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While driving down a two-lane highway across a broad expanse of a brown Wyoming, a weathered non-DOT sign popped up on a post alongside the road. It read, “Sacajawea’s Grave” and an arrow pointed to the right. We had just entered Wind River Indian Reservation, I couldn’t bypass that old sign. 

I hit the brakes and pulled into a gas station to ask for directions. The woman behind the counter handed me a photocopied hand drawn map and asked a guy hanging around to explain it to me.

We started down the road under a darkening, cloud filled sky. A cemetery soon appeared.

A large headstone for Shoshone Chief Washakie marked the entrance, but there was no grave for Sacajawea.

We drove on, and eventually found the right cemetery.

A smell of rain filled the air and Remy and Simon were a little creeped out after exploring a ghost town a few days earlier. But I made them get out of the car anyway.

I loved that each grave was colorfully decorated, with hand painted wooden crosses and artificial flowers.

The monument dedicated to Sacajawea is impressive compared to the gravesites in its company.

Upon further research, I found Wyoming isn’t the only state that claims her gravesite. In fact, her actual grave has never been found, but records say she died on the Wind River Reservation in 1884, when she was one hundred years old, and is buried somewhere on this hillside.  Other historians say she died in 1812 at Ft. Manuel, South Dakota, not long after returning from the Lewis and Clark expedition, at only 25 years of age, and left behind a baby daughter.

If you happen to find yourself driving down Highway 287 in Wyoming, look for an old weathered sign and ask for directions at the gas station to Sacajawea’s Grave. If you’re lucky, you too will have ominous Wyoming weather to make the expedition all the more adventurous.

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Taking a paid, guided horseback ride in the northern mountains of Nicaragua is nothing like a guided horseback ride in the United States. For one, I can’t imagine an American operation thinking it a good idea for an inexperienced six year old to ride and control his own horse for six hours.

But the confidence of Jamie, our Nica guide, assured me. Or at least made it seem allowable. And my six year old was certain it was a grand idea. My eight year old would ride Paloma. Isn’t she pretty?

We headed out in the misty early morning. The foals of Paloma and her sister, Mariposa, desperately wanted to come along.

Our six hours would take us through Miraflor Nature Reserve, a protected area where farmers grows crops and raise cattle sustainably on small plots interspersed throughout the three microclimates of the 200 sq km reserve.

 

Our first stop was the Orchideario.

We were visiting at the end of dry season and the orchids weren’t flowering at the time. But we found leaf cutter ants carrying big pieces of leaves across the path to their home, transparent butterflies, medicinal berries, and this tree that Jamie crawled inside and climbed up and then rappelled back down on the outside using vines. 

Four types of coffee are grown in Miraflor. The small trees were interspersed with tall banana plants.

Then we set out to wander the countryside. At a steep rocky ravine, the horses balked at going down. Jamie insisted it was no problem for them. My six year old’s horse, Mariposa, was the best at leading the group, Jamie said. My six year old would go first. I willed him to hold on tight. 

We came across this dead turquoise blue snake. I can’t say I was disappointed it wasn’t alive, but it is a gorgeous color, isn’t it?

At Miraflor, farmers are trained in sustainable farming. No chemical fertilizers or pesticides are used. At this farm, we dismounted from our horses to walk alongside the new crop of beans

to this river with a lovely waterfall.

I must mention: if you are visiting at the end of dry season, do not strip off your clothes for a dip under the waterfall. Unless you don’t mind an infestation of ticks. Newly hatched and hungry, we were a magnet and they the iron. It was impossible to get them off before we were covered with more. We’d have to attack the ticks later.

Back with the horses, Remy played with a puppy.

Even though the concept of Miraflor is very first world, farmers still have very little. Oxen, not tractors, pull the plows through the fields. There are few vehicles. Some people have horses but we saw most people traveling on foot.

While riding back to the farm where we stayed, Posada La Sonada, Jamie asked if we wanted to let the horses run. The kids thought it a brilliant idea, and before my instinctual motherly concerns could be projected, we were all off and running. Jamie had earlier fashioned a little whip out of a stick for Simon to keep Mariposa moving, since she was the leader, and Simon took to his running horse like a cowboy set loose after a day of being reigned in. His cap caught the wind and blew off as he whipped Mariposa (gently, of course) with one hand and held onto his saddle with the other. I couldn’t help but laugh while I willed my kids to hold on tight.  

Back at Posada La Sonada.

And to our room to strip and search for ticks.

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Recently I noticed, while going through my camera roll, just how many food related photos my family has taken lately.

People often ask who cooks in our family. They want to know if I’m eating chef prepared meals every day. My husband is a chef after all.

