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Traditional Living in Costa Rica – Part 2

Published October 23, 2017 by jillamatt

Over the course of 9 months in 2017, my partner and I sold all of our possessions, including 2 vehicles, and a house full of stuff. In order to sell the house for its maximum value, we also completed 3 months of renovations that had been lingering for over 3 years. We wrapped up 2 businesses and left a town and tight knit community that we both cherished. We did all of this in order to seek out a life of freedom, away from the hustle and bustle of the 9-5 life, but most importantly, we did it so that we could travel. This is our story…….

To read part one of this story, please click here.

We awoke at about 8:30 the next morning to see blue sky and sunshine peeking through our bedroom curtains. I jumped out of bed and ran straight to the double front doors and swung them open. Spread out before us was a magical green carpet, rife with plants of every description, birds flying this way and that, hummingbirds drinking the nectars of the flowers, and a slight breeze carrying unbelievably sweet smells which floated across the landscape. In the distance, the Gulf of Nicoya was glistening in the sunlight, as the prominent peninsula of the same name, stood on guard behind it.

I sat on the futon, appropriately placed on the front porch, and just stared in amazement. THIS is Costa Rica!

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Need I say more?  This is the view from the front doors of our Casa on the Farm.

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They opened to reveal this!

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We spent much time out here contemplating life and watching the birds and butterflies go by.

After Chris joined me, we ran around the yard and inspected every flower and plant that we could find. Interestingly enough, many of them were familiar and also grew back in Canada, however, many of them were also simply house plants, that never would dare to go outside into the cooler temperatures. Here, they were happily growing in the ground, enjoying the stable tropical temperatures year round.

Soon enough, our host, Orlando arrived to let us know where we could get breakfast, over in the neighbouring property, and made sure that everything was to our satisfaction. I started out trying to speak with him in Spanish, but in no time he realized that it would just be easier if he spoke English. Later we found out that he is 20 years old, but he carried himself as if he had many more years than that under his belt. Well spoken and very friendly, I immediately felt completely at ease with his gentle nature.

We made our way over to “El Rancho” to find some breakfast. Coming into the property we saw that there were a few different buildings, none with any markers or indicators as to what was what. We wandered around for a bit until we found a lady outside of one house. I approached her and introduced myself. Her name was Yolanda, and I later realized that she is Orlando’s mother. In my broken Spanish, I made her to understand that we were looking for a place for breakfast. She understood, and after many back and forth exchanges, she finally realized that we were ready for breakfast at that moment. Little did I know that she was the cook!

She took us up to El Rancho and proceeded to cook up a wonderful feast for us. Gallo (pronounced gai-yo) Pinto, or rice and beans, is a main staple in most of Central America, was combined with Eggs (heuvos), fresh, handmade corn tortillas, fresh papaya, some sort of spreadable cream, and of course, Coffee (cafe). As Chris doesn’t drink coffee in the morning, he was offered fresh sugar cane juice combined with hot water to substitute as a tea of sorts. We sat in El Rancho, and stared off over the land, this view equally as spectacular as the one from our own casa (house).

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Breakfast at El Rancho.

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Okay, seriously!  This was SO GOOD!!  FRESH, handmade corn tortillas, Gallo Pinto, Eggs and delicious fresh Papaya and fruit!  Not too mention Costa Rican coffee and sugar cane juice with hot water for Chris!

We met Orlando Senior, the head of the family, and I had fun listening to him and practicing my Spanish in return, when I had the opportunity.

When we booked the Air BnB, I had sent a message to tell them that we were very interested in learning about farming techniques in other countries, and would welcome the chance to see the Dairy in action. After breakfast, Orlando Junior told us that the milking of the cows would again be done at 4:00pm, and we could come and watch if we wanted.

We eagerly agreed and then headed off in our own directions for the remainder of the day.

Four O’Clock came around and we headed off to the farm. We arrived as the cows were entering the stable, where the milking would take place. Orlando showed us the whole process and explained each step along the way. Now-a-days they have machines to milk the cows, they simply put a machine that acts like a vacuum on each teat, and it milks approximately 16 litres of milk in about 5 minutes. He told us that when the storms happened, and the power went out for 4 days, they had to milk by hand and it was MUCH harder!  His dad also was quick to tell us that he milked by hand for many years, and that the younger generations are lucky that they have it so easy. I sensed a small bit of jealousy in his tone.

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Molasses for dessert!

Orlando explained to us that they have recently been doing tours for students, to come and learn the techniques of the farm. In the next couple weeks he will be hosting students from Canada, the US and Europe. Over the past few years, he has done much research to learn about different ways that he can make the farm organic, and it has been met with great success. The land has been cultivated differently, trees have been planted in specific locations to provide different nutrients to the soils, and the cows are grazing in rotations, so the grass has time to grow back and provide more nutrients to them. At such a young age, we were very impressed with his ambition to make the farm more sustainable. He told us that in recent years the price of dairy has dropped, but the price of feed has risen, making it harder and harder to maintain a living. By learning about Air BnB, he has brought in much more money to the farm, and is constantly learning about other ways to bring more tourists into the area. This in turn will help the community by allowing them to hire more help from town, and will also help his family prosper more in these challenging times.

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Chris and Orlando!  Meeting new friends while travelling is the best!

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Couldn’t resist a visit to the baby cows!

While there, we told him about other ways to get more help on the farm, without putting out a lot of money. We told him about the Wwoofing (to learn about our previous wwoofing experience in Greece, click here) network, where he can have volunteers come and help on the farm, in exchange for housing and feeding them. He wasn’t aware of this program, and we were happy to give him a different outlook on getting help on the farm, without having to dole out precious income. We also told him about some of the permaculture techniques that we had used in our gardening back in Canada. He was very curious about theses new ways, and he took no time to look them up on the internet, to confirm what we had told him was true.

He also told us that he has taken 2 years of University to learn Accounting. He loves his life on the farm, and all of his education is going towards helping the farm to thrive in ways that his father and grandfather before him hadn’t. Unfortunately, this year, he wasn’t able to go back to school, as his dad needs him around to help, but his goal is to get the farm to a sustainable place, through the Air BnB’s and through farm tours, so that they can maybe afford to hire somebody to help while he finishes his education.

After we watched a few cows being milked, he took us on a tour of the farm to show us some of the agricultural practices that he had put into place in the last couple years. The property is so spectacular, it’s almost too hard to comprehend. We were thankful when he said that he loved it there, and had no need to leave, he only wanted to improve upon what was started. Thankfully his parents are open to new ideas and ways of doing things.

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This is the pasture for the cows.  It’s very different than th eland that most cows in Canada graze on.  These cows are in good shape from climbing up and down hills all day!  Notice the rotation of the grazing, which allows the grass to grow back in nicely before it is grazed on again.

On the way back to El Rancho, Orlando grabbed a bucket of fresh warm milk, and told us that his mom would show us how to make cheese from it. Chris quite quickly realized that the process that they use here to make cheese, is identical to how he had learned in Canada. While Yolanda made the cheese, we chatted with Orlando, met his sister Carolina, and looked out over the land, watching the most spectacular sunset unfold. He said that sunsets like this are unusual for this time of year, and are normally reserved for around Christmas time. I guess we got our presents early this year! The sunset, the company and the whole experience was truly magical!

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Yolanda making cheese with a fabulous view out the “Cocina” (kitchen) window.

When the cheese was finished, we sat down with the whole family, except Orlando Senior, and took part in an incredible feast. Yolanda made some coffee, fresh tortillas and we ate the fresh cheese and an amazing type of bread pudding that is also a traditional Costa Rican dish. It was such a wonderful evening, and I could have pinched myself for being so lucky to have had the chance to experience such authenticity from their culture. THIS is truly what I am looking for. To feel a part of their experience, not just an observer, even if only for a short time.

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Fresh, handmade tortillas, a huge mound of fresh “Queso” (cheese), coffee and some traditional bread pudding.  Soooooo good!!

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This sunset was exceptional!  The end to a spectacular day!

While learning as much as we could about them, we were also able to show them pictures of where we are from, to provide them a broader perspective on the world as well. Orlando said that his dream is to make more money for the farm, and to do more travelling in the future. His ambitions are admirable and we have no doubt that he can accomplish them.

