Monday, May 7, 2018

Different But The Same

A plane in mid-January took us back to Nicaragua, a place that regular readers of this blog may be tired of hearing about. Well... we did some different things and tried to take some different pictures to keep it interesting. We hope you enjoy.

To get you in the right mindset, below is a picture of one of the standard scenic sunsets.

For the 1st week of our trip, we overlapped with Julia's brother, Mike, and his wife Ashley, on their honeymoon. They appreciated the company at happy hour and on the various tours we did through Osman and Angie's travel company Tranquilo Tours and Travel.

Tour #1: A full day that included a stop at Catarina for the view and shopping, a canopy tour in the foothills of Mombacho Volcano, and finished off with lunch and swimming at Laguna de Apoyo.

Tour #2: Exploring the Flor de Caña factory and a history walk around León. We drank some really good rum and learned some interesting things about the history of the area.

Tour #3:  Another full day that included a mandarin orange farm, cigar factory, boat around the islands outside of Granada, tour of Fortaleza El Coyotepe, and then viewing the lava of Masaya Volcano at night. Some things we have done a few times before but we still managed to find new experiences. We stopped at a roadside stand to buy some oranges and Osman wasn't impressed with the display, the guy told us we could pick our own straight from the trees in their backyard if we wanted. So we walked around their large farm filled with fruit trees of multiple types and found the good stuff. At the cigar factory, Julia's brother Mike got to roll his own cigar. On the boat tour, we saw some Capuchin monkeys that we hadn't seen before, and learned more since Osman was our guide. Then toured an old fort/prison up on a hill called Fortaleza El Coyotepe and learned about it's dark past. Finally, when the sun set, we waited in line to see the lava of Volcano Masaya at night, it was very impressive.


That first week went fairly quickly, and we soon settled into a routine. We visited the resort pool, we played with the kids, and often did both at the same time. I played a lot of golf thanks to an unlimited pass for the month. I proudly played 234 holes, or 26 rounds of 9. It was kind of my dream month. The lone break from our schedule was a big party for Kaiden's 5th birthday. The pictures below should tell the whole story.

Here are some other pictures of the kids and activities we did with them.

(We messed around some toy lights and my camera settings, handwriting credit to Julia)

Alright, that is enough about the nephews. We were lucky this trip to have 2 visitors during the month of February. First off was Julia's former coworker and now good friend, Kelsea, from Juneau Alaska. She was seeking some sunshine and the timing worked out perfectly since my brother Peter was to arrive a few days after her.

Here is a quick description of how the busy but awesome 10 days went down:

  • Picked Kelsea up from the airport, hopped a chicken bus up to León, did the usual things (cathedral rooftop, checking out the churches, outdoor grills for dinner, strolling the central park, perusing the market), bused down to Granada, again did the usual things (boat tour of the islettas, climbing up the La Merced bell tower, exploring the central park, visited the cemetery, meandering through the market).
  • After Granada, it was to the airport to pickup Peter, all of us back to the Gran Pacifica resort where we did the usual things (played golf, happy hour drinks, swimming in the ocean, dinner at Burrito Bandidos), tried some new adventures with breakfast and sweat lodge at the hostel Mind The Gap (where 3 times we sat in a small hut with steaming rocks for 10 min before running into the ocean to cool off), did a day-tour with Osman (Volcano Masaya, Catarina, Laguna de Apoyo).
  • We left the resort and said goodbye to Kelsea, hopped a chicken bus up to León with Peter, did the usual things (see above), bused down to Granada, repeated the usual activities (see above but with a few exceptions), early morning taxi to airport where we said goodbye to Peter and caught a ride back to the resort with Osman.

With that, the tour guide portion of our trip ended. Below are a few pictures.

(León Cathedral rooftop)

(Sweat lodge hut at Mind The Gap, man on the left is preparing the very hot stones)

The day after Peter left, Julia's parents arrived for their regular 6 week visit. We moved into an apartment that one of the property owners built behind his house for our final 4 nights at the resort. Golf was played and drinks were had by the pool.

