Lees Ferry Campgound

I have lived in Arizona the majority of my life. I have traveled and camped throughout Arizona.  And yet, I did not experience the wonder that is Lees Ferry Campground  in Northern Arizona until the Spring of 2017.

 

Lees Ferry, where have you been all of my life and why did no one ever tell me about you?  Lees Ferry Campground is located in Northeast Arizona along the Colorado River.  It is the location where many organized floats down the Colorado River begin. The campground is about a 30 minute drive from Lake Powell. The campground sits on a bluff overlooking the Colorado River.  It is surrounded by beautiful red rock landscape.  The campground is fairly small with no hook-ups and pit toilets.  The small size makes it even more wonderful.  There are some nice spots that look right over to the river.  When we where there it was a mix of motor homes and tents.

The experience camping at Lees Ferry is almost like camping in the Grand Canyon without the very long hike, packing your supplies and the resultant blisters, muscle aches and realizing “now that I’ve hiked in this damn canyon I actually need to hike up and out!”  No, you can just drive right in, park your car, pitch your tent and feel accomplished.  The views are breathtaking.

img_20170323_182930676_hdr.jpg

The river contains trout and probably some other fish, but we caught trout. The fishing I’m told is some of the best in Arizona.  Fishing guides regularly take people out in this area of the river due, I assume, due to it’s accessibility.  We just fished from the shore but managed to catch several nice trout over two days time.  Which may sound, sad but it is pretty good for us here in Arizona!

The water is relatively calm just above the parking area near the river.  I was able to put in a kayak and paddle around.  There is also a nice sandy beach by the rougher water down stream to put up a chair or spread out a blanket and enjoy the sounds of rushing water.  Not far up the river is the famous Horseshoe Bend.  You get to the trail head for Horseshoe Bend about twenty minutes down the road to Lake Powell.  Well worth a look.

IMG_20170323_142956788

We camped at Lees Ferry in the Spring.  There were not very many people, but the weather in Spring is unpredictable.  We went through a surprise snow storm in Flagstaff on the way up.  The first night camping it was incredibly windy and chilly.  The next day was warm and sunny!  The third day was overcast and rainy.  That’s pretty much what you get in Spring.  The Summer will be hotter and more crowded.  Fall would probably be a good time to visit with less people and better weather.

I can’t recommend Lees Ferry enough.  If you are camping through Arizona at least spend a night here.  While the campgrounds in the Grand Canyon are outstanding, unless you hike into the canyon your really don’t get the same feeling as you do in Lees Ferry and don’t get to enjoy the fabulous Colorado river.  And throw a line in, you just might catch some dinner!

 

 

 

Family Travel in Chiapas

20170629_113726.jpg

We just got back from a family trip to Chiapas, Mexico.  Our crew consisted of me, my boyfriend, Bob, my two sons ages 13 and 15 and his two sons ages 19 and 22.  It was my kids first real international travel.  And probably the most adventurous trip they have experienced.  We had all been anticipating the trip for months.  I think I enjoy the anticipation and planning almost as much as the trip.  Passports were applied for, backpacks were purchased, and lists of items to take were made and edited many times over.  We only had 8 days to spend traveling but we were going to make the most of it!

Getting to Chiapas

In order to afford an international trip for 6 people we had to get creative to stay within our budget, especially for airfare.  We live only one hour from the U.S./Mexico border, and I was told by some colleagues that flights out of Hermosillo, Sonora, Mexico (approximately a four hour drive from our house) were very affordable.  I found a round trip flight from Hermosillo to Tuxla Guttierez, Chiapas for $150 round trip on Volaris airlines.  Volaris is a budget airline based in Mexico.  The tickets are cheapest if you book right from the Volaris.com, but you can also book through sites like Expedia.

Our journey began with a four hour bus ride on a Tufesa bus to Hermosillo.  Tickets were roughly $30 one way, they offer student pricing and round trip discounts so prices vary.

