You know those robo-calls that gleefully announce that you’ve won a free cruise? Or those drawings at the Trader Joe’s checkout to win a gift card if you bring your own bag? How about a virtual drawing to win a family vacation to Mexico? Sigh . . . . ever wonder if anyone actually wins those things?
Well, the most amazing thing happened to us. Through Outdoor Families Magazine, we entered a drawing for a weeklong family vacation to Baja offered by Thomson Family Adventures. And we won! Can you even believe it?
Of course we couldn’t and we kept waiting for the catch. We figured there would be some hidden costs or extremely limited dates or absurd amount of red tape to claim such an unbelievable prize. In fact this was perhaps the most perfect, serendipitous prize for our family to win. Though we love adventure and travel, we haven’t had the chance to travel abroad since the boys were born. And our most recent adventures tend to involve sleeping in tents or winter cabin camping. A luxurious but adventurous trip to a new country was basically our dream come true. And there was no catch.
Of course because the trip was potentially so awesome, I immediately began to sweat the logistics. The advertised itinerary recommended that participating kids be age 6 or older. Junior comes kind of close at 4.5 but Little Bear is still not even 3. And Baja is not only located in another country, but the opposite coast of another country, so it would require a full day of traveling to get there. And then of course there were the usual mom concerns about traveling to less developed regions with small kids who still run amuck, lick windows and stick their fingers in unidentified holes in the ground. The whole thing could have been a disaster.
But it turns out I had nothing to worry about. The awesome people at Thomson Family Adventures collaborated with us to create a slightly modified itinerary to accommodate the boys, we packed lots of entertainment for the long travel days and planned to arrive the night before the official start of the trip, and I packed an entire medicine cabinet along with a “just-in-case” prescription for children’s Z-pack to ease my fears. Before we knew it, we were off.
Though I’d love to write a day-by-day exhaustive description of each and every moment, I fear it would run over into novel length rather than blog post so here below, I list eight wonderful experiences that made this crazy trip so unforgettably worth it.
- Watching Junior go snorkeling for the first time. Junior loves the water and is infatuated by sea life. He can name more varieties of whales and sharks than I can. One morning he woke up and asked me, “Mom, what are those things in the Mariana Trench?” and when I stared at him blankly and said, “huh?” he just added, “You know, hydrothermal vents!” Seriously. So when we told him he’d have the opportunity to snorkel in the ocean with sea lions he was pretty excited. We bought him a tiny little mask and snorkel and sent them with him to swimming lessons before we left. He even insisted on “practicing” in the tub. When he got in the ocean and finally put his face in (after many dramatics about the cooooooooooold water which was actually a balmy 74 degrees,) he was totally wowed. I could hear him squealing through his snorkel. Later, back home, he was proud to report that he’d seen a parrotfish, an angel fish and a sergeant major, correctly pointing to each on our fish ID card. And he did see a sea lion too – click here for the full experience!
- The kids being troopers on the long and bumpy boat ride. It took about two hours to get out to the sea lions, partly due to lumpy seas and partly because we took the scenic route to get the full experience. We swung by crystal clear bays, a frigate bird colony and visited with some dolphins. We were sharing the boat with another dad and his ten-year-old daughter, and I was pretty proud when he remarked on how well-adjusted the boys are on a boat. We spend a lot of time on boats and had brought their own lifejackets (thank goodness for Puddle Jumpers!) to make sure they were comfortable. Since we plan to spend a year living on our boat, I was really relieved to see how easily the boys adapted to the long ride. They even both took naps on the way back!
Visiting the Palapa Society. The Palapa Society in Todos Santos is a volunteer-run English language program that aims to open opportunities for the children of Todos Santos by teaching them to speak English. This was supposed to be a volunteer opportunity for us, but because we tend to have our hands full with the boys everywhere we go, I’m afraid we weren’t as much help as many travelers may be. Instead what it ended up being for us primarily was a cultural experience for the kids. The class we sat in on was with Mexican children mostly around age 7. The English skills they were learning were the same things that Junior is currently learning in preschool so it was a great experience for him to participate right alongside them. He sang the alphabet with them, named his colors and shapes, and did a coloring worksheet. Though he was pretty shy, it was still an eye opening experience I think. And donating books and a soccer ball to them at the end of the lesson was a great way to expose him to the importance of generosity and giving.
- Amazing meals that defied expectations. We knew we’d be eating a lot of Mexican food. I mean, it’s Mexico. We even made sure before we left that the boys each had a preferred staple of Mexican cuisine to fall back on when needed (Little Bear: cheese quesadillas, Junior: fish tacos). What we didn’t expect was the huge range of delicious options we actually found in Todos Santos. Okay fine, we didn’t find anything on our own; it was all thanks to our guide Mauricio, but the point is, the food was amazing. Our first night even included a tasting menu served in a private room by the chef himself at Santo Vino in the iconic Hotel California. There was sashimi, ribs, flank steak and salad. Stuffed peppers, dessert platters and wine pairings. The list goes on. Of course we also really enjoyed our fill of local cuisine and I think my favorite meals were really at the hole-in-the-wall places that Mauricio chose for lunch. One day it was a tiny outdoor courtyard serving all varieties of ceviches (and the only other person eating there was the chef from our dinner the first night, so you know it must be good!) Another day it was the most delicious taco place where we watched our tortillas being made before we ate them. Top everything off with some gourmet popsicles and all was right in the world.
