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Mexico 14-15

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The last time we saw this family was in a parking lot in San Cristobel, Chiapas. We had spent a week together in Ocosingo, waiting for their trailer brake drum to arrive. Before that, we camped in the waterfalls in Chiapas together, and even before that, Mahahual. You know where we met them? Where we camped near Cancun. We were there to meet my mom flying in and they were also there for family.

We hit it off fast – and I don’t think it’s just because there are so few families with little kids traveling in Mexico (Andrew was actually on his Canadian paternity leave – little Johnny was almost a newborn when they left). I think it’s because they are genuine people – and they do super rad things like build rafts out of twigs in odd moments with the kids. They are climbers with this enormously contagious zest for life that is thoroughly soaked in their love for humanity and their commitment to walking the talk.

As a family and as individuals, they are some of the nicest people we’ve ever met in our lives, point blank.

Here are some photos:

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We love them. We are sad they left. I think we might have to plan a trip to Canada and visit these guys…

I don’t even know what to say, you guys. So much has happened, you have given me so much and I’m really fricking overwhelmed right now with life, with questions, with gratitude, with love, and with more questions.

THANK YOU. For everyone who has contributed to our GoFundMe account, helping us get our stuff back, THANK YOU.

You are helping us get back on our feet much faster. We are still not on them yet – it’s still open! – but it’s in sight and we have you to thank for that.

One of the things that has been messing with me is the question of WHY we didn’t have renter’s insurance, which would have covered the theft. It’s been messing with me because it’s not like I didn’t think of it; I did.

We didn’t have it for a simple reason: I am the one who catches the ball on this stuff in our family and I dropped it. Every time I remembered we needed to get it, I ended up shutting down and off because I had to use the phone to figure it all out. Live chat was never an option in the policies I saw; the websites always ended with a “call for quote” or “call to get connected.”

We don’t have a landline at home and we can’t get one because we live so far off the grid. TTY phones (- where an operator will type what is being said for the deaf person on the line) is great, but like video phones, not an option if you don’t have a landline.

This is a huge deal, obviously.

I drove the hours required and waited in person to get things like health insurance arranged for the family. I’ve done the same for arranging doctor’s appointments. Every bit of “responsible” thing that I’ve done as a mother, I’ve done in person because I simply can’t do it over the phone.

This isn’t always easy, it’s often a hassle, but it’s do-able. There are just clear gaps with the pieces that I can’t do in person – like now, with renter’s insurance.

So what do I do?

The answer right now is… I don’t know.  I know that I need some type of access to communication. I don’t know what that will look like. Do I try a call service? Is that even an option? Do I get the G-marc, with the neckloop and Bluetooth that will connect with the t-coils in my hearing aids? I don’t know.

This has some added complexity by the fact that since we live off the grid and are dependent on things like boosters, solar power and satellite dishes. Maybe we should get a phone that connects directly to a satellite? Wait – our phone does connect directly with a satellite! So what to do when the electricity is out and there is no access to the satellite? Like I said, I just don’t know.

I need to visit the California Telephone Access Program to consult with them and figure out what the best options for me are. I need to be able to have the wherewithal to make these types of calls and make damn sure that, God forbid, anything like this should happen again, we won’t be out $7,000 or worse.

More questions

To be honest, I’ve had more questions floating around in my head, more than just the ones regarding hearing and communication access. I’ve questioned whether or not we should even be living off the grid if I can’t get a landline or access to communication. Should I even allow a space in which I can drop the ball?

I don’t have an easy answer for myself. I know that when we lived in the Bay Area, with plenty of access to communication, city living triggered my profound depression and PTSD and that made life horrible for all of us. Living off the grid keeps my noggin happy, and happy Mama = happy family. But I can’t deal with phone issues.

Right now I’m inspired and strengthened by all of your support – Jane, you in particular – to figure this all out, see what is available to me and implement it. I’m also inspired to share what I find and really try and help other deaf folk there who, for whatever reason, also face issues related to access to communication.

Mexico and Safety

The irony of having all of our stuff stolen immediately after writing posts about how safe and great Mexico is did not escape me. The timing was craptastically hilarious, hilariously awful.

But I have to say, I still think Mexico is a great place and overall, a safe place. A great barrel of gorgeous apples with a few bad ones thrown in.

I thought about this a lot on the drive home, miles and miles of missing my writing and missing the ability to take photos – and not just fancy DSLR ones, I mean any photos, with no cameras at all. It hurt in an almost visceral sense, or maybe it was visceral because my innards certainly clenched and I had vomiting issues. Through this, I was thinking about Mexico and my head grew crowded with memories.

Memories, like when I was struggling on my crutches and these truck drivers just jumped up from  where they had been eating and helped me to a table, drawing out a chair for me. Like the lady who reached for Mac-Q when he was screaming fit to kill, to hold and soothe him while the rest of us ate/had a breather. Like the people who we were staying with in Chiapas who fed us enormous, beautiful Mexican breakfasts with hand-made coffee (and I’m talking, coffee bushes in the back), who gave us their hearts as well as their food.

The deaf guy I met, so surly looking, and how he broke into an enormous smile when I started signing with him. The nurse at the community hospital in Palenque who was laughing and playing with Mac-Q and Moxie while I got my foot x-rayed. The school kids who followed us around El Fuerte, going nuts over my service dog, Kianna. The old couple who offered us their backyard to camp in. Those darling kids that my own kids were with playing with in the Cholula playground. Their parents who were so kind. The guy who shook my hand, looked me in the eyes and said, “vaya con Dios”.

Go with God.

I can’t believe anything other than what feels true to me: Mexico is a good country with mostly wonderful people with a few bad apples.

