Offpeakers

Maximize living, minimize annoyances

sunrise_shanghai

One Night In Shanghai

Why One Night?

LAX to China…it’s gonna be a long flight!

Getting there

The good news is that we booked very affordable plane reservations to get to Australia. The potential bad news is we have a one night layover in Shanghai, China followed by a stop in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. But in true Vacation mode, we, like Clark W. Griswold believe that “Getting there is half the fun.” Our stopover in Shanghai was a blast and made us really appreciate the kind Chinese people. We look forward to a proper visit in the future.

Pudong International Airport

Pudong airport

At Pudong International Airport upon arrival.

Shanghai Pudong airport, the ninth busiest in the world, is located 19 miles east of the city center. Shanghai itself is the most populous city in the world with 24 million people. Our brief visit was all in Pudong, an outlying suburb. On visits to foreign airports with new languages and varying cell reception, preparation is key.

free_wifi

With our passport and flight information handy we obtained free WiFi code from the handy kiosk.

WiFi is available (see above), but difficult to connect to without a connected cell phone. Many web sites (Google browser, Google Maps, Gmail) are filtered/inactive in China.  The airport is not well laid out for an overnight stay.  It would be a long (15 hour) flight from LA.  While we got much more comfort, on board entertainment, and amenities than you would expect for a $460 round trip ticket, we were still happy that we had arranged a comfortable budget lodging option.

Home For the Night

homeinn

Intersection (can be busy during peak hours) in front of Home Inn hotel (the tall building in the background directly behind the lady in a scooter).

On site hotels are either quite expensive ($240+) or poorly rated for $135 temporary quarters.  Our advance research found a hotel 5 miles away that provided their own shuttle service to and from the airport terminal.  This was important as reviews of the area were rife with stories of taxi cab rides gone wrong (+2 hours/+$80) or the inability to communicate.

Front of hotel

Front entrance of our budget hotel. Our room was on the 10th floor. Yikes!

We made reservations with the Home Inn Hotel in Pudong.  For $26 we had a clean, modern room and the aforementioned shuttles.  We also had the benefit of a 2:00 PM checkout to avoid a long day at the terminal.  Our location was in a nice residential neighborhood with plenty of restaurants, grocery stores, and interesting street food. Not many people spoke much English, but with our Google Translate app, we had no major difficulties communicating (other than we looked for a meeting place in Parking Lot 168 instead of the similar sounding 16A). We arrived at our modern hotel around 8 PM.

dumpling_soup

All smiles as we are about to dig in to our freshly made hot and tasty wonton soup.

Checking in was facilitated by Google Translate and the knowledge that we needed Chinese currency (Yuan) to pay our way. Despite the Booking.Com info, credit cards do you no good. We felt very safe wandering into the street looking for a quick meal. Happily we found a friendly place on the same block featuring noodle soup. Thankfully armed with friendly smiles, enthusiastic pointing to what other people were enjoying (the menu was all Chinese), and that ever helpful Google Translate, we soon had two small in name but large in size bowls of wonton soup for a total price of less than $4. Delicious! Great service and several people tried out their basic English to give us greetings. Our two word Chinese vocabulary served us well (“Hello” and “Thank you”).

alley

Vibrant alley full of shops (and parked electric scooters) near our hotel building.

The Neighborhood

We wandered the street for a couple blocks but the excitement of visiting a “forbidden” new land was beginning to be overridden with weariness as our comfortable room beckoned. The only danger we felt was from the popular electric scooters that silently but quickly overtook you on the sidewalk. We learned to walk in a paranoid fashion, looking back regularly for the ninja like approach of a smiling rider. I think they need bells!

buns_dumpling

Freshly steamed meat, meat or meat veggie buns and dumplings being prepared for commuters.

A quiet night’s sleep is a blessing, and if you can wake up well rested in a fun dynamic neighborhood with affordable street food then a traveler’s day is off to a proper start! Looking out the window we saw commuters heading to work, students to school, and varied food options beyond the restaurants. There were dumplings and juicy buns (tasty, $1).

breakfast_crepe

Watching a skillfully prepared fresh and savory breakfast crepe makes eating it much more fun!

A vendor was making a crunchy crepe wrap (wonderful, $1) and the interesting process was almost as good as the result  We were greeted with smiles and patience as we tried to order or indicate that “I will have what that guy just ordered.” We found pretty good coffee at a convenience store. With breakfast satisfied, we enjoyed walking around the neighborhood.

fruit_stall

Fresh, tasty fruit are plentiful in neighborhood fruit stalls

The grocery stores were well stocked, affordable, and inviting. Fresh fruit displayed did not disappoint. We stocked up on a few items for our ongoing flight to Malaysia, including some interesting potato chips. A shy “Nee-how” (hello) to three female street sweepers resulted in their interested questions to us and desire to see our pictures on the phone. It seemed to take some convincing that the hello was our complete vocabulary. Lovely ladies that brightened our day with their smiles.

street_cleaners

A smile is really a universal language.

When it was lunch time, we followed the safe policy of locating a simple place full of locals. As usual, this was successful once we negotiated the intimidating menu.  While we ate we were approached by three teenage school girls. These young ladies greeted us and gave us freshly roasted chestnuts. They politely showed us how to open and peel the still warm treats and were pleased that we enjoyed the rich flavor. A small gesture that meant a great deal to us.

lunch

Great choice considering we don’t speak the language and ordered with our finger.

A quick nap in our room and it was time for our 2:00 PM shuttle to the airport. The terminal is modern with an interesting quirk. We could find no cold water fountains, but many with very hot (near boiling) so people could make tea or the ever popular instant ramen noodles.

