Fall Vacation Reflection

What is it about vacations that make being home feel so good? We have been on the road more than usual this fall. A September wedding in Big Sur wrapped up the final 12 days of summer with an epic surf road trip. Less than two week later we were flying across the country for a French Canadian dose of fall color in Quebec. Both trips were amazing, and totally different.

Road trip to Big Sur took us along Hwy 101 and 1: the classic West Coast adventure. Our mini cooper was crammed full of camping gear, food, wetsuits, wedding clothes and our two boards strapped to the roof. It was quite a sight and so much fun to pull off. 2600+ miles took us to some amazing views, great surf, with friends and family along the way. Nik and Nora’s wedding was quite the event as well and we felt like honored guests for the intimate, luxury event.

The week we were home felt the total opposite. Rushed and frantic and too much to do. We harvested tomatoes, made and froze sauce, rebuilt the chicken coop roof and added a new outdoor run. The rain was coming so we battened down the hatches and prepared our little farm for another spell away. I did my best to catch up at work while simultaneously preparing projects for more “out of office” responses in my absence. The house projects received zero attention.

But then the magic of travel happened again and all those unfinished project and work worries were 3000 miles away. On free tickets from last year’s bumped flight, we flew into Montreal and made our home in a little bohemian apartment for the next 4 days. We ate bread and cheese and pate for dinner almost every night, and found pastries for breakfast and lunch. We explored the city through all modes of transit: on foot, by bike share, metro and bus. One night we went out for a fancy dinner. We asked for a recommendation at the trendy butcher shop where we had found excellent terrine. Their sister restaurant was just around the corner and exactly what we wanted for a nice night out.

On Sunday we took a bus to Quebec City on the peak day of fall color. It was incredible, and quite a different experience from fall in the Pacific Northwest. The trees were on fire! How did we like Quebec City? That first afternoon of exploring literally brought me to tears. Multiple times. It was that beautiful and special feeling. The clouds and sky and light were perfect to see the city for the first time.

The rest of our 6 day Canadian adventure took us all around and through Quebec City. We rented a car 2 days to seek out fall colors (and more pastries and coffee). We ate and explored and ate and explored, calling another little Airbnb apartment home. We rarely find places we may want to live (we really do love Vashon) but were totally smitten with Ile d’Orleans. If we ever need to move that is on the list.

Now we are home. It took us a few weeks to really settle back in. We came home to a house swimming in tomatoes salvaged from the late season storms. Picking corn and cuddling our kitties that missed us tons. We dug out the rest of the garden and planted cover crops. We are settling back into the routine. Matt is finding his tools and picking up projects. I am figuring out my daily commute to the city. Life is returning to normal just as the days really settle into fall.

Sunscreen in November

Who would have guessed it was this hard to track down sunscreen this time of year? I guess since the skies are grey and rainy most people would not be buying any so it makes sense. However, today it threw me for a loop in last minute vacation prep…no sunscreen to be found! (ok, not NONE at all, but none of the brands I prefer)

Finally after lots of investigating (3 stores in person, 3 called) I looked into Amazon Prime (too bad Hawaii is too slow to ship in time) and calling stores on the island. After 3 strikes, I hit gold: Costco has one brand of sunscreen and it is Alba Botanica…my brand of choice! Woohoo!

No packing sunscreen for these beach rats…we are picking it up when we get there.

Mahalo

Back from Baja

Ten days away was lovely. Sun, sand, sleeping in. Really good food. Seeing old friends, and making some new ones.

This was our third trip to southern Baja, staying at the same little place in Todos Santos. It is so relaxing, inexpensive, quiet and exactly what we crave in travel. Being back means we quickly settled into our routine (tortillas from the lady down the street, fish tacos, flan from Miguel’s, hanging out with the dogs and playing games) but added some new things too. We dug out the old hand press juicer and went through 44 lbs of oranges making juice in a week. We took a whole day to drive around the ENTIRE southern cape region and explored some beautiful new areas. A new restaurant was a dinner favorite and we had 4 great surf days on more advanced boards!

It was a lovely trip, and just what we needed as a last hurrah before coming home to garden and paint the house all summer.

A few photographic highlights:

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Travel Essentials

We love to travel, particularly to places with beaches, good food, fun activities and sunshine. Since Matt and I met, we have crammed in a massive amount of travel and gotten good at streamlining our essentials. Yes, I still overpack EVERY time…but am getting better I swear!

