Thursday, July 17, 2014

… and that’s all she wrote.

posted by Scot

The suspension bridge at the top of the Squamish Sea to Sky Gondola

Aaaaand we’re back.  We finished off our mini tour of B.C., visiting family and friends who are so close that we consider them family.

Hanging out with the McC's in the water park at Stanley Park, Vancouver
We had a great quick stop in Vancouver and saw D and the kids, then headed up to Squamish where we barbecued, visited with the McJs, and checked out the new sea to sky gondola.

The incredible view from the top of the Sea to Sky gondola.
After that we drove the gorgeous Duthie Lake road to the Okanagan, and stayed with A, G and M in Vernon.

A, G and M at the end of their dock in Vernon.
And now we’re home.  It is a bit weird being back.  After all the living we managed to cram into the last year, it is strange how little things have changed here.  I guess maybe it is us that have changed, and it feels like the world should have changed with us.  But it hasn’t.  In a way I suppose that is reassuring.

The rest of our summer will be spent catching up with everyone here.  I have a few days before I go back to work, then I’ll be full on, getting back up to speed.  That is a bit intimidating, but I’m sure it won’t take long to get back into the full swing of things.

I feel like I should write something profound now that we are home.  I have thought a lot about this blog post.  Would it be the last one, or would we try to keep going?  Given how busy our lives tend to be with everyone in school and at work, at least for now, I have decided this will be the last post.

So what deep and emotionally satisfying thing can I say in closing?  Frankly, I am at a loss.  Did we learn some lasting life-lessons in the last year?  Absolutely.  But I’m not sure I feel comfortable trying to dispense them as some kind of new-found wisdom.  If anything, I would hope this blog might serve to propel a reader or two out into the world on an exploit of their own, to gain their own personal insights and perspectives.

What I will say, though, is how grateful we are to be back here.  We have seen a lot of places, and a lot of different lifestyles in the last year.  We have seen unbelievable wealth, and unimagined poverty.  Sometimes in the same country.  That has made us more thankful for everything we have than we have ever been before.

We have seen beautiful places, but none to rival our daily surroundings.  We have met phenomenal people, but haven’t been anywhere that people are as happy, friendly, kind and supportive as they are right here. 

The world we have seen is a great place to explore.  But the home we have come back to is unparalleled, at least from what we have seen so far.

Our little corner of the world.
So if you have the inclination, why not get out there and explore a bit of the world yourself?  If you find some deep meaning or profound lesson that you want to share, write us a comment at the end of this post.  And if you are ever in our neighbourhood, drop us a line to let us know you’re in town.  We’d love to share a hike, a bike ride, or a ski run with you, and hear about your experiences, now that you know about ours.

Until our next adventure, though, that is all for now.  Thanks for reading.  We are glad you came along for the ride.

The end .... for now.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Best of the Western Caribbean

Posted by Scot

Boats moored at the entrance to the Rio Dulce, Livingston, Guatemala.
It’s been over a month now since we moved off the boat.  So it is probably time to start looking back with nostalgia at some of the places we went, and the things we did.  For some of us, anyway (i.e. me).  Even though we are now travelling on the west coast of Canada, the kids have refused to let me walk through a marina and look at boats.  I can still evoke wails of protest by threatening to do a “Captain Ron”.  For those that haven’t seen the movie (shame on you), that means changing our minds at the last minute and heading back out to sea to continue living a cruising lifestyle.  For now, the kids just want to get back home so they can see their friends and sleep in their own beds.

Anyway, I am already at the stage of reminiscing about our time aboard Monashee.  While we were on the boat, we sailed in 9 different countries: the U.S., Bahamas, Cuba, Jamaica, the Cayman Islands, Honduras, Guatemala, Belize, and Mexico.

We specifically chose to limit our cruising to the Western Caribbean.  Most people, when they talk about sailing in the Caribbean, mean the Eastern islands.  The west is much less populated with cruisers, and more “off the beaten track”.  For us, this fit the bill perfectly, and was exactly what we were looking for.

Here then, in no particular order, are some of our fondest memories of our time on the boat. 

Favourite Anchorage

Empty beach in the Berry Islands, Bahamas.
We anchored as much as we possibly could.  It was cheaper, quieter, and cleaner than staying in marinas.  Most of the places we anchored had shallow, clear water, and we were able to check our anchor set and have a comfortable sleep hanging on our 55 lb. Rocna pretty much every time.  The best anchoring we had was almost exclusively in the Bahamas.  Probably our three favourite anchorages were there.  We were in the Berry Islands and the Exumas early in the season, and there was no one around.

Nobody around for miles.
Our favourite anchorage of the whole trip came early on.  Hoffman’s Cay was the second place we dropped the hook in the Berry Islands.  We had a couple of miles of empty beach to ourselves.  The nearest boat turned out to belong to Bruce and Val, a Canadian couple, on Windrush.  Bruce took us conching, and taught us the secret art of cleaning the conch.  It was also there that we found our first blue hole.  Again, we had it all to ourselves, and spent a couple of hours jumping off the cliff and floating in an unbelievable paradise.

Learning to conch.
The blue hole at Hoffman's Cay, Berry Islands, Bahamas.
It was also at Hoffman’s Cay that we celebrated Halloween, with Katie’s awesome party.  We danced on the boat under the stars, playing our music and turning on the underwater lights, secure in the fact that we weren’t disturbing anyone else around, since there wasn’t another boat to be seen.

Our Halloween party.  The first of many great parties on Monashee.

Best Sailing

We had some really great sailing while we were out.  We also had a lot of not very good sailing, some really crappy sailing, and a fair bit of motoring, too.

When you are just out sailing for the weekend, you end up going in all directions, and trying your boat out on every tack, all in the same day.  When you are sailing long distances, though, you sail the same direction for days and weeks on end.  Since the wind in the Caribbean is pretty consistently from the east, that meant as we were heading south, we were mostly on a port tack.  We never really sailed on a starboard tack until after we left Guatemala, months into our trip.  Which was funny, because the boat did a few things on a starboard tack that were unusual, and we didn’t even know about them for months.

Some of the best sailing we had was in Belize, when we finally did get on a starboard tack.  With the barrier reef blocking the waves, and a steady 15 to 20 knots on our beam, we flew along, as if we were on a lake.  Monashee loved being on a beam reach, and would happily kite along at 7 or 8 knots in the calm water.

But I think our favourite sailing of the whole trip was along the north coast of Jamaica.  This was the only place that we were consistently pointed downwind during the trip, heading straight west in the prevailing easterlies.  Despite some big following waves, we had a wonderful smooth ride, and we really got to use our spinnaker to fly along.  It was magnificent, and provided us with days we will never forget.

Best Marina

As a rule, we tried to anchor out as much as possible.  Marinas are kind of like RV parks for boats.  You are usually right up against your neighbour, paying an exorbitant amount to tie your boat up to a decrepit dock, and are often using pretty grotty, shared bathrooms, and dealing with the wakes of other boats constantly going by. 

On the upside, though, you can get right off the boat and go for a walk.  Getting a little space away from each other was sometimes worth any price.  Also, you have electricity and water close at hand, so if you want, you can run the air conditioning and shower to your heart’s content.

The runner up best marina we stayed in was Tortugal, on the Rio Dulce.  It wasn’t the fanciest place we stayed, but it was clean, the showers were great, the staff were pleasant, and we met some of the nicest people on our trip there.  In fact, if we had to go back to one marina, it would probably be Tortugal.

Enjoying the empty infinity pool at Resorts World Bimini, Bahamas.
The winner in this category gets the nod mainly because we had the whole place to ourselves.  In Bimini, the first place we stopped in the Bahamas, we treated ourselves to a couple of nights at the expensive Bimini Resorts World marina.  We were there in the lowest of low seasons, and there was no one else at the docks, or in the beautiful pools around the marina.  Although the place was starting to show a bit of wear, for the Caribbean, it was still pretty fancy, and it was a great way to start our trip.

The weather wasn't great, but we enjoyed the modern floating docks, new(ish) facilities, and water and power.  With no one else around.  Resorts World Biminis, Bahamas.

Best Snorkelling

Without a doubt, our best snorkelling was in the Bahamas.  Probably the single best experience we had was in Warderick Wells, where the reefs and fish are protected, and grow to amazing sizes.  But pretty much any of the islands in the Exumas chain provided great snorkelling experiences.

Lionfish at Warderick Wells, Exumas, Bahamas.

Best Beach

Our favourite beach was on the ope Atlantic side of Stocking Island, just off Georgetown in the Bahamas.  We ended up staying for about six weeks in Georgetown, what with a trip home to work, a visit from my parents, and Christmas and New Year’s holding us in once place.