Soon we were at our gate, anticipating our week stay in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.  Our visit to China was over all too quickly. Our initial interactions make us want to go back to see the classic sights and meet more people. Now when we hear of China in the news we have a revised impression of at least this little corner of a vast land.

Do you have the same experiences as we did in China? Do you think you will go back? Please share with us you experiences. Thanks for reading!

 

 

Aquaman and the Mermaid

For the vast majority of our adult life we were land bound. While we enjoyed the occasional paddle in a canoe, raft or kayak we never gave much thought to being in the water beyond regular showering. No prolonged soaks in a tub for us, unless its the hot bubbly kind. We have learned to appreciate the unknown and different which goes along with travelling and exploring new places.  As 75% of the globe is covered with water, it was time to go aquatic.

man on rock

Lets go exploring!

The beauty of the ocean, the sense of discovery, danger, anticipation as well as the previously unknown sense of fun splashing around weightlessly has made us shed our landlubber status.

2 divers

John during his open water dive course with our friend Silas in Roatan Island.

We were convinced by fellow travelers to visit Roatan Island, Honduras during previous travels. There we learned to dive and were entranced and coached on snorkeling by our great friends Naomi and Robert (thank you for your generosity and inspiration!) It was on Roatan we heard about Corn Island for the first time, having it be described as being “like Roatan was 30 years ago”. Preparing for an extended visit to Corn Island meant we would need to bring our own gear even though we want to travel light.  In this case, we got travel flippers to go along with our masks and snorkels.

Spotted eagle ray

This is a spotted eagle ray photographed by John. Mature rays can be up to 5 meters (16 ft) in length; the largest have a wingspan of up to 3 meters (10 ft) and a mass of 230 kilograms (507 lb).

My flippers in particular were abbreviated versions of the long flippers you typically would use for diving. Our friend (and diving instructor) Sherine loved to laugh and tease me about my little tiny flippers (try to imagine it in her French accent). Thankfully my wife has given me extensive experience handling good natured abuse from a beautiful talented lady. The proper response is to just walk away!  Big John is comfortable in his skin and his swim suit.  Unless it is cold.

Beach

After a fun day of snorkeling at Sally Peachy beach.

My little flippers accompanied us into the water almost every morning on Corn Island. The north portion of Corn Island, approximately 1 1/2 miles across, provides the best snorkeling. Comprised of two neighborhoods, Sally Peachie and the North End,this stretch, is completely open to swimmers (as is all of the island).  The beach is not fenced off for developments.  The road follows along the shore, providing great access. As we were on the island for an extended period, we explored to see our favorite spot. Our conclusion, hop into the water and enjoy.

Coral reef

A gorgeous reef complete with a Queen Angel fish and other fish friends. What a great find!

The coral follows the entire stretch with small, easily breached interruptions. Some spots had better soft coral.  In other areas the reef was closer to shore. Our favorite spot was the extreme northeast by the manta ray bus stop. There are examples of reef within 10 yards of shore, with the main reef 100 yards out.

staghorn_coral

John found and shot this beautiful healthy elkhorn coral off Sally Peachie

The snorkeling was great and there are no fishermen traveling through this area in motorized boats, just the occasional ocean going canoe. We had a couple close calls with motor boats in other locations.  In order to locate the reef, look for the white breaking waves offshore where the current coming in hits the reefs that are only submerged by 6-10 inches of water. Using a small GoPro camera, we enjoyed taking photos and short film clips of the underwater world. Unfortunately our camera died and apparently took the images on the SD card. Terry had saved a few we had captured with screen shots and those are primarily what we are sharing here.

golfball and brain corals

Some healthy golf-ball and brain corals.

Spending 2 to 3 hours in the water every day, we found the haunts of large eagle rays that would soar over and around the reef structures. Sherine taught us how to best view and interact. As excited are you are, if you swim out after the large rays in a frenzy, they will normally swim away from you and your thrashing little fins. If you act cool, the rays may very well swim around you, letting you watch in amazement as they swoop like a bird of prey. We also found favored retreats of nurse sharks. These are very skittish, and once they saw you were observing them, they would change time zones.

Nurse sharks

Nurse sharks spotted in their favorite hiding place.

The mermaid and I have different approaches to viewing the mysteries of the sea. I am in a rush to see what is ahead, around the corner, on the next reef. Terry preferred technique is an analytical approach. A slow swim while she studiously scans the contours and crevices.

A collage

Some of Terry’s finds. Top L – The Magnifica Anemone, Top R – a Puffer fish & a Four eye Butterfly fish, bottom L – inside of a broken Conch shell, Bottom R – A Spotted Sea Hare (Sea Slug) 

She sees coral worms, tiny crabs, and sea hares that eluded my more cursory review. Terry is a quick study on identifying what we have seen. Internet allowing, she enjoys researching the species and sharing the details. Her keen observational skills also extend to people passing on the road. I no longer was surprised to return to land to find us stocked with mangoes, avocados, fish or guava jelly that she had purchased from passing merchants.

Collage of Terry's scavenger finds

Other finds: 1) Avocados, 2) Fresh yellow-tail fish ready for dinner, 3) A bag of mangoes 4) Eggs with mango & avocado for breakfast

Terry’s best find was new friends. Special places attract special people. The beach at Sally Peachie introduced us to a fun couple from Germany on their honeymoon. Thomas and Angelina specialized in finding large eagle rays and generating smiles. Two good features to have in island friends. We wish them continued happiness.

Friends

With our friends Tom and Angie at the beach in Long Bay, Big Corn Island, Nicaragua.

