Welcome to Our Wanderlust Life

Robert Louis Stevenson, in Travels with a Donkey, writes “I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move.”

Those with wanderlust don’t necessarily need to go anywhere in particular; they just don’t care to stay in one spot. Wanderlust has German roots – wandern (“to wander”) and lust (“desire”) – and simply means a desire for wandering.

Our vision for this blog is to provide inspiration. Although not everyone will share our same desire of world travel, we hope to encourage you to find out whatever it may be that brings you true passion in life…and to show you that it is possible to not just dream about it, but rather actually act upon it.  We encourage you to read more About Us so you know the background on how this blog came to be.

When we initially told people about our plans to move abroad, some people felt, and still do feel, that what we decided to do was crazy.  They wondered why two people, with highly successful careers, and a well-to-do life would leave everything and move away to a foreign country where they don’t know anyone (yet) and don’t even speak the language (yet).

However, for us, we felt that we were living in an environment where one is constantly expected to do more with less, and where technology and materialistic things were sought after more than simple human connections and experiences.  We believe that making this life change will allow us to slow down the pace of life, and will ultimately lead to a greater appreciation of it as well as a greater level of happiness all around.

As you will learn, we love exploring and going on new adventures, we get excited learning about new cultures, and more than anything, we feel that it can’t get much better than when you can add to this delicious food and great drinks!!  We hope our writings will, first and foremost, be fun to read and make you laugh as Rachael plans to hone her creative writing skills and Aaron intends to expand upon his current website building and photography hobbies. We also aim to offer something educational, sharing with you our knowledge we acquire from our experiences abroad.

In closing, here is our inundation of what might be considered clichés but which we truly urge you to consider striving to achieve more in your own life:

-live in the moment
-be present
-slow down and enjoy life
-life is too short
-life goes by too fast
-carpe diem (“seize the day”)
-pura vida (“pure life”)
-buy experiences not things

-in the end, we only regret the chances we didn’t take

Playa Encantada – “Enchanted Beach”

Question?  How do you market a beach that you can only use half the year? Answer: Call it “Enchanted.”

When we were still living in Colorado, our search for our initial place to live in Rosarito was all done online. We did our best to read about the various neighborhoods and to find pictures of the potential properties in which we would reside. The place we ended up choosing marketed a picture of a beautiful, quiet, secluded sandy beach that had direct access from the property.

We envisioned daily walks on the beach, contemplated taking up running, thought about the awesome times we would have playing Frisbee and just saw ourselves basking in the sun with our feet in the sand.

When we arrived in February and took our first walk around the grounds, we headed straight for the beach…but it was nowhere to be found.  Instead, the landscape was one of large, jagged rocks and a fair amount of washed up trash (i.e., huge tires, shoes, big pieces of wood and plastic, etc).  We seriously thought to ourselves, “wow…what great photo shopping skills with these marketing materials!”

Playa Encantada, Rosarito, Baja California Mexico
The beach in front of our house when we arrived in February

But we were told by the other residents who had lived here for many years, “don’t worry it’s coming soon.”  But that turned into “it’s coming by April” …which then became “it’s a little late this year…” and like with everything else, ”manana” will come one day.  And so we waited. And it seemed very hard to believe that even if the sand did come, that it would actually cover all that we were seeing in front of us at the moment.

And then, almost overnight, the sand started to appear and before we knew it, we had our beautiful beach that we had seen in the marketing pictures!! Apparently, with the seasonal change in currents, this is a phenomenon that really does lead to a beach coming and going throughout the year.

The beach in front of our house in August.

Now the question is…for how long will it stay? And when will our “enchanted” and magical beach disappear?  For now, we will appreciate each day that it remains and enjoy our long walks and, yes, even morning runs, the opportunity to bask in the sun as well as the fun days drinking beer during a game of Frisbee.

But don’t feel too bad for us…we still have plenty of other options of beaches to enjoy in Rosarito that have sand year-round. 😉

Learn Spanish

¿cuanto cuesta? : how much does it cost?

