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The House that Amanda Built – Earth Bag Building in Nicaragua

Published May 4, 2018 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…….

As promised, Amanda picked us up from the bus drop off location upon our arrival.  We were riding on the Tica Bus, a bus line just as fancy as Greyhound Bus, from San Jose, Costa Rica.  After 7 hours, which included an hour or so stop at the Nicaragua border to obtain our entrance visas, we had arrived in Nandaime, a small town south of the more popular tourist stop of Granada.



Volcano Power vs. Wind Power!  This was viewed out of our Bus window shortly after we crossed the border.  This volcano is one of 2 that make up the Island of Ometepe in Lake Nicaragua, the largest lake in Central America.  

Amanda told us to look for the grubby girl in a dirty red truck, and sure enough we spotted her as she drove up the road to grab us.  We were greeted with enthusiastic hugs, and we were immediately enamoured with her positive and energetic personality.  ‘Yup, we are going to get along just fine,’ I thought to myself as we drove off to her farm.

We had heard about Amanda and her Earth Bag house project from a girl that I volunteered with at Envision Festival in Costa Rica, back in February.  Magda told us that Amanda is always taking volunteers to help her to bring her project to fruition.  At the time, and knowing that we were headed up to Nicaragua at some point, I stashed the thought in the back of my mind, knowing that at the VERY least, we would want to check the project out.  We have both been involved in numerous workshops and very small building projects to do with Cob building etc. on the West Coast of Canada, but had never seen a Earth Bag house.  Our curiosity was piqued.

When our time in Silencio (read my last blog post here) was coming to a close, and we were trying to figure out what we wanted to do next, we remembered Amanda’s project, and I immediately messaged her to see if it was possible to come and stay there and help out.  Of course, she wrote back right away, and the plan was set.  We were headed to Nicaragua!

After spending a few days in San Jose to purchase a laptop and some other art supply essentials, we were on our way!

Amanda is Nicaraguan-American and her house is being built on 12 acres of her Grandfathers land.  Having ditched the North American 9-5 Rat Race (or in her case 80 hours per week working) at the age of 24, she decided that it was time for a simpler life.  One where she can experience life, not just let it flash by.  She began her new journey by travelling around the world and volunteering on a couple earth build projects herself.  After doing all of that, she decided it was time to start her own project.  She had been to Nicaragua to visit her Grandparents numerous times, and was familiar with the land and it’s people.  With building costs exponentially cheaper down here, she felt like it would be a great place to construct her home base, while she continued to travel and work remotely.


This is where we worked for Amanda.  Just outside Nandaime between the highway and the lake. 

Her Grandpa still lives in the country, but resides up in the Northern part near his coffee plantation.  The property that Amanda is building on has been a cashew plantation for numerous years.  You can imagine our delight when we realized that we could gorge out on tons of cashew fruit while we stayed there.

Immediately we were amazed with the difference in the Flora and Fauna than that of what we had left in Costa Rica.  Rich, diverse and alive hillsides, had been replaced with flat land, scrub brush and desert like conditions.  Of course, it was the dry season, so the layer of dust on the surface of the ground, that was constantly blowing around all over everything, is only around for a few months of the year.  But the climate was astonishingly dryer and much much different than what we had left only a few days before.

We were happy to still see numerous birds flitting about though.  The National Bird of Nicaragua, locally known as the Guarda Barranca (check it out here, it’s stunning!), but commonly referred to as the Mot Mot (my personal favourite name), was a frequent guest near our camp kitchen.  Their stunning colours captured our attention as they flitted about through the trees.  Butterflies were also numerous, as were the ever so persistent ants!  Chris and I had an absolute highway of ants about 2 feet wide that cut through our campsite every night.  Thousands of them marching back and forth, only once daylight had subsided.

Our modest Camp Kitchen! 

