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We became an Expat Family, as Seen on Elephant Journal

Wow…

I check in with this every so often…74.1k views and 12.8k shares later, our story seems to continue to make its rounds.

Thank you Elephant Journal for the feature. 

Originally written in April of 2015…

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After my last post “The Story of Us & How Mexico Has Changed Our Destiny Forever”, I spent the next several weeks very focused on creating, editing and finishing my article for Elephant Journal

Writing for a specific audience and platform outside of the known landscape of my blog is very different. Honestly, it was very challenging to stay within a defined word count and needing to “trim it down” and “hone in on my message”.

You see, an individual piece within the context of my blog has a definite continuity and thread tying one story to another…a certain cohesive chronology and relationship between the pieces. Standing alone, without the backdrop of my blog as a whole to support, compliment and fill in any intentional or incidental gaps…well, it’s just very different.

And my pictures tell their own story. Together with the written word, they lend enhanced imagery to the written word. Knowing that not all of the photos that I submitted with the piece would be published made getting the words down just right even more challenging.

Lastly, having a piece accepted for publication by Elephant Journal also means granting them editorial rights…a little unnerving to think of having my voice and style tweaked a bit, but it was a chance I was willing to take. I was not about to miss this opportunity to be published on such a solid, well-known platform as Elephant Journal, what with a readership of over 17 million a month!

After much thought, reflection, editing, taking a break and then coming back to do it all over again, I at last finished my article and pushed send when we were vacationing in the Yucatan during Semana Santa. The next day I heard back from the editor that they were indeed accepting it for publication! Woohooo! A Big Happy Dance broke out amongst The O’Gradys! 

Having my work featured on Elephant Journal was a game changer. To date, there have been over 74,000 views of my article “We became an Expat Family“. Not bad for a first-timer. The increased exposure has been great, creating a broadened connection with other like-minded wanderlust souls looking for (or already living) a life outside of the box and on their own terms in Mexico or elsewhere in this big, diverse world.

The majority of feedback from readers has been positive, encouraging, kind, supportive. 

Surprising (but to be expected, I suppose) was the small cast of negative nellies that felt compelled to stand in judgment of– with their chosen interpretation (or misinterpretation as it may be)– of somebody else’s life. You can see for yourself on the long comment thread below the EJ article itself. This was eye-opening and skin thickening, for sure, however, I learned long ago that “you spot what you got”. People will interpret, judge, make assumptions or conclusions based on their own personal circumstances, dispositions, life-outlooks, and experiences.

Ultimately, all that really matters is living a life of integrity and honesty, standing in truth, and being proud to do so.

I am. We are.

Saludos de Los O’Gradys in Mexico.

To see the full article on Elephant Journal, please click here: We became an Expat Family

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Retired Firefighter Poisoned by Carbon Monoxide in Lake Chapala, Mexico

Two years ago this April we took our children to their long-awaited and much anticipated 6th grade camp in a rural community outside of Guadalajara. We wished them a good time, smothered them in hugs and kisses and told them we would be back on Monday afternoon to pick them up.

My husband Frank and I were excited for them and excited for us as we were going to have ourselves an adventure-filled weekend in nearby Lake Chapala, an area of Mexico we had yet to discover.

My Retired Firefighter Husband Was Poisoned by Carbon Monoxide in Lake Chapala, Mexico

Read TripAdvisor Reviews with A Grain of Salt

After extensive research on TripAdvisor as to what were the best hotels in the Lake Chapala area, we chose Hotel Villa San Francisco. Looking at their five-star ratings, we certainly didn’t see anything that would make us question the legitimacy of it as being a safe place for us to stay. (See bottom of this post for a TripAdvisor review posted 7 months after Frank’s CO poisoning, speaking of yet another boiler problem at HVSF. )

After Frank’s carbon monoxide poisoning at Hotel Villa San Francisco, TripAdvisor kept taking down our first-hand accounts of the incident. After multiple re-submissions with Red Cross, Hospital & Hyperbaric Chamber pictures, diagnosis, treatment and discharge notes, they atlas left them up. Frustrating, dismaying, and shocking to say the least. 

