Florida 2017

As I was reviewing our web site today I realized we never published this post about our time in Florida over the winter! It’s been sitting here for months just waiting to be published so here you go!

After leaving Tennessee and Amazon at the end of December we set our sights for Florida. We were fortunate enough to get an invite to stay with friends on private property for the winter and couldn’t pass up the opportunity!

We stayed at what we are referring to as The Ranch of Don Thomas. Our friends, Jim and Liesl arrived a few weeks ahead of us and prepared the hookups for two RV’s at her dad’s new property near the town of Mount Dora. We both had electric (although they were running their 50amp unit on a 30amp circuit), both had water and shared the sewer hook-up which dumped in to the septic system on the property. We even had use of Tom’s washer and dryer. What a nice RV park! It was a wonderful relaxing place to stay and we are so thankful to Tom for opening up his property and home to us.

The town of Mount Dora is a cute little town full of interesting shops, restaurants and with a variety of activities during the winter season. We enjoyed exploring the town and took in some of the events like the art show which was a fantastic display of talent across many different types of media. The surrounding area had a few parks to enjoy. One was a nice bicycle ride from “home” to a lakeside park with a nature trail. Another had a nice dog park and tennis courts so we bought some cheap racquets and took up tennis! One of the coolest places in town is a beer and wine shop called Mermaid Juice that has a huge variety of imports and craft brews with staff that help you pick just the right brew for you.

We just had to go see the manatees again this year at Blue Springs State park. They come in to the fresh water springs during the winter months while the ocean is too cold. The day we went there were 347! They are so fun to watch! The best part is watching the babies follow their mothers around – they are so cute!

We also decided we should take advantage of the nearby waterways and took a 4 hour canoe trip down the Wekiva river to a take-out point with a shuttle ride back. We only saw one little gator but I’m sure some others saw us! Mostly we saw birds and lots of turtles. The funniest part was we actually ran the canoe into a palm tree and tipped over haha! At least the water was shallow and clear at that point and some nice campers helped us right our canoe and rescue our oar. It was a fun trip. Sadly, the battery died on the camera so we don’t have any photos! On another day we went and swam in one of the many warm springs in the area – Juniper springs.

We took a trip to the Eastern coast and checked out the beaches at Daytona and New Smyrna. Here you can drive on the beach if you want, for a fee of course. The beach is wide with clean nice sand making it great for walking and lounging.

While Megann was on a side trip to California to visit family Jim and Liesl took me down to the renaissance fair in Tampa for my birthday. This was my first experience and it was a lot of fun! We saw jousting, full contact chess and of course elaborate costumes for the time period. We drank beer, snacked, listened to music and had a really fun day.

We even took a trip to Cuba since we were so close – we have a separate blog post about that.

It seems like we always have little RV projects to work on during our unemployed time. This season we built a shelf and put new curtains in the bathroom, built a shelf and storage pocket next to the chair and laptop table, removed part of the sleeper couch (which sucked) to create shoe storage, scrubbed the gunk off the roof, repaired a pantry latch, sanded and painted the jeep bumper, tuned up the bikes, installed gutter downspouts….I’m sure there’s more but I can’t recall. We had originally planned to replace the carpet with hard floors but with the complexity of doing this job with the slide-outs and the overall cost we decided against it. So, we got a new vacuum – compromise. We also tried to help Tom with his transition to the new property as much as we could in return for our free stay!

Although we’re always trying to trim down our belongings we made one addition – a jogger style stroller for the fur babies. Yeah, yeah laugh it up! It is pretty funny. We were going on long walks but Dexter can only make it maybe a mile, if it’s not warm. Then there’s Boris – he gets jealous and meows super loud as we walk away from his catio. So we found a used stroller on craigslist, made it cat proof and now the fur babies can go on long walks with us! We can also tow it behind the bicycles however Dexter isn’t too sure how he feels about that – I’m pretty sure he doesn’t really like it. So, there ya have it. We’re the crazy lesbians walking our cat and dog in a stroller.

Speaking of the animals – we learned the Florida lesson about fleas. What works in Washington does not work in Florida. Frontline Plus is like doesn’t do a thing! So, Boris got fleas because he goes out in his catio and sits on the ground. Dex either got them from him or from walking around outside but we got an infestation. So, new super flea killer stuff from the vet, plus shampoo, plus spray for the motor home and washing every bit of cloth possible and we rid ourselves from them. It was a pain in the butt and expensive but they’re gone!

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Jim and Liesl brought their own new fur baby in to the mix when they arrived in Florida and adopted a young Sheltie-Husky mix they named Willow. Her name has become Willow Underfoot Llama-kneck Fluffy-pants Hynes over these past few months and she’s adorable. Her and Dexter were fast friends after Dexter decided she was okay and they had a great time chewing on each other until Dex would call it quits and hide under something. Willow melted her way in to our hearts and we’re going to miss her!

We even had visitors in the form of previous workcamper friends Al and Laura plus lots of Jim and Liesl’s friends and family. It was a great way to winter and we’re really going to miss everyone here when we leave, but the adventure must continue! We will start working our way North shortly, exploring on our way up, with an arrival in Massachusetts in May for our next job.

 

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East Coast Journey – Spring 2017

It’s been a while since we posted a blog and a lot has happened! We wintered in Florida and are currently working in Massachusetts and the journey between the two states brought us much adventure! Here are the highlights from the fun places we stopped along the way in the order we visited them.  We purchased a membership to Passport America before we started the journey which gave us various discounts at RV parks along the way. It paid for itself after the first couple of stays.

St. Augustine

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View from Fort

Our first stop was St. Augustine, Florida. We stayed at St. John’s RV Park in St. Augustine. It was a no frills park, but clean and close to where we wanted to be.  We used the Old Town Trolly to get around town and back to where we parked. The first evening we just rode it around for sightseeing. The next day our first stop was at the Fountain of Youth Archeology Park, the original location of our nation’s first European settlement. We drank from the fountain of youth, enjoyed the beautiful grounds, living history exhibits and artifacts. We thought it was well worth the admission price. Next we went to the fort, Castillo de San Marcos, built by the Spanish in the 17th century and one of only two forts built of coquina making it able to withstand cannon ball blasts exceptionally well. We also did a tour of the St. Augustine Distillery and walked the streets enjoying the waterfront and old buildings. St. Augustine is a fun town and has something for everyone.

