Category Archives: travel

Don’t get stranded in Cuba! 8 tips for Americans to help your Cuban vacation go smoothly.

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A beautiful car in Havana

There are a few obstacles for Americans when visiting Cuba. Once you arrive and plant your feet on Cuban soil, you’ll realize foreigners from other countries are having a different experience from you. Not to worry! It’s like a special club where you’ll bond with the few Americans you run into and laugh about the things that have gone wrong.

The biggest issue we had was the inability to use our credit cards and debit cards. It is a scary thing to consider: you’re in a foreign country and you’re carrying all the cash you have for your vacation. How do you know how much to bring? What if you lose it? What if you run out? Well, that happens and it happened to us!

Read my 8 tips below to help you avoid any mishaps on your Cuban vacation.

Tip #1: Bring more money than you expect to spend

When we arrived in Miami, we had $1200 in our pockets with the assumption that we would spend $150 total on visas. A budget of $1000 for 7 days seemed like enough since all of our accommodations were prepaid. But if you read my previous post, our visas ended up costing $300 and that made us a bit nervous.

We headed out of our terminal to the only ATM near our gate and as we attempted to take out $300, the ATM broke. We looked at each other and thought, “$900 should be enough right?” We thought so, but we were wrong. My advice is, bring more than you need.  If I could go back, I’d take $1500 for the week plus $500 in emergency money. Just because you bring it, doesn’t mean you have to spend it, and it’s better to be safe than sorry.

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I’ll always remember Vinales as the place where we ran out of money.

Tip #2 Exchange most of your money to Euros and leave some American dollars

The currency for tourists is the Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC) and the exchange rate is 1:1 for Euros. American dollars, on the other hand, are taxed 10% during the exchange, so it is better to exchange your money to Euros prior to arriving in Cuba.

And why keep some dollars? In case you get into a bind. When we ran out of Euros while in Vinales, the line for the bank was incredibly long. On a failed attempt to pick up money from Western Union (long story), we headed to the bank to exchange our last bit of Euros to find that the bank had closed 20 minutes early. Many businesses are also closed on Fridays and Sundays, so we found ourselves stranded and unable to catch a ride back to Havana if we couldn’t find someone to exchange our money.

Turns out, there’s a way to get your money changed and it makes you look a bit sketchy. We found a group of guys who hang out in the town square and offer several services for tourists, one being a money exchange. It’s probably illegal, but we’d be stuck in Cuba if it wasn’t for them. Overall, it was a difficult exchange because all of them wanted American dollars, not Euros. It took a couple minutes of begging until one guy finally stepped in and agreed to exchange 40 Euros. That was enough to get us back to Havana so I was grateful, but I also wished I had kept some dollars to make that whole process easier.

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A church in the town square where I prayed then begged to have my money changed.

Tip #3 Bring EVERYTHING you think you might need

Cuba doesn’t have a corner store where you can buy things you happened to forget. If someone in your group gets sick, gets hurt, or gets a terrible sunburn, you’re out of luck! Try to think of things that might go wrong, especially if you’re traveling with kids. Example of things I brought: suncreen, children’s Tylenol and ibuprofen, Bandaids, antiobiotic cream, aloe vera, bug spray, Benadryl. I felt like a girl scout preparing for a major backpacking trip, but I’m so glad I had these things with me, just in case.

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We almost ran out of sunblock. We also all got terrible sunburn.

Tip #4 Skip the hotels and book a Casa Particular

A casa particular is a private residence that rents out rooms. You can book through Airbnb and it’s significantly cheaper than a hotel. Our first casa cost us $20/night and our last one cost $32/night. When we looked into hotels, $250 per night was the cheapest we could find and the reviews were pretty terrible. At a casa, we were able to mingle with the locals and learn about their culture. We also made friends with other travelers from around the world.

Most of the casas also offer you breakfast for about $5/person (children are usually free). We opted for this since it was cheaper than eating out, and the food was always so fresh and delicious.

When booking through Airbnb, make sure you book with a casa that has reputable reviews and a host you can contact prior to your trip. Long story short, we could not find our casa when we spent 3 days in Vinales. Our cab driver asked several locals for directions and was unsuccessful when calling our host. We ended up in front of another casa where Americans were checking out so we decided to stay there. Side note, this is why we ran out of money in Vinales because we ended up spending 100 CUCs more than anticipated when we booked a new place.

If you book through Airbnb, use my code to get $40 off your first trip! I’m not affiliated with the company, but using my code will get me $20 off my next booking, so help a girl out!

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Our last casa was beautiful! We had a great patio overlooking the streets of Havana.

Tip #5 Use collective taxis to get around

When we needed transportation, we used a taxi collectivo. It’s where you share a taxi with other people going to the same destination. When we needed transportation from Havana to Vinales, we learned it was cheaper and quicker to take a taxi than a bus. The bus cost 12 CUCs per person with potentially more charges depending on the amount of luggage. The taxi to Vinales cost 20 CUCs each and small children are free, so it was a better deal for the 3 of us. On our trip back to Havana, we organized a taxi for 15 CUCs each (again not including children). Your casa host can organize this for you or you can find someone on the street whose job is to organize rides.