Overbooking on A Holiday Weekend

We had reserved a terraza room with a lake view, but at the last minute, the manager of HVSF notified us that on account of their having overbooked on a holiday weekend that they would need to relocate us to a different, ground-level room (Barroca) for Thursday and Friday night and then again move us to the owner’s personal home/Airbnb Villa Wilshire in Ajijic for Saturday night. 

Being that it was labor day weekend and that we could not find any other available rooms in either Lake Chapala nor nearby Ajijic, we agreed to these various changes to secure a reservation.

After dinner that first night, Frank and I returned to the hotel to get some much-needed rest after our five-hour drive from Nayarit. Although we were very much looking forward to a hot shower before calling it a night, there was no hot water and so a quick cold one it was.

The following morning, Frank showered prior to breakfast and still, no hot water. 

We Notified The Management

It was here at breakfast at HVSF on Friday morning when we notified the manager Jorge of the lack of hot water in our room. He told us that “the wind had blown out the hot water heater the night before”, that they would “light it and monitor it throughout the day” and that they had been, “having problems with it”. 

Monitor it? Had been having problems with it?

We were not particularly smitten with this Barroca Room that they had bumped us to—not just because there was no hot water but because it was dark, dirty and had a foul smell coming from the shower—so we had asked the receptionist for them to please move us to a different room if one became available.

Frank and I had breakfast together this Friday morning, enjoying our time together, grateful that our children were nearby at their 6th-grade camp. It is painful for me to look at the following picture, knowing that it could have been our last meal together.

My Retired Firefighter Husband Was Poisoned by Carbon Monoxide in Lake Chapala, Mexico

After breakfast we returned to the Barroca room so I could pack up our belongings (in anticipation of our room change) while Frank got caught up on some work at the window-side table.

CO-Leaking Hot Water Heater Right Outside Window

For the next three hours, Frank worked while I showered and then alternated packing up our belongings and resting on the bed as I was beginning to not feel well with a sore throat, burning eyes and a headache–all symptoms of the first stages of CO exposure. 

My Retired Firefighter Husband Was Poisoned by Carbon Monoxide in Lake Chapala, Mexico

Malfunctioning Water Heater on Other Side of Window

While we were at breakfast, after having spoken with the manager Jorge, someone came to reignite the hot water heater for when I turned on the shower to hot in the hopes of now getting a hot shower, Frank–who was working next to the window where just on the other side was the hot water heater–heard it “kick in”. He called out to me telling me that I should now have hot water, and while it never got hot, it was at least warm.

It was at this point, with the malfunctioning hot water heater now ignited, that the activation and expelling of the carbon monoxide poisonous gases began. As Frank was sitting literally to the side of and above the water heater (no more than a foot away), he was inhaling these CO fumes for 3 hours. 

Thank God we didn’t ask to have the heater checked the night before as the outcome would certainly have been far worse for both Frank and I after a full night of breathing in the carbon monoxide as we slept. Thank God our children were not with us. 

I told Frank that we should go wait outside in the garden while they finished the cleaning of the room we were to be moved to, that I was tired of being in a dark room on a bright sunny day, and feeling like I needed fresh air. Our bags were all packed and we were ready to move them into the courtyard.

When Frank stood up from this table where he had been working, he collapsed onto the bed, stating that he was having severe visual disturbances, nausea and a headache. His eyes were rapidly moving side to side and he was having great difficulty focusing and responding to me.

Needless to say, I was terrified, not having any idea what was occurring other than that it was very serious.

Was he having a heart attack? Was he having a stroke? He had no chest pain and he was not exhibiting any of the symptoms of a stroke…the strength in his hands was equal on both sides and his mouth was symmetrical. What could be happening?

Red Cross Arrives

I ran out to the hotel lobby and asked the front desk staff to call for emergency help. Running back and forth between the room to check on Frank and to the lobby to see if an ambulance had arrived yet, Frank’s symptoms continued to worsen. He was turning a grey/white color and losing consciousness. When the Red Cross arrived to the room and took his blood pressure, it was 190 over 90.