Charleston NC

For our stay in Charleston we chose the friendly local Walmart RV park haha. The only negative there was that both our RV and jeep had a sticker from a local brewery on them in the morning. I contacted the brewery to complain (thinking it was their way to advertise) and ended up getting a free beer in exchange for our troubles. Charleston is one of the oldest cities in the nation, originally settled in 1670 but became a city in 1783 so the architecture is a look in to the past. We did a walking tour of historic buildings and had a nice lunch after.

Outer Banks

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Our next stop was the Outer Banks (OBX), a series of barrier islands off the coast of North Carolina. We were mostly expecting fantastic scenery, but we got that along with many other interesting places to explore! Here we stayed at Sands of Time Campground in Avon, NC.  Using that as our home base we ventured out to visit the lighthouses and wildlife refuge at Cape Hatteras National Seashore. We have been working on our bird identification skills, but have a long way to go as we could only identify about half of the birds we saw. Next we visited Wright Brothers Memorial at  Kitty Hawk. It is a windy place, which is I guess why they choose it. They had a replica of the hanger they used as well as markers on the ground that showed where the first four flights landed.  It was amazing to see where the first fights took place. From there we went to a much older historical site. We went to Fort Raleigh National Historic Site. This is the location of a 1585 English fort and then in 1587 the first English Settlement . This later became known as the lost colony of Roanoke. This settlement was before both Jamestown and Plymouth, but it didn’t last long. The settlement wasn’t exactly thriving so later in 1587 they sent the governor back to England to bring back supplies. However, the timing wasn’t great. A war had just started between England and Spain. This caused a two year delay in his return. When he finally got back in 1590 everyone was gone, including his granddaughter and first child born in America, Virginia Dare. There was no trace of the colony, no belongings and no people. The only thing left behind was a single word  “Croatoan” carved into a wooden post.

Besides great wildlife and great history the Outer Banks also has great seafood. Fishing is a huge part of the local economy. We were able to find a little seafood market that had fish right off the boats and a small kitchen that would cook it up for you on the spot. We tasted Sheepshead  fish for the first time and it was delicious.

At this point we drove to D.C but will have another blog just for that because we did so much there!

Williamsburg/Jamestown

On our way up to D.C. we stopped at another lovely Walmart so we could visit Williamsburg and Jamestown.  Part to the city of Williamsburg has been preserved as a living history museum. Everything is as it would have been in the 18th century.  We have been to a few other living history museums, but this one was by far the largest at over 300 acres.  To continue the theme we visited the Historic Jamestowne that is run by the Jamestown Rediscovery Foundation in conjunction with the National Parks Service.  We also visited the privately run Jamestown Settlement. The settlement was also a living history museum, but not done nearly as well as Williamsburg. However, they did have re-creations of the three ships that originally come over to start the settlement. Megann loved them.

Philadelphia

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Congress Hall

 

 

We stayed at the Campus Park and Ride in Phillidelphia. This was our most expensive stay and by far the most like staying at Walmart. It was in a pretty sketchy part of town but, it was close to downtown, gated and had power. The first place we visited was Independance National Historic Park which encompasses numerous historical places including Liberty Bell Center, Independance Hall, Congress Hall and the Benjamin Franklin Museum. This city is so full of history! It was so exciting and humbling to stand in the same building where the Declaration of Independence and U.S. Constitution were debated and signed. Also historic but mostly drawn in by the food we visited Reading Terminal Market, the country’s oldest continuously operating farmers market. The market has just about every type of cuisine  you can think of including Pennsylvania Dutch fare which we were super excited about. We stopped midday to get a Philly cheese steak from a street vendor and it was delicious. Of course one of the main things we wanted to do was run up the “Rocky steps” but the NFL draft was set up there so they were inaccessible! What a bummer! We did get pictures of the statue though.

One day we decided to venture out of the city and just took a drive through Dutch country, stopping in small towns to shop for local goods and crafts.

Niagra Falls

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Next we drove ALL the way across Pennsylvania AND New York to get to Niagra Falls. We stayed at the Cinderella Motel and Campground in Grand Island, NY. This was also a pretty no frills type of place but worked out perfect for us. We are really glad we made the trek up to the falls because it really is breathtaking! We rode the Maid of the Mist boat right up to base of the falls and highly recommend doing it if you ever visit. It is crowded but is definitely the best way to feel the immense power of the falls. One thing we had heard and can confirm is that the Canadian side of the falls is where the life of the party is. The U.S. side has a great park but the Canadian side has casinos, restaurants, clubs and shopping. We did venture over to visit Tim Horton’s, made famous to us by the show How I Met Your Mother  haha. Unfortunately while we were there it was so foggy we couldn’t see the falls. Oh, and being near Buffalo meant we had to stop for Buffalo wings!

Journey’s End

The last leg of the journey with Big Berta was to Oakham, MA for our workcamping gig at Pine Acres Family Camping Resort. The remainder of the trip was uneventful, in a good way, and we arrived a few days early so we had time to make one more side trip before starting work:

Acadia National Park

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View from Cadillac Mountain

Our trip to Acadia was a short one and we just went up in the jeep and stayed at a hotel. We really only had one day in the park but we made the most of it driving the main park road, taking a short hike, having lunch in Bar Harbor. The coast line actually reminded us a lot of Washington and Oregon’s coast, rocky with great views.  On our return trip we drove down the coast passing through Portland and Kennebunkport, both of which I had heard about from my Grandma Lu who had made a trip to the North East and loved this area! We, of course, had to stop and get our first lobster roll in Kennebunkport. The scenery in Maine is unbelievable and the small coastal towns are fantastic. We can’t wait to do more exploring, especially when the leaves start to change.

Cuba 2017

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View from the Malecon

With travel to Cuba becoming less restrictive recently and round trip flights out of Orlando at $150 we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to visit while wintering in Florida so we spent the last week of February this year visiting Cuba for the first time! We spent four nights in the capital city of Havana followed by two nights in the farming community of Viñales and ended the trip with one more night in Havana before our flight back.

U.S – Cuba Relations and Complications

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Street art praising the revolution

Cuba’s communist government and tentative relations with the United States required us to navigate a few complications. First, travel to Cuba for tourist activities alone is still not allowed however a general license covering 12 specific travel categories is allowed. We traveled under the “educational activities” category which must include an itinerary full of educational activities. Our activities consisted mainly of “people-to-people” cultural interaction to learn about Cuban culture and museum visits. If asked upon reentry we would just have to prove that our itinerary met this criteria however we weren’t asked. Second, American banking institutions are not recognized so we would not be able to use any credit or debit cards once in Cuba. This meant we had to plan appropriately and take cash. This means if something horrible were to happen, such as getting robbed or even just over spending each day, we would be out of luck with no way to access our bank accounts. Our contingency plan was giving a blank check to our very good friends with instructions to Western Union us money to Havana if we contacted them, which we could do via the US embassy.  Many businesses don’t accept cards at all and lines for ATM machines are very long so taking cash is necessary regardless. Third, if you exchange American dollars in Cuba they charge you a 10% fee. To get around this we got Euros from our bank to take with us. Cuba has two currencies: pesos for the Cubans and CUC for the tourists. One CUC is roughly equivalent to one US dollar, about 24 times more valuable than one peso.

