The Middle of our Travels in South America: Ecuador

We are in our last month of travels for this trip and it feels as though it is time to get another blog post ready to go. Five and a half months seems like a long time when starting out yet here we are in Peru counting down our last few weeks. Our last post wrapped up our time in Medellín and in this post we will highlight our travels in Ecuador. I was going to include Peru but I think it deserves its own posting!

The post is organized first around our travels (chronological), then followed by a section on travel tips.

We spent a month in Medellín and became very comfortable in this city. There are many places of interest and the Metro system makes navigating the city very easy. I think we covered a lot of it in our last posting but here are a few pictures from our last days in this great city and a few hours in Bogota.

We flew from Medellín to Quito Ecuador via Bogota and found our way to a hostel (The Colonial House) in the Old City of Quito. Quito is very high and we noticed the altitude every time we walked the little hill up to the hostal. We spent about 12 days here and were able to connect with Penny’s friend Claudia who was home visiting family for Christmas. She toured us up Oltavalo, a small town north of Quito with a large artisanal (largest in the Andes) market. While in Quito we visited the many plazas, churches and interesting streets, the middle of the world (aka the equator), and climbed a volcano. And we found a couple of great coffee shops that served some pretty awesome coffee!

One of the special places we visited was the Capilla del Hombre including the home of Oswaldo Guayasamin. He is one of Ecuadors renowned artists and his last project was to build the Capilla del Hombre and to create the artwork that spoke to injustices around the world. One of our regrets will be that we did not purchase a print of his work.

From Quito we decided to travel by bus to Cuenca. To do it all in one day seemed long so we broke the trip into 2 days with a stop in Riobamba. The bus ride from Riobamba to Cuenca was dramatic and beautiful. We were tempted to take the train from Riobamba to Alausi as the description of this rail line sounded amazing; however the weather was overcast and the view would have been limited.

Our prebooked hostel in Cuenca was in a good location and we decided to take a few days to find an apartment to rent. We connected with a lovely family (through Airbnb) and they offered us a furnished apartment just a block from the hostel. We were in the historic center and within walking distance to markets, gyms, and Penny’s spanish tutor. Cuenca is a lovely city and is becoming pretty popular with expats. We did some day trips to nearby communities and to the Cajas National Park. Definitely could have spent more time there and explored more places!

From Cuenca we took another bus to the small coastal fishing village Crucita. A friend of Larry’s (and his wife) have settled in this small village and we wanted an opportunity to visit them and to see the area. The weather was lovely while we were there, the water is warm but still refreshes, the beach is long and conducive to good walks and slowly we were able to learn the ins and outs of life in the village. There is a market for fresh produce and meats (however it is open only on Saturday mornings). Fresh fish can be found in little hidden places. The cost of travel on a collective to one of two larger cities (Manta or Puertoviejo) is pretty cheap ($1 or half price if you are over 65).

One of our highlights was to try paragliding with a local company… not nearly as scary as I (Penny) would have thought!

We left Crucita February 14th making our way to Loja (back in the southern interior of Ecuador) where we caught an early morning  bus to Piura Peru. Both of us enjoyed our short stay in Loja, and although we didn’t explore the area too much, there was a nearby National Park (Podocarpus) that was recommended to us as well as the nearby town of Vilcabamba.

Travel tips:

Here are some blogs covering South America that I have found very helpful:

Along Dusty Roads  These folks travelled for 2 years and documented  the details of their traveling experience.

A long way from tupelo A friend of ours is responsible for this blog. She travelled for about 8 months and provides great details about the places she travelled and how she got there.

Transportation Tips:

The Metro system in Medellín is very straightforward. You can purchase preloaded cards that you swipe at the gate to each station. Once on you can go to the end of the cable cars. Going to Parque Arvi requires the purchase of another ticket.