20170623_084653.jpgThe bus was clean and comfortable.  The bus made only one short stop in Nogales, Sonora, Mexico because it was an express.  A short cab ride from the bus station in Hermosillo and we were at the airport.  We discovered on our way home that it is wise to book a round trip ticket, which we had not.  Tickets back to Tucson were sold out until much later in the day upon our arrival to Hermosillo.  We ended up hopping on the next bus to Nogales, Sonora, Mexico, which made many stops along the way, but the ticket was really cheap.  We took a cab to the border and a shuttle for $12 each back to Tucson from Nogales, Arizona.   Too bad we couldn’t fit a train in there somewhere!

The Volaris airplane was huge, packed and really uncomfortable.  The bus was way more comfortable!  The biggest downside to this very affordable plane ticket was a 5 hour layover in the middle of the night in the Mexico City airport going and coming home.  We walked around the seemingly endless Mexico City airport for hours trying to find a comfortable place to rest.  It took us awhile to realize that the most comfortable benches were located by the gates (now you know).  I actually enjoyed this time with the kids walking around in our slap happy states, being silly trying to make the best of our airport captivity.  I believe it is important to enjoy the journey as much as your destination or you miss out on a good part of the fun.  I was so proud of my kids as they did not complain at all.  They seemed genuinely open to this new experience.

Prior to leaving the U.S. we had priced rental cars, but the lowest price for a minivan was quoted at $1000 per week.  We decided this was over our budget.  On a whim, we decided to check prices at the airport.  Thankfully we did because we were able to rent a minivan for $500 per week from Dollar rent a car!  The trip pretty much taught us most things are cheaper once you get to Mexico.  We hopped in the van and drove to San Cristobal de las Casas which is about one hour away.  A federal police officer stopped us as we were leaving the airport to warn us not to pass other cars as it is “muy peligroso.”  Ha!!!  As we quickly learned peligroso is the name of the game on Mexican roadways.  Hold on it’s going to be a wild ride!

20170624_095852.jpg

Staying in San Cristobal de las Casas

I reserved a three bedroom house through airbnb before we left home.  The house was clean, comfortable and everything we needed.  It had an alarm system and high walls around it so I guess they suffer from property crime.  Luckily we had secure parking inside the gates of the house to park the van.  The house was located outside the city center in an upscale, for Mexico, neighborhood.  The streets were dirt but the homes were colorful.  Bob and I walked the neighborhood several times.  The neighborhood dogs walk happily along appearing uninterested in human attention.  Children were dressed in their school uniforms prancing down the street alone or with their mothers in tow.  There was a park containing workout machines filled with friendly folks exercising happily and eager to show me how it was done.

So I fell in love with Chiapas!

DSCF0330

20170627_081712 (1)

 

 

 

 

 

Exploring San Cristobal de las Casas

We arrived to San Cristobal in the afternoon.  Everyone picked their rooms.  Tired after our long journey we all fell asleep to a lovely afternoon rainstorm.  We woke up refreshed ready to head to the city center for dinner.

The streets of San Cristobal are narrow and cobblestone.  There are several streets blocked off for walking only.  Restaurants and shops line the streets.  Indian women and children carrying blouses, shawls, and other items walk the streets trying to sell their wares.  While the women and children are persistent, I did not find any of them outright pushy.  I bought a shawl within minutes of hitting the streets to warm me in the cool evening air.  The energy of the town was friendly and vibrant.  A mixture of backpackers, Mexican tourists and residents.

There are many excellent restaurants in San Cristobal.  The first night we ate in a vegetarian restaurant, Casa Plena, serving hot off the comal tortillas and excellent mole.