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Carefully counting our money each day!

Fourth, our cellular phones do not work in Cuba so phoning home or using our cellular data plan wasn’t possible. Some Cubans do have cellular phones but it is not the norm. Fifth, internet is a luxury and if the place you’re staying doesn’t have it (most don’t) you have to buy an internet card for hourly access and go to a public wi-fi hot spot to access it. This meant we had to plan ahead, bring a map and ask the locals! We ended up getting on the internet once to contact one of our hosts to change our check-in time but other than that we didn’t access the internet for a week! Oh, and sixth, we don’t speak much Spanish! We know a little and downloaded some off-line translators that assisted us in a few situations. Despite all of these complications we never got in a bind and the Cuban people seemed excited to see Americans visiting, and of course, spending money! Most people were quite friendly despite our language barrier. Almost all will smile, nod, or greet you with an “Hola” or “buenas dias” as you pass. Some will try to get you to ride in their friends taxi, sit down in their mom’s restaurant or purchase an internet card from them but a simple no is usually accepted. People were also very helpful to us in finding businesses or bus stops. We actually felt safer walking the streets at night in Havana than we would have in most large US cities.

Accommodations

Cuba has its share of all inclusive hotels and you can easily spend $400 a night at places like the Hotel Nacional de Cuba but there are many other options. A booming business for Cubans is their version of a bed and breakfast called a Casa Particular. These are privately owned homes where the owners rent out a range from shared room to private rooms or the entire home. Some are designated for locals only but many are set up for tourists only. They range from $10 per night to $1000 per night with an average of $90 per night. We wanted a more authentic local experience so we opted for around $30 per night in Havana and $17 per night in Viñales. Cuban’s have been allowed to list their casa particulars on AirBnB so we were able to book all of our stays ahead of time. All of our stays included air conditioning, we see this as a necessity in a tropical climate, and private bathrooms. Many Casa Particulars will offer breakfast for around $5 per person and some dinner. We had dinner at one of our casas for $10 each and it was the best, most authentic meal we had on our trip. At this price point don’t expect the beds or bedding to be top notch but you can expect the hosts to be very friendly and accommodating. There are a couple interesting things about homes in Cuba.  Most places have gravity fed water systems from holding tanks on their roofs. They collect rain or have a truck come out to fill it up. We noticed that some don’t have running water – their water tank is in the yard and they come out to get water. The other thing is they don’t seem to have hot water heaters like we do. Most of the showers we used were a version of an insta-hot system where electrical heat tape is wrapped around the steel pipe coming in and you pick from three temperatures. Also, expect to hear a lot of roosters – everyone has chickens!

Havana

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View of Havana from La Fortaleza de San Carlos de la Cabana

Much of our time spent in Havana was in Habana Vieja (old Havana). This neighborhood is full of old plazas, forts with cannons and historic buildings with fantastic architecture. We really enjoyed both the architecture and the common use of really bright paint colors.

With age and a struggling economy however, also come crumbling facades and buckled streets. You really have to watch where you’re walking in this area of town so you don’t twist an ankle or get run over while walking in the street because the sidewalk is a no-go. You can walk to most of the sights in the area and we really put on some miles! The nice thing about walking is getting a glimpse of average Cuban life watching people at the markets, seeing in to their first floor flats with doors wide open during the day and seeing the children playing in the parks in the evenings. We even saw the a few groups of men playing dominoes like you see in movies! In this area of town many people are selling a few home made goods or commodities right out of their homes so every block has a glimpse of Cuban life.

One of the best sights of the city of course are the classic cars. It is true that the streets are filled with cars from decades past. Some are patched together but some have been meticulously restored. Many are operated as taxi’s but some are just people’s cars.

We walked the “Malecon” which is the main street along the sea wall and waterfront and heard the “cannon blast” that they shoot every night from La Fortaleza de San Carlos de la Cabana. We went on another day to visit the fort for some history and viewing of artifacts from the Spanish era. We hired an English speaking guide for a few extra dollars and he really enriched the experience. From here you get an amazing panoramic view of the city across the river.

We also toured the Musèo de la Revolution (museum of the revolution) housed in the old presidential palace which still has bullet holes in it from the revolution. The museum was really informative, albeit very one sided, but strangely un-kept by American standards.

In Havana we also toured the rum museum and tobacco factory – see section below. We went on one of the “hop on, hop off” double-decker buses to get an overall view of the city. It was a bit odd because our expectation was that there would be a narrator giving information along the way – apparently not in Cuba. You get on the bus, don’t know where it’s stopping and just look haha.

We did hop off to walk around the city cemetery with its huge crypts – similar to what we have seen in New Orleans.

One odd thing we really enjoyed about Havana were the street animals – yes, the dogs and cats that just roam around. They were the most relaxed and confident animals, roaming in and out of shops like bosses, sat and stared at people dining outdoors and were a fixture of the streets. Even Cuban people would just walk around a dog sleeping or eating a chicken bone in the middle of the sidewalk like they had just as much right to be there as they did.

Viñales

Viñales is a town in the prime tobacco growing region of the country. It is a beautiful contrast to the city with jungle covered granite “mogotes” mounding up from the valley floor. One of the coolest sights we saw here was a spectacular sunset against the mogotes behind the town baseball field where children were practicing both baseball and fútbol (soccer).

The town has become quite touristy although still quite small. Almost all of the homes are casa particulars and the main street is lined with restaurants of many price points. There are so many casa particulars in fact that the locals stand in a crowd waiting for the bus to arrive holding signs advertising their casa.

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The lady in holding the sign in the back with blue polka-dots ended up being our neighbor. She made us fresh juice while we waited for our host.

Our main activity in Viñales was a horse back tour of the nearby valley. One of the fun parts was that it wasn’t a company with a hundred horses that we went with. We booked with a tour company but they set us up with a single guide with four horses from his family farm. He spoke fairly good English and could tell us what all of the crops were and translated for us at the different farms we stopped at. We saw many vegetables, fruits, coffee and tobacco being farmed, in many cases with a oxen and plow. Our tour included a stop at a cave, tobacco farm, coffee farm and cafe. See sections below for more detail.

