Strange, sad and unusual times in 2020

The first image sums it up when I think of what is happening in these times. The Corona virus or call it Co-Vid 19, is still on loose, the Black Lives Matter movement is spreading just as fast and there is much uncertainty in both. The crying black women, face masks, deaths by illness, death by injustice, fires in the streets, six feet apart, quarantines, protests, racism, symptoms, opening in phases and all the while our country has virtually no leadership or direction it seems. I felt compelled to write this post because in all my years on this planet I haven’t witnessed anything like either of these events.

I’ll start with the Corona outbreak. I can recall some months ago when I first heard of it and how it seemed to be in only parts of the US, then I watched it spread, it came to North Carolina, I watched alittle closer, suddenly it was literally everywhere. Overnight we changed the way we worked, many people could not work, and staying home was a requirement. Italy was full of deaths, older people were in danger, New York City blew up with cases. A wave of new rules hit the whole of society, around the world. Dr Fauci has become a top name and expert and his warnings and updates are of the utmost importance. Staying six feet apart, wearing a face mask, gloves, using sanitizer, traveling put on hold, people were ordered to stay at home, curfews went out, travel bans, and many businesses made to close. I learned alittle about viruses, pandemics, and always thought of the black death, the plague as an example. Suddenly this appeared much worse. As I write this the US just hit 2 million cases, 113,000 deaths, globally, 7 million cases, 464,000 deaths, and every single day these numbers go up. The symptoms are fevers, coughs, respiratory issues, and basically attacks your lungs and your left where you can’t breathe. It’s scary the two biggest events have that in common, George Floyd screamed ‘I can’t breathe’, and those who pass by way of Corona experience the same.

For me I never stopped working. My job was considered, essential, and rightfully so. Lucky for me I had that and also saw a big jump in my mushroom business. I did work from home for about three weeks total, which was interesting and felt so different but nice actually. My work was fortunate enough to get PPE, personal protective equipment, and we have been pretty well covered. That picture above is me at work. We have entered an unusual new time, one where so many things are different now, paying closer attention to how we interact, wearing face masks everywhere, being extra careful when going out, seeing businesses operating differently and in some cases closed altogether. So I listened to talks, updates, watched videos explaining it all and my conclusions are that it effects older people, people with weak immune system, kids with certain conditions, and as for the majority of us, we may catch it and it have mild to stronger effects or it may be we are asymptomatic and don’t show symptoms but the way it spreads around, through droplets, anyone can pass it along pretty easily. As I watch, I understand that they don’t understand it completely, wither it’s on surfaces or in the air, not sure there is a certainty how exactly it passes, yet it does. The other factor is that it mutates, changes, and scientists everywhere are looking for a vaccine and answers on how to slow it down. The word social distancing has become very known and many of the things we used to do, everyday stuff is no longer. For example, going to the gym, concerts, doing yoga, funerals, weddings, birthdays, graduations, going to recovery meetings, or for some the bar, all these things aren’t happening and it feels like a certain connection is gone with it. Connection to friends, neighbors, strangers, the community, and a sense of isolation has crept in. With that feeling our country was changed again in a single day, with an event that has brought millions of people together, and at the same time has caused a huge divide.

The murder of an unarmed, nonaggressive black man in handcuffs on the ground by a white police officer who knelt on George Floyds neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds was a truly heartbreaking, viciously wrong crime. I can’t imagine knowing you are going to die this way, it is certainly one of the worst ways to be taken from this world. Captured on video for the whole world to watch and what happened next is an explosion of emotions that run so deep and have been there just below the surface for so very long and what has been born is a movement, a revolution, an uprising, and with it I hope real change to finally end racism, hatred, murder, brutality, division, us against them, black and white and I’m wishing there at last be some unity. The Black Lives Matter movement has been going on for many years, there’s endless examples of innocent black people being killed by police, videos and images, all this along with a resurgence of supremacy, hate groups, and a president that seems right there cheering it on, instead of using his power to make some real reforms. Can’t express enough how bad Donald Trump really is, as a leader and as a person period. This time around has seen the most ever protests, in every city and even small towns, all around the world, and for weeks, even as I write this. It started like a small fire that grew into an all out raging inferno, that saw violence, looting, destruction, fires, national guard troops, tear gas, beatings, vandalism, anarchists and  even deaths. It literally was a stand off between the people and the police. I was glued to the protests, watching everyday, never before had I seen such sights of so many protesters and so many police in riot gear and so much madness and chaos mixed with people on their knees and peaceful, powerful images of police taking a knee in solidarity, protesters protecting them, protecting store fronts, laying down face first in silence. I saw peaceful protesters abused and huge crowds blocking intersections and highways, gathering in massive numbers in front of the white house, down Hollywood boulevard, in New York City, Minneapolis, Seattle and so many other places. It is unexceptable the way the police and guard physically harmed people, old people pushed to the ground, kids tear gassed, people beaten and pepper sprayed, unbelievable! I watched and felt helpless, removed, so I joined on a day of a candle light vigil in my city of Asheville. It was completely peaceful, and meaningful to be a part of that day and way of protest. Protests came to Asheville about a week after it happened and they started off intense with police tear gassing people, rubber bullets shot, arrests, buildings boarding up, buildings spray painted and turned into a wave of calmer energy which is more the heart of this special city. I walked the city and saw displays and messages of the movement. I know Ian, the artist  that did some of the art work on boarded up businesses, he is an example of compassion and creativity. It was beautiful to see all the different races standing up for one, for a cause that’s beyond description. Since the founding of this country people of color have been treated unfairly, unjust and as second class people. I saw young people letting their voices be heard, I saw groups of people shouting in street and then taking a knee in silence, I saw signs and joined in chants and raised my fist to let the world know I’m with them, apart of them, and together we can bring change. I’m understanding what it means to be an ally to the movement, the idea of white privilege is a real thing, as a white person I see that many of the struggles black people encounter I do not. To be an ally means to do things that can bring change, such as vote, support black business and people in the community, show up at protests, write legislators and let my voice be heard in support.

It’s way past time for everything in our country and all over the world really, for everyone to be treated equal. For leaders to make changes, for society to be in unity, and for the separation of races to end, period. I see racism everyday living in the south, I hear it in the way people talk and the words they use, I see it in areas of poverty and the divisions between the rich and poor. It’s a time of police vs protesters, citizens vs authorities. I stand in unison and the belief that Black Lives Matter, I march with marchers and support all those are there bringing change and making their voices make a difference. The fact that black people have the struggle they do is unacceptable, the history of unjust, hateful and criminal acts done to them is sick and plainly wrong. To witness this sort of out cry for justice, for equal treatment and opportunity, is inspiring and way past due. I’ve always believed in reparations and think every case of police killings of innocent black people should be revisited and those officers charged with murder. Our system is broken in so many ways but this particular issue is beyond simply broken, it is wrong and not moral. The black culture has always had an influence in my life, from music, sports, and style to some of the most important people I have met, call friends and mentors. I believe we are all equal, no matter your race or financial bracket. It’s such a beautiful thing that we have so many different races and types of people in this world, that needs to be celebrated, honored and above all held in the highest regard. Any form of discrimination should be punished, against the law and banished as soon as it happens. I also believe in a world without borders, without walls, with no authority that tells people you can’t go here or there. I believe no one should ever live in fear, of the police, of hateful people, of being deported, of bosses or coworkers. The violence that occurs due to race or gender is disgusting. I have seen it my whole life from Rodney King to Treyvon Martin, Eric Gardner, Philando Castile, Freddy Gray to George Floyd, the gay community, transgender, the me too movement, immigrants, Native Americans, Muslims and so many others. It’s way past time for a shift in our society as a whole, a radical shift towards peace, understanding and equality for all with zero exceptions!