There was also another pest that resided on her farm that we had never even considered to be a possibility down here……TICKS!  They are smaller and more of a reddy-brown (they look exactly like freckles and moles!) than the ones that I know from the mountains in Canada, but they certainly behave the same.  Thankfully, we were told right away that there is no Lime Disease in Nicaragua, so at least that wasn’t a worry, but we were constantly brushing them off of us, and pulling the odd one out of our skin if they managed to evade our constant swipes, and had embedded themselves into our flesh.  They were so small that you could barely grab onto them, and quite often I would need to use tweezers to pull on them.  They were nasty little critters, and I have to say, not my favourite thing to have to deal with while staying there!

We ended up staying with Amanda for 3 weeks in total, and I have to say that we are pretty proud of ourselves for toughing it out so long.  The conditions were challenging, we were dirty all the time, it was sweltering hot with no relief until night fall, dust blew on everything in sight including our food, plates clothes etc., and the ticks…..well you can just imagine I’m sure.  However, the experience of it all far outweighed the trials and tribulations that we put up with, and we both came away learning a lot, and feeling like we had both contributed in meaningful ways.

Earth Bag Construction

First of all, I am certainly no expert on this, so please, click here to learn more about it.

We arrived after the walls had been erected, and the roof was just starting to be constructed.  When Amanda picked us up, she said that it had rained the night before, which was in her words, “terrifying.”


You can see that the initial layer of exterior plaster is just starting to be applied on this section. After this layer there is a sturdier layer which includes lime which will be applied, this helps to seal out the weather.


The roof trusses are just starting to be worked on.  You can see the stark difference in the landscape from where we were in Costa Rica.

This type of construction is done completely using earthen materials, clay, sand, straw, horse manure, and other natural ingredients, and it’s integrity depends wholly on being built in dry climates where you can depend on little to no rain during construction.  You can imagine what would happen if rain suddenly unleashed on the earthen plaster that covers the walls……it would all literally melt off.  Until you get the final Lime Plaster coat on the outside, that will repel water at best, and a sturdy roof with generous overhangs erected, the whole project is at the mercy of the weather.  With the rainy season scheduled to start any day, time was of the essence.

We arrived to the camp to find 2 girls from Austria and another guy from New Zealand, already volunteering.  Over the course of the project Amanda has had roughly 20 volunteers from all corners of the earth, help her on her land.  She advertises for volunteers through different online platforms, and also has physically hung posters around Granada and other local tourist spots, in order to entice volunteers to come and help her and learn about this type of construction.

Some of “the boys” working on the project. 

All natural building techniques lean very heavily on labour.  The materials are generally cheap, labour is not.  Amanda had a crew of about 10 Nica men ranging in age from 15-50 working on her house from the beginning.  Thankfully in Nicaragua, the labour is pretty cheap, but even with that, budgets run out eventually and it is therefore necessary to get volunteers in to do some of the less skilled, time consuming jobs that need to be done.  Mostly I worked on what I lovingly called “Stuffing Cracks”, but is actually referred to as plastering.  It involved creating a measured mix of Horse Manure, Clay and Sand, getting it to the right moisture consistency, and then physically pushing it into the spaces between the bags.  This provides a tight seal to reduce insects getting in, it smoothes the wall out so that putting the final plaster layer on is easier, and it helps to further stabilize the walls from expansion and contraction while moving from the wet to dry season.


All of those cracks have to be stuffed!  And this is just the first inside room! 


The start of my 3 weeks of work! 

In order to make the mix that I needed to do this, I literally walked around the farm and picked up dried horse poo from the ground.  Amanda referred to it as something similar to an easter egg hunt, and I will attest that this is true.  However, after a few days of hunting for sporadic piles here and there, I did finally find the hot spot where the horses get tied up every night……there was literally poo for days!  Throughout the process, I couldn’t help but thinking what my 19 year old self would think of my 41 year old self picking up horse poo.  I NEVER would have imagined that this would be my life some 20 years later……that’s for sure!


Poo galore!


Sifting small particles out of the clay and sand was a necessary step in order to get a very fine smooth plaster. 


And the ultimate step and the easiest way to mix the mixtures is to stomp them with your bare feet!  Needless to say our feet had many layers of ground in dirt on them……ALL THE TIME! 