Another night we ate at a place specializing in caldos (soups), El Caldero.  The prices were excellent and the bowls were huge.  We found two wine bars, El Cau and La Vina de Bacco, both serving a good selection of wine with each glass coming with a free tapa.  Even the kids got a free tapa with their soda!  La Vina De Bacco is the happening spot always full of people with music playing inside and outside on the street.  El Cau was more low key but had excellent food and music inside.  The final night we ate in an Italian restaurant, I completely forget the name, serving wood fired pizza.  There was an excellent variety of restaurants in town.  Food is very important to us.  Traveling with five hungry guys and four beer drinkers means spending a lot of our travel budget on food and drink.  However, we were able to feed our family of six, with beer, for under $60 per meal.  We couldn’t get hamburgers for that price in the U.S.!

While in San Cristobal, my son, step son and I took a Kundalini yoga class at Shaktipat.  Shaktipat has an excellent selection of classes.  It is upstairs from a nice little cafe where you can eat, drink coffee and hang out.  Our teacher spoke English and was really good.  I had never taken a full on Kundalini class so this was quite an experience.  The window in the classroom looked out to a blue church up the street.  Truly magical.  There were several other yoga studios in town.  Casa Plena has a studio upstairs.  It is a yogi kind of town.  I could have stayed here for weeks roaming the streets, eating tapas and drinking wine and taking yoga!

DSCF0337.JPG

 

Everywhere in the center of town there was music.  Music in bars.  Music in restaurants.  Music in the streets.  Everything from folk to rock to salsa.  On our final night Bob and I found a bar with a live salsa band.  It was a really good time.  On the weekend the streets are full of people.  It appears many Mexican families vacation in San Cristobal.  It would make an excellent weekend getaway from Mexico City.

I almost forgot the shopping!!!!  There are many upscale shops downtown, but go to the markets.  We went to the main municipal market.  I could spend a week there just looking.  The beautiful clothing, bags, jewelry and pom poms.  Yes, lots of pom poms.  At first I couldn’t figure out why all the pom poms, but I think it is the way they use all the extra yarn from the beautiful embroidery the local people create.  Be prepared to negotiate as if you are trying to bring about peace in the Middle East.  You don’t get something for nothing around there.  Our family came away with multiple items of clothing, bags, amber jewelry (a specialty item in these parts) and my 5 meters of oil cloth.

So everyone thought it was weird I bought the oil cloth, but it was sooooo cheap compared to at home.

DSCF0612

The food items were a feast for the senses.  Vegtables the color of the rainbow, chickens, sausages and pan dulces.  My son found a bug vendor on the street.  He munched down on some crickets.  Yummy!

 

 

 

Sumidero Canyon

We took a trip to Sumidero Canyon from San Cristobal.  It is about a forty-five minute drive back toward Tuxla Guttierrez.  We found a boat at the docks in Chiapas de Corzo just outside of Tuxla Guttierrez.

20170626_174611

The hawkers were out in full force.  We were escorted into a parking space on the street and then down to the docks to arrange a boat.  It is a hot sweaty trip so bring your sunscreen and a hat.  The boat ride is approximately two hours taking you into the canyon.  We saw several crocodiles and monkeys swinging in the trees.  The boat trip is definitely worth the 200 pesos per person.  The canyon walls soar above you as do the pelicans.  Yes pelicans.  Who knew pelicans came so far inland.  And, yes, as referenced in many other descriptions I’ve read, you float by a fairly large amount of garbage.  Mainly plastic bottles and containers.  When the rains come the garbage in the streets wash into the river.  But please don’t let this tarnish your experience.  There is beauty and there is garbage.  I will remember my trip down this beautiful river viewing amazing wildlife every time I reach for a plastic water bottle, soda or milk container.  That shit has to go somewhere.  So maybe we just shouldn’t be using it.

Trip to Palenque

20170630_105844.jpg

There are two ways to drive to Palenque from San Cristobal.  The shortest route takes you through two big tourist spots, Agua Azul and Misol-Ha waterfall.  We heard that this road is sometimes blocked with Zapatistas? Banditos? demanding money, and tourists have been robbed.  However, we decided to give the road a try.  The road is beautiful and windy.  One half hour into the trip we come to a row of stopped cars, busses and trucks.  The road was blocked.  Everyone seemed content to wait.  Bob walked up the road and saw big trucks blocking the road and men holding big sticks.  When they saw Bob they started yelling and calling to him.  We waited for a bit, but it seemed the road was going to remain blocked.  We drove back to San Cristobal and decided to take the long way to Palenque.  This route takes you a bit out of the way back through Tuxla Guttierrez and up through Tabasco state.  The road goes through many little towns and lots of pineapple fields.  The towns are lined with stands selling pineapples.  I’ve never seen so many pineapples!