There is public transit from the airport in Bogato to the downtown (which is where we picked up the graffiti art tour). First you pick up a bus at the airport that takes you to the main bus system. There are a couple of lines that go straight downtown to the central plaza (and may be called J or I lines I think)

The public transit in Quito is pretty straightforward once you try it… although a little intimidating the first time. Most hostels have information on which lines to take to get to the different sites. The Red and Blue lines will get you to the North bus terminal (Blue) and the South bus terminal (Red). People generally are pretty  helpful alerting you to the stops. There is a site online that provides a map of the system: Metro Info for Quito

Places we stayed:

  • Quito – The Colonial House Hostel (well located and good price)
  • Cuenca – Mi Hostal and then found an apartment to rent for a month through Airbnb
  • Crucita – through the expat community found a rental apartment for 3.5 weeks
  • Loja – Real Colon Hostal (well located) (found through either hostel world or hostel booking)

Border Crossings:

  • Colombia to Ecuador we flew Medellín to Bogota and then to Quito via Vive Colombia. The only problem we encountered was a requirement to have a ticket exiting Ecuador. In the end I booked on line (in a rush) and then no-one asked for it. Fortunately the website processed the ticket as a hold and since my payment didn’t go through, we did not have to hassle with changing it once we got to Ecuador.
  • Ecuador to Peru. Based on my research we figured the best crossing was at Macora which required catching a direct bus from Loja to Piura. The bus waits for you and you do not have to take your bags off the bus. There was a departure at 7:00 am with Loja International costing $14E per person. I have heard that the Tumbas crossing is better than the postings online suggest… We decided to see Loja and play it safe. there is also a third crossing that will get you to Chachapoyas but it involves a number of collectivos along the way and seems to be more of an adventure and longer!

 

Still on the Road – South America Version

It has been a few months since our last post!

We covered a far bit of territory over the months since we returned to Canada from Mexico and now we are in our second month in South America (Colombia). This blog is organized around our time in Canada and our first couple of months here in Colombia. We have added at the bottom some general information about traveling in Colombia just in case anyone is thinking about spending some time here…or if we come back:)

First a bit of a catch up. Arriving back in Kelowna at the end of April, we rented our neighbor’s suite for two months (May and June). This gave us an important opportunity to stay connected with friends and family and also to get some yard work done at our house. We invested in a couple of kayaks while we were in Kelowna. These kayaks have now been  hauled out to the island for a month (July) and then back across the prairies and north western Ontario to the Sault (Sault Ste Marie, Ontario). It has been wonderful to be able to get out on the water and see the world from a different perspective. We are looking forward to many years of getting good use out of them.

Our month on Vancouver Island (in Victoria) was spent helping Rachel and Dave settle into their new home. Both Larry and I had big projects to tackle while we were there. Larry pulled a lot of weeds, cut back some deadwood on the trees and built a lovely rock wall at the front of the house. I (Penny) took on a huge pile of mulch and installed a low maintenance irrigation system in the front yard. This is the most time we have spent in Victoria proper and we enjoyed the easy access to the Galloping Goose trail system and the local beaches. Such a lovely city and we are looking forward to spending more time there next year!

The early part of August we spent driving back to Ontario, visiting friends and family on the way. Many thanks to Christine and Art, Jenny, Marilyn and Aldain, Stan and Donna, and Laurie and Marcus for their hospitality as we wound our way across B.C., Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba.

We arrived in Ontario just in time to house sit for Cam and Gail for a couple of weeks (as well as pet sit one of our favorite dogs). Cam and Gail generously welcomed us for 2 months at their place – less our 10 day excursion to the Eastern Townships of Quebec and Southern Ontario. I think their friends were a little shocked at how long we stayed but it worked out pretty well all around. We had lots of time to help build a tree fort and stairs out on their property, visit with Penny’s mom and family, visit with friends, and get in a little bit of kayaking.  Our short trip to the Eastern Townships of Quebec was a great introduction to the biking trails and the wineries of that region. We drove some of the slower highways along the St Lawrence River on our way to Toronto, taking the time to see some of the lovely Ontario communities that dot the seaway. Our main objective was to get to the Blue Jay’s game (they lost). Unfortunately, while we were at the game our bikes were stolen. Next time better locks, take a wheel and the seat off, and don’t go to Toronto!

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Spending time with Penny’s mom at Batchewana Bay, Lake Superior is always a time of visiting memories. And dinner afterwards at the Voyager restaurant is a part of the tradition!

