Back to life..Back to reality..

Wow. There is no way possible that we have completed the circle. What I really want to say is, “WAAAAAAAA!” I do have two last Country  blogs to finish up. Currently working on both Argentina and Chile. My goal is to continue to blog when we return, however, will just change my blog to Crazy Mom. I enjoy writing and may pursue other creative areas in the writing arena as well. Many people in the last week have asked how I am feeling? Are we ready to come home? Would we continue if possible? Tomorrow we leave on our last plane. In the last 238 days we have flown on over 24 flights. The vast majority of these flights being in the last three months of our trip. Here are some stats on our trip.

Visits to Five Continent

Explored 18 different countries

Swam in the Pacific Ocean, the Atlantic Ocean, the Indian Ocean, the Tasman Sea, the Mediterranean Sea, the South China Sea, and the Southern Ocean.

We have spent the night in the following cities; Brownstown, MI, London, York, Edinburgh, Paris, Avignon, Talousse, Biarritz, San Sebastián, Seville, Madrid, Cadiz, Barcelona, Granada, Valencia, Aix-en-Provence, Rapallo, Santa Margherita, Tuscany, Venice, Lake Como, Geneva,  Kaiserslautern, Prague, Vienna, Salzburg, Hallstadt, Munich, Chiang Mai, Bangkok, Koh Samui, Hanoi, Halong Bay, Hoi An, Ho Chi Min, Ubud, Ulluwatu, Nusa Dua, Apollo Bay, Lorne, Melbourne, Sydney, Port Mackerey, Byron Bay, Noosa, Auckland, Rotorua, Raglan, Lake Taupo, Wellington, Mapua, Punakaiki, Fox Glacier, Queenstown, Dunedin, Timaro, Akaroa, Kaikorai, Mapua, Buenos Aire, Bariloche, Vina Del Mar, and Pichelemu.

We’ve lost at least seven pairs of shoes, three bathing suits, two pair of mens shorts, one pair of sunglasses, books, uncountable stuffed animals that we acquired along the way including Jinxi the Cat and a very large savings account. Well worth it!

We have driven on every side of the road possible. On some days I woke up not knowing where I was and what side of the road to stay on. I drove for the first time in months yesterday and came within seconds of crashing the car.

So how am I feeling? Lucky and so darn fortunate for starters. Definitely excited to be home again. I am so ready to stop unpacking my suitcase every few days. Although, to be honest, in the last two weeks, I have just grabbed something clean from it instead of unpacking. Still have to get through Dallas, a week in MI and then 8 days in San Diego before I can feel settled. I am starting to long for domesticity and routine. I truly am excited to do laundry and get our house unpacked. (Mom, pack your bags!) Ready to have my own bed again and not to have to share sips of my Diet Cokes with my little Minions. I am happy to start the newest chapter of our lives. If there is one common theme throughout the last 9 months, it is that we know we made the right decision by following our hearts to San Diego.

Today I am writing this from the Alaia Hotel in Chile on the Punta Locos peninsula. Legend has it that this specific area is special and magical. I can feel it. I felt is yesterday when we came to check out if they had reservations. I will return here again one day with Carlos and maybe some friends who I know will appreciate the views, the no-frills luxury of this eco-hotel. It is absolutely stunning here and very calm. We have not even left and I am ready to return. Maybe it was the cold air last night coming through the windows as I sat in front of the fireplace and pretended to rock Paloma asleep. Maybe it is the old school fire-warmed hot tube outside on the pool deck. But there is no doubt a special feeling. I would highly recommend staying here or at least eating dinner here if you make it to Pichilemu, Chile. Tonight at dinner, I ordered a cheeseburger for dinner and Paloma ate 90% of it. So I guess I would also include, looking forward to a few more date nights here and there.

I honestly can not believe the trip is over. The last 9 months have been the quickest, best and most adventurous of my life. Prior to leaving Texas I was worried that we would not make it the whole time. There were times when I wanted time alone or thought I was going to kill the kids, but never did I ever want to come home. We were supposed to be gone for another two months, however, we decided to do Manchu Pichu and Peru when the kids are a bit older. There is also that pesky thing called money that came in to play. Time to get back and make the donuts! Today, I asked Paloma what was her favorite thing she learned along the way. She responded, “To say yes ma’am and thank you.” Those are great things, but what did you learn about other cultures?” I asked. She responded, “There are many different types of hairstyles in the world.” Yes, including one really bad choice of hairstyles in Vietnam love. Ha! Cruz told me he enjoyed learning about the Buddhist culture and meeting new friends in different places.

I personally have learned a great deal about myself and my relationship with Carlos as well. After this trip, we can conquer the world together. We are definitely different, but it works.  He loves to hike, I like to lay by the pool and read. He likes to eat fish, I am a steak girl. We both crave the ocean, or any large body of natural water, enjoy wine, watching movies and just listening to the sound of the ocean. A good balance.  Another thing I realized, is that for as social as I am, I need more alone time to regroup than others. I have to have alone time or I get mentally fried. I am a control-freak when it comes to planning. However, I truly enjoy letting go of the reigns when I do allow this to happen. I do not think this trip has changed me that much.. Just reinforced the thought process of how lucky we are in the United States. Another thing that both Carlos and I realized is how much stuff we do not need and how little of a place we need to live comfortably. I hope we can hold onto the philosophy  that memories are worth more than material things. Not that there is anything wrong with material items, however, I have boxes of clothes that I could never see again in storage in Dallas that I have no idea where I am going to put them. Nor do I really even remember what is inside.

I am looking forward to getting the kids in school again. Carlos and I have been teasing them about this day. We told them that we are going to have a huge party each day for the first week they are in school. I AM GOING TO MISS THESE STINKERS TREMENDOUSLY at the same TIME. Carlos as well. I am not sure if I will ever get this chance to spend this much time with them in a year again. The thought of him leaving us on his inevidable future travels for work makes me sad.

Thank you to all of your who have read our blog and supported us this past year.  I hope we inspired a little something in you! Shake it up a bit. Take a chance and go with it. I think my next adventure after getting set up will be a hard, yet necessary one. Getting back in shape after this gluttonous nine months. Will keep ya posted!

xoxo –

The Grisrods!

The South Island of New Zealand. Mountains, Caves, Kiwis, Beaches and views for days!

Dinner the first night in Nelson
View at dinner the first night in Nelson

Yes! We survived another ferry ride! We took the ferry over from the North Island of New Zealand to the South Island. Carlos and I were both a bit worried as every so often the waters in these parts can get a bit hairy in the midway point of the 3 hour ferry ride. By hairy, I mean Rapunzel-worthy!

The worst thing to do is google these moments the night before a scheduled departure online. The videos captured make the Titanic look like a children’s Disney Ride. We all ingested some pills called, SeaLegs the night before. I slept the entire ride but it worked. Carlos’ family was there to pick us up in our ten passenger van that was to be our form of transportation for the next four days until we picked up our CamperVans. We were super excited to see family and the kids were jumping for joy to meet up with their cousins from Austin again. Ella, Cruz, and Enzo are super close. They love Paloma and she does her damnedest to keep up with the big kids. They handle her well and Ella can be a wonderful helper at times.

Lunch in Picton - Kids reunited
Lunch in Picton – Kids reunited
Picton
Picton

I love my in-laws, my sister-in-law, my nieces and nephews. Adore them and feel that I hit the lottery when it comes to having them in my life. However, looking back, I think we all underestimated how much of a change it would be to going from a four person traveling team to a ten person team overnight living in very small quarters, and making decisions with 6 different opinions. That being said, Alexia, Carlos’ sister has spent quite a bit of time in NZ, so we gave up the reigns and she planned the entire South Island Trip. She did a wonderful job and we got to see a lot in a very short amount of time.

After hugging and shedding tears of joy from seeing family again, we became the GrisRod-HoopRod traveling circus for the next 27 days.  Our first stop was enjoying lunch in Picton at a park, overlooking the Bay. The kids were in heaven to be playing with their cousins again. They are so incredibly close. Almost like twins, albeit without the fighting. I am biased however, I feel like their imaginations are always so incredible and on overdrive when they are together. I know this innocence will not last forever. It is so cool to watch them create a village out of drift wood and explore nature with such an open mind.

I know this trip gifted us one extra year of playfulness with Cruz as he was forced to be with his younger sister daily. He had to adapt to Paloma’s playing expectations and lets just say she is now a rockstar at MineCraft.

After lunch, we headed to Nelson to drop of our extra luggage at Alexia and Scott’s home. They bought an investment property a few years back in Nelson. The house is super cool and right on the ocean. They have tenants who rent the house, however, being that it is summer break, we were able to stay in the house for ten days upon our return from camping. That first day we had to pare down our backpacks in order to make room for life in a camper van and small accommodations.

We then had dinner at a restaurant in town called, The Apple Bag and it was awesome. Carlos had the fish and a few others had the Famous New Zealand Green Lipped Mussels. After dinner we headed to the Mapua Chalets for the night. Before going to bed we looked out at the sky and saw a beautiful view of stars that would not stop. The stars lit up the sky and it was pretty awesome. I literally felt like I was on the moon.

Swing bridge
Swing bridge

In the morning we started our drive down the West Coast of the Island. Ten people in a huge traveling van. Extremely windy roads and two kids that get car sick. Thank God for Dramamine. I myself had to sit in the front of the car. (This was something we discussed prior to renting the van.) I was completely fine paying extra for the car as long as I secured my spot in the front. I get extremely sick sitting in the back seat and I knew this was going to be ten days of driving in and out of the curvy mountains.

Our first stop was a small town called, Murchison.  Alexia wanted to show us the  Buller Gorge Swing Bridge, which is the largest swing bridge in New Zealand. The pictures do not do justice on how scary and intimidating this bridge is for someone who is somewhat afraid of heights.

We paid our fee to cross and about ten steps onto the bridge as I am griping the sides  with all my might, Paloma starts to cry and I agree to turn back with her. While waiting for her cousins to return to our side of the bridge she says “Mom, we have to do this. We have to be brave and get to the other side.” I said “Ok” and we were on our way for the second time. We made it 1/2 way across and at this point, we were standing over the rushing water below. I see a lady from the other side coming towards us on this very narrow, swinging suspended bridge. As she got closer, I realized she expected me to take one of my hands off the other side of the bridge and allow her to pass. You know, like a normal person.  I could not let go. For the life of me, I could not allow myself to feel even a minuscule less secure than I already felt on this bridge. Finally, I lifted my arm and scooted around her as fast as I could. As my eyes darted to the water below, I stared panicking. I turned around towards the direction in which we started and asked Paloma to come back with me. She started crying because she could hear in my voice how nervous I was. She said no, and then I started screaming, “Help! Help!” The chances of ANYTHING bad happening to us at this point were null. I was just overcome by this onset fear of heights on a swinging bridge. The woman who had just passed me looked back and thought I was a lunatic. She kept walking and was no help to us. Then a thought came into my mind…. I will just lay here on this bridge and roll into a ball until someone comes and pulls me off. I then crouched down directly in front of Paloma, grabbed her hands, looked her directly in the eyes and said, “We need to get off this bridge now!” I think I may have even said, “We are going to die!” Paloma was clinging to my legs and I started walking back towards the bridge entrance. She was not walking fast enough and I was three feet in front of her, I could only think of one thing and that was getting to a safe place.

The thought that made me feel better about leaving my 4 year old four feet behind me was the safety video they show on the plane. They always tell you to adjust your oxygen mask first right?  The whole way Paloma was crying (not out of fright anymore, but pissed because she has not walked to the other side). I was promising her a candy bar an hour, barbies and the entire American Girl Store if she would just move faster. We finally got back to the start and I hugged Paloma and told her she was so brave, but that mommy was a chicken. I tried girl! At some point, my niece Ella came back across to our side and walked Paloma all the way over. I was so proud of her. I have no regrets about not making it across. I was however, teased all week by all the kids on the trip, including SweetPea.

Crossing the Bridge, attempt one!
Crossing the Bridge, attempt one!
Scott and Enzo coming back on the Flying Squirrel.
Scott and Enzo coming back on the Flying Squirrel.
Swing Bridge from the side
Swing Bridge from the side

That next two nights we stayed in Punakaiki. The area is very remote and I felt like I was in the middle of a rain forest with an ocean on the side. The area is filled with tons of fauna due to all of the rain. We had to bring all of our supplies because there was no grocery store for 60 miles or so. Imagine what a scary prospect it is to be in the middle of nowhere, with your in-laws, your sister-in-law’s family and your two kids with the possibility of running out of wine. Horrifying right! (Insert smile emoticon.) We had a great time! That first night, Alexia, Scott, Carlos and I walked through an ice-cold river mouth to get onto the beach. Carlos told me he would carry me on his back. He took one step into the water and realized the rocks were super sharp. I started laughing so hard that when I fell knee-deep into the water, I ended up peeing my pants. We both were dying laughing at this point because the water literally shocked my system. Thank god the beach was completely barren, otherwise they may have sent the crazy truck my way.  I wanted to head back to the house, however, the rest of the crew hazed me until I finally ran to the other side with my tennis shoes on and my pants pulled up to my thighs. Let me just say that the weather was not by any means super warm swimming weather. The sky was a huge overcast and the rain was very misty. Carlos (after a bottle of shared wine) decided he was going to go swimming in the ocean. Both he and Scott stripped down to their underwear and jumped right in the ocean. I have pictures to prove it. The water was freezing, but they did it. That night we played Rummikub as a family and celebrated Enzo, my nephews, 7th birthday.

 

View from our deck in Punakaiki
View from our deck in Punakaiki
Crazy getting in the freezing water
Crazy getting out of the freezing water
Alexia and I after crossing the freezing river mouth.
Alexia and I after crossing the freezing river mouth.
These birds are crazy. They are called Weka Birds and will eat everything and anything. They have been know to eat the sealing around the car windows to get inside to find food.
These birds are crazy. They are called Weka Birds and will eat everything and anything.
Paloma and Ella in the outside tub
Paloma and Ella in the outside tub

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In the morning, we made a very big breakfast and went into the small town on Punakaiki. I think we had over 40 pieces of bacon and every piece was gone by the end of breakfast. We did a few small walks to see the Pancake Rocks, which are beautiful rock formations on the coast that look like pancakes stacked on top of each other. On the way home, the kids stopped at some caves with Scott and did some exploring. That evening, Ella and Paloma tried out the old- school outdoor tub. They took a bath while it was raining outside and loved it. For dinner we had pork chops and just hung out talking with one another. Carlos and Alexia said they both witnessed a ghost at this house. Which is interesting because this area was an area where people came to seek for gold years ago and is known to be New Zealand’s most haunted location. Carlos mentioned that afternoon he felt like he saw an image walking in the very dense backyard. That evening at the exact same time, he and Alexia asked if we saw something outside the window. The place was awesome, however, I am not sure I was up for seeing a ghost, even a friendly one!

Pancake Rocks
Pancake Rocks
Pancake Rocks
Pancake Rocks
The kids relaxing at the house
The kids relaxing at the house
Pancake Rocks
Pancake Rocks

Our next destination was Fox Glacier. On the way to Fox Glacier, we stopped in a small town called, Hokitika. We ate lunch at a place called, Fat Pipi’s Pizza. This town is an old mining town and has recently made headlines from the very popular book, The Luminaries. The book is centered around the town and the surrounding areas during the New Zealand mining days.

We visited the Hokitika Museum and saw what it was like during this time. The town was very proud of the book and did it best to promote it at the different shops and museums in town. For those of you not familiar with this book, it is humongous. I did my very best to read it while in Australia and could not get past the fifth chapter. From what I hear, it is worth finishing, so I will have to give it another go one day.  Another thing this town is known for is Whitebait fishing and fish. To me, they look almost like little minnows. Alexia and Scott tried some and really enjoyed the taste.

After lunch we continued our drive to Fox Glacier. The weather was rainy and misty. This did not stop us from pulling over and taking a short thirty minute hike up to the Glacier viewing area. Unforutanately, we were unable to really see the Glacier because of the clouds and mist. That evening, when we arrived at Top Ten Motor park, the kids were super excited to find a playground and a trampoline. It was raining outside, however, this never seemed to phase them. The adults made a dinner of soup and sandwiches. Carlos’ parents slept in one of the beds, Alexia, Carlos and Scott slept in the bunk beds. I slept on the floor with a mattress pulled from the top bunk and the kids slept in a bed. It was musical beds that night.

 

One our hikes in the rain
One our hikes in the rain
The views on our drive
The views on our drive
Views
Views
Stopping for lunch on the road
Stopping for lunch on the road
Good pic of Paloma while stopping for lunch one day.
Pic of Paloma while stopping for lunch one day.
The kids playing on the trampoline and met this dog at one of the campsites.
The kids playing on the trampoline and met this dog at one of the campsites.
A view on on our drive to Queenstown
A view on on our drive to Queenstown

In the morning we had breakfast Tacos made by Birdie and Romeo. I also made some hot salsa, which we call “Cherry Sauce.” The key to this sauce starts of with Bacon Grease, Jalepenos and Onions. It came out so good and now I have been designated to make this when we are all together.

Our drive was very long to Queenstown.  The driving  miles in New Zealand are quite different than most places in the world. I was very thankful to not have to drive. We had to pass over uncountable moutain passes and the driver had to pay very close attention at all times. The roads are very windy as there is no real direct route. The drive was absolutely breathtaking and we stopped a few times along the way. I was able to somewhat redeem my scaredy pants card by completely crossing over another swing bridge. (Not nearly as high or long.) This feat was accomplished when we went to check out the Blue Pools, which is another excursion I suggest hitting if you are ever near Lake Wanaka. The water is crystal blue and just a gorgeous small hike.

An old house near the mines in Waneka
An old house near the mines in Waneka
The blue pools
The hike to the Blue Pools

Our house in Queenstown was amazing. I think everyone was excited to stay in one place for two nights. The kids loved the hot tub. Alexia volunteered to stay with the kids and Scott, Carlos, Romeo, Birdie and myself went to a local Pub nearby for dinner. I had some of the best mushroom soups I have ever tasted.

