A Travellerspoint blog

Horseback riding is harder than it looks...

...and other stories about how we spent our Christmas vacation

semi-overcast 27 °C

Some random thoughts this time around - ghosts of Christmas' past, ghosts of Sayulita's past, the joy of hanging out with your family, and the things I will remember most about Sayulita. It is unlikely we will be here again - we are not limited by time anymore and there are so many other places to visit. For the past eight years, Sayulita has meant a lot to us, and like many good things, our time here has come to an end.

Christmas. Stephen has been under the weather for a few days now, and sadly, he was unable to come out with us for Christmas dinner. Dan and I went to a little place called Tierra Viva, and were given a great table with a perfect street view. We shared calamari, rosemary shrimp and vegetarian lasagna and chatted with people at the tables close by. No turkey dinner, but a very warm and enjoyable way to spend Christmas.

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Horseback riding. Dan went horseback riding twice last year in Sayulita, and I spent a fair bit of time feeling regretful that I hadn't made the effort to be a better sport and join him. I promised this year would be different. Mexicans are superb riders, and the sweet horses they have for the tourists (the majority of whom are non-riders) appear well-mannered and docile. When I saw a guide lead out a woman with her two young kids on their own horses, and a toddler riding in front of her, I felt reassured.

I've always been nervous around horses, and every last one of them I've ever encountered has used that to their advantage. I've ridden about a dozen times in my life, with one of two outcomes - I would either fall off, or languish in one spot while my horse grazed, oblivious to my feeble yanks at the reins. Finally, I gave up riding, feeling there were more amusing ways to terrify and humiliate myself. Dan, on the other hand, is a natural. He is a real animal lover and hopped up onto the saddle without a qualm.

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Our group, led by our guide Beto, consisted of a couple of men, their two sons, Dan and myself, and a woman with her six-year-old daughter. My horse, Panino, was the tallest, and once I was rather ungracefully pushed/pulled/stuffed up and onto the saddle, I felt as though I was straddling a two-storey building. I went into total panic mode, but both Steve and Dan talked me into staying put, and knowing I would feel so ashamed of myself if I didn't go through with it, I concentrated on my breathing while the rest of the riders saddled up. Once we started, I began to relax, although "relaxing' was not how I would describe the experience, and I'm not sure I will go riding again. For one hour, I clung to the pommel for dear life, and every time Panino showed any signs of moving beyond a plod, I pulled back and yelled out "oh, oh", as instructed. I'm quite sure my poor horse was cursing his luck at getting the old gringo lady, when he could have had so much more fun with one of the feisty boys. Still, a memorable experience, even though my legs are still bruised from gripping the saddle, and my kneecaps hurt for more than a day.

Panino making his sure-footed way down a steep path.

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People dream of riding along beaches like this. Some of them even encourage their horses to canter.

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While we're on the topic of animals, last year Alanna fell in love with a filthy, tousled little mutt down the street, appropriately named Scrappy. She bought food for him and would visit him most mornings in the ballfield where he hung out with his other doggie amigos. He actually belongs to the family who run the adventure tour company in town, so this time around, I dropped by to see if Scrappy was still around. A young woman brought me around the back where the family was sitting, and explained why I was looking for their little dog. Sure enough, there he was, sound asleep by their feet. The older lady remembered Alanna - I'm guessing not too many other tourists were interested in this little floor mop. Alanna, I think he needs some of your TLC - Mexico is not the land of pampered pooches.

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Beach life figures prominently here - morning walks, sunset walks, swimming, boogie boarding, surfing, standup paddle boarding, kayaking. Beyond the beach walks, Stephen and I are quite content to park ourselves under an umbrella and Swim. Read. Nap. Repeat.

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Dan prefers to wade right in. This surf was a little challenging - when it is this rough, I sit it out.