My Retired Firefighter Husband Was Poisoned by Carbon Monoxide in Lake Chapala, Mexico

Red Cross Transport to Guadalajara

With the Red Cross medics getting Frank on the gurney, and me grabbing any of our valuables that I could carry, I went to the table where Frank had been sitting to get his laptop and saw right outside the window, an on the ground, hot water heater—hissing and spewing yellow/orange colored flames. I called this out to Frank as we were leaving the room, “Oh my God Honey, there is a water heater right under where you were sitting with yellow/orange flames!”

Once at the Red Cross in Lake Chapala, I phoned Hotel Villa San Francisco, asking to speak to the manager Jorge but was told that he was not available. I told the employee that answered the phone about my having just seen this yellow/orange flame spewing water heater and that I suspected that it was the cause of Frank’s condition.

Hotel Villa San Francisco’s Lack of Responsiveness

This Hotel Villa San Francisco employee CONFIRMED to me during this phone conversation that TWO CARBON MONOXIDE LEAKS had been found by the person that had just come out to look at it.

I asked them to please send someone from the Villa right away to the Red Cross to explain this to the doctor that was treating Frank, but no one from Hotel Villa San Francisco ever showed up. In fact, in the first 30 hours post carbon monoxide poisoning at Hotel Villa San Francisco, in spite of my multiple phone calls and emails amidst managing the critical care of my husband, NO ONE—not the manager nor the owners of Hotel Villa San Francisco responded to me nor reached out to offer a helping hand, nor to see if my husband was dead or alive. Furthermore, the rest of our belongings–2 suitcases and our car–were still at the hotel.

It was only upon my telling both the manager Jorge and the owners (whose contact information I had to hunt down through their Airbnb profile) that I would go public with our story that I received the following email from the owner on Saturday, April 29th at 8:46 p.m.

My Retired Firefighter Husband Was Poisoned by Carbon Monoxide in Lake Chapala, Mexico

First Communications from Hotel Villa San Francisco Owner

I do find it interesting that an owner of a five-star hotel that serves so many guests did not have the ability to access both our phone and email information from the management when that very information was requested upon making our reservation. 

My response to the owner on Saturday, April 29th at 10:37 p.m.

My Retired Firefighter Husband Was Poisoned by Carbon Monoxide in Lake Chapala, Mexico

*when I returned to HVSF to retrieve Frank’s truck and our belongings, they had removed the small water heater

When we arrived at the Lake Chapala Red Cross via ambulance on Friday afternoon, I was not initially allowed back into the room with Frank. I asked the doctor and staff to please allow me to be by my husband’s side, that not only was he not coherent enough to speak for himself, but that I needed to translate for him and explain the chronology of circumstances that led up to his symptoms.

After the confirmation by the hotel staff that indeed two carbon monoxide leaks had been detected in the hot water heater right outside the window where Frank had been sitting for three hours, I shared this information with the Red Cross Doctor and he then allowed me to be by Frank’s side.

Hospital Confirms Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

It all made sense. Frank’s symptoms were every one of carbon monoxide poisoning—visual disturbances, nausea, vomiting, blood pressure issues, confusion, headache, exhaustion, difficulty hearing and responding. The confirmation by the hotel of the two CO leaks, my sighting of the yellow/orange flame water heater, Frank’s symptoms and the doctor’s diagnosis all matched up. Now we knew what we were dealing with. The Red Cross Doctor immediately ordered Frank to be transferred to a private hospital in Guadalajara.

My Retired Firefighter Husband Was Poisoned by Carbon Monoxide in Lake Chapala, Mexico

Lake Chapala Red Cross

On Saturday afternoon April 29, 2017 at 12:08, I sent the manager Jorge the following email:

“Buenas tardes Jorge,

Como ya saben, mi esposo Frank se intoxicó con la fuga de monóxido carbón del calentador del agua. Los médicos siguen tratando de salvarle la vida. Necesito que me mandes de inmediato los datