The Traveler

My apologies for the picture quality–these were all taken from my phone.  Everyone else has the good ones!
Green=car, Red=plane, Blue=bus

This past week, the baby got to travel all over the place.  Over the course of seven days, he was able to see four great-grandparents, five grandparents, seven aunts and uncles, eight second cousins, three great-uncles, three great-aunts, just to mention family members.

We flew out of Baltimore early Saturday morning, and Allen was great on the plane.  He either slept or played the whole trip.

Bound for St. Louis

After a short layover in Detroit, we arrived in St. Louis at about 9:30am local time.  My dad then picked us up at the airport, and we headed to Hermann, Missouri.  This area is where all of my dad’s side of the family came from, back five or six generations to our German ancestors who settled there in the early to mid 1800’s.  We were met by my Grandma and Grandpa Speckhals at their home.  They were thrilled to see the baby (and us too, of course!).  The next day, Andrea and Allen got to meet all of my aunts, uncles, and cousins–including my UNCLE Allen 🙂 .

With Great Grandma and Great Grandpa Speckhals

Late Monday, we were dropped off at the bus station in St. Louis for the five hour trip up to Chicago, to see the rest of the family and attend the Preaching Conference at Fairhaven.  Again, Allen was super on the bus trip.  The bus was well worth it.  It was very clean, spacious, convenient, and had free WiFi the whole trip.  It ended up being only $13.00 a piece.

From Tuesday to Saturday, we stayed in Chesterton, and were privileged to attend all of the Preaching Conference.  Andrea and I were able to go to the Alumni picnic, catch up with friends, and listen to some pointed and convicting messages from several different speakers.

And of course, this was the first time the Leslie side of the family was able to see Allen.  Lindsey was over-thrilled, and probably kissed the little guy about 100 times.  Aunt Sharon was able to fly in from Utah, and Uncle Jim and Aunt Bethany were already in the area, of course.  As an extra blessing, Andrea’s great-grandparents (the Campbells) from Macon, Georgia were able to fly in for the conference.

With Grandpa Leslie
With Grandma Leslie
With Auntie Lindsey
With Great Grandma Campbell

After the conference was over, we spent a day with the Leslies in Chicago while Grandma and Grandpa Campbell and Sharon were dropped off at the airport.  While we were in Chicago, of course we couldn’t pass up Al’s #1 Italian Beef and Garrett’s Popcorn.  Too bad the baby couldn’t be a part of it!

We arrived home at about 9:00pm last night, a little exhausted, but very thankful for the opportunity to travel, attend the Preaching Conference, and have a good amount of quality time with our families.  Now, back to the real world!

Back from the Yucatan Peninsula/ New Jersey/ Washington DC

Yes, we are home, alive, and very well.  We had a vacation that was far better than we could have ever imagined in Mexico.  Right now, I am kind of scripting out our video of the vacation.  We figured it could “capture the moment” we had, without having to post a thousand pictures (that’s about how many we took!) and telling a bunch of stories.  So that is my little project for now…

We got home Thursday evening at about 10:00pm in the evening.  We had a nice American “midnight snack” that night just as we were getting back from Sheetz, a Pennsylvania convenience store chain.  I had a “Dustin Special,” as my wife (or parents) might call it.  Now, please don’t be grossed out by this–its a toasted white bread sub with pepperoni as the main meat; then Buffalo sauce, Parmesan cheese, pickles, salt, pepper, oregano, and lettuce to top it off.  Strange, huh?  At least Andrea and my parents understand me…

I look back at our little goals and am amazed by how many we were able to get accomplished in Tulum:

  • Snorkel in the coral reef ✓

Snorkel we did!  We were out for about an hour 1/4 of a mile out from the shore.  I think we saw a jellyfish too–or at least it looked like one.  We never figured out if it was a plastic grocery bag or jellyfish.  I didn’t really care to find out.

  • Swim in a cenote ✓

This is one of the most fun and interesting things I can remember doing in my life.  The water was SO clear, and it was neat to snorkel and look at all of the stalactites far beneath us.

  • Take more pictures than I can count ✓

To be honest, I can count them–937 to be exact, plus several short videos.

  • Spend a lot of time at the Mayan ruins in Tulum ✓

They were simply amazing to look at.  The backdrop for the ancient ruins is spectacular!

  • Learn more Spanish ✓

I actually learned a lot of new Spanish words, and a few Mayan words too.  About a third of the population of the state of Quintana Roo still speaks Mayan fluently!

  • Learn to like Mexican food more than I do ✓

I have always had a problem with corn tortillas.  I never had a good taste for them.  However, for this trip, I tried to make myself like them more, and believe it or not, I did!  We had tacos from a restaurant on five or so different occasions, and each time I had a corn tortilla and really liked it!  Although the last night or our stay I had something called a gringa, which is a basically a quesadilla with a flour tortilla–one of my favorite foods of the trip!