*Note: taxi collectivos were not an option going to and from the airport and I’m not exactly sure why.

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We met people from around the world in collective taxis.

Tip #6 Keep street cigars in Cuba, bring sealed cigars home

When you’re a tourist in Cuba, everyone will ask you if you want to buy cigars. We don’t even smoke, but buying a cigar in Cuba sounded like a cool thing to bring home. We bought a box in Havana when we arrived then purchased 10 cigars wrapped in a banana leaf when we did a horse tour on a tobacco farm in Vinales.  The day before we went home, we were informed by a tour guide in Havana that US customs can confiscate your cigars if they do not have a seal of authenticity on the box.

We were bummed at the idea of our 10 cigars being thrown out, but once we went through customs in the US, our cigars weren’t an issue. Since getting back, I’ve read about Cuban customs detaining Canadians for attempting to bring home cigars that weren’t purchased at a government shop. The information seems to be inconsistent, but to avoid detainment or confiscation in either country, the safe thing to do is enjoy your street cigars in Cuba and bring the legit, sealed cigars back home.

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We bought the 10 pack, then panicked.

Tip #7 Print out important information and buy a wifi card asap!

Internet is not the easiest thing to obtain in Cuba. It’s not everywhere like it is in the US. Prior to arriving in Cuba, I had all of my Airbnb info printed out, along with maps for directions to our casas. I also printed out blog posts on things to do and see in Havana.

It wasn’t until we were in Vinales, running out of money that we purchased a wifi card to contact my mom so she could attempt to send money through Western Union. It was then that I realized, we should have purchased a wifi card at the beginning of our trip. It’s good to have just in case you need info, or if you need to contact someone back home in an emergency. Also, it’s good to just check in and let everyone know you’re okay!

Wifi cards can be purchased at several locations such as the one in the picture. Just find a hotspot (it’s usually areas where everyone is sitting in a random place staring at their phone) and log in.

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A very long line to buy a wifi card.

Tip #8 Learn Spanish

Clayton and I dabbled a bit with the duolingo app thinking we had the basics down and turns out, we knew nothing. Seriously, it was embarrassing.

We were grateful that our hosts were able to speak some English, but that was pretty uncommon when walking around. Be sure you brush up on knowing your numbers and how to ask questions like “how much”, “where is…”, “I need a ride to…”, “where can I exchange money?” Even basics like “where can I find breakfast, lunch or dinner.” One of the housekeepers at a casa had an app that translated sentences. Get one of those and make sure it doesn’t require wifi. Anything that helps will go a long way! I often had a blank look on my face when people spoke to me and the only time I didn’t look confused was when someone offered me cerveza.

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We attempted to smoke our street cigars before leaving. Clayton did well and I got nauseous.

Those are my 8 tips to help your Cuban experience go smoothly! If you have any questions, leave them below.

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Visiting Cuba: tickets, medical insurance, and visas.

As an American, Cuba has always been a fascinating place, a forbidden land of mystery. When the travel ban was lifted, our curiosity got the best of us, so we decided on Cuba for our first international trip as a family.

Prior to our trip, I googled information, read several blogs on tourism in Cuba, and bothered every person who wrote #Cuba on Instagram. I soon found that the information I gathered wasn’t consistent. Confusion loomed over where to purchase a tourist card, what to see, and how much money to bring. My anxiety heightened by the lack of information.

Despite the headaches and the eye twitching that came immediately while checking in our bags, our misadventures became a learning experience and for that, we are grateful. Let me set the record straight so you can leave your headaches in the US and enjoy your Cuban vacation!

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Riley and I strolling through Havana

 

Booking your flight:

There are 8 major airlines that fly to Havana. We booked our ticket with Frontier since it was about $200 cheaper overall including baggage fees. When we booked our flight, we were asked on the Frontier website what our reason was for visiting Cuba. Americans are banned from visiting for tourism so you must choose a reason that makes the most sense. We chose “Support for the Cuban People” because we were spending our money and helping out the economy. For other airlines, such as Southwest, you are asked your reason at the counter prior to obtaining a visa. Please remember, US visitors are required to keep an itinerary of their activities and it must match your reason for visiting. Apparently, our government can ask for our itinerary years after a visit. So keep track of what you’re doing and make sure it consists of more than just hanging out at the beach and drinking rum.

Medical Insurance:

American citizens are required to have Cuban medical insurance prior to entering Cuba. Check with your airline to see if it is covered with the price of your fare. Since we flew with Frontier, our medical insurance was paid through our tickets, so we didn’t have to worry about purchasing it elsewhere.

Cuban Tourist Visa:

The information on obtaining a visa was the most confusing ordeal of my life. The Frontier website had no information other than a link to a company that sells the visa and sends it to you for $110. I was informed by friends who had visited that visas could be purchased at your connecting airport for $50. After speaking with several people, we decided not to purchase the visa ahead of time and waited until we got to Miami.

