Sunday, March 1, 2009

Family Adventuring

We've been back home for a month now after our amazing adventures bicycling the Pacific Coast last summer and then living and learning in Mexico for a semester. Our family adventuring usually focuses on new experiences, living outside, and time together. This last trip we got to add months more time, another country, and a new language to the mix.

While on various backpacking, bicycling, kayaking and travel adventures over the years, we have met couples considering having kids who tell us we're an inspiration, older folks who travelled when their kids were young who said the experience was invaluable, and families who wonder how they could possibly adventure together. This makes me want to spend time with those wondering families, encouraging them to start wherever they are and head out adventuring together.

One way to do such encouraging and mentoring is virtually. This Traveling Simply blog of our family adventuring stories will be dormant for a little while, and I will be encouraging others through a new blog on family adventuring info, tips, and thoughts. Hope you can check it out, add your questions and ideas, and help build a community of adventuring families sharing inspiration and resources, trip ideas and gear info, plus do-it-yourself knowledge and a story or two.

And if family adventuring doesn't describe your interests right now, please pass the new blog info on, and check back here later for new Traveling Simply stories.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Transition Central and The Last Grasshopper

At just after midnight on Thursday, January 22, we walked to our house from the local bus station after a day of cross-country airline travel and a 90-mile bus ride. It was a cold, frosty walk home, and it felt otherworldly to be back in our hometown in the deserted moonlight.  We thought of marking the transition with a clandestine dip in our neighbor's new hot tub, but instead dropped the backpacks just inside our door, marveled at our cat's chubbiness, admired the welcome back signs, appreciated the fresh homemade strawberry crepes in our fridge, and fell into our beds. The next day we turned up the gas fireplace and starting transitioning in earnest.

Living with only a backpack's worth of possessions for four months, and a bike pannier's worth for many weeks before that, has certainly impacted our relationship to material things. Both kids took one look at their rooms and immediately went into purge mode. I don't blame them. It does feel like there's way too much stuff here. So now we are living in transition central, i.e. a very messy house, as we work on moving things out even as we're moving things in. Things out: books headed for Dana's school's used book sale, didn't-miss-that kitchen items, miscellany from the kids' rooms, and clothes that no longer fit (Dana) or no longer seem needed. Things in: Colegio Yeccan Waldorf projects and notebooks, Mexican artwork, gear from our trip, and groceries.  

After a few days we took a break from the ferocious sorting for a welcome back fiesta where we saw friends and shared food, stories, mescal and those chile grasshoppers we brought back. I now think the grasshoppers are an interesting personality test. Only two people ate them by the handful, more males than females were willing, and a number of kids said they ate one just so they could say they did. I finally ate one too, since it was Dana who was noticing the male to female intrepid eating difference, and I wanted to take one for the gals.

The kids bravely started back to school, as Tom and I continued the home simplifying process. Of course the transitioning of things is easier than the transitioning of people. We are finding home is familiar but different, and so are we.

I started back to work yesterday and brought the last of the chile grasshoppers with me to greet my colleagues. Once again, I got to watch people's expressions of disgust or interest and notice who was willing to pop one in their mouth. Maybe I'll start offering them to my students for fun. Or maybe, almost a month after purchasing the grasshoppers in Oaxaca, I should stop my grasshopper personality tests. Those bugs might be a less fresh these days, and I should probably let them go. But I'm not letting go of my memories and experiences of our adventures. I want those to stick like little legs between my teeth after crunching on a grasshopper.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Unbraiding and Squish Factors

Do we look any different, more conversant in Spanish perhaps? Can you tell which photo was taken the night we left for Mexico and which one was taken the morning of our return 4 months later? Since we arrived in San Diego as the finale of our summer 2008 bicycle trip down the Pacific coast of the USA, and re-staged there for our semester in Mexico, it seemed fitting we were back again to transition from travel to life in this country just to the north of Mexico. This time we arrived at my sister's much less hot and sweaty. (She lives among some tremendous hills that challenged us a little on our last day of bicycling in August.) And this time we made our entrance in sombreros rather than bicycle helmets.

Transition week in San Diego included reworking our wardrobes (the kids got taller so none of their pants fit and we needed clothes for colder weather), and Dana getting her ears pierced and her hair unbraided - it took her mom, aunt and grandma working together quite awhile to get out the 49 braids. Noah and Dana were also pedal-boating with the grandparents, pool swimming, bowling, doing art projects and playing Playmobil with cousin Alexi, and choosing books from the library book sale. Tom went out on a few mountain bike rides, we mailed our camping gear back to Bellingham, and we got used to dollars not pesos. Winner of the nightly word game Quiddler got to eat a grasshopper spiced with chile, since we brought back a few from Oaxaca as a present for my brother-in-law. Word is they're crunchy like a sunflower seed.  Only with a little squish in the middle.

