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Feeling grounded

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When I am surrounded by nature, I feel peace. It all makes sense to me, and I am able to think clearly and creatively and feel happy and alive.

Yesterday, I had a meltdown. A full blown Belinda dissolves into an ugly puddle, meltdown. I felt overwhelmed, claustrophobic in my head and distant from anything that made sense. After a good cry, I dragged my pathetic self to Danny, who was trying to give me space, and poured our my jumbled mess of nonsensical sorrows to him, wanting him to solve it all but not wanting a single word of advice (I know…it makes no sense), and he said to me, you need to walk in the dirt with your shoes off so you can feel grounded again.

And so I did.
The airbnb we are staying in, is on the 11th floor of a building next to a large shopping mall. We are surrounded by concrete and granite and glass and plastic and porcelain.

Not too far away is an inlet, and after taking the lift down to the first floor, I made a bee line for that water. The second I reached a place where I could see more nature than concrete, I felt like I could breathe again, and I kicked my shoes off to feel the earth beneath my bare feet and instantly felt weightless and free.

My husband is a genius and he knows me well. All I needed was nature. Dirt. Grass. Trees. Water. It’s what keeps me sane. Xiamen is so interesting, because you’ll be in the middle of the city, and suddenly the regular sidewalk ends, and a beautiful park appears – like Central Park in NY. This photo is looking back toward the buildings of the city from just inside the park.

A paved path runs all the way around the park, providing a place for runners, walkers and cyclists.

It felt so good to walk on the grass, feel the textures beneath my feet, and smell the trees and plants. I took deep breaths and offered a prayer of thanks for the beauty that surrounded me.

The sand around the inlet was full of small shells, and I picked out a few to take home as a reminder.

I watched little children playing, digging, running and laughing. This was their place to feel free, too.

As I walked the grounds, I thought about how important it is to allow ourselves to take the time to feel grounded. It’s so easy to get lost in the hustle of life, that we forget to take care of ourselves, and to be our authentic selves.

I love travel. I love to see the world and learn about different cultures and traditions, and I love learning from people who live so differently from what I’m accustomed to. I believe we have so much to learn from each other. The thought of living in one spot permanently is not appealing to Danny nor I, which is such a foreign thought to many. Neither is better than the other, just different.

Some people thrive in the city, while others are happy by the sea. The diversity is what make it all balanced and functional. As for me, a simple flower. hand full of shells and my bare feet in the sand, is what makes all the difference in the world…and of course my sweet husband to remind me once in a while.

Life is good, and I have much to be grateful for.

Hukishan Fortress, Xiamen

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Hulishan Fortress is located on the south side of Xiamen Island on the top of Huli Hill. It overlooks the sea and was built in 1894 to protect the island from invasion as part of the Westernization Movement.

Hulishan is famous for its cannons. Over 50 cannons were purchased from Germany for the fort during the Ming and Qing dynasties during the years 1644 to 1911.

The Krupp Cannon is the most famous and well preserved. According to the Guiness Book of World Records, the Krupp Cannon is the oldest and largest coastal artillery of the 19th century, with a range of 10 miles (16km), and the ability to launch 1-2 bullets every minute.

This is looking in to the Krupp cannon from the back side.

The fort was built with granite rocks, and the base of the fortress is made of a mixture of tree sap, liquid brown sugar, glutinous rice, sand and clay. It’s amazing that those ingredients have held up so well over all this time and against the elements.

Hulishan fortress consists of barracks, secret tunnels, a commanding tower, an ammunition depot, trenches, a sentry platform, jail cells and several other structures.

The shells used in some of the cannons were enormous, and are on display along the sides of the barracks corridors. The two main artilleries being 87 tons in weight and 280mm caliber.

Inside each shell, is a large amount of gun powder, causing them to explode on impact – which was really effective in obstructing enemy warships as they cooperated with the Yuzaiwei Fort across the sea.

Large statues are scattered throughout the 70 000 square meter grounds, depicting the efforts of those building the fort.

