Saturday, September 9, 2017

Asian Shrimp and Noodles!

Asian Shrimp and Noodles
There is no need for take-out with this quick-n-tasty recipe for Asian Shrimp and Noodles! This dish has all of the Asian flavors that you love, with a fraction of the carbs and calories of traditional take-out.
All of the flavors, none of the guilt!
This dish is pretty epic: plump shrimp and tender veggies combine with savory sauce and satisfying veggie noodles. Yes, please!
Servings: 4
Here’s what you need
For the Coconut Amino Sauce
  • ⅓ cup coconut aminos
  • 2 teaspoons garlic, minced
  • ½ teaspoon liquid stevia
  • 1 Tablespoon chili paste (sambal oelek)
  • 1 teaspoon fish sauce
  • 1 Tablespoon ginger, minced
  • 1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
For the Noodles
  • 1 butternut squash
  • 1 sweet potato
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • sea salt and black pepper
For the Shrimp and Veggies
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 12 oz large shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 2 cups (5oz) white cremini mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 red bell pepper, seeded and diced
  • 2 zucchini, diced
  • 1 carrot, grated
  • 2 Tablespoons fresh cilantro, minced
Instructions
For the Coconut Amino Sauce
  1. In a medium sized bowl, combine the sauce ingredients together. Whisk until fully combined.
For the Noodles
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Peel the sweet potato and peel and seed the butternut squash and run both through a spiral slicer to create long, thin noodles. Toss with the olive oil and season with salt and pepper on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake for 5 minutes. Set aside.
For the Shrimp and Veggies
  1. Place a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add 1 teaspoon of olive oil, 2 Tablespoons of the coconut amino sauce and the shrimp. Cook for 3-4 minutes, until fully cooked. Transfer the shrimp to a plate and set aside.
  2. Add the mushroom, bell pepper, zucchini and carrot to the skillet. Cook until tender, stirring occasionally, about 5-7 minutes.
  3. Add the shrimp, noodles and remaining coconut amino sauce back into the skillet and stir until fully combined.
  4. Remove from heat, garnish with cilantro and serve immediately. Enjoy!
Nutritional Analysis
One serving equals: 193 calories, 4g fat, 20g carbohydrate, 6g sugar, 429mg sodium, 3g fiber, and 19g protein.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Cajun Grilled Shrimp

Cajun Grilled Shrimp
Cajun Grilled Shrimp
Warning: Only make this recipe if you want to take your taste buds on a seriously wild ride! The spice and flavors in this Cajun Grilled Shrimp are on full blast!
I highly recommend serving this firecracker shrimp over cauliflower rice dressed in lemon juice for cooling, calming flavors that create the perfect balance for spicy shrimp.
The shrimp grills very quickly, so be sure to have everything else prepared and ready to be served before you get those shrimps on the barbie… :-)
Servings: 4
Here’s what you need
For the Cajun Spice Blend:
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • ½ teaspoon onion powder
  • ½ teaspoon ground cayenne powder
  • ¾ teaspoon dried oregano
  • ¾ teaspoon dried thyme
  • ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
For the Shrimp:
  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 20 extra large shrimp, peeled and deveined
For the Cilantro Dressing:
  • 1 Tablespoon coconut oil
  • ¼ cup fresh cilantro, minced
  • 3 Tablespoons lemon juice
  • 2 Tablespoons scallions, whites only, minced
  • ¼ teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
Instructions
  1. In a large bowl combine the spice blend and mix well. Add the olive oil and shrimp and toss until well coated.
  2. Preheat a grill or grill pan over medium-high heat. Skewer the shrimp by poking through the thickest part of the shrimp and also through the tail, so that it is secured in two places. Grill for about 7 minutes, turning halfway through, until cooked through.
  3. In a medium bowl combine the cilantro dressing ingredients. Brush the dressing over the cooked shrimp and serve immediately. Enjoy!
Nutritional Analysis
202 calories, 12g fat, 2g carbohydrate, 1g sugar, 716mg sodium, 1g fiber, and 21g protein.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

7 Secret Passenger Rights We already feel like airlines are screwing us enough. Add long delays, overbooked flights, lost bags, and it turns into hell on runway. But there's a silver lining, if you know what to ask for. Here are seven ways to get even.

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Get refunded for bumping

It’s hard not to freak out when you’re bumped off an oversold flight. But remember this: you can get paid back. According to the Department of Transportation, if you get to your destination between one and two hours of your original arrival time on a domestic flight, or between one and four hours on an international trip, the airline owes you 200 percent of the one-way fare (up to $675). If you arrive more than four hours later than planned, you'll pocket 400 percent of the ticket (up to $1,350). Still can't believe it? An AirHelp study found that the average payout is $643.

Ask for cash not flight vouchers

Don't let an airline ever give you a voucher for a bumped flight, or any other inconvenience. Vouchers are like Monopoly money. They look good on paper, but they're not as useful in reality. Your best bet? Ask for cash or a check because credits almost always come with strings attached (i.e. blackout dates). So before you pass go, collect your $200 — in cash.

Opt out of a tarmac delay

So you're stuck on the runway, forced to watch Ocean's 11 for the fifth time as the hours tick by. Lucky for you, you can't be held on a delayed plane for more than three hours on domestic flights or four hours on international routes (if you don't want to be at least). Airlines are also obligated to update passengers every 30 minutes, and serve food and water after a two-hour wait. Pass the pretzels.
RELATED7 Super Affordable Jet Lag Remedies

Cancel tickets for free

Got a bad case of buyer's remorse? Don't worry, most airlines allow you to cancel or change your ticket within 24 hours for a full refund. In fact, on some carriers (like Southwest) you can even change plans until right before boarding at no charge. But there are some exceptions. Take American Airlines: You can hold a ticket up to 24 hours, but once you book, you're locked in. Also, keep in mind that third-party sites like Kayak and Expedia have their own set of rules, too.

Pay back for itinerary changes

When flights are delayed, rescheduled or canceled, many passengers are forced to rearrange transportation. In situations like these, the airline must either cover all the expenses and fees to reroute you or give you a full refund — even if you bought a non-refundable ticket or were rebooked on a different carrier. So, if the only seat left on the next flight out is first-class, it's yours without costing a cent. More champagne, please.
RELATEDThe Best Carry-On Luggage

Snag a hotel voucher

This will be the last time you'll ever have to sleep at the gate, or worse, on the terminal floor. Airlines are required to offer free accommodations if you're stuck overnight involuntarily. Just don't expect the Ritz. These hotel vouchers can be claimed at any time, meaning if you decide to stay with friends instead of a Holiday Inn, you are still entitled to the coupon. It's also worth asking if they'll cover meals as well.

Cash in for lost luggage

If your checked bag is lost, delayed or damaged, don't settle for the small $50 sum you're usually offered. Depending on how much your items were worth and how long your bags are MIA, you could be repaid up to $3,400 per passenger in liability for a domestic U.S. trip, and up to $1,700 on international flights (set in 2013). Hello, shopping spree.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Social Security Anywhere in the World (3 ways to collect)



Social Security Anywhere in the World (3 ways to collect)
Thinking about retiring overseas and wondering how you'll collect any federal benefits owed to you?
Rest easy, because no matter if you are a citizen of or have legally worked in the U.S. or Canada, you are entitled to your benefits no matter where in the world you choose to live.
So forge ahead with those plans to retire to the coast of Costa Rica or Spain...a little hideaway in Italy...or to whatever comfortable, welcoming place appeals to you.
There are a couple of ways you can go about collecting your Social Security once you move overseas.
One option is to open a local bank account in the community of your choice and have your benefits direct-deposited into that account, just as you are likely doing where you live now. You will need a resident visa in the new country to do this.
This means you will need to be fairly certain this is the place you want to retire and that you will be spending time here for the near future. (No, you are not giving up you're U.S. or Canadian citizenship and this does not mean you are applying for citizenship in the new country. You are simply seeking official resident status.)
The drawback is that only certain foreign banks are qualified to accept these direct deposits of U.S. or Canada government benefits, so you'll want to be sure the local bank you choose is eligible.
Another option is to continue to have your benefits direct-deposited into your local bank account as you are likely doing right now. Then you can either transfer those funds to any new local bank account that you might open in your new overseas community and/or you can access your funds anywhere in the world via your debit/ATM card.
Here's the catch: You could end up paying hefty foreign ATM surcharge fees. So be sure you know what your bank's policies are in this regard. If their policy is not to refund those charges, it may be time to move to a bank that does.
If you are from the U.S. and you see no need to maintain a U.S. bank account (although if you have associated credit cards, you will want one) here's another option:
MasterCard's Direct Express card may make sense if you're not sure yet where in the world you might want to retire and you want to travel for a few months to check out a few different places. You don't need any bank account or credit union account or any financial institution account at all, no credit check is required, and there are no sign-up fees, monthly account fees, or minimum balance requirement. Once you enrol, your federal benefits will be automatically deposited to your card account on your payment date.
Your funds will be immediately accessible and you can use your card to make purchases at places that accept Debit MasterCard, to pay your bills online or over the phone, and to withdraw cash from banks and ATMs anywhere in the world.
The downside is that, while you are allowed one free ATM cash withdrawal each month, your free withdrawal can only be in the U.S. (Always a catch.)
In other words, while the card can be extremely convenient if you want to cut ties with U.S. banks, you could end up paying quite a bit each month in surcharge fees.
But it's always good to have options. And it's definitely a good idea to understand what the benefits and drawbacks of those options are.
With today's technological benefits, the world really is your oyster. All you need to do is find the place in it that most appeals to you...and make that place your home. With a few insider tips like these, it's easy enough to make that happen.

First Time Expat? 5 Best Tips I can give


First Time Expat? 5 Best Tips I can give
I don't much believe in mistakes. I see them only as momentary setbacks and learning opportunities. When a setback occurs, therefore, you always learn from it.
Yes, mistakes can sometimes be costly. And they can be a blow to your self-esteem. But there are always ways around and out...
If there is any single lesson I might share to help you on your expat journey, it would be this: nothing you do cannot be undone.
If you initially choose the wrong overseas community or even a country that's not quite right for you, you can move on. Your feet aren't encased in concrete.
Of course, it's far easier to move on if you're light on your feet to begin with. That's why we always recommend that you rent instead of buy. And it's why I'd suggest that before you ship all your worldly possessions, spend as much time as you can in a place to be sure it suits you.
On a more practical level, here are a few tips for things you can start working on to prepare for your expat journey before even leaving home:

Do your research.
There is no such thing as too much information. And when it comes to the expat experience, you may find lots of conflicting information. So be aware that there are not always definitive answers.
This is especially true when it comes to getting a resident visa in a foreign country. Everyone who goes through the process has a different experience. From the paperwork required to fees paid to the length of time it takes, I can pretty much guarantee that no two people will have the same experience. And no two immigration officials will give you the same information, nor can you rely on any official government websites for anything absolute. So be as prepared as you can be, and don't sweat it...everything will work out in the long run.
Work on being more patient.
If there is anything to be learned from all this, it is the need to be patient. Things happen, but not always in the timeframe you'd like them to happen. Relax.
And that's another point... The age-old adage "you can catch more flies with honey than vinegar" applies tenfold when you are an expat. A lesson I've learned over and over is that the more I smile and the more politely and respectfully I treat someone, the more willing they are to help me. A positive attitude takes you far.
Renew your passport before your move.
This is where your residence visa will live. And it can be painful and time-consuming to switch it from an old to a new passport. So start with a new one. And while you're at it, renew your driver's license, too.
Move everything online.
If you aren't already banking and paying bills electronically, now is the time to start. You'll need to keep a bank at home to pay your credit card and other bills, so be sure you know how these online systems work. Same goes for mail. Get as much of your correspondence as you can in a digital format.
Decide how you'll access your funds.
You may or may not need a local bank. Sometimes you'll need one to prove your financial wherewithal for your visa. In that case, you'll want one that's fiscally secure and, perhaps, one that is qualified to accept direct deposits of your Social Security benefits. And if you decide to run on ATM withdrawals from your bank at home, you'll want to choose a bank that reverses foreign ATM fees.
There are lots of little common sense strategies like these that I could share. But in the interest of brevity, I'll say once again: There is no such thing as too much research. Get as much information as you can and be as prepared as you can be. And, very importantly, relax and have fun.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

3 Cool Things to Do in Sydney

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There's no sexier city in the world than Sydney, with its hip, lively neighborhoods that border the iconic Sydney harbor. From world-class dining and cooler-than-thou bars to stylish boutiques and gorgeous beaches, these are the 3 best things to do in Sydney now.


