Best Friends Animal Sanctuary, Kanab, Utah

Best Friends Animal Sanctuary
Welcome Sign for Best Friends Animal Sanctuary
Welcome to something wonderful!

At different times in my life, I have come across something that seemed ‘too good to be true’…only to discover that it was even better than I could have possibly imagined. My most recent example of this is Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Kanab, Utah. I had heard about Best Friends through a couple of people at our local animal shelter. Their descriptions were so incredible that I thought they might be embellished. Still, the Sanctuary has been on my bucket list for the past year. With our current five-week home exchange to Palm Desert, California, my husband and I decided to add two days in nearby Kanab to our itinerary.

Peace Pole at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary
This is the third International Peace Pole that Richard and I have seen within the last three months (Finisterre, Paris and Kanab).We look forward to seeing even more.

Best Friends is an animal welfare organization with a unique history and vision. Set on thousands of acres of stunning landscape in Angel Canyon, this no-kill Sanctuary is home to over 1700 animals. The goal of this organization is to have all animal shelters in the  United States be no-kill by 2025. Best Friends also supports a multitude of partner organizations who share the same objective.

Best Friends Animal Sanctuary Views
Everywhere that you look the views are absolutely incredible!

When we drove up to the Sanctuary, Richard and I were both awed. The property seemed to be unending.  The buildings were immaculate, the staff and volunteers were welcoming, friendly and extremely knowledgeable. The fact that this was all set on stunning landscapes with unparalleled views was almost too much to fully comprehend. We began our initial visit with a (free) Grand Sanctuary tour. Jennifer, our guide, was the ultimate ambassador. Radiating warmth, energy and a wealth of information, she offered an outstanding introduction to the Sanctuary. A convert herself, Jennifer had seen a documentary about Best Friends over a year ago, scrapped the necessary money together for transportation and accommodation and volunteered each day until Best Friend finally hired her.

Cory the cat at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary
Cory (and a few other Sanctuary cats) was born completely paralyzed in his hind legs. That didn’t stop him from going for a walk with me. He doesn’t use a leash…but he was FAST!

Part of Best Friends’ unique vision is to allow people from all over the world to sign up to volunteer for a half a day or more. The area is en route to many popular tourist destinations (most notably, Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon), offers incredible hiking opportunities, stunning scenery and is the setting of many movies and westerns (old and new).  This all adds to the ease and appeal of volunteering here. In addition, any volunteer may take a dog or cat on a sleepover to their pet-friendly accommodations (including cabins that can be rented on site).  For our second day, Richard and I signed up to volunteer together in Dog Town in the morning. For the afternoon, Richard signed up to volunteer in Horse Haven, while I booked myself into Cat World. The staff that we met were each welcoming, and extremely devoted to the animals that they served. All of this combined to make our volunteering an incredible experience.

Horse Haven, Best Friends Animal Sanctuary
Richard in Horse Haven.

The living quarters for each of the animals were spacious, clean and focused on the needs of the animals. Each animal that we saw seemed to be very comfortable and secure in his/her Sanctuary home. The first animal that we interacted with was Hurley. Hurley is a nine-year-old Black Labrador who had been in a shelter in Texas that was closing its doors. He had been at the Sanctuary for less than a month. Calm and easy going, Hurley was an excellent choice to invite for a sleepover.

Late that afternoon, after our volunteer shifts were completed, we took Hurley back to our (dog-friendly) motel. As we had only booked our accommodations a couple of days in advance, and there was a huge event in the area at the time, we had secured the last available dog-friendly accommodation. Saying that our room was “incredibly basic” would be a vast understatement. “Hurley’s going to think that we’re cheap and wished that someone else had him for a sleepover instead,” we joked. Thankfully, Hurley did not seem to see it that way. Being nine-years-old, and a Labrador, he possessed the perfect energy level and temperament for this sleepover. He loved his walks, loved to play tug-of-war (although he did cheat…repeatedly)! More than anything else, he LOVED his tennis balls and loved to pretend he was a lapdog and lie at our feet (or beside us on the bed….shhhh, don’t tell)!  Hurley had eaten his dinner and treats before leaving the Sanctuary, and would eat his breakfast there as well. We were instructed not to feed him anything but water during his visit. That, along with the loving care he receives at Best Friends, made it easier on him, and us, when returning Hurley from his sleepover.

Hurley, Best Friends Animal Sanctuary
Hurley, the Black Lab, joined us for a sleep-over!

From start to finish, our entire experience at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary was more reassuring and gratifying than Richard and I could have ever thought possible. We will definitely return soon and will find other ways to be involved.

For anyone interested in potentially adopting a new Best Friend,  the Sanctuary is currently waiving the adoption fee and cost of the flight home (USA and Canada) for ‘solo artists’ (dogs and cats that they recommend to be the only animal in the home). The adoption fee for dogs eight-years+ and cats ten-years+ is also currently being waved. You can find out more information here.