As we neared the end of exploring, storm clouds gathered and a beautiful glow settled over the area just before drenching showers began to fall.

Eating out

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One of the many things I find so endearing about the Chinese, is how they go about translating to English. Most businesses, menus, packaging, instructions etc, is written in Chinese, so we really appreciate the rare English text. This sign is above a convenient store, welcoming visitors, and as you can see, it reads “welcome your visiting.” I love it.

Before coming to Xiamen, Danny bought be a priceless gift in the form of a handy dandy little translator. It’s about the size of a small cell phone and we can push a button and talk into it and it repeats what we said in any of 61 languages. We can also take a photo of text with it, and it will translate the text into the language of choice. It’s been a life saver so far, and extremely clear and accurate.
Many eating establishments have pictures next to their dishes, so we try find those when we eat out, so we can pick out food to order that will be pleasing to the pallet. Here, Danny is picking out his dish before entering.

After being seated, we were each handed our cutlery – all shrink wrapped in plastic.

Along with these wrapped packages, we were handed a silver pot of boiling water and a plastic container with a long handle so that we could wash our dishes and utensils before eating.

Our glasses were the size of shot glasses. I wasn’t hungry, but ordered a large fresh mango juice, and it arrived in a tall pitcher, which we all ended up sharing.

Many of the restaurants have huge fish tanks with live sea creatures swimming around in them, so guests can pick out the critter of their choice to be scooped up and cooked fresh for them.

There are many old buildings around, and most are beautifully lit at night for the abundant night life.

It’s interesting to know though, that it wasn’t until 1980 that China really recognized Xiamen as an important place to invest in and expand, so it has only been in the last 40 years – especially the last 20 years, that the city has been built up like it is.

Citizens gather and enjoy the lights, companionship and cooler temperatures at night.

This man had an interesting way of weighing his fresh cherries. Her used a stick with marks on it and a weight, and slid the weight along the stick to figured out the produce weight.

Xiamen is a crazy concrete jungle, but we love the care that has been taken to keep green hills, trees, bushes and flowers in great abundance around the city.

Several waterways lead into the city from the ocean as well, which adds to the beauty among the buildings and roadways.

Emma and I went to a huge, modern grocery store yesterday, where everything was so beautifully displayed. Large bins of legumes were so inviting…I really wanted to climb in and play.

Also huge bins of various kinds of rice. I looked around and realized that I was the only one looking at it longingly – wanting to scoop handfuls and feel it between my fingers. I believe our sweet granddaughter, Zailyn, and I, could have tons of fun in the beans and rice!

Okra seems to be a huge favorite, and it looks so healthy and fresh!

I’m not sure I’ve ever seen such beautiful cauliflower before, either! I am a fresh fruit and vegetable nut and am in awe of the produce.

Beautiful tanks also displayed large amounts of shelled creatures for sale. I wanted to buy them just for the shells.

Crabs were tied and neatly lined,

and frogs sat silently watching shoppers pick out and bag up live eels, fish and their froggy roommates.

Today we will be exploring an old fort, called Hulishan Cannon Fort. I’m excited to take lots of photos, learn and blog about it.

Street markets…an olfactory affair

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It’s been incredibly hot and humid during the day, so we’ve tried to venture out in the mornings and evenings to avoid the worst of the heat. Our latest evening adventure was to one of the many street markets, where the smell of fish greats you with a full body hug!

The interesting thing is that most of what is sold, is still very much alive…
Eels, rock fish, crabs, sand worms, catfish, carp, pike, pickerel, grayling, whitefish, zander, trout, toads, tortoise, soft shelled turtles…just to name a few, are swimming, laying, writhing, squirming and splashing around, waiting their turn to be scooped up for dinner.

Some of the fish I didn’t recognize, looked pelagic, with huge jaws and scaleless looking bodies – the kind you don’t want squirming between your toes.

All sorts of tube worms, hermit crabs and snails were also displayed and ready for consumption.

Though we didn’t see shark fin, we did see the whole darn thing out on ice and ready to take home.

