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Heavy Petting: How many strange pets can one family have?

When our nest emptied, it emptied it not only of kids, but of pets too. We have nothing against pets. We’ve had both dogs and cats and loved them, but the GypsyNester lifestyle of no-plans and go-anywhere isn’t very conducive to taking an animal along. So, for now at least, we are finished with being pet parents.

But pets are often a part of parenting and I got to thinking about some of the colorful characters that were a part of my family through the years. When I was a little kid, our first pet configuration was a… CONTINUE READING >>

When our nest emptied, it emptied not only of kids, but of pets too. Don’t get the wrong idea, we have nothing against pets.

We’ve had both dogs and cats and loved them, but the GypsyNester lifestyle of no-plans and go-anywhere isn’t very conducive to taking an animal along. So, for now at least, we are finished with being pet parents.

That got me thinking about some of the colorful characters that were a part of my family through the years.

When I was a little kid, our first pet configuration was a dog, a cat and a bird. Needless to say, the bird and the cat were best of friends. Their relationship went like this: cat sits and stares with hungry look at bird; bird sits in cage on the brink of heart failure. That went on until the bird mercifully died, probably of heart failure.

Our dog, Holly, was an incredibly high strung English Setter that spent her every waking moment frantically trying to escape from the backyard. Unfortunately, she finally did and it led to her demise. I remember it well, when my brother and I came home from watching “Yellow Submarine” we discovered that she had busted free and came up on the short end of an encounter with a car.

It’s too bad, because the next year we moved out to the boonies of southern Colorado where Holly would have had all the room in the world to work off all of that high strungliness. This was pet Shangri-la.

Our new dogs, Pogo and Connie, were truly in hog heaven. In fact, Pogo began to emulate a hog. It became his one true life’s mission to smell as bad as any living thing on the planet. He could kick up a stink that shamed a dead carcass rotting in the Death Valley sun. Vultures would circle and then think better of it and move on. He smelled so bad that his fur would curl.

Washing him was futile — his only thought after a bath was to find some fresh, wet, stinky cow manure. He had a method. Wallow in the wet manure until well covered then find some dry dirt to roll around in, to really set the mixture. Repeat as needed. It was like breading chicken for frying.

Sometimes we’d try throwing him in the pond, but that just aggravated the stink. Then we’d have to run for our lives before he’d shake. Pogo loved the pond, it had many opportunities for adding to his arsenal. Seriously, wet dog, plus pond scum, plus caked on two day old cow manure equals an olfactory assault of epic proportions.

One summer’s day, Pogo was hanging out (upwind of course) while I was fishing. He suddenly lunged at the water’s edge, snapping something up. Turned out he swallowed a frog, whole. I could practically see the poor amphibian kicking all the way down Pogo’s ingestion passages.

The crazy mutt had a very disturbed look when he began to contort into a full body wretch, a disgusting spectacle, even by Pogo standards. The culmination of this contortion was — Jonah the Frog — slightly worse for wear and seriously freaked out, wretched up, before hopping back into the pond and swimming to safety. Pogo simply went on about his usual business, in search of his next vile pile of revolting refuse to roll in.

Connie, was our beloved, tragic clown. The runt of her litter, she was a complete physical wreck from the get-go. It took several surgeries just to get her past puppyhood. The last of these was an experimental eye surgery performed at the Kansas State University Veterinary Medicine School. The results were only temporarily successful.

By the time Connie was two or three years old she was blind as a bat and stone deaf. She didn’t seem to care in the least. She went on about life as if running full speed at a dead run square into walls, fences, trees, horses, creeks, ponds — pretty much any stationary object — was completely normal. Her nose was one big callous.

In spite of this, her sense of smell survived. That was all she needed to find us and follow whenever we rode off on our horses. She did fairly well unless we stopped. Then she would either run into hind legs or right past us. The hind legs usually resulted in a Connie-launching-kick, and the ever present “yipe,” that signaled another collision.

She was so good-natured about the situation that it became ridiculously humorous. We could hear her “yipes” carrying through the woods as she bounced off of the trees, fences and rocks. Nothing slowed her down.

One day my brother and I were riding along the dirt road into town and, as always, Connie was charging along beside us. A rare car approached so we pull our mounts over to the side to let it pass, but Connie kept right on going. Oh no! She was headed right for the car’s front tire! Tragedy seemed eminent.

