Phraya Nakhon – Cave of Wonders

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“The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek.” Joseph Campbell

As the boat rounded the small jetty, we got a splash of sea water. The captain righted his course and pulled around toward the bay. The sandy beach lay before us, its white sand sparkling in the afternoon sun. Being on the East Coast meant that the darkness would only come quicker, especially with the tall mountain shadowing the shore.

As we ground to a soft halt in the shallow water, we looked at our destination. Somewhere in front of us, set into the rocky promenade was a cave. A hole in the ground that we meant to explore.

Our way there.

Our way there.

Earlier that day, we had almost decided against it. To be honest, I was feeling a bit apprehensive. I used the excuse of not wanting to leave Zoë and Jenny by themselves, but that was quickly dismissed by my giving wife. Jenny and I had wanted to explore the Tham Phraya Nakhon Cave since we had arrived in Hua Hin, but we were worried the hike might be a little much for our young daughter’s legs.

If you read this blog often, you might realize that there are very few things we won’t do with the little one. We firmly believe that kids should not be an excuse… even if occasionally we would like to blame her for our own lack of enthusiasm at doing something strenuous. We aren’t lazy, we just prefer lounging on beaches, or navigating city sidewalks, or perhaps dining on foreign delicacies. Hiking isn’t really either of our strong suits.

However, this cave had piqued our curiosity. It had been discovered over 200 years ago by a stranded sailor, and in 1896 the Thai people had erected a pagoda for a visiting King Rama V. A pagoda in a cave, with natural lighting from the holes in the ceiling was enough to make us almost eager for a grueling trek adventure. But we read that the hike was almost 500 meters up a steep, rocky path and that was the easy option. One could take the long hike, without the boat ride, and then the climb would double. Just what we dreamed of…

Steep, but doable.

Steep, but doable.

So when our two friends arrived, we realized that if we were ever to explore this hidden gem, then one of us would have to do it without the other, since we didn’t want to risk getting halfway up the mountain with an exhausted toddler. I was the designated photographer, so we decided I should take our guests on an exploratory mission.

First off, the state park that houses the cave is one of those places that takes your breath away as you approach. The drive south from Hua Hin is very pleasant, and takes about 40 minutes upon a very well paved road. As we passed coconut farms, and several wats and villages, I was impressed at just how easy it was to get there with nothing more than a simple map to guide me. But nothing could have prepared me for the dragon-spined mountains, or the stunning beaches and islands that they sheltered. It was one of those moments, that happen often in this Land of Smiles, where I was simply awed at the natural treasures the land held.

The road led to a small beach-side market, with a few restaurants, shops, and fresh coconut merchants hawking their wares. I was even surprised to find the nicest outdoor playground I had seen in Thailand. I instantly regretted not bringing Z and Jenny along, as they could have easily spent the afternoon on the playground and in the shops. Jenny cannot get enough of slides and swings, and Zoë is glad when her mom burns off some of her extra energy…

Anyhow, there was a quaint hand painted sign that indicated where the boats could be found, and another sign with an arrow leading into the much longer path over the mountain and to the cave. We of course elected for the boat ride. I am a sucker for boats and take every opportunity I can to be on the water.

Follow the signs for service.

Follow the signs for service.

The boat was 500 baht, or more depending on our itinerary. We could have optioned to see a couple of islands as well, but decided we would save that for another day. There was also an additional 200 baht fee, per person, for the state park entrance fee. It seemed steep, but we forked over the cash and moved ahead.

So it was that we reached the other beach after the boat ride. We had to wade through knee-high surf, with cameras held high above our heads but it was refreshing and added to the sense of excitement of the journey. As we reached the path that led to the cave a guide came forward and offered assistance for a few hundred more baht. We politely declined and decided on going our own way, even though it was getting late and we were a bit worried about finding our way back in the dark.

Boats and friends. Great times.

We met a few other travelers, all coming back from the cave, and they assured us it wasn’t too much of a climb. One group did recommend we take more water as it got hot and we would probably need it. We heeded their advice, and stopped at a restaurant that was at the beginning of the trail. There were some nice bathrooms, and even a few bungalows for rent, but it did look like the park was being deserted and once again we worried it was getting too late.

So we hurried up the path. The steps were man-made, but had been worked into the rock in a way that almost seemed natural. Also the stones were well-worn and at times fairly slippery. We quickly were covered in sweat, but pushed on as fast as we dared as the afternoons shadows were growing long. The hike in total took about 30-45 minutes, which isn’t much but it was all uphill until the end. There was a small stopping point, half-way up the trail that offered a magnificent view of the coastline and islands below.

Stunning. I want to go back.

Stunning. I want to go back.

As we reached the caves, there was an overwhelming sense of silence. The first turn downwards revealed stalactites and stalagmites that formed the walls around the entrance. Little statues of tigers and Buddhas marked the turns down into the caves. My ears popped as we descended as it was quite the change in altitude, and I watched my footing closely on the slick stones.

Tiny Statues

And then we entered the cave.

Nothing could have prepared me for the sheer awesomeness of what we beheld. The light poured in through the collapsed dome of the first cave. Staring straight up I could see what was called “Death Bridge,” a bridge of stone that separated the ceiling into two and was aptly named. It was eerie and stunning at the same time, and none of us spoke much… Just enough to dispel the silence of the massive cave.

Don't fall...

Don’t fall…

And it truly was much larger than we had previously thought. There was actually two caves, and the first was just a teaser for the second. The second required walking down a short wooden path, and under a narrow ceiling and that was where we found the pagoda. It was like walking into a scene from Indiana Jones, where at any moment I expected them to pull away the curtain or for someone to shout “action.” The little pagoda sat on a small dirt mound, surrounded by vegetation and stones. It was all so clean and surreal, and there were paths leading around and about the room.

We made our way in.

We made our way in.

Pagoda. Laura.

We explored quickly, it wasn’t dark, but it was fast approaching and we still had to make it back down the hill. One of the most fascinating things we found was the hand painted insignias of the last three kings of Thailand. It would have been harder to leave, there was so much to explore, but the coming night, and the presence of a creepy blind eyed dog wearing a t-shirt made us want to leave. Plus there were no other tourists and we felt a slight sense of unease.