Here’s the kicker and the beginning of my headaches/eye twitching; when we checked in our bags at DIA, the woman at the Frontier counter asked if we had our visas. When I told her we would purchase it in Miami, she said there was no guarantee they would have visas for us in Miami then said ” well, your bags will be in Cuba, but you might not be. Good luck.” Can you believe that?! She also mentioned how we risked being detained with a $3000 fine for not buying it ahead of time. Thanks to her, I didn’t sleep on the plane and I was sick to my stomach the entire flight to Miami.

But of course, I shouldn’t have worried and should have trusted what I knew. Once we got off the plane, we heard an announcement asking passengers to Havana to come to the Frontier desk. They had visas! Stacks and stacks of visas. And I cursed the Frontier lady at DIA for worrying me for no reason. So here’s my advice: flying with Southwest? Wait it out and buy your visa at the counter because it’s only $50. For the rest of us, it’s $100 per visa although I don’t understand why there is a price difference. I thought I was going to save money by buying it in person, so if I were to go back, I’d buy it online. And please remember, do not make mistakes on the visa. One mistake will force you to fork over another $100 for a new one.

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For my next post, I’ll outline all the things you need to bring like loads of cash and sunscreen. Did you know Americans can’t use credit cards and debit cards in Cuba? Yes, cash is king. And did you know there is literally no place to buy sunscreen? I’ll outline all of it in my next post on what to bring and how to prepare. Stay tuned and leave any questions below!

Slab City

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“God is Love”

A beautiful message spread over Salvation Mountain that welcomes visitors to the famous yet unbelievable Slab City. This off grid city that resembles a post-apocalyptic movie was first introduced to us on our second day on the road. We met a young couple at a rest stop in Utah who told us about a place in the desert where travelers meet up. Their description was a bit vague and inaccurate, and did not prepare us for what we encountered.
Slab City has made its appearance in popular culture to where even those who wouldn’t dare live on the road or ever visit this place has heard of it. If you have ever read or watched “Into the Wild”, the movie about a guy who leaves his life behind and dies in a bus in Alaska… Slab City was one of his stops.
Our plans to head north to Alaska made a sudden change in December when we realized we were sick of the cold. Alaska sounded awesome, but I needed some sunshine in my life and I was itching to see Arizona again. The sudden change of plans was a bit scary. We were supposed to spend the summer in Alaska to work so we had money to continue traveling. Heading south meant we needed to figure out another way to obtain some income. I had faith we’d figure it out, but in the meantime, we needed a free spot to park and Slab City sounded like the perfect place.
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Wal-Mart Mornings

We spent out first night in the desert in a Wal-Mart parking lot in Brawley, California. Brawley is where civilization is at…they have a Starbucks, a Wal-Mart, a hospital. We headed into Slab City the next day carefully watching the homemade signs that directed us to the right place. We were greeted by a small building that was painted with several messages. The message that stuck out the most was “The Last Free Place” and boy, does that make you think.
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I could probably write a book just on our two weeks in Slab City. Our time there was an experience that can never be duplicated. We met some cool people and some strange ones too. Actually, one of the strange guys was traveling in a brand new Airstream so always keep in mind to never judge a book by its cover!
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“campsite”
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We set up the big tent so we had indoor standing room.
Here are some highlights:
Salvation Mountain: This “mountain” built with straw and adobe on a hillside and covered with multicolored paint reminded us of a page in a Dr. Seuss book. As we walked around and admired the colors, there are messages about God and Love. The messages are beautiful and could speak to anyone, of any denomination. As I walked around, I thought about the man who dedicated his life to building this mountain and spreading the message of God’s love. I usually find my connection to God in nature, among the trees or on a mountaintop. But this… this colorful structure visited by thousands of people… this felt spiritual and I felt love.
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East Jesus: An interesting collection of recycled artwork that conveyed messages about our society. My favorite was the display of televisions with short phrases as to how the media controls our thoughts and relationships. We also climbed and played on some things. The guys running the place were more than happy to show us around.
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The Range: Every weekend, the stage is set for performers to show their musical talent in front of a large crowd. We showed up with no expectations and again, an open mind. The acts ranged from really talented to really terrible.  The crowd consisted of a diverse group of people from Slab City residents to people who were obvious tourists. There were also several children present which eased my anxieties about bringing Riley along. We bought a soda, kept away from the smoke and made conversation with several people. It was a good time for all of us.