ABANDONED!

Why to ensure that ‘the shoe fits’ before embarking on your Camino!

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#WordlessWednesday

And We’re Back (Home That Is)!

When I left you last, Richard and I had finished our full Camino and had just spent four interesting (and restful) days in Finisterre. Since we had padded this trip with extra days, we had almost two full weeks left before our scheduled flights home from Paris. What to do? Some of you suggested Portugal, others suggested places in France, while still others said that if they were us, they would head home early.

What suggestions did we finally decide upon? A combination of all three! Here, in photo format are our post-Camino adventures.

Porto, Portugal

We arrived at sunset, giving us a spectacular ‘welcoming view’ of the city. For the first night, we stayed at the Miradouro, a hotel that was strangely trapped in the 1950’s. We half expected Carmen Miranda to walk into the bar at any moment! The next morning, we set off on a city-tour bus…which we quickly abandoned, being much more comfortable exploring on foot.  We loved the bright colours, the water views, and the ‘unexpected’ which seemed to appear around every corner.

Food, Drink and Port Wine Tasting

Porto was an amazing place for eating, drinking, and to visit one (or more) of the many famed port houses. While there, we had breakfast at the famous Majestic Cafe. We also took in a tour of Taylor’s, participated in some port wine tastings, and ate…and ate…and ate!

Transportation: The Good, The Bad….and The Cranky

In the past 35 days, our only transportation was by foot. We quickly discovered how advantageous that had been. You get up and go whenever you like, you stop whenever you like, and there is very little ‘hurry up and wait’!! In a few of our travel photos, you are able to see Richard’s rare (but very expressive) cranky face! Totally understandable, as both of our fights were delayed, giving us much airport wait time. Oh, and this is the perfect spot to insert this glimpse that we caught of a girl who had just finished the Camino Trail and was awaiting her bus. I just loved the contrast of her backpack and her handbag….I never could figure out what she did with the handbag during her hike!

We’ll Always Have Paris

For our final stop, we stayed two nights in Paris. As we have visited before, we were able to have a relaxed itinerary of cafes, strolling along the Seine, photo ops at the Eiffel Tower, Champ de Mars, Luxembourg Gardens and Notre Dame. Oh, and it also included Richard demonstrating his ‘modeling’ talents at the outdoor Dalida Photo Exhibit. This was followed by meeting a great friend (who we know from Beijing) for drinks and dinner. It turned out to be an amazing day, and a perfect end to our time away.

We are now back home safe and sound and are looking forward to catching up with family and friends here. Thanks so much for following along. We have greatly appreciated you joining us! Please join us again tomorrow for a special guest post by Hugh from Hugh’s News and Views!

The Camino Trail 2017 – Reaching Santiago…Then Heading to Muxia and Finisterre

Day 25- Reaching Santiago de Compostela- 25 km.

Last week, I published my Camino post one day earlier than usual. I wanted to open this new entry with arriving in Santiago. Arriving here can be an indescribably moving experience, and the thought of it filled me with anticipation. Above, are photos of our two separate entrances to Santiago. The first is after our 110 km trek in 2010. The latter is from earlier today. Sadly, much of the exterior of the cathedral is currently undergoing restoration. This definitely damped the quality of our arrival photo. It also may have been a sign of things to come. After twenty-five days of extended periods of peace and tranquility on the trail, the loud, chaotic, ‘hurry up and wait’ pace of this diverse, bustling city was a bit overwhelming…and not quite the arrival experience that we had imagined. Richard and I responded in the best way that we knew how. We had a 5 p.m. dinner, ordered a large pitcher of Sangria and retired early (to a private hotel room…with our own bathroom). Tomorrow would be a brand new day!

Day 26 – Rest Day in Santiago de Compostela.

And today was much more enjoyable! Although the crowds and fast-pace remained, somehow none of it seemed to be quite as daunting. We began the morning by waiting in line, for almost two hours, to receive our ‘compostela certificate’ as well as our certificate of the ‘official’ distance that we had walked so far this year on the Camino Trail (604 kilometers). In line, we met a very engaging couple from Western Australia. It is remarkable how good quality conversation can make time pass so quickly! We then attended mass in the cathedral. This service included the famous swinging of the botafumeiro (large, metal incense burning container). As this feature is quite expensive (more than 400 USD each time that it is operated), it is not included in every service. We were very grateful to have been able to witness this ceremony both at this mass, and during our 2010 visit.We also stopped by the Camino Museum, had wine and tapas for dinner and attended to the mundane…but very, very necessary washing of our hiking shoes. Seriously…check out the before and after photos!

Day 27 – Santiago de Compostela to Negreira – 21 km.