Waves.  Fun.  Stocking Island, Bahamas.
While the Georgetown side of the island was busy with boats and people, a 5 or 10 minute walk up and over Stocking Island brought us to a beautiful wind swept beach that ran for miles and miles, and was almost always empty.  The cruisers in Georgetown worked to keep the beach clean, so we didn’t see the usual plastic trash that defiles most open ocean beaches in more remote places.  Playing in the waves on Christmas Day is a memory that will last a long time.

Walking on the empty beach with Grandma, Stocking Island, Bahamas.

Best Diving

We only went diving in a couple of places.  For some reason, Alexander and I seemed prone to ear infections after diving, which put a damper on the experience.

We did our PADI course in the Caymans, and enjoyed diving there right off the beach.  But the best diving we had was in Honduras.  This ranks as number one for a couple of reasons.  It was remarkably cheap, especially compared to the cost of diving in the Caymans.  It was the first dive we went on without an instructor.  And we got to dive on the wreck of a ship and a plane, which had been sunk right next to each other.  The whole thing was pretty cool.  Too bad my ears hurt for weeks after.

Wreck dive on Roatan, Honduras.

Favourite Country

Lake Atitlan, Guatemala.
Looking at the list of favourites above, you would think the Bahamas would be the clear winner for the best country overall, since it had our favourite beach, best snorkelling, and the best marina.  While the Bahamas were great, they weren’t all that different from places we had been before.  Lots of cruisers and tourists make it to the Bahamas, so the sense of adventure there is slightly less than other places.

Cuba, on the other hand, was different than any place we had ever been.  Cuba is an anachronism wrapped in an enigma.  (An enigmanism?  Or maybe an anachronigma?).  It is like the whole country got frozen in the late fifties, and things have just been decaying elegantly ever since.  We loved our time exploring there.  The people were incredibly friendly, the music was beautiful, and the way they carved joyful lives out of difficult circumstances was uplifting.

Walking in Santiago de Cuba.
Sweet ride in Holguin, Cuba.
Park Central, Gibara, Cuba.
Our favourite country overall, though, was Guatemala.  Again, it gets the nod mainly because it was one of the places that was the most different from home.  The interior of the country, around Antigua and Panajachel were remarkable with volcanic geography everywhere.  We were surprised by the number of people in traditional dress, living fairly traditional lives.  We loved visiting the ancient Mayan ruins at Tikal.  Adding a bit of a modern economy on top of all that made it easier to travel than Cuba, so this is the place that wins for our favourite country overall.

Market day in Panajachel, Guatemala.
"Chicken Bus", in Antigua, Guatemala.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

It turns out, you can go home again.

Posted by Scot

Oh, Canada.  Thanks for taking us back.
In North America, there are one or two nations that are a bit more vocal than the others about calling themselves “the greatest country on earth.” (OK, one.  It knows who it is).

I certainly don’t pretend to be qualified to be the judge of something like that.  I’m not even sure how you could objectively measure that kind of thing.  Oh, sure, I suppose you could look at things like education, health care, life span, income, poverty levels, etc., but really, what would any of that prove?

But I digress…

My point is, whatever nation is the best on earth, as we sailed aboard the Black Ball Ferry into Victoria Harbour, it was immediately clear to us that this was by far the cleanest and most beautiful city harbour we have seen anywhere.  Driving north on Vancouver Island towards my parents place, we couldn’t help noticing how incredibly green everything was.  How calm and pleasant the traffic was.  How clean the city streets were.  All the things that we used to take for granted stood out in stark contrast to everything we have been exposed to in the last year.  Greatest country on earth?  Like I say, who knows?  I haven’t been to every country on earth.  But I can say without a doubt, I am sure glad I live in this one.

Log booms.  A sure sign we are back in B.C. ...
...and another one.  Not only have we not seen any logging trucks since we left Canada, in most places we haven't really seen trees.  Hopefully they'll remember to leave some in our forests for us to enjoy.
We’ve had a great time visiting my folks for the last few days.  The day after we arrived, we went back in to Victoria to take in an IMAX and tour the legislature, which is something we never did when we lived here.  We were really proud of the great tour the guide gave us at the parliament buildings.  The tour guides here could teach a thing or two to some of the guides we had on tours in the states.

Hanging with some of the local Canadians at the IMAX.

We have also been trying to keep ourselves fit in anticipation of some hiking we plan to do when we get back to the mountains.  We took a morning and climbed up Mount Tzouhalem just outside of Duncan, which is right behind our old house.  We also hiked out to the Kinsol Trestle, which at one time was the biggest train trestle in the world.