Turtle soup is a favorite dish served in Chinese homes and restaurants, so soft shelled turtles are readily available – all wrapped up in red mesh bags. I felt bad for them as they, and cute little tortoise the size of a chicken egg, lay looking at me as I passed.

I wanted to buy them all and set them free, but Emma reminded me that if I did, I would be supporting the problem. Hundreds more would be there the next day to take their place.

Believe it or not, I even felt bad for the frogs!

Once critters are purchased, you can have them prepared right there by vendors.

The vendors are extremely efficient and skilled in their preparation – like this crab lady, who prepped a few crabs in about 2 seconds for a customer.

Some were already prepared and lay lifeless on top of cages and tubs filled with their live buddies – like these birds.

Mounds of jelly lay ready, which is used in desserts and teas.

Dried foods are a staple in China, and can be stored for great lengths of time. One can find anything from dried squid, shrimp, abalone, sea cucumber, tube worms, octopus, oysters, shark fin, fish maw and jellyfish,

to starfish, mushrooms, spices, teas and many other things I haven’t been able to name yet.

Fresh produce is also in great abundance and so beautifully displayed in large baskets.

Vendors worked their magic out on the street, selling and conversing.

Behind the street vendors, are large open stores, where further shopping can be done.

Street markets wouldn’t be complete without the small of cooking food filling the air – some of it recognizable and some not at all.

Alleyways leading off the main streets were also filled with vendors as well as empty containers, food preparation areas and doorways to homes.

Sometime I’d like to wander down them, and see where they lead…

I did see one flower stand, but when I bent down to smell the blooms, all I could smell was fish.

The incense lady had a good idea though, and for a brief moment sandalwood and champa filled my nostrils, which was a welcomed reprieve.

A sweet elderly man caught my attention by waving his shirt open and closed at me, and wanted his picture taken. I’d love to know his life story.

China is fascinating. We feel completely safe here, don’t understand a single soul without our translator or apps, love the rich culture and beautiful people, and look forward to each new day.

Xiamen, China

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Our first few days here in Xiamen, China, have been amazing.

Xiamen is an Island in the Fujian Province of China, and is the 8th largest port in the country . The name Xiamen means “door to the house”, meaning, the gateway to China.

Jude and Caleb have been living here for the last 4 months, and it has been wonderful to be with them again, and of course, it is great to be reunited with the twins after their month in Barcelona. Jude has taken us to some crazy interesting places, which I’ll write about in the next blog…
We took a stroll during the last few minutes of a small typhoon, and enjoyed the ‘breeze’ and precipitation. Broken branches lay scattered on the sidewalks, and some areas on streets, parking lots and sidewalks were deep with sewage smelling water.

Motorbikes and gas scooters are banned here, so electric scooters and bicycles are used in great abundance, and riders seem to have right of way in any area and direction they please – whether it be against the flow of traffic or on the sidewalks. Even with this in mind, traffic is far more orderly (and quiet) than Thailand and Indonesia.

Danny arrived in Xiamen 24 hours after I did because the airline messed up on his ticket, and once rested we took him on a walkabout as well. China has many large open areas that come to life at night – when temperatures have dropped. Older women danced with brightly colored fans, little ones chased each other around on scooters while parents chatted, and a little girl twirled around with a long ribbon. I kept thinking about our sweet granddaughter and how much fun she would have exploring with us.

We passed a gentleman selling dried fruit that resembled prunes, and purchased a handful out of curiosity. The texture was much like a prune but the taste was more like dried cherries that had been soaked in something…I’m still not sure how I feel about the taste, but I did enjoy the new experience.

We also stopped by a small store where Jude purchased fresh ginger and mushrooms to add to a stir fry. I’m impressed by how much Chinese she knows already.

The store shelves were packed with dried legumes, rice crackers, and biscuits and on the ground were open boxes of various dried noodles.

The produce area consisted of mushrooms, bok choy, cilantro and many other greens.

We stopped at a cafe to grab some lunch, and were introduced to the fact that cash is not widely accepted. An app called WeChat is used to order and pay for food. Each table has a small plaque with a barcode on it, and once seated, guests scan the barcode with their phone, which brings the menu up on the phone, and you place your order and are billed to your WeChat/WePay immediately.