I don’t think that means not to go there. I think that means to make damn sure you have theft insurance, always park where you can see your vehicle, have some serious car alarms going. Having a remote system in which you can wipe out your laptop remotely would be useful too.

I think that’s what it means. Not that the barrel is bad because of one apple (may that apple rot in hell though).

*****

The GoFundMe is still open – link is HERE – it would be awesome to meet our goal, but no pressure. I am trying to think of something to give back to show how much I appreciate your giving – I am pretty sure I am going to start selling some photos on the site soon, and I think I will be giving free passes to photos for those that are chipping in now.
If you have another idea, or something you’d like, please let me know in the comments.

THANK YOU!

There’s this book that everyone seems to use called, Traveler’s Guide to Mexican Camping: Explore Mexico, Guatemala, and Belize with Your RV or Tent (Traveler’s Guide series) It’s by the Churches, but it hasn’t been updated in 6 years. Plenty of campgrounds they write of have been closed, names changed, new campgrounds opened. But since there isn’t anything better out there, people are still buying and using the Church’s book.

We are no exception, and neither are our Canadian friends.

And despite the fact that a lot of what the Churches say about things is outdated, we still read it and avoid things that they say were or are dangerous. The road from the Palenque ruins to the Cascades Agua Azul was one such road they warned about

 Banditos

They said to watch out because the road is said to have bandits. Bandits are said to work in a few ways: they can hold a roadblock and exact a fee from travelers. If they are wearing a uniform, they could be from the government, in which case, it’s okay, right?! But some bandits are just dressed up in government uniforms.

Then there are some that evidently just flat out steal from you. With or without uniforms.

Our experience so far with Mexico is that there are a fair number of check points, where military ask everyone to stop and they ask you where you are traveling from, etc. One wanted to borrow some salt from us because he ran out. Yeah, it seems scary in the beginning and maybe we never really get over the scary factor because they are carrying big guns and hey, I’m from the USA; our cops kill us. So guns freak me out. But in all reality, the military guards in Mexico are usually kids and they are usually very, very nice. Unless they are from Veracruz.

 Back to my story.

Since our Canadian friends and us wanted to travel to Cascades Agua Azul and along the highlands of Chiapas, and since we had all read the Church’s book and were nervous about banditos, we decided to caravan and have our total of 6 kids scare the bejesus out of any would-be banditos. Great plan, right?!!

We got to the falls, set up camp, stayed for a few days. The highlands were almost unspeakably gorgeous. The waterfalls were as well. Fall upon fall upon fall – intensely beautiful. My photos do it no justice.

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PS

We’ve got Part 2 coming up soon

I lived in Japan for 5 years. Now, Japan is supposedly one of the safest countries in the world. Some of the worst stuff that has happened to me in my life happened there.

Those bad things happened to me despite my Japanese language skills being pretty good, despite the fact that I am white (- the race that is most preferred by most Japanese), despite my good job and intimate familiarity with Japanese culture. Heck, most of my friends and boyfriends were Japanese.

 And then I lived in Oakland.

I lived in a neighborhood that was chock full of gangs. A neighbor literally had a bullet whiz through her open window and embed itself it her wooden beam. Other neighbors had tires slashed , their cars broken into – and one even had his car set on fire.

I was living in an artist-type warehouse enclave. I am not Latina or Black and I didn’t have long term Latino or Black boyfriends. I didn’t have any ties with the communities around from which the gangs sprung.

Nothing happened to me, ever.

I played my deaf card early in the time I lived there, and to be honest, I think that had a lot to do with why my person, my car and my bike were always safe. I think my disability helped me. I was also never an asshole to the gang members or their families; that can’t have hurt.

But my point here is that terrible things can happen in “safe” spots and good things can happen in “terrible” places.

Part of it the nature of the beast, luck of the draw. Part of it is just life, part of it is your vibe. Part of it is common sense and not being stupid with risks.

Mikey and I both lived in Oakland and we both had positive experiences in “dangerous” neighborhoods. The thing about having that kind of experience is that it really makes you think long and hard when people tell you to not go someplace because it’s “dangerous”.

 You just wonder where their source of information is.

Is it Fox News? Or their cousin’s friend who went to Cabo, got drunk and had his wallet ripped off in some motel room? I’m not saying that the latter isn’t awful or doesn’t deserve sympathy – but fact of the matter is, we won’t be getting drunk or going to Cabo, so it’s not really worth our while to listen to news from those sources.

On the other hand, when we hear that we shouldn’t drive at night because it’s not safe, and when we hear that from people who travel in an area for a long time, we pay close attention and we don’t do it.

We don’t want anything to happen to our kids. We don’t want anything to happen to ourselves either, so we are careful. But we don’t want to NOT go or NOT travel because we are nervous about what the news is reporting for Mexico. We have heads on our shoulders. We are sensible travelers.

 We lived in Oakland but we also left Oakland.

It got to where we thought of the law of averages – how safe the area felt and how many homicides there were – and how long we had lived there. We knew that it was likely just a matter of time before a stray bullet came through our own apartment, so we left.

My point here is that we won’t stick with an idea because we love a place (as we loved Oakland) if we don’t feel safe. We wouldn’t stick with our travels in Mexico if we saw drug cartels all over the place or gun trades or felt unsafe in any way.

I’m not saying that nothing can happen. But I am saying nothing has felt unsafe to us. I am saying that I feel safer in Mexico than I have felt in certain areas of tweeker-heavy Eureka in supposedly safe Northern California.

I am also saying that I think us Americans from the United States are relying too heavily on the news for all of our information and I don’t think that’s wise. We’re turning into sheeple. I think we need to consider the source and give it a shot if it feels right and if our heart is in it.

