It’s true. At the ripe old age of 58 I got my first tattoo. Now I get it. I really can’t stop looking at it after a week has passed. I confess, I’m looking at what other areas of my ample body that I might want to embellish next. I was warned, told that it would be addictive. I guess I thought that meant people go back for more and more ink because they enjoy the pain. Wrong! We (proudly declared as part of the club now) like art on our skin. How’s that for speaking for anyone who has ever gotten a tattoo?
First of all, it really didn’t hurt. Granted, I had about 8 simple lines and a letter delicately tattooed on my wrist so the less than 10 minutes of actually getting the tattoo was pretty minimal. I thought it was a lot less painful than when they stick your finger at a blood donation center to see if you have enough red blood cells to give a donation. Because it was such a small design I didn’t get the swelling and scabbing that they warn you about and I didn’t have to worry about not scratching at it as it healed. At its worst it felt slightly embossed.
The parlor I went to Twenty Twelve Tattoo Company had all the usual skull and bones tough tattoos displayed about, but the absolutely stunning office manager (owner?) put me at ease immediately. They have a nice space in which the girls work upstairs, the guys downstairs.
I had chatted with the office manager, whose name escapes me now, on the phone before coming in and sent over what I was looking to have done. She paired me up with the delightful Cally who came down with her tablet and fiddled with the design, incorporating Dan’s suggestions expertly. From there Dan and I went upstairs to the lovely, clean, light filled space which was not at all what I expected. She got me comfortable, chatting cheerfully and made me feel confident about the process, which she explained in detail before we started. She cleaned her workspace and wrapped anything she would touch with Saran Wrap. She probably went through a half a roll of paper towels in the 15 minute cleaning process. There was no doubt in my mind that the space and instruments were clean.
It was time to begin. She applied a stencil of the design and assured us that if we didn’t like it, we could change it without any difficulty. That was not a problem, she nailed the design and placement on the first try. She then gently began with the smallest of dots on my wrist to make sure that I didn’t back out after feeling what it would be like. I was so relieved to find it was barely a discomfort, certainly something easily tolerated. She hunched over my wrist in earnest after that, needling and wiping excess ink continuously as she worked. In under 10 minutes we were inspecting the finished product and declaring it finished.
Time for the after care lecture. She made sure that we were completely comfortable with the basic instructions so that the tattoo would heal nicely and the design would stay sharp and dark. A little nappy balm and not soaking it or scratching at it were the sun total of the instructions. Easy peasy. As I mentioned, it has been over a week and I really didn’t get the scabbing and itchiness she warned us about. I do believe that’s because of the fine lines and minimal ink.
As we left, Cally informed me I was officially 10 percent tougher now that I had my first ink. I felt giddy with relief and the pleasure of having exactly what I wanted tattooed on my wrist. It was years in the making because I was excruciatingly aware of how permanent a tattoo is and I could never decide if I would want something marking me for life.
So what did I get and why? Here it is.
A very simple compass representing what will be the 5 years of nomadic life that Dan and I have undertaken. 2 tiny dots at the base of the North/South axis represent the two of us on the journey together. It’s very simple, I think it’s feminine and elegant and after looking at compass designs for 5 years or so this particular design was just right the moment I saw it. We’ll see how long it takes before I am back for another!
So there we were, all our possessions with us, our beloved dog, plans all set through August 2020 and we started to hear about this Corona Virus. It didn’t seem like much, a strange outbreak, something to keep an eye on and avoid. We were in Rome, it was happening in China and that seemed worlds away. There were fewer Chinese tourists, the usual percentage of travelers wearing masks, nothing to really cause concern. I even got really sick in Rome, violent migraine, vomiting, chills, cough. It took me out completely for 4 days and then it was gone. Dan got it a little differently a few days later, less violently but longer lasting. Again, we didn’t think much of it at the time. We were so lucky to have 10 days in Rome, an abundance of time we realize most people don’t have and a very welcome luxury because it really is that amazing there. We were able to recover, see what we wanted to at a leisurely pace, get a real feel for the city and immerse ourselves in the sheer awe of being there. We got to meet a few locals too.
We continued on, feeling great. We went down to Naples for 3 weeks over Christmas and New Years Eve, another post for sure, on to Croatia to explore several cities there and then February 7 we were back up in Italy for Carnival in Venice. We had really looked forward to that week, it was the first plan we actually made when we started this whole journey. We figured if we were going to be in Europe we might as well try and time it to make Carnival part of the trip. Before we arrived we were told our hostess, who by all reviews on VRBO was very hospitable and involved with her guests, living on the same property, even sharing a front door, was extremely ill and she was going to have an assistant meet us at the vaporetto to show us how to get to the apartment and the peculiarities of the space. She was so ill that we didn’t even see her until the last day, a week after we arrived although she was in contact by messaging to help us and we did know her husband stayed home from work to care for her. It had been about 2 months since we first started hearing about Corona Virus, but it wasn’t being discussed as much of a threat outside of China yet. We were certainly concerned she was sick, careful not to linger in the foyer and hoped she recovered well, but I don’t recall thinking that she had this horrible virus that was just making the news. We had an amazing week in Venice. It was less crowded than usual, the locals told us that the virus was making a difference in tourism. No Chinese tourists, which is a large source of tourism money for them and people were starting to be reluctant to travel. Wait, what?
Time for us to start paying more attention, although we still didn’t think our host could have it, I don’t know why. It was actually really nice for us to have it less crowded, I was concerned it would be so crowded we wouldn’t have fun, when in fact it was very empty compared to pictures I have seen, and charming. A city I did not anticipate falling in love with completely stole my heart.
We reluctantly left after a week, wishing we were staying for more of the Carnival events happening later in Lent. Darn those 90 day limit EU visas! As we continued on our way we started to pay more attention to what was being called Corona Virus. About a week after we left Venice we heard that the rest of Carnival was cancelled and that the city was going into restricted movement because of an outbreak. That is when it finally hit us that our hostess probably had it. It had just gotten real for us. Very quickly regions of Northern Italy were closed off and residents told to shelter in place. We were in Croatia and Southern Italy at the time. We had a whole itinerary booked for Bologna, Florence, Pisa, Trieste and Cinque Terre, the latter half of that was especially on my bucket list. At this point we also had a trip booked to California to see my dad and sister, Dan’s mom and family, friends, some business and then a 10 day trip to Kauai so we have our path up through France booked all the way up to our flight back in to Charles de Gaulle airport in May. But this was mid February and things were starting to look weird and we had to juggle our EU visa and our Croatian visa so as to not overstay in one place or the other.
Right after leaving Venice we had picked up a car on a one year rental. Something that took hours and hours of research, negotiation and considerable funds to pull off, but traveling with Enzo it was going to be so much easier so we were really happy with that solution. We kept on, watching the news neurotically and hoping we wouldn’t have to change any plans.Yeah, that didn’t work long. With each passing day Italy put more communities in lockdown. It was disconcerting because they were places we had just visited four to six weeks prior, so that was kind of spooking us out. They were making assurances about not closing the border. Ummm, so like that is something that was actually on the table? We couldn’t believe that if they felt they needed to they wouldn’t close the border anyway and we also thought France might decide they didn’t want anyone from Italy crossing over. That lit a fire under us and we decided we needed to get a move on. We looked into taking different routes, but decided that those borders might close too so we should just get near Paris and wait for our flight. We were in Bologna at this point and just about to hit two of my top reasons for going to Italy, Florence and Cinque Terre. We had a leisurely couple days planned for each and we ripped that plan to shreds in order to get to France quickly in case things got worse. So, we made a beeline for Florence and did a sprinter’s marathon of one night there. Another post later on that, Dan was not too excited for Florence but in one short day fell in love with the city. Reluctantly we moved on and enjoyed a quick side trip to Pisa, which was way more interesting than I anticipated. That tower is incredibly improbable, especially in the winds we had that day! Then we headed straight to an adorable flat in La Spezia, which was going to be our home for a few days to leisurely explore Cinque Terre, but had become a one night sleep before motoring on to France. As we continued on this accelerated path, the news kept getting worse and we even started to worry we weren’t moving fast enough, but we stuck with the modified plan and made it with time to spare.
All this revising of plans kind of spur of the moment had us booking things on Airbnb that we didn’t really know much about, or have any real desire to go visit, but we needed somewhere to stay while we waited out time before our flight. That’s going to sound really awful when I then reveal that we first spent a week in Menton, France, the eastern most town on the French Riviera. This is the end of February so we aren’t under an umbrella on the beach sipping sparkling water from crystal glasses, but still, it isn’t too awful. It has been one of our blessings to arrive in places when unusual or fun events are happening and Menton was no different. Their claim to fame is a perfect climate for citrus and they hold a festival with a huge parade like the Rose Parade only the floats are decorated with citrus.
We arrived the weekend this was supposed to happen and all the floats were behind a fence where you could sort of peek at them. But somehow, when we crossed the border to France, we had crossed into a whole new philosophy on dealing with the virus. The parade and festival were canceled. The floats were left behind barriers locked up so that they wouldn’t draw crowds that could transmit the virus.
That worked only to some extent. French locals
and American travelers were able to work together to catch a few peeks at what was behind the fence! International cooperation at its finest!
Most restaurants were closed. There was a much greater sense of caution and level of seriousness about the consequences this virus was going to have on society in whole. We went over to Monte Carlo for a day, we were too close to not explore that iconic spot, and even spent some time in the casino. It was mid afternoon and almost completely vacant. We asked if that was normal. They told us it was usually filled with tourists during the day and ahem, real gamblers at night, but that now it is only at night that it is normal. Well, we enjoyed ourselves in the sumptuous environment, had a beautiful dinner, did some car ogling and made the terrifying drive back to Menton. After a few leisurely days exploring there and watching yet more news, we moved on to Saint-Tropez for another couple days. Except for the harbor right down by the yachts pretty much everything in town was closed. Either for the season or the virus. The harbor area was too expensive for us to enjoy, an Aperol spritzer costing 12 times what we had paid for it in Rome. Beer starting at what a good California cabernet should start at, and what we had been paying for a bottle of good local wine. No, these places were for the yachting crowd and designed to keep us riff raff out. Oh, those yachts!! All is well when you have your own floating city to escape on.
Done with San Tropez for now, anyone want to invite us back on a yacht?, and it was time to head off to one of our stops that was on the itinerary, the Fest d’Oie in Sarlat. Yup, Festival of the Goose in a tiny town in France. It was so small we couldn’t even find out if it was cancelled before we got there. And it was so small, it wasn’t cancelled! Yet another post eventually because it was priceless! We had the best time and being out in the countryside in France it was like the virus didn’t even exist. I hope it is still like that there for them. We kept busy, had fun and didn’t really think about the future much because we had a week booked in Auzances, an even more remote area in the countryside and then we would fly out, it flights were still going. I ended up in the ER in Sarlat and they didn’t seem to be in extra protective gear, didn’t ask about where I had been or any Coronavirus symptoms and most amazing to this American, would not take any money or insurance information. People were definitely gathering, doing the European kiss kiss greeting, dancing enthusiastically together seemingly without a care. Some tour groups we observed were kind of joking around about other ways of greeting each other, but didn’t seem real serious about maintaining it. We tried to be careful, but we gathered and were not wearing masks and ate at a street festival so…not real careful by lockdown standards.
After our time in Sarlat we headed even further out into the country to Auzances where we had rented a beautiful cottage in an area where all you could hear was cows, cowbells, birds, chickens and horses. It looked like you imagine the French countryside should look like. We spent most of our time trying to figure out if we should skip Epernay and Paris and buy a one way ticket to California, bring Enzo with us, get out of our one year contract for the car and just wait to see what happened with what would surely become a pandemic or if we should keep to our plan, board Enzo in Epernay, keep the car and trust that we would be able to come pick him up and continue on our journey. In hindsight it seems an easy choice, but at the time every country was treating the virus differently. tRump was convinced it wouldn’t affect the USA, Italy was closing up tight, it was getting harder and harder to find a route across Europe with open borders, but it could be done. Frankly, being trapped in that lovely cottage would have been quite nice. We were listening to Macron on TV every night outlining new rules for France and it even got to the point where you had to have a form filled out before you left your home explaining who you were, your health condition, where you were going and why and for how long and you had to sign it. If you were caught by the police (who were actively checking) it was a huge fine. It felt very serious even in this remote village. With heavy hearts we decided to get out while we could and take everything with us, not knowing when we could return.
It ended up being very difficult to change all our travel plans. We had made them through Expedia and everyone on the planet needed to talk with an Expedia agent urgently. It took days, but we got our airline ticket changed, the unused ones returned for future travel credit (optimistic), booked a timeshare we owned in Carlsbad, CA near my dad (because we had finally sold our home 3 weeks before this all went down!) got our stuff together and bugged out.
The flight was half full, which was nice.
A direct 12 hours. When we got to Los Angeles they gave us forms to fill out just asking if we had experienced a fever in the last 2 weeks or been around anyone who had or been tested etc… As we got off the plane there were about 12 people from the CDC and EMTs from around the country temporarily deployed there to talk to us. They were dressed head to toe to deal with an alien apocalypse. They took the form, asked us some questions, were very nice, didn’t take our temperature or give us a test and sent us on our way. We breezed through customs in about 5 minutes because LAX was virtually empty (very spooky) and were on our way. Back in the US after 6 months, but it was not the US we had left, this was Covid19 version and it was surreal.
Part of the decision to come back to one of the most expensive cities in the world was so that we could be with family and friends and catch up on everything. We could eat at our favorite places, help our aging parents, etc. Well, of course we can’t do any of that. We are holed up in our above budget downtown condo with everything closed around us unable to socialize with friends and family or enjoy any of the fun things downtown San Diego has to offer because nothing is open. Should have seen that coming. There are people so affected by this pandemic that we are truly grateful for where we are, what we have and how comfortably we can wait this out. It disrupted our retirement travels as they were happening, but we know that it is hurting other people as to when or if they can retire so we are definitely trying to keep the whining to a minimum!
