Nos Vemos Mexico

It is June 10, 2018 and I am sitting in our casita in San Pancho, Mexico cursing the Mexican government for this crazy blackout they have forced upon us. For the last week our power has been going out at 1:00 or 2:00 in the morning and does not come back on until sometime the next day. Today, it is 11:00am and we still have no power. In the winter months this wouldn’t be such a big deal, but the humid, rainy season is upon us and a fan would be so welcome right now. The cool breeze that normally flows through our house has halted leaving behind a still, sticky residue. Two showers a day does not seem quite frequent enough to rinse away the sweat and grime. We have returned to “air kisses” to say hello to friends because the normal cultural practice of cheek to cheek kisses is too sweaty and vulnerable to endure.

However, I didn’t sit down to write this blog so that I could complain about our power outages and sweat. My intension is to share news of our next adventure and some highlights of the past 18 months of our life in the region of the Riviera Nayarit. From Puerto Vallarta to Chacala we explored the many beautiful jungle hikes, beaches, and stunning vistas.

Mackenzie never has any fun

We also had the privilege to experience many cities further a field in Mexico, such as: Mazatlán, Guanajuato, San Miguel de Allende, Mexico City, Oaxaca City and Guadalajara. Most importantly, we met and spent time with some amazing people. People who like us, are seeking to experience life in the moment, arms wide open to whatever amazing adventures come their way.

Before I get too nostalgic and ramble on about the beauty of Mexico, I’ll start with our news. We are excited to formally announce that our next adventure takes us to Tucson, Arizona. We will be leaving our sweet home and community here on June 28th to start our northward migration. Jacob has accepted a full time job as part of the leadership team with the Tucson Tamale Company (if you haven’t tried these tamales you MUST! You can find them in Whole Foods, Natural Grocers as well as some other, smaller grocery stores. You can even order them online!). We are thrilled to help this family-run company keep their very exciting, forward momentum going strong. I look forward to finding a private psychotherapy practice to join once we get settled in our new home at the end of July.

We found two great schools for Mackenzie and Quinn. Quinn will go to a bilingual elementary school (Davis Elementary, how perfect is that?). In the end, She will probably be the best Spanish speaker in our family. Mackenzie will join a small, unique middle school (Paulo Freire Freedom School) where she will get to direct her own studies in a project-based, experiential learning community located on the Arizona State University campus. Luckily she will still have a regular Spanish class to keep up her skills too!

As for our highlight real of Mexico, I don’t really know where to begin. Today the memory that is in the front of my mind at this time of year, is one related to crabs.   Yes, that’s right. Crabs. The rain not only turns the dusty vegetation into vibrant green but it also brings out amazing flowering trees, huge toads and chirping frogs. However, the best part is that it signals the Mexican Land Crabs or Cangrejos Azules, to begin their migration from the Jungle Mountains to the ocean shore to find their mates.

I have heard hilarious tales of these crazy crabs hanging off door-frames in a sort of startling hello, sitting at the bottom pools, finding their way into toasters, and crawling into bed to snuggle up with whomever is sleeping there. The crabs are about the size of a dinner roll but their bravado is enormous. When you encounter them they often stand their ground, lift their arms up high and wide, and open and close their mouths like a hand puppet. The best stories are from people who describe the sheer volume of these crabs down at particular beaches in the area. One of these beaches is called Patzcuarito Beach and is the place Mackenzie and I ventured to one drippy morning last June, to collect our own story of Los Cangrejos Azules.

Like a scene out of a horror movie, the eerie scratching and tapping of crab claws moving over fallen leaves filled the air when we entered the overgrown, jungle path that would lead us to the beach. Peering through the palms and other foliage, we saw thousands of crabs moving like one giant organism through the jungle. With goose bumped-flesh and the flutter of anxiety in our chests we continued on our way along the shadowed path to the beach.

The normal smooth, flat landscape of the beach was lost to textured piles, mounds and sometimes hills of sand. The crabs had created little homes all over the beach. If you catch it on the right day, I understand you can witness the mass of crabs moving with synchronicity, all over the sand. What Mackenzie and I witnessed was the frequent popping in and out of their holes to find out what was disturbing their kingdom.

That is just one story. There are so many more and no way I can share all of them in this one single blog. Perhaps I’ll start writing them all out and share at a later date but for now I leave you with little flashes of my memories:

Looking out for whales on our Christmas Eve Whale watch. Amazing
  • Tacos Al Pastor with savory, thinly sliced, shawarma-spit-grilled pork tucked into handmade corn tortillas and topped with a slice of sweet pineapple for the perfect flavor balance.
  • Margarita sunsets with friends at Las Sirena’s and the numerous lost flip-flops due to forgetting how fast the darkness descends once that peachy sun plunks into the ocean.
  • The energy that buzzes in the jungle from thousands of years of ceremonies at the magical, fresh water pools near Alta Vista. The cool water cleansing more than the skin and the view from the pools of the surrounding rocks with their soft, river-carved curves, decorated with spiritual petroglyphs.

    Alta Vista Petroglyph Pools
  • The many, many days of beaching with friends, digging toes into sand, splashing in the waves, and infectious belly laughter.
  • Salsa dancing in Oaxaca.
  • Those itsy-bitsy ants and their love of secretly crawling up my arm headed for who knows where or why.
  • Mangos. Peeled like a banana, the best way to experience meaty, full-face bites with cheeks and chin that drip with the sweet juices.
  • The shock of giant iguanas that fall from trees because their even more giant brethren pushed them out. (ask me to tell you the story of the time one ran over the top of Quinn’s head! That was unexpected!)
  • Costa Verde International School: sweet bilingual performances, the most delicious school lunches on the planet, a 10-foot python slithering across the top of a wall and teachers wrestling it into a plastic tote to take it out of town.  Tales from our daughters of teachers saving students from scorpions, wasp nests and falling mangos.
  • Iguana poop that plopped in my soup. A direct shot from high above in a palm tree. I imagine he “high-fived” his buddy sitting next to him in the tree.

There have been times over the last 18 months when I was faced with the frustration of living in a foreign, developing country. Times when I have felt the pain of missing friends and family of wondering if I would ever find a family of friends in this community.  Many, many times of cursing the impatient drivers who dangerously pass a string of cars and the people who walk in the middle of the street even though there are perfectly good, empty sidewalks.

However, despite those frustrations, I fell in love with Mexico. I love the family-centered, rebellious culture and the warmth of people who would do anything to help you if you needed. I long for the music, the Mezcal, and the Mole of Oaxaca. Even though I probably complained, I love the loud, heart-stopping boom of fire cannons set off at 2:00, 4:00 and 6:00am every morning during the town’s eight-day festival celebrating their patron saint, Francisco.

I promise I’ll stop writing now and thank you for reading and sharing in our “Seize the Davi” adventures. In a way, this blog feels like a closure to a three-year adventure of travel and amazing experiences abroad. However, for Jacob and me our next chapter is just a continuation of this one and of the life we are choosing to create. A life that inspires us to keep thinking of ways to travel, stay curious and find joy everyday; especially those days when the power does not come back on until 3:00pm.

Viva Mexico! Que les vaya bien.