- Conquering a big kid hike with Junior. We knew before we left that there would be a morning of hiking in the desert. And because I am such a control freak, I began mentally preparing Junior for this several weeks in advance. We talked a lot about hiking, and how sometimes we get tired and it’s okay to rest and then get going again. We talked about how sometimes, when our muscles are working hard, they might start to ache a little and that’s okay because it’s just how they grow stronger. We talked about how Little Bear would likely ride in the carrier (oh how I love our Ergo) but that big kids can do big hikes. Of course it was only about five minutes into the hike that Junior announced how tired he was and said he didn’t “feel like” hiking anymore. A standoff ensued and finally Mauricio stepped in (have I mentioned how wonderful our guide was?) and engaged Junior with looking at tracks in the sand. Off we all went again, happy as could be. We even had to chase Junior up the final rocky slope to the last scenic lookout.
- Horseback riding for both boys. When Sam from Thomson Family Adventures emailed me several days before our trip to confirm a few details about the itinerary, she asked if we wanted to try horseback riding or if we’d prefer something else since the boys are so young. I was really uncertain what to do. Obviously if horseback riding was a bust, we’d prefer something else, but the boys absolutely love horses and selfishly, I was really looking forward to horseback riding on the beach. I even considered telling her that I would go riding while the boys stayed behind with the Captain. But instead we left things kind of loose and said we’d give it a shot. Even when we arrived at the ranch, I wasn’t sure we’d do anything besides feed the horses a few carrots and lead the boys around the paddock a few times. Instead, Junior got comfortable on his pony Chappo right away, and one of the great riders at the ranch led his pony from her horse for the entire ride. Little Bear also fit right in, nestled on my western saddle, wedged with an extra saddle pad. We set off and I could hardly believe it when the boys lasted for an entire two-hour ride. The closest thing I even heard to a single complaint was, “Mama, I wish I was a horse so I could eat some of those leaves. I’m hungry.”
The cheesy falling in love again part. Oh I know, it’s so cliche to say that you went on vacation and fell in love all over again. Of course you did – you had all your meals prepared for you, you had zero responsibilities as far as home and work, and you woke every morning to a beautiful view in a tropical setting. I mean, come on! But, even more so for me and the Captain, being someplace tropical, beautiful and warm, with long days spent moving from one adventure to the next really brought us back to the lives we were living when we first met. We met in the British Virgin Islands where we were both living and working full-time on sailboats. He was leading study abroad programs and I was a live aboard skipper and instructor for a charter company. On our days off together, we’d grab a boat and head out for a sail, anchoring to free dive before lunch or take the dinghy around to a favorite snorkel spot. The days were long and hot and busy but they were so, so beautiful. And the same could be said for Baja. Experiencing that lifestyle again, even briefly, with the boys made it so special and made me even more excited for our year afloat.
The nightly sunsets at Casita Colibris. When we first checked in to our room at Casita Colibris, I was worried it would feel cramped with all four of us sleeping in such close quarters. I worried we’d be tiptoeing around the boys while they slept, or they’d be waking us with their tossing and turning. I didn’t realize we’d be so tired each night that we’d all go to bed at the same time and sleep soundly through until morning. And I didn’t realize that the nightly bedtime rituals would become my favorite part of each day, despite all the rest of the excitement. Each day, we’d take a late afternoon dip in the pool and hot tub, then shower off and dress for dinner. We’d arrive back to the room just in time for the sun to start its evening show and we had front row seats. After the boys got into their pjs, we’d all snuggle up together and watch the sun sink lower and lower as the sky turned from pink to orange to red. When the last glimmer of sun disappeared below the horizon, we’d steal a page from our friends over at Windtraveler and whisper, “Goodbye sun, thanks for a great day!” Then we’d read our final bedtime stories and sing our final lullabies by the fading lavender glow on the horizon. These special evenings together, with nothing to think about except family and the beauty around us, were my favorite moments on a favorite trip.
The choice to bring the boys abroad was an easy one for me, but there was plenty of worrying beforehand nonetheless. Of course traveling was easier before they came along. Of course adventures were simpler. I fall under the category of “control freak” when it comes to planning and preparing for adventures with the kids, and this was no different with the exception that on this trip, everything for the week had to fit into two duffel bags under 50 lbs. I packed and repacked, made list after list, and stressed myself out to the point of wondering if maybe we’d have been better off driving to Florida instead. But in the end I can honestly say that this adventure, for us, was even more than we could have hoped for. It refreshed our appetite for travel, affirmed our passion for adventure and introduced the boys to what we hope will be a lifetime of pushing beyond their comfort zone to experience all the wonder the world holds. The experience of travel is one of the greatest gifts we can share with our children and though it may not come easily and will hardly ever come without bumps along the way, doing something that makes you a little nervous in exchange for experiencing a new culture, a new environment and a new adventure is always worth it.
Thank you again, Thomson Family Adventures and Outdoor Families Magazine for making this trip possible for us.
**Though we won this experience in an online drawing, we were not compensated for this review and the opinions expressed here are solely our own.**