Unfortunately for me, for most of our life together, he’s been missing at the dinner hour. I’ve had to make do at meal time without him. He usually cooks a lovely meal at least once a week, but most days we eat simply. Here’s a sampling of the photos we’ve taken in the last month and half. My kids seem to have inherited the “love to cook” gene so several of these photos are of things they’ve made or preparations they’ve participated in.

                   

Add to these photos the ones from my posts on Eritrean food and the winery, and you’ll know what we’ve been up to lately. 

So now, my kids and I are contemplating what we should bake for the holidays this year. Remy suggested a new chocolate biscotti recipe.

What have you been cooking lately? What are your favorites to bake for the holidays?

Check out wanderfood wednesday for more food stories!

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Road trip: dispersed camping and the bed-car

“White wo-man!”

“White wo-man!”

I cringed. It could only be me the voice from behind was calling. The last time a man jogged to catch up with me on my walk from the white house to our dinghy in Clare Valley, not the presence of my toddler riding on my shoulders nor my declaration of love and commitment for my husband did anything to quell his lengthy proposition to please me like no other man could.

“White wo-man!”

The eyes of nearby villagers were on me and my two children, waiting to see what would unfold. The slap of feet pounding pavement grew louder. Goats bleated. Chickens pecked at bugs. I stopped walking and turned around.

The eyes of a dreadlocked man, barefoot and in a raggedy t-shirt and shorts, lit up when he saw my acknowledgment. 

He stopped inside my invisible comfort bubble, panting, and smiled. “Good morning,” he said.

I steeled myself. “Good morning.”

“You have solar panels. I need a solar panel. Can you get me one?”

“A solar panel?” The surprise in my face and voice must have been something to see.

“Yeah, I live on the mountain,” he gestured behind him. The villagers came closer. “We have no power. You have solar panels, yeah? I have money. I can pay for it.”

My shock turned to instant admiration. He wanted to talk business! My heart swelled. He would be my ally.

This post has been entered in the Grantourismo Home-Away Holiday Rentals travel blogging competition hosted by Grantourismo Travel and  Home-Away Holiday Rentals.

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Island poetry

Daily life on La Isla de Ometepe, Nicaragua

My idea of the perfect travel experience is to immerse in local culture. But when I enthusiastically proposed to my family a stay at Miraflor, a nature reserve that’s also a farmers’ cooperative in the northern mountains of Nicaragua, they all stared back at me with blank and unconvinced faces.

“A farrmm?” Simon said.

“How about the beach? I really want to relax and it would be cool to teach the kids to bodysurf,” my husband, Brian, proposed.

“I want to go horseback riding,” Remy said.

“I want to zipline,” Simon said, “But I don’t want to go to a farm.”

Hoping to persuade Simon and not realizing what I was getting myself into, I told them what I knew about Miraflor: There were three different micro-climates, one of them a rainforest. Monkeys and sloths lived there, we might even see the elusive quetzal. There were waterfalls and caves and more than 300 varieties of orchids. And we could ride horses. There was even a six hour horseback ride.

“How do you say six hours in Spanish?” Simon asked.

“Seis horas.”

He and Remy looked at each other mischievously and without another word started chanting in unison, “Seis horas!, Seis horas!, Seis horas!”

Brian looked at me sideways. Six hours on the back of a horse? In former Sandinista and Contra Rebel territory? With our kids? This didn’t sound relaxing. 

“But can we still go ziplining?” Simon asked.

“Sure!” I said.

At the last minute, we passed on the four hour bus ride from Managua to Miraflor and instead splurged on a car and driver.  We assumed we’d just traded stress and discomfort for an indulgent ride, but when every word we spoke in our broken Spanish to Raul, the driver, was met with a suspicious stare from the rear view mirror, we worried how we would even find the office to arrange our farm stay in the town of Esteli, 30 miles before Miraflor.

It’s possible we ended up in Esteli only because the Pan American Highway passes right through the town. 

When we found the office closed for the noon hour, we offered to take Raul to lunch, and that’s when Brian won him over, making jokes using his Kitchen Spanish and asking about Raul’s family. After lunch, we were a team. 

At the office, we chose our farm and set off again with a vague hand drawn map. Few vehicles traveled this unpaved road and Raul asked every vaquero on horseback and campesino on foot we passed for directions.

After several wrong turns, there were cheers all around when we finally found our destination, the farm of Dona Corina Picado.

Then it was pointed out these were the bathrooms we’d need to use. I sure hoped the horseback ride would carry the weight of it’s expectations.

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We started the morning in the desert. At noon, it was 108 degrees. We drove through a field of pumpjacks drilling for oil, past agricultural fields where open topped trucks were loaded with loose cherries, through vineyards with workers handpicking grapes, all the way to the chilly coast before the sun set. 