The Plastic Challenge

It is week one of my four-week-long challenge to be “single-use” plastic free for the month of July.  I heard of this challenge through a message I received in my inbox from an organization called: The Story of Stuff Project. My own “story of stuff” happened a year and a half ago when my husband, Jacob and I decided to sell all of our “stuff” in exchange for a trip around the world. I met a new friend in Sayulita, Mexico, where we are now living, and when she heard our story she recommended I read a book titled, The Story of Stuff by Annie Leonard.

After having only read the introduction, I was horrified at the truths she revealed about the extraction and waste of natural resources in the name of our “stuff”.  However, I was also completely inspired; in which case, I found myself on their website signing up to receive emails related to environmental activism. They soon extended this challenge via email and I accepted. I, then, immediately thought I had better know what the heck, “single-use” actually means if I am really going to live by the pledge:

“I pledge to avoid single-use plastic, to reuse or recycle the plastic that I do use, to educate others about plastic waste, and to take action to make plastic waste a thing of the past”.

As I looked around my house and surrounding environment, I was startled to realize that single-use plastic is quite ubiquitous in my world; a world where I thought I was living virtually free from it.

I always thought of myself as an environmentally conscious person proudly using a re-useable water bottle. I avoid soda so have no reason to buy that in a plastic bottle. I rarely get to-go beverages so the plastic smoothie cups with straws, coffee cups/lids and stirrers are easy to avoid. I always (well, 8 times out of 10 if I’m being honest) bring my nylon grocery bags to the store and fully rinse out all plastic containers that can be recycled (to rinse or not to rinse? here is an article from Mother Jones on that). I am guilty of buying zip-lock bags but use and reuse them till they no longer zip or have holes.

All of these habits are good but then I started to become aware of all of the plastic that I use that I have just taken for granted. For instance, I got out of the shower earlier in the week and began my hygiene routine when a sudden awareness hit me: “CRAP! Q-Tips?? Damnit!” those innocent, little things that I use daily have a plastic stick between the two cotton balls. Wow. My next thought was about the fact that I live in Mexico. In our little beach pueblo, there is a movement to put pressure on restaurants and their customers to stop using straws. There have been graphic images floating around the local Sayulita People Facebook group of poor sea turtles impaled, in various ways, by straws (I consider the sea turtle my brethren so it’s doubly effective for me to see a picture of a sea turtle with a straw up its nose). So, what about Q-tips? Do those little beasts end up in the ocean and become lethal to its life if I throw them away too? Are there brands of Q-tips in Mexico with sticks made of paper? I don’t know stay tuned…

cheese packaged in plastic
non-reusable plastic is everywhere

Next on my list of “single-use plastic” shocks is the amount of packaging I have NO control over like packaging for cheese. Oh sure, there is some cheese, in the states especially, that can be purchased in a Ziploc bag. At least then the bag is re-useable but really, I think most cheese is wrapped in a sort of glued-together plastic bag. Once I tear into that plastic to get at the cheese how can I reuse that? I can’t, it goes in the trash. What else can I do… is it recyclable? There is no little recycle triangle on it so I assume it is not?

Our kids had a couple of friends for a sleepover the other night. “Let’s get ice cream!” They screamed.  “Do you know how to ask for a taste in Spanish?” I asked, “Sure, get more than one taste if you can’t decide” I said. After choosing our favorite kind and purchasing our cones, I walked away with three tiny, plastic taster spoons. I took them home to wash, I’ll think of some way to reuse those puppies. Then I pictured the size of the bag containing these single-use, plastic spoons that this establishment must have order to keep enough on hand for their customers. If I, one customer in one minute, used three then that’s a big bag and a lot of plastic.three plastic taster spoons

When I posted on Facebook that I was undertaking this challenge and threw it out to others to follow, one good friend of mine suggested to request meat to be wrapped in butcher-paper as an alternative to using a plastic bag or plastic wrap. Rachel, I am sorry to tell you, this is no longer a trusted solution. I know, what? Jacob researched it and it turns out that most butcher-paper is now coated with polyethylene (plastic) instead of wax. The wax-coated paper could be composted but the new improved, leak-free, plastic coated paper cannot. Now, you can still find the wax coated paper and could ask your butcher if they know the type that is used in their store. I’d love to hear what you find out. I’m going to have to figure out how to ask that question in Spanish, yikes.

This week I have done pretty well at avoiding single-use plastic that is except for Wednesday. Wednesday, I got busy in the morning and lost track of time. In my rush to get out of the house and get to Buscerias for groceries (a larger

5 plastic bags filled with groceries
One small stop at the grocery store and 5 plastic bags

town 20, sometimes 40 minutes away depending on traffic) I forgot my nylon grocery bags. There go 5 plastic bags!

I also had to take our car to get an oil change. Figuring out where to do things like this in a foreign country where you speak only a little bit of the language is tricky, so it took me an extra long time to find a place. So, after the oil change and trashing 5 plastic, single-use bottles of oil, I was starving and had drunk all my water. Thus, I made a purchase of a plastic bottle containing mineral water and a plastic bag of nuts. Mission fail.

This week I realized I am not as much of a recycler as I thought. I’m more of an un-recycler striving to do better. So, on to the next week and more awakenings that I am sure will make my head explode and heart sink but I have hope I can make a ripple with this challenge and my public process around it.  I hope you will join me in this mission.

plastic container to hold a sample of granola
A portion of granola came in this plastic container attached to my yogurt, also in plastic. This non-recyclable tray is now my bead tray for when I am making jewelry.
cobble stone street with multicolored flags hanging across.

You Are What You Speak

I have struggled with what to write, to find my voice for this post and tell the story of our lives in Sayulita for the last three weeks.  My block is partly due to the all-consuming news of the inauguration, Spanish language acquisition and because part of our story is about sickness. Stomach bugs, flu bugs and cold bugs (I’ve been down with the flu for the last three days).

As you know from my last post, landing in Sayulita was less than smooth. Turns out, according to some people we have met through the girls’ school, we are not the only family with a horror story upon arrival. It seems adversity is how Sayulita greets its new transplants. Our party hostel gave us quite the introduction to this beach pueblo and the wave of nauseous fear was unavoidable.  What did we do? Despite the numerous warnings that this is a busy tourist town, I expected a magical, peaceful vibe and this was not it. Will I like Mexico? Two days in and I was already puking and now, for the past three weeks, we have each been sick with something. Is it Sayulita? Is it back to school? Is it Mexico?

I decided its airline travel and back-to-school. There are many tourists and transplants here that traveled during the holiday break and unknowingly brought back bugs. I know it is not just Sayulita because I just read an article about the Norovirus ripping through the US. Ok, so each little bug makes the immune system stronger, right?

Mackenzie and Quinn stand in front of a blue wall with a big white fish painted on it.Other than sickness, we are also finding our rhythm. The girls started school and quickly made friends. We discovered that Quinn was in the wrong grade and moved her up to the second grade where she is thriving. Our house on the hill is an oasis and in the perfect location to get to most everything in town.  Sayulita has calmed to a buzz rather than a roar.  I discovered that the beach is gold and not just figuratively. There is a mineral in the sand that shimmers like gold when the sun hits it just right. Pyrite maybe?