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I tell everybody that “The Last Free Place” needs to be experienced by everyone. We get so caught up on what is “normal” in our society that we have found ourselves among people who would panic over the inability to have a smart phone, cable and internet, or a latte every morning. We have become a society of instant gratification and convenience that we have lost our basic instincts. Being among people who had no running water or electricity, things we consider very basic and often take for granted, helped me see the possibilities of a simpler life.
I remember looking around The Range and watching the interactions between people. Everyone was filled with joy. You could see it illuminating from their faces and it was kind of beautiful. And they were all so friendly and welcoming, even though I was different and I was an outsider, they allowed me to feel like I belonged. What an incredible feeling that was when the world I know is full of labels and criticism and exclusive groups that look down on those who are different.
Would I ever give up my comforts to live in Slab City? That’s a definite no! But, they have something figured out, an inner light filled with peace that I admire and that I felt while I was there. I try to hold onto that feeling while I’m here in the real world.
My advice is, get out there and learn something from Slab City. Open your heart and open your mind and you might come away with something incredible to bring home. And while you’re doing that, stay away from the Slab City hot spring! It’s more like a mud hole and I warned you…

GoodBelly Probiotic Juice

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Happy, healthy GoodBelly family 🙂

Three years ago, my family and I went through a major transformation with our diet. I was a steak eating, milk drinking, I love to eat anything with a face kind of girl until my health started to deteriorate. It was hard for me to understand why I felt so lousy when I exercised pretty regularly. I’ll leave my condition nameless to stay on track, but one day I had a wake up call and decided to make changes in my lifestyle. Beef and poultry were the first to go, then it was dairy. Within 3 weeks, all of my symptoms had vanished and I was changed forever. That’s when I realized, I really need to be careful about what I put in my body!

As my health continued to improve, there was still one reoccurring issue. I was constantly getting a cold! I kind of accepted this fate due to my line of work. I was a social worker who conducted homevisits for a child abuse prevention program. My clients were from birth to five and when one household got sick, my whole caseload somehow had the same sickness. Consequently, I would catch it then bring it home to my family. Loading up on Vitamin C and cold medicine never seemed to help and in the midst of my whole diet change I thought, “there has to be something I can eat to keep me from getting sick??”

And that’s what lead me to the wonderful world of PROBIOTICS! I read countless articles online about how they worked and basically got the jist: good bacteria in gut, helps with digestion and immune system, good to take when on antibiotics and so on. Sounds legit, but which one do I take? I was familiar with Activia: my mom used to buy it when I was in undergrad and my only memory was having to run to the bathroom after eating it. Also, yogurt was not appealing since my stomach couldn’t handle dairy anymore. Yakult was another name I knew, but that was dairy too. I thought, “oh crap, are probiotics only in dairy??”

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My discovery of GoodBelly may have been serendipitous. I was perusing through Whole Foods when I saw the cute colorful cartons that said “Probiotic Juice Drink.” I was excited, yet a part of me thought “I bet this doesn’t taste good.” I purchased only one carton as a trial and went with the mango flavor because that felt like a safe bet. When I got home, I poured myself a tiny glass and the rest is history. It was DELICIOUS. It just tasted like juice… like normal, regular, have this with my breakfast kind of juice. I was hooked.

I didn’t even have to do the 12 day Belly Reboot as the carton suggested. I noticed a difference in my regularity within a week, and I kept drinking it to boost my immune system. I also discovered the Plus Shots which include the daily amount of probiotics plus vitamins. Whenever one of us starts feeling like a cold might be coming, I stock up on the Plus Shots and I swear it’s helped with preventing a serious cold. Another plus side is, our 5 year old loves this stuff. Whenever we go to the store, he’s grabbing one of each flavor and putting it in the cart.

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You can find GoodBelly pretty much everywhere now. During our travels, it’s a necessity to have this stuff in our fridge and we’ve been able to find it in every state we’ve visited and several stores like Safeway and Kroger in addition to stores like Whole Foods.

It’s been a good couple of years with GoodBelly and it’s a product we stand by and recommened to everyone we know. Now go on with your healthy self and pour a glass of Good Belly!

 

Redwood National Park

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I’ve mentioned several times on this trip how the feeling of insignificance constantly emerges whenever we go sightseeing. I can still say that the most intense feeling of insignificance was definitely during our trip to see the Redwoods in northern California.

Standing at the foot of these trees and looking up a couple hundred feet with the knowledge that many of these giants existed before Christ is a mind-blowing experience. Seriously, I just stood there several times and couldn’t wrap my head around it. Our existence as human beings is nothing compared to these trees. As we walked around, we talked about the changes of humanity since these trees made their first appearance on Earth. How many human beings have passed the redwoods, looking up in amazement as we did? It’s a crazy concept.

Our first stop was at Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park. Upon entering, there are signs that warn visitors against entering with towed trailers and RV’s. Lucky for us, Bear is small and has big tires so we were able to ride on through without any issues.

Our plans to camp while exploring this area changed when we arrived in Crescent City, CA after dark. We headed to the local Wal-Mart and saw several people camped out in the parking lot, even people with rooftop tents! They were open 24 hours and had a coffee shop inside so ultimately it was an easy decision to make Wal-Mart home for a couple days.

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The following day, we drove over to Trees of Mystery in Klamath, a private park with a gondala ride that takes you through the trees. We saw our first billboard for this place around central Oregon and Riley would not stop asking about it. The billboards continued and Riley kept asking, so we promised to take him. When we stopped at the Visitor Center in Crescent City, the lady who worked there said it wasn’t worth visiting, but I disagree.

