“It is astonishing how short a time it can take for very wonderful things to happen”

In the last 24 hours we have hit the beach, took a bumpy boat ride through some serious swells only to be rewarded with sightings of penguins, dolphins and watched a baby sea lion push it’s momma off the cliff, belly flopping dramatically into the sea. We slept in a dome oceanside and shared our first compleato meal as a family at a road side stand.

I don’t know who the title quote came from but what I do know is it only takes one quick glance at the sparkling faces of my boys watching the wildlife, running from the waves or drifting off to sleep with a mumbled “love you mommy” to know, really know, we could be anywhere as long as we are together it’s a truly wonderful life.

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No time to talk on family adventure right now….

We woke up to our oldest child barfing the morning we left Canada and he continued to do so the rest of the morning even into a planter at the the entrance to the airport but he/we soldiered on and finally, we have arrived in Chile! DSC_0044 DSC_0051 DSC_0058

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We’ve shed our winter layers for sand in our toes, ice cream on our faces and creamy sunblock on our skin. Oh ya and no more barfing!

I think the Mexican Military are just nice guys with big guns

Only our second night driving into the Baja Peninsula we stopped in a small town famed for lobster crepes of all things. As we ate our crepes, decent but certainly nothing to write home about, we checked a surf guide we had picked up before the trip that boasted decent waves at a nearby beach so we asked around. We were provided with some very vague directions and headed in search of promised surf.

Shortly into our voyage we found ourselves 4x4ing in our 2 wheel drive Westy down some rocky terrain at one point the van started to just slide down the steep slope I braced myself with my two arms out stretched in front of me on the window shield absolutely certain we would tip head over heels. After our treacherous drive we landed ourselves level again on a deserted beach stretching for miles. We couldn’t believe our luck the waves coming in good size sets and not a soul in the water to have to share. We donned our gear and headed for the waves awaiting us.

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Just before putting our fins in the water we noticed a couple of bodies heading in our direction along the beach in the far off distance. Upon approach they introduced themselves and shortly into our conversation we discovered they were in town with the circus. As odd as it sounds it’s true, we met Mexican circus performers that appeared out of nowhere on a deserted section along the northern coast of the Baja Peninsula looking for a ride into town. We tried to side step the question not really wanted to let them know we had just decided to spend the night out here under the stars, just the two of us and all of our belongings, probably not a wise decision but I think they figured it out in the end anyways. After they left all I could think of was 2 Mexican circus performers know we’re planning on staying out here alone overnight, hmmmmm?

We spend the rest of the early evening riding endless waves it was a day our dreams were made of. I had one of the best rides of my life promptly followed up by the worst pummeling ever. It was a memorable day in the water.

Afterwards I was inside the van hanging some items to dry and putting away our dinner dishes when Ricardo, who had been rinsing the gear just outside the van, grab his wallet and some money and violently tossed it at me much to my surprise. He sternly told me to put it all in the safe “fast.” Before I could question what was happening he said “a Hummer full of guys with guns is headed our way.” In my head I kinda laughed at the idea of putting things in our tiny little safe bolted to our closet floor. I laugh when I’m nervous or afraid for my life as it turns out.

I poked my head out the side of the van door just as the camouflaged painted Hummer came to a roaring halt spraying sand all around us, but what really caught my attention was the 7 or 8 young men all holding very big guns with intensely serious faces. I elected to stay in the van. Ricardo already standing outside greeted them warmly, I mean how else would you greet men with guns? They questioned him a bit on who we were, what were our plans, curious as to how we happened to wind up on this beach all alone. This was all happening in spanish so of course my english brain was hatching an elaborate get away plan which hinged on actually figuring out where the car keys were. My plan was hampered with the fact there was nowhere to hide only sand for miles and we were clearly out gunned. In addition, this was my first panicked escape plan situation I hadn’t done any drills beforehand for this type of situation and I was really regretting it at that moment. As my eyes darted around the van in search of the keys my internal thought process broke with the sound of hearty male laughter.

A sigh of relief washed over me, I should have known Ricardo would have them in the palm of his hand within minutes he can charm the pants off a naked person. Cue naive wife whom offers up chocolate biscuits for the men to devour. Nothing like chocolate biscuits to potentially save your life. We learned a lot of young Mexican men do military service to secure a passport which may otherwise be unattainable. Before they departed we actually talked them into letting us take a few photos, we tried, but to no avail, to hold the guns. They wished us well and let us know they would check back on us later in the evening.

