Category Archives: Home Schooling

APB – Cops do math & physics at work!!!

 

IMG_3684

As part of the San Diego Festival of Science and Engineering we spent an amazing 2 hours in a free workshop put on by the Escondido Police Department. The audience was a mix of homeschool families and high school students and it was standing room only…

IMG_3685The presentation was broken into two one hour sections – Traffic Accident Investigation and Forensics. Both areas were engaging and clearly demonstrated how math and science are used on an every day basis within the police force.

IMG_3686

We learned about all of the tools that the Collision Investigation Unit use – both high tech and low tech to help decode and deconstruct the scene of an accident so they can then replicate it, both to determine cause and to demonstrate the information to others (i.e. in a court room).

We learned how to calculate velocity and what the ideal safe speed is for a car driving at night based upon visibility provided with high beams and human response times (hint… it’s around 28-30 mph).

IMG_3689

We learned about how kinetic energy logic is used to measure the velocity of a vehicle in an accident (what goes in to a force comes out of the force with equal energy – like the balls).

And we learned how you can use math and physics to determine angle and velocity of the vehicles in a crash based upon the angles of momentum and the size of crash damage. I was blown away with how effectively the officers conveyed the information and how they managed to connect it so simply and clearly with the kids in the room!

IMG_3692

The Robbery/Homicide team came in and ran a mock investigation of an incident with blood spatter to determine who’s story was correct between two complainants. It was a little slower paced because the group was so large and they had kids doing some of the work but there were lots of good nuggets of information.

The BEST part of the whole 2 hours was the recommendation that students get a BACHELOR’S DEGREE if they want to become police officers. It was a slam dunk for Hunter that he now needed to shift his goal from college to university – whew… THANK YOU ESCONDIDO POLICE DEPARTMENT!

Craters of the Moon National Park

IMG_2474Our stop at Craters of the Moon National Monument was a fairly last minute decision – as we were driving eastward from Boise towards Moab Tim asked the simple question of “what else is there to do in Idaho”? Out came the map and we discovered that this National Monument was only 2-3 hours out of the way and fit well into our Earth Science school curriculum!COTM CampgroundWe got there just after dark and camped in the campground, which has no services but is well laid out with sites marked based on size. The skies were pitch black thanks to no light pollution and just filled with stars – something we hadn’t seen for a while and always enjoy. It was really neat to wake up surrounded by black lava piles.

We woke up early and hit the ranger station just after it opened at 8:00. We gleaned the basics of the park and Hunter completed his Junior Ranger/Astronaut badge. We learned about some caving opportunities in the park so signed up for a permit and were headed back out the door to have some adventures!

IMG_2472

First up was a steep climb up the Inferno Cone which seemed to keep going and going. It also afforded amazing views of the rest of the national monument and surrounding area.

A 360 view that just blew us away – definitely not what we were expecting from this National Monument…

Then we headed off to explore the caves & tunnels. We had learned about whitenose bat syndrome fungus two years ago when we went caving on our last trip. It continues to be a concern so we had to ensure that we were wearing different clothes than had been worn in any caves in the past to ensure we were not spreading the fungus.

We spent time playing in Beauty Cave (easily accessible right off the path and no need for a flashlight), Indian Tunnel (some fun scrambling from various entrances to the far exit, lights not needed for most places) and Boy Scout Cave (lights mandatory, scramble in entrance and then pitch black). It’s always fun to scramble and explore and we definitely recommend getting a cave permit if you come to the monument.

Although this National Monument is somewhat off the beaten path, it is very family friendly and highly educational – covering off both astronomy and earth science topics.

Roadschooling in Kelowna

IMG_2187

We came to Kelowna for a handful of reasons – to meet up with Hunter’s Distributed Learning Teacher, to find warmer weather and to bike the Kettle Valley Railroad. We based ourselves out of Canyon Farms RV Park and it turned out to be a great road school experience as well.

The RV park is actually 8 beautiful sites that are located at the back of a working organic dalia farm. Lesley, the owner, has raised 4 kids and is passionate about making farming a learning experience. With a simple question of “why did you build an RV park” we learned all about the pine beetles that devastated their forest and the spruce beetles that had travelled into southern BC and are now decimating spruce trees, along with wood worms.