Our view is that the reefs are easy and safe to find and you can explore them on their own. Of course not everyone has a great deal of time to get comfortable in the water. If you visit the island without snorkel gear or feel more comfortable with a guide, we see there are three options. We loved Sherine and Matteo at Corn Island Dive Center.

Friends

With our friends and swin instructors Sharine and Matteo.

Whether you are diving or snorkeling, they will get you in the water and make it a safe, fun, memorable time. If Corn Island Dive Center is booked, we also heard good things about Dos Tiburones Dive shop. Dorsey Campbell gives snorkeling tours and rents equipment based from his home on the Sally Peachie beach right next to the Victoria Comedor (and across the street from our favorite snorkel spot at Sally Peachie).

Terry at the beach

Another beach day. Crystal clear water and white sands with just us or in this case just Terry.

If you go to Yellowstone, you should see the Old Faithful geyser, if you visit Paris, you should see the Eiffel Tower. If you go to Corn Island, get in the water and enjoy the amazing work of nature. Beaches and warm weather are available all over the world. Isolated coral reefs are something special. You may discover your inner Aquaman and Mermaid. We are glad we made it part of our life and we will never forget the experience.

Do you have a favorite or suggested spot to see underwater beauty? Please share it with us, we’d love to hear all about it!

BCI beach at Long Bay

Introduction to Corn Island, Nicaragua

Opportunity Knocked

When we were kids, Terry and I both dreamed of living on a tropical island. The kind of place you see on TV with clean beaches, warm blue water, tropical fish and plenty of coconuts (can we include Ginger and Maryann?).  While you are at it, get rid of the tourist infrastructure, the people trying to sell you souvenirs and beaches choked with chaise lounges and incontinent kids. That dream came true when we found an opportunity to house sit on Corn Island.

A photo of a beach with a quote from H C Anderson

The background picture is the beach in front of the house we house sat.

Where is Corn Island?

Map of Corn Island

Corn Island is circled in Orange. Map c/o wikipedia

Corn Island is located 43 miles off of the Caribbean coast of Nicaragua.  The island is about 5 square miles (10 square kilometers) with a high point of 371 feet (Mount Pleasant Hill).

Picture of Long Bay in Big Corn Island

View of Long Bay, Big Corn Island, Nicaragua from Pleasant Hill.

This tropical isle is home to around 5,000 people, most of which are of a English speaking Creole background that could have you think you are in Jamaica with their distinctive accents and lively music (unless their second favorite music playing – classic old country.  What a surprise to see young people enjoying Conway Twitty’s greatest hits!)  The main driver to the economy is commercial lobster fishing.  This replaced the coconut farms that were destroyed 25 years ago in a major hurricane.

Lobsters and a queen triggerfish

Immature spiny lobster (or Langusta) and sadly a Queen Triggerfish caught by one of the locals.  Spiny lobster have no claws but a tasty tail.  There are size limitations for legal catch but these are seldom respected in our experience.

Island Life

Life is a bit isolated on Corn Island.  There is a twice a week ferry arriving from a remote Nicaraguan coastal community, Bluefields.  Most tourists arrive on a La Costeña flight.  People excitedly emerge from the little planes.

Guy and the planes

He thought we were riding the plane on his left…wrong! It was the tiny 8 seater on his right! Yikes!!!

This may be due to the intoxicating view of the Caribbean you enjoy in your approach or you know you pushed your luck in a rough sounding little single engine craft that is as easy to board and exit as a tight pair of jeans.  The airfield bisects the small island. Conveniently, in between the three daily flights you are allowed to short cut across the airfield to reach destinations on the other side of the island, saving over a mile in the process.

Crossing airfield

We crossed the airport runway to get to the other side of the island.

Island Transportation

Getting around the island is convenient.  There is a paved loop approximately 6 miles long that generally follows the beach.  Taxis, in the form of small economy cars, circle regularly.  Customers have a flat rate of 20 cordobas (66 cents US) for your destination.  The car will be shared with any other passengers the driver encounters.  An even more economical approach is to take the bus.  The bus circles in a clockwise direction, taking people for the rock bottom fare of 10 cordobas (33 cents).

Bus and taxis

Several modes of island transportation is pictured, 2 taxis, a motorcycle, a bicycle and the torquoise bus aptly labeled ‘My Bus” in the front.

The bus is a fun way to meet people as well as get the insider information on needed supplies or destination.  Dexter the bus driver knows the island like few others and will point out (and drop you off in front of) a barber, good hardware store, or yell out to fishermen unloading their canoe when you want VERY fresh fish.  Walking or riding a bike are also efficient ways to get around if you get started early or later in the day as the sun is intense.  There is always something to see with great views over the water, diverse fruit trees, and people that became friends.

Low hanging fruits

John showing off some of the island’s “low hanging fruits”! Not a metaphor but the real thing 🙂

Our Temporary Home

Home during our over 9-week stay is on the appropriately titled “Long Bay”. Beautiful sand and little development makes this half mile long beach facing the rising sun a lovely location to start the day.

Housesit front porch

Enjoying the front porch while listening to the waves.

This beach features bigger waves super for boogie boarding or a cool dip on an always hot day, but protected beaches with exceptional snorkeling and swimming are only a short distance away.  We are in a  comfortable home with not one but two cute lively beach dogs that enjoy treats even more than they want attention.

Girl and dog

Terry with one of our temporary pets Sweeney during one of our afternoon beach walks.

Sweeney and Brownie are great company with one small exception.  They feel the beach in front of the house is theirs, and any man, child, dog, horse or cow that attempts to walk past is chased and intimidated.