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A few cold beers later, which always taste that much better after you think you may be kidnapped or worse, our armed friends returned to and to our surprise set up camp just a few meters from our van. They stayed the night and instituted an armed perimeter with two roaming guards throughout the night. We should have felt comfortable, we should have felt secure, instead we felt cheated, our deserted beach had been invaded and needless to say it just got that much more difficult for a girl to pee, damn beer, without witnesses.

A few weeks later we learned a father and his teenage son from California had been camping in a tent on the same beach a few days prior to our arrival and unfortunately had been robbed and beaten with bats. The closest town, Rosalita, citizen’s had been very angered by this attacked and had requested the military increase patrols in the area. Beating up tourists is bad for the economy you see.

Little girls of Guatemala and how they stole my heart

We recently watched Living on One Dollar a Day on Netflix. It’s college students trying to live on one dollar a day in rural Guatemala and the green lush tropical imagery instantly took me back to our time there.

It’s the children of Guatemala though; that draw you in with dark innocent eyes, ever-present toothless smiles, clad in bright hand-woven clothes, that makes you fall in love with the country. When we visited Guatemala on our road trip south I didn’t have children, now I have two boys, and in hindsight I am glad, because of the happy demeanour of the children we interacted with I didn’t look beyond our small exchanges. I didn’t see the signs of malnutrition or the lack of proper footwear. I didn’t wonder about how their parents were feeding them or clothing them. I just saw their bright inquisitive eyes, heard their shy giggles and bought their handmade wares. I’m not saying we should look past all those things I just mentioned we definitely should not, but I know me and I can get caught up in things I can’t change for the better immediately. So maybe I’m not being completely honest with myself. I did think about those things but the overwhelming poverty was too far reaching for my understanding.  What I did do was small but after watching this documentary, humbling as it was, it made me realize what kind of impact those small things actually may have been.

We encountered a group of girls in one village on the shores of Lago Atitlan selling vibrantly coloured hand-woven bracelets and small wooden trinkets. Initially we waved them off as you are usually surrounded by gangs of children when you step off the boat and I just need space to assess the situation before re-entering the swarm on departure. One curious little girl followed us as we entered the village and watched the mothers laundering their linens on the shore of the lake.

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We slowly and casually walked through the town plaza and into a few shops vaguely aware of our miniature shadow. She was persistent and frankly eventually broke us with her shy giggly smile and hop/skip kinda walk. Eventually we sat down to order ice cream from a street vendor and my husband asked her, in spanish, if she would like to pick out an ice cream for herself. Her reaction was of disbelief, blinking rapidly she look from my husband to the vendor, back and forth, back and forth, seeing both men nodding she hesitantly walked closer to the ice cream vendor’s cart, no smile. She looked up again seeking permission from both men and was greeted with more nods but something inside her refused to believe. So I stepped up and picked out two I thought she might like and presented her the options. Slowly her shaky little hand reached out to lightly grab an ice cream bar whisking it away, big smile.

Now I’m sure this was not the first time she had every had ice cream but she certainly didn’t seem to understand a tourist buying her one she could pick herself. Once we also found our own fancied flavours and paid she seemed to relax and actually enjoyed it but of course she had been spotted and within seconds we had bought ice cream for 3 of her colourful, less timid, little friends as well. We also bought some of their trinkets for our niece back in Canada who was approximately the same age (5 yrs) at the time commenting on the similarities but also the vast differences.

That evening we decided to find a nice restaurant to eat our evening meal. One of their common delicacies is fried plantain which we had been introduced to at the border, but like anything in life some people do things better than others and the plantains we ordered that evening didn’t  remotely compare to our street vendor plantains at the border. Luckily we had a local woman approach our table in the hopes we would buy some weaving. We were feeling a little too over stocked in the hand crafted tourist trinket department so Ricardo let her down gently but I urged him to ask her if she would like a plantain as a parting gesture. Well, with no hesitation she grabbed everything on the plate swiping it into a basket at her waist as she turned swiftly to leave us, a little astonished. We didn’t mind, we would have been choking those plantains back, but she took the garnish and all in such haste it left us dumbfoundedly staring at the now empty plate between us .

When she left we looked at each other and, without the understanding I now have of what exactly a stack of poorly cooked plantains actually meant to her and possibly to her family, we kinda laughed at the absurdity of the situation.

