Saturday, August 31, 2013

An Early Morning Walk

We spent last night with another Harvest Host, Tertulia Cellars outside of Walla Walla, Washington. We were set to arrive after the tasting room closed, and they graciously left a gate open for us. We were very thankful for Google Maps, as I don't think we would have found it on our own. It was tucked away amongst rolling hills covered in grapevines, and lots of little unmarked roads! We arrived at dusk and had a quick dinner of leftover blueberry muffins, sliced cheese and salami, and fruit; it seemed the perfect thing to eat at twilight in a vineyard. After dark, Erik and I walked outside and gazed up at the stars, and coyotes in the distance reminded me of my childhood nights on the prairies of Alberta.
I awoke early this morning and slipped out of the trailer without waking the kids. I enjoyed a solitary walk between rows of grapevines. The air was fresh and cool and filled with the gentle sounds of farmland; the crowing of a rooster, a barking dog, the whinny of a horse. The sweet, pungent smell of silage hung in the air, again bringing me back to my childhood.
And the sun rose over the vineyard.
Heavy on the vine.
Tertulia Cellars in the golden light of morning. 

Harvest Hosts was inspired by similar programs in Europe, such as France Passion.  We've had such wonderful stays so far, and I'm looking ahead at our route to fit in as many Harvest Hosts stays as we can. I'm also dreaming of doing this in Europe someday!

"The sun, with all those planets revolving around it and dependent on it, can still ripen a bunch of grapes as if it had nothing else in the universe to do."  -Galileo Galilei

And my biggest and littlest enjoyed an early snack of peanut butter and bananas to hold them over until our Saturday morning pancakes. Erik got to do a little wine tasting before we headed out for another day's journey. 

Friday, August 30, 2013

Eastward Bound

Last night we stayed in the shadow of Mount Hood. 

   It's been nearly a month since Erik finished his contract and we left our temporary home in British Columbia, Canada. We've spent these past weeks in Oregon, visiting family and friends and gearing up for our next adventure. We downsized from our 2800 square foot house into less than 200 cozy feet of travel trailer. Remarkably, we were all so excited to be back in our little gypsy wagon. We enjoyed our time in Canada; it was nice to spread out and have plenty of indoor space to roam. It was also difficult to keep up with such a big house! These weeks tucked into our trailer, parked in my parents' yard, have been incredibly busy, filled with errands and visits and unpacking and sorting and repacking. We left Eugene last Sunday, after a few extra days of delay due to car issues. We've spent the week with family and friends in Salem and Portland, and yesterday we finally began our journey East.

    Our plan for the next two months is to make our way across the country, visiting friends, family, national parks and historic places. We will make the most of our Harvest Hosts membership, which allows us to stay overnight at farms and vineyards along the way. This was the trip we planned to take last fall when our house sold, but it ended up closing later than we'd hoped. It was too late in the season to go at that time, so we headed south and traveled down Mexico's Baja peninsula instead. We then planned to go in the spring, as Erik's job was supposed to be done at the end of May, but they extended his contract by two months. So here we are, at last, heading into my favorite season, and setting off. 

    Last night was our first night on the road, and we called ahead to make sure we could stay at Montovan's Berries outside of Hood River, where we planned to visit friends today. By the time we arrived, the sun was low in the sky. We were warmly welcomed by the owner, who showed us where to park and invited us to glean in the blueberry fields. The kids all tumbled out of our vehicle, and it seemed our family breathed out the busyness and stress of the last while and was enveloped in peace. (Peace, not to be confused with quiet!) The kids ran around, hollering, playing ball, and the owner said, "I'm glad to see you guys are berserk, because that's we roll around here!" 

     I stayed behind to prepare dinner while Erik and the kids ran off to pick berries. My heart filled with joy as I took in my surroundings; a cool breeze blew down from the foothills, while Mount Hood stood just beyond the farm, shrouded in clouds. Past the berry fields, evergreen trees covered the hillsides, and above me clouds raced by. A rainbow appeared for a few fleeting moments, a symbol of God's faithfulness and blessing. I knew in my heart this was exactly where our family needed to be, wild and free, together. When dinner was ready, I walked out past raspberry canes to the blueberry fields. I could hear the kids shouting, enjoying the sound of their voices echoing off the trees. I breathed deeply of fresh, cool air, and felt myself relax into the evening. And this is what I found:

Could this boy be any happier? Raphi is a hard worker, eager to jump in and help. He worked hard to fill the little container I'd given him.  
And this girl? Eyes as blue as the berries she'd picked, all shining and happy she was.
Some people have blue eyes, and others don't. But that doesn't stop them from trying. Peregrine remembered a time he did this with cherries a few years ago and thought perhaps he could start a series of berries-in-the-eyes pictures. Lovely. 
Erik was up this morning in time to capture another rainbow!
He also captured the sun breaking through the clouds and the peacefulness of morning on the farm.