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Automata





The culinary renaissance that’s taking over Chippendale comes to a head at Automata, an industrial-chic addition to the Old Clare Hotel. The city’s style set gathers under a double-height ceiling, punctured by chandeliers made from radial engines and aircraft piston lights, for modernist, five-course takes on Australian cooking—squat fillet wrapped in Rangers Valley skirt steak; New Zealand hapuku over a cured roe emulsion. Both floors have communal tables, so try and request a seat by the windows if you’re there for date night.

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Hacienda Bar Sydney

The prettiest bar in Sydney, which hangs over Circular Quay’s concourse in the Pullman Quay Grand Sydney Harbour hotel, is more Cuban than Sydneysider—but we’re okay with that. Taking cues from Caribbean plantation architecture and 1950s Miami, the glassed-in space is awash in garden trestles hung with vines, pink- and mint-hued sofas and armchairs, and huge windows that open out towards the harbor and Harbour Bridge. Drinks match the vibe: think banana-infused pisco sours, “Rye Tais,” and rum-based cocktails swirled with orange curaçao and dry vermouth. Pair your choice with a dish of yucca fries or jerk chicken sliders and Instagram away.
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Koskela

Looking to shop local? Koskela’s light-flooded showroom in the inner suburb of Rosebery is a bit of a trek from central Sydney, but the journey is worth it. Here, everything from the furniture to the lighting and home accessories was designed and made right in Australia—and with an eco-conscious mindset to boot. Pendant lampshades were made by indigenous weavers, for example, while recycled timber and merino wool are given new life as stylish tables and bed linens. Don’t forget to grab a flat white and light bite from the indoor-outdoor café on your way out.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Own On This Spectacular Caribbean Beach For As Little As $67,000


Everyone who appreciates the Caribbean has heard of Cartagena, Colombia. This Spanish-colonial city on the Caribbean Sea is Colombia’s #1 draw for foreign visitors and home to a sizeable expat community.
But just 150 miles up the Caribbean coast is another Caribbean town that you may not have heard of…
Santa Marta.
Santa Marta offers excellent diving, sandy beaches, calm waters, an upbeat and energetic culture, and a collection of diverse and attractive living options.
While Cartagena is where the world comes to visit… Santa Marta is a place to settle in.
And thanks to the continued strength of the U.S. dollar versus the Colombian peso, dollar holders enjoy a serious buying advantage right now.

Colombia’s Oldest City Has Been Reborn

Columbus visited Santa Marta on his second voyage to the New World in 1499. The oldest city in Colombia, Santa Marta was officially founded in 1525.
It was here that one of Columbus’ crewmen documented the wealth and riches of the local indigenous people, giving rise to the myth of El Dorado, the fabled city of gold.
It’s always warm in Santa Marta, with highs hovering in the high-80s to low-90s Fahrenheit year-round. The rainy season—May to November—turns the surrounding mountains a lush green, while it’s very dry the rest of the year.
When I first visited Santa Marta in 2010, it was definitely a work in progress. The formerly seedy downtown was undergoing restoration, bringing the old colonial homes, parks, and churches back to their original splendor. Leading-edge investors were prowling the city.
Well-kept parks and fine colonial buildings are the Santa Marta of today

Today’s Santa Marta is a different story. The downtown now has an attractive seafront park, plenty of small cafés and bars, as well as coffee shops, boutique hotels, excellent seafood restaurants, and even a cruise-ship port. There’s a 256-slip marina, and new, tasteful condo projects have sprouted up around the entire area.
When I refer to “Santa Marta,” I’m talking about the Santa Marta metro area, which extends 13 miles from Taganga in the north to the airport in the south. This stretch of Caribbean coast is home to an amazing diversity of beachside destinations.
Let’s take a look at them from north to south, starting with Taganga…
Taganga is a small village surrounded by tall mountains that sits on an expansive, sparkling, deep-blue bay. The beach is long and unspoiled and is bordered by a new boardwalk. Taganga’s bay is terrific for diving and snorkeling, and you’ll find a number of dive shops and excursions available.
Santa Marta (the city itself) contains the original historic center and the cruise-ship port. This is the part that underwent the dramatic restoration. Santa Marta also hosts a number of inland neighborhoods, such as Bavaria, that would be great for full-time living away from the tourist traffic.
El Rodadero lies about 10 minutes south of Santa Marta. It’s been the main draw in the area for years, as people sought to avoid the once-seedy historic center. The beaches are in fact far longer, wider, and better-kept than Santa Marta’s, creating a giant crescent-shaped shoreline that’s several miles long. El Rodadero offers a small-town feel that you don’t find in the city.
On the oceanfront, El Rodadero boasts a fine sandy beach lined with palm trees along the warm, calm waters. The palm-shaded boardwalk is filled with people walking and patronizing the kiosks, which sell everything from fresh-made pizza to fresh-squeezed fruit juice.
Well-kept parks and fine colonial buildings are the Santa Marta of today