Every morning Hunter goes up and collects the eggs with Lesley. He starts by feeding the chickens, which keeps them distracted and out of the hen house. He then goes and collects all of the eggs from the coops and has learned to inspect them as well to look at shell quality. The egg haul is sold as farm gate every day to Lesley’s local customers, with Timber the dog benefiting from any non-sellable eggs as snacks.

IMG_2189The laying hens are all organic and Lesley takes advantage of having extra kitchens on her property. Everyone gets a bucket to place all of their plant based compost in and then you get to go and feed it to the chickens. It’s fun for Hunter and I am thrilled to have the opportunity to not place our compost in the garbage.

Hunter has also been helping out in the garden with end of season work. They have pulled plants and then moved fencing to allow the chickens greater range to wander and eat. He has learned about how the chickens create great fertilizer for all the plants and that it is a symbiotic relationship.

They also have a net and a variety of balls and rackets to use. Hunter decided that badminton would be fun and we’ve been playing everyday, most times more than once…

IMG_2188

Although it’s a quiet place, filled mostly with “golfers and wine tour folks”, we’ve also found it to be a great road schooling stop. Lots to learn in our surroundings, close access to biking and walking trails and amazing internet access.

Roadschooling through the Yukon

midnight with a Yukon River backdrop

midnight with a Yukon River backdrop

The Yukon tourism tagline is “Larger than Life” and it certainly lives up to that. While  not very populous in terms of humans, it is full of breath taking scenery, abundant wildlife and living stories of the Klondike Gold Rush. We firmly believe that coming to the Yukon (summer or winter) is a must do for all Canadians! With summer just around the corner we thought we’d start to plant some seeds out there…

We recommend the following adventures to make the most of any visit:

Drive the Alaska Highway:

The Alaska Highway is a historic monument in itself. Also referred to as the Alcan Highway, it was completed in 1942 to create a connection between Alaska and mainland USA for World War II, and is a partnership between the Canadian and US governments. Be sure to pick up the Milepost Guide Book which gives you mile by mile information for the entire highway.

Be sure to stop at the Liard HotSprings in Northern B.C. (between Fort Nelson and Watson Lake) for a soak or two in a natural hot spring. You can camp or stay at the lodge across the road.

There are plenty of provincial/territorial campgrounds along the Alaska Highway and you don’t have to worry about them being full other than on long weekends.

Skagway, Alaska – start at the beginning:

Recognizing the critical role that the Gold Rush played in Yukon’s history, it is best to take a side trip to Skagway, Alaska as this is where most miners started their Yukon adventure. Skagway is a historic town that is quiet 8 months of the year and plumb full 4 months of the year thanks to the cruise ships that show up every day.

Be sure to check out both the Skagway Museum & Klondike Gold Rush National Park centre to get yourself oriented to the region. They are both open year round.

There are a number of hiking options in the area, from and hour or so all the way up to the multi-day Chilkoot Trail (a national historic site). Another fun activity is to ride the historic White Pass & Yukon Narrow Gauge Railroad.

Carcross:

In order to get to and from Skagway, Alaska you have to pass through Carcross. Be sure to take an hour (or a day) to explore the area. It is located on the shores of Bennett Lake and has a nice beach for swimming, world class mountain biking trails, fishing off the town bridge and yummy eats, all surrounded by beautiful first nation’s art & carvings.

Whitehorse – the hub of the Yukon

Whitehorse is the capital city of the Yukon and where the majority of the services and people are located. It has many hotels and campgrounds (both territorial & commercial) to meet a broad range of budgets.

For the more active minded, the best way to see the area is by bike and canoe. We recommend Boreale Explorers for guided bike, canoe and hiking tours of the Whitehorse area. If you want to rent equipment yourself then stop by Icycle Sports for bikes and UpNorth Adventures for canoes/kayaks. Whitehorse was recognized as the top mountain biking destination by Outside Magazine in 2013.

Other fun stops on the living history tour are the S.S. Klondike National Historic Site and Canyon City Historic Site.

Haines Junction/Kluane National Park:

Haines Junction is the entry point to Kluane National Park (a UNESCO World Heritage Site), which is home of Mount Logan – Canada’s highest peak. The visitors centre is very educational and well worth the stop for all ages. Kluane can be enjoyed from the ground but is best appreciated on foot through one of the many trails in the park.