From Toronto we drove through south western Ontario to stay at Penny’s cousin’s cottage on Lake Huron. Such a beautiful place. Even though it was September the water was still a lovely temperature and the sunsets were awesome too. After a couple of days in Ancaster to visit relatives, we headed back to the Sault. We really managed to travel the full width of Ontario and almost circumnavigate Southern Ontario.

We left Ontario early October and flew directly to Armenia, Colombia. Arriving in a new place, especially when the language is different always seems to be a bit of a shock. Being able to stay with our friends Steve and Heidi made our adjustment pretty smooth. While there we explored the surrounding coffee country, watched some parades and just hung out with our friends.

 

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Salento – a small coffee town outside of Armenia. Picturesque and surrounded by green hills, fincas, and wax palms

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Overlooking the Valle de Corcora: a national park that protects the wax palms trees. Again lots of hiking and also trout!

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Coffee valley view from a coffee shop in Buenavista.

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Big Decisions! What coffee to have and what pastry to order 🙂

We spent three and a half weeks in Armenia and then the four of us flew north for a week in Cartagena and Santa Marta. Cartagena was delightful. We stayed at an Airbnb in the old town which allowed us to leisurely explore the streets, parks, sunset viewing sites, and the restaurants. Our time in Santa Marta allowed us to visit Minca (a small village up in the mountains not far from Santa Marta) and Tayrona National park. Both places lend themselves to longer stays either camping (or staying in a hammock) or in hostels, boat trips to more remote beaches, or multiday hikes to lost cities.

November 5th we said our sad good-byes to Steve and Heidi. They returned to Armenia and then on to Paraguay while we headed to Medellín. We were welcomed to Medellín by the slight challenge of securing a seat on the bus at the airport, followed by pouring rain and numerous attempts to grab a taxi. We did eventually arrive at our hostel a little wet and a little late! We have spent a month here exploring the city, living the routine of day to day life, meeting delightful people at our  hostel, continuing to learn spanish, and going to a local gym.

Medellín was known as the murder capital of the world a few decades ago and Colombia has been known in the past for its political conflicts, drug cartels, and a lot of violence. Today the country is on a path to peace and Medellín has been transformed into a cosmopolitan city with amazing infrastructure (the metro is a good example as well as drinkable water from the tap), commerce, sports and culture. There is still a need for caution in some parts of the city – but mostly during the night and on days when the vendors and stores are closed. If you come to Medellīn we highly recommend the Real City Walking Tour as a way to learn more about the city and its history.

Medellin’s transformation has come from the resilience of the Paisas (residents of Medellín) and a principle based city plan that includes social planning combined with architectural design, education with dignity, and transportation links to the poorer communities. Libraries have been built in the poorest communities and their building design has included skateboarding parks, story telling spaces, and computer access. Downtown areas have been reclaimed by putting in place social programs and creating public spaces that are open and inviting. Communities that were once considered dangerous have been reclaimed, in part, through public art and music. These are impressive achievements. However, the people of Medellīn will also talk about the continuing problems prostitution and drug use. They remain proud of their city and we were often approached with a ‘welcome to Medellīn.’ Here are some pictures that will speak better than words.

And a few pictures from a small town outside of Medellín called Guatapé. A worthwhile day trip (and it would make a nice overnight trip as well).

We leave Medellín on the 5th of December. Right now the plan is to spend a couple of months in Ecuador and we are considering Peru as our final destination before heading back to Ontario in mid March. We must be in Victoria for the last week of March because Rachel and Dave are expecting our first grandchild in early April! We are excited to be there to help out and we will be staying in their basement suite over the summer… After that the slate is blank but I am sure we will begin to get a plan together for our next travel plan.