Weekend nights turn into an impromptu beach party, with families turning out by the hundreds to enjoy (and dance to) the local music of wandering music groups.
I think of El Rodadero as the family destination within the Santa Marta area. It’s bustling with people enjoying the beach, markets, shops, and boardwalk. It maintains a safe, friendly, and laid-back feel. I like to call it the “Unpretentious Caribbean.”
The southern sector consists of neighborhoods Rodadero Sur, Playa Salguero, Pozos Colorados, and Bello Horizonte. It lies south of Santa Marta and El Rodadero, but before the airport. These areas feature quiet, well-tended, and more exclusive beaches than you’ll see in Santa Marta or El Rodadero. They’re also the site of quite a few new, upscale condo buildings.
This southern sector is the current direction of expansion in the Santa Marta market, where you’ll find most of the new construction and pre-construction deals. The condo projects here are generally high-end, of large size, with nice finishings and amenities.
The southern sector is long on natural beauty. Bello Horizonte has the widest beach I saw in the area, and most of the beaches along this stretch are frequented only by the neighboring residents, with little to no tourism. It’s peaceful.
When I came here as a foreign traveler, I found the southern sector a bit dull compared to the party atmosphere in El Rodadero or even Santa Marta Centro.
But now I understand its attraction for those who want to escape the bustle of Medellín or Bogotá (or El Rodadero, for that matter).
All things considered, Santa Marta is my favorite spot on the Colombian Caribbean coast. It doesn’t have Cartagena’s impressive colonial architecture, but neither does it have Cartagena’s prices or tourism annoyances.
From the pristine bay at Taganga to the classic port ambience of Santa Marta and from the energy of El Rodadero to the gleaming towers of the southern sector, I’d say that Santa Marta has something for everyone.
If you want a Caribbean home at a relatively bargain price… especially, again, at today’s exchange rate… then Santa Marta could be right for you.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Low Cost Living in This Charming, Old World European City

Low Cost Living in This Charming, Old World European City
By Jamie Sung
I'm going to be completely honest: I'm a little hesitant to write this.
I've discovered a gem of a destination that has completely captured my soul...and I'm not sure I want to share it with the world.
But my experience here has been too incredible to keep a secret. So I'm going to let you in on the spellbinding European country of Portugal—and, more specifically, its second-largest city Porto.
Beautiful, warm, and inviting, Porto is a well-kept European secret that'll seduce you the moment you step foot onto its old, cobblestone streets. Whether you're gazing out at one of its countless river miraduoros (viewpoints) or meandering through its unassuming, attractive little nooks and crannies, it's nearly impossible to grow tired of the city's rich and lively atmosphere.
Porto boasts palatial architecture, delectable food and wine, charming locals, and some of the lowest costs of living in Europe. It would be one thing to travel here and spend a few weeks in the city (and have it be worth every penny), but it's another thing to actually save much more than you would living in another major city...while having all the time you could want to linger in the city's enchanting aura.
For about $5.50, I can walk away from a family-owned local produce shop with a bag full of bananas, grapes, pears, apples, kiwis, plums, garlic, spinach, onions, carrots, and cabbage. No matter how many times I buy fresh produce from this place, I am still pleasantly shocked every time I get the bill. The walk home is hard for my arms but great for my wallet, and I enjoy fresh, great-tasting produce every single day.
If you want a quick breakfast, you can buy a tosta mista (a ham-and-cheese melt) and a galao (latte) for less than $3.25. Or, if you want to enjoy a drink with a friend, a cup of refreshing Super Bock—the most popularly served Portuguese beer—costs a little over a dollar.
Another great example of Porto's affordability is the charming old Portuguese house that I live in. It has three bedrooms, two bathrooms, a large foyer, a living room, a kitchen, a dining room, a studio, and a balcony. The rent, including expenses, is about $780 per month. And if you only need a single room, it's very common to be able to find a place for under $210 per month.
For someone who was paying $1,500 per month for a room in a two-bedroom apartment in Santa Monica, California, this dramatic decrease in living expenses has allowed me to spend less time working just to pay the rent, and more time actually living and experiencing life.
Living here, I can afford to enjoy a coffee and a long talk with a friend in the afternoon sunlight at one of Porto's many outdoor cafes. I can take a break from writing and walk through the old streets without a destination, knowing that I will discover a new set of favorite little corners. I can finish a day's work by treating myself to one of the many sinfully delicious Portuguese pastries, while striking up a conversation with another stranger-turned-friend who is more than happy to speak English to me. Life in Porto is full of these kinds of moments.
I hadn't planned on moving to Portugal when I came here, but like many visitors will attest, there is just something about this place that hooks you and makes it almost impossible not to stay. And though I came to this country as a visitor, I am now someone who calls it home.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Need a little Distraction? How about a Short Read ?