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PS

Check out LifeRemotely and their book, “Don’t Go There. It’s Not Safe. You’ll Die” – it’s a free e-book on overlanding Mexico and Central America. Chock full of all kinds of sensible advice that we like, along with their iOverland app

 

When we were in Cancun, my friend Corbett sent me the link to Freedom Shores, an RV-Park/Hotel in Campeche, Mexico, and asked me if I could check it out and get the scoop on how accessible it really is.

So we made our way on over and sussed it out.

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 This is the story:

Bill and Thelma married. Bill was American; Thelma, Mexican. Bill was a quadriplegic and had a dream of building a completely wheelchair accessible RV/Hotel in Mexico. So the two of them did exactly that: they built Freedom Shores and ran it for some time together before Bill passed away. Thelma runs it alone now.

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We loved this place.

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I mean, we LOVED it. Love, love, love!!!

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I think Thelma is big part of that. She speaks English fluently and with her Grandmother-Who-Loves-You vibe, she made me feel like all was well in the world and things were taken care of.

She runs a fabulous restaurant. We brought crabs that we bought off the street in and asked if they’d make sure they were cooked, and their cook took the bag, nodded and said he knew EXACTLY what to do.

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This place didn’t seem to have a divide between the local and tourist communities and we really loved that. The locals hanging out on the beach in front of the RV park were so awesome. Joking and laid back and friendly. The kids played with our kids and the sky sparkled, a rainbow iguana danced out and the coconuts started singing. I mean, it was just unreal.

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But speaking of unreal, Thelma arranged this impromptu boat trip of guests of Freedom Shores. About 100 pesos a head. We all went out for a few hours and looked at dolphins playing in the water…

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And then hung out on a deserted island…

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And then did some bird watching

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We LOVED this place. It’s worth a detour for, worth spending time at.

If you are a wheelchair user, this place is absolutely tricked out for you.

Completely accessible bathrooms, showers in the rooms. Everything has ramps. The bar is accessible, so too is the restaurant.  The public restrooms are NOT accessible – too narrow for a chair to get in/out – and when I asked Thelma about that, she said that the RV campers who are chair users had their own bathrooms on them, but if someone came in an RV who needed an accessible bathroom, she’d make that happen.

There was a wonderful couple staying there who had been coming to Freedom Shores for some time. They gave me a lot of helpful information, like the fact that there are inclusive deals – you can pay Thelma one price and have all of your meals there, airport pick up and drop off, etc. The website has all the information.

There is also loaner beach wheelchair and shower wheelchair

I get really tired of saying how inaccessible things are in Mexico –

it’s like there is always “just one” stair, the ramps cut off at the end, it’s too narrow to turn a wheel chair or whatever.

It was really exciting and happy-making to see a place that had all of those details thought out and attended to. The handles on the bathroom sinks, the height of the shower head, the grips by the toilet. I mean, everything. It was rad. Add to that the laid back, happy vibe there, the delicious scent of jasmine all over the place and delightful locals and we have it added it as a “must visit” place for next year.

****

Details:

All details for Freedom Shores is on their website: www.freedom-shores.com

They can host weddings and events.

I think Thelma also said she’s selling her completely wheelchair-accessible RV?! How about a trip to go there and buy it, then drive home?!!

Last Gallery!

 

 

 

 

We were on our way to Xcalac when Mikey pulled into the Blue Kay campground in Mahahual, more of a mental afterthought than anything. We had no intention of staying there. While we were turning around, a friend of ours from the campground in Puerto Morelos ran out to say hi – and told us the place was great, so of course we just backed into a space and stayed for 6 days!

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Our friends with their own 3 little kids made all the difference with us, but I think even if you go there on your own, you’ll still love it. This place rates as the best campground we’ve been to yet. The amenities – blazing fast wifi, beautiful bathrooms, clean grounds – were great and affordable (100-200 pesos/day), but the beach!

THE BEACH!!!!


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Perfect white sand, sweet, warm water. A reef close by and the lovely people working there.

Cruise ship passengers

And the thing was, these cruise ships would come in 4 days a week from 11-3pm, unload their zillions of passengers who then spent stupid amounts of money on stuff from the local vendors and the resorts.

The local vendors and staff left us campers completely alone and were just totally laid back. Unlike staff at Tulum, they didn’t care one bit if we used the beach chairs, if we played with their hammocks and frolicked in the things they rented to the cruise ship passengers – because they made all of their money off the cruise ships!

Best set up, ever.

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Seriously, so great.

We loved knowing that the locals were making money, we loved having pressure off of us, and we loved the EMPTY BEACH.

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Details:

The Blue Kay campground in Mahahual.

First rate showers, bathrooms. Camp in the parking lot.

The bathrooms are wheelchair accessible. The areas around the beach are also – totally flat and mostly paved. The cabanas looked lovely (see below) – 400 pesos a night, but were not accessible.

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PS

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Mexico. The land of sunshine, good food and music. But ripe and flooded with crime. News reports of Bad Stuff happening in Mexico is all over the place. We ourselves travel with our 3 small children (aged 2, 4 and 6 and one with Down syndrome) for months out of every year, and have done so for the past 4 years.

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We think we have an idea as to why exactly you wouldn’t want to take your kids to Mexico. If you travel around Mexico with your kids, you are in danger of them:

  1. Making Friends

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Traveling around Mexico, your kids are almost guaranteed to make friends. Lots of them.

And those friends will speak languages other than your own, will hail from cultures different from yours.