We spent one more night on the “Finca” (farm), and had one more exquisite “Desayuno” (breakfast), and then bid our lovely hosts goodbye. We told them that we had to go do some house sitting for a couple months, but I have a feeling that we will be back in the New Year.

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Monteverde

We also spent 2 nights in the Santa Elena/Monteverde town.  It was also an enjoyable time, but we definitely felt that were more a part of the typical tourist scene.  However, we had some cool experiences…….

Accomodation:  Santa Elena Hostel Resort – We had a lovely stay here.  The rooms are clean, and tidy, the common use areas are well kept, and there are hammocks, a bar and a restaurant where you can relax.  The front fest was very helpful in booking tours and answering any questions that we had.  As we were here during the off season, rooms were 40% off.  We paid $35/night for our own room that could accommodate up to 3 people.

Things to do:   Monteverde Orchid Garden – This is located next to the Hostel where we stayed.  The garden has been cared for a nurtured for 12 years now, and some of the species have been collected for 30.  There are over 100 orchids in bloom here on any given day.  The guide was absolutely excellent and provided us with more information than it is possible to retain.  We highly recommend visiting it.  $12/person for a 40 minute tour.

Kinkajou Night Walk – We took part in a popular jungle night walk.  We went out on the early one that started at 5:30, as recommended by our front desk at the hostel.  We were not disappointed!  The guide was very knowledgeable and told us too many things to remember.  He knew exactly where to look for various animals and we managed to see a Tarantula, Sloth, Kinkajou (a very rare sighting), numerous frogs, 2 Toucans sleeping in the trees, 4 bright green vipers (2 were mating!), numerous stick bugs and many other amazing creatures.  It was a 2 hour tour and well worth the money at $25/person.

Selvatura Hanging Bridges –  As we had no other plans to go into any of the surrounding forests of Monteverde, we decided to book a trip to the Selvatura Hanging Bridges.  At a cost of $30 each, including transportation there and back, we expected to have a guide telling us about the plants, something similar to our night walk the night before.  However, it was a completely self guided tour but over 6 pretty impressive bridges.  Being above, or level with, the canopy, gives a different perspective of the forest.  Looking down on massive ferns and so many other plants and trees, was pretty neat.  It’s expensive for what you get, but worth the experience.

At the hanging bridges, there is also a hummingbird garden that attracts the hummingbirds with your standard typical hummingbird feeders.  There were some cool hummingbirds, but overall the set up wasn’t what I would expect.  We both kind of thought that there would be flowers attracting them…..maybe that was over the top wishful thinking.  It was fun to watch them anyways, and they were so beautiful.

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Current Location:  Samara, Costa Rica

Current Travel Plans:  We will be staying here until the 27th of October when we head to Quepos for a couple nights.  From there we will be heading to Playa Matapalo where we will be house sitting for 2 months.  

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To learn about where I have previously traveled, click here.

To see my blog post menu, click here.

To email me directly, please do so at jillamatt@me.com.

 

 

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Traditional Living in Costa Rica – Part 1

Published October 20, 2017 by jillamatt

Over the course of 9 months in 2017, my partner and I sold all of our possessions, including 2 vehicles, and a house full of stuff. In order to sell the house for its maximum value, we also completed 3 months of renovations that had been lingering for over 3 years. We wrapped up 2 businesses and left a town and tight knit community that we both cherished. We did all of this in order to seek out a life of freedom, away from the hustle and bustle of the 9-5 life, but most importantly, we did it so that we could travel. This is our story…….

We are on day 4 of our trip, and I can honestly say already that if we had to return home for some unknown reason, that I would be content with our experience. Today was everything that I had hoped to achieve on our travels, and more!

We are currently in Monteverde, a mountaintop community, located in Costa Rica’s northern highlands. “Green Mountain”, the translation of Monteverde, couldn’t be more accurate. Every direction you look, there are plants of seemingly endless descriptions and green mountains stretch as far as the eye can see. We know this for sure, as the Air BnB that we booked is perfectly perched on the side of one such mountain, and the vista below is absolutely breathtaking. We can see all the way west to the Nicoya Peninsula, and in the right light the “Golfo de Nicoya” (Gulf of Nicoya) in front of the peninsula, dances and sparkles in the sunlight.

Read on to hear about our experiences so far…….

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After spending 2 nights in Alajuela, the neighbouring city to Costa Rica’s capital city, San Jose, and feeling that we had recovered sufficiently from our dreaded red eye flight from Calgary, through Toronto, we decided to head into the interior of Costa Rica, instead of hitting the beach. We will be house sitting right on the beach for 2 months at the end of October, so we will have lots of beach time to come. The mountains were calling us.

In 2004, my last visit to Costa Rica, I had visited a small mountain town called Monteverde. I had very fond memories of this place, but such as it was back then, our main motivation was to get to the beach, so we only spent a night or two. I longed to come back to explore more of this area, and to try and get a better feel for life in the highlands.

I did a search for Monteverde on my Air BnB app, to see what would come up. There were many options in many price ranges, but as I scrolled the list, one caught my eye. “Paradise House Monteverde #2 – Farmstay”.  The description definitely called to my yearning to learn more about the Costa Rican life.  Check it out below:

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Turns out that as it is the low season, and the internet had been washed out with the latest Hurricane, we got a discount and only paid $68 for 3 nights!

I quickly read it out to Chris and he said “Yes! Book it!”

Our plan was set! Here was our chance to learn about a traditional Costa Rican way of life. My goal with travelling is always to connect with locals, to see how others are living, to learn their way of life, and to share it with others. This sounded like a perfect fit! I booked 3 nights, knowing that would give us 2 full days to enjoy ourselves in a lovely, peaceful location.

3 nights = $68 CAD

With the help of our host in Alajuela, we booked a bus trip up into the mountains. Costing just $15 US (including a $5 booking fee for booking online), the bus would leave Alajuela at 3:00 and arrive at 7:00pm. In the tropics, every day of the year, it is dark by 6:00, so I knew that it would be dark when we arrived at our location. I messaged this to Orlando, our farm host, and he assured me that since they were located well out of Monteverde proper, he would arrange a transport to pick us up at the Bus stop.

The bus ride was a typical one, driving quickly down paved highways, weaving along the coastline of the Gulf of Nicoya, until all of a sudden we took a sharp, right hairpin turn onto a gravel road. After 2 hours on the road, we were finally headed into the mountains. Immediately there was a sign that said Monteverde 35km. I commented to Chris that surely it can’t take 2 more hours to go 35 kilometres. However, I was sorely wrong!

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Note:  It took us almost 4 hours to reach Monteverde.  Mind you, we were on a large bus, a private vehicle is likely quicker.

Within minutes, make that seconds, I could see that YES, this definitely could take 2 hours! The road was windy, narrow, steep and seeming impossibly small to accommodate the bus that we were riding on. As we were seated in the front two seats to the right of the driver, my favourite spot to “see it all” we got a full spectacle of what was to transpire. Corner after corner, sharp curve after sharp curve, we wound our way up the tight mountain road. With the recent rains of Hurricane Nate , having wreaked havoc with many mountain roads, we witnessed a few places where part of the road was washed away down the mountain. In these instances, the bus would slowly but surely, squeeze itself down the inside lane, hugging as close as it would dare to the inside ditch, without falling into it. We also watched the Humidity indicator that was located at the front of the bus go from 50% to 90% as we approached the clouds and entered an area aptly known as the Cloud Forest. We watched numerous small frogs leap across the road, scurrying out of the way of the large bus wheels, some we knew made it, others we weren’t so sure. Never the less, we cheered them on as we saw them.

Many times we would come across another vehicle going down the road, each time both of us would squeeze as tight as we could to the opposite shoulders of the road, literally inching past each other. However, in one instance, we came head to head with a driver of a commercial utility truck. It was now dark and drizzling rain and there was clearly no way for both vehicles to pass each other on the current stretch of road.

After both vehicles flashed their lights at each other a couple times, the driver of the truck finally realized that if anyone was to back up, it was him. He jumped out of his truck to survey the situation around him, and to come up with a solution, a way to pull over so that we could pass each other. After realizing that the other driver needed assistance in backing up (so that he didn’t drive off the road and over the cliff side) our driver jumped out to direct him. The amusement in the bus was hilarious as the locals chitter chatted back and forth laughing and carrying on about the situation. I couldn’t help but think about if the same situation would have happened in Canada; Number one, there would not be a public bus driving on a road such as this in Canada (unless of course it was guaranteed to be the only vehicle driving back and forth), and Number 2, if a bus load of people were held up in this way, there would be more than one very unhappy person. However, the mood was jovial, and everyone was just happy to have the entertainment.

