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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.*

I dream a dream…..

Published January 28, 2017 by jillamatt

I dream a dream where every day is new and exciting.  Where the ordinary things in life, cease to exist.  Where time stretches on into infinity.  Where the sun kisses my skin, and the warm wind blows through my hair.

I dream a dream of visiting far off destinations, of meeting new people, of discovering the world. I feel like I was born a traveler, and there is so much to see out there in the world.  It boggles my mind…….  I want to see it all……..  I want to do it all.

This is my dream…….

It all seems so far off, but this dreams’ realities CAN come true.

And I have figured out how!

For about 6 months to a year now, I have really started to ask myself “Is there more to life than this?”  I would even go so far as to ask my partner what his thoughts were on the matter.  After a long and exhausting day at work I would look him squarely in the eyes and say “Do you ever think that there is more out there in life than running on the hamster wheel, working 9-5 and feeling like we are never getting ahead?”  He would shrug his shoulders and say things like “Well that is what we are working towards aren’t we?”

Yes, we worked!  And worked, and worked and worked……and then worked some more! 

We still work and work and work.  We are both self employed.  He is a Landscaper and I am a House Painter.  Together we make a good team.  We both have experience doing each others’ jobs, so helping each other when needed works well for us, and we rarely need to hire subcontractors.  We are also both artists.  Chris is a tattoo artist, and I muck about with many different art forms (visit www.jillianamatt.com if you want to see a bit.) Neither of us have ever made a living at our art, but it has been something that we have both wanted to do at some point.

Sometime last fall I realized that despite the fact that we were working and working and working as hard as we could, we were falling behind financially.  We were eating out frequently because we were too tired to cook, we were going away on weekends because we just needed a change of scenery.  We were exhausted from a busy summer of gardening and transforming our yard from a rectangular patch of grass to a stunning park like setting.  We also grew food!  Lots of it!  We didn’t buy produce or fruit for months last year, but we were still sinking into a pile of debt.

I also started to get completely overwhelmed with our stuff!  In fact, we had a shed built (that we couldn’t afford) with the intention of moving “stuff” from the basement to the shed, so that we could gain some breathing room down there.  Our ultimate plan was to open the basement up so that we could create the perfect artist studio, so that we could finally start working seriously on our passions.  (My passion, in fact, is not art after all……but there will be lots more about that to come.)

Now, I should also note here that with Chris being such a great tattoo artist, he decided to take over a tattoo shop in September that was about to close down.  He hadn’t worked in a shop in a while, and he felt it time to get back at it, and to build his portfolio once again.  (www.facebook.com/inkcaptattoos) While he was getting some business, it surely wasn’t paying for itself (we all know these things take time), so we were forced to try and pay for that, as well as all of our other bills that we already had.  We have payments on 2 vehicles, 2 car insurance policies, house insurance, mortgage, workers compensation, cell phones, utilities, business insurance, etc. etc. etc……. you name it, we have it.

But tattooing is Chris’ passion, so although we knew that it wasn’t currently sustaining itself, we held faith that the clients would come.  Unfortunately with the winter being a quiet season in the tattoo business (coupled with living in a smallish, and remote town), things were grim.  He was only in there 2 days of the week, while landscaping the rest, but being away from landscaping for those 2 days, while taking on more debt, was not a happy scenario.

At some point, I realized that I had been down this path before.  My now ended (for 5 years now) marriage was a string of bad financial choices and too much stuff.  We were also constantly drowning in stuff and to top it off,  we moved 5 times in 6 years!  Not a happy scenario!  (Oh did I say that already?!)  I knew that I was headed in the same direction (although this time I wasn’t moving anywhere), and I knew that things needed to change.

After Christmas, when I got back home, I decided for once and for all that it was time to seriously sit down and take a look at what bills were coming out of our account, and how much it all was.  I’ve never been a budget-er, but I have excellent credit.  I always find a way to make just minimum payments, but even that was starting to become really hard.  2 credit cards had approached their limits, and there was no sign that this was going to be corrected anytime soon.  After doing my calculations, I knew that something major had to change.  We were in way over our heads, and there was no end in sight.

Coincidentally (or more appropriately “synchronistic-ly”), an interesting documentary had just come out called Minimalism. I’m sure you have heard of it, it is getting rave reviews right now.  I watched Minimalism on January 11th.  That evening as I sat and watched it, while working on my artwork, it was like a lightening bolt erupted out of the sky and blasted me right in the back of the head.