 

While these days bring fear and uncertainty and new ways to look at how we do things, they also made me want to retreat out into nature more than ever. I have done alot of just that, hiking my way from spring into summer, camping, exploring, and foraging. A slightly bright spot in all this has been watching my business flourish. After getting a small shout out from a well known theorist, whose name is Clif High (whose big on twitter-#chagagangsta), I started receiving orders from all over the country. Chaga, more than ever, along with other mushrooms, have been recognized as valuable for immune boosting and combating illness. Something not in any news, is the idea of being preventive, of being proactive with strengthening our systems of defense during this time of a highly contagious virus. I of coarse, highly believe in the healing powers of mushroom medicine and using nature as therapy. This passion, turned venture, turned small business has begun to gain roots. It’s been fulfilling to do what I do, I feel I’m making an impact in a positive way all the while I’m making a living, it literally is my dream come true. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed being out and all over the mountains as of late. I have had great forages of Reishi and Chaga and am able to create a nice supply of stock to continue to do what I do. We moved out to Fairview, North Carolina, with horse farms and country surrounding us. I watch the birds and sit on the porch with the sounds of a tranquil stream in the back yard, it’s good living. Brendan and Jill have come on adventures, each experiencing the virus in different ways. Jill left her salon and is doing her business her way, finding a new freedom in that, as well as having time to develop the next phase of her ventures in health coaching and yoga. Brendan is having to do college from home and being an essential cleaning worker. Moving through times of change is what life is all about, surviving and thriving is the goal.

We also added a new member to the family, her name is Luna or as I have dubbed her, La Luna Love bug. A precious labradoodle  puppy, we got from a sweet family farm. She is jet black with a hint of chocolate brown. It was never too much on my radar to get my own dog but after some time, thought and discussion it happened, and honestly I dig it. Dogs really are best friends, they are always happy to see you and want to be right next to you. Luna is a cuddlier and such a calm, chill one so far, just the way I imagined having a pet. I’m learning as I go, it helps to have Jill and Brendan who both know what it’s like to be dog owners. I can’t wait until she is accustomed to being in the woods, hiking along our side!

Black Lives Matter

One chant

No Justice, No Peace

A second chant

Say their names…..

George Floyd

Ahmaud Arbrey

Freddy Gray

Tamir Rice

Treyvon Martin

Sandra Bland

Philando Castile

Eric Garner

Michael Brown

Breonna Taylor

Rayshard Brooks

And the list don’t stop

Murder in the streets

That we watch in color vision

Before our eyes

White cop

Black man, Black woman

Protest, riot, protest

Riot

The people vs the authority

Brutality

Military

To be silent now is the crime

So we shout,

Set fires

Brake windows

March and sing and take a knee

Move the movement

Try and take the power back

To be heard

To be seen

To be EQUAL

A country beginning to crack

America not so great again

And again

And the lights go out

In the White house

And the leader closed his eyes

Hands up…..

Don’t shoot

Cries in the street

Shouts in the dark

As the rest of us wait

For a change

For another day.

Winter Escape into 2020

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So the cold, winter weather has crept in here in the mountains of Western North Carolina. In some ways I love this time of year, it often reminds me of growing up in upstate New York without the snow and brutal cold, just the season itself really. I love to hike in the winter season as the air is refreshing and crisp. However I also love to get away! or New Years 2020 this year we traveled down south into one of favorite regions, northern Florida, the Suwannee river and the springs district. While living in the Tarpon Springs area I often found myself out kayaking. I loved visiting the northern reaches, especially the natural springs. I frequented the Hillsborough river near Tampa, the Peace, Suwannee, St. Johns, Crystal and Alapaha rivers. I pretty much jumped into the water every chance I could get, finding little, twisty, secret passage ways and got lost in adventure. It had been several years since I traveled back down south to get back in it and I missed it greatly.

Our journey started at Ruth B. Kirby Gilchrist Blue Springs state park. We arrived at night and camped in the car. The next morning we had breakfast at one of the only little diners open, which note there’s not much for good eating at all in the whole area, then went and rented a two person kayak, at a cost of $35 for two hours and strolled out into the crystal blue waters. The blue color of the spring was amazing! As we paddled along we came to a merge of the blue waters into the tannin waters of the Santa Fe river. It was so refreshing to be back in a kayak and rolling along the river. We saw some exotic birds and tons of turtles. Along this stretch there are numerous springs to explore. We stopped in Lily, Poe, Mermaid and Rum island springs. I jumped in three of them, the temperature is an average of 72 degrees. It felt so nice to be swimming in January. Time always seems to slow down on the river. My only regret was not having goggles to look at the springs from underneath. We hiked a small trail in the park before moving on.

Next up we made our way to Old Town and the Suwannee hideaway campground. The people that ran the campground were super nice and let us have our pick of sites to camp in. We talked with them for alittle and were inspired by their lifestyle of hosting campgrounds. They live in Maine 6 months out of the year and travel the other six months hosting at campgrounds, this is an ideal way of living and we hope to one day do the same, sooner rather than later in life. In our travels we have ran into people doing the same thing a few times and are building our knowledge of how it works. The camp ground was super quiet and remote, not to mention the showers were super hot. There is a long board walk that leads to the Suwannee, perhaps my favorite river ever. We walked that and continued on along the river on a nice trail. We heard two owls the whole way, frolicking in the forest. Their calls could be heard the whole time we were there. I felt connected to them even though I never got to actually see them. While here we visited Fanning Springs which was right in town. Again treated to the clear, blue waters, which of coarse I dove into. This time some visitors, also swimming there, let me use their mask to see the bubbling spring. It was super cool to see the sands bubbling up, the fish and the rocks in the deep chasm. We lingered in the park some, soaking up the sun before jumping on our bikes and getting on the nature coast bike trail. This trail was great, 31 miles of biking, it goes through small towns and remote parts of the route. On our expedition we rode to an old trestle bridge that overlooks the Suwannee. I really enjoy riding like this, flat, easy and serine. Not finding any good food near by, we drove to Gainesville to have a nice dinner on our anniversary, four years together!! It’s been wonderful and enriching and full of awesome adventures and oh yeah, LOTS of love. Hanging out along the Suwannee was fulfilling, I just love the big cypress trees, the hanging Spanish moss and the dark, amber waters.

Before leaving this area we popped into Manatee springs and got to see four manatees hanging out, along with some huge fish. I once kayaked with several manatees and it was a true highlight of my time on the springs, seeing these gentle creatures again was pretty cool. The state park is a neat little place also to explore. Also made a quick stop to but some ashes of my fathers at the base of a giant cypress tree along the Suwannee, so they may know the peace it has brought me.

We decided to head for the coast after a few nights along the Suwannee. Our first stop at Flagler beach to lay on the beach and jump in the ocean. Flagler is a small beach and it was not very busy which was great. We continued up A1A heading into St. Augustine. We stayed in the beach area near Anastasia island. We did a nice long beach stroll, which is a favorite thing. That night we drove into the historic city. It was buzzing with people. It’s neat to walk around the small streets, all the shops and architecture. The city was in full swing with horse carriage rides, trollys full of people and christmas lights all over. We walked the old fort, the water front and had dinner in the mix, finished off with a homemade ice cream treat. We also visited Mantanzas national monument park. The ferry was closed to the fort so we hiked in search of the great horned owls which apparently left a few years ago. We also spent some time driving around the side streets of the city and checking out the old houses. Another highlight was the St. Augustine lighthouse, even though we didn’t pay the $20 something charge to go inside, it’s always cool to see a lighthouse. It is the first picture on this post.