Travel Tips:

  • Colombian currency is in thousands (mils). $10.000 is 10 mil and converts to approximately $4.50 CDN.
  • The international airport is an hour outside of the city. It is pretty easy to catch a public bus (cost $8.000). The bus stops at San Diego and then should also go to the downtown Hotel Nutibarra. Ours didn’t seem to be doing the second stop, so we were directed to the Metro. The metro is easy, but it would be a good idea to download a map before you arrive in Medellín. We ended up catching a cab. They are inexpensive.
  • Street addresses in Medellin for the most part reflect the Carrera and Calle for the location. For example our hostels address is Carrera 81a #47a-48. This means it is on Carrera 81a, 47a is the cross Calle, and 48 is the house number. Very helpful to know.
  • The metro costs a little over $2,000. You can buy a pre-charged card at the ticket booth (it is a tap card for the entrance gates). When you use the last ‘ticket on the card, you just drop it in the slot on the turnstile and then it will let you enter. There is also a civic card which I have not figured out 🙂
  • You can drink the tap water in Medellīn!
  • If you are staying near the Floresta metro station, check out Mercado la America. it is a bit of a walk, but the food there is good quality and good prices.
  • Wine is expensive (and this is in the context of being cheap spenders on wine:)) in Colombia. We found cheap wine at Un Tiendo on Cra 80 and at the Exito.
  • If you go to the escalators electric in comuna 13, try to connect with the grafitti artists. You can buy original art from Chota 13 or check him out on instagram @chota_13
  • Cross the streets carefully! Always look both ways many time.
  • We often heard that such and such a place in Colombia is dangerous and we shouldn’t go there. Subsequently we would meet someone who had been there and really liked the place and had  no problems. Our conclusion is that many places in Colombia are changing and what used to be dangerous is now getting better. Ask around (and even Colombians can be out of sync), and take the normal common sense precautions.

Recommended Places to Visit and Things to Do in Medellín:

  • Parque Arvi
  • Cable cars (2 now and a third is apparently coming)
  • Museo de Arte Moderno
  • Museo Antioquia
  • Jardin Botanica
  • Parque Botero, Berrío, de los Pies Descalzos
  • Comuna 13 and Viente Julio
  • Cerro Volador
  • join a gym or check out yoga
  • Find a Spanish Tutor (I recommend Mile Your Spanish Class Medellin)
  • Stay in a hostal. It is a fun way to meet people and to learn from their experiences. We recommend The Yellow House)

 

Loreto to Kelowna – Learning to Take the Side Roads

In this post, we cover our time spent in Loreto and our return to Kelowna!

Ah Loreto! We spent two months in this small community on the Sea of Cortez from the beginning of February to early April. This part of the world is beautiful, as the dramatic mountains serve as a backdrop to the Sea of Cortez. The intersection of desert, mountains and sea is what we have come to love about the Baja.

Loreto was an easy community to live in with everything we needed in either walking or biking distance. Larry found a gym to work out at.

Our apartment was modest and yet served our needs well. Our neighbour’s three cats adopted us when he was away, we met some wonderful people, and spent more time in a bar in those 2 months than we have in decades!

Early in our stay we were approached by an older (relative to our young old age) gentleman who asked how we were liking Loreto and if we were staying for awhile. He proceeded to tell us about the wonderful expat American and Canadian community that gathered at a local bar on Fridays for crib night… and did we play crib? Yes, we do! Friday nights at Strokers became a highlight of our week. And to our delight every Friday night, except one, we left the evening as winners. Apparently we both have a competitive streak. Getting to know the regulars, many of whom have been coming to Loreto for a decade or more and have built second homes in the community (and are from exotic places like Kamloops, Williams Lake and 108 mile house), was delightful. Through these connections we were introduced to live music nights and ‘new release movie’ showings at ‘The Backyard.’

We arrived in Loreto in February. Loreto is about 31/2 hours north of La Paz and the weather was a little cooler (low 20’s) and the wind (particularly in the afternoon) was very strong. So strong that walking or sitting at the beach and biking was not a lot of fun. Many of the people we met, who have been in Loreto for a number of years, would mention that that the wind was unusual this year. We found that the wind became a limiter on our outdoor activity. Several afternoons as we would head to the beach we would end up turning around and going home because of the wind. On other days when the wind would die down, our time spent at the beach would be rewarded by the sound of humpback whales breaching and manta rays belly flopping. One day Penny was walking along the malecón and dolphins were swimming by, surrounding a fellow who was out on his paddle board. A highlight of our stay in Loreto was the day we spent sighting blue whales… the largest mammal in the world!