Having come from a hyper-organized corporate job, Amanda was all about using the white boards to create schedules and task lists each day.  Every morning as we ate our oatmeal breakfast, we would go over what needed to be done for the day, and she would assign tasks to people, depending on what they felt like doing.  Various projects came up including building a screen door for the shower, building bat boxes, putting a proper roof on the outhouse, shaping and tamping the pond (Chris’ job for the most part), planting trees and of course finishing the “stuffing.”  However, I did get a really cool job towards the end of our stint there.



Chris working on the pond.  No, he didn’t dig it all by hand, but he shaped and tamped all the hard chinks down so a watertight seal can be put in the bottom at some point.  

After seeing some of my artwork, Amanda asked me to give a try at designing metal security windows for her house.  There were 10 windows in all, and 2 doors.  She had presented various ideas to professional welders, but they all said that her ideas weren’t practical, and they wanted to just do the typical metal work that everybody else had.  Obviously they didn’t have a creative bone in their bodies, so she leaned on those who did.  Within her Nicaraguan construction crew, she found 2 men that had welding experience and were willing to take on the project.  The first window took a bit of time, but after they got that going, they were rocking it!  It was an amazing experience to see my own concepts drawn up, and then to witness them get created and installed as a finished pieces.  So very rewarding, and one of my proudest moments as an artist thus far!

There were many more windows designed but sadly we left before they were installed.  We will return to take more photos for sure! 

We mostly worked about 4 hours each day, from 7:30 or 8:00 until about 12:00.  The afternoons were optional, and although it was sweltering hot most of the time, Chris and I did manage to swing a few afternoon shifts, just to help her keep moving ahead.  It’s a monumental task to build a house, one that I have experience in (coincidentally at the same age as she is), and we know the importance of keeping the momentum going.  2 days a week would be free, and because Amanda is also a traveller, and understands the importance of seeing and experiencing places, we generally would go on some sort of adventure on those days.  We visited an incredible local swimming spot, tucked way back in the woods and off the beaten track, and also hit up the popular colonial tourist city of Granada a few times, Laguna Apollo, a lake inside an extinct volcano crater, and some spectacular nurseries where we scouted for plants for the property.


We were in 7th Heaven while cruising the nurseries for plants for Amanda’s property. 


The view heading down the road into Laguna Apollo.  An extinct volcano crater that now is full of beautiful fresh water! 


A locals only swim hole located well away from the beaten track.  Truly a little paradise. 


The spectacular buildings of Colonial Granada. 

Our experience with Amanda was everything that we had hoped for.  We were both itching to do some heavy physical labour, we have been wanting to contribute to a project in a meaningful way, and of course, we always want to be able to hang out with locals and be part of the fabric of each community we visit.  Being located in a very rural part of Nicaragua meant that we were probably some of the first foreigners that many people in the community had seen.  We were able to practice Spanish and learn about their culture in a meaningful and educational way, we went to the church on Saturday nights to eat local Nicaraguan food, which helped them fundraise for the community,  plus we had a couple interesting nights at the local bar, where we were definitely the center of attention, and something new that the locals could gawk at.

Dinner at the church!  Cooked outside on an open fire! 

All in all, we are so thankful to have been able to take part in the project.  And the bonus is that we are now located only about an hour away from her for the next 4-5 months as we start our next housesitting gig.  So I am sure we will make our way out there again to visit her and check out her progress!


Amanda’s house with the roof on it!  This is how we left it.  Can’t wait to go back and check it out in a month or so to see the progress, plus those windows! 

*Note to reader: I have so many more photos of our time spent in Nandaime.  Please head to our Facebook Page to see them all!

** If you or someone you know would like to volunteer for Amanda in Nicaragua, or if you have any questions about Earth Bag building, please email me at the address below and I will connect you.

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 Rivas, Nicaragua, waiting to start our 4.5 month housesitting job on May 10th.

Travelling Plans: We will be here until mid-late September while we full fill our housesitting job.

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

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Experiencing a 6.8 Earthquake!

Published November 13, 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…….


Well, after living on the West Coast of Canada for 15 years, and being told that “The Big One” is coming any day, and having only experienced one small, very small, earthquake (4 something, of which I only really felt dizzy for a second), I can now say that I have fully experienced a relatively large earthquake.