“You’ve gotta be kidding me,” said every fiber of my being as I got up this morning and prepared to continue walking. “But we already have the certificate,” protested some of my body parts even more loudly. I’d love to say that today’s walk was a breeze…but it just wasn’t so. Beautiful? Yes. And we passed some amazing scenery, quite unlike other views that we had seen before. In the suburbs of Santiago, we even fantasized about living in one of the gorgeous haciendas that we passed. Sadly, none of that was distraction enough from the LONG, 2.8 kilometer climb from Augapesada to Trasmonte. But, we did make it. (With me questioning why we had ever decided to take on this portion of the trek, and Richard barely breaking out in a sweat!) When we arrived in Negreira, we chose an alberge next door to a large grocery store so that we could prepare our own dinner. I just couldn’t eat one more piece of bread or heavy meat. And Richard would have a tantrum if there was any more tuna hiding in his salad, pretending to be a vegetable!

Day 28 – Negreira to Santa Marina – 21 km.

The author of our guidebook, John Brierly, suggested that today’s route end in Olveiroa, and thus consist of 33.8 km (36.9 when accounting for the climbs involved). However, he is also the same author who wrote that after completing this stage he stumbled up the stairs, saw “surreal images” (hallucinated?) and passed out in pure exhaustion. Not wanting to recreate his experience, we stopped in Santa Marina for the evening. We had plenty of time to chill out and meet more great people. Sadly, again we could not find reliable internet, so I needed to handwrite this post to be transcribed later.(Definitely not my favourite thing to do!)

Day 29 – Santa Marina to Dumbria (23.3 km).

Since we were both wide-awake quite early this morning, we began today’s hike an hour before full daylight (6:45 a.m). The walk was indescribably peaceful, and remained that way throughout the day. Part way through, our path divided towards Finisterre and Muxia. We wished to end our trek in Finisterre (long ago considered to be the ‘end of the world’…and a traditional spot for Camino pilgrims to burn their hiking clothes)! So, we headed towards Muxia — definitely the road less traveled. It was one of our favorite hiking days so far. When we stopped in Dumbria for the evening, we passed on the ultra new and modern auberge (only six euros) because we wanted to have wi-fi. We stayed instead at a local pension (40 euros) that said that it offered wi-fi. And it did offer wi-fi until their restaurant closed (5:30 pm)…giving us less than two hours of internet use during our stay. That’s Camino karma for you!

Day 30 – Arriving in Muxia – 22.3 km.

Although we plan to finish our Camino in Finisterre, when we arrived in Muxia, we were overwhelmed with the feeling that we were at the end of our walking journey. This small fishing port (population 5,000) quietly radiates that it is special. Its scenery is beautiful and its beaches are stunning (and surprisingly uncrowded…at least when we were there). As a pilgrimage site, Muxia holds much significance. It is said that the Virgin Mary came here by boat to visit Saint James. When near shore, her boat crashed. Its pieces became petrified into stone (believed by many to be some of the same stones still seen here today). Regardless of one’s belief, this site can’t help but fill you with wonder and respect for all of the history that came before us.

Day 31 – Muxia to As Eiras – 15 km.

We loved Muxia and found it to be both peaceful and fascinating. Before heading back on the trail, we once again visited the famous rock formations. One of the rocks, said to be formed from the sail of St. Mary’s ship, is also said to cure arthritis if you pass under/around it nine times. And one of us (the one without arthritis) successfully completed this ritual in proxy for the other. If that’s not true love, what is? When we made our final stop before Finisterre, we jinxed ourselves by bragging (just to each other) that except for two small blisters each, long since healed, neither of us received any illness or injury in our 700 kilometer walk. Shortly after saying this, Richard fell out of the hammock, that he was attempting to relax in, and received a large bruise and scrape. Seriously, I’m not a talented enough writer to make this stuff up!

Just 17 kilometers left to go!
To be continued…

Postcards From The Camino Trail 2017: Week Four

Day 18: Herrerias to Fonfria – 20 km.

.. I was a bit anxious about today’s hike. Our guidebook described the first eight kilometers as “it climbs steeply through the chestnut woods and offers no respite along the way”. After that, even our ‘non-judgemental’ map showed today’s walk to consist of relentless ups and downs. To top that off, despite my zealous foot-care, I had acquired two blisters (one on each heel), both of which had become quite cranky. The opening climb was tough, as promised, but the scenery was among the most stunning that we have seen so far. About six kilometers in, I must have looked in rough shape. A man walking a horse came by and asked if I needed a ride to the top. Needed? Absolutely! Ego willing to give in? Not quite yet! I continued walking. Despite the unending climbs, the views remained phenomenal throughout the day. Oh, and I would be neglectful not to mention the amazing pound cake that we had at the top of our first climb (O’Cebreiro). It was just like my Grandma Weissmann used to make. It tasted like home, childhood and family in every delicious bite!

Day 20 – Fonfria to San Mamed Del Camino – 25 km.