Aside from the regular stuff you have all heard about, we were lucky to be able to witness first hand the turtle release program that Angie and Osman have been a part of. To protect the turtle population from poachers, they have locals who monitor the beaches and alert Osman when they see a turtle coming ashore to lay her eggs. The eggs are then collected and buried under the sand in an enclosure, and roughly 45 days later, they begin to hatch. All of the babies are then released at sunset into the ocean to protect them from predators.

During our first few days here, we got to watch a mother lay her eggs at night and it really was a phenomenal sight.

We then saw the last step in the process a few days before we left, when one of the previous nests began to hatch and over 100 tiny turtles were released into the ocean.

 Our last night in Nicaragua was spent with the whole family at a tobacco farm near Granada owned by one of the residents of the resort. We stayed in a beautiful old farm house with views of Volcano Mombacho and gigantic rooms.

(In Liberia, looking or a hostel during a parade) 

Our flight back to the States left out of Liberia, Costa Rica, so our final few nights of the trip were spent lounging on beaches and paying a little bit more for food and lodging. It was good to slip back into the backpacker lifestyle for a few days, punctuated by catching a local bus at 6 AM to get us to the airport for a fraction of the cost that everyone else pays.

We arrived back in Oregon in early March and had a busy month, but I will wait and tell you more about it on the next post. The post will also describe how we got to our current temporary home in southern Alabama, so you won't want to miss that.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Write Yourself A List

Our goal of finding a Fall assignment for Julia in Portland, ME was a success. The added bonus to this location was the proximity to a friend's wedding (Shawn and Merebea) that took place in Rhode Island in mid-September. With a set date we needed to be on the East Coast, we had about a week after our wedding to get ready for the next road trip. We loaded up the car with our necessities, including the cat, and put the rest into a storage unit. We are starting to get good at this.

Here is a quick rundown of our route, starting in Kelso, WA:
  • Coeur d'Alene, ID
  • Miles City, MT
  • Minneapolis, MN 
    • (Visited my cousin Kristen and Kent)
  • Chicago, IL 
    • (Visited Julia's cousin Keith, Janell, and their adorable twin boys. Ate deep dish pizza.)
  • State College, PA 
    • (Visited Hoelter family friends, the Voigts)
  • Little Compton, RI 
    • (Spent 2 nights here for the wedding. It was an awesome weekend, with multiple social events and a beautiful ceremony. The food was amazing, especially the grilled oysters. The live band was great and had the bride's family dancing on the tables. The setting was gorgeous and gave us a true look at East Coast living. It was particularly nice to reunite with college friends, Shawn and Jim, it had been way too long.) 
  • Portland, ME 
    • (Home for the next 3 months)
We moved into a 2 bedroom apartment on the first floor of an old sectioned off house that Julia found on Craigslist. It had a beautiful kitchen, some outdated furniture, and plenty of room for the cat to run around (or just sleep). The other main perk of the apartment, it was only a mile from Julia's work. That would prove more useful than we had originally thought.

I will talk about our time in Maine in the following sections:

In The City -

  • We lived in the suburb of Westbrook, about a 15 minute drive from downtown Portland. We could walk to neighborhood restaurants and grocery stores or easily drive into the city for more. The heart of the city sits on a peninsula the juts into Casco Bay. The waterfront is lined with working fishing wharfs, restaurants, and expensive shops. Just like the Portland of Oregon, housing prices are skyrocketing as bars and upscale dining lure the younger generation to be within walking distance of the action. Large cruise ships are fairly common, as this route is popular during the fall colors and when Caribbean storms make going south not an option. Also, the area is apparently becoming a very popular weekend getaway destination for people from the bigger cities. 

  • For Julia's birthday activity, we took a lobster boat tour around Casco Bay, where we pulled up pots and picked through the catch looking for keepers. The best part was being able to buy 6 lobsters to take home, for $5 a piece. Our next 3 meals at home were as follows; whole lobsters that we boiled, cracked open, and dipped in butter. Then homemade lobster ravioli the next night. Finally, lobster grilled cheese sandwiches. Those were a good couple days. 