 

 

Gray Whale Kisses

 

Just over 400 miles south of Rosarito, and half-way down the Baja Peninsula, is the small town of Guerrero Negro. With a population of around 15,000 and a weather climate much colder than most of Baja, there is relatively little reason why one would want to visit…except for one reason which, in our opinion, makes it one of the most unbelievable places in the world.

For a very short time each year (late December through early April), the magnificent, Pacific gray whales come to give birth in the lagoons very close by to Guerrero Negro. Starting in October, these whales begin a two-to-three-month migration from the cold Alaskan seas to the warm waters of Baja California. At nearly 14,000 miles round-trip, it is the longest annual migration of any mammal. To continue reading more about this incredible process, click here.

At the end of March, we hopped aboard a 12 passenger van with the Tours in Baja tour group and commenced on our 10-12 hour (each direction) road trip led by Fernando Cuevas and Victor Loza. It was a relatively arduous and bumpy ride, with TONS of potholes after the downpour of rains the previous month, and with not much to do for entertainment.  However, among the passengers was a 93 year old woman who had always had whale watching as an item on her bucket list. We knew immediately that if she could make the drive we certainly would not be complaining on this trip!

The drive was quite scenic with a rather diverse and quickly-changing landscape.  Within just a couple of hours of leaving Rosarito, we found ourselves in desert terrain with various species of very interesting cacti. We stopped occasionally throughout the trip, once for roadside organic strawberries the size of tennis balls!  After a long day of driving, we finally arrived in this salt mining town which has one main paved road and a few taco stands, but felt grateful that we had a clean hotel room with AC to sleep in for the next two days.

Baby gray whale coming up to say hello

For the actual Whale Watching excursion, which occurred the next morning, we jumped in a panga boat and set out to the middle of the Ojo de Liebre Lagoon (formerly known as Scammon’s Lagoon and translated into English as “eye of the hare”).  In response to the growth of whale watching in Baja and, in an effort to reduce the impact to these marine mammals, the Mexican government established strong whale watching guidelines not only to regulate sightings, but to also promote the conservation of the gray whale species.

During the first hour of the boating trip, we saw a bunch of blow spouts (coming from the upwards of 2,000 whales that reside in the lagoon at this time) but they were all mainly in the distance. However, we soon found ourselves surrounded by 6-8 incredibly large mama whales and their babies such that we were able to reach over the side of the boat to touch and to even kiss them (like Aaron does in this video)!!

Just like inquisitive puppies, the mother whales would push the baby whales towards the boats to come up and greet us.  They would turn on their sides and lift up their flipper just as if they were waving “hi!”  Despite their impressive size of up to 50 feet in length and weighing in at up to 40 tons, these mammals were playful and appeared to smile through their giant eyes!!

Although we weren’t necessarily looking forward to the 12 hour ride home the next day, we were on such a high and felt so exhilarated by the experience that all we could do was talk about it the entire ride home.  This is for sure an unforgettable experience of a lifetime that should absolutely be on everyone’s bucket list!

Fun Fact

39% of the Earth’s marine mammals either live in or visit the Sea of Cortez in their lifetime and nearly ½ of the world’s Gray Whales are born just off of coast of Baja

You Had Us At Street Food

Baja Fish Tacos

Trying new dishes and exploring the different foods of a region is very much a highlight for us when we travel.  Street food is a cornerstone of the Mexican culinary culture…in fact, Mexico has one of the most extensive street food cultures in Latin America…and we just happen to LOVE it!!  Although an extremely wide variety of items can be found (i.e., tacos, tamales, gorditas, quesadillas, tostadas, chalupa, elote, tortas, fruit, vegetables, beverages, soups and much more), we want to tell you about our personal favorites thus far.