We had a last meal at a place on the water, where they had baby gators hanging out. It was a really good seafood dinner. We didn’t get a chance to paddle the Suwannee which made me alittle sad or see it’s limestone cliffs but that just makes for a future adventure back down sometime. It was the perfect little get away full of awesome memories and marking another year together on the journey. Upon returning home I did a cold, snow on the ground, icicles on the rocks hike and found a nice haul of Chaga, it’s gonna be a great year ya’ll!!

Voyage West Ward

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Zion

This years big trip was one that took us out west. In two weeks we passed through 12 states and drove 5,027 miles, visiting 5 national parks and several other amazingly cool spots along the way. I had never been into the true west besides visiting Californias redwoods. I was especially excited to see the great barren desert, Native American country and of coarse the Grand Canyon. The first leg of the journey was through Tennessee which was a good eight hours by itself on highway 40 west. Then it was into Arkansas and Oklahoma. This is when the trip really began for me. The landscape began to change and we entered Native lands. The mountains flattened out and long flat mesas emerged. Wind turbines dotted the roadside, casinos were everywhere and trains seemed more active here than anywhere I have seen. I instantly felt I had entered the American west. While in Oklahoma we ran into the famous route 66, which I learned was a highly used highway back in the day that runs from California to Illinois. It was neat to get on and off a few times during the trip, each stop led us through segments of small towns, most of which were quaint and charming, some had very little left except the remnants of past glory. One day I’d like to travel that route in it’s entirety. Passing through the reservation lands had a special feeling for me, since my youth I have held Native culture close to my heart. I could feel the spirit all around. We did a stretch across the pan handle of Oklahoma called no mans land. Crossing states, we made a stop in Amarillo, Texas to see the Cadillac ranch. It was out in a big open field, ten Cadillac buried nose down and covered in spray paint, done by artists in the 60’s. We also ate lunch in a small town and I had a bacon cheeseburger stuffed between two grilled cheese sandwichs, with onion rings mixed in, some things are bigger in Texas. After sleeping in the car, we crossed yet another state and stayed a night in Gallup, New Mexico. This little town was the home of Native artisans. Lots of little jewelry and hand made Native crafts and my introduction to trading posts, a big thing here in the west and traditionally how Natives and white settlers traded. In this town we checked out a Native American museum that I found interesting. Being in New Mexico really immersed us in Native surroundings, as well as desert environment. The landscape began to have some color, mesas and canyons, a truly beautiful state.

 

 

Onto to Arizona and the serious adventures begin. It seemed almost immediately after crossing the border between states, the landscape changed again. Mesas turned to mountains. We pulled over at a trading post to take it in. Huge cliffs of reds and browns and purples towered above us. We bought a few sand paintings which is a traditional form of art in Native culture and very cool. Our first big stop came at the Petrified Forest, wow what a place is all I can say! We bought an inner agency park pass here, which would get in any National park for a year and more than paid for itself along the duration of the trip. We did a short one mile hike along the rim of the painted desert to start off this adventure. It seemed endless, sand dunes in blues, greens, purples and reds. For the first time the intense desert heat hit me and man it’s no joke. There was several small hikes to enjoy and one that stood out most was called the blue mesa, it was a hike through these small, blue striped mountains of sand, and all along the trail were stumps and pieces of petrified wood. We went from end to end of the park and saw remnants of  the Native peoples village and also super cool petroglyphs, these amazing drawings in the rocks. On one of those hikes, called newspaper rock, the hat I just bought especially for the trip blew right off my head in a huge wind gust, sailed down the cliff and is forever gone, guess that’d be my offering to the ancestors. One of the amazing things about this park was how many trees used to be here, big ones too. We’d later learn from a friendly park ranger that much of the wood here traveled along rivers back when the world was still connected, Pangaea as it’s known. This is dating back to dinosaur times. This whole area of New Mexico and Arizona is well famous for dinosaur bones and history. The idea of Pangaea had always fascinated me and though I thought it made sense , I never wasn’t completely sure if it was true. Seeing examples like this made it clear it happened no doubt. One of the last hikes we did here was one called the avenue of the giants, huge stumps and whole petrified trees covered the hills by the visitor center, just magnificent. Inside the center we saw dinosaur skeletons and  beautifully polished petrified stumps. If your out that way it is a must see park.

 

 

From there we were Sedona bound. Some say it’s the land of vortexes. We camped a night on a forest road on the way to Sedona, we’d return for a second night because it was close enough and free camping is the best stuff. A huge discovery that came on the trip was how much BLM land there is out there. BLM land is government owned land that’s free for the people to use, especially to camp on, there are sooo many long, dusty side roads to pull off on and set up shop it’s unreal and highly convenient, we would use these roads the whole trip. Driving into Sedona was breathtaking. We drove through an area called Oak Creek Canyon and the views were unreal the whole way, each new corner brought awe inspiring views. I was instantly taken by the charm of Sedona, thinking as I do on most trips, I could live here. We had a fancy lunch at a restaurant called Mariposa Latin Grill and it had some great food and amazing views. After that we made our way to a stupa I discovered online called Amitabha stupa and peace park. Funny story here is, last year we were given these postcards from a local photographer of this very place, we both picked these out of many random ones to choose from and put them up in our home, not knowing it was the same place we were bound for. This park was great. Right outside the city, tucked away in a neighborhood was the park. It has a very peaceful setting, lots of hiking trails and beautiful back drops, one being a place called thunder mountain, a huge mountain close by, supposedly a vortex. We spent some time here, hiking around, exploring the park and meditating. We left the ashes of our loved ones with the Buddha on the hill. It was cool to see many people here taking part in rituals and healing ceremonies, others leaving ashes as well and meditating. Just an awesome place. As part of a spiritual day, we made our way to the Chapel of the Holy Cross. This is a huge, pretty chapel set into the side of the red rock cliffs, also very close to downtown Sedona. It’s an inspiring place, with amazing views. I left some ashes of my two fathers here as well.

 

 

After camping again we took on a big hike at a place called Cathedral rock. Here again is said to be a vortex. One way to tell your in a vortex area is all the twisted trees, in this area it’s juniper trees. This hike was intense, it involved some light rock climbing, very little shade and some serious heights. When you reach the top, your blessed with spectacular views. It challenged my ever present vertigo, ever since falling off a waterfall several years ago I have struggled with this in high places, especially anywhere with steep drop offs. Yet I managed and really enjoyed this hike. At the end is a somewhat skinny ledge to walk that takes you to the side of the mountain, the drop off here is insane. Jill was completely comfortable doing yoga poses there, as for me, a quick look and I was happy to go back to safer ground. That night we went to spend the sunset at Airport Mesa overlook, a very popular spot and you guessed it, a vortex. We did a short hike to get to a sweet spot, many people were gathered there, even a Native man playing the drum and flute for a group. Have to admit I didn’t feel much but it was a great sunset none the less. We spent a few hours that night running around downtown Sedona, grabbed a bite to eat and peeked in a few shops. Part of us wanted to stay another day and do a hike along Bell rock but we decided to move on.