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No end of beach dogs to play with. These two boys have a third brother somewhere. Three St. Bernards stand out on a beach filled with pitbull crosses, min pins and chihuahuas. Come to think of it, three St. Bernards stand out anywhere.

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Dan rented a standup paddle board on two different days.

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After a quick lesson (tuck your paddle under your tummy, lie down on the board, paddle out with your hands to get past the wave break, up on your knees, then on to your feet and go). I'm guessing this requires core strength.

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The fun didn't stop there. Dan tried zip lining at a site just a few minutes out of town. Run by the same folks who have Scrappy, it is a beautiful setting, and by the looks of it, well maintained and checked for safety. We were not along to take photos, but Dan managed to grab a couple of shots.

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We headed out of Sayulita a couple of times for day trips - first to Puerto Vallarta, about an hour south of us. Steve and I stayed in PV 38 years ago, and it was a quaint tourist destination then. Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor's love nest was one of the biggest attractions. Puerto Vallarta today bears no resemblance - the emphasis today really seems to be on the hustle. Two or three times a week massive cruise ships spill out thousands of tourists onto the malecon, which is a delightful boardwalk along the bay, lined on one side with sculptures.

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A non-stop assault by vendors begins at the start of the malecon, and continues throughout streets, at outdoor restaurants and on the beach. The storefronts are no better - 2x1 margaritas, 30% off merchandise at Señor Frog's, and signs on restaurants like the one below solicit both the hangover and the cure. It becomes exhausting and off-putting.

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This cheek-by-jowl lineup of tables line many of the main beaches. The best swimming beaches are further south, but the area immediately in the old town area of PV is packed. After a few hours, we were ready to go.

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A few days later, we drove north about 15 minutes to San Francisco, known locally as San Pancho. Home to a well-known polo club, San Pancho is still very Mexican, and proud not to be Sayulita, although all signs point to that level of development happening within a few years. For now, it is delightful, eclectic, and fun to spend a few hours visiting.

This mural in the plaza portrays the history of San Pancho.

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A most impressive tree and root system - common in Mexico. I would love to know the name - anyone?

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great little cafe on the main street

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Beach entrance

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Danny joined in for pickup soccer with a dad and his two boys

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I'll leave you with some images that sum up the best of Sayulita for us. We take Dan to the airport tomorrow - so sad to see him go. We'll stay on for another three days, and then our travelling adventure begins. I'll check in again from Taxco, silver capital of Mexico - in less than week.

An iguana, coming down to take a piece of banana on a stick.

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Steve and Danny on a hike

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The lifeguard, hauling in kids from the water on a very surf-y day

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Ricardo, our lovely friend at Coffee on the Corner.

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Hula-hooping on the beach.

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Stephen and Dan, taking a break on a beach walk

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Happy New Year to you all!

Posted by millerburr 06:15 Archived in Mexico Comments (5)

Horseback riding is harder than it looks...

...and other stories about how we spent our Christmas vacation

semi-overcast 27 °C

Some random thoughts this time around - ghosts of Christmas' past, ghosts of Sayulita's past, the joy of hanging out with your family, and the things I will remember most about Sayulita. It is unlikely we will be here again - we are not limited by time anymore and there are so many other places to visit. For the past eight years, Sayulita has meant a lot to us, and like many good things, our time here has come to an end.

Christmas. Stephen has been under the weather for a few days now, and sadly, he was unable to come out with us for Christmas dinner. Dan and I went to a little place called Tierra Viva, and were given a great table with a perfect street view. We shared calamari, rosemary shrimp and vegetarian lasagna and chatted with people at the tables close by. No turkey dinner, but a very warm and enjoyable way to spend Christmas.

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Horseback riding. Dan went horseback riding twice last year in Sayulita, and I spent a fair bit of time feeling regretful that I hadn't made the effort to be a better sport and join him. I promised this year would be different. Mexicans are superb riders, and the sweet horses they have for the tourists (the majority of whom are non-riders) appear well-mannered and docile. When I saw a guide lead out a woman with her two young kids on their own horses, and a toddler riding in front of her, I felt reassured.