Dawson City:

The heart of the gold rush, Dawson City comes alive in the summer time (June 1st – end of August). There are numerous festivals and a plethora of historic sites to be toured. From the dirt streets and wooden sidewalks, you can’t help but be transported back in time. If you have time, take a side trip up the Demster Highway to Tombstone Territorial Park for some rustic wandering.

Going above and beyond:

Epic trips that really allow you to experience the splendour of the Yukon are:

  • Canoe the Yukon River from Whitehorse to Dawson City (7-10 days)
  • Explore any river in the Peel Watershed and see some of the most pristine wilderness in the world (10-15 days)
  • Drive the Dempster Highway up to Inuvik (or Tuktoyaktuk when the road is finished) and then head to the Arctic Ocean
  • Raft the Tatshenshini-Alsek River and be in awe of the glaciers & landscape

Home Schooling connections:

The Yukon was home to a number of key historic figures over the past 100 years. They provide a lot of pre and post learning opportunities:

At 483,450 square kilometres (186,661 square miles), the Yukon is larger than California and covers more area than Belgium, Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands combined. It represents 4.8% of Canada’s total land area. That’s a lot to explore so be sure to give yourself lots of time!

Learning is Everywhere

lee & hunter hugging a tree

The below article was published in What’s Up Yukon: http://whatsupyukon.com/family-learning/education/learning-is-everywhere/#sthash.vDOclfV8.dpuf

‘Road-schooling’ is the concept of using travel, either by itself or in concert with a curriculum, to educate a child. It brings learning to life and is grounded in the belief that learning is all around us, waiting to be explored and embraced.

We began our road-schooling journey 18 months ago when we decided to take eight months to travel and avoid winter. We had been on a fairly traditional educational path — our son attended daycare at Yukon College, entered the French immersion program at Whitehorse Elementary School in Kindergarten, and transitioned to Yukon Montessori School for Grade 4.

Knowing that I wanted a different home-school experience, not full of textbooks and workbooks (I envisioned the hell of living in small quarters and having a running battle about doing school work), I sought assistance from Dominic Bradford of Yukon Montessori School to help me design a learning plan that both leveraged our planned travels and met the B.C. curriculum requirements.

Bradford’s assistance set us on the path as road-schoolers, and boosted my confidence in our plan.

The first few months were stressful; I was constantly questioning myself and wondering if we were spending enough time on what I had traditionally thought of as school. By month three I wrapped my head around the concept of measuring how we were doing at “learning” versus the amount of time spent at the kitchen table doing math or spelling.

Our first trip was eight months on the road around North America, from September 2013 to May 2014. We successfully avoided winter, and we spent as much time as possible adventuring. We covered over 36,000 km and played in oceans, forests, deserts, and everything in between.

Using a combination of books, videos, and National Park Junior Ranger programs we dove deeply into American history (Lewis & Clark, War of Independence, Civil War, the Underground Railroad, and the Civil Rights Movement), and culture (regional diversity, live music, and imagery, to name a few example). And gained a real-time sense of geography, and how it influences people and places.

The knowledge stuck, since our method of learning brought information to life. The things we learned were real, and relevant; we had a rich learning experience.

It has changed us as parents — we intentionally take advantage of the learning opportunities that are presented to all of us in our daily lives. If our son asks a question and we don’t know the answer, we pause and Google it, and then leverage the curious moment to dig a little deeper into the topic.

When out for a walk, we make sure we talk about the flora and fauna as well as other things we notice, such as a stream that is overflowing or a new type of plant. We have learned our biggest roles are to be learn-facilitators, and curiosity-enablers. This is something that can be integrated into every family, even if it isn’t off adventuring.

– See more at: http://whatsupyukon.com/family-learning/education/learning-is-everywhere/#sthash.vDOclfV8.dpuf

Finding your tribe as a road schooler

Screen Shot 2015-01-27 at 9.49.29 PM

As a homeschooler, a road schooler and only child, Hunter is not surrounded by other kids on a daily basis. Before we hit the road in 2013 we asked ourselves, and others, a lot of questions regarding how they deal with the “socialization” situation as road schoolers, especially with only children.

Hunter was out an event Saturday night hosted by an adult friend of ours. It was a group of 6 people, of various ages (from 11 – 40) that came together to play a multi-player networked computer game called ARTEMIS, whereby you are simulating the flying of a spaceship (think Star Trek). Each person has a role (helm, communication, engineering & weapon control) plus the captain. Everyone has to communicate (lots of loud voices yelling commands) and work together to fly the ship through the different scenarios.