Chasing Cows

Here are Sweeney and Brownie in action against the cows!

Island life is relaxed and is unique from other places we have visited. Groceries are different. While there are many tiny stores here and a few markets/commisarios that would be similar to what we know, the choices are limited and it is common to run out of staple items in between boat arrivals.

Island stores

One of the local pulperia or variety store besides a clothing store.

Produce is mainly limited to old potatoes, cabbage that has had better days, onions, tomatoes, and squash.  Bananas surprisingly are one of the items not always available.  Sliced bread is at the store, but the island is blessed with home based bakeries that produce excellent coconut bread (pan de coco).  But without an official distribution cycle, you have to know where to knock to see if today is a baking day and what is still in stock.

Islanders are  passionate about baseball, and as small as the island is, it features one of the finest stadiums in Central America.  Home games are lively and are the center of island activity.  A great place to enjoy the loud fans, tasty treats, and cold Toña beer.  Terry watched over three innings before she gave up on baseball and headed home.  That is longer than she gave the New York Yankees.

Beach

After a fun day of snorkeling at Sally Peachy beach.

Our real passion is the water and its coral reefs.  Corn Island is a dream come true if your dreams involves warm water, private beaches with white sands, viewing abandoned ship wreck, tons of colorful fish, warm clear water and easily obtainable reefs. We will talk about that in our next post.

Have you been to to the Corn Islands?  Do you agree with our description? Let us know, we’d love to hear from you.

 

 

 

Olympic Mountains

Time to Say Goodbye to Port Angeles…for now

Leaving Port Angeles

Reluctant exits are in a way better than those times you are just glad to be down the road.  When we left New Jersey it was with glee to be on the road off to new adventures.  Our recent departure from the beautiful Olympic Peninsula was much more subdued.   Our year in Port Angeles, Washington was a wonderful experience.

School campus

The yellow/gold building is where Terry’s Multimedia classes are held.

Peninsula College provided challenging classes, new skills, fun activities, and dynamic class mates.  The small apartment we called home with its own ocean view actually came with extensive grounds.  Olympic National Park was a terrific back yard.  With tremendous hiking, snowshoeing, camping, biking, migrating salmon and scenic opportunities. We were never reluctant to go out for our required yard work.   The Pacific Ocean/Strait of Juan de Fuca was our front yard and gave us a chance to wander the coast, investigate tide pools, watch otters and seals, and even complete John’s first Marathon on the beautiful Olympic Discovery trail.

JB crossing the finish line

Under 5 1/2 hrs for his 1st full marathon! Amazing said his wife 🙂

Yes, there were LOTS of cloudy days (from November to March?) but the weather was mild and almost always allowed us to be outside, being neither too cold or too hot. Wanting to be more active, we tried to use the Subaru only one day a week, otherwise relying on our new found biking skills and walking.

Terry and classmates

Terry with her professor and classmates at the College’s Moving Pictures Festival

Through our classmates and the welcoming small town atmosphere we made fun interesting friends who we miss. As we exited Port Angeles, our Dad was kind enough to let us store our U-Haul trailer of belongings in his barn.

Uhaul and Subaru

The U-haul trailer is pack and we’re ready to go.

He also continues to provide an eight acre empire to our cat Milo who loves patrolling his world to control the mice and vole population.

Family

Fun times with our Montana family.familfriends,

While back in Montana we were happy to spend time with family (our nieces and nephews continue to amaze us with their skills and energy) and even utilize new carpentry skills on the back deck (Grandpa is ready for a big party).

Deck

Go to the light!

While we love the Olympic Peninsula, and may return in the future, we left to pursue wanderlust.  We have enjoyed our house-sitting adventures in Florida, Oregon, Washington, and Vancouver Island.  We made great friends with homeowners, neighbors and loved the pets as well as enjoyed new locations.

Collage

Some of our friends from Port Angeles

Next Stop Corn Island

The Offpeakers will now be going for a new adventure.  We will spend the next three 1/2 months on Big Corn Island. This five square mile isle is 50 miles off the east coast of Nicaragua in the Caribbean.  Growing up land locked, we did not feel we could pass up this opportunity to live next to warm (83 F) water and catch up on the diving and snorkeling of which we have been dreaming.  The plan is to use this blog as our trip scrapbook and perhaps share what we learn and special experiences.  We hope you travel along with the Offpeakers.

 

Snowshoeing uphill

Snowshoeing on Hurricane Ridge

The Olympic National Park

Hurricane Ridge is a mountainous region in the Olympic National Park that overlooks Port Angeles and the adjacent Pacific Ocean.  Only 30 minutes from town, the road climbs from sea level to over 5,000 feet (1,600 m) where there is an average of over 400 inches of snow fall a year.

 

J&T

The post in-front of us is normally 10 feet tall. 

Terry by the pole.

Terry standing by the same pole. This was taken when we hiked the ‘hill’ last July.

School Hike

Terry and I jumped at the opportunity to join a school group to spend a day floating over the 70 + inches of snow currently on the trails.  Our fellow adventure seekers are primarily foreign students from China, Malaysia, and Vietnam.  Our fun was enhanced by their enthusiasm to see so much deep snow and unique scenery.

T with student

Terry with SJ, a Peninsula College student from Malaysia.

Snowshoes have been used for 4,000 to 6,000 years.  The equipment we rented is for the same purpose but is definitely from modern times as we had polished aluminum, plastic, and composites shoes rather than the hide, sinew, and wood of the classic models.  Hurricane Ridge turns out to be almost as active in the winter (although only open Friday through Sunday) as it is in the summer.

John holding poles

John about to embark in another adventure!