In the town there is a main square at the site of a historic church that has a hot spot and is a gathering place for tourists and locals alike. Here you can pay a local for personal Salsa dancing, drum playing lessons, view local artists work and learn some local history.

We also visited the botanical gardens. It was a little strange, but beautiful. There was a large variety of tropical plants, but also strangely mixed in were creepy doll heads.

Transportation

Transportation around the island has it’s quirks. We decided to not rent a car since we read that if you are involved in an accident you can be held in the country until the issue is resolved. In addition to the classic taxi’s, which are the most expensive, there are 80’s model year black and yellow cabs. We usually used them to get a better fair. All fees must be negotiated up front as they do not have meters.

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In the taxi category there are bicycle powered versions and three wheeled motorcycle versions.

There are “collectives” which are mostly used by Cubans – larger cars with multiple seats. These can be anything from a Chinese van to a 60’s model Land Cruiser with 7 people in the back. There are tourist buses (Viazul) that can take you from city to city or out to the beaches – we used this option to get to Viñales and back. These buses are nice, air conditioned and out of the price range for most Cubans. The Cuban people stand in very long lines to board old worn down metro buses in Havana that are standing room only. To get to another city they may be riding in what looks like an old cattle truck converted to a people mover. We were shocked to see what people were riding around in actually!

Along with cars, many Cubans ride motorcycles and sometimes you even see wagon pulled by a horse or oxen, even in Havana. The small wagon pulled by horses were very common in Viñales.

The Arts

We encountered a few craft markets in both Havana and Viñales. It is interesting because they all seem to have the same items: jewelry made with the same beads, hats, small leather purses, wooden figures, etc. These must be the few things available to them or they are government approved. What was unique were the variety of paintings and prints.

On one of our walks we encountered a street fair with local artists and bought a linoleum print of two stylized stove top style espresso makers – it’s perfect because I make my  coffee every day at home with the same type!

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My print – “Dos Hermanas”

We really did enjoy the variety of very talented artists. In fact, there are many galleries throughout Havana. I really only took pictures of the street art, and the piece I bought, because I think it’s kind of rude to take a picture of someone’s work if you’re not buying something.

In addition to artwork, musicians are everywhere. It is not uncommon to find live music at cafes or bars on any day of the week starting mid-afternoon. Some evenings we just walked the streets and stopped to have a drink wherever we heard music we liked. The most interesting thing we saw was a trio where the man playing the bass had created his instrument with a bucket, piece of wood and one string! It was impressive how he could vary the sound by tilting the bucket with his foot or varying the pressure on the string. At this particular place the wait staff would come out and dance with the band between customers. If you want to hear some music follow this link YouTube.

Cuba is famous not only for rum and cigars, but also cabaret. They feature lots of sequins, feathers, ruffles and crazy hats! The most famous of these is the Tropicana. We decided not to go to that one due to the outrageous expense. The tickets are $90 each, plus it is on the outskirts of town. That means you have to take a cab there and you have to pay for them to stay throughout the show in order to take you back. We opted for the Cabaret Parisien at the Hotel National. It was only $35 a person. The show was a lot of fun, but not really up to Vegas standards. The acrobats were by far the best part of the show. To see some clips from the show follow this link to YouTube.

Food

There are two types of restaurants in Cuba. There are government run restaurants and private paledars. The government run places are far more prevalent, but the paledars tend to have better food.   We had tried Cuban food in Miami and weren’t impressed, finding it bland. We were impressed with the options in Cuba however. We tried to stay on the traditional side despite many of the more expensive restaurants trying to cater to tourists with lobster or Italian dishes. One of our favorites was ropa viaja but we also tried such dishes like ox tail and lamb shanks.

 

It appears that Cubans eat a lot of chicken and the chicken we had while there was seasoned deliciously! In fact, the wonderful meal we had at the casa particular was chicken with onions and peppers, rice and black beans. Even just the rice and beans were so flavorful!

We found that we liked the Cuban beer, Bucanero. We don’t normally like lagers, but this one had a great flavor. Perhaps the 5.4% alcohol content may have had something to do with it.

All of the breakfasts we had came with lots of fresh sliced fruit like actual ripe bananas, guava, papaya, pineapple and mango along with fresh juice, usually guava or papaya. Eggs always come with slices of tomato and cucumber.

We purchased a variety of pastries and empanadas from street vendors whenever we could. The best were guava flavored (with paste they can get from the government store) purchased from a man with a box on the back of his bike.  We loved the price 8 for 1 CUC! We even bought little bananas a man was selling from his back yard.

We also tried chocolate while we were there.  It has a unique flavor. It was different then American or even Mexican chocolate. It is hard to describe, but it wasn’t our favorite.

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We tried to seek out the Cuban sandwich but discovered that it’s more of an Americanized thing you can find at hotels and in Miami. Sandwiches at most cafeterias are simple ham and cheese, no pickles.

Something we were not prepared for is the service at restaurants, or the lack thereof. You could literally sit at a table for fifteen minutes, in sight of a server, at a lot of places without them acknowledging you until you flag them down. And when you want the check you often have to get up and find someone to get it for you. Very strange by American standards but apparently the norm in Cuba.

Rum and Cigars

Two commodities Cuba is known for are rum, made from sugar cane, and cigars. Being true connoisseurs of the Cuban experience we had to try both! We tried a few different brands and ages of rum settling on Havana Club brand Ritual, which is a spiced version in the same realm as Captain Morgan’s, as our favorite. We went to the Museo del Ron Havana Club (rum museum) but it was not well put together with a few props and a diorama that led to the sale room.

The cigar experience was interesting because we know nothing about cigars, in fact Megann had never smoked anything in her life before Cuba. We first purchased some from one of our hosts – some small sized “chicos” from Partagas. They tasted…smokey? Then we tried some small Cohiba’s  that we bought from a cigar shop. They also tasted smokey haha. We went to one of the tobacco factories, Fabrico de la Tabaco Partagas, which is actually where they train new cigar rollers. We were not allowed to take pictures but got to watch through the rolling room windows while people were making cigars.

Our final experience was at a farm in the Viñales Valley. The farmer showed us the live crops, drying buildings and then proceeded to hand roll a cigar in front of us. The tobacco he used had been cured with some rum and pineapple juices. He used honey as the glue and before lighting one he dipped the end in honey. We each got to sample a free cigar that he hand-rolled. These tasted a little sweeter than the others and became our favorites. We did find that the rum and cigar actually pair nicely together. To see the farmer rolling the cigar follow this link to YouTube.