  • Another day trip we took in the bay was a short ferry ride to Peaks Island. We rented a golf cart for an hour to explore the exterior and take in the views. Then drank some local beer while eating fish & chips. 
  • Around the bay, the other thing to do is to check out the numerous old forts and picturesque lighthouses. Namely, Fort Williams, Fort Gorges, Portland Head Light, and Spring Point Ledge Lighthouse. All are scenic and somewhat old, with sweeping views of the rocky coastland. As you will see from the pictures, we experienced some perfect weather for most of our time in New England.

  • There were some indoor activities as well, such as musical concerts. The 2 we went to were both groups from the Northwest, so it wasn't quite a true east coast experience, but we did enjoy hearing them talk about our hometowns. We saw Josh Ritter, born and raised in Moscow, Idaho; an artist we knew decently but enjoyed hearing more of his music. It was fun to see his enthusiasm and now many of his songs are creeping up my iTunes "most played" list. The other show was Pink Martini, during which Julia got to go up on stage, with about 50 other women, while they sang "I Am Woman Hear Me Roar". Then she stayed up there and danced for another song until security had to forcibly remove her (joke). For the last song, we joined the conga line and danced across the front of the stage, feeling a little self conscious. They put on a great show.

Outside The City - 

  • We arrived in Portland about 2 weeks before Julia's work assignment started, so we took advantage and visited some sites further north. First stop was Acadia National Park. It is a series of rocky islands that are covered in trees with great hiking and coastline views. We drank wine and ate dinner while watching the sunset from Cadillac Mountain. That night we tried to sleep in our car and decided never to try again. 

  • After 24 hrs in Acadia, we drove up to Millinocket for access to Baxter State Park. We had heard the best hike in the state was up to the top of Mount Katahdin (the highest point in Maine at 5,267ft) and we had the time and good weather to do it. Up early, we began the hike from the Abol Campground (there are numerous routes to the top, we chose the easiest). It was a long uphill hike, partly in the trees before some boulder scrambling and then along the "table top" to the peak. The views were amazing, but the coolest part is that the top is the ending point for the Appalachian Trail. We saw roughly 30 hikers finish their 2,200 mile trek, some crying, some cheering. It made our accomplishment feel small, and we shyly had our pictures taken with the sign before giving way to those who suffered more.  

  • We wanted to be in New England for the Fall in order to see the changing of the leaves, so we drove out to the White Mountains of New Hampshire on a free Sunday. We did a loop around Mt Washington and saw some amazing colors.

  • In another attempt at seeing colors, we hiked up Pleasant Mountain, a small peak NW of Portland. 

  • With our close proximity to Boston, we had to spend a weekend exploring it's rich history. It was freezing cold, but we walked the Freedom Trail and ate clam chowder at the Quincy Market. Then stayed the night with our friend, Sandy, and her growing family down in Plympton. The next day we saw Plymouth Rock, before driving the northern Massachusetts coastline. 

The Work -

  • Julia's work for this assignment was in a skilled nursing facility that included a locked down dementia unit. A different environment than she normally works in, along with a productivity driven management style, it took her some time to get the hang of it. Although there were some things she didn't like, she did enjoy many of her sweet elderly patients and finding creative ways to treat them. Despite this, she was not that upset when they hired a permanent PT and ended her contract 5 weeks short. This gave us the chance to be home for Christmas and also her some time to play stay-at-home cat mom while I worked the long hours.
  • Yes, you didn't misread that last line, I did work. With Julia's ability to commute by walking or bus, I got some seasonal work at the L.L. Bean warehouse located about 25 minutes north in Freeport. It was physical shipping work that beat me up a little, but it felt good to be a productive member of society. When I wasn't working, I played disc golf at one of the many pay-to-play courses in the area.       