You can’t miss this place. It’s right on highway 101 and there is a giant Paul Bunyan and Babe at the entrance. The price of admission wasn’t outrageous, but it also helped that Riley got in for free. They are also pet friendly so Jack got to go inside the gift shop and ride the gondola! Overall, we thought it was a fun, touristy place to visit. We enjoyed seeing some of the strange trees and Riley loved the gondola. I think it’s a fun place to check out especially if you have kids.

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Next stop, “The Last Free Place” Slab City, California.

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Oregon Coast (Part Two)

Florence

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After we left Newport, we had no idea where we were spending the night. Driving along I-5, we had so many rest areas to choose from, but highway 101 had nothing. Well, nothing free. We stumbled upon a campsite along the highway that had a few RV’s parked. Initially, we thought we got lucky then saw it cost $30/night. It was really hard to justify spending $30 for a place to park when we just spent $40 on a motel room. I said to Clayton, “I’m pretty sure there’s a casino in Florence, let’s just drive there and see if we can park.”

My parking senses must have been tingling because yes, there was a casino and yes, they offered free RV parking.

We found ourselves at 3 Rivers Casino located a couple miles down highway 26. The casino offers 4 nights of free parking for RV’s and if you obtain a player’s card and gain 100 points, you can have an additional 4 nights. Initially, we thought this was awesome. They offered free coffee, hot chocolate, hot water, and soda. They also had free Wi-Fi and charging stations in the lobby.

When a business offers free parking, we will spend our money there as a way to say thank you. Our first night, we dined at the World Market Buffet. Sounds legit, right? It was a Wednesday and dinner prices were $13.99 per adult. Verdict? The food was terrible. Like fast food, frozen dinner terrible. We probably should have taken a look at the food first, but it was too late to get our money back so might as well get our money’s worth! So I ate, I ate a lot and paid the consequences the next morning.

Our second night, we wanted a beer with dinner so we decided to grab food at the Blue Bills Sports Bar and Taproom. It was around 6:20 when we approached the door and saw a sign that said minors are not allowed inside after 6. We thought that seemed a bit early, but rules are rules, so we headed over next door to Sunset Grille.

The hostess informed us there was a long wait for Sunset Grille then suggested we head next door to Blue Bills. We ask the hostess about the sign and she says “oh they don’t really enforce that unless the band is playing. You can still eat in there”. We returned to the Sports Bar and Clayton went inside first to double check and was given the green light by 2 more employees.  We went inside and it was pretty dead. I looked around and noticed that about every patron was over the age of 65. Everyone appeared to be a local since the only waitress chatted with them and asked how their families were doing. The setting looked more innocent than an Applebee’s.

We sat down and I noticed that we weren’t immediately greeted. Clayton walked around to see if we could find a menu somewhere. Finally, our waitress approaches and says “you know you’re past the time limit” and points at Riley. I was taken aback by how rude she was, but we explained that the hostess from Sunset Grille told us to come in and that we double checked with her co-workers. She responds, “well, they told you wrong. I just want to let you know that.” WTF? Should we leave then? We sat there in silence, but she goes ahead and asks about our drinks. I assume at this point, it’s okay for us to stay. Since I wanted a beer, I ask what beers they have on tap since they advertise craft beers. She quickly rambles off a list of 5 beers, “coors, coors light, bud light…” and doesn’t even mention the craft beers. I let out a laugh because she was obviously not in the mood to help us.

We ask for water and time to look at our menu which subsequently turns our bitchy waitress into Flash Gordon. She immediately brings the waters and asks what we’re ordering. We ask again for more time and not even kidding, I read 2 items off the menu and she’s back! I can’t even tell you what kind of food this place serves if you asked me.

It was obvious we weren’t welcome there and she was making it clear that she wanted us out. I order the fish and chips, and mac and cheese for Riley. I tell Clayton that we should just share because I was no longer in the mood to spend money there. Clayton gets up to look at the craft beers on tap and I tell him to buy beer at Safeway and to get our food to go. I don’t appreciate people being disrespectful to me and my family.

We had dinner in the trailer and I hate to say it, but the fish and chips were delicious.

The next day, we headed over to the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area and checked out the beach. It seemed like a cool place to ride the dunes in the summer time. We just ran around and took pictures until it started to rain. fl5editfl2editfl4edit

More info on the dunes: http://www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/siuslaw/recarea/?recid=42465

Coos Bay

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Coos Bay was such a memorable part of our Oregon adventure. We found free camping at  Bastendorff Beach and it was unbelievable. Seriously, we had a million dollar view for free. There is a bit of a downside to this area: it is rarely patrolled and there are many permanent residents here aka homeless folks. But really, we didn’t have a problem and found the homeless people to be pretty nice. We even left our stuff unattended and no one touched it! I think this is an amazing spot for scenic boondocking.

I’ll just let the pictures tell the story:

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One of my favorite photos! The color of the sky was perfect in this moment.