Just when we thought that nothing on the Camino could surpass yesterday’s views, today’s scenery was literally jaw-dropping all day long. (So much so, we made very slow progress because we were always stopping to take photos!) Today was a ‘perfect Camino day’ with so many things that we love about this trail combined into one. The weather was gorgeous and our paths were tree-lined and shady for much of the way. We had breakfast at a small, quaint restaurant. Our lunch was at a ‘help yourself to whatever we have’ spot (coffee, tea, juice, fruit, hard-boiled eggs, cookies…) all for whatever donation you would like to leave…with no one watching or judging. The concept is totally built on trust! We also stopped at a tranquil picnic spot for a snack. We ended the day at a picturesque auberge that was ideally suited to sheer relaxation! And if all that was not enough, we discovered that Jenny, Sven and Ida (the couple walking with the ten-month old baby) were staying here as well. We finally had the chance to ask them why they decided to hike the Camino. They answered, “We had five weeks off of work and thought about what we would like to do with all of this wonderful time together. We considered hiking the Alps, but then thought that the Camino would be a perfect choice.” How inspirational is that?

Day 21 –  San Mamed Del Camino to Portomarin – 27 km.

Today started exactly the way that we like our Saturdays to begin — SLOWLY! We slept in later than usual and had a leisurely breakfast before we began our walk. This was followed by many other casual stops along the way. At one spot, Richard lingered over coffee and the newspaper. He even tried to convince me that he can now read Spanish. He recounted (in detail) one story that he believed he had read. “It’s easy”, he exclaimed. “There are enough Spanish words that are similar to English that you can get the gist.” Or, he just totally made stuff up…which is the more likely version! Despite our relaxed beginning, we still covered more than 27 km. Quite accidentally, we ended up in a huge auberge with more than 100 beds in one room. Not as bad as you might think…but not without its challenges!

Day 22- Portomarin to Palas de Rei – 24.6 km

With just 70 kilometers left to reach Santiago de Compostela, we no longer wonder ‘where have all the pilgrims gone?’ They are now omnipresent and can be seen (and heard) almost everywhere. One of the reasons for this is that Sarria (a town that we passed yesterday) is one of the most common starting points for the Camino Frances as it offers the minimum distant that must be covered in order to receive the official ‘pilgrim certificate’ in Santiago. We love the excitement and energy of so many different types of walkers on the trail. But we do miss having long stretches of tranquil, stunning paths to ourselves (…if you don’t count the occasional cow). It was sheer luxury! Oh, and the cost of a bed has just doubled (Ten euros instead of five). That’s supply and demand for you!

Day 23 -Palais de Rei to Boente – 21 km.

.. A blogger that I follow, recently posted about the simple pleasures in life. This is also very true on the trail. With Herculean effort, I have endeavoured to keep my backpack both small and light. There have been many consequences to this. One major consequence is that my all-purpose trek towel (yup, the one I use after showering) is smaller than the average hand towel! I thought that I had been making do just fine. But, tonight, our auberge offered freshly laundered, ‘regular-sized’ bath towels for only one euro more. I tell you most solemnly…it was sheer heaven! Who knew that one small (make that ‘medium-sized’) towel could make such a difference? As an added bonus, I purchased two new pairs of trekking socks (for a fraction of the cost that they would be at home). The two pairs that I had with me, recently lost interest in this walk. The difference that fresh, new socks can make is truly magical! Richard, on the other hand, found his own ‘simple pleasure’. To each his own!

Day 24- Boente to Santa Irene – 25 km.

Today was the second last day for most walkers to reach the Camino’s official end point in Santiago (and the last day for most bike riders). The energy, excitement and uplifted spirits were palpable. When we were relaxing outside a small cafe in Calzada, a brass band rolled by, on a truck, and played some very funky, upbeat music. Instantly, everyone abandoned their coffees (and other refreshments) and began dancing on the trail. Very fun! We are now in Santa Irene, less than 25 kilometers from Santiago. Irene is my sister’s name (now deceased). I have thought about her often during this walk. That is inevitably one of the key attributes of the Camino. It strips away the ‘busyness’ of our daily lives and helps clear our minds to reflect on what is most important to us.

Post Cards From The Camino Trail 2017 – Week Three

When I left you last, Richard and I had just arrived in Leon. Since the city offers so many cool things to see and do, we were contemplating staying an extra day. That night, we stayed in the Monastery (five euros each). Richard and I had decided to make it an early evening. We were both quietly reading in our bunk beds, when a nun came in and asked if we wished to join the ‘Pilgrims’ Blessing.’ How could we refuse? (I did mention that she was a nun, didn’t I?) We quickly got dressed again and joined in. We were glad that we did! Simultaneously, the participants offered their prayers/good intentions in their own languages. That was followed by two fellow pilgrims who volunteered to sing a closing song. Their voices were outstanding. On the way out, the nun handed each participant a small individual scroll. Richard’s said, “A parent’s job is to give their children roots and wings.” Mine said, “He who loves money will never be satisfied with money.” Very fitting messages!