Off the coast of Portugal, in what feels like the middle of the Atlantic Ocean is an archipelago of islands called the Azores. Born of volcanic activity this string of islands is a favorite spot for European vacationers to come explore nature, culture and a more relaxed way of life. To say it is beautiful is doing it an injustice. Each view is more glorious than the next with micro ecosystems littering the island in mind boggling ways. We visited the largest island, Sao Miguel, for a week and stayed in a small village there called Mosteiros. I can say without hesitation that I would do it again and recommend it highly to anyone that enjoys peace, beach, whales, birds, quirky village habits and amazing views.
Most everyone knows by now that I am a complete whale geek. It’s ok. I own it. One of the things that most attracted me to the island of Sao Miguel is that they have a year round population of sperm whale. Being nearly obsessed as Ahab, without Melville’s cruel plot of limb removal, I was keen on seeing my first sperm whale. They are actually quite a bit different from other whales I’ve managed to spot. They are toothed whales, enormous teeth on the lower jaw only, which they use when they dive deeper than other whales to feed on giant squid. They have a big bulbous head and one blowhole located on the side of their rostrum. This makes their blow, or water spout by which you spot them, spray out at an angle instead of straight up like the other whales I’d seen.
So we started looking to take a trip as soon as we got to the island. We really wanted to go with the one outfitter that was in our little village. We had walked into their office and talked to them and they were so kind and personable that we were hooked. Unfortunately the wind and waves were not cooperating. We decided to trust the forecast and delay our trip until later in the week so that we could go with Terra do Pico. Luckily it worked out well and we went a few days after we arrived on the island. Their communication with us the whole time was outstanding so we always knew they were doing their best to get us out there safely.
We had an amazing trip, a wonderful little RIB boat, actually, not that kind of rib boat, a great captain and a very knowledgeable naturalist. We did find sperm whales, which sent this whale geek to cloud 9! Here’s some video, sorry, it was a little rough out there. They show the way the blow is out and to the side, some good views of the back of the whale, the fin and a couple really good fluke shots. A very successful and beautiful day on the water.
So there it was, the end of my epic hunt. Moby Dick and family even better than I had hoped for and a far better ending for me than poor old Ahab. It is not the end of my cetacean bucket list, and I will certainly take the opportunity to search for them again in the future. It seems I just can’t help myself.
Dan and I boarded Enzo for our trip to Yosemite, thinking bears, hikes, restricted areas to take dogs to and a very small tent would not make for a very pleasant trip for the three of us. It was a good decision. We didn’t have a reservation and the campground we ended up in didn’t allow dogs anyway. We ended up camping above the valley, 2,000 feet above the valley in Tamarack, which was a beautiful campground, but there was no water except a creek and a very windy, steep, long road down it which until very recently was not paved, so it is mostly for tent camping. That makes for a nice quiet camp experience mostly. Thanks very much selfish parents of 4 teenage boys who sent them over to our side of the campground to get high and rowdy. But no generators from motor homes or trailers, which was really nice. We snagged a nice spot in the corner and had lovely neighbors the whole time we were there. Up in the campsite the weather was great for camping. Shorts and t-shirt during the height of the day. Jacket, jeans and fire for the evening.
We planned to go down into the valley and see the sights so we got going early and took the hour of so ride down in. We were there the week after Labor Day, hoping that conventional wisdom would be correct and the park would be less crowded. I guess it was, but I sure wouldn’t want to see summer crowds!
The ride in was beautiful, descending 2,000 feet gave us opportunities for many overlooks and we went through an astounding change in climate and environment.
We stopped at this amazing overlook of the valley, still not fully understanding what we were looking at…
and this perfectly framed view of Half Dome.
We could feel it getting warmer as we got closer to the bottom. It had been a pleasant 60 something up in Tamarack Campground. It quickly warmed up to the 80’s as we hit the valley floor. The crowds also increased, as did the sheer awe of being at the bottom but so close to these sheer cliffs rising straight up from the valley
floor through some geological miracle. The waterfalls were minimal because we were there in the beginning of September, but that didn’t take away from the breathtaking splendor. Or the disbelief that people actually climbed these very cliffs, for better or worse. We spent about 30 minutes with a group of people coming and going around a fellow with an impressive scope trained on El Capitan. He had us all convinced that we saw someone climbing up there, just above that crack, next to the vertical line, under that splintered part….Then we went a bit down the road to a fellow with a more impressive scope and saw that it was just more of that crack! Hahahaha. Well, it was fun to consider and marvel.
Parking wasn’t too bad in the morning and we left the car to explore on foot. The volunteers at a booth on the edge of the parking lot were very helpful, friendly, relaxed and informative. Turns out they were the only park people we would meet that were. The paid personnel were OVER it. I guess the summer had taken its toll and they were more likely to bear spray a tourist than help them.
We found the valley very confusing and not well marked. We did the little hike to Lower Yosemite Falls, which was pretty and probably spectacular in the spring if you could get near it. It was crowded enough in September, so I can only imagine. It was also getting very warm, and there didn’t seem to be any breeze down in the valley. Crowds, heat, still air and cranky people are not my favorite mix. We drove around a bit more of the area and out to the Ahwahnee Hotel because I had always wanted to check it out.
Again we were able to park pretty easily, walked up marveling at the architecture and the amazing setting. Many perfect logs had gone into the entrance to this beautiful lodge. We entered the lobby and saw the lounge on the left, deciding a cocktail and sitting a moment in the cool would be nice. Before we could set foot in the lounge a fellow about the size and demeanor of Lurch from the Addams Family told us we could get in line and order a drink at the bar then walk about the hotel or outside on the patio with it. Only those ordering food could sit in the bar. Apparently we didn’t look like food orderers, or guests at the lodge. Dan was not going to be deterred and marched up to the bar where there were two seats, asked the bartender if we could sit there, got a grunt, which he took to mean yes, please have a seat, it will be delightful to have you join us, and we sat. The bartenders served everyone, the people in line, the people at the tables, the kitchen staff, everyone, before us which just turned the experience even more special. I couldn’t really get into the spirit of the sign outside the lounge that said “the Ahwahnee welcomes you”. We left shortly after that one long awaited drink and Lurch actually said “There you go.” Welcomed indeed!
We did walk around a bit and the rooms on the ground floor were beautiful. 2 fireplaces in the Grand Lobby were so big Dan was dwarfed by
them. I don’t think they had been lit for the season yet but the whole area smelled deliciously of wood smoke. I can only imagine the fires burning in the winter, snow outside, Lurch on patrol for impostors…
The one last thing I wanted to do was check out the dining room to see what the fuss was all about. People were lining up for dinner, too intimidated to even step up to the large doorways and peek in the dining room. Not me, I had already defied Lurch and lived, I wanted to see it and I snapped this photo:
Ok, that is seriously beautiful! There were gasps of disbelief from the people behind me and I think I heard one horrified voice exclaim “They only take reserVAtions!” I love the look of it, but I was not disappointed to be leaving the House of Attitude behind. Back to my humble campsite please!
The ride down to our campsite once we reached the peak wound down through some beautiful woods, great boulders and some very burned out areas from the huge wildfire that roared through there last year. The progress after one year is remarkable, but it is still difficult to see the devastation. The best part was that the trees that grew along that path were the kind my mom always wanted for a Christmas tree. Mom was a real Christmas elf, if not Mrs. Claus herself. When she and Dad went tree shopping she would make him unwrap every tree in the lot that was the right height, shake it out real good to see the shape, twirl it for her and then do the next one. And she usually wasn’t satisfied with one tree lot. She liked the really expensive kind that had very few branches and was kind of blue silver colored. I’m not sure she ever got to have one of those, but she always loved them and pointed them out whenever she saw them. That made me really enjoy the drive because I felt particularly close to Mom as I rode past all those perfect Christmas trees, the ones that hadn’t burned.
I have some brass bells that were in her craft basket, and I have a bunch of tiny shells I collected on Kauai. I have been stringing the shells and hanging the bells on them and giving them to special people.
I decided to bring some on this trip to hang in places my mom would like. Dan and I went walking off of this road and found 2 of these perfect trees set apart from the others a bit that we thought Mom would like.
He grabbed a stick and tromped through the brush, got sap all over himself and hung the bell high in the tallest tree.
He stepped back and I snapped a picture, looked at it in my phone screen and started to laugh and cry. Bent over double just bawling and laughing. Dan came running over, he figured this had to be good and asked me what the heck. I told him I had heard Mom clear as day tsk her tongue and say “Well…” and as she said it I saw what she saw. The tree Dan put it in actually had 2 trunks. Look again, you’ll see it in the picture above. Clear as day, 2 trunks. Mom would never let that stand. That would NEVER do! Dan had a very good laugh too, recognizing that I really had heard her because that was EXACTLY what she would say and mean. I told him he didn’t have to move it but he said he always does what Marie wants. And he immediately retrieved his stick and waded back in to hang it on the other tree with the perfect trunk.
We stood proudly looking at his handiwork for at least 30 minutes, laughing and crying and remembering what a wonderful pill my mom could be! She would be the first to admit it and laugh about it.
So that is where Mom’s bell sits. In its perfect spot, far off the beaten path. It has a beautiful view, a perfect tree and will probably never be found, which is perfect. Thanks for the laugh Mom, it was so good to hear from you.
One of the things we hoped would happen when we started this was that we would encounter people on the road that we would form a connection with. A random bartender, someone next to us on the train or at a café, or maybe a Airb’n’b host. Meeting people from different places, different backgrounds and discovering commonality or learning from our vast differences was one of our biggest goals. Starting out on this journey, with three months in Canada and the US, visiting our own family and friends , we didn’t really expect that part of our experience to start. Boy, were we proved wrong in a little spot we’ve been asked to keep secret in Washington.
We had a couple of days between leaving Vancouver Island and going to Yosemite that we wanted to fill and so Dan made a last minute booking at a lovely little trailer in a small town in Washington. We figured we could regroup, reorganize our gear for camping, and relax a little bit. Honestly, we had very low expectations, not that we expected it to be bad, just that we didn’t need it to be much.
Driving up to the address we went through beautiful woods with spread out neighborhoods that looked like they could be seasonal homes. Many different types of bodies of water, salt and fresh, were very close and the scenery was lovely. We pulled up to our spot and it was the prettiest in the whole neighborhood. A beautifully developed garden, a giant outdoor canopied space serving as great room and kitchen, a lovely trailer with our own large patio, lots of grass and shade for Enzo, lots of parking and 2 enthusiastic hosts waving Eddie (our car), the trailer, Enzo, Dan and I into their fenced and gated paradise.
We were delighted with the environment and the assistance getting parked. The greeting was like old family friends, which was surprising, endearing and a little disconcerting. I think it was 90 minutes before we even went into what would be our trailer for a couple days. In that time we were shown the property, invited to a family barbeque that afternoon, shared so much of our lives with each other and laughed and admired the property, feeling right at home. I can’t remember what it was we had to do, but we did need to go back to town that afternoon so we had to decline the barbeque, quickly unpacked into the adorable trailer and ran back out to do some errands. When we got back, they rushed to open the gate for us again and we were greeted with this:
The last thing we expected from their family barbeque. And three fellows that all looked right at home with the bikes! We got hooked into sitting down with them, not much arm twisting was needed, and enjoyed a long afternoon of more laughing and chatting, teasing and sharing. If we had argued I would have thought we were family.
After a little while it rolled around to what would be dinner time if you hadn’t had a giant meal of ribs at 2 PM. Sure enough, our hostess asked us to stay for steak dinner. The three bikers groaned in gastric distress, but looked resigned to their fate and we helplessly agreed to join them. Soon they had brought out at least one quarter of a substantial size cow to grill, some of the best macaroni salad this side of my mother in law’s, corn bread and I don’t know what all. We feasted until we could not move, still talking over each other, conversations rolling around the table with the laughter.
Not much drinking was going on, while we were there at least. I can’t say what happened while we were running errands, but everyone was walking just fine. Around nightfall our host, with a mighty twinkle in his eye, asked Dan and I if we had ever had apple pie. Instinctively we knew he wasn’t talking about a delicious baked good, so we suspiciously and cautiously said we didn’t think so… Well, that caused a whole new round of laughter, stories and talking over each other with the end result being our hosts coming out with a mason jar of beautiful amber liquid. With much ceremony the seal was broken and Dan was allowed the first sip. His look of astonishment and bliss had me reaching for the jar! This was liquid apple pie! All it needs is a good vanilla ice cream melting in it and the illusion is complete. It ends up this is a special alcohol concoction they make in big batches and keep on hand for special occasions or for gifts at the holidays or, I really hope, for when the mood strikes them. As we raved about the treat, they started explaining that this was the last of the batch and they had almost everything to make a new supply. Well, 3 Harley Davidsons, a Honda Element and a couple other cars…we could sure go get the other ingredients! And go Dan and our host did. More money got thrown at that operation than you’ve seen since the craps table at Vegas on New Years’ Eve because apparently apple juice in Washington is costly. Actually it was enthusiasm for the operation that funded the cash frenzy. Because of a complicated procedure (called cooling at room temperature) we waited until morning to make the brew and they were sweet enough to gift us 4 mason jars of it for our future camping adventures. It was remarkably easy to make, if you have big enough containers and some time. They even shared the recipe with us, but like Duke, the golden retriever from Bush’s baked beans, we’re not telling. Here’s Dan enjoying it in Yellowstone (yes, he shared)
In the midst of all the fun that evening they tentatively approached us and asked if it would be okay if the guys stayed the night in the outdoor great room. I really think this shows amazing commitment to being good Airb’n’b hosts, being that considerate of our preference on their property. I wish they didn’t want to remain anonymous, but I understand it. Of course it was fine with us that the guys stay over. Now they were even insisting we join them for a big breakfast. At this rate, we were not going to fit in their trailer much longer!
