Life is Now

Last Updated on January 1, 2024 by Ellen

In 2003, we met a German artist and sailor named Tasso von Jena. He lived on the beach in Tulum, Mexico. We met him during one of our first ‘work vacations’ together when we would escape the northern Ohio winters. Our friendship with him developed over time as we returned to Mexico two or three times most years until our early retirement in 2015.

Some years Tasso lived in a hut, other years under a tarp tied to trees. In his later years, he lived in a moldy old, dead and parked camper.

Most people may have thought he was crazy. We adored him, and some of his various philosophical approaches to travel and life.

A man sits on the stairs to a beach hut in Tulum, Mexico
Tasso in his Tulum beach rental, circa 2006.

When we first met Tasso, before he lived under a tarp or in a camper, he managed beach cabanas at a small boutique place in Tulum – the type of business that has vanished in recent years since the “Hollywood” and “New York” crowds invaded.

I’ll never forget the moment I laid eyes on him. I knew in that second we looked at each other – knew without doubt – he would have a profound effect on me.

Tasso rented us an oceanfront cabana “for a song.” That was March 2003. While in our Tulum oceanfront cabana for $20 a night, the U.S. invaded Iraq.

An artist named Tasso von Jena stands in front of his art at his beach hut
Tasso sold art and welcomed travelers at his ‘Dire Straits Chess Club’ on Tulum’s famous beach before the beach got too exclusive.

Back then we still worked in our careers. But whenever we could, we took budget vacations to foreign countries — often to Mexico.

Over the years during our Tulum visits, Tasso urged us to “travel now” before it was too late. Tasso and Tedly had many memorable, animated, and sometimes exhausting debates about when we might “quit the rat race” and take off into the sunset.

three people at an oceanfront cafe in Tulum, Mexico
Theo, Tasso, and Ellen on Tulum’s beach in 2012 during a work vacation, just after the winter solstice.

Tasso had a unique world view. He was a young boy who remembered desperate survival efforts in Berlin tunnels right after the official end of World War II. He understood hate and holocaust. As a great artist, he lived for beauty and ardor. As a sailor and beach bum, he enjoyed his booze and oranges, and he loved Tulum’s beach and seawater.

Although we didn’t start this budget slow travel adventure as early as Tasso had urged, we felt right about our timing for early retirement.

And we think the artist and sailor would be proud that today we live his mantra: Life is Now.

(RIP Tasso! See you on the journey of souls!)

An artist looks into the camera while shirtless on a beach

Some of Tasso’s art from his Tulum years

Life is Now” case in point: Ellen’s breast cancer diagnosis and double mastectomy while traveling in 2018.

Slow budget travel in early retirement — because Life is Now.


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4 thoughts on “Life is Now”

  1. Thanks for this article about Marten Tasso von Jena. I met him in 1991 on the island of Kaua’i and before Hurricane Iniki (1992) I acquired three of his creative art works. I still have them! Marten and I kept in touch when he relocated to Santa Fe, NM then on to Sedona, AZ (1994). He was a most unique and friendly person, but we lost contact–obviously when he moved to Mexico. Searching, I found your memorial article online (thanks!). I have no idea when he died or the circumstances leading up to that event… but you have provided a great summary of his life as you knew it! If you read this and know, I’d like to have at least the year to keep with my records of his three works and our correspondence in my possession. Thanks again!

    1. Hello, Cathy, thanks for reaching out. All I know is that Tasso died at the end of 2017, but I do not know the details of his death. I wish I did, and I’ve tried to find out several times over the years. I reached out to many people in Tulum, some of whom knew him well. They all have declined to answer – and in some cases to even acknowledge – my query.

  2. Tasso (Marten) and I lived together for most of the 80’s. We built a catamaran (Seahorse) in our backyard in Santa Cruz, CA. He had regular Dire Straits speed chess gatherings at our house then as well. When the boat was finished, we traveled a little around California and eventually sailed it to Hawaii. We broke up in 1990 and I left him the boat. He too eventually gave up on the boat to pursue his art and ended up in Mexico. We lost touch eventually, so I’m very happy to hear more about his life there and that it was a good life. Thanks for the lovely memorial write up.

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