Day Twelve – Leon –

Richard and I mutually declared today to be a ‘slow start/low kilometer’ day. We planned to visit a few sites in the morning (Guzmanes’ Palace, Leon Museum and Cathedral) and then begin walking around noon. None of the sites opened until after 9:30 a.m., so we wandered randomly down the streets in the Old Quarter. That’s when we spotted a quaint hotel that was ‘postcard perfect.’ Instantly, Richard and I had the same idea. Within fifteen minutes (literally) we were checked in with spa appointments booked (when going off-course, you may as well go big)! We rationalized that the price for both room and spa were significantly cheaper than we could get at home! Feel free to call us ‘slackers’, but it was a wonderful, chilled-out day!

Day Thirteen – Leon to San Martin Del Camino – 26 km

Richard and I were both eager to begin walking again. Our path was relatively flat. Still, we both found today’s hike to be a grind. The highlight of the day was definitely Virgen Del Camino Basilica. We didn’t immediately recognize it as a church from the outside. What first attracted us to it was the stunning doors, and very cool sculptures. The basilica was built in 1961 on top of an old 17th Century church. On its facade the artist, Jose Maria Subirachs, created individual sculptures of the twelve apostles and of Christ ascending to Heaven. The small church is absolutely stunning. Inside it radiates peace, the power of simplicity, and an incredible sense of spirituality.

Day Fourteen – San Martin Del Camino to Astorga- 24 km:

Perhaps it was the combination of thirteen solid days of walking, plus our rest day (and massages), but Richard and I each felt stronger today than we had previously. When we reached Astorga by 1 pm, we both felt that we had enough energy to go further. Ultimately we decided to stop because we had heard such great things about this quaint town. Astorga offers many attractions that are worthwhile visiting. These include the Episcopal Palace, Ayuntamiento de Astorga (Government Buildings), Roman Wall (and Museum), Plaza Mayor (a cool place to chill-out and people watch) and of course the cathedral. In addition, Astorga is famous for its chocolates, and its puff pastries! We prepared our own dinner in our hostel this evening…and included an ‘Astorga pastry’…which was incredibly delicious!

Day Fifteen – Astorga to Foncebadon – 28.6 km (1400m elevation)

When we began this trek (two weeks ago today), it didn’t make sense to me why so many walkers were up, dressed, re-packed and out the door by 6 a.m. It was barely daylight. What was the rush? Now, I hesitate to admit, we try to leave as early as we can (today was a 6:15 a.m. start). This allows us to beat some of the intense heat. It also gives us more time to cover the distance that we choose, while still having enough time to enjoy our new location each evening. Today we wanted to challenge ourselves…and we did just that! We covered 28 kilometers. A large proportion of that was uphill with over 600 meters of elevation change. We have now reached 1400 meters of height…leaving us less than one hour away from the highest point on the French Way Camino (1500 meters). When we reached the top of today’s climb, Richard was literally dancing to ‘Johnny B. Goode’ on his iPhone. I, on the other hand, felt like I needed an ambulance…but I made it!

Day Sixteen – Foncebadon to Molinaseca – 20 km –

Today was certainly a day of contrasts. We started this morning with a short, brisk walk to Cruz de Ferro. This iron cross (replica of the original) marks the ‘roof’ of the Camino Frances (1500 meters). Traditionally, many pilgrims bring a stone from their own countries to place at the base of the cross. As we had not done that, we left our good intentions instead. In contrast, the remaining five+ hours of descending over one-thousand meters in elevation, on a very rocky, uneven, twisty-turny path can only be described as punishment for feet, ankles and knees! As a picture is worth more than a thousand words, here is what our steep, descending path looked like all day long! But all was not lost. At the end of this trail, no beer has ever tasted better, no lentil soup more perfect (sorry, Mom) and no bed more comfortable! Something tells me that I will sleep well tonight (and I did)!

Day Seventeen – Molinesca to Villafranca Del Bierzo – 30 km

We finally made it 30 km in one day! Despite the photo, we did not take a bus or taxi. Although it was good to know that there was a taxi sign seemingly in the middle of nowhere! No stony paths today, and great views all around. Although as you can see below, sometimes we were the view!

…….Day Eighteen  – Villafraca Del Bierzo to Las Herrerias – 21 km

Richard noticed in his trusty guidebook, that according to the author’s ‘suggested stages’, we only have seven days left to reach Santiago de Compostela. Yikes, we’re not sure that we want to be finished that quickly (although we do have approximately five-ish additional days to get to Muxia and Finisterre). According to our calculations, we have walked 417 official ‘trail’ kilometers so far (plus many additional kilometers for exploring the cities and towns where we have stayed). We have 180 kilometers left to reach Santiago and an additional 100 kilometers for Muxia and Finisterre.