Before we left the Lago Atitlan area we drove up the hillside and pulled off near the top to get a picture from a spectacular viewpoint of the lake which is where we met another little bright-eyed girl. In her too big ratty shirt she perked at the site of our struggling Westfalia climbing the hill and ran to the back of our van the minute we stopped. After we took our requisite photos with her standing close by in silence we turned to get back in our van both curious as to where her trinkets were stashed she blurted, in spanish, her “payment.” We looked at each other and again looked around, no trinkets. Thankfully for us my husband’s first language is spanish and after a brief conversation he informed me “we need to pay her for providing us a rock for our van” with a slight shrug. She had stashed a rock under the back of one of our tires so our van would not roll backwards down the hill. We paid her handsomely for her services.

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I urge you to watch Living on One Dollar a Day if nothing else it may give you an idea of how easily a small encounter can make a big impact or how the actions you think are inconsequential or automatic actually change the day in the life of a person, possibly their entire family, maybe just one day but at least it’s a change for the better even if it’s just momentarily.

Finding a balance between traveling to visit family and still having a vacation

Have you ever gone on vacation to visit family and when you come home you feel like you need another vacation? Sometimes it’s the draining family drama or just the sheer number of people who “have” to see you making you jump from house to house from dawn until dusk.

My husband is from Chile and we have travelled their several times over the past 14 years of our relationship and every time I’m reminded how different it is to travel to see family versus traveling for fun. Traveling to see family can be fun, it can also be very un-fun. We once spent 3 hours in an airless Santiago apartment in the middle of summer waiting for a family member who was “on their way” to pick us up for a family BBQ.

We are now starting the final preparations for a BIG family trip for us. We’re taking the kids to meet my husband’s family in Chile. My children are now 5 & 2 years old and will be meeting most of their South American family for the first time. My biggest worry is how to make the trip as positive experience for them as possible. How do we not overwhelm them?

The actual transportation part I’m not worried about these kids can handle the long flights, I think, and I have a few tricks up my sleeve to make it a smooth run. Luckily our flight from Canada leaves around nap time for my 2 yr old and the second leg is an overnight flight from Dallas to Santiago.

What I am worried about is how they will adjust to the culture and the expectations from our Chilean family. My oldest is a sensitive soul who sticks close to his Mommy when he’s feeling uncomfortable, he’s slow to warm and quietly observant. My youngest will chat a stranger’s ear off with an account of his daily goings on, climbing into their lap if he gets the slightest of openings, but he’s also acutely aware of his older brother and if he senses things are not quite right he’ll retreat to his side immediately.

So how do we prepare them for meeting and living with people they have never met before?

Logistically we have some road trips to do once we arrive so we’ve arrange for their Abuello (Grandfather) to pick us up from the airport in Santiago. Just him, not a gang greeting of boisterous South Americans frantically waving through the glass as we collect our luggage. This way we can let them have a proper greeting, they have already met their Abuella (Grandmother), and I’m sure tears will be shed because Abuello is a BIG softy and I know how much meeting his grandchildren will mean to him, I’m on the brink just thinking about it, tears of joy, tears of joy.

Abuello will take us the 5hr journey north to where we will stay with Abuella in La Serena. We will be staying La Serena most of our trip because my brother in law will be getting married in the neighbouring town Coquimbo. After a few days here I’ve book us a little family excursion an hour or so north, an overnighter, just the four of us, my plan is to give the kids a break from all the new people and let us have a little family adventure.

We’ll head back to La Serena as we have a wedding to attend and when we arrive back their Canadian cousins will have arrived and settled in, some familiar faces. Once the wedding celebration is over and we’ve spent a few days recovering on the beach we’ll say goodbye to our family in La Serena and head south to Pichi Lemu, a small surfing village for 2 nights and another little family adventure, just us. We plan on heading back into Santiago for the last night of our trip and final farewells to our family there.

I hope these little breaks will give us time to relax and just be together the rest well, I’m sure you’ll read more about it!

My first, and hopefully my last, hurricane

Have you ever been in a hurricane? We hear it all over the media during hurricane season seeing the material devastation, of lives disrupted and emotional pleas for help on the screen. Here’s the story of when I met Hurricane Norbet on the Baja peninsula in the fall of 2008.

The day before we drove onto an ocean front campsite with only one other family within sight. The campsite itself was a skinny piece of land jutting out into the Sea of Cortez.  We spent the evening floating in the clear tranquil calm waters slightly north of Loreto, Mexico. Our van parked a few meters from the water’s edge we prepared our dinner and read some pages in our books before bunking down for the night. This is what we had dreamed about for our trip. The beach, our van, the two of us together soaking up the last rays of warm sunlight all the whilst blissfully unaware of the world outside our little bubble.