  • Visit an indigenous Mexican church ✓

Well, we sort of did.  Truthfully there is not even a Baptist church in Tulum, or even anything close.  We saw an LDS temple, the usual Catholic church, and several Pentecostal-type churches.  One evening while we were biking, we came across a literal church built out of sticks (very typical in that part of the country: for houses and buildings to be built out of sticks and a palapa roof).  We gazed in for several minutes into the semi-open air service.  We found out soon that it was a non-denominational church with a Pentecostal flare, unfortunately.  It was interesting to see they are in some sort of church service though.

Until I finish the video within the next several weeks, I thought I might wet the palette a bit with this picture of the Tulum ruins that Andrea took.  It was very hard to take a bad picture here!  We’re actually talking about having this one enlarged to hang on our wall.

You may ask why the title of this post says “Washington DC” in it.  Well, we had a choice of taking a flight to Baltimore (where our car was) or Washington National Airport (about an hour away from our car).  The problem is that I could not fly into Baltimore because that would have put us at home three days later instead of just two.  So, I chose Washington.  The problem was when we got there–the blizzard still had all of the public transportation shut down!  I mean all–no buses, subway, or anything.  So, we had to take a taxi to Baltimore instead.  It was kind of a pain finance wise, but turned out a whole lot better than it could have been.  Someone told us that DC taxis were the cheapest on the East Coast.  Here is what my car looked like when we got to Baltimore:

We dug it out in about 15 minutes, and were home two hours after landing in DC, praise the Lord.  What a memorable adventure just getting home from Mexico!

An Adventure Worth Remembering

Here is a story about a little adventure I took while travelling once.

A year and a half ago, I was on my way to Aguascalientes, Mexico to visit Andrea.  The problem was that I had a four and a half hour layover in Mexico City.  Now, I had never been in Mexico before, let alone Mexico City (which is the largest metropolitan area on earth).  But still, it was FOUR AND A HALF HOURS!  I thought I could just hop out of the ‘aeropuerto’ for a bit, see the city square (Zocalo), and get acquainted to the country.  I asked two veteran missionaries to Mexico City if that was a good idea or not.  Both flat out told me, “No.”  Did I care?  Believe it or not, yes!  I didn’t want to get kidnapped or robbed or killed!  However, when I landed at Benito Juarez Airport, the idea all of the suddeIn the Zocalon sounded good again.  So I took a taxi (another bad idea, they said), and told them to take me to the Zocalo.  I had read that if you get a certified taxi, you are safe though.  I paid the extra and got the certified one.  Now, I know just a little bit of Spanish; but I figured as a HUGE multi-cultural city there would be plenty of English-speaking people…not!  For the next hour, I walked around, guarded my wallet, and took some pictures.
Then, I did another crazy thing.  I wanted to eat some authentic Mexican food, so I looked out for decent looking restaurant.  I found one after looking for a little bit just off of the Zocalo.  The first surprise was trying to figure out the prices that were on the menu.  Here I was, a lonely American in big Mexico City, not knowing 10% of the Spanish that I

At the Los Tacos--my lunch for the day
At the Los Tacos--my lunch for the day

should have.  Then I had to figure out what was on the menu and what it meant.  I found something that I had eaten at a Mexican restaurant back home that I liked: Tacos el pastor.  I also had to find a drink, without accidently picking some kind of alcohol!  It was actually a sit-down and tip style of restaurant, so I had to figure out how to tip my waitress too!  However, after finishing my meal and paying, I left thinking I had scored an A+ in my eating experience that day.

The rest of the time I spent looking at the city basilica, the Plaza of Four Cultures, and a few typical Mexican shops.  As it started to get close to the time when I had to leave, I was looking for one of those certified taxis again.  I looked through seas of cars, and found none—only a bunch of regular taxis.  I conjured up in my mind a good idea—if it is a newer looking taxi, they are probably decent people; and if it is an older guy, he probably would not try to rob me.  Plus, I would be able to take him down if he tried.  After looking for a few minutes, I found one to my liking.  He drove me back to the airport in half of the time, and for a quarter of the price of that certified taxi.  From there, I took the last leg of my flight to Aguascalientes.

Guarding my carry-on luggage in the square
Guarding my carry-on luggage in the square

I arrived and told one of the missionaries about my little adventure.  He pretty much told me that it was unwise, and that he would have had to answer to my parents if nothing had been heard of me (ie: robbed, beat up, kidnapped, etc.).  I also heard from Andrea what that Tacos el pastor that I ate was: pork.  Now here in the states, that is no big deal.  But in Mexico, it is a huge mistake to eat pork.  There is very often parasites and diseases in them that could make me very sick.  On top of that, it is roasted on an open-air rotisserie—similar to gyros.

What an adventure!  I honestly had an enjoyable time.  Would I do it again?  Absolutely: but maybe with a little bit more caution…maybe!