Finally, as our driver helped the other driver back up down the windy road, and into a slightly wider section, another man, that we had picked up at a rest stop, and who had been chatting with the driver at the front of the bus ever since, jumped into the drivers seat and started driving the bus down to meet him. Chris and I burst out laughing, as we had no idea who this guy was, but trusted that he knew what he was doing either way. What little choice did we have after all? Thankfully, he safely drove us the couple hundred meters forward to pick up our other driver, but not before passing the transfer truck and another vehicle behind it on the cliff side of the road, with mere inches to spare between us (and I’m sure mere inches to spare with the side of the road, and in turn, the cliff as well.)

I mentioned to Chris more than once that I was thankful that it was dark because although we knew that we were driving up the side of the mountain, we were unable to see just how perilous and treacherous that it was if we were to simply slide down into the abyss below.

As we started to approach a more populated area, made obvious by the lights that now lit the road ahead of us, many locals would signal to the driver to be let off in various areas. Again, NOT something you would necessarily see in Canada.

Despite all of this, we arrived in Monteverde at about 6:50pm. We departed the bus and stacked our luggage against the wall. Other travellers scampered around grabbing taxis or staring into their iPhones to figure out their next move. Nobody approached us about a ride, so I poked my head around the corner and locked eyes with a man standing next to a van. He gave me a look of approval so I walked over to him to show him the address of where we were going. Before I had a chance to do that, and much to my surprise, he showed me a picture on his phone of Chris and I! I realized that it was our Air BnB profile photo, and that our host must have sent it to him so that he knew who to pick up. “Perfecto!” I announced and patted him on the shoulder. I ran off to grab Chris and our luggage, and we were whisked away into the darkness, along another bumpy and washed out gravel road.

Unfortunately, I never did get our drivers name, but he quickly realized that I spoke a bit of Spanish, and we were able to carry out a simple conversation. He explained to me that the reason the roads were so bad was because of the extensive rains that the hurricane had deposited on the area. There were many more washed out areas along the next section of road that we travelled, and even a couple of crews working late into the night to repair them.

After about 15 minutes, we pulled into a tiny gap in a fence, and his headlights illuminated our home for the next few days. It was absolutely pitch black, but we could tell by the lights in the distance and below us, that we were perched on a hillside of sorts. He helped us with our luggage, found the key and opened the door, and then wished us well. I asked about when we would meet our host, Orlando, and he said something about “Manana”. Good enough, we would see him tomorrow.

We quickly unpacked our food and got busy with making some dinner. The house was simple, with 2 bedrooms, a bathroom and a small kitchen where we could make our meals over the course of our stay. We took turns running in and out of the front doors, both ecstatic with our location, and wanting desperately for it to be the next day, so that we could see the fantastic view that we knew was spread out before us.

But alas, we knew that we would have to wait. In the meantime, we ate our dinner, sat on our front porch, and stared off into the vast unknown. Tomorrow would bring the light and a whole new adventure!

** Thanks for reading! This is part of a larger group of blog posts about us letting go of all of our possessions to go traveling. If you would like to read from the beginning, click here.**

To see more photos, and to follow our progress on Facebook, please follow our page.

To learn about where I have previously traveled, click here.

To see my blog post menu, click here.

To email me directly, please do so at jillamatt@me.com.

 

September 22, 2017- We Are Unplugged!!!

Published September 22, 2017 by jillamatt

Well, we did it!  I feel like we have carried out a seemingly impossible, monumental task!  

In the last nine months, we have sold all of our possessions, wrapped up 4 years of started renovation projects, sold our house, sold our cars, closed two businesses and refocused our lives into a new direction. 

It has been one hell of a lot of work, but I can tell already that it was worth it!

In fact, I said to Chris yesterday that “even if our plans to go travelling didn’t work out, and we had to come back and start over, it would be worth it.”

I feel like I have cleansed my soul. Like all the burdens that I had been carrying around with me, have flaked off. 

This includes mental burdens, emotions that hadn’t been dealt with properly.  Memories that I was holding onto, that didn’t serve me anymore. Things that we both kept, triggering memories from past lives, that were keeping us both from growing and expanding. 

This includes physical responsibilities that were sometimes crippling.  I would have stints where I felt so overwhelmed with life, that I would have to just lay on the couch for an entire day. Staring off into space or numbing my mind with scrolling through Facebook all day. If I had the energy, we would try and go outside for a hike or other recreational activity, trying to escape the insanity. 

Having been self employed for most of my adult life, including opening and closing multiple home based business’, my life revolved around paper work. Deadlines to file and pay things like goods and services taxes, workers compensation reports and bills (oh the relentless pile of bills!) Business licences and insurance policies (we had 5 on the go) needed to filed and renewed …. the list literally goes on and on. Not too mention that I did all of my own bookeeping. Add this to working full time, volunteering for various community organizations, and attempting to nurture and develop my creative side by constantly having numerous creations on the go at once. 

My life was a constant push and pull of things that “needed” to get done. 
I say was, because as of a day ago, all of that is gone now. 
We are on day two of leaving Powell River, my home of 11 years, and Chris’ for 4, and of course we still talk about “our house” in the present tense, as if we are only on a vacation visiting friends. 

This morning I took a few moments to remember my thoughts when we drove away from the house. I looked in every room before we left, we hugged the neighbours, and then we were gone. Poof!  Just like that!

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We had spent our last day running around town dropping final loads at the dump, the thrift store, and returning items we had borrowed from friends in our final days. We also spent the day in a bit of a limbo as our “get away” vehicle had been in the shop for two days, and for most of the day, we didn’t know if we were leaving that day or not. 

Loading up recycling and office supplies to donate to a local community run organization.

Final Dump Run.

Off went our bed! Guess we have no choice but to leave now!

My parents had kindly driven their camper van out to us from Alberta in August, then flew back home. The plan was that we would have a vehicle to leave Powell River with, allowing us to freely sell both of our vehicles, and still have a way to get our remaining belongings (only a couple boxes and an art piece or two) back to store at our parents before we flew off. 

Until the last week, the camper van just waited in our driveway. But as soon as the vehicles were starting to get sold, we used it to shuffle back and forth, moving them from here to there. (On a side note, our vehicles never did sell, at least not for what they should have, but that’s a story for another day.)

On Sept 18, the getaway van died. The fuel had run a bit lower than I would have liked, and it started chugging down the road. I thought it just needed more gas, so Chris bought a jerry can (we had owned about 10 of them!!) and went and got more gas to put in it. It didn’t help, and the van stayed parked on the side of the road that night. 

Our plan was to leave on the 20th. And although we had decided that there would be no stress, and that we could leave anytime, our families had different thoughts. They wanted to know when we were coming through to visit, so that they could prepare. Not too mention that once deciding on the 20th as our leaving date, we both REALLY wanted it to happen. 

At about 1:00 on the 19th, a tow truck driver picked up the van. Now, this is a story for small town living! We were out for lunch with friends when the tow truck driver finally called and said he was ready to meet us at the van. However we had just gotten our food, so Chris asked him if he could wait half an hour. Instead, he asked where we were eating, stopped by to get the keys, and went and dealt with it by himself, towing it to the shop!  In the meantime, we had one of our vehicles still with us, so we’re still able to get from A to B. 

Final delivery to the thrift store.

2 lonely folding chairs in the living room.

This is all that remains from a house full of stuff, and an utterly chaotic life. Add to this 2 duffels of clothes, and this is all we own!

Late that day, we stopped in at the shop to see if they had looked at it yet. They hadn’t, they were hoping to get to it in the morning. 

We had friends over that night, sitting on our patio furniture (that the new owners are buying,) in our living room. We both drank too much wine, which is probably a good thing as it allowed us to sleep that night. We were a buzz with anticipation. Most of what we felt was excitement, although some was surely anxiety about the state of the van. 

We woke up the morning of the 20th, waiting and waiting for a call. We immediately decided that the only thing to do, was to finish cleaning out the house, getting rid of the last of our items, and just acting like everything was going to be fine. And so we did. 