The interesting part was that Hunter came home from the evening pronouncing “I found my people” mom! He had a huge grin on his face and was thrilled with both the experience as well as the new people that he had met, most of which he described as “minecraft geeks like me”. He was invited to access their private server and this has moved his minecraft efforts to a whole new level.

When I reflect over the last 3 months, I can also identify at least 7 people that Hunter has met and really clicked with, building fast and deep relationships… more additions to his tribe. These are people of all ages and from all walks of life. In some cases he only had a few days with them and in other cases, he is starting to build what will likely be a geographically distant yet longer term friendship.

A few months ago I read this great article that was written in response to some homeschool bashing that was taking place in the media… and specifically arguments that homeschooling just shelters children and impedes their socialization.  What really resonated with me, and finally parked the anxiety that bubbles up every once in a while, was the comment:

“A child in school is largely being told exactly what to do and when to do it. Where is their independence again? How exactly are school children out in the world? And tell me again, when in real-life are you in a room of 24 people grouped only by age and neighbourhood?”

Through our travels Hunter has become fairly independent and confident in this independence. He often is the first one to seek out someone for answers or directions, has no qualms about participating in a conversation with a group of adults and is developing this amazingly diverse group of tribe members. Over the last 12 months we can really see how he is starting to grow into his own person and stand within that space with confidence, and that is thanks in part to all the great people he has met along the way and all that they have contributed to his experiences. I am no longer worried about the traditional perspective of socialization…

The Jungle Life in Tena

IMG_1548Tena is a popular launching point for Amazon Jungle adventures, as it sits just on the western edge of the Amazon region. It has grown into a major regional economic centre and was historically known as the Cinnamon capital of Ecuador.

IMG_1564For us, Tena meant meeting Abby Dent, aka “Jungle Jane”, whom Hunter and I spent the week paddling with. She was a perfect match & a great coach- she made everything fun, gently pushed Hunter and the end result was some fabulous paddling progression for Hunter during this trip. She was also a great resource to help our learning about Ecuador.

DSCF8231For our first paddle in Tena the boys paddled the Upper Misahualli (class IV) while Hunter, Abby and I did an intro to creeking for Hunter and paddled the low volume Middle Misahualli (class II+) to get used to the technical skills needed for creeking. The water was definitely warmer that in the Quijos Valley and we got away with swim shirts and life jackets. Fun times had by all.

IMG_1606Day two in Tena had the boys paddling the Upper Anzu (class IV) while Hunter, Abby and I shifted gears to introduce Hunter to “big water” paddling – we paddled 18km on the Jatunyacu (class III) on big rolly wave sections with holes you needed to dance around. It was fun to see the grin on his face and to watch his confidence grow moment by moment, to the point where he and Abby co-lead the way down one of the rapids. We had fun playing with all the rafters near the end of the run.

We took a pit stop mid way through the run to visit a small village that sits on the side of the river. Abby gave us a “plants of the jungle 101” course and we got to see and experience:

  • how termites and termite wood are used as natural bug repellant: put your hand in the termite nest, have them crawl all over you and then shake them off and wipe the remaining residue all over yourself. Burn the termite nest and it will ward off mosquitos from your camp just like a citronella candle will.
  • pineapple plants – in nature you get one pineapple per plant and they take over 6 months to grow & ripen
  • hot pepper plants – Yep, they were hot!
  • lemon grass – according to Hunter it smelled just like Fruit Loops – it was definitely lemony!
  • cacao pods – super cool… the pod is about the size of a football and grows WAY up on the tree. Depending on the type of plant, the pod is ripe when it is either red or yellow and will fall to the ground. You break it open and it is full of what look like white alien balls. The slime on the alien balls is actually a treat and you suck it off, leaving the cacao seed, which is then cracked open and dried in the sun before being ground into chocolate powder

Day three and everyone was back on the Misahualli again – the boys busy boofing on the Upper section and Hunter stepping things up by guiding Abby and I down the middle section. It was yet another confidence booster for him, and great to continue to build his river reading and decision making skills.

Before we hit the middle Misahualli, Hunter and I got a guided tour from Abby through a local animal refuge facility. It was another example of the Endless Adventure team creating the best possible experience for their guests. Hunter was thrilled and we learned a lot about both indigenous and non-indigienous animals at the facility.