Discussing what kinds of local specialties, restaurants and things to do in the area we found out that there was a local oyster market that they liked to visit. They would pick up a dozen or so in the shell and the rest shucked in their own juice. We are big fans of raw oysters so we were a little appalled to hear that they liked to grill them in their own juice. So appalled that we were doing everything we could to avoid having them do this for us! They were having nothing of it and boy, am I glad they were so insistent. We came back one night and our new friends were grinning ear to ear telling us we better be hungry. Oh dear. We put on as brave a face as we could. Shucked oysters in plastic containers are about as unappetizing a sight as you can find. Their enthusiasm was infectious though, so we threw in and got ourselves ready with as much anticipation as they had, even if it was for different reasons. The oysters were shucked and placed with lots of their own juice on a grill over a wood fire in their own shell. We reused the shells, already preheated and smoky for the pre-shucked oysters as the feast continued. Our initial dread was unfounded. These were absolutely the most perfect things to occupy a plate, however briefly. The oysters they had acquired were large and meaty and they cooked them just enough to make them extra plump and firm and delicious. Dan was quick to help out at the fire, as a good guest and an eager learner and the guys had a fine time cooking, eating, laughing, talking and bonding even more. I can’t wait until he has an opportunity to try his new skills, but oysters like that aren’t readily available just everywhere. Our talented hostess sauteed a couple of the oysters in some butter and other good stuff as well, in case the grilling couldn’t happen fast enough. Those were delicious too, but the fire grilled oysters were the winners. We ate until we could eat no more, and then had two more to be polite! Thank goodness they were not fixing breakfast the next morning, we were still full when we woke up and we have been talking about that meal ever since.
Our friendship grew throughout our stay and we truly came to care for them as family. We miss them, talk about them, check in with them on Facebook and are so grateful to have met them on our journey. It was a very special homecoming in a strange place.
The point where you worry if everything you have been planning for the last 5 years was a horrible mistake. Were your skeptical friends right? Do you have to go back home with your tail tucked between your legs and try and buy back all your belongings you sold online? Is it good the house hasn’t sold yet? A bit of an over reaction but holy Hannah, this is the second trailer incident and we haven’t made it to Canada yet!
We were on our way to visit one of my friends from college, nearest and dearest to my heart, Michael Butterworth and his husband Scott Smithson. They had graciously agreed to drive from their place over an hour to meet us in Olympia for dinner. So, the trailer, knowing darn well that we had another friend to meet, decided to go all whompity on us. Whompity may not be a word, but when Dan felt something funny going on and we pulled over to find this happening it seemed like a good description.
I need to up my blogging game because the place we pulled over was classic. It was an actual diner off the highway. Seriously ’60’s , packed with bikers and a group of Mustang enthusiasts which, together with their cars would have made a great photo essay themselves. It was quite warm and Dan pulled into the only shade available, right next to a large semi. We just hoped that it would be there as long as we needed it to be, because the sun was intense and there was no other shade. We called our road service through USAA, which has always been outstanding, and they continued to be great at customer service. Unfortunately we hadn’t added the trailer to our coverage so we were on the hook for the service call. They helped us set it up though, which was quite convenient. So, we were texting Michael and Scott who were out hiking with their adorable dog Jax, letting them know we had no idea what our timeline looked like and waiting. Our friends actually arrived before the tow truck and we had a great reunion, punctuated by the tow truck
and moving to a Firestone service center that was about to close on Saturday at 5 PM.
They came with us and then even followed us around as we went to hunt for the right tire, since Firestone didn’t have it (ummm?) and we were hoping they could get the trailer operational first thing in the morning so we could make our ferry reservation over to Victoria, BC. Several hilarious follow the leader, who’s the leader?, little jaunts around town ensued, tires were found, delivered back to Firestone and then the decision of dinner. It was getting later, they had a drive back, but they soldiered on and we decided on a little Mexican place for dinner. Scott had pulled up as couple different restaurant choices and we landed on Taqueria Uruapani. This humble little eatery in a strip mall is a must do if you are in Lacey, WA. We had a wonderful meal, full of unique dishes from the Michoacán region of Mexico for a great price. A lot of eating and catching up and then they had to get on the road back to their home while we found a Motel 6 to crash at. Non-smoking room really only means you don’t intend to smoke in it.
We were able to get the trailer in the morning, it was fixed up first thing for us, so we could pick it up and take it to a nearby park to repack it and get on our way.
Thank goodness Dan is strong and, having served on a submarine, an expert at putting more stuff into a small space than is physically possible. Flo kept watch over it all.
I guess I haven’t introduced Flo, we picked her up on our last trip 5 years ago to the Olympic Peninsula. She is our travel companion, we “go with the Flo”! You’ll see more of her. It also gave me a chance to gather my sense of peace again, channel our recent days in Eugene and turn my dog into a reluctant hippy.
We were all very happy to get back on the road only a day behind schedule after all that. Even dashboard surfing Obama approved.
We had the great fortune to stop and visit one of my dearest friends from college, Mike Spieser and his family in Eugene. Mike is one of the hardest working, smartest, kindest, craftiest and most loyal people I know. He has two fantastic kids and his long term girlfriend/fiancé Tracy has 3. They are all people I would gladly spend a bunch of time lost in the woods with. A true testament to Mike and Tracy as people and parents.
They have a wonderful house in rural Eugene that they have busily been renovating. Except renovations to Mike mean a whole different thing than they do to most people. Sure, Mike knocked out a few walls, put in a support here and there, changed where rooms were…I don’t know, I couldn’t really keep up with everything he and Dan were talking about during the tour. Thing is, he also cleared like a half acre of heavily wooded, brought in topsoil to level it and put in a lawn (with volleyball net of course), then cleared down another level and built what Tracy lovingly calls the Agriplex. At this point that consists of 2 buildings far as I could tell. One very secure small building housed about 8 adorable chicks, soon to be the egg laying hens of the Agriplex. The large building consisted of a 2 story henhouse, heavily reinforced against foxes, bears, cougars and bobcats. I’m telling you they could rent that space out in San Diego for $2,000 plus a month! Next to that is a very secure (from birds and varmints) grow house that is the full 2 stories tall. It has mature fruit trees, a variety of berries growing like crazy and all the lettuces, vegetables etc. one could hope for safely protected from marauding deer and birds, and maybe neighbors. Here’s a picture of it from their beautiful deck, He’s not done. as the tour progressed he kept listing the things he planned to add, and I do not doubt that he will.
He does all this because he has absolutely nothing else to do except run his own software company, raise his children and perform a management role in the volunteer fire department and CERT. No sweat!
We had several amazing meals at their table thanks to Tracy and Mike and we took them out to dinner one night in Eugene, when we discovered that yes, it is still as kooky as ever. We had a great dinner on the patio of a nice place we had actually visited with them before (I had wanted to ask to go back there but didn’t know how to describe it and that is where they chose!). After dinner, while discussing how stuffed we all were, talk naturally turned to donuts as talk often does. Tracy mentioned Voodoo Donuts downtown which I know I have seen on Food Network or something. She pantomimed their signature voodoo donut which is a very sloppy voodoo donut doll with a pretzel stabbing it like a pin. Her pantomime was unfortunately not caught on video, it was spot on I realized once I saw the donut!
Of course we had to go downtown and find the shop. Or more accurately find parking near the shop. Eugene on a summer evening is a pretty busy place. A swirling mix of hipsters, students, stoners, homeless and a few old farts like us. Mike gallantly let us out in front of the shop and went to park the car after we made a few fruitless circles around the block. We were still standing stunned in front of the donut display when he came to join us. Just go to the website, I can’t even describe the donut dementia this shop has come up with. It is mad brilliance! We had to have just about every donut (because the teenagers at home would want them). And they were delicious, even though we were stuffed from dinner.
The shop itself is perfectly weird. Part Christmas village, part frat house, all wonderful. They even have a gorilla that probably serves as bouncer. They might need it during busy hours.
Their merchandise is clever too. “I got VD in Eugene”, “Worth the Weight” and “The Magic is in the Hole”. Dunking Donuts this is not…
Thank you Mike and Tracy for a wonderful visit, I think…
Big Sur in the summer is one long line of cars, all going to the same place, all gawking at the same things, all about to drive off a cliff into the ocean at any turn and it is still fantastic. Every high priced hotel room, yurt, cabin and camp site is full. You can barely park to go into any restaurant or gallery or hiking area. The overlooks have dangerous lines forming on the 2 lane highway waiting for a spot to pull over and practice suicide selfies. Driving in was still spectacular, especially as a passenger. We didn’t stop at the overlooks which we know from previous trips to be incredible, and we had a glamping spot reserved so we knew we were squeezed in somewhere once we got there.
We drove up from Santa Maria after an emotional visit with Dan’s mom, Shirley and brother, Richard. It was a good way to decompress.. We didn’t do much sightseeing along the way as we had done the trip a few times and really just wanted to spend some time in Big Sur. The only stop we made was north of San Simeon to check out the elephant seals. There was very little activity from those fellows when we dropped by, but the size and numbers were impressive.
Once we arrived at our reserved glamp site at Fernwood we were a little disappointed with how squished together we all were, but when we got the trailer backed in (good job team!) and settled down in front of our luxury tent we were quite pleased.
We had excellent neighbors, we were right on a creek,
and the amazing Sequoias towered over all of us.
Once we had unloaded what we needed, we lay down on the benches of our picnic table and these trees were what we looked up into. More than 100 feet above us these strong trunks were swaying independently in the breeze, inviting us to relax and let go of the packing, the road trip, the family drama, the hoards. It worked, we were sucked in, much like the swaying of those majestic trees was helping suck nutrients to the upper levels of the giants. We could hear and feel the breeze, hear the creek a few feet below our campsite and everything else just sort of melted away. After about 10 minutes Dan said the only thing that would make this better was a Negroni. Lucky Dan! There was a stairway to heaven not 100 yards from our campsite.
Somewhat unbelievably, this beautiful, somewhat long stairway, led to the Fernwood Bar and Grill at highway level, which delighted us with craft cocktails and lively conversation.
Dan enjoyed a Negroni, I had a delicious Mai Tai and we descended again to light a fire and cook up a gourmet dinner of hot dogs. A perfect evening in wooded paradise.
All too soon, a restful evening turned to a lovely morning and we were packing up to go. Less than 24 hours in Big Sur, but a whole new feeling of peace and well being.
Oh my goodness, if we ever meet you in our travels and tell you getting all this started was easy, laugh in our faces, tell us to get to a neurologist for a dementia exam and make sure we aren’t driving that day. The last 4 months have been crazy, but the last week before leaving was pure hell.
We decided we needed the time and space to pack up for our road trip, camping and our eventual overseas part. Surprisingly that was all very different versions of packing but with a lot of overlap. We told our realtor we were bringing home our dog and placing a moratorium on showing the house until we left so that we could make an unholy mess to clear the place out and pack, A week wasn’t nearly enough time! We made it work, but we didn’t sleep much, didn’t eat properly and had moments of not being too nice to each other or anyone else who entered our sphere.
We are proud of ourselves for some things though. First off we left only 24 hours later than planned! Kind of amazing considering what the place looked like up until we actually left. Another point of pride is that we recycled, upcycled, sold, donated or gifted approximately 90% of what we owned instead of having it go to the landfill. This felt great, as we watched our things go to good homes we had a feeling of great satisfaction, It was on our next to last day when we did have to take one carload to the dump that it really sank in what an earth friendly thing we had accomplished, Driving for what seemed like miles at the Miramar landfill in San Diego we were astonished at the scale of waste disposal required for just a part of the city. Rows of trucks were lined up throwing household goods off in piles as far as the eye could see and behind those piles were piles of green waste. A GINORMOUS earth mover rolled over the whole mess as we were there contributing to the death of our planet and we could actually feel the ground shake under our feet as it passed by. Being such a tree hugger it felt really strange to just toss stuff on the ground and leave it. We were so happy that 20 years of accumulated stuff had only resulted in one carload to the dump. Oh, and those 2 dumpsters we used out in front of the house, but that was a lot of teardown from the patio overhangs and some irreparably broken things. So, yeah, quite a lot, but still!
When we finally, creatively got everything packed into the trailer and the car, the dog had just enough room to curl up behind us in perfect position to be with us and look out the front window as well.
We were running late to get to our friends’ house in Woodland Hills so without much ado we drove out of our driveway of 20 plus years and eased the trailer on down the road.
One last trip to the safe deposit box to put the storage unit keys in there, drop off a last minute item for a friend and we were on the road! We were doing well, almost to our friends’ house when Dan heard something funny with the trailer. Mind you, we had already had someone give the trailer a full workover, whatever that means, paying special attention to the wheels, bearings and what not (author is not in charge of automotive function!) and we were assured it was in tip top shape. There was a loud clicking sound coming from one side, pace related to speed, so Dan wisely pulled off the freeway to investigate. We didn’t have a flat, nothing was obviously wrong, but in the short time we were trying to identify where the sound was coming from the other side started making it too. We decided we had to find a garage and get it looked at. So there we , were somewhere in North Los Angeles at 5:30 on a Wednesday with a scary sounding trailer trying to find a garage before it closes or the trailer falls apart. This was not how I envisioned the first day of our road trip going, although to be honest if I had really thought about it, this is exactly what I would have expected!
We found Rene’s Automotive Shop about 10 minutes before they were going to close and the owner was so nice to us! He looked it over, he drove it around, he stood on the hitch and bounced…he could find nothing wrong! Of course he could hear the scary clicking and knew something wasn’t right. Finally he tries a lug nut and realizes he can take it off easily with just a few turns with his fingers! All of them! That fancy going over our trailer had before we left stopped just short of tightening the darn lug nuts. We could have been the lead story on the LA news if Dan hadn’t heard that on time. So, an hour of troubleshooting, a minute of lug nut tightening and $40 later we were on the road. This was excruciatingly stressful because we had a very important reservation at 8 pm and it was about 6:45 and we still had to get to our friend’s house, get the dog situated, change into something elegant and get to the event. Frazzled doesn’t even cover how I was feeling! We did safely get to our destination and more on that visit in another post. What a classic way to start the journey of a lifetime!
