On the road again

Enough pandemic stupor. Time to move your butt and go somewhere

Lately, Eric Burdon and The Animals’ 1985 hit “We Gotta Get Out of this Place” has been echoing in my head. Download and play the video and you might feel the same.

It’s not that we want to pack up and abandon our very comfortable ranchito—and move where?—but that after two-and-half years of confinement as a result of the pandemic lockdown, and the accompanying panic, we are itching to resume our travels.

Let’s hit the road, Jack.

When Stew and I moved to San Miguel 17 years ago, recently minted retirees aged 58 and 57, travel topped our bucket list.

Like two eager Fuller Brush salesmen working a worldwide territory, we went everywhere during the first several years: From Antarctica to Iceland, Israel to the Galápagos Islands, Egypt to Morocco, Istanbul to Buenos Aires, to name but a few destinations, in no particular order. There was no particular order.

We used to pack up and go places with relatively little fuss. We had many memorable experiences plus a few of which we could only say that we’d been there, done that.

In Mexico, we went all over the place too. On tours of Chiapas, Oaxaca, Chihuahua, whale watching in Baja California, and on our own to Puebla, Zacatecas, Mérida, Aguascalientes, Uruapan, different beach resorts and of course, Mexico City.

Here, here, you little Mexican fox.

Even in San Miguel we would take off on weekend out-of-the-way jaunts with our dogs, with no particular destination in mind. We might run across abandoned churches, tumble-down haciendas or just pretty old towns. We once crossed paths with a gorgeous Mexican gray-tailed fox which for a second looked at us quizzically, as if wondering if we were lost, which we were. We took lots of pictures of whatever we found.

Then Covid began

Two-and-a-half years ago, the pandemic and the ensuing panic halted the momentum. Videos showed San Miguel’s Jardin deserted, as if hit by a neutron bomb that had wiped out all life and left only the quaint real estate standing.

We lost touch with a number of people. Some never resurfaced, others moved back to the States or just passed away. We stayed at our ranch, as if living under house arrest, venturing out only for necessities like groceries, waiting for the virus to blow over.

Going off the reservation, so to speak, involved wearing masks, using sanitizing gels, staying a certain distance from people, having our temperature taken and wiping our feet on some strange substance all establishment had by the entrance.

Even when we got together with friends, often the conversation revolved around who got Covid and how sick they got, or getting vaccines here or running off to Texas for booster shots, or in one instance, shake our heads about people who leased a plane to get vaccinated in the U.S.

And blah, blah, blah: Covid, Covid, Covid.

Post-pandemic, some routines returned, but our enthusiasm didn’t quite. In San Miguel we’ve formed many good friendships. We have far more friends here than we had in Chicago. But now it seems we keep meeting the same people, at the same few expat hangout restaurants, whose menus we’ve memorized, to talk about the same things, mostly U.S. politics and our own aches and maladies.

Twice we booked a trip to Britain, only to cancel it because of changes by the airlines, tour operators or foreign governments’ entry requirements.

We get moving again, but Covid follows

In April we finally got to travel, on a cruise to the Dalmatian Coast, along the coast of Croatia, and five days in Vienna at the end. But even then Covid added an additional layer of hassle. We couldn’t travel through London and had to connect with a flight to Vienna at Amsterdam’s Schiphol, which was a chaotic mob scene worthy of a banana republic the day after a coup, when half the population is trying to flee. We heard afterward that it was the result of “pent-up” travel fever by half the world, sick and tired of quarantines just like we were.

A abandoned hacienda, near San Miguel that we visited in 2014

The trip was pleasant if exhausting with the additional aggravation, upon our return, of testing positive for Covid, which probably we picked up in Vienna, where the natives had abandoned masks and most other preventive protocols. Fortunately we experienced only very mild symptoms.

On the road again

Still, we’re not giving up on traveling. Blame it on a post-pandemic case of heebee-jeebies or a realization that after 70, the doomsday clock ticks faster.

San Miguel, too, has turned into a tourist Mardi Gras, particularly on weekends when the Centro is choked with traffic and Mexico City youths wearing bolero hats and aviator glasses. Plus those ubiquitous fake-trolley tourist buses gumming up traffic. Someone ought to blow those things up, or at least let the air out of their tires.

But let’s not whine too much

In fact we are slowly regaining a certain freedom of movement and pre-pandemic joie de vivre. Recently, Stew and I have been surprised by weekend excursions to Querétaro, a bustling city of a million-plus, only 40 minutes away from the ranch. With guidance from friends who live there, we’ve found excellent Argentine, Korean and Indian restaurants, unexpected spectacles like Mexican wrestling matches and rodeos.

There’s much more there there, beyond going to Costco to buy bundles of toilet paper big enough to take you through a bout of dysentery, or one-gallon jar of stuffed olives.

There is nothing either that’s keeping us from restarting our off-road, search-and-photograph safaris to the countryside around San Miguel. The occasional fox and other surprises are is still out there, waiting for our return.