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  1. Learning About Different Places

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When you travel, you learn. Traveling around Mexico and your kids will learn first hand about the pyramids of Teotihuacan, about coastal sea life, water, desert ecosystems, elevation hazards, mountain life and indigenous cultures.

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Try as you might, there is simply no way around it.

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  1. Appreciating Real Food

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If you travel around Mexico, your kids are likely to become adventurous food eaters and potentially, food lovers.

meriah nichols guadalajara mexico-18They will develop an appetite for fresh, unprocessed foods.

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  1. Learn Spanishmeriah nichols mexico-13

Kids are like the proverbial sponges.

They soak up what’s around them, and if that happens to be the Spanish language, they’ll soak up Spanish.

Micah, aged 6, is well on his way to being proficient and Moxie (who has Down syndrome) and Mac-Q both know about as much Spanish as they do English.

 

 

 

  1. Enjoying Clothes

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Mexico has a plethora of colorful, handmade clothes that kids can enjoy wearing and dressing up in. Does your daughter want to be a princess like mine does? Mine can wear beautiful skirts, dresses, sashes, and woven shirts on a daily basis and not be “weird”. So too, can my sons, and as a result, they are all much more engaged in the care and assemblage of their wardrobes.

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6. Appreciating Music

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Traveling in Mexico is a long lesson in mariachi and banda. The kids develop an appreciation for the musical forms – they think the accordion is cool. They also savor music that isn’t mainstream USA – which opens the doors to even broader musical experiences.

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  1. Relaxing

meriah nichols mexico-33 (2)So much in Mexico is laid back, with different time schedules and ways in which things work.

Kids learn to relax and just have fun here. They learn to chill out and not sweat the small stuff

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 8. Learning How to Swim!

meriah nichols mexico-17Is it unavoidable? No.

You probably could avoid it.

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…but why would you want to?!

9. Life Skills

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People bargain in Mexico – and by traveling and bargaining with you, your kids also learn. They also learn how to assess situations, how to be careful when they need to be, how to be friendly without divulging too much information.

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With a gun crime rate for the entire country of Mexico that’s about the same as that of the city of Phoenix, Arizona, visiting Mexico is less dangerous for the average American than visiting New York City, Washington DC or Miami. And with the additional dangers of making friends, learning languages, cultures, and developing an appreciation for music and real food to boot, we can well understand why you would want to keep your child away.

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I was reading some article recently on giving your blog readers WHAT THEY WANT and I was kind of stymied because I don’t actually know WHAT YOU WANT. While I try and stay within the parameters of traveling, disability and parenting, I’m pretty much all over the place with this blog. Kind of like in real life.

So I asked the Facebook hive mind what you all would like to see more or less of on the blog, what makes this worth your while to read.

This is a question I always want to ask but never do because it seems so loaded. You know, like, a total invitation to tell ME what you love about ME! And while I love knowing the good stuff, don’t get me wrong, I have a firm appreciation for knowing the  other stuff too. Not so I can stress out about it or feel bad – I have very thick skin in this regard – it’s because if I have 10 stories to tell, I’d rather tell the one that you actually want to listen to.

 I’d still appreciate feedback if you are up for it.

In the meantime, a friend did say that she wanted to hear a little more about how Mikey and I make our marriage work on the road like this.

I think I laughed till I cried when I read that!!! Because I’m telling you, we have hung on to our marriage by our FINGERNAILS this past year!! It has been so fricking hard.

We keep saying to each other that we just have to get through this year – just get through this. This is the hard part. Look at all those cool old people, those couples that we admire so much. They’ve been together for like 40 years and are so mellow and happy with one another. They all went through rough patches, they just kept their noses down and plowed ahead and GOT THROUGH IT.

This isn’t touchy-feely PC-American. We aren’t reading those books (we have them, we just can’t seem to get through them), we don’t go to therapy (- we’d love to but HA! How’s that going to happen??), we don’t have date-nights (-see previous), we don’t even get to sleep with each other when we camp because we have two separate trailers and the kids can’t be left alone yet!

And with the business of 3 little kids and the lifestyle we choose, we have had moments where we would be thrilled if the other took a hike to Mars and never came back. Only, maybe sometimes. To help change the diapers and feed the kids!

Things are really good between us now because we have gotten to the point where we can joke and laugh a lot about how ridiculous this all is. We’re also actively planning for next year, what we want to avoid in this mess we’ve made of not being able to have the space for one another.

 Our answer looks something like this:

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Room for us, room for the kids, space for them to play, space for us to play.

It’s been hard for us to feel attracted to what I call a “McRig”, which is you know, the ugly fiberglass linoleum beige-tastic piece of lower-cost comfort that most people use. Mikey and I love the retro stuff, Airstreams, even tricked out fabulous school buses.

But we don’t have the money for uber-kool retro rigs or Airstreams and we don’t have the time to trick out a school bus. We need to be able to buy and go.

 So… yeah. We’ve made peace with it.

And right now, seriously, this dream is making us happy when it gets to be too much. We feel like screaming from being squashed in the camper and we look at each other and say,

“MORE SPACE’.

 

Tulum is kind of like the hippie version of Cancun.

It’s still got the refined-flour like white sand, stunning ocean, weather and sky, but the resorts are tucked amongst all the trees, so it doesn’t all seem as grossly glaring.

The resorts are different too – they practically drip with new-agey wholesomeness, yoga-camps and aromatherapy. I was kind of embarrassed by how much it all appealed to me. Even the stores, with expensive mixes of raver-tribal-wear cum Mexican-Mayan-ness looked fun. Tulum seemed kind of like a “Berkeley-by-the-Beach” to me.

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We settled into a campsite that was nestled between two cabanas.

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Couples were tent camping were all around us and we felt like walking birth control. Seriously, there is nothing like pulling into a place that has a sexy-love-vibe going on, unloading the kids and watching people’s faces as the kids start running around letting loose.

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Then there was that great moment where Mikey had taken off Mack’s diaper a little prematurely and this turd was coming out of his bare butt right as this young (hand-holding) couple was passing by in full backside view – and Oh. My. God. – I’ll bet they won’t forget the birth control anytime soon.

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So anyway. The beach was just gorgeous, the water was warm and perfect and the whole place is worth going to.

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Mikey got upset and we had more “Pete the Cat” moments with “it’s all cool” because the little campground was charging us 400 pesos a night for boondocking, basically (- no electricity, no showers with hot water, no wifi, etc) and then were jumping on me for sitting on their beach lounge chairs (- they wanted 150 pesos for that), and then told us we couldn’t bring Kianna on the beach.

They were just bitchy.

I didn’t care that much because I was channeling Pete the Cat and I was happy that while they were they definitely bitchy, at least it felt to me like they were universally bitchy. Nothing personal, they were just bitches by nature. Bitchy, bitchy boys.

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I want to go back to Tulum.

meriah nichols mexico-3I loved the beach there and, bitchy boys or not, the vibe in Tulum was a good one.

I would love to stay in a yoga resort next time though and really get my hippie-thang on. Douse myself in patchouli and grow my leg hair and swing crystals with my essential oils! Mikey would curl up and just die from mortification. But I’ll bet he’d have fun before passing out.

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 Details:

We stayed at Playa Santa Fe.

400 pesos a night. A woman that we met said they were totally ripping us off; that cabanas there cost 400/night. Tent camping is something like 150/person/night.

 Access:

It’s wheelchair accessible to the beach if your chair can ride on sand. I crutched over sand dunes and it was do-able (but not fun). Bathrooms and outside showers are not.

We splurged on a boat trip in Celestun and it was absolute magic. Our guide (“Jesus” was his name) took us to the flamingos, by islands chock full of Pelicans, through a mangrove tunnel and to a natural hot spring.

He didn’t, however, tell us to watch out for crocodiles in the hot spring… and when Micah was in the water, Mikey spotted one not two feet from where he was.

We’ve never seen Micah swim so fast!

Here are the photos from the trip:

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flamingos!
flamingos!

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meriah nichols mexico-30Details:

This was the official boat tour.

Cost: 1200 pesos for an hour and a half. We caught it right by the bridge and they let us camp for free in the parking lot (very decent parking lot camping, by the way, but those mosquitoes were like small blood thirsty birds, they were so big).

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Access:

I actually think it was more wheelchair accessible than not. There were ramps everywhere. Not leading into the boat, but if you had help with transferring, you’d be good to go.

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The stop by the hot springs isn’t though. I was crazy to walk it with crutches.

***

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Do you know Pete the Cat? We were introduced by Katie when we visited her in Fresno. Our kids fell head over heels in love with that cool cat and what do you know? We’ve been reading his stuff Every. Single. Night. No breaks from Pete, man. Those kids are hooked.

He’s good, all about being positive without being Pollyanna.

So anyway, we went to Chichen Itza. It’s this magnificent old ruin of a city, set in the jungle-y forests, cenote-land. The archaeology buff in me was thrilled but my armpits were screaming white pain from my crutches within something like 10 minutes.

Yeah, I’m a total wimp.

Mikey is a wimp too, in that the kids just wrangle the life right out of him, especially when it involves chasing them in heat, usually in different directions with lots of tears at various points by thwarted small, screaming beings.

After we had been in this glorious old place for about half an hour, both of us drenched in sweat from our respective wimpishness and feeling our brains being compressed inside our heads with the effort to crutch, care for kids and try and take in all these ruins, we were just like, you know what? Let’s just be like Pete the Cat and roll with the cool. Let’s do what we can do and if we only see a few things at Chichen Itza, it’ll be like he says, “all good.”

And it was.

All gooooooood

(and we really did only see a few things)

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homeschoolers, eat your hearts out!

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It’s all gooooooood

We hated Cancun.

Oh, balmy air, sand so fine it felt like refined flour. Ocean water with all the blues your kaleidoscope can contain, and birds chirping so loudly and melodiously that I thought Micah’s “Big Business” app was perpetually on.

It wasn’t the balmy air, fine sand and melodious chirping of course; it was taxi drivers who tried to charge $22 for a ride down the block. It was the overwhelming ostentatiousness of it. It was the feeling that we were in Las Vegas, sans casinos, by the water.

It didn’t feel like Mexico At. All.

The McResorts, roads smoother than a baby’s butt, gleaming malls with product straight out of Paris.

 We hated it.

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So we stayed at Puerto Morelos, which is right in the vicinity but not in the heart of it. We stayed in this tiny campground that charged us a whopping 560 pesos/night and could easily get away with that, being flanked on either side by places that were charging around US400/night.

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meriah nichols mexico-25The cost put me in a bad mood. But seriously, what wasn’t putting me in a bad mood?! I mean, I was just cranky from lying with my foot elevated for a week.

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It was harder on Mikey than anyone. Mikey was the one dealing with the cab drivers, he was the one doing with all the cooking, cleaning, shopping and diaper duties.

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He is the one who figured out we’d save 300 pesos a night for renting my Mom’s apartment by dealing with the apartment owner directly, rather, than going with the “referral” from our campground.

my mom used crystals to help micah do his schoolwork!
my mom used crystals to help micah do his schoolwork!

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and crystals with my foot!
and crystals with my foot!

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On my Mom’s and the kid’s part, I think they all had a fine time.