So we bustled back out of the underground wonder, and rushed down the path to the campground. Supposedly there are cute monkeys that play along the trail, but we saw only a squirrel who made us all jump as it bustled about. We reached the beach without any further ado, except that the strange dog followed us down, but he probably was as bothered by us as we were of him.

He was sweet... I hope.

He was sweet… I hope.

Wish we had seen these... but that squirrel was entertaining.

Wish we had seen these… but that squirrel was entertaining.

As we waded back out into the ocean we noticed that our boat wasn’t there. We had a number that was supposed to indicate our return boat, but the only one left was broken and the captain was trying to fix. We stood like awkward beggars, and finally he allowed us on, which was a relief as there simply was no one else around. We worried we may have been forgotten if we hadn’t pushed our way aboard, and were very glad to see our car in the parking lot were we had left it.

It wasn't as late as I feared, and the sunset was spectacular.

It wasn’t as late as I feared, and the sunset was spectacular.

In all it was an amazing trip, and one I would highly recommend. I think Zoë could have handled it just fine, but I am glad we didn’t dive into the unknown with her there. I would have probably been very anxiety ridden concerned if she had been there, but overall she would have been fine. If we do go back it will be in the early part of the day, with plenty of time to spare. But a rushed adventure is still a journey, and I for one am glad we went.

If you have been to or know of any other amazing hidden gems here or elsewhere in the world, please drop us a line and let us know what they are! To future adventures!

Chad

REVIEW: Sea Harmony Guesthouse

By: Chad M

It has been far too long since I have written anything for our blog. Jenny has been keeping it going full steam, with the occasional edit or hastily snapped picture being my only contributions. It has long been my intention to write more, to be a stronger part of the blogging process, but I have been remiss in my duties.

So it was when I noticed Jenny’s tired sigh squeal of delight as she sat down to write her blog once again (she keeps it going 3 times a week!), that I decided I should take another turn. Besides, it was going to be a review, and if there is one thing I truly enjoy doing, it is writing reviews of experiences we have enjoyed. And this one was particularly enjoyable as it was a place we stayed that we had to share and to recommend.

We have mentioned before that we enjoy finding unique places to stay on our trip. Or, more accurately, we try to find places that incorporate our sense of adventure and our desire to meet new people, tempered by our need for security and a comfortable place to bring our 2-year-old daughter; A daughter that is frequently exhibiting her growth with exhibitions of energy and excitement.

Babycinno for the toddler. No caffeine here!

Babycinno for the toddler. No caffeine here!

So, with that in mind we did some snooping online to find a place in Hua Hin, Thailand that would be a great balance and be affordable as well. We only needed the place for five or so days until we could find longer-term housing.

Fortunately for us, we stumbled on a place that not only met our needs, but was one of those places that easily surpassed our expectations in every way. The place, Sea Harmony, is one of those places you might find in more boutique parts of the world, like the Pacific Northwest, or perhaps somewhere on one of the coasts in Australia. By that I mean it is an eco-conscious affair, with a flair for design and taste, and a welcoming atmosphere.

Details. Details... Awesome.

Details. Details… Awesome.

This might be because two charming individuals, a couple from Australia, run it with the attention to detail they have acquired from traveling the world themselves. Indy and Node, and their two dogs, Kasha and Pela, welcome guests into their place and treat them as if you were guests in their very home. This might be because they also stay on-site in one of the rooms, and make sure to attend to their guests’ needs as if they were family.

From the moment we arrived, and were treated to blue flower essence water, we knew we had found a place that we would forever appreciate.  The little details, whether it was the welcome arrangement of towels, bottles of water, and info pamphlet on the bed, or the way that Node personally informed us of the way the guesthouse operated, was a nice refresher after months of more impersonal stay along the way.

Each room is delightfully decorated.

Each room is delightfully decorated.

Inviting isn't it?

Inviting isn’t it?

Upon waking the second day, we found that we were mere meters from the beach, and in a fairly laid-back area slightly outside of Hua Hin called Khao Takiab. There were frequent taxis, convenience stores close by, and no lack of amenities to complain about.

The rest of our days there only furthered the first impressions. One of the most impressive parts is the extensive way that the owners of Sea Harmony have incorporated eco-friendly details into every aspect of their guesthouse. They have done extensive plumbing to incorporate greywater (non-sewage waste water) to hydrate their plants, utilized solar outlets for low-wattage appliances, and are even working on incorporating the hotel’s gardens produce into their meals.

No fish were harmed in the making of this pic.

No fish were harmed in the making of this pic.

And that brings me to the second aspect of what makes Sea Harmony such a great place to stay… the food and coffee.

Across the street from the guesthouse is the small café, where guests are treated to complimentary breakfasts (depending on the room rented) and perhaps the best coffee in all of SE Asia. Not only that, but they also have great prices, and a delightful atmosphere and very attentive staff. Of course usually Indy or Node can be found there as well, brewing the coffee and chatting with their customers, and offering helpful advice to all who visit. The strongest testament to their service is the fact that previous guests of the guesthouse return often to the coffee shop to visit. In fact we have been back almost every day since we left, to eat, or to grab a coffee and visit. We even bought a traditional coffee filter, that Indy took the time to carefully instruct as to the use, and coffee to go along with it.

Overall Sea Harmony Guesthouse is one of those places that is more than just a place to stay. It is a resting point for weary travelers, a waypoint for people on the road, and most importantly a second home for those who need it.

A well-deserved 5 thumbs up from Andthreetogo to Sea Harmony!

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The In-Betweens

The In-Betweens
By Chad (filling in for Jenny)

A thought occurred to me during our travels, one that had entered my head before, and one that I continue to have. It was a small nagging realization that the best parts of travel are not the monumental, nor the breathtaking, nor the phenomenal.

Instead the best parts are those that almost go unnoticed; the little moments that if left undocumented, probably get forgotten.

The chime of the 7-11 door, the blistering cold from the AC, and the sing-song sound of what sounds like “Good Morning,” but is in reality “Huānyíng” (欢迎), which means “Welcome,” was what stirred my memory. I had completely forgotten about this very mundane part of every day in Taiwan (trust me, every day in Taiwan is filled with 7-11 visits…). It was the greeting, the little sing-song sound, that made me smile and remember the conversations with fellow English speakers about it not being Good Morning… Especially in the middle of the night…

They are everywhere!