I've always been nervous around horses, and every last one of them I've ever encountered has used that to their advantage. I've ridden about a dozen times in my life, with one of two outcomes - I would either fall off, or languish in one spot while my horse grazed, oblivious to my feeble yanks at the reins. Finally, I gave up riding, feeling there were more amusing ways to terrify and humiliate myself. Dan, on the other hand, is a natural. He is a real animal lover and hopped up onto the saddle without a qualm.

large_IMG_0381.jpg

Our group, led by our guide Beto, consisted of a couple of men, their two sons, Dan and myself, and a woman with her six-year-old daughter. My horse, Panino, was the tallest, and once I was rather ungracefully pushed/pulled/stuffed up and onto the saddle, I felt as though I was straddling a two-storey building. I went into total panic mode, but both Steve and Dan talked me into staying put, and knowing I would feel so ashamed of myself if I didn't go through with it, I concentrated on my breathing while the rest of the riders saddled up. Once we started, I began to relax, although "relaxing' was not how I would describe the experience, and I'm not sure I will go riding again. For one hour, I clung to the pommel for dear life, and every time Panino showed any signs of moving beyond a plod, I pulled back and yelled out "oh, oh", as instructed. I'm quite sure my poor horse was cursing his luck at getting the old gringo lady, when he could have had so much more fun with one of the feisty boys. Still, a memorable experience, even though my legs are still bruised from gripping the saddle, and my kneecaps hurt for more than a day.

Panino making his sure-footed way down a steep path.

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People dream of riding along beaches like this. Some of them even encourage their horses to canter.

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While we're on the topic of animals, last year Alanna fell in love with a filthy, tousled little mutt down the street, appropriately named Scrappy. She bought food for him and would visit him most mornings in the ballfield where he hung out with his other doggie amigos. He actually belongs to the family who run the adventure tour company in town, so this time around, I dropped by to see if Scrappy was still around. A young woman brought me around the back where the family was sitting, and explained why I was looking for their little dog. Sure enough, there he was, sound asleep by their feet. The older lady remembered Alanna - I'm guessing not too many other tourists were interested in this little floor mop. Alanna, I think he needs some of your TLC - Mexico is not the land of pampered pooches.

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Beach life figures prominently here - morning walks, sunset walks, swimming, boogie boarding, surfing, standup paddle boarding, kayaking. Beyond the beach walks, Stephen and I are quite content to park ourselves under an umbrella and Swim. Read. Nap. Repeat.

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Dan prefers to wade right in. This surf was a little challenging - when it is this rough, I sit it out.

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No end of beach dogs to play with. These two boys have a third brother somewhere. Three St. Bernards stand out on a beach filled with pitbull crosses, min pins and chihuahuas. Come to think of it, three St. Bernards stand out anywhere.

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Dan rented a standup paddle board on two different days.

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After a quick lesson (tuck your paddle under your tummy, lie down on the board, paddle out with your hands to get past the wave break, up on your knees, then on to your feet and go). I'm guessing this requires core strength.

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The fun didn't stop there. Dan tried zip lining at a site just a few minutes out of town. Run by the same folks who have Scrappy, it is a beautiful setting, and by the looks of it, well maintained and checked for safety. We were not along to take photos, but Dan managed to grab a couple of shots.

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We headed out of Sayulita a couple of times for day trips - first to Puerto Vallarta, about an hour south of us. Steve and I stayed in PV 38 years ago, and it was a quaint tourist destination then. Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor's love nest was one of the biggest attractions. Puerto Vallarta today bears no resemblance - the emphasis today really seems to be on the hustle. Two or three times a week massive cruise ships spill out thousands of tourists onto the malecon, which is a delightful boardwalk along the bay, lined on one side with sculptures.