It’s pretty bonified! It eliminates the need for waitresses, which I’m sure is far more cost effective – yet less welcoming for the company. I’m still not entirely sure what I ordered, but think it was some sort of pork dish….it was delicious. It arrived with okra, corn, kimchee, and soup.

Aidan and Emma have discovered some great skate spots, and have found that since it’s so hot during the day, evenings are the best time to get going. We are so impressed by the beautiful landscaping throughout the city and in the parks.

We plan on renting an airbnb for a month, which will give us a chance to explore the island and decide if we’d like to stay longer in Xiamen, or move on and explore someplace else.
Life is good and the adventures continue!

Exploring Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

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Our adventures took us to a beautiful secluded place, far back in the jungle. As we drew near, we read a sign that said a Shaman lived there, and we needed to be quiet and respectful.

Due to the reverence of the location, we were surprised to find how brightly colored it was painted. Murals in a rainbow of colors covered the walls.

We admired the creativity.

Each of us were told to pick a stick of bamboo with colored stripes and a feather, from a basket that the Shaman was holding.

As we quietly walked we were to meditate and think of something significant we wanted guidance in or wanted to feel peace about, and then at a certain point, we were to push the bamboo into a special place that would be shown us, into the earth.

As we crossed a drawbridge, we could smell fresh tortillas being cooked…

A building on the other side opened up into a beautiful place to eat and rest, and a woman stood pressing tortilla dough, then cooking the perfect rounds on a hot pan. We were told to eat to our hearts content.

Just above her and off to the side, was a stationary bike which had a blender attached to it. If they wanted to make a smoothie, someone had to jump on and pedal to make the blades turn. Genius!

Brightly colored signs marked the way,

and a beautiful little girl with equally colorful clothing and beaded jewelry, watched us gringas with great interest!

A man dressed in leather and feathers emerged from behind some rocks, and blew into a conch shell,

and was soon joined by an older man who carried a smoking bucket of burning sage and a handful of plants, which he waved up and down as he melodically chanted. The rich smell of herbs filled the air.

During this time the little girl wandered into the stream and watched as she held her dress high above the water.

We enjoyed a beautiful, peaceful afternoon in the shade and resting our feet in the coolness of the water.

When we finally returned to town, we wandered along the Malecon for a while.

The Malecon is a mile long stretch that runs along the beach, down town Puerto Vallarta. A wonderful breeze constantly blows off the water and cools the never ending sweat on our faces. At one point the broad path crosses over the river, where people often come to swim during the day.

In several areas, human statues sit perfectly still, hoping for a small tip,

and many gorgeous bronze statues stand tall and proud, ready for photographs.

Some of them are fountains…

Each town in Mexico has the traditional large lettering name, where visitors flock for pictures.

Huge arches stand as a backdrop to an amphitheater across from the town square, framing the Hotel zone of Puerto Vallarta in the background.

A crowd gathered right at sunset to listen to and watch the traditional Danza de los Voladores (Dance of the flyers), where dancers launch themselves from a 30ft pole, and spin while hanging upside down and playing flutes. The ritual was originally presented to ask the Gods to send rain in times of drought.

We continue to love Mexico and her people. We love where we are staying in La Aurora, where taco stands lines the cobbled streets in the evenings,

and everyone is humble and friendly. The world has much to learn from the people here…they know how to laugh out loud, take good naps, make and eat delicious food, work hard and love their families. Life is good, and the adventures continue…

Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

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When I look at an arial view of meandering rivers branched out and eventually combining to form one – which ultimately leads to the ocean, I feel like it represents a diagram of my life. I have walked and camped along so many streams, rivers and lakes, and they along with that inner compass in me, seem to lead me to the ocean every time. It’s where I feel most peace. The ocean heals me. It’s my watering hole.Having reached yet another crossroads in my life, I found myself doing the same that I have done before…taking my children and finding a magical place by the ocean where we can immerse ourselves in a new culture and dip into a new place in the sea. Our choice this time, was Mexico.