Mostly our focus has been on language, not only learning Spanish but also thinking about language in general. Language is connection and division, survival and desolation, inclusion and exclusion. While walking home the other day the song, “People are Strange” by The Doors popped into my head. You know how it goes:

“People are strange, when you’re a stranger. Faces look ugly, when you’re alone. Women seem wicked when you’re unwanted; streets are uneven when you’re down. When you’re strange. Faces come out of the rain. No one remembers your name. When you’re strange, when you’re strange, when you’re straaaange.”

(its in your head now too, isn’t it? You’re welcome.)

I thought about this song, not for reasons related to the angst of my young adulthood, but for the fact that I cannot speak to the local people here on a level other than basic needs for food and shelter. I cannot really know the people and their culture because I cannot speak proficiently to the locals living it nor can I reveal my true self to them. There is so much richness that is missed when you cannot speak the language. While it is almost impossible to speak the language of every country, some statistics report that there are over 400 million Spanish-speaking people in the world. It is the second most widely spoken language after Mandarin. So then why, being a person from a country that shares a continent with Mexico, can I not speak Spanish?

Well, for one thing I chose not to learn it in high school or college when it was offered. Really, the time to learn a second language is not solely in high school; the time to start is in elementary school. When we are born, our brains are primed to learn any language, in fact, multiple languages.

English is the most widely spoken language in the world; so why should we become bilingual? For me, it is the simple fact that the ability to speak another language helps to develop relationships and empathy for a person of another culture. According to a study I recently read, proficiency with at least one other language can not only help keep your brain strong but creates an opportunity for your personality to be more open and flexible. This same study also looked at how language impacts culture and identity in German speakers versus English speakers.  Interestingly, in the Germanic language, the speaker often describes several events in one sentence and the verb for the main event is at the end. Often, this can change the entire picture that is being painted and, to fully understand, the listener must keep track of the whole idea. In general, this is how many German people view the world. They see the whole picture and take the long view when making decisions.

“Whenever the literary German dives into a sentence, that is the last you are going to see of him till he emerges on the other side of his Atlantic with his verb in his mouth” ~ Mark Twain

Conversely, in English, the action of the sentence is right up front and superfluous information is very often not included or is at the end (the woman walked to the store before going to school). Many English speakers are action oriented or focused on the consequences of the action taken now rather than the possible outcomes down the road.

We are in Mexico not only to have the experience of living in another culture for an extended period of time but also to become functional with the Spanish language.  I wonder how the Spanish language impacts Latin cultures. We have discovered that many words used in Spain are not used in Mexico. I imagine this is true for many other Spanish-speaking countries as well. Additionally, how is the culture impacted when the country becomes influenced by another language such as English?

We knew upon arriving to Sayulita, that this is a Mexican beach pueblo highly impacted by Caucasian, English-speaking ex-patriots. In fact, I noticed that if we want to speak Spanish we have to search it out a little. While we are shopping or dining or conversing on the streets with a native person, they sometimes assume we want to speak English and often will begin in that tongue. We have to press forward in Spanish, even if it is broken and takes a minute to find the words, as sort of a message that no, even if we are Gringos we want to speak Spanish here in Mexico. That sounds crazy to me. While we were living in Sevilla, Spain, I was desperate to find someone who spoke English so that I could get medical treatment but here it seems I need to assert myself in order to speak Spanish.

On my first day of Spanish class, my instructor told me that from the start, we should establish ourselves as a Spanish speaking family no matter how broken it sounds. Otherwise, we will be boxed into the category of English-speaking ex-pats and it will be assumed we don’t want to try. On the other hand, I heard that the local Mexican people want to practice their English skills too. Their ability to speak English means more money for their families from tourism.

Back of man and woman at women's march holding a sign "the heart has no borders"It is no secret that there is much controversy in the US related to Mexico and immigration. The political sound bite “America First!” might sound good but I wonder if we can take a more German approach and see the potential pitfalls of cutting ourselves off from our Southern neighbors. Becoming a bilingual country filled with diversity (not that isn’t that way already) can make our brains and hearts more flexible, more open to seeing people as potential friends rather than strangers. I can’t help but wonder if anxiety has taken hold of our country. The classic behavior trait of a person who suffers from anxiety and panic is to isolate and close one’s self off to society in avoidance of those tense feelings in the body.   However, all this does is create more anxiety because the fear of the outside world has been built up to an unrealistic level. For me, I am striving to become bilingual so that I can talk to my neighbors and be influenced by the beautiful Mexican culture. I want to be able to integrate that into our life and raise children who are open to embracing all people and able to speak with ease, to at least 400 million people from a culture other than their own.

“Our language is the reflection of ourselves. A language is a direct reflection the character and growth of its people” ~Cesar Chavez


view of our bright blue house looking up from the stairs

Sayulita Pueblo Magico

We’ve stayed in lots of hostels, we said. We have always had good experiences in them, we said. But then, we have never stayed in a hostel in Sayulita, Mexico that shares a front area with a bar who plays live music every night. Nor, have we ever stayed in a hostel in Sayulita, Mexico for the three days leading up to New Years. Oh, I had a brief thought before we left that it might be crazy, but had NO idea just how crazy it could be. When we booked, it was literally the only choice available unless we wanted to pay $250-$12,000/night and no, that is not a typo.

When we arrived at the hostel there were so many cars and people that our driver had to circle back around the plaza before he could find a safe place to pull over and let us out with our 13 pieces of luggage (yes, thanks for counting girls). In my defense, 5 of them were suitcases the rest were some form of backpack and I guess my yoga mat could be counted as a piece of luggage (“but why did you bring this mom? You never do yoga” “Well because I’m planning on changing that Mackenzie, now shut up” (ok, I didn’t actually tell her to shut up but thought it)). We walked in the front door and a very nice young man greeted me and then proceeded to show us to our room. Ok, I thought as he pointed out the AC unit and mini fridge. I can deal with this; we each have a bed and a private room. It might be loud but at least…. What? Oh, you’ve made a mistake? This isn’t our room? Ok….

He then led us back toward the front of the building into a room with beds for 7 people and indicated the beds our roommates had already claimed. Our beds would be those along the wall next to the window that looks out onto the street and the place that would become a stage at 10:00pm each night we were to stay.

Our window at the hostel and the stage taken from the street
Our window at the hostel and the stage

Oh, and by the way the window doesn’t close all the way and there is one fan in the upper corner of the room that just teases with a soft breeze (if you can even call it that). The fan was really good at drawing smoky air from the back patio area behind our room and blowing it directly onto Jacob’s top bunk bed. I guess the only saving grace was that there was a bar outside where Jacob and I could have a beer while the girls hunkered down with a movie until we were all so tired that the only thing left to do was pass out. That and the fact that when our roommates returned to the room just as the first band started we all bonded with a laugh at the ridiculousness of our situation and I no longer felt like the 41-year-old mom who stuck out like a sore thumb.

I won’t disgust you with descriptions of the bathrooms. Let me just put it this way, there were two bathrooms for a hostel that sleeps 18 people. However, our lovely hosts also allowed 4 tents in the back so lets say there were probably about 35 people by the time New Years Eve rolled around and flushing paper down the toilet is not allowed, instead, one must throw it into the trashcan. Yep, get the picture? Just to make things even better and story-worthy, I came down with a stomach bug on New Years Eve and while the party was rockin’ outside, complete with laser lights flashing in our bedroom (this band was high tech), I was puking in one of those disgusting toilets.

