My Fab Fifties Life is enjoying a summer in Washington State, USA, where I was born and raised. As much as I love my life of full-time travel, coming home to familiar ground where my family is brings a sense of stability to our nomad world.
When we return to the USA most summers, my focus is always family, but we also get out at least once a week and play tourists in our own backyard. And that is what we did this past weekend in celebration of both Father’s Day and my husband’s birthday.
McMenamins Elks Lodge Tacoma
Growing up in the Pacific Northwest the blue-collar town of Tacoma always had a bit of a “smelly” reputation because of the pulp and paper mill that cast an odor over the town for several generations. Today however Tacoma has become a renaissance town, with gorgeous views, multiple incredible museums, beautiful parks, and delicious dining.
And the newest little gem to open in Tacoma is the McMenamins franchise masterpiece in the historic and beautifully restored Elks Temple in downtown Tacoma.
If you aren’t from around these parts you might not be familiar with the vision of Mike and Brian McMenamin, Oregon brothers who have built a legendary business of turning historic and dilapidated properties into spectacularly quirky and fun hotels, restaurants, breweries, distilleries,
Elks Lodge Pub & Restaurant
and event venues. For the past 20 years my husband and I, (on many occasions with our kids in tow), have made one of the dozens of McMenamins properties a destination weekend.
The latest addition to the McMenamins dynasty is the opening of the Tacoma Elks Temple after several years of extensive restoration. The building had sat abandoned for thirty-five years, and time, weather and graffiti all had taken a toll.
And yet, this is what McMenamins does best – breathe life into old structures all while digging deep into the silent history of a building to awaken both the known and unknown stories of the people and events that were there. The Elks Temple does just that.
Art everywhere you look
Built in 1916 for the Fraternal Order of Elks, the building was home to one of the nation’s largest Elks organizations until the 1960’s. It was then used as an event venue and, unlike the all-white Elks organization, the building welcomed anyone of any race and held many of the local African-American Rose Cotillion Balls for several years. But times changed and so did the building as it fell into disrepair for 33 years until the visionary McMenamins saw its potential.
We arrived in the afternoon on a very crowded Father’s Day and proceeded to taste our way through all of the properties five bars. Each bar named appropriately, decorated with fun and interesting relics including menu’s that reflect the individual personality of each bar. For instance in
Hand crafted beer and tapas at the Spanish Steps Bar
the Spanish Steps bar (named for Tacoma’s beautiful Spanish Steps that run along the south edge of the building) Tapas are featured on the menu, while in The Old Hangout, a throwback to Trader Vic’s style 1950’s Tiki Bar serves everything from Mai Tai to Singapore Sling, grilled Pineapple Sundae or Salt and Pepper Squid.u
True to the McMenamins model, guests must try to find the “hidden” bar called The Vault. We found it, actually cheated a little because someone was coming out…and I don’t think we would have found it otherwise. Cleverly disguised. That’s all I’m gonna say.
We had both dinner and breakfast in the Elks Pub and Restaurant where we enjoyed pizza, salad and soup for dinner with more McMenamin
The Old Hang Out Bar throwback to old style Tiki
hand-crafted beer. For breakfast I had an amazing Eggs Benedict that included artichoke hearts and spinach and included cheese jalapeño grits. Wow.
The Elks Lodge now has 45 rooms, each and every one named for a person or group of persons who had something to do with the building or the surrounding area. Everyone from Robert Cray (musician) to Bill Baarsma (former mayor) to Hattie Lund (no relation to me but a long-time Tacoma philanthropist) to the Puyallup Native American Tribe.
I have two small complaints about our visit. Our room which opened to
an atrium and did not have an outside window, was a bit stuffy and I wished for a window. If I return I’ll pay a little more for a room on the perimeter of the building. My other complaint is that although the wifi worked great throughout the building in bars and public spaces, it was non-existent in our room.
Rooms start around $140 per night. Food and beverage is very reasonably priced. If you come, allow plenty of time to just explore…it’s like a museum of both art and history as well as a wonderful place to people watch Tacoma’s eclectic and proud residents. So much fun. We will be back.
I’ve had a lot of people asking about my world traveling charm bracelet lately because it’s been a long time since I have mentioned anything about it on my blog or social media. So I thought today I would share a bit about this fascinating and growing collection of beauty, history and culture that I wear around my wrist.