Thank you for following. It is very motivating to know that you are out there. See you next week (internet willing)!

Post Cards From The Camino Trail 2017 – Week Two

When I left you last, Richard and I were in Burgos (lingering in a restaurant that offered free WiFi). Burgos is home to the only cathedral in Spain that has independently been declared a World Heritage Site. So, we decided to have a peek inside. Two hours later, we were completely overwhelmed and had barely scratched the surface of all that there was to see. From its incredible architecture, to its exquisite paintings and sculptures, to its intricate and lavish decorations, including heavy use of real gold (that seemed to go on for endless rooms) it was often simply hard to comprehend. An unsettling question was, “where did all this money and gold come from?” If any readers have visited this cathedral previously, I would love to hear your points of view.

Day Five – Burgos to San Bol – 26.7 km:

Never trust your guidebook completely. Seriously! Just about twenty-six kilometers into this walk, I was over it! Honestly. Done. Richard had it in his mind to continue an extra five kilometers to Hontanas when I saw a sign for a small hostel in San Bol five hundred meters away, but off of our path. Richard was skeptical. His guidebook called the hostel “medieval” and stated that “almost everyone” prefers to travel on to the next town. Never one to conform to the “almost everyone” mold, I started walking off the trail to the nearby albergue. “They may not have food”, Richard called after me. I was not deterred. When we arrived, it was an incredible oasis! It had a large garden with a natural spring pool where you could sit and soak your (very tired) feet in the cool water. You could also do your laundry in the outdoor spring (very National Geographic)! We were one of nine guests that evening. We were served a community dinner of homemade chicken paella, salad, crusty bread, wine and vanilla pudding….all for only twelve euros each (including our beds). If traveling this section of the Camino, I highly recommend staying here!

Day Six – San Bol to Itera de Varga – 22 km:

The annoying thing about my iPhone camera is that it does not adequately capture the steep climbs that we have faced so far. So when I start whining about today’s climb, for example, you’ll probably glance at the photo and think that the path was no big deal. Wrong! We ascended over 100 meters in less than one kilometer. Okay, it may not be Everest, but in the extreme heat, with our packs, it seemed huge!

Day Seven – Itera de Varga to Villalcazar de Sirga – 28 km

Where have all the pilgrims gone? In the last week, we have always seen at least a few pilgrims during the course of our walk, and we have always seen several pilgrims when we have stopped for breakfast and lunch. On today’s walk, we saw no other pilgrims walking on route or during our rest stops. Richard’s theory is that most other walkers leave before our usual 7:15 a.m. start time and are following more traditional beginning and ending points than we are. My theory is that they all took the bus today, and got off just before their destinations. That’s my theory and I am sticking to it! (And after a hot 28 km walk, a bus ride does sound lovely!)

Day Eight – Villalcazar de Sirga to Calzadilla de la Cueza – 22 km

We seriously need to ditch our guidebook. Its forecast for today’s walk was “flat, monotonous and hypnotic”. But we quite enjoyed it. (Who doesn’t love ‘flat?’) We also had the chance to walk on this very cool road that the Romans had constructed and trod upon. We also came across two young (very fit) parents walking the Camino with full backpacks…and a ten-month old (very smiley) baby in a pram. They are planning to walk all the way to Santiago from Burgos…and have been staying in regular hostels like most of the rest of us. Seriously, I can’t even imagine attempting such a feat. But, the three of them seemed to be happy, relaxed and content!

Day Nine – Calzadilla de le Cueza to Sahagun – 22 k

Last evening there was a debate between my upper back and my legs. I have been pleasantly surprised (shocked actually) how well my body has responded to suddenly being immersed in this intense fitness boot camp (…at least so far). But it was Day Nine and although my pack is relatively light, my back was voting for a ‘rest day.’ My legs, however, were feeling stronger than ever and were eager to continue. Being the consummate libra, I compromised…and had my backpack transported to this evening’s hostel in Sahagun. It’s easily done. Put five euros in an envelope, label the envelope with the address that you wish to pick up your bag later that day, trust in the Camino, and your pack magically shows up at your desired destination by noon! The funny thing was, that even though we walked slightly fewer kilometers than usual, my back was still equally tired at the end of our walk! I now blame my water-bag. Water is crazy-heavy!! This got me thinking that perhaps I should quit being such an overly prepared nerd and carry only the amount of water that I need for each portion of our trek. That would make sense, wouldn’t it?