We had had a really full day yesterday. I was super tired.  We had been up since 5:00am.

We were picked up early in the morning by an acquaintance that we had met through facebook. He is a Canadian, and his partner is Bulgarian (seriously?! We loved Bulgaria!), and they moved down here 2 years ago. We have a bunch of mutual friends from Canada, so we were introduced via facebook, and told that we really should connect when we get down here.

Joseph is a also tattoo artist here in Costa Rica, so it seemed like a good connection to make, since Chris wanted to do some tattooing here as well. Needless to say, the fact that he only lives 30 minutes from where we are housesitting, made it all that much more serendipitous.

We had a spectacular day with them, first heading to a different, near by, beach. They then took us back up the mountain and into the jungle to see their property, and spend the day with them there. All I can say is WOW! What a place! What awesome people! We definitely connected with them on a deep level, and made instant, wonderful, new friends.

But I have to remiss, as this blog post is not about that, and we have made arrangements to go back there in the New Year, to stay on their property and help out with some projects that he has planned.  So, there will be plenty more to write about that later on.

THIS post is about an Earthquake!

Needless to say, after getting up at 5:00am, I was tired! It wasn’t even 8:30, but down here, it really is the normal time to go to bed. We have been struggling with this. Most people get up between 4:00 and 5:00 here. The house owners that we are house sitting for, have people that come by to do work on the property, and they start at 7:00. The dog that we are taking care of, Omber, usually starts walking around the house at about 6:00, if we haven’t gotten up before then to take him for his walk.

In Canada, being artists, and finding that the time that we were most creative was late at night (not too mention it was the only time we HAD to be creative), we would do our art at night, and usually wouldn’t go to bed until around midnight (or later), and would get up at 7:30 or 8:00, starting work at 9:00.

For the first couple weeks here, we tried this routine, but it didn’t work. The dog wanted to be walked, other neighbours were up chatting away super early outside, the monkeys would start banging on the roof at first light. No too mention that it get’s really hot on the beach by about 8:00, so if we would walk the dog around then, he would be miserable, and so were we.

Slowly, but surely, we are falling into a routine of early nights, usually no later then 10:00, and getting up at 6 or 6:30.

So! I went to bed at close to 8:30. I had my book with me, thinking that I’ll just read a chapter and then nod off. No sooner did I lay down when the craziest feeling overtook me. I felt like I was floating on the ocean, bobbing around like you would in a boat. I heard Chris in the kitchen go “What the F#c@?”

I got out of bed, book in hand, and made my way to the doorway. I’m pretty sure I was muttering something like “holy shit, holy shit, holy shit…….”. Chris was looking around equally as in awe as I was, and said “Holy shit, is this an earthquake?”

I stood wide eyed in the door frame, holding onto it like it was my life preserver or something……book still in the other hand. By then, the gentle ocean bouncing had turned into more of a feeling of walking in jello, or maybe like that of being on a bouncy castle. I just stood there absolutely incredulous, not knowing how long it would last, or how bad it was going to get.

I have to say it was other-worldly, like nothing you could ever prepare for, or understand what it would feel like, until you have been in it. I kept thinking that the walls were going to start cracking, or that the roof would flap or SOMETHING! In fact, this completely concrete house, just rolled along as we did, barely noticing that anything was happening under it. We had stacked dishes high in our dish drainer, dishes from supper, not one of them budged. The hanging light was swaying, but really, that was the only indication that anything was amiss, as far as the house was concerned.

I think this made it all the more incredulous. Like, how in the heck is a concrete house not doing SOMETHING, when we feel like we are bouncing around in a bouncy castle?? Like, somehow it tricked our minds into thinking that we were imagining it. The laws of physics were being played with…….concrete and brick doesn’t bend? What the heck was going on??

Still standing in the doorframe of the bedroom, still staring wide eyed, I started saying “What do we do? I don’t know what to do?” “Do we go outside?” “We should go outside.”

A thousand and one thoughts were flooding through my brain, it’s impossible at this point to even really remember what I was thinking. We were acting on total instinct.  This whole scene only lasted a minute to a minute and a half I would say.