For those of you who may not know, I had the idea, just weeks before we headed out on the Grand Adventure for the first time in June 2016, to begin a travel charm bracelet. I purchased a bracelet here in the USA and added my very first charm, an “L” for my first and last name (Laureen Lund). Then we began our travels with our first stop in Hawaii where I added a silver sea turtle.
Three years and dozens and dozens of countries and charms later, my charming souvenir is very precious to me with 56 charms.
Christ the Redeemer Brazil
My preference is to buy a charm while in the country, but in Central America I really struggled to find any charms for sale anywhere. I had purchased a Christ the Redeemer charm in Brazil and a lizard charm in Costa Rica and then after that the trail went cold.
I was never able to find a charm in Panama, El Salvador, Belize, Guatemala or Dominican Republic.
So, before we returned to the USA I contacted my jeweler here in Gig
Yoga symbol El Salvador
Harbor and ordered charms that for me represented those countries I had visited. I had him add the charms to my bracelet after I arrived in the USA. Also, just like last summer, he took all the new charms from my past year of travel and soldered each to the bracelet so I won’t lose any.
Lizard Costa Rica
I love this piece of jewelry that has so much meaning for me. In fact I love it so much I’ve decided to leave it here when we depart again in September. I know I would be devastated if it were lost or stolen, so on round three of the Grand Adventure I will leave it behind, collecting the charms and adding them to the bracelet when I return.
If you struggle to think of memorable, small and meaningful souvenirs to buy when you travel, consider collecting charms around the world. I’m so glad a did. It’s so charming.
Thanks for your interest. I hope to share the bracelet in person with some of you in the future.
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We were so lucky to spend a few lovely days visiting friends in Charleston South Carolina. It’s a bonus when friends live in cities worth visiting and Charleston is definitely one of those. Charleston South Carolina oozes southern charm and hospitality – you just want to eat it up.
We had visited Charleston years ago, in fact about 27 years ago. Boy time does fly. And although the surrounding areas of Charleston proper including the town of Mount Pleasant where we were staying, have grown exponentially, historic Charleston has stayed much the same.
The oldest town in the American south, Charleston dates to 1718 and is named for King Charles II of England. Originally located north and founded in 1680 (location now known as Charles Town Landing), the town moved south to the strategic location where the confluence of the Wando and the Ashleigh Rivers meet Charleston Harbor and the Atlantic Ocean.
The city today (population of the greater Charleston area about 775,000) is well-known for its beauty, colonial history, hospitality, exceptional restaurants, and surrounding recreational opportunities.
We spent our short time in the area enjoying the company of our friends, and several sites around the region. We did not go out to Fort Sumter, because we did that long ago. Instead we walked more than eight miles all over historic Charleston. Although the horse-drawn carriages are fun, Charleston is a pedestrian friendly town. It’s perfect for walking; flat, safe and beautiful. On our walk we enjoyed the magnificent historic churches (Charleston is nicknamed the Holy City because it has so many church spires) and cemeteries. The colonial historic homes are enchanting, each so perfectly coiffed and dressed as if going to a ball. The week we were visiting was the peak of the jasmine bloom – literally millions of jasmine blossoms on nearly every beautiful home, perfumed the air for miles around. We visited Battery Park where the herons were nesting in the giant oak trees overlooking Charleston Harbor. Of course we stopped for photos at Rainbow Row, the original commercial district and now the longest cluster of Georgian row houses in the USA. Our walk took us to The Pink House, the oldest stone building in Charleston dated 1674.
I really enjoyed the Historic Charleston Market, stretching for four blocks it has been a market of one sort or another since 1790 and operates in the beautiful and historic market hall. Today the market is almost all arts and crafts, showcasing the region’s blend of Southern US, English, French and West African cultures. My favorite was the spectacular handmade reed baskets known as Sweetgrass Baskets. Made still today in the traditional manner by the descendants of West Africans, the baskets are works of art and sell for hundreds of dollars.
Shem Creek Park north of historic Charleston, has a lovely park and nature preserve made for walking and enjoying the birds and beauty of the area. This is also where you can see all the shrimp boats and pick up some fresh shrimp for dinner, which we did! Another beautiful walk is out the former bridge to Sullivan’s Island. When the new bridge opened the old bridge found new purpose as a wonderful pedestrian park across the estuary and perfect for kayak launching, bird watching, fishing and picnicking.