Day Ten – Sahagun to Reiligos – 26.5 km:

Ask and the Camino answers! Today we had the choice of taking the regular trail, mostly alongside main roads, or walking an extra kilometer or two and taking the ‘scenic route’. The catch was that for seventeen kilometers straight, there would be no options to get food, water or any real shelter of which to speak. We had done something similar a couple of days earlier and we had ample (i.e. too much water and extra food) so we believed we would be fine. At the last town before our long ‘wilderness’ trek, we had full breakfasts and ordered two vegetable sandwiches to go. (Who knew that tuna and eggs were vegetables)? Richard filled up his litre bottle with water and added an additional bottle as an extra. With my new ‘sensible’ water plan, I only partly filled up my water system (3/4 litres). That would make my pack lighter and we would still have plenty of water. Half way into our trek, we stopped underneath a rare (and skinny) tree to eat our lunch. That is when Richard’s full litre bottle of water spilled and drained completely (up until then he had been drinking out of the back up bottle…that was now almost empty). Why is it that whenever I consciously decide to quite being such a Girl Scout, something calls me back to my roots?

Day Eleven – Reiligos to Leon – 24 km:

We have now arrived in the major city of Leon and are considering a potential rest day here tomorrow as there is so much to see and do. I will keep you posted as to whether we stay or continue on. Something else from this week that I want to mention before I close, was an encounter that we had earlier. Richard and I were alone on the middle of a trail, when we suddenly saw an older (our age?) local Spanish wonan who literally rushed up to us. “Did you know that the top fastener on your backpacks can be used as whistles?” Strange opening question, but actually we did not know that. “Make sure you protect yourselves — keep covered, have lots of water and pieces of fruit”, she continued. Finally she advised “Most importantly, you will need much patience to be successful in your journey.” How did she know that I am sometimes lacking in that particular area? Camino Angels are everywhere!

My sincere apologies for my extreme lack of proofreading on my Camino posts, and for my long delays in commenting on my favorite blogs. Reliable internet has been a definite challenge…combined with the additional challenge of sheer exhaustion at the end of each day. I will attempt to do a big catch up when I return home!

Shout out to Dr. Creighton Connolly on his 29th birthday 🎉 today!

Wordless Wednesday: How I Spent My Florida Vacation

For this week’s post, I’ve decided to try out #WordlessWednesday and tell the story of our recent Florida home exchange as wordlessly as possible. Photo captions seriously don’t count, right?!
Enjoy!!

Our trip began in Orlando where we had a serendipitous catch-up with two life-long friends (and two brand new ones). Loved it!!
Then it was off to our home exchange in Cocoa Beach. We were thrilled with this amazing find and our very generous hosts!
Most mornings began with us paddling on a lagoon that jutted against our exchange property.
Okay, before Richard jumps into the comment section…I confess! It was Richard who paddle boarded, kayaked and canoed each morning…while I, in firmly strapped life-jacket, held on tight to the side of the canoe. (Hey, you can never be too sure what’s swimming underneath!)
Much of our time was spent on the beach. We lounged, read, slept, walked, rode, swam, ate, drank and played there. (The featured sandcastle was not made by us…ours was not photo-worthy!)
Even when not on the beach, we tried to have as much outdoor time as possible. This included picnics in parks and on the dock!
At Kennedy Space Centre, I watched my husband relive his childhood dreams of becoming an astronaut. We missed the launch of Delta IV Rocket by just one day…. aarrghh!
We even wandered into an Open House…purely for fun. (It never hurts to dream!) This was the backyard view.
We saw alligators (from afar) and glimpses of jumping dolphins and manatees. Sadly, as my iPhone is the only camera that I had with me, the best shot that I can show you is of these common beach terns. (My husband and I called them “Kramer Birds” due to their spiked caps, prominent beaks and… a look that inexplicably made us smile!)
Our Home Exchange Hosts asked us which Cocoa Beach experience we liked best. It was hard to choose, but bike riding along Florida’s expansive beaches was hard to beat!
One for each Book Club!!
And I read two novels…
We are now at the Orlando Airport awaiting our return trip home. While the scenery on Vancouver Island is also spectacular…we are bracing ourselves for the snow, rain, slush and COLD!

But, in compensation…Richard and I just received a complimentary $400USD flight coupon (each!) for giving up our seats on this flight, and taking a different one (35 minutes later). A great trip all-around!

How to Plan An Affordable, Last Minute Winter Escape

Last week, my husband and I were sitting at our home in Vancouver Island complaining about the unusually long, cold and snowy winter. We had no travel plans until summer. One week later, I am eating a banana that I picked from a backyard tree while my husband soaks in the outdoor pool, reading the paper and enjoying the sun’s warm rays. Steps away in the lagoon, we both catch the sight of a dolphin jumping.

What transported us so instantly to such a completely different (and luxurious) environment? It started with my husband wondering aloud: “How quickly can we get out of here to some place warm that won’t break the bank?” In short, the answer to his question was ‘very quickly…with free accommodation, rental car on points and a super cheap flight to boot!’