Arriving in 3-degree Michigan, the snow is not squishing. It is making that squeaking sound underfoot that signals it is darn cold. Snow is good news here, as Tom's parents' 50th wedding anniversary event is at a cross-country ski resort, and there are big plans for nordic races, sledding and skating. Happily, there's also a hot tub and a place I could order the anniversary cake from. 

We'll be "deep in family" as Noah once said of this group when he was little, with his uncles arriving from North Carolina, cousins from Portland and New York and Michigan, his Michigan aunt and uncle, and his Maryland great-aunt and uncle. Group meals for 20, options in outdoor fun, and family. Another kind of adventure. Maybe we'll even propose word games and chile grasshopper prizes.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

A Continuation of the Original Situation

This blog's title, just like my last, are taken from one of Shambala's signs. I figure "a continuation of the original situation" applies to our move from the beach back inland. As in, we continue to camp in Mexico, enjoying 80-degree days and 50-odd degree nights with a beautiful view from our tent. We've just traded seeing the water to being in the hills looking down on Oaxaca City. Our tent was an awesome place to watch the New Year's Eve fireworks.

We concluded our beach fun with a trip to the turtle sanctuary at Mazunte, where we met five of the seven types of turtles that live in Mexico. We liked the striped land turtles lumbering along, but were even more captivated by the swimming sea turtles. There were baby ones the size of Dana's hand and huge ones with shells several feet across, all swooping gracefully in the tanks.

After that, we visited our favorite restaurants once last time, boogie boarded and snorkeled again so Laural could finally see a spotted pufferfish, and taxied to Pochutla to get van transport back to Oaxaca City. Laural took extra Mexican Dramamine equivalent and managed the 5-hour endless serpentine road feeling weirdly drugged but not at all nauseous.

Our new digs are a combination campground and agave, or maguey in Spanish, farm. We now know that tequila, which is made from the same plant, can only be called tequila if it is made near the town of Tequila, so everything else is mescal. The proprietor here makes mescal from his agave, and his trademark is a scorpion in the bottom of the bottle, instead of the usual worm. There are only four groups camped here, and the other three are retired Canadians or Germans with campervans. So it's pretty quiet except for the neighborhood roosters and donkey, and Dana and Noah have lots of space to run around and play with the three dogs that live here. Dana likes little Pita best and is petting her in the photo.

During the day we catch a local bus down into the city and wander the markets, or head out to other locales. We spent time at the ruins of Monte Alban yesterday.  Reminded us of Teotihuacan, but so much older and more preserved stone carvings. I felt proud when I asked Noah if he wanted a Monte Alban t-shirt with the circular Aztec calendar on it and he looked askance, "because this site is Zapotec, not Aztec, mom."
Nice to know he's absorbing info here, and it helps that he just read a fiction book called the Maya Gateway. He also called excitedly to Dana when he recognized a stela, a column of pictographs telling the place's history, which he knows because one was discovered by the archeologist in the book.

So we continue to live and learn, have a few more adventures planned for our last days in Mexico, and head to the USA on January 6, celebrated here as the Three Kings Day, when the wise men arrived to visit baby Jesus. We'll fly from Oaxaca City to Tijuana, bus across the border, and then spend a week in San Diego with my parents, and my sister and her family, who have even kept up their Christmas tree for us. While many in Mexico are exchanging gifts in remembrance of El Dia de los Reyes, we'll be doing the same with family in San Diego. Maybe it is appropriate that we'll arrive on the Three Kings Day, like them wiser and more humble than when we left.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Celebrating Christmas Where the 1960's Never End

After the all night bus ride from Oaxaca City to the Oaxacan Coast at Puerto Angel, we went in search of beach camping and found a spot at Shambala. A groovy enclave on the clothing optional end of the beach, the sign pledging to "always welcome flower children" also proclaims it is a place "where the 60's never end." And yes, there are folks doing early morning nude yoga on the beach.

We started camping under a palapa (palm-thatched roof) at beach level, but after a few nights moved up, literally, to about forty feet above the beach for a fantastic view, more shade, and a quieter spot. Now we alternate days boogie boarding at Zipolite with days snorkeling at Playa Panteon, the next beach south.  I think the fish with electric blue mascara was saying hello to me yesterday. There are also bright yellow sunfish the size of dinner plates schooling around, tiger striped fish, pipefish, and lots of types with glowing shades of blue. I think there's another family poem in our snorkeling experience (see last blog) but we haven't captured it yet.
We got to spend a day with a Canadian family who had similar aged kids which was fun for all, and plan to head north a little ways to visit a turtle sanctuary before we return to Oaxaca City in the last days of December. Meanwhile, we're trying a different restaurant every day, getting fruit and snacks at the local market, wandering the area on foot, and trying to stay out of the sun during the burning rays hours of 10-2.