The boys had their own wildlife adventure and found these cute guys at the resort where they took out of the river.

We stayed at a nice family run hotel called the Hostal Villa Belen. Tucked behind a large wall a short walk from downtown it had a wonderful garden area in the centre with cinnamon, avocado and lime trees. The rooms were fairly simple but clean and the staff were wonderful. We ate dinner and breakfast there for two days and the food was worth the stop – flavourful and plentiful.

Wandering the streets of Tena, both during the day and at night, we had absolutely no concerns about safety. It was clean and the people were very friendly. Taxi’s are easy to grab, except when it’s pouring rain, and are very affordable ($1-2 US) for a ride within town. If you are looking for a local company to do rafting or jungle adventures, we recommend River People, which is run by Abby’s family.

Andean Eco-hub; Quijos Valley – Ecuador

IMG_1791The Quijos valley sits on the eastern edge of the Andes mountains and runs all the way to the western edge of the Amazon region. It is moderate in temperature (spring like all year round) and can see rain on a fairly regular basis (any time, any day). These two features combine to create this amazingly lush landscape as far as you can see.

San Francisco de Borja, located right on the Quijos river, is the home base for Endless Adventures International as well as a few other kayak companies. There are more than a handful of rivers that can be reached within a 30 minute drive so this is quite a central spot.

The drive from Quito to the Quijos Valley goes through a number of mountain passes and is definitely a windy journey, which Hunter isn’t a real fan of. We chose to give him some Gravol to help his stomach, with the side benefit that it also helped him have a well needed 90 minute nap. After our full day of adventuring in Quito we arrived at the Ponderosa (Endless Adventures International lodge) in time for a late dinner.

Note: one of the clearly differentiating aspects of an All-Inclusive trip with Endless Adventures is the focus that they put on food. Everything is fresh and local, plentiful, flavourful and there is a relentless focus on food-safety to keep everyone healthy for paddling.

DSCF8151

The lodge is a low key environment with rooms of various sizes, 2 shared bathrooms, and lots of indoor and outdoor shared spaces to chill out. One of Hunter’s favourite places was the main hammock, where he and his new BFF Radd would hang out with their snuggly friends.

Ponderosa Lodge is located on a working farm, with milking cows that are fed sugar cane to make their milk yummy or sweet. They grow sugar cane, various vegetables and raise Guinea Pigs (to eat, not as pets). Hunter was happy to get to use a machete (basic farm tool here) to chop down some sugar cane, which we decided is sweeter than the sugar cane in Mexico.

Our first morning was a slow start due to us all being tired from travelling. We headed off to the neighbouring town of El Chaco to check out their Sunday market and pick up some fresh fruits, vegetables and meat. Ecuador allows people to ride in the back of a vehicle IF the cab is full – Hunter was thrilled to take advantage of this rule when ever possible and was always the first to volunteer to ride in the back.

With all the overnight rain we headed to the local swimming pools for a warm up and then off to run the Borja and a section of the Quijos river. There was so much water that what is normally a trickle between the pools was a runable drop, which we had fun with. Hunter also worked on his play boating skills with Chris. With levels running quite high, we decided that Tim,Chris and I would run the Borja river, which can only be run at medium and high water. It was a fun warm up and orientation to creeking. The Borja runs into the Quijos, which was running at high +++ level. Big, brown pushy water with waves so big you couldn’t see the person you were following. Thanks to managing to find the big grabby hole that was strong enough to window shade me and pull me out of my boat, I exited at the take out at the lodge while Tim and Chris continued on to just above the canyon.

IMG_1969

We headed off to Tena the next day for three days of jungle paddling (details to come in my next post) and then were back in the Quijos valley in time for New Years Eve and 2 more days of kayaking.

New Years Eve is quite the cultural experience in Ecuador. It actually stretches over about a 48 hour window (mid-day on the 31st to mid-day on January 2nd). Historically widows dressed in black and holding their babies would venture into the streets on New Year’s Eve to seek money to support themselves.This has evolved over time to men (young and old) dressing up as women and putting up road blocks to collect drinking money. Tim got stopped in Tena walking down the street in the middle of the afternoon 🙂

We all bought masks of sorts from the street vendors in Tena to take part in the evening festivities in Baeza, which is just down the road from Borja and a kayakers haven. It was definitely quite the street party… The other Ecuadorian custom is the burning of effigies at midnight, to send off the past year and welcome in the new one. This ranges from elaborate stuffed effigies to individual pieces of paper with thoughts.