We yelled and waved and luckily the driver saw us and tried to stop, the car skidding on the loose gravel. Just as the vehicle slowed to a halt, Connie plowed full speed, headlong into the tire, letting out a louder than usual “YIPE!”

The driver was horrified — mostly at the sight of my brother and I nearly falling off our horses laughing — he thought he had killed our dog. As we regained our breath, we explained our pinball wizard mutt to him. He drove off, unamused. Connie simply charged ahead with plenty of new obstacles to encounter… head on.

I realize that our finding humor in Connie’s shenanigans sounds uncaring, but just think Mr. Magoo, on steroids, and about 10,000 times funnier.

One winter, when we came down the mountain to stay in the city, Connie wandered off. The weather took a turn for the horrendous, below zero with snow, sleet and icy winds. After a couple days of searching, we began to give up hope. Naturally we figured our little blind, deaf, short-haired mutt was a goner and we lamented her loss.

Ten days later, Connie, completely encrusted in ice, came bouncing up the driveway. I kid you not! I guess she sniffed us out.

After our initial joy, and caring for Connie, we started thinking about this miracle and ended up in hysterics visualizing her adventure. How many car wrecks had she caused by blindly wandering right into traffic on the icy roads? Picturing the swath of destruction left in her wake as she ambled around town had us in tears.

Doh-de-doh-de-doh… screeeeeech, crash. Phone poles down, store fronts driven through, multi-vehicle pile ups, a real reign of terror. That’s hilarious! We were sick puppies.

The news media completely missed the story by incorrectly assuming that the town’s recent wave of destruction was caused solely by the weather.

As adults and parents, we have had a few memorable four legged members of the family. Our kid’s first pet came right before the birth of our second child, Decibel. We allowed our oldest, The Piglet, to name the new dog. She named him Bubba, guess she was hoping for a boy.

Bubba was a pound puppy and grew up with the girls. He thought of them as littermates and would tolerate absolutely anything from them without the slightest protest. Tail tugging, fur grabbing, rope harnesses for sled or big-wheel pulling, clothes wearing was all in a days work to Bubba.

We are aware of how most dogs hate being dressed up and that it might cause stress to them, but Bubba was absolutely into it.

I think it helped that he was anything but the sharpest knife in the drawer. He was more like that one butter knife that’s been back there unused for several decades because it won’t even cut butter. Actually, he defined the saying ignorance is bliss. It made him all the more lovable.

He did have one trait that was far from lovable — the propensity to dig. A fur covered jackhammer. A backhoe with a tail. Moles don’t take to digging like Bubba did. The backyard looked like a minefield, where the mines had been placed way too close together and then detonated.

He dug a basement under his doghouse. The usual view from the kitchen window was Bubba’s butt sticking up out of a large hole with a rooster tail of dirt flying out behind it while two little girls tried to tie something onto him. One day I walked outside and he had dug up the water line and was chewing on it. What the hell? He was an unstoppable excavation machine. We really should have started a swimming pool installation company. Opportunities missed.

One opportunity never missed with our furry companions is the chance for kids to learn valuable realities of life. Love and caring for a dependent creature, being responsible for something other than yourself and the loss of a loved one — all of these are usually first experienced through a pet.

As well as gut-wrenching laughter.

David, GypsyNester.com

Your Turn: Is/was there a pet in your life that made a difference in your family? Have you owned any lovably weird pets? Please share!

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Solemnly Cycling Along Omaha Beach

There might be no better way to experience Omaha Beach in Normandy than to glide silently along the several miles of this unparalleled piece of history on two wheels….
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With Memorial Day and the 78th anniversary of D-Day coming up, we are taking a look back at our visit to Normandy a few years ago.

We are fully convinced that bicycles are the best way to see most places up close while traveling. We can cover many times more ground than on foot, and those feet don’t hurt at the end of the day.

However, if we needed some reinforcement for that point of view, there might be none better than the day we spent riding along Omaha Beach in Normandy. For us there is simply no better way to have experienced this unparalleled piece of history than to glide silently along its several miles of waterfront on two wheels.

We began at one of the surviving German bunkers, where the Fifth Engineer Special Brigade Memorial stands overlooking the landing site of the Allied troops.

The feeling here is beyond profound. Gazing out over the English Channel, the power of that historic campaign was fully overwhelming. It was not difficult to picture the armada of ships dotting the horizon, but almost impossible to imagine the chaos and turmoil of the human onslaught while the liberators came onshore.

It took several minutes before anyone in our group was even able to speak.