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Humpback whales abound

We left Loreto April 4th ready to move on and head home. We would return to Loreto again in the future, however we found 2 months to be too long a stay. Accommodations were more expensive than La Paz. The groceries were reasonably priced, however the selection was not as extensive as in a larger centre. Internet was a big challenge! There are coffee shops and a nice selection of restaurants and lots of seafood to enjoy.

We took a month for the return trip to Kelowna. Our first two nights on the road we stopped in San Ignacio a small community in the middle of the Baja. Its claim to fame includes a 350 year old mission, pictographs in nearby caves, and the laguna on the Pacific side of the Baja where the grey whales winter and calf their babies. There is also a B&B run by a couple from Hudson Hope and a restaurant run by their daughter. Seeing the grey whales as they approach close enough to be touched is one of the most amazing experiences. We highly recommend it!

One of the interesting historic facts about Baja Sur is the number of missions that were established by the Jesuits in the 1700’s. We visited the sites in El Triunfo, San Javier, Loreto, Mulege and San Ignacio. To experience these 300 year old sites on the west coast of North America gives a new perspective to one’s sense of history and the impact of Europeans on the indigenous people groups.

From San Ignacio we drove up the Baja and took a slight detour back to the east coast and San Filipe before crossing the Baja one more time to Ensenada and the Guadalupe Valley. This is a place we have come to know well and it was good to return to a familiar place. We spent a few days there visiting with some friends before we headed up to Tecate and across the border in to S. California. Each time we drive up through California we have experimented with different routes. This time we decided to camp for a few nights in Joshua Tree National Park and then in Giant Sequoia National Park. A little cool but fun!

We spent a few days with friends in Redding California and arrived back in Kelowna at the end of April. We have been in Kelowna for 2 months now and will be heading out to Victoria for the month of July. Rachel and Dave are moving there and we will stay with them before we go east to the Sault for August and September.

From Ontario we will be heading to South America (Colombia, Ecuador, Paraguay, Argentina) and possibly Central America to explore Nicaragua and Guatemala (Antigua).

Travel tips:

  • Driving the Baja is safe (daytime driving recommended), there are numerous places to buy gas and places to stay
  • Beaches outside of Mulege are beautiful and there appears to be lots of free camping with some services
  • We will definitely return and bring kayaks.

Some places to stay in Loreto (and we recommend staying in Loreto unless you want to golf and/or have a one week relaxing holiday, then it makes sense to stay in Loreto Bay):

http://cococabanasloreto.com

http://www.loreto.com/sukasa/

http://www.rentalsloreto.com/loreto-vacation-rentals.php

  • ICBC did reimburse our car insurance for the time we were in Mexico!

Do We Stay or Do We Go?

We recently arrived in Loreto Baja California Sur, a small pueblo on the Sea of Cortez (or the Gulf of California) approximately a 3 and ½ hour drive north of La Paz. Because of problems with the internet in our apartment here (it stopped working the day after we arrived), this post has taken us awhile to get up onto the blog.

Leaving La Paz was harder than we thought it would be. Originally, as our plans were developing last fall, we thought Loreto was were we wanted to spend time and La Paz was the place ‘we thought we should try out!’ It is interesting to us how much we enjoyed our time in La Paz and how challenging we are finding our first few days here in Loreto.

So La Paz… We were delighted with the location of the place we had booked online and sight unseen. We were two blocks from the malecón – a long walking, running and biking boardwalk (albeit made of concrete) that borders the Sea of Cortez at the edge of old La Paz. The malecón extends for approximately 4 – 5 miles, is dotted with sculptures representing the richness of the Sea, contains numerous small beaches with palapas, and is the site of most parades and other community activities. It is a well used promenade by both Paceños (people of La Paz) and extranjeros (foreigners).

One of the first things we noticed in La Paz were the noises of Mexico. Roosters live nearby and they crow well before dawn, dogs bark a most of the night, cars start early, life starts early, and fireworks and karaoke often fill the night air. We also enjoyed lots of great and abundant seafood. Mexicans do street food well! The beaches are clean and the swimming delightful. And we always felt safe.