Boone Hall Plantation is definitely worth a visit even with the $25 entrance fee. Boone Hall has been a working plantation for more than 350 years. Although the current main house is not original (dates to 1936), it is beautiful and keeps to the authentic time period. The row of brick slave cabins were really interesting, with each one focusing on interpretive information about the slave life. Local docents offer short talks about the plantation and slavery, and a half an hour storytelling and singing presentation by a local Gullah woman was first-rate. I am so glad we visited beautiful Boone Hall.
I could write another entire blog about the delicious food of this region…but I’ll just end the post today with a shout out to pimento cheese and pork rinds, cheeseburger with fried green tomato, BBQ Brisket and coleslaw, scallops with pesto and mushrooms and fresh-off-the-boat shrimp. It’s a delicious city, one of its many, many charms.
Charleston South Carolina, a perfect little package of southern charm tied pretty with a hospitality bow. Visit soon.
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I am writing this blog laying on the couch in my SEVENTY-SIXTH Airbnb, my 603rd night sleeping in an Airbnb. Whoa. That’s a lot of Airbnb’s!
With that many houses, huts, apartments, condos, lofts, shacks and cabins under my belt, I feel it’s time to give you a list of our favorites around the world. Because even though we carefully research each and every Airbnb before booking, there are of course, some duds. So we like to give a shout out of the best of the best!
Click on the image for a larger view
If you are still hesitating about staying in an Airbnb I really encourage you to try it. We have had outstanding luck using this hospitality model in our travels. Airbnb has changed and grown ALOT since we stayed in our very first one in Seattle’s Eastlake neighborhood in 2013. The changes are mostly good. For us it has been safe, simple and efficient. We use the following as our guide for choosing an Airbnb;
1. Read the Reviews and look for Super Host and Five Star properties.
2. Check the amenities that are important to you. We always want a kitchen, wifi and good walkable location.
3. Check where it is on the map…BECAUSE if you search Seattle it might show you a house in Seabeck (this happened to us). If you don’t know the area you would be pretty surprised when you try to find your Seattle house.
4. Contact the host if you have ANY questions. We have on a number of occasions negotiated a better price based on our long stay. We have asked many questions such as neighborhood safety, parking, grocery stores etc. We’ve negotiated airport pick up, late arrival, chef service and other necessities.
5. Look closely at the pictures. If you arrive and the unit is NOT what the pictures show contact Airbnb right away. But honestly if you have done steps 1-4 above that probably won’t happen.
We do have one complaint about Airbnb…a complaint I have expressed to the company with ZERO response; As a loyal and frequent customer I would like to see the company AWARD me for my business. Just like an airline frequent flyer program. At the moment Airbnb has more of a focus on rewarding its hosts than its guests – even guests like me who use it almost every day of my life. I hope they will acknowledge users more generously soon.
Click on the image for a larger view
Many of our Airbnb’s don’t stand out for anything in particular, but have served us in an efficient, clean, comfortable and functional way within our budget. That’s all good. That’s the case for the nice apartment we are in right now in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic. It’s got all the comforts of home; kitchen, washer, two baths, a pool. And it’s in a nice, safe and convenient neighborhood. Our hosts are helpful and even have a car available for us to rent.
So since this apartment is our last Airbnb until next September, we thought this would be a good time to expound on our Favorite Airbnb’s Around the World and what makes those stand out above the rest. We’ve provided link and photos when possible, in hopes that you can consider some of these little gems we have found along our journey. Here is our list;
We just left Guatemala and the Cave House we stayed in on top of a mountain in San Marcos was amazing. It had some quirks, but nonetheless it was amazing. You got your built in work out throughout the day going up and down all those stairs. We give it a big thumbs up.
This Airbnb was three times what we usually try to spend, even while being one of the smallest Airbnbs we have ever stayed in. Oh but that view. Heaven on earth. There is nothing like the crater view of Santorini and it was right outside our door. Amazing.
We have had some really awesome hosts in our 76 Airbnb’s. And we have had some crappy hosts, usually those who leave you to fend for yourself. While we don’t want or need a host to manage our stay, we love it when we have a kind, engaged, thoughtful and hospitable host who is there for our occasional need. We have found that in many locations but the four mentioned take the prize. In Rio our host was incredibly kind with gifts and food and wine. In Exmouth we loved the darling family who provided us fresh ahi, yoga mats and much kindness. Two Airbnb’s in Bulgaria introduced us to the most thoughtful Bulgarians who made sure we had everything we needed including a special oven pan when requested, fresh cherries and Bulgarian roses in our room.