 

 

Leaving Sedona was bittersweet but we had much more to see. We gained some serious elevation going up the mountains through Flagstaff, perhaps the highest city in Arizona. Here we grabbed a much needed shower at the YMCA, yes membership does have it’s privileges and helpful road tip if your a Y member. We didn’t stay in town much longer than to grab a bite to eat. The place we stopped at was one of favorites so far, called the Toasted Owl. Everything in the restaurant was owls and everything was for sale, it was super cool. Little ceramics, tee shirts, paintings, lamps, stickers, mugs, and on and on. I bought a really neat tee shirt for myself, simply loved this place.

 

 

From Flagstaff we headed to the big event, the Grand Canyon. The depth and shear splendor of the canyon was apparent and almost overwhelming upon first sight. I instantly felt my vertigo hit standing there at the first overlook. I could barely walk to the railing to look over into the canyon. It is magnificent however and I took it all in. The size of the canyon is unreal. We walked the rim trail, which goes for something like 17 miles. I had to stay away from open spaces and walk on the inside of the trail, away from the edges, but how amazing to look over as your walking and see the endless canyon. We stopped here and there to peek out into the massive expanse. We took the shuttle the first day because parking was limited and there was a lot of people there, when I say a lot I mean it! We heard lots of different languages and saw the various styles from around the world present, all of which was quite entertaining and fascinating I’ll say. That night we camped just outside the park on another forest road. While camped in the Prius we were serenaded by the cries and howls of the coyotes, it was super neat to hear. The next day we’d get up early to dive in head first into the canyon on the bright angel trail. This trail was intense! It goes straight down and then straight up on the way back. We managed to make the 3 mile rest point instead of going to the canyon base and the river which was a few more miles down. My vertigo was on and off as I traveled down, eventually getting comfortable with being on the edges. The three miles was more than enough as it was mostly straight sun with stretches of shade here and there and it was really hot. We left some ashes at the three mile point. Doing the trail was pretty great, it was hard and beautiful and at the end we felt a real nice sense of pride and accomplishment. As we concluded our time at the grand, we drove to the desert view portion and the watch tower. It was really cool inside the watchtower, with lots of Native art all over the walls. Great views of the canyon and the river from inside and on top of the tower as well.

 

 

As we left the south rim side of the Grand Canyon, we had the plan to go to the north side. Here we rode highways 89 and 89-A, which would be very much used small highways on our trip and truly scenic roads overall.  Leaving the canyon we entered Navajo lands and right away saw little road side stands. We stopped to check one out and met some friendly Native peoples with some really nice art and jewelry. They shared stories and meanings of some of the things they made. It was sad and humbling to be in their presence. The stands were make shift, tattered structures, beat up trailers were parked behind the stands and the people themselves did not seem in the best health. Once a mighty, dignified people that lived in harmony with these lands, now living in poverty and fighting to survive. Jill bought a bracelet from an older woman sitting with her daughter and grand daughter, made from juniper berries. The lady told how the ghost berries are for protection, safety and represent connection to the earth. She told how many Natives in the military have given them to fellow soldiers for protection, especially in world war 2. Being as there was very little out there in the desert period, few towns and I’m guessing fewer work opportunities, having these stands might be all they have. As we drove along there would be scattered little houses, mostly trailers, all looking in rough shape. Jill put it best when she said it’s just heart breaking. We drove along through most of the daylight and as night came on we hit an area called the Vermilion Cliffs. We decided instead of pushing through to the north rim, we would camp in this area and check it out and I’m glad we did. A place called Lees Ferry is where we found a campground and even in the night, what we could make out seemed pretty cool. We awoke to find a little wonderland to explore. The vermilion cliffs are wonderful and big, our camp site was a skip away from the Colorado river and there is some historic sites right there. I couldn’t contain myself at all, the whole trip I had wanted to jump into some water and there it was. The Colorado is amazing shades of jade green and crystal clear. In this particular area was another, smaller river called the Paria that flowed into the Colorado. The Paria is much warmer and pretty muddy. The Colorado was damn cold, 49 degrees to be exact, but boy it felt so good. Getting in that river marked a certain huge highlight for me. As we explored around, we found out this was a launching spot for rafting tours into the Grand Canyon, huge rafts were loading up there. We went out of the park and checked out the Navajo bridge, a historic bridge built in 1929. There is now a newer bridge beside it. A California condor lives underneath the bridge, an endangered species , there are few remaining in the world. I stopped to check out the Navajo art stands there and bought a turquoise owl necklace, my spirit fetish. As we went back into the park we did an educational hike with a lady ranger, who interestingly enough had done a season on the Blue Ridge Parkway in Asheville. She gave us the history of Lees Ferry, a Mormon church member who moved here to set up a settlement and eventually got a ferry service started across the Colorado. The ranch switched hands a few times over time, even a polygamy commune in the mix. We hiked alittle around the ranch, saw an old graveyard, rusted out truck, several old structures and oddly enough a wonderful orchard full of pears, apricots and apples and yup I helped myself to an apple and a pear that were mostly unripe but fine by me.

 

 

We spent two beautiful nights in the tent, which felt amazing after sleeping in the car. We were blessed with two huge, full moons that lit up the whole area as well. Before we departed from Lees Ferry, we did a hike along the river and saw more historical remnants and did the Cathedral wash trail which was pretty awesome, it took us into Glen canyon, following a dried up wash (stream bed) and felt like something out of star wars. It was a super fun trail, we saw animal prints, most likely some sort of cat paw, climbed some rocks and frolicked along the smooth, colorful canyon walls. We also wondered around a big section of huge rocks balancing on small rock platforms, reminded me of Hopewell rocks, it too was like something straight out of star wars, the whole area was a really surreal setting.

Next we traveled to Page, Arizona. There was much to see here, as well as grabbing some good food and using the internet. We discovered a huge lake there called Lake Powell, it was yet another chance to jump in some water. There was a pretty big beach area and of coarse practically zero shade, we did however manage to park in some shrubs that gave just enough shade to survive without any real sunburn. The water was warm and cooled us off. Giant mesas and mountains provided a nice back drop. There was a busy boat scene which cut into the peace of our time there but it was still great. A big highlight came at sunset when we hit Horseshoe Bend, a wonderful rock formation that was surrounded by water in a perfect horseshoe shape. Our timing was almost perfect, we arrived as the sun was setting but just as we reached the overlook and sun sank a little faster than we expected and we caught just that last moment before it disappeared into the far off mountains. Didn’t get to catch that picture except in our minds. We did hang out there awhile and roam around the rocks, it’s really something amazing to see. We were atop a huge cliff and my dear friend vertigo came back once again. The drop offs are so steep there, like the Grand Canyon and every other place we’d visit with huge drop offs and steep cliffs, people love to go right to the edge for a picture or dangle their feet off or look straight down into the chasms which blows my mind, scares me and seems just plan dumb but then again not everyone has the vertigo. We parked the car in a parking lot of our next adventure and one most stunning ones the whole trip, a place called Antelope Canyon. The lot was empty and we got permission, since we had to be there early we decided to just stay there. Now just before we got there for the night we were driving trying to find it in the dark when across the road came a large looking wolf, it was whiteish-gray in color and big, I could easily make it out it’s teeth and to me it looked like a werewolf. We’d learn it may have been a cross between a coyote and a wolf.