Our ocean front camping
Our ocean front camping

Early in the morning around 5am I heard the family camping near us departing the sound of their engine jarring me awake momentarily as the lap of the waves gently rocked me quickly back to sleep. Not thinking a thing of their sudden early morning departure we started the day with a light breakfast and a long cup of coffee only slightly urged on by a light drizzle. Once packed up and back on the road the drizzle quickly became a down pour as we headed south. We seemed to be alone on the road yet not at all concerned and only noticing once we realized it seemed everyone was heading north. I remained unfazed silently glad Ricardo was driving as the poor excuse for windshield wipers seem incapable of doing their job. Eventually the engineer in Ricardo piped up as the onslaught of rain pounded the ground in front of us beginning to form small rivers across the highway. He began to question “the design of the road and it’s drainage capabilities” a foreign language to me I gazed, uninterested, out my passenger window. Then the wind started slam the side of the van rattling our windows. OK, that woke me up. Sitting starkly upright I stared hard at the GPS to see how far the next town was.

In what seemed like an eternity but was in all likely hood less than half an hour we pulled over at the top of a hill into an area with a long line of roadside stands to find out what was going on. Enter Hurricane Norbert he was up a for a party beyond the likes we were interested in or had to fortitude for but never the less we were going to get acquainted.

We quickly found shelter in a hotel, on relatively high ground, who so generously provided us with the “Hurricane Rate” which could also be called the “Desperate Gringos Rate” and we fleetingly considered bunking down in our1987 Westfalia during a HURRICANE.

Well needless to say we were glad we didn’t when we tucked into warm beds, turned on the t.v., something we had not done in months, to watch the news and get this……Skyped our families. Yup, dishing out the dollars provided us with free WIFI for the duration of our stay. We also took breaks from our temporary cocoon to swim in the pool. So needless to say my hurricane experience was not exactly “as seen on t.v.” And I just want to finish by saying an extra special thank you to the Mexican family that clearly got a hurricane warning phone call from friends or family early in the morning – thanks guys for not giving us the heads up, much appreciated.

One day pre Hurricane Norbert
One day pre Hurricane Norbert

2015 the year of mantras?

Every once and a while the words someone says seem to punch me in the head, like the person is speaking directly to me, has been a secret observer to my recent thoughts, when I know it’s impossible. Last night it was Denzel Washington. No Mr Washington and I did not have a heart to heart sit down in my kitchen that would have been pee my pants awesome instead we watched one of his recent new flicks “The Equalizer.”

In the movie Denzel, sitting across the table from a young prostitute, at one point says “…progress not perfection…” So the words aren’t his own someone far away wrote them for his character but the way he said them in his low soft tone….

“Progress not perfection”

What a great line! I rolled it around in my brain over and over again.

Getting your words out there into the world for everyone to see can be a little scary, actually terrifying, and as much as I have to say or write so does everyone else. Everyone may not agree or like what I write and, bless this country and it’s freedoms, people are able to respond with their own free thoughts, good, bad or even frighteningly ugly.

Someone might choose to see all the mistakes, think my work is boring or find it amateur because guess what…..they are right. I’m just beginning. If you choose to join me on my journey you are welcome. I encourage your comments, questions, suggestions, anecdotes, jokes, just know I’m starting with a blank page every single time and by the end I’m hoping to have brought a smile to your face possibly even make you laugh or find yourself contemplating the words, having a conversation with someone about the thoughts or ideas they bring. I’m not ever going to provide the perfect piece, to me, that would be boring. I’m striving for progress not perfection.

How to get out of bribing corrupt Mexican police 101

Let me start off by saying if you ever plan to drive anywhere yourself in Mexico please commit this post to memory.

Corruption in the Mexican police force runs rampant we all know that so how the heck do you get out of sticky situations without forking over your well earned cold hard cash every. single. time. Here’s what worked for us, more than once!

1. Make sure the person driving is male

2. Make sure you have a permit for your car to be in Mexico

3. Make sure you have a female passenger that can pull off being really pissed off (super easy part) and slightly offensive but yet knows when to shut the f*ck up

4. Make sure your male partner remains calm and reasonable throughout the conversation (knowing fluent Spanish also helps)

5. Throw your dignity out the door and LIE, LIE, LIE!

That’s it! it’s just that easy and it worked every time once we figured it out.

Acapulco brings to mind Mexico circa 1980’s early 1990’s when it was THE destination. Returning travelers peddling tales of daring cliff jumpers and beautiful sandy beach vistas upon their return.

