By Chris Foster June 2019
We decided to celebrate our last night in Z-town by creating our own lobster masterpiece onboard Embajador so while the rest of the crew explored Playa Ropa, I went into town to round up some lobster.
After asking around I was directed to a shack where some fishermen were doodling around on their pangas just outside. One of them took me inside past an assortment of outboard motor parts, old mooring balls, etc., and opened a large freezer. Inside I found hundreds of smallish, frozen lobsters all stuffed into old plastic shopping bags. He charged me about 400 pesos per kilo, a bit more than I expected to pay, but what the heck!
Tuna and Caviar Tartare. To make the evening supremely elegant we started with a special tuna tartare and caviar parfait , a recipe found on Black River’s website. The main ingredients were cubed raw tuna, avocado, cream and Black River Caviar. Delicious!
The Lobster. Suzanne took charge of the lobster, which she pan sauteed, Puerto Nuevo Style with white wine, fresh garlic, herbs, lemon and of course, lots of butter. I must say, I prefer lobster prepared in this manner to the more traditional boiling prep. (Click here for details.)
The next morning we awoke a bit saddened by the fact that our trip was coming to an end, but still smiling from the culinary delights of the previous evening. Before departing for the airport I decided to conduct an impromptu interview with Suzanne and Megan to learn more about their extensive travels.
A Mid-Career Break
Lots of People Think About It, Suzanne and Megan Do It
As it turns out, Suzanne and Megan have both made significant commitments to take mid-career breaks in order to follow their hearts and find some adventure. I wanted to know what prompted their decisions to give up successful careers, uproot their lives, and how they made it all happen.
Susanne is a nurse. Elizabeth and I met her in La Jolla when when we lived there. One day she suddenly announced that she planned to uproot and go to work with Doctors Without Borders, leaving behind her cozy beachside life and worldly possessions, most of which she sold or gave away. She traveled to Africa where she worked in Ethiopia, The Central African Republic and South Sudan for three years.
Megan worked for the County of San Diego as a land use manager and planner. She ended her 16+ year career with the County 2 1/2 years ago when she and Bob, her significant other, decided to move to Denver, Colorado, where Bob would work for 3 years as an aerospace engineer, and she for a private developer helping to repurpose an older convention center/wholesale showroom. They plan to depart on a year of around-the-world-adventure at the end of this year.
C: Susanne, tell us a little bit about your life before you decided to make the change.
S: I had been working as a critical care nurse and nursing educator for almost 30 years in hospitals across the US. During this time I had opportunities to travel and discovered many corners of the world. After seeing how the majority of citizens in third world countries live I realized just how privileged my life was in comparison. I wanted to give back, and decided I could volunteer my nursing skills to provide humanitarian aid to vulnerable populations.
C: How old were you at the time?
S: I was in my late forties.
C: Had you been thinking about something like this for a long time?
S: Yes, it was something that I had always wanted to do. I just had never really made time for it up to that point. I heard that working with Doctors Without Borders was a challenge and that it was very difficult to get accepted. Moreover, they preferred applicants to be bilingual in either in Spanish or French, so I began to brush up on my French by taking classes and studying online. Once I thought I was proficient enough, I travelled to NYC for a series of interviews. Three months later I was given my first job assignment as a nursing coordinator
C: Wow, so where did they send you?
S: I first went to participate in a vaccination campaign against a measles outbreak in Ethiopia. Subsequently, I worked in Central African Republic and South Sudan vaccinating children, many of whose families were seeking to escape religious persecution in Uganda.
C: Megan, you were a bit younger when you decided to break from it all and are now quickly approaching D-Day. You are only 42 years old and just entering your prime earning years. Is that a bit scary?
M: Honestly, I thought I would be working for the County of San Diego for 30+ years. The “golden handcuffs” as we called them were amazing. But at some point a few years ago, just before turning 40, I realized there was more to life than working for retirement. It is a bit scary but for some reason, I know that everything will work out; how, I’m not sure, but it will…
C: So, what’s the plan?
M: Our plan is to travel for about year – or as long as our money lasts. It could be 10 months or 14, we’ll see. Afterwards I might work abroad for another couple of years.
C: Susanne, you are back now and living in Miami working as an intensive care nurse. Was your adventure as expected?
S: Yep, and I wish I was still working abroad.
C: You lived in obscure places under pretty primitive conditions. Tell us about that.
S: Well, I lived in a places often without electricity, except when the generators were working. Water was pumped from a well or collected from the rain. There were lots of issues with security and we had to be aware of our surroundings at all times.
C: Can you give us an example of what you saw in regard to this?
S: In route to a vaccination destination in Central African Republic we heard a great deal of honking. We pulled over to the side of the road as a military convoy passed by at high speed. After we started moving again, we realized that the convoy had hit a bicyclist up the road, leaving him for dead. They just kept going with the complete disregard for human life that was so pervasive there. We tried to save him but we were unsuccessful due to a lack of medical supplies on hand.
C: What was/is the biggest obstacle for each of you in terms of making the break?
S: The biggest obstacle was knowing I had to leave the comforts of living behind and have little control over what would happen.
M: The biggest obstacle for me goes like the Nike slogan – I need to Just Do It… At this point, we’re all talk – we just need buy the tickets for that first flight and go…
C: Tell us about the financial side of making it all happen. Was it / has it been hard to get the money together?