We live in a ferry dependant community, meaning that we can only leave at certain times of the day. Originally we had hoped to leave on the 5:15 ferry, getting us to our friends across the water at a reasonable time. The clock was ticking, we still had lots to do. 

Finally at 11 Chris called the shop to see what was up. They were just running diagnostics, and they had narrowed it down to a couple possibilities. 

We continued cleaning. Out went our recycling, our items for the thrift store, items that needed to be dropped off around town. We shuffled things back and forth, cleaning the house in stages between trips, until finally our last load had to go. Our mattress and two items of furniture that were junk, got loaded up, and we were off to the dump. 

Happy purgers running errands!

Slowly over the course of the week, my key ring also was purging itself. This is my last key, the key to my house. It was left as well, and now I own nothing that requires keys.

THIS WAS IT!  Our mattress was going!  There was no turning back!  If we had to stay another night, it would be at a friends house. We just kept moving forward, one step in front of the other. I never faltered in my faith that everything would be okay. That we had a plan, and it just had to work out. 

At 3:45 we got the call from the shop. The van was running fine. Apparently it had been running crappy in the morning when they moved it into the bay, but after running a ridiculous amount of diagnostics on it, they couldn’t find anything wrong with it, so they just started it up again. They drove it around, and it ran like a dream. 

No questions asked!  

We bolted down to the shop to pick it up. The towing of the vehicle was covered by my Dad’s extended auto plan insurance, but when we asked the mechanic what we owed for repairs, he said nothing. He told us that he didn’t fix anything, so he didn’t see any point in charging us anything. Most of a day of running diagnostics, and he didn’t see the need to charge us. We were ecstatic!  What a town we lived in!  What a wonderful send off gift!  

At this point we realized that our hopes of getting the 5:15 ferry were dashed, but we still could get the 8:45 boat, our last chance to leave that day. 
We picked the van up, drove straight to the car dealership that was going to sell my vehicle, dropped it off and went home to pack up our remaining stuff and finish cleaning the house.

At about 6:30, we headed down to the ferry terminal, got in line, went for dinner, and that was it!  We were gone!

The white van is our getaway vehicle. Everything we own, fits in there, with room to spare. Check out our going away sunset!!

Last meal in Powell River at the Thaidal Zone!


————-

It’s surreal to me that we have made this crazy transition, that there is no going back, that we have nothing to return to. That life is still going on, everybody is going about their daily business, but we aren’t.  

We have all of a sudden jumped into a life of meaning and decisions about what we WANT to do. Now, don’t get me wrong, there are details to solidify, and at some point, money will have to be made again, but for now, RIGHT NOW, we will enjoy this blissful existence. For we have literally spent the last 9 months giving our absolute all, just to get to this point. 

YAHOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!


—————–—

I wrote the above segment to this post, this morning when I woke up. Shortly after, we went for a walk to a nearby coffee shop to grab a bite to eat and a coffee. Not long after sitting down to enjoy our goodies, some inexplicable tears started rolling down my face. Chris was looking at me inquisitively and I kept apologizing, not really knowing why it was happening. Always the analyzer, I immediately jumped into my head to try and figure out what was happening. The conversation in my head went something like this:

“Why am I crying?”

“Well you have sort of been through a lot, it’s okay to cry.”

“I’m not sad though, I don’t understand?!”

“It’s okay, you have been through a lot. It’s okay to cry.  This is all part of the process, just let it out.” 

I wasn’t a sobbing mess, they were just streams of water leaking out on their own accord.  Crying is one of those things that is most commonly associated with sadness, but after a few moments, I realized that it was joy. It was nothing more than utter relief and joy. 

So I sat with it.  Tears of happiness and the realization of what we have accomplished, and what we have to look forward to, just poured from my eyes. 

It reminded me of a time in Amsterdam, where we had a 23 hour layover on our way to our 6 week trip through Greece, Italy and Bulgaria, almost 2 years ago. I hadn’t travelled internationally in 8 years, and I had the exact same feeling of happiness and relief in a little Vietnamese restaurant as I watched the throngs of people walk by the windows. There too, tears of joy leapt from my eyes. 

This is it!  I have once again found joy!  THIS is what I have been searching for!  

I vow to myself to never let it go again. Sure, there will still be hard times, but my life will be lived with passion and determination. No more strings pulling me in a thousand directions. No more wrestling in my mind about what it is I SHOULD do.

From now on, we are making the rules for our life. 

From now on, we will NOT simply exist. 

———–

Thanks for reading!  Please subscribe on the right hand column if you would like my blog posts to go directly to your email inbox.

———–

Current Location: Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. 
Current travel plans: The next couple  weeks will see us driving  through BC, Alberta and Saskatchewan to visit friends and family before flying to Costa Rica mid October. 

If you are a traveller, and you would like to connect and talk travel, or if you just want to chat with us about our experiences, leave a comment below and we can connect!

September 7, 2017 – Freedom…..40???

Published September 8, 2017 by jillamatt

I

***Jill’s ‘letting go’ Diary***

This is part of a series of posts (ordered by Dated Titles) where I am recording my thoughts and emotions as we tackle getting rid of all of our possessions. From the day that I came up with this idea, to sell everything and travel the world, I have recorded my thoughts on certain days where I feel like writing. These are real time, and not edited (except for grammatical corrections.) 

 

Well, today is the day that I have jumped off of the hamster wheel.

I have been a self-employed house painter (that’s HOUSE painter, not ARTIST painter) for the last 9-10 (11…..12????) years.
I’m one of those weirdos that seriously loves painting.
Now, before you ask yourself these questions (because MANY people do), here are the answers:
YES! I enjoy the monotony!

NO! I don’t mind heights!

NO! I don’t get bored!

YES! I enjoy the repetition! (Is that the same as monotony??) 🙂

YES! It IS hard work!

But, what I enjoy the most with painting, is the transformation of whatever space it is that I am working in.

I enjoy watching my clients witness the change in perspective of how their space has changed.

I enjoy the creative process.

Because of my love of creativity, in the middle of this 10-ish year stint, I mixed in owning a local art gallery for 4 of those years. Meaning I painted very infrequently, but still kept my skills up.

But in 2015 we closed the gallery, and I was back at it painting full time.

It has been good. Through past painting clients, and word of mouth from gallery customers, I have established a good reputation in my town. In all honesty, things were just starting to get comfortable.

However, today I walked away from all of that.

I walked away in order to continue to grow.

I walked away because it was all too much. Too much paperwork, too many insurance policies, too many bills. Just too much “red tape.”

I walked away because I am tired of living a life where I can’t travel.

I walked away because deep, deep, DEEP down, I wasn’t happy.

I have FINALLY realized, at the age of 40, that life is too short to be unhappy, and that what makes me the most happy, is traveling.

Now, I don’t propose that I’m going to retire. I AM NOT the sort of person that just sits on the sidelines and watches the world go by. There will be more work in my future, I have absolutely no doubt. But the work in my future will have meaning. It will have purpose. I will no longer just be a cog in the wheel.

My schedule will be more free, and not one that is stuck in the ways of societal norms.


EVEN THOUGH I have been self employed for all of those years, I have maintained a pretty strict Mon-Fri 9-5 routine. If I took a Monday off, I usually would work a Saturday to balance this out.

My decision to follow this schedule is partly due to societal structures. Clients usually expected this sort of a schedule from me, and I just complied. But another part of  my decision was definitely due to trying to make as much money as I could, so that I could pay my bills. (I’m loving that this is in the past tense right now!!!)

However, it seemed that no matter how hard I tried, even though I was actually enjoying what I was doing, I was not going to get ahead. Which inevitably meant that there would be no traveling.

BUT today I left that all behind! Today I feel like I have FINALLY taken control of my life.

I will no longer be restricted to what society has decided that I “should” do. From now on I will make solid and sound decisions that are guided by my heart, and my instinct.

This feeling is unbelievable!

And I am ecstatic!


All of a sudden I feel like every corner I turn, is the right corner. Every move I am making is sound. The universe seems to be guiding us along, and the more that I just let go and trust what’s going on, the more the miracles fall into place.

One of my latest posts on here was about listing our house for sale. Well…….the house is now sold! It was a magically synchronistic event, and I can’t wait to tell you all about it!

But, in the meantime, ask yourself; Are you happy? Is what you are doing really full filling you?