When we went inside of the bunker and looked through the narrow slits designed to allow for outgoing gunfire, we could only think that the positioning of the bunkers made it hard to believe any allied forces ever made it off of the beach.

Just above the bunkers, the Monument to the First Infantry Division commemorates the six hundred and twenty seven members of the Big Red One’s that died freeing France in June of 1944.

From there we made our way back up to the top of the bluff where The Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial in France is located. Here the graves of 9,385 soldiers, almost all casualties of D-Day or soon after, spread out over one hundred and seventy acres.

If we thought that we were emotional before, this took us well beyond any feelings we had ever experienced. To gather ourselves we took a few minutes to meditate at the reflecting pool in front of the colonnade.

Along this columned walkway there are maps detailing the military operations, a bronze statue entitled Spirit of American Youth Rising from the Waves, and the Wall of the Missing. The wall, inscribed with over fifteen hundred names, serves as a solemn reminder of those who were lost in action.

Moving into the cemetery, we spent a while walking among and gazing across the seemingly endless rows of stark white markers, taking in as many of the names as we could, before finally deciding to move on for a look at the rest of the beach.

Mounting our bikes we rode off in silence. The pathway took us directly alongside the sand, with the sea on our right and bluffs dotted with overgrown pillboxes left from Germany’s Atlantic Wall looming above us on our left.

After a mile or so we spotted the sculpture Les Braves rising from the water’s edge. Dedicated in 2004 for the 60th anniversary of D-Day, the thirty foot center pillars called Rise, Freedom! stand majestically between The Wings of Fraternity and The Wings of Hope, all formed from gleaming stainless steel.

It is an awesome work of art, designed by Anilore Banon to move in and out of the water with the tide and her words describing it are much better than anything we could possibly say:

The Wings of Hope -So that the spirit which carried these men on 6th June 1944, continues to inspire us, reminding us that together it is always possible to change the future.

Rise Freedom! – So that the example of those who rose up against barbarity, helps us remain standing strong against all forms on inhumanity.

The Wings of Fraternity – So that the surge of brotherhood always reminds of our responsibility towards others as well as ourselves. On 6th June 1944, these men were more than soldiers, they were our brothers.” – Anilore Banon.

Slightly inland from Les Braves is another poignant piece of artwork. Yannec Tomada’s Ever Forward is a statue of a running soldier carrying a wounded comrade up from the water. The work conveys the human struggle of that fateful day with gripping realism.

Once again, the artist’s words serve to explain much better than we ever could:

“In commemoration of the determined effort by the soldiers of the 29th Division’s 116th Infantry Regimental Combat Team who landed the morning of June 6, 1944 on this section of Omaha Beach, known as Exit D-1, to open the Vierville Draw behind you to begin the liberation of Europe.”

This was another spot that held us for quite some time, unable to move away, but as we finally rode away from the sea it occurred to us that bicycles were a very good way to move about this countryside.

Later we learned that some of the Allied troops had used bicycles on D-Day.

David & Veronica, GypsyNester.com

A big thank you to Backroads Travel  for providing this adventure, as always, all opinions are our own.

This post may contain sponsored links.

A Trip, an Exploration, or an Expedition? All 3 Aboard Viking Octantis!

Here’s a look at how we came to understand why Viking Octantis is classified as an expedition ship, because to travel is one thing, to explore another, but to be a part of an expedition is an entirely different experience… CONTINUE READING >> 

When we travel, we like to learn. Usually that means our focus is on the destination because we want to know as much as we can about the places we visit. But, since there is always an exception to the rule, on our recent journey from Barbados to New York aboard the Viking Octantis the ship was really the star of the show.

Speaking of stars, one of the first things we learned is that the name of the ship comes from the star Sigma Octantis, which is the closest star to the south pole.

That makes perfect sense because the Octantis was specifically designed as an expedition ship to explore the polar regions, especially Antarctica. That means that there are several aspects of the ship that are quite unique. We had certainly never seen anything like them before.

Many of the features are designed to provide some added comfort in the face of the frigid conditions encountered while exploring the Antarctic, so instead of an open air balcony, each cabin is equipped with a Nordic Balcony.

The idea is that the phenomenal scenery can be enjoyed in climate controlled comfort with the giant picture window in the raised position, but an open-air option is also available for the more adventurous passengers, or for times like our cruise when the weather is warm and sunny.

Each stateroom also has a heated drying closet for those snowy parkas and cold weather clothes, but we found it quite useful for our wet swimming gear on our Caribbean leg of our journey.