Coffee

Another Cuban staple is coffee – yum! I fell in love with strong Cuban coffee last year while visiting Miami and now make my own at home. Coffee here is served as espresso in small cups with the option to add milk. I prefer the espresso with a touch of sugar but Meg is cafe con leche all the way (with milk)! We got to visit the coffee farm on our horseback trip in Viñales but also made a point of trying coffee from a variety of cafe’s around town.

We even purchased some freshly roasted and ground beans from a shop strangely named Cafe O’Reilly that has been a fixture in Havana since the 19th century.

Beaches

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Playas de Este – Santa Maria

A half hour bus ride from Havana are the Playas de Este (eastern beaches). We spent a day walking the beaches and enjoying the surf. These particular beaches weren’t white like some of them are but the water color was a spectacular turquoise! We had some piña coladas and watched both locals and tourists enjoy the water. You can rent a chair or umbrella at any beach from a government run stand. We would love to spend more time at the beach if we return to Cuba. We’ve heard wonderful things about beaches all around the main island, along with some off shore islands you can take a boat to. Follow this link to see some clips of the ocean on YouTube.

Our Overall Impression

We really had a wonderful time in Cuba and it was fascinating to see their version of communism in action. Personal freedoms are restricted although loosened in recent years. The supply chain is also restricted in a lot of ways and the standard of living is very low for almost everyone, but a very few elite.  The average monthly income in Cuba is around 30 US Dollars. Some basic needs are provided for them including food rations (although not nearly enough to subside), healthcare (although it can be difficult to get some basic items such as asprin) and all levels of education. Despite it being an impoverished country there is a lot of beauty to behold, it is safe and very inexpensive by our standards.

A few interesting facts and observations:

  • Most Cubans live in multi-generational homes and home ownership is up around 85%. Housing rates are kept low through government subsidies however there is a lack of housing available.
  • Cubans are given rations for food and other staples although they are meager and not consistent.
  • Cuba has a socialized healthcare system. Their infant mortality rate is as good as the United States. Some reports indicate a lack of facilities and supplies however.
  • We didn’t see any homeless people. We hypothesize that this is due the multi-generational homes, rations and healthcare.
  • We rarely saw infants and if we did they usually belonged to a tourist. We think it is also due to the multi-generational living style where there is likely someone home to watch the children while others go out to run errands.
  • Education is very important in Cuba and they claim a literacy rate of almost 100%.
  • People still gather after work in parks and streets rather than go home and watch TV, play video games, etc. This is most likely due to the lack of TVs and video games.
  • Cubans stand in a lot of lines – for transportation, banking, food rations and many other things I’m sure. There are not a lot of resources so they have to be willing to wait.
  • Littering is a thing – I’m not sure there are laws against it because everyone just does it, like all the time.
  • There are no billboard style advertisements like in the US. If you see a billboard it will have some type of governmental propaganda on it. Propaganda is everywhere.
  • Chickens are everywhere – even on rooftops in the city – be prepared to wake to the sound of a rooster.
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This rooster woke us up at 3am I think

  • Only tourists wear white linen shirts and fedoras. The only Cubans you see wearing them are those playing to tourists like waiters and some musicians.
  • BYOTP – yes, bring your own toilet paper and a few pesos for public restrooms. Most public restrooms don’t have toilet paper but there’s someone standing outside ready to sell you some. Also, there won’t be a toilet seat. Really. We weren’t quite prepared for that.
  • Money matters: If you’re a tourist you’re probably paying more for an item than a local, regardless of the peso to CUC conversion – if you’re generally wise to what things should cost it won’t be too bad but it’s good to be informed. Also, the bus may be “full” but if you have a few extra CUC you can probably get a seat.
  • Don’t drink the water. Our first hosts even told us to not drink the water. That being said, be prepared to spend $2 CUC per bottle unless you really seek out a cheaper option in a local market. We should have taken our Steri-Pen to sanitize the tap water.
  • Instead of boy scouts and girl scouts and other such youth groups almost all children belong to the Young Communists League or Unión de Jóvenes Comunistas .
  • Cattle and horses are often tied out with long leads where ever grass can be found, even in the freeway median.
  • There isn’t graffiti like we know it – street art yes, but gang type graffiti no.
  • Some businesses aren’t as professional as we are used to. One tour company told us the cigar factory was closed for a national holiday and tried to sell us a different expensive tour. We went across the street to another place and booked the cigar tour. All of the tickets you get are just hand written pieces of paper as well.

 

Amazon Peak 2016

For the second year in a row we have worked at Amazon in Murfreesboro, TN during their “peak” season leading up to Christmas. We traveled from our sugar beet harvest job in Drayton ND to Smyrna, TN over the course of about a week. Along the way we made a few fun stops:

Mississippi Headwaters, Itasca State Park, MN

At Itasca state park in Minnesota the headwaters of the Mississippi river start. It was so cool to see where it all begins knowing that it eventually runs in to the Gulf of Mexico. The visit did inspire a bit of a dream as well. You can float the river from there all they way to the gulf without white water but having to navigate quite a few locks. We’ve been talking about taking on this adventure in a couple years with some friends….more to come on that crazy idea!

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The Mall of America, Bloomington MN

One of the largest malls in America, the Mall of America has an amusement park, aquarium, Lego Imagination Center and tons of specialty stores in addition to the usuals, such as American Girl Dolls, Apple, Peeps and Hard Rock.

Winnebago Factory, Forest City IA

Since we drive a Winnebago product (Itasca Suncruiser) and we were in the vicinity we just had to stop for a tour of the factory! The tour was really eye opening. They make their own holding tanks, fabric, furniture, cabinets and more. We got to see the chassis before anything was put on them, the process for making the exterior wall panels and see various models on the line at the same time in different phases. You normally aren’t allowed to take photos but our tour guide was a marketing manager who had photo clearance so we got to have our picture taken inside!

Colaw RV Junk Yard, Carthage MO

Call us strange but there’s something fun about a junk yard – so what could be cooler than an RV junk yard? Especially when there’s a bunch of Winnebago’s out there to crawl through and look for parts! We needed some cabinet hardware parts and ended up finding this place while searching on line so decided to make a stop. We did end up finding a few things that would have ended up costing us a few hundred dollars for about $30! We were really hoping to score some new captain’s chairs or recliner but nothing in our price range was any better than what we’ve got. It was still a worthwhile and fun stop.