In the morning, Carlos and his parents went on a 8 hour tour to the Milford Sound. I had emailed the tour company prior to arriving and asked if they could guarantee a front row seat. I had heard the roads in this area were extremely windy and tons of switchbacks. Since I could not get a guaranteed front row, I decided to skip the tour. We spent the first part of the morning exploring the city of Queenstown. Paloma was getting cranky. I took her home to nap and she slept for three hours straight. Keeping up with the big kids was wearing her out! Alexia, Scott and I made a really nice dinner for everyone so that upon getting home from the tour, they could just eat and head to bed. We made steak, potatoes, salmon, and a large salad. Everyone went to bed pretty early that night. Carlos really enjoyed the tour, however, said that I would have definitely gotten car sick.

Milford Sound
Milford Sound
Milford Sound
Milford Sound
Nana and Pompo at the Sounds
Nana and Pompo at the Sounds

In the morning we picked up our Campervans. While planning the trip, we decided we needed a 6 person sleeper and a 4-person sleeper. We would share the cost of both and utilize the 6-person campervan for hanging out and most of the cooking. Alexia offered us the larger of the two campers, however, we were fine with the small one. Upon picking up our vans, we spent the day walking around and shopping in Arrowtown. The kids panned for gold and we had a really nice lunch outside. On the way out we stopped and toured the reconstructed Chinese Settlement which is Memorial to the Otago Chinese Settlers. The weather was perfect. Not too hot and not too cold outside. We then made our way to our first camping spot of the trip.

We were Freedom Camping, which means, no real bathrooms, or hook-up to electricity. Just you and the elements around you. While making our way up and down the mountain side we were greeted with mass amounts of sheep and cows. They were super cute and did not seem to mind us encroaching on their land for  a night. On one of the last hills before hitting our destination, you could start to see the Moke Lake. It was absolutely breathtaking. Surrounding the lake were mountains. The lake was as blue as the Carribean ocean. I got the chills and honestly started to tear up at the beauty in front of me.

When we finally got down to the bottom of the valley, we set up our camper van, popped some champagne and had a quick dinner of grilled cheese and soup. I was nervous about having to use the bathroom in the middle of the night. Moke Lake had two drop toilets. You basically sit on a piece of wood and let it all drop. There was no way I was going to walk over in pitch darkness and use the restroom by myself. I also was not going to go wake up the other camper van to use the restroom inside. My adrenalin was high and I was enjoying the camping. Kind of like when you come home with a  new baby and you are so filled with adrenalin. You are like, this is amazing, this is awesome. Then after a week of not sleeping, you ask yourself, “What the hell did I get myself into?” So first night was great. Something I ate that day gave me horrendous heartburn to the fact that I questioned whether or not I was having a heart attack.  I tossed and turned all night. In the morning, Alexia, Birdie and I meditated. Carlos and Scott took the big kids hiking up a gigantic mountain. When they were on the way down, Alexia and I started walking up the Mountainside to meet them half-way. When we had walked about 20 meters, I made a baaaa sound at one of the sheep way up on the hill. I think he thought this was a mating call. He started charging down the hill at Alexia and I. When he got within five feet of us, he backed up and then charged us! Alexia and I started screaming and rushed down the hillside as fast a humanly possible.  We decided to just do a small hike around the lake, which was perfect.

Sunset
Sunset
Too many sheep to count in NZ. More sheep than people in this Country!
Too many sheep to count in NZ. More sheep than people in this Country!
The views from Moak Lake. One of the most beautiful places I have been too!
The views from Moak Lake. One of the most beautiful places I have been too!
Moak Lake
Moak Lake – Feeding the Ducks
Moak Lake
Moak Lake
More gorgeous view on one of our drives.
More gorgeous view on one of our drives.
Casa Rodriguez for five nights.
Casa Rodriguez for five nights.
Playing games!
Playing games!
Queenstown
Queenstown
The guys hiking back down the mountain.
The guys hiking back down the mountain.
Lex and Nana
Lex and Nana
Some pick-up rugby games
Some pick-up rugby games
Candy store in Arrowhead. Kids were really impressed.
Candy store in Arrowhead. Kids were really impressed.
Reconstructed Chinese Settlement in Arrowhead
Reconstructed Chinese Settlement in Arrowhead
Chinese Settlement
Chinese Settlement

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Lex and Scott
Lex and Scott
Queenstown
Queenstown

That evening we headed across the Country to a city called Dunedin. A few months before we left on our trip, Amber, an old friend from home let me know that she and her family were being relocated to Dunedin for her husband’s job. I was really looking forward to seeing her and meeting both Craig, her husband and Kaylin, (her daughter) for the first time. That evening our family went to dinner at Amber’s house. We parked our camper near her garage and ended up spending the night. It is amazing how you pick right back off with friends who have known you forever. There is just something about the Midwest connection that brings people together. I also think that a large group of us from Michigan have alway remained close and in touch over the years. We always pick right back up where we started.

One of the things I appreciate so much about Amber is her honestly and no-frills attitude.  The first thing she said to me when I walked in was, “Ok, make yourself at home. I do not care if you want to eat, if you want to go sit in the corner and not talk to anyone or just go to bed.” I noticed during our time together that she is always looking to learn about herself and and grow as a person. Amber made us a great dinner of enchiladas and we stayed up way too late talking. Kaylin and the kids hit it off so well. She was absolutely dear so thoughtful and sharing with Paloma. Kaylin made Paloma’s day by giving her an extra Snow White’s outfit that you will see in pretty much the rest of our NZ pictures. I really enjoyed our time with Craig as well.

Reunited and it feels so good!
Reunited and it feels so good!
Together for five minutes and already in Princess dresses
Together for five minutes and already in Princess dresses
And of course some hugs!
And of course some hugs!

The next day was what one might call the tour de Dunedin. We started off at the Cadbury Chocolate Factory. This was a cute tour combined with more chocolate than you can imagine. Paloma was off her rocker half-way through. I felt like I was in Willy Wonka’s factory. Cute tour for kids and I would definitely recommend going at least once. We had a quick burger for lunch and all headed over to the Speights Brewing Center. Amber and Kaylin joined us for this tour. The tour was neat, especially if you like beer. My favorite was the Cider Beer. Speights is one of the largest beer distributors in New Zealand. This was the beer that we drank throughout our NZ travels. Although, I mostly stuck to red wine and Sauvignon Blanc. After the beer tour, we rushed to the other side of the Dunedin to the Otago Peninsula to go on a tour to see penguins and seals.

This was a protected area which was great to allow the Penguins to breed and live a normal life. We saw a ton of seals that day and a few penguins. The Yellow Eye Penguins are very rare and highly endangered. In order to see them, we had to walk through bunkers covered with tarps which was a cool experience in itself. We did see one little Penguin slowly make his/her way up to the grounds from the beach. Super neat! We learned a ton that day. Our guide was telling us the penguins typically stay together for years as long as one of them does not die or get lost out at sea. They had a graph of a few of the Penguins partners throughout the years and you could see which one was more of a Casanova. That evening we met Amber and Craig at dinner and called it an early night as everyone was exhausted.

Cadbury Tour
Cadbury Tour
Chocolate anyone?
Chocolate anyone?
Speight's Tour
Speight’s Tour
How much beer is there?
How much beer is there?
Bottoms up!
Bottoms up!
The views from our Penguin Tour on the Otago Peninsula.
The views from our Penguin Tour on the Otago Peninsula.
Seriously this view from Otago Peninsula.
Seriously this view from Otago Peninsula.
Little guy making his way back to his home.
Little guy making his way back to his home. (Nope, I lied..that is a seal!)
Penguins
Penguins
Our hiding areas while looking at the Penguins
Our hiding areas while looking at the Penguins

The next morning, we all drove in our separate Campervans up to Oamaru. Carlos and I decided not to head back up to the mountains with the rest of the crew as we had not seen the East Coast yet. Cruz could not be pulled away from his cousins. Paloma, Carlos and I stayed East and the other van headed back to through the Mountains. We all spent the first part of the day before leaving hanging out at a a large park overlooking the ocean. The weather was around 60 – 65 degrees and kids were swimming in the bay. It was a beautiful day, however, I am not sure I would have been adventurous enough to swim that day. After the park,  we drove up to Timaru and stayed the night at a cute little side camping site. The next morning we stopped in Christchurch for lunch. The city is still in quite a big rebuild mode after the Earthquake in 2010. We spent about two hours there and that is was enough time for us.  We had  Cuban sandwiches from a food cart outside the Art Museum. I am still dreaming of this sandwich as it was amazing! Paloma loved being spoiled by attention from us with her brother gone, however, was missing her cousins and her brother.

Cruz
Cruz

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Hanging out at the museum in Christchurch.
Hanging out at the museum in Christchurch.
Dancing girls outside of the Art Museum in CH
Dancing girls outside of the Art Museum in CH

After Christchurch we drove about an hour to the West Coast and visited a coastal town called Akaroa. The city was a former French Colony and still had a very French flavor to it. I thought the town was super adorable and was able to do some last minute Christmas shopping. Paloma was on day two of wearing her Snow White outfit that Kaylin had given her. She was a big hit in town. We had dinner on the water at a little Cafe and settled in to our camping site and called it a night.

Cheese shop on the way to Akaroa
Cheese shop on the way to Akaroa
Akaroa
Akaroa
Akaroa
Akaroa
Snow White makes an appearance.
Snow White makes an appearance.
View from our Campsite near Akaroa
View from our Campsite near Akaroa

We woke up super early the following morning to meet back up with everyone in Christchurch to return our Campervans.  We picked up two rental cars and started heading North back towards Nelson. Our last two nights on the road we spent in an adorable town called Kaikora. The weather was absolutely perfect for us while we were in town. The town was a typical small New Zealand beach town. The views of the mountains were awesome and we could eat on the deck looking at the view. We spent our time walking around town, grilling out, shopping, playing Rummikub and going to the parks. One day we took all of the kids to a quasi Petting Zoo in town. I would not recommend this as it was kind of cheesy and the owner was not super friendly. The animals were sweet though and the Donkey was by far my favorite.

Love this picture of Ella and the donkey!
Love this picture of Ella and the donkey!
Views of Kaikora
Views of Kaikora
The view from our deck in Kaikora.
The view from our deck in Kaikora.
Sunset
Sunset
Love the pic of Carlos!
Love the pic of Carlos!

We arrived in Nelson on the 23rd of December. We were going to be spending the next ten days at the house. Some of the highlights of Nelson are below.

-Christmas was lovely. It did not feel like Christmas at all though because we had been on the road and it was so warm.  On Christmas Eve we went to Mass at a  nearby Church. That evening we had Carlos’ homemade Lasagna. After opening presents the following morning, we went down to the Marina area most of the family did a polar bear plunge into the water. (This is a tradition and it seemed the entire town was jumping in.) For dinner, we had Flautas and rice. I did not jump in on this day, however, I did make the plunge on New Year’s day with Melanie, and Alexia.

Bride outfit for Xmas! She was super happy!
Bride outfit for Xmas! She was super happy!
The Toughest All Blacks in the world!
The Toughest All Blacks in the world!
Christmas Day plunge! The water was COLD!
Christmas Day plunge! The water was COLD!

-We took a boat to Abel Tasman. A major highlight or our time in Nelson.  The water was incredible. We had a picnic lunch and hiked around the island before heading back.

New Zealand - 1145

New Zealand - 1160

The 3 Amigos!
The 3 Amigos!

-The GrisRods and HoopRods played with the locals in our first ever cricket competition at the local pub. We won the first game and got killed by a group of High School boys on the second game. This day was a blast for me. I forgot how much I liked to compete on a team. We had an absolute blast!

Up at bat!
Carlos at bat!
Mom's turn
Mom’s turn

-On morning we rented bikes and rode up and down the Great Tasting Road. I was not prepared for some of the hills, but I made it with a smile.

Great Tasting Road bike tour
Great Tasting Road bike tour

-Carlos and I went away for a night and spent the evening in a cool eco-hotel on the side of hill overlooking . We had dinner and were asleep by 10 p.m.

-Amber, Craig and Kaylin came up for a few days. We spent New Years with them and with Alexia and Scott’s friends from Auckland. We grilled out, played celebrity charades and cheered on the New Year by viewing the amazing stars that night. What a fun-filled week!

The views from the house in Nelson.
The views from the house in Nelson.
Lex and Scott's house
Lex and Scott’s house
Another view
Another view
Love this place
Love this place

-One evening we went to Trivia night at the Playhouse where we played Cricket. We ran into the same people from the game. We came in 4th out of 15 teams so we were happy.

Trivia night
Trivia night

-We explored the city of Nelson and nearby areas by shopping, going to the movies, visiting Vineyards and hitting up the amazing markets on the weekends.

Lovely New Zealand
Lovely New Zealand
Saying goodbye to the primos!
Saying goodbye to the primos!

-We played Rummikub, Uno, and Scrabble, drank way too much wine, stayed up late laughing, taking walks on the beach and just enjoying the never-ending views of the beautiful ocean from the upstairs window.

We loved our trip to New Zealand. We came, we saw, we loved it! Thank you again to Alexia and Scott for hosting us at your house and for all the planning to help make this trip a success.

As I write this, we are preparing for our final flight in the morning to Chile. This will be our last country on the trip. We just completed Argentina. Today was a tough day. I feel like all we did all day was yell at the kids. ALL DAY LONG! Not to mention it was a travel day and that makes things a bit more stressful on everyone. To the point of me actually looking into direct flights to Dallas tomorrow instead of Chile. Such is life when you spend 24 hours a day together for 230 days in a row. Tomorrow will reset the slate as it always does and we will enjoy our last few days of this crazy adventure. By the end of the day I will be planning our next trip.

xoxo – The GrisRods

 

New Zealand is sweet as….

Jade stone in Rotorua
Jade stone in Rotorua

ToThe GrisRods arrived in New Zealand super tan and missing the warm weather of Australia! Our goal for New Zealand was to arrive on the South Island on December 9th where we will be reunited with the majority of Carlos’ immediate family.  His mom, dad, sister Alexia, brother-in-law Scott and our nieces and nephews will be spending the next thirty or so days together.

Our first stop on the North Island was Auckland. While driving to our airbnb.com home, I did not feel like I was in New Zealand yet. The air temperature did drop about twenty degrees, but I felt like I could be in any coastal city with a skyline. Our airbnb.com rental was a cute cottage on an inlet in an area called Murray’s Bay. (https://www.airbnb.com.au/rooms/294790)   Unfortunately, the weather was a bit chilly and rainy, so we were not able to make use of the canoes and surrounding bay.

The time difference from Australia to New Zealand was four hours. So when we finally got the kids to bed, it was 1 a.m. By the time I got to sleep, it was 3 a.m. The next day we were all zombies and crabsters, which is a name we call anyone in our family who is acting crabby. Everyone was on edge and it was one of those days when it seemed that all we did was get upset at the kids.We learned in New Zealand, it is illegal to spank your kids. I am glad this came up in conversation on the plane ride over because I might be in jail right now.

My sister-in-law Alexia and her husband Scott met a friend Aaron while traveling in Peru years back. Aaron and his wife Melanie currently live in Auckland.  Carlos and I had met Aaron, but not Melanie before and we met up at their house for a BBQ at her house that Friday while in town. Her home in Auckland was only a ten minute car ride from our rental. Aaron was out of town so Melanie hosted the dinner and it was really fun for the not only us, but also the kids. Her two nieces were staying with her for the night and the kids enjoyed playing outside with them. After dinner we tried two pretty common New Zealand desserts. One of which is called Tip Top Ice Cream. We enjoyed the bubble gum flavor. Melanie also had us try something calleda Pavlova, which is similar to Meringue. Both were very good!Melanie and Aaron live in North Auckland. The area was great and super close to some lovely beaches.

Visiting Phoebe and Olivia with the kids in Auckand.
Visiting Phoebe and Olivia with the kids in Auckand.
Dinner at Melanie and Aaron's house
Dinner at Melanie and Aaron’s house

In the morning we overslept and drove Southeast to our other destination – Raglan. Raglan is known for surfing and is a very small community that is green, organic and very laid-back. It is here that I started to recognize some of the population from the Mauri population. Now I do not mean men and women painted up with black marks on their faces, and tongues sticking out. What I mean is that these people are strong and tall.  Do a quick google on the New Zealand All Blacks Rugby team. Seven of the teammates are of Maori descent. You will see what I mean!  According to Wikipedia, the Maori are the second largest population in New Zealand, second to European New Zealanders. I will say that during our time in New Zealand, I did run across a few Maoris who had the traditional Maori tattoos on their faces.

Our house in Raglan was super cool. We had a deck overlooking the surfers down on the water. The weather and the water was much colder than Australia so the hot tub in the back yard was a nice treat at night. Carlos spent most of his time surfing and I spent time with the kids at the house. We got caught up on Cruz’ school work, read and made dinner at the house each night. Carlos came home from his first day of surfing with a smile reaching from ear to ear. He explained that the waves were awesome and the ride was super long. The first day was probably the best as the next three days were kind of flat. It was still awesome to sit and watch the waves and hear them crashing as we went to bed at night. The town of Raglan was super cute. I bought some funky New Zealand Wool pillow covers with surfboards on them to use as decorations and a reminder of our time there. One evening Carlos made some awesome BBQ pork ribs and we enjoyed a little bit of Texas food. I had a difficult time understanding some of the locals when they talked. One time a sales person asked me “if I had a lot on that day?” I responded by telling her that “Yes, I was layered as it was a bit chilly outside.” She then told me that she meant did I have much going on that day.  Anytime we told people we were traveling around the world, the response would be “good on ya.” Which is our way of saying, “good for you.”