    We started the morning with blueberry muffins bursting with fresh, juicy berry-goodness. The kids ran around and played with one of the girls who lives on the farm. She even took them for a ride around in the golf cart! We spent the afternoon in Hood River visiting one of my dearest friends and her family. This evening we're at another Harvest Hosts location, this time a vineyard in Washington. I'm excited to make our way across the country, visiting farms and meeting some of America's hard working people, enjoying their hospitality and supporting them by buying farm fresh produce and handmade goods. I'm looking forward to adventuring along together, learning, exploring, discovering. It's good to be on the road again! 

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Jungleland Panama: Day Two

A bit tired and very happy, we posed for a picture before we left Jungleland. We rarely get a picture of the whole family, so I cherish the times we hand off the camera and have proof we really were all together!

The girls perched on one of the hanging beds, looking out over Lake Gatun.

I loved our room on the house boat. There was a large, comfy bed for Erik and me, and single beds  hanging on chains from the ceiling. They could be raised and hooked up during the daytime and lowered at night. Like other places in Panama, it was set up for and welcoming to families or larger groups of friends.  I loved it! 

And the bathroom was cool, too! I loved the colors, the pedestal sink, the composting toilet, and warmish water pumped directly from the lake for showering!

We enjoyed swimming in the Lake. The water was surprising warm, yet refreshing.

The kids were excited to do a bit of fishing off the decks of the house...

... and reeled in a peacock bass!

The meals were delicious and plentiful! There were plenty of cold drinks available at all times, adult beverages in the evening, and special tiny pancakes for the kids at breakfast time. 

I'm not sure who was eyeing who here!

After breakfast we loaded back onto the boat to be taken back to the dock where we started. There's something about a boy on a boat. Raphael loved it!

Poppy wore this bucket on her head for weeks. She'd been sick while we were in Boquete, and we'd picked up this rum mix bucket to carry with us "just in case". She had bouts of nausea for weeks afterward, and took to wearing it on her head as a hat. I think she enjoyed all the attention she got due to her unusual choice of head wear!
We loved our time at Jungleland Panama. It was the perfect ending to our time in that country. We made some very special memories and if ever we were back in Panama, would definitely want to go back. 

Friday, August 16, 2013

Jungleland Panama: Day One

At the end of our five weeks in Panama this winter, we wanted to spend a few days relaxing and making some extra special memories. I really wanted to get up close and personal with the jungle and rainforest wildlife. There were many packaged tours offered, but the one that captured our imagination and offered a unique experience was Jungleland Panama. We hesitated to spend the money, as we tend to travel on a shoestring, but decided to take the plunge and go for it. It ended up being a highlight of our time in Panama, and we would wholeheartedly recommend it and do it again if given the chance. We sandwiched our overnight Jungleland adventure with two nights at the Radisson Summit Hotel in Gamboa, a lovely hotel with great customer service, an extravagant breakfast buffet, swimming pools, a butterfly habitat, and last, but most definitely not least, air conditioning. This was the view from our window at the hotel, looking out over the rainforest canopy toward Panama City in the distance. 
Our Jungleland adventure started at the dock in nearby Gamboa, where we met Captain Carl and boarded his boat along with several other people. Carl was everything you might expect: a bit rough around the edges and a wealth of information about the history of the canal the local flora and fauna. He had a number of jokes he told, and we were fairly certain they'd been delivered in exactly the same dry tone about a thousand other times. When asked a question, we were never exactly sure if he were giving a serious answer or not. Regardless of his quirkiness, he led an informative and entertaining tour as we crossed the canal alongside huge barges as well as smaller boats. We even spotted a brave iguana swimming along the middle of the canal, his spiny little head just above the water. 

The Panama Canal is currently undergoing a large expansion project that will allow much larger ships to pass through. Captain Carl told us a lot about the project and explained how the work is being done. He told us we were witnessing history in the making! This is a barge that uses explosives to dredge the bottom as they deepen and widen the canal. Other barges carry rubble away. As you can see in the pictures, the water was very murky in this part of the canal. 
We saw several huge cargo ships in transit through the canal. We had previously visited the Miraflores Locks and learned a lot about the history of the canal, so it was fun to actually be in it.