I can’t tell you happy we all were the next day knowing our long-term rental would be ready at one o’clock. The catch? We had to check out of our hostel at 11am and oh no, said the host (with what I imagine was a sarcastic laugh), you can’t stay in the room until 1:00 pm. We have a whole new crew of guests coming in and we must clean (good gracious, it was going to take a lot more than 2 hours to get that place clean. How bout set fire to it and start over). So, Jacob made nice with the bartender who was just opening up outside and helped her pull out all of her tables so that we could sit at one and wait (and I could die and will by body to stay calm, if you know what I mean). Then finally, one o’clock rolled around and we lugged our 13 pieces of luggage across the cobble stone roads to our casita, which was luckily only five minutes away. The last haul was to climb the 65 stairs up to our hilltop villa named Casa Naranja (although everyone in town knows it as Casa Guamúchil for the large tree nearby whose leaves are a favorite food of our resident iguanas). Thankfully it is not 65 stairs straight up; there are some landings here and there to help you catch your breath.

view of bright sunny kitchen with the word HOLA on the wall
Our cozy kitchen

Then, we were home. The party of the New Year holiday a faint noise below us. Instead of club music there are roosters and after the year of travel around the world, like the sound of the train passing by in the distance from my childhood, the morning greeting of roosters has become quite comforting. Our new home is a little oasis. Unexpectedly, our indoor living quarters are organized in a circle like living in a tower. Funny enough, Jacob has always wanted to live in a converted missile silo so this is a fabulous compromise. We get to have a house in the shape of a cylinder except it is above ground with lots of light, air, an outdoor dining room and hammock lounge area as well as a roof top patio complete with palapa.view of out door dining area with hammok

view of grass roofed palapa on roof top patio






This morning, I indeed used my yoga mat before walking the girls to their new school. The school grounds have many tropical plants and green trees, an adorable playground and smiling faces everywhere. Both girls were a little nervous but walked into their classrooms without a look back to us for reassurance. Wow, I’m impressed. I cried and cried on my first day of school after moving to a new town and will be forever grateful to my childhood friend, Gina, for noticing me and asking me to be her friend. I hope a Gina finds them today but honestly, they will probably find her first.

….and here begins part two of the Seize the Davi adventure. Thanks for reading our stories, sending us love and get your buns down here so I can show you the charming, Sayulita Pueblo Magico. (I am told the town will clear out and become tranquil again soon but at Easter time it is nuts so don’t come then.)

Picture of Mackenzie and Quinn in school uniforms of kaki skirts and white polo shirt (mack) and green t-shirt (Quinn) on first day of school
First day!

Home for the Holidays

We have been home now a couple of weeks. Our feet on the ground after three flights and 20 hours of travel from New Zealand felt really good. As we came in for the typical bumpy landing in Denver, Quinn was about bursting out of her seat, her eyes wide, breath held and body unable to be still. Several family members greeted us at the airport with joy and hugs. What a great way to arrive after thirteen months away. We went to dinner together and I watched as our daughters moved back and forth between their grandparents, Aunt and cousin fully glowing in the love they gave and received. It was really beautiful.

It was surreal to be back in Denver, both familiar and unfamiliar.  We woke up on our first morning home at my sister’s house. The first thing the girls wanted to do was ride their bikes (the first thing I wanted to do was drink coffee). Watching our daughters riding and running (Quinn needs some practice on her bike!) around the neighborhood, I suddenly saw how much they have grown. Maybe their growth was so very evident because of the juxtaposition of this scene with the image I have of them doing this same thing before we left. Maybe it is watching how gracefully they are navigating our reentry, Mackenzie speaking so maturely about our trip and Quinn exuberantly sharing funny tales. All I know is that our daughters have grown and not just in height.

So what is next? Well, Mexico. That’s right. Mexico. Sayulita, Mexico, a little surfer town north of Puerto Vallarta, to be exact. During our journey, Jacob and I continually spoke about our desire to fully immerse in the Spanish language and how important speaking Spanish will be for our daughters’ futures. Jacob and I both loved traveling in Spain, particularly the city of Sevilla (or Seville in English). While we were there, we daydreamed about staying for a year to continue to improve our language skills while the girls attended a local school. Because the international bilingual schools in Seville are expensive and about 20 minutes outside of the city, I began searching for a bilingual school in other Spanish speaking countries. We wanted a place that would allow us to walk the girls to school, live somewhere warm and somewhere with lakes, rivers or an ocean. Eventually, I found Costa Verde International School in Sayulita, Mexico. I have to thank Facebook for this discovery. Posts by a friend of a friend would often come up in my newsfeed and they were always of pictures of kids on the beach somewhere in Mexico. After a little investigation, I found out they were living in Sayulita. “What school is in Sayulita?” I asked myself. I did a Google search, read through the school’s website, requested enrollment information and then put the idea on the back-burner. Jacob and I just weren’t sure. We wanted to continue our journey. After all, we had only been traveling for a few months at that point.

As our year began to come to an end and we had made it almost completely around the globe, we knew we had to make a decision about the What’s-Next plan. I reached out to the school to find out if they had openings for the girls to start in January. We spoke to a family member who had recently traveled there and found out that her partner has friends living in Sayulita who also have a daughter Quinn’s age that they recently enrolled in the school. We found out that one of my friends has connections with people who are at this school and after talking to these various people, we began to feel more comfortable with the decision to go to a place we have never seen. However, it wasn’t looking promising. The admissions person wasn’t sure there would be a spot for Mackenzie to start in January. After receiving this email we spent the next few weeks tossing around other ideas of where to go and what to do. Could we delay until August? Put the girls in school to finish up their current grades? Was that a good idea for them? For us? Could we find temporary jobs? Should we find temporary jobs? We sat on pins and needles feeling the pressure to make a choice, the pressure to have an answer and wishing for the mail to deliver a package that had the solution. Shortly after an emotional meltdown, I received notice from the school that a space had suddenly opened up in Mackenzie’s grade and we could have the spot if we wanted it. Hallelujah! Our package came and with it the realization that we just didn’t feel finished with our personal journeys, with the opportunity to explore, with growing new patterns for our family, or engaging with another culture. So, here we are taking another leap of faith, trusting in ourselves, and for me, trusting in the Universe and our path.

We are in Denver until December 29th to reconnect with as many friends and family members as possible. We are getting our ducks in a row for the next chapter of our Seize-the-Davi journey. We have rented a cute little casita two blocks from the beach and a ten-minute walk from the girls’ school. I hope to keep writing and catch up on stories from the last quarter of our journey as well as share whatever stories we create while in Mexico.

Thank you for following, for supporting, for putting positivity, love, thoughts and prayers out into the Universe for us to receive. We have felt them all. I hope we always remember to seize the day. I hope we have taught our daughters to seize the day. I hope we have inspired others to seize the day and to follow your hearts because our hearts always know the answer that our monkey minds are trying to find. We just have to quiet the monkey long enough to listen and then go for it.

Hot Springs.NZ

crowded street full of traffic in Lima

Objects in Mirror Are More Similar Than They Apear

“We are having a major problem with our Muslims in this country right now”. “There is a big fight about holiday celebrations in our schools” “there’s no more Christmas plays because the Muslims don’t want them” “We are a welcoming country and have lots of immigrants. We haven’t had problems with our Chinese or Aborigines.”

