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“Vacay” Back to Gringoland

August 18th, 2017

We prepped Tigger for our long departure from Colombia – five weeks – Tigger will be staying at Al Bosque Hostel outside Medellin where we’ve been parked for over three weeks already.

Daniel, one of the owners of the hostel drove us to the Medellin airport to catch a flight to Cartagena via Bogota. (We flew on LATAM airlines where you buy your ticket based not only by class but how much luggage you want to check. Since we needed to have enough luggage allowance for our return we paid for two bags each which gave us priority boarding and seat choice as well.)

Note: We had purchased tickets to Miami around Christmas time knowing we’d be in Colombia and although not sure where, Cartagena is a cheap city to fly back to the US from.

We arrived in Cartagena in the early afternoon and it was stinking hot and humid as usual. After checking into our hotel, we went for a walk to do some gift shopping, stopping for a beer in a Russian pub before returning to our air conditioned hotel for a light dinner and sleep.

interesting restaurant décor


KGB bar where we stopped for a cold one

Saturday morning we caught a cab back to the airport to check in with Avianca. Luckily they allow two free bags. We have packed a duffel bag full of things we want to return our storage unit and otherwise have our rollerboard carry on suitcases and a backpack each.

There was a huge line at check in which was aggravated by the fact that the Bogota flights were delayed due to weather but they did not figure out for a while that they could check in others flying to different destinations! Once that got sorted, things began to move and the flight was painless.


We arrived in Miami as scheduled, picked up our rental car but as we were crossing the state, realized we would not likely make it to Fort Meyers Beach before the office closed at the condo we were booked at. Our paperwork indicated that the office closed at five so around 4:30 we began calling to advise of our late arrival but never got an answer. Meanwhile, Josh and his children had already landed in Fort Lauderdale and were enroute to Fort Myers as well but we all wanted to stop and do some food shopping first with them. We figured we had to go ahead and meet Josh as planned because we could not reach him (turns out his cell plan activation for the US had screwed up) so we got to the condo after six hoping there was a solution. There was an emergency number on the office door and our keys were safe in a lock box outside so we gained access and we all settled in.

Arya and Cyrus recognized us immediately and were very excited about their plane ride and the fact they were in Florida. We made some dinner and a big rain storm set in after a huge rainbow appeared in the sky which the kids absolutely loved!

Sunday morning the sun came out and we started the day with a trip to the beach; the kids got in their two piece full body bathing suits, sun hats, sand socks and sunglasses and they played on shore and in the water with Grampa.

Fran and Joshua did not wear their suits so they stayed on shore taking pictures. During this jaunt we were joined by three shy dolphins swimming in the Gulf.

It was a pretty hot and sunny day so we hung around indoors in the AC mid day and then went out to the pool later in the afternoon when the shallow end was shady and before dinner Fran & Doug went to the airport in Fort Meyers to pick up Serena and her boyfriend, Kurt whom we flew in from Montana.

The rest of the week was spent at the beach, walks into town, daily time at the pool and just enjoying all being together. We probably played 500 games of Uno, some Go Fish and Snakes and Ladders fro variety. Josh and Kurt had never met and this was the first time we’d all been together in a few years.

Monday, August 21st was the solar eclipse and we went out to watch that.   We had ordered eclipse glasses and Fort Meyers was seeing the eclipse at about 80% totality. The kids were instructed to only watch in ten second increments and were happy to count out loud and announce each time sun snuck behind a cloud.

That evening we had a family birthday party; Doug bought an DQ ice cream cake, we wrapped presents (or rather the grand kids did!) in towels (as no one had wrapping paper) and enjoyed a fun dinner.

Pile of presents wrapped by Arya and Cyrus:

Wednesday, we took our two rental cars and drove to Big Cypress Swamp National Preserve in the hopes of spotting alligators but no one except Kurt saw one and that was outside the preserve. By the time we turned around and got out of the car, he’d swum off. We did spot a turtle and several birds.

one of the waterways:

Looking for gators:

This is rainy season (and hurricanes) in the Gulf area and about every second day we had a shower or two but did see the sun every day but one.

Serena and Kurt walking the beach:

Thursday we rented a couple of scooters for a couple of hours and Serena, Kurt, Josh and Fran spent the majority of the time zooming around on them while the kids stayed with Grampa.

One morning after the kids found out that Grammie had gone for a run on the beach, they joined her the next morning for same and then it was sand castle time. Arya raced ahead the entire time and beat Fran and Cyrus to the pier because Cyrus needed rest breaks. Once she said she’d won though, he race ahead to beat Grammie.

On our one full rainy day we went ten pin bowling after lunch and then Fran took the kids back while the other adults went to the movies. Fran took the kids for a swim made dinner and got them ready for bed without any issues.

