House Sitting in San Miguel de Allende ~ Tall Tales and True Adventures

Every experienced house sitter has a few tall tales and more than a few true adventure stories to tell. It goes with the territory. Stepping out into the semi-unknown can bring out strengths (and weaknesses) you didn’t even know you had. Or needed.

Folks ask me all the time about our gigs as house sitters. How does it work? How do we find the gigs? What does it cost? And most importantly, do we have any problems being away from our home, our stuff and our routine for weeks or months at a time?

I can bend your ear for a long time talking about why I love house sitting, but house sitting is not for everyone. This I know for sure. It can be more than a little daunting settling into a complete stranger’s home, sleeping in someone else’s bed, cooking in an unknown kitchen where you can’t figure out how to turn on the stove and (the biggie here for two complete tech-idiots) remembering out how to work the TV system/remote.  The first few days are often challenging and more than a little frustrating. But eventually we work the kinks out, manage a work-around or decide we can just do without and the thrill of being in a new place, a (usually) lovely home and the fun of bonding with new furry friends makes up for almost any inconvenience.

A few true adventures from our most recent house sit come to mind. I’ll leave the tall tales to hubs. I’m sure he can conjure up a few.

Sunny San Miguel.

Staying warm in sunny Mexico is no easy task in the winter where it can be warmer outside than inside. Many of the older homes were built to keep heat out and don’t have any kind of furnace or forced air system like many of us rely on in the US. They often have small fireplaces with a single gas pipe and no logs or any kind of heat distribution system. Fireplaces may or may not be vented and are generally lit with a flame-thrower (aka a BBQ lighter). They scare the hell outta me! And on this particular sit, the main fireplace in the living room was in pieces waiting for the homeowners to return from the US with new parts. So…workaround time. We found two electric blankets. One had a cord and the other did not. Lucky me, I got the one with the working cord. Hubs used it in the late afternoon when he took his daily nap to the drone of Fox News and we shared it in the evening while watching PBS. I also used it on the bed under the blankets to take the frost off the sheets before getting in to sleep. A pile of blankets keeps you warm, but the initial frost bite that hits you upon diving under the covers that can be a problem. We often climbed into bed wearing socks, sweat pants and a layer or two of long sleeve tee shirts.  As house sitters you must be able to adapt and overcome.

Taking advantage of the view.

Hilltop house sits without a car can be seen as a challenge or a free workout. We chose to see the 1.5 mile, 25 minute scramble down a steep cobble stone hill as a plus. Our walk did go right past one of the best bakeries in San Miguel so of course we stopped in for a morning treat. Our walking lead us to the Tuesday Market, the botanical garden (for more walking), the Bibliotec for information, lectures, movies and more. In the Centro, we walked to various parks, restaurants, shops, art galleries and pretty much everywhere we needed to go. My pedometer registered between 4-7 miles on most days. Not too shabby! Of course, there were also a couple of downsides. Being on top of a hill that was pretty much straight down meant that a return walk would be STRAIGHT UP. Being old, generally out of shape and at an elevation of 6200 ft, we wisely opted to have one of the ever-present taxis take us back up. Five minutes, 50 pesos and voila back at nuestra casa. As responsible pet sitters we never want to leave the furry ones in our care for very long. This required us to plan our outings to include returns for walking, feeding and playing with the two cute pups waiting at home. On a few occasions we found ourselves going down in the morning, coming up early afternoon, going back down late afternoon and coming up in the late evening. We thought twice about walking down that hill a second time. It had to be a special event, like the Christmas Tree lighting or spending time with visiting friends.

Down, down, down

Panio. Our favorite bakery all dressed up for Christmas.

Electronics. If we seem to have a reliable failure on our sits, it is with the TV, cable, sound systems and all that goes with the modern practice of watching TV. I’m pretty good with my laptop but I have fully and completely handed the task of TV functioning to hubs. Let’s just say it’s hit and miss. I have no patience and don’t care that much, so, if it doesn’t work the first time, either he figures it out or we’re reading. Not a bad choice really given the options. In the case of our most recent sit, they had Netflix and DVD’s but hubs couldn’t remember how they worked so we relied on PBS (yea!!) or Fox News (sorry!) for our English language viewing options. Interesting choices to say the least and for whatever reason Fox came from southern Florida unless they lost the signal and then it came from Pittsburgh. PBS came from Seattle. Go figure. And, even though it might seem like the perfect opportunity to improve my Spanish, local Spanish TV was way beyond my ability and I gave up pretty quickly.