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A non-stop assault by vendors begins at the start of the malecon, and continues throughout streets, at outdoor restaurants and on the beach. The storefronts are no better - 2x1 margaritas, 30% off merchandise at Señor Frog's, and signs on restaurants like the one below solicit both the hangover and the cure. It becomes exhausting and off-putting.

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This cheek-by-jowl lineup of tables line many of the main beaches. The best swimming beaches are further south, but the area immediately in the old town area of PV is packed. After a few hours, we were ready to go.

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A few days later, we drove north about 15 minutes to San Francisco, known locally as San Pancho. Home to a well-known polo club, San Pancho is still very Mexican, and proud not to be Sayulita, although all signs point to that level of development happening within a few years. For now, it is delightful, eclectic, and fun to spend a few hours visiting.

This mural in the plaza portrays the history of San Pancho.

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A most impressive tree and root system - common in Mexico. I would love to know the name - anyone?

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great little cafe on the main street

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Beach entrance

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Danny joined in for pickup soccer with a dad and his two boys

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I'll leave you with some images that sum up the best of Sayulita for us. We take Dan to the airport tomorrow - so sad to see him go. We'll stay on for another three days, and then our travelling adventure begins. I'll check in again from Taxco, silver capital of Mexico - in less than week.

An iguana, coming down to take a piece of banana on a stick.

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Steve and Danny on a hike

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The lifeguard, hauling in kids from the water on a very surf-y day

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Ricardo, our lovely friend at Coffee on the Corner.

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Hula-hooping on the beach.

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Stephen and Dan, taking a break on a beach walk

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Happy New Year to you all!

Posted by millerburr 19:48 Archived in Mexico Comments (5)

Sayulita

Eight straight years....and counting

semi-overcast 28 °C

We have our friends Joy and Oscar to thank for introducing us to Sayulita - they discovered it over a decade ago when their son and daughter-in-law were married here. About eight years ago when Stephen and I were wondering where to go for a ten-day escape from the winter rain, Sayulita, with its crescent surf beach, jungle vegetation, absence of all-inclusive resorts, and tiny taco stands promised to fit the bill.

For the past eight years, like lemmings, we have come back to the familiar and the much-loved. If we only had a week or 10 days, we didn't want to waste any time - get off the bus, check into Macondo Bungalows, and then check off the boxes - sun, beach, warm water, waiters who recognized us from one year to the next, restaurants that never changed from one year to the next, friends who also showed up each year - same time, same place. Instant holiday.

Stephen on Day 1 in Sayulita 2015, still looking a little ragged after 6 days on the road, but happy to be back at Panino's, one of our favourite haunts.

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Sayulita, in 2009, was just on the cusp of appearing on the tourist radar. There were a much smaller number of restaurants back then - Fish Taco, Don Pedro's, Calypso, and Los Afortunados were popular. The latter was one of the very first restaurants we went to - run by a California couple who called themselves "The Lucky Ones" as they were able to split their lives between two beautiful spots. Just a couple of days ago, we walked by, to discover this sight.

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Los Afortunados was locked up - after the lease expired this year, and rents skyrocketed, the owners decided to close up shop. The good new is the owners of the property are Mexican, so at least the locals are profiting from Sayulita's success. We hear the new venture will be a hostel.

To begin at the beginning - Sayulita acquired "Pueblo Magico" designation this year, which in Mexico is a ticket to print tourism money. The purpose of this designation is to allow already-well-endowed (in terms of geography, history, culture, natural surroundings) towns to improve with cash infusions. They are given five years to earn their final certification.

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We have noticed a steady change in Sayulita over the years, but construction this year is at a fever pitch. To begin with, all power lines are being buried. How we long for the good old days when an event would come to town, and extension cords would dangle everywhere - near small children, pools of water - tripping and electrocution hazards. Soon to be a thing of the past.

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New hotels and condos are springing up like mushrooms after a rainy season.