Bulgaria overall is a bargain, and it remains one of our most favorite countries for many reasons including the prices. These two favorite Airbnb’s were very large, multi bedroom units with full kitchen, exceptional hosts and awesome locations. The one in Sozopol included a giant deck with view and a swimming pool. We paid $30 in Veliko Tarnovo and $60 in Sozopol.
We spent two wonderful, relaxing weeks with our friends Randy and Sue in this unique and comfortable house right on the beach in Mal Pais Costa Rica. For fourteen nights in a row we documented the most exquisite sunsets…a wonderful end to each wonderful day.
Having a private pool is a real luxury for us, not something that is usually in the budget. Our two favorites listed here happened because we were sharing a house in these locations, so spending a little bit more for the luxury. The Ocotal pool had an amazing view, while the Koh Samui pool was very secluded and lovely.
Best Shared Pool – Hua Hin Thailand
Hua Hin, Thailand
The largest pool we ever had was the full Olympic size pool in Hua Hin Thailand. Despite the fact the pool was closed for maintenance for an entire week of our three week visit, we still enjoyed it for swimming laps and relaxing pool side.
It’s rare to have breakfast included in an Airbnb, and so we took full advantage at these two favorite spots. Each morning in both places breakfast was delivered to us. In Hoi An it was eggs and fruit with the BEST coffee and in Hikkaduwa it was the local Sri Lankan breakfast of either Roti or Hoppers, both which we really fell in love with.
Best Onsite Yoga – El Tunco El Salvador
El Tunco, El Salvador
Since I try to do yoga most everyday, I love it when we have an Airbnb with a nice open and comfortable place to do our own yoga. But even better is when there are yoga classes available onsite, and Balance Yoga in El Tunco El Salvador was the best. I have only taken yoga classes in Punta Cana DR, La Fortuna Costa Rica, and on a cruise ship, mostly because it has not been convenient anywhere else. But in El Tunco it was right out my backdoor, there were multiple daily classes, it was inexpensive and it was exceptional.
We loved everything about our house on the beach in Mal Pais, but the unexpected and impressive daily nature show was a big bonus. Laying in the hammock each evening watching the howler monkeys was truly fascinating…an activity many tourists pay big bucks to see on a tour. Not us. These monkeys came to us almost everyday and it was an incredible sight.
In Siem Reap we stayed in a historic Khmer home, with the absolutely nicest family living down below. Breakfast was included and the house was beautiful, historic and authentic. In Lombok Indonesia we stayed in an authentic Javenese Historic wood house, that had been disassembled, transferred from Java and reassembled on the site of this very remote and small resort we visited. Very memorable.
Best Daily Service – Asilah Morocco
We adored our full-time housekeeper and cook who came with our Airbnb in Asilah Morocco. Not only was it the first and only time we have had a cook and housekeeper on site, but she was so incredible. I gained ten pounds I think during our ten days there. We would absolutely go back to Asilah again and I hope we will. Latifah was very special.
We have stayed in some pretty rustic places, but Hikkaduwa Sri Lanka takes the prize for the most bugs, snakes, and rodents living with us in our hut. We felt like we were on Gilligans Island. And yet, we absolutely loved our three weeks here for the wonderful hosts, the incredible beach front property, the great weather and the delicious breakfasts all at a bargain basement price.
Best All Inclusive for the Price – Huraa Maldives
We spent three weeks on the itty bitty Maldivian Island of Huraa. We had a small room with bath, access to the beach, a great secluded place to do yoga and three meals a day all inclusive for $90…not $90 per person, $90 total. Our time here was spent just kicking back, running everyday, going snorkeling, hanging in the hammock and all for a remarkable price, especially in the very expensive Maldives.
Funkiest – Funky Truck in New Zealand and Tiny Trailer in Bend Oregon USA
Motueka, New Zealand
Bend, Oregon, USA
There are several Airbnb’s we could have given this award to, but these two experiences were so unique they win the prize. We only stayed two nights in each place. Both had outhouses and outdoor showers. Though tiny, both were comfortable and the hosts for both were helpful and hospitable and happy to have us visiting their unique little piece of paradise.