Chains are often required for the trip, but we had no issues and enjoyed the van ride joking with our fellow students, even though most are younger than our kids.  Terry even knew a few of their songs!  The mountain top visitor center hosts a small ski area with a tow rope, an overflowing parking lot and miles of snowshoeing trails.

Terry snowshoe

On top of the hill, cold but sweaty.

Thankfully snowshoeing is easier to learn than other winter sports (I am pointing my finger at you ice skating and downhill skiing!) and after adjusting a few straps we were plodding and darting across the snow.  Effective traction plates makes climbing steep hillsides a breeze.  You are only limited by your lungs, nerves, or sense of good judgement.

Soccer players snowshoeing

Three members of PC women’s champion soccer team enjoying the day.

Our group started out together up the Hurricane Hill Trail.  Soon we lost sight of our fast contingent of the NWAC Champion Female Soccer team.  During stops for water or photo opportunities we were approached by fluttering Camp Robbers (Gray Jays).

grayjay

A Gray Jay bird.   Photo: wikimedia commons

These beautiful birds were cute enough that I hardly minded that Terry fed them most of my peanut butter sandwich.  A great day was had by all.  On the return trip the quiet bus full of sleeping Peninsula College students was proof positive that although snowshoeing is fun, it is also hard work!

And below is a short video of the trip

Have you ever gone snowshoeing? Did you enjoy it? We’d love to know some of your favorite spots. Thanks for reading!

Panama Viejo

Panama 2016

Last year January 12 we celebrated Mr. Offpeaker’s birthday Off-peak style (meaning free or frugal, is there any other way?) in Panama City, Panama. After a restful sleep we enjoyed a sumptuous all-you-can-eat breakfast included with our stay at the beautiful hotel Country Inn Panama Canal Hotel.

Breakfast at the hotel

Our agenda for the day: 1)learn the bus system in preparation for our trip to the Miraflores Locks(Panama Canal) the following day 2)Explore Panama Viejo Ruins (more on this later) 3)Splurge on the birthday boy!

Dressed in our well-worn shorts, shirts and tennis shoes, we took the free hotel shuttle to Albrook Mall the largest mall in the Americas. The megamall happens to be right across the enormous regional bus terminal.

Buses of all kinds waiting for passenger at Panama City Bus Terminal

Public Transportation in Panama City

Taxis are plentiful in Panama City, they are convenient but you have to haggle and agree on the price first before you board the car otherwise you will be fleeced big time. Each ride will cost you anywhere from $5 to $25 depending on distance/destination. But if you’re looking for an adventure and you’re an Offpeaker like us, we suggest the public transportation. For $0.35 cents you can take any buses or the subway train, just make sure you do your homework and keep your city map handy.

Inside the Albrook Mall, it looks just like any mall in N. America.

Finding our way around the mall was easy, there were plenty of maps and directions are in Spanish and English. Once at the terminal, bus tickets are available via vending machine and ticket booths. Buses do not take cash. Finding the proper bus was facilitated by asking people “Donde esta el bus para Panama Viejo?”. Once we found the proper location we follow the queue.

The view of the modern city by bus.

The buses were nice, modern clean and air-conditioned. The ride to the old capital gave us a nice view of the very modern and vibrant city.

By a church ruins.

The Old Capital

Panama Viejo which is in the suburbs of the city, is the old capital of the country. The Spanish established the settlement in the 1500’s and was an important base where gold and silver from the south was sent to Spain. The city suffered a number of fires, earthquake and pirate attacks but it was believed that attack led by Welsh pirate Henry Morgan in 1671 led to the destruction of the city.

Ruins of the courtyard.

We enjoyed our visit to the UNESCO designated Heritage site.  Catching the bus back to the city was easy as there were plenty of bus stops along the way and we just head back where we came from. We have explored the city seafood market and have read reviews that the restaurant in the market is a must. Well we have been there twice already and today the birthday boy wanted to go back there again. The place is simple, but the food was fresh, tasty and reasonably priced. We both love the seafood soup, fried whole fish, yucca fries and coconut rice. Yum, my mouth is watering just thinking about it. We head back to the mall, catch our shuttle back to our hotel so we can hit the pool. Panama City is exciting, fun and full of history. We are excited for we are going to see the historical Locks tomorrow!

 

 

Ediz Hook

We’re Baack!

Wow! It’s Finals week! Team Offpeakers survived our first quarter of being back to school! It is/was everything we had hoped for and more!

Peninsula College

Free coffee and muffins welcomed the students during the first day of the quarter.

Our experiences at Peninsula College proved to be nothing but wonderful right from the start. A picturesque campus with great facilities, combined with knowledgeable and caring staff. What a fun, satisfying and fulfilling experience. We also love that we get to ride our bikes to school!

Bike

We enjoy riding our bikes to school and exploring new trails  around the area.

Since it’s been so long since our last post, some of you may have already forgotten why we are back at school and what we are studying.  John is taking the Construction/Green Building Course and Terry is focusing on Multimedia Communications. Why are we doing this? Because it’s fun, challenging and serves as a preparation for our next adventures, wherever or whatever that may be.

Terry, PASC

Terry enjoyed teaching Facebook to members of Port Angeles Senior Center.

Terry has learned and done so much, she learned how to code using HTML, CSS and bootstrap. She developed and published 2 websites, a personal portfolio and a country website, where she focused on one of our favorite country, Colombia. Please click on the provided link to see her work.

Halloween, PC

The pirate and his sailor girl attended PC’s Halloween dance.