This past weekend I finally finished unpacking from our winter trip to Belize. The dirty laundry had been done, so this was truly a good look at the unused (ie: overpacked!) list of items we hauled with us. I have been meaning to do this post for awhile since a few people ask me what my favorite travel items are. We leave for Todos Santos (our favorite secret getaway in Baja!) for surf trip in a few weeks so packing is on my mind! I also just got two new things that I had to share. So here goes:

1. A good swimsuit (or two!) I used to pack 8+ suits for a beach vacation. I loved the fun prints and mixing and matching and all the variety. However, this all changed when we started surfing. Function, or ability to stay on quickly became top priority so I have been on the search for the perfect suit. Goodbye cute VS suits. My favorite surf suit top was this cross back bikini top from Rip Curl but it came in limited colors and I wanted more than just black. Then recently I stumbled upon a women owned (!) made in the USA (!) competition brand (ie: stays put!) swim suit company called Jolyn…and am in LOVE with their cross back tops! Designed for beach volleyball you know these things stay put, and are made very well with high quality materials. Two will be coming to Todos Santos with me, and the rest of my swimsuits are getting donated. There is no going back.

PRINTED TRIANGLE TOPS

2. Sunscreen: We love the mineral sunscreens by Alba Botanical. They stay put, work well and are not overly scented. SPF 45+ please!

Kids  Mineral  Broad Spectrum SPF 30

3. Nalgene bottles are always in tow.

4. Small coin purse. I always end up with a TON of loose coins so this guy is a lifesaver.

5. Camera(s). Right now we are borrowing my parent’s Panasonic Lumix underwater camera. They have the TS4 model and it has been awesome. Great underwater pictures, and the ability to WASH it after a day getting salty/sunscreeny/dirty etc…so valuable. I love my DSLR but at the beach the salt spray is too much. I usually bring it on the trip too, but it is taken out less regularly than the Lumix. Finally, the trusty iPhone5. This little camera is great for quick shots, particularly in low light or those cool panoramic shots.

6. Coconut Oil. Now this may sounds weird but hear me out on this one. Packing/traveling light is all about multipurpose essentials and coconut oil is the ultimate multitasker. We usually pick up a jar at the grocery store when we land and use up the whole thing in a week. (or bring one with us if we are checking a bag…but that is rare these days). What do we use it for? After sun lotion, hair conditioner, shaving cream, cooking (great for fish, plantains, pork, chicken etc!), baking (instead of vegetable oil)…the list goes on. Seriously a great staple.

7. iPad and card reader. As much as I love taking photos when I travel I am always aware of how quickly they could disappear. Theft (of a camera or memory cards), loss, water damage, husband accidentally deleting photos on the camera…not worth the risk. We back up ALL our photos daily by downloading them onto our iPad with a card reader. Then we have duplicates on cards.

8. Bandanna. Another multitasker. Head sun protection (really critical now that I have bangs), washcloth, ice pack, napkin…

9. Rainbow flip flops. 4 years in and still going strong. Matt and I wear them all summer long and LIVE in them on vacation.

Single Layer Premier Leather with Arch Support

10. Smart bags: daypack, beach bag, cooler bag. The beach bag must be easy to pack, fold, wash etc. An insulated cooler bag is great for getting groceries home in hot weather. And good for keeping beers cold at the beach. We use one from Trader Joe’s.

Madison: Mid-Winter

I am sitting in a coffee shop in Madison, WI waiting for an email chain to close up for work. There is a fresh layer of snow and the sun is shining gloriously. Oh, yea, and it is 1 degree out there. Brr! Good thing I found a great latte.

This thin skinned Washington girl got quite the shock with the temperature drop when landing here last night. It was 55 or so when I left Seattle yesterday mid-morning, and things are blooming everywhere in an early Spring. Madison is still in the dead of winter. And it is a treat!

What prompted a mid-winter trip in freezing temps? My best girlfriend Jenny! We were LONG overdue for a reunion and decided to just make it happen. Today we are both working, but tomorrow starts a long weekend of catching up, cooking, eating out, adventuring and more catching up. Jenny and I lived together for two years in college and have already seamlessly fallen back into routine. We have the exact same bath towels, the same basket for our hair dryers, and keep comparing notes on how similar our husband’s quirks are. I sure have missed this girl!

Tales from Belize: B’s Deli

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Our first drive through San Pedro was in the back of a taxi. We worked our way through the maze of one way streets, past the main round about and proceeded north out of town. There were many things to take in, but one detail stuck out in my memory: a little red food stand that was upgrading it’s front waiting area with fresh, white gravel. And then I forgot about it.

