Michael, a HomeExchange member since 2006, is spending this year traveling the world with his travel partner Fernando, who was recently diagnosed with ALS. Read more about them here. Michael shares the story of his spring 2021 home exchange with friends in Mexico.

Fernando started showing symptoms of slurred speech and a problem with his ability to grasp objects with his right hand early in 2020. I knew that something was wrong, but wasn't aware of the gravity of the situation until January 2021, when he told me about the ALS diagnosis.

ALS, as it turns out, is relatively rare, affecting approximately 1 in 20,000 adults. While there is no cure, much research is being done on this terrible disease. A website called ALS Untangled has been my main source of information on alternative and off label treatments, and he is now taking several supplements that have shown in clinical trials to possibly have the effect of slowing disease progression. In the meantime, we are looking to travel as much as possible this year.

HomeExchange has been invaluable as a tool to travel on a budget. My home is a beautiful riverview condo in one the most sought after vacation destinations in central Oregon. Fernando and I would hardly be able to travel as much this year if we had to pay for these homes on Airbnb or VRBO. Using the HomeExchange platform for 10 days can easily result in savings of more than $2,000!

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Our first exchange this year was scheduled in Akumal, Mexico. Akumal is a village approximately 2 hours south of Cancun on the Yucatán Peninsula, with beautiful beaches where you can snorkel with giant sea turtles.

Mexico is one of the few countries open to tourism during COVID-19, with restrictions. Aside from time spent on the airplane (where we wore a mask), we were able to practice social distancing during the whole trip. We rented a car at the airport, and since we were in someone's home, we had relative isolation compared to a hotel stay.

Our 5-star HomeExchange hosts Jim and Cathy gave us use of their resort studio in a residential community called "Tao Mexico" situated next to a golf course, with access to the beach and four Bahia Principe Resorts. The modern studio featured a kitchen, living area, comfortable king size bed, with pool areas for both families and "adults only". Our balcony had a view of the 5th green of the Robert Trent Jones PGA golf course.

We were joined by my sister Cheryl and our friend Linda, who stayed in a VRBO rental nearby. I can't imagine this trip without them. Linda, dramatic by nature, provided much of the entertainment. Sometimes, two people together create an exponential effect on the fun of any given situation, which happens with Cheryl and Linda. After checking in, we met up with the girls and had dinner right on the beach at La Lunita restaurant. The food was delicious and surprisingly affordable (alcoholic drinks, appetizers, and meals for four for only $120).

We stayed in Akumal for a week, and what a wonderful week it was! Aside from time relaxing at the beach, we drove south to explore the ruins of Tulum, which sit on a cliff looking out over the ocean. There was a lot of pressure to buy a tour, but we resisted and merely purchased an entrance ticket. Then we wished we had a tour guide, so I started reading the exhibit signage in my best commentary voice, until someone in our group told me to be quiet. A passing tourist offered to take our photo.

Our studio shared a property with four Bahia Principe resorts and one of the perks of staying in Tao Mexico was a reduced rate day pass. For just $45 per person, we had access to all of the resort facilities, plus a tram to move us between the resorts.

There were activities, such as water aerobics and socially distanced line dancing class. It also included an extensive breakfast and lunch buffet and (make sure you're sitting down for this) unlimited alcoholic beverages from 9 am to 6 pm. Regarding the buffet, I have never seen the likes of it, even on a cruise ship. For breakfast, there must have been 50 options! Being responsible not to spread germs, buffet attendants dished food onto plates. If you held your hand out, someone would appear out of nowhere with a bottle of sanitizer.

Just north of Akumal is the famous destination of Playa del Carmen, and the girls insisted on no less than a full afternoon of shopping. I was impressed with Linda's negotiating skills. We all took away some nice mementos in the form of hats, blankets, cigars, vanilla, and somehow I ended up with a chess set. In addition to shopping, we were able to watch some lively street performances, and ended the afternoon with appetizers and drinks at a beachfront bar. I drank rum out of a coconut.

It was a great vacation for all of us. In the end, I lost my hat. My recently single sister was able to get some photos taken for her "Farmers Only" profile. Linda, despite her initial apprehension, learned to enjoy Thai food. Fernando, who hates the cold, was very pleased to get out of central Oregon in the middle of winter.  

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