They are everywhere!

This moment gave me pause to reflect on all that we have done in the last few months. So many amazing moments, sights seen, and adventures had. So many moments that are forever etched into my memory, and will be shared with story and visuals on countless occasions until I am sick of telling them.

But what about those I had already forgotten, or the little memories that will come flooding back when least expected? I glanced through our picture collection, the many thousands of moments captured, and the select few that made up the blog, and the Flickr account. In-between all the pretty beaches, great castles, and Z’s smiling faces were the blurry nothings and the hastily snapped who-knows-what-they-were… But there were a few that brought back the memories already almost forgotten.

Germany airport playground.

Germany airport playground.

Thankfulness for a children’s playground is something you learn quickly while lugging a toddler around the world. Somewhere safe for them to play, and to burn off their excess energy, while you sip a coffee and reenergize… well it’s more than a blessing, it’s a lifesaver. One of the first I was thankful for was the small little playground in Germany, in-between flights, and in the very clean airport. I had almost forgotten about Z in her little pajamas, so excited to see some toys after being locked in plane after plane…

Great Coffee, WiFi, Outdoor tables.

Great Coffee, WiFi, Outdoor tables.

Fast Internet, good coffee, and being able to sit outside while working. These are three things I treasure on this trip and I almost take for granted. The ability to work in my pajamas on a bed is great, but I had almost forgotten how nice it is to sit outside and sit upright while getting the job done. I need to start doing that more often.

Jenny fulfilling a dream.

Jenny fulfilling a dream.

In-between the places we’ve loved are the places we’ve crashed for a night or two. The short stays where we don’t even bother unpacking our bags. This place was all right, the host was very nice, but it wasn’t much more than a bachelor pad. But it had this window, and it looked out over the sidewalks below… and you could hear the diners eating at the outdoor eatery, quietly chatting, glassware clinking, and light music playing in the background. Jenny had this dream to sit in the window, despite my panicky fear of heights, and she fulfilled her dream. It was almost magical, the wine, the alone time with Zoë sleeping peacefully. It was almost as if we were two young vagabonds with not a care in the world…

In-Between. The camera resting as it should.

In-Between. The camera resting as it should.

These are three very in-between moments, of things that I fortunately had pics to remind me of… It almost makes me sad to go through my pictures and realize that most of what was visually captured are the moments I will never forget, despite the reminders.

I do want to remember it all, but the in-betweens are forgotten until something internal awakens them. The thought that a hidden treasure of memory awaits the right key to unlock it is like waiting for an eventual present. At any time a sight, smell, or a sound could bring these memories back. That is worth waiting for, and being truly excited about.

Review: High Sierra AT 6

Backpacker on Wheels

High Sierra Wheeled Duffel Backpack review
(AT6 32”)

Side view of the backpack

Side view of the backpack

The backpacker mentality dictates that one shall never use a wheeled bag or else be considered a sell-out. To be honest the idea of giving up a backpack caused much consternation on our parts. We really wanted to keep to the core, with only what could fit upon our backs, with another smaller bag to carry on board.

Unfortunately, after considering how long our trip was, and with what we had to bring, and a stroller, plus items for the kid… well, it just wasn’t in the cards.

So we caved and started looking for something more practical. We really wanted something that would give us the best of all worlds. Lots of space, light to carry, durable wheels, and various carry handles. We dreamed of a bag that would have all of this, and then we heard of a couple that had the piece we really missed: Backpack straps.

Close up of the backpack straps

Close up of the backpack straps

After much searching, shopping and comparing we had almost given up. It seemed the bags available were incredibly expensive and almost experimental. None of them had hardly any reviews, were basically the price of 4 comparable bags without the backpack component.

Fortunately we stumbled upon the High Sierra Wheeled Duffel Backpack. A fantastic feat of engineering that was offered at an incredible price. The MSRP listed it at $380 (still a decent savings compared to other bags) but was usually offered on various retailers for less than $150. Even on Sierra’s own site they are currently offering it for a substantially cheaper price than the suggested retail.

To start with, the bag offers everything the pricier comparable duffel backpacks offer as well. It even comes in multiple sizes (we went with the AT6 32”) and colors. It can operate as a wheeled standing suitcase, with two rollerblade type wheels, and a sturdy retractable handle. Or it can be used as a duffel bag with a well-positioned center grip that is thick and strongly built. And of course, the best part is that there are two backpack straps hidden in the base of the pack, that actually allow it to be worn comfortably as a backpack.

The bag is extremely light when empty, coming in at only 11 pounds even with all of its features. It contains two separate chambers in the main pouch, divided by a zippered inner layer. Each one of these can be opened separately from the other from the outside as well, which is really convenient when packing for more than one person in a bag. These combined inner compartments can expand a few inches, during those times when extra space is required, by unzipping two different layers on the side of the bag. A third thin compartment rests along the outside of these two and gives a little more space for smaller items. All of these compartments are contained by two strong seatbelt like straps that can be cinched down to compress the space as tightly as needed.

Compression Straps

Compression Straps

Surprisingly, given the price and features, the quality of the bag is also very durable. The outer layer is made up of a sort of “duraweave” that is light, water resistant, and seemingly stainproof as well. So far none of our travels have even taken a slight toll on the bag, and it is holding up very well. To compare, our other cheaper duffel bag is looking like it went through a war zone, having experienced the same flights.

We really cannot recommend this bag enough. Usually we are hesitant to give anything 5 thumbs up but this bag is really phenomenal. Even if it didn’t have the backpack straps, it would be one of the best bags we have ever used. And the really surprising, and appreciated piece is that it comes at such a great price.

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Review: Hostel w/ Children – Travellers House

Travellers House – A Luxury Hostel Experience

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One of the challenges of traveling with a toddler is finding a place to stay. There are thousands of hotels, guesthouses, and sublets that accept children, but almost all of them are pricier and less “indie” than the backpacker favorite known as the hostel. Unfortunately most hostels aren’t as willing to let those under 18 stay as guests.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with staying at hostels, Wikipedia defines them as “… budget-oriented, sociable accommodation where guests can rent a bed, usually a bunk bed, in a dormitory and share a bathroom, lounge and sometimes a kitchen. Rooms can be mixed or single-sex, although private rooms may also be available. Hostels may include a hot meal in the price.”