Beach, sun, ocean, sand. Bliss. Our camping neighbors were incredibly nice. Canadians again – I swear, are there any mean Canadians? Anywhere? Nicest people, ever.

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Then there was this iguana in our campground that was the first live, wild iguana I have ever seen.

Such a cool creature! I adored that little guy. He hung out on the roof of a shed that was outside the camper, so since I was on my back with my leg elevated, he was totally in my eye reach. I felt like he was my buddy, hanging out there with me and throwing a pity party while everyone else was off doing something interesting.

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And then, Mom and the lady whose apartment she was renting became friends and that was all heart warming.

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Another thing that pulled me out of my crankiness was my kick-ass podiatrist. Truly awesome – and his  first class (private) care only cost US$50 –

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my naked broken foot – story on that was my doctor said that since I got the swelling down (and was so “obedient”, I went to a boot and not a cast.
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huh.

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and when wandering around another part of Cancun looking for a medical supply store, we came upon what felt like was a real Mexican town. I guess it’s the original Cancun? It felt okay. Not double dipped in vats of ostentatiousness. Just regular, complete with Feliz Pollo.meriah nichols mexico-5

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AND THEN instead of going for the Comfort Inn (one tiny room, two beds, unsecure parking, 1,500 pesos), we went for “La Cerezas” (- “The Cherries”), a hotel that charged by the hour but gave us a special deal: a full suite, 2 rooms, 2 showers, secure parking, 700 pesos. Yeah, SEVEN HUNDRED PESOS. They even blocked the porn channels!

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a timer in each room!

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Now, La Cerezas kind of re-affirmed my belief that this world can be FUN, Mexico is a mighty fine country, and the Cancun area doesn’t totally, completely and utterly suck.

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***

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The foot. It’s still broken. It’s still got to be elevated because (10 days later)  the swelling hasn’t come down. Mikey is having a BLAST taking care of the kids, solo, in addition to cooking, cleaning, porta-potty duties and more!

Here is a photo essay  –

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***
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I broke my foot.

In Pelenque, but not after I had gone exploring and everything, no, I broke it right after we arrived and had set up camp. IT SUCKED. That’s all I have to say – it all SUCKED MISERABLY.

What I did find interesting about all of this was that when I was in the hospital in Pelenque, jungle, bush, howling monkeys and ancient Mayan temples around me, it struck me that the people I was seeing in the hospital looked EXACTLY like the people I saw in the photos of ancient murals. High bridged hooked noses, beautifully shaped faces, cheekbones to slice cheese off of.

The details that most people seem to like hearing about though:

 Hospital Care

I went in to the regular hospital. The care was casual, friendly, distinctly nonchalant. I enjoyed the total lack of drama and the way the staff joked around with each other.

They gave me an x-ray and a cast. The cast was wound in the narrow hallway, with my broken foot sticking out. This made me really nervous. And instead of pain pills (which I like), they wanted to shoot me up with stuff from a needle that size of the one I got an epidural in (which I did not like). After searching around for veins and getting me all bloody, I told them that hey!, I can take some pain.

 Hospital Cost

It was $8 for everything. We don’t have insurance in Mexico.

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Having  a broken foot annoys the crap out of me. They said I have to wear the cast thing for 2 weeks. I’m just hoping it’s going to be really straightforward, a swift mend.

 

 

We spent a few days in Catemaco. It was simultaneously lovely and not.

The campground (Tepetapan, 200 pesos) was the lovely part.

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meriah nichols mexico-7 meriah nichols mexico-11It’s huge, green, on the edge of a river, with trees all around. Lushly gorgeous.

meriah nichols mexico-16 meriah nichols mexico-17And the kids and Kianna had fun playing

meriah nichols mexico-19 meriah nichols mexico-14But the town… sigh.

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It had the sad appearance of a town come too late to a party, all dressed up and the music moved on.

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Shop after shop was stocked to the gills with things that few would buy, and with no other tourists that we could see around, it depressed us.

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Restaurants, all open, so much seating, no customers.

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The trash. And stray dogs.

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I don’t know what it is – has the tourist industry there really fallen so dramatically? Or were they really, as I said, late to the game?

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We walked by a Temazcal – a sweat lodge – and Mikey turned to me, “hey, wanna go?” I smiled and we walked in and asked about it. It was a tiny place right by the street, completely simple. Dirt ground, simple brick lodge with murals on it, big pit for fire.

Mikey asked about the details and cost and came away with something like, a 20 minute massage, a short head massage too and an hour or so in the sweat lodge. She said childcare would be included, they were “professionals”, she said, “no problema!”

So we arrived and did what she and the other women told us to. And this is what we got:

An HOUR long massage, each, full body, with different kinds of clay. Then we dried the clay off while standing in front of a roaring fire and our heads and faces were massaged. Then we went into the sweat lodge for a ceremony, and I’m talking, CEREMONY: drumming, chanting and meditation that lasted for about an hour and a half.

And then we had cold showers, foot soak in herbs and herbal tea. They fed the kids dinner and watched them the whole time – Micah joined us for part of the Temazcal and for the foot soak and tea.

THREE HOURS

All of this totaled 1,000 pesos (14 pesos to the dollar). But coming out as new people? Priceless.

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When I was 17 years old, I was living in Fukuoka, Japan. I was studying in an all-Chinese prep school to pass the Japanese university entrance exam. I was paying for my school and living expenses by teaching English to yakuza (mafia). Both studying Japanese in an all-Chinese school and teaching English to the yakuza are great stories, but today I want to tell you about another one.

