We’re on the Road Again

The morning started like any other day. While a bit hectic, it wasn’t any different from just about any other weekday. We woke up at dawn and started getting ready for the day ahead. Kids dragged out from beds, ate breakfast and left for school. On surface everything seemed normal. Except, we knew it wasn’t. It was a Thursday, and I wasn’t leaving for work…

I quit my job the day before. They said, I left my employer to pursue “personal interests”. I call it a Sabbatical – an extended, unpaid leave of absence. Last time I took one, we spent over a year on the road wandering North America. Now it’s time to show our kids Europe. Like most our trips, the plan is not precisely plotted. We will map our travels as we go. For now, all we know is that our first stop will be London, then a few weeks on the roads of western Europe. We plan to return home in early September with couple of stops on the way back, in Norway and Iceland.

While Nadia was taking her last exam, and Alex trading farewells with his pals, Agnieszka and I were packing and getting the house ready. The flight was supposed to leave Toronto late night, but we needed to get there early to park our car with our Polish friends living in Hamilton. Everything was going relatively smooth. In fact, when I realized that we would be able to leave on time, I became suspicious. That has never happened before! We were about to lock the doors behind us, when I got a text message from Primera Air. It was short, and very clear. And yet I read it three times, disbelief giving way to anger. Our flight was… cancelled!

The text was followed by an email, confirming that the flight was indeed not going to leave Toronto that night. That message also contained some options. One of them was to book a flight with another airline, and seek a refund afterwards. Considering Primera Air’s reputation it was risky decision. Finding four open seats on another flight that same night seemed like mission impossible. And yet, somehow we got lucky! I booked a flight with Air Transat, and a few hours later we boarded the plane, and the next morning disembarked at Gatwick International.

The red eye flight was tiring. Our kids don’t have European passports (yet), so upon arrival we ended up in a non-EU immigration line. That morning several transatlantic flights arrived in London, making the lines crowded and long. Two hours later we caught a train to the city and arrived at the hotel early afternoon. Imagine my irritation when we learned that Priceline sold us a room with two single beds. Calling their customer support was a waste of time, they offered no solution, and no apology. “Josh”, their representative, speaking with heavy Indian accent from an undisclosed location, stated that this is my problem and I should talk to the hotel manager directly. I thanked him for this useless suggestion. Fortunately Chris, the Docklands Lodge hotel manager was able to rectify Priceline’s screw-up and gave us two adjacent, connected rooms.

We spent the next few days exploring London and taking pictures to document our discoveries.

On Tuesday night we boarded yet another cheap ($123.81 for four seats) and Europe’s most (in)famous airline, Ryanair. Despite horror stories about their services, we have no reasons to complain. Even though our departure was slightly delayed, the flight was uneventful and we arrived in Katowice (Poland) on time. I would even say that the flight comfort was very much comparable, if not higher than most american airlines.

Today, we are at my father’s house getting ready for the next chapter of our journey. I sincerely hope to not be the sole scribe of those travel records, and that Nadia, and Alex will use this journal to share their impressions of Europe with their friends back home.

Stay Healthy on the Road

Since we’ve made the decision to wander around the world for a while, my biggest concern has been our health and well being. How were we going to deal with sickness on the road? Where were we going to find a good doctor in a new place? What if we had an emergency… Where are we to go? All these questions were spinning through my head until I got dizzy.

There was not much left to do, but to get ready. I got on my favorite websites, visited my naturopath, doctor Evelyn Asher and realized that prevention is the best way to go. I knew that most common diseases start in your gut, so healthy intestines are key in fighting off all kinds of bacteria and viruses. Evelyn assured me that maintaining a healthy, whole, real, made from scratch foods diet was crucial.

At home, it was easy to get all the unprocessed, raw, locally grown, mostly organic foods. But on the road, it was a whole new ball game. Many times we walked out of a store with empty hands, because everything was processed, chemically altered, genetically modified and out of a box. However, thanks to Robert’s love of back roads, we were able to find products at small food stands in the country. It was mostly produce, but also locally grown meats, honey, and raw dairy products.