We have had access to a lot of beautiful beaches in our travels. Our favorites listed here though all are because we could walk right outside of our door and enjoy a beach. These three though were all very different; Mal Pais was a beautiful but unique beach just steps from or house made up of rocky pools that provided natures hot tub all day long. Seabeck Washington was a stunning beach on the Hood Canal with spectacular Olympic Mountain view and although a bit chilly, great summer swimming. And finally Hikkaduwa was a long beautiful stretch of golden sand beach with a bar right next door and our hut only steps away. Perfect.
Both Antigua and Malaga are gorgeous, historic and fairly compact cities and our Airbnb’s provided us a great location in the center of these towns to enjoy all the splendor they had to offer, along with the comforts we enjoy like kitchen and wifi. In Antigua we also had a magnificent patio where we could see two amazing volcanoes and do yoga or just sit and enjoy our morning coffee.
Flat and safe are my requirements for running around the world, and we have run in nearly every country but not in every location. Often there are dogs, cobblestones, snakes, mountains, crazy drivers or questionable characters that make running unsafe. But while in El Tunco, Placencia, Seychelles, Split and Punta Cana we ran every single day – safely and with wonderful scenery to enjoy!
Number One Out of Seventy-Six, Our Favorite Overall – Antiparos Greece (Cover photo at top of this page is Antiparos)
There are a few other’s we considered for this BEST OF moniker, but our three weeks in tiny Antiparos in this beautiful home with stunning view on the side of a mountain with a kind and lovely host is definitely our favorite experience, so far, of all our Airbnb’s. It is the one place that we think we will definitely visit again some day. As we go forward with our Grand Adventure next fall we have Airbnb’s booked all over; Asia, Africa, Europe. Time will tell if this favorite in Antiparos can hold its position as Number One.
If you have questions about our Airbnb adventures feel free to contact me. Other blogs that might be of interest to you on this topic are listed here;
Entirely unexpected. Completely beautiful. So much better than I imagined.
Dear Guatemala. You had me at Hola! I hated to say good-bye. I left my heart in Guatemala.
Once again, I approached another Central American country with apprehension, based solely on the information on the U.S. State Department website. I should know by now not to allow that to sway me totally. I should heed the warnings for sure, and carry on with caution.
Yes, Guatemala has some dangers just like every other country I have been too (and the USA too). Pick
pockets are a problem, although we did not have an issue. Like always, whether in Central America, Europe or anywhere else in the world we are cautious. There are definitely some horrendous violent crimes, rarely against foreigners. Unless you go looking for trouble. Smart and cautious travel with guides when possible is the best way in this country. Guatemala is one of the poorest countries in the world, and yet there is a small population who hold extreme wealth while the rest suffer. There are some other issues in Guatemala, particularly government corruption. However this is not something the average visitor will see. The only thing we saw was one entry fee into the town of Panajachel that was illegal. We also ended up paying twice for our boat on Lake Atitlan because the first guy was a scam. This ended up costing us an additional $6.50. Small problems – other than that we found the
country no more dangerous than anywhere we have been.
And the positives certainly outweighed the negatives. In fact, I would put Guatemala in my top list of favorite places I have been. And that is saying an awful lot. Yes I left my heart in Guatemala.
So Guatemala how do I love thee? Let me count the ways;
I love Antigua, one of the most beautiful cities I have ever been to. Being there for the beginning of Semana Santa (Holy Week) was an incredible experience. Although I am not Catholic, the Palm
Sunday spectacle we witnessed was so full of tradition, majesty, history and faith I was incredibly moved. I think I became Catholic for a day. We have had similar experiences in other places around the world where faith is such an important part of everyday life. On the Camino de Santiago in Spain, in New Delhi India, in Istanbul Turkey, in Seoul South Korea. A few examples of the places where we felt privileged to witness how faith, history and community converge. Additionally Antigua offers gorgeous scenery, delicious food and incredible history. Seeing lava spewing from the active volcano Fuego was a definite highlight. We enjoyed two tours with Antigua Tours and my cooking class with La Tortilla was a highlight. I hope to visit again.
I love Lake Atitlan. Here we spent a week enjoying the beauty of Guatemala, and not doing much else. It was one of the more peaceful places I have been in the world; a crater lake surrounded by three beautiful extinct volcanoes. The small villages surrounding the lake are each named after one of the apostles. We spent our time in San Marcos, a teeny village known for its holistic
Our view Lake Atitlan
offerings, yoga, health food and hippies. Our airbnb was one of the most unique we have ever had…a cave dwelling nestled into the cliff. Memorable for sure. We hiked and swam and did yoga every day. Heaven on earth.