Ragland
Raglan – stairs to the point where Carlos surfed
Before
Before

 

After
After

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Our view from our casa in Ragland
Our view from our casa in Raglan
Ragland
Raglan

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View from the deck of our place looking at the second surf spot

Our next stop was Rotorua, New Zealand which is located about three hours south of Auckland.  Rotorua is a city that has a large population of  indigenous Maori people. The city also has geysers and mineral baths that are a result of the geothermal activity. Immediately upon hitting the city area, you can see the steam coming from different places on the streets, in the canyons and in people’s backyards. You can smell it too! The smell is very similar of that to sulphur or as Cruz would say, “Dad’s farts!” Our first true day in the city, we went to lunch at Dominoes pizza of all places and headed to the city center for our bike tour with Happy Ewe Cycle Tours  We met our guide Roger and got fitted for helmets and bicycles. Both Cruz and I had our bikes and Carlos had Paloma on the back of his. Roger was the best and we loved our tour with him. Within seconds of meeting us, I threw in a “that’s what she said joke” regarding size mattering and the wheels came off for the rest of the tour. He took us on a 3 hour bike tour all around Rotorua. We visited geothermal sites, Maori Cultural centers, the beach and the old Medicinal Bathing sites that were used to cure alcoholism, diabetes, arthritis, syphilis and obesity. We all enjoyed the tour. For the first hour Paloma questioned why it smelled so bad and then passed out for the next hour. It was really cool to learn about the geysers. We would be riding our bikes and see and hear water bubbling under the earth. Roger had a temperature gauge that allowed Cruz to test the water temps in the different areas. They tested my temperature and it said “Smoking HOT!” Seriously. It did. Roger was super patient with all 2 million of Cruz’ questions. Cruz’ favorite part of the tour was photobombing other tourist while on the bike. Thank you Roger for introducing us to how much fun this can be!

Maori Statue
Maori Statue
Checking out the thermal waters bubbling in the ground.
Checking out the thermal waters bubbling in the ground.
Bike Tour
Bike Tour
The old health spa in Rotorua that used to cure alcoholism and other ailments by sitting in the hot pools.
The old health spa in Rotorua that used to cure alcoholism and other ailments by sitting in the hot pools.

The following day we got up and had lunch downtown. We then went to the Polynesian Spa. (Not fancy people). With kids in tow we had to pay for the family spa room. Basically two large pools heated from the hot mineral springs. The water was super warm and previously said to have medicinal properties. We left smelling like fried eggs and I still have to get Botox upon my return to the states. So no real miracle cures, but fun activity for the kids. After the Spa, we walked over to a large park where the city was preparing for their Annual Christmas parade. We got to see a Roller Derby group, Ronald McDonald, Mickey and Minnie and of course Santa. Carlos told Paloma that Santa gave her the thumbs down and she just started giggling because she knew he was kidding but nervous he was not kidding at the same time.

Christmas Parade in Rotorua
Christmas Parade in Rotorua

In the morning we started our descent down to Lake Taupo.  When we got in the car, I noticed that we had a flat. Our jack in the car was horrible and I considered asking these two very strong looking Maori guys to just come over and lift the vehicle, however, I did not want to make Carlos feel bad. He managed to change the tire quickly and we were back on the road again. We rented another airbnb house overlooking the magnificent Lake. This was our first glimpse of the snow capped mountains. We all thought it was crazy that it was the beginning of summer and the people were swimming in the lake and it was 50 to 60 degrees outside. Once we arrived in town, we stopped at the store and bought everything we needed to make homemade lasagna. When we walked into our rental, we quickly realized that it was not equipped with an oven or a stove. Carlos quickly improvised and made one of his best versions of lasagna from scratch on the grill outside. That evening we celebrated a big win for Michigan State University over Iowa securing our position in the Big 10 Championship game. As you can see from the photo below, Cruz was super excited! We also met a new friend named, Leela who was a sweet, very large Tabby Cat. Paloma and Cruz fell in love instantly and spent the next two days chasing him around the yard. Leela loved Cruz and I, however, he seemed to run from Paloma as she constantly wanted to hold and kiss him. The next morning we did a 4.5 mile hike up to the Taupo Falls. Paloma complained quite a bit on the way up. Within two seconds of hitting the trail she was asking for one of us to hold her. Cruz and Paloma fought along the way because Paloma thought Cruz was “shaking her butt at her” while he walked. We made it to the beautiful falls and they were lovely and very strong. On the way back to keep Paloma occupied we planned her marriage to a Prince and she did not complain once. At the bottom of the hike was a natural hot spring and the kids and Carlos went swimming for a bit. The water was super hot and built into the side of the lake. You had to be very careful where you sat.  That evening we were pretty wiped out and grabbed Kebabs on the way home for dinner.

Running on our hike to see the falls
Running on our hike to see the falls
Natural Hot Springs outside in the park.
Natural Hot Springs outside in the park.

IMG_3633

Go MSU!
Go MSU!

Cruz and our new cat friend

Lasanga on the grill

 

We left early in the morning and headed to our final destination in the North Island. The drive from Lake Taupo to Wellington was about four hours. I was bummed we only had a few hours to check out Wellington because it seemed like a super cool town. It reminded me a ton of San Francisco. Our rental was at the very top of a steep hill looking over the downtown. Carlos and I were both a bit nervous because of the Ferry Ride to the South Island in the morning. We took some tablets called, Sea Legs in the evening before we left  for the ferry. Will let you know how they worked in the next blog!! We were also very anxious and excited to see our family again! See you on the South Island of New Zealand!!

xoxo –

The Grisrods!

Aussie! Aussie! Aussie!

My future car one day!
My future car one day!
Check out these views
Check out these views – Great Ocean Road

I never thought that I would ever consider divorcing Carlos. Even during bad arguments or when I am having really bad PMS, the thought has never crossed my mind. Ok, maybe once or twice in the early days of marriage when he would put entire meals in the dishwasher with his plates, I would threaten the “D” word. However, this is just something I know will never happen. (I just knocked on the biggest piece of wood ever btw). I truly contemplated divorce while in Australia. Now before you go starting rumors, hear me out. We would get remarried of course. For this act would allow me to meet an Australian, obtain an Australian Visa, get another divorce, t remarry Carlos and live in Australia forever. So needless to say, yes, I really, really loved Australia. What comes next is a whirlwind of 7 different cities, over 2400 km in the car in  14 days.  After being stuck in Bali, we had to rearrange a few things and pack a ton of stuff into very little time. So sitting here in New Zealand writing and overlooking the surfers hit the waves from my deck, I am completely fine with the fact that I have not left the house, showered or plan to wash my hair today.

Melbourne was our first stop in Australia. Unfortunately, when we arrived in Melbourne everyone started getting sick. Cruz had a horrible fever on the plane and Paloma and I were coughing like crazy. We picked up our rental car, then headed south to explore the Great Ocean Road. The GOR is a an Australia National Heritage Site with 151 miles of scenic coast road with amazing views the entire way. People around the world claim it is one of the best drives on the planet. I would agree! This would be Carlos’ first attempt at driving on the different side of the road and car. He did awesome and this did not seem to phase him much. I on the other hand have been told I am not allowed to drive ever again while in NZ or Australia. (I did come very close to killing us one afternoon.)

 

Not feeling it.
Not feeling it.
Brunch in Melbourne
Brunch in Melbourne at San Telmos
YES please!
YES please!

IMG_3160

The coastline on the Great Ocean Road was magnificent. The waters were so blue they hurt your eyes. You want to keep taking pictures because you know this is one of the most beautiful coastlines you will set eyes on in your life. In addition to the views, you have forests, completely unspoiled beaches and hikes to see waterfalls. Along the way we saw our first sign to watch out for both koalas and kangaroos!

We spent our first night in a small coastal town called Apollo Bay. We had been told not to book rooms because the GOR had a ton of places to stay – and of course everything that evening was sold out. After spending over an hour going from one mom and pop hotel to the next, we found a Trailer Park hotel. We were laughing because this was quite a fall from grace from our Ritz days. Actually, the place  was more than fine. We did end up having to shower in the community showers because our water did not work. The kids thought it was great and we felt like we were camping. Carlos took a picture of P and I walking back to the room after our showers.

Fall from grace..

Fall from grace..

The next morning we got up and headed North to a different coastal town called Lorne. We bought sandwiches and had a picnic and at the beach along the way. For breakfast we shared a few pies. Australia is known for their pies. They look like our version of miniature pot pies and come in all types of flavors both sweet and savory. We tried the Chicken, Potato and Leeks one and it was delicious. The place we stopped to eat lunch was very cool and part of a National Park called, Great Otway National Park. We hiked for about 15 minutes and checked out a waterfall. We then walked across the highway and had lunch at the beach. The beach was filled with an inordinate amount of smooth rocks. People previously and throughout the day would build rock castles out of stones by stacking them on top of each other.

The ocean water was very cold and we got to see where the water from the mountain and waterfall met the ocean. We spent a few hours having lunch, building rock castles and checking out the fossilized craters near the edge of the water. We then continued our drive to Lorne. This city reminded me of a San Diego Beach city similar to a Del Mar or Encinitas. We stayed in an adorable Inn overlooking the boardwalk and ocean. I was still feeling pretty crappy at this point and spent most of the day resting in the room. I did make it out to a few shops and fell in love with a surfer/sweatshirt brand called, Ghanda.

We had dinner at a pizza place on the strip and Carlos and I watched Sicario after the kids went to sleep. We thought everyone was sleeping and then heard Paloma ask us a question about one of the characters. We were bummed to not have spent more time in Lorne. It was our first time since Barcelona where we felt like we were in a livable city. I am not sure what we would do in the this city for jobs, but it was beautiful, laid-back and right up our alley. A few observations thus far. Everyone was super nice in Australia. The country is very expensive. Our dollar is worth about $1.25 to their dollar, however the cost of living is outrageous. For example, the cost of two cokes was $8.00. The cost of dinner even at an inexpensive place was at least $80.00. Coming from Bali, this was quite the hike in cost, but we were expecting it. Lastly, I had to ask people to repeat themselves at least once as I could not understand half of what they were saying. Words seem to come at me pretty quickly and in a very strong accent – so its tough to catch everything.

GOR
GOR
Hiking to see the Falls
Hiking to see the Falls

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The rock formations a the beach.
The rock formations a the beach.
Carlos thinking how much he loves me. HA!
Carlos thinking how much he loves me. HA!
Rock formations
Rock formations
Paloma crying because she got her toe wet.
Paloma crying because she got her toe wet.
Sandos on the beach
Sandos on the beach

IMG_3126

This ain't the Ritz no more!
This ain’t the Ritz no more!
Our ocean view room in Lorne.
Our ocean view room in Lorne.

We rushed back to Melbourne and caught a flight to Sydney. We spent the next four nights at the Downtown Westin near the Harbor Bridge and Opera House. One of the first thing we noticed when leaving Melbourne and arriving in Sydney were the insane amount of flies. At first I thought it was me. Maybe I am overreacting or exaggerating. Then when I got into the car one evening and eight flies followed us in, I knew I had to ask about them. I questioned one of taxi-drivers about the flies. He explained that it was indeed fly season and they would slow down in a few months. We arrived in Sydney during the beginning of summer, albeit we experienced record temperature highs during our stay. On the first day we went and toured The Rocks, which is a touristy part of the city with winding streets filled with restaurants and stores. We walked by the Harbor Bridge and looked at the people hiking to the top. No amount of money on earth would have gotten me to climb to the top. I felt better knowing we were saving $170 per person as well. That night we took a cab to another area of town called Surrey Hills and ate a place called, The Winery. This restaurant was recommended by our newly acquainted friend, Alana who we met through another friend Nate in Dallas. The Winery was so hip that we had to eat at the Upstairs Restaurant attached called, The Champagne Room. We split salads and steak frites. The kids ended up eating most of our steak and we ate their spaghetti Bolognese.  It had been over eight days since I had a glass of wine (due to my chest cold) and did not even indulge in one with my steak. That is when Carlos knew I was really feeling like hell! All I wanted to do was sleep and rest, however, I felt bad knowing there was so much to see and kept pushing myself.

Sweet Harper
Sweet Harper
IMG_3029
Poor Cruz, he was so sick here and I am making him jump and act happy.
Sydney
Sydney
Harbour Bridge
Harbour Bridge
Sydney Opera House
Sydney Opera House
The Ferry
The Ferry

 

Bondi Beach in Australia
Bondi Beach in Australia

The next morning Elfie, our Elf on the Shelf left the kids a few tiny presents at the tree in the lobby of the Westin. Paloma was a bit nervous and kept asking is Santa could really watch her. She then explained to me that it would be easier if I just gave her a list of everything she needed to do in order to get lots of presents. We took a ferry over to Manly to have lunch and meet Alana. Manly reminded me of a larger, more surfer friendly version of Coronado Island. We had a great lunch with Alana and her sweet daughter Harper and spent the rest of the day at the beach. That evening we walked down the street and ate dinner at one of the largest food courts I have ever been too. The place had over thirty different restaurants on one floor. To be honest, it was quite overwhelming  and hard to find seating. I found myself getting dizzy, but it may have just been that I was feeling so crappy. We did enjoy our food so much that we came back the next day for lunch.

On our final day at Sydney we did some shopping and took the bus and subway to a beach city called Bondi. After buying a few really awesome dresses, I made a pledge to Carlos to go back to work upon getting resettled in San Diego. We did the walk from Bronte Beach to Bondi Beach and the views were spectacular. Unfortunately, it was 105 degrees outside, the flies were out of control and we did not bring water with us. Awesome planning right? You would think we had this shit down by now. In hind site, on a normal day, the walk would have been a breeze. We just happened to do the thirty minute walk on a day that boasted record temps. By the time we got to Bondi everyone was super crabby, hot and very thirsty.  I was not even speaking to Carlos as I had to save my saliva in order to survive the hike. He kept trying to get family pictures and flies were swarming us and everyone was not super happy. We did really enjoy dinner at a place called, Ribs and Burgers. The food was delicious and I think we all drank a gallon of water. We killed two very large rack of pork ribs without evening blinking an eye. On the bus ride back to the subway, a group of tourists were smiling at Paloma and I and speaking a language I did not understand. I could tell there were talking about me, however, I had no idea what they were saying. When we got to our stop, I sat up and realized that my shirt had come unbuttoned and was wide open. I did not realize this because Paloma had been sitting on my lap half the time. However, most everyone else on the bus did notice!

Beautiful rock formations on the walk to Bondhi beach.
Beautiful rock formations on the walk to Bondi beach.
The crew during our walk
The crew during our walk
Kept taking pictures because it was so lovely.
Kept taking pictures because it was so lovely.

We picked up our rental car the following day and started our drive up to Noosa and Sunshine Beach. The drive would take us two days/nights. We stopped along the way to check out an area called, Seal Rocks.  This is where they filmed a movie called, Adore starring Robin Wright Penn and Naomi Watts. I remember watching the movie a few years ago and thinking that the cinematography was out of this world. To see it in person was even cooler. The premise of the movie is quite disturbing so not sure I would recommend it, however, the scenery is spectacular.

The first night we arrived in our rental house in Port Macquarie that was super clean, however, filled with roaches. We killed five in less than eight hours. When I mentioned this to our Airbnb.com host, she said, “Well, looks like it must be time for our annual spraying,” Yeah, I would say so it might be that time.”

We left early the next day and drove up to another town called, Byron Bay. We were about a minute from our hotel and Paloma said she was not feeling very well. She told me her chest hurt and she pointed to her stomach. I thought she was just a bit sick from the windy roads as it was doing a job on my stomach. Two seconds later she got sick all over the back of our brand new rental car. She had just finished eating a bag of Doritos and some Skittles. She polished these off with milk. Yes, she requested milk when stopped for gas earlier in the afternoon. I immediately went into mom mode and jumped and ran as far as I could from the car. Cruz was not far behind me and we were both gagging. Carlos said, “Seriously Jen? What would you do if I just ran away from this?” I have no idea and thankfully he has a strong stomach and is able to handle these situations. Paloma handled it great and did not even flinch when we had to throw out her favorite Elsa Princess dress. The car was a wreck and Carlos spent the first hour at our hotel cleaning and scrubbing the car seat.

We went into town that evening for dinner. Byron Bay is super cute and quaint with little restaurants, beachside parks and little stores selling souvenirs, beach products and sundries. After dinner we went to the park for a bit. We learned about “schoolies week” while at Byron Bay that night. Basically, it is the end of the term when the Seniors are done with final exams and the partying begins for two weeks. The legal drinking age in Australia is 18.  We watched police officers catch underage kids drinking and had them pour out their alcohol. I noticed that they were super lenient and was told this is because it was Schoolies Week. They could have given the kids a citation, however, they gave them a break.  They also had a special safety checkpoint set up at the beach for anyone who needed a break, drank too much and/or needed a safe ride home. I thought this was pretty neat. The organization was by no means encouraging the drinking, however, they were ready and available to step in when and if something went array.

We made our final push for Noosa Heads and arrived at around 4:30 p.m. Along the way, Carlos spotted a group of wild Kangaroos in the forest and we pulled over to get a better look. They were so cute. One even had a baby joey in her pouch. Everyone was super psyched to have seen a kangaroo in Australia. Our first stop that afternoon was to check out the beach and we were not disappointed. The sand was the whitest and pristine sand I have even seen.

Sunshine Beach - First day in Noosa
Sunshine Beach – First day in Noosa
Noosa
Noosa

We went to the grocery store and got food for the next few days and walked down by the beach for a bit. That evening we cooked our first home cooked meal in over two months and it felt great to be in place for more than two days again. The next few days were spent surfing, laying on the beach and exploring the cute town. On our first night in the house the neighbor next door introduced herself. She was quite an interesting character to say the least. For starters, she was completely hammered and kept repeating herself. She invited me over and I explained (lied) that I could not leave my kids who were sleeping in the house. She then proceeded to go into her house and play her bongo drums as loud as humanly possible. What part of my kids are sleeping did she not get? When she came back outside, she yelled over the fence to let me know that she was in a band. I did not know what to say, so I just said, “You sounded great.” At this point, she starts getting upset with me and said that she is in no way whatsoever Greek.” She said that if I said she was greek again, she would get really angry. I tried explaining that I said, “Great, not Greek,” however, she was in no place to understand anything I was saying. It was quite wild and entertaining to say the least. She did make an appearance on our last evening at the house. It was Thanksgiving and I invited her in for some food because I thought maybe she just had a bad day evening. How is it possible that a stranger you just met can find a way to use the words “pubic hair” three times in less than thirty minutes in front of our children. I packed her up and told her it was time for our family to get ready for bed.  Again, I can’t make this stuff up.