A Slower Life and Lower Living Costs in Cuenca, Ecuador

A Slower Life and Lower Living Costs in Cuenca, Ecuador
By Sandra Dodge
When my husband Michael reached 57 he decided he wanted to retire by the age of 60. While he loved his job, being the sole IT person for an engineering firm with offices in various locations around the country was stressful. I couldn't really argue with that, since after working as an executive secretary for the better part of 30 years I was already mostly retired.
We knew that we wanted to retire abroad and experience life in other countries. We began researching where we might want to live. We used online sources, the library, read retirement articles and publications, and began spending our vacations visiting possible retirement locales. We considered cities in Spain, France, Italy, and even Hungary. Europe seemed like a good choice, since the ease of traveling throughout the EU would provide many opportunities to visit various countries.

But then Ecuador appeared on our radar. In 2011 we made our first trip there. We spent time in Quito, Cotacachi, Otavalo, and Imbabura, and then went south to Cuenca where we were immediately enamored.
We loved the four rivers coursing through town, the majestic mountains that surround and protect the valley, the year-round, spring-like climate, and the vibrant murals painted on buildings and walls throughout the city.
We loved the rhythm and feel of the city, the parks, the centuries-old churches, cathedrals, and homes in the city center, and the endless offerings of symphony, theater, dance, music, and cultural festivals. Cuenca offers friendly, helpful people along with a slower pace of life combined with all the conveniences of a modern city.
Living here has allowed us to retire within our means. We rent a modern house that has two separate units. My mom lives in one unit and Michael and I in the other. Each unit is fully furnished, and has three bedrooms, two bathrooms, and a modern kitchen with a refrigerator, gas range, and microwave. The rent is $575 per month.
Compared with costs in the U.S., living costs in Ecuador are low. Our electricity runs around $70 a month, water around $11 a month, and groceries (including alcohol) around $430 per month. Internet depends on the provider and speed, of course, but we pay $57 a month for 20 megabytes. We don't have cable TV, but a basic package costs under $30 a month. It's easy to see why Ecuador comes out on top for affordable living for lots of people.
We start our days in Cuenca with an early morning walk along a pleasantly babbling river to nearby Parque Paraiso, while we marvel at the majesty of the early morning sun as it strikes the mountain tops and the slopes of the city. We then spend some time working out on the exercise equipment or join one of the exercise classes going on throughout the park. There are at least three classes to choose from on any given morning and while some are free, some ask for a whopping donation of $1.
We always finish our outing by feeding the ducks at the pond and then head home, maybe buying a slice of fresh pineapple or watermelon, or a large cup of mixed fresh seasonal fruit from the fruit ladies, which can cost from 50 cents to $2.
Later we might visit one of the many free or low-cost museums or constantly changing art exhibitions, enjoy a stroll through town, meet friends for lunch, or people-watch in the town square while enjoying an ice cream.
Life here proceeds at a much slower pace; people know how to enjoy it and each other. And for us, life is good.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Life is Easy...and Low Cost...in This Friendly Vibrant City

