Majesty, Mystery and Magic at Tikal

Pictures will never do justice to a place like Tikal. You simply have to experience it.


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…….


How does one put into words the sense of being in a place as truly astounding as Tikal? 

I have seen many photos through the years of Tikal, and the photos have been truly incredible.  Incredible enough that for as long as I can remember, I have wanted to go there.  But it’s always been some thought that was deep back in my subconscious, lingering and waiting for the right opportunity to present itself.  I don’t necessarily have  a ‘bucket list’ per se, but I know that many other places exist in there as well, and their time will come to fruition also, when they are meant to. But, I have to say, many other places that I wish to visit, probably won’t pull me into their depths like Tikal has. 

When I set foot on this ancient land, I suddenly felt like I had come home.  Like somehow, someway, I had lived there before.  I walked the trails with a calm sense of knowing where I was being led, feeling an invisible pull from location to location, temple to temple. 

Pictures will never do justice to a place like Tikal.  You simply have to experience it.  It is profound, it is absolutely mind blowing, and it is transformational. 

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Our day began early, we caught a 5:30am shuttle bus in front of a nearby hotel that is located in El Remate, the closest town to Tikal National Park.  There was 4 of us waiting for it, the other 2 were well into their late 50’s or early 60’s.  As the medium sized bus pulled up, it looked like it was some sort of travelling slumber party.  The average age on the bus was about 19, and maybe one or 2 of them were wide eyed and bushy tailed to start their day, but the rest were sawing logs.  Realizing that they had come from a hostel in Flores, another hour away, I can imagine that their morning started much earlier, and knowing the backpackers general routine of partying every night, I’m sure many of them barely had had any sleep. 

The 4 of us filled the only remaining 4 seats, which were those fold down deals that fill the aisle way all the way to the back.  This bus was full!  But we were whisked off to Tikal none-the-less, giggling inside at the sights of heads bobbing, and one poor guy trying to hold onto the seat in front of him to rest his head on his arm, only to have his fingers slip off as soon as he fell asleep.  Once his hand slipped, he would snap awake, make a grab for it again, and then repeat the sequence all over again.  I couldn’t help feeling terribly sorry for him, but I also couldn’t stop watching as the suspense of watching his hand slip off, each time was as enjoyable and as hilarious as the last.    

We paid our Q150 (roughly $20) entry fee, and got back on the bus for another 5-7 kilometre drive.  I was actually surprised at how long it took us to get there.  I expected only a 30 minute drive, and thought we would be in the park by 6:00 or so.  However, it took us until closer to 7:00 to finally start our day.

I bought a map outside the gates when we were paying for our ticket for roughly $3.  I could tell right away that it wasn’t a great one, but I felt that it would be worth having something, as I had no idea what to expect once in there.  I took a look at it right away, and noticed the farthest point out from the gate.  It’s called Temple IV, and I had a quiet knowing that we immediately had to go to that temple to start our day.  My rational thinking was that as it was farthest from the gates, it would be the quietest place for the longest, but I had no idea what sort of temple it was, and certainly didn’t know that it would be the absolute most spectacular temple of them all, and a perfect place to begin our day from. 

After walking through some other temples to get to the big one, we referenced the map a couple times, to make sure we were still heading to the farthest one.  While doing this, we got a bit of a lay of the land so we had some idea where we were at all times.  When we got to Temple IV, and climbed the stairs all the way to the top (it’s mostly man made stairs now unfortunately), we were astounded by the view of the lush green canopy that was presented before us, and could see a few temples poking out of the foggy and mystical tops of the trees, in the distance.  We soon figured out which one was which, and from this perch, 212 feet above the jungle floor, we are able to decide our route for the rest of the day. 

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The Central Plaza is flanked by 2 temples of this side at either end.  I am standing atop one of them to take this picture.
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Many of the carvings that graced these temples have been worn away with time.  This one is the most in tact that we saw on top of the temples.