In another nod to avoiding the elements, Octantis has an enclosed in-ship marina called The Hanger. This allows boarding and launching of the ship’s various excursion craft while safely sheltered from the weather, wind, and waves.

The on board fleet includes over a dozen Zodiacs and several kayaks, along with four incredible vehicles for explorations, two six-seat submarines and two twelve passenger high-speed Special Operation Boats.

We missed out on going down in one of the submarines due to rough seas, but did get to take a quick cruise on one of the SOBs. These bad boys can really move! We got up to 38 knots, that’s 44 m.p.h., and let me tell you, that feels like flying on the water.

Usually speeds like that on the ocean would mean getting seriously tossed around by the waves, but these Special Operation Boats are equipped with seats on shock absorbers, so the whole wild ride was remarkably smooth.

Another intriguing feature designed with passenger comfort in mind is the state of the art U-tank stabilizers which can decrease rolling by up to 50% while the ship is stationary. The concept is remarkably simple, when the ship begins to list to one side water in a U shaped tank is transferred to the opposite side and balances the ship. Simple and effective!

There are also several technological advancements on Octantis, for instance, the ship operates all electric. This means that the four diesel engines are only used to generate electricity and the ship can easily operate on only two or three, and even on only one in an emergency. They have also added a system to remove almost all of the nitrogen oxides and carbon particles from the exhaust to help keep the pristine Antarctic ecosystem as clean as possible.

The high-tech amenities don’t stop there because scientific experiments and data collection were built into the ship. This means that researchers can travel along and gain valuable insights into our climate and environment.

There are two ongoing projects that passengers were able to participate in. The first involves cataloging the plastic microfibers found in seawater. The Octantis has a system that collects water, then runs it through a process of filters. The end results are placed on slides and examined for microscopic particles.

We joined several other passengers in The Laboratory to help the project by looking through high-power microscopes to count and document the fibers and particles we found.

The Viking Octantis is also partnered with the National Weather Service, and is the first civilian ship sanctioned to be a launch site for weather balloons. So on our second to last day, while cruising hundreds of miles off shore in the North Atlantic, we got to get up early and watch a launch.

The helium-filled balloon starts out about the size of a beach ball, but expands as it rises through the thinning atmosphere. By the time it reaches an altitude of twenty miles or more it has expanded to over thirty meters across and finally pops. No worries though, it is made of a special biodegradable latex so within a year it has disappeared.

All the while, data about the altitude, barometric pressure, temperature, humidity, and winds is being transmitted through a small radiosonde back to the ship and displayed on a big screen at Expedition Central, the main meeting place for all things scientific on board Octantis. We spent a lot of time there.

The data is then passed along to NOAA and the US National Weather Service to be added in with the other 102 weather stations reporting. All of this information is then used to create accurate weather predictions all over he world.

Yet even with all of these technological wonders, the ship has more than its share of other amenities for pampering, relaxation, comfort, and chowing down.

The huge spa area has public saunas and pools, along with extensive workout equipment and yoga space. Three more thermal pools, going from “Wow, that’s cold!” to “Ahhh, nice.” to “Yeah baby, now that’s a hot tub!” are lined up along the stern of the ship.

Several libraries and reading rooms are scattered throughout the decks, some with video gaming tables where lively impromptu backgammon, chess, checkers or other favorite board game matches break out on a regular basis.

When it came time to eat the crew of the Octantis really outdid themselves. We can safely say that this was the best buffet on any cruise we have ever been on. Fresh seafood everyday including king crab legs and several kinds of shrimp. There was also a sushi chef preparing perfect sashimi and rolls every evening.

Bread and pasta are made daily right on board, and a grill rivaling the best steakhouses sizzled at the ready for a T-bone, sirloin, or a surf and turf with fresh Caribbean spiny lobster.

Beyond the buffet, Manfredi’s serves authentic Italian fare made with that fresh, homemade pasta we mentioned. Magnifico! And The Restaurant features a variety of dishes and a relaxed yet upscale ambiance.

All in all we came to understand why Viking Octantis is classified as an expedition ship, because to travel is one thing, to explore another, but to be a part of an expedition is an entirely different experience.

On an expedition there are goals, not only to learn, but to add to the wealth of knowledge that can actually help the planet going forward. That is something Viking has devoted a great deal of attention to and a big part of why we like them so much.

David & Veronica, GypsyNester.com

Thanks to Viking Cruises for inviting us along and providing this adventure! As always, all opinions are our own.