One of the more surprising things we did to get ready for our journey was to go spend 3 nights in Sioux Falls, The really practical reason was that we needed to change our state residency and South Dakota made it insanely easy to do so,
The first surprising thing is just how easy it is to become a South Dakotan, The reason for doing it is if you are going to be traveling full time you probably don’t want to pay state income tax in a state you aren’t living in. South Dakota has no state tax and allows you to become a state resident by showing a one night hotel, motel or camping receipt with your name on it, show a contract for one year postal service with a South Dakota address, surrender your current drivers license, take the drivers eye exam and voila! You are a resident of South Dakota, you walk out holding your Drivers License. You also need various forms of ID. And your social security card or a w-2 from somewhere and any time. You can even register to vote right there at the Drivers License Office. The people at the licensing office spotted us coming from a mile away, asked if we were permanent travelers and walked us right through the process.
Equally easy is to register to vote. I don’t know what the reasoning was, but someone told us not to register at the Drivers License Office, although that would have been the easiest. But we did just go down to the county office, show our state drivers licenses and fill out a simple form. We changed the voting profile of the state a bit. And yes, it is Minnehaha County!
A convenient surprise was the ease of setting up mail service. Since we won’t have a permanent address we needed somewhere for our mail to go, There are these neat services that provide you with an actual street address. They receive your mail, scan the envelope and upload it to your account so you can choose whether you want them to shred it, open it and scan contents or just forward it to you at an address you provide to them, We were thrilled with the service at Your Best Address .
Perhaps the biggest surprise of all came when we got to the driveway of our hotel and were greeted at the street by this billboard.
I mean, what the heck? Being from California we aren’t used to seeing blatant ads for gun silencers. I admit, it was shocking in its novelty. I’m not in the market for one so I guess the sign really wasn’t meant for me. Strangely enough on the other side of this ad was this one:
Bahahahaha! What a contrast. The other billboards that stood out I didn’t get a picture of but they were doom and gloom biblical looking scenarios that one might expect from the Christian right. But they weren’t advertising for churches, Christ or God, they were sponsored by atheists and were pointing out that God isn’t going to save your delusional soul so give it up. WOW! We got all that information just on the ride to pick up our rental car!
Also surprising to our California sensibilities was the price of everything. $50 a night hotel, $30 a day car rental, $6 for a matinee movie. The first night we went out for a bite and sat at the bar at The Sandbar Bar and Grill it was Tuesday and all their tea drinks, like Long Island Iced Teas, were $3 all night. Dinner and many drinks came out to less than $60 and we sat at the bar chatting with locals and playing trivia for hours. Another night while exploring the vibrant downtown scene we found a happy hour at a very nice establishment where a double Ketel One vodka drink set us back a whopping $5.50. Very affordable.
A less pleasant surprise was the amount of salt that they seem to use on the food. We both like salt, I’m even encouraged by a cardiologist to eat salt, but this was on a scale of “oops, the lid was off the when I fixed your plate”. We actually couldn’t eat some of it. Must be keeping their doctors busy!
Casinos everywhere! In a convenience store, gas station, restaurant, strip mall…they were everywhere. We went into the one in The Sandbar Bar and Grill and it was like a game room for kids except the machines were all gambling, It wasn’t as loud and crazy like Las Vegas but it was dark and windowless. $20 on a Blackjack machine and we could almost see the algorithm encouraging you with a win and then slamming you with 2 to 3 losses, $20 went away pretty quickly, Several people we spoke with over the couple days seemed to really dislike having the casinos so accessible, They felt that it really contributed to addictive gambling which they saw as a real problem in the area,
Sioux Falls has a lovely downtown (speed limit mysteriously set at 15 mph) which is host to a sculptural walk, It’s the largest and most recognized annual exhibit of public art sculptures in the country. It meanders down their main street and has lovely descriptions of the art and artist by the sculpture.
The best part for me was seeing families strolling the walk and really young children engaging with it, questioning what it meant, admiring it, touching it. It is a community very engaged with the tradition and it made it really fun as a tourist to wander the route and discover the beauties.
Sioux Falls Park was a revelation as well. I had seen pictures and noticed they didn’t have a tall waterfall, rather a series of drops making a large part of the river there active. I didn’t think that was going to be too impressive. Boy was i wrong! The river meanders beautifully through the park, spilling down a lovely series of waterfalls. The park has been pleasingly designed with curving walkways and decks that allow you to be right next to the falls, curbing the feeling of needing to go off trail and actually get in the water, The grounds were immaculate and people were definitely out enjoying the breezy sunny day.
Finally, the extent to which everyone was friendly was astonishing. We were in a strip mall, so separated from street by sidewalk, some foliage and some parking lot, and a fellow on a Harley Davidson rolled by on the street. He had all the classic leathers, facial hair, posture and motorcycle beefiness that made him seem like a regular biker. Probably was. He catches Dan’s eye from that great distance, Dan is wearing his everyday 60 year old white guy on the street clothes, and gives him a nod and a nice wave. Wait, what? Not that bikers are rude or don’t acknowledge people, but this guy had to look around for someone to nod and wave at! Everyone was like that, it was delightful! We went through Denver on our flight back home. A, s soon as we got off the plane we knew we weren’t in South Dakota anymore, No one yielding to you in foot traffic, jostling, glaring. Our flight was delayed over and over due to the weather, which was clearly visible outside the big windows, and we had to keep switching gates for about 4 hours before we got going again. I’ve never seen such a bunch of cranky people! It was a stark contrast for sure.
We enjoyed our time in South Dakota, and will have to go back in 5 years to renew our licenses, so we can maybe check out another cool town,
Last I had a chance to update we were in the process of fixing our own broken down parts in order to be physically sound for the travels. That has all gone well and on schedule, it didn’t make us feel 30 again but we can both walk and carry things, so, winning,
The last 2 months have been all about getting the house ready for market. We interviewed half a dozen realtors, had the house painted and painted ourselves, had 2 rounds of extreme gardeners, changed plumbing fixtures, pressure washed the outside, steam cleaned the floors, replaced the carpet, cleaned 20 years of detritus from the attics and closets, took down the patio covers and filled 2 dumpsters.
At the beginning of this we made the awkward and difficult decision to not use people we knew personally as our realtor. Dan was insistent on that, and in retrospect, it is probably best. We talked to people who thought we should set the price of the house at a fixer upper level and just walk away from it. We could tell that they thought the house on a busy street was too difficult a listing and they didn’t really like it. We talked to people who told us that they were solo operators and so they could devote all their time to us, but they had no specifics on how they were going to market the home and couldn’t produce interesting stats. We interviewed one realtor who was obviously just blowing smoke up our you know where and said he would set the price so high we were shocked. He wasn’t talking about putting any work into it either. When we spoke with Raul Duarte from Berkshire Hathaway he was direct with us. He showed up early to look around the property and make notes by himself. He gave us an honest assessment of the pros and cons of the property. He came prepared with information about other homes on the market in the area and why or why not they compared to ours. We were able to realistically discuss how much work we were willing to do, he advised against any remodel and he had a calm, confident demeanor backed up with good answers for all our questions so we decided he was our guy. Step one complete.
Then came the whirlwind of repairs! We got so used to people coming in and out of our house with tools and equipment, not being able to use even one of our 2.5 bathrooms in private at times, changing clothes in the garage for privacy, and general chaos. What we were not used to was paying a lot of money and having some pretty extreme issues with some of the work.
The painter and powerwasher was a laidback fellow with the gift of gab. It is Southern California and we pretty much expect that, no problem, He gave us a quote to freshen up the walls throughout the house inside and out and repair a couple spots. It was quite a substantial amount of money, but we figured it would turn out great and really help us in the end. The trouble began almost as soon as the work did. He sprayed our hall and foyer, which is fine, but didn’t tape off light switches, hinges or door stoppers. There was a lot of mess on the stone floor and some spots which clearly didn’t get covered properly. We pointed all this out and his attitude became very defensive and slippery after that. It was 4 or 5 days of having someone do a sub par job for a lot of money and I didn’t even want to be in the same house with him. We were told he was the best we’d get for the price but I am still sorry we didn’t find our own. We had someone fabulous help us 15 years ago for a very reasonable price and we found out from several of our acquaintances that they all use him and he’s still in business. The end result was that we got as much as we could from him and then ended up cleaning it up. We also decided we would paint 3 additional rooms ourselves, after moving the furniture it really showed it needed it. We did a much better job, even though it wore us out.
We looked at carpet at the usual spots and found one we wanted at Lowes. The guy who helped us was so much better than the guys we tried to get us to help us elsewhere. He wrote up the order and we were on our way, writing a glowing review on their website as we left. It was after that we had a problem. The first time Dan tried to call and ask why we hadn’t heard from the scheduling department he couldn’t get anyone to answer in flooring and waited over 30 minutes trying. Multiple similar calls later, and trying to talk to managers, or anyone and we decided to look elsewhere. Of all things, Empire Carpet came out to show us their stuff, we chose one, scheduled it and were all set. Happy!
I tried my hand at replacing bathroom fixtures for the first time. To be honest, I had hoped to complete the job to give Dan a break since he still had his whole office to clear. Predictably, I did need some help. But I had figured out what we needed, found them at a good price online and ordered all the right stuff, so that was something. I could do quite a bit of the sink faucet replacements, and then I needed Dan to help out. He was actually pretty impressed at how far I got and that I didn’t screw anything up. With a few struggles caused by awkward positions,
missing tools (he sold a lot already!) and moving parts we did get the 2 sink faucets replaced. I feel very proud. Dan moved on to tackle the shower and bathtub, but once he got to the pipes back in the wall he found they were copper and sweated together, which he didn’t feel comfortable messing with. On to finding a plumber. We had a crazy quote for doing all four fixtures and were afraid of what we were going to find when we tried to get a little help with the last two. I posted a request for recommendations on NextDoor app and received a lot of feedback. We called the one with the most effusive praise and found he wasn’t available but he referred us to another fellow who could come out that day. We felt like that was a pretty safe bet. They came out and gave us a quote that seemed fair and we asked them to proceed. Of course during this time a day or two has passed and we have no hot water in the house, so we are pretty ready to hire someone. They came in and got right to work, finished up quickly and we gave them a check with a huge thank you and relief. Then we relaxed for a couple hours because we were utterly exhausted from the other stuff we were getting done. This was a Sunday night and Dan went in to put the wall back together behind the tub when SQUISH. Half the carpet in the guest room was soaked and it was creeping up into the baseboard and on its way to the walls. He frantically searched for the source of the water, but the pipes were sound. Apparently they had just drained the line into the room instead of into a bucket and didn’t want to tell us they soaked the room. Then we went to take a shower and the lines behind the shower were loose and leaking into that wall. Dan was able to fix that part before any damage was done. The flooding really wouldn’t have been a big deal except we were having the new carpet installed the next day and had to call and cancel that because the room was too wet. Empire was great about rescheduling but it did put us behind by a week in listing the house. The plumber refused to take responsibility, said it was flooded when he got there. Yeah, and he didn’t mention it to us…sure. Payment stopped.
During this time we also found a storage unit that would allow us to send items to ourselves from our travels and they would just tuck them in our unit for us. The place is brand new and reminds me of how they depict FBI evidence storage on TV.
We made multiple trips the 60 plus mile round trip to stick our treasures in storage, We made 4 times as many trips to the Goodwill to donate things. We made 1 trip to a consignment store with some of the last of the things that we wanted to sell but were having no luck with online. We had a large dumpster delivered and filled it. Twice.
Stuff, stuff, stuff…we swore multiple times that we would never accumulate again, and we are going to really have to refrain from doing so as we travel. It should be easier because we would have to package it and send it to storage so the costs go up a lot and it isn’t just easy. That’s good!
Update: It has been another month since I started writing this. The house has been on the market 3 weeks. All the furniture is staged, meaning it isn’t ours and it is put in here to make the house look marketable, not to be practical. We can’t really use it, we can’t dirty the place up because someone could want to see it at any time, we have to get out every weekend for Open Houses, we have to board Enzo because we couldn’t possibly keep the place clean enough with him here…this is EXTRA not fun! We leave no matter what in about two and a half weeks and I hope it’s sold, but mostly I just don’t want to live like this any more! But Raul made a really pretty brochure. Whose house is that anyway?
For a long time now this has been a plan, in the future, going to happen, but not really scheduled. First there came a retirement date for Dan. May 1st, 2019. We have known that for about a year now, and the countdown has been intense. But the rest of it, when we’ll list the house, when we will hit the road, when we will first go international, that has all been up in the air. It has been kind of stressful to not know the timetable, to have no real plans to activate the great adventure. Too many “I don’t knows” when people ask us questions, reminding us of how much we still had to figure out. Until yesterday.
Finally, we made some decisions. Figured out when we could reasonably load our trailer with our camp gear and drive off to explore a few national parks. Figured out how long we wanted to do that, figured out a route, and actually made some reservations. We are committed now to a timetable. We haven’t actually pulled the trigger on the international flight, but we should do that in the next couple of days. We did identify the one we wanted. First big stop? Porto, Portugal. Arriving mid October. Probably for a month so we can explore Portugal and parts of Spain from there, and get in the groove of this whole Nomad thing.
It took hours, scratching away in my trusty “trip idea” notebook, googling things like crazy, looking up park websites, campsite reviews, Airbnb options in some places, drive times and of course, getting frustrated with each other a couple times. It isn’t all sunshine and butterflies…just 98%!
It feels good. And terrifying. But mostly good to have made some firm plans. Now we know when to sell the stuff we use more often. When to really get the clean out going. When to list the house. I can start researching things to do at the times we are going to be in areas on our travel route. We can get real about international health plans because we know a start date. And international phone service. And getting state residency in South Dakota so we can travel without the burden of California state taxes when we aren’t actually living here. The list is seemingly endless, but at least it isn’t nebulous any longer. We have dates! It is happening! Buckle up, it’s getting real.
I have gotten very spoiled with excellent luck with animal sightings when I go on any kind of excursion, be it whale watching, bear photo safari, bird watching or whatever. It ends up I do not have the magic touch with scuba diving trips to see manta rays. Two years in a row we went on boat dives to swim with the majestic animals, confident that we will have a dozen or so swooping past us so close that it will be hard to film. Crickets. Or rather, snapping shrimp. The company we went with, Kona Honu Divers, rebounded admirably with a very nice reef dive where we were able to find some great night activity. But still, we really wanted to see those manta rays.