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We also stopped at a brewery called 7 Devils Brewing Company. They had vegetarian poutin with giant pieces of cheese curds. I still dream about this dish!

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Continuing south on Highway 101….

I can’t remember the exact town or beach we took the following pictures. It was really south, going back towards California. On our drive, the rain stopped and when the sun peaked through the clouds, it created the most beautiful golden light. It was too good not to photograph, so enjoy the ending to our Oregon adventure…

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Next stop, Redwoods National Park!

Need to go back? Click below

Oregon Coast (Part One)

Oregon Coast (Part One)

Our Oregon Coast adventure was such a whirlwind of events that I had to split it up into two parts. I took about 400 photos and had to narrow it down to a special few because “ain’t nobody got time for that!” I’m starting to think I need to treat my DSLR like an old camera with film to limit the amount of pictures I take. But really, who could blame me? Oregon is so beautiful!

After Crater Lake, we headed north on I-5 and made our way towards Corvallis then McMinnville to visit family. Touring Oregon’s wine country was on our to-do list, but the rain was relentless so we scratched that idea and headed towards the coast where we planned on taking highway 101 back to San Francisco.

(Quick Tip: Oregon rest areas allow 12 hours of parking so we didn’t have a problem finding a place to park for the night while we drove along I-5, wohoo!)

Depoe Bay

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Depoe Bay was our first stop along the coast. The nonstop rain was hard to deal with so I asked Clayton if we could treat ourselves to a nice motel room for the night. A hot shower sounded like a dream.  He agreed, so I got on Hotwire and booked a room at the Four Winds Motel for $40. The motel was clean and fairly old, but we had an amazing view of the ocean so the price was a steal compared to other places in town.

The next morning, there was a break in the rain so we walked along the 101 and checked out the little shops. Since it was winter, it was quiet and many of the stores were closed. We found amusement in the waterholes shooting out massive amounts of ocean water onto the sidewalk. We learned that Depoe Bay is also a big whale watching destination. There weren’t any whales while we were there, but if you visit during the right time of year, apparently it’s a great place to go. I guess we’ll just have to come back in the summer!

More info: http://visittheoregoncoast.com/cities/depoe-bay/

Motel info: Four Winds Motel, rated 2 stars 356 US-101, Depoe Bay, OR 97341

Newport

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We headed south on the 101 towards Newport to visit my grandmother’s grave and walk along Newport’s Historic Bayfront. I know I already mentioned how relentless the rain was, but seriously, by this time we couldn’t remember the last time we saw the sun. The color of the sky is gray, right? Although we struggled with the lack of vitamin D, there was a part of me that had hope for sunshine that day.

As we entered Newport, Riley had no idea that we had a special treasure hunt planned for him. This wasn’t a random idea, it was actually a request he made after crossing the Oregon Border. My son LOVES The Goonies and he kept asking if we were going to the “Goonies beach”. We had no intention of traveling all the way north to Astoria, so we figured we’ll just tell him the Goonies beach is in Newport and have a treasure hunt. (Hey, we still plan on taking him to the real place when he’s older!)

The treasure hunt was a success. We pulled it off by buying a tiny bag of “pirate gold” from one of the shops in Depoe Bay. Clayton ran ahead of us, buried the bag under a pile of rocks and made an “X” out of sticks. He was super pumped when he found the treasure. His genuine smile and excitement almost brought me to tears. A simple idea turned into a memorable event for all of us. These moments are what I love about this trip.

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Riley picked the colorful flowers!

Remember that hope I had about the sun coming out that day? After the treasure hunt, we headed towards the cemetery to visit my Grandma Flo. You see, my grandma died when I was only 6 months old, but I’ve always had a very strong connection to her… a connection that I’ve never fully understood. When I was a child, I always felt her presence and talked to her almost everyday. I was like that weird kid from The Sixth Sense.

I don’t feel connected to my Grandma anymore, but that day I spoke to her. I actually didn’t hope the sun would come out, I knew for a fact it would. And behold, the photo above, as soon as I placed the flowers on her grave, the sun peaked through the clouds and stayed in sight for the remainder of the day. Once again, I got emotional. Thanks for looking out, Grandma!

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These guys kill me!

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We drove to the Historic Bayfront and since it was mid-week, we were able to find close parking for the truck and trailer. This turned out to be a wonderful afternoon for us. At the pier, the sea lions hanging out by the docks were super entertaining. I think we could have stood there all day watching them bark at each other while trying to secure a spot to sunbathe.

We decided to have lunch at Port Dock One which had a big window where we continued watching the sea lions. We also had this amazing view of Yaquina bridge and Riley had a blast watching the fishing boats go in and out. We shared a bowl of clam chowder and it was ah-mazing. (I just checked Yelp and apparently this restaurant has closed down! But no worries, there are plenty of other places on the same street to find clam chowder)

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Ready to continue the adventure? Click below.