Along the way, we have been on a constant lookout for “edible” foods, feeling like modern day hunters in the overly processed and plastic world. When we found a good store, I would buy more to keep us going for the next day or so, but not more, since all we had was a portable cooler.

In addition, all of us went on probiotics and fish oil supplements. Not just any. There are a lot of expensive and worthless products, but there are a few good and inexpensive ones too (we use Primal Defense and Nordic Naturals). I put it in smoothies for my children and they never know the difference.

We also packed some essential oils, like oregano and eucalyptus. The first one is a natural antibiotic that you can not develop resistance to, and the second is a great natural and DEET free bug repellent.

You may say, that it is expensive, too much hustle, time consuming… Yes, it is all of those things, but the rewards are tangible. If it was not for the ticks that bit Nadia or a recent 2 day fever for Alex, my kids would have made a year without any kind of health issue. How is that for a saving on copay’s at the doctors offices! Yes a year… That is a great result for a travelling child, sleeping in different places, eating new foods, being exposed to all kinds of germs and regularly going to school in Mexico.

Writing this post, I have probably jinks-ted myself and now we are all going to get sick, 😉 but here it is, I’ve said it. To me it is worth every penny and every minute, it is my long term commitment to let food be my medicine so cheers and let’s raise our glasses… Mine is filled with jugo verde! 🙂

Never Travel to Mexico

If you feel the craving for an adventure, please do me and yourself a favor – do not go to Mexico! Seriously, please forget about that crazy idea. Find a more civilized place to spend your hard earned money. You wonder why I say so? Well, an old friend of mine recently helped me understand all the mistakes we’ve been committing along the way. Lessons learned, here’s a little roundup of reasons, not to travel to Mexico (in no particular order):

  • Mexico doesn’t have a decent culture, it’s just folklore

    The guides might try to sell you on the greatness of the ruins of some several thousands years old Indian civilizations, but in fact those are  just big piles of rock. Just like the supposedly old (500 years whoop-ti-do!) colonial towns with their narrow, cobblestone streets spotted with churches and other architectural “marvels”. The museums are full of shiny items stolen by rich guys from the poor ones, some of the most “famous” paintings look like comic book murals. The colonial towns resemble Disneyland for retirees, except they’re open 24/7, the staff doesn’t leave the set after dark and they speak with that funny accent.

  • Fast food is hard to find

    I know you’ll find it hard to believe, but it is rather difficult to get a decent burger or a slice of pizza in this country.  Burger Kings, Subways, Pizza Huts and McDee’s are only in bigger cities or tourist areas, everywhere else is only this damn spicy, healthy, made from scratch Mexican food – guacamole, tacos, gordittas, tamales and other nutritious nonsense. Not much fat, nothing’s pre-processed and everything’s fresh. And you have to watch the people preparing your food right in front of you. Instead of being miserable working for a minimum wage and dragging their feet, they rush around smiling all the time! Obviously, they’re on drugs or are otherwise retarded…

  • You might get accidentally killed

    With the ongoing wars between the drug cartels, police, army, American IRS and God knows who else, you might end up being in the wrong time in the wrong place.  If you “accidentally” enter a crystal meth lab, or get possession of illegal substances, chances are you’ll “accidentally” get killed.

  • You might get accidentally inspired

    Unsupervised wandering in places of unspoiled natural beauty, coastal paradises or colonial marvels in small, sleepy towns of  central Mexico, may cause sudden desire to uncover ones artistic nature. We all know, without appropriate dose of alcohol, the effects can be dangerous.

  • Mexico is boring

    Not much going on here – festivals, concerts, parades only once a week or so. If you have enough kahunas to drive around Mexico, your only adventures will be on the roads, trying to navigate around potholes and avoiding closer encounters with the topes. If you’re an adrenaline junkie, you’ll definitely find a lot of it in any watering hole or strip club within 100 miles south of the US border. Or north, when I think about it! But then again, you may get killed, accidentally…

  • Beware, Mexico is full of Mexicans!