The following evening we met two super sweet families down by the local restaurants. The corner by our house boasted an area with four restaurants, a wine shop and a little market. The kids played outside and rode skateboards and ran around while the parents ate, caught up and had wine. Cruz and the boys hit it off wonderfully and Paloma chased the boys around all evening. Everyone was super laid-back and easy-going. We really hope the Inglis Family will come visit us in San Diego one day! Definitely a small community feel in Noosa and the surrounding areas.

Are you kidding me with how cute Leo is??
Are you kidding me with how cute Leo is??
New Mates
New Mates

That evening when we got home, from two balconies over I heard this conversation from a different girl on the phone with someone.

Girl – “Hi Mate, How are you?” “So remember when I told you about how my mom got pregnant when she was 28? Well, I am late with my period and my breast are sore so I thought I should just call you.”

Guy on phone – (can’t hear his response, but I am sure he is having a heart attack.)

Girl – “But please, no worries Mate! I mean, if I am pregnant, it is probably his and not yours. The percentage chance of it being yours is slim but I just needed to talk to someone. And if by chance it is yours, I will take full responsibility and not bother you,”

Guy – (I am sure at this point, he is either throwing up or crapping his pants.)

At this point, I feel so bad for the guy that I wanted to go and DNA test the baby so she could let him get some sleep. However, at this point, she has not even taken a pregnancy test, so we are not even sure if she is pregnant.

Girl – “Again, no worries. I tell ya, it is probably that other blokes. I mean, I just feel queasy and my boobs hurt. Sorry, I am babbling, I am a bit buzzed right now.”

Seriously??? So another example of the how laid back some can be.

In the morning we went to another beach called Tea Tree Bay to swim and surf. Along the way in the forest is a well-known Koala Bear so we walked over to check him out. He was adorable and just sleeping away up in the trees. A guy next to me said they pretty much live their lives in a drunken state from the Eucalyptus leaves they ingest all day. How fun is that?! Cruz and Paloma spent the whole day in the water practicing surfing. It was so cool to see Paloma not nervous in the water anymore. She loved it and the water was super warm that day.

Little Koala up in the tree sleeping
Little Koala up in the tree sleeping
Tea Tree beach
Tea Tree beach
Views from the walk to Tea Tree
Views from the walk to Tea Tree
Walking to Tea Tree
Walking to Tea Tree
Fish n Chips
Fish n Chips
Beach bum
Beach bum
Surfy Surfy
Surfy Surfy

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Our last night in Noosa was Thanksgiving. We tried to find a turkey, but had to settle for homemade jambalaya. Needless to say, we had so much to be thankful for this year. I absolutely loved Australia. I can say without a doubt this has been my favorite place thus far.  The people, the beaches, the weather, and access to large cities. The only downfall was the expensiveness. Missing the warm weather already from Sunshine Beach.

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Thanksgiving
Thanksgiving
Crazy Traveling Family
Crazy Traveling Family

See ya in New Zealand!

xoxo

Bali Part 2 – Uluwatu and Nusa Dua

Going to visit the Uluwatu temple
Going to visit the Uluwatu temple
Surfy Surfy - My husband is hot on a board!
Surfy Surfy – My husband is hot on a board!

The GrisRods and Tia Jen continued our vacation in a very laid back part of Bali called Uluwatu. A sleepy surfing town that boasts beautiful coastlines and fantastic waves.  The main reason we headed to this area is so Carlos could surf to his heart’s desire. He has been surfing for years and this was a dream come true for him.  The whole time we were in Ubud he was dying to get over to the water. The drive down took about two hours from Ubud. We arrived at our new Home Stay called, Village Bungalows. This area was definitely more rustic and the bungalows reminded me something from the movie Out of Africa. The showers and toilets were located outside of each sleeping unit. I was thinking, this is kind of cool. While unpacking we noticed that despite the A/C being on, it was stifling hot in the rooms. I questioned the owner and he said to give it some time. Carlos and Jen went to the beach and I unpacked and swam in the pool with the kids. When I went back to the room, the power was out and the room was an oven. Not helping the situation was while at the pool we met a young couple who said the power was out for five hours the previous night. We walked to dinner at a place called The Cashew Tree and thought about options. I can handle bathrooms outside, communal bathrooms, lizards in my room; however, sleeping in Bali without air conditioning in the intense heat was not an option. When we got back from dinner that night, the power was still out in the Village. The owner, who was a super nice guy originally from Sweden told us the power might be out for a few days. At this point it is almost 9:30 p.m. Jen and I immediately took action and Jen found another hotel about ten minutes away. We wanted to make sure we liked the place before committing to staying there for a week and grabbed a taxi to check it out. The taxi driver agreed on one cost and then halfway to the hotel gave me another price. We argued and he kept threatening  to call his boss on me. He was so annoying and we were just ready to be out of the cab. The best part is that when we arrived at our destination he asked if we wanted him to take us around the Island to different sites the next day. Seriously, this is how it can be with some of the cab drivers. From then on out, we only rode in metered taxis for our time in Bali. The new hotel was called, Hidden Valley Resort and it was perfect. Working A/C, four separate pools and free breakfast in the morning. All of this for less than $86/night.  Carlos and the kids packed our stuff in complete darkness and we moved over to the new place that evening.

Our hotel
Our hotel in Uluwatu

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The next morning/day, I worked with Cruz on school and Carlos got a surf guide from the hotel to take him surfing. He wanted to learn about the different wave breaks,  and more importantly – where and how shallow the coral reefs were! In some of the areas in Bali, you have to be careful with the reefs because you could really hurt yourself. After breakfast and school, the kids and I played in the pool all day. This was pretty much our M.O. for the next few days. We did go to the beach on three different days. We went to Padang Padang beach, which was pretty, however, small and very rocky.  My favorite beach there was called Balangang. The sand was white and the water was turquoise. Carlos’ surf guide was named Rob and he works for a company called the Perfect Wave. If you are ever thinking of going to Bali and/or the Maldives, I would highly recommend this company. Both Rob and his absolutely lovely girlfriend, Jolie run another company called Surfin2Yoga. They put on retreats in Bali, Thailand and other wonderful places where you spend a week eating well, surfing and practicing yoga. A wonderful way to regroup and center your mind and body. I will add a retreat led by Jolie to my bucket list. She is super cool and so friendly – I had a blast hanging out with her.  You can check out future retreats at Surfin2Yoga.com. Jen, Carlos and I took a cab that evening and went to a town called Jimbaran. They have an entire street on the ocean filled with Seafood restaurants serving food on the beach. The seafood is super fresh and the view was pretty outstanding. We ordered a seafood platter which included, lobster, crab, fish, shrimp and mussels. We ate dinner watching the sunset and it was a lovely evening.

Dinner on the beach at Jimbaran
Dinner on the beach at Jimbaran

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Love this picture of a guy fishing at sunset
Love this picture of a guy fishing at sunset

The following evening we took the kids to a Tapas Restaurant called, El Kabron. It had been a very long time since I was charged a “cover-fee” to enter a restaurant and/or club. I was a little apprehensive about paying to enter a restaurant where I was going to spend more money to eat dinner. More on principle than anything else. They give you vouchers to use on your food and we really only end up paying $15 to secure our spot. But lord as my witness, what a spot, what a view, what a night! For starters, the restaurant was ultra hip with an open air seating area inside. The outside of the restaurant included an infinity pool hanging over a side of a cliff overlooking the ocean. Seriously. We enjoyed dinner outside on these little couches watching the sun fade into the ocean. The food was pretty good and Paloma slept the entire time on a little coach allowing all of us to have a peaceful evening.

Pretty amazing place to have dinner/
Pretty amazing place to have dinner!

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Paloma slept the whole time we were at the restaurant.
Paloma slept the whole time we were at the restaurant.
P crashed the entire time we were at dinner
P crashed the entire time we were at dinner

The next day Carlos watched the kids and Jen and I went to Balangan beach. We paid a guy the equivalent of $5 to rent chairs for the day. While laying there, a woman kept bugging me to get a massage from her. I relented as I felt bad for her and agreed on a 20 minute leg massage. It was more like  a body scrub. It felt like she had dipped her hands in glue, then attached sandpaper to them. She was rubbing my legs raw and I eventually just paid her $5.00 to stop. We had lunch on the beach at a little Warung and enjoyed our time taking in the beautiful surroundings. Jen and I were kind of bummed at how much trash was left around certain areas of town. In such a beautiful place to see areas where so much garbage was piled up was disheartening at times. I thought Padang Padang beach was pretty bad in terms of water quality on one of the days we visited. Also, on the street you would see heaps of trash or people burning the garbage. I do not thing Bali has the best recycling program if any. I feel bad writing this as I do not want to trash (no pun intended) any part of Bali. So I did some research and found I was not far off in my sentiments. The following excerpt comes from an article in SURFERMAG.com

It’s wet season in Bali, when the rains rinse the paradise island of its garbage, pushing it all out to sea. But then the onshore winds turn on and bring tons of trash back to the shore. It’s a cyclical event on the island, but today surfers and locals are saying it’s the worst it’s ever been.

“The sheer volume of plastic is unprecedented,” says SURFER photographer Jason Childs, who has lived in Bali for 20 years. “The scariest part is that it’s getting worse every year.”

The massive amount of detritus spans the island’s busiest beaches, including Ulus, Kuta, Semiyak, and Canggu. The waste is a mix of local trash and the refuse generated by Bali’s rapidly growing tourism industry. Over three million people visited Indonesia’s smallest province last year alone, up by more than 11 percent from the previous year. The island’s refuse collection and disposal services are not able to keep up with the volume of waste, so the debris is illegally dumped or pushed offsite. Out of sight, out of mind? Hardly. It all resurfaces on the sand all of those tourists come to enjoy.

Read more at http://www.surfermag.com/features/bali-garbage/#sOJMXYkqTM801JcF.99

So what can we do both near and far? For anyone that reads this, even the small changes in your daily habits will  help to reduce pollution, output of waste and our imprint on the environment.  Recycling, eating less meat, stop using plastic bags, using towels more than once, reducing your electricity and stop letting the water run while washing your teeth or doing the dishes. Maybe even putting up signs at the beach that say, please remove all of your trash. Or one I saw in Australia said, “Please take 3 pieces of garbage you see and throw it away. The next time I am in Bali, I am going to take lessons from my sister-in-law Alexia and organize a beach clean-up with anyone who will join. She did this in Nicaragua with her kids on one of her vacations and I am so proud of her.

For anyone to say that global warming and pollution issues are made up by the government is enough to make me very sad.  Please feel free to take your head out of the sand and head to Thailand, India, and other areas of Indonesia where sometimes 3 p.m. in the afternoon feels and looks like dusk due to the pollution, smog, burning of trees for palm oil plantations and excessive waste. Ok, stepping off my pedestal. But before I do, I am committed to make changes in my lifestyle to help reduce my environment footprint. How about some changes in your life?

Balangan Beach
Balangan Beach (my favorite near Uluwatu)

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Padang Padang Beach
Padang Padang Beach
Padang Padang
Padang Padang
Single Fin - Restaurant and bar.
Single Fin – Restaurant and bar.
Rob and Carlos
Rob and Carlos
Views at Single Fin
Views at Single Fin

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On Jen’s last evening in Bali, we got a babysitter and headed to Single Fin for drinks and dinner. We were able to grab a few drinks with Rob, Jolie and another Yogini from Australia, Mel. Single Fin is another well know establishment in Bali that has an amazing view of the sunset overlooking the ocean. We had a great night and took some pretty spectacular pictures. The following morning we were really bummed to say goodbye to Jen, but we knew we would always have amazing memories of Ubud and Uluwatu. While Jen headed to the airport, we moved to another part of town called Nusa Dua.

Before I start making everyone including myself sick by describing our hotel, I first must explain a few things. There is no way we would have paid money to stay at this next place on our own. With the exception of going back in time and staying here for something ultra special like our honeymoon or my 41st birthday. That would have to be coupled with winning the lottery. So our pot has officially been depleted of Marriott Points. We used every last point to cash in and stay at the Ritz Carlton in Nusa Dua, Bali. And let me just tell you. IT WAS WORTH IT.

I will never in my life stay in a nicer hotel room or in a nicer beach hotel. Ever. Ever. I am 110% okay with this fact. To begin, the grounds were absolutely spectacular. Ponds overlooking pools overlooking the ocean. When we checked in I asked if we could be upgraded and our host looked at me like I was crazy. She said, “Just wait until you see your room.” Our “Butler” yes Butler took us via golf cart down the hill to our room. On our way down he told us about a few of the restaurants located o the grounds. He said, “You must be sure to check out the Malaysian Restaurant called Bagana.” (Pronounced – Bagina., however with the accent, more like Vagina). Carlos immediately says, “Wait, one more time please? He responds yet again with “Bagina.” Carlos looks at me and says “Sounds great!” So I am literally crying and laughing the whole way to the room. Throughout the rest of our stay Carlos does everything in his power to get any and all staff to repeat the name of the restaurant.  The final straw was when he asked the host at the front desk if the restaurant was closed once a month for a few days. She had no idea where he was going with this comment and innocently responded, “No, the restaurant is open everyday!” Porbrecita!

When we walked inside our room for the next five days, Cruz said, “Oh my god, I think I am going to cry.” The first thing we notice is a shower and bathtub big enough for three outside under a covered awning. For those of you who might be a bit shy about bathing outside, there was also a shower bigger than my old kitchen inside. Then the butler raises the blinds by hitting a button and we see the huge private pool hanging off our deck. This overlooks the ocean. We are dying at this point and I kept saying, “Oh my gosh, this place is unbelievable. I do not have a poker face when it comes to this kind of thing and I was completely overwhelmed by the whole experience. The Butler left us to unpack and we all started jumping up and down laughing! Ok, maybe Carlos did not jump up and down, but he did keep saying, “Holy crap, this place is amazing.”

Let me tell you next about our toilet. First, every time you would open the bathroom door, the toilet lid would light up, sit up and the seat was warmed for your bottom. To the left of the toilet was a remote control panel. The buttons included; Front cleansing, rear cleaning, rear cleansing soft, and dryer. You literally did not even need toilet paper!

The best part of the hotel was the Kid’s Club aka Ritz Kids. The club was open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. everyday and was included in our stay. The kids loved it. They enjoyed being around kids again, playing in a school like environment and having pool time, arts and crafts and sports. In a nutshell, just feeling like a normal kid again. We would have to pull them away for a few hours each day to take a break and give the workers a break too. Paloma left the Ritz Kids daily with two pigtails and bows in her hair. The first morning at the hotel, Carlos went surfing and the kids went to the club. I called to make sure Carlos told the Kids Club that our kids could order food for lunch when they became hungry. Then I got off the phone and thought to myself. Are you freaking kidding me? I am in paradise, my kids are happy and being looked after by someone for a few hours, my husband is doing his favorite activity.   Ok, let’s be honest, his second favorite activity. And now I am going to lay in this Infinity Pool all day, order lunch and not talk to ANYONE for three hours. Let me further explain that I did not take one moment of this experience for granted. I felt so damn thankful to have this opportunity. It was almost comical how in awe I was during our stay. I grew up in a 3 bedroom, one bathroom house with five people. My house may have been smaller than this hotel room. However, I would not give back one second of my childhood. Growing up in a loving, hilarious mind you, Mid-western family on a dirt road (since paved) has made me exactly who I am today.

One night over drinks Carlos and I started dissecting how we even got to this place in time. We agreed that it was a combination of two very hard work ethics, living way below our means, being apart for over 100 days each year for eight years, luck, love, someone watching over us and two big sets of balls. We gave up the American dream of owning a house to take this trip. We may never own a house again. But we will be rich with experience and continue to install a love of travel onto our kids. Along the way if we stay at a few 5 Star Hotels on points, so be it!

During our stay at the hotel Paloma had left her arm swimmers at the Kids Club. She was super frustrated because she wanted to get into our pool. I told her that I would hold her and she would be fine. She informed me that she was going to swim and she has not used the arms bangs again. The girl does not want to be held back by anything and her determination both astonishes me and wears me out at times. Within two days she was swimming from one end of our pool to the other.

The night before we were supposed to fly out to Australia we learned that our flight was cancelled due to the Air conditions related to the Volcano at a nearby Island named Lombak. This was bittersweet news as we loved Bali and wanted to stay, however, this news would begin to chip away at our Australian portion of our trip. We called the front desk and asked if they gave a “Stuck in Bali/Volcano discount.” Of course they gave a discount and for an unenclosed amount we could stay as long as we wanted. So, since we had yet to win that lottery, we checked out and headed back to our previous hotel, Hidden Valley Resort.

The grounds at The Ritz
The grounds at The Ritz
Beaches at the hotel
Beaches at the hotel
Our private pool overlooking the ocean
Our private pool overlooking the ocean
Outdoor shower and bath
Outdoor shower and bath

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Paloma's hair every time she came back from the Kids Club each day.
Paloma’s hair every time she came back from the Kids Club each day.
Saying goodbye to the sweetest ladies ever!
Saying goodbye to the sweetest ladies ever!