S: No. Doctors without Borders is a volunteer organization. When I was there, volunteers received a stipend of $1,400 a month, which was plenty given that room and board was taken care of.
M: We’ve saved about $36,000 for our year away, and an additional $5,000 to get us on to the next stage after we return. So that’s about $3,000 per month – not budget travel but certainly not five star. I saved my portion plus accumulated some pension benefits before I left San Diego. I prioritized this adventure, so it wasn’t too hard. That said, I don’t have many responsibilities that compete for funding (no kiddos, etc.).
C: Susanne, when you returned was it easy to get back into the swing of things?
S: No, actually when I first got back, there was a nursing surplus, so it was a challenge to get hired again. I was able to secure a position with a former employer in Miami. Since then, I’ve gone back to school to get my Masters in Nursing Administration, so hopefully I can rejoin Doctors without Borders in a different capacity managing the nursing aspects of clinical care.
C: Megan, what places are you looking most forward to visiting?
M: We plan on visiting countries where our money will go furthest – Southeast Asia, Central and South America. I’m fortunate to have been able to travel a bit already and I’m really excited to visit places with Bob; making memories, sharing experiences and learning about cultures as we go…
C: How long will you stay in each location? Is it all planned out, or will you play it by ear?
M: While I’m a planner by nature, I’m a big proponent of being open to opportunity. For example, In 2009, I was in an elevator in a hotel in Kyoto, Japan by myself and someone suggested that I go to Siargao, Philippines (Cloud Nine Surf). I did, and had the best time! The beaches were beautiful, and people were amazing. So, while we have high level plans, we will not have each minute/day planned in advance. Our adventure will begin in Thailand or Vietnam.
C: Tell us about how you plan to live and move around on the trip?
M: Slow travel – buses and trains, with a few flights here and there.
C: What will you take with you and how much money will you need?
M: Funny you should ask… I’ve watched about 2.5 billion packing videos on YouTube. At this moment, I’ve settled on an Osprey Farpoint 40L Backpack, a carry on.
This trip to Ixtapa/Zihuatanejo is my first time using it (and packing cubes). I plan to use the set up for our trip to Norway in August (Did I tell you I’m 1% Norwegian – and Bob is 70-85%?). I hiked across Spain in 2005 with only a backpack and I realized that I really don’t need much. I’ll probably bring a bikini, a pair of shorts, two pairs of pants, 4 tops, a dress, three pairs of shoes, PJs, a raincoat and a jacket. We’ll likely be in warmer weather spots so that will help with fewer/lighter clothes. Bob has about 50+ lbs of camera gear, so I’ll probably have to carry some of that as well :).
As far as moola – our biggest expenses will be flights. We’re open to housesitting a bit and/or working on farms in exchange for lodging.
C: What are your plans on return? How do you think the time off will impact the remainder of your career?
M: I’m not really sure. We’re open to working in Japan teaching English or working in the islands. Bob is a scuba instructor and I’ve crewed on boats, worked in hospitality and speak a bit of Japanese. We’re really open to just seeing what happens. Throwing caution to the wind… We have a safety net, so it’s a great place to be and feeling to have. We’ll be open to what’s next…
C: Susanne, how would you say your experiences have impacted your life since your return?
S: I find myself wanting to be more generous. I’m grateful that I can share and help others.
C: Megan, what do you hope to bring back from your planned trip and how do you think that it will impact your life going forward?
M: Experiences, memories and friends. A deeper love for the earth and humanity (am I getting too deep?).
C: Would the two of you recommend something like this for everyone?
S: Well, no. It probably isn’t for everybody. It takes a lot of commitment and desire to work with limited resources. It’s not for the faint-hearted or those too burdened with other commitments.
M: I recommend that people do what makes them happy and not wait for end of career retirement to give something a try that they have been thinking about for decades. Life is really short. I don’t think most people would look back on their lives excited about having postponed adventure until after they’ve worked 40+ years.
C: If someone wants to take a mid-career break, how should they start planning for it?
S: Find something you are passionate about, do research, and sort out the financial side of things.
M: Get out of debt, save for retirement, prioritize spending and put money aside for your adventures. If you have champagne dreams on a beer budget (a la moi), you might find that you really don’t need as much as you think. Go for it – don’t wait. Something will always come up if you let it. Prioritize! Love the journey…
C: Any parting thoughts?
S: I was amazed at how independent I could be after leaving the US. Other people weren’t telling me what to do or what I was doing wrong. Still, I loved meeting people and getting to know other cultures. Even if I didn’t speak the same language, I could usually find a way to communicate.
M: Well, we’re working on an Instagram account/website to document our adventures, but we haven’t settled on a name, yet. How about – Keeping Up with the GJoneses (get it???? Bob’s last name starts with a G and mine is Jones – GJones). Or – What Were We Waiting For? But for now, feel free to follow along as we prepare (and decide on what to call our adventures) at @meganjones76 and @bobgjestvang on Instagram. We would love to meet up with others while we’re traveling – so stay tuned!
Alex has now moved Embajador 100 NM +/- south to Acapulco where it it is being readied to carry us on our next adventure. I will climb onboard this Thursday for an additional 200 NM transit to Huatulco. From there we will cross the infamous Gulf of Tehuantepec, notorious for its fierce seas and winds blowing across the isthmus from the Gulf of Mexico, to our last stop in Mexico before crossing into Guatemala and Central America. We hope that you will stay with us!