    Not only will they tidy up your room, up-keep your garden and clean the pool, they will also drive you around in a bus or a taxi, they’ll sell you stuff at the store, wait your table and prepare your food at the restaurant, even treat you at the hospital, should anything happen to you! Like in the US, they are everywhere, except…

  • They don’t speak any English in Mexico

    Even if you somehow get to grips with the idea of being surrounded by Mexicans all the time, you need to know that a great majority of them, doesn’t have the decency to speak any English! They expect you to learn Spanish! Can you believe that? They want you to speak foreign language when you’re abroad!?! As if travelling wasn’t frustrating enough!

  • Mexico is expensive

    The hype is that Mexico is so much cheaper than the civilized World. Well, it’s not. Unless, you’re looking for substandard products and services. You know, like hand made pottery, which is almost as expensive as the cheap junk from China, you buy at Walmart. Or a fine hotel room in one of Mexican vacation spots, which will cost you almost as much as a cheap motel room in a shady part of Chicago.

  • Mexico is smelly and dirty

    Oh yes, it is… Trash is flying high on the highways, those cobblestone streets are densely spotted with dog poo, sewage flows in the open, the street kitchen smells mix with the odors, giving it an unforgettably… Pittsburgh’ish experience.

  • Friends and Family will consider you nuts

    Since impression is reality, you’ll be obliged to get yourself a nutcracker. Or a saddle, if they consider you a mule… Those who love you most, won’t disguise their real worries and speak out loud calling you names and laughing in your face to discourage you from making the biggest mistake of your life. Be grateful!

I’m sure the list could be longer. For now, that’s how much we’ve established. If you know of any other reasons we should not travel to those “uncivilized” countries in general, and to Mexico in particular, please share. Just make sure it’s not experience based – those are heavily subjective, and therefore biased. Make sure the advice is based on popular opinions, urban legends or at the very least, superstitions. Popular media and social networking sites provide plenty of material!

Fitness on the go, how I stay in shape while travelling.

Most of my adult life life I have been working out on my own. I say most, because I divide my life into two eras: „before kids” and „after kids”. „Before kids”, I am not even sure if I was an adult… maybe just on paper :-).

Anyway, belonging to a gym or taking regular classes are pretty darn tough when you have a family. Who has time for that, right!!!! Time gets a totally different meaning, you wonder how much more can you do with 5 minutes and sleeping for prescribed 8 hours is not an option anymore.

I could not get through all that if I did not excercise, I swear. Fitness to me is means of producing energy. Without it I would be sleepy, lethargic, tired and I would certainly not be able to keep up with my kids, who are NEVER EVER tired.

I was wondering, how I was going to fit it into my schedule while driving for few hours every other day, sleeping in tents and not being able to take any props with me (except for my bicycle and strech band).

Well, when you want something you can become pretty creative. Here is what I did before we got to San Miguel. I woke up an hour before the rest of the crew and went for a run or rode my bike. It was a great experience because we stayed mostely in National Parks, so I got to enjoy the beautiful sceneries and nature. My favourite was Hunting Island beach, the hard sand was perfect for both, running and cycling and the view of the endless ocean was very calming for my mind. Cardio is great but strengh is also escential. I created something that I call playground fitness. I would take my kids to the playground and instead of sitting on a bench just watching them play I would workout… not for long maybe 20 minutes. I started with jogging 5 times around the playground, then I would alternate between pullups on the mankey bars, pushups and tricept dips on a bench. I did few rounds and I was done for the day. The most challenging where pullups, but I started with one and gradually was able to do more. Old school excercises, but they make wonders for your body, mind and the strengh that you gain is unbelivable.

Now in San Miguel de Allende (SMA), I have much more freedom. Since we stay in one place and in a APPARTMENT I got to be much more creative and change it up a little.