Sadly Saturday arrived and Fran took Serena and Kurt back to Fort Meyers airport as they had the early morning flights and then Fran and Doug headed to Fort Lauderdale to return the rental and catching our flight to Buffalo. Joshua stayed another couple of hours before checking us all out and then he too headed to the same airport for their later flight to Toronto.

While awaiting our flight to Buffalo via DC, they asked for volunteers to give up their seats and we took advantage. After a bit of a kafuffle, we ended up with $700 each in vouchers for flights, $10 ea for lunch, a limo ride to West Palm Beach and flights to Buffalo via Washington DC that arrived only 1.5 hours later than our original flights; plus our luggage was there ahead of us so we didn’t have to hang around waiting for it!

Storm approaching the coast we saw enroute to airport in West Palm Beach


Below is a link to photos of the kids that includes both Florida & at their home in Ontario:


August 26th

We spent that night in a hotel in Buffalo and then drove to Kingston via the south side of Lake Ontario (US side) through Syracuse and managed to squeeze in a short visit with Fran’s mom before she had dinner. We checked into a nearby hotel and settled in for the week.

Fran visited her mom every afternoon, taking her out in her wheelchair to get some sunshine, a coffee and one day lunch. Tuesday night we treated ourselves to popcorn for dinner while watching Dunkirk at a local theatre. Doug met up with a former work colleague from 20 years ago who now lives in Kingston and we had two dinners with Fran’s sister, Cynthia and her husband.

A picture we found of Mom with her brothers (two of whom have passed away):

Thursday we drove about an hour east and met our overlanding friends, Christine & Mark, who had just arrived in Canada for an extended visit and enjoyed a nice lunch catching up.

During our visit with Cynthia on the Friday night we learned that her son, our godson, Alex, proposed to his longtime girlfriend while they were visiting New York City!  A family gathering is on the horizon.

Saturday morning we drove to Bolton to spend the long weekend with our son and wonderful grandkids; we stayed in a hotel and spent the days together. We had playground time, five pin bowling, walks, some shopping, game time, pool time and reading time and of course Uno time. Weather wasn’t great but it didn’t rain.

Tuesday morning was more swim time at the hotel pool and after lunch at Timmy’s we made our way back to Buffalo to return our rental car and catch our flight to Seattle via Chicago. This was a long day as we did not arrive at SeaTac until 10:40 pm which for us was 1:30 am due to the time zone change.


It’s now the 6th of September and we are on the west coast but feeling like we’re still on eastern time so despite a late night the night before we were awake at 4:30AM!

We had arranged for a 7 am shuttle back to the airport to get our rental car but as we were up, we took the 6:30 one and after getting all our stuff into the car, we headed to do some shopping at Walmart before Doug’s doctor’s appointment for his annual physical. (Our employer sponsored medical ends at the end of this month so we are using the opportunity to get this done; Fran had hers done back in Minnesota in May.)

This summer has been particularly brutal for Western Canada and the Pacific Northwest all the way through Montana: so much is burning.  Morning sky in Seattle:

After the blood work, we headed to Doug’s Bellevue office where we had shipped a number of items. Freda, the receptionist, kindly accepts and saves these for us when we come to Seattle – thanks SO much Freda!

Then we headed to Canada stopping a couple of times at Camping World (we needed a new kitchen sink plug) then Cabela’s. Fran had won a $25 gift card and she needed some warm gloves for our upcoming forays into the high altitudes so seemed like the place to go.

Then it was a quick stop to fill up on gas (it’s more expensive in Canada) and the duty free shop for beer (darn expensive in Canada) and off we went to the border and then on to visit Doug’s mother in Chilliwack.

Doreen was waiting for us outside and we took her out to lunch before making our way towards Vancouver and over the 2nd Narrows Bridge to North Van where we parked ourselves at Fran’s sister’s 2nd home: a small apartment off Lonsdale.

Smoky Vancouver (we didn’t even see the mountains until half way across the 2nd Narrows Bridge!):

That night we enjoyed a wonderful meal with Pat & Therese who live a couple of blocks away followed by a relaxing soak in their hot tub. Thursday was spent catching up on stuff and organizing all our purchases before we took the ferry to Vancouver Island to visit family and friends.

We stayed at Doug’s youngest brother’s home in Victoria where D’Arcy and his girls, Emma and Sophie made us welcome after a dinner at Doug’s Uncle Dave’s with Auntie Marlaine and their eldest daughter, Marnie.