Our apartment was little and basic but met our needs and our budget. About 3 weeks after we arrived, a young family from Kelowna (who are friends with Rachel and Dave) whom had decided to live in Mexico for a while, also decided to move to La Paz. After a week of solid looking Matt and Nichole and their 2 kids, Abby and Eli, moved into a lovely and quaint apartment 2 doors away from us. It was so unexpected and delightful to have them nearby. It became an opportunity to get to know them better and to spend time with the kids. What also really changed our experience in La Paz was a fortuitous change in our accommodations. Above the quaint apartment that Matt and Nicole found, was an equally quaint 2 bedroom apartment. We were able to rent it for the last 6 weeks of our stay in La Paz. So fun! And we learned that the quality of our living space makes a big difference to our living experience.

One of our hopes for our time here in Mexico, was to take advantage of the opportunity to learn Spanish. We started at El Nopal Spanish School at the beginning of December and finished up at the end of January, averaging 3 classes a week. Juan and Marte and their staff were wonderful to work with and Larry ended up with private lessons the whole time. The school also offers cultural experiences and cooking classes (we learned how to make sopa de Azteca) that we took advantage of as well. We were able to bike to the school the 3 days of the week that we were taking classes, and that became one of the many delights of living in La Paz (but first we had to navigate the one way streets and the idea of rolling four way stops!)

 

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La Paz is not like the resort filled towns of the Cabos, which are about 2 hours to the south. It is a city were ordinary Mexicans live and work and tourism is a minor part of the economy. Many of the extranjeros in La Paz are living on their boats in one of the harbours or in their own condos/ homes in or near the city. It was not unusual to meet people who have ‘been coming to La Paz’ for decades. Hearing their stories often would result in us talking later about this choice people make, once they find a place they like, to keep coming back to it rather than trying different places. We are curious as to what draws people to one place over another and the decision some people make to leave the States or Canada and make the permanent move to another country. We are curious to see if our plan to travel to different places changes and if the novelty of being somewhere new wears off.

There is a very well organized ‘subculture’ in the La Paz extranjero group made up by cruceros (people with cruisers) and sailors. The weather and the seas rule the life of the sailors or crucers. Many wait the weather out in La Paz before heading over to ‘mainland’ Mexico or back up to the States and Canada. They have invested in the community and there efforts seem to be appreciated by people who live there. Our ‘take aways’ from the folks we met were that the sailing and cruising life is a lot of work, can be either really good or really bad for relationships, and it can hold moments of true terror. It can also be cold and wet when you are on a boat even in the tropics!

Activities? One of our favorite days was kayaking the Bahía de la Paz with a local tour company. Other activities included exploring various beaches in and around La Paz. Most of the beaches in town are great for sitting under a palapa reading or listening to podcasts or checking out the tidal mud flats with Abby, Eli and Nicole. There was one beach with great swimming close enough to our apartment that we could bike or walk to it. Side trips included spending the day at the kite boarding classic in La Ventana, spending the day at the Bahía de Sueñas, driving the #1 Hwy to explore el Triunfo, San Bartolo, Los Barillos, and Cabo Pulma. We also did a day excursion to Isla de Espiritu Santo, which came highly recommended, however we would recommend a kayaking excursion rather than a 5 hour ponga trip.

A web site about La Paz activities that is provided by a Canadian expat can be found at rozinlapaz.com, and it was a great source of information for us on cultural and music events while we were there. A highlight was attending 2 small and intimate outdoor music concerts at the Galaria de Arte Tonantzan

Pet peeves? Although we are in Mexico, many of the services geared to extranjeros are priced in USD. The Canadian dollar has been tanking and at times our dollar even dropped against the MXN peso. What we thought would be a totally inexpensive stay turned out to be more moderate… but the food is inexpensive at the grocery stores and mercados.

Do differently? Be more confident that we can find a place once we arrive rather than committing to a monthly accommodation in advance. Before this can happen though, Penny has to overcome her fear of not having a place to sleep and blowing the budget if something cannot be found!

Would we go back? Absolutely!