This year after our second fruitless dive we went snorkeling at Two Step. I had read that the dolphins come in to Honaunau Bay quite often so I wanted to go out deep into the bay and see what happened. Dan was game for that so we ignored the beautiful wildlife that was evident around the rocks in the clear water as we entered and struck out for the middle of the bay. We kept swimming, with no real destination in mind and eventually Dan looked up and started to say he hadn’t seen anything in a while. Just as I sensed his head come up next to me, I saw below us the majestic wings of a manta ray emerging from the amazing blue water. I started punching the water frantically trying to get him to look back down and then we were able to enjoy the magic of the ray together. Dan even got it all with the GoPro.
We learned that each ray has unique, identifiable markings on its back and that the couple hundred that cruise the coast of the big island are all documented and “named”. We noticed that this ray seemed to have some damage on the edge of its wing, maybe made by a shark. It was amazing to watch as it raised and lowered the cephalic fins on either side of its mouth depending on whether it was feeding or searching. At times it paused on the down current side of a cluster of rocks on the bottom and lowered the cephalic fins, appearing to hover there and feed for a bit off of the nutrients coming across the rock grouping. Those pauses were probably the reason we were able to follow it for a bit. The ray was able to flick a wing and smoothly “fly” off against the current at a seemingly effortless pace, far exceeding any speed we could maintain. After watching for a few blissful minutes we faded back and let the ray slip back into the deep blue water, leaving us wondering if that had really happened. We were absolutely euphoric and decided we were happier with that natural encounter than we would have been with the manta ray dive, where they are attracted by large lights that bring plankton in for them and divers sit in a large circle on the floor as they swim through the light over and over. It was great to see this ray, doing what rays do, which is cruising the coast finding plankton naturally occurring along the way. It came close to us of its own free will, we were able to watch it soar in its natural environment and it was just the two of us experiencing it together.
When we calmed down a bit from that amazing encounter we decided we would head over to the edge of the bay and work our way back to our exit point by snorkeling around the rocks and enjoying the usual rich life found there. At this point we were probably about 2 miles out and dead center of the bay. We put our heads down and swam, seeing nothing of consequence along the way. The bottom dropped away and all we could see was deep blue going on forever. Dan looked up again and said it was boring, maybe we should head in another direction. I looked up to see where we were, where else we might want to head and immediately noticed 4 or 5 fins about 50 feet in front of us. The snorkel had just turned from our best ever to off the charts! As soon as we put our heads back down we had pods of spinner dolphins swimming past us, around us, under us and practically through us. Check out how close this group came to Dan. He could have reached out and touched them. And be sure and look for the teeth that you can see on the closest one.
We ended up swimming with this pod of over 50 dolphins for close to an hour and a half as they split off and jumped and spun in the distance then came back to join the group, dove straight down and disappeared for a while returning suddenly from the other direction or suddenly all disappeared only to suddenly reappear underneath us a few minutes later. They were clearly comfortable with our presence and I had a chance to swim alongside a couple of them for a few seconds, maintaining eye contact and they slowed to check me out before they dove with the rest of the pod.
The whole time we spent with them we could see a bunch of people back at the snorkel entry point watching us. No one came out to swim with them. We were still quite a ways out, but nothing would have stopped me if I had been on the beach watching us out there with them. We finally headed for the beach, even though the dolphins were still there. We had been in the water for about two and a half hours, were completely blissed out and finally dragged ourselves away from our new friends.
At the entry and exit point at Two Step if you look down, stones and shells are arranged to spell out Aloha on the sea floor. It must be maintained daily by visitors and I found it completely enchanting.
No doubt we were feeling the aloha and offering a very heartfelt mahalo in return.
“Aren’t you worried that something will happen? I mean, it’s not safe everywhere and tourists are targets.” We hear this, a lot, as we discuss our plans with people we meet and people we know. It’s valid. We can’t be naïve. Wandering around with shiny bobbles, fancy electronics and wide open pockets stuffed with local currency would be unwise anywhere, even at house parties of some of the people who are asking us that question! Dan is a very cautious and safety minded individual. He is also a physically intimidating man, with a non-threatening disposition which helps. I tend to rely a little more on my gut than he would like, but between us it makes for a good balance.
When we have been traveling in the past, and in the most unlikely of places, it has been have proven to us that there are many good people out there that can make the journey not just pleasant, but remarkable. In places like New York City and Paris where the reputation of the residents is less than hospitable we have found the exact opposite to be mostly true. It is delightful to have your fears assuaged by a friendly, unsolicited safety tip from, of all things, a French waiter or a random offer of assistance from a New Yorker in the subway. It puts a spring in our step, a smile on our faces and gives us the intense desire to continue exploring.
In today’s political climate, Mexico has been painted as the bad guy, a country of criminals, rapists, drug dealers and general ne’er do wells that just want to cross the borders illegally and take American jobs or commit their crimes on the American side of the border. Baja California has always been considered a sketchy area for American tourists to visit. Police corruption is well known and we haven’t helped matters by treating it as our own little playground of lawlessness. Much of Mexico is legitimately dangerous in terms of drug cartels, human trafficking, murder and other crime. But not all, just like here in the US there are places you know you just don’t mess around in. But the rhetoric against the people in general has reached a fever pitch. I grew up here on the border in San Diego though, and my experience has always been that the Mexican immigrants are hard working, helpful, family centered people that are often a lot kinder than their American born counter parts. Last year, when people were really being whipped up about the evils of Mexican illegal immigrants I witnessed a white woman’s car break down on one of the busiest corners in our area. She was stuck, alone, blocking traffic and I saw 3 able bodied, young white men walk right by without helping her. I also saw a Mexican laborer, legal or not I don’t know…but perceptions at the time were leaning towards all Mexican laborers are bad…run across the street, against traffic, and respectfully ask if she needed help. He single handedly pushed her car around the corner and slightly up the hill to get her to a safe spot, then continued on his way before she could get out of the car to properly thank him. It struck me at the time that his kindness was sort of extraordinary given the amount of, shall we say disrespect, that was being shown by the country at large towards his people. I actually teared up a little. My opinion of the people that went by with a quick, shifty glance at the woman in distress was not so favorable.
During this time of tension we were enticed to visit La Ventana, Mexico down in the Southern tip of Baja on the Sea of Cortez. A wonderful friend of ours, Joel Hall, had been visiting there for a couple years and singing the praises of the beauty, isolation, people, food, affordability and activities of the area so we decided to meet up with him while he was down there. We met Joel because he is bartender extraordinaire at a popular restaurant in Carlsbad near our home.
We love to go in and “talk story” with him and there is always a friendly group of locals there doing the same. Joel is the casual ringleader, making interesting introductions so that no one leaves as a stranger. He says has invited a bunch of people to go down while he’s there and claims we are the only ones who have ever done it. Apparently, when push comes to shove, people are a little afraid to go to a remote town in Baja California. The reputation of the area is that it is unsafe. Again, a typical hesitancy for Americans towards Mexico. Joel’s familiarity with it, and assurances convinced us to give it a go and we are delighted that we did.
We flew from Tijuana into La Paz, an easy and inexpensive way to get down to the tip of Baja.
There we rented a wreck, stayed the night in La Paz, which was delightful, went snorkeling with whale sharks the next day and ended up across the street from the marina for tacos and margaritas afterwards. I had just wrapped a towel around my waist and thrown a sweatshirt on and walked across the street at El Cayuco, so focused was I on the 2 for 1 margarita sign and the transcendent experience of swimming with whale sharks. We had a lovely meal, a very sweet, charming waiter, Tony, some of the best margaritas I’ve ever had (remember…I grew up in San Diego and am not exactly a millennial!) took some pictures with our waiter (I said he was charming, right?) and were on our way for the hour or so scenic drive to La Ventana.
Joel’s description of La Ventana did not disappoint, and anyone looking to go “off the grid” should check it out. A wind surfing mecca, gateway to diving in the Sea of Cortez which is like Jacques Cousteau’s aquarium, plucked fresh from the water seafood for pennies, interesting people from all over the world hanging out in a town with one mostly dirt road in and out. The bars come complete with dogs and puppies to love on if you are missing yours and rumor has it the occasional cow wanders in, so you have to be ok with a very casual dress code. It felt friendly, relaxed and the locals were helpful and non -threatening.
The second morning I went looking for my purse. I realized that I hadn’t seen it since we arrived at La Ventana. We searched our casita and the car thoroughly. THOROUGHLY!
Dan did his detective questioning “where did you last see it?” “did you have it at blank?” and we determined that I must have left it at the restaurant across the street from the marina in La Paz. Aw Geez. I didn’t even know the name of the restau…oh wait! I took pictures and I had my phone! We were still in La Ventana for a couple days so I began trying to call the restaurant. First step, find the number. Not the easiest, but after about 90 minutes I did it. Next step, call the restaurant. Well, not so good. Every time the nice lady answered she listened to me try and Spanglish my way through what I needed for about 15 seconds and then hung up. I was calling mid-afternoon so she was probably a family member looking after the place between busy times or something like that and overwhelmed by the calls. It took me until the next day, but I finally got through to someone that I could communicate with enough and was told that Tony had my purse and was waiting for me to return. He wasn’t there, but his shift coincided with our return to La Paz to fly back home in a couple days so we could drop by and pick it up.
Dan was remarkably chill about all this. He’s pretty used to my misplacing things of importance and I guess he knows by now that fussing at me about it will only spoil an otherwise great day, so that is helpful. Even though my anti-anxiety medicine was IN MY PURSE, I managed to remain calm and Joel and his buddies were pretty impressed that a female could continue to function with her handbag out of her control in another town in Baja! I told them they knew the wrong females…
We planned ahead and left 2 hours earlier for La Paz on the last day so that we would have plenty of time to stop by the restaurant retrieve the infamous “bolso Azul” or blue purse and still get to the airport. When we arrived at the still enticing locale it was not yet open for business, but we strolled in and found a lovely lady sweeping. I believe it was the poor soul that I tormented a few days before on the phone, but we were able to communicate much better in person and she told us that Tony wasn’t there for the lunch shift yet, but that she thought he had stashed the purse in the restaurant and she began to look for it. She called but could not reach him so we presumed he was on his way in. She did a pretty thorough search of the rambling restaurant and told us we would have to wait for him to get there. Shortly thereafter, with us getting a tad nervous, he did arrive and recognized us right away. Relieved hugs were given and he explained that he had taken the purse home because he was afraid something might happen to it at the restaurant. Ummmmm. As grateful for his thoughtfulness that we were, we explained that we were flying out, that I needed my passport and could we go get it? It was a little difficult because his lunch shift was beginning, he lived about 30 minutes away and had been dropped off. After a short discussion, he talked to the other people at the restaurant and agreed to hop in our rental car and take us to his home to get the purse.
Imagine! I had made a silly mistake in a foreign country known for poverty, crime and corruption and here was this humble man rescuing me in such an over the top fashion. I have left my purse in a fast food place in San Diego, been gone 15 minutes and the purse was stolen, never to be seen again! We chatted casually as he directed us back to his home in La Paz, interesting to get back and see the neighborhoods off the beaten track. He ran into the house, was gone no more than 20 seconds and came back out with the purse wrapped in a white garbage bag and handed it to me. I took it out and casually flipped through it, laughing that I had to prove to nervous Dan that my passport was really there and that we could fly out. The contents were untouched. My cash, identification, passport, anti-anxiety meds were all there. The humble honesty and goodness of this man really knocked me over. When we got back to the restaurant he would only take a small tip and more hugs and then sent us on our way, feeling like we had been treated like family in Baja.
This is not the only extraordinary experience we have had with strangers while traveling. We are so lucky to encounter kindness and generosity frequently in the most unexpected places. It is one of the reasons that we are so looking forward to starting this journey as a full time endeavor. We really look forward to the opportunities to meet people, have experiences, hopefully pay it forward and let the world continue to surprise and delight us.
Do you have a secret reality show that you just can’t get enough of, even though you know it is silly, staged and completely un-real? Whether you will admit it or not, I will. My dirty little secret is Project Runway. I can’t get enough of Heidi Klum, Tim Gunn, sequins, pleats, crazy unwearable designs and unabashed snarkiness. All set in the glorious background of New York City and the promise of showing at NY Fashion Week for the finalists. Fab-u-lous!
One of the best parts of each episode is the designers’ visit to Mood, the amazing fabric store in the heart of New York’s garment district. I’ve always been fascinated watching these talented artists run around 3 stories of fabrics and notions with only 30 minutes to find the perfect materials for a design they have just barely begun to imagine. And the amazing textiles they found there! Nothing like I had ever seen at a fabric store near me, that’s for sure.
It just so happened that Dan’s favorite French onion soup is made by a lovely restaurant, the Houndstooth Pub in the garment district so we made several trips there during our last trip to New York. On one of those visits, I remembered that Mood must be nearby and Googled the address. Even with the address, it wasn’t easy to find. It was on a block of amazing shops, one just of beads and feathers,
the next all embroidered fabrics, little custom shops, other fabric stores…amazing. But I couldn’t see Mood. Ends up they didn’t have a big first floor display window. You had to go into a building in the middle of the block and go up an elevator which then opened into their store on the 2nd floor. I’m just not used to city buildings I guess…not like strip malls!
Once the door opens in Mood, there is a polite young person at a small desk near the entrance greeting and asking if you needed assistance. Her quick assessment of my open jawed expression must have told her I was a fan of the show and had come to bask in the textile glow so she smiled us on our way.
Yup, I think I clutched my coat and had that expression on my face the whole time we were in there. That’s my mom’s special Christmas sweater that she wore to all holiday events back in the day. I was proud to wear it. Dan had to admit the place was pretty incredible. 3 floors packed thoroughly, if not efficiently, from floor to ceiling with all things fashion.
I mean, look at the directory signs. That doesn’t begin to describe what is happening on each level. I was not the only one walking around in stunned wonder, even some of the employees seemed genuinely awestruck at some of the fabrics and were happy to point out some unusual ones as I wandered around. I saw fabrics ranging from $8 a yard to $230 a yard and I wasn’t even looking at the prices too much.