It has been an interesting political time to travel around the world. Most people we meet want to talk to us about the upcoming election in the US and mostly about Donald Trump. This particular dialog that is written above, was from a woman in Australia who must have been relating to our white commonality and felt free to share her views. Maybe she believes we have a “Muslim problem” in the US too and thought I would share in a dialog disparaging all Muslims. In actuality, her statement shocked me and made me feel highly uncomfortable. These emotions sent out red alert sirens and cut off all access to the language centers of my brain. I had no response. All I wanted to do was buy tickets for our excursions not engage in a political discussion about religion in schools.

I understand the argument in favor of the Australian woman’s opinion. It is likely something along the lines of: why should we, the majority population, give up our Christmas plays in schools just because a family who holds different religious beliefs moves into the neighborhood. Jacob and I had many long discussions about this as we drove through Australia. There is no easy answer. One solution would be to eliminate all holiday celebrations from state funded public schools. Another solution is to tell the minority population to put up or shut up. Neither seems like a solution that would leave either party feeling heard, acknowledged or respected. I was raised in the Christian faith so Santa Clause, Christmas Trees and Christmas plays were perfectly fine for me. It never occurred to me that someone else in the room was sitting through it because they had to or might have been feeling confused as to why their own religious celebrations were not reflected in the school community. This is called privilege. The world in the majority population goes along just swimmingly for its members. I get to have my religion reflected in schools, I get to walk through stores with no one paying me any mind, I get to have the floor when I am speaking and show anger without someone wondering if it is “my time of the month”, I get to marry who I want. For me though, living with this much privilege is like driving a car with a huge blind spot.

I can’t even begin to know what it is like to be a Muslim in the world right now but I do know what it is like to be targeted with cruelty from others and to feel ostracized even within my own family for holding different religious views. It is from these experiences that empathy is cultivated and I can begin to widen the view out my car window. I remember reading an article shortly after a truck plowed through a Bastille Day celebration in Nice, France this past summer. The article was a about a woman who was made to remove her “burkini” while playing at a beach. I get it, the so-called Islamic State claimed the attacker as one of their own but does this really mean that all people who wear a “burkini” are potential terrorists? I wish those officers had put themselves in that poor woman’s shoes. The choice to wear loose fitting clothes and a headscarf is about modesty and covering those parts of the body that are deemed only appropriate to show in private. It was like asking that woman to strip naked on the beach and because the officers did not hold the same beliefs they had no clue what they were asking and could only see their point of view. I can imagine how I would feel: violated and abused and targeted for something I had nothing to do with orchestrating.

I feel so grateful that we enrolled our girls in school in Cape Town, South Africa. Many of the families at the school are Muslim and we were there when Ramadan began. This allowed Jacob to have a really wonderful conversation with a new friend from the school about the meaning behind Ramadan. We learned that Ramadan is not just a time for fasting but also a time for reflection on how privileged one is who has enough food. By fasting, the Islamic faith teaches, on a very real level, what it is like to be hungry and then from this place remember to be grateful for the many blessings in their lives. How beautiful! I do not have to follow this religion to appreciate this message.  The fact that this holiday was reflected at their school was a gift to our girls and opened a comfortable dialog about Islam with their Muslim friends.

I truly believe that the woman from Australia was speaking from that part of herself that felt under threat by the changes that were being requested by the Muslim community. I imagine her outrage was coming from a place of fear. Possibly fear that said, “I am afraid my kids will lose their connection to our religious beliefs if they do not get to have Christmas celebrations at school” and maybe the counter argument is something like, “When the only holiday that is recognized in schools is Christmas, I feel scared that my kids will never find a way to fit into this new community.” Is it possible to make room for all? Is it possible to learn to vulnerably communicate in this way? Brené Brown has written several books on this subject, one in particular is titled Daring Greatly: How the Courage to be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Parent, Live, Love and Lead. In it, she says that real courage is in our willingness to be vulnerable and to honestly communicate our feelings especially when they are fear and shame. This is when we can be real, this is when we can take off our boxing gloves and get down to what is really driving our anger.

I will probably always have a blind spot, we all do but if I can find a way to relate to the pain another is expressing, even if it is being expressed in anger, I can start to learn that my car is not the only one on the road. I want to drive on highways where every driver is looking out for others because they are each able to notice the different cars sharing the road. Then, when one unknowingly cuts off another, that driver kindly and vulnerably acknowledges that, “I didn’t see you and I am sorry” instead of flipping the person off and saying, “well, get out of the way this is MY road!” That brief conversation with the woman from Australia was a missed opportunity to be an ally for marginalized populations. I wished I had explored why she was angry with the Muslim community and also taken the opportunity to point out their possible perspective.   Perhaps this small dialog could leave us both feeling a little more connected, a little more open to a different view and willing to share space with each other.

“Connection is why we are here; it gives us purpose and meaning to our lives”

~Brené Brown


“I think of a hero as someone who understands the degree of responsibility that comes with his freedom”  ~Bob Dylan



Jacob and Mackenzie follow Chi through high green rice field with Mountains in background

Big Strength Comes in Small Packages

After traveling through the cities of Vietnam with populations of 7-8 million people I found myself recalling the words in a message I received from my cousin: “should yonder mountains come a callin’ check out Sapa Sisters”. Don’t get me wrong I do love cities. I love discovering new cuisine, cafes and restaurants with a groovy vibe. I love street art and trying to understand the mind behind the painting on a crumbling wall. I love the culture that cities provide but after the chaos of Vietnam’s most populated cities, I was reminded that I am also a nature girl. My backpacking, rock skipping, tree-hugging, clean-air-loving persona screams to be seen and taken to the natural world. She needs to hear birds, watch butterflies, and feel the awe of mountains, rivers, and flowers. I need to feel the way nature fills my soul and medicates my “monkey-mind” with calm. I am not the only one in my family who yearns for nature. Our girls love the freedom of running ahead on a trail, the joy of discovering bugs, and playing in the dirt. Jacob loves the city skyline but he also loves to hike just as much as me. So, a trek in Northern Vietnam, near the Chinese boarder, sounded like just the thing to satisfy our cravings.

Low clouds ring the mountain in the distance. Green Farm land and rice terrace in the foregroundThere are no less than a million companies offering treks to Sapa where you are led through the mountains whose slopes are covered with terraced rice fields, to the surrounding villages where you stay with a local family. Treks are usually offered in one, two or three day packages. Sapa Sister’s is a tour company that is owned and run by local women of the Black H’mong hill tribe (pronounced mung). They have been leading treks around their home for many years working for tour companies that paid them extremely low wages. These women took charge of their own destiny and started a business of their own, with the promise to pay their guides and support staff what they deserve to earn. These are most definitely my kind of ladies.