A few days later, Matt and I were on a quest for fry jack.  If anything sums up our trip it is the discovery of this delectable food: Cheap, delicious, filling and uniquely flavored to Belize (at least in my mind). What is it, you ask? Picture a cross between Indian fry bread and an elephant ear. Sometimes plain (dipped in honey or sugar) and sometimes stuffed, with exciting combinations like egg and ham or beans with chicken. Sometimes the stuffed jacks are filled then fried, other times just folded over the filling after the dough is golden brown. All are good.

We had sampled fry jack at other places but were in search of the San Pedro version. We were walking along and saw a small red food stand with a handwritten butcher paper sign indicating that our desired breakfast was made fresh inside. B’s Deli. We stepped up, ordered one, and had a seat. Only after we were sitting there playing peek-a-boo with an adorable 2 year old did we realize this was the same place that had only that week added the gravel floor.

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The fry jack did not disappoint. Fluffy and golden and stuffed with chicken and beans. What a breakfast. When we asked how much, $2.50 came as a surprise…Belize dollars. $1.25 for that delicious plate of fried fresh goodness. We were coming back.

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The next day we brought mom and dad. Four fry jacks all around (this time two of ham and egg and two of chicken), more peek-a-boo and full tummies afterwards.

Now the next morning was our final day on Ambergis, so of course we had to make one last trip. You can never have too many fry jacks! We walked up and the woman at the counter was happy to see her repeat customers. We told her that her fry jack was THE best and she asked us if we wanted the secret. She wrote down her recipe and invited us inside to learn how to make them.

We found space in the back of her tiny deli…the whole building was not more than 8×12, and learned the secret to her golden puffy dough. It was only then that we learned how lucky out timing was to eat her fry jack…she had only been open 5 days!

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If your adventures take you to San Pedro on Ambergis Caye, go visit B’s Deli. It is located on the North side of town, across the street from a bicycle shop almost at the bridge. Look for a red building with white gravel. The bubbly woman cooking there is great to talk to, her adorable “hurricane” daughter will bring a smile to your face, and the fry jack is delicious. I cannot wait to have another.

Tales from Belize: How to Get Around

On most vacations we rent a car. It give you flexibility, the ability to grocery shop easily, and see more the place than just walking distance from the hotel. On this trip, there was no car involved. Instead we took almost every mode of transportation you can imagine: busses, planes, small planes, water taxi, fishing boats, walking, hitchhiking, taxi, kayak and golf cart.

From Belize City to Dangriga (where we would head off to Tobacco Caye) we took the public bus. At $5 US per person for a 2+ hour trip it was a steal of a deal. Complete with blasting reggae music, vendors selling plantain chips and bags of juice, and crowded with locals. This was seeing the country.

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After a night in Dangriga we found our boat to Tobacco Caye. Captian Doggy (we later found out that his real name is Clifford and kids gave his that nickname after the big red dog cartoon!) expertly navigated us and all our luggage in an open fishing boat out to the Caye. We saw dolphins and many many birds.

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After a return trip (this time much rougher, wetter and cloudier) with Doggy we bussed back to Belize City, taxied to the water taxi terminal and took the water route to Ambergis Caye.

On Ambergis we had a golf cart that was fun, but not very reliable. Our first full day we drove the car north. Pavement only goes the first 2 miles or so past town, and from there it is a combination of dirt, rock, puddles, sand, beaches, potholes and mile signs. After a beautiful snorkel out to Mexican Rocks, we headed another mile north and then turned around. At mile 7 ¼, the cart died. Wheels would not turn. So we locked up the cart and started walking.

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This could have really been bad. Mosquitoes were out, the sun was going down and we were 7+ miles from town on a not well traveled road.

But it was just fine. Along came another golf cart and we hitched a ride (6 people total) on a golf cart until that couple was home, and from there we hitchhiked again and were picked up by a taxi driver headed to town with his family for the weekend. They were very friendly and dropped us off at our condo. Phew.

The next day they rescued our cart, “fixed” it, and we were able to drive south to explore that end of the island. It stalled a few times but got us home in one piece. Then the next day died as we headed over the bridge. That morning we got our exercise running to catch the water taxi.

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Again, the cart was rescued, but our week was winding down. We managed to get in some more driving, but also did a lot of walking. The last day, we had a totally flat tire. Walking earns you more fry jack right?!

To get back to the mainland we flew on small 12 seater planes with Maya Island Air. A quick 15 minute flight, followed by a 5 minute flight and a 25 minute taxi ride and we were back at the International Airport. Why two flights you ask? The first stop actually IS at the international airport, but the municipal airport has MUCH cheaper airport fees. It was worth it to say on the plane, land at the muni airport and taxi over.

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For me, transportation was a huge part of our experience in Belize, not just for how we got around. We met interesting people, saw very real parts of Belizean life, and enjoyed the ride.