It is TIME to be asking these questions. It is TIME to make a change if you need to!

We MUST remember that we are NEVER too old to start living the life we WANT to live.

Life is short!

Let’s get busy!!!

 

** Thanks for reading! This is part of a larger group of blog posts about us letting go of all of our possessions to go traveling. If you would like to read from the beginning, click here.**

To learn about where I have previously traveled, click here.

To see my blog post menu, click here.


August 20th – The Bear

Published August 21, 2017 by jillamatt

***Jill’s ‘letting go’ Diary***

This is part of a series of posts (ordered by Dated Titles) where I am recording my thoughts and emotions as we tackle getting rid of all of our possessions. From the day that I came up with this idea, to sell everything and travel the world, I have recorded my thoughts on certain days where I feel like writing. These are real time, and not edited (except for grammatical corrections.) 

Wow!  This last month has been an absolute whirlwind of emotions!

After completing the house renovation project (big PHEW!), and getting the house listed, we pretty much collapsed for a good week. We were both still working, but the evenings consisted of not much more than lounging on the couches and recovering from that crazy ordeal.

We worked absolutely Day AND night to get our house ready to sell. But the feeling we have now is such relief, it’s amazing.

With so much stuff cleared out, the house is now easy to clean, and for likely the first time ever, I actually enjoy it (cleaning that is)!  It feels really good to have so many bare walls and clear surfaces.

Although, we still have some stuff downstairs that needs to go, we feel rest assured that we can easily sell it all in our September yard sale.  After that, the rest can be donated.

From here on in, we really only need to start focusing on preparations for our trip, and getting rid of the last of our big furniture items, and kitchen stuff.

The Bear

As we cleared a bunch of stuff from our attic, before listing the house, I came across a box of old childhood toys that my mom had passed onto me some years back. It had been in storage in three different houses that I lived in, and I don’t think I had even looked in the box for at least 6 years.

In it I found what looked to be a handmade bear, one of many stuffed animals in the box.  I recognized it immediately from pictures of me as a baby. I don’t physically remember having it, as I was never really attached to those things as a kid, but because I had seen it in the pictures, it immediately created some sort of sentimental value in it that was really hard to let go of.

As I pulled it out of the box, I set it aside to deal with the rest of the stuff first. When it came time to do something with it, every ounce of me just wanted to tuck it back in the box, and stuff it back in the attic.  I even suggested it to Chris. Which resulted in a “no way!” from him.

I held the bear, hovering it over the bag for the thrift store for about a minute. It was probably one of the most indecisive minutes of my life. I looked up at Chris as I held it with the most pleading eyes. “I don’ know what to do with it.” “What do I do?”

In that moment, I really needed him to tell me what to do. Even though I had no memory of it, it somehow had this power over me that really took some determination to get through.

He just said “you need to let it go.”

Begrudgingly I stuffed it into the bag, but not before I took a photo of it. I wanted to tell this story, to show people how difficult letting these things go is, but that it really is possible to do.

Those eyes!! I somehow felt BAD casting him off, like I was somehow hurting his feelings.

After posting the picture on Instagram, and sharing it to Facebook, I got a couple requests from friends that wanted me to give it to them, so they could keep it for safe keeping.  Although I felt it a little silly, that they wanted to keep MY stuff for me, it somehow brought a little bit of relief.

Later that evening my cousin messaged me to ask if I had gotten rid of it yet. I hadn’t, it was still in the bag, ready to head to the thrift store the next day. We had some discussion about whether or not her mom had made it, because that is something that she did back in the day.

At the end of the conversation, she asked me to send it to her for safe keeping. I am 100% confident that I will never see that bear again, but at least it’s gone to a good home. There is some comfort in that……..somehow.

Cats!

In this last week, I also let go of my cat, Norbert. It was really hard, but again, he has gone to a good home, so I feel confident that he will be just fine.


Suddenly the house feels very quiet. I miss the little demanding meows that he would echo through the halls when it was dinner time. Or when he just needed to talk and have you hear his gripes. Although we never really knew what he was griping about, the whine that came from the meows made us think he was definitely complaining about something. Maybe whatever it was, has been resolved for him now.

I swept the floor again today, and realized that for the first time in a while, I’m actually winning the war on cat hair. I guess there is one silver lining!

Dealing with Norbert leaving, was hard enough on us both, but to make matters worse, Chris had to put his 11 year old cat down this past week.

Her new owner had taken her to the vet, and there was a few major things wrong with her, including a growth that was suspected to be cancerous, an over active thyroid, skin disease, rotting teeth that had exposed nerves to the elements…..not good. The vet suggested that she was not going to start getting better, and that the treatments involved would be very expensive.

The new owners were clearly not ready to take on the financial burden, so he had to bite the bullet, even though from the outside, she appeared fine.

Like I said, crazy emotions going on around here lately!

———-

But, all in all, and despite everything we are dealing with, we are mostly just excited.

As I was driving to town the other day, I had this crazy wash of emotion start in my belly, work its way to my chest, and seemingly burst from my eyes. It hit me so fast it was impossible to figure out what it was all about.

Was it pure excitement? Was it butterflies? Was it the realization that we are almost there, almost leaving this wonderful town we have called home for so long.

I can only imagine that these things will continue to happen, until we leave.

Not long to go now!  Only about a month!  This weekend we are having a going away party for ourselves. Work is winding up as we complete projects, and time is ticking along, as it does.

Soon we will be flying south, to a life of uncertainty, adventure & excitement!

** Thanks for reading! This is part of a larger group of blog posts about us letting go of all of our possessions to go traveling. If you would like to read from the beginning, click here.**

To learn about where I have previously traveled, click here.

To see my blog post menu, click here.

All things four twenty…

Published April 22, 2017 by jillamatt

We sat on the beach, and enjoyed the bright, hot sun on our skins. It was a welcome dose of vitamin D after the brutally wet and soggy spring that we have been enduring.

The sparkling ocean danced before our eyes and the murmur of voices coming from the stage, wafted over our heads.

As I scanned the crowd of people around me, 10’s of 1000’s at least, it struck me at how peaceful this scene was at Sunset Beach.

——-

Pure fate had brought us to Vancouver on the auspicious day of April 20th.  (For those who don’t know what April 20th represents, or about 4/20, please click here.)

My partner, Chris, had to go there to get his Yellow Fever vaccine for our upcoming journey. Apparently there is a worldwide shortage of the vaccine, and it was proving difficult to get a full dose close to where we live.

When he called the Vancouver clinic on Tuesday, the Nurse told him that he better get there ASAP to be guaranteed a full dose, which will last a lifetime. Nearer where we live, but still a ferry ride away, he could only get a 1/4 dose, which they state only lasts a year.

And so, that was it!  Chris made the appointment for Thursday, as we could both leave work that day, and we decided to make the trip.  We realized immediately that it was 4/20.

I have lived on the West Coast of Canada for 15 years, and have watched the Vancouver 420 festival grow by seeing it on the news, and reading articles about it, but had never gotten down there to check it out first hand. Seeing that we are leaving here this fall for a big adventure into the world, I was excited at the opportunity to finally go and check it out.

TO HAVE A NEW EXPERIENCE.

I really had no idea of what I was in for.

———-

Our day started at 6:20 in the morning, when we started driving from our home of Powell River, tucked along the mainland of the West Coast of Canada.

A series of roads and ferries takes us across 2 major fjords to get us to Vancouver. All told, it’s a 4-5 hour journey, one way, on a good day. We decided that we would go back and forth in one day, it would just be a long day. Our plan was simple, we needed to go to the Clinic for 2:00 and then get down to Sunset Beach, the site of the 420 event, by 4:00 or so.  This would give us an hour or so there, before we had to head back to the ferry terminal for our 7:20 ferry back home.

Figuring that it would be busy in the city because of the event, we decided to leave our car in Langdale, at the start of the second, and last, ferry leg of the trip, and just walk on the boat and ride public transit for the day. We planned out our bus route, and the app said that it would take 50 minutes from where the ferry arrived in Horseshoe Bay, to the clinic.

Great!  We would have lots of time to get there……or so we thought. The ferry arrived at about 11:40 (of course, half an hour late) but we still had tons of time to get over to the clinic. However, as we emerged out of the ferry terminal, it was instantly obvious just how busy things were going to be that day. There stood a HUGE line up of people waiting at the bus stop.