Viva Vida Despacio (living life slowly)

Our intent with this blog is to keep friends and family up to date, to share some photos of the places we have been, and to capture some of our experiences and learning about the journey. Feel free to skip to the parts you are most interested in!

Living life slowly is becoming my (Penny) new mantra. There have been many adjustments to my thinking for awhile now, and here in Mexico the adjustments are becoming more and more a part of daily life.

When we began  this journey (back in January when we began the process of renting out our house), we had a loose plan and a number of commitments. The final ‘commitments’ were my (Penny) surgery and our celebration of Rachel’s 30th birthday. November 6th, as we headed south from Vancouver we were starting with a pretty blank slate. We had plans to visit friends as we drove south and we  had booked places to live in La Paz BCS and in Loreto BCS.

Between leaving Vancouver and arriving here in La Paz BCS, we travelled through Washington, down the Oregon coast, down the middle of California through Redding (where we stopped for a few days to visit our friends Gary and Diane) to Sacramento.

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Always looking for good and unique coffee shops. This one (The Coffee Girls) is in an old and historic cannery overlooking the Columbia R. meeting the Pacific Ocean with the 4.1 mile long bridge to Washington in the distance. Good coffee!

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Always spectacular, even in rain the Oregon Coast does not disappoint…

From Sacramento we veered east to Placerville and then followed Hwy 49 down the east flank of the Sierra Nevada’s, past Yosemite, and then back out to Fresno. From Fresno we considered heading up to the Giant Sequoia National Park before heading to Mexico however, when we get close to something like a destination we seem to lean towards getting there rather than meandering. We have learned, as we travelled across both Canada and the U.S., that we prefer the secondary roads. Unless we feel we need to make time, we get off the freeway and then just see what we come across. The Giant Sequoia are now  bookmarked for the return journey!

From Fresno we avoided L.A. and it’s unending traffic by taking Hwy 58 and then I 215/15 to Tecate Mexico. Our goal was to cross into Mexico before late afternoon so that we could travel the Mexican Hwy 3 to Por Venir (a small town just east of Ensenada).

Travel Tip: It was helpful that we were familiar with the Mexican Migracion process at the border. In the past we could get our visitor/ tourist visa (which is needed if you are going more than 30 km past the border) in Ensenada. Now this has to be picked up at the border crossing, for a small fee of $25USD each). We had previously bought our car insurance on line (through Baja Travel) (if you are doing this it is important to buy Mexican Liability AND collision and theft). ICBC will apparently reimburse us our Canadian insurance when we come back, as long as we submit all the needed documentation (copy of insurance and our entry and exit stamps).

Driving the Hwy 3 to Por Venir brings nostalgia– Both of us have driven this stretch with friends as we journeyed here to work and serve in communities in the area–All good memories! The Hwy has been vastly improved and the extensive road repairs and changes make the drive quicker and safer.

Arriving in the Valle de Guadalupe brought us into the buzz of evening in a small Mexican community. Picking up groceries at the new Mercado Liz, we carried on to the house we were staying for the weekend. It has been 4 years since the last time we were here and it felt wonderful to become re-familiarized with this place that we love.

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Mercado Liz is the go to grocery shopping location in the Valle de Guadalupe. This area is part of the Ruta de Vina (wine route) is seeing a lot of government and private investment into infrastructure and wineries. The Mercado Liz previously was much smaller and the new one reflects the economic improvements that are impacting the area. So nice to see!

Early Monday morning we begin the ‘new territory’ part of these travels. We had driven a little south of Ensenada but never all the way to the southern tip of the Baja. Leaving Ensenada with cash in our wallets (a big change from traveling on bank and credit cards) and gas in our gas tank, we headed south. Mexico Hwy 1, south from Ensenada goes directly through every town and city that hugs the Pacific Coast of Baja Norte making the journey slow and requiring vigilance to see the topes (speed bumps on the outskirts of towns that are often not marked). Once past the final town of Lázaro Gárdenas the road travels through some relatively untouched Pacific coast and then climbs up to the Cerroes and into extensive vistas of cacti. Very empty. Undulating (up and down) roadway. Minimal shoulders. Mounds of giant boulder rocks. Occasional steep climbs with twisty curves (curvos peligrosos). And many signs saying watch out for cattle. Not a road one would want to travel in the dark!