D’Arcy on the left with his daughters to his right

Saturday was wet but we ran some errands. Over the weekend we took D’Arcy and the girls out for lunch for his upcoming birthday where we met his girlfriend, Jessica and her son, Luca. That evening it was a barbeque with a high school friend and his new wife, Sharon. Sunday it was sunny and lovely and we started with a drive out to Sooke to walk the Spit out to Fran’s father’s memorial bench:

then lunch with our longtime friends, Pat & Ted at a lovely patio restaurant on the Gorge, followed by a visit with Doug’s sister, Dana and her hubby Mark and finally Chinese take-out with D’Arcy and his girls. Visits “home” are sure busy.

Monday we headed up island and started with flat tire enroute to Doug’s brother Dennis in Nanoose Bay, (luckily his son-in-law works at OK Tire and fixed us up although unfortunately with a brand new tire that appears will be on our dime!). Dennis’ granddaughter entertained us with her one year old antics!

and that night we had dinner in Comox with Fran’s cousin, Mary, her hubby Gavin, and their daughter Gillian where we also spent the night.

View from Mary’s home:

Mary gave Fran a scrapbook she’d made her mother years ago (Fran’s aunt who’d passed away five years ago) and it contained many precious photos of her dad, his siblings and parents, many of which she’d never seen. Thanks so much Mary!

Fran’s dad during his time in the Air Force:

Fran’s Uncle Jim, Aunt Maxine and her father:

Tuesday morning we had a morning visit with Doug’s other brother David and his wife, Carol and their daughter Eva who had just returned from Seoul, Korea where she was studying.

We got back to North Vancouver around 3pm and we managed to catch an early evening showing of the new movie “IT” that night – it was very well done for a remake. Doug had lunch with a former mentee, Helen, on Wednesday and we managed to catch up with Serena by phone to wish her a happy 27th that night.

Thursday, we drove back out to Chilliwack for another visit with Doug’s mom and that evening Doug met up with his buddy, Pete for the evening while Fran enjoyed the evening with her sister, Sandra. Friday saw us visiting Fran’s aunt and uncle, Dick & Monique in Richmond and her cousin Bryan joined us for dinner with his wife, Heidi and their two kids, Molly & Sean.

Saturday Fran joined her friends from the law firm she worked starting back in 1980!  It was so nice to see everyone again – we all began working together back in 1980!

Sandy, Gaye, Pam, Debbie, Fran and Linda:

Doug enjoyed that day with Pete again and then Sunday after packing, tidying up, doing laundry and such, we made dinner for Pat & Therese at Sandra’s apartment.

We were up early Monday and headed to Seattle where we drove to our storage unit to drop off a bunch of things we had culled from Tigger and picked up very few things (couldn’t find some!).  We returned the rental car and spent the night in an airport hotel to catch our flight back to Miami on Tuesday.

The flights to Miami (via Dallas) went smoothly.  We landed after six and after some issues trying to reach the hotel’s airport shuttle, we arrived at the hotel only to discover that although it was open, they had no power and had not since Hurricane Irma went through but were still willing to check us in!  It was about 90F and humid so we decided we’d prefer a different hotel and we were told we could cancel without penalty.  Doug called around and after about 20 minutes got us a room at a Marriott in South Beach so we had to pay a cabbie to get us over there (NOT close to the airport but being in the “tourist end” of the city, they had power).  We checked in and went for a walk on Lincoln Avenue out to the beach but it was full darkness by then, so not much to see.

We found a café on the pedestrian street and sat in front of a fan for a nice dinner of bruschetta and pizza with cold beer.

Next morning after breakfast we returned to the beach to check it out.

Miami did not get hit a direct hit from Hurricane Irma and major cleanup had already taken place, at least in South Beach.  Even enroute to the airport (via an Uber), we only saw some spots where downed trees and branches had been piled up.  We were so lucky to be in Fort Meyers when we were.

Our flight to Cartagena was on time and we arrived in the late afternoon.  We had booked a better hotel here than the one we’d had on the way out and after a short walk to the beach, we picked up some food/drink and went back to hotel before dark.  The hotel had a small pool and we enjoyed a dip before heading to our room for the night.

Thursday the 21st, it was back to an airport one last time (for our eleventh and twelfth flights of this trip!) and we checked four bags, carried on three and we were off to Medellin via Bogota.  (Remember at the beginning our trip, we had three checked bags and two carry on – only one of which was completely full and which we emptied at our storage unit.)

These flights were also on time BUT when getting our bags at the carousel, we were one bag short.  We spoke to the agent there and she took down the details, promising the bag was on the next flight….

David from Al Bosque was there to pick us up right on time.  We were somewhat doubtful our bag would be found and actually make it’s way to us at this out of the way location, but were proven wrong when we got a phone call asking for better directions.  We had David at reception explain it to the driver and lo and behold our duffel showed up before 7pm!  All’s well that ends well.

So our South American journey continues…….