The Kinsol Trestle Bridge.
Enjoying the temperatures in the low 20s.  Now we can really do some hiking.
The U.S. doesn't have the market cornered on gun culture.  Although maybe this sign was mocking that culture.  Not exactly sure.  Pretty funny, though.
Today, we hiked down to the ocean and watched boats battle their way through Dodds Narrows.  This thin gap between Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands channels a lot of water through a small space in a hurry.  The current was running somewhere around five knots when we were there today.  Still, a couple of boats fought their way through, despite the rapids and eddies that had built up in the channel.  Great fun to sit and watch. 

Working through the rapids in Dodd Narrows.
Taking a lunch break next to the ocean.
The other cool thing about the hike down to the narrows was that someone had taken it upon themselves to add a little wildlife to the environment.  For the first half of the hike, there were toy dinosaurs posed at various spots throughout the forest.  Some of them were really small, and you could easily have missed them all if you weren’t looking.  Fortunately, Christopher spied the first one, and then we kept our eyes open and found a bunch more.  Pretty great way to make the  hike fun for the kids.

2014-07-09 13.55.17
Aauugh!  Dinosaurs!
And more dinosaurs.  What a great way to make our walk fun for the kids.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Best of the USA

Posted by the whole crew

Our route, corner to corner from the Atlantic to the Pacific

Based on extensive media research, we here at moving mountains have come to the conclusion that people like lists.  Top 10 celebrity nose jobs, favourite bar-b-cue ribs recipes, greatest kitten videos.  Lists rule the internet.  So, after travelling corner to corner and back again, in honour of the 4th of July, we sat down and put together a list of random things we liked  (and a few things we didn’t like so much) about our great neighbour to the south.

To start with, for posterity, here is a list of all 27 states we have travelled through on this trip: Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, South Dakota, Minnesota, Illinois, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Washington D.C., Maryland, Delaware, New York, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, Oregon, Washington State.

Best City

We’ve seen a lot of major cities on our trip.  Some (like New York, New Orleans, and Las Vegas) were pretty much what we expected, without too many big surprises.  They were victims of their prominent public images.  Still, it was fun to see all the famous sites in person.

Christopher, helping out with the refurbishment going on at the Washington Monument
Our favourite city overall was Washington, D.C.  While it gets a lot of bad press for both politics and crime, the downtown area where we stayed was clean and welcoming.  The history displayed in the  monuments and the Smithsonian museums could have kept us busy for a lot more time than we had.  Generally speaking, as a family, we don’t tend to have as much fun in cities as we do in smaller towns and rural places.  But D.C. is a city that would be worth going back to and exploring some more.

Taking a bike tour of the D.C. Monuments was a great way to get an appreciation for the city, and some American history.

Best Museum

This was a tricky one for us.  The museums at the Smithsonian are incredible, and impressive.  And Christopher loved the Kennedy Space center in Florida.

But the overall winner was the World War II museum in New Orleans.  This was an unexpected surprise, and is really well done.  If you ever go, shell out the extra bucks to see the Tom Hanks movie.  The submarine adventure is also pretty good, but if you want to save a few dollars you could do without it.

The World War II museum was really well done.  They even had some exhibits showing the Canadian contribution at D-day.

Best Restaurant

Finding good places to feed a family when you are living out of hotels is a real challenge.  Fast food is   ubiquitous, and cheap, but it is hard to find a place where you can feel that what you are giving your kids is nutritious in any way.  More formal, sit-down restaurants tend to get pretty expensive when you tally up meals for five.  And we found the portions in the U.S. were usually too huge to contemplate (we often tried to beat both these problems by sharing meals, but then we could never know for sure if we would have enough).

Despite the “huge meal syndrome”, the Olive Garden gets an honourable mention in this category.  A few times, when we were really starving, the all you can eat salad and bread helped to quell a real-life hunger games from breaking out.  One of the proudest moments of our trip was navigating from New York’s Central Park directly to the subway station adjacent to the Olive Garden in Times Square, without poking our heads above ground once.  Pretty good for a family from a town of 3,000 people.

The clear winner for best restaurant, though, goes to The Whole Enchilada, in Ft. Lauderdale.  This place perfectly hits the middle ground for food which is relatively inexpensive and prepared quickly, but is still fresh and healthy.  The help-yourself salsa bar has 6 different types of home made salsa which you can add at will to your burrito or chips.  The mango salsa was a particular favourite.

The whole enchilada, winner of our favourite restaurant award.  The cheque and trophy are in the mail.
Having said all that, the family vote for our favourite meal goes to the Hot Pot and Sushi restaurant where we had Sara’s birthday dinner, in Portland.  This was one of those pleasant surprises that are the best part of travelling. 