We arrived in Palenque late in the day due to the long drive.  Prior to leaving for Palenque I had researched accommodations.  We talked about staying at El Panchan.  An enclave of casitas just outside the ruins.  The casitas appeared bare bones with mosquito netting and sparse furnishing.  I thought, “how great would it be to fall asleep to the sounds of the jungle with the monkeys and birds.”  However, as soon as I felt the heat and humidity of the jungle I promptly directed that we find an air conditioned hotel with a pool.  I’m no longer 20.  Don’t judge.  We did find a nice hotel on the main road into town, Plaza Palenque Inn.  It had a pool and frigid air.  Each room was about $40 per night and included breakfast.  We awoke to the sounds of a bird squaking in the trees by the pool.  So really, what’s the difference?  The bird was really loud.

We were starving so we road into town around 9 p.m. to find food.  We found a nice outdoor restaurant in the central area of town.  The food was good and the beer was cold.  What more could you want.  The next day we went back to the same place for lunch and to watch a soccer match.  We were surprised to discover the restaurant provides free posole when Mexico plays!  Mexico lost to Germany, but we got an excellent meal and more cold beer.  The place was so nice I almost forgot how profusely I was sweating.

The ruins were stunning.  There is a walk through the jungle on the way to the ruins.  We saw monkeys in the trees, waterfalls and many exotic birds.  And we sweated out our body weight.

Words cannot do just to the epic beauty of the ruins.

20170629_115218.jpg20170629_113604.jpg20170629_113334.jpg20170629_121107.jpg

One of the most infamous leaders of the Mayan people was K’Ihnichjannaab Pakal.  He came to power at the age of 12.  Having two sons who have been this age I find it hard to believe a 12 year old could be a leader of this magnitude.  But it does explain the amazing temples as 12 year old boys definitely like to build cool shit thus the                                              popularity of Minecraft.

 

You should allow at least several hours to walk around the ruins.  I was amazed how few tourists were present.  It makes the experience so much more enjoyable.  Palenque is definitely one of the more out of the way ruins in Mexico which probably keeps away some tourist.  I look at this as the main reason to go to Palenque.

We stopped at Misol-Ha waterfall in the afternoon.  It is about a 25 minute drive from the ruins.  The cool waterfall was very refreshing after the hot day.

dscf0760.jpg

I wish we had about one more week in Chiapas.  There was so much more we wanted to see.  There are numerous lakes, waterfalls and jungle attractions.  The country is so beautiful.  I can’t wait to return some day.20170630_114101.jpg

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Will Travel for Cheap Healthcare

One of the things that keeps me in my government job is the excellent health insurance. What I’m giving up is flexibility and the opportunity to chart my own course.  But if I’m hit by a bus or get cancer, I’m covered.  At some point you ask yourself, “Am I going to continue doing a job I’m not thrilled about just for the benefits?”  The answer I have finally come to is, “No!”  Fortunately I am a pretty healthy person, but the high cost of health care in the United States paralyzes me with the fear of the “what if” scenario.

20170508_165331(1)

So I’ve been researching the cost of healthcare in other countries.  What will it cost for me to see a doctor or have an operation if something happens while I’m traveling the world?  The answer I’ve come up with is . . . not very much.  Of course it will depend on the country I’m sure, but my cursory research has yielded pretty positive results.

