One of our favorite photos from our 2023 travel: Sun-dappled Porto, Portugal
Happy 2024 to All!
Ah, a fresh new year. Time to dream about the future, but also to reflect on everything that made the past year so memorable. And for us, 2023 was memorable in so many ways. It was a time of transition and brought a major course change, seasoned with some fantastic travel and expat experiences in our lovely adopted home of Colombia.
We reached a milestone: Five years in Colombia
In the wee small hours of Thanksgiving Day 2018, we boarded a plane from Panama City, Panama to Medellín for the next chapter in our expat adventure. And here we are, five years later – still Colombia expats, and still in love with this beautiful country and its wonderful people.
A lot has happened since that Thanksgiving:
- We weathered a pandemic in a big South American city, with one of the longest and strictest quarantines anywhere.
- We moved to El Retiro, a smaller town higher up in the Andes about an hour out of Medellín, where we feel truly immersed in the Colombian culture and the language. It’s the best move we ever made.
- We went from loving dog parents to pet-free (and are a little bereft as a result).
- We have traveled A LOT – not only in Colombia but in the Caribbean, Europe, and South America.
- We have become more committed than ever to the expat life, with no plans to return to the U.S. (except for family visits).
We became dogless wanderers.
We lost Rosie, our sweet golden retriever girl, just over a year ago on Dec. 26, 2022. She joined Tango, our beautiful Cocker boy, who flew over the rainbow bridge in 2021. Our grief over their loss has been a shadow over everything –they were our kids, after all. But the silver lining is that we are now free to travel at will and stay gone as long as we’d like, without the grinding worry over our senior babies back home.
We took advantage of that newfound freedom with our 2023 travel, returning for five weeks to Brazil and spending a month in Portugal and Spain. We also made several shorter but still memorable trips.
OK, if you’ve seen the Barbie movie, you’ll get that! (If you haven’t seen it, check it out – it’s a hoot.) If there was a common theme to our 2023 travel, it was beaches – one spectacular playa/praia after another. Maybe it’s a holdover from our sailing days, but we can never get enough of soft sand between our toes, the dazzling sunsets on that endless horizon, and the scent and sound of Mother Ocean.
About that course change: We’re staying put.
From Colombia, we had always planned on moving to Spain or Portugal as a base for exploring Europe. Both of those countries have been touted by practically everyone as ideal destinations for expats. But here’s the dirty secret no one talks about: In most EU countries, retired expats are taxed SIGNIFICANTLY on their retirement income. We believe in paying our fare share. But on our exploratory trip to Spain and Portugal in October, we came to realize that we would be forking over far too much of our hard-earned retirement savings to either country.
With Spain and Portugal off the table, things got a little comical at one point as we were casting about for a country, any Schengen country, that could work for us (“How about Malta?”). But the rub is that we’d be coming from a very inexpensive country with extremely low taxation to places (including Malta) that not only have a higher cost of living but levy very high taxes on foreigners.
It looks like the universe is telling us to stay in Colombia, and we are happy to oblige. We recently moved to a much smaller apartment (with half the rent!) in a secure building that allows us to just lock the door and go wander. We can still travel Europe, and our new strategy will be to take longer trips and maybe even hang out for a few weeks someplace in the Schengen Area (the group of EU nations that allow visitors to move freely from country to country for up to 90 days). We really have the best of all worlds: an affordable home base that fits us like a glove, and the freedom to roam.
Without further adieu: Here’s our Year in Travel for 2023!
February: Curaçao and Bonaire
The Caribbean bug has bitten us hard, especially since so many Caribbean islands are easy to visit from Colombia. Early in 2023, we made a return visit to two of our favorites: Curaçao and Bonaire.
March: Pasto, Colombia
Our Colombia explorations continued with a visit to Pasto in the far south, near the Ecuador border. We loved this colorful city with its many churches and the nearby Laguna de la Cocha. A huge highlight of this trip was the Santuario de las Lajas, a fantastic Catholic shrine that has become one of Colombia’s most recognized landmarks.