By now Omber either was reacting to our apparent panic, or he felt it to and was wondering what the heck was going on, as he was now pacing around the room as we realized that we should really get outside.

Chris grabbed the house keys, set his electronics away from the window (we are always in anti-theft mode), and we all went outside. No sooner did we get outside, it had seemingly stopped. I was standing in the front yard (not the beach side), still with my book in my hand, open to the page I was reading, and in my t-shirt and underwear. I made some mention of needing to put my book back inside and complaining about being in my underwear. Chris assured me that being in my underwear was fine, as I spent most days out in my bathing suit anyways! As everything had calmed down by then, I did deem it necessary, for some god fore-saken reason, to go back in the house to put my book safely inside! Don’t even ask me how that makes sense!

Our hearts were beating a mile a minute and we just kept saying “Wow, that’s what an earthquake feels like.” “Wow!” “Wow, that was so crazy!” “Do you think there will be aftershocks?”

This went on for a couple minutes, while I think we just thought we would wait there until other neighbours came outside. None did. Apparently this is just business as usual to them? Or maybe they were all soundly sleeping by then? At some point, while outside, I thought I felt like the ground was swaying again, but at that point I couldn’t be sure. We had no reference of anything else moving, like the light swaying in the house, but I did read that there was an aftershock of 5.1 about 4 minutes after the initial shock, so maybe that was it, hard to say.

We started talking Tsunami, and decided that we should go and take a look at the Ocean to see if it was being pulled back, like you hear about. I literally have no idea what we would have done of it was……climb a palm tree perhaps?? I’m pretty sure if it had of been pulled back, we would still have had time to start running somewhere……..not even sure where we would run to as this whole area is very low for about 2 km inland. Maybe we could climb on the roof of the house?

It’s interesting because I have to say that when we arrived here, and knowing full well that Costa Rica is the land of Earthquakes and Volcanoes, and having been told by our friends in Samara that they had already experienced an earthquake, I did note the location of the house, about 30 meters from the beach, and the fact that if a Tsunami came, we wouldn’t stand much of a chance against it.   But along with most of those fear mongering thoughts that come into our brains, I dismissed it, knowing full well that the chances are slim, and not wanting ANYTHING to ruin paradise for me!

After standing on the beach, in the dark, with only Chris’ cell phone to illuminate anything, but still being able to see the waves, and that they were acting normal, we decided that we could go back to the house. Nobody else was outside, it was all very strange.

Immediately, I grabbed my phone and started googling Costa Rica Earthquake. Sure enough, it was a 6.8, and the epicentre was only about 100km away from us, or so. Of course, I also scoured the internet for Tsunami warnings, of which there were none. We were WIDE awake at this point! No sleep for us!

Chris went back to his drawing, I posted a bunch of stuff on Facebook and social media to let everyone know that we were fine, we both had a stiff drink, and after I had decided that it was safe to go back to bed, not too mention after my adrenals toned it down a bit, and my heart stopped pounding, I finally did so, and slept soundly until this morning.

And now, I can say with some authority, that I know what a 6.8 earthquake feels like! I have been reading articles this morning about this event, and it seems as though many people had many different experiences. No casualties were reported, save for 2 people that had a heart attack (??), at least that’s what one article says. If you would like to read more, I have links to an article here, and here.  Apparently some people, did have things fall off the walls, and dishes break.  A mall in San Jose has cracks in the walls and floor, 5 stories up.  Obviously being farther away from the epi-centre, makes it less intense.

In the end, and after all is said and done, and as a lover of experiences, I have to say that I am glad to have experienced this one! I have never been afraid of anything like this, I figure nature will do what nature will do, we really have no control anyways, but it’s nice to actually know what really goes on, and honestly, it wasn’t that bad.  I’m better off for having experienced it, because at least now we know what to expect.  Obviously, things can get a lot worse, but we will hope that we never have to endure an 8+. For now, a 6.8 is just fine in my books!

Pura Vida!


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!

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

Please follow my Instagram Page Just Some Wandering by clicking on the bottom right hand corner of this feed.

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

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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.


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.


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.** 



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