I love Flores. We went to Flores so we could visit the Mayan ruins of Tikal, about an hour and a half drive north. Tikal was amazing…but the tiny town of Flores was such a pleasant surprise. Situated on a tiny island in Lake Petenitza, the tiny town is colorful, historic, beautiful and yummy. The town dates back to the 1400’s. We enjoyed the very warm weather here and a highlight was a private boat tour of the very large and beautiful lake. Muy bien.
I love Rio Dulce. The region known as Rio Dulce encompasses Livingston on the Caribbean coast (Livingston is only accessible by boat) to the town of Rio Dulce on Lake Izabal. A gorgeous stretch of water known as the Rio Dulce connects the two. Our boat ride from Livingston to Rio Dulce was stunning as we
Lake Izabal, Rio Dulce
wound our way in an open boat through the narrow gorge, through which the Rio Dulce drains into the Caribbean. Although VERY rustic, our accommodations in Rio Dulce served us well, and had some of the BEST Mexican food we have ever had. From our tiny cabin in the marsh we took excursions to the ancient Castillo San Felipe de Lara, to the Agua Caliente waterfall known as El Paraiso and to the beautiful Boqueron Canyon, where we spent several solitary hours deep in the canyon on a beautiful sunny day. We also learned the very humble ways of the
El Parisio Rio Dulce
Guatemalan people and their use of the collectivos for transportation and saw our first manatee in the wild, although not as close up as we would have liked.
I love a challenge. It’s a challenge getting around Guatemala, as it is still a developing country. But some of those challenges made for memorable moments. As mentioned above the collectivo experience in Rio Dulce was certainly unforgettable, riding in a van made for 12 with 23 other people. During our time here we
road in twelve different boats, mostly for transportation, but a couple for pleasure. We also hired a driver for a private shuttle three times, and through that experience met a wonderful Guatemalan man named Alejandro who we hope to see again some day. We felt safe in all of these situations and enjoyed the experience. My least enjoyable experience was the plane ride from Flores to Guatemala city in a small 20 seat plane. I got sick on this very bumpy and diesel-smelling ride. Ugh.
I love a bargain. Guatemala is cheap. Although we spent money on private shuttles, we could have gone with less expensive non-private shuttles or public transportation known as chicken busses. We used the kitchens in our airbnb’s when possible, but eating in restaurants was very inexpensive
Marsh cabin Rio Dulce
and all the food we ate was amazing, fresh and local. Our accommodations have ranged from $30 to $100 a night. We loved our Antigua Airbnb for $80 a night and our spectacular Airbnb in San Marcos with lake view was $75 a night. In Rio Dulce we paid $30 and Livingston was $70. We ended up spending $100 a night at a Ramada in Flores after the hotel we booked was CLOSED on arrival. That was something that had never happened before. But all in all Guatemala is one of the least expensive countries of our travels. The gorgeous textiles made by the indigenous Mayan people are so inexpensive, buying the same thing online would cost five times as much. Alas my suitcase it too small…
I love Guatemalan coffee. Guatemala is known for its coffee, and I have to agree…it is now possibly my favorite coffee of the world. Dark, rich and very flavorful, I am a convert. Guatemala is also
Coffee with Volcano view
known for its chocolate. Although I am not a big consumer of chocolate, the samples of chocolate I had were exceptional. The Maya used cacao as currency once upon a time. More valuable than gold.
I loved the people. Everyone we met (except for the one guy who ripped us off $6.50) was amazing. Few people spoke English and we actually enjoy being forced to expand our limited Spanish knowledge. Many people however also didn’t speak Spanish, as the Maya who are my generation mostly only spoke their native tongue. I loved the shy and traditional Maya, especially the beautiful women in their traditional dress. These are not costumes but how they dress everyday. The Guatemalan people
Mayan women, San Marcos
were all very private yet friendly, hard working and religious, welcoming and helpful. We enjoyed being a part of their culture and community.
So I left my heart in Guatemala. Possibly my favorite Central American country. Of course our time in Mal Pais in Costa Rica ranks VERY high. But Guatemala you are special. Unique. Beautiful. If you have
Mayan women selling palms
every considered visiting Guatemala you should do it. And do it soon. Supporting these developing countries through tourism is the least we can do, especially since America’s abandoning Guatemala after funding of guerrilla warfare during the civil war has caused much of the current economic situation Guatemala suffers.