Raphael was so excited to see monkeys in the wild. Well, we all were, but I think he was especially looking forward to it. This is a white throated capuchin, a New World monkey native to Central and northern South America. This is the type of monkey that typically accompanied an organ grinder!
At another island we saw a little family of howler monkeys; a mama, daddy, and baby all scampering along and playing. Carl gave out peanuts so that we could feed the monkeys, a practice that I don't really approve of, but it was fun to see them so close. In another place we saw a troop of spider monkeys in the trees above us. Carl told us a lot about the differences between species, their behaviors and groupings, diet, etc. It was so neat to see them in their natural habitat. If I were a monkey, this is where I'd want to live! 
After we left the main part of the canal, we headed into Lake Gatun. When the canal was built, a river was dammed to create a huge lake that now makes up a long stretch of the canal. If you imagine water flooding a hilly area, you can picture how there are lots of little coves and fingers to the lake. You can also see here, away from the dredging, how the waters are a beautiful green instead of brown. The huge trees hanging over the water are mangoes. Sigh... all those lovely mangoes with no one but the birds and monkeys and maybe a hungry boatman to eat them up. Yes, I would definitely live here if I were a monkey. 
And here it is.... Jungleland Panama! It is apparently the only floating house on Lake Gatun, tucked away in a peaceful little cove, surrounded by lush rainforest, far from the noise and lights of civilization. It was designed and built by Carl, with lots of attention to detail. The adjoining boat used to give tours but is now the dining room! There were lots of open spaces and hammocks available to relax and enjoy the stillness. We were welcomed aboard and given options of how we wanted to spend our afternoon. 
There were some tamarin monkeys frisking about nearby. Poppy is quite certain she needs to own one as a pet someday. Apparently there is a black market for them and they can fetch about $10,000. So yeah, if it was legal and affordable.... I'd buy her one. 
The houseboat was home to several different animals, many of which had been rescued. Look at my brave girl holding a young caiman! 
While some people chose to go out fishing for the afternoon, we jumped into kayaks and paddled our way through a narrow waterway into the jungle. In places, there was hardly enough room to maneuver through, and I imagine it's a constant battle of man versus plants to keep it open! Peregrine and I worked together, or attempted to work together (haha!)  to paddle the kilometer or so up to a little waterfall and swimming hole. It was so beautiful and peaceful, sunlight streaming through dense canopy, bouncing off the water, its brilliance reflected in an iridescent flash of a blue morhpo's wings. Pure magic. 

Peregrine eagerly climbed up the rocks to wait his turn to jump from the waterfall into the deep pool below. He stood there for a long time, working up the nerve to do it. Everyone cheered him on as he finally took the plunge. I'm so proud of my kids when they face a fear and overcome it!
I got to be alone on the paddle back, as some of the kids chose to ride in the motorized canoe. It was somehow a lot easier to paddle alone! Erik, who has more kayaking experience than I, gave me some pointers that really helped. 
I got to hold and feed the night monkey. Well, I guess holding isn't quite the same things as being climbed on. She was stinky, but it was fun!
The kids got to feed the toucan, and also a parrot. Both of them had been injured and couldn't live in the wild any longer. 
Poppy and Peregrine really enjoyed kayaking and took one of the kayaks out on the lake around the house. It was fun to watch them and allow them the independence and freedom to go off on their own. We did steer them clear of the shore. You know, where the crocodiles live. And yes, they wore life jackets. 
Sun set, and the air was alive with the sounds of the jungle.
After dark, we joined Adam and several others to do look for crocodiles and caimans. Adam works for Jungleland and we were glad he led our evening expedition, as he was passionate and super knowledgeable about these animals. Armed with a bright light, we swept the water's edge for the reflection of eyes. If we saw them, he would have someone hold the light steady on them. It's kind of like deer-in-the-headlights only it's caiman-in-the-spotlight. He then sped toward them and if it was a small caiman, he would reach his hand into the water and attempt to grab it. He missed several times, but the thrill of the "hunt" was pretty, well, thrilling. He shared a lot about their habits, and he actually has several he is raising, then will release into the wild once they are larger, which greatly improves their chance of survival. We never saw a crocodile, but he did catch this caiman, which he said was about three years old. It was an exciting evening out, to say the least! Raphael and Pearl both fell asleep, but the big kids will certainly remember hunting crocs by night on Lake Gatun!

Once we were back at Jungleland and getting settled into our cozy and comfortable room for the night, Poppy and I stole away up to the deck, where we lay down together and gazed at the stars, clear and bright, shining down on the jungle, alive with the sounds of the night. It was a special few moments with my precious girl, moments to tuck away and always remember.

Stay tuned for part two of our Jungleland adventure!