When we arrived at the top, we chuckled at the sight of the other 2 older people that we had waited for the bus with that morning, having already arrived.  We had a quick laugh about all of us wanting to beat the kids to this spot, to enjoy some quiet morning time from up there.  Again, we didn’t have a clue what this temple had in store for us, and were gobsmacked by the majesty of it for sure.   

After one very loud group of Europeans finally left, we enjoyed almost an hour of peace and reflection on top of this incredible structure with the other 2.  Interestingly enough, they are British, but had been living in Leon, Nicaragua, and are currently political refugees, taking a one month break in Guatemala.  We had an interesting conversation with them about their experience, and their stories were horrific.  Mortar and gunfire had been going off outside there house for multiple nights before they decided that their nerves were frazzled, and they needed a break.  They aren’t sure what they are doing, or where they are going.  The husband had work there, she took a three year sabbatical from teaching in England, and he had another year in his contract.  But at that moment the NGO he had been working for had no plans to return to Nicaragua, and they are left feeling lost and floating around in the world. Yet more people displaced by the chaos in Nicaragua.

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The spectacular view from the top featuring temples we had already walked by popping up out of the misty morning canopy.

We sat atop this incredible structure and watched Toucans zip from tree to tree throughout the Canopy.  I saw a big howler monkey in the tree branches of one tree, and we had a visit by a Pozote (coatimundi) that had obviously climbed all the way up there from the ground.  By then, a group of the students had arrived to the top of the temple, and when one guy approached the edge to look down, he turned to the rest of us wide eyed and said “There is a crazy animal down here!”  One girl asked what it was from her seat on the stairs, and he announced “I really don’t know, it’s like a Dog Monkey.”  Haha!  Well that was it! Many people jumped up from their seats to go and check out what a “Dog Monkey” looked like, including Chris.  Thankfully, having seen these guys already in Costa Rica, he knew what it was, and was able to tell people it’s correct name. 

 

The Pozote had come up sniffing around for food that our new friends had dropped.  Their cake, that they bought for lunch was incredibly crumbly, and she had thrown a bunch of the crumbs that were falling on the ground, down the side of the temple.  This super cute guy came up from exactly where she had thrown it, and was sniffing for more.  As they also had a huge pile of crumbs near where we were sitting, he made motions to come closer to get them, but thought more wisely about it and stayed his distance.  I’m sure once all the people are gone at the end of the day, these guys climb up and recover the goodies that have been left by the tourists. 

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It looks like a sheer drop off from where we sat but in fact it was a bunch of stairs that led to the ground.  Unfortunately people aren’t able to climb them anymore as they have eroded beyond repair, but a wooden set of stairs has been erected on the side of temple.

In witnessing him, and the rest of the jungle animals, we realized that they are the lucky ones.  The animals of Tikal get to live in this magical play land.  This place where time seems to stand still, where your worries about the rest of the world just melt away.  Where mother nature dictates what is happening, and where the powerful energy of the place just breathes life into every corner of it.  I can’t tell you how many times through the day, I wished that I could make this place my home.  A little roof here, and an extra wall there, we could easily make this place inhabitable again.  I couldn’t help but think that this place had housed thousands of people throughout it’s history, yet none were here now.  Of course, our society keeps these places sacred, and of course, people aren’t able to live there now, but I almost had a strong vision that this place would be inhabited again.  Like somehow, the world will fall into such a state of disrepair, that I think people who survive, will come back to these places.  Will seek solace in the sprits that reside on these magical lands.  I do believe that somewhere, somehow, these places will rise again.  I don’t know how I have this feeling, call me crazy if you want, but the power I felt from that land was great, and I can’t explain it either. 

With more people starting to arrive at the top, and the sun starting to get warm, we decided that it was time to descend back into the canopy, to start our day of exploration.  We had plenty of time, our bus wasn’t leaving until 4:30, we had food and plenty of water.  We were absolutely in no rush at all. 