On Christmas eve, Shambala's owner hosted a unity dinner for all, and even gave out gifts. Dana received earrings and a beaded necklace and Noah got a shark's tooth necklace.  With his blond longish hair and boogie boarding prowess, he very much looks like a surfer guy here. Christmas was small things in the tent's gear loft, a stroll down the beach, and a plan to go skinny dipping tonight. 
Wishing you health, peace, and new adventures this holiday season.  Take care.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Feathery Flutters and Volcano Breath

Our week of travel in the state of Michoacan gave us the experiences of meeting wonderful people, feeling thousands of monarch butterflies in the air around us, and climbing the steaming volcano Paricutin.  We alternated camping and hoteling, as it was a bit chilly.  Camping the first night involved setting up our tent in an unfinished house and a meal of fresh steamed trout in a family home, in a beautiful little mountain town.  Near Patzcuaro we awoke to ice coating the tent, so the next night in Angahuan we rented a little trojecito, a tiny cabin with just enough space for four horizontal humans.  Here we'll share our first tries at family poetry, with each person contributing lines, to describe our time with the butterflies and the volcano.

Sanctuario de Monarcas

A rocky worn scrabbly trail
A bushwacking traverse
Finding wings on the ground
Hours of up
then clouds of butterflies windtunneling towards us
like gems
Feathery flutters of fire orange explosion
The swishing of small wings
Or clinging quietly in clusters to individual pine needles
and decorating Dana


Butt-bumbling wood saddles on fuzzy horses
or shoe-filling ash walking
past peach and avocado fields
and troje pointed roof wood houses
then hot and open lava fields
Sounds of Purepecha language
between the guide and his son
Smooth cone suddenly steep
volcano breath steam on our hands
ear to earth engine sounds
ancient smell of creation
Circling the crater
singed buns while innocently eating sandwiches
Knee high ash clouds steep dune
running sliding down
Lava hugging the church steeple of the town no more

Saturday, December 6, 2008

School Daze

Tom and I concluded 12 weeks of Spanish language school. That's us pictured below with three of our teachers, and Rolando has the pumpkin pie we brought to share. We've had three hours a day of grammar, practice, and conversation, five days a week for twelve weeks, plus two classes of cooking or dance each week. While I definitely need time for what I've been taught to sink in, I will surely miss my teachers and classmates at Escuela Mexicana. I feel accomplished to have finished the trimester and humbled by how much more exposure and study it will take know this new language.
Meanwhile, Tom and I have been volunteering in local schools, for another view of education in Mexico. I have been working in English classes with teachers Miriam and Celeste at Instituto Ignacio Montes de Oca. The students call it "Emo" due to the acronym being IIMO.  With over 40 fifteen-year-olds of mixed previous English experience per class period and a whiteboard in a battered classroom, these women have a tough job. I found the kids to be friendly and enthusiastic, the teachers dedicated, the classroom structure rather loose, and looming state exams to stress teachers and students just like they do in my
 school back in Washington State, USA.

Tom has been teaching 5th and 6th graders English at Juan B. Diosdado school in a very technology-based curriculum, involving videos and a smartboard. There are similarly forty students per class, and his students wear uniforms, which is very common here.  Now we're running into our students all over town. Tom's are usually with their parents, which necessitates introductions.  Mine are usually hanging out with their friends being cool teenagers.
Dana and Noah are managing school changes as well, concluding at Colegio Yeccan Waldorf (did you spy it in the photo where they are walking to school?) as we ready for our month of travel before returning to the USA. Just as for Tom and I, it is bittersweet. They have made friends and like school and our adventures here, and that's makes it hard to leave, even though we look forward to seeing friends and family at home.

We expected to be a little dazed by the school transitions, it's the price for getting to live here for the fall semester, but saying good-bye at the kids' school was hard.  Both Dana and I shed tears.  I'm consoling myself by thinking we'll come back. I want to learn more Spanish, I want the kids to learn more Spanish and stay connected to friends here, and I want to visit again the wonderful people we have met. Plus I love Guanajuato!  Next though, we're heading into our month of travel, starting with the monarch butterfly sanctuary and the 10,400 foot volcano Paricutin. Then it will be off to Oaxaca City and the Oaxacan Coast. Feeling dazed, but oh so thankful to be here.