One day after my yakuza English lesson, I took the wrong train back to my school and ended up waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay out there, in a rural area I’d never been to before. There was a woman sitting in the seat across from me, she was older and it was clear after a while that she had an intellectual disability. I enjoyed chatting with her so much that I didn’t care about getting back to the city immediately (- it was a weekend anyway, no rush) and I just sat back and relaxed. When the time came for my new friend  to disembark, I gave her my contact information in case she wanted to keep in touch.

She did. Shortly after, her sister called me in my school dormitory, and invited me to come out and stay the weekend with them.

I had no idea who they were, no idea where they lived.

I was also 17 years old, so I beamed and said I would be delighted.

So the next weekend after work, I got on the train that would take me to where they lived. I had my enormous black umbrella on me, the one with the very sharp tip that I could use as a weapon if I needed. I felt safe. I figured if I didn’t like the look of things, I would simply either not get off the train or I would turn around and head back.

But as the train continued to its destination, I realized that that might not be possible. I was waaaaaaaaaaaaay outside of the city, well into the countryside. There was nothing out there besides rice paddies, and I mean nothing.

It was growing dark. I was getting nervous. What if there was no return train? 

The station that I was supposed to get off at arrived – it was the last stop – and I looked out onto the platform. My friend was there, along with her whole entire family. I’m talking, her WHOLE ENTIRE FAMILY: her sister, her mother, her brother in law, her nieces, nephews, the entire clan had all come out to meet me on the platform. They were dressed simply, with ruddy red cheeks – they all looked so healthy!

And something in me kind of shifted. To have an entire family come to meet me at the train, all of them so clearly excited. To feel so wanted and to be with people who appeared to be so very solid. I smiled, put my umbrella behind me and got off the train.

***

My relationship with this family over the next year, and the things they showed me and allowed me to experience with them were among the most joyous moments of my time in Japan (which totaled 5 years).

I visited them often.

There were a myriad of events that occurred with them that lent beauty and meaning to my life, which at that time was not very happy.

One of those events was playing with ‘hotaru’ – fireflies. The family and I would sit out by the river next to their house and watch the fireflies and sometimes even catch them. Those little lights, the beauty of the night, the warmth of the air – it was magical.

I believe we need these moments when we travel.

I think it’s maybe even FOR these moments that we travel.

That we to take the occasional leap of faith, trusting in our instincts. And we need the magical moments to sustain us. It’s like Traveler’s Soul Juice.

Last week I was in short supply of the stuff… After the dried up feeling that I got from Teotihuacan, then from accommodation issues at Cholula and the icing of the shit-cake in Veracruz, I needed to feel alight. I needed to have a connection, make a connection, I needed to be charmed by a place, feel some magic fill up my cup of Soul Juice.

And that’s when we rolled into Catemaco, the third in a string of terribly charming towns in a terribly charming sierra region. We rolled in, set up camp and…the fireflies came out.

 Fireflies.

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All over, twinkling in the grass, their brilliant sparkles lighting the darkness like ten million diamonds set ablaze. My children laughed and ran after them and I sat there on our low stool with tears filling my eyes, remembering how good magic feels, remembering that family from a distant place and the moments I shared with them that helped me stay alight.

 

We drove from Teotihuacan to Veracruz with a stop in charming Cholula.

meriah nichols mexico-4Delicious mole poblano, snow-capped Mt “Popo” in the background… we would have stayed longer had accommodation been easier. But no one was at the Cholula campground to open it, and finding hotels to take Kianna was such a major pain the butt that we ended up just sneaking her in.

Veracruz was worse. Far worse.

You know, people that we meet on the road have said all kinds of things to us regarding our bringing our 3 little kids to Mexico. Most of what they say is really nice and makes us feel like rockstars on the alter of parental awesomeness. But we also feel kind of disingenuous smiling at the compliments because really, kids in Mexico is not hard. Sure, they do stuff like poop and you have to butt wipe, but that’s going to happen anywhere. Not a big deal.

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Most of the time, having kids here is an asset to us.

Mexicans on the whole love children, the culture here is patient with those small people. Locals smile at our kids and play with them, they commiserate with us, they know what this thing called parenting is all about! Having our kids here opens doors and hearts.

kianna-5-of-15The truly hard thing so far for us in Mexico has been with Kianna.

 

Kianna herself is the most gentle, lovable, smart and well-trained dog you could ever hope to meet. She is easy to have as a companion and a worthy helper as a hearing dog. But access here SUCKS for service dogs, even if they are certified and come with badges, vests, genealogies, licenses and plastic cards (like Kianna does).

Back to Veracruz

We arrived around 2pm and were excited by the vibe. It reminded us so much of Oakland, what with the huge port, the cranes, the older parts of the city. We dug it and wanted to spend some time getting to know the place.

But then Mikey spent literally 2 hours going around and trying to get a hotel room in the center. It was nuts – there were easily at least 3 hotels on each side of a block – and yet the only one that accepted Kianna was one without parking. The public parking structure there was a nightmare with our rig. After a meter maid dinged Mikey for not paying for two separate street parking spots (- even though we only physically occupied the one spot we paid for) and Mikey had to run over to the court to pay the fine, we thought it was a SIGN FROM GOD and split.

We stopped for a bite to eat and then tried to find a campground.

By then it was dark and I didn’t like that. We drove on and on – it sure is far from the main town – and finally found it. A total rip off at 350 pesos (about $25) with no toilets, wifi, showers or amenities – just boondocking.

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fancy pots. nothing to piss in. 350 PESOS!

 

Insult to injury? Their yipping dogs would NOT QUIT…and worse, they had us park next to a fenced off playground. Try telling your 2 and 4 year old that they can’t play in the playground that’s RIGHT IN FRONT OF THEM.

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And so.