Al pastor

Given that Aaron’s heritage is part Israeli and he grew up loving Lebanese food (which he introduced to Rachael within days of meeting her), it’s not surprising that tacos al pastor is by far a favorite for both of us!!  Developed in Central Mexico, this dish is based on the spit-grilled meat brought by the Lebanese immigrants to Mexico called shawarma. Whereas shawarma is lamb-based, al pastor in Mexico is pork based. In our opinion, it gets better the later at night you eat it…as the meat has been cooking in its juices and is slow roasted to a pristine crisp.  (And the fact that it is usually consumed after a night of drinking tequila and cervezas has nothing to do with it still tasting better at this time of the day!)

Tacos al pastor cooked on a vertical spit called a trompo.

Carne asada

Carne literally meaning “flesh/meat/beef” and asada meaning “roast/broiled/grilled,” the skirt, flank or flap steak that is typically used to make this dish is seared to impart a delicious charred flavor. We have found that the secret to why this is particularly amazing in Mexico is that it is generally cooked over charcoal or wood.  For the “to-die-for” experience, combine the al pastor meat with carne asada in your taco, quesadilla, or torta!

Carne asada tacos. Watch out for the roasted peppers – they are muy picante!

Tacos de pescado

Fish tacos were invented here in Baja California…enough said. Delicious. Ok…we’ll elaborate just a bit. Take some flaky, white fish, either deep fry it or grill it, top with lettuce or cabbage, pico de gallo, and a sour cream or creamy avocado-based sauce, and serve on top of a corn or flour tortilla. Many people like a similar style taco but made with shrimp instead. Either way…you’ll be certain to be dreaming about them for nights to come!

Tamales

If you’re anything like us, you’ve probably purchased some version of a store-bought “tamale” or tried them from a local restaurant in the States. As we discovered, once you taste the authentic, home-made street version of these, your tastebuds will be forever changed!  Besides being outrageously good (perfect combo of flavor and texture), we were surprised to learn of the wide variety of types available. So far, we’ve tried beef, pork, chicken, cheese, and sweet corn, as well as more dessert-style ones like nuts, strawberry, and pineapple – all of which have been great!

Even though it seems like the majority of our meals we eat out are street food (and it’s certainly quite often!), we feel like we have just skimmed the surface and have a lot more to try and to learn about! Luckily, the cost of eating out at such places is usually very inexpensive…for example, we get 3 tamales for 60 pesos or ~$3.50, which is plenty for the two of us. We’ve found that the cost is similar, if not less expensive, than cooking at home.  So why not?!  Join the locals and dig in!

SENTRI Lane – Mission: Impossible

When we first came to visit Baja California last July, we ended up having to wait nearly 3 1/2 hours to cross the border from Tijuana back into the US…the traffic was basically at a standstill, creeping along so slowly that you had plenty of time to walk a quarter mile and back to a so-called bathroom (basically a toilet squeezed into a hallway no bigger than Aaron is wide and where you pay for your ration of 3 squares of toilet paper).  Although it was entertaining seeing the variety of items being sold (anything from smoothies, burritos, and churros, to wooden turtles and even booze delivery right to your car), we said “no mas.” Immediately, we completed a deep background check through Homeland Security and applied to get Global Entry.  This program gives access to SENTRI lanes for expedited border crossing.

So here’s a classic example of how screwy the US government system can be. The process to obtain the Global Entry card consists first of completing lengthy questionnaires.  Then, once approved, you must complete an in-person interview within 6 months…YET, when we had received our application approval, the next available appointment in Denver wasn’t for 9 months! If you don’t complete the interview in the allotted time frame, you are required to start the process all over again. Gotta love US government bureaucracy!

Luckily, Aaron was able to finagle an appointment much sooner.  We made the 45 minute drive to the Denver International Airport for literally a 2 minute “interview” and some fingerprinting.  But we can’t complain…we got our Global Entry cards, which meant no more 3 1/2 hour lines!  That is, of course, assuming you can actually find the SENTRI lane…

Imagine a time in your life when you were the most lost, and most extremely frustrated by not being able to find your way, and now multiply that by 100. That’s what it was like trying to find the SENTRI lane the first couple of times. We tried Google Maps and Waze. WRONG. We tried following the signage in Mexico. Yeah right. You literally make one wrong turn and you are driving in circles, getting nowhere. In fact, it’s so confusing that we even saw a Mexican army Humvee take a wrong turn and had to back up!