Family Friendly?

Family Friendly?

To most travelers with children, especially those who are unfamiliar with the road, the idea of staying in a “dormitory,” or sharing a kitchen, bathroom, or anything for that matter, may sound like a disaster. The free meal may be tempting, but a hostel is generally considered a young persons game, and not one that lends itself to the traveling family’s needs.

Kids love parties yeah?

Kids love parties yeah?

However, we used to stay at hostels throughout the world, and had seen kids here and there, usually not in the dorm areas, but sharing private room, and shared bath, and generally being the star of the accommodations. Well, at least as long as they were well behaved…  And we loved hostels: the camaraderie, the chance to meet other travelers, the kitchen where we could cook our own meals, etc. Especially as this trip is not a vacation, and more a way of life… Every saved dollar, pound, or baht, is another day we can enjoy the adventure without worrying about the day those same finances run out…

So we began searching well in advance for accommodations in Lisbon that would host our small family. First we searched Airbnb (Our personal favorite!), but decided against renting something for the long-term, sight-unseen, until we had become somewhat familiar with the territory. Unfortunately we put off our purchase of a room until it was far too late, and ran out of most options. Fortunately we stumbled upon a hostel that not only accepted toddlers, but also one that redefined our expectation of what a hostel is meant to be.

Traveler’s House Hostel – Review

Common Area: Beanbags make everyone relax.

Common Area: Beanbags make everyone relax.

Words cannot describe how relieved we were to find this accommodation in the Baixa district of downtown Lisbon. The location is mere minutes (walking distance!) to the neighborhoods of Alfama, Bairro Alto, Chiado and Rossio, and as close to the major Metro stop of Baixa-Chiado. It is on the pedestrian only street of Rua Augusta, and as soon as you step outside the front door you are in the heart of the touristy, yet charming, hub of this fascinating city. Everything a weary traveler may need is within a stones throw and everything else is only a short walk away.

Location, location, location.

Location, location, location.

The view from the balcony

The view from the balcony

But enough about the location… and on to the accommodations. Traveler’s House was one of the only hostels we could find that not only accepted children, but actually mentioned families on their website. The shared dorms are most likely not kid-friendly, but the private rooms most certainly are. Due to the fact that we booked the room late (only a few days before we arrived), we had to split our time between different rooms. For the first couple of days we stayed in a private room with shared bath, and for the last few days we moved to a private suite.

To be honest we were hesitant about the shared bath situation, but in the end we loved it, and even wished we didn’t have to move. Primarily as the suite was more expensive, and we really didn’t mind having to walk the short distance to the clean and plentiful restrooms/showers.

Zoë Approved!

Zoë Approved!

The room was impeccable, clean, and just large enough to host us and our luggage. They even, at no extra charge, had a portable crib setup for Z to use during our stay. Once we moved, the suite was about twice the size, and the bathroom was excellent as well.

As good as it looks

As good as it looks

Two small things I must mention as a small warning: You can’t eat or drink in the rooms (except water), and the shower floors are very slick. What this means is that with the child who wakes up hungry, and nibbles all day long, is that you must get up and get going as soon as possible, or else face the crankiness of a jet-lagged, and starving toddler… In a hostel… where screaming can be heard quite easily… And that during showers you must continually try to hang on to a soaped up squirming bundle of fun so as not to let them crash their head into the wall.

Those small annoyances challenges aside, the rooms are more than adequate, and even border on the side of being perfect. Especially compared to what you might find at any comparable price in any major hotel chain. And don’t forget they do offer a delicious breakfast (eggs, bacon, toast or Nutella crepes! With coffee, tea, juic etc.), starting at 8 and ending at 11… All the more incentive not to huddle in the room past tantrum the waking hour…

This bed is just right.

This bed is just right.

The best part of staying at hostel is the time spent getting to know your fellow travelers. To partake of the common room, and to take advantage of the knowledge of those who work, stay, or all but live, at the hostel.

Fortunately Lisbon Traveler’s House employs a great variety of well traveled folks, who are kind, talkative, and more than willing to chat in great detail about what to do and see around Lisbon and the rest of Portugal. Not only do they patiently recite the same instructions over and over again, when asked where the “authentic” Fado singers might be found, but they will willingly mark out a map, make telephone calls, or even accompany their guests to the spot.

On top of that they always have a social event, food tasting, walking tour available every night of the week, and rent out Segways for those who would rather do it alone. We recommend the chorizo and wine tasting! It is delicious!

Jørgen heating up the chorizo

Jørgen heating up the chorizo

The common area is warm, clean, and inviting. There is light music being played from the antique stereo, and never once did we feel uncomfortable using the computer area, or the TV room. Though no one ever did use the TV room, as it seemed most would rather socialize, or go out on the town to explore. And there is Wi-Fi provided throughout the building. So if you choose not to leave your room there is always enough internet for the anti-social exhausted traveler.

Overall this hostel is one that we would gladly stay at again. It isn’t the cheapest one available, but it accepts kids, has “luxury” accommodations at a more than reasonable rate (check the site for seasonal prices), and is excellent for families looking for a more personable and social stay than at a normal hotel.

5 Hearty thumbs up to this excellent stay!

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Review: The Unexpected Expected.

The Unexpected Expected – By CRM

There are two things that happened on the island of Curacao. Or rather there are two distinct things that happened concerning food. Food is a favorite subject on this blog, Jenny and I love to eat our way around the word, and we love to experience a place by sampling the local cuisine.

Having said that, I am sadly not as adventurous as Jenny in regards to food. I am a lover of fine foods, can appreciate and understand the delicate things, and I have expensive taste. However, sometimes I am as American as can be, and have a hard time with things that don’t fit the flavor profiles I have come to expect.

Does that mean I won’t eat a lizard, river-weed, or rat? No, it does not mean that I won’t step outside of my comfort zone, but I may not be the most excited about doing it, and I may not order it more than once.

So it comes as no surprise that I we ended up doing what one tends to do while in a foreign place and ordering the sandwich with french fries way too often because at least you know you will leave with a full stomach. This is a two part review of the expected, the safe, and the familiar, and secondly of the unexpected, the strange, and the way the road turns.

