Greetings from Milwaukee! If you were around here in the 80s and 90s, you may know the city as “A Great Place on a Great Lake”. I’ve always loved that tagline; it’s such a classic. And I guess Milwaukee really is a great place, because even Vogue Magazine called us cool! Are John and I trendsetters? Huh.
Last month, after we prepared Pineapple for her four-month slumber in Panama, we packed our belongings into four duffel bags and flew to Wisconsin. And yes, of course we brought the cats with us! They were very cool cats indeed during our 16-hour travel day; much better sports than I had feared.
We’re now almost four weeks into life back ashore. After eight months living and traveling on the boat, we have a renewed appreciation for the conveniences of 21st Century life in the USA. John and I talk about these amazing “normal” things all the time:
- Great-tasting tap water that we don’t have to make ourselves
- High-speed WiFi
- Access to a free washer and dryer
- A dishwasher! (For us, it’s the first time we’ve had one in eight years)
- Being able to buy the most amazing cat litter ever and have it delivered to our door
I can’t forget to mention the best part: summer in the Midwest! Every spring, after a long winter, restaurants here reassemble their outdoor dining areas, parks prepare for outdoor live music in the evenings, and the city’s beer gardens open for business. (Yes, several of Milwaukee’s public parks feature beer gardens! It’s one of many ways the city shows its German roots.) There are festivals every week. We’ve had our choice of outdoor events virtually every night. We didn’t suffer through the freezing cold like our fellow Wisconsinites, but we are happy to join them in enjoying every moment above 70 degrees—or in our case, maybe it’s every moment below 90 degrees?
This spring we did something slightly crazy and bought a condo here in Milwaukee, sight unseen. It’s in a walkable location near the lake, has tons of character, the price was right, and for a couple who lived in a one-bedroom in San Francisco and then moved on to a boat, it’s practically a palace at just over 1,300 square feet. Guys, there are times when I can’t see John and I don’t know what he is doing. It’s pretty wild!
Our building dates from the 1930s. It has serious art deco style and is a registered historic home. The plaque outside claims “Jazz Age Sophistication”, and who are we to argue? (Thanks Leah for pointing that out!)
The place is cool, but it needs a lot of rehab. So, I plan to learn a lot about home improvement over the next few months and years. Gulp.
How did we end up here? Great question! Our plan was always to return to the USA for about four months, roughly July to October. John’s second book is coming out in September, and he’ll be working on that full-time starting now. Yeah, being the skipper of an ocean-cruising boat wasn’t enough for him! He had to keep fulfilling those book-writing dreams! Made it pretty easy to wrest control of this blog away from him, though. John and his co-author Jake wrote much of the book before we left, but John still spent a lot of time on the boat writing and editing.
Anyway, with that gigantic commitment on the calendar, we started thinking a while ago about where we wanted to live during this period. As our lives in San Francisco became more and more of a memory (sad, but true), we became more open-minded about where we wanted to spend time during our visit back to the USA.
Milwaukee just seemed to click. The cost of living is reasonable (and that is a big factor considering neither of us have full-time jobs), we could enjoy the beautiful summer months, there’s plenty to do, it’s on the water, and of course, we’re close to friends and family.
Although we visited Milwaukee several times a year while living in Chicago and San Francisco, this is the first time I’ve lived here since I was 17, and the first time for John, ever. So in many ways, it’s like a new city to us—we’ve been having a great time walking and eating around our new neighborhood and the rest of Brew City.
As you probably know by now, John and I prefer the stability and predictability of routine, and we’re working on that now that we’re more settled. My routine will certainly include time for this blog! We still have lots of cruising topics to cover, and I want to spend some time improving my writing and photography skillz.
May’s Cruising Costs
After our trip through the Panama Canal on June 2, we spent a couple weeks decommissioning the boat and then flew home. So, May was really our last month of cruising. We spent the first few days of May with good friends who visited us in Quepos, Costa Rica, and after a short stop in Golfito, we checked out of the country and made our way into Panama. Western Panama was an epic, rainy, remote jungle, and after 10 days we arrived in Panama City, where we spent the rest of the month. We were excited to be back in a big city, and we really… went for it!
Total spent: $4,960.72 U.S. Dollars
Remember that couple that tried to be frugal? Well, we kidnapped them and stole their credit cards.
Seriously though, yikes! A combination of city living, boat supplies, and you guessed it, expensive marinas, caused our spending to spike in May. But thanks to our relative frugality earlier this year, we made it through with no harm to our financial health. And despite the high total, we actually felt fine about these expenses because we’ve learned what’s important to us when it comes to spending money. Read on to see what I mean.
Marina docking fees: $2,246.33
We spent about half of May in two different marinas. And they were expensive! The first was in Costa Rica—an expense we had been planning for some time. The second wasn’t exactly planned, but it was intentional. We were excited to spend a couple of weeks exploring Panama City (and doing some errands), but upon arriving there, we found that the anchorages weren’t conducive to that plan. One (Playita) was very rolly, exposed to the prevailing winds and the canal traffic. And the other (Brisas) was calm but vast, with very limited space to tie up once reaching shore. Given our priorities, after lots of discussion, we decided to splurge on two weeks in the Flamenco Marina. We made the most of it: enjoying evenings in the Old Town, doing lots of sightseeing, and using the easy-on-easy-off convenience of a marina to take care of errands and shopping. But we paid for it, big time.
Meals and drinks: $1,020.61
A nice meal with our friends before they left Costa Rica, a fancy dinner for John’s birthday, and countless meals ashore in Panama City certainly ran up the tab. Aside from those two nicer restaurants, we stayed in the $30-40 range per meal (including food, drinks, and tip).
Boat parts and maintenance: $350.05
In addition to paying a diver to clean Pineapple’s hull, we bought lots of stuff related to decommissioning the boat: cleaning supplies, pest control, vacuum storage bags, an extension cord for the dehumidifier; lots of little things that added up. We also refilled a propane tank, which had run empty earlier in the spring. (We carry two to power the stove and oven.)
Phone and Internet: $229.82 (still using Google Project Fi)
Finally, a spending category that’s easy to digest! (No pun intended. Okay, maybe a little.) Between restaurants meals and a concerted effort to eat down the stores we had accumulated, we did well here. This included provisioning twice in Costa Rica (reminder, very expensive) and then just a few items once we were in Panama City.
This included a guided tour of the famous Manuel Antonio Park in Costa Rica, a food tour in Panama City, and tickets to the Panama Canal Museum.
Annoyingly, the marina in Panama City charged for laundry, literally, by the piece. No thanks! We paid to have our laundry done in Costa Rica before we left and then only turned over our sheets for this ridiculous pricing scheme. (We did the rest in buckets.)
We paid $20 when we checked out of Costa Rica, and then for inspections by Agriculture and Customs authorities when we arrived in Panama City. Note: This does not include costs to transit the Canal. I’ll cover those in a separate post.
Although buses and trains were very cheap in Panama City, we always took taxis back to the marina at night.
We had to get new health certificates for the cats (from a very lovely vet in Panama City) so they could travel with us on the plane.
I bought a pair of jeans at Zara in Panama City and couple books for my Kindle.
There you have it! In June, since we weren’t cruising, I stopped meticulously tracking each penny, and I kinda miss it! But this final spending report (for now) gave me a great opportunity to look back at May (it seems so long ago) and remember our month of new countries, new coastlines, and exciting exploration.