We had no choice but to get in line with the rest, and wait with earnest until the next bus came. Of course, because the ferry was late arriving, the bus schedule didn’t quite sync up, so we had to wait about 20 minutes for the next one.

The worrisome clock in my brain is now ticking.

Tick. Tock.

I start checking the time on my phone repeatedly.

It doesn’t help, either, that a guy walks by announcing “Geez!  I hope they are sending a barge for you all.”  Meaning that there were a lot of us, and one bus wasn’t going to cut it!

Thanks pal.

The bus pulls up at noon and we clamber on like a herd of sheep. The bus driver all the while yelling “Move further back!”  Only 6-8 people got on behind Chris and I so we considered ourselves lucky as we stood in the aisle holding on to the swinging handholds above, while many unfortunate patrons waited on the sidewalk for the next bus.

The bus pulls out and my eavesdropping ear kicks in immediately. As I start to overhear various conversations, I realize that many of the people on the bus, are headed down to Sunset Beach as well.

One young lady in particular asked a few people in general, how long of a walk it was from the bus drop off to the 420 party. She was sitting right below where I stood so I was within ear shot of her conversations that she was having with complete strangers.

She was maybe 18 or 19 with a soft, unimposing demeanor. Her innocent look and braided pigtails would probably profile her as a straight arrow, that wouldn’t have anything to do with an event like this. However, when she learned that others were going to the same event, she stood up from her seat, and loudly yelled to her partner, who was now sandwiched at the back of the bus, “Hey there are more 420 people up here, we can go with them!”  Then she looked up at me with a gaping mouth. A huge smile came over her face and she said, “This is my first time to the 420 event.”  As if to gently let me know that we all should be excusing her behaviour.  A silent way of declaring that she is excited.  I gave her a kind smile and thought to myself (now wishing I had have said it out loud) ‘me too’.

After that moment, it was as if most people in there realized that we were all heading to the same place. The mood instantly turned from the typical icy city demeanor that you normally find on the bus, to that of a more relaxed and chill vibe. The bus seemed to erupt in conversation as happy revelers exchanged words.

All was good until we hit the other side of Stanley Park. On a good day, the bus would take about 5-10 minutes to get down to Burrard street from where we were, to where the party goers needed to get off. But we immediately hit a wall of standstill traffic, and started inching along at a snails pace.

It didn’t take long for the mood to shift from light and jovial, to easing towards annoyed and hostile. By the time somebody announced that maybe walking would be better, we had entered into a HUGE gap between stops, as many had signs on the bus stop saying “Buses re-routed due to 420 Protest.” Which meant that they weren’t stopping in those spots.

Apparently we weren’t getting off until we reached Burrard, and that was that.

Tick. Tock.

—–

Protest?  It seemed a strange word. I never felt like this was a protest.  I always just thought of it as a celebration.  Where people could, for just one day, happily enjoy a joint in public, without fear of being arrested. I saw it as more of a feeling of being alive and having freedom, without the reign of authority breathing down our necks. A rare moment these days.

FINALLY, the bus arrived at Burrard St. And everybody piled off the with glee, scattering themselves down the sidewalk, all heading in the same direction.

Chris and I were actually meant to get off a couple blocks later, on Granville, as we were taking the Skytrain over to Broadway for his appointment. However, we got off and walked, saving ourselves from more inching torture on the bus.

Things went well from here on in, and we arrived to Broadway with enough time to grab a quick snack at the taco stand, as we hadn’t eaten since 6:00am. (We were both pissed off that the ferry wasn’t serving poutine, only breakfast items.  As we both had our hearts set on Poutine,  we silently protested by not ordering anything, and then both found ourselves very hungry!  We sure showed them………?)

—–

After the appointment, we headed back towards downtown by bus, being dropped off just on the other side of Granville St bridge around 3:30.

We started to walk towards the park, and quickly realized that we were part of a massive group, all descending down to the beach to be in place for the magic 420 hour. I would love to have seen the above image of people coming from all angles of the city.  We were like a swarm of mosquitoes, all buzzing in on their pray at once. However, we were happy mosquitoes, all walking quite quickly and with much anticipation.

The smell of marijuana started to fill the air from blocks away. I’m pretty sure upon smelling this, I giggled and jumped a little in my step. I just had a massive overwhelming feeling of how big this was going to be. As I said earlier, I really didn’t know what I was in for.

As we got closer to the beach we started to see a lot of Ambulance presence, but surprisingly not much Police presence. We saw more police directing traffic in the busy streets above the event, than we certainly did AT the event.  Even still, I had my hawk eyes out trying to spot them in the crowds.

I’ve always been one of those people that are scared of the Police. A rule follower, a normal citizen, a “don’t ruffle any feathers” kind of gal. My passport is my most valued possession, and I’m not likely to get in a situation where I might lose it over some silly injustice. So when I’m approaching a place where everyone is doing something “technically” illegal, my senses can’t help but jump into overdrive. (Not too mention I feel very brave in posting this blog post…..even just admitting my participation in the event.)

The closer we got the more rigid I became. It’s like I needed to see it for myself before I could decide if it was okay or not. I needed to formulate my own opinions based on my feelings when I got there. Even though I knew it was all ALLOWED, and all OKAY, my rule following anxiety was on high alert.

It wasn’t long before we were part of the mob, disappearing into a gently smoke filled cloud that hung invisibly in the air, and obviously realizing that everything is just A-okay……man.

Vendors were selling all manner of Marijuana infused edibles, skin creams, bath bombs, you name it!  There were marijuana infused rice crispy squares, popsicles, cookies, lollipops……like I said, you name it, it was there!! Not too mention there were people smoking weed everywhere you looked.

‘Okay’, I thought, ‘it’s okay.’

Deep Breathe.

‘You aren’t doing anything wrong.’

I took a moment to re-collect myself and take a breathe, and then forced myself to relax, and just take it all in.

We wandered amongst the booths and pushed our way through the crowds. It was amazing!  There were what felt like AT LEAST 100 booths lining the walkways, selling all manner of the aforementioned. Crowds amongst the boothspeople everywhere

People, young and old, took it all in, wandering to and fro and inspecting what was on offer in each booth.

We wandered and wandered along aisles of goodies, all the while subconsciously following the sound of a distant loud speaker, which somehow seemed to be beckoning us.

We arrived at the stage only to realize that there were limited spaces to sit on the grassy slope near the stage, and way to many people.

These small townies needed some elbow room!
We snaked our way back through the booths, down towards the beach, and found ourselves a patch of sand to call our own. We sat down in the warm sun and reveled in the occasion. Beach 4Beach 3Beach 2Beach 1

At about 4:18 they started to get the crowd excited and the anticipation grew of the magic time coming nearer. Much like we countdown for New Years, this had its own kind of excitement building with it.

Free joints were being handed out to those on the grassy slope because, in the words of the announcer “I want us all to light up at once so that we can be happy at once, and to send a cloud of smoke as a message to our government.”

For me, it wasn’t the excitement that we would all be “lighting up” at 420, it was more the excitement of thousands of people, collected together in a peaceful celebration. As the clock got closer, they started a 20 second countdown. It started at the stage, then moved to the crowd, and reached us and those beyond us. It was an invisible sound wave that pulsed out like a pebble being dropped in a pond, creates ripples. In no time flat approximately 35 000 people were counting down in unison.

The moment came and we all shouted and cheered!  Smoke filled the air above us, people hugged and celebrated.

421

Whoops!  Missed it by seconds!

It WAS a celebration after all!

It was a celebration of a plant, of a coming together of people, of a peaceful unity.

We sat quietly for many minutes, just taking it all in.  I looked around and realized that there was no arguing going on, there were no drunk people running around making asses of themselves.  It was a simple, peaceful gathering, in celebration of a plant!

Really!  Can you believe how powerful this plant is?  It kind of reminds me of a certain book that was written so many years ago.  A certain book that changed the world as we know it.

I wonder if this plant has the same power to change the world?  To help people to understand that life is wonderful and that we get too wrapped up in nonsense and the “First World” problems that we have.

___

News story about the 420 event.

___

We headed out around 5:00, thinking that it would be good to get some more food before we started our journey back to the ferry.  We figured that if the buses were that full coming in, then they would likely be just as bad heading out.