Veracruz was a no-go. We just forged on ahead.

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Roadschool: if pressed, you can define it as “homeschool on the road” – teaching your own children while you travel. While roadschooling, you may or may not follow a set curriculum, but integrating aspects of travel and learning from the road are what fundamentally sets it apart from homeschooling.

We roadschool. We follow some curriculum materials, we are consistent about certain things (- journal writing, reading, art and math in particular), but when pressed, experiential learning trumps even the consistent pieces.

Roadschooling is hard. It requires you as the parent to be present with your child (ren), it demands constant guidance and nurturing. So why do it?

1. Coconuts: Education in a nutshell

Or, “coconut water comes from inside coconuts and not the box sold at Trader Joe’s?!”

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When you roadschool, everything is an opportunity.

Driving, you see a coconut water stand? Stop, get out, watch, talk about what is happening, watch some more, shake the coconuts (“can you hear the milk sloshing inside?”) and drink!

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Bonus points for when you can springboard it to talking about additional uses of the coconut (-copra, oil, “meat”), coconut water as a perfect fluid, and the uses of the coconut tree (- houses, brooms, etc).

meriah nichols mexico-82. Pigs

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This was a whole lesson driving by, then we got lucky and caught up with them at a roadside Oxxo (- convenient store).

Farming,  livestock, and ethics right there.

3. Map skills

meriah nichols mexico-22They are holding a map! – kidding.

But not kidding about showing Micah how to navigate the subway in Mexico City (‘DF”) and then allowing him to take the lead and show us where we needed to go.

He did it. He’s 6.

We involve him in most mapping endeavors and he also works on a book called “Map Skills” along with his compasses (both homemade and store bought). We are trying to help him so that he can navigate his way through the forests behind our yurt on the Lost Coast AND the large subway networks. Which dovetails nicely with our parental goals of teaching our kids how to grow their own food AND code their own websites.

4. Economics, Human Rights and Fair Trade

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We are eating handmade Mexican vanilla ice cream there. That was the day we went to the San Angel Market in Mexico City (“DF”).

Things sold in the market were beautiful, yes, but because we’ve already been to many artisan markets in Mexico, most in more rural areas, the experience in that particular market ended up being a lesson in economics, human rights and fair trade for Micah.

5. Food!

What can be eaten, where and why? How does it taste? How is it made? What about it is nutritious?

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All of our kids eat EVERYTHING. We are the “gotta try it at least twice” kind of parents and we lead by example.

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Yay.

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6. Conversations

These permeate everything, of course. And they can permeate everything regardless of whether or not you are on the road.

The difference between roadschooling, homeschooling and regular schooling is that when you roadschool, your road may lead you to places where you see things like this:

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– men climbing up really high poles, some while playing musical instruments, to dance in circular styles hanging upside down and floating slowly to the ground. In front of tall, modern buildings

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We had such a great conversation with Micah about that! The world changing, meaning, symbolism, religion, jobs, art. Even globalization.

7. Museums

The difference between roadschooling and visiting museums and having your child visit museums as a school field trip, is that when you go while roadschooling, your kid can watch you get overwhelmed at the Frida Kahlo museum, and/or tear up over Lucy’s bones (LUCY!!!! omg, the LEAKEY’S!!!!) at the National Museum of Anthropology.

You can then spend one entire hour trying to explain the sun disc (struggling to tell the truth about it but tame down all those human hearts and gory sacrifices) to your wide-eyed little one

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meriah nichols mexico-11 meriah nichols mexico-5is it hard?

Oh HELL YEAH

It. Is. Hard.

But we’ve got a 6 year old now who has a fairly complete history of Mexico floating around in his noggin’. And a 2 and 4 year old who spent hours gazing at anthropological treasures.

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Hopefully some of that richness seeped in.

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The point of it to us is SHOW the kids that while different countries have unique, intense and rich histories, we’re all interwoven. We’re all part of this rich fabric that makes us a human family. Our destines are entwined, our mistakes affect each other, consciousness is a gift and a responsibility.

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So, yeah.

The benefit to roadschooling is being able to take your child to the museum and actually explain things to your little one. You are able to spend as much time crying in front of Frida’s pictures or Lucy’s bones as you want and you know with surety that your child is affected by your own love and passion for the subject. Right as rain.

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Roadschool

It’s not for everyone. It’s hard. It’s demanding. You have to be oh, so very present with your kids. You have to be on the lookout for learning experiences and opportunities.

The test of how well you know something seems to be how simply you yourself can explain it, and roadschool sometimes feels like one endless test of e-ver-y-thing that Mikey and I know.

So why do it?

Coconuts. Pigs. Map skills. Economics, human rights and fair trade. Food. Conversations. Museums. Roadschool is a real-life, actual and practical application of skills and knowledge that your child is likely to use in their life. Roadschool is one way in which a parent can nurture the learning of their child – and even guide their child through the actual place in which a moment of import occurred.

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I have to write a little post about the subway in Mexico City. And I have to do this because I just wanted it OUT THERE, on the internet, that this is an excellent subway system, so easy that our 6 year old learned how to navigate it.

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5 pesos a ride, anywhere.

Trains come every few minutes.

It goes all over the place.

Picture icons are used as well as colour coding and script. Definitely helpful for those who can’t read and/or for whom reading Spanish isn’t easy.

Stations with archaeological relics and art.

Also: a carriage at the end of trains just for women and children.

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And: stations with secure bicycle parking and ramps up the stairs for bikes.

The only thing it needs is consistent disability access and it will be set.

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PS

Mexico City has adopted a bike share program that is similar (or the same?) as what we saw in Paris. We saw the bikes all over the place. Definitely a rad option

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