Having an overhead view of the park from Temple IV allowed us to also use our map to figure out where we wanted to go next and how we wanted to plan our route for the day.  So we set out immediately for the next structure that you could climb to the top of, and that was also poking above the canopy.  We wanted to look back at where we had been sitting atop Temple IV, to get a scale of what we had ascended. 

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From the top of the next temple that we climbed, looking back at Temple IV.  We had been sitting just at the tree top level.

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After we satisfied our curiosity, and finished checking out the next temple, the sun was starting to get hot, and it only made sense to stay below the canopy and stay mostly out of it’s deadly tropical rays.  We flitted along the paths from temple to temple, took tons of pictures, and even had an awe inspiring connection with a butterfly about the size of Chris’ hand that flew past us.  I didn’t notice, but Chris watched where it flew to, just down the trail.  It landed at the base of a tree trunk, and as we made our way down to it, it stayed in the same place, seemingly not caring about us at all.  As we realized that we could maybe get a picture of this fabulous creature, we slowed way down and crept up to it.  At first we zoomed our phone cameras in, but we soon realized that there was no need for a zoom, as this butterfly was really in the mood for a photo shoot.  We both got within one foot of it, and it didn’t even twitch.  After thanking it for it’s incredible-ness, taking a ton of phots of it, and walking away, I realized that the whole scene would be much more impactful had I videoed it. 

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I see a snake head on the top right.  Do you?

We were 50 feet away or more, and I decided to turn back. I mean really, how often does one get to witness such an incredible creature up close and personal like that.  It was still in it’s spot and I told it that it was going to be in a movie.  It was also in the mood for this I suppose, as we  videoed it, got super close, and talked to it the whole time. Again, without even a twitch.  Just incredible, and certainly a highlight of the day. (You can find the video on our Facebook Page.)

We also had run ins with many wonderful fuzzy caterpillars crawling on the ground, birds of many species, a giant grasshopper, more monkeys and of course Pizotes scattered here and there on the forest floor.  We walked amongst ancient trees and massive plants.  Of course, one can’t help but make comments about feeling like they are in Jurassic Park, when wandering through the incredible flora.  Familiar plants that we have in pots in our houses in Canada, towered high above our heads as we walked the trails of this dense tropical landscape. 

We finally stopped for lunch back in the Central Plaza around 11:00.  We were finding it hard to just stop ourselves for a bit as we were wide eyed with wonder as we went from temple to temple, realizing the massive scope of this city.  While eating, we couldn’t help but notice the tourists that were just arriving, at the hottest part of the day, and with all the other crowds.  This was our first look at just how many people visit this park, and here we were in the slow season.  I can’t imagine how busy it can get in the high season months.  We were thankful that we had planned our day the way that we did, as we had seen very few people in our first 4 hours of exploration, and we were thankful that that was the case.  I can imagine that with 40 or more people sitting on top of Temple IV, there would be no sign of the little Pizote that had visited our smaller gathering in the quiet of the morning.

With not a moment to spare, and knowing that we still had lots to see and explore, we ate quite quickly, refilled our water bottles, and set off.  (Something to note: there is NO Food available throughout the park, only a couple restaurants right at the beginning.  So pack a lunch, and plan to stay a while!)

The second part of our day was filled with explorations that mostly took us in and around the structures.  We climbed countless stairs, ascended and descended structure after structure, walked through tiny tunnels, and explored as many nooks and crannies that we were allowed to, and possibly one or two that were at the very least, a grey zone of whether we were allowed to or not.  We somehow found ways to avoid the crowds, and made sure that we stayed away from the main trails and guided routes.

 

It was in this alone, that we were thankful that we had not decided to hire a guide.  We came across many groups with guides, and it was clear that these groups were not moving at the pace that we were, and many weren’t able to cover the vast amount of area that we were.  And while there are a thousand unanswered questions about these temples, how they came to be, who lived in them, what the structures represented and countless more, what we really felt like we were there to do, was just experience the land.  To realize that countless thousands of people had lived here, and that while Tulum was but a tiny seaside village, this was a city.  It was an empire.  It was, and is, royal, majestic and incredibly humbling. 