Guatemala’s upcoming elections could be a turning point for the country…but perhaps things will stay the same, and the slow climb out of the devastation from a two-decade civil war will continue at a snail’s pace.
We hope for the best for this country and its beautiful people, where we have left our heart. We will be back.
This week marks three years since we walked away from our house of 15 years in Gig Harbor Washington and began our nomad life.
Bunk beds in El Salvador
Three years. Holy Cow the time has gone by so fast. When we began this crazy adventure we didn’t know if it would last six months or six years. I guess six years is looking pretty likely.
I’ve said all along this lifestyle is not for everyone. There are times where it’s not for me. But in general there are more positives than negatives and it now feels like a normal way to live. For us anyway.
Concrete Tub in Bali
Bed & Kitchen all in one in Sri Lanka
There are definitely challenges, and one of the biggest challenge is sleeping in so many beds. Along with all those beds comes all those bathrooms. Sometimes if I wake up in the middle of the night and gotta go…I need to take a minute and really think about where I am and what is the path to the potty?
As of this writing, we have slept in a total of 197 different beds over the three years. That includes the ten weeks we stayed in a condo after we sold our house (the longest we have stayed anywhere in three years) as well as all the different albuergues, hostels, hotels and pensions we slept in on both of our Camino walks.
That’s a lot of beds. The best part? We have yet to encounter bed bugs anywhere.
Last week we stayed in, well let’s say, “rustic” accommodations in Guatemala. Mind you Guatemala is one of the poorest nations in the world and has only been open to tourists for ten years. But the mattress sagged, the horrible satin sheets refused to stay put and the shower head kept falling off.
The worst bed in Hanoi
However, overall most of the beds we have slept in have been comfortable. My requirement in a good mattress is harder is better than softer. I have memories of two horrible mattresses, each so soft I could barely get out of bed in the morning. The worst one was in Hanoi, the second worst in Ladyville, Belize.
Had to go outside to the bath in Santorini
And, coincidentally (or maybe not), one of the worst bathrooms was also in our Hanoi apartment. We have learned that bathrooms throughout the world vary widely. Flushers on toilets are different in nearly every country. More than half the time you cannot flush toilet paper. Showers often have no hot water. Some times toilets are raised up on a platform (we call those the throne), or are in a separate room from the sink and shower. Showers might be huge and elegant or so tiny you can’t bend over. Some showers are open and get the entire bathroom wet, so keeping towels and toilet paper outside of the bathroom is required. Oh and bugs, centipedes and geckos sometimes enjoy our showers too. I learned the hard way to turn the light on for middle of the night visits to the loo.
Often the septic or local sewer is well below what we take for granted in the USA. In Placencia, Belize our Airbnb was at minus sea level and this made for interesting and usually incomplete flushing.
In New Zealand we stayed in a cabin with an outhouse. Also in New Zealand we spent four weeks in a camper with a port-a-potty. Very tricky at night.
Of course kitchens and other things vary as well. It’s all part of the ongoing adventure.
Twin beds in Santa Domingo Spain
So like I’ve said – it’s not for everyone. You really have to have a sense of adventure and approach each place with low expectations. That way, you are usually pleasantly surprised. Only once, has a place been bad enough for us to leave (read it here).
Glamping in New Zealand
We have a month of travel left before we return to the USA for a four-month visit. During our time in the USA we will settle into a condo we bought (sight unseen) a few months ago. This condo will become our home when we are in the USA, but we plan to continue to travel for a majority of each year, at least for a few more years and maybe forever.
Because, well, there are a lot more beds and baths we haven’t seen yet! Fabulous!
It was convenient, since I was already in Belize. When I heard about this kayak, camp Belize trip I asked Arne if he thought we might extend our time in Belize so I could go on this trip? He said sure. So it was really easy. With the push of a few buttons I was onboard to kayak with a group of women coming to Belize from the USA.
I didn’t give it a lot of thought. I just thought it might be fun. But when all was said and done it was much more than just fun. It was many things unexpected and rich, and more than anything, it was a fabulous adventure with fabulous women.
Our amazing guide Eric became notorious for saying “no problem” for any question we asked or problem we posed. He was amazing and made the journey so simple. Eric’s tour company Belizean Style (firstname.lastname@example.org), was contracted by Kayak Belize to guide us through the week. Bainbridge Island, Washington based Journey for a Purpose was the lead organization, who pulled together 12 women to experience this together. The 12 of us, aged 30-72, came from many different backgrounds, places, professions and experiences. And yet we fit together like a beautiful puzzle. It was fate.