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For years vacant lots have sat empty, either by design or lack of opportunity. This lot is slated for development - It is a block from the beach - we're curious to see what goes in here.

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I love the defiant spirit of this property-owner. This is a very large plot of land, right on the north end of the beach, with a seemingly-uninhabited house, and clearly a very big payday, should they ever decide to sell. For as long as we have been coming to Sayulita, this sign (NOT FOR SALE) has been prominently displayed on the house. I would love to know the story here - it must be making would-be developers crazy.

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Eight years ago, the main street into Sayulita was still being paved. Cement sidewalks went in that year - by hand. Our street (Macondo Bungalows) was only paved about five years ago. A number of streets still look like this:

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Swank little dress shops, $4 coffees, live edge wood accents and restaurants that promise "artisan, fairly traded and locally sourced" food (sounds like a good taco to me) have moved into Sayulita in droves. Here are a few businesses that have cropped up in just one year or less:

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El Ivan Pastor has been a fixture for years. A succulent hunk of pork skewered on a rotisserie. All the fixings on a side table. People lined up cheerfully to share communal tables, begging dogs and byobs. Well, El Ivan still exists, but its sprawling tables have been confined to a small space, as this brand new building, right next door, with specialty shops, edgy decor and bistro dining have reclaimed the street.

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The grubby little liquor store around the corner from us has been taken over. Gone is the old curmudgeon, the bags of snacks, the dusty bottles. In its place is a brand new "selection of tequila, wine and spirits". They accept Visa - a rarity in cash-happy small-town Mexico.

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Eight years ago, we overheard someone say that Sayulita had become too "gringo" - it was time to move on to less-discovered pastures. At that time, we were dumbfounded - the stray dogs! the roosters! the wild and crazy (and unhelmeted) vehicular madness! Too gringo? Slowly, each year,though, the infestation has happened. WE have done this. And it's not necessarily a bad thing. The beach is still democratic - open to all, and limited by height restrictions, so the blight of high-rises will (hopefully) never happen here. Many, many Mexicans are profiting - this is their time to become small business-owners. You can still eat one of the best tacos ever - for about a buck a pop.

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You can still see a small child, play unattended, near rusty rebar, on a narrow bridge with a 6-foot drop.

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You can still share your meal with one of Sayulita's many dogs. It is not always clear which ones are pets and which ones are strays.

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You will still meet some of the loveliest, friendliest people, who incredibly remember you after just one meeting.

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We are having a grand time with Dan on the lead-up to Christmas - just wanted to share our first impressions on a place that has meant so much to us, and like everything else in life, will change. I'll send out another post in a few days with our adventures so far.

Still lots to love - hopefully Sayulita can figure out how to bury the power lines, but not the charm.

Posted by millerburr 19:57 Archived in Mexico Comments (11)

Guns, Rush Limbaugh and us

Fear (and loathing) in America

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Hello dear friends and family

Those faces you see are two excited souls about to take another run at Mexico, via the Untied States (deliberate typo). Let it be said we LOVE the U.S. and have many dear American friends. Just days after San Bernardino, and with Donald Trump as a significant threat to the Republicans, our American friends do seem untied. Fear still rules here in many quarters.

But back to the beginning. This time around, we are gone for four months, driving through Mexico, and then taking a slow coastal drive home in April, from San Diego right up to the Oregon coast, with a stop to see our friends Piotr and Ela in Portland. This time around, we have housesitters - a lovely couple from Goderich, Ontario who are on Gabriola to see their families for the winter. So our home is in good hands, and as we left last Sunday to catch the 6:15 ferry, we were sent off in a royal fashion. Mary Charlotte had called the night before to say she would meet us with a picnic, and indeed there she was at 6:00 am - armed with sandwiches, homemade cookies, drinks, chips, dip and fruit. Incredible. Especially since I've been trying to imagine myself being that thoughtful, and then getting up at 5:00 am when I didn't have to. Honest answer? Probably not. It was an auspicious send-off.