It was the road sign on California’s Pacific Coast Highway alerting us of elephant seals at Piedras Blancas that made me hang an immediate left turn. It may have been the best impulse stop of the entire trip.

The seals were so close!  We watched one use the force of the incoming waves to wash its heavy, awkward body back to shore.

   

Until finally it made it.

Signs gave further information about elephant seals.

And then the sun went down. 

So thankful we have places to keep the wild, wild.

This post is part of Delicious Baby’s California State Parks Photo Friday.

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Fishermen throw their nets out on the lake,

And they soon have their catch.

Women wash laundry on concrete tables set up in the water, 

But the beach is not theirs alone.

Cooling off (and often bathing) is done in the lake,

And friendships are easily made with the locals.

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Ocassionally we find hidden coves along the Washington coast and my mind always drifts toward, “If only we could stay for a spell…”

Usually I envision myself perched on a rock, drawing or painting my surroundings, something I never take time for. At Dead Man’s Cove, I imagined myself taking up poetry writing. Such an ominous name begged for words. 

There’d be so much time, no distractions…

Then hunger called, and the kids remembered we had a yurt waiting for us and we would build a fire.

Goodbye, friend.

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Islands of all kinds

“I really don’t feel well, I hope I’m not sick,” I said, lying on my sleeping pad, clutching my stomach.

“Can we just go?” Simon asked.

He was standing outside the tent looking in. The sun was just starting to rise behind the mountain to the east, it wasn’t even 6 am yet, Remy was asleep. He was still annoyed I made them sleep here last night, in the desolate, creepy, dark, scorching hot desert.

“I hope it’s not the fastfood we ate last night. Do you feel alright?” I asked Simon.

After one too many trips where one of us fell ill, I had stocked up on immunity building supplements, and the three of us had been popping pills on a daily basis. Then I broke my vow to not eat fast food on the trip when, after a late day at Zion National Park, we hit the drive through in an attempt to reach our campsite before dark.

I unzipped the tent and headed for the bathroom to assess my health. Yes, my fears were confirmed. I started to freak out, alone in the strangely air-conditioned bathroom, heaving my guts into the toilet. I was supposed to drive 350 miles today, to my parents house in southern California. The relief from the heat we had felt the moment we opened our eyes was diminishing just as quickly as the sun was rising in the sky. We couldn’t stay here. And I was the only adult. I was the only one able to drive the car. 

Then, with that realization, I snapped out of it and transformed into Survivor Mama Bear. A plan started to formulate in my mind.

I walked back to the tent. “I really am sick.”

“You are?” Simon asked, his annoyance suddenly gone. 

I felt better now but I could tell it wouldn’t last. Time was limited before I’d need to get back in the bathroom. “I need your help taking down the tent and packing up the sleeping bags and sleeping pads.” 

A wave of nausea was coming over me again. With my energy draining, I half-frantically finished stuffing a sleeping bag into a sack. “Remy, wake up. Simon, help me pack up.” 

The tent was cleared out when I emerged again from the bathroom. Remy and Simon stood silently looking at me.

We took the tent down quickly and I shoved everything in the back of the Subaru.

“Remy I need the bag from the t-shirt you bought, in case I need to puke while I’m driving.” 

“Okay. Sorry you’re sick, Mom.”

On our way out we passed the only other inhabited site, the spot the campground host had made home. There were two RVs, noisy generators, a 4×4 truck and a set of motocross bikes. When we pulled in last night I felt contempt for whoever owned all that. On our way out, my feelings changed to affection. She had recommended we camp at the site nearest her, which also happened to be the site nearest the restroom.

(to be continued…)

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A second look

Hiking the Na Pali Coast, with kids

The little dot on the map right next to 1-90 that read “ghost town” intrigued me. We exited and crossed under the freeway and drove until we found this sign. 

Ten miles feels never ending on a single lane dirt road in poor condition. The further we went, the steeper the road became and when the shoulder disappeared and the road clung to a cliffside, the children became worried. It reminded me of when we first moved to Colorado when I was a kid and we’d explore 4-wheel drive mountain roads in our Jeep Wagoneer and Mom would sometimes get out and walk when the road felt a bit too perilous.

We met not a single car on the drive so when we arrived in Garnet and found a full parking lot, it made no sense. Until we figured out a wedding was about to happen at the ghost town.

The town is fantastically preserved.

Remnants of layers of wallpaper remain intact.

Shoes are displayed in the mercantile.

Beware of the hole in the floor behind the counter.

Rooms in the hotel.

Is it just me or do these images have a ghostly quality to them?

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