So Antelope Canyon, this place is truly a spectacle! We booked a tour of four canyons with a place called Adventurous Antelope Canyon. All the tour companies are run by Navajo people and that’s the only way to get into them. They are on private land owned by a 95 year old Navajo woman, she discovered these canyons after her live stock wondered into them many, many years ago when she was a young child. We were glad to pay to go into them and support the Navajo people. We got a guide who was 22 and went by the name Blue Sky. He was great, along the way he told stories from his life and experiences, also shared history and traditions of his people. He was very laid back and patient, not rushing us at all. He even took pictures for us with our phones inside the canyon to get some absolutely amazing shots. Blue Sky really made the tour a lot more special than it already was. The formations in the canyons were stunning, I caught myself just starring at them, the curves and twists, the colors and cracks were all just so unreal. Using your imagination you could see faces, animals and shapes in the formations. Antelope was indeed crowded, hundreds of people in there at once but it was pretty well organized and flowed nice. On the way out we got to see ‘the beam’ of light that has been the iconic picture. The other canyons we did were called Owl, Mountain Sheep and Rattlesnake Canyons. They too were very cool, not as awe-striking as Antelope but neat in their own way. For example we saw two great horned owls in Owl canyon, which was super special to me. They blended right in with the canyon walls. Rattlesnake has tight, curvy walls, beautiful patterns and was quite awesome. Mountain Sheep was the longest one and made for a little hike and some small climbing around and we also saw a rattlesnake. I can’t say enough of how amazing it was to be in those canyons, truly magical moments to cherish.

After such an awesome experience in the canyons we were refreshed and ready for more. Before we left Page we did a small hike to a place called the hanging gardens, a rare oasis of life. Springs sometimes seep out of the rocks and create a little area of plant life that is lush, in this case it was ferns hanging from the rocks. Our journey would take us to Zion National park next but we had a small ways to go to get there and in-between we’d stop at a place called the Toadstools, an interesting little hike that led to formations called toadstools because they are essentially big rocks resting on longer, skinny rocks. The Toad Stools are a part of the Grand Staircase-Escalante. We were lucky to witness these as there used to be a lot more and they have vanished, the sands are always falling and eroding and with them go the toad stools. Very few remained but they were pretty cool to see. We stopped for the night off a long park road at a place called the pink corals in Utah. All night we heard coyotes that seemed to be all around us and in the morning we saw prints everywhere.

Driving into Zion National park was pretty awesome. The landscape in there is like nothing I’ve seen. The colors of reds, pinks, purples, greens, beige and browns are fantastic. The Natives here call it the land that grows straight up, fitting as the mountains are towering. On a light note, one of the first sights we saw was a huge body builder in just his speedo doing some sort of photo shoot. Driving into the east entrance gave a chance to really take in the park, it’s a long scenic drive with lots of pull overs and a long tunnel to drive through before reaching the trails and visiting centers. we saw big horned sheep right away as well. As we got to the other side of the tunnel the landscape changed from sand dunes and mesas and small mountains into the towering mountains. You have to use the shuttle in the park which was convenient and they ran every ten minutes or so without missing a beat. We dove right in, checking out a few short trails and after eating a taco buffet at a park restaurant we got right at it, doing one of the hardest trails in the park, Angel’s Landing. This trail was no joke, reminded me of the Bright Angel trail at Grand Canyon only in reverse. There was steep drop offs and we started climbing in elevation right away. It is a twisty trail full of lots of switch backs, 21 to be exact called Walters Wiggles. It seems to never stop climbing but we made it to lower top level. When you reach here there is just a half mile left of the trail and it continues up, except you climb along chains and there super steep drop offs on both sides. 17 people have lost their lives here. We decided to not take this section on. Where we ended up had amazing views and was plenty high enough and a strenuous hike in it’s own right. Another huge accomplishment for me and my vertigo issues!

We stayed just outside of the small town next to Zion, down a BLM road once again. The next day we had breakfast in the little town and Jill bought a pair of crocks, which she was very hesitant about, given how ugly she has always thought they were but she was super glad she got them as we were about to hike the Narrows. Zions most famous trail is a four mile trek into the canyons. You have to hike through the river, along tons of  big river stones and water sometimes up to your waist. This is my idea of great fun and some of my absolute favorite hiking. It was simply awesome in there! I loved every second. There was no shortage of people in there that’s for sure. I wore my sandals which held up with some mindful slow steps but in the future I’d advise water shoes for sure. We stopped for a swim break along the way which was great. We didn’t quite make it through the whole trail but spent a good four to six hours in there getting it. It made for a fun memory for sure. After that hike we enjoyed one more lunch in the park and it was pretty hard to leave. Zion is one of the most picturesque places I have ever seen, simply beautiful in there, I will return for sure. We were able to take some much needed and refreshing showers just outside the park. From here we were bound for Arches National park traveling upon highway 70 East.

On the way to Arches we drove through a crazy section that was like deer heaven, they were everywhere! One big horned male was actually standing right in the middle of the highway, just standing there, it’s always scary, those guys. We decided to pass up on going to Bryce Canyon as after Arches we wanted to stop in Colorado and enjoy some of that wonderful state. The speed limit in Utah is 80, worth mentioning, way too fast in my opinion. We stopped in a place called Green River to have breakfast by the river and a huge cinnamon bun. We also stopped at a fruit stand and got one of the best melons I’ve ever had (Israeli Melon), seems they are famous for melons here. Arches did not disappoint. There was a lot of people there like many of the other parks. While waiting to get in we even had a car next to us that was from Asheville too. The Arches were something to see, amazing how they form in such magnificent formations and how just in this small section of the desert there was this rare place. We drove through the whole park and stopped to do a few hikes within. It never got old, seeing such wonders. Before leaving Utah we stopped in the neat city of Moab, right down the street from Arches. It is a  mountain biking mecca and destination for sure. We had a fine mix of ice cream and espresso and grabbed some showers at a local hostile called the lazy lizard.

As our trip was entering it’s last days and the journey, it’s last leg, we opened the road to Colorado. We didn’t want to get too far into the state at night so we could see all the beauty in the daylight, so we stopped for the night. We drove miles down a country road to try and camp at a state park only to find it closed off. We ended up at a rest area, it was quiet enough and right by the Colorado river so that was cool. We had landed in a town called Rifle, which really did live up to it’s name. We stopped for lunch in town and walked into a place called shooters grill and inside we found a big Trump cut out, waitresses carrying guns on their hips and people walking in fully armed! It was quite a sight, troubling and weird for sure. Needless to say we left there and ate at a small cafe. It was an evident right wing town no doubt. We did however return to the park we left the night before to find a super cool park, Rifle Falls. Here we found a triple waterfall that is a real beauty, besides that there is big limestone cliffs that have several caves to explore. This was a ton of fun, I really enjoyed climbing into the caves and exploring, something I haven’t really done much of ever. It was such a neat surprise and great addition to the trip, the unplanned discoveries are always great. Apparently in the park are free roaming moose, though we didn’t see any.

That would be our lone Colorado hiking adventure. Next we ventured along, soaking up the multi colored mountains and beautiful aspen trees showing off in their brilliant yellow, white and green shades. We made a stop in a ski town called Vail. Jill had been here long ago. It was a cute little town, very Swiss alp inspired in architecture and style. We had a nice lunch there and I was taken by a fountain that shot water out like I’d not seen before, it was neat. We walked around the little town square a bit and then headed out. Making one more stop in a town called Frisco, so Jill could leave some ashes of her Love dog, a place they had been on their epic travels. We did get to ride up into the Rockies kind of, we reached 10,000 elevation and got to see the jagged peaks from a distance. Crazy thing, as we were gaining elevation a rain storm started  and within minutes of climbing the rain was instantly turning to ice on our windshield! Luckily we got saved by a tunnel that for the next few miles sheltered us and by the time we came out of the tunnel we dropped elevation slightly and the rain was weaker, but what a wild experience. Our last order of fun in Colorado was the ultimate. We stopped in to the hot springs district, where there were lots of hot springs spas, resorts and swimming areas. The one we selected was called Iron Mountain, part of the historic Glenwood springs. This place was amazing and only $20 each for all day soaking!! There is 16 individual hot tubs, each at different, naturally hot temperatures ranging from 98-108. There’s a big warm swimming pool and all this in a sweet outdoor set up with huge umbrellas covering the tubs, 14 different kinds of minerals in each and it’s right on the Colorado river, literally a few steps away. Not to mention some sweet mountain views in the background. It was luxurious and fabulous and certainly a perfect way to be winding down our trip. We would of spent much longer than 3 hours there if the road didn’t call.

The rest of the westward road trip was mostly the flat lands. We drove into Kansas, long and kind of boring. We did however stop in Kansas City for some infamous bbq, which it matched up I’d say. We walked downtown as an art fest was happening and saw a few of the famous fountains the city may also be known for, they say second most to Rome, 200 in total.  From there we got to drive by the St. Louis arch, then we spent a night in Illinois, only our second hotel of the whole trip. This led to one last stop in Kentucky at the Land Between the Lakes park. We missed an exit and it cost us a few hours of serious country back road driving. We checked out one lake there and then to the main event of seeing some Buffalo! They have a few prairies there with wild roaming elk and bison. We found a big herd of about thirty bison and it was awesome. I have been wanting to see some for years. They are my other spirit animal. I enjoyed watching them even though it was super hot and most were just chilling. The rest is history as they say. We listened to some comedy and yoga podcasts and rolled into the mountains of home.

A very important ritual when on our travels is the ritual of spreading some ashes of those gone but not forgotten. For Jill it is her Love dog and for me it is my two fathers. My biological father traveled quite a bit and those are fond memories for me as a kid. More times than not it was to see a baseball game. Sometimes we’d wait after the game was over and get autographs before the players boarded the buses. Sometimes we traveled to theme parks as well. In taking his ashes around with me it’s my way of taking him places he never made it to. It makes me feel like he gets to see and experience what I do and makes me feel really good to be able to return the gift of traveling that he once gave me. The healing time we spent at the end of his life was so important and precious but also so very short after years of not communicating and doing this is another way to heal and feel like I’m spending time with him. As for my other dad, my step father as they say, though he was every bit a father to me, he spent much of his life sick and barely traveled at all. He was a bit of a home body. To be able to take him places now he never would of went seems fitting to me. It’s like giving him the wings he didn’t have bound by his sickness. I picture him healthy and able, hiking along side us. I think of both of them quite often and usually always include them in my meditation practice, sending metta and wishes they are free from the suffering they both experienced at the end of life. It’s on to our next adventure together.

Traveling through the western united states was a surreal experience for me. Memories that will be always dear to me in so many ways. The changing landscapes, the painted deserts, the small towns, the majestic mountains, the colorful mesas, the Native lands and so much more made for such a cool experience. There’s so much more to check out yet in the west and I can’t wait to return. Getting to visit a few National parks made me want to now visit them all and we have already talked about going to the Rocky Mountain National park in spring, with Yellowstone close behind. Funny that when we returned a few people we know asked if we liked each other less after traveling and being around each other so closely for so many days. The answer is nope, we love each other more I believe. We didn’t fight or get on each others nerves, maybe a touch here and there but nothing like people say they experience on trips like this. It’s nice to have that kind of relationship for sure. We had a blast together and it was actually kind of weird returning to the routines of everyday to not be together all day. So where to next? As a grand adventure, I’m hoping to complete a dream many years in the making. Ever since I read the book ‘The Pilgrimage’ by Paulo Coehlo, I have wanted to walk the Camino or road to Santiago. It is a road/trail between France and Spain and has different meanings to different people. For me I’d like it to bring healing for those who have passed in my life but also a journey of accomplishment and adventure. It takes about a month to walk. We shall see….stay tuned for what’s next!

A journey to South America: Ecuador

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Ecuador, the middle of the world as it’s called, mitad del mundo. I returned recently from a two week adventure in Ecuador, an immersion might be more fitting. I traveled with my girlfriend Jill, my son Brendan and our hosts a couple that was born and raised there. We came to meet them by way of tutoring for our local literacy council, teaching english as a second language. This is something we wanted to do as a means to travel and have work but also as a way to be of service in our community, to help people live, communicate and find more equality in a society that can be hard for foreigners. This work is voluntary, we meet 2 hours a week with our students and the wonderful gratitude we get in return is more than any money could ever provide. Jills student, Ana, was one of our hosts, my student is from Guatemala. Jill had gone for a session to teach and that morning Ana said ‘no class today’ and told Jill to invite my son and myself  over for breakfast. It was wonderful, we ate a beautiful meal with her husband, Osho, three sons, Brain, Orlando and Martin and one of her sons daughter. They invited the three of us to go to Ecuador for Christmas with their families for two weeks! That night we looked up tickets and the price was right, we were booked and all to excited. It’s one of those moments in life that makes you stop and be grateful, grateful that in a time of division in the world there’s still examples of unity and there’s still people who see no race or differences. It’s moments like that that remind me sometimes it seems we are put in the path of others to be led to amazing experiences and form amazing bonds. After that morning time seemed to fly by and before we knew it we were all piled into a van on our way to Atlanta airport and then on a plane and leaving the states. There was a good part of me that was all too happy to get out of the US, away from our president, away from the familiar, away from everyday and into a great adventure.

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all of us on christmas

The flight was about five hours and we landed in the capital city of Quito. We were greeted by some of the relatives. It was night time and so darkness covered the landscape so we couldn’t see much. We again packed into a van and drove two hours. The roads were steep and twisty mountain passes. We ended up in our first city, Ibarra at Oshos sisters house.  We were greeted warmly and shown to our room. The next morning we had breakfast with many of the family, we don’t speak much spanish and they don’t speak much to any english, so it was interesting. Lucky for us Brain and Martin both speak english and Oshos brother, Angel, who we just met did as well, so the translating began. We got to learn some of the traditions right away such as bread,’pan’, is eaten every morning with your coffee, or cafe. I got my first laughs by pouring salt into my coffee thinking it was sugar, which became a joke on many mornings. Everything was fresh and grown there on their farm, fresh made juice made from oblong tomatoes, fresh fruit like mango and oranges, fresh warmed milk and fresh motay (large, white corn kernels). It was a delight. Right after breakfast I got swept up by the men to drive to the farm to pick up a truck, which I willing rushed along. That morning was amazing, as we drove I got to see the landscape in daylight for the first time and it is spectacular! As we drove through the town I had that giddy, child like feeling of being somewhere distant and new. The mountains are big and reminded me some what of home, except these mountains aren’t quite the same, they seem to have very little trees and more patches of just green fields. I saw the morning street vendors selling fruits by the truck loads and some just people with small stands. The town is nestled in the shadows of two big volcanoes, both inactive but beautiful, one is completely snow capped, ‘volcan Cayambe’ it’s called, apparently the only snow that happens in these parts of Ecuador and even from afar it is quite impressive. Their family farm was down a long dirt road, on the edge of town. Imbabura is one of the volcanoes that sits looming out past their farm. The farm is pretty great, it sits on land that is surrounded by a few other of their families farms and houses and also new places just getting developed. It’s quiet and secluded out there. The house that’s there is unfinished inside, it’s big, many rooms, instantly I thought I could live here in one of these rooms and work the farm. They are raising many chickens and guinea pigs or ‘coy’ (which I found out are a delicacy here), and a few dogs are running around. They are growing many good things, lots of fruits I had not seen before, coffee plants, squash, grapes, limes, oranges, beans, corn, sugar cane, avocado, oblong looking tomatoes, many flowers and more I’m sure I’m leaving out. One thing that stood out to me while visiting was that everyone I met and almost every house I passed had a garden, big, small or in between, food was growing everywhere. I didn’t see anything that looked like a grocery chain or even a large food store in general, instead I saw markets, markets, and more markets. Also many people selling fruits out of wheel barrels on the streets or coming on buses selling small packages of fruits and vegetables.