Life is Easy...and Low Cost...in This Friendly Vibrant City
Initially I thought I'd stay in Chiang Mai for three or four months. It's now 11 months and counting and I find it difficult to picture myself moving any time soon.
I first fell for Chiang Mai's charms on vacation a few years back, even though my experience was touristy and centered mostly around the old town. But, as I've since discovered, if you take a 10-minute stroll away from the hostels and houses in the old city center, you'll find fancy cafes and restaurants, cinemas, and huge shopping malls and supermarkets stocked with imported food. There are few things you'll miss from home that you won't find here.
You'll also be spoiled for choice when it comes to accommodation, no matter what your budget. There's a wide range of serviced apartment complexes that rent rooms on a monthly basis. The longer you stay, the cheaper it will be. A comfortable, newly furnished room will start at around $140 a month. Upgrade to more space, more services or amenities, like a swimming pool, and you'll need to stretch your budget, anywhere from $250 to $440 a month. It's also worth noting that prices and availability will vary in some places during the high season, which runs from November to February.
If you'd prefer a house, prices start at around $300 month, the more space and style you want, the more it will cost. A budget of $500 a month will get you serious bang for your buck but there'll most likely be a minimum stay clause, which could be anything from three to 12 months. Houses will also be farther away from the city center so you'll need to take transport into account. You can rent a scooter for around $6 a day, or buy one for around $420. Alternatively, you can make use of the local taxi service songthaws (red vans).
I live in a quiet local neighborhood close to cafes and restaurants and pay $140 a month for a large, furnished room, with a double bed. It has a balcony, is air-conditioned, and includes WiFi. There's a fridge but no kitchen—living in Thailand it's rare you will need one, Thai cuisine is amazing. It's also readily available and seriously low cost. A local dish won't be more than $4 and even in a more expensive restaurant it won't set you back more than $6.50. In total, my partner and I rarely spend more than $135 a month on food.
It's easy to settle into Chiang Mai and you won't be short of friends here either. The expat community is large and hosts several weekly activities catering for all sorts of interests...dance classes and meet ups, theater workshops, yoga, martial arts, language exchange, board games, hiking groups...you name it. This makes it easy to build a community and a group of friends and that, for me, is the icing on the cake.
Chiang Mai makes you feel at home. It draws you in and with so much on offer you'll be in no rush to leave...I'm certainly not...

Friday, February 3, 2017

11 Awesome Caribbean Island Hikes

 

11 Awesome Caribbean Island Hikes

Many Caribbean visitors could be perfectly content spending their entire trip guzzling pineapple rum cocktails and gazing at that unbroken turquoise ocean line for hours on end – and that's fine. But the slightly more adventurous among us look for much more from a Caribbean getaway than just lying horizontally on a beach chair. Good news. You know those sky-piercing green hills, undulating jungles, and thundering waterfalls that you see on your flight in? Turns out that, with a little effort, you can see them up close. And don't fret about loading yourself with camping gear and cutting in on your relaxation time. With these 11 Caribbean island hikes, you can be on top of a mountain and back down in as little as 45 minutes, ready to catch up on your romance novel or head out for a snapper dinner. Best of all, you'll get an authentic view of the Caribbean.


Gros Piton, St. Lucia

Located on the southwestern coast of St. Lucia, the Pitons are two iconic mountains situated near the towns of Soufriere and Choiseul. First, head to Fond Gens Libre for a glimpse of history (the area played a big part in the island's slave rebellion in 1748). Then it's time to hit the trail. Of the two peaks, Gros Piton is the highest, at 2,619 feet, but it’s also surprisingly the easiest to climb, thanks to a gentler slope. Guide are required – and you'll be glad you have one to help you over the volcanic rocks, interpret the flora and fauna, and share the dizzying views of nearby Petit Piton once you reach the summit.


Concord Falls, Grenada

Grenada might lack spectacular stretches of beach, but it makes up for it by being a playground for those who love invigorating nature hikes. Check out Concord Falls, a series of three waterfalls located just eight miles north of St. George’s. The first of the trio, a 35-foot cascade, is accessible via a paved path. A 45-minute trek that meanders through a nearby nutmeg plantation will get you to the second of the three falls, Au Coin. By the time you reach the farthest waterfall, Fontainebleau, you’ll be ready to dive in and cool off in the crystal-clear cascade that tumbles 65 feet down.

El Choco National Park, Dominican Republic

You may not have enough time to scale the highest peak in the Caribbean – the 10,178-foot Pico Duarte – but that doesn't mean there aren't other worthwhile day hikes in the Dominican Republic. If you’re staying on the north coast, check out the system of trails at El Choco National Park. The 48-square-mile expanse of flourishing tropical plant life is nestled between the foothills of the Cordillera Septentrional and the Cabarete Lagoon. While gallivanting between jagged hills and pastureland, you’ll have the opportunity to splash through freshwater springs flowing out of subterranean caves and explore the gently-rolling landscape of Hispaniola, which was formed by underwater volcanoes 50 million years ago.