RibsThe Rib Factory:

Who knew there could be such a place on oude caracasbaaiweg in Curaçao? An out of the way little joint with fresh veggies, delicious entrees, and a rather fine cocktail… It was two doors down from our house, which made it rather convenient, especially after a long day in the sun, and the food is offered to go if that is what you are looking for…

First off order their burger, ribs, sandwiches or anything else that we grew to enjoy and you won’t be disappointed. The samplings are well sized, and are not that pricey compared to what else you can find on this little Caribbean island.

food Ribs2

The menu isn’t diverse or challenging, and the choices are clear and plain. There are quesedilllas (which we didn’t end up trying), Nachos, which are mainly just cheese, chicken, and some light, fresh salsa on top of a bed of decent tortilla chips, fajitas (which looked quite good), and a few other options as well.

Unfortunately, as is the case in most places we’ve traveled outside the US, the vegetarian options are limited to salad. Which is nothing more than a bed of green lettuce, a slice of bell pepper, a tomato or two, and maybe an onion. Followed up with 1000 island dressing. The vegetarian way of life was one we gave up the first time we traveled… Quite simply because we were constantly given meat in our food even when we didn’t order it… and the other option of eating only lettuce or tomatoes all day sounded rather dull…

As for the ambiance, the rib shack looked like… well, a shack, from a distance, but up close it held a nice patio and a cool air-conditioned interior. Always nice on a typical 85 degree bay on the island.

I wouldn’t say that the familiar was a bad thing in this case. Fortunately it was probably one of the best food places we experienced on the island and one wouldn’t break the bank. The prices ran for 20-35 guilders an entrée ($12-20 US) and you definitely get your money’s worth.

Zoë would give this a 3 out of 5 and we agree!

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Jaanchies:

Then there are these times: the unexpected, the strange, and the unfamiliar. The twists in the road that take you unexpectedly to a place you probably wouldn’t have tried if you had made the choice but there you are, and there you find yourself enjoying the experience all the more for the unfamiliarity of it all.

Our place was Jaanchies.

We’d set out on our last day on the island, to drive to the far west point of the island (Westpunt), and have dinner at a place called Sol Food. Back in California it was the name of a most excellent Puerto Rican place not too far from our home in the town of San Rafael.

Since there were so many familiar names on the island (Santa Rosa, Santa Cruz… Spanish influence anyone?) we decided to check out this place about 45 minutes from our home and enjoy a well deserved delicious meal as our final hurrah before departure.

But as mentioned before, the road dictates the adventure, and this one plan was not to be: the place was closed. So we shrugged off our disappointment, the place looked so good, and drove around in circles debating which of the island food shacks to visit.

Fortunately there was a place that we had seen on the way in called Jaanchies, that had a dutch flag flying outside, and a kitschy décor that beckoned even from the outside.

As we walked in we were beckoned to a table, next to a living, open aviary that surrounded the open walls. Most places on the island try to keep the many birds from the eateries, but this one made a show of it. There were bird feeders occupying the branches, and more “ducks” (as Z likes to call any feathered creature), fluttering about than we had seen during our entire stay. The best part was that the birds stayed away from the tables and eating only out of their trays. Man living in harmony with nature you could say.

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Z loves the birds.

Anyhow, the owner of the restaurant appeared after a while and delivered the menu orally, as there was only what they prepared that day available. We were given no prices, just the option to have goat stew, conch, iguana, fried or grilled fish (who knows what kind), and a few other things that I can’t recall. The choices between French fries (NOT AGAIN), or beans and rice, were offered as a side.

Jenny chose the goat stew, and I chose the fried fish. I went for safe, as I simply couldn’t be persuaded to be adventurous only a day before 24 hours of flights (see Jenny’s upcoming post tomorrow!).

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Goat Stew

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Fried Fishes

The food was good, nothing too spectacular, but good. And it came on a metal tray with the sides beside it. Z ate a lot of the food, she usually abstains from meat, and we were pleasantly surprised at the quality of the food. It wasn’t spectacular, but once again, this island doesn’t do spectacular food. Or at least we never found it… This might be due to the fact that the island imports everything… except goats… and sun…

Finally they brought us out each a half of a Neapolitan ice cream sandwich (odd choice), drizzled in strawberry sauce.

Overall the ambiance was great, the service lackluster (it took 45 minutes for our food…) and the food generally interesting. I wish I could say I had tried the Iguana or the Conch, but the adventurer in me was a little less brave that day. I think Z would agree when we give this place 2.5 out of 5 thumbs. It was better than most of the places on the island, butfelt it could have done it all just a bit better with a little more effort. Especially with such an interesting locale…

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Until next time… Eat well.

Chad

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Review: The OGIO Doppler Toiletry Kit

A Well Fitted Bag:

Welcome to our second product review. This is a short take on an essential item. As mentioned in the previous post we will be using the “Baby Thumbs”™ system to rate our products. 5 thumbs up being something we found to be excellent in all areas and 1 being something we would urge against purchasing.

The OGIO Doppler Toiletry Kit: Small, fitting, and tightly built.

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When we were going through our baggage from previous journeys, one of the things we pulled out was our old REI bathroom bags. Despite being washed, cleaned, and scrubbed, they were entirely the worse for wear.  And my other half let it be known just how much she despised these hanging bags, and left no question that we would not be purchasing the same ones again. They were unwieldy, hard to clean, and bulky. They were made well, but that was not enough to save them from the garage sale pile.

As usual, I insisted on purchasing new ones as soon as possible, despite the fact that there were much more important things to be doing, and that our trip was still several months away. As I have said before, I love to shop, research, research, shop, agonize over the purchase, research, research, and then, with much consternation, purchase… And then occasionally return after agonizing I made the wrong decision.

We went to REI once again, but decided that even the lightweight bags were far too bulky. In my opinion the perfect toiletry bag is compact, lies as flat as can be, has a hangar, and several individual pockets to sort the necessary items. I also deemed it necessary that it be a solidly constructed bag that has a well constructed zipper. It is funny how much thought can go into such a small item. But this is one that is useful to  store on a carry on, readily available wherever one may be. I can’t tell you the amount of times I have pulled these bags out to freshen up after a long bus, boat, train, or plane ride. And if you are a contact wearing individual like myself you will know that it is especially convenient if you can easily remove them when sleeping during long legs of the journey.