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Pictures do not capture the unique nature of this area. Everything is bigger and more expansive ‘in person!’

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We are immensely enjoying our Toyota 4 Runner on these travels. We bought it at the end of March (2105) with 95,000 km on it and as of the end of November it is now reading about 121,000 km. That is a lot of time together in a moving vehicle!

Our destination for the night was Guerrero Negro. We had not pre-booked a hotel room as our internet search suggested a couple that looked good. We ended up at a newer one on the outskirts of town “Terra Sal.” We were now in Baja Sur and in MST.

The next day we planned a shorter day of driving as we wanted to check out a small town called Mulege to see if we might want to spend more time there on the return journey (initial impressions were ‘no’). This shorter day of driving gave us time to stop in San Ignacio (a community founded in the early 1700’s (at least that is when the mission was built), and in Santa Rosalia (great street fish tacos).

From Mulege we traveled straight through to La Paz (a brief stop for breakfast in Loreto – a town where we are planning to spend February and March). We have now been a week and a half in La Paz and are still finding our way around and settling into the gentle routine this lovely city offers to us.

To come in our next blog: the gift of living life slowly and learning (more) Spanish in La Paz! Here are a couple of pictures to give you a taste!

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Jacques Cousteau gazing over the Sea of Cortez (the aquarium of the world) on the shores of the La Paz Malecón

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Independence Day Parade, November 20th…

The Game Plan

Another couple ‘hits the road!’ Being a part of the tail end of the boomers, and having reached the milestone of 65 (Larry), we paused for a while and asked ourselves the question: ‘What now?’ Having been an avid reader of International Magazine for a number of years Larry quickly pointed out how much less costly it can be living in a bunch of nice countries. Getting out the calculator we concluded that if we rented out our house and lived in less expensive locations, we ‘should’ be able to enjoy a season of (budget) traveling.

In April 2015 we put our house into the hands of renters and started the traveling journey. First, however, we needed to tie up some loose ends here in Canada. 2015 was a year of many celebrations including graduations, birthdays (the milestone kind), visits with family in Alberta and Ontario, and awaiting a minor surgery (for Penny). In our first six months we ‘lived’ in Twin Lakes (south of Penticton), Cobble Hill (Vancouver Island), Sault Ste. Marie Ontario, and also enjoyed a final few weeks back in Kelowna.

The journey so far has been one of shifting our perspective on our planning horizon. Having spent the previous decades planning careers and raising a family, we are now learning to become content with the question of ‘Where shall we go for the next 2 to 3 months?’ This is quickly followed by the question: ‘Where will we live while we are there?’ And once we arrive, the time horizon of the question we pose becomes much shorter – ‘What shall we do today?’ Thus far we have been traveling via vehicle (a 2004 Toyota 4Runner) that is loaded up with our bikes, sometimes our golf clubs, some minimal camping gear (the back up plan), and a few other essentials. Perhaps in 2016 we will be ready to convert to a pack back and an airline ticket!

November we point our truck towards Mexico and anticipate six months of exploring Baja Sur – primarily the Sea of Cortez side of the state. We have spent time in Baja Norte and are looking forward to spending time in a culture we love and exploring some new places.

Here are some pictures of the places we have been thus far!

Similkameen River, Keremeos BC

Similkameen River, Keremeos BC

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Little Tunnel, KVR cycling trail north of Naramata

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Kaledan, Okanagan Vally on the shores of Skaha Lake (another cycling trail)

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Kinsol Trestles Vancouver Island (cycling trail)

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Exploring Salt Spring Island (Penny with our daughters Rachel and Alysha)

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Sombrio Beach

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Sandbar Lake Provincial Park Ontario (Northern) and coffee!

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Batchewana Provincial Park Lake Superior, Ontario

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Family Time Sleeping Dunes National Park, Lake Michigan, Mich (swimming September 26th!!)

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Bad lands South Dakota

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Mount Rushmore, Black Hills South Dakota

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Historic Lead, South Dakota

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Little Big Horn, Indian Memorial, Montana

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Little Big Horn Cemetery, Montana