Even the Mexican Army gets lost driving through TJ…don’t think their Humvee has SENTRI access…

After multiple failed attempts, and having to wait AGAIN in the regular line for hours, Aaron committed to not crossing the border until he was CERTAIN he knew where he was going. So, like anything else these days, there is a HOW-TO video on how to find the SENTRI lane.  Literally, a step by step visual of which turns to take and when, and the buildings and other markers to pay attention to.  He watched the video at least l2 times and had memorized every step.  And so it was…the 3rd time was a charm and we successfully found it (although the stress during the process could have been enough to lead to a divorce!) – and now we probably could even do it with our eyes closed!

Fun Fact

The San Ysidro border crossing is the busiest land border crossing in the world.  Over 30 million people cross the border there annually.

 

Paperwork, waiting, paperwork, waiting, paperwork, and yes, more waiting… but we are here legally!

According to the US State Department, there are approximately one million Americans living in Mexico.  Of those, it is estimated that 91% are living there illegally.  Most people obtain a 6 month tourist visa, which they then continue to renew.  Yet we felt it was important to respect Mexico’s laws and follow the necessary steps to become legal residents. Plus, the fees we paid help to contribute to the various services and programs of which we also take advantage.

Rewind to before we left Denver…we spent a significant amount of time researching the process on the Mexican consulate’s website and prepping and preparing for the meeting there.*  We had to complete a lengthy application and compile a host of documents, mainly to demonstrate financial stability since we would not have a work visa, such as bank statements, investment accounts, letters from our bank, etc.  Moreover, all 75+ pages had to be notarized (so a huge thank you to Lori for that!). We put in many hours to make sure nothing was missed and that everything was more than sufficiently organized (we even had all documents separated with binder clips and color coordinated page tabs).  Yet, when we arrived at the consulate, the person we met with quickly thumbed through the massive stack and literally said, “ok, looks good.”  Our guess is that most people don’t usually come quite as prepared as we did…

Mexican Consulate in Denver

And, although you would think all of that would be enough, the process continued from there…we had received a temporary sticker in our passport but, once you cross the border, you have to repeat basically the same steps (but all in Spanish) within 30 days!  Deciding not to take any risks, we ended up hiring a fabulous expert to help us complete this, as the extent of our Spanish at that point was “una cerveza mas por favor.”

Although the experience was relatively seamless for us, we have been warned that, should we lose these cards, we would need to start the ENTIRE process all over again! Nonetheless, we are proud we went through the right steps to live in Mexico legally as temporary residents.

residente temporal card

*We do want to make it clear that this is purely a description of our own experience and that the process may vary (as we have heard from other expats) depending on the Mexican consulate you use and/or with whom you meet.

Fun Fact

Over 60 indigenous languages are spoken in Mexico – only India has more

We’re not in Kansas anymore Toto…Rosarito – here we are!

In the months leading up to our move, we had a number of people share with us, understandably so, their thoughts, concerns and reservations about us moving to a foreign country, especially Mexico.  Like any place else, there will always be the potential for violence, crime, issues related to medical care and health insurance and more.  But we feel that to live life to the fullest, you cannot live in fear…instead, we did our due diligence and research to learn about the area, the people, the culture, the laws, etc. and so far, the biggest problems we have faced is learning how to read food labels in Spanish and figuring out where to find the best margarita!!

No, seriously, although the food is AMAZING (we’ll get to that in just a sec), we were slightly surprised to find that many of the margaritas are made way too sweet for our taste and DEFINTELY without enough tequila! Nonetheless, we made it a mission the first month we were here to keep trying as many margaritas in town as we could and are fairly certain we have now found the BEST ones in Rosarito.