I thought “This is it!  Can it really be this easy?”

I left my art bench and went into the living room to talk to Chris.  I said “Can I talk to you for a minute?”  He said “Sure.”  I could tell that he was nervous about this conversation.  After all, we have been dealing with a huge amount of stress around money, and conversations weren’t always the best as we really started to realize the situation we were in.

I said “How do you feel about selling everything and going traveling?”  He took a deep breath and said “Well, I wouldn’t mind, but what about my tattoo shop?”  And in one sentence I said “Sweetie, the whole world is your tattoo shop.”img_0637

Within 10 minutes, he was completely on board and even super excited!  On January 11th, our lives changed, our perspectives changed, our focus changed!  On January 11th, the world became our Oyster again!

Since the decision we have been excited to face each day.  We are driven and focused, and we know that there is finally an ultimate payoff for all the hard work we have been doing.  Everything we are now working for, is worth it and has meaning.  Clarity is falling down all around us like bright comets descending from the heavens, helping to guide our way.

We don’t know ALL the details yet, but we have a general idea of how this will play out.  First off, we are headed to Central America/Southern Mexico.  Chris really wants to learn Spanish, and I could certainly use more practice.  We don’t want to flit about from place to place, but would rather rent an apartment or small house ($275 a month furnished in some places!), for 3-6 months and REALLY experience a place.  Experience the people, the food, the culture.

Chris will bring his tattoo gear with us, and be a roaming tattoo artist, while I attempt to create a living at writing.  Which, by the way, I have wanted to do for quite some time, but never felt like I had the time (surprise, surprise!).

The plan is ambitious. We have A LOT of stuff!

It will take us a few months, maybe a year, to get everything sold, and get our ducks in a row.  But we are focused!  Focused on creating a life that we LOVE!  Focused on finding HAPPINESS and CONTENTMENT!  Focused on cultivating our passions (mine is traveling in case you didn’t figure that out yet). Focused on living a meaningful, exciting and, even, EXHILARATING life!

I knew when I turned 40 in October that life was “just beginning”, but I could never have predicted how true that was!  Look out world!  Here we come!

** Follow our letting go process (already there has been tears!) through this blog by signing up with your email address.  I will update frequently and let you all know how it is going!**

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Gone clubbin’!

Published December 8, 2015 by jillamatt

As our bus pulled into Gabrovo, located amongst the mountains of Bulgaria, we were eager with anticipation to explore yet another aspect of this lovely country. Our days and nights spent in Sofia were great, but we yearned to explore the country side, and see what it’s people were like. 

About a month before we left on our trip, I was messaged by a young man named Ahmed, through the Couchsurfing network.  One of the features of The Couchsurfing website, is that you can post an upcoming trip to your profile, and it automatically sends out a message to every host of your destination place, letting them know you are coming and in need of accommodation. 
We received offers from 2 hosts, the other in Stara Zagora. However, for this particular period of time, the first host to offer, was not available, so we opted to visit Ahmed in Gabrovo. 

We became friends on Facebook so we could communicate easier, (and so we could stalk each other’s profiles, I’m sure!) and he forewarned me that he really didn’t have room for 2 people, as he lives in a very small apartment with only room for one queen size bed. But, he offered to find us a spot in the village centre for a reasonable price. As our intention on this trip is to meet locals, and really gain experiences through their perspectives, we decided to take him up on his offer. I was also intrigued with the place, as there was no mention of it in our Lonely Planet book, therefore telling me that it is likely worth seeing, and a bit off the beaten track. In general, the Lonely Planet guides feature more common tourist destinations. I like to buy them before trips because they give me a reference point to do some research, and there is always valuable cultural and historical information outlined in them, which generally comes in handy upon arriving in foreign lands. 

I had messaged Ahmed in Sofia, and told him of our plans. Before leaving he told me that he wouldn’t be able to meet us at the bus, but his friend would. We arrived at the bus station, later than we had expected, and initially saw no one that looked to be picking someone up. I immediately checked for a wifi hot spot so that we could communicate with him if need be. 