It felt like we had never left when we pulled up into the Hidden Valley Resort. The staff came running out and gave us hugs and we were given our same room.  Granted, there was no Butler, or outdoor shower, or cookies and DVD’s left for the kids each night. However, it was $89/night and we had everything we needed to be very happy and content. The next morning at breakfast we saw some familiar faces from our previous week at the hotel. Two of which would become new friends of ours very quickly. We spent pretty much the next five days at the pool with Catherine and Kyle from San Francisco. Two of the coolest people in the world. Catherine is one of those girls who has no idea how pretty she is to others. This is coupled with a hilarious and dry sense of humor. She is someone very easy to be around. Now a little about Kyle her husband. Ok, well he is a babe too. I say this ONLY because he is and if I don’t mention this then Catherine will start to get a really big head. The last thing I want to do and do is create problems in their somewhat new marriage. (I am 100% kidding about the last statement and I know they will both be laughing when they read this part.) Kyle’s laid-back demeanor makes Carlos’ easygoing personality look like Donald Trump. They are a perfect fit and balance each other out very well. Very similar to C and I. In a nutshell Kyle puts up with Catherine. (Insert Smile). I can joke about these things because I feel that Catherine and I are very similar in terms of being intense and not laid back and the boys are lucky to have us in their lives. Anyhow, we had a blast with both of them and hope they decide they can not live without us in their lives and move to San Diego. If not, then at least visit once a month.

We also celebrated Paloma’s 4th birthday on the night before we left. I found a bakery and the cake turned out great. Trying to find anything that resembled a Frozen Cake in Bali was quite a feat. However, I just had them make a Blue Cake and secretly placed a few of Paloma’s characters on top. She loved it. We invited the entire staff and anyone who was staying at the hotel to come and join us for cake. And they did! Some of the employees even called family members from home to come and have a piece. Super easy and Paloma did not know any different as to not having a huge party. We had met two of the sweetest girls earlier in the week at a surf store in town. The girls were named Asia and Zoe. If it were not for a few months age difference, you might have thought that Paloma and Zoe were twins separated at birth.  When I first walked in the surf store, Zoe  was practicing her somersaults sans underpants and I knew that she was a hilarious and cool little girl. Zoe and Asia stopped by for a bit and the kids dressed up in Princess outfits. Yes, traveling around the world in suitcases and I somehow managed to whip up enough stuff for all three girls to be outfitted as Princesses. The staff bought her a very Large Pig stuffed Animal. Catherine made her a bouquet of flowers and I had a few gifts for her as well. It was quite honestly the easiest and least stressful birthday for mom as well. Photo credit for the following pictures goes out to Catherine. Thank you for these gems!

Super excited for cake
Super excited for cake

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Paloma and her Birthday Princess Court
Paloma and her Birthday Princess Court
Monkey is four!
Monkey is four!

Our seven additional days in Bali was not horrible to say the least. I got more tan than I have been since Spring Break 1997 while in Florida, we ate, we napped and read a ton. We hit the beach a few more times and Carlos surfed his tail off. The only downfall of this situation was missing out on our first week of Australia and losing out on some money. The one and ONLY mistake I made while planning this entire trip happened to be a pretty BIG mistake. I went back and forth for weeks in May agonizing over the best travel insurance to buy. I finally made a decision and purchased a plan I thought was great. This included travel health insurance, flight cancellation, delays, lost baggage and emergency evacuation. Thankfully, we had been fortunate thus far on the trip to not have to use any portion of the Insurance Policy. And it is a good thing because come to find out, the $2000 plan I had purchased was good for 7 days. Yes, while working on a claim to receive  a refund for part of our Australian trip, I realized that our Travel insurance policy ended on June 7th, 2015, not June – 2016. I wanted to cry. I wanted to scream. I was so unbelievably mad at myself for making such a rookie mistake on something so important. Carlos did not truly understand the extent of what the plan entailed so he was not as taken back with the news. I allowed myself to sulk for about an hour. During this time I calculated how much money we lost in excursions, pre-paid transportation and non-refundable hotels. And then I stopped and made myself get a grip. Earlier that morning before I realized my mistake I had watched a Ted Talks on YouTube given by our family friend Candy Peterson. Both Candy and her daughter Marit are cancer survivors. Marit’s chances of surviving Melanoma were grim upon diagnosis. Marit is now a very healthy and beautiful girl. With the help of her husband Jeff, family and friends, Candy has worked very hard to develop, market and raise money for The Marit Peterson Fund. This fund is the single largest and highest quality melanoma study of its kind in the world! (Do yourself a favor and watch this Ted Talks today and be inspired!) Oh, and then go and donate to this fabulous fund. So yeah, I made a mistake. A really stupid one. But then I remembered that nobody is sick, nobody is dying of cancer. We are fine. Even better, we are lucky as hell and I made myself rethink my sulking and put on a smile.

As of today, we have been in Australia for eight days. Our flight from Bali was still cancelled as of yesterday. We bit the bullet and bought new tickets to fly to Malaysia only to  then turn around and fly back South to Australia. Basically it was like flying to San Diego from Detroit when your destination was New York. Or something along those lines. You get it. It sucked. But guess what, life gives you lemons sometimes and you just need a little vodka, I mean sugar to make lemonade.

The trip is just flying by…I wish I could stop time. Not ready to even think about coming home yet.

xoxo

 

Eat, Play, Nap, Loving Bali! Part 1

Hello everyone! Just a quick side-note and before I go on and on about my love for Bali, I had to add this picture we found in the airport bathroom in Bali. Apparently, this is necessary as we came across this a few times. After spending 2.5 months in SE Asia, I will not be offended if you put one of these up prior to the GrisRods coming over to visit. As long as you have a hose in the bathroom, we are good!

No standing on toilet sign
No standing on toilet sign
Our home in Ubud
Our home in Ubud

While planning our trip around the world, my friend Jen called me from Hilton Head. Jen and I were sorority sisters (Delta Gamma Yo!) at Michigan State University. We then went on to live together in Chicago for two years. She was in the Bahamas with me when I met Carlos for the first time and got to witness Carlos falling head over heels in love at first sight. (Again it was the pink half-top.) One of my favorite stories about Jen happened during our time in Chicago. We shared an apartment with Aubrey, who is another dear friend of ours. The apartment was a block away from Wrigley Field and finding a parking spot was like winning the lottery, especially during baseball games. One morning we went out early to grab food and beer for Carlos’ Surprise 25th Birthday party we were hosting that evening. On the way home, we stopped at the corner and grabbed a hot dog from one of the bars across from Wrigley. Driving back down our street, I located an open parking spot and started racing under the El tracks in hopes of reaching it before someone else beat me to it.  I was holding a hot dog filled with ketchup and mustard and when I went to turn the corner, my car whipped into a tailspin and I nailed into one of the metal pillars under the El. When we realized that no damage was done to the car and our hot dogs were still completely intact we lost it. We laughed so hard we cried. I mean, the type of laugher that makes your belly hurt. You know what I am talking about?  I can maybe count on my fingers and toes the times I have laughed this hard. Jen, who we call Eisele because that is her last name is a travel lover as well.  She called to  ask us if we would mind if she joined us on our Bali portion of the trip. Are you kidding me? !! Yes please! Jen and I have never had a bad time together and I really wanted her to come. Carlos is like a brother to her as well and we have very similar philosophies on life.

I was very upfront and reminded Eisele that we would have the kids with us, so this was not going to be as fancy-free as some our vacations in the past together. (Spring Break “95, ’96, and 1997). She assured us this would not interfere with her having a great time and I looked forward to her joining us in Bali.

Our first part of Bali, we would be stayed in Ubud. Jen and I both LOVE to read, we love the beach and we are not afraid of relax, eat and have some beers and/or some vino.

Our villa in Ubud
Jen relaxing at our Villa.

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Ubud, Bali is where Julia Roberts travels to during the movie Eat Pray Love. Some people say that this city is too overpopulated with tourists now, however, I thought it was a perfect start to our Bali vacation. We arrived at our Ubud house late in the evening and were not disappointed. The house was beautiful with two bedrooms,  a huge open kitchen, spacious living room and an Infinity Pool overlong a rain forest.

Ubud is not near the water, but up in the hills of Bali. The surroundings were very lush and you could see tons of rice fields at every corner. I found the house on Airbnb.com for less than $100/night. This included breakfast made for your each morning and a daily cleaning crew.

(https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/1873752)

Ubud casa
Ubud casa

The house was perfect and we would spend many hours over the next five days laying by the pool and enjoying our new home. I consider myself a planner and I think that this trip has made me a little more laid back in terms of feeling like I need to see and do everything at each stop. Eisele makes my planning look like mincemeat. When visiting us in Dallas, she would bring a list of things she wanted to do – including a request for me to make Polish Sausage, sauerkraut and mashed potatoes for dinner. I was happy to hand over the reigns to Jen during our Bali trip. I needed a break from planning and I knew we would be in good hands.

The first morning we spent lounging by the pool, reading and catching up while the kids swam and jumped in and out of the pool at least 100 times. We discussed the top things we wanted to do while in Ubud. That evening we attended a Kecak and fire dance down in the city at a Temple. The city center was a 10 minute cab ride or three dollar fee each time we got into a car. You definitely have to be ready to negotiate with the local drivers. We had a driver named Made, who was very reliable and professional. I would recommend him to anyone coming to Ubud. I have his information if anyone ever needs his services. The Kecak was very entertaining and the kids enjoyed it. The cast sang and danced and portrayed a story related to some Hindu folktales. The cast was made up predominately of men with the exception of a few dancing women. At the end of the show, they do a fire show and a man steps on fire with his bare feet. The majority of Indonesia’s population is Muslim, however, the religious preference in Bali is Hindu. On a daily basis, you see those practicing Hinduism going to the Temples and leaving offerings on the streets three times a day. They make the offerings out of palm fronds and place pieces of candy, a cigarette, flowers, and incense inside them . These are considered offerings to their god. After the Kecak show we walked down the street and had dinner at  place called Mozaic. Dinner was excellent and I was very impressed with every restaurant we ate in  while in Ubud. I know I put on at least 3 lbs.

Kecak dance
Kecak dance

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Kecak Dance
Kecak Dance
Kecak fire dancer
Kecak fire dancer
Dinner
Dinner

The next morning Jen and I went to yoga at The Yoga Barn. I am unable to touch my toes, so I was a bit nervous. I had this conversation with a friend of mine, Catherine who I met in Uluwatu; Both of us are tall and we feel we are at quite the disadvantage to being flexible. Maybe as babies were super flexible. However, at almost six feet tall, I find the whole concept of flexibility challenging to say the least. The class was called, Gentle Yoga. My kind of Yoga! We stretched our feet and all of our extremities and did maybe two poses. Not difficult at all. It felt good to be back on a mat again. The environment was lovely and the open-aired barn was a perfect setting to reset your mind. After yoga, Carlos and the kids met us at one of the local Fair Trade Warungs.

A Warung would be what we consider a cafe or dinner. The Fair Trade Warung gives a significant amount of its proceeds to fund a local hospital in Bali. The food was insanely good, coupled by the fact that we ate in a little tree house. Paloma showed up wearing two skirts on top of one another, her Elsa Crown and her plastic high heels. When we got back to the house Jen and I took a walk around the small Village. We walked by families bathing in the river. Naked as jaybirds without a worry in the world.

We were also told prior to coming to Bali to stay away front the dogs. In the last year, 8 people died of Rabies in Bali. That is more than all of the deaths by shark attacks last year in the whole United States. The rabies issue is a big concern for the government in Bali and they are taking extreme precaution to keep these levels down. This is quite a task as there are stray dogs everywhere in Bali. I read online that in 2014 there were  46,877 bitings reports in Bali. So needless to say, we kept the kids and ourselves away from the dogs. This was not always and easy feat as Paloma and Cruz love both cats and dogs. We did get our Rabies vaccinations prior to leaving, however, this only bides you a certain amount of time to get to a doctors office that may or may not have the necessary additional vaccination. All that being said, I would not think twice about coming to Bali because of the dogs. Not for one second! I am only mentioning this because this is an issue they have struggled with here in the past. And yes, there are a ton of dogs. In hindsight, I never felt threatened by any of the dogs we came across during our time in Indonesia.

Lunch in the tree house
Lunch in the tree house
Always wearing her crown
Always wearing her crown
Love this and so true!
Love this and so true!!

The next day we had lunch at a place called Luxe Cafe. Another awesome find that Jen found while perusing blogs about Ubud. When our driver dropped us off at the sign for the restaurant, he let us know that the scooters would be down in a second. Pardon?  Yes so the walk up the hill to the restaurant was long and steep so they sent down four scooters for us. I asked “Who was the best driver?” Paloma and I hopped on the scooter of the first guy who raised his hand. So we all got scooter rides up into the rice fields. Lunch was awesome and the views and feel of Luxe Hotel were super cool. The boutique hotel is built with views overlooking a large rice paddy. The rooms are super cool and one of the rooms had a glass ceiling so you can sleep under the stars. We had burgers and sandwiches for lunch and walked around the surrounding area.

The owner/designer was a very cool gentleman who sat down and talked to us during our lunch. He had his staff take us via scooter to the Ubud Monkey Forest. I was a wreck the whole way as were were whizzing around town and Paloma was on the front of the scooter. This is second nature to anyone who lives in SE Asia. I am sure our driver still has scars from my talons digging into his sides as I tried to hold onto him. Paloma was completely nonchalant by the whole ride and Eisele thought it was one of the highlights of Ubud.

Luxe Villas
Luxe Villas
I want a painting like this one! Anyone know the artist?
I want a painting like this one! Anyone know the artist?
Looking at the rice fields with a local.
Looking at the rice fields with a local.
Rice Fields
Rice Fields

We reached the Monkey Forest and I was nervous and excited. We paid our entrance fee and before stepping one foot into the Park I saw over twenty monkeys within two feet of me. Some of which are outside the forest just hanging out on the streets.  Monkeys hanging, running and of course just waiting to bite my face off.

I had watched some Youtube videos of the monkeys at the Forest in Bali prior to leaving the States. I remember the day perfectly. We were living in our short-term apartment rental over by Greenville Ave. before leaving on the trip.  I called Cruz over one day and said, “Buddy, you have to check out these monkeys we are going to see in Bali.” The video was taken from an iPhone and was totally PG rated. Or so I thought. That is until the guy filming pans over and yells to his friend, “Dude, check out the f__ing balls on that monkey over there.” Whoa….What just happened here? Before I can click out of Youtube, the camera swings over to show a monkey with, well you guessed it. Cruz was dying laughing and made sure to tell Carlos that evening about our video. Mother of the year I tell you. Ok, back to Ubud…Before entering the Monkey Sanctuary, they have a list of best practices to ensure an enjoyable time. They went something like this….

  1. No outside food
  2. Put away sunglasses and any bright hats.
  3. Do not bring in water bottles or plastic bags as the monkeys think you have food.
  4. Do not look the monkeys in the eye because they see this as a form of aggression.
  5. Remain calm if a monkey jumps on you.
  6. Do not react quickly if a monkey approaches you.

Seriously. Did I just read that correctly? Remain calm should a monkey jump on you. I was thinking, does shitting your pants equate to a reaction or remaining calm? As we walked slowly walk into the park,  I was grasping Jen’s hand and Paloma’s hand and the monkeys were plentiful. I mean for Pete’s sake what did I expect we were in a flipping Monkey Forest. However, I was just not prepared for them to be so nonchalant about us humans. I wanted them to be as afraid of me as I was of one of them biting me. One of the monkeys started to get close to us and I started screaming, “Don’t look ’em in the eyes kids, don’t look ’em in the eyes.” Carlos who had zero interest in coming to the Forest that day looked at me and said, “You better sit this one out.” Mind you, we have walked only two steps from the entrance. Every time a monkey came close to us I would scamper back to the front. So the rest of the crew made it into the forest and Paloma and I waited outside. At one point I could hear Eisele screaming, “CARLOS!” She told me later that she felt like one of the monkeys was trolling her. Again, we are two peas in a pod. I am proud of her for going inside as there was no way I could do it and I consider myself pretty adventurous.

Monkeys!
Monkeys!
They are everywhere!
They are everywhere!
Yes, you can walk right up to them.
Yes, you can walk right up to them.

Our final destination that afternoon was to a famous Rice Field called, Tagalalang Rice Terrace. Throughout the day I kept asking Jen and Carlos why this rice field was any different from the other 100 we had seen since arriving in Ubud. The Tagalalang Rice Terrace was beautiful and looked like it was hand crafted into a side of the mountain (which it was). You could even hike down into the fields to get a better look. The local Villages set up restaurants on the cliffs overlooking the fields. Pretty cool experience.

For dinner that evening we went to another local Warung. Jen order the crispy duck and nobody was prepared for what they brought to the table. Kind of like the scene from A Christmas Story when they go out to the Chinese Restaurant for dinner and order the duck. Jen thought a better reference was the dried up turkey from Christmas Vacation. Jen asked Carlos to cut the meat off the duck, however, she did not eat it. Paloma loved it. She was really the only one. We did not get a picture of the duck because we did not want to come across as being rude.

Rice Fields
Rice Fields

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Rice Fields
Rice Fields
Rice Fields
Rice Fields
Biking to lunch
Biking to lunch

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Cute ducks, aka, Jen's dinner one night at the Wayrung
Cute ducks, aka, Jen’s dinner one night at the Wayrung

The next day we walked around in town and shopped. Ubud has some really cool stores. Really neat jewelry, yoga clothes, cover-ups, essential oils and places of healing. That evening we got a babysitter and went to a sushi restaurant in town. I do not eat sushi so I filled up on gyozas, edamame and tempura. After dinner we went to another restaurant that came highly recommend called, Rouge. The place was fantastic. While sitting outside having drinks I felt like I was in the backyard of the Chateau Marmont. Very funky and cool backyard. Jen was just happy to have found some decent Sauvignon Blanc and Carlos I tried the Singapore Slings. Not bad I will say.  Pulling up to the Villa that evening after drinks, we met five Balinese teenagers sitting outside on the front steps of our neighbors house. They were playing guitars and singing. We sat down with them and they sang a few Maroon Five and Adele songs. It was a the absolute highlight of our night because they were so sweet and serious about their music. When we got back to the house that evening we had a ginormous lizard in our room. You kind of get used to them after awhile and realize they will not bother you. Or maybe it was the four Singapore Slings that had me more relaxed.