She also learned how to make animation, edit videos, create animated banners, multi-page publications, edit & enhance photographs.  She even took a photojournalism class and her photographs were published in the school’s award-winning newspaper!  Terry’s photography allowed us to become avid fans of our school’s championship women’s soccer team.  All of these on top of volunteering at our local Habitat for Humanity store and teaching Facebook classes at the Port Angeles Senior Center.

The green-builders figuring out the framing for the dog house.

John has been quite busy as well. He is now a member of the Construction Committee for our local Habitat for Humanity. They have built decks, install doors and siding, replaced a window with a slider and painted a volunteer’s home. On Saturday’s John volunteer’s at the Habitat store preparing donated furniture for sale as Terry works the cash register making the sale.  For his construction/green-building program, this first quarter focused on framing work and basic woodworking.  The class also built a media/photographer’s platform at the school’s soccer field and what may be the world’s strongest dog houses!

dog, green building

Ta daaa! They finished this and 4 others…lucky dogs will stay warm this winter.

We are really enjoying our Off-peak life in Port Angeles, which is the headquarters of the Olympic National Park. We don’t have cable so our entertainment nowadays are mostly books and the great outdoors. Our apartment is within walking distance of couple of hiking trails and grocery stores.

From the Salmon cascades near Sol Duc Hot Springs.

We get to walk to the beach almost everyday. A few weeks ago, we got to observe Salmon swimming upstream on a couple of occasions.  We’ve seen family of otters playing in the ocean and on the beach.  We’ve yet to see an Orca, but we will one day.

The school quarter went fast, we are wrapping up for finals this week. And we woke up to a winter wonderland this morning. The whole place looks magical with the fresh snow.

Snow covered Peninsula College looks magical.

Snow covered Peninsula College looks magical. Terry’s Media class is in that building.

It is a reminder that it is the holiday season.  Life goes by so fast, we are happy with our decision to downsize, pursue our dreams and live an Offpeaker life.  We are thankful that you are reading this post.  We hope you are all well, enjoying and  loving whatever you are doing. If not, we wish you the courage to pursue and live the life that you want.  We leave you with a line from one of Eminem’s song “Look, if you have one shot or one opportunity to seize everything you ever wanted, would you capture it or let it slip?”

 

 

Smith Rock

Remember the first time you visited an amusement park?  From the parking lot you could see the roller coaster.  It looks enormous and so high you feel excitement and fear at the same time, your palms get sweaty, you could feel your heart beating faster.

Bizarro Roller Coaster in New England (photo c/o travel channel)

Bizarro Roller Coaster in New England (photo c/o travelchannel.com)

It had the foreboding look that make you think you should turn around and go see something else yet it somehow drew you in, you just have to go and be on it! The Offpeakers had a similar experience when we followed the strong recommendations of locals and visited Smith Rock State Park.  Not far from Redmond & Bend, Smith Rock State Park is another reason we think life is great in Oregon.

Before the hike.

Before the hike, the impressive rock (should be a mountain!),  Crooked river & River trail behind us. 

The Smith Rock State Parks amusement park is 641 acres of weirdly eroded volcanic rock with the well named Crooked River twisting around and through it.  Our approach past the parking lot had us bouncing with excitement. Amazing views?  Check.  World class Rock Climbing? Check.  Challenging hiking trails?  Check.  Super volunteers and support staff enhancing the park?  Check.

Entrance sign to the State Park

Entrance to the State Park

This is a popular place as 750,000 day users a year enjoy these rugged outdoors but the myriad of trails, bike paths and cliffs seem to suck us all up so even on a busy Sunday, we never felt crowded. We occasionally shared space with people equally happy to be on the rock.  The $5 day use parking fee is a complete bargain.

We saw climbers even before we found a parking spot! Amazing!

We saw climbers even before we found a parking spot! Amazing!

Approaching the area, walking the rim towards the visitor center, we pin balled around looking over cliffs soaring 600 feet over the river. The rock walls were not only beautiful, but it is liberally peppered with incredibly talented rock climbers.  Smith Rock is generally considered the birthplace of modern American rock climbing, and it continues to be a destination and class room for those strong adventurous people that do not need (nor want) a path to get to the top of mountain.

Awesome volunteers at the Visitor Center. If you visit make sure you stop.

Jerry from the Welcome Center. If you visit make sure you stop.

Not all Visitor Centers are helpful, but Smith Rock’s maps, advice, cold water, and volunteers were all terrific.  The Offpeakers were fortunate to meet Jerry, who just may be Oregon’s number one advocate.  Jerry gave us super information on the best hiking trails, views, and where we could hopefully see beavers and/or otters.  We got even more information on the Oregon coast and history of the Brookings district, including interesting background on World War II Japanese incursions in the area.

The uphill trail is visible on Terry's right side

The uphill zigzag trail is visible by Terry’s right shoulder.  Such a fun hike!

Our fun conversation was cut a little short because we could not wait to get on the switchback trails that work their way up Misery Ridge to work our way up, on and around this intimidating outcropping.

Whew! We quickly made it passed the shoot

Whew! We quickly made it passed the Chute and up the Misery, we pity those below us! Hahaha!

From the Visitor Center we dropped down using the The Chute trail to take us down to river level.  Crossing Crooked River we watched people working their way up the steep initial portion of the trail.

Such beauty at every angle! We stop for a breather and to take the scenery in.

Such beauty at every angle! We stop for a breather often to enjoy the scenery in.

Soon we were on their heels, enjoying the fun of spectacular scenery that you have earned through hard labor.  The going was slow and steady with a steep elevation climb.

The group of students in front of us.

The group of fun and friendly students in front of us.