Later this month, we’re resuming our travels with a trip to Costa Rica. It sounds like a reasonably sane country, compared to its Central American neighbors, with an interesting fauna of sloths, toucans and odd critters David Attenborough has been droning about for years in his colorful if slightly soporific documentaries. Attenborough is 96 years old: If he can keep schlepping around, so can we.

What’s with those hats, ladies?

After that, Bolivia looks interesting. Why would anyone want to go there? But that’s the point: We want to visit before you and 10 million Chinese tourists, and find out why indigenous Bolivian women wear bowler hats three sizes too small.

After that, maybe Canada, when it’s warm. Houston, when it isn’t warm. California when they put out the forest fires. New England in the fall, and up to Canada’s Atlantic provinces before winter.

We need to rekindle that initial craving for adventure, and remain grateful we can enjoy the many things, people and places still ahead—before the knees or some other part of the anatomy gives out.

25 thoughts on “On the road again

  1. norm

    The two weeks before Easter in Antigua Guatemala is interesting. The place sells out so an early reservation is recommended. The tour industry in Antigua is well developed. Trips to the ocean or the lake are a few hours by combi or taxi. I’ve done luxury buses to Copan Honduras from Antigua a few times, the ruin is one of the better Maya ruins, the tourist town is fun and safe. The locals keep a tight rein on the desperados.
    Belize has world class beaches , the hill country is better in my opinion . They manage their jungle to the point where it is hard to tell that they have a big timber industry. It is a tiny country, about the size of Lake Erie, less than 300,000 citizens. Belize is safe enough from my experience.
    With all three nations, stay out of their big cities if you can.


  2. Rick

    Geese the ‘Fuller Brush Man’. It was truly another time back then. I remember the Encyclopedia Brittanica door to door salesman also.
    We are all suffering the isolation blues and phycologists are saying even just planning a trip can be invigorating.
    It is kind of funny how once you are familiar with a place it looses some magic. I travel to SMA occasionally and am quite happy every time even with all the crowds but I am sure it would get old.
    So, as far as Canada goes – Montreal in the summertime is amazingly one of my favorite places on earth. Seems the long winter makes summer there time to party with endless music events. The Frankofolies for 9 days, Jazz Fest, comedy fest, Cirque Du Soleil right on the river front. Also Quebec City in summer is a nice visit and an easy drive from Montreal.
    I am not Canadian and some of my Canadian friends are not big on quebec province, I guess due to the French separatist past issues. But I am not police and jsut want to have fun so Montreal is my getaway.

    Happy travels and please post on all of your crazy locations.



    1. Let’s try this again. I wrote a reply to your comment and it got lost in the ether. We went to Quebec about ten years ago and we had a grand time, though we spent most of our time in Quebec City where we saw an open-air show by the Cirque de Soleil, which I guess was a preview before taking it on the road. The old city was beautiful. We too have heard endless grousing from anglophone Canadian friends about the Quebecois and all that, but I don’t get into it. When I came from Cuba in 1962 I went to Montreal to get my permanent US residence card (long story). All I remember is that it was cold, really cold. Thanks for your comment.


  3. Hi Norm: We’ve been to Guatemala, and spent some time in Antigua which is beautiful. Also went to Tikal, and Palenque (on the Mexican side) but Copan is still on our bucket list. I guess Tikal, Palenque and Copan are the three great Mayan sites. Belize for some reason has escaped our attention, even though some friends rave about the beaches and the scuba diving. You stay well and keep moving.



  4. Karen Quinn

    Well said… Our sentiments exactly! Just arrived in Scotland today with my sisters… it is beautiful…even in the rain. Jim is jealous but I’ll start planning the next trip for the two of us soon…when I get home in 2 weeks.


  5. Glad you are doing well, and so are the three K’s sisters. We went to Scotland many years ago and it was beautiful but rainy and drizzly. One day the temperature “soared” to 65 degrees and the Scots were ready to go to the beach!
    We went to a sheep farm where we became acquainted with newborn lambs and that cured us from eating lamb every again. Stay away from haggis. That stuff is disgusting and I don’t care what the Scots say.


  6. babsofsanmiguel

    Onward my friends!  I almost moved to Costa Rica instead of Mexico……butthen, life interrupted. No regrets. Barbara San Miguel de Allende, Mexico

    415 124-9450 Mx Cell 713 589-2721 Vonage


    “Life is either a daring adventure or nothing”                                            Helen Keller


    1. I’ve heard that Costa Rica is a really small, orderly and prosperous country, and there is a sizable expat community there. So we’re looking forward to our trip. Hope you are doing well in your new digs. Are you planning a house warming fiesta?


  7. babsofsanmiguel

    I tried to reply to your comment but it was through WordPress and I can’t get through it.Anyway, I haven’t moved yet!  There have been all kinds of glitches.  My patience hasbeen stretched to put it mildly.  Luckily I have this place til the 5th of November. At present I am scheduled to move this Friday and Saturday.  Next time my things aremoved I hope I am no longer around, ha. Enjoy your trip! or trips Barbara San Miguel de Allende, Mexico

    415 124-9450 Mx Cell 713 589-2721 Vonage


    “Life is either a daring adventure or nothing”                                            Helen Keller


  8. Deborah Soloway

    You can combine New England and Atlantic Canada with a cruise: star in Boston and return, or go one-way to Montreal. They’re various lengths and itineraries. We left Guadalajara for Halifax, Nova Scotia and this time of year I see cruise ships from our window almost every morning.