Baeza medical centre

Baeza medical centre

New Years day brought a slow start to things… the boys paddled the Quijos from Bridge II to the Canyon while Hunter and I took a day off and enjoyed the sunshine while catching up on some school work.

Unfortunately Tim ended up hitting his head so hard on a rock on the lower Quijos that he burst his eardrum and had to make a stop at the Baeza medical centre for some urgent care. This definitely put a different perspective on his paddling for the rest of the trip – he tried to walk the line between the Doctor’s guidance of “no paddling, no water in the ear” and being in Ecuador surrounded by fabulous class IV+ creeking! Ear plugs, padding, duct tape and using Lee’s helmet with the ear protection were the compromise. He also opted out of any runs that would clearly see him likely to be totally submersed.

NOTE: At this time (late January), Tim is on the mend. Hearing is at about 50% and not consistent. We are looking forward to it improving over the coming months.

January 2nd had more highs and lows… The high was Hunter confidently paddled the Middle section of the Cosanga, a class 3+ creek that flows into the Quijos river with the entire group. He had a fabulous time and really enjoyed it.

The low was that I got hit hard by a food bug that had been brewing since our night out in Tena and was knocked out for the next 24 hours.

The last day of Quijos valley paddling saw everyone on the Quijos River again, with medium water levels, which made it a completely different river. The girls paddled from Bridge 4 to just above the canyon while the boys paddled from Bridge 1 – Bridge 2, with some carrying on all the way to Bridge 4. It was great to paddle this river at this level as I left it on a good note – nice and challenging but not too challenging. Hunter had a bit of the flu so he stayed home and recuperated.

IMG_1940We took a day off on Sunday and the entire group headed to the Papallacta Hot Springs (Termas de Pallacta), which is located high in the mountains heading west towards Quito. It is at 3800 meters/12000 + feet and the altitude was definitely noticeable. It was the last day of the christmas/new years holiday window and quite busy with south american tourists ending their holidays.

The Quijos Valley is ripe with adventure and we only touched the surface, leaving plenty of room for new kayaking and exploring experiences when we return!

Homeschooling in the winter – Yukon style

IMG_0406

We live in the Yukon, which means that in any given year winter can go from mid September until mid May… That’s 8 months or 8/12ths of the year or 66% of the year – ACK!

Last year we dealt with homeschooling during the winter by intentionally running away and it was GREAT. We travelled for 8 months and had a life of adventure that did not involve snow, other than a few incidental days. The ability to be outside most days is definitely a positive influencer on homeschooling options and our state of mind…

This year Hunter claimed that winter is his favourite season and he absolutely had to stay home to hang out with friends and snowboard. We, the silly parents, agreed (never again does he get a trump vote!).

While we have sprinkled our winter with intermittent adventures like heading to Tofino for Thanksgiving, Mexico and Houston for American Thanksgiving, Ecuador for New Years and California for spring break, we still find ourselves spending a decent amount of time here during a Yukon winter, which is challenging…

beautiful backdrop

beautiful backdrop

The saviour of our sanity is the local homeschool association – the Yukon Home Educators Society. Thanks to the efforts of these passionate parents, we have a broad array of programming, with something going on every week. This allows us to build a strong community and create connections – both for the kids and the parents.

first carving class

first carving class

Through out the winter we have group skating, dance, gymnastics and various arts programs. This year a small group of kids have started a first nations carving class that will run all winter long.

pre-season opening day

Mount Sima

We have also bought season passes to Mount Sima (our local ski hill) to help ensure that we get out and play as much as possible, even when it does feel cold and yucky. Hunter is taking part in a snowboarding program for kids each Saturday and this again forces us to ensure we engage with winter, whether we want to or not.