Driving into the town in the late fall of 2008 it was clear from the vacated resort skeletons and deserted streets the party had long ended but it seemed someone had forgotten to clean up. The air was thick with memories of the glory days lined with a layer of regret. Where had all the money gone? Certainly not into infrastructure improvements and updating leaving a sad, crumbling old resort town to slowly turn to dust.

As we meandered along, feeling not quite comfortable, Ricardo mistakenly drove through a flashing yellow light (which actually means stop in Mexico) and straight into the menacing glare of two federales. With just a slight nod of his head there was no question we were going to have to pull over. Shifting nervously in my seat, I knew we had been lucky to get this far without incident, I looked over at what might have been the most scariest looking police officer on the planet. Tall, for a Mexican, thin, wiry, pock marked face with a big scar along his left eyebrow and dark, dark eyes that with one glimpse left you void of all hope. Oh, and he had a gun and his partner had an even bigger one where he stood leaning casually against the hood of their truck a few meters ahead chewing and spitting tarry looking substance onto the dusty roadside.

OK, so I didn’t actually use any of the tricks above with this guy he scared the bejeezus out of us and frankly Ricardo had just technically broken the law in their land so we ended up handing over as little cash as possible the whole incident costing us $65 which was actually all the cash we had on hand. However pissed we were at having to bribe the guy we were silently thankful to just be alive.

The next morning; however, armed with very little sleep and a desperate desire to get the hell out of Acapulco we found ourselves being pulled over again just before leaving the city. I didn’t know it before this incident but it turns out I have a voice that occasionally pops into my head that vaguely sounds like a pissed off J Lo with snapping fingers waving about and it was yelling at me “OH, HELL NO!”

Two young fresh faced transit cops politely request Ricardo to exit the vehicle and take him to the back of the van to “chat.” But me (and my alter ego aka angry, snappy J Lo) are not about to sit this one out and I jump out of the car with a verbal onslaught of slightly aggressive lies/threats (use words like consulate, ambassador, corruption, whatever you think might work) littered with offensive, do not use in front of your grandmother, kinda words all entirely in English.

Looking utterly bewildered they calmly ask Ricardo to ask me to remain in the van – “No!” I say as Ricardo simultaneously throws up his hands. At this point I actually start to calm down because I realize they feel sorry for Ricardo, mano y mano, they can not understand why his wife will not listen to him so they kindly ask Ricardo to request I apologize to them, which I do, tersely, in English. They exchange a few words in Spanish, shake hands and pat him on the back as he walks back to the driver’s seat.

Knowingly triumphant we both hop effortlessly back up into our seats. We look at each other all smiles and Ricardo burst into laughter while pulling away from the curb telling me they told him to “take his wife and get the hell out of Acapulco!”

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Why getting lost is sometimes the very best idea!

Recently my BFF and I went on an overnight trip to Woodinville, Washington a sort of Napa Valley of Washington State Wineries near picturesque lakeside Kirkland. Neither of us had ever heard about the area before so after taking several pit stops to shop along the way we found ourselves desperately trying to navigate ourselves to Woodinville Wine Country on a dark and rainy night along very narrow country-like roads. After having already turned ourselves around a few times, I could feel her increasing tension as she continued to drive in circles, I mustered up the determination to confidently say “turn left I’m sure it’s this way.”

Honestly, I think we had already tried each and every other way so it was a bit of process of elimination. We again found ourselves on a broodingly dark narrow road winding into an industrial looking area, my confidence quickly waning.
Finally, on the verge of calling our expedition a disaster, we came upon a place well lit with a bon fire in what looked like a centre courtyard of some sort. Quickly taking stock of the number of cars, quite a few, we decided to pull over and take a closer look. Fingers and toes crossed we could at the very least roast a hot dog over the fire!

We had to park at the furthest reach of the parking lot, possibly a good sign, and as we walked swiftly toward the lights all tucked into our jackets, rain softly beating down on us we stumbled on tired feet toward Woodinville Whiskey Co.

I don’t even drink whiskey but on a cold, dark and rainy night, whiskey sounded just about right.

Just meters from the road the distillery, a long building beautifully lit at night, attaches to a pub called Hollywood Tavern and here’s where getting lost became quite alright.

Sitting in the cozy, warm tavern with the glow of the bon fire just outside streaming in through the rain strewn windows I treated myself to a whiskey milkshake; the “Stumbling Cow” is Woodinville Whiskey infused soft serve vanilla ice cream with apple pie glaze generously drizzled on top – hello taste bud heaven!

If you haven’t tried one it’s worth a stop or detour I’ve certainly found a new love.