Louisville KY

Louisville ended up being a really fun city to visit. One of the things that lured us there was the Kentucky bourbon trail. Last year we visited the Jack Daniels whiskey distillery in Tennessee so this year we thought it proper to do some bourbon tasting. The Jim Beam distillery was a fun tour but actually I think the Jack Daniels one is more of a must-see. We did participate in the urban bourbon trail in downtown Louisville and had a really good time. You visit multiple bars, restaurants and hotels and get a stamp for making a purchase, eventually earning a free T-shirt. We both got a free T-shirt and didn’t want to look at another bourbon glass for quite a while! We were lucky enough to be in the area on a day when they were racing at Churchill Downs! What a fun experience! We’ve been to horse races before but to see such a famous track was really special. Our last stop before leaving town was the Louisville Slugger factory. We got to see the process from start to finish, see bats of some all time greats – even hold one of Babe Ruth’s bats!

Amazon

We arrived at our RV park in Smyrna, TN (paid for by Amazon) a couple days early to get settled in before reporting for orientation on Nov. 4th. We worked night shift again this year but decided it’s not worth the little extra money if we come back next year. It’s just really hard on the body and there’s not much to do on days off while you’re still trying to stay up all night – we got pretty tired of going to Walmart at 3am! We did a different job this year – we were packers instead of pickers. So we basically put items in boxes, bags or envelopes and sent them down the line to get a shipping label. Sometimes it was multiple items in one box, sometimes one item, depending on the station you got assigned for that day. It was much easier on the feet than last year but we did get some carpal tunnel flare up and if we were on “multi-large” stations it could be hard on the back. We both agree it was easier than last year physically, less frustrating but still really boring. You are expected to pack anywhere from 90 to 250 items per hour depending on the station so it is VERY repetitive. The highlights of the day were coming across some of the strange items people purchase! We were usually near each other so we could run over to be like “look at this HAHAHAH!” We worked 60 hour weeks that consisted of (5) 12-hour days, still giving us two days off where as last year we only had one day off a week. We had some pretty good luck this year with contests and random prizes! We won a PS4 for having perfect attendance, got to go in the “money machine” and got $360 and won a few smaller gift cards for racing during “power hours”. I guess it still wasn’t as lucrative as last year however because of a change they made. Sometimes they have mandatory over time and sometimes it’s voluntary, plus campers are only ever required to work 50 hours in a week. Last year anyone who worked all available OT in a week got a $100 gift card at the end of the week – this year they did away with that program except for the last week. There were a lot of people upset about that change. Unfortunately they don’t let you take phones or cameras in to the warehouse so we can’t show you any pictures but I did find a pretty good short video that shows what it’s like inside – just click here. Last year we made really good friends with a couple that we ended up working at sugar beets with and then camped again with at Amazon this year. Being able to work with friends makes any job easier. This peak we met a couple more really cool people that we look forward to seeing on the road in the future – that is one of the most rewarding parts of this lifestyle!

Now that we’re all done with Amazon we’re getting our sleep schedule back on track and heading out for Florida in a few days. We had a nice little Christmas here with our friends at the RV park. We will make a few stops on the way down that we will share on the next post. Will we be headed back to Amazon next season? The answer at this point is quite possibly but maybe not. If we do, we’ve decided to try the Kentucky location for a change and because the campground is almost right across the road so no commute. But, we might look for something different for a change of pace and to get away from winter sooner. We’re think about a Christmas tree lot or working a kiosk in a mall like some other fiends we have – it’s up in the air for now!

 

Sugar Beet Harvest 2016

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Well, we survived sugar beet harvest 2016! In North Dakota, Minnesota and parts of Montana much of the country’s sugar beets are grown. In some areas there aren’t enough unemployed locals to fill necessary positions for the harvest so the sugar companies have started hiring workampers. We worked in Drayton, ND for American Crystal Sugar. Drayton is located on the boarder of North Dakota and Minnesota and very close to Canada.

For harvest we were stationed where the farmers bring their truckloads of beets to the processing plant. There are numerous “pilers”, machines that receive the beets from the truck, remove excess dirt and run the beets out the end of a boom in a large pile. The piles are up to 30 feet tall and hundreds of feet long by the time we’re done. We basically took tickets from the truckers, bagged samples of beets, operated the dirt return (each truck gets it’s excess dirt back) and operated the boom back and forth to keep the pile even. Megann also learned to be the back-up piler operator for when our operator went on break. This consists of running the end dumps where the beets are dumped and main conveyor from a control booth. One day when there was a big freeze over night I was in the “chop house” grabbing sample beets off the top of trucks as they came and chopped them with a machete to see if they were too frozen to pile. The other thing we did was shovel a lot of dirt and beets! Dirt is always accumulating on the ground along with spilled beets, etc. Just to keep the area where you’re walking safe it’s necessary to shovel a lot.

Luckily we had a good skid steer operator in our area to take care of the big messes. Our shifts were 12 hours long and we were outside except for a couple breaks and lunch in the car. Being in North Dakota in October the daytime temperature ranged anywhere from 35 to 65 but was mostly in the 40’s or low 50’s with some wind. On a daily basis we wore up to 4 layers on the bottom, including snow pants, 5 layers on top, 2 pairs of gloves neck scarf and balaclava. It was a joy to try and pee in the porta-potty!

It may sound like mild torture, and it kind of is, but for wanderers like us this is a way to make decent money. The pay is well over minimum wage, Saturday is time and a half and Sundays are double time. With 12 hour days you get a lot of overtime. Plus, at the end of the season you get 5% bonus on all hours worked. We were provided a full hook up RV spot while we were there. We were lucky to get to work with our friends and our piler operator was a great guy. Our foreman was also really nice and he said he’d pick us from the list in the future if he see’s our names. Working with good people makes a huge difference no matter where you work so we consider ourselves lucky. I don’t think everyone here had as good an experience as we did due to who they worked with or directly for.

We did get to do a little exploring while we were there since we had some days of down time when temperatures where too hot to harvest. We drove up in to Canada to Winnepeg. The city has beautiful parks and interesting shopping areas. It was a fun day trip.

Other than that there’s not much to see in this area – except the wood chipper from the movie Fargo. The grocery store here didn’t even stay open late enough for us to go there after work, but the gas station had some really good pizza haha. Will we do it again? Maybe. Next fall however we will still be in New England because of our summer job but the year after? It’s a consideration for sure. We are already in Tennessee for our Amazon job but we did some exploring on the way down that we’ll share in the next blog.