When our buzz of excitement and our need to explore everything we possibly could wore off, we realized that we were exhausted.  Suddenly our knees and legs and every part of our bodies were tired, and we realized that it was time to go.  We had seen all that we could in one day, and we knew that we would be back.

Tikal is a place that I think a person could return to countless times, each time finding a new thing to explore, a new carving, a new structure.  We do plan to return, but next time it will be with a guide.  Next time we will get our burning questions answered.


Do you want to visit Flores and Tikal?

We have rented a house here in Flores for a couple months, but will possibly stay longer as we don’t have any other plans to go anywhere until we housesit in Livingston, also here in Guatemala, in late November.  So we have decided to share our experience with others who may want to come here to see Tikal, and what Guatemala has to offer.

We are offering a one week package for a very good price.  You will be staying with us in our house, and we will take care of your meals and all of the details to go to El Remate for two nights, and Tikal for a day visit.

Check out the information here, and let us know if this interests you at all.  We feel that it is a really good value, and are happy to share what we know, and help you to get to know the area and the people that inhabit this land.

Of course, we are open to altering the schedule to suit your needs, and we can add on extra excursions if it is wanted.


In other news…..

I have been forgetting to blog about a fun project that Chris and I did while we stayed in Samara, Costa Rica for a month.  We were able to put our artistic skills to good use and paint a mural for the owner of our hostel, in exchange for part of our accommodation.

While both of us are artists of various mediums, neither of us has had much experience with actual painting.  I myself have watched many artists paint, and I understand the basic gist of layering up your image starting from the background and moving forward, but have never really attempted anything on a large scale, and certainly not something detailed like what the owner wanted, as I normally work in an abstract fashion.

However, with Chris being the very skilled, artist that he is, and knowing that drawing animals is one of his strong suits, I knew we could accomplish this project.  So, despite a healthy amount of fear, we decided that we just needed to attempt it, and give it a try.

We made many mistakes through the process, and at times had a hard time trying to make things look the way we wanted, but through trial and error, and the beauty of just painting over our ‘mistakes’, we feel that we were able to come up with something pretty awesome.

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This is on a 4×8 piece of plywood.  The whole project took us roughly 3 weeks, with both of us working on it at least 1-2 hours per day.
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These are the owners, an Italian couple that has lived in Samara for the last few years.

We are very proud of ourselves, and mostly learned through this process that the most important thing we can say to these kinds of opportunities, is to Just Say Yes!  By saying yes we broke through our own barriers of fear and doubt, and we came out beaming on the other side.

We are pretty excited to know that this painting will be hanging in the hostel for many years to come.  It’s a great privilege to be able to leave bits and pieces of our creative selves wherever we go, and to know that we have brightened and livened up different spaces around the world.  We plan to continue to spread our creativity and artwork around in every place that we visit!


Thanks for reading! Please know that above all else, I aim to inspire others to just get out and see the world. Traveling is such an enriching experience, and I can’t even comprehend how much it has shaped me as an individual. If you have ANY questions, or need travel advice of ANY kind, PLEASE don’t hesitate to email me at the address below! I will do my very best to help you in any way I can!

Xoxoxo Happy Travels!


Current Location: We are currently in Flores, Guatemala.  We have rented a house and expect to stay here for a minimum of 2 months.

Travelling Plans: No plans to go anywhere at this point!

To head back to the beginning of our journey, and the moment we decided to sell all of our possessions to travel the world, click here.

To see many travelling photos and to learn about where we are travelling, please follow our Facebook and Instagram accounts by clicking on the appropriate icon in the right hand column.

To learn about where I have previously traveled, visit my Countries Page.

To see all of my blog post headings on one page, (including all of the ones about letting our stuff go) head over to my Blog Post Menu.

To contribute to our Patreon account, please click here.

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

If you like my writing, and want to follow along on our journey, please put your email address in the right hand column to subscribe. That way all of my posts will go straight to your email inbox:)

Off to Guatemala!