Rouge
Rouge
Rouge Inside - They have an awesome Jazz singer btw!
Rouge Inside – They have an awesome Jazz singer btw!
Our neighbors rocking out to Adele and Maroon Five
Our neighbors rocking out to Adele and Maroon Five

Jen and I booked a spa day at place called Karsa Spa. We arrived to a scenic and lush rice field. The Spa was set amongst the fields. Spas in Bali are ultra cheap unless you are going to a Five Star Hotel. Jen and I got a 2.5 hour treatment for under $30 USD. We started off with a cream hair bath. (Yes, can you believe I let another person touch my hair?) The spa attendants rubbed a heavy-duty creme conditioner into our hair and scalp and then massaged our head and shoulders. Next we both enjoyed a Balinese Massage. Maybe one of the best massages in my life. Although, I did fall asleep for half of it. Finally, they did a Chakra Healing on us. This is where they lay stones and crystals on different parts of your body. The thought is that your body has seven main energy centers throughout the body. Each chakra is related to certain dysfunctions, being either mental or physical. I definitely felt lighter after the whole experience. When we got home that evening, Carlos and the kids had a great story for us. While swimming in the pool at dusk they were bombarded by hundreds and hundreds of bats. To the point of having to duck underwater. Carlos said it was crazy and hilarious all in one. I am thankful I was at the spa! The following morning our driver took us South to Uluwatu where we would begin part 2 of our Bali Adventures.

 

Same-Same But Different

Dressing the part
Dressing the part

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Street food
Street food

Throughout our Vietnam adventures the term, “Same-Same” would be heard over and over.  Yes, there are tons of similarities in the lives we live in Vietnam and the U.S.  That being said our entry into Vietnam was the biggest change for us thus far on the trip.

In both Countries we drive on the same side of the road. In Vietnam however, there are no driving rules. Throw them out of the window. No turn signals just tons of beeping. No helmets required, just a face mask over the mouth to prevent inhaling of the fumes.  Just enormous amounts of beeping.  More scooters than one could count in a year. (Ho Chi Min, Vietnam wins the most amount of scooters though.) Did I mention the non-stop beeping?!

In “Merica”, we love our dogs. Not so sure about the love of dogs in Vietnam. Did not see a ton of plumped up doggies running around town. On the way to the hotel within forty minutes of arriving in Hanoi, Carlos pointed out two skinned dogs on the back of a motor scooter. At first we thought they were suckling pigs. Yum right?! Then we noticed the tails. Soon to be supper perhaps?  Now, I realize this is not a super common practice anymore, however, it does happen and two of our guides in Hanoi confirmed this fact. Some do indeed eat dog in Vietnam.  I am not judging one bit as this country is extremely poor and you have to get by with what is provided. This is so incredibly different from what we are used too and brings the word “hot dog” to a whole other level. That being said, I had a very hard time eating any type of meat while in Vietnam unless I knew exactly where it was coming from, which is pretty much impossible. I became a vegetarian for about five days.

In terms of other similarities – we both use the bathroom, however, our toilets in the US have seats. Many bathroom trips in Vietnam included squatting into a hole in the ground.  When you are finished, you take a bucket of water and toss it on the hole to make a little toilet.  One time in the Old Center of Hoi Ann,  I had a shop owner lead me to the bathroom. I about died. You want me to squat into a hole in a room without any doors? She sat next to me while we both squatted. I had no choice. I had to use the restroom. I kept asking for toilet paper and she pointed to a bucket of soaked paper in the corner. Very humbling experience to say the least. I kept thinking, well at least we will not see each other anymore. I was also thankful that I only had to go number one at the time. (Too much info, I get it, but this life in Vietnam.)

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We were staying at the new Hanoi JW Marriott – on points of course – so our room was free for our time in Hanoi. The JW Marriott might be one of the nicest “City” hotels I have stayed at thus far in my adult life. The grounds are beautiful. We were upgraded for free and given access to the Lounge floor. This equates to free breakfast, free happy hour food and drinks everyday.  Our goal on what to spend each day on food depends on which city we are visiting. Since Hanoi is a much cheaper cost of living, we were shooting to average around $100.00 a day for all of us on food. This was easily accomplished as we took advantage of the free breakfast and Happy Hour. Let’s be honest, we pretty much ate breakfast and dinner for free at the Hotel every night. Sometimes this meant grabbing a Salami and cheese sandwich or a piece of pizza from the Club Room. The first night we did splurge and enjoyed dinner at the French Room inside the Marriot. The restaurant was rated one of the top 5 restaurants in Hanoi. The food was amazing. The wine was super expensive because they have to import everything. A bottle of Oyster Bay Sauvignon Blanc, which you can get in Dallas for around $8.00 was over $80.00. ARE YOU KIDDING ME?? On principle alone, I could not bring myself to drink more than one glass. Carlos had the Mussels and I indulged on Steak and scalloped potatoes. The restaurant was packed with kids so I felt very comfortable bringing Cruz and Paloma to dinner at a 5 star Restaurant.

Pool at the Marriot
Pool at the JW Marriot
Spoiled Rotten
Spoiled Rotten
The staff at the Hotel
The staff at the Hotel

The next morning we took a taxi to Old Town.  I have never in my life seen so much traffic and scooters until we reached Ho Chi Min later in our trip. When you are turning left, there is no waiting or merging. Only traffic coming at your from all directions.  I was prepared to be completely overwhelmed in both Thailand and Vietnam. To the point where I was even a bit scared and ultimately excited to see this part of Southeast Asia. I was surprised at how unaffected I was at this new environment. However, that being said, nobody can prepare you for the mass amount of people everywhere. Sidewalks are non-existent as they are used to park motorbikes and drive on. While walking down the street you are getting beeped at, pushed and honked at constantly. After awhile this kind of wears you down because we are not used to the noise. Similar to being around children when you do not have any of your own. The crying is annoying and tears at your heart.  But once a mom,  after your first child, you get used to it and you are not phased by screaming babies anymore. As we walked down the streets we noticed many locals cooking food on the sidewalks with large pots of boiling oil. They use the oil to fry pork or chicken for the street food. Carlos was completely at awe with how dangerous this practice is among the large crowds. Every five feet was a house that resembled looked like an open garage on the bottom floor. This is where the families would set up tiny restaurants. The owners would set up tiny chairs and tables. Most of the restaurants did not have names and sold satays, or Bahn Mis (Sandwiches) or different types of soup. People are everywhere – eating, selling things in the shops, tourists walking around looking lost.

Our 12 Year anniversary was on this day. I decided instead of going to the Spa, I was going to bite the bullet and highlight my hair. How did I come up with this stupid idea to get my hair highlighted in a country where 99% of the population had jet black hair? Well, this is how I rationalized the idea in my head. Back in Texas, my dear friend and highlight expert is Mica Win.  So I thought to myself…well, he is Vietnamese and is good at highlighting hair, so nothing should go wrong here. I also see signs on the window for the products that Mica used to import and use on my hair, called SunSilk, so that is an additional bonus. For sure, they definitely know what they are doing here when it comes to hair. In fact, Mica and my about to be hair dresser are probably cousins. Kidding!

I asked Carlos if it would be ok to spend one and half hours at the Salon while he watches the kids. (Just to clarify, it took about four hours and a torched scalp.) He felt this “event” was too good to miss, so he hung outside the salon most of the time with the kids. They did leave a few times to go grab a quick snack of Bahn Mi’s down the street. I should have walked away within seconds of trying to explain what I wanted, however, I thought that pointing out my color in the book, would suffice. I had my google translator on and tried to explain that I wanted two different colors. Some low-lights and blond highlights. The price went up from $20 USD to $40 USD by the time I was done explaining. Additionally, I requested the color be very close to the scalp as I was not sure when I would be back into a Salon for a touch-up. My hair dresser began by separating my hair into little bundles. He then applied a layer of color all over my head and I waited for about 45 minutes. I kept thinking, where are the foils that Mica uses? I could see my hair turning yellow, (I hate gold tones and I had requested more of a beige color.) Yes, another complicated Jen order. After the first wash, I google translated to my colorist that maybe he should put on a toner to make my hair look less bright yellow. He seemed to understand and I was slathered with more chemicals. About five minutes into this part, my scalp started to really burn. I did not want to complain, as I just wanted my hair to turn out acceptable. As they washed my hair for a second time, the woman next to me asked me what color I going for? I said, “Oh you know just some blonde highlights.” She just smiled at me.

When we got back to the styling room, I noticed for the first time that my hair is a hue between purple and silver. My hair dresser noticed the panic in my eyes and started explaining in broken english that it will look different upon drying it. I was thinking, “What is my hair now like one of those hyper-color shirts from the 90’s?” When my hair was completely dry, I looked up and saw the same color. Purple hair. I google translate that this is not acceptable and point out that the color looks nothing like the color in the book I picked out. He told me that my hair will look better after 4 or 5 washes. Again, back to the hyper-color bullshit. I am still not satisfied. In addition to being a Silver fox, about 1/3 of my original hair has fallen out due to the over processing. We argued as much as possible in English and Vietnamese. At one point I told him to call the police because I am not paying him. I finally agree to pay him $15 of the original $40.00. The kids entered the salon and Cruz yells, “Mom what happened to your hair?” Paloma was super excited and kept telling me that I looked like Elsa from Frozen now. As if that is what I was going for!

We walked out of the salon and Carlos was unable to contain himself. In a sea of thousands of dark-haired people, I was definitely standing out now. People were looking at me. Pointing at my hair as if this is something I wanted. I made sure to tell anyone that looked like they could remotely speak any English that this hairstyle was not the look I wanted. I did not cry because what can you do. It is just hair and it will grow back (hopefully). If this is the worst thing that happens along the way, then I will take one for the team. It really is just hair! I just have a lot less of it now.

Not worried yet
Not worried yet
Purple hair
Purple hair
A few of my google translates..
A few of my google translates..

The next morning we went on a tour of parts of Hanoi with two University students who worked for an Organization called, Hanoi Free Tour Guides. This is a free tour, however, you must provide transportation for the guides as well as lunch. We also tipped them at the end of the day. The guides use the experience to learn better English. Our guides for the day were Hoang Phuong Thao and Nguyen Van Son. Both were super-duper adorable and they took us on a guided tour of the Vietnam Museum of Ethnology. We also did a quick interview with both of them for our Podcast and it was pretty awesome. Carlos asked them if they ever heard of a thing called a hot dog and they said it sounded scary. They also told us that when they think of California, they think of gangs and drugs. Such a neat experience to get perception on America from people growing up in another country. Vietnam is such a diverse country and has over 300 different ethnic groups. The Museum of Ethnology was a great place to start trying to get our arms around the different cultures. It was wonderful to learn more about certain groups and the houses (huts) they lived in, foods they ate and crafts they created. The many displays were very detailed,  colorful and beautiful. Afterwards we walked around the Lake a bit and headed to lunch. When lunch was finished we took the kids to see a Water Puppet Show that was fantastic. These shows are very popular in Vietnam. We had front row seats and got sprayed by a few Dragons.  This is a MUST if you are ever in Hanoi or Hoi Ann. Paloma missed the last ten minutes of the show because she was not behaving and kept talking, so we made her sit outside the door.  It was quite a long day and on the way home we popped into the Hanoi Prison. I thought it was very interesting that they had a special room designated for the American prisoners of war. On the walls, the propaganda looked as if the Prisoners were having more of a Long-term boys weekend. Everyone was smiling in the pictures, smoking cigarettes and playing cards. Definitely some propaganda going on here. This is one of the places where John McCain was held during his captivity.

The different cultures within Vietnam
The different cultures within Vietnam

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A typical center where the Vietnamese women would wait for the men to come home from work.
A typical center where the Vietnamese women would wait for the men to come home from work.
The kitchen in house
The kitchen in a typical village house in Vietnam

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The prison cells at the Hanoi Prison - where they kept POW
The prison cells at the Hanoi Prison – where they kept POWs
Statues at the Prison
Statues at the Prison

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The underground tunnels where some of the prisoners tried to escape.
The underground tunnels where some of the prisoners escaped.

So, Carlos and I went back and forth about heading to Ha Long Bay, Vietnam. I was not even aware of this place existed until we started researching the top things to do in Vietnam.  Then my sister-in-law Alexia said this was a place we had to see from her trip ten years years ago to Vietnam. Hạ Long Bay, is in Northeast Vietnam. The pictures you will see show emerald turquoise bays and tons of limestone islands. Then just throw in a beautiful Rain Forest. Absolutely spectacular. HLB was actually named one of the top World Heritage Sites by Unesco.

The bay includes over 1600 different islands. To visit the Islands, caves and Cat Ba Islands you can go via kayak or on a junk boat. Some junk boats are just day trips and some are overnight trips of 1-2 nights. We did a ton of research and decided to do the 2 day, 1 night tour on what they call a Junk boat. The trip each way from Hanoi is a four-hour car ride, and the boats are definitely not as cheap as they used to be in the past.  I told Carlos I would forgo any additional shopping in Hanoi if we could get a private driver and pay $30.00 more to not have to travel by bus for 8 hours. I have horrendous car sickness and the thought of being on a bus for 4.5 hours two separate times was not appealing. I knew the next 36 hours were going to be a blast, but very busy. Our driver picked us up from our Hotel at 7 a.m. We checked out of the hotel and had all of our luggage with us. (Note, make sure to ALWAYS look at your hotel bill. I went over our bill with a fine tooth comb and noticed they charged us $100 USD extra for breakfast that was supposed to be free on three different occasions). The drive was pretty easy. We drove by numerous rice fields and were able to see the Farmers drying the rice out on the pavement. Everything is manual in this part of Vietnam and they still used the Ox to pull the carts. We arrived at the Port and then boarded a smaller boat that would take us to our home for the next 24 hours.

Our boat was called the ‘Cristina’. The boat was beautiful and had fifteen private rooms. All of the rooms had A/C and a balcony. Our room was tiny, but that was to be expected. The beds were comfortable and the bathroom was functional. Lunch was a buffet filled with fish, chicken fingers, fried rice and a cucumber salad. This would be the only edible meal during the next 24 hours. After lunch we lounged on the Sun deck as the Junk Boat headed to Ha Long Bay. The first activity was kayaking. I took Paloma in a Kayak and Carlos had Cruz. It was pretty awesome to be inside the Limestone Walls and  green waters cruising around. We kayaked around a little cove and then Paloma and I went to  hang out with the crew while we waited for everyone to return. A family of five lived on a small fishing boat near the Kayak storage center. They had a little girl who was precious. They had an older daughter who was back in a Village attending school, however, I was  not able to understand the details about this arrangement. I was shocked and very nervous that this 2 year old was not in a life preserver and walked around the dock and boat all day without any full-time supervision. Again, just a different culture.

After kayaking, we explored some pretty amazing Caves. We walked up and then down into the center of them and the lighting was unreal. The final excursion that day was swimming and hiking at Cat Ba Island. Paloma and I skipped that because she was falling asleep. Carlos and Cruz had a really nice time at the beach. Dinner that night was a whole fish, tons of fruit and chicken. The food to be honest was horrible. I did not eat much during the 24 hours we were on the boat. The only seafood I like is crab, thus that was a big issue. 90% of what they served each day was seafood so I ingested my weights worth of cucumbers. I am not trying to be ungrateful and realize how bad this sounds. However, I honestly thought the food was less than edible and I have a hard time paying for food that is gross. That night you could Karaoke upstairs or fish for squid  on the side of the boat. We opted for squid fishing. After about thirty minutes, I took one for Team GrisRod and stayed in our bedroom while Paloma went to bed. I finally got her to settle down when I heard everyone screaming outside our room. Then Cruz came pounding down the hallway. “We got a Squid! We got a Squid.” So everyone, including Paloma is up again looking at the Squid. The next morning, breakfast was horrible again and by the time we got back to our car, I thought I was going to pass out from a 24 hour cucumber diet. I asked the driver to stop while I ordered a take-away pizza and some fries then we headed straight to the airport to board our flight to Hoi Ann, Vietnam.

Heading on over to our Junk Boat
Heading on over to our Junk Boat
House for the next 24 hours
House for the next 24 hours
Our room on the boat
Our room on the boat
Halong Bay
Halong Bay
Halong Bay
Halong Bay
Dinner on the boat. It was not very good.
Dinner on the boat. It was not very good.

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The caves inside the Limestone Islands
The caves inside the Limestone Islands
Caves
Caves

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Sunset
Sunset

The city of Hoi Ann is on the Eastern side of the country and is on the top ten of Asia’s best places to visit. The city is a beach town with a bustling city center – where we flew to right after our time in Ha Long Bay. Our first few nights we spent at Green Areca Homestay. We had two bedrooms, a balcony and a lovely pool. The kids went swimming and we had crackers for dinner because we got in so late. The next day we spent swimming in the pool and renting bikes to go into town. The bike ride each way was about twenty minutes. Paloma sat on the back of Carlos’ bike and put held tightly to his shirt. This made me a bit nervous, however, she was having a blast. Along the way, we passed water buffaloes and cows within two feet of us. When we got into town, we locked up our bikes and started to explore. We did not get two feet when I felt a pull on my shirt. A woman was asking me to come look at her shop. (This a huge town and village area with souvenirs, spas, shoe shops, tailors, etc.) I followed her into the shop and bought a few small souvenirs. Then Carlos tells me that another woman wants to show me her spa which is a two-minute walk away. I did not want to go, however, she was very insistent and I can appreciate a savvy businesswoman. We arrive at a room inside a garage that is about four feet by four feet and she starts telling me about her massages. For those of you who know me well, you know I have no problem saying no to people unless it involves someone who is in need, including all animal. Well, I do not have the words to tell you how the next thirty minutes transpired. Before I know it, the woman has threaded my eyebrows, my lower legs and it trying to hold me down to thread my underarms. The underarms are way too painful. Carlos is dying laughing until her partner in crime starts telling him that his earlobes are hairy and starts threading them. And yes, we do owe them money for this pain. Threading, a foot massage and $25 USD later we are able to leave. I just looked at Carlos and said, I have no idea what just happened in there. They would literally not take NO for an answer.