Now, I must stop here to tell you that Bulgaria has free wifi absolutely EVERYWHERE!  I’m talking in every coffee shop, restaurant, ON THE BUS, bus stations, parks….you name it!  Ahmed told me that having wifi is so normal that if an establishment doesn’t have it, they lose business. We have been very impressed with the access to the Internet, much better than many places in Canada, and it provides very easy means of which to communicate with hosts, arrange transportation, book flights etc. 

So I logged into the wifi at the station and my phone started ringing instantly, a phone call through Facebook. This is something totally new to me, so I hesitantly said “Hello?”

I heard, “Hello Jillian, this is Ahmed.”  His lovely Britishesque accent, and wonderful pronunciations struck me instantly. 

I had obviously checked out his Facebook profile, and had learned that he was 24 years old. His wonderful grasp of our language, made me feel like I was speaking with an old British scholar, positioned somewhere much later in life. 

“I’m sorry that I’m not there to meet you.  But my friend should be there somewhere, maybe just walk to the cafe and you will find him.”

Just as he was saying this, a group of three young men walked up to us. One stepped forward speaking English, and I told him Ahmed was on the phone. I handed it to him, he spoke to him, then he handed it back to me. 

“Hello Jillian, this is how this is going to work. I have arranged accommodation for you in the centre of town for 30 Lev (roughly $22 CAD), I hope that’s okay?”  

“Yes,” I said, “That is fine.”

“Okay good, my friend is going to put you in a taxi and tell the taxi driver where to go. This should cost you no more than 2-3 Lev. Once you arrive, the owner will show you to your room.”

“Okay that sounds really great!  Thank you so much!” I proclaimed, absolutely in awe of the efforts that were being made to accommodate us. He told me that he was helping his family chop wood, and would contact us later to get together for dinner. 

We proceeded with his friends to a waiting  taxi, but the driver didn’t seem to understand where to go. After many phone calls and pondering amongst them all, he seemed to know the directions, so off we headed to, what I expected to be, our hotel. 

The taxi driver went very slowly through the streets of Gabrovo, I’m sure still not certain where this place was.  Finally we stopped at the end of a sort of alleyway, and got out. A man aporoached right away and started talking with the driver. I looked around and didn’t see a typical hotel front, so I looked at him and shrugged my shoulders “Where?”

The man he was speaking with beckoned us to follow him. ‘Ah!  I see, this is the man who is showing us to our room,’ as promised by Ahmed. 

He took us along side of what looked to be an apartment building and let us in with his keys. It was clear that he didn’t speak English. We made our way inside and he let us in to what turned out to be a small little apartment that had to be very new. It had a little fridge, a small bed, pullout couch and a full bathroom. We were astounded with how modern and wonderful it was, for such a good price. 

 

Our lovely little abode.

 
The man informed us in broken English that he didn’t speak English, he only spoke Spanish. 

My eyes widened as I announced “Hablo Español!” (I speak Spanish!)

He immediately started out super fast, and let me tell you, my brain was not ready for it. I stared dumbfounded at him, still shocked that we could both communicate in a totally different language, but communicate none-the-less!  What a blessing!  As he was speaking super fast, I didn’t get it all, but we managed to discuss the wifi, how to turn on the shower, and how many nights we wanted to stay. I paid him what was owed, and he was off. 

Wow!  We were so excited and appreciative with what Ahmed had set up for us! His amazing hospitality did not pass us by.  We marvelled at our cute little abode for a while, then headed out to see the town. 

Stunning architecture lined little pedestrian walkways, large carvings and statues adorned the parks and bridges, and a lovely river ran through the centre of the village. We strolled around for a while, then headed back to our oasis.  Still weary with jet lag, we immediately fell into a long deep sleep.  

  

A river runs through it.

  
 Around 7:00 Ahmed phoned once again, to tell us that he was heading into the village, was going to get ready and pick up his girlfriend, then would head over to meet us so we could go out for dinner. 

Around 9:00 we met up with him and his friend Ivel (his girlfriend was meeting us at the restaurant), and after showing him our room, we headed out to dinner. 

We had a lovely meal with the three of them. We exchanged all sorts of information with each other about our countries. Obviously, they were very intrigued with how we do things in Canada. Ahmed has hosted many travellers before, including a French Canadian, so he was very knowledgable about many other cultures and places. He and Ivel had both travelled within Europe, spending a length of time in both England and Scotland.  