 

 

Later that day we made our first group venture out. This day we stopped at a few markets of artisans. One town was called Otavalo, which is known for it’s many wood workers. Big statues made of wood filled the town square and here was where the market was. We got our first lesson in the art of the barter. So it’s customary to wheel and deal with the vendors, it’s actually seen as a compliment. Our hosts had us pick some things we were interested in and then would go talk the vendors down. It was intriguing to listen to and watch, even though I couldn’t understand a word of it, except I came to know ‘caunto’ (how much). I would later on try my hand a few times with the barter game, it was fun and I felt pretty awesome after I talked one vendor down from $25 to $23 to finally $20. The crafts were wonderful, many wooden gifts of all kinds, volcano stone objects, jewelry, textiles, clothing, blankets, all in brilliant, bright colors and designs, little souvenir items, shoes and of coarse the hats. I just loved all the hats, Ecuador is famous for their Panama hats, which everywhere you go you’ll find someone making them. Ladies would be walking down the street making them, sitting in shops working on them, in the markets and on and on, it’s really neat to see. Oshos mother, Rosa, the sweetest, old Ecuadorian lady you’ll ever meet made two for Jill while we were there at her house. I wanted a hat while I was there but never found the right one.

 

 

We ate out quite a bit, from little family restaurants, to street food, to little snacks at the markets and we learned quickly that the main courses no matter the meal is lots of rice, chicken, corn and potatoes. Lunch was a soup, usually with chicken and then a big plate of chicken, rice, and motay with homemade hot sauce. It was great at first but after awhile we ended up getting loads of vegetables and making our own creations. I will say the idea of refrigeration is looked at a bit differently there. I spent one whole day pretty sick from eating ‘coy’ twice and it was not a fun experience. I was set on the fact that it was a traditional meal of Inca people and I wanted to be authentic but perhaps my western stomach didn’t agree. Another very frequent thing to see and experience were the street dogs. They were everywhere! All kinds too, they’d bark at night especially and sometimes travel in small packs. Most people simply ignored them, some fed them. You couldn’t go very far without seeing them roaming free all over.

 

 

 

On one of our days spent in the first city we made a trip a sacred lake called, Laguna de Cotacachi. It is an active crater lake. We took a boat ride around the lake and got to witness the many birds that lived there and also the active gas emissions bubbling from below. No fish existed in it. It also is at the base of a volcano. It was a beauty. We did a small hike and saw some ancient sun and lunar dials. Later, I spent about an hour strolling by myself and found a cemetery that I found interesting, the whole place was like little buildings, no one here buried underground. Our wonderful hosts took us our final morning there for a scenic hike up the mountain near the house at 5:45 am. It was fun walking the streets in the dawn hour when no one was really out yet. We got to the top of the trail and it over looked the whole city, quite a sight. It was hard to leave our wonderful hosts, before we did we were gifted some amazing gifts. A very old bowl and two figurines from the Inca people that Oshos sisters husband found while setting up their farm, a hobby of his, I was quite honored. We took a van taxi from there for a few hours back to Quito where we were to catch a flight off to our next city. Before we did we stopped at a true delight, the equator! Here we found the absolute center of the world, latitude 0 degrees, longitude 0 degrees. We checked out a few exhibits there, art, a native village and some equator fun. It was surreal to stand there on the center line knowing we were standing on the center of the earth. The monument was really cool and the most touristy thing we did on our trip.

Next we flew to a neat city called Cuenca. This city is buzzing with activity. We caught a bus to a smaller town called Chordeleg where we’d stay with Oshos mother, Rosa, in a truly rustic, real deal Ecuadorian home. It’s an open air home, everything is concrete, the rooms are pretty opened to the outside, the water is mostly cold, chickens roam around freely, and the living here is simple and pretty much off the grid. At first I wasn’t sure about the comfort level here but after the first day I felt right at home and appreciated the experience. Brendan fell in love with the part street dog, part house dog named Chobo who hung around the house a bunch, he’d feed and love on him everyday, which Oshos mom got a kick out of. Chordeleg is a quint little place where everyone knows everyone. Many family members lived in the town as well so we’d run into them all over town. On this leg of the journey we took many taxis and buses and I have never used the ‘oh shit’ handle in a car so much, they drive fast and take curves like it’s no ones business! While here we’d walk in four parades, pray in church and homes a lot, and sit for many a family meal. It was Christmas after all and the celebrations were in full swing. Baby Jesus was at the center of everything, little baby Jesus dolls would be involved in every parade and taken through the streets. Fire works accompanied every event, home made fireworks at that on bamboo sticks. We rented traditional costumes for two of the parades, which was really fun. The biggest parade featured stories from the bible from creation to the birth of Jesus and the people went all out making elaborate floats on their vehicles. It was huge and tons of good fun.

 

With all the parades came all the parties and the dancing. We got to celebrate Anas grandfathers 82 birthday with a big party.  We danced a lot and we were the hit of the dance floor. Most everyone had the same dance moves but we brought our free styles and got many laughs, many stares and many offers for dance partners. They were so happy we were out there busting a move. Something that took some getting used to were the looks, not from the family but from strangers on the streets. Not many white people (gringos) lived here in this part of the country, actually didn’t see any the whole time. The people here stopped to stare and laugh at us all the time. I know my beard and Jills red hair stuck out for sure, I think Brendan in his beanie 24/7 got some long looks as well. At first it was funny but after a while it was a little uncomfortable. I know they didn’t mean harm or insult. Part of me was happy to be a in place where ‘white people’, Americans, hadn’t touched yet, it was refreshing actually. I’m sure if we stayed longer the looks would pass eventually.  Many Americans lived in the bigger cities and you could spot them a lot, however it’s mostly older, retired folks. I heard something like 8,000 were in Cuenca. I saw it as a unique experience, just a little annoying sometimes. We visited Cuenca a few times, one day spent going to the dentist, who was amazing and fast, it was very affordable compared to the US. One day just walking the city, visiting the markets and buying some really cool ponchos and other things to bring home. We challenged ourselves with communicating, bartering and getting directions. The colors in South America are one of my favorite things, as well as the traditional  dress, especially the woman with their dresses, hats and golden beads. It’s pretty pronounced how short everyone is as well. The language barrier was a tough, so many times we missed out on would be great conversations. We decided when we returned home we’d take some lessons for the future. Some of the family spoke little bits of english and we picked up on some spanish while there, so not all was lost in translation. One of our last experiences was after our last parade we got to sit and witness some traditional dancing, some tribal, some groups, it was fantastic.

 

 

Getting to know the family, which is a really big family, was a real pleasure. We created bonds and friendships I am positive will be for a lifetime. They all were so gracious and giving, constantly checking in to make sure we were okay and fed and happy. And it was extra special blending our little family with theirs, two different cultures and two different races, in perfect harmony. We all got along famously. This was a Christmas I will never forget. A really nice aspect of the holiday there was that there was no real gift exchange, no consumerism or santa or excess, they do love their lights though, lots of blinking, neon lights everywhere. It was a super great trip overall, it was awesome to spend it with my love and my sun. It’s one of my new favorite places…….and I will return one day.