I didn’t see Heidi (to Dan’s extreme disappointment) or Tim. The shop dog, Swatch, was nowhere to be found and I didn’t ask, but his portrait presides over the shop with a fitting air of fashionable boredom.
And no, I didn’t buy anything, but yes, as I wandered out I did whisper “Thanks Mood!” under my breath.
We’ve surrendered to the process. The days of pretending to live like civilized people is over. The living room is intentionally filling with items for sale, it is spreading into the foyer and pieces are disappearing from other rooms. There is no hope of decorating for Christmas, having people over for dinner or feeling any kind of pride in our home from now on.
It’s kind of a relief. I was trying to figure out how to do all this and maintain the space in any kind of order. I was losing ground and then Dan started to really get in on the act. We have aggressively gone after the attic now and both of our offices are starting to clear out. We are really getting into the swing of letting go, coming to terms with getting rid of things that we like, but we don’t need while keeping the sentimental essentials. A storage unit is in our future.
Unfortunately we can clear faster than people buy stuff online. We are using the local apps LetGo and OfferUp for almost everything. We have sold a lot, but it has been an arduous process.
So many people set up meetings and don’t show up or negotiate down the prices so far then make it a complete nuisance to meet up with them. It gives me great appreciation for the people that make it easy, want it, come get it and pay for it! Garage sales are in our future for sure. We have a cookie jar style container hidden away stuffed with cash that we haven’t counted and are going to use it for “mad money” when we’re all done. I have no idea what form that will end up taking. I have become so miserly in the last two years as we have been formulating this plan. I don’t have to be, it just sort of happened, I want to save all the spending for the adventure! I have to really fight that, although it is good to not purchase things, because I’d just have to sell them. Maybe I’m getting in the spirit of life on the road. I’m sure Dan will help me loosen up and enjoy a little spending spree. In the meantime, do you need anything?
Summer has wrapped up in San Diego. The fall light, that only a native would really recognize, has moved in and that pleasant chill in the morning and late afternoon has arrived. I have the distinct feeling of nostalgia that I haven’t felt since senior year of college. A feeling born of knowing this is probably our last fall in San Diego.
That feeling is spawning other uncomfortable thoughts. This is my last gray whale season as a volunteer for the San Diego Natural History Museum Whalers. We may have already seen our yard in summer splendor for the last time. The house is filling up with piles of stuff for sale, donations, garage sales etc. and it is looking like we won’t be decorating for Christmas this year, so we have already decorated the last time. We have our last annual trip to Kauai scheduled for May. We probably won’t really be missing that on our adventure, but the nostalgic feeling I have thinking about it is still slightly discomfiting. We really will be leaving this place and these people within a year. Almost everything will change.
We are continuing to go through the house and try and get rid of over 30 years of what I will conservatively call collecting stuff. Today I read through some angst filled journal entries from college, found my 9th grade science fair project I did working with penguin chicks at Hubbs Sea World Research Institute, found my flute music books from 3rd grade, found the cards and wrapping paper from the baby shower my parents had when they brought me home as a baby and ruthlessly threw away almost all of it. Honestly, if I didn’t know I had it, I didn’t need to keep it. My mom used to say that if you have the space, you will fill it up. We filled up a 3 bedroom house with a 2 car garage we can’t park in and an attic. We are going to leave with just luggage and a small storage unit. I am feeling lighter already.
Still, it is an odd, not unpleasant but slightly sad feeling as we sense the last occurrence of things passing. It means we are closer to what seemed an impossible dream too far in the future to imagine. It’s vaguely frightening, definitely exhilarating and just interesting to observe in ourselves. We still don’t have a real timeline on actually leaving other than Dan’s retirement date of May 1, 2019. That uncertainty is a little disconcerting and we need to work on pinning it down some. That sounds like another post.
Cleaning out the house encompasses an unbelievable range of items. Inevitably that brings up memories of things you hadn’t thought of in years, and the idea of walking away from things that have been in your life “forever”.
Yesterday I attacked a filing cabinet in my office. Really I just wanted to clear it out so I could hide all my yarn in it until it’s time to donate that. We have always enjoyed theatre and for the last 20 years we have had a subscription to the La Jolla Playhouse which we have enjoyed immensely. It is definitely one of the hardest things to consider giving up for our retirement plans. Due to the longevity of our subscription, we have terrific seats and we always enjoy our date nights in La Jolla. I have collected every Playbill from the performances, and others that we have gone to, in town, in New York, for my friend Michael Butterworth’s doctoral studies in Missoula, Montana, in Los Angeles, wherever. They all went into this cabinet. So when I went to clear it out I had to be ruthless. So many of the performances I remembered clear as day, the conversations we had about them, the elation of the performers in premiere plays when the audience responded well, the train wrecks…so many memories. Here’s a signed one from Hedwig and the Angry Inch in New York and a photo of me with Michael C Hall, who played Hedwig.
This was the first tough clean out. Pulling off the band-aid so to speak. I hope it makes the subsequent clear outs easier because for a sentimental person with hoarding tendencies, this was tough!
As we were planning our trip surround New Zealand’s northern island we looked at all the things to do there and river rafting in Rotorua was one of our “must do” activities.
Kaituna Cascades is a very special section of the Okere River. It is a 2 km section that drops 36 meters. The largest of the falls is a whopping 7 meters. It’s the highest drop of any commercially rafted river. Kaituna Cascades Rafting http://kaitunacascades.co.nz is the company we chose for our adventure.
We arrived the morning of our trip to find a basic building with all the gear, rafts and a handful of staff that were exactly what you might envision if you tried to conjure up river rafters in New Zealand. Casual, happy go lucky, enthusiastic fellows.
We signed the waivers (yup, we know there’s a 50% chance of serious bodily injury) and were kitted out with gear and sent off to the changing room. The gear was a 3 mm full wetsuit, neoprene boots, a fleece sweater and a waterproof jacket. All topped off with life vests and a helmet. Essentially we were bubble wrapped.
We then got a briefing on the trip we were about to take, mostly consisting of what to expect, how to paddle and what to do if you fell out. Nervous laughter was shared by all. After that they put us in the rafts in the parking lot to learn and practice how to sit and how to brace for going over the falls. This was pretty tough for me because it involved slipping off the side of the raft which we were sitting on and balling up on the floor, braced as best as possible and then popping back up to paddle once through. With the gear on we were already ungainly and Dan and I are quite large to squish in a small space together. Add in arthritic hips, knees, feet and shoulders and it was a real challenge to get into position. We ran through it a couple times until we had it sorted. I knew we could do it, it was just going to hurt.
After that we loaded the rafts on a trailer, hopped in a bus and took the short ride to the starting point.
Once there we clambered down the riverbank and loaded into the rafts. Our guides informed us that we would be quickly into a couple “practice” falls before we hit the big one. The first fall was actually the second largest and Dan and I were in the front. We were hit with a wall of cold water way over our heads as we plunged into the bottom. The rest of the group thought this was hilarious. We were familiar with this from canoeing and fully expected it considering the gear we were in.
The river itself is gorgeous. Everything you would expect of a river in New Zealand. It was lush with towering tree ferns, rhododendrons and beautiful thick vegetation. We paused after each fall and were able to enjoy the scenery. We were accompanied by a safety person in a kayak who expertly rode the falls before we did and was watching us come down each one. He was impressive handling the whitewater.
Soon it was time to tackle the highest waterfall in commercial rafting. We paused at the top for our safety kayaker to head down first. He blew a whistle to let us know the coast was clear. With a few brief reminders we were paddling furiously to orient ourselves properly for descent. It was thrilling as we plunged vertically off the fall to wind up with the raft completely underwater before popping up, breathless and exhilarated.
Well, that’s how it went for the other four people in the raft. Dan and I were both bounced out into the incredibly turbulent water. We had been instructed to drop our paddles and curl up in a ball if this happened. Neither one of us let go of our paddles for some unknown reason. We curled up as instructed and I popped up shortly, believing it was safe to take a breath and look around. I was immediately reclaimed by the river and only managed to grab the smallest of breaths and the largest possible mouthful of water. A number of rough and tumbled moments later I could straighten out and found the raft a short distance away. Our guide stretched out his paddle for me to grab and in no time they had hauled me back into the raft. Unfortunately, I was flopping around in the bottom like a big ole tuna for a while trying to get back into my seat.
Meanwhile they had turned their attention to Dan who had somehow gotten stuck under the raft and had to work his way out in order to be rescued. He describes that as somewhat alarming! They hauled him in and our raft was able to celebrate surviving the fall.
When I first heard that many people fall out of the raft I was concerned, but arrogantly thought that I wouldn’t fall out so I didn’t let it bother me. Now that we’ve experienced being in the water at the base of a waterfall I’m glad we got to do it. It was impressive to feel the power of that much water in a place like that.
The rest of the falls were fun, although not as dramatic as the big one. At the bottom of one of the last ones our guide maneuvered the raft front first into the spot the water was falling. This resulted in the people in front being completely covered by the falling water. I’m not sure why, but everyone loved it and we switched seats so everyone got a chance.
One of the falls he told us we could slip overboard and hang on to the ropes on the side and ride the falls that way. No one did.
After a quick 45 minutes we were back on the riverbank and into the bus to make our way back to the office. The happy chatter was a testament to how much fun we all had and Dan was trying to figure out if we had enough time to do it again in the next day or two. We peeled off our soaked layers and changed. they were selling picture packages that their photographer had taken and we had to have those. That’s why we have the pictures of us on the raft.
Dan did go again, 2 days later. I was feeling very beat up from the experience (although I loved it) and chose to spare my body for our next adventures. I was able to video their trip over the largest waterfall and Dan was able to stay in the raft this time!
Part of our time on the continent of Africa was spent on the Garden Route in South Africa. Honestly, we found so much to do in that short stretch of road between Hermanus and Plettenberg that we could have stayed much longer. Penguins, wolves, monkeys, parrots and elephants were some of the wonderful critters we visited and I do like my critters!
The highlight of this adventure had to have been our stay at Knysna Elephant Park. This large, beautiful property is home to a herd of 8 elephants presently and they have been able to move over 30 additional ellies to other reserves or facilities. There are no fences here, the herd is free to roam and mingle with visitors.
They offer a variety of surprisingly affordable ways to interact with their herd. We chose ALL of them! They have 6 rooms on site that are safari chic and very comfortable. The best part is that the communal living room is above, and open air, to the boma where the elephants can choose to sleep. Dan actually heard them snoring our second evening there and we were able to go out and watch (and listen to) them sleeping. Where does an elephant sleep? Anywhere it wants to!
Lodge guests and day visitors have a couple ways to interact with the herd, and the fees help support the work they do there. You can get on a shuttle bus and go out to the herd and watch them. For a small donation you can get a bucket of fruits and veggies to take with you and feed them, and then you get to hang out with them for about an hour. Hotel guests may do this as often as they like, paying only for the food buckets. The other option is to walk them from their evening site out to grazing area in the morning, or back again in the evening. Yes, you can walk an elephant!
Our first day we arrived at about 2 to check in and prepare for the evening walk with the ellies. We were taken out to the herd and each assigned a keeper and an elephant to accompany back to their evening area. The first experience of being with an elephant with no barriers between you is mind blowing! I had the surreal experience of walking beside a huge elephant who chose to reach out and hold my hand with her trunk.
We got them over to the area where keepers had left large piles of apparently yummy branches for them to decimate and reluctantly took our leave so we could settle into our room and get some dinner. Already the experience had surpassed all expectations.
That evening we were able to relax in the lovely room and spend as much time checkout the boma as we wanted.
The next morning after breakfast overlooking the reserve we chose to take the shuttle out to the herd armed with big buckets of yummy produce. Quite a few people do this but the elephants were happy to interact with anyone with food so the number of people was not an issue. The herd comes enthusiastically up to a rail and visitors stay behind it to keep things orderly. Feeding them is an absolute delight!
You couldn’t help but giggle and marvel at their deftness with the trunk. They were enthusiastic, but strangely gentle about taking the proffered treats.
After the buckets were emptied they begin to amble off to graze. We were free to stay with them, not touching them and staying out of their way. Their keepers kept a close eye on everyone and happily shared insight into the herd’s behavior, history and anecdotes. Too soon it was time to return to the interpretation center. As guests of the lodge the keeper we befriended, Berry, offered to allow us to remain with the herd and have fresh buckets sent out to us with each new arriving shuttle.
This allowed us to spend more time around elephants just being elephants, which was fantastic. On our last bucket Berry helped us get a good picture of an elephant’s mouth.
After several magical hours with our new friends a big storm came in. Since there was heavy rain and lightning the elephant visit was terminated, but not before we all got soaked and unwisely stood under a metal roofed shelter. Dan added to his quickly becoming impressive list of animals that have misbehaved with him ( bitten by the camel I was riding, horse in Mexico tried to buck him off…) and had this happen while he was posing with this impressive trio…
That was the matriarch of the herd that he probably fed 10 pounds of watermelon. He believes she wanted more.
2 nights and 3 days of visiting the herd flew by and I am not ashamed to say that I cried when we left them to continue our adventures on the Garden Route. We vowed to return some day.
When we came back to Bangkok on April 14 we had no idea it was for their first Thai New Year celebration since Covid. Called Songkran it is a celebration I’m not sure could happen any place else.
When we first arrived in Bangkok we noticed our cab from the airport was getting a few random buckets of water thrown at it from some groups of revelers along the street. I thought it was an odd sort of Friday night thing. Then we ventured out into the 100 degree heat to find some dinner at about 9:30. More people with buckets, some sort of paint on their faces and even the fire department using the fire hose right outside the station. People were careful not to splash us, I guess we looked too old and white to bother, although it would have felt great.
When we got back to the condo we looked it up and this is the way they celebrate their New Year. Truth be told there seems to be some old tradition of a much less splashy sort of religious ceremony but I really didn’t want to delve too deeply into that after a 16 hour travel day. The next day was to be the last of this celebration and I figured we’d see some more splashing, super soakers and hoses being employed. We were not prepared for what we found!
