A Look Back: One Year of Being Homeless, Jobless, and Uninsured

On June 28, 2018, my husband Craig and I packed our bags into a rental car and drove away from Doylestown, PA, our home for the last twelve years. One year later, it’s time to take a look back.

A quick recap of our journey, geographically speaking: we visited friends and family along the east coast of the US, and then boarded a plane in Florida and headed to Ecuador. A couple of days in Quito, and then our long-awaited trip to the Galapagos Islands. We spent nine days on a small boat, sailing from one island to another, viewing the different species, snorkeling, and getting seasick (one of us, anyway.)

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The Pacific Ocean in a tranquil moment.

Next, another road trip along the Avenue of the Volcanoes in Ecuador. I had no idea there were so many volcanoes in the world! I also had no idea how high altitude (13,000 feet) can sap the strength from your body and the oxygen from your lungs. We next visited a stunning waterfall and a town known for its hot springs. Cuenca saw us settle in for a month, followed by another month in the beach town of Olon.

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Nope, not Switzerland – Ecuador!
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Olon is a popular surfing spot.

In late October we caught a flight to Guatemala, and spend a wonderful couple of months in Antigua. Here we learned that explosives are an integral part of holiday celebrations in the area. It was all fun and games until a roof caught fire and burned down four or five buildings on New Year’s Eve.

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Most of Antigua was destroyed by a powerful earthquake in 1775, including this beautiful cathedral.
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A beauty queen at the Kite Festival in Guatemala.
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Iglesia San Pedro Apostol

A highlight in the New Year was a brief visit to Cuba. Our cruise ship stopped in Cienfuegos and Havana just long enough to give us a taste of the island, and we promised ourselves we would return for a longer visit.

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Yes, there are loads of old American cars in wonderful shape.
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Che Guevera is a beloved hero.
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The Havana Opera House.

Post-Cuba, we flew home for a visit to our families in New Jersey. It was a lot of fun to see friends and families, and to enjoy our grandson, a precocious three-year-old. Then off to Portugal for six weeks – a month in Lisbon followed by a road trip to see the smaller villages in the north.

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A whimsical gargoyle

Bulgaria was one of our more eclectic destinations, and we enjoyed it thoroughly. Only thirty years out of communist domination, it was telling to see the difference in the attitudes of the people of different generations.

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A typical massive statue from the Communist era.
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The businessman who displayed this statue did not have a very positive image of America.
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A small portion of the artwork at Rila Monastery.

We had originally planned to spend time pet-sitting in England, but that fell through for a variety of reasons. We then decided to also change our plans of spending a month in France helping out at a chateau, and we reworked the next part of our trip completely. We’re very glad we did, as France is now experiencing record-breaking high temperatures. I would never have survived 114 degree heat.

Instead of Europe, we chose to spend a block of time in South Africa. We’ve been in Cape Town for five weeks, and also took a road trip east along the Garden Route to visit a game preserve.

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Table Mountain as seen from the roof of our first apartment in Cape Town.
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Even the food trucks in Cape Town serve excellent coffee.

So – what’s it been like to live out of a suitcase for an entire year? One thing I can tell you, I’m pretty sick of my clothes! Since we changed plans mid-stream, this rendered the contents of my suitcase at best inappropriate; at worst, ineffective. We hadn’t expected Portugal or Bulgaria to be as nippy as they were when the sun goes down – gosh, I wished I’d brought a hat and gloves, and I got really sick of this blue sweater.

I’ve only used my swimsuit in the Galapagos, but at the price I paid for it, I’m certainly not leaving it behind! On the other hand, there were a number of items I jettisoned along the way: pants that were too baggy after I lost twenty pounds; a shirt with bloodstains I couldn’t remove (he was three years old and crying after a terrible fall – you’d have picked him up too), my beloved gypsy shoes that were so worn the leather split at the sides. (No worries – I found an identical pair online!)

And shoes – I miss my beautiful shoes! As any traveler knows, shoes are the thing that weigh the most. Airlines nowadays are merciless about the weight limit on bags, so I’m currently carrying only three pairs: low boots, nice-looking sneakers, and leather slip-ons. It’s hell, I tell you!

WhatsApp is a lifesaver, and if you don’t have it on your phone, download it immediately.  It provides high quality video chat capabilities for free over wifi, and often works on data as well. This has saved me a fortune, since calling home costs 25 cents per minute. That doesn’t sound like much, until you FaceTime with a three-year-old who spends the time giggling and saying “Poop, poop, poop” for the entire call. Potty humor is more palatable when it’s free.

Looking ahead, we are visiting the Zimbabwe side of Victoria Falls, and Chobe Park in Botswana, in mid-August. Then it’s north to Ethiopia to tour the Omo Valley and Lalibela, home of the ancient rock churches. I’m really looking forward to that! This will be followed by a month in Montenegro, on the Adriatic Sea, and then an extended visit to Italy, which we have yet to plan. (I’m open to suggestions. And visitors.)

I wrote the following on January 2019, as I reflected on our time away from home.

Being away from home for Christmas is weird. Being someplace warm for Christmas, although admittedly pleasant, is weird too. Being a pastor who just retired, and not having any worship leadership responsibilities on Christmas Eve, is even more weird. Not being with the kids, and not being immersed in the chaos that is Christmas with the DiMeo/Hammell/Leith family is – simply not right.  It was a very odd holiday indeed.

Couple that with the fact that Craig and I were both felled by colds that lasted from Christmas till beyond the New Year, and you’ll have an accurate image of our holiday.  Craig didn’t seem to mind it all too much, but I was fairly miserable. Here we are on January 15, and I feel as though the world didn’t have a Christmas season this year.

Not doing that again! I have insisted on a trip home for Christmas, because it is simply too awful to spend the holidays without family. At that point it will have been seven months since we were in the US, and that’s long enough! Craig is lobbying for a year’s extension added to our two-year trip, but I’m not agreeing. I want a home. Stay tuned.

Meanwhile, here are a few more photos. The next blog post will highlight our safari adventures.

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Another section of Rila Monastery.
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Assisting his owner in earning a few coins.
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A photoshoot in a park in Coimbra, Portugal.
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Close-up of a fresco at Rila Monastery

Yesterday we visited Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens – they are stunning!

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10 thoughts on “A Look Back: One Year of Being Homeless, Jobless, and Uninsured

  1. I love that I have gotten to live this past year through you both! Thank you for sharing the amazing richness of God’s beautiful and bountiful creation; the people, the cultures, the landscapes, the foods. The images have been breathtaking and the words have been funny and inspiring. ❤️

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  2. Thanks so much for all the updates from you and Craig. I so look forward to them. You have inspired me to look for a trip to Portugal next year when my husband is on spring break next year . Concerning Italy we stopped in an area of Southern Italy called Matera. There are cave dwellings that people lived in until the 1950’s but were forced to leave due to poor living conditions. They are now being converted to hotels ( we stayed in one). Alberbello in nearby and they have conical stone homes many of which are shops.
    Helen Beck ( Gary Beck’s Mother)

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  3. Beautifully written and really enjoyed the virtual journey with you! Looking forward to celebrating again with you soon. Can you believe it’s been one year since retirement?! Time flies when having so much fun🙏🏼❤️Big sloppy cousin kisses to you both! Happiest Independence Day!

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  4. Thank you for your inspiration and vitual tour information. I am sure that I will never get to the places that you have visited which makes this reading all the more fun. You have saved me the fortune I do not have. For some reason, I have always traveled at the most expensive times and in the most expensive ways.

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