Kids Catching Waves: A Family Surf Adventure in Tofino

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Learning to surf together has been a priority of ours for several years now, but the timing never seemed to be right. At first glance, learning to surf on a February day on Vancouver Island might seem like the last place anyone would pick, but we had done our homework and knew it was just what we were looking for. Tofino, on the west coast of the Island, has been steadily developing its surfing reputation due to its consistent, year-round breaks and 35km of sandy beaches. Wetsuits are a must (even recommended in summer), so we decided to take the plunge and catch some waves.

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There’s no shortage of surf shops offering lessons (even in winter), but we settled on Tofino Surf Adventures. We liked that they were a smaller operation, and their laid-back yet passionate approach to surfing was apparent from our very first contact with them. After meeting at the shop and getting fitted with wetsuits, gloves, boots, and head covers, the sun came out in full force as we followed our instructor Antonio to Chesterman Beach. He did an absolutely amazing job accommodating our wide range of ages, and we appreciated that he kept the out-of-water instruction to a minimum in order to give us the most amount of time in the water getting a feel for the waves.

DSC00829 DSC00834DSC00835Five of Hearts and Five Ball took to surfing like pros and got a ton of personalized instruction on getting into a good position, popping-up to ride the waves to shore, and much more. High Five was content to try out a few waves and then charge in and out of the surf on foot, surfing on shore as it were. Knowing that the Younger Fives were in good hands, Five Spice and Five String were able to really focus on getting comfortable on their boards, all the while getting tips and feedback from Antonio as we went. The wetsuits kept us surprisingly warm (with the added bonus of helping us float), and our three-hour lesson (with a few snack breaks on shore in between) flew by in no time.

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Long story short, we are definitely hooked on surfing. The feeling of watching a wave slowly getting closer and then riding into shore is incredible, and we couldn’t have asked for better weather or a more family-friendly instructor to share the adventure with. Canada’s surf capital may not have the massive waves of other destinations, but for a family looking for an afternoon on a surf board it would be hard to imagine a better place 🙂

 

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Granite Glow

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With a week to go before we leave Southern California for Oregon’s Willamette National Forest, we’ve been thinking of some final activities to get in before we depart. At the top of everyone’s list was a final trip to Joshua Tree National Park, less than 90 minutes from the San Bernardino National Forest. This time around we decided to try something new, camping inside the park.

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We had spent most of our time in the Intersection Rock area during our last trip to Joshua Tree a few weeks ago, so the kids wanted to focus our climbing around Skull Rock in the Jumbo Rocks section for this visit. We found a great site in the Jumbo Rocks Campground, which offered some excellent climbing just beyond our tent as well as a hiking trail directly to Skull Rock. The kids wasted no time and sprinted to the rocks as soon as we parked in front of the site.

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After thoroughly exploring the formations towering over our tent, we walked to the center of the campground and took the connector trail to the Jumbo Rocks area. The rock formations in this part of the park definitely inspire the imagination, and we saw skulls, turtles, walruses, and a variety of other interesting forms in the monzogranite all around us. We had trouble keeping our eyes on the rocks, though, as the desert was in bloom around us, and all along the path we stopped to take a closer look at pencil cholla cactus and California buckwheat blooms.

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As always at Joshua Tree, we were equally exited to experience the park as the sun started to go down. We returned to our site and scrambled up the rocks there to watch the magnificent sunset, and from our perch up high we also caught a glimpse of a coyote making its evening rounds and of bats out catching their breakfast. By the time we settled into our tent a while later, we fell asleep watching the stars visible through the upper screen of our tent.

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The next day we made sure to get out on the rocks one final time before heading home when the afternoon heat set in. The Hall of Horrors area had always caught our attention, so we packed up and headed back towards Keyes View for our morning climb. After a few dead ends we found a way to the top of the middle formation, where we watched the moon still visible in the sun-drenched sky and played in some deep crevices in the rock. A few hours later we were all understandably worn out after two days of scrambling about, so we piled back into the car, put the windows down, turned the music up, and enjoyed a last view of the joshua trees as we made our way back to the San Bernardino Mountains.

Backyard Bouldering

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Rock formations abound here in the San Bernardino National Forest. Just about anywhere we go, we see inviting outcroppings and boulders, and we’ve made it a priority during our time here to climb as many of them as possible. We’ve been eyeing one imposing formation near out rental, visible from our daily walks and trips to the swimming hole, for quite a while now. The other day we finally decided to see if we could find a path to the top.

DSC09519 DSC09507 DSC09509An old forest road led past the base of the slope, but from there the only trails were those of our own invention. The hillside and rocks themselves are covered in a layer of loose sand, gravel and sticks, which makes the climb a bit more challenging. Hand-holding definitely works well, especially for High Five, but as we gained elevation more large rocks poked through and we got better footing. A large tangle of felled trees added to the variety, and we found ourselves climbing over and under the branches to reach the next stretch of rock above.

DSC09510 DSC09515 DSC09512After a few slips and tight squeezes, we soon reached our destination and stopped to admire the view. We could see our house and the swimming hole, as well as the local fire station (the red building in the middle of the above picture) and Keller Peak rising above on the right. Everything was so peaceful and quiet, especially the ant-sized cars we saw on Route 18 that are usually a loud rumble for most of the day and night, especially on weekends.