We had a bunch of business errands to run the next day in 100 degree soupy weather. We found an outstanding cab driver with great air conditioning and the patience of a saint. He took us all over town for over 2 hours ( and less than $20). He told me a little about the new year celebration. Apparently a couple hundred thousand people, many of them foreigners, descend on an area known as Khao San. According to him it is a huge party with booze and water “fights”. That sounded like way too many people, especially foreigners bent on partying and we decided that was not for us. However while at the mall running errands we noticed there were several thousand people gathering with live music, occasional crowd drenching fountains and lots and lots of super soakers. It was an event called Super Fluid and we thought it would be fun, and just as importantly, cooling, to go over and check it out when we wrapped up our errands. Little did we know we were about to spend 2 and a half hours sloshing, getting soaked, engaged with so many locals in the biggest water fight I’ve ever seen. It was the most liberating, uplifting, good clean fun ever!
Although people were trying to outdo each other in the water battle mischief and bent on fierce fighting with varying levels of weaponry, it was the most innocent, joyful atmosphere. There were toddlers, mostly young adults and then us. It was 98% Thai with a few of us lucky foreigners thrown in. We were about 6 inches taller than most of the people there and to say we stuck out would be an understatement. The combination of our foreignness, our height and our age put a huge bullseye on us. At first we could see the young men sort of hesitate to unleash liquid fury on us, but once one did our laughter and retaliation landed us right in the thick of it. The lovely young Thai women took particular joy in surreptitiously targeting Dan, dissolving in giggles when he discovered them, let out his big booming laugh and returned fire. Little children fought bravely as we gently doused them and their parents beamed at us and encouraged them to fight on.
It struck me that this sort of thing could not happen in the United States. Not to over politicize things, but when has a couple thousand people in stifling heat, packed into a venue with loud music, lights and fireworks ever worked out well in the US? Even Disneyland can’t pull that off. There always has to be tons of security, usually armed police, people get drunk and ornery, fights are commonplace and increasingly things end in gunfire. Here the security were mostly helping with traffic flow in the crowded area. They were unarmed except for a few I saw that were actually having a little fun with super soakers also. Little kids were carefully kept from being swept up in the crowd. Everyone was hot, happy and drenched. There was no smoking in the huge area of battle, I didn’t see anyone drinking or drunk, no fighting except the Peter Pan sort of epic battles. Foes became comrades and everyone had a wildly great time.
As the cherry on top, Dan went to 7-11 to get some water ( and jackfruit!). On his way there he saw a couple ladies with water buckets ready. In his usual shy, retiring way, he swaggered over and invited them to splash him. He told me the 3 ladies proceeded to gently pour water down the front of his shirt, the back of his shirt and on his feet, even going so far as to wash them a bit. The lady at his feet looked up when done and wished him health in the new year. So, April 15 has a new meaning for us now besides tax day. Happy New Year, we wish all of you health!
Ok, not afraid, but with a dash of discomfort.
We just visited Hakone, Japan about an hour and a half by train from Tokyo. Hakone is a popular destination in large part due to the hot springs which have for centuries been used to feed onsens, the beloved bath houses of Japan.
Up a steep mountain into the beautiful area you find lots of resorts, hostels and hotels offering the onsen experience. They even extend the hospitality to visitors not staying on the property. The mountain is riddled with vents spewing sulfurous steam and hot, hot water. The other minerals in the water are said to have healing properties and are ideal for having a good soak.
There is a nice cable car and gondola ride up from Hakone that lets you view the source and even try their famous black eggs. The eggs are cooked in the spring right at the source and mysteriously turn a deep black. Sounds unappealing? We had to try and Dan thought there was no real difference in taste. I felt like they were a little more “earthy” in flavor, but that’s quite subjective. We had quite the time monkeying around, peeling the eggs sitting on stools that look like Hakone eggs and joking with everyone else doing the same. As inhospitable as that vent made the bath experience look (and smell) the water in the baths are actually a translucent milky appearance and had no odor.
So. The naked part. Onsens have a deep history of rituals and traditions. There is a protocol one must follow in order to be appropriate. Luckily we researched this and, to the best of our knowledge, had no faux pas during our visits. Our hotel had an onsen and we were welcome to use it throughout our stay. Some onsens have outside baths in beautiful gardens or a stunning view of the mountains. Ours was not that fancy, but definitely well kept and serviceable.
First, the hotel provided very nice quality kimono style robes that even covered our super sized American bodies. As all hotels, and many other businesses and residences do, they also provided slippers. Clothed in that you were expected to go down and through the lobby. That in itself caused a certain discomfort. It’s not like the robes zipped up or anything remotely secure. Men and women bathe in separate baths or at different times. Our hotel has 2 baths so we could go at the same time but separated. You take the slippers off before entering the ante room where you disrobe entirely before proceeding. You are provided with a small towel and a larger one for drying off. The small towel can be used for modesty, you decide which part of your privates you’d most like to conceal. The large towel you leave in the ante room.
In Japan the baths are not for cleaning oneself. As you share the water with others, you are expected to shower yourself first. Our onsen had the shower in the same room as the bath. Multiple shower hoses each had a low stool and bucket. Traditionally you sit on the stool and use the bucket and nozzle to bathe. Lovely soaps and shampoo were provided. At this point I found myself squatting on a tiny, low stool with my backside to the bath and my front to a large mirror. There isn’t a towel in this planet that would provide for any type of modesty in this situation even if I wanted it. A thorough shower is expected and care given to washing down the stool and the bucket after use. Once finished women with long hair must secure it so that no hair will be left in the bath. The small towel at this point must also not touch the bath as it is seen as unclean. The best solution is to rest it on top of your head so you can blot the dampness from your face if needed.
With arthritis in too many places to catalog, I am never graceful getting on and off low stools or in and out of the water. Doing so naked made it all the more mortifying! But in I went. The onsen was limited to 6 women at a time and during my visits there were 3 or less of us. It is funny to exaggerate the memory of being discomfited during the experience but in reality, since I knew what to expect and how to behave, it was not uncomfortable at all. The bath was hot, but not scalding, and Dan and I both found that about 15-20 minutes was about as much as we could handle.
When done luxuriating in the milky looking water you can employ the modesty towel for a brief moment. You can shower again or simply leave. It is polite to use it to dry yourself as much as possible in order to go back to the dressing area where your robe and larger towel await. Washed, soaked, relaxed, dried and re-robed we met back upstairs to compare notes.
Our conclusions: onsens are wonderful! We both felt that the slight aversion to being naked with others washed away with our first visit. we were delightfully relaxed both from the water and the ritualistic character of the experience. Definitely something we’d recommend and do again.
What? You didn’t really think we’d have more pictures than that, did you?
While in Tokyo we visited TeamLab Planet, a large art installation where you wander barefoot in large gardens and works of art. It was a wondrous experience, far exceeding expectations and taking us to a state of child-like wonder and glee.
We bought tickets online and were assigned an entrance time spanning a half hour. On arrival the expected queue was large and, like all Japanese queues, very well behaved. We comment often on how polite the Japanese people are, it’s not just a cliche, they really are patient, respectful and kind. As is also universal in Japan, we were ushered into the building exactly on time and it was quite orderly.
The first stop on this adventure is a very large locker room. Shoes were removed, jackets and bags stowed, and pants rolled up to the knees to prepare for some of the experiences that included water. They even announced that some of the flooring would be mirrored, allowing peeks up women’s skirts and they provided shorts women could wear for modesty.
When ready we left the locker to travel up a sloped hallway with smooth, somehow sueded walls and a river of soothing water that was neither warm nor cold. As we arrived at the top of the hall we were met with a lovely waterfall effect somewhat baffling and beautiful. At this point we were certain this was going to be a great experience. In true Japanese fashion they provided towels to dry your feet as you passed an ante room and moved on to the next experience.
After this experience we were led to a smallish room, all black, and asked if we had any heart or breathing issues. I didn’t really think about it and just shook my head, to which the usher gestured to go ahead into the room. For me this was a big mistake! It was filled with loosely packed, industrial strength, stretchy, giant beanbags. As soon as you stepped in your feet sank at different rates and angles leaving you sprawled out in the mileu. Comfortable for a nap. Nearly impossible for a heavy, arthritic gal like me. I couldn’t stand up. I couldn’t roll. I couldn’t even crawl. All I seemed able to do was laugh and sink deeper! I did finally get out (and I’m still hurting in some places from the effort), but I think they need to give you a little more information before you take the plunge. Most people managed well and the kids loved it. Great concept.
There was so much to this gallery that I won’t do excruciating detail of each installation. Rather I will try and hit the highlights and hope that you get to experience it yourself at some point.
Perhaps the most visually striking and wonder inspiring room was The Infinite Crystal Universe. You pass through a curtained door and are instantly surrounded by magical light. The floors, walls and ceiling are all mirrored so the effect goes on forever. The hanging light strings dance with color, coordinated pulsing and pure magic. Soothing music accompanied the light play enhancing the visual effect. This is where it felt like we all surrendered to the experience and let go of reality for the entire visit. There were so many beautiful pictures and video to capture, but even the typical influencers were not as annoying as usual. We all helped each other get beautiful shots while still staying in the moment enjoying our opportunity to be a child in this new world. There was no need for interpreters or Google Translate, we were all on the same wavelength enjoying this art that made language irrelevant. Most of us lingered, surrendering to the luminous beauty that surrounded us.
Reluctantly we moved, to be entranced with a completely different installation. a large room filled to knee depth with more of that perfect temperature water. This time we were free to walk in any direction or just stand, entranced by the play of light, projection and music that created the illusion of koi and sakura blossoms on and in the water with us. As we approached the fish they would scatter as in the real world. If we “touched”one it would scurry off and transform into Sakura blossoms which faded away. It was impossible to resist the urge to interact with the fish or cry out in delight as they appeared to react to our presence. Again we were surrounded by our temporary community delighting in each new discovery and sharing our wonder. We waded and played to our hearts’ content before moving along to more towels then more artwork.
One piece had us in yet another room, also completely mirrored, with spinning flowers (changed seasonally) swirling across the walls ceiling and floor. People were sitting and laying, strewn about as if in a lovely park. The effect made the floor feel like it was rotating, which could be disastrous for me with my balance issues, so we laid down as well. For a long time we just lay there, heads beside each other ear to ear with our feet in opposite sides. Our breath synchronized and we just absorbed the spectacle of a soaring dance of flowers. Once again the music helped transport us wholly into this world and connect us wordlessly.
In one artwork we were ushered into a room in groups. Mirrored again to expand the space, there were strings of blooming orchids rising and falling slowly and independently as we were allowed to pass through them. Here the smell of soil and roots, mixed with the visual extending in the mirrors, and the audible of the music, others enjoying around us and the feel of the leaves and flowers led us gently into this land of plants.
Another installation had us in a room with giant balloons, lit as if from inside in beautiful displays of color. A couple were strewn about free so that you could interact with them with movement and most were anchored to the mirrored ceiling and walls, providing a fun surface to lean against or bounce off of. There were a couple of spheres that, when touched, would change the color of all of the balloons in the room. The proportion, the colors and the music brought us back to the fun days of elementary school when we would play with a parachute, running beneath it as our classmates held the edges. Pure joy.
There was much more, but for us these were the highlights. I hope this inspires you to seek out TeamLab exhibits in the future, you may even find us there!
One of our biggest bucket list events was completed in January. We were blessed with the opportunity to go to Bwindi Impenetrable Forest where about 400 of the world’s remaining 1,000 mountain gorillas roam free in a protected national park. You need advanced tickets, accommodation and a willingness to climb the steep, densely forested mountainside to experience a once in a lifetime chance to be in the presence of these powerful adults, playful juveniles and adorable babies.
This was part of a 3 week tour through Kenya and Uganda organized by the amazing Namiiro Flora B of Katella Uganda Safaris. More posts to follow on all that wonderful adventure. She arranged for us to stay in our own little cabin in paradise right near the entrance to the park, Buhoma Lodge. The passes were also obtained for us by Flo, for this adventure and all the other parks we visited as well.
The passes are not inexpensive, but it is less expensive than Rwanda, which is the other place you can go to see them in the wild. Only a certain number of passes are issued each year, no exceptions, and you need to book your trip way in advance. For your fee you get guides armed with rifles ( they swear they would never shoot an animal, just use the noise of a shot to scare them away if they showed aggression). There are also scouts that go out early in the morning and locate the troops that the visitors will see later that day. They take a group of visitors, a limited number in each group (I think ours had 8), to each troop. You are met with their very professional and organized staff, given a trek briefing and a wonderful performance of song and dance from the ladies at Ride 4 a Woman.
Afterwards you’re assigned a group and guides who own you for the rest of your adventure.
The groups are divided up so that the strongest hikers go to the farthest troop that day and the less, erm, able go to a closer troop. I had an issue the previous day that wound up with me visiting the local clinic to get checked out. I was pretty incapacitated the day we were scheduled to do our trek and the miracle workers Flo and Richard ( the owner of Buhoma Lodge) got me to a doctor (ends up I had an electrolyte shortage) and somehow, amazingly, got our trek rescheduled for the day after we were supposed to go. So, I choose to believe that we were assigned to the closest troop for that reason! Our group also consisted of a family of 5, one of whom was displaying the symptoms I had the day before. He was much younger and gamely soldiered through. We were driven around to the other side of the mountain and had about a 45 minute steep uphill hike in to our troop.
For an additional fee, which greatly helps the locals and is insignificant to most visitors, you can have porters carry your things and assist you in difficult areas. I had two! These guys hiked up with us, at times hiking backwards in order to balance me or pull me through the tough spots. You definitely have to be ok with strangers grabbing you everywhere if you are going to have them assist. At one point my foot disappeared up to my knee in a hole. I was pulled out of it before my foot could even hit the bottom! They also assisted the rangers/guides in cutting a path through the forest to follow the gorillas to where they finally settled down to eat and play.
