How yoga saved my last family trip

I have always been on again off again with my yoga practice but over the last year and a half it’s become an, at minimum, bi-weekly meeting of my toes and mat. It’s felt great and I’ve actually felt my body progress in poses I never thought possible.

On our most recent trip to Chile I contemplated stuffing a mat into the luggage but in the end it didn’t make the cut.

Travelling to Chile means visiting my in-laws. Ummm, delicately put things do not always lean towards butterflies and rainbows instead rather heavily towards awkward silences and biting my tongue. This trip was no exception.

But if you have ever gone to just one yoga class your entire life or maybe never attended one you probably still know the first rule of yoga is: breathe. In through the nose out through the mouth it is simplicity at it’s finest. For me one big yogic breath and I’m a cool, calm and collected every, single, time.

Just the breathing exercises alone was a huge support to my mental stability through the trip but what really helped me get through was actually hitting the mat. As is usually the case after long flights, and inconsistent sleeping arrangements (pull out couches, hard mattresses, soft mattresses, etc) my back was starting to scream. So I arranged time with my husband to have an hour to myself, borrowed a mat and went through a class in my mind. There was children crying and yelling in the background (not mine), adults speaking loudly and more than I would have liked, interruptions, but by the end I was left alone for just enough time to focus on my practice.

I felt lighter, longer, straighter, centred and most importantly I felt like me again. All the stress from travelling with the kids, dealing with our family in the context of the extended family and trying to make it a positive experience for our kids simply melted away momentarily. On top of that I felt like I was “doing” yoga myself, not just being led but taking control of my practice for the first time ever. It probably wasn’t the perfect flow sequencing but it was certainly empowering getting the results I was looking for from my own knowledge. Hmmmm maybe I’m ready to really take the plunge into ramping up my own home practice?

The second chance I got onto the mat was at a surf lodge we stayed at in Pichilemu. They offered a free evening class 6 days a week and I eagerly jumped at the chance to take part. It was the first time I’ve taken a class not knowing the language but yoga lends itself to invitation no matter what language you speak. I may not have taken home all the “lessons” the teacher was speaking about but following along and getting the basics was easy and felt just right.

Inhalamo, exhalamo, smile.

At this point in the trip, nearing the end, I just needed a bit of “me time” as may or may not be the case for you sometimes travelling to visit family is not exactly relaxing but after this class I practically bounced back to the room ready to take on whatever the evening had in store.

My suggestion when you’re feeling stressed on your vacation find time to do something you love even for just a few minutes it’s amazing how quickly your soul re-energizes when you show yourself some love.

 

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This is me finding a little time to stretch lakeside in Nicaragua a few years ago

 

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Where do they all come from?

I’ve visited Chile 4 times now, one of the few countries in the world I have returned to so often and I’m always astonished at the crowds on the beach. Chile is a long narrow country and has thousands of miles of sandy beaches yet every single beach seems to be jam-packed with people, where do they all come from?

Well, Argentina for starters. La Serena in particular is a big summer vacation destination for the Argentinians just a short flight or a day’s drive away they seem to arrive by the hordes. Chile is not a country resort developers have discovered and families prefer to rent condos to accommodate bigger and/or extended family members.

I digress, back to the sand. The beach life in Chile seems to fit wonderfully into the laid back lifestyle of South Americans. Often you will see few families on the beach before 3pm.

Since the ozone layer is thinner over this part of the world the sun is simple too hot to handle; good sunscreen is a must even if you’re going out to run an errand. But by 5pm the beach is covered in bodies lounging, playing, swimming and vendors hawking items from cold drinks, home made baked items to umbrellas and sand toys for the kids.

As the sun starts to set you begin to see families packing up belongings, wiping away the sand and taking that one last dip in the ocean.

One funny thing that always captures my attention is the multitude of colours lined up across the sand from umbrellas and blankets being laid out. It just looks neat. See for yourself.

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Traveling to visit family? Give yourself a break!