Run Grunion Run

Believe me, you won’t believe this phenomenal phenomenon until you see it for yourself…
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The old phrase “like a fish out of water” takes on a new meaning on the nights when the grunion run. Thousands of these little swimmers take to the land in a bizarre mating ritual that must be seen to be believed.

I had heard stories, but always thought they were tall tales. A legend local Californians told to the visitors and newcomers about the waves of fish coming ashore in the middle of the night.

It seemed that my dear wife was also in on the conspiracy. I guess as a native Southern Californian she kind of had to be.

So I was truly shocked when I ventured down to the beach around midnight and saw the truth. It really does happen. Not only that, it is happening now.

Don’t believe me? Here’s a handy guide that tells all of the nights when the grunion will be running along the beaches of Southern California through the spring and in to summer.

Check it out and you will see that there are plenty of opportunities to see this phenomenal phenomenon for yourself.

Then you will know that this is not just some fish story.

David & Veronica, GypsyNester.com

Street Food Eating our Way Through Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula

Across Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula, we set out to sample as many street delicacies as possible and got off to a jumping start at a weekend street fair in Cancun.

In the Yucatán, many of the favorite foods can be traced back to Mayan times. In addition to building incredible cities, the Maya people grew… CONTINUE READING >>

Mobile street food vender in Piste, Mexico

The inclination to grab a bite to eat on the street is not something new.

Most likely the first time two roads crossed, some enterprising chef set up a cart at the new intersection to provide passersby a mobile snack.

The idea of fast food is not a recent development; it’s the culmination of centuries of selling food on the fly. We saw it in Pompeii, where corner cafes had counters right on the curb.

Fruit and vegetable street stand in Valladolid Mexico

Chapulines, or crickets is a street delicacy in Mexico

Across Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula, we set out to sample as many street delicacies as possible and got off to a jumping start at a weekend street fair in Cancun.

Before we made it to the mass of vendors in the Parque de las Palapas, we encountered a young man with two buckets. One was obviously filled with spiced peanuts; the other looked to be brimming with bugs.

David eats a cricket in Cancun Mexico

“Crickets,” he informed us. Known as chapulines, these buggers are traditionally found in the nearby state of Oaxaca.

In summer and early fall, the insects are harvested out of the corn and alfalfa fields, cleaned, boiled, and then baked or fried with plenty of spices. Never ones to back away from trying something strange or new, when offered a sample we both popped one in our mouths.

Not bad, the chili overshadowed any bug-like flavor. Not a new favorite or anything, but way better than a silkworm.

WATCH: We eat our way through the Yucatan – calorie count not included, for your guilt-free viewing pleasure!

An elote cart in Valladolid
An elote cart in Valladolid

In the Yucatán, many of the favorite foods can be traced back to Mayan times. In addition to building incredible cities, the Maya people grew corn.

The grain was a staple of their diet, just as it is for their descendants today. Good old corn on the cob, called elote, is one of the most popular street foods all across Mexico.

Elote from a street vendor in Cancun

Elote in a cup in Cancun
Esquites in Cancun

Dressed up with cheese and chili pepper it is a tasty treat, but down in the southern sections of the country we came across a variation we had never seen before.

Esquites is same ingredients, only served in a cup. The corn is cut off of the cob and a wild array of condiments is offered as toppings, and then eaten with a spoon. Not as fun, but definitely not as messy.

Carrying wares on the street in Piste, Mexico

Tamale cart in Valladolid Mexico
Tamale cart in Valladolid

While exploring the inland town of Valladolid, one of the more intriguing offerings we encountered curbside were the charred, leaf-wrapped packets we kept seeing in the Mayan neighborhood.

They looked a lot like the dim sum sticky rice wrapped in lotus leaves served in China, but were obviously cooked over fire. Our guess was — even though they were much larger than we had ever seen before — that they were most likely tamales.

Made sense since the Maya people invented tamales, and have continued making them for thousands of years.

Tamale in Valladolid Mexico

Unlike the corn husk wrapping we are used to seeing (or the scary grease soaked paper of the canned versions), these tamales are cooked in banana leaves, which does wonders for the flavor.

The sweetness, mixed with the smoky flavor from fire roasting and the spicy filling, made for the best we’ve ever had. Much of that unique goodness is a result of the cooking over coals in underground ovens known as pibs.

That is so much a part of the process that pib has become the slang term for tamales across the Yucatán.