(sing it Beyonce: “to all the women who independent, throw your hands up at meeee”)

We opted for the three-day trek and when we landed in Sapa and we had absolutely no expectation of what we would see or the physical exertion our bodies would undergo over the next three days. Our guide was a small, soft-spoken Black H’mong woman with a sweet disposition and I would come to be in complete awe of her strength and agility. Her name is Chi (I later found out she is one of the owners) and she embodied energy just like the Qi (Ch’i) or “life force” described in traditional Chinese medicine and martial arts. We met Chi at 9:00 a.m. the same day we arrived in Sapa. She gave us several options for the route and hesitated when we asked her to take us on the less touristic trails. She said an alternative route would make the hike more difficult. “We are from Colorado,” we explained, “we are used to hard hikes, we will be fine!” and with a shrug from Chi, we were on our way.

We meandered through narrow roads past local houses, gardens full of vegetables and limestone outcroppings. We walked through bamboo forests and thick jungles; up and down, up and down, up up up. Once we emerged into open air again we got our first view of the mountains. You know that scene in The Sound of Music where Julia Child is spinning on the top of a green mountain in Switzerland celebrating her family’s newfound freedom and in the background are even taller snowcapped mountains? Well, picture that except Asian style with fields of corn and terraced rice patties and rather than snowcapped the mountains were instead decorated with low hanging clouds. As much as I wanted to spin around and sing, “the hills are alive with the sound of music”, I restrained myself and just played out this scene inside my mind (but, I tell you, it took A LOT of restraint).

Our trail took us up, down and across the rice terraces and past farmhouses. We walked as if on a balance beam with the next rice patty below, trying not to notice the steep drop should we lose our footing. Chi helps Quinn navigate a narrow ledge through the rice field.Most of the houses we saw were made of wood and had mud floors. The “barn” for the animals was like a covered patio off the side of the house. Chickens, dogs, roosters and huge water buffalo all lived in close proximity. The water buffalo were often chained up to their stall with the rope attached to the ring in their nose. Shortly after our lunch on that first day, it began to rain. Chi had been pushing us to go a bit faster so that we could stay ahead of the storm but it was a futile effort. The rain began just was we started down a steep path through another bamboo forest. Our path immediately turned to mud. All four of us struggled to stay up right but not Chi. She bounced down the trail, umbrella in hand as if she had spikes in her shoes. She noticed Quinn struggling, hoisted her on her back, found bamboo walking sticks for the rest of us and kept pushing forward.

When we finally reached our first home-stay after 6 hours of trekking, I was satisfyingly exhausted and felt cleansed from breathing clean air. We were joined at the house by a couple from the UK who were guided by a young mother who had carried her baby on her back for the duration of their trek. The way she had her baby tied onto her back reminded me of the many women we saw in Peru with their babies slug on their backs as they worked in the field or nursed while selling goods out of their stores. Chi and her colleagues made us a huge spread of delicious food and after dinner they pulled out their colorful string and taught my girls how to weave bracelets. Our second day of trekking was much like the first although a bit shorter. The girls had now bonded with Chi and were glued to her side (or back as Chi carried Quinn several times on more tricky parts of rice patty balancing). Our second night was at Chi’s own house tucked up in the hills on a farm of her own. We met her husband and two small children who were delighted to see their mama.Chi poses with Mack and Quinn holding her blue and white checkered umbrella rice fields in background

Chi never stops. She set us up with beers and showers and then went about her business of weaving fabric on her loom (to eventually dye and make into a new jacket, what?), cooking dinner and attending to her farm animals and children. My first world, tired bones were in awe of her seemingly endless energy. As I sat watching the sunset, my mind drifted back to the scene of Chi’s colleague with her baby and was impressed at how they have created a life for themselves that allows for balance of work and kids. Perhaps this is romanticized a bit as I have no clue what happens when they say goodbye to the tourists or if they even like leaving for 2-3 days at a time to take foreigners through the mountains to their homes but from the outside they seemed happy.

Somehow it seems industrialized nations have forgotten the importance of mothers and babies. I realize that living in the US we cannot just sling our babies on our backs while we sit at our computers or nurse while we conduct business meetings; however, in agrarian cultures such as these, babies are unquestionably part of the workday. I know we can find a better balance in the US around the needs new moms and dads. I have my own stories of feeling unsupported in the workplace as a new mom and have heard countless stories from other moms who speak about the rigid expectation to return to full-time work after 8 weeks of maternity leave. It’s like we need to pretend the whole pregnancy didn’t happen and return to life as normal. However, it isn’t normal. There is a new normal. Women are expected to put careers on hold or denied opportunities because they want to stay home at least part-time while their babies are young. I wonder if we can ever return to a time when families are important again or if businesses will realize that they lose valuable employees because they are unwilling to work together to think of creative work situations to allow more time for mom and baby to be together. To have the choice to be a stay-at-home mom is a luxury and a privilege that not all moms can make nor does every mom want that for her life. I guarantee every mom wishes she could have been home for longer than 8 measly weeks after giving birth. Don’t even get me started on the rights of Dad’s to have more time off to bond with their newborns, most only get 2 weeks, if any.Jacob and Mackenzie show their purple tongues from eating wild berries from Chi

I wonder if this was one of the issues Chi and her colleagues experienced when they worked for other trekking companies. Maybe providing a workplace more sensitive to the needs of local families was part of the driving force behind starting a business of their own. I’ll never know for sure, maybe if you go to Sapa and join a Sapa Sisters trek you can ask.

Our trek in Sapa was a gift. Not only did we experience another amazing place on this earth but also how the people that live there add to the beauty. Chi inspired me to keep creating a life that feels balanced to me. From my first world lens, it looked like she worked incredibly hard (and she did) but it also looked like she enjoyed her life. She enjoyed coming home after trekking for 5 hours to sit at her loom high in the hills of Sapa, serenaded by birds, laughing kids and squawking chickens and looking up from her work every now and then to take in the scene of the mountains in the distance. It is a life in balance to her and one she created for herself on her own terms.

View of farmland and farm houses from Chi's house
Chi’s View




What Would KK Say?

I am sitting on an airplane on the way to Bali while attempting to write this article. There is occasional turbulence bouncing the plane. I hate turbulence. It makes my blood pressure rise, my tummy jump, and stories of our certain doom run through my mind painting vivid pictures I wish were not there. I close my eyes and put my attention on the sensation of my breath as it goes in and out of my nose. For the next few minutes I try to let go of the scary pictures, let go of the doomsday thoughts and try to keep focused on my breath. My mind interrupts frequently; it incessantly tells me, “I hate this. I hate turbulence. If the plane were not bouncing like this I would not be feeling this way”. Jacob gets my attention to check if I am ok but for some reason this annoys me and in a harsh whisper, I give him some snappy, dismissive comment. Then a memory pops in my mind and I think, “What would KK say?”

KK is an exuberant Buddhist Monk and one of the meditation instructors at the two-day meditation retreat that I attended while visiting Chiang Mai, Thailand. It was a silent retreat, which means that no one spoke for the entire two days. Though, I admit, I did giggle and speak with my roommate in the evening before going to bed and I am glad I did because I made a new friend from Australia. However, for the most part, I spent two days in silence learning the basic teachings of Buddhism and skills for meditation. A week later, I took Jacob, the girls and Todd and Sherry (Jacob’s Aunt and Uncle) back to the Buddhist University that sponsored my retreat. Many of the temples around Chiang Mai provide something called a “Monk Chat” to foreigners, a sort of meditation and Buddhism Q & A. Prior to Todd and Sherry joining us in Chiang Mai, we had all agreed we wanted to experience one of these Monk Chats. Because I loved my retreat so much, we decided it needed to be the one at the university temple named Wat Suan Dok. KK happened to be the chosen teacher for our chat. Later, we processed the experience at dinner (while a woman sitting at the adjacent table entertained us by producing several loud farts) and this question was born: “what would KK say?”