Adventures in life & road schooling in Mexico

IMG_4323

Our paddling season ended fairly abruptly in mid September when we went from warm harvest weather to cold and snow. Back in the spring when we were making our winter plans, we decided that a venture back down to Mexico to paddle in November would be a great way to bridge between fall paddling and our Ecuador Christmas Adventure.

airport bags

Our first Mexico paddling experience was earlier this year in February with Ben Kvanli of the Olympic Outdoor Centre in San Marcos, Texas. He had such a solid knowledge of the area that we decided to work with him to arrange a “reunion” trip to go to Mexico for US Thanksgiving with the new friends we met on the February trip. It was a bit of an epic journey… Whitehorse to Vancouver, Vancouver to Los Angeles and then Los Angeles to San Antonio.

airport bags 2

Ben’s trips are based out of San Marcos, Texas and everyone piles into a white van and drives 16 hours to the San Luis Potosi region of Mexico. The van leaves San Marcos at midnight to hit the Mexican border at first light and then make it down to Aldea Huasteca, the main lodge, by early afternoon. 16 hours in a passenger van are not the most comfortable way to start a trip and definitely caused some humming and hawing on our part – did we really want to do that again? Ben’s coaching and guiding ability tipped it over the edge for us – he did such a great job with Hunter in February and it was a safe road schooling opportunity in rural Mexico.

IMG_4312

As with any paddling trip, there were some unexpected adventures along the way…

  • The friends that we had originally planned to go with on the trip were unable to go at the last minute, which was a real disappointment. The upside was we made 3 new friends that I’m certain we will also cross paths with in the future as we continue to adventure. Hunter’s first response was “we’re going to paddle with strangers?” and then I reminded him that our friends that we were planning on going with were strangers when we met them in February…

IMG_4261

  • broken valve stem on one of the tires when we tried to fill up the air just prior to crossing the border in Pharr, Texas, resulting in breakfast at a Mexican bakery and roadside shop. When you shop in a Mexican bakery, you are given a tray that is about the size of a 12 inch pizza and then you go around and select the goods from the various cases. We bought a few items we knew (croissants, danishes) and a few items we didn’t – probably 8 items in total, for a whole $3.00
  • broken belt on tire #2, discovered while driving, which resulted in us driving at half speed for the last 3 hours of the trip. The upside of this was we went into Ciudad Valles and had dinner at Tacos Richard – a favourite of Hunter’s from February. This was the beginning of him boldly ordering his own food and venturing into use of Spanish, something he was fairly unwilling to do in February.
  • big bulge in tire #3 that was discovered on day 3 during shuttling, which resulted in a long leisurely lunch in Valles at a restaurant with internet access while it was replaced. More menu decoding and ordering for Hunter

IMG_4475

  • Tim ended up getting moderately sick due to some Tacos at the Hotsprings and this kept him from paddling the class 4/5 Santa Maria run, which is a 7 hour paddle and has a take out where you climb up the side of the 300 foot Tamul waterfall. The flip side was we had a well needed sleep-in as a family and spent a down day laying about in the sun on the grass and playing soccer, which made Hunter really happy.

IMG_4519

  • We all enjoyed the patio life at the end of the Santos River at the Huasteca Secreta and ended up not getting on the road early enough to make it to Ciudad Victoria on the way back to the border. We ended up pulling off the road after driving the highway in the dark too long and wandering into the town of Llera de Canales. After driving around in circles and accidentally driving down a one way street the wrong way, which happened to be in front of the Police station, we ended up having a friendly chat with a Police Man and he found us a hotel to stay at. You get the keys by walking into a small storefront that sells clothes and tourist items and then walk around the corner and down the block to get to the hotel, which is up some stairs and on the 2nd floor of the building. There were 6 rooms in total, with 4 of them being finished. The upside is that they were relatively clean, had showers and basic wifi. The highlight of this stop was the family run taco shop that we found, and ended up sitting out in the street on plastic chairs while eating dinner. They were so excited to meet us that they asked for a group photo before we left.

Overall the paddling was good – the water was warm, we weren’t in dry suits and Hunter successfully paddled a number of drops and runs that he wasn’t comfortable paddling in February.

Upon reflection, the biggest highlights of the trip were all about Hunter:

  • The growth that was evident in his paddling skills and confidence level.
  • His continued willingness to engage with people of all ages and backgrounds – I can confidently say that he made more new friends than we did on this trip…His new buddies Jo and Cole helped to make this a special week.
  • His desire to be independent and learn how to engage in Spanish. He learned to order his own food and at one point asked for money so he could go and get himself an ice-cream, which meant heading off to another area of the large mexican grocery store we were in and managing the transaction on his own.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

While we didn’t get much “book learning” done during our 7 days away, this was another validation of the positive impact that Road Schooling has on kids and it continues to excite me about the possibilities as we go forward.

We’re all busy working on our Spanish and looking forward to Ecuador in three weeks!