Two Seasons in West Yellowstone

Man, am I horrible at blogging during the summer! This summer, as well as last, we spent working at Yellowstone Holiday Resort. We are part of a crew of five couples (including the managers) who are full time RV’rs. The resort consists of 36 RV sites, 24 cabins, marina and store. Our duties include office/store, dispensing propane and fuel, renting boats, cleaning and light maintenance/grounds keeping depending on the day. This year we have also been doing some dog walking on the side for a bit of pocket cash. Both seasons we have had great teams to work with, making it really fun.

We are located on the shore of Lake Hebgen, a prime fishing location, fifteen minutes from the town of West Yellowstone and West entrance to Yellowstone National Park. In the early season we regularly see bison around the resort, last year we actually watched a moose swim across the lake and walk across the RV sites! All season we get to watch the osprey fishing right outside the window along with fish jumping, otters, beaver and a wide variety of other birds. We also get to witness quite a beautiful display of wild flowers right around the lake.

We get some really nice perks for working here like being able to use the resorts water craft for free. We take out the 14ft fishing boats to go trolling sometimes and my personal favorite are the paddle boards – Dexter even loves to go paddle boarding! We enjoy being able to fish on a regular basis if we want and have caught some pretty nice fish the last couple seasons! We also have our own kayaks here that we paddle around in. The owners/managers also arrange a horse back ride and cookout with nearby Parade Rest for all of us workers that is a lot of fun!

Last year we spent quite a bit of time exploring in the national park. The park is huge and takes multiple trips to see just the major attractions. Yellowstone really is an amazing thing to see. The geothermal features are so other-worldly! I think my favorite locations are Mammoth Hot Springs and Yellowstone Canyon (the grand canyon of Yellowstone). The drive over Beartooth pass is a must see along with the trip to Cody through the park. We of course have seen a lot of wildlife (from a safe distance thankfully) but wish we had a better camera with a zoom lens to get better photos. We’ve seen bison, black and grizzly bear, mountain sheep and goats, deer, elk, pronghorn, moose, otters fox, wolves, osprey, bald eagles, ermine and even a badger!

This year we have spent a lot more time exploring and hiking outside of the national park. There are tons of hiking trails within a half hour of our RV park. We are definitely in bear country and take precautions when we hike. On one of our hikes we saw multiple bear tracks, including those of a cub. Most recently we backpacked in to a forest service cabin built in the 30’s and stayed two nights in some of the most beautiful country we’ve been in! We’ve also done some camping with friends we made here at the RV park. They’ve shown us to some really great lake and river locations. All of our camping outings revolve around kayaking and fishing so we’re always next a picturesque lake or river.

We’ve also had a lot of visitors over the two seasons. My dad, sister and family, friends from Yakima and Megann’s mom, grandma, aunt, uncle and cousin from California have all come to stay with us. During those visits we did a lot of exploring in the park as well as locally, played in the lake and enjoyed a lot of family dinners. We definitely feel loved having people make the jaunt to come see us, oh yeah and the awesome national park too! You may notice that some of our photos (the better ones) are watermarked “pegZphotography”. This is Megann’s aunt Peggy – if you want to see some of her other work check out her web site.

We have loved our two summers here so it was difficult to not make a commitment for next season. We are going to continue with our quest to see the country by looking for a job in the North-East somewhere for summer 2017. After leaving here at the end of September we will be headed to Eastern North Dakota for about three weeks working the sugar beet harvest. Then it’s back to Amazon in Tennessee for the Christmas shopping season – gluttons for punishment I know. From there it’s off to Florida for the remainder of the winter and early spring.

And just because – national park signs that make me laugh.

 

Best Friends and Kanab, UT

Last year we visited Best Friends Animal Society, known by some due to the TV show Dogtown. After our visit we made a vow to come back and volunteer so this year we scheduled ourselves for the month of March, five days a week. The sanctuary is amazing and the area surrounding it is some of the most scenic we’ve seen and is a wealth of opportunity for outdoor recreation.

Best Friends Animal Society

Best Friends is now the largest no-kill animal sanctuary in the world but was started over 30 years ago with little money or resources by the founders. They started off saving so-called unadoptables from other shelters to keep them from being euthanized, and with rehabilitation and training were able to adopt most of them out to loving homes. They now have a mission to bring about a time with no more homeless pets. Best Friends cares for around 1,700 animals at any given time and is always working on initiatives to create no kill cities, TNR (trap, neuter, release) cat programs, phase out puppy mill sales and repeal breed discrimination laws all over the country. They have designated areas for dogs, cats, bunnies, horses, pigs, goats, parrots, and wild friends which consists of wild birds, mink, and various other animals being rehabilitated, hopefully for re-release in to the wild. We spent a little time in each area but focused most of our time with dogs, cats, bunnies and horses. Volunteer time in each area usually included some cleaning, walking (in the dog area) and socializing with the animals.

Dog Town

The dog portion of the sanctuary is home to between 300 and 400 dogs in multiple buildings, each with multiple runs that have both indoor and outdoor areas. Dog town is home to some well known dogs such as those rescued from Michael Vick’s fighting kennels and hurricane Katrina. Our days volunteering usually consisted of walking a lot of dogs on designated trails, cleaning (pick up poop, sweep and mop kennels), help with feeding time and socializing. Socializing can mean petting and loving on the dogs, just sitting and reading to shy dogs or sometimes hand feeding a ferral dog. Another really fun thing we got to do with the dogs was take them on outings. Many of the dogs are approved to go on car rides, on hiking trails and even to patio dining areas – we had a lot of fun doing this and so did the dogs! We also got to see demos on clicker training, scent training and even attend one of their internal classes on dog reactivity/aggression. We learned so much by being around the care givers and trainers while we were there and had so much fun working with the vast variety of dogs.

Cat World

There are more than 700 cats living in Cat World! Like Dog Town there are multiple buildings, each with multiple rooms that have indoor and outdoor areas. These “catios” have multiple levels of ramps, trees, boxes, tubes, toys and beds for the cats to play and hide in. Most of the buildings also have “lobby cats” who require extra care so get to stay in the lobby where more people can keep an eye on them. Volunteering with cats usually involved cleaning a room in the building (change bedding, litter boxes, wipe surfaces, sweep and mop) and then getting to socialize with the cats. Some love to play, some jump in your lap for pets as soon as you sit down, some can be walked on a leash and many like to be taken for stroller rides outside! One building is dedicated to cats with feline leukemia and boy are they the sweetest! Volunteering with cats was always a more mellow (and quiet) experience than being with the dogs.