So what would KK say about my relationship with airplane turbulence? He would tell me that it is not the turbulence that is causing my suffering (or the woman farting) it is my thoughts and emotions causing my suffering.   I am the one with the thought “I hate turbulence”. It is this thought that causes my body to go on high alert and flood with the fight/flight hormones that induce the feeling of anxiety and panic. This, in turn, allows more and more intense stories to have power in my mind and my anxieties continue to rise. AKA: suffering. The turbulence is just doing what turbulence does; I am doing the rest.  KK would tell me that first and foremost I must practice or train my “monkey mind”. To do this I must sit in a meditation for just ten minutes twice per day, like the one I previously described. Then, when I am on an airplane freaking out about turbulence, I will have more awareness about my thoughts and emotions and improved ability to consciously choose my reaction (especially my reaction to Jacob). I will have an understanding that I am in control of what makes me suffer and with this mindful awareness, it is up to me to make the decision to let the monkey have his way and keep on suffering or calm down through conscious focus on my breath.

These concepts are not new to me. I have been using these skills for years in my psychotherapy practice under the name of “mindfulness”. What I have discovered over the years is that I, as well as many of my clients, spend a heck of a lot of time in pain about the past or in pain about the future. So much time is spent lamenting the past and worrying about the future that many of us lose our ability to experience life RIGHT NOW. I have learned that much of our stress comes from these worries and can cause depression, anxiety and panic. Instead of noticing the pain, we try to numb our suffering with substances, incessant web-surfing, shopping, you name it; whatever it takes to get away from the stories in our head, we will do it! What a gift it is to discover the calm of the present moment and use breath as the anchor to bring us back from the stories in our minds. My horrific scenes about plane crashes are an example of worrying about a future that is: a. unlikely to happen and b. I have no power over.  Mindfulness and meditation practice helps me become aware of the rollercoaster of fears created by my untrained “monkey mind”.

Living in the present moment is what we have been doing for the past 10 months. Living right now, day to day. Well, at least that is the opportunity that this trip affords us and I will admit, I have not always been there moment to moment. Sometimes I have drifted to the past full of pain or longing and when I finally came to, I realized I had missed the experience right in front of me. During our travels in Thailand I spent several days feeling irritable and snappy until I finally stopped and listened to my thoughts and realized that they were full of worries about the future and causing a bummer of a rainstorm on my parade. The end of our journey is nearing as well as the deadline for our “reentry” plan. My anxious thoughts were saying, “What are we going to do? We sold our house? What were we thinking? We have nowhere to land. What about jobs? What about schools? Will we be able to create a life that is still filled with travel and exploration?”

The timing for my meditation retreat couldn’t have been better. Not only was I reminded that I already had the mindfulness skills to calm my anxiety but KK reminded me of one very important lesson taught by the Buddha:

Life is impermanence.

Everything changes moment to moment. My anxieties are reasonable. They are trying to move me forward to a solution, however; they do not need to cause me suffering and they are impermanent if I only just let them pass. That is not to say that I shouldn’t be working on a reentry plan.  No, it is more that the worry is actually blocking me from thinking clearly and rationally about our choices. Our moms would tell you that we most definitely have a place to land should we need one and our education tells that that we will most definitely have jobs; it just might take a little digging to find the right one.

Suffering comes in many different packages from unresolved wounds, work and parenting stress, to worries about the future.  It makes us less effective and sometimes say and do things we regret.  Buddhism and meditation is not a religion per se, although many would argue with that notion but according to KK it is more of a philosophy of life. It is a way to decrease our psychological pain by understanding that we are each responsible for our own actions and reactions and any suffering that comes from those is ours. KK watered down the Buddha’s teaching by simply saying:

Do Good
Don’t Do Bad
Purify the Mind

Have a goal to practice Right Action, Right Thought, Right Speech and dedication to daily training of your monkey mind and you are on the path toward happiness and a life free from suffering. Most importantly, remember to have compassion for yourself and others as well as forgiveness of yourself and others. Sometimes the latter is the most difficult to achieve but I ask you, if you are holding a judgement or grudge against someone is that their suffering or yours? What would KK say?


We are all Monkeys
We are all Enlightened Ones

We all have suffering
We all have pain

We are all Monkeys
We are all Enlightened Ones

We all have love
We all have joy, compassion and anger
We all have the capacity for hate

We are all Monkeys
We are all Enlightened Ones

Who do I let drive the car?

~Amy D.


**the featured image is of the monks in Luang Prabang, Laos as they walk in the early morning hours for Alms collection or donations of food by the local people (there are hundreds of them walking it is really an amazing sight and so peaceful to watch).  The locals who participate in this practice do not eat or drink their own breakfast before first giving food to the monks.  The Buddha started this practice with the intention to remind the community to Give before you Get.**

We Are Not Done Yet

Treks through terraced rice fields and bracelet making with sweet Hmong women. Hundreds of monks walking in the peace of the early morning for Alms collection and a boat trip up the Mekong River through Laos. Meditation retreats, street food and the best damn fruit smoothies in Chiang Mai and possibly on the planet; these are just a few of the images that flood my brain when I think back over the last two months of travel through South East Asia.

Then, to sweeten our time in Thailand, we got to spend two weeks with Jacob’s Uncle Todd and Aunt Sherry in Chiang Mai and Phuket. Monk chats, Cooking class, elephant baths and countryside tours. Monsoons, Khao Soi, beaching and canoes; these are some of the experiences we got to share with two of our favorite people that we also get to call family.

I have so many stories to tell and have fallen very far behind in my posts. For those of you who are not following us on Facebook or Instagram, I thought I had better throw out a message to let you know we are alive and well and now into the last few months of our journey. Right now as I write this we are in Ipoh, the capital city of Perak in the country of Malaysia. Malaysia was a place we were told by multiple people and one stranger in Bangkok that we must see and I am so grateful we listened. We get three more days to explore this country before moving on to Singapore and then finally Bali for my birthday on August 30th. Two weeks in Ubud, Bali is just the gift we all need to rest and gear up for our trek in Australia and New Zealand.

This year has gone so incredibly fast and I can hardly believe all that we have seen and experienced. Thank you all for following our journey, reading our stories and sending us love both through spoken words and unspoken good wishes over the last 10 months.  We are not done yet and are excited for whatever this wonderful life brings us next.

I have many half written posts to finish so stay tuned. In the meantime here is my song quote for the day in honor of my sweet soul-sista Carrie Ann Nelson who just celebrated her birthday. I am continuously inspired by her and am grateful for our 29 years of friendship!