I’ve mentioned previously about our frequent travels with home exchange. But we had never tried last minute home exchange before now. I was astonished at how swiftly and easily it worked.

It really was just a matter of logging into our home exchange website, clicking on the last minute travel tab and browsing through the houses on offer that seemed to suit our interests. (There are also tabs for retirees, teachers, pet owners, second homes, etc.) Normally, I would write to several potential exchanges at one time, but in this case, a particular place caught my eye: “Waterfront pool home – walk to beach, dolphins in backyard. Available February 25 – March 4”. It sounded perfect! And it was in Cocoa Beach…weren’t Major Nelson and Jeannie from there? I sent a quick note saying that we would be interested in staying that week. Within minutes (literally) I received a positive and welcoming reply.

The other key piece that made this home exchange arrangement go so smoothly is that I didn’t need to worry about whether our potential exchange partners were interested in coming to Vancouver Island. HomeExchange.com now offers a ‘passport program’ where you receive a ‘virtual balloon’ every time you renew your annual membership…and every time you host an exchange partner in your home and do not stay in theirs. From renewing my membership, I had a balloon to spare. Our Cocoa Beach partners were happy to provide a week-long stay in their luxury home in exchange for one balloon.

I miraculously found a cheap, no frills flight –$250USD return, including all taxes and fees. (We then received a free upgrade to comfort class!). I confirmed our exchange and began packing.

When discussing home exchange, I’m frequently asked how I am comfortable dealing so intimately with strangers. The answer is to take the time that you need to communicate well with your potential exchange partner(s), just like you would with a babysitter or anyone else coming into your home. Ask all of the questions you have and trust your instincts. If something doesn’t feel right, or if you are unable to negotiate terms that you are completely comfortable with, find a different exchange. In this case, we felt instantly at ease with our hosts, Wendy and Ted. In addition, the reviews from their other exchange guests were first-rate and provided further helpful details.

When we arrived at Wendy and Ted’s home, we felt that we were being greeted by long-time friends. They had even cooked dinner for us (that truly does not happen every time), and they took us out on the paddle boards to give us a tour of the lagoon and canals.

We found their home to be equipped with everything that we could possibly want for a relaxing, luxurious vacation (waterfront location, heated pool, paddle board, kayaks, canoe, pool table, bikes, fully-equipped kitchen, barbecue….).

While being here, our only difficulty has been in choosing what we want to do each day. The options have been endless. In my next post, I will share the highlights of this Florida escape. In the meantime, if you have any questions about home exchange, I’d be happy to answer what I can.

How to Get Yourself Invited to Dinner

I am writing this post on a bit of a dare. If you have been following my blog/Facebook page/life in general, you already know that I am in Palm Desert for a month-long home-exchange. As my husband and I didn’t know a soul who would be in the area during this time, I had assumed that my days here would be quiet. I imagined myself doing long-avoided tasks (like cleaning out my iPhotos) as my husband golfed. Okay, so we already knew that we would be attending the Epic Desert Trip Concert that took place last weekend. We also knew that my parents would visit during our final two days here. But I had no plans for the remaining twenty-three days. Trying to stay active, I decided that I should join a yoga class.

So I did.

The second class that I attended happened to take place on Canadian Thanksgiving. One of the participants overheard that I was Canadian and introduced herself (also a Canadian from the Vancouver area). I asked if she knew where my husband and I could find a place to eat for Thanksgiving dinner. It was an innocent question. “After yoga, I’m on my way to pick up friends from the airport. You and your husband should come join us for dinner”, she generously offered.

So we did.

It was a non-traditional Thanksgiving dinner with barbecued steak that was delicious (we brought the pumpkin pie)! We chatted as if we had known our new friends for years. My husband and I had a fantastic time. We understand about turn-taking and repaying generosity, so naturally we invited the whole gang to dinner at our place (plus their two additional guests who would be staying with them shortly).

“How’s Thursday next week?” I offered. Everyone agreed. I then found out that there is a truly fabulous evening market on Thursday nights in Palm Springs. If avoidable, I didn’t want to miss that. I knew that we couldn’t do the first weekend because of the Desert Trip concert. We couldn’t do the following weekend because the four guests would be gone. “How about Monday next week?” Everyone agreed. Then my husband reminded me that we had planned a quick overnight trip away from the desert for the start of the week, so that date didn’t work either. Tuesday initially sounded good–but would we be back in time to prepare dinner? “Okay so let’s go with Wednesday.” Wait, that’s the night of the U.S. Presidential Debates–which are always best watched alone (especially when friends have different points of view)!

Before I could even suggest Friday, there was a group huddle–without me. “You and Richard are coming here for dinner on Tuesday” I was informed, with no chance to defend myself.

So we did.

The menu was barbecued fish tacos– which were incredible. (We brought the home-made cheesecake).

“You seriously need to post about this,” I was dared.

So I did!

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