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The hike back down went smoothly, and we successfully detoured some of trickier spots we encountered on the way up. Towards the bottom the Younger Fives tired of stumbling in the loose gravel, so they wisely resorted to sliding down on their bottoms. Before we knew it we were on a marked trail yet again, and enjoyed a leisurely (and fall free) walk back home.

 

Rome’s Biggest Playground: Park of the Aqueducts

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After a few days exploring the dizzying array of sites in Rome, the Younger Fives were ready to run free without having to worry about traffic or throngs of people passing them on both sides. Il Parco degli Acquedotti (The Park of the Aqueducts) is an ideal place for families to enjoy a natural refuge while still soaking up the marvels of ancient Rome.

Fives’ Facts About The Park of the Aqueducts
* Aqueducts in the Park: The park contains the remnants of two impressive aqueducts. One, Aqua Claudia, was finished in 52 AD and spanned 69 kilometers. It could provide all of Rome’s 14 districts with water, and the volcanic ash used in the concrete made it very durable. Acqua Felice, on the other hand, was built in 1586 by Pope Sextus V. It is 24 kilometers long and was the first new aqueduct of early modern Rome.
* Getting There:
The park is easily reached from the Guilo Agricola stop on the Metro’s A line. From there it is a 4 block walk SW out of the subway station to Via Lemonia. From there, turn left and walk along for a few blocks; you can enter the park anywhere on your right. For pictures of the route and a map, we used the information from Ron in Rome.
Playgrounds: We found a large, impressive playground (the biggest and best we’d seen in Rome) just outside of the park on Via Lemonia, a few blocks from the intersection with Via Guilo Agricola. It also has carnival type attractions for kids, a restaurant, and several food vendors there.
* Nature:
The park’s fields, meadows, and open spaces give a welcomed break from the stone and pavement of Rome. The kids enjoyed playing at the edge of a stream going through the park, and they were mesmerized by the park’s small waterfall (between the Acqua Felice and the farm fields, in the span between the playground and large church that provides a handy reference point while in the park).
* Rome’s Aqueduct System:
At its peak Rome’s aqueduct system spanned about 800 kilometers in total length. It supplied Rome with over 300 million gallons of water every day, which is 25% more than the current daily water supply of Bangalore, India.

Plunging into the Past at Dzibilchaltún

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“We get to wear our bathing suits to the ruins? Cool!” Visiting Mayan ruins in the summer can be a hot and sun-drenched experience, but we (particularly the Younger Fives) were excited to learn about a Mayan site where visitors can take a swim right inside the historical site. And we were even happier to learn it is the closest ruins to our home for the next three months, Mérida.

While the Mayan ruins of Dzibilchaltún get overshadowed by more famous sites such as Palenque and Chichen Itza, it is well worth the visit. Like other ancient Mayan cities in the Yucatan, the site was built around a cenote, a limestone sinkhole that provides freshwater in a hot landscape with no above-ground rivers. What makes Dzibilchaltún special is that visitors are allowed to swim during their visit. While we had conflicting feelings about swimming in water that was and still is considered sacred by the Mayans and their descendants, the lure of the clear, cool water was too much to resist. Dzibilchaltún is also well known for its showcase of Mayan architectural and astronomical know-how. During the spring and fall equinoxes, the rising sun shines directly through the front and rear entrances of the Temple of the Seven Dolls and seems to pause within the temple before continuing on its journey.

Fives’ Facts about Dzibilchaltún

* Getting ThereDzibilchaltún is about 10 km from the northern edge of Mérida. The cheapest option is taking a collectivo from Parque San Juan (Calle 69 between 62 and 64), but none were running the Tuesday we went (maybe just on weekends?). There is also a new city-run bus route that leaves twice a day from the main plaza and large hotels. With five of us though, we ended up hiring a cab from the day (the taxi stand on the west side of Parque San Juan was wonderful) and made out better than we would have on the bus. We would guess that getting back to Mérida without previously arranged transportation would be tricky; most visitors come on arranged tours, and the site is not near any large town that has bus service.
* Hours and Admission:
The site is open everyday from 8:00 AM – 5:00 PM. Adults pay $122 pesos, but children under 12 are free.
The Crowds: 
Dzibilchaltún is a relatively small site, and even with smaller crowds compared to Chichen Itza, it can still feel like the ruins are packed. Even on a week day, visitors from cruise ships docked at nearby Progreso visit on bus tours. To avoid the crowds, try arriving right at 8:00 before the crowds arrive at 10:00, or visit outside of the summer season or holidays.
* Swimming at the Cenote: The site provides changing rooms and a bag check (large backpacks are not allowed past the Visitor’s Center). We wore our bathing suits and found we were perfectly dry after continuing to explore the ruins after swimming. There is a shallower part of the cenote perfect for wading, and also a deeper part that is great for jumping into.
* Museum: We’ve heard great things about the onsite Museum of the Mayan People, but we were too tired out after swimming and exploring to take a look. The museum is free with entry to the ruins.