    1. Canadian friends keep recommending we visit Nova Scotia, which is supposed to be beautiful during the warm months, though bleak in the winter. We’ve never ventured north of Boston, so yes, New England and the Atlantic provinces of Canada are on the list. Thank you for your comment.


  9. fredyorkstephenscom

    Al, enjoyed the “travel recap”. Good heavens! It would be easier to tell us where you have NOT been. Traveling to so many far flung destination has got to be enriching. Good for you and Stew. Enjoy!


    1. OK Fred. And when are you and Ron going to get your butts in gear and go somewhere? You’re traveled quite a bit too. Fond memories of the baggage handler in New Delhi, the boondoggle with the zlotties in Hungary and the unforgettable views of the Bleak Sea. If you can’t remember, ask Ron. He’ll refresh your memories. LOL


  10. To give up on travelling is to give up on life. I was fortunate during the pandemic. Sure, I had quite a few trips cancelled. But I managed to get one foreign trip in during 2020. And several in 2021. This year is proving even more productive. Keep planning them trips, Al! And see you in London, one day, when circumstances allow.

    It’s been nearly twenty years since I visited Costa Rica. San Jose is safe, a little drab, but not unpleasant. The food is a bit drab too, to be honest. Or Ito was back then. Beans and rice, three times a day! But the forests, volcanos and coastal areas were fantastic. I spent one evening at a place that sits near the foot of Volcan Arenal, with a series of natural bathing pools. There are few finer places to spend an evening. I think it was this place – https://paradisehotsprings.net/

    Always hang your shoes up at night, never step on the floor in the morning without looking. Or you’ll have a Cottonesque tale of painful scorpion encounters.


    1. You’re our man, Gary! Indeed if you give up traveling, you might as well hang it up. And we haven’t given up on going to England and doing our much-postponed driving tour of English cathedrals. When in London, we’ll definitely look you up. I hear there are some real bargains in England right now for people traveling with dollars, thanks to Liz Truss’ economic policies (ouch!).
      In Costa Rica I want to see a sloth and a toucan, and maybe an active volcano, and I’ll be happy. Looking forward to it, and just hitting the road again.
      Thanks for your comment.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I wanted to tell you how Arenal is a very active volcano and how you can feel it rumbling beneath your feet. But it’s been a while since I was there, so I thought I’d best check if it was most active volcano in the world, or just the Western Hemisphere.. Turns out that it’s been dormant since 2010.

        I was there in 2004, just in the nick of time…


        1. We were there already, two weeks driving around the island on our own, one of the most memorable trips for us. But I’ll be damned if all the volcanos were sleeping at the time; all we saw were fumaroles puffing all over the place, which makes you wonder if the whole place might not blow up one of these days. We used a tour company in London that arranged for the car and the hotels, gave you a tablet with internet and the route mapped out on it, and then let you loose. Highly recommend it though I hear it might be overrun with tourists nowadays.


  11. Dee Tillotson

    Al, may I suggest you read a blog/diary which ended on January 8, 2014. Just Google “Tom and Angela make another day in paradise”. The title is so mundane for such an epic trip through Mexico, Central America, and South America. Angela wrote it in great detail each day for her family and close friends, but I was so glad she put this diary out on the web for me to read; she takes no comments or questions from the general public; that was ok with me. She abruptly stopped the diary in 2014 in Peru. I don’t know what happened to them, but they were having enormous Class-C motorhome problems by then.

    The reason I’m providing you with this information is that it provided me with new ideas about visiting South America (not Tom and Angela’s way) but where would I visit if I had only one chance before I die. That place seems to be Patagonia; part of it is in Argentina, another part is in Chile, and I believe a stretch in between. This area has enough to keep me busy and quench my thirst for ecosystems, history, and cultures, i.e., Nazis building German towns there (and some getting caught by Israel), old Welsh settlements, and giant glaciers near shore. Angela’s archival organization is not good, but you can thumb down through the diary until you reach an area where they cross the border into a country which peaks your interest.


  12. Argentina is phenomenal and worth a two-week trip by itself, from Patagonia (Ushuaia) to the border with Brazil and the Iguazu Falls. Argentina is curious mix of Jews, which have a large community in Buenos Aires, but also Germans and a few Nazis still around.
    Chile is supposed to be beautiful but I only visited Valparaiso and Santiago and didn’t get blown away. However, there are indeed some settlements in Chile by Germans and Nazis, which should be scary.
    I Googled Angela and Tom’s travelogue and came up with nothing, maybe because it was quite a while ago, and it may have been taken down. Thanks for the tips. Al


  13. Dee Tillotson

    When we finally break loose from here, I want to first go to Bariloche, gateway to Patagonia. You have to love a city which dedicates itself to chocolate. (See Angela’s Wed., Dec. 12, 2012 diary entry.).

    But my economic and cheap side is telling me, “go back to Europe.” A Euro now only costs 98 cents US.


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