So, we crossed the border with nary a wait, and while our affable border guard did see fit to confiscate Mary Charlotte's bag of mini mandarins, (because I cannot keep my mouth shut), he honestly looked disappointed on our behalf.

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We took a bypass road around Seattle, on our friend Tom's recommendation - it worked like a charm, and before we knew it, we were in Salem, OR for the first night. We got lost, which is our modus operandi whenever we are in a town that is logically laid out in a grid pattern. We asked for directions from a rib place that was closed for a private function, and they graciously set us back on track.

The next night, we stopped in Lodi, CA, just south of Sacramento. We stayed at a Motel 6, which, from our perspective, is just fine when we're on the road, want clean and cheap and no-frills. We just make sure they have been renovated - the old ones are nasty. The lady at the front desk had not exactly been plucked from one of the top hospitality schools, and pointed out that "this is a Motel 6" when Steve asked if breakfast was included. He did make her laugh when he observed that, thanks to the corrections officers staying at our hotel for training upgrades, we would be safe.

So... safety in the U.S. - we're so curious about the fear. I realize that living on a small Gulf Island does not place us in the "real world", but we do qualify as a microcosm, and we do get off the island from time to time. Precautions - yes, those I understand, and common sense, and judgement. But I don't understand living in fear.

As for the gun debate - can anybody out there really say they would be prepared to shoot and kill an intruder? I would love to hear some statistics about the number of Americans who have guns who have used them successfully in self-defence, and not ended up wounded or dead. It is a curiosity to me. I believe the gun debate is the most divisive argument in America - that, and health care. And Donald Trump.

For all us Canadians who believe Donald Trump is merely a sideshow curiosity on the lead-up to the election - nay, nay. We have talked to a number of folks down here who believe "he is saying what we all are thinking." Based on the fact that a) we know nothing about what it is to be an American , b) we know little about American politics and c) we are visitors in America, - we say nothing.

We tuned into Rush Limbaugh couple of days ago quite by accident and the motif of fear and loathing was front and centre. He pretty much covered it all, but then referred to an offensive Coca-Cola ad that was scrapped because it showed pretty white people giving indigenous Mexicans gifts of Coca-Cola. He was so contemptuous - "Who are indigenous Mexicans, anyway?" , and referred to the small village in "Osaka" (it's Oaxaca, Rush), where these transgressions occurred.

Now to bring this topic of fear back to me. Many years ago, when Stephen and I were young and foolish, we spent two winters in Banff, AB, and for the first year, drove a cube van with bald all-seasonal tires in the mountains. One weekend, we left for Calgary to buy baby stuff (I was pregnant), and away we went in a blizzard - the only other vehicle on the road was a snowplow (which we followed all the way). By the time we got there, I was in such a state of terror that the fear of driving in winter in mountains has been imprinted forever. So the two BIG goalposts to cross were Grants Pass and Siskiyou Pass, both in southern Oregon. As luck would have it, there were a number of winter storms in the area, and the day before, a dump of snow. I was driving as we approached Grants Pass, and while it was raining at the time, the temperature kept dropping - 3.5, 2, 1.5 - and bingo - snow flurries. We drove into this, with still miles to go before we began our descent. My fear went into overdrive.

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The drive was a breeze - roads stayed clear, and I began to relax. One pass down, one to go. We stopped in Ashland for lunch, and then for gas before hitting the highway again. Right ahead of us was a car getting outfitted with chains and wham - I blew right back into fear mode again. There was a guy offering to fit chains on for $25, and according to him, everyone without chains was being turned back because of road conditions. Our challenge was that little stretch of road was about a 20-minute drive, and it would cost us $150 Cdn. to buy, tighten and install these things, never to be used again.
Steve was adamant he was not buying chains, I was confused because the highway cams looked okay, so we decided to try it. Within 5 minutes, we came upon the highway sign that said " Chains not required." That guy was telling bald-faced lies to sell chains to people like me.
A good lesson as we head to Mexico - do not allow unfounded fear to warp our enjoyment of the moment.