Before heading to Chile with the kids I wrote this post: Finding a balance between traveling to visit family and still having a vacation I had made plans prior to our departure from Canada and my husband had sent a written copy of our itinerary weeks before our arrival. With deposits paid we were committed to our own family time together. So 4 days after our arrival we set out for our first Araya family excursion. After a 1.5hr drive turned into a hot, clammy 3hr drive with long waits for single lane traffic due to highway construction we arrived at our destination, Punta de Choros, leaping out of the car to stretch our legs and unleash the kids cooped up energy. Ricardo stepped inside to check us in to our simple little dome by the sea, but quickly stepped back out with a look on his face that snapped me out of my day dream of sipping a cocktail on the deck over looking the clear blue waters below so fast it felt like I have cliff dived from 100ft and just hit the water. “Ummm, what’s up?” Turns out we showed up a day early. Our reservation was for the following night and they were fully booked – WHOOPS! So heads hung low we buckled in our boys back in the car and headed back promising the kids we would stop for dinner along the way. “We’ll have completos” (basic Chilean street food consisting a of a hot dog with loads of mayo and avocado) I announced as cheerily as possible while internally crossing all appendages because I’m pretty sure, but actually not really sure, I may or may not have seen a sign advertising them along the way. We really are in the middle of nowhere out here. So we drive around the tiny little village we are in – no completos. Maybe it wasn’t here, maybe it was at the town before? Begrudgingly my husband drives on to the next town, “we have to go back anyway” I say, and then as we bounce along the dirt road with hungry kids and disappointed parents he turns as says “you know, it’s not really about the mistakes we make in life it’s about how we handle them together and I think we handle them really well.” For a split second I fall just a bit more madly in love with him and then silently to myself – good lord I sure as heck hope there are compleatos in the next town! Turns out Los Choros, a mere 20 minutes up the road, may have been just the right dose of fun for us on this ill fated excursion. We did find compleatos, we found them at a road side stand hot dogs boiled lovingly by Claudia and Maggie who quickly fell in love with our boys wildly dancing around the street. We laughed. We splurged and let the kids have a pop to share enjoying our meal to the sounds of the local kids running around the park next door and Shakira blaring from the speakers of our patronesses tiny stand. After dinner we roamed the two block town, played in the park and said goodbye to our new friends taking just enough time to let the construction end for the day making our trip home much less tiresome. We laughed some more at our mistake and reminisced about past mistakes and epic failures. The next day we did it all again, skipping the compleatos and driving directly to our dome by the sea we dropped our car and hopped on a boat to see dolphins, penguins and sea lions out at Isla Damas. It’s a common destination for tourists to visit in this part of Chile but one in my previous 3 trips had never had the chance to make. It was perfect for our little family of four the kids really enjoyed the nerve wracking bumpy boat ride out through the big swell while I sat white knuckled planning a daring rescue should one of my children bounce over the edge of the boat into the sea. We all got a nice break from the demands of visiting family and loved exploring our little dome’s unique layout. Disappointed only with strong winds picking up in the evening making it less than desirable to enjoy the outside deck over looking the ocean below and too cloudy for any star gazing through our upstairs circle window. We enjoyed a quick breakfast, included with accommodations, before heading back to La Serena the next morning. It was a perfect break in it’s not so perfect kinda way.

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Sebastian ordering his first completo
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Los Choros family dinner

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Shouting it from the rooftops

I’m a shy person. Soft spoken. I’ve been frequently described as a “soft soul.” I fumble with my words when I’m emotional. It’s OK I like it this way but today I’m feeling empowered and a little bold. I recently posted this on my Facebook status:

I don’t really post about anything controversial on my Facebook but I’m making an exception because I really do feel passionate about this and because I get a lot of questions from friends and family….

You should vaccinate your children and here’s why. We forget about the consequences of the diseases these vaccines protect against.

I had the opportunity to experience this first hand when I spent some time working as a nurse in Kathmandu Nepal at Kanti Pediatric Hospital in 2005. There I nursed a 12yr old girl with tetanus. Her body frequently went into back bending rigid spasms eventually causing a fracture in one of her arms from smashing into the bed rail so hard. I watched her parents work their prayer beads night and day looking at me with fear and anxiety whenever she would moan or cry out in pain. We did everything we could to relieve her suffering.

I also worked with a little fellow 5yrs old affected with polio whom was carried everywhere by his father as he will never be able to walk on his own. His parents, through an interpreter, worried about his life in the future. He was nothing in the Nepalese society, equivalent to garbage, seemingly not useful for anything but begging on the streets. They worried for his future should they die before him, no one would take care of him, help him. These parents would have given their lives to have the opportunity to vaccinate their children. So if you are a parent facing the decision to vaccinate or not I hope you do but if you don’t I will be there for your child to relieve the suffering as much as I can, to insert their IV, help them breathe, prep them for surgery if necessary and I won’t judge you, instead I promise to try and help you figure out how to live with the decision you’ve made because luckily for you, you have the ability to make the decision. I would also like to THANK all those Rotarians out there, here and around the world who recognize the need for vaccination in underdeveloped countries and fight tirelessly to provide access to vaccines around the world.

And I wondered about sharing it here because this is my travel blog but then on my rainy windy drive home with thoughts rattling around my head I decided I wanted to shout it from the rooftops and maybe, just maybe, because I don’t get up on the roof to shout that often, someone will listen. My commitment to vaccination was borne from my adventures traveling and volunteering abroad it’s been a quiet conviction of mine but today I’m letting you all know – I’M SHOUTING IT FROM THE ROOFTOPS – PLEASE VACCINATE YOUR CHILDREN. 

“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