Conchinita pibil street food stand in Valladolid Mexico
Conchinita cart in Valladolid

 

Another regional dish that can be traced back to the ancient Mayans, and is also cooked underground, is conchinita pibil.

Cochinita means baby pig, and pibil is the Mayan word for buried, which perfectly describes the dish.

While it has become less common to roast a whole suckling pig, the method remains the same; marinate pork in the juice of bitter oranges and achiote, wrap the meat in banana leaves, and slow cook it over coals underground.

Panuchos conchinita pibil in Piste Mexico on the Yucatan Peninsula
Panuchos conchinita pibil in Pisté
Conchinita pibil sandwich in Valladolid Mexico on the Yucatan Peninsula
Conchinita pibil as a sandwich

The end result is tender, flavorful pulled pork that instantly became our new favorite.

Not a day went by that we didn’t have some conchinita, several times at breakfast!

It is almost always served with pickled onions, and often on bread, but we also had it on tortillas and even saw it advertised as a pizza topping.

Lime soup or Sopa de lima in Piste, Mexico
Sopa de lima in Pisté

At a sidewalk café in Pisté, the small town that serves as the gateway to the Mayan ruins at Chichen Itza, we were introduced to one of the most popular dishes of the region, sopa de lima.

Being soup, it is not generally served on the street, but lime soup is available pretty much everywhere else in the Yucatán. As the name implies, lime is a key ingredient, but this is more of a traditional chicken soup, with tortilla strips taking the place of noodles. Freakin’ YUM.

Cooking street tacos in Cancun Mexico

Speaking of tortillas, we certainly cannot overlook the importance, and abundance, of tacos to the street food scene in Mexico.

There are variations common to the different parts of the country, but they have all permeated the entire land and beyond.

The name taco is thought to come from silver miners in the 1800s, who thought that the explosive charges of gunpowder wrapped in paper they used to blow holes in rock looked similar to their lunch. The food had been common for centuries before that, but no one seems to know what it was called.

Street tacos in Cancun Mexico

Nameless or not, tacos were around well before the Spanish arrived.

In fact, in his 1568 book, A True History of the Conquest of New Spain, Bernal Díaz del Castillo wrote a first-hand account of a 1520 dinner party where conquistador Hernán Cortés ate tacos with the Aztecs.

He went on to repay their hospitality by double crossing them.

Tacos dorados in Cancun Mexico

Ground corn, cooked into tortillas, is still the delivery system of choice for almost any filling imaginable.

We may not know what the Aztecs or Mayans called them, but they go by many names now.

From the basic tacos al carbon, where the meat is grilled over live coals, to tacos dorados meaning golden tacos, because they are deep fried to a golden brown.

Tacos al pastor in Cancun Mexico

One of the most popular taco types in all of Mexico is not descendent from the ancient natives at all, but from Lebanon.

In the first half of the twentieth century many Lebanese immigrants came to Mexico to escape the Ottoman Empire and brought with them their traditional foods.

However, some of the ingredients were not readily available in their new home and dishes had to adapt. Tacos al pastor is a perfect example.

Tacos al pastor in Cancun Mexico

The lamb used for shawarma, the spit-grilled meat common throughout the Middle East, just wasn’t around in the Yucatán, so pork replaced it.

New seasonings, including pineapple were incorporated, and when served on tortillas instead of pita… presto, tacos al pastor.

Tacos Rigos in Cancun specializes in tacos de cabeza or head tacos
Tacos Rigos in Cancun specializes in head tacos; David needs a moment to adjust to the idea.

After a few days of taco tasting we were feeling pretty adventurous, so we decided to try the possibly disgust… rather, shall we say, somewhat exotic tacos de cabeza, or head tacos.

The process involves steaming a whole cow’s head and removing certain parts to use inside of tacos.

The most common portions are Sesos (brains), Trompa (lips), Cachete (cheek), Lengua (tongue), and Ojo (eyes).

Cheek, tongue and eyeball tacos in Cancun Mexico! GypsyNester.com

We went for the cheek, tongue, and eyeballs, after all, there’s only so much cabeza a person can take… and we wanted to save some to try later… yeah, right.

The cheek was fairly normal meat, perfectly good, and the tongue was not too unusual either. We had tried it through the years on sandwiches and other dishes. But the eyes… let’s just say it was not a pretty sight.

Eyeball taco in Cancun Mexico! GypsyNester.com
Are you looking at ME?!

The eyes are chopped up after steaming, and then braised on a grill, which helped slightly.