We made our way up towards West Georgia St by foot and happened to  stumble upon a “La Belle Patate” poutine shop!  Finally, we were going to get our Poutine after all!  We got in just before massive crowds starting making their way up the sidewalks.  Just as we all descended on the park, there was a massive exodus, and those walking by, with no knowledge of what was going on, clearly looked bewildered by the crowds (but surely they could smell it in the air and figure it out?)Labelle Patate

We decided to take our poutine to go, and would just get on a bus and eat at the ferry terminal while we waited.  After all, there were lots of people walking by, and we were quite concerned about getting a bus out of there.  As we approached the bus stop, our bus number drove by with a “Sorry bus is full” sign shining down on us.  I let out an exasperated sigh as we approached the waiting zone, thinking there was no way that we were going to get out of there and to the ferry on time.

City from the Lionsgate Bridge

View out the bus window from the Lions Gate Bridge.

Chris with Poutine

Chris walked our precious Poutine cargo like this all the way from downtown and on to the ferry!

Just as we reached the back of the lineup that had assembled, another bus pulled up with room for all of us.  We all squeezed on, again moving all the way to the back.  The driver stopped at a couple other stops to let the odd person off, and a couple more on until finally we  were full as well.  As buses were now also behind schedule, and this bus was supposed to keep time to the ferries, the driver stood up at some point and asked if “Anybody needed to get off before Horseshoe Bay (the ferry terminal)?”  He asked three times, making sure that  there was nobody that didn’t.  He said “Okay, I am going to make up time by going straight to the Ferry Terminal, this bus will not stop again until we get there.”

As nobody protested, he sat back down, flashed his “bus is full” sign, and whisked us off to the ferry terminal.  I couldn’t help myself but think of how kind and considerate that driver was.  He went outside of his call of duty, to make sure that we got to where we needed to go, as close to on time as he could get us.

As we jumped off the bus, I thanked him for his dedication to our needs and our precious timetables.  And I couldn’t help but wonder; is this a Canadian thing, or a Vancouver thing?  How many bus drivers in the world would care that much about the customers on the bus?  Are they all like that?  I guess I have never been in that situation before, so it’s hard to say.

I do know one thing for sure though, on a day that would normally be stressful, annoying and aggravating for us small town people to make our way into the city, my faith in humanity was once again renewed, and I marveled at the wonderful day that we had had.

Arriving to the ferry terminal at about 6:10, we were told that the last ferry was meant to have left at 5:50 and it was just arriving.  Hallelujah!  For likely the first time EVER, our ferry was going to leave early!  This meant that we would have time to visit friends on the next coast up, that we didn’t think we would have time to visit.

Our delicious Poutine!

Looks like heaven?  I got the Donair Poutine…..I know!  Seriously, so good!!

We had a quick visit with them and made our way up to the next ferry which was set to depart at 10:30.  Unfortunately, after boarding, an announcement told us that we had to wait for the last ferry out of Horseshoe Bay (as it was obviously late.  Those people needed to get this last ferry to get them home that night.)  And so, in  state of complete exhaustion, but happy that BC Ferries was actually doing the right thing by waiting for people, we both drifted off to sleep before an announcement woke us from our slumber that we were nearing our destination.

All told, our one day trip to the city was 18 hours from door to door.  Under normal conditions, a day like this to the city would leave us both tired and drained.  But this time we saw only the best of humanity, and we both felt enlightened and happy that we had had such an interesting day, with tons of new and exciting EXPERIENCES.

**Thanks for reading!  For those new to my blog, my partner and I are in the process of selling everything to head out into the world to make traveling a priority in our lives .  If you would like to read about our letting go process, please start here.  If you would like to follow us along on our journey, please enter your e-mail address on the right hand side of this page to subscribe.** 

 

 

Kayaking the Florida Everglades and The Bahamas-Part 1

Published March 22, 2017 by jillamatt

**This is a multi-part series about a trip that I did with my ex-husband in 2001-2002.  Unfortunately, I do not have access to my journals that I kept during this trip, so this is all from memory.  Some dates, places and timelines may be slightly skewed. **

As Jamie and I pushed off from the sandy beach behind the kayak store in Key Largo, my parents stood on the shore and waved to us.

It was a surreal moment.

We had never kayaked before, but the guy at the Kayak shop assured us that we were buying the “Cadillac” of tandem touring kayaks, a Current Design Libra XT.

Most of our hatches were stuffed with brand new gear that was first stuffed into black garbage bags.

We literally had no idea what we were doing, but we had a plan!

South Carolina

We had arrived in the States a couple months earlier, shortly after 911.  It was October 2001.  We had worked our butts off all summer in anticipation of a winter of fun and adventure.  A family friend and his wife had purchased a72 foot sailboat that not only needed some serious repairs, but it also needed 2 new masts to be built!  The captain of the boat told us that if we came down there to work with them on the repairs, we could sail with them down to Florida, and crew for them on their planned charters from Miami to the Bahamas.

It sounded like a good gig.  We were in our early 20’s and were always looking for adventure.

We flew into Charleston, South Carolina.  Immediately, we were shocked by the presence of Army and Marine personnel at all of our travel stops.  Coming from Canada, the west side at that, we were a fair distance away from what had happened on that fateful day in New York.  The gravity of the event hung heavy in the air everywhere, but we had seen no physical evidence that anything had changed, until we touched down in the States.  As we sat in bus stops, we eyed up the soldiers that were headed off to Afghanistan.  Off to fight George Bush’s war.  They were our ages. They were young, full of vigor, with a huge life ahead of them.  The reality of what they were up to was not lost on us.  We were both thankful that we weren’t in their shoes, and happy to be heading off into a winter of fun and adventure.

Beaufort map

We arrived in Beaufort, a small town on the ocean, where “Paradise” had sat literally rotting for many years.  The boat, a 72 foot ketch, had been neglected by the previous owner.  Having lost both masts in a storm, he had managed to limp it back to the dock, where he lived on it for many years, never taking it out to sea again.  He also didn’t take care of it at all, or take it OUT of the water, meaning that the new owner, our Skipper, had to put it in dry dock to rid it of years of marine build up.  Apparently the above decks leaked so bad, we were told, that on rainy days it was a constant run around trying to keep the many buckets from overflowing that were catching the dripping water from above.  Thank fully most of the miserable work that was done on the hull, and the leaking decks, was completed before we arrived.

Beaufort close up

Beaufort is nestled in a vast network of waterways that line the shore of the Carolinas. 

 

Paradise

Paradise docked just outside of Beaufort, South Carolina

By the time we got there, Paradise was out of dry dock, and back in the water.  It was located in a prime spot next to a giant metal building, which was the perfect housing to build a couple masts.  The dockyard reminded me of where Forest started the Bubba Gump shrimp company from.  In fact, I would not be surprised one bit if the film was filmed right in that area!

We met some seriously interesting characters from our little marine perch.  One guy, his name was Jerry, came down to the dock almost every day, and was always maneuvering large pallets of bags that looked like dog food.  Jamie finally went to talk to him one day, and found out that it was actually bags of monkey food!  Just off shore, there was an island that held captive a society of monkeys.  Unfortunately for them, they were akin to lab rats, as they were used to test pharmaceuticals for future human use.  This was definitely an eye opener for us small town Canadians.  There were rumours that places like this existed, but not once did we think they actually did!  And certainly not in the United States!  I laugh now at how naïve we humans are as young adults.

monkey food

Monkey Food!

Jerry was in charge of feeding the monkeys, and we enjoyed listening to his Southern Twang as he regaled the most hilarious stories of his encounters with them.  However, it wasn’t all good news as many of them were very sick, likely from whatever they were being given for the “testing.”   We decided that it was best to not ask too many questions.

We had some great food, and a large share of shrimp for sure!  Some days we ate feasts of crab as fisherman would come in with their catches, and throw up a basket of claws just for us.  Nights like this were heaven!  We would feast on crab, garlic butter, and nothing else and just feel like life could never get better.Crab claws

Most of our days were spent working on the boat, but the odd time, we were able to escape into Beaufort, and even managed a short road trip to Savannah, Georgia.  We were fascinated with the Deep South.  The architecture is grand and moss hangs off the trees like long wisps of witches hair.  We vowed that someday we would return.

spanish moss

The streets of Savannah, Georgia

After a few weeks of some serious elbow grease, and the erection of 2 brand new masts, Paradise was ready for the trip to Florida.  She was all shined up with a nice paint job and a new beautiful blue stripe.  We never did get around to stringing any sails, so we knew that we would be motoring to Florida.

masting paradise

Stepping the Mizzen Mast

masting paradise 2

Stepping the Main Mast

ratlines

Hanging the Rat Lines!

