Smart people don’t even get there! Take advantage of the obvious clues,” Bernie warns.

Princesses won’t survive

In ending our enlightening conversation, I asked each of them if they had any closing thoughts they would like to share.

“I have found it helpful to have a wash-and-wear attitude living in Mexico,” Lynne advises. “Princesses don’t belong here.”

“Another good thing about having your own vehicle in Mexico is that you can take your pet along on your travels. We’re looking forward to bringing our dog, Gypsy, with us soon,” Bernie stated with a wide smile.

Metcalf Road Tips

1. Keep your papers current and bring them with you when you travel.Although Lynne and Bernie have only been stopped once and asked for papers, they advise that you bring all travel documents, including those for your car with you. Have duplicates made and place them elsewhere in your luggage.

Mexican Road Warriors

Bernie with Guanajuato, Mexico in the background

2. Use the Cuota Roads whenever possible. These roads have less traffic and are in better condition than the free roads. Smaller roads will tend to have speed bumps (called topes here) so continuously, that the joy of travel can be affected.

3. Don’t drive at night. The conditions of the roads are hard to see in the dark, but most importantly, you can come upon cows, donkeys, horses or other animals and won’t have the time to stop, thereby endangering your lives. This fact is something to take seriously.

4. Invest in a Guia Roji.  This map guide of roads in Mexico is available on Amazon or in any large store here in Mexico. This will give you an idea of the way roads are laid out in this sizeable country.

5. Consider using the “Auto Hotels” in Mexico. These are hotels spaced along the highways and your time there can be purchased by the hour. The Metcalfs recommend these hotels for their affordable 150-200 Peso nightly price, the fact that they are very clean, and most importantly, they offer an inside garage where your souvenirs and personal belongings will be safe from theft.

Thanks Lynne and Bernie for taking your personal time to share your travel style and road wisdom with our Readers!

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Move to Mexico? $2k a Month?

Dear Billy & Akaisha,

My wife and I have become enamored with the idea of moving to Progresso, MX when we are retired (5 more years for me). We are very much homebodies, that like to eat the local cuisine when we travel. Mexico has always been one of our favorite places.

Naturally we would rent first to ensure this is where we would like to relocate to. Our preference would be to live on the beach as opposed to living in Merida or another large city, nightlife is not a factor. We really enjoy each other’s company and don’t need to be entertained..

  Visit the enchanting Mexico Highlands, click here

I have been reading extensively about Mexico for the past few years, so I’m comfortable with the healthcare, shopping and home buying aspects of this move. My wife does have a hard time believing the statements about living well for $2,000.00 a month though.

We would appreciate very much any input from you regarding Progreso.

Thanks and happy travels,
Trevor and Carrie


Hi Trevor and Carrie,

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

Billy and I visited Progresso earlier this year.  There is an Expat Community there but we didn’t stay long enough to really check it out thoroughly.

The area of Progresso where we wandered around is was fairly touristy with prices reflecting that focus. We could easily have gotten items (lunch, a beer, a massage, souvenirs) at half the price at other locations in Mexico. But just like any place, once you get to know the ins and outs of your location, you find the best places to buy your staples.

Compare international retirement destinations, click here

Unless you have your heart set on Progresso, you might try researching other beach locations like Tulum (where you can purchase a brand new condo for $25k USD) or Caleta de Campos, Puerto Escondido or even Zihuatanejo.

Your idea of renting first to be sure you like a location is excellent. There is nothing like living in a town to determine whether or not you would want to be there full time. And once you get into the swing of things, your options open up. Not making a permanent choice for the location of your retirement home right off the bat is a good thing. Take your time.

RE: living on $2,000 a month – of course that is entirely up to you. It is absolutely possible however, the more you try to import an encumbered life from North of the Border to Mexico, the more money you will spend to maintain it.

Remember the categories of highest spending are housing, Transportation, Taxes and Food. If your $2,000 a month budget is eaten up by your house obligations, your car maintenance, insurance and fuel and your desire for eating in only Gringo locations, you will not have any money left over for travel, entertainment, gifts or anything else.

Not sure you can retire? Get answers here

And of course, those choices are entirely up to you. If you are keeping your Cost Per Day average current, you will know in what categories you must cut back, if you want to keep that goal of $2k a month.

Stay flexible and open minded and you will find that you can manage that amount per month easily without feeling any hardship.

I hope this information helps you and please do feel free to write any time with your questions.


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