No habla espanol. No problema. In a town like San Miguel, home to thousands of expats from the US and Canada, a visitor can get around easily with only a few words of Spanish. You hear a lot of buenos días and gracias but it takes a little time and a wee bit of courage to try tackling a short conversation. I made a fool of myself on more than one occasion like the time in the Starbucks (no the baristas do not all speak English) when I nervously stepped up to the front of the line and attempted to order my hot tea with cold milk on the side (té caliente con una taza de leche) and my old lady brain confused it with my other most frequently ordered beverage. It came out as té caliente con una copa de vino. Miguel, the young man at the counter kept a straight face while advising me that they did not sell wine at this Starbucks but the young lady working with him broke out into a huge grin, did a little dance and said “por dos” (for two). I got my tea with milk, made two friends at the Starbucks and became known as the copa de vino lady. I joked that I had approximately 67 words in Spanish and I existed only in the present tense. Nevertheless, I Persisted! And I got better.  And braver. Thank goodness for the Spanish app on my phone. One morning I used it in the butcher shop when hubs wanted pork chops and there were none visible in the case. When our turn at the counter came up, I stepped forward asking for la chuleta de cerdo. To my amazement, the butcher nodded Si, trotted upstairs and came down with a huge side of pork. He cut us off two beautiful chops and 45 pesos later we were on to our next shopping adventure – verduras.

These cuties were always happy to see us.

 

 As you can tell, our answer to one of the most important questions is that house/pet sitting isn’t always easy, not always comfortable, and can be full of surprises (don’t even ask about the morning I locked myself out of the house with the pups right before I was scheduled to be on a conference call for work). Given all of the above, our experience after dozens of sits, is that it has been a grand adventure that has given us lots of fun and funny tales (tall and otherwise) to share.

Is it worth it? Absolutely!

Nancy

 

 

 

Create Your Roving Retirement – Part 2: Cheap Sleeps

Retirement travel doesn’t have to mean package tours, luxury cruises or high dollar hotels.  In fact, it’s my experience that if you live more like a local and less like a tourist, you can save a lot of money and have a much richer experience.  Here are a few great ways to stretch your travel dollar that I’ve mentioned before and are worth exploring.

Live Like a Local – Sleep Here

Somewhere in Spain...Nancy Slept Here

Somewhere in Spain…Nancy Slept Here

Housing will probably be your biggest travel expense.  These unique options will not only save a lot of money, but allow you to really connect with a location:

WWOOFING –   World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms.  Volunteers trade farm duties for room and board. Accommodations are simple and the work can be hard at times, but if the chance to harvest grapes in Italy, learn how to make goat cheese in France, or get your hands dirty on an organic herb garden in New Zealand appeals to you, then WWOOFING is the way to go.   A surprising number of people in their 50’s, 60‘s, and beyond are signing up.  www.wwoofusa.org

Chicken wrangling...how hard can it be?

Chicken wrangling…how hard can it be?

 

Hosteling –  If you were that backpacking twenty-something, you probably remember hostels as cheap, dorm-style rooms with bunk beds and rented sheets, a bath down the hall and a party-hardy crowd.  Not a gray hair in sight.  They weren’t called youth hostels for nothing.   Much has changed.  Today more than 15% of hostelers are over 50 and the number is growing.  Now offering private rooms with baths, online booking, fresh and free linens and more, today’s hostels are catering to the mature traveler on a budget. Two things about hosteling have not changed – they are still inexpensive and a wonderful way to meet other travelers.   www.hihostels.com

Workamping –  For some folks, hitting the road in a motorhome is at the top of their retirement wish list.  But, it’s not as cheap as you might think.  When you budget for gas and campground fees, you could pay more to park you RV than you would for a moderately priced hotel room.   One unique and fun way to make your RV travel more affordable is by becoming a workamper.  Through online sites like Workamper (www.workamper.com) and Camp Host (www.camphost.org), travelers can find and apply for thousands of seasonal and year round jobs.  Many RVers work during the summer season as camp hosts, collecting  fees from campers, directing them to available sites, answering questions and watching for problems.  In return they receive a free campsite and often a small stipend.

House Sitting – Short and long time house sitting opportunities are available worldwide through online sites like House Carers (www.housecarers.com) and Trusted House Sitters (www.trustedhousesitters.com).  Most house sitting jobs involve some form of pet care and modest home maintenance like watering the plants and bringing in the mail.  Homeowners feel secure that their home is occupied and taken care of in their absence.  You get a great place to stay for free and the chance to live like a local.  Win-Win.

Remember, your first gig doesn’t have to be half way around the world.  Dip your toes into the shallow water before you make the plunge by starting closer to home.   If “Green Acres is the place for you”, why not spend a weekend getting dirt under your fingernails and sore muscles on a local farm?  If you think professional house sitting might be the way to travel, then offer your services to friends and family in the U.S.   You’ll gain valuable references and get a chance to see how comfortable you really are sleeping in a strange bed and picking up Fido’s poop.

What’s your favorite way to travel on the cheap?  We’d love to share your ideas and experiences right here on the blog. Leave us a comment.

See you on the road!

Nancy