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…….


Although we have been content here in our hostel in Samara for 3 weeks now, we also realize that we can’t stay here forever.  We exchanged part of our stay for painting a mural for the hostel owner, but we are now living on paid time, and while the price tag is only $25/night, we also realize that over the course of time, that adds up.

A couple weeks ago I went online to find cheap flights up to Cancun.  Obviously, flying is not our travel method of choice, but since the roads are blocked in Nicaragua, civil war has broken out, and the country is at a standstill, there really isn’t any other option.  If we want to go somewhere, it has to be by plane. 

As we are to be housesitting in November in Guatemala, it only made sense to head North, and not South, to cut down on future travel expense and time. 

A couple weeks ago I researched flights up to Cancun.  We have our sights set on Merida, a beautiful colonial city that we spent only 3 nights at back in 2015.  It sits about 4 hours by bus to the west of Cancun, and is close to the northern tip of the Yucatan Peninsula.  We fell in love with the city and vowed to return for longer some day.  Being close to Guatemala, makes it a good option for us to be close to our housesitting gig in November, and we can find apartment rentals for $150-$200 per month.  Good deal!

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Image courtesy of Googlemaps.com

When I did my my initial search, the flights were looking like they were about $200-$220 per person.  Not bad.  I researched many different days around the beginning of July, and found them all to be about the same price. So I figured that I would wait until we got closer, to see if any other opportunities came up for us around Samara, or in Costa Rica, before we committed to something solid. 

When living a nomadic life, booking a flight is a bit of a big deal.  When you are trying to live day to day, and take whatever opportunity comes your way, committing to some far off point can be stressful and a bit overwhelming.  But as everything in life, we have to make decisions, and once we do, new opportunities will arise that never existed before. 

Last night, feeling like our time is definitely up here in Samara, and in Costa Rica in general, I decided that I should sit down and find a flight and just book something.  We needed to make a move.  However, I was dismayed when I saw that all of the $200ish flights had now jumped to sometimes $350 or more!  If we wanted a $200 flight, it would mean staying in Costa Rica for another 2-3 weeks, which would negate the cost of the cheap flight anyways. 

Not to be deterred, I checked many websites and although I found the odd cheaper flight, most of them only allowed carry on bags and charged extra for checked bags.  Unfortunately, although we are nomadic, our bags do not match our nomadic lifestyle!  We have one complete duffel bag that is full of Chris’ tattoo gear, our tent, some thin sleeping bags, and (shudder) wool sweaters and cold weather gear!  We do plan to get to Ecuador eventually and these warm clothes WILL come in handy, but just thinking about them at this point makes me sweat!

PLUS we have an entire carry on suitcase that is dedicated to our art supplies.  This case in particular is a little worrisome as we have been adding heavy paper and other supplies to it making it quite heavy.  Even if it does fit in the overhead bins, there is a chance that they won’t allow it onboard the plane due to its weight. On top of all that we have 2 small back packs and another large backpack that contains both of our clothing. 

Like I said, one would NOT think we are nomadic with all of the stuff we are hauling around, that’s for sure!

However, this is a cross that we bear, and is why once we got down here we had resigned ourselves to bus travel only, at least in the near future.   But, with travel comes uncertainty, changed plans, and never really knowing what is around each corner.  So here we are, booking flights and stressing about our luggage!


I continued my searches through many websites and finally decided to switch things up a bit.  Previously, I had considered checking flights to Guatemala, and they had all been quite cheap as well, in fact cheaper than to Cancun.  I decided to throw that into the search engine to see what came back.  Right away it was obvious that flights were cheaper, but Guatemala City is so far away from Merida, it seemed silly to try to save the $100 when we would have to spend days travelling north from there.  Sure Lake Atitlan is nearby, a very popular destination and a “must see” Guatemala sight, but with the explosion of Volcan Fuego happening recently, maybe that wasn’t the best place to go.  I’m sure there is an economic spin off happening with that, tourism is likely down and possibly, there could be other problems.  No, we weren’t really interested in going there, at least for now, especially having just gotten over our shell shock from Nicaragua. 