We spent the rest of the day shopping and I found some paperback Harry Potter Books for Cruz. That evening, we ordered Pizza from our Homestay and it was one of the best pizza we had on the entire trip including Italy. The home stays are little villas or rooms in which two or three people run. They have free breakfast, and offer dinner as well. The next morning I worked on my blog and the kids laid by the pool. Paloma had been spending her morning playing with one of the female employees at the front desk. Before I know it, she comes up and her hair is braided with flowers. She is in heaven. Later in the afternoon, Carlos comes up to the room and tells me that I will not believe what just happened. He said that he could see Paloma from the pool and she was sitting on the woman’s scooter in her Princess Dress. Then he looked up and the woman takes off with Paloma on the scooter. Without a helmet! Without asking him or thinking twice about it. He said Paloma was grinning from ear to ear. They were gone for about fifteen minutes and at this time he was getting a bit nervous. When they returned she told Carlos that she took Paloma to her house down the road so Paloma could see her baby kittens. She teased him about being worried. Only in Vietnam!

Homestay at Green Areca in Hoi Ann
Homestay at Green Areca in Hoi Ann
Hoi Ann
Hoi Ann
Getting her hair done by everyone but me on this trip.
Getting her hair done by everyone but me on this trip.
Arrival in Hoi Ann
Arrival in Hoi Ann
Just some cows
Just some cows
Ambushed at the market
Ambushed at the market
Threading Carlos' earlobes
Threading Carlos’ earlobes
Screaming in pain - don't ever let anyone thread your underarms!
Screaming in pain – don’t ever let anyone thread your underarms!
Meat market on the street
Meat market on the street
Street Food
Street Food – yes these are snakes

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Market
Market

We did not want to leave the first Home Stay. The staff and everyone in the surround Village was so nice. However, we did want to check out the ocean. So we packed up and moved into another place we found on airbnb.com which was right on ocean.

(https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/5633887)

Ou new accommodations were pretty bare bones in terms of amenities. You had the ocean, your beds, the bathroom and a small refrigerator. However, it was absolutely beautiful and a mere $60/night including breakfast. Every night we feel asleep to the pounding waves and played in the water each day. On our first day at the beach I saw a man holding a sign for a spa. Yes please! I walked over asked him to see the menu and he motioned for me to follow him up the hill. When we got to the top of the hill he motioned for me to get on the back of his scooter.  I declined his offer and started back down the hill. He tried explaining that the spa was at his house and his wife would be the one giving me a massage. I told him I would find it later in the day. I did end up going to his wife’s spa that afternoon. The place was completely legit, however, my massage albeit was relaxing, was offset by the sound of screaming babies and roosters. During our time in Hoi Ann, we ate primarily at two different restaurants. One was called, Dingo Deli and was ran by an Australian Man, go figure. The other was called, Paddy’s.  The food at both places was very good and we kept going back for more.

It was during this part of the trip that Cruz lost his iPad privilegees for a week. He was giving Carlos and I heat about his work during the day and we were done. So he lost his iPad and was not very happy about this situation. I put this in here because not every day is roses and sunsets. We have our bad days and moments just like anyone else, however, we are just in a different city or country every few days. Another example of this was in the airport in Bankok, Paloma threw a fit because she saw a huge toy store. Mind you, we had not seen a real toy store in over three months. Paloma really wanted a Barbie and I told her no. So while I was on the moving walkway, she ran in the other direction back to the store. I had to run to get her and when I grabbed her arm, we both tripped and fell in front of everyone. She knew she was in major trouble and I was so embarrassed because everyone thought I was an insane mom running after my child. Thank god a ton of people did not speak English because I was hot!

Our second home stay in Hoi Ann on the ocean
Our second home stay in Hoi Ann on the ocean
Beachview
Beach view
Fishermen going out in the morning on these little boats
Fishermen going out in the morning on these little boats
Water buffalo
Water buffalo
Getting fitted for dresses
Getting fitted for dresses
Paloma getting her dresses
Paloma getting her dresses
Hugs because she is so happy about her new clothes
Hugs because she is so happy about her new clothes
Sticky Rice - my new buddy!
Sticky Rice – my new buddy!
A sign at the airport in Ho Chi Min
A sign at the airport in Ho Chi Min

Another fun thing we did in Hoi Ann was to get custom-made dresses. I did not love, love the ones I had made in Bangkok and heard that Hoi Ann had some pretty good tailors. Also, the cost of a dress is super duper inexpensive. We went to one called Yala, which was recommended by my friend Nicole. I picked out a Silk fabric pattern that was completely different because I wanted to remember it from Hoi Ann. The strange thing is that the colors are Maize and Blue. The dress would be perfect for someone who went to U of M, however,  it was a very pretty pattern and we did win this year.

We decided on two little summer dresses for Paloma and she picked out the fabric.  Well, actually, Carlos had some say in her colors. For someone who is so manly in most ways, he does like to have a say when it comes to our clothes. The dresses came out lovely and I look forward to wearing them in San Diego upon our return. One our last day before heading to Ho Chi Min, I met an adorable baby outside. The young family was from Hanoi and we gave them one of Cruz’ Harry Potter books. They were so sweet and they reminded me of Carlos and I when we were younger. I really wanted to buy them dinner, however, they would not accept. So I had Kitty, our home stay manager bring them a lantern on the day we left. They were so sweet and gave Cruz a t-shirt that said Hoi Ann. The best part of traveling for me is meeting new people, learning about the culture and forming new friendships in this very big world.

We then headed to Ho Chi Min for less than 16 hours before we boarded our plane to Bali. Ho Chi Min makes Hanoi look like a one stop sign city in terms of population and scooters. The population is overwhelming. When we pulled up to our hotel Carlos looked at me like, “Are we seriously staying here?” Ok, so yes the place did look like a hotel you would rent for an hour, however, once inside, the room was super clean, quiet and we would spend upwards of seven hours sleeping and then leave. That night we risked our lives and walked to dinner. I wish so badly we could have had a Go-Pro on us while trying to cross this busy street. It was a miracle we made it  and everyone was staring at us because we looked like we had no idea how to cross a street with 1000 scooters coming at us from all angle. We went to eat at a Korean BBQ restaurant. My first time eating KB. All of us were very hungry and it was unbelievable. We had the Kimchee pancakes, steak that you wrap with lettuce, and noodles. We killed it and ate everything they delivered to our table. My favorite was the Ramen soup with dumplings. The kids liked it too and I was surprised because it was very Spicy. We walked home in the pouring rain and went to bed! The next morning we boarded our plane to Bali, Indonesia. Stayed tuned for life in Paradise for 15 days.

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Squid Fishing
Squid Fishing
Rice preparation
Rice preparation
Market
Market

 

Killing it at Korean BBQ in Ho Chi Min
Killing it at Korean BBQ in Ho Chi Min
Goodbye Hoi Ann - You are perfect!
Goodbye Hoi Ann – You are perfect!

 

The Island of Koh Samui and yes, it truly is that beautiful…

Plane view
In “Plane” view

Remember the movie “The Beach” with Leonard DiCaprio? The one where the waters are turquoise and you think there is nowhere in the world that is really this pretty? However, you secretly want to believe in the beauty because it is reminiscent of paradise or my version of heaven. Well,  welcome to Koh Samui!  (The movie was actually shot at Phi Phi which is another small Island nearby).

As our plane was about to descend, I opened the window and caught a glimpse of the aquamarine water against the white sands. I was so excited to finally have reached this destination on our trip.  I am a beach girl through and through and knew Koh Samui would not disappoint! During the planning of our trip, Carlos and I discussed certain parts of the trip where we would “splurge” on a hotel. Since Thailand is so inexpensive, we agreed that this would be a great and cost effective place to upgrade a bit. The majority of the other hotels we have stayed in have been paid for with points earned by the blood, sweat and tears of Carlos traveling 3-4 nights week for 8 years.  In May, I booked a hotel called Code. A 4-star hotel that got rave reviews on Trip Advisor. I showed Carlos the website and we thought it was too expensive. Then while scrolling for deals in May, I found a great deal on Bookings.com and was able to secure the room for a discounted rate. This included a two bedroom suite, 4  free massages and free breakfast every morning. As we pulled up to the hotel, I see a large white building with rooms that face the ocean overlooking an Infinity pool. JACKPOT! Every room had an ocean view.

The hotel is painted white and ultra modern in both decor and design. The ladies at the reception offered us drinks, cold towels that smelled like a combination of jasmine and lemons. Paloma kept inhaling her towel and putting it over her head and the staff immediately fell in love with Paloma. They gave her and Cruz some type of sweet rice snack and lemonade. We did not unpack but headed straight to the pool and stayed there for the next four hours. That night we ate a very nice dinner at the hotel restaurant. Cruz and Paloma shared the Lamb Ragout Pasta.  I had a Greek Salad with Chicken. Most of the time I feel that hotel food is not very good.  Mass produced and just kind of like, whatever. This was not the case at Code. The food was exceptional and the Greek Salad (go figure) was one of the best I have ever ate. We even asked for the recipe which they freely gave us, albeit without the measurements. The free breakfast was excellent as well and you could pick two entrees each. We always had some type of breakfast dish and a Thai dish.

Map of the Island
Map of the Island
Room with a view
Room with a view

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This is not a typical drink at dinner for us!
This is not a typical drink at dinner for us!

In the morning, we walked down to the beach. The hotel was located on the Northern part of the Island in an area called Maenam. The beaches are white and the water is clear and blue. The pictures I took look fake and yes, it really is that beautiful here. The beach is lined with hole-in-the-wall restaurants and small huts to rent for the night. Upon reaching the sand, we encountered five boys with ages ranging from 3 – 10 years old swimming in the ocean. They were using old broken parts of styrofoam to float. Imagine me leaving Paloma with Cruz at the ocean all day and expecting him and his friends to watch her? Such a different life in Thailand. Definitely no “helicoptering” going on here. At the same time, the Thai men and woman dote on their kids and grandkids with so much love and affection. It is quite endearing. The boys invited Cruz to play and we spent a beautiful day with them. When I took off my cover-up to lay in the chair, one of the boys yelled out, “WOO HOO.” Carlos and I died laughing.

The kids in Thailand that we spent time with and saw on a daily basis have nothing and want for nothing. That afternoon, we bought the boys lunch and had some excellent chicken and spicy basil from a restaurant that would have been put out of business due to health hazards in the U.S.  The food was exceptional and everything was very fresh. My rule is to not look into the kitchen. What I do not see will not hurt me. The food took a long time because everything is made upon request. We were the only ones eating that day and I am pretty sure there was a missing neighborhood chicken. After lunch, I walked to the nearest 7-11 and bought all of the boys Gatorades and Gummi Bears. I noticed immediately how each of the boys shared without being asked. They took care of each other and watched out for one another. You could see that they treated each other like family. The only “toy” they had was some wadded up paper towel they were using as a ball. Paloma and Cruz played with them all afternoon. At some point, I saw Paloma following around one of the little boys and she mentioned to me that she now has a “crush.” Lord help me.

Nature at it's finest!
Nature at it’s finest!
Lunch on the sand!
Lunch on the sand!
Our new buds
Our new buds

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After showering and getting cleaned up at the hotel, we took a taxi to another area of town called, Fisherman’s Wharf. On Friday evenings, they have a large outdoor market. We had dinner at a place inside the Wharf called, The Baguette. Kind of French/Asian Fusion. I ordered the Beef Stew. For some reason I was in the mood for something hearty. I also ordered the Greek Salad. Enough of the Greek Salad right? We went back another time during the week to eat here because the food was so good and we all ordered the exact same thing. What can I say? We are creatures of habit. Amazing and super cheap!

After dinner on Friday night,  we walked around the market buying souvenirs and small gifts. They had a ton of different foods frying on each side of the walkways. I saw alligator, fish, snake, pork ribs, Doner Kebabs, fruit smoothies and tons of desserts. Despite the fact that Paloma ate an entire meal, somehow was able to put down a 1/2 rack of ribs with Carlos. The girl is a Carnivore and I love it! There were also tons of random dogs walking around the market. Interestingly enough, the dogs and cats in Thailand are not skinny things. Being a predominately Buddhist country, they take very good care of all of the animals. (Marge, I know this makes you very happy). Me too!

For those of you that have ever attended a party or even a dinner that turns into drinks at our house, you know that I am a big fan of the Chinese Lantern. I cannot count on two hands how many times I almost set our neighbor’s tree on fire and the one time I actually succeeded. Years ago when we first moved into our house we had a delivery of about 20 Chinese Lanterns. Carlos was like, “Are we having a wedding?” “Why did you order these?” Because they always make the evening special. So being able to freely let these off into the ocean and sky was pretty fun. Cruz even said, “Mom, at least we will not burn anything this time. ”

The Wharf
The Wharf
Beach bar with swings
Beach bar with swings
Bar on the ocean
Bar on the ocean
Food at the market
Food at the market
Paloma chowing down on pork ribs
Paloma chowing down on pork ribs
Setting our lantern into the night.
Setting our lantern into the night.

The staff at Code Hotel was unbelievable – however, the following morning at breakfast they had us all laughing. Carlos says I do this thing he has termed “Complicated order Jen.” For example, I will order a bagel and ask for butter and cream cheese or light cheese instead of extra cheese. Basically like a complicated Starbucks order but with food.   This morning I was going about my own business ordering breakfast and I asked for a bagel, but I did not want the salmon. I did however want the cream cheese and chives. At some point during my five minutes of trying to explain this order, the waitress looks over at Carlos and rolls her eyes at me. SHE ROLLED HER EYES RIGHT in front of me. He was unable to contain himself and started yelling, “Yes! Yes!” as he pumped his hands in the air. He then proceeded to tell me that finally someone got fed up with my ordering nonsense and had the gall to roll their eyes at me. WHATEVER!!!!!

That afternoon, we did something a bit different. We had four free massage coupons and they told us they offered kid massages as well. (Mind you, I did not get my first massage until I was maybe 30…) Cruz is onboard and I agree to let him get a massage when they explain we are in the same room together. Paloma wants to do a massage with us as well. I explained to her in the nicest way that she is too little and getting a massage with a 3-year old in the room is like getting your teeth cleaned without nitrous oxide. As Cruz and I are waiting to go into our massages, I explain the etiquette to him. No talking or no giggling. They give us robes and you guessed it, the black stretchy underwear. I told him at any point if he felt nervous or bored, he could walk out and go back to the room. The kid was passed out within five minutes.  Later that evening he asked Carlos if his masseuse was wearing gloves because her hands felt silk.

Going back to reality will be a tough transition for all.

My babes
My babes

We rented a car for the next 24 hours and drove to a nearby waterfall. This was very interesting as it was our first time driving on the other side of the road. Carlos did pretty well considering there are really no driving rules in Thailand. People drive crazy and will come within seconds of killing each other just to get in front. This is not road rage as they are not angry or mad, this is just how they drive. Paloma was excited to hike and acted like she was assisting me with the hike up the mountain. She is very proud of her hiking skills and has already declared that one day she will “climb mountains without ropes” to my father-in-law. It was super humid that day but we made it up to the top – even though everyone around us was paying 2000 bahts to get driven up the hills.

We finally arrived and it was pretty. Not the biggest waterfall in the world, but the kids thought it was neat. We played in the water for awhile and headed back to the hotel for a rest. That evening, they had a local singer come to the pool deck for happy hour. We enjoyed a seafood dinner and called it a night. I did notice that night at dinner that Carlos and I were getting annoyed at each other for little things. Imagine that!

We have been together 24 hours a day for the last 130 days. For example at dinner that night I asked him how the crab tasted? His response was “You always want me to be your tester first. I am going to stop telling you how food tastes before you try it. I feel like I am your guinea pig.” Um, ok. He was also getting annoyed that I always have to sit in the front seat. I was getting annoyed with him for spending upwards of what felt like three hours a day in the bathroom. At one point that afternoon I asked him if this trip was going to be the demise of our marriage. We are good communicaters and later that night laughed about this and talked about the things that have been bothering us. (No mom, we are not getting a divorce.) Ever. We are still madly in love, however, we spend every second together and sometimes need a break. I think we are doing really well actually and will miss him and the kids immensely when we get back to Cali and we live a more scheduled “normal” life.

Our climb..
Our climb..

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The next morning we still had the car for a few hours, so we drove to another area called Taling Gam.  On the way there we ran into a truck with four monkeys hanging off the back. Without realizing it at the time would not prepare me for the Sacred Monkey Forest in Bali. When we got the beach we were informed that these beaches were “private” and owned by the hotels. The first Hotel Manager offered me a deal of $30.00 per person to sit in her sand and use the beach. We walked a bit further down the beach and found a hotel that let us use the beach for $8.00 total. We had access to the beach and a beautiful pool. We spent the majority of our day just hanging out and swimming. We did not enjoy this as much as playing with the local boys, but it was cool to see a different part of town. On the way home, we a ran into an enormous Water Buffalo rolling in a huge water puddle. The kids thought that was pretty wild. We made one more stop which is one of the top ten TripAdvisor spots for Koh Samui called the Grandfather Rock. This is a famous landmark at the southern part of Lamai beach. The Grandmother rock has a split forming the legs. The Grandfather rock is shaped like a penis. They are also called, Hin Ta – Hin Yai. Upon getting to the rocks, you could spot the Penis rock easily. However, the Grandmother Rock (the V) was not as visible. So you have a ton of people of all walks of life running around huge boulders pointing and asking help in identifying a “Vagina Stone.”  But my friends, this is Thailand!

Monkeys hanging on the side.
Monkeys hanging on the side.