 

 

 

Traveling the Northern tips-Maine-Cape Breton-Nova Scotia

I recently spent 20 days on an adventure to the high North lands of Nova Scotia and it’s something I certainly won’t ever forget. I’ll admit at first I was unsure what I was in for, the pictures looked nice, the ocean is always a cool visit but I asked ‘what’s up there?’, it really didn’t seem like much, but boy was I wrong! I have rarely seen such untouched beauty, pristine landscapes, quaint little harbor villages, wild untamed ocean and exciting, unassuming exploration to be had. The trip started from the mountains of North Carolina, Asheville, where we live, which is always a nice way to start a long drive because it’s quite pretty. That didn’t take long to wear off as we got into the open highway and the typical roadside scenery, luckily for me I was with my sweetheart who is a wonderful road trip companion, we practiced some Spanish for our next big trip to Ecuador, we laughed and talked a lot and one of my favorite car activities, we sang along to a fun playlist that took days to create. 9 states up the coast to land in Portland Maine. Portland is a cool little port city, especially walking along the waterfront. Lots of neat little shops, scarlet brick buildings and of course seafood restaurants, where I got my first taste of Maine Lobster, or shall I say lobsta. The highlight for me here though  was the first two lighthouses of the trip, spring point ledge and Portland headlight. Oh the lighthouses! They captured me right away and it became a treasure hunt to find everyone of them.

While in Portland we also visited a local yoga studio called ‘Yogave’ and had a great class and we both bought shirts from a funky little shop called ‘Mexicalli Blues’. Just outside of Portland we passed a small island called Mackworth Island and made a quick stop, we were able to walk the whole island, it is home to a school for the blind. Here I found my first sight of Maine Chaga on a white birch and also we came across a small patch of forest with a sign that invited guests to build fairy houses and we did (: After leaving there we drove up the coast until night fall and found a church parking lot to stop and sleep in, thank you Little River Church. Our scenario was that we drove a Prius, mind you they look small but the seats drop and I’m 5’11 and had plenty of room to stretch out. In the morning we discovered we ended up in a small town called Belfast, we went to the only place open for breakfast and wouldn’t you know they were famed for the ‘best breakfast on the east coast’, Traceys Diner. Next we were on our way to Bar harbor and discovered a very large bridge that looked like two Washington Memorials and it had an elevator 450 ft up to the top, also it was part of Fort Knox park. Going to the top, observation tower was a bit of a test for me as I get some serious vertigo in high places and this was high up. It was fascinating though to be in a little room surrounded by glass windows and a killer view, you could see all the way to Acadia park where we were headed. Fort Knox was a neat old fort settled along along a big river, it’s a big place with a lot o stroll through. From there we headed to Bangor after somehow stumbling upon the fact that there is a giant Paul Bunyan statue there. I was too excited about this because when I was a kid my father took my sister, brother and myself to one in Crystal Beach and the picture always stood out to me looking back, so that said we had to go! This one was wonderful and I even left a flower and some of my dads ashes there with Paul. Our good fortune had us run into some folks traveling from the south like us and headed to Nova Scotia also surprisingly, what’s more is they told us Stephan Kings house was about ten minutes away. With that we had our next destination. We did find out it’s just one of his houses, but this one seemed fitting with a spider web fence out front. I read some of his books and got quite into them, one of my favorites was ‘Desperation’.

Next came Acadia National park and Bar Harbor. We got our camp site at black woods campground, which is in a nice woodsy setting. After setting up we traveled into Bar Harbor, a very cute little town. We had a big whole lobster dinner with clam chowder, blueberry pie with vanilla ice cream and coffee for dessert, doing it up! Then walked around the shops and did a seaside trail that followed the water, it was neat with lots of historical sign posts to read and rose hip bushes everywhere. Back at camp we started a nice fire and enjoyed about ten minutes of peace before our neighbors arrived. Here’s my problem with campgrounds….people, not all people just the ones that are loud and rude which is what we got. All the same it was great to be there and camping. We got up before the sun and hustled up to Cadillac mountain to catch the sunrise. It’s quite a spectacle, so it’s the first point the sun hits in the US and many people gather here to watch the show. We were early and made some coffee in the jet boil. The colors were incredible! Deep oranges, reds and pinks. A cool fog swept over the water below, it was just a beautiful sight to behold. The following morning was even more amazing but we didn’t even bother to bring our cameras and instead take it in the moment. It was so clear and the sun creeped out from tip to a perfect round burning red star. Having had such an early start to our day we got right into the park,42790992_10213509180868231_7531497205354463232_n  we loaded up the bikes and found what’s called the carriage roads, a series of gravel trails that wind around various parts of the park. We started at a place called Jordan pond and made our way from there. It was a wonderful ride along white birch lined trails, past lakes and great little vistas, I even stopped to gather some Chaga. After our ride we blew up our inflatable kayaks and jumped in eagle lake for a paddle. We did the whole lake, for me it was so great to be in a kayak again. We got to move our camp site to a better more remote spot, funny enough we landed next to a group of twenty somethings who seemed like they were gonna be loud but ended up being really cool and respectful. We made Chaga on the fire and enjoyed the night. The next day was one of discovering the park some more, we checked out sand beach, a gorgeous beach in the mountains, the waves were too fierce to get in sadly, next was a place called thunder hole, a bunch of cliffs and rocks that formed a tunnel like structure were big waves rolled into and created a loud booming thud that you could feel, so neat. We both left some ashes near our camp site before rolling on.

 

Leaving Acadia was hard, it’s such a beautifully special place and I felt as though we were just getting into exploring it, but the road was calling to us and much more adventure was ahead of us. We grabbed a hot shower at a little hut that had laundry, quarter showers, wood and vending machines. We continued our journey ever northbound and came across a small roadside stand called ‘Fundy Farms’ where they had an array of homemade products but most significantly Chaga! I was way too excited to see that on the sign and check out there stuff. We ended up getting some stuff and moving on down the road. Just as we were about to leave Maine we happened upon a big blue geo-dome, it was a giant blueberry.  We loved this place, it is blueberry heaven. Jill and the owner talked VWs, we got blueberry pie with blueberry ice cream, got some blueberry jam and blueberry muffins. Our last Maine treat and onto the border. The crossing was a small one into New Brunswick and naturally we got pulled aside with my last name (Krzyzaniak) and a nice long beard. One of those wonderful moments of feeling the ease of being in recovery, nothing to fear. Once in Canada we stopped in a big port city called St. Johns, seemed like a neat city from the little we saw but very big and busy. Had shepherds pie poutine, soo good. If you don’t know the joys of poutine it simply is french fries covered in gravy and smothered with cheese curd, from there anything can happen, on the trip I tried this one, lobster poutine, steak poutine and maple syrup style. This was a favorite growing up in upstate New York. Once in Canada a very distinctive thing that sticks out right away is the highways made of pink, I loved this. The speed limit changes to kilometers and the city/towns exit signs are painted with colorful scenes. The absolute cleanliness is apparent and the vividness of colors and landscapes stands out visually. Our first destination was the Bay of Fundy, the highest, fastest tide change in the world. The national park was beautiful. We stayed here for a few nights. We hiked some of the trails, including a small waterfall trail. I found Chaga of coarse and we got to walk along the ocean floor, collecting many colorful ocean stones. It seemed like miles of ocean floor by day and then as evening came all we walked was covered by ocean again, seeing the tide change was pretty wild. We actually met some folks from North Carolina that were fleeing a big hurricane that hit home while we were gone, hurricane Florence.