However, as I typed Guatemala into one search engine, just to see other options, in tiny writing and in an obscure corner of the page, was an option for other airports.  Other airports?  I had no idea that there were other international airports in Guatemala!  I assumed that all international flights flew into Guatemala City, then connected from there (never assume….I know, I know.)  I quickly chose another destination, Flores, yes, that looked like a nice name, meaning Flowers in English.  Lets look there, I thought. 

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Image courtesy of googlemaps.com

Our German friend Nico, one of the same hostel family members that had been with us since we arrived in Samara, and who also left Nicaragua, had been to Flores.  He quickly announced “Oh yes, Flores is lovely, then you can go to Tikal.” 

Tikal???  What??  I have dreamt about going to Tikal for so many years, but it’s never been a solid plan, just some sort of far off fantasy.  One that would manifest itself one day when I ever got to Guatemala.  Well, all of a sudden this far off plan was suddenly manifesting itself before my eyes.  Chris announced “Book it!”, and Nico was immediately on his feet with enthusiasm, whipping out his Lonely Planet guide, pulling up maps on his phone, and showing me all sorts of things to do and places to go in that area.  I had to get him to slow down for a few minutes while I booked the flight, but I was pumped for his excitement.  Clearly this was a great place to head to!  Plus, it’s located in the Northern part of the country, which means getting to Merida, may be a little bit easier than it would be from Guatemala City. 

The flight to Flores is $160 each, and includes one checked bag each (now we just have to make sure they are below 24kg!).  BINGO!  In an instant our flight was booked and just like that we are off to Guatemala.  The hilarious thing, also, is that our flight is on the same day (July 5th) that our friend Nico’s is to Mexico City, and within half an hour of his.  So we are all going to travel to San Jose together, stay in the same hostel, and see each other off at the airport. 

In the course of a couple hours, we went from not knowing what we were going to do, or where we were going to go, or if we were EVER going to get out of Costa Rica, to finding a cheap flight, booking it, and planning our trip to Guatemala!  For the first time since leaving Canada, I am finally going to a country I haven’t been to before, and I couldn’t be more excited! 

We have no idea how long we will spend in Guatemala, we don’t really know anything about what we will be doing when we get there (other then going to Tikal of course!) but we are going, that much is clear!  It feels incredibly good to have a bit of a plan, and to know that very soon we will be in a new county, experiencing a new culture and seeing new sights. 

This is the life of a Nomad, this is what is exciting!  One day at a time, step by step we choose our futures.  It’s an exhilarating feeling and we wouldn’t want it any other way. 

Pura Vida from Costa Rica (for only one more week!)

When nothing is sure, everything is possible


Thanks for reading! Please know that above all else, I aim to inspire others to just get out and see the world. Traveling is such an enriching experience, and I can’t even comprehend how much it has shaped me as an individual. If you have ANY questions, or need travel advice of ANY kind, PLEASE don’t hesitate to email me at the address below! I will do my very best to help you in any way I can!

Xoxoxo Happy Travels!


Current Location: We are currently in Samara, Costa Rica.  After having to leave Nicaragua unexpectedly due to civil unrest.  We have been in the El Dorado Hostel (highly recommended!) for 3 weeks.

Travelling Plans: Heading to Guatemala on July 5th!

To head back to the beginning of our journey, and the moment we decided to sell all of our possessions to travel the world, click here.

To see many travelling photos and to learn about where we are travelling, please follow our Facebook and Instagram accounts by clicking on the appropriate icon in the right hand column.

To learn about where I have previously traveled, visit my Countries Page.

To see all of my blog post headings on one page, (including all of the ones about letting our stuff go) head over to my Blog Post Menu.

To contribute to our Patreon account, please click here.

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

If you like my writing, and want to follow along on our journey, please put your email address in the right hand column to subscribe. That way all of my posts will go straight to your email inbox:)

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