Two tacos and a beer…$70 pesos ($4 at current exchange rate)

And yes, the food (street food specifically) is to die for…and incredibly inexpensive! At most places the tortillas are made from scratch, right before they are served, and loaded with your choice of meat or fish (our favorite we’ve decided is the al pastor and carne asada combo).  They are then topped with a heaping scoop of freshly made creamy guacamole, salsa, cilantro and lime.  We’ve been to several of the highest recommended, sit-down restaurants and inevitably leave saying, “we should’ve just gone for street tacos!”

In addition to outrageously delicious and cheap food, we have also found the people to be very welcoming and hospitable.  They go above and beyond, and way out of their way, to help you – even when you are barely more than a stranger.  The sense of family and community is quite strong and the culture is one that is very much relationship-focused.  And everything just feels laid-back…in a wonderfully calming way.

Sunset from our balcony

We of course quickly realized that it was still going to take some time to become accustomed to certain things that are different from the “way we used to do it back home.”  For example, we found ourselves shopping at Wal-Mart more in the first month we were here than we had in our entire lives previously.  And the experience initially was a solid 2 hours or more, just trying to read labels and understand what we were buying!  We have tried to start shopping at the local, mom and pop stores, but then you still need to plan a good portion of your day to go the meat store, then the fish store, then the produce store, than the store for the home goods and other dry products…definitely NOT the one-stop-shopping experience. Learning that your utilities bill comes delivered by hand roughly every 2 months, and that you pay it at the gas station (cash only), was also quite interesting.   

So yes…things are different than they were in Colorado…but we are embracing it all and loving every moment of it!

 

 

Rubber Hits the Road

Having moved 6 times in 9 years, we got pretty good at keeping things relatively simple and did not hold onto possessions unnecessarily.  The walls in our home were always pretty bare and we tried to store as much as we could electronically. Yet, with our decision to move abroad into a fully furnished condo, we choose to sell one of our cars and keep just the Toyota Rav 4…along with only those items that we could fit inside. Initially, even for us, this seemed like a relatively challenging endeavor. Yet it is also an incredibly freeing experience to “let go” of things that you really don’t “need.” Despite making multiple trips to Goodwill, selling a bunch of items online, and discarding heaping loads into trash/recycling, our car was still packed to the brim and completely weighed down for our trip across country from Denver to Rosarito.

Iron Mountain Hot Springs

After months of planning (and trust me, Aaron had ALL of his t’s crossed and his i’s dotted!), it was time for the rubber to hit the road.  We set out for a beautiful drive through Colorado, Utah, Nevada, and California before crossing the border into Mexico.  Our first memorable stop was in Glenwood Springs at the Iron Mountain Hot Springs – absolutely recommend this spot if you are ever in the area!!  Next, we spent a couple of days in Palisade, the area best known for Colorado’s wine and peaches, before experiencing a breathtaking and diverse drive through Utah.  The positive energy was flowing when we got to Vegas as we immediately won $100 on the Wheel of Fortune slots (which, by the way, could buy you four drinks at the casinos OR…as we later learned…10 margaritas, 30 beers AND 25 tacos in Rosarito!!).  

As we approached the San Ysidro border crossing for the first time, we were getting nervous.  We had visions of being searched and having to unload all of our belongings that we had so meticulously packed – there is no way we could have ever figured out how to fit it all back in!  Sure enough, we were redirected to go through secondary screening…and immediately envisioned our worst nightmare was coming true.  Yet, it turned out to be quite anticlimactic – the car was simply sent through an x-ray, we were asked where we were headed, and they sent us on our way!  From there, it was a quick 20 minute drive to Rosarito.  We picked up our keys to our new place and spent our first night officially as expats!

FUN FACT

Mexico is one of the world’s top 5 most bio-diverse nations on Earth.  More than 30,000 plant species, 1,000 bird species, and 1,500 mammal,  reptile, and amphibian species are native to Mexico.