Oregon Coast (Part Two)

Crater Lake National Park

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Wizard Island

When our time in Ashland ended, we made our way east to Crater Lake National Park. Prior to our visit, I did some research on the lake and found amazing photos of the park during summer. The crystal clear lake, awesome trails and beautiful flowers was an enviable sight, but I had to keep in the mind that our visit would not match the online photos. It was January and cold, so we braced ourselves for a less than ideal setting.

Here are some cool facts about Crater Lake:

  • Crater Lake was formed 7,700 years ago when Mount Mazama erupted and collapsed. Rain and snow filled the caldera and created the lake.
  • Crater Lake is 1,943 feet deep making it the deepest lake in the U.S. and the ninth deepest lake in the world.
  • Crater Lake is the snowiest inhabited place in the United States averaging about 44 feet of snow per year.
  • There are no streams in or out of the lake. The water is maintained by precipitation and evaporation which makes the water clear, blue and pristine.

We were slightly unprepared for camping in the park. The directions we found on freecampsites.net were unclear, so we stopped at Beckie’s Café right outside of the park and had dinner. Beckie’s, by the way, was a good find. The prices were cheap and they had veggie burgers! After Beckie’s, we saw a couple parking lots for sledding areas. There were other RV’s parked and one big rig although there were signs that said a permit was needed for parking. Since the place looked isolated, we figured it was okay to park for the night.

The next morning, we woke up to a few inches of snow covering the truck and trailer. We laughed at how snow is such a quiet intruder. We immediately headed to the park and the Visitor Center which is a good place to watch the orientation video and talk to a ranger about sights to see. Riley loved the orientation video and for a 5 year old, he came out of there with a pretty good understanding of how the lake was formed.

“The volcano goes BOOM and it all fell down to make a hole. The rain and the snow melted inside the hole and made the lake.” -Riley

After the Visitor’s Center, we headed out towards the gift shop located by the lake. We had a snack, purchased a sticker then walked around outside to take photos. For a few minutes, the clouds parted and we were able to get a clear view of the lake. We stood there in awe of how blue and pristine the water looked that we were no longer bothered by the cold air on our faces or the feeling of our boots sinking into the deep snow.

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Our time at Crater Lake felt like a gift. There was a part of me that was afraid of disappointment since the entire park was buried in powder, but we left feeling grateful for the experience. There was so much peace and silence as we looked over the lake; so much wonder and amazement as we walked through the deep snow. We felt like we had the whole place to ourselves and that can be a rare feeling at a National Park.

Until we meet again, Crater Lake. Next stop, Oregon Coast!

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Ashland, OR

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Girly beer at The Growler Guys

Southern Oregon is a definite spot on our list that we would love to visit again. We are no strangers to Oregon and the Pacific Northwest was my home until my teens. It wasn’t until this trip that I had no idea how unfamiliar I was with the southern part of the state.

Our first stop was in Ashland where one of our good friend’s, Christian, moved from the SF Bay Area. Like us, Christian needed an adventure, so he left his life behind in California and found a job through WWOOF on a biodynamic farm. Not familiar with WWOOF-ing? It stands for World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms. The jist is, you pay a one-time fee for a book filled with locations of organic farms around the world. If you contact a farm and agree to work for them, you will be provided with free meals and a place to live in exchange for your work. I’ve heard of people working on vineyards in Europe as a way to travel through the continent without paying for food or lodging. In Christian’s case, he lived in a small off grid cabin on the farm’s property. When the season was over and his work was done, he loved Ashland so much he decided to stay. When we visited, he was living in an apartment and working at a local restaurant. Thanks to Christian, we got to experience the way the locals eat and drink, and it was pretty awesome.

Here is what we did in Ashland:

FOOD: 

Mihama Teriyaki Grill 1253-B Siskiyou Blvd. Ashland, OR 97520

We almost ate at Mihama every night we were in Ashland. The prices were incredibly cheap and the food was bomb. They had delicious Udon bowls, a good children’s menu, and it was vegetarian/pescetarian friendly. They also had toys and coloring pages to keep the kiddo’s occupied. Highly recommend this place!

Ruby’s Neighborhood Restaurant 163 N Pioneer St. Ashland, OR 97520

We had breakfast at Ruby’s one morning and it was a great find. We had vegetarian breakfast burritos and the ingredients tasted very fresh and healthy. Ruby’s is located inside a cozy little building where it feels like you’re having a meal at a friend’s house! The food is not the cheapest, but we were happy to pay for good quality food.

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Riley approved of Ruby’s!

Elmer’s Restaurant Medford, OR (Several locations along I-5)

We stopped at Elmer’s for breakfast before heading out to Crater Lake. Elmer’s is your typical American fare, but we enjoyed our food and the service was very friendly. The servers were very sweet towards Riley! They have several locations in Oregon, many along the freeway. It’s definitely a step up from Denny’s if you’re craving a good ol’ American breakfast.