I still run in the mornings. I walk my kids to school and then jog back home. It is pretty challenging since most roads here are cobblestones but on the other hand balancing on it sculpts your ass in a way you never thought was possible 🙂 I also have my favorite P90X on my laptop, so I do it 2 or 3 times a week. You need weights for that, so I made my own from gallon water jugs. I also jump rope on the rooftop terrace of our house when I do laundry.

Since we have been staying here for a while, I was able to take some yoga classes, but I am still searching for the perfect one. Either the time, the teacher or the style does not work for me. Today I tried kundalini yoga and I am positive it is not the right fit… too calm for my personality and I do not own an animal fur rug that they used as a mats 🙂

It all would not be possible if I was working full time. I would have to limit my workouts or get up at 4:30 am like Jen H does:-) I am very grateful to be a SaHM (stay at home mom), even on the go, take care of myself and what is even more important set an example for my children.

The Sabbatical is official!

Old Maps and Spyglass

Couple weeks ago, I’ve decided to share the Sabbatical plans with my employer.

That’s a significant milestone, and I have to admit I was dreading the moment, not sure what to expect. I had mixed feelings, knowing that if I am to ask for a leave of absence approval, I have to give my notice early enough to allow for a smooth transition. Waiting till the last moment would most likely cause more grief and hard feelings, making the Sabbatical scenario much less probable. On the other hand, keeping everyone in the dark felt so much safer and convenient. If anything was about to go wrong or we had a sudden change of hart, I wouldn’t have to back out with tail between my legs. I wrote the notice and suddenly everything changed.

To my surprise, both of my bosses turned out to be very supportive and their responses to my e-mail were prompt and felt really genuine. As a result, the head of human resources prepared a letter, in which the company commits to offer me a similar position upon our return from this mini-retirement. In reality, because of our soon to be re-acquired mobility, professional experience (self confidence?) and functional flexibility, I feel that finding an equivalent job will not be extremely difficult, but having this kind of “guarantee” helps ease the anxiety.

Even though I disclosed our plans only to few friends, family and handful of co-workers, the news spread out like wildfire. Some people were thrilled with the idea and admired our courage. Others shook their heads in disbelief, mostly behind my back. However, I’m not sure if any of them truly understood what we were about to do. Apparently, for most people the idea of voluntary unemployment is beyond comprehension, which leads to only one logical conclusion – we must be nuts. And I’m not about to argue that statement, for I’m convinced it’s true. But, if only a little, there is some reason to this madness.

So what is it exactly that we’re doing?

Most people see it as really long vacations, which to a certain extent is accurate. However, there is so much more to it. It starts with the sudden realization that unless the Buddhists are right, we’re not about to have another appearance here. Even if they are right, chances are our next reincarnation will be a bullfrog, horsefly or a skunk if we’re lucky. Obviously, if you haven’t figured it out yet, I’m going through a mid life crisis. Most normal people grind their teeth and keep pushing through. Nuts, on the other hand, come up with real crazy ideas, talk their normal spouses into them and then try to implement. Such is my story.

When I was younger and (just a bit) more naïve, I’ve been told that we get to choose what we want to do in life. I still believe that today. For quite some time – about 14 years or so – I’ve been convinced that my passion is crunching numbers and producing business presentations. Only recently, I’ve realized it’s nothing more then a lousy excuse for living a fat ass life! Unfortunately, I still don’t know what it is exactly that I’d like to be doing in life. Since I couldn’t figure it out in those 14 years, I concluded that I’m either not smart enough or my brain languishes in current environment. I’m too proud to admit the former, so I decided to change the later.

I’ve been flirting with the idea of changing employers, but decided against it. What are the chances of landing a dream job without knowing what it actually is? Instead, I want to take time to contemplate my passion. I know, it still sounds like a cheesy excuse for ditching work. Oh, well…

Think what you want, but I’ve managed to convince my wife to this crazy idea and in about five weeks, we’re about to start our extended vacation, eh… I mean pursuit of freedom, passion and happiness. Since we can’t really afford to do it at home, we will rent our house out and live for a year on the road, traveling around USA, Mexico and Central America.

We will sleep longer, walk slower and just enjoy the day…