As sometimes happens on these outings, we ended up getting partnered with some outgoing pharmacy students taking a break from Pacific University.  I felt as if we were colleagues on this and peers, but at the top we were referred to affectionately as their “trail parents”.

Our trail "kids'

T with our trail “kids’

If I needed another reminder of our age besides my heaving chest and heavy feet, this was it.  The Misery Ridge trail loop is almost 6 miles long as it weaves up, behind, over and down the main outcropping.

The trail is so beautiful we didn't mind the hard climb!

The trail is so beautiful we didn’t mind the hard climb!

We loved every sweaty dusty step.  The views change, but remain consistently beautiful.  Yes it is a long ways down, but fear kept us careful even as we scanned around to see natural beauty, climbers, and distant snow clad mountains on this glorious day.

You can see Monkey Face in front of Terry

You can see Monkey Face in front of Terry

At the back we see the aptly named Monkey Face, which is an outcropping that bears an amazing resemblance to Curious George except you need to scale a 350 foot column to dance on his head.

On our way down

On our way down

Continuing down we intersect Mesa Verde and River trails.  Down here have close views of the climbers doing very good impersonations of Spiderman.

Can you spot the spider like humans on the cliff face?

Can you spot the spider like humans on the cliff face?

Men and women looked tiny as they worked their way up cliffs that have visible white marks from powder used to dry sweaty hands.

These 2 are on a "beginner" cliff! Looks scary to me!

These two are on a “beginner” cliff! doesn’t look like beginner stuff to us!

Across the river, beginner classes were taking place on cliffs that were still daunting even though they were in the shadows of their much bigger brothers.

There is no bad view on this site?

There is no bad view on Smith Rock only happy Offpeakers!

Smith Rock is a great place to feel the positive energy of the earth and people working together.  Everyone was in excited moods, pushing hard to see and do more.  What a fun experience to work hard yet feel energized at the same time.

what a beautiful place

What a beautiful place, we can’t wait to go back!

While they could have probably come up with a more inspirational name, we fail to imagine a better experience. This is our favorite sight in all of Oregon!  What’s yours?  Please share your favorite spot in Oregon or a time that you were reminded that you have gotten older.  Thank you for traveling with the Offpeakers!

 

Fort Clatsop & The Oregon Coast

Even the toughest people need to take a rest.  Fort Clatsop was an encampment where the 33 hale and hearty members of the Lewis and Clark Expedition spent a fairly miserable winter waiting for better weather to return home back east.

Photographs of Rossevelt, Lweis & Clark

Photographs of (L to R) Thomas Jefferson, Meriwether Lewis & William Clark

Located near the mouth of the Columbia River, the Fort Clatsop National Memorial houses a striking replica of the fort along with an interesting museum of the region and the Corp of Discovery.

We witness the flag lowering at the end of the day

We witnessed the flag lowering at the end of the day

A visit to the fort is enhanced by a group that in period costume that answers questions about life in the camp and in part reenact life as it may have been in this remote outpost.

Standing at corner of the rebuilt fort

Standing at corner of the rebuilt fort

Fort Clatsop was an encampment forced on the expedition in the winter of 1805-1806.  The heavy rains and limited food sources were less than ideal but the journey back had to be delayed waiting for snow melt in the Rocky Mountains.  After some investigation and even a vote that include all races and sexes, the Fort Clatsop site was chosen.  Construction by the party took three weeks.

A painting in the museum of the fort

A painting in the museum depicts a possible scene with the fort in the background

This is another of the indicators of what hard working people comprised the expedition.  The work force, not even the full 33 person team as there was a party gathering salt and another getting food during construction, completed most of the fort in three weeks.  Move in date was Christmas Eve, 1805.  The current replica of the fort, built in 2006, took over 700 people three months to construct.

A Bull Elk

A Bull Elk like this one provided sustenance to the expeditioners. Photo was taken at the Dean Creek Wildlife area.

The men ate a diet of mostly elk meat and roots.  The elk meat proved to be harder and harder to get and it spoiled quickly. Elk still inhabit the area in great numbers.

Beautiful elk grazing in the field

Bull elk grazing in the protected wildlife area in Dean Creek. So exciting to see them up close in a safe environment.

We enjoyed stopping at the Dean Creek Wildlife Area, an important habitat administered by the BLM.  Over 100 head of Roosevelt elk call this home.  It was exciting to see groups of large bulls in velvet up close.

A look at the inside of the fort

A look at the inside of the barebones fort

For most of the members, the three months in Fort Clatsop was the least favorite of the entire 2 year 4 month journey.  Besides tight quarters and poor food, many of the men had colds, influenza, and venereal diseases along with irritating skin conditions from the continual wet weather.  The team happily left the Fort on March 22, 1806 heading upstream in several canoes including one stolen from the neighboring Native Americans.  The Fort was left to the Indians for their use.  It rotted away in the wet weather, with no mention of it past the mid 1800’s.

We enjoyed walking on the empty beach

We enjoyed walking on the empty beach. We picked some shells that John just rinsed in this photo. 

Much like Lewis and Clark, we enjoyed Oregon’s gorgeous coastline.  Our 3 mile round trip hike on the Tahkenitch Trails tooks us from pine trees to sand dunes across swampy wetlands on to the beautiful beach.  In 45 minutes on the beach we only saw one other person.  We found a few interesting shells but only partial sand dollars.   The plovers were nesting so we had to stay on the wet sand in order to not disturb these tiny little shore birds.

In front of the Sea Lion Cave entrance and store

In front of the Sea Lion Cave entrance and store

Further north of Florence there is an opportunity to visit the privately owned Sea Lion Caves.  For $15 a person, you can take an elevator 208 feet down to see the signature Sea Lions.