In fact, had we not known what we were eating we may have thought it was just a really fatty, grisly cut of meat.

But we did know, which brought new meaning to the saying watch what you eat.

We were diligent though, and managed to consume a fair amount of the bovine peepers, until it hit us… what if they were watching us back?!?!

It was easier to get past eating a bug than thinking about that.

Gory taco in Cancun, Mexico
We were, however, somewhat petrified to try our luck in this place!

David & Veronica, GypsyNester.com

Thanks to the folks at Ensure we felt secure that we could venture into this epicurean episode without risking any nutritional repercussions. They were kind enough to sponsor our video, and provided a supply of their new Ensure Active, which kept us hydrated throughout our escapades. All opinions are our own.

See all of our adventures in Mexico!

YOUR TURN: Fire away! What looks good and what wouldn’t you eat in a million years (we would never ask that you are as crazy as we are!)?

Great Ways to Stay Entertained While Traveling

Even ardent adventurers such as ourselves can get bored in the long stretches of time during our travels, so let’s explore some ways to pass the time…
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Travel truly is one our favorite things in life. It must be, because we have now been to over fifty different countries along with all fifty of the United States.

But even fanatic, ardent adventurers such as ourselves can get bored in the long stretches of time during in the transportation phases of our journeys. As anyone who has driven cross country, taken a long bus or train ride, or flown across an ocean knows, time can drag on seemingly endlessly through those hours and hours spent cooped up in planes, trains, and automobiles… along with an occasional boat.

Back in the old days, when we rode in the “way back” seat of the station wagon on family cross country odysseys, we would play I Spy, or Punch Bug, or my favorite, The License Plate Game. We loved to see who could spot cars from the most states. And there were huge extra bonus points for Alaska and Hawaii.

I must admit, I still do this when driving long distances. I just can’t help it. But other than that little quirk of mine, now we are all grown up and can perhaps explore some more adult ways to pass the time but…

Just Because We’re Adults Doesn’t Mean We Can’t Play Games

It just means that we might play better games. These days we always have a computer right in our pocket, so let’s start there.

Of course there are any number of games we can play on our phone, but everybody loves BINGO, right? I mean, there is even a song about it. B-I-N-G-O and Bingo was his name-O.

As an added bonus, we might even put a little extra traveling money in our pockets. But we definitely want to be sure that the site we are playing on is legitimate.

So how can we be confident to find a trusted bingo site? Well, this Smart Bingo Guide is certainly a good place to start. With dozens of sites listed, we’re sure to find one we love.

And by choosing a licensed bingo site, we can rest assured knowing that the site is trustworthy and safe. The licensing information should always be displayed on a reputable bingo website. If it is not there then it is best to look for a different site. But that won’t be a problem because the Smart Bingo Guide has already checked. They do the work, so we don’t have to.

That Same Phone Can be a Movie Screen

Remember when there was just one screen at the front of the airplane and everybody had to watch the same movie? We do.

But not anymore. Now a phone can be a theater, and we can watch almost any movie, almost anywhere.

Any place with a cell signal that is. Luckily, that is just about everywhere these days. But traveling like we do there are still times we find ourselves so far off the beaten path that we have to kick it old school for our entertainment. When that happens…

A Good Book can Make the Time Fly By

Guess what? Books are where the ideas for most of those movies we watch came from. So sometimes we still like to go straight to the source and read our entertainment. Getting lost in a great story is one of the best ways we know to get one of those “Wow, where did the last few hours go?” moments.

Pick a Card, Any Card

As long as we are exploring analog entertainment options, we certainly can’t overlook the fun of playing a few hands of some good old fashioned card games. When there are only the two of us we like to play gin rummy, but if we have a larger group, especially with our kids (who are all well into their thirties now so “kids”might be a misnomer), then it is time to get cut throat and break out the poker chips.

Some of Our Old Favorites also Work Well while in Motion

Many of the classic games from our childhood can easily be played even when we are moving along in a car or airplane. Family favorites like UNO, Pictionary, Scatergories, and Battleship can all be played without being disrupted by bouncing and turning so we can shout “uno!,” or “you sunk my battleship!” without fear of disrupting the game.

Or there is always the license plate game. Who knows? There might be a car from Alaska or Hawaii right around the next bend.
But then, it’s a little hard to play it on an airplane.

David & Veronica, GypsyNester.com

We are happy to present this collaborative post to offer valuable information to our readers.

Are There Vikings in the Caribbean? There are Now!