Puerto Vallarta is situated on the coast of the Pacific Ocean’s Bahia de Banderas. There’s one road into town and one road out, and on one end is the police headquarters and at the other end is the military base – which makes it a pretty safe place to be.

This beautiful town lies at the foot of the Sierras Cuale and San Sebastian, where three rivers flow through, the Cuale, the Pitillal and the Ameca.

One can never be too sure if the photos on lodging sites are accurate or not, and for the most part over the years we have had good luck. When we reached our apartment this time, however, we stood outside with our bags, took a deep gulp and nervously smiled as we looked at the exterior. It appeared that we were in the armpit of Vallarta, La Aurora – otherwise known as L.A. by the locals. Our Uber driver cautioned us to be careful and to stay in at night.

We found the right floor, made our way through the locks, deadbolts, gates and doorway, and stepped inside what would be our home for a couple of months. The kids and I looked around at the mustard colored couch, the closet sized kitchen with a leaky faucet and the broom closet sized bathroom. We peeked inside the two bedrooms that each had a full sized bed in them – one of which was slightly bowed in the middle, and bust out laughing. This, was going to be an adventure for sure!

We were not above this. We would fill this space with love and laughter, and it would be the base camp for adventures and new friendships and allow us a place for soul searching, meditation and growth. Our hearts were filled with gratitude that we had a roof over our heads and a place we could shower!

Mycah and I immediately bonded with all dogs in the neighborhood, we spoke in friendly voices to our neighbors, who we could hear clearly through the walls, and began exploring. We love the fact that we live in the heart of where the locals are, and where all the 15 peso taco stands are. The food is authentic and the people are real. Their huge smiles and welcoming hearts have made us feel right at home.

Our first adventure took us to a beautiful Cathedral, ’Señora de Guadalupe.’ It is one of the most important monuments of the city and the spiritual center for Catholics in town – which happens to be 99% of the residents.

Bells are rung by sextants 30 and 15 minutes prior to each service. Foundations for the church were started in 1903, and for the following 18 years, various sections were built and used then added on to – finally ending in 1921.

We sat quietly inside and soaking in the reverence and beauty, before continuing on farther into the Old Town.
Outside, vendors called out special prices and and flags flapped in the ocean breeze.

Mariachi bands played and dancers braved the heat as they whipped their skirts around and periodically clapped and stomped their feet.

Jewelry stores line the streets of the city, with locally mined fire opals brilliantly glimmering in gold and silver settings. In some stores, workers sit with blow torches In hand and patiently work the materials into sellable settings.

The streets of Puerto Vallarta are cobblestone, all harvested from the coastline. It makes walking with a cane quite fun as I pick my way over lumps and bumps and enjoy the picturesque setting of it all.

Tequila is also part of the bread and butter for Mexico, and since I’m not a drinker, I didn’t know anything about the process or
product.The Blue Agave plant is what Tequila is made from.

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The volcanic soil is well suited for growing the plants, and over 300 million are harvested each year. Agave grows differently depending on the region, so in some areas it is sweeter and in others it is has more of a herb flavor.
Men who harvest the plant are called jimadores, and have an intimate knowledge of exactly how the plant has to be harvested – passed down from generation to generation.

The quiotes, which are several meter high stalks that grow from the center of the plant, and are regularly trimmed so that it doesn’t flower and die early, allowing it to ripen fully. Once the Pina, or core of the plant is ready for harvest, they average around 150 lbs in weight, and in the lowlands they can reach 240 lbs. The pinas are transported to an oven and slowly baked then shredded and mashed under a tahona, or large stone wheel. The pulp left behind is used as compost or animal feed, the extracted liquid is placed in fermentation tanks and the leaves of the plant are beaten and dried and the long fibers then used for making ropes etc.

There are over 1000 tequila brands and they all seem to have a devout following.
We are excited to continue exploring and learning about this beautiful country. Until then, we’ll be eating tacos and drinking horchata out on the street with the locals….