Horse Haven

Horse Haven includes over 30 horses, mules, donkeys, ponies and goats. We did not spend as much time with the goats but did get to assist with feeding and there are a few of them that do enjoy being pet. The horses are dispersed across multiple little pastures/pens and grouped based on who gets along with who. When we volunteered in this area we usually mucked, fed and brushed. One day we got to watch a demo on Parelli horsemanship which is the program used for all training in Horse Haven. It was so fascinating to watch the trainer work with a young mustang rescue and communicate with it!

Piggy Paradise

Piggy Paradise the home of Best Friends’ pot bellied pigs and boy are they funny and cute! We were surprised at how much they like people (most of them) and even want their bellies scratched. If you started scratching one it would just flop over and show you it’s tummy for more! In this area we picked up poop of course, fed and socialized with them. They really seemed to enjoy having people come in and hang out with them – they would swarm all around us. They even had a cat that had befriended and hung out in the pig pen.

Bunny House

We’re not sure how many bunnies were there at the Bunny House but they had about five buildings with multiple runs, each having between one and four bunnies. They are very social but also very territorial so they have to be very careful about introducing them to each other. They really have to like each other to live together. Volunteers are put to work cleaning runs which includes swapping out LOTS of bedding, picking up all those little cocoa puffs, mopping, getting fresh water and replacing their chew toys and litter boxes. We also helped with feeding and loading laundry. We always had a lot of fun with the bunnies. It was a lot of work but they are sweet and the staff in that area was a lot of fun.

Parrot Garden

The Parrot Garden includes parrots, macaws, cockatoos, cockatiels and a few other types of birds. It is the one area at best friends where an animal you’re talking to might actually talk back! We didn’t know much about birds to begin with but learned that a parrot can live up to 100 years of age, are highly intelligent, stress easily and are actually wild, not domesticated. We helped clean cages, feed, water and wash dishes. Weather permitting the birds spend their days split between their inside cages and their outside flights where they can be more active and enjoy the fresh air. They are about to break ground on a new building for the Parrot Garden.

Wild Friends

The wild friends area has minks ducks, ravens, roosters, pigeons and one very beautiful golden pheasant. Working in this area isn’t as touchy-feely as the other areas since you can’t exactly cuddle the wild animals. Most of the time is spent cleaning poo, skimming the ponds and feeding. Let me tell you these guys eat well. Since the ravens are scavengers they get things like tacos, lasagna and hard boiled eggs all cooked up by the caregivers.

Other Sanctuary Areas

The sanctuary owns 3,700 acres and leases another 30,000 so there is a large buffer around it. On the property in addition to all the animal specific areas there are some public hiking trails, archaeological sites, a cemetery for sanctuary animals (Angels Landing), a cemetery for members animals (Angels Rest), visitor center, buffet style cafe (The Village Cafe) and state of the art veterinary clinic. The Cafe is pretty amazing – it is a vegetarian all you can eat lunch including salad bar, entrees and desserts for $5. Kind of hard to beat that! What was really amazing was the veterinary clinic. Normally the public isn’t given access to the vet clinic but we just happened to ask about while they were organizing a trial run of a members only tour that included it! It was nicer than a lot of medical clinics I’ve gone too. It was super clean, the animal recovery areas were all designed to keep the animals as calm and relaxed as possible and they have all new equipment throughout. They even have a treatment room for chiropractic, acupuncture and laser treatments for animals with arthritis and similar ailments.

Kanab

Kanab is a small town (pop. 4,300) located a few miles north of the Arizona border on US 89A. During the warmer months it has become a tourist destination given it’s proximity to national parks and recreation areas. There are a couple small grocery stores and basics like hardware and auto parts along with the typical tourist shops and restaurants. There is a trail system leaving right out of town that we went on a couple times with dogs from Best Friends. While we were there they had an event called Shamrocks and Redrocks that included live music, parade and street fair. It was originally a ranching town but tourism and the Best Friends community (mostly transplanted from elsewhere in the country) has brought more variety in restaurants and activities.

Surrounding Area

Kanab is located in the middle if a spectacular area for scenery and recreation. Within a couple hours you can access the Grand Canyon, Lake Powell, Glenn Canyon, Grand Staircase Escelante National Monument, Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks among many other destinations. We explored Grand Staircase Escelante, BLM and tribal lands mostly while we were there since the North Rim of Grand Canyon was still closed and trails we would have wanted to further explore at Zion and Bryce were still iced over at the time.

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Grand Staircase Escelante National Monument

Grand staircase is a 1.9 million acre monument of beautiful desert landscape. There are numerous roads, trails and geological wonders to explore. We drove the 46 mile Cottonwood Road Scenic byway and Johnson Canyon roads, both spanning unique sandstone landscapes, canyons, creeks and even Ponderosa forest. We saw so many cool areas to back country camp in the area! Along Cottonwood road we saw Grosvenor Arch. We also visited The Toadstools, a short hike to interesting hoodoos and balanced rocks.

BLM – North Coyote Buttes Wilderness

The Wave, as it is commonly referred to, is a large wave-like sandstone bowl in a wilderness area that can only be accessed with lottery permit. We were so lucky to be drawn for a permit on our first try! Only twenty people are allowed to visit the wave per day and half of them are scheduled six months in advance. Reaching the wave is a 6.4 mile round trip adventure. The trail consists of a dry wash, sandstone and sand dunes so it really isn’t visible to the naked eye. There are minimal signs and the rangers recommended to not trust them since they get knocked over and re-positioned. They provide a printed reference guide of sequential photos to use as way points for the approach and return. The hike and way-finding was a lot of fun and so worth it! The wave is amazing and not overcrowded – it was a special treat to get to see it. We have heard that there are a lot of other amazing places in the North Coyote Buttes that don’t require a permit. There are also the South Coyote Buttes that are supposed to be just as cool and it’s easier to get a permit for.

Antelope Canyon

Antelope Canyon is a well known and photographed slot canyon on Navajo land just East of Page, AZ and near Lake Powell. All visits require a guide – we visited the lower canyon after purchasing tickets right at the entrance through Dixie Ellis. The tour takes about an hour and is just over a mile long including a number of staircases to enter and make your way through the canyon. It was one of the most spectacular places we’ve ever visited with regard to its natural beauty but it definitely isn’t a serene experience. On the group tour, which we did, you are packed in single file with about 20 people and the groups are one right after another. You have to get crafty to get pictures without someone else’s head in them! It was totally worth it though and we would recommend seeing it if you get the chance.

Other

While there we also made quick trips to Pipe Spring National Monument, Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park and hiked on the Kanab trails network. We wish we would have had time to get out on Lake Powell with some kayaks but the wind didn’t cooperate on the days we had available. There is so much to do in this area if you like to spend time outdoors. We could definitely spend more time here!

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