These sorts of bags can range in price from 10-50 dollars and there are really only a handful of styles to choose from. The OGIO bag that we finally settled on was the only one that seemed to fit the bill when it came to our desired amenities. It has 5 small pockets in the front and two main compartments laying behind them. Up top, below the attached hanger, are two horizontal compartments that lie flat but still have adequate room. For example I was able to put my contact solution and case in the sealed upper compartment with plenty of room left over. In total on a recent trip I was able to carry the following items without any bulge whatsoever: Hair Brush, Comb, Deodorant stick, Hair product, Contacts/Solution, Glasses in case, Toothbrush, Toothpaste and a complete set of soaps and shampoo.

It really was impressive just how nicely it compartmentalized everything without bulging out.  

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The main reason that the bag keeps it’s shape, even when loaded, is that it has a nice, solid outer shell that doesn’t flex but a little. It will give only slightly, and hold a decent amount of stuff, but not so much that it will be a hindrance to pack by growing beyond it’s original shape.

The outer construction is solid, with a strong oversized zipper that gives it a quality feel. The interior is thin polyester, mesh, and nylon. The liner material is thin, and cheap, but it is easy to clean and suits its purpose. I don’t really see the need for anything higher quality as I don’t anticipate stretching those compartments out too much.

The only negative aspect of this bag is that it lacks a mirror. Many of the other, even cheaper, bags come with one. I would have preferred one, but J preferred the extra compartment where one would have been.

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In summary this is a quality bag, and one that is perfect for our needs. Both of us got the same one, and are pleased with our purchase. The most appealing part of the bag, and the final compelling feature is the excellent price. It is currently $18 on Amazon. A steal at that price, and one I can gladly give 4 out of 5 thumbs up. If you are looking for a simple, roomy, durable toiletry bag we highly recommend it!

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London Calling

“London calling, now don’t look to us/Phony Beatlemania has bitten the dust” The Clash – London Calling

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A gate in front of Buckingham Palace ©andthreetogo.wordpress.com

Welcome to a 12-hour blitz tour of London. This is not a trip that was taken with children. No, in fact it was a brutal hike around the sights, over long walks, through the bitter cold (it was snowing even), and not an in depth affair. It involves diving into subway tunnels, catching subways, (did I mention long hikes?) and only stopping to catch a bite or a beer and continue on our way.

This was a scouting affair, perhaps for a longer ordeal, and I kept my eyes peeled for just how it may be once we are abroad as a family unit. But this was business, in fact on a business trip, with a coworker, and we were determined to cram the metropolis of London into a single day.

“Anarchy for the UK/It’s coming sometime and maybe” Sex Pistols – Anarchy in the UK

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The London Eye – ©andthreetogo.wordpress.com

I flew into England on a Tuesday, mid-day, and made my way to the hotel room. Jet lag wasn’t too bad, partially because I was able to sleep, and partially because I used No-Jet-Lag. No-Jet-Lag is a great homeopathic remedy that aids in digestion, discomfort, and the general feelings of being forced into an unfamiliar sleeping pattern. In addition my little daughter has a knack for keeping us awake at night and I was so exhausted on the flight I simply passed right out.

The rest of the week was uneventful, we were staying in the small town of Kettering, about an hour north of London, and it is primarily an industrial city. It has a spectacular, beautiful church, but not much else in the way of culture. So I was very anxious to have the weekend to explore London.

We had a car, and originally I was planning on hitting up London fairly frequently. But that was before the realization of working long days in a foreign country became my reality. Plus I heard that traffic is intense in the city, and I was fairly sketchy with the left hand driving.

Fortunately my coworker had taken the train to London before, and knew how to navigate, and purchase our tickets beforehand. We had to purchase tickets on the East Midlands train line, either first class or main cabin, and they ran about 95 Pounds for a two-way ticket. Of course that was off peak and during the week they run quite a bit more… around 120 quid.

“It looks like King’s Cross station. Except a lot cleaner and empty, and there are no trains as far as I can see.” Harry Potter

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Kings Cross Station – ©andthreetogo.wordpress.com

The train arrives into St. Pancras Station. It is a beautiful station, directly next to and attached by tunnel, walkway, and tube to the better-known Kings Cross Station. Unfortunately I didn’t get a chance to see the 9 ¾ platform, because it was a busy and rather confusing terminal. There are many signs and directions but it is an organized mess, and one that those in the know shuffle through in an almost magical way. The rest of us, the tourists, and there are many, simply stare in confusion at their guidebooks, wall-guides or shuffle up to the counter to ask for assistance.

The best advice I can give at this point is to make sure you have purchased an unlimited daily tube pass. Make sure it is for the 1, 2, 4, 5, and 6 zones, which refer to the different areas of London that the tube travels along. These are of primary interest to tourists, as they go to the most popular areas and cover the most visited sites.

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The Tube. Go check out the site for details.

Once we alighted from the train we decided to step outside and take a look around. It was snowing. Being from California, the only time I like the snow is when I am  well prepared, and perhaps snowboarding. I do not like standing in skinny jeans, with a hoodie, and a thin pleather jacket as my only defense. Needless to say I was shivering in seconds and walking like a madman to our first destination.

We had heard the British Museum was fairly close to Kings Cross, so we decided to go there first. They had a display on ancient Egypt that both my coworker and I were keen to see. Normally I am not much of a museum traveller. I prefer to see what the country that I am in has to offer. Museums could be anywhere, and they have exhibits that could be seen everywhere. In my opinion the world is a living museum. I’ll save the dead civilizations for when I am somewhere less interesting… But this was an exception, a good starting point and, more importantly, out of the snow.

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British Museum. Outside/Inside. Awesome ceiling.  ©andthreetogo.wordpress.com

I have to say, a quick journey through the British Museum only touched upon the awesomeness it contained. I strongly advise a visit if you get the chance and are into that sort of thing. It has FREE admission and it is open from 10-5:30 weekdays, and until 8:30pm on Fridays. It is excellent for children; I saw many of them, in strollers, toddling along, and in their parent’s arms. Check out the website for the list of current activities.

We spent about an hour there, and then had the realization that to really explore and see all there is to see, we would have to have a dedicated day unto itself. So we rushed out, wanting to catch the rest of London before the day was through.