Sometimes I am hard to impress, given the amount of territory I have covered. But this place – the cayes off the coast of Belize – is almost indescribable. Azure blue, turquoise green, golden-yellow, royal purple. These are the colors of the world-famous reef and seas. Jungle green, sandy pink, cocoa brown, chalky white. These are the colors of the tiny private atolls. So much beauty everywhere you turn.
I’ve had some amazing moments in my life that have empowered me, when I’ve found myself doing things I might otherwise turn to Arne and expect him to do for me or with me. Everything from setting up a tent, riding my bike across the state of Washington, walking 487 miles on the Camino to climbing a mountain. On this kayak journey, I found myself figuring out the logistics of equipment. Paddling the single kayak without Arne’s help. Finding private time when I needed it. As much as I adore my husband it’s always a good feeling when I’m left to my own powerful decision making.
We had some big winds and some tough paddle days. My back hurt and my arms felt like jelly but I made myself endure. The high winds and rain also surprised us early one morning and our tents flapped and threatened to sail away. But it was amazing how everyone worked together. How Mr. No Problem Eric was there to help. How we laughed about it after. We were strong. Invincible. Fierce.
As a group we spent time each day in “circle”. Here we practiced the art of listening, more than telling. Each woman had time to talk about herself, her background, her greatest challenge, her greatest achievement. While each spoke the others listened intently with acceptance and support. It’s not something I am usually comfortable with, but the format made me so. It was open, acknowledging and welcoming. It was real and refreshing and full. It was inspirational.
The atoll we were camping at is Moho Caye. It is about 13 miles out on the reef from Placencia. From 10am-3pm day trippers can visit the island. Some days as many as twenty people might show up, while other days perhaps only five. But from 3pm to 10am we had the entire island to ourselves. We all agreed it was spectacular. It was a cross between Gilligan’s Island and Castaway. A remarkable opportunity to relish the beauty of a private island to ourselves. We sung around the campfire and skinny dipped in the ocean. This was our island and we embraced it and it in return it showered us with lovely memories.
There is absolutely nothing in the world so wonderful as belly laughing. Laugh yourself silly. Laugh yourself happy. Laugh yourself healthy. It’s cleansing and exhausting and wonderful to laugh fully with abandon. And we did. We laughed over stories. We laughed over songs. We laughed over games. We found so much to bring smile and laughter to our time together, even though we had known each other such a short while. It was a happy and full experience of genuine spirited female fun.
Our wonderful leaders Spring and Maria from Journey for a Purpose found a variety of positive ways to bring us together as a group from snorkeling with sharks, rays and turtles to kayaking to singing to sharing. But in addition some of my most favorite moments were when we all did yoga together on the beach, creating an awareness within us as well as pulling the positive energy into our bodies. We also spent time making beach art and describing our beach art to each other. One day we walked around our island and brought back something from nature. We then spent time with Mr. No Problem Eric and learned something about the items we found. Then together we shared. It was great fun as the items collected ranged from a gecko to driftwood, from coral to leaves and branches. Our island shared its deep natural history.
While on our island, one of the women got the news that her father-in-law had passed away. As much as she felt she should be home with her family, we became her family that day and showered her with love. We helped memorialize a man we didn’t know, but it was so easy because we were all on the same wave-length. It was very affirming to me, to feel the love and joy being heaped on our friend and her departed kin. But for me it was also affirming to my life’s mission of living each moment as if it were my last. Of caring for myself in a way that gives me the strength to care for others. And above all, being fully present. A reminder to center myself and just be. This was a gift.
Journey for a Purpose
This is my second experience with Journey for a Purpose and I have loved both. You can find more information about them at the website link above. A few spots are still available for their Blake Island, Washington trips this summer.
I recently stumbled upon this quote, and it epitomizes for me how I feel about my kayak camping adventure as well as my daily life;
“To be fully alive, fully human, and completely awake is to be continually thrown out of the nest. To live fully is to be always in no man’s land.” – Pema Chodron
I was thrown from the nest n this adventure and loved it immensely. Thank you for challenging me and loving me and for my new friends who I hope to meet again someday. To Spring, Maria, Pamela, Susan, Suzanne, Eileen, Kathy, Nadine, Meg, Katie, Kelly, Ian (our cook) and Mr. No Problem Eric, I salute you. I hope you find what you are looking for and I wish you joy.
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