Follow along with us on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram while we explore the Leeward Islands aboard Viking Cruise Line’s new Expedition Ship Octantis….
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Who knew that Vikings are sailing across the Caribbean these days?

Well we do now. So follow along with us on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram while we explore the Leeward Islands (and a Windward or two) aboard Viking Cruise Line’s new Expedition Ship Octantis.

As one of two new cutting-edge Viking expedition class small ships, Octantis is specially designed excursions to the world’s most remote destinations. We are joining her as she sails North after several months exploring Antarctica.

While ours should be a much warmer voyage, we are excited to learn more about this incredible vessel that includes an onboard marina, The Hanger, where small excursion craft are launched with passengers never having to face the outside elements. There is even a small submarine !

We can hardly wait to show you, so check our social media channels often for updates.

David & Veronica, GypsyNester.com

Thanks to Viking Cruises for inviting us along and providing this adventure! As always, all opinions are our own.

Life’s a Beach… but there’s also heaps of history… in San Diego

San Diego is where the Golden State got its start. That’s why it is known as the Birthplace of California…
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Southern California is known for its beaches. As soon as we hear a Beach Boys song we are instantly taken to magical place where surfer girls stand by the ocean’s roar waiting for a little deuce coupe to take them on a surfin’ safari.

Well, daddy may have taken the T-bird away, but the beaches are still going strong. And despite Los Angles being best known with Malibu, Santa Monica, Venice, and Redondo, we’d have to say that the San Diego area has the best beaches.

And of those many beaches, Pacific Beach just might be at the top of the charts. So, what better place to stay for a quick right on the sand getaway than Tower23? We can’t think of any.

How could we when we could walk directly out the door and on to the beach? We’re not talking about some little funky bungalow either, this is a full service luxury, lifestyle hotel right on the seashore.

But San Diego has much more to offer than beautiful beaches, so after a day of enjoying the vast array of included amenities at Tower23, we headed to the heart of the city at Old Town San Diego.

This is much more than just an old part of town; this really is where the Golden State got its start. That’s why it is known as the Birthplace of California. As such, in 1968 the neighborhood was designated as a state park, officially the Old Town San Diego State Historic Park.

It is fairly unique as state parks go, because it is right smack in the middle of a major metropolitan area. But it is certainly more than worthy of the designation, since it is the site of the very first European settlement on the West Coast of what is now United States.

The San Diego Presidio, a Spanish military outpost, was built by Gaspar de Portolà in 1769. That same year Father Junípero Serra, established the first of the nine missions he founded in California, the Mission San Diego de Alcalá.

For the next hundred years after the fire this was the center activity for the city of San Diego, until more and more of the population began to move to what is now downtown, closer to the harbor as shipping and trade increased in the late eighteen hundreds.

So, what we visited is actually a bit of a recreation with the intention of presenting the town as it was from 1821 to 1872. While several of the buildings are original, many of the structures were reconstructed to be a part of the park. Still, all of the work was done to ensure authenticity and the result is that the feel of the village is remarkably realistic.

Just wandering around the square was like a trip back in time. We were a bit disappointed that several of the museums and other buildings were closed on our Tuesday afternoon visit, but still very happy with the overall attention to detail and accuracy displayed throughout the park.

We got to hang out inside the original office of the San Diego Union newspaper, see the first ever courthouse in California, and take a peek inside the fabulous Cosmopolitan Hotel.

Nearby we found the blacksmith shop and stables, along with La Casa de Estudillo. Often called the Estudillo House, this historic adobe from 1827 was considered one of the finest houses in California in its day.

At the other end of the square, the plaza Fiesta de Reyes was irresistible, so we took a stroll through the courtyards and fountains that are surrounded by over twenty locally owned shops and restaurants. Of course, we had to stop long enough to sample a hand made fresh tortilla along the way.

That brings up another interesting quirk about this park, many of the attractions inside the park perimeter are private companies operating under agreements with the state of California. This allows for some fun, entertainment, and food without sacrificing the integrity of the surroundings.

It also means that we didn’t need to leave the park to grab a bite to eat or some souvenirs. But it really would not have mattered too much, because there is no admission fee and a ton of other options for restaurants and shops are just a few steps beyond the boundary of the park.

So with our heads full of history, we happily headed back to the beach to watch the sun go down.

…and maybe listen to some more Beach Boys.

David & Veronica, GypsyNester.com

Big thanks to Tower23 for providing this historic adventure! As always, all opinions are our own.