We made our way back to Kings Cross and headed toward London Bridge by way of the tube. We had heard rumor of a the Boroughs Market, which is a “farmers market” in the loosest sense of the word. If you have ever been to Portland for their weekend market, or any of the other great foodie/farmers/weekend markets you will know that there are great ones and good ones. After struggling through the crowded market, with a mulled wine in hand, and unable to purchase food past the crowded lines, we gave up. And rated this a sub-par market…

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You can’t see through the tourist’s heads… ©andthreetogo.wordpress.com

On our way out we went looking for food. Hoping to find a nice English pub with some delicious warm vittles to sate our appetites. Fortunately close by was a pub, with delicious pies, (I had a cilantro, chicken, sun dried tomato one), and it was in an old bank. Simply awesome, and they brewed their own beers, as many do… But unfortunately I simply can’t find the info of where we went.

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“Ring out, Market Bell, for the fruit of the earth!” Southwark Cathedral Blessing

The day was fast flying by; it takes a long time to see a lot. So we were anxious to continue. Since the Southwark Cathedral was on our way across London Bridge, we decided to step inside.

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I may be a man of faith, but I am not a religious man. By that, I am not usually interested or affected by the pomp and circumstance of organized religion. But I have to tell you, entering a cathedral, (though sneering at the “suggested” donation of two pounds. 4… if you wanted to take pictures) and hearing the chamber choir singing toward the vaulted ceiling, I was immediately struck to the core. Below my feet lay the dead saints, resting their bones in solitude, and around me was a building dedicated to God. I couldn’t help but be struck by the beauty and the grandeur, even while being aware of the cost of such a building. Both in money and the blood of the peasants who put forth their pennies to men who claimed to hold the key to heaven. Despite that, I was still blown away at the devotion of said believers and their fervent desire to please God. I was even a little choked up at the sounds and the vision of such a “holy” sight.

It was short lived and we made our way out of the building. Realizing that the day was once again passing quickly. We rushed across the bridge, confused by which one was in fact London Bridge, (hint: it’s the least assuming and ugliest), and hurried toward the more interesting tower bridge.

There is a walk that goes along the north side of the river, and is quite beautiful, even if cold in the middle of February. It winds between the different bridges and we eventually arrived around 4:30pm at the Tower of London.

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The Tower- Full of Ghosts – ©andthreetogo.wordpress.com

This was the sight I was unprepared for… Any pictures I post are poor representations, though I tried to capture it with my panorama feature of my iPhone. I had to leave my camera behind at home, as I had to carry too many technical items for work…

This historical sight will forever linger in my mind. The sight is far more than a tower, it is in fact a monumental castle, and one that has permanently altered and affected western history in ways that will be forever felt.

Staring at the walls, I couldn’t help but think of the sheer madness of America’s founding fathers. The fact that they could defy the crown, and the empire, and the history of their world… It simply must have been unthinkable. This castle, an image of the power that was controlling the world for hundreds of years, must have been even more formidable when it was a living, breathing thing.

We had even decided to spend the £20.90 to enter, and take the tour. However, buyers beware, the castle closes at 4:30pm. An unfortunate turn of events, and one that we were forced to face as we were simply too late to enter.

After a few turns around the castle, and staring in awe at the walls that hold haunted halls, we decided to carry on. A quick turn about tower bridge and we were on our way toward Buckingham Palace and Big Ben.

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Tower Bridge. Disneyland style crowds. ©andthreetogo.wordpress.com

Sadly, we encountered a frustrating turn of events: The circle line that runs to the St. James and Victoria stops was out of commission. This meant more walking, in the bitter cold, to a different line, further away.

I will save the reader the confusion of the journey, as it was a rare weekend in which we travelled. And usually the line that runs to these locations is convenient and easy. For parent’s with kids it is usually an easy jaunt. Even with strollers.

“Panic on the streets of London/Panic on the streets of Birmingham/I wonder to myself/Could life ever be sane again ?” The Smiths – Panic

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 Eventually we made it up the Victoria line to Green Park station. It was a beautiful walk through there, the quietest park in London, at least when it’s cold out, and we reached Buckingham Palace.

To be honest, I have no respect for royalty (American independence beat into my brain?) and I really found the palace underwhelming. The beefeaters, (those that guard the palace), were stoic, and the changing of the guard only happens ever other day at 11:30 am during off season. Good to know if you go out for that sort of thing.

It was dusk at this point and we realized we were close to Westminster Abbey, and the Houses of Parliament, where Big Ben resides.

We made our leisurely way past the signs for the Princess Di memorial walk, around St. James park and down toward the final sights of our trip.

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Westminster Abbey was phenomenal; I want to go back when I can go in, and with my ladies by my side. But the real treat was the final sight as night set in. As we turned the corner we could just see the glowing clock, lit up as it has been throughout history. And I honestly wondered if we would see Peter Pan, flying by with Tinkerbell, and straight on till morning….

“Second star to the right and straight on ’til morning. ” Peter Pan

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We lingered on, staring at Big Ben as the night ticked on. It was only with the chiming of the clock that we were startled out of our gaze. As we turned we could just see the Eye of London, the giant wheel that is London’s newest visual addition, and we remembered that we were indeed back in modern times.

We made our way back, somewhat tired and subdued, to Kings Cross station. I departed from my coworker and called up a local friend. The rest of the night was spent checking out Camden. It is London’s hip and yet run down side of town, but one that is great to experience… without the kids. Definitely not kid-friendly. But fun. Yes… fun…

That was my less than 24 hour tour. I have more notes I may add later but that is all for now. Feel free to ask any questions, and I will be glad to respond…

A Million Miles Away

A Million Miles Away
By Chad 

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“To travel is to live.” H.C. Anderson

There was a time when a man would leave his home, set out on the sea for months at a time, and leave loved ones waiting behind. He would shoulder his rucksack, pull his pea coat tight about him and stare longingly at the shore as it retreated from sight. If he were a family man there would be a lady watching him as he left, a handkerchief waving in the wind, and perhaps a baby at her hip. The last thing he would see before the fog closed in was the sight of his wife’s loving eyes, misting up with tears as she disappeared from view.
The world is very different today. There are many people still travelling, on business, away from family, and even more frequently. They even have to travel for extended periods of time, and over even greater distances. But thanks to the engineering and technological marvels of our time it doesn’t have to feel so distant.