___

On the day we had decided to leave, they were announcing a small craft warning on the weather reports.  Typically this means, to many sailors, that it isn’t necessarily safe to go out in the open water,  but apparently our Skipper decided that we were bigger than a ‘small craft’, and wanted to get going, so get going we did.

sparkling paradise

All cleaned up and ready for the voyage!

heading to sea

Adios Beaufort!

We headed out around 3:00 in the afternoon, and had barely left port when the Captain asked Jamie to go down to the engine room to check on something.  We were motoring straight into the waves that were pounding down on us, making it feel like we were riding a bucking bronco.  Most sailors know that this motion is NOT good for those who may get sea sick.  Jamie had never really been out in the open ocean, save for one experience in the Whitsunday Islands in Australia, not nearly the same experience as taking a head on beating by the wide open Atlantic Ocean.  Well, sure enough, within a couple minutes of him coming back up, he announced that he didn’t “feel that good.”

For 3 days we bounced along the coast, past Georgia and into Florida.  Jamie was a puddle on the salon floor for the majority of that trip.  We encountered some pretty interesting seas, but I had recently been part of a program for students called Class Afloat.  It’s truly a story for another day, but we essentially sailed around the world on a 188 foot tall ship, from the West Coast of Canada, to the East Coast…..the long way around.

I’m sure what I experienced at sea on that trip, had made this trip pretty easy for me.  I had seen a lot of crazy seas in that year, and this wasn’t really that bad.South Carolina to Florida

Florida 

We all took turns on watch duty.  It was supposed to be by couples.  Each couple would do 4 hours on, 4 hours off, so we could cruise non-stop through night and day.  By  the morning of day 3, the day that we arrived in Ft. Lauderdale, Jamie’s seasickness finally abated and he joined me on deck for the final watch duty.  I’m sure we were a sight for sore eyes as the rusty streaks, where metal had met seawater (and of which we didn’t know about until we got off the boat), melted down the side of our nice white paint job.   We caught our first glimpses of the city as we slowly maneuvered down the inland marine canals that connect everything together, like roads do in most cities navigating amongst multi-million dollar yachts and mansions that lined the water ways.

Ft. Lauderdale waterways

Back “alleys” were waterways that held the yachts.

Ft. Lauderdale opulenceFt. Lauderdale 2

Most mega mansions on shore, had equally extravagant mega yachts tied up in front of them.  Many of them also had multi car garages, and in one case, as told by a water taxi driver, the house had a 6 car garage, with a lift in each bay, meaning that they could store 12 vehicles in there!  And let me tell you, we saw some of these vehicles (accent on the plural), and they were nothing to sneeze at either!  The place was literally dripping in money!

Yup, we certainly WERE NOT in Beaufort anymore!

We anchored our boat (that was now coined a “rust bucket”), in a small 24 hour anchorage in Ft. Lauderdale, for what seemed like TWO WEEKS (although I can’t say how long it was for sure.)  Eventually we got kicked out of that spot, and had to go somewhere else, so the skipper opted to tie up at a dock for a night or two, then we would go back to the anchorage again for a bit.  We worked on the boat some more, trying like mad to get it looking good and ready for our first charter.

jill grinding decks

Grinding the Decks in Ft. Lauderdale

Finally, the big day came!  Our guests had arrived to charter the boat, and we were off to the Bahamas!

Florida to Bahamas Map

Nassau is the capital of the Bahamas.  It encompasses the entire chain of islands you see here. 

It was only a, really quick, week long trip, but we had a lot of fun. The clients were great, and although the deck was still leaking, (despite our many attempts to seal all holes), we managed to keep a solid rotation of dry sheets, at least keeping the beds comfortable below decks.  I’ll admit that it was a little rough, and at least one of our guests, a dainty blonde, was definitely not quite up to the adventure that this trip provided.  However, in the end, it was a great trip and a great introduction to the Bahamas for us.

rusted boat bahamas

I took very few pics on this first trip over.

The Bahamas is basically a series of sand bars, only 40 nautical miles off the South Eastern coast of Florida.  Because the land is very low lying, 207 feet at the highest point (Mount Alvernia), there is zero run off into the ocean.  The lack of sediment makes the water in the Bahamas some of the most perfect, clear, turquoise waters on the planet.  Couple this with its spectacular white sand beaches, and a whole different kind of Paradise was born.   It was love at first sight and we yearned for more.  But alas, it was not meant to be, we had to return our guests to the safety of the mainland so that they could get back to their normal lives.

When we got back to the hustle and bustle of Ft. Lauderdale, we were told that the next charter wasn’t for another few weeks.  We lauded the thought of hanging out in Ft. Lauderdale, the land of expensive things, for that long.

And so, shortly after hearing this news, Jamie and I decided that we were finished with our time on Paradise (the boat that is.)  Not only were we dreading staying in Ft. Lauderdale that long, multiple weeks of living in cramped quarters had taken its toll, and we had started to not see eye to eye with the Captain and his wife.  In short, it was time to move on.  Besides, we had the whole winter to travel, and it was only the beginning of December!

As we sat on the aft deck one evening, bobbing in the water in the center of the city, we hatched a plan.  We decided that we were going to cut our ties with Paradise, rent a car and head down to the Florida Keys to do some exploring.  I think we talked briefly about doing some kayaking, but we really had no idea what was to come.

Within a couple days, we were headed south.

______

Key Largo is the first major city in the Florida Keys.  Right away we found a kayak shop that backed directly on to the Blackwater Sound, and Florida Bay beyond that.

Blackwater sound

The kayak shop backed onto the Blackwater Sound.  The ring around the outside is a thick wall of mangroves, and there was one tiny passageway through to get out to Florida Bay. 

Florida Bay Map

Note Everglades National Park in Green.

 

We immediately were drawn to the idea of kayaking around.  There was water everywhere and we just wanted to get in it!  Besides, we were on a budget.  What a better way to save money traveling then to cut out transportation costs all together!

After chatting with the staff in the shop, and having them show us the beautiful used “Cadillac” kayak that they had for sale, our idea was formed.  We were going to go kayaking in the Florida Everglades!  After purchasing a chart book and figuring that we could just paddle across the Florida Bay to get to Flamingo, the gateway to the Everglades, our plan was set.

We spent the next 3-4 days running around the keys, stopping in at Marine Shops to purchase a GPS, hand held radio, and any other boating stuff that we figured we needed.  We also grabbed as much camping gear as we could afford, which was not much more than the bare bones basics.  Not knowing a thing about kayaking, we stuffed all of our newly purchased gear into a few black garbage bags (those dry bags are expensive!), and then hastily stuffed them into our water tight hatches.  Who needs dry bags when your hatches are water tight!?

We were greener than green.  I laugh today, some 17 years later, at how astonishingly brave we were.  There was no talking any sense into us.  We had made a decision, and that was it.  How hard could it be?  We could learn to kayak WHILE we were kayaking right!?  No problem!  We HAD this!

Coincidentally, my dad had some business in Miami around this time.  Obviously they wanted to see what we were up to, so they drove down the keys to connect with us.  We hadn’t told them of our plan yet, although they knew that we were finished with Paradise.  I worried a bit about their reaction to the whole thing, but in fact, it seemed as though they were supportive.  My parents have had their share of adventures in their lives, so I never did hear any comments about trying to get us to change our minds, or asking us why we were doing this.  They just quietly allowed us to navigate this crazy plan that we had while simultaneously doing whatever it was that they could to help us along.  I’m sure, as they helped us push off from that Beach, on that December day, they must have wondered, at least momentarily, if they would ever see us again.

pushing off to the everglades

All loaded up and ready to go!

 

*Thanks for reading!  Stay tuned for Part two of our adventure, coming soon!*

*My boyfriend and I are currently transitioning from a “normal” life to that of an adventurous one!  We are selling everything to head out into the world to make traveling a priority in our lives.  If you are interested in reading about our letting go process, please read my first post here.*

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