Our third night driving down was in Palm Springs - so much going on, although the party hasn't quite started. Apparently, the snowbirds don't arrive until January, so the town was a bit quiet, but still - our first glimpse of sun, palm trees and pedicures. Stephen could not resist posing beside the late Sonny Bono, formerly a Palm Springs mayor.

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We also got a kick out of the Palm Springs wedding chapel. Walk-ins welcome. I really am curious about how many impromptu nuptials take place here, and if there is alcohol involved.

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We loved the old Hollywood feel - the sidewalks are lined with stars, most of them unknown to us, but of course one of the biggest names had a place of honour.

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Lots of characters - big men, small dogs, elaborate outfits, and no end of "work done" (Palm Springs is the epicentre for plastic surgeons). While I am in no position to judge the quality of "corrective procedures", may I say that the woman standing in line at Starbucks this morning needs to have strong words with her doctor - can we give "trout lips" on a 50-something woman a pass? As Stephen was taking this photo (I liked the deco lettering), we did fall into conversation with a certain gentleman who is a former figure skater, and current jeweller and painter.

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He was very excited to hear our son Alex had been involved with production of the Discovery Channel show, "Jade Fever", as he considers jade to be sacred. He gave me his email address, and I sent him off the info. He had (and has) quite a career - it is a joy to have these serendipitous encounters.

So now we are in Nogales, AZ - ready to begin our drive across the border tomorrow and our trip south. We'll be in Los Mochis tomorrow night and Sayulita on Friday. Our son Dan will be there already and as he put it, the "Three Amigos" will celebrate Christmas together.

Posted by millerburr 20:19 Comments (12)

New Orleans: art, architecture and curiosities

sunny 19 °C

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Art - in all its forms. Pretty much the credo by which New Orleans lives and breathes.

In addition to the dozens upon dozens of private galleries, and art-in-the-park displays, there are a number of significant public art galleries and museums. City Park, in mid-city New Orleans is home to MOMA, the Museum of Modern Art - a stately building with three floors set on several landscaped acres. Dave, Stephen and I wandered through for an hour and a half, and left after I pushed open the emergency exit and set off the alarm. (We were ready to leave anyway, and the security guard was understanding. I saw a sculpture outside that looked intriguing, and temporarily forgot to read)

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MOMA's front foyer, which provided a quiet respite for Stephen as he listened to a man playing a baby grand.

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This lake is one of many in the park - it serves as New Orleans' Central Park, with much to offer its citizens. We did not make it to the Sculpture Garden, much to our disappointment. It is located behind the museum - is quite incredible - but we were on to another appointment. We'll check it out again the next time. In the meantime - have a look. If you are in New Orleans, this is a must-see. And it's free. http://noma.org/pages/detail/35/Background

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I love serendipitous happenings - the spooky, inexplicable things that just occur. We were walking down the street, and I remarked to Laureen that I wanted to pick up a fresh copy of the festival schedule for a keepsake, as mine was dog-eared and wet. One minute later, a young woman walked by, handing out fresh copies of the festival schedules! Further along on our walk, I was telling everyone about artist Candy Chang's "Before I die, I want to..." project. I had read about it a few years ago, and was so intrigued by how it had taken off. After a friend died, Chang fell into a depression, and part of her healing was to share with others her hopes for her own life, by creating an interactive wall on an abandoned house in her neighbourhood. She wrote the words," Before I die, I want to -------------------------, and left crayons for others to fill in the blanks. The answers have been funny, sad, poignant and very touching, and hit an enormous nerve. There are now over 500 "Before I die " walls in over 70 countries. Here is the link to her site: http://candychang.com/before-i-die-in-nola/

So things got even spookier when we arrived at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, and found a "Before I die" wall painted on the side. Crayons were lying on the ground, waiting for our inspiration. Here's what we wrote:

Dave wanted to meet his idol Bobbie D - (Bob Dylan). Apparently he will pay $10,000 to anyone who can make that happen.