Once the guides located the gorillas we had to go off the trail that we used to hike up the mountain. Our troop happened to be on the move so we were following them through the truly impenetrable part of the aptly named forest. The machetes were flying fast and furious cutting a trail for us. Our feet were constantly being snagged by vines and roots and we were getting smacked in the face with branches as we breathlessly, but quietly, followed the effortlessly moving gorillas. It was at this point that it hit us. We were following gorillas in their territory!
After a few minutes the troop settled down and our guides immediately cleared enough area near them so that we could stand, crouch or kneel and observe them. It was hot, biting ants were everywhere and we were knackered from the rush to follow them, but we didn’t care. We had 40 minutes to stand in the presence of a massive silverback, some females and a bunch of juveniles and babies. Our troop, see how possessive I became there, was comprised of 12 gorillas, a big troop. The effort to remain silent was so difficult as we watched the silly youngsters swinging on vines and branches, the silverback settling down for a nap (making himself a perfect playground for the youngest) and the mothers watching their young.
I’ve seen gorillas plenty of times at the wonderful San Diego Zoo and delighted in their antics there but somehow, being with this wild (albeit habituated) troop was something else entirely. So calm, so peaceful and so like us that I immediately felt a connection and it redoubled my awareness of how important the conservation efforts are to these brothers and sisters of ours.
We were instructed to stay a certain distance from them, always wear a mask and to remain quiet. If the gorillas approached us we were supposed to back up slowly. In our case none of the gorillas ventured near, so we were able to stay in our spot. Other than glancing at us in the beginning, they pretty much acted like we weren’t there, or that we were part of what they expect in the forest. Their gaze sometimes resting on us in a very comfortable way. Humbling.
Before we knew it our 40 minute session with the troop were up. We regretfully left the troop. Last lingering glances over our shoulders. Deep sighs as we got back to the ordinary experience of coming back down the mountain. The trip back was arduous, but I think we were all in a kind of trance, forever changed by our time with these majestic creatures with whom we share 98% of our DNA.
When we decided to come to Japan for the cherry blossom season Dan had the idea to look into tickets for sumo wrestling. We discovered that a match was being held in Osaka and quickly looked into tickets.
The ticketing process is quite involved. We ended up pre-ordering ours from a website called buysumotickets.com to have a chance at getting them. First you choose the date you’d like to go, then pay them for the seats in a section you choose. When the tickets come up for sale they do the best they can to get what you requested. In our case they weren’t able to get the section we requested, they got the next level and refunded the difference for us. The tickets were then mailed to the hotel we told them we would be at. There was a minor issue where the hotel refused delivery, but the post office was close so we were able to go pick them up the day before the match.
The day of the match is quite long, going from just before 9 am until around 6 pm. The lesser ranked wrestlers, or rikishi, going in the earlier bouts. Most people don’t arrive until the bouts at 2:40 which are the intermediate rikishi. We arrived at about 11 to get a comparison between the skill levels. We practically had the arena to ourselves!
The higher the rank, the more ceremony involved in each bout. They acknowledge each other, the judges, they throw salt on the floor for good luck and stomp their feet emphatically to drive evil spirits away. They have the lower placed rikishi assisting them and an enthusiastic crowd. Bouts last for barely a second if one rikishi sidesteps a charge from his opponent. Most bouts are under 15 seconds. The competitors frequently step off, fall off or are thrown off the platform, sometimes landing unceremoniously on a judge or fellow competitor awaiting their bout. In this video, the real hero is the assistant!
Seating in the arena is interesting, with possibly a majority being in boxes seating up to four on the floor. Luckily they also have western style seating for us older, larger and arthritic folks.
Once the senior level began these guys started parading around the ring. We finally figured out that this was advertising! Compare to ads everywhere during a NHL game!
The level of play was more intense and the crowd had their favorites. People of all ages were waving towels with their favorite’s name or image on it and calling their names out. Roars of approval went up for various moves, or for lack of movement when the rikishi were locked in a death grip, muscles bulging. They also roared approval even when their competitor lost, just for the sportsmanship they displayed.
I’m going to add some pictures and videos here that were some of the highlights for us.
Sometimes the smaller guy wins
It has taken a long time for me to be ready to write about our time in Egypt. We spent the first two weeks diving the Red Sea and another two weeks between Luxor, Alexandria and Cairo. We will never go back unless it is to very strategically go just for diving, but there are other places to dive so, probably not.
We spent one week in Port Ghalib and one week in Safaga. We flew into Hurgada and got a private transfer for the trip to Marsa Alam, approximately four hours away. The transfer was under $100 and a very nice car was waiting for us when we arrived. The first thing I noticed was the privacy curtains in the back of the car, which even when pulled open blocked a lot of my view. Our driver asked us if we’d like coffee (we had taken a red eye so yes!) and stopped at a little shed still in the airport parking lot. He returned with Turkish coffees, piping hot. Lovely! Except the first thing he does is take off suddenly so I spilled the thick hot coffee all over the white shirt I was wearing. Ugh. We don’t carry much so each item of clothing is important!
The four hour trip passed quickly as we viewed the desert scenery. Our accommodation in Port Ghalib was comfortable, although not in the most convenient of locations. It was very hot there in October and we were some distance from the marina, although the hotel was called Marina View. This was the first real sign we had that everything in Egypt was a lie. I just checked their website and it says they have an indoor pool, absolutely not! I don’t know why you’d want one. This leads to the second thing we learned, they’re lying even when it’s absurd. But the staff were incredibly helpful and friendly and it was clean so we were fine. They had a free breakfast served outside (by the indoor pool!) with tons of aggressive flies, or in a non air conditioned dining room. A typical Egyptian breakfast of bread, highly processed slices of pressed meat, hard boiled eggs, olives and a few other odd things that didn’t really excite us. It was nice to not have to go find something to eat in the morning though and they were very attentive while serving breakfast.
I mentioned we were too far to walk to the marina in the sun and heat. Normally we don’t mind having to catch a bus or cab to our destination. Also, it was rather inexpensive there, so it really didn’t phase us, in concept. Reality became a very difficult lesson. The first time we asked the front desk how to get to the marina he suggested calling a taxi for us. Great! In due time a minivan pulls up and the front desk person told him where to take us. Off we went! Then we pulled over and picked up a very fragrant fellow walking along the side of the road. They appeared to have some arrangement and we thought it odd and uncomfortable, but ok. Then we picked up four more. At this point Dan is in the front seat and I am squashed in the middle row with a gang of very smelly men. They picked up one more and Dan was saying “No, no room!” but everyone was yelling in Egyptian and they just left the van door open with one guy half hanging out. I swear I was waiting for a goat or chicken to join us. We let a couple guys off and then they dropped us. We have taken some odd transport before, but this took the cake. When it was time to return it was a similar experience but Dan was ready for them. He protested when we stopped for more but to no avail. After getting back we spoke to the front desk and learned what we suspected, that the taxis act more like buses and that’s just how they do it. He offered to arrange private taxis for us in the future so we did that for the rest of the week. Those drivers tried to overcharge us routinely, although we prearranged the fees and they talk on the phone while driving erratically but at least we weren’t crammed in with too many other riders.
There really wasn’t much around the hotel. The advertised restaurant and bar hadn’t been open for years. There was one restaurant around the corner that was outdoors in the heat and flies and wasn’t open reliably. We were forced to eat at the tourist restaurants along the marina. It quickly became apparent that the 5 or 6 restaurants all had the same menu, camel burger anyone? Given how long some took to get the food out it’s probable they were all using the same kitchen. The food was uninspiring and you had to endure the gauntlet of pushy men trying to get you to come to their restaurant for the “best food in town”. The seating was also outdoors but there were fans so you could find a table in front of one which helped with the heat and the flies.
We booked 5 days of diving with Emperor Dive. They assured us they had wetsuits to fit anyone. I told them what size we would need. “Yes, yes of course. We have many of all sizes.” We went in to get our gear sorted the day before our first dive and they gave us their largest suits to try on. I couldn’t get into it. Dan even less so. He was standing in front of the dive shop manager with the suit completely unzipped and they were swearing to him that it fit. ???!!! It will loosen up in the water. Ummm, no. When we insisted the emperor was wearing no clothes they finally said they would send for larger sizes from their other shop for the next day’s dive. Of course, referring back to our first lesson in Egypt, this was a lie. Lucky for us, the water was a beautiful 80 degrees and we didn’t need/wouldn’t have worn a wetsuit even if we had it. Oddly, everyone else wore wetsuits on every dive.
The boat crew were wonderful and our diving was the best either of us had done. The coral there is brilliant. There are underwater fields of many varieties of live coral swaying in the current. The water is clear, warm and beautiful. There are an abundance of dive sites to visit. The fish are gorgeous, plentiful and very large compared with the same kinds we’ve seen in other places. Giant clams everywhere. Just beautiful diving. The crew were so helpful getting our gear ready, helping this old lady with her tank, right there to help you out of the water, we couldn’t fault them in any way. It was absolute luxury diving. They prepared nice lunches and snacks and we never wanted for anything. I’m definitely spoiled now! And the price is extraordinarily reasonable for boat diving.
After a really nice week of diving Marsa Alam we transferred the shorter distance to Safaga where we had booked a week at Nemo Dive Club and Hotel. This included all meals, so we didn’t have to mess about with finding food elsewhere after a day of diving. It was walking distance to the boat as well so the week was easier in terms of logistics, we just had to show up and eat or dive. The food was plentiful and decent, the diving and service on the boat was exceptional and we’d do it again in a heartbeat. The hotel was very basic, but it was all we needed and it really did have its own beach. We enjoyed our walk down to the boat each morning, the locals were friendly and fascinated with Americans. Unfortunately, the amount of trash in the streets and on the beaches was horrifying. It makes us fear for their beautiful sea’s future. It was astonishing to see children playing in the water with waves of trash. What are they thinking?
In all, we recommend diving the Red Sea from Egypt. Don’t expect there to be thriving resort towns with lots going on. Don’t combine it with other sightseeing in Egypt (more on that to come), but the diving is extraordinary.
We spent about four months wandering about the UK. London, Wales, Ireland, Scotland…we covered some ground. A common theme, whether it was looking out the window or driving up the single track road to our housesit in Wales,
on the road causing a traffic jam driving up to Giant’s Causeway in Ireland
or on the hills in just about any countryside, was sheep. Lots and lots of sheep. The sight of them, the sound of them even the smell of them…everywhere except right in the cities. We were fortunate to be there during lamb season so they were being their adorable, silly selves. Weeks and weeks of observing the antics of the lambs, but never an opportunity to interact with them.
One of our housesits was going to be in the Scottish Highlands, sitting for a dog, 2 cats and 2 parakeets in a house with some acreage a couple miles from a few small villages. In other words, heaven. The homeowners had been so nice, they had their first house sitter cancel on them and I think they were afraid we would too. No way! The Highlands were on our list of places to see and what better way than to settle down with a house, a lovely garden and some nice critters? We kept in contact with the homeowners leading up to the sit to reassure them that we would be there and through that communication (plus our initial videoconference interview) we became quite friendly. They were really making us feel welcome!
One day, not too far away from our arrival I got a message from her asking if it would be okay to have her sister’s dog stay with us as well. She assured us the dogs got along well and it would be no bother. Of course, for me, the more dogs the better! A few days later she told me the cat had kittens and she hoped that was okay as well. Sounded great to me! I didn’t really know what that would involve, but hey, kittens! And finally a message arrived, and you could tell this was the one she was really worried about, telling us that two of their lambs were bottle feeding and she thought they were going to be weaned but they clearly were not. Did we have any concerns about bottle feeding them twice a day? Oh my goodness! I about squealed! Dan was enthusiastic too so I assured her that we would be heartbroken if she weaned them before we got there. She thought this was the strangest thing she had ever heard! We found out she was telling everyone about the weirdos that couldn’t wait to feed the lambs. So, being from California, living a nomadic life, housesitting at random places around the world didn’t phase them. It was our enthusiasm for caring for lambs that set us apart!
Having all these critters to care for we agreed it would be best if we arrived the day before they left so that we could see the routine. We were happy to do so and were greeted with so much enthusiasm from the lovely couple as well as their very special shepherd, Corrie. We chatted non stop for hours, got the lay of the land, met all the critters and half the family. They were all going to a family wedding so kilt pieces were being exchanged (another source of fascination for us!), the dog was being introduced and another dropped off, travel arrangements were being finalized, the kittens were terrorizing the head of the household, who swore in the loveliest of Scottish accents that he couldn’t stand cats…it was a lovely kind of good natured family chaos and they incorporated us right into it. With drinks and dinner we became fast friends.
Evelyn was amazing, not only did she prepare a wonderful dinner for us (even incorporating haggis in a delicious way), leaving more than enough leftovers for dinner again, but she also encouraged us to use anything she had in her freezers. I will say that I had not seen a freezer in a bedroom closet before, but there it was! We barely had to shop the whole time we were there, which was a really nice bonus.
Many things stand out in our minds about this house sit. One is the magnificent setting. The countryside is just beautiful and it being the height of summer it never got actually dark. The sun set around 10:30 but it was light on the horizon until it rose again at about 4:30. This resulted in absolutely beautiful skies. And of course, being a small croft, it was in some sparsely populated area so the wide open spaces (with sheep, cows and horses) was spectacular.
Of course the highlight of each of our days was the twice daily feeding of the two little eating machines All we had to do was mix up some powdered lamb formula with warm water, pour it in these bottles, attach the nipples and wander over to the pen They came running with such enthusiasm it would have been frightening if they weren’t so clumsy and adorable.
You can see in the video the intensity with which they attacked those bottles, each feeding was the same. In the evening they got some grain in their smaller, covered pen (which they were adept at escaping). They liked that, but often there was leftover in the morning for the chickens, geese and one naughty ewe that learned to jump the fence in a gravity defying leap.
So, we fell in love with the croft, the animals, the family that hosted/adopted us and the magnificent Scottish Highlands. After the housesit we did a quick roadtrip of the whole area and would not mind coming back to caravan for a couple months. The entire area is National Park worthy and we were bewitched.
Of course no visit to the Highlands is complete without some hairy coos…