Nevis Peak, Nevis

At 3,232 feet, the dormant volcano (it erupted roughly 100,000 years ago) is hard to miss from anywhere on the island. Rumor has it the locals are skeptical of anyone who attempts to scale Nevis Peak on their own, so it might be worth looking into getting a guide from your hotel. With steep slopes and dense vegetation, Nevis Peak is no walk in the park, but it will only take you about half a day to get there and back.


La Soufriere, St. Vincent

La Soufriere, the site of a devastating 1902 volcanic eruption, is now a challenging hike for travelers. Those gutsy enough to tackle it will be rewarded with an unforgettable view of the gigantic crater and its active lava dome. The most popular point of entry is Rabacca on the windward coast of the island. This route takes trekkers through a banana plantation, rainforest, dense thickets, and cloud forests before reaching the crater, which is strewn with molten ash. Folks who would like to extend their hike can also climb down into the crater using a rope.


El Yunque National Forest, Puerto Rico

Just an hour from downtown San Juan, El Yunque National Forest is the only true tropical rainforest in the U.S. national forest system -- and trekking through it is an entirely different experience from traipsing around Puerto Rico’s tourist haunts. Begin the journey at the Palo Colorado Visitor Center, where you’ll find dozens of trails branching off into the forest (hikes range from easy to intense). From there, it’s just 45 minutes up a well-maintained trail to the Mt. Britton lookout tower.


Blue Mountain Peak, Jamaica

For a taste of Jamaica's unspoiled landscape (and the spiciest jerk in the country), head up north to Portland and take a three-hour hike along the Blue Mountain Peak trail, which eventually ends at the staggering 7,402-foot summit. You'll wander through fields growing aromatic coffee beans before ascending up into the old-growth rainforest, where doctor birds and Jamaican toads flit through the ancient ferns and lichens. Bonus: Look closely on a clear day and you might just see neighboring Cuba.


La Grande Soufriere, Guadeloupe

With over 180 miles of hiking trails, one could spend all day at the 74,100-acre Guadeloupe National Park. In addition to the breathtaking Carbet Falls, a series of three waterfalls, the park is also home to La Grande Soufriere, a 4,813-foot active stratovolcano that was the subject of a documentary by Werner Herzog. The German filmmaker traveled to Basse-Terre to interview a local man who insisted he stayed put during the 1976 eruption. And you don’t have to scale the mountain to experience it – a leisurely one-and-a-half-mile hike will you guide you around the base through the homes of twittering hummingbirds, native Guadeloupe raccoons, and endangered agoutis as well as rubble that remains from the 1976 eruption.

Morne Diablotin, Dominica

Dominica is a small island nation, but Morne Diablotin (literally "devil’s mountain"), a volcanic peak located an hour north of the capital of Roseau, is anything but tiny. It last erupted 30,000 years ago, and today, towers over the island at 4,000 feet high. The whole thing will likely take about five to six hours to tackle, and if you visit during the rainy season, prepare to get muddy. The upside? You'll get to explore virtually untouched rainforest that's crawling with gommier trees as well as spot squawking jacko and sisserou parrots.


Cerro Carambola, Roatan

Roatan, one of the Bay Islands in Honduras, is a mecca for scuba divers and doesn't lack in dramatic scenery on land either. Cerro Carambola, a mountain named after a juicy fruit that grows in the area, isn’t too high – about 570 feet above sea level – but it's steep, jutting straight out of the ocean. Various bird and reptile species will shadow your steps as you climb up the rustic trai. Trekkers can get high enough to see the neighboring island of Utila and enjoy a bird’s-eye view of the coral reef below.


Mastic Trail, Grand Cayman

Grand Cayman is as flat as one of its famous stingrays, but it would still be a mistake to miss this easy and tranquil two-mile hike that takes folks up 60 feet through the last contiguous area of old-growth forest on the island (more than two million years worth of growth). Tucked away from the chaos of the resorts on Seven Mile Beach, you'll feel a sense of calm while spotting iguanas, native woodpeckers, and the endangered Cayman parrot. You'll even be back in time for lunch in nearby Breakers.