Travel: Living Like the Locals

Whenever we travel, it seems like we are always trying to see and do as much as possible in the limited time we have.  We typically spend a couple nights in one place and then pack up our bags and move on to the next destination – anxious to see and experience everything we can.  It has been wonderful, and it has allowed me to see almost all 50 states, but it doesn’t give us time to really sink into the lifestyle.  It was time to change that. This year we decided to spend enough time in one area to get a feel for how the locals live. 

We have always come up with a pile of excuses for why we can’t travel to one place and stay there for an extended period.  Excuses like, we still have so many other places we want to see, fear that we might get bored staying in one place too long, it would be too expensive, and most significantly, I would miss being away from family and friends too much.  But we aren’t getting any younger, so it was time to set those excuses aside.  It was time to jump off the indecision boat and just do it.  We agreed that it needed to be somewhere warm and sunny and in the continental U.S.  So, we traded in our winter snow boots and parkas for sandals and shorts and we booked a rather unique stay at a marina just outside of Sarasota for a full month.  Not as risky as moving to Costa Rico to live the expat life, but still a venture for two pale northerners to do in the middle of the winter.

On a very cold, very early morning the first of February, we boarded a plane to head southeast, about as far across the U.S. as you can go.  After twelve hours, two delays, one missed connection and an extra flight, we stepped off the plane in Tampa Bay.  Miraculously, our luggage found us.    After another hour in an Uber, we arrived at the gate to the marina that we were going to call home for the next month. 

When we were planning this trip, we decided that we wanted to stay somewhere that we could live like the locals.  This ruled out an all-inclusive resort, condo or even a house.  We wanted to be in the thick of the salt life, and not in one of those marinas with million-dollar boats, but a marina where the old salts live on weathered sailboats. We wanted to mix with people that are living a raw life, closer to the bone. We wanted to hear their stories.

The people that live at the marina are mostly older men, some couples and a few younger guys escaping social norms and pressures.   All of them are kind and friendly.  On our third day here, we decided to sip our morning coffee in the sunshine at a table on the marina dock.  Before long one, then two, then three locals pulled up chairs to chat for a while.   These old salts had a world of living etched into their leather smiles and a lot of stories to tell, peppered with a little gossip about the marina residents. They lead a slower life.

“…I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, take siesta with my wife, stroll into the village each evening where I sip wine and play guitar with my amigos…”

Excerpt from the Mexican Fisherman and Investment Banker Story

The marina owner, Willy, is an eccentric old salt with a big heart. His wife passed away a couple years ago, but he is surrounded by people that love him. He is the center that this marina life revolves around. He works hard and plays hard. His lovely daughter runs the office at the marina. Willy hosts parties at his house for the marina residents on all of the major holidays, as well as the super bowl. He and his daughter kindly invited us to join them this year. Why not? It was a great opportunity to watch the game while visiting with some of the locals and enjoy some delicious food!

The spread at the super bowl party.

Willy and some of his cronies built a very large boat themselves which is moored at the marina, and they proudly gave us a tour. To help pay for the ongoing maintenance of the boat, they take memory balls out to the ocean. These are also known as eternal reefs. After a loved one is cremated, their remains are put in an urn and placed in a concrete memory ball. Then the family goes out on a boat for a ceremony and the dropping of the memory ball into the ocean for a final resting place. These balls are made of environmentally safe concrete and help to preserve the marine environment as fish and sea creatures make their homes in them. I had no idea.

Mr. U trying out the captain’s chair.

Part of our living like the locals experiment was to travel the area without a rental car.  We planned to use our own two feet, the bus system, and the Sarasota trolley.  Our first few bus trips went smoothly.  The next trip we missed the last bus back and had to get an Uber.   The next trip we ventured north on the bus to Bradenton and then transferred to another bus to get to Anna Maria Island and then the trolley.   I felt like a pinball in one of those machines where you bounce back, hit a wall, bounce in another direction and eventually you end up at your destination.  We wasted a lot of time waiting for transportation to arrive. 

The bus north was a sad commentary on humanity.  At each stop we would share seats with the downtrodden, the disadvantaged, those that were born into an unfair lot in life and those that made some really poor choices.   Each person was trying to survive in a world that had often been harsh to them.  It made me realize what an insulated life I lead.  I am clearly made of weaker stuff. We opted to get a rental car for the next few weeks. 

The locals that live at the marina are a community that take care of each other. They are a family that has bumped into each other by a lifestyle choice. One of the older marina residents has end stage cancer. He still lives on his boat but is getting worse by the day. Everyone checks in on him frequently and they bring him groceries when they are making a trip to the store. It made me acutely aware that, while we may choose different lifestyles, we all share a common humanity.  A need to connect and look out for one another.  Isn’t that what life is all about, no matter where you live?