Or so we are told.

The nice part of being told that I had to travel to England on business is that it was a free trip to somewhere I hadn’t been. It was an all expenses sojourn into the land of legend. I have read many a fine book that has been written in ye country of old, and I was semi-excited to take the journey.

Even though it was away from Jen and Zoë, for two weeks, and only a month before we plan to move abroad for good. And it was the middle of winter.

I am not a fan of the cold.

So it was that I set out from my darling ladies, feeling underprepared, both in mind and luggage, and traveled to the UK. I didn’t even bring a heavy coat, assuming that I would encounter similar weather to the bay area in almost March. (I was wrong, more on that later.)

Jenny drove me to the bus stop where I was to meet up with my coworker, and we said our goodbyes. Those are never easy, and I was reminded of how my mother says she will feel when we leave upon our bigger journey. It wasn’t easy. But I put on a good face, kissed her goodbye, and watched the car disappear from view as I boarded the shuttle. I was quickly distracted, or attempted to forget, the heaviness in my heart as I “manned up” and discussed the flight with my counterpart. He was also feeling the effects of the leaving, he has two kids and a wife, and we commiserated as men do: vaguely and with machismo.

The rest of the trip to Britain was uneventful. I plan to write a less sappy account of the journey and the trip once it is through. But in the meantime I have to say that leaving from the loved ones is harder than I even imagined it would be…

I have left before.

Sure, I have left on business before, for a few days or a week. To less interesting places, with far less to do… And I brought my utensils. Those gadgets that keep us connected. The iPad, iPhone, Macbook Pro… (I am an Apple sell out) and steady Wi-Fi is never far from where I roam. In fact I have been able to make video calls, almost every night, and see my darling daughter, and beautiful wife, in stunning hi-def detail. It does help, to see them, to hear them. My daughter even gives me virtual kisses to the camera. It is the cutest thing I have ever seen. But it’s never quite the same. It’s funny how distant yet close they can appear.

But it gets me through the journey.

Jenny has been busy. A steward of the houses affairs. She has been busy packing, sorting out the house, preparing the necessary details for our eventual departure. And here am I, sitting in a hotel room, eating a meal, and resting after a long day. But I am away. Not quite able to help. I do what I can, and try what I must, but at the end of it all Jenny is doing the heavy lifting. And this makes it even harder to be away.

Soon it will be different.

I am glad I am in my final stretch. The trip only has four more days left to go, and I am more than ready to return. I feel like this is a hold-up, a delay in our journey. But I am thankful to have a wife and daughter to have and to hold on the return. It makes my heart leap to think of holding them tight once again.

I can only imagine what those men and women felt, as they departed on long trips, into the bitter sea, and without the easy return. We are so fortunate to have it so much easier, even though it’s still hard. For even though it is difficult to leave, we are so very blessed, for in only a few short hours, much less than a day, we can return. I have always envied those early days of exploration and adventure. But to leave without a guarantee of return, must have been tragic. And I for one am thankful for the blessings of today.

“[It is] as [when] a man, sojourning in another country, having left his house, and given authority to his servants, to each one his work, commanded also the porter to watch.” Mark 13:34

Note: Review of a well-designed toiletry bag coming soon! Also stay tuned for a 24-hour guide to London!

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Doubt, fear and where do we go from here?

Change presents an exciting opportunity for adventure. Change is something to enjoy, learn from, and grow into. Change comes to us all in many forms. To some it is as monumental and overwhelming as choosing a new pair of shoes. To others it is as simple and easy as a new home.

For us it comes in the form of a journey. A journey outside of our comfort zone. To foreign shores, far from family, and without a means of income.
For many this may seem radical. A departure from any usual change. A daring and extreme venture.
Not to mention that we are doing it together, with a child. A child not yet two years old.

And somehow this seems exciting to me. I am thrilled at the prospect. I am absolutely sure this is what we are supposed to do, where we are supposed to go. I have the confidence, the surety, and fear nothing. All the chips will fall into place…

Doubt.

The fear of the unknown.

The lack of courage.

Terror.

The truth is that I am terrified at times. I am doubtful. I do lose heart. I look for excuses to give up. To say, “never mind,” and to cash out. I’ll stay here, I say to myself, I will settle for the normal.
The usual way, the safe way, the steady path.

But nothing in life is a sure thing. Nothing.
Not today, not your job, not your life. You control absolutely nothing.
There is no such thing as a guarantee.

There is something better.

Faith, hope, and trust in The Almighty.

For all of life’s gains and losses, tragedies and calamities, and terrifying cliffhangers, there is one thing I know. That it does not happen without reason. That we are being guided by an unseen hand. And He will not let us fall.

So why not try for the impossible? Why not silence the fears, the doubts, and the insecurity. This is an exciting world we live in. And the only way we’ll find it is to step outside our door and experience what is offered.

It is hard to leave family. It is very hard. And I do it with much hesitation. But I can’t let the hesitation get in the way of what we have the opportunity to do.

We were not given a spirit of fear.

One of the biggest fears of leaving is the health of our daughter. We can suffer far more greatly than she can. I wonder what the medical conditions will be, and if I will be able to give her the care she needs, if she needs it. Hopefully she doesn’t.
I believe she won’t. But we must do all we can to make sure that is not a problem. But once again it isn’t a sure thing. No amount of planning, care, and insurance can protect against every possible future.

Live in faith.

Travel is a daring venture to some. It is easier to leave, with a rubber band tied securely to your waist so you can return. To see without comprehending, touch without feeling, and hear without understanding, is not a way that we desire to venture abroad.
I believe we are called to experience more.

Give deeply and pursue what your heart tells you.

We aren’t leaving simply for the thrill of doing something extreme. We aren’t following our own selfish desires. I believe this is something we have been called to do. I believe that there is opportunity that awaits… And that we are uniquely positioned to do something… well… unique.

So I step outside of my gut wrenching panic attacks and remember that living in faith means not being afraid. For they cannot coexist.

Take a walk with us… On this wild ride… Into the unknown…

I hope we can be an example of just how far one can go when you leap off the ledge.

Chad