We watched sea lions swimming and catching suns rays on the rocks

We watched sea lions swimming and catching suns rays on the rocks

Being frugal Offpeakers, we stood at the top and saw the interesting marine mammals with binoculars and the camera’s zoom lens.

Beautiful view of the Heceta Lighthouse

Beautiful view of the Heceta Lighthouse

Further down the road we had a great view back at the Sea Lions along the coast as well as of the Heceta Head Lighthouse.  This area is one of the most beautiful we have seen.  From this one spot you can see steep cliffs, crashing surf, swimming and sunning sea lions a the spectacular light house.

The coast was breathtaking

The coast was breathtaking

Less than half an hour further north, save time to investigate the Cape Perpetua Scenic area.  Included there is a nice Interpretive center from where you can reportedly see whales swim by earlier  in the year.  There are also short but interesting trails that can lead you down to the shoreline to see the Devil’s Churn, Cape Cove as well as tidal pools.

John found this beautiful starfish in one of the pools

John found this beautiful starfish in one of the pools

Heading north, Tillamook has a massive cheese factory that just cries out for a visit.  In a few minutes you can go on a self guided tour, enjoy nice restrooms, and sample a buffet line of cheeses.

We enjoyed sampling the cheeses at the factory

We enjoyed sampling the cheeses at the Tillamook factory

Of course you can purchase blocks of the cheese or tasty looking ice cream if you can brave the long lines and steep prices.  By now we were near Fort Clatsop, so we hurried on in the tradition of Lewis and Clark.  Our new home base is only a few hours away, so the Offpeakers will be back to see Fort Stevens (you can even hike to a shipwreck!), the Tillamook Aviation Museum among other notable sights in the area.

What an impressive bridge

The longest continuous truss bridge in North America, the impressive Astoria-Megler bridge. 

Our exit from the area was not in a hot canoe but still memorable.  The Astoria-Megler bridge crosses the mighty Columbia, taking us from Oregon to our new home state of Washington.  The towering 4.1 mile long bridge, with a top road height of 215 feet, is the longest continuous truss bridge in North America.  7,100 cars a day take this vertigo inducing trip.

A view from the top of the bridge. Washington Ahoy!

A view from the top of the bridge. Washington Ahoy!

We felt safe despite the height as the bridge was built to withstand windstorms of 150 miles per hour. Reading about the bridge brings to mind how the cost of infrastructure continues to rise.  When bridge construction was completed in 1966, total cost was $24 million.  Just recently the bridge was painted for a cost nearly the same, $21 million!

We loved the Oregon Coast, we want to go back!

Oregon is a diverse state that we must explore more. The Offpeakers will be back.

Whether you are following the Lewis and Clark Trail or just want a fun outing in the area, the Offpeakers endorse a visit to the Fort Clatsop National Memorial and of course the beautiful Oregon coast.  With so many coastal related sight seeing opportunities in the immediate area, try to set aside additional time in order to take more of it in.  What are some of your favorites on the Oregon Coast?  Are you a fan of Lewis and Clark’s Corp of Discovery?

Nettie’s Dream

Skilled hands make difficult, artistic work look easy and fun.  The Offpeakers are fortunate to have dear friends with amazing creative skills, some of which include: painting and wallpaper specialists, natural farmers, a master scuba diver, cake wizard, needlework experts, a noted game developer, a top notch welder and fabricator, travel blogger, auctioneer, and some presumed international secret agents.

Terry with the author of Netti's Dream, our friend Barbara Cairn

Terry with the gifted author of Nettie’s Dream, our friend Barbara Cairns.  We are in the State Park’s Discovery Center where she volunteers.  Such a busy lady!

One of our dear gifted friends is Barbara Cairns, who we met at the Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs State Park in Florida.  There her dynamic work as a volunteer helps people learn more about the park and its exciting wild life, particularly the manatee.

Barbara is the only person we know who has co-workers like these :-)

Barbara is the only person we know who has co-workers like these!

Barbara is a noted children’s author who’s books delight, entertain, and educate.  (Spoiler alert, we know what we are sending our nephews for Christmas!)

The book cover for Gatsby's Grand adventure.

The book cover for Gatsby’s Grand adventures.

Barbara is a fascinating study on her own (school teacher and principal in the Great White North and other exciting international posts, learned to fly from a bush pilot) and a brilliant story teller.

She even wrote a book about her pet Nimh!

She even wrote a book about her pet Nimh! Lucky & cute rat!

Happily her first novel, Nettie’s Dream, is now available.  Most interesting novels involve spies, corporate takeovers, and international intrigue.  Nettie’s Dream involves a small sea side village in Maine, a lobster boat, and an exuberant Chesapeake Bay Retriever.

We imagine Bo to be this cute when he was a puppy!

We imagine Bo to be this cute when he was a puppy!

Trust me, it works and soon you are pulled into the fascinating world of Lobster Bay.  This is a mature book about people taking another chance in life, smarter and seasoned, but with the same enthusiasm and the some of the familiar insecurities of their youth.

Cover page of Nettie's Dream

Cover of Nettie’s Dream

This fun novel will make you laugh aloud and also tense as she faces grave situations that are much closer to home than a missing satellite or a turncoat spy.  Terry and I read this out loud to each other as we drove around on our latest road trip.  We speculated about plot turns and loved the vivid descriptions of food, people and places.  The Offpeakers appreciate your book taking these travelers back to beautiful Maine!  It is always fun to see special people do well, and Barbara has certainly crafted an entertaining novel.  We highly recommend Nettie’s Dream and wish Barbara the very best in her literary career.

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