I have some experience with obtaining healthcare abroad while traveling in my twenties.  I visited an emergency room twice while in Spain and had a small surgical procedure performed on my foot during one of the visits.  After the first trip to the emergency room I proceeded to check out and get my “bill.”  The woman stared at me blankly pondering over the idea of charging someone.  Healthcare was and is covered free of charge for European citizens.  So what to charge the American?  Nothing, that’s what.  No bill.  Nada.  I had a more diligent check out person for my next trip to the emergency room.  After asking around she gave me a bill for $100.  She didn’t ask for payment, just gave me the bill.  In the United States they don’t let you leave the hospital without paying first.  Some hospitals won’t even treat you if you don’t have insurance.  And, by the way, the healthcare I received was excellent, clean and courteous.  I know that will surprise some people in my country.

I have been researching travel health insurance plans.  I spoke to this wonderfully Scottish man from Cigna Worldwide who applauded me for my plan to travel the world.  He assured me that Cigna could provide me with health coverage anywhere in the world.  For $154 per month I receive $1million in annual inpatient benefits, total cancer coverage with direct billing to any health facility of my choice or need.  I have a $750 deductible and 20% cost share with a maximum of $2000 out of pocket expenses.  For $50 extra per month they will include medical evacuation.  For $100 extra per month I would get outpatient care with a $500 deductible and a 20% cost share.  This may seem expensive to my foreign friends, but it is a far better deal then I could ever possibly get in the United States.  Particularly since the Republican party is blowing up Obamacare and replacing it with who knows what.

I’ve decided I likely would not need the outpatient insurance because going to a doctor in foreign countries will not cost me hundreds of dollars like in the United States.  Reading a recent blog by an American expat, it appears you pay $40 for a doctor’s office visit in Panama.  A country that seems to have great healthcare as it attracts many retired Americans.  Forty dollars is the copay I pay in the United States.  I saw an accounting from another world traveler who is having a baby in Mexico.  Apparently it only costs $1,100 to have a baby including five check-ups and ultrasounds, courtesy of luxpats  .  While I’m not so excited about the health care system in Mexico, I have seen similar posts from world travelers indicating it costs under $5000 to have a baby in countries like Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic.  My ObGyn charged me $5000 just to catch my second child!  To this day I regret not popping the kid out in my living room.

So not only can I see the world, but if I get sick or injured I won’t go bankrupt and won’t need to pay $1000 a month for health insurance.  Good to know.

 

 

Let Me Out

The rat race.  Get up, kids to school, off to work.  Rinse, repeat.  There must be something more.  I don’t want to live for my three weeks of vacation time each year.  As I am in my 5gravatar0th year on this planet I realize that time is really fucking short.  And my kids, they are growing up so fast.  I just want everything to stop.  Breath.  Focus.  Where are we going?  What are we doing?  I want to expand my children’s lives so they can see the options, not just high school, college, job.  Because the world is changing.  The path my generation took is, I think, becoming obsolete.

My 15 year old attends a nationally ranked public high school teaming with overachieving neurotic parents and students.  He has a laissez faire attitude.  At first that made me incredibly anxious because obviously his success or failure directly reflects upon his mother.  Then I realized he is only 15 and he has his entire life ahead of him to be miserable.  He may as well enjoy being 15.  So this week instead of sending him to take the advanced placement test for AP Environmental Science, I let him stay home from school and play Smash Bros.  I’m either losing it or I am on to something.   I just can’t buy into the rat race for him.  I want for him passion, not high test scores.

I discovered these people, they call themselves “digital nomads.”  Families even.  People saying “fuck you” to the rat race, traveling the world, following their bliss.  Well shit, why can’t I do that?  I can travel the world just as good as the next guy.  Maybe even better.  I backpacked through Europe for six months as a twenty something.  Best decision I every made.

So here I go.  Target is summer of 2018.  Going to hit the road.  For how long, I don’t know.  The world will be my kids school.  No more worksheets and endless testing.  The kids seem open to the idea yet clearly they don’t think it will actually happen.

This summer we are going to Chiapas for eight days.  We will dip our toes into the waters of family adventure travel.  I’ll keep you posted.