The Food -

  • This section could have just been one word: Lobster (or Lobstah), but I will elaborate a little more. The area is known for their lobster rolls and they are delicious. We sampled a decent number of them and would like to share with you our rankings. They were judged based on taste and value. 
       Pictured above, Lobster Rolls from Red's Eats (on the left) and The Porthole (on the right).
    1.  Red's Eats (The line is long but the bun is stuffed full and the butter is amazing)
    2. The Porthole (Great value, especially during happy hour, and the flavor is terrific)
    3. Rosie's (Good value and the buns were nicely toasted)
    4. Eventide Oyster Co. (Creative, but small and expensive)
    5. Susan's Fish-n-Chips (Our first one, it was small and lightly sauced, disappointing) 
  • We didn't eat out much, but we did make sure to hit the perpetually busy restaurant called Duckfat, and it was fantastic. You can't really go wrong with food that is cooked in the fat that comes from ducks. 
The Visitors -
  • My father kept up the tradition of visiting us on assignments. We played tour guide and showed him some lighthouses, the art museum, ate lobster, and drove around looking for changing leaves in quaint little seaside town of Camden. 

  •  He wanted to venture further NE into Canada and I wasn't working yet, so off we went. First stop was Acadia NP, but it was raining and visibility was terrible. We stayed the night in Saint Stephen, New Brunswick, where we celebrated the Canadian Thanksgiving. The next day we were delayed with a flat tire on the rental car which caused us to miss our Irish stew dinner in Cape Breton that we had prepaid for. That night we caught a concert as part of the Celtic Colours International Music Festival. It was headlined by the group Talisk, which was voted as the "Folk Band of the Year" by some organization. The band leader rocks a concertina and the others just try to keep up. It was a fun show with all performers playing their respective instruments (mostly fiddles) very well. The next and last night, we crashed in Halifax, ate lobster, and I won $100 playing the Game of Thrones slot machine. On the drive back to Portland, we checked out the Bay of Fundy which boasts the highest tidal range in the world. There can be a difference of up to 50 ft, which creates some interesting landscape and fast moving water. One cool result is called a Tidal Bore, which is when the incoming tide is so strong it causes rivers to change direction. Apparently these can also be surfed for one long ride. The picture below shows me exploring the Hopewell Rock on the Bay of Fundy during low tide. All in all, a fun trip despite the car issues.  

  • Our friends, Jessica and Robin, came up from Baltimore to visit for a weekend. This gave us a chance to do some socializing and an excuse to explore more local bars and restaurants. We saw more lighthouses and ate great food. It was fun. 

I think that about covers all of our time in Portland, Maine. As you might be able to tell, we really enjoyed ourselves. It was better than I had thought. The mountains are small in comparison to out west, so you don't get as stunning of a backdrop, but the forest is thick and colorful. This area also has the history, with more scenic farmland and quaint towns. The coastline is rockier, with many inlets and coves in contrast to the long stretches of sandy beach we have on the pacific. It was also much sunnier than I had expected, though still cold. We experienced 2 small snow storms that left us impressed with their ability to make the streets passable. Obviously it helps that the land is relatively flat here and they have a large army of snow plows. Though I did witness multiple accidents on my drive home from work one snowy day, so bad winter driving isn't just a Portland Oregon thing. We luckily got out of town before the big storms hit or else this story may have had a different tone.

To try and avoid the winter weather, we took a more southerly route for our road trip home. Below is a quick rundown of our path, starting in Portland, ME:
  • Baltimore, MD 
    • (Visited our friends, Jessica and Robin, for a couple days. Drank and ate our way around the city. Julia and I took the train down to Washington DC to see the sights and had lunch with my cousin's daughter, Linnaea.)
  • Indianapolis, IN 
    • (Drove along the Indianapolis Motor Speedway to see "Lights on the Brickyard", their Christmas light display)
  • Omaha, NE 
    • (Stayed in the worst Motel 6 of the trip, lots of yelling and almost fights)
  • Cheyenne, WY 
    • (Drove through a dangerous ice storm in central Nebraska, stayed with Julia's friends Erica and Josh, drank beer at a serve-yourself bar, it was very cold outside)
  • Twin Falls, ID 
    • (Beautiful blue skies but cold drive through Wyoming)
  • Portland, OR 
    • (Drove through snow storm in Idaho, a treacherous Meachum Pass in Oregon, black ice in the Columbia Gorge, and crossed paths with Peter and family at an I-84 reststop exit)         
Back home safely, we celebrated Christmas with family and New Years with friends. The next adventure for us began in mid-January and involves some much warmer weather, but that will have to wait for another post (which we will hopefully have completed soon). Thanks for following along.