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Last night at dinner
Last night at dinner

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Grandmother Rock
Grandmother Rock
Blue waters in Lamai
Blue waters in Lamai

We checked out of the hotel the following morning and headed over to a part of town called, Cheweng. The next four days were going to be spent in a little house we rented on Airbnb.com   The house cost us less than $75/night. We did have to pay for A/C and also a cleaning fee, but still super cheap. The house was on top of a hill in the middle of a small rain forest. During the evening we were lulled to sleep by frogs croaking. Very loud frogs. Our little house was peppered with geckos of all sizes.  I was scared to death every night when we would arrive after dark. We had a small plunge pool outside our bedroom window that the kids enjoyed. During the drive over to the house, our taxi driver suggested we rent a car as it was quite a hike down the hill to the town. The rental was super cheap and I think we borrowed one of her cars for $15/day. Within walking distance, there was a restaurant that served both Pizza and Thai food. I had the best Pad Keh Mow of my life. It was incredibly spicy, however, that is how I like it. I had this three more times in four days. A dinner for four cost us around $14.00.  We did have an ant problem at our rental so it was nice to be able to eat out for so cheap.

The next day it was raining so we took the kids to see Hotel Transylvania 2. Our tickets were $10 for all of us! As you can see, I loved how inexpensive everything was in Thailand. The movie was super cute and I laughed quite a bit. The kids loved it and yes, it was in English with Thai Subtitles. One interesting thing was that during the previews, they show one video of the King of Thailand. They ask everyone to stand out of respect for the three minute show and the Thai people bow to the screen at the end. After the movies we went into the city of Chaweng to eat dinner. We had been having a ton of Thai food (go figure) and wanted something different.  We went to a Kebab/Indian place and the food was horrible. We had to explain to Paloma that it is horribly impolite to say your food taste like cat food. However rude she was, the food was really inedible.

The next day we went to Lamai Beach. Our house host stopped by to tell us that we needed to be careful in the waters as the night before someone was stung by a Box Jellyfish. We arrived in Lamai to find the beaches were closed. We found out later that a woman from Germany died the evening before due to complications from a Box Jellyfish Sting. Take a moment and google these creatures later and you will understand why everyone chose to stay out of the water. A few of the hotels had put up nets in the private beaches to keep out the potential jellyfish. Regardless, we were not taking any chances.

I asked one of the hotel managers if we could have access to their pool. He agreed as long as we ordered some drinks. I tried to order a Michealada, which is similar to a bloody mary. You exchange the vodka for beer and add lime juice and spices to the tomato juice. As I am using hand gestures to explain the drink, I see Carlos shaking his head at my order. Drinks arrive and the translation was a spicy bloody mary. Hard to complain when you have an infinity pool overlooking the ocean. That evening, Carlos and I had a babysitter and we went to see The Martian. A question we get quite often on the road is “Where do you find your babysitters?” After you have been on the road this long you become a bit more trusting. We normally just ask if the person would like to babysit and then check for a heartbeat. In all seriousness, we do our due diligence when finding sitters. Sometimes it has been the airbnb host watching them, other times we have walked into schools and got references for a teacher. One time in Barcelona, it was the sister of a Taco Restaurant owner that we frequented a few times. I mean if the brother can make a mean Taco, then his sister must be able to watch the kids. (Kidding). If we ever feel uneasy after meeting them, we just would not use them. That has not happened thus far. We also leave a phone with Cruz so he can contact us while we are out. On this particular night he sent Carlos a hilarious message about not being able to sleep because we were out. He also said in the message that “your family is more important than date nights.” God, we laughed so hard when we read that message. He included a voice mail message to help with the cause. Imagine the voice of the kids in the Blair Witch Project. Cruz is whispering into the phone, “Dadda, please come home. I am so tired and we can not sleep without you and mom here.” We did not feel guilty for a moment having some alone time. We knew the kids were in good hands and The Martian was pretty good. At one point to get a reaction, I leaned over to Carlos and asked if this was a true story?

On the way home, we stopped to buy a pair of scissors for an activity we needed for Cruz’ homeschooling. The 7-11 did not have a pair, however, the Pharmacy next door did. They came in a pack with two combs and a small brush. Before going to bed that night I showered and when it came time to brush my hair, I could not find my usual brush. So I grabbed one of the little combs and started to get the tangles out of my bangs. My hair quickly started falling to the ground. I looked at the comb and noticed that it was actually a shearing comb with a razor. I clearly am unable to read Thai and had no idea this was a set for cutting and edging hair. This would be the start of some very bad hair moments in Southeast Asia, but not the last by a long stretch. I wish I had a better story, like maybe a monkey got a hold of my bangs and ripped them out! But seriously, I can not make this stuff up if I tried. Sadly enough, when I looked at the picture below I long for my brown roots!

Some friends we met at dinner.
Some friends we met at dinner.
Hippy girl!
Hippy girl!

On our final day we spent our time at the Cat Cafe, the beach and then went to lunch at a restaurant called, The Larder. If you ever find yourself in Koh Samui it is worth going there for the appetizers alone. I really enjoyed this lovely Island. I had the best Thai food ever and the people were just wonderful. I will definitely put this on my list of places to revisit.

I have no words...
I have no words…my hair after the shearing.

 

Ping pong show? How about a Chopsticks show? I would rather get my feet rubbed!

Bangkok, September 2015

Train ride
Train ride
Views from our hotel
Views from our hotel in Bangkok

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We had originally planned to take the 13 hour train from Chiang Mai   to Bangkok.  Our Airbnb.com host had purchased the tickets for us a few months back. This was when we were feeling really adventurous and made statements like, “Oh we will be fine on a 13 hour train.  It will be such a fun adventure for all of us.” I think Carlos even mentioned the word “Romantic.” (Carlos here – no I didn’t!).

During our cooking class in Chiang Mai, our new friends educated us on how cheap the 50 minute flights were to all of the areas in Thailand including Bangkok. I found tickets for $50.00 per person to fly to Bangkok.  I seriously contemplated trashing the train idea, eating the cost of the tickets and taking the flights. However, my on-a-budget common sense smacked me in the face and we went with our original plan. On the day of departure we are all in bad shape. Paloma and Cruz have been having diarrhea for two days and complaining about stomach aches non-stop. Carlos and I were pretty much in the same boat. When we got to the train station I just want something non-spicy to calm my stomach. Rumor had it via travel blogs that the food on the train was pretty bad. We sat at an open air restaurant inside the station and had ham and cheese sandwiches and Lays chips for dinner. We bought a bunch of snacks and toilet paper. Yes, they sold toilet paper rolls at the train station. Better be safe than sorry,  so I bought some rolls. We upgraded to a sleeper train for an addition $20/person when we originally booked the tickets. We had two private sleepers connected to one another and the kids could walk back and forth. We joked upon boarding that the kids had to stay in one room. Cruz was excited because he is reading Harry Potter and thought the train was similar to that of Hogwarts Express.

The coach seats allow smoking and animals. Also this area is not air-conditioned, so I am very glad we paid a bit more for A/C alone. When we get on the train, a women knocked on our compartment and offered us orange juice. I thought, this is really nice, we have not even taken off yet and First class is paying off. So I grab three and she asks me for 200 baht. I handed her back two of them as we were not even thirsty at that point. Paloma has to use the restroom within 20 seconds of the train moving. Carlos takes her and Cruz and they come back and tell me the toilet is interesting. “It was really cool mama, and daddy let me sit on the ground part.” Said Paloma upon return.  So I went to the bathroom an hour later and  discovered what interesting meant. Imagine a hole in the ground with a place to put each of your feet on each side. Voila, you have our train toilet.

I am not sure if I want to cry or get sick thinking of Paloma sitting on this floor. So gross!  So yes, not every step of the way has been playing with tigers and infinity pools. Pays to be in first class right?! I found out later in the evening that right around the corner was a toilet with an actual lid and a seat. Paloma and Cruz had to use the bathroom every hour due to the stomach issues. I beg Carlos to take them because I am not good at public bathrooms, especially ones on trains that are going 100 mph. We finally get settled in and a train employee came to make up our beds. We have a bunk in each room. Paloma and Cruz fall asleep for a few hours. At some point in the night Paloma yells down to me that she “thinks she had an accident.” I am up anyhow as I could not sleep and had been reading the last two hours. I see or should I say smell that she has indeed had a number two accident on the bed. I am pretty certain the whole train knows at this point as well.  When does the Romantic part begin I thought? Paloma has been potty trained since she was 2 years old. Not because of anything I did, however, our Nanny, Saida was really amazing. So I know she must be pretty sick. We wrapped up her bedding and put it inside a plastic bag. I cleaned Paloma up and she came down to my bunk. The time is now  3 a.m. and everyone is wide awake. This could be related to the fact that the juice we were given earlier was made up entirely of sugar. I gave the kids sips to keep them hydrated. If you have ever had a snow cone, the juice tasted like the stuff they put on top. We were awake until we pulled into Bangkok at 6:35 a.m.

Right off the bat I notice a difference between Chiang Mai and Bangkok. In Chiang Mai I did not feel like I was getting the wool pulled over my eyes by cab drivers or anyone for that matter.  Let the bartering begin! This is part of the fun for me, however, it drives Carlos crazy. Our first cab drive in Bangkok said he would take us to the hotel for 600 baths. or approximately $20.00. I walked away and he came back saying 300 bahts. I offered 200 baths and we were on our way to the hotel. Cruz said, “mom you are really good at getting the best deal.” Listen and learn buddy!

We headed to the first hotel we have stayed at in months. We have been staying in rental homes to save money. Hotels however, even the five-star ones are super cheap in Thailand.  We ended up staying at the Marriott Executive Apartments. Our room was not ready and this was to be expected as we pulled up to the hotel at 7:00 a.m. We headed to the pool deck and did our best to stay awake and not allow the kids to drown until our room was ready. Paloma kept the pool managers busy as she unwrapped every towel from the sun beds.  I was half-asleep before I notice this and ask her to come lay with me. Since Carlos is a Gold member at Marriott due to his previous life of traveling, we are offered free breakfast each morning. This is HUGE news in terms of saving some money and we left to the Breakfast Buffet. The buffet was filled with the usual suspects, eggs, fruit, cereal, and pancakes. In addition, they also had two Asian food choices such as Spicy Chicken Basil, Beef with Broccoli and corn soup. I felt pretty safe eating salad here and had one each day with our breakfast. When we got into our room, the whole family crashed for about four hours. Our room was gigantic and very nice. We had a two bath, two bedroom apartment with a washer and dryer. Winning! The fifth floor is made up of an infinity pool looking over the city. That night we ordered food at the pool and both Carlos and I took turns walking to a massage parlor around the corner for feet massages. The foot rubs were $7.00 for 60 minutes. I got one pretty much every other day! Every other building in Bangkok was a massage parlor or some type of spa. You just need to make sure you are entering the right ones. 🙂

Part of the floating market
Part of the floating market
Long Tail boat in Bangkok
Long Tail boat in Bangkok
The houses on the river
The houses on the river

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Floating Market
Floating Market
Beautiful little girl selling rice with her mom.
Beautiful little girl selling rice with her mom.
Paloma freaking out on the boat. Notice how hot and sweaty we are in these pics!
Paloma freaking out on the boat. Notice how hot and sweaty we are in these pics!

We were kind of “toured out” and had seen a ton of Temples in Chiang Mai so we decided to do something new. We took a cab down to Sathorn Pier and negotiated a fair rate for a Long Tail Boat tour of the river. At breakfast that morning I had read a story about two boats colliding and someone getting hurt, so I was not really excited about this experience. The boats go super fast and the water can be choppy when other boats are coming in different directions. The kids were nervous at first but felt more comfortable once we got out of the busy part of the river. Our driver took us to one of the Floating Markets. Everyone at this point is still having stomach issues so I am nervous to eat the street food. The floating market consists of little boats in the water making food for customers on the deck. Tons of people yelling what they want to eat and smells are overpowering. Kind of like the New York Stock exchange except with Thai food. The floating market also has little shops selling local goods and souvenirs. As we were walking around I saw a woman selling baby turtles and snakes. I am not sure what was going to happen to either of these animals. As we are walking back to grab a tuk tuk, I grabbed a bag of pineapple with spicy seasoning. They give you these little piercing forks to grab the fruit. I stabbed myself in the hand and the family had a good laugh. I negotiated with our driver to take us back to our hotel for 60 baht or $2.00. He said fine with one exception, we had to make one quick stop on the way. I am thinking he is going to pick up a prescription or lunch. Nope. We have TOURIST written across our foreheads. Our driver stops in front of a Tailor. He explains to us that we should go in and take a quick look around. If we do not find anything we like he will drive us home. I was curious to see how this whole tailoring thing worked in SE Asia so we all went inside. The tailor measures you and make shirts and dresses that fit your perfectly. I leave having purchased a green dress and a red dress that will be ready the following day.

Getting fitted by the tailor
Getting fitted by the tailor
P helping out with the measurements
P helping out with the measurements

Carlos and I ordered a babysitter from our hotel that evening. We went to the second highest rated restaurant in Bangkok. A ribs joint called The Smoking Pug. The owners were originally from Illinois and the food was excellent. There was a line out the door. We had barbecue ribs, beans, potato salad and corn bread. After dinner we walked down the street and ended up in an area called Patpong. Patpong is a market area filled with fake purses, belt buckles, and hello kitty pajamas to name a few things. Also know as the oldest of three Red Light Districts in Bangkok. As soon as we crossed the street I am offered my first visit to see a Ping-Pong show. We declined. The gentleman did not give up so easily. He then handed me a laminated menu listing the other shows that night. In a nutshell, acts involving the usage of a woman’s private parts to do certain tasks. I guess that is putting it nicely. The menu listed the Banana show, ChopSticks show, P—y write a letter, smoke a cigarette or shoot darts. Ok, so here is the deal. I am not a prude whatsoever.  Unless you are ignorant or racist, nothing really offends me and I have an arsenal of really dirty jokes up my sleeve.  A large part of me really wanted to go see what the heck a chopstick show entailed! Part of the Bangkok experience right? ? However, I could not bring myself to walk inside. Maybe it is because I was trying to raise  my moral standings after going to see the Elephants that were tied up in Chang Mai? Maybe because I know the guy at the front is making more money than the girls performing? Maybe it is because I have a daughter now and that girl doing the show is someones daughter? As we walked down the street we were offered shows at fifteen different places. At one point, I stopped and told the guy, “You probably have very young girls in there”. “Yes, Yes we do! He responded like this was a good thing. Then I started telling him that it made me sad because what if the girls were forced to do the acts and were kidnapped?  The man did not like the way this conversation was going and started looking at me questioning my concern. Carlos grabs me and pulls me away into the busier part of the street. He then asks me to please not accuse the men at the door of human trafficking, or I am going to get him killed in Bangkok.

They have been doing this way longer than when I landed in Thailand. The streets were also filled with Go-Go bars. The places were flooded with travelers who enjoyed the attention of upwards of three to five girls at a time. The girls spend time talking to the gentleman and bringing drinks to the table.  This attention comes at a steep price once the bill comes. They up-charge you to have the women hang out with you and sometimes the bills cause arguments. However, when the security is brought in, the men usually pay up quickly. Also, I was told that sometimes these woman can be “bought” for a fee and taken to local hotels for a “short-time visit.” One thing to be aware of is that the girl you are paying for that evening may have a penis. Thai Culture is very accepting of Lady Boys and “Katoeys.” We could not handle getting hassled anymore, so we topped of our date night with an hour-long massage in a different part of town.

Date night
Date night
Dae night
Date night
Red Light District
Red Light District – Sorry Mom, but this is reality in some areas of Bangkok.
Just your normal penis soaps for sale at the market.
Just your normal penis soaps for sale at the market.

The next night Carlos took Cruz to a Thai Boxing fight. Paloma and I stayed home and had a girl’s night. We played spa and I painted her toes and nails. The guys had a blast and came back tired but excited to share news of the fight. Traffic in Bangkok is worse than LA traffic. The show was about 7 miles away and it took them about an hour and half to get there. This was definitely a highlight for both of them in Bangkok. The energy was intense and the betting was super cool to watch in person as well.

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Our last day we spent going to visit a few temples and checking out the highly raved about Siam Center. One of our tuk tuk drivers that day had a pimped out cart with five speakers and twirling lights. We  danced and sang between stops. We enjoyed our dinner so much on our date night that Carlos took a tuk tuk over to Smoking Pug BBQ and got take away that evening. Our time on the mainland of Thailand has come to an end. I enjoyed Bangkok more than I thought I would. The next day we were off for some R&R on the island Koh Samui.

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On another note, we are keeping up with the Syrian Refugee Crisis while abroad. The pictures and stories are heartbreaking.  I am not sure what the solution is, however, I think it starts with compassion. I think people should not be so quick to rush to judgment but be thankful for how lucky you were to be born in the U.S.

Throughout this trip we are doing our best to teach our kids kindness and acceptance. More importantly to teach them to be grateful and have compassion. This is not an easy task and we have a LOT of work to do. I do not shy away from answering Cruz’ questions when he sees pictures of a Syrian mom clutching her baby while running down the train tracks. Cruz is old enough for me to explain that these families are being persecuted because of religion, history and power struggles.

The refugee children. My god, the children.  How can anyone hold a grudge or withhold love and safety from a child?  Just for one moment think about what you would do to save your child from harms way? I understand there has to be rules and safety measures put in place when relocating these refugees – I am not saying that we should open up the floodgates. I just hate seeing some of the negativity and cruel comments on the internet about the crisis. Nobody lives a life that is unscathed by pain, obstacles and challenges. However, as Americans we have it pretty damn good and for that I am thankful. So very thankful that I have the freedom to feel safe and that when I go to bed at night my babies are safe as well. My wish for this situation is that instead of people immediately going on the defensive and saying “this is our country” or “go back to where you belong” maybe just pause and remember how lucky you are at that moment.

xoxo –

Jennifer

Episode 4 – Booklearnin’ on the Road

Hi – and welcome to Episode 4 of the GrisRod’s Podcast Show.   This week a discussion on how we tackled the issue of homeschooling the kids while on the road this year.  Also a few minutes on our time in Thailand and of course our highlight and stinkeye of the week.

Please fee free to contact us at :  thegrisrods@gmail.com  – if you have any questions.

If you like the show – be sure to subscribe on iTunes and leave a comment for us as well!

Thanks!

-The Grisrods

Instagram:  @carlos1789 / @maurerjennifer

traveling around the world with two kiddos and my husband..

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