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Chocolate Milk and Pancakes at Elmer’s

DRINKS:

The Growler Guy’s 345 Lithia Way Ashland, OR 97520

Very cool tap house with a ginormous selection of craft beers and ciders from all over the country. Downside is when you ask to taste the beer, the sample is super tiny, you can’t really get an idea of what you’re drinking. Other than that, it’s a cool place with a cool vibe. I had a peach cider (not sure what I was thinking there, I’m usually a dark beer kind of girl!) we sat by the fire on the patio where I met a fellow MSW (Master of Social Work) who was also on a road trip. Nice night with nice conversations. I think this place is worth checking out!

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Beer and growlers behind my child haha yes, it’s kid friendly!

 

Case Coffee Roasters 1255 Siskiyou Blvd Ashland, OR 97520

Locally owned coffee shop with a simple menu, ridiculously delicious cold brew coffee, ah-mazing hot chocolate, and vegan donuts. This place feels super hipster, but that’s just a part of the Oregon experience. The service is super friendly, so even non hipsters (like myself) feel comfortable in this place. I still dream about their cold brew coffee… We’ll be stopping here on our next trip to Oregon!  

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Big thanks to Christian for showing us around Ashland!!

 

 

Want more information on WWOOF-ing? Visit: WWOOF.net

Next stop, Crater Lake National Park!

Lake Tahoe

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Along Highway 50, Bridal Veil Falls.
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Trail to Fallen Leaf Lake

We rang in 2016 in South Lake Tahoe, California. Growing up in the Bay Area, we were very familiar with Tahoe and its beauty. We knew it would be cold and snowy, but our plans were filled with hikes and more hikes. I imagined picturesque views of the lake where we would play in the snow everyday and take awesome photos we could share with friends on Instagram. Unfortunately, our time in Tahoe was not as eventful as we had hoped. We came down with terrible colds during the holidays and for a family who rarely gets sick, this was a big blow for us. Our immune systems seemed to have taken a toll from the holidays and we found ourselves in very bad shape. So forewarning, this post is short. Our time in Tahoe was mostly spent indoors, wrapped under a blanket indulging in cold medicine and probiotics. But no worries, we made it outside for one hike and of course, food!!

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Jack loved running through the snow.

New Year’s dinner: Latin Soul at Lakeside Inn

168 Hwy 50

Stateline, NV 89449

Bear took a break during this trip since we were able to stay with our friends in their cabin. It was of course a holiday, so they made reservations for all of us to go out to dinner. We were sick and the only ones with a kid, so we offered to stay home so they could enjoy their night out. They insisted and even confirmed with the restaurant that there would be items on the menu to fit our dietary restrictions (we are Pescetarian, the only meat we eat is seafood). It was a thoughtful gesture, so we went ahead and joined them for dinner at Latin Soul.

To our surprise, the restaurant was located inside a casino. One of our friend’s opted for the $35 all you can eat Brazilian barbeque and was disappointed at how dry the meat was. We ordered a vegetable soup and confirmed with the waitress that it was vegetarian. She said yes, but after careful inspection discovered the soup had bacon. On a positive note, we traded in the soup for a chile rellano and it was pretty delicious. Staff was also really nice. Long story short, I wouldn’t return here. But per yelp reviews, the food is good, except the Brazilian barbeque.  

Breakfast: Heidi’s

3485 Lake Tahoe Blvd

South Lake Tahoe, CA 96150

Heidi’s has the most amazing breakfast. It’s one of those restaurants known for their giant portions, but in addition to the big plates, the food is also incredibly delicious. We shared an omelet, home fries and pancakes. The pancakes stood out and I enjoyed every bite. My only regret is ordering juice and getting a refill. Refills aren’t free and that tacked on another $6 to our bill!  My advice: get there early and don’t arrive starving because they have a long wait. And don’t order drinks if you’re on a budget!

Hike: Fallen Leaf Lake

https://www.tripadvisor.com/Attraction_Review-g28926-d116646-Reviews-Fallen_Leaf_Lake-California.html

It’s a short and easy hike to Fallen Leaf Lake. We were thrilled to be back among pine trees after spending the holidays in the busy jungle of the SF bay area. Along the way, we had a snowball fight and we were in awe of the scenery once we made it to the lake. I would have loved a more challenging hike, but our bodies were trying to beat our colds so it turned out to be just perfect for us. Click on the link to trip advisor above for more details.

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Snowball fight!

Although we spent most of our time indoors, we felt like our time at Lake Tahoe was the perfect transition from the holidays in the Bay Area to going back to our lives on the road. After we left Tahoe, we headed north to Chico since Clayton wanted to show me the town where he spent his first years of college. I was intrigued by Chico, but more so wanted to see the Sierra Nevada Brewery. Unfortunately, Sierra Nevada turned out to be a bust. Minors are not allowed on the tour (we thought it would be similar to the Coors Factory) and their restaurant was closed, so we used that time to catch up with friends in the area. While in Chico, I got word that my grandparents were asking if we were going to visit. We thought “well, we’re this far north, we should just go!” That’s the beauty about this road trip. Next stop, Oregon!

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Next stop, Oregon!!