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In the spirit of ongoing travel, Stephen hopes to continue discovery.

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Our travels through Mexico taught me I have little to fear. My goal is to stop worrying; a most pointless and life-robbing endeavor.

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Laureen wants to paddle to Tonga. News to everyone, including her husband!

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We turned the corner and spent a couple of hours in this southern-centric gallery. A most interesting and disturbing collection of images - Jerry Falwell-inspired evangelical sayings (painted on crosses), lush painterly landscapes and dark and sexually-ambiguous photography. Fans of "True Detective" would love this place.

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Many storefronts have images or names set in tile mosaic in front of their doors. This is just one example - there are hundreds.

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Even homeless individuals in New Orleans take a unique run at their situation. This is a collection of real signs that were collected and purchased for an art installation. "Too ugly to be a hooker. I tried." - you don't know whether to laugh or cry. We passed by a young man holding a sign that should be added to this collection," I'll bet you $1 you just read this sign." It made us smile, but we were caught in traffic, and had to keep driving - would love to have handed him a few bucks. Louisiana is a poor state, and New Orleans continues to struggle to keep its head above water - both literally and figuratively.

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Architecture - Municipal buildings are grand and mansions are antebellum. (Plantations are not that far away). To walk three blocks in the French Quarter is to crawl inside a Crayola box and come out the other side with columns, porches, shutters, curlicues, wrought iron, gas lamps, hanging baskets and window-boxes. You can't decide, so you take 'em all. In fact, there are several distinct styles, but they all go together.

A couple chatting on their Bourbon Street balcony; oblivious to the party below

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Examples of typical features - tall windows, doors and shutters to protect from the heat

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The city is filled with parks - little pocket parks, big riverside parks, City Park, Congo Square and Audubon Park. Even Esplanade Avenue provides shelter, with its live oaks and blocks-long pedestrian walkway.

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Curiosities. Some of the eccentricities, one-offs and steeped-in-history beliefs and behaviours that help to define New Orleans.

How could you not trust your pet with this vet?

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Sadly, guns still figure largely in New Orleans, and many citizens have formed ad hoc groups to try and combat armed robberies and shootings and provide opportunties to help youth find a way out of gangs. In the meantime, the Whitney Bank has posted this notice on their front door. (In addition to vetoing robberies, they don't want the bad guys to smoke)

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Voodoo, magic potions, witchcraft (even the Madonna for the more traditionally-inclined) - along with tarot card readings on every corner, there is something for everyone.

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The Natchez paddlewheeler takes tourists up the Mississippi...and back in time, several times a day.

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And now, it's over. We were on the road for 131 days, and drove over 20,000 kms. Our car handled it all well - no flat tires and no breakdowns, but it could use a good spit and polish. The same could be said for us. We travelled well (no breakdowns), but it's time to scrub up.

Writing this blog has added a great deal to our trip - thank you all for helping us keep our memories safely stored. Your comments and interest have meant more than you could know, and have really helped us feel connected to home, family and friends.

I'm writing this from the Days Inn in Port Angeles, WA. We'll be back on Gabriola mid-afternoon tomorrow. On our drive north from New Orleans we had two delightful diversions (dear friends) to help extend our trip. We stopped in Palm Springs to see Bey and Andy, and last night in Portland to see Peter and Ela. We have reached all our destinations safely, and now we are two ferry rides away from home. We're hoping for a soft landing.

btw - someone (let's call him Stephen) was pulled over today (second time) for speeding. Our kind officer Peskio let us off with a warning and wished us a safe trip. I burst into tears. It may be time to come home.

See you soon - Ginny & Stephen

Posted by millerburr 19:50 Archived in USA Comments (13)

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