Our guilty secret is this.  Sometimes, in an effort to get a cheap, but decent meal, we have resorted to eating at the nearest Ikea, where we know we won’t break the bank (heck, some of them feed kids free on Tuesday), but will still get an actual meal involving vegetables and everything.  So, on the night of Sara’s birthday, we found ourselves in Portland, not too far from Ikea.  We were headed there for dinner (I know, big birthday celebration, right?) when we spotted the Hot Pot and Sushi restaurant nearby.

Watching the sushi train, at Hot Pot and Sushi in Portland.
On the west coast, we are used to having cheap, high quality sushi.  In the rest of the States, sushi still seems to be a pretty high end specialty food, so we haven’t eaten much recently.  Since we are all fans, we decided to forego Ikea, and indulge in sushi instead.  It turns out that it was one of those sushi restaurants where you all sit next to this little conveyor belt, and just pick out the plates that interest you.  At the end of the meal, they count the plates, and that is how they charge you.  The kids loved the conveyor belt idea, and it was great fun to watch the dinner options go by, and just grab what looked interesting.  30 plates later, we were as full as could be.  Sara says it was her favourite birthday dinner ever.

Best birthday dinner ever!

Best Hotel

Our favourite hotel chain was the Marriott Residence Inn, since we could generally get an extra bedroom and a kitchenette for a reasonable price.  For a single overnight on a road trip, they provide a pretty comfortable stay for a family.  But they are fairly standard, with nothing too exciting about them, so when we are talking about the best hotel overall, none of the Residence Inns make the list.

The runner up award for the single best hotel we stayed at goes to the Hilton Vacation Club hotel in Orlando, Florida.  Because we hit it in off-season (October), we got a huge, fancy, two bedroom suite with a full kitchen and living room for less than the cost of a lot of the basic hotel rooms we stayed in during the summer.  The massive pool, where they projected a movie in the evening helped to launch this place into our top two.  In a way, it was almost a shame that our hotel in Orlando was so great, since most of our time there was spent at Universal and Disneyworld, so we didn’t really get a chance to enjoy it.

2013-10-01 11.02.13
Taking time out from our awesome hotel to enjoy Hogwarts at Universal Studio.

The winner in this category actually suffered a bit from our off season timing.  We arrived at the Glacier Canyon Lodge in the Wisconsin Dells exactly 5 minutes before they shut down most of the fun stuff for the winter.  From the registration desk, we watched out the window as the last go-karts of the year made their way around the track.  As we carried our luggage into our room, we could see them turn off the fountains at the outdoor water park for the last time that summer.

2013-09-03 18.33.05
Still lots of fun at the indoor portion of the water park at in the Wisonsin Dells.
2013-09-03 16.17.05
Ropes course at the Glacier Canyon Lodge.

Even without those things, though, the indoor water slides, arcades, and rope course made this place a legendary family stop.  The kids are still talking about the Hurricane, and the giant bucket of water that dumped on their heads.  And being there in the fall meant no people, and no line ups.  Add in a good sized room for a reasonable off-season price, and this place gets the award for our best hotel stay of the trip.

Best National Park

The rocks and views at Zion were incredible.
The vote here was split between Zion and Carlsbad Caverns.  In then end, though the Caverns get the nod, due to their unique environment.  And the fact that it wasn’t 40 degrees C out while we were enjoying them.  Where else can you spend the day hiking underground, looking at incredibly huge caves and crazy formations.  Definitely a must see if you are in New Mexico.

Descending into the depths at Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico.

Best Public Restroom

This is a pretty critical category when you are travelling with kids.  Without a doubt, Ceasar’s Palace, Las Vegas is the winner.

The losers in this category are too numerous to mention.  Suffice it to say, our bladder control has improved significantly along the highways of America.

Ummm, Mom, all this water.... can we go find a bathroom?

Best Pastry

We’d like to sound all classy, and say the Beignets in New Orleans were the winners here.  These light and flaky deep fried pastries covered in powdered sugar were definitely a highlight of our trip to the Big Easy.


However, the real winner here was the Cinnabon Cinnabites that we had at a Taco Bell in Biloxi, Mississippi.  These were like warm, crunchy sugar donut Timbits with a sweet creamy custard filling.  Mmmmmm!

Mmmmm, Cinnabon.

Best Town Name

Bunkie, Louisiana.  Made us think of the McJ’s place at Gambier.

This one is a test to see if Shakey has read this far.