From left to right: Ivel, Ahmed and Ina

 Ahmed works in IT, and is incredibly knowledgable about business start ups, web sites, and all types of marketing. He told me that he spends about 3 hours per day catching up on world news reports from every corner of the planet. We discussed many things, and my mind kept coming back to what a smart, energetic and charismatic young man he is. 

His friend Ivel is an Engineer working with cables and manufacturing. He too spoke excellent English, and had a very broad view in the world. They both make above average salaries, and are very aware that they are living a good life here in Bulgaria. Ahmed’s girlfriend, Ina, is still in study mode, but also wants to work in the IT field. 

We were told at dinner that they were heading out to the club later on, and we were welcome to join them. Apparently it was graduation day for the local technical University, and a famous Bulgarian, from Gabrovo itself, was going to be singing. We were told that he is the Justin Beiber of Bulgaria!

Not two to miss opportunities to party, but despite feeling tired from jet lag, we decided to tag along. 

We arrived at the club in our usual travelling clothes, (t-shirts, hiking boots, and zip off pants), and immediately felt VERY under dressed!  Not too mention, VERY old!  Outside the doors were dozens of University graduates and dates, fancily dressed, clamouring to get in. We stood in line, sort of. Ahmed kept announcing “Come on guys”, as he gripped his girlfriends hand and pushed us ever so gently to the front of the pack. He had a saying that he kept announcing, something to do with impudence, but the gist was that if we wanted to get anywhere in life, we needed to be impudent as well! Needless to say, we were quite entertained. 

We finally broke through the outer doors and jostled and pushed our way through the next wall of people to get into the actual party. I kept thinking that as soon as we got in, there would be room to breathe. I was VERY wrong!  We paid our entry and got our stamp as we heard from the bouncer “Welcome Canada!”  Obviously Ahmed had told him we were visitors. 

We squeeeeeeeeezed ourselves into what had to be the smokiest, smoke filled room I have been in, since being 19 years old!  At least every second person had a cigarette on the go!  Wow!  I thought to myself, ‘did I really subject myself to this pollution in a regular basis as a kid?’

Yes, yes I did!  I remember, vaguely, my Dad complaining of the stench of cigarette smoke from my jacket and clothes, many times after a wild night of partying as a teen. But, I never much noticed back then.  I guess we were just used to it. But, with the smoking laws in Canada now making everyone smoke outside, we simply are not used to it inside, and it was a huge shock. 

People were packed in like sardines. We swerved our way around the room trying to find a spot for 5 of us to stand. Back and forth we snaked through the crowds until we settled on a less than ideal spot. Chris and I were jammed against the stage, and we were in a line of constantly moving people, squeezing past us to go back and forth along this particular corridor. 

The music was blaring from speakers from just below our butts, and it shook us to our core.

I suddenly had the realization that I was too old for this!  How did it happen?  I used to love hanging out in these places, always pushing and shoving to get back and forth. Dancing and partying with reckless abandon.  However, it became very clear to me in that moment that, this was not for me anymore, and maybe coming there had been a mistake. 

I stewed in my misery of the situation for a few minutes, and then I actually took a good look around me. I realized that we were part of a celebration!  A celebration of the excitement of youth, the prospects of a whole big future ahead of them, and the glory of living life!  WE WERE IN BULGARIA, and we were having an EXPERIENCE!  Isn’t this what I have been saying?  Isn’t this what I have wanted? Isn’t this what life is all about? 

 It was with this realization, that I started to focus on all that was good in that moment. I decided that I probably would not die from lung cancer that night, and my hearing would likely not be damaged forever. I decided that I was going to enjoy myself, because we were part of something special and we were ALIVE! 

Possibly the oldest couple in the house!

 

Throwing paper in the air in Bulgaria symbolizes wealth and freedom from Communist rule.

  
  We danced a bit, jostled around amongst the students, had some whiskey and Coke, and hung out for as long as we could. Unfortunately, by 1:30, we were both pretty exhausted. 

We told Ahmed we were leaving (unfortunately the Bulgarian Justin Beiber had not even started yet) and said our goodbyes, promising to see him the next day at some point. 

We headed back to our room, all the while laughing and recalling the adventures of the night. We were ALIVE!  We were in BULGARIA!  And we were having the time of our lives!

We put our stinky clothes in their own zipped up bag, ready for the laundry, had a shower, and drifted off to sleep, with the throngs of a steady bass beat alive in our heads. 

  
Next up: We head off to the Black Sea!

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