“The sun is shining, the weather is sweet yeah. Make you want to move your dancin’ feet”
~Bob Marley

Vietnam: Love and Maddness

The cities of Vietnam are busy places. They are filled with entrepreneurs who sell everything from food to clothing to knick-knacks. Most of them have a little stall inside one of the giant warehouse-like markets, smashed all together in tight little rows. Take care to keep your arms tucked in tight to your sides as you side-step through the narrow rows, otherwise you might be grabbed and pulled toward the colorful piles of stuff by an overly pushy salesperson. 91% of the population drives a motorbike and there seems no better place to park them than on the sidewalk, sometimes two rows deep as in Ho Chi Minh City. Pedestrians are forced to walk in the street and pray the speeding bikes will not clip them as they roar past. There were days when I could take a deep breath, join the fray and be energized by the frenetic energy and there were also days I felt so over stimulated that I thought I was going to lose my mind.

Within the chaos and madness, however, each city also has its charms.  Ho Chi Minh City, formerly Saigon, is the most modern of the cities we visited. After the destruction from many years of war (1955-1975) it has rebuilt itself with modern high rises and several large, fancy malls. It has hundreds and I mean hundreds of coffee shops where you can get free Wifi as well as the famous Cà Phê Sūa Dá or Caphe Den Dá. Both are best iced, Sūa Dá is iced coffee with condensed milk and Den Dá is without but both have added sugar. Take my advice and do not make the mistake of holding the sugar, the thick, strong beverage desperately needs it. I could not stomach the Den Dá but after a few Jacob developed a taste for it and sought it out daily. I immediately loved the sweet creaminess of the Cà Phê Sūa Dá, which was odd since I normally take only milk in my coffee. There was just something about it that was like drinking a shake made of a mixture of coffee and mocha flavored ice cream.   I looked forward to one every morning.

playground tucked into tall green trees in Ho Chi Minh CityHo Chi Minh City is also super kid friendly. There are several parks and playgrounds to entertain the kids and give them the needed break from experiments in street food and museums. Like most cities with hot climates, Ho Chi Minh comes alive at night, especially in the park. You can see women of every age boppin’ away at aerobics classes, couples can be found spinning inside of pavilions practicing their ballroom dances, adults and kids play Badminton, Soccer, and what looks like a game that is a mixture of Badminton and Hacky Sack.

The girls would probably say Ho Chi Minh City was their favorite because it was the only city where we found playgrounds, although if you were to remind them of the beach or the dragon bridge of Da Nang in Central Vietnam, they would probably change their tune. For most people Da Nang is only the necessary train stop on the way to the more popular and beautiful city of Hoi An. However, Da Nang is working hard to change their fishing port reputation into a high-end beach resort destination. I have a feeling that the giant golden dragon that dives in and out of the bridge between the downtown area and the beach is setting the tone for what is to come. At night it changes from gold to green to blue to purple to red. Some might say it is a bit over the top but we thought it was a pretty cool backdrop to picturesque promenade that snakes along the waterfront.dragon bridge lit up gold at night

There are also dozens of high-rise hotels under construction along the beaches of the city. It will be interesting to see Da Nang in ten years when they are all completed and then check out how many more people can pack into the small areas along the coastline that are designated for swimming. If you can manage to stake out a spot for yourself in the water it is a good time for sure but don’t expect to be able to do much else besides jump and splash in the waves. However, the throngs of people also present the opportunity for the best of the best in people watching. You can rent a beach chair with umbrella all day for a dollar and kick back to watch the sales lady meticulously setup up her tower of colorful kites blowing in the breeze or the many women who jump into the waves fully clothed.

Colorful lanterns hang from buildings and across street in Hoi AnWe only gave Da Nang two days preferring to move on to the famous World Heritage city of Hoi An and it is certainly deserving of this fame. The old quarter of Hoi An is protected from motorbike traffic certain hours of the day, which makes it a safe haven and very pleasant to walk while you visit the mythical covered bridge and many museums. The French Colonial influence of the architecture is very apparent in the boxy buildings with tile roofs. It is romantic and magical at night with cloth lanterns of every color strung across the streets. Historically, Hoi An was a trade port between the Vietnamese, Japanese and Chinese people and you can see all three of these influences throughout the old quarter. My favorite was the Chinese Assembly Hall. It has magnificent red doors and jade colored tile on the sweeping roof where statues of dragons dance on each tier.

Gate to Chinese Assembly Hall with flowering trees and bushes in front
Chinese Assembly Hall

There are giant cones of incense burning from the ceiling inside filling the room with the sweet scented smoke. Families buy these cones to remember their deceased loved ones and I’m not exactly sure but it must take at least a week for them to burn down completely.

I haven’t decided yet if UNESCO is a good thing or not. What I have noticed is that once a place receives this designation it becomes overwhelmed with tourists. This designation certainly protects the historical nature of a place and brings more money to an otherwise impoverished area but it also brings more pollution, waste and higher prices. Hoi An is a good example of the jacked up prices, especially for food, due to the coveted UNESCO designation. The restaurants in the old quarter charge sometimes double for the same plate of food you can find just a kilometer away. One woman tried to sell me a pair of shorts for Mackenzie for five times what I knew they were worth based on an earlier quote for the same pair just outside of the old quarter. I stuck to my number though and as soon as she saw was ready to walk away she finally caved (I guess haggling is part of the fun but I would rather have an honest dealing, myself). Our hotel provided free bikes and on one of our days we took a spin through the rice patties that surround the city. I have never seen this shade of neon green that radiated from the landscape and the word undulation must have come from watching the breeze blow through the soft grass of the rice fields.

Mackenzie and Quinn pose with their pollution masks covering mouth and nose
Pollution Protection

Hanoi and Sapa were the last two places we visited in Vietnam. We did a trek through the mountains and terraced rice fields in Sapa. It was truly one of my favorite experiences on our world journey so it gets a post all its own (stay tuned). Hanoi, in Northern Vietnam is the capital city. This is a city you truly have to just take in and try really hard not to get overwhelmed. It is a beautiful city with a big lake in its center that is surrounded by a lush green park (no playground) and walking trail around it. The noise from the traffic is muffled here and provides a nice respite. I gotta admit, I didn’t love Hanoi. It is by far the most polluted of the places we visited and I found the motorbike drivers to be even less patient with pedestrians than other cities. I don’t know how many times I had to stop suddenly while holding onto Quinn’s hand because a motorbike pulled in front of us to park on the sidewalk. A woman selling some kind of donuts tricked Mackenzie and me by putting the sticky ball into Mackenzie’s hand and saying, “just try” and then she charged me for it.

These annoyances aside, we found the best Banh Mi sandwich here of all the cities in Vietnam. The girls thoroughly enjoyed the famous water puppet show that originated in Hanoi. We understood nothing because it was in Vietnamese and it was slightly strange but the music was amazing and after the first couple of scenes we were all into it. We also made a visit to the Vietnamese Women’s museum, which honored the mothers and women of Vietnam by exhibiting examples of their strength and leadership.  It provided us with an understanding of the tribal women in the north before venturing further to Sapa.Walking in the street in hanoi along with a woman pushing a bike full of produce

Night trains, rice fields, jungles and overly populated cities. Vietnam was a wonderfully maddening experience, if that is possible, and I have no regrets about our visit. There is good reason the food is known as one of the best of the world’s cuisines. With the median age of its citizen at 28 years old, I have a feeling Vietnam is in the midst of growth and rapid change and I hope they receive some pressure to change their emissions laws. It will be interesting to see how this country continues to emerge in the global community. If you have any question about visiting at least go for the Bún Thįt Nuóng, Caphe Su Da and Kumquat Lemonade.