Pasto, Colombia: The Surprise City
May: Puerto Rico – and a special visit!
We’d been talking of visiting Puerto Rico for years, and we finally pulled the trigger in May. We started in historic Old San Juan, then rented a car and drove around the eastern coast to Rincon and then the southern city of Ponce. We also visited the picturesque islands of Vieques and Culebra; a huge highlight on Vieques was our nighttime “bioluminescence” tour, an unforgettable experience.
Puerto Rico Travelogue: What to See and Do
After that trip, we made a stop in Austin, Texas, and brought my mom, Mary Lea Baker, back with us for a wonderful two-week visit. We were able to make some quick trips to two of our favorite Colombia towns, Jardín and Santa Fe de Antioquia, and we had a blast showing Mom all our favorite haunts around El Retiro.
Dominica (not to be confused with the Dominican Republic) is a small Caribbean jewel in the Windward Island chain, just south of Guadaloupe. We had a lovely and relaxing time on Dominca, known for its spectacular natural beauty. It wasn’t all R&R – we also did plenty of hiking, went diving, and pushed our boundaries on a challenging canyoneering/rappeling adventure.
Dominica: The Fabulous Nature Island
July/August: Back to Brazil
On our first-ever trip to Brazil in 2022, we concentrated on Rio de Janeiro and points south. In 2023, we made a return visit to this fabulous country – our longest trip to date. Beginning again in the Rio area, we spent five weeks exploring Brazil’s northern coastal areas before heading inland to the mining town of Ouro Preto and the city of Belo Horizonte.
Niterói, Cabo Frio, and Búzios: Back to Brazil
Olinda and Recife: Northeastern Brazil’s Historic Centers
Fernando de Noronha: Brazil’s Island Paradise
Salvador: The Dazzling Capital of Bahia, Brazil
Ouro Preto: What to See in Brazil’s Mining Heartland
October: Portugal and Spain
This trip was meant to be exploratory, as we had originally planned on making a move to Alicante, Spain late in 2024 or in early 2025. Therefore, we spent two weeks in Alicante, trying it on “for size” as our future home. We also visited Seville (fantastico!) and made our first-ever trip to Portugal, visiting Porto, Lisbon, and several towns in the southern Algarve area. Although we won’t be moving to Europe anytime soon, we are still enchanted by these wonderful countries and look forward to exploring them even more in the future.
December: Isla Mujeres, Mexico
Isla Mujeres, a small island just off the Yucatan coast from Cancun, will always hold a fond place in our sailors’ hearts. It was here that we fetched up on our boat back in 2004 after a wild and fast passage from Honduras – and from which we subsequently sailed across to Key West and got slammed by a squall. But that’s another story! Isla Mujeres was the perfect place for a quick and relaxing Christmas getaway.
What’s in store for 2024?
In last year’s retrospective, we stated that we were planning a return visit to Brazil as well as trips to Puerto Rico and Bolivia, and a possible excursion to Antarctica. We achieved two of those in 2023, with some unexpected destinations thrown in. In 2024 Bolivia is still very much on the radar, possibly towards the end of the year. And as far as Antarctica goes, we’ve booked an exciting adventure for March and April: an expeditionary repositioning cruise that will take us from the Southern Ocean up through some very remote islands in the Atlantic, ending up in the Cape Verde islands off Africa. From there, we’ll fly to the Canary Islands for some “beach.” (Stay tuned – this one will be fun to blog about!) We’ve also booked a trip to Alaska in May, and we’re looking at a van trip through Patagonia in both Chile and Argentina (another previously planned trip that was a Covid casualty).
This year, our goal is to become more mindful travelers. With a planet in climate crisis and the world in so much turmoil, we are well aware how fortunate we are to be able to have such life-changing travel experiences. So what does mindful travel look like? We think it means avoiding places that are over-touristed. Trying always to leave a clean wake (that’s sailor-speak for leaving things the we way we found them, or in even better shape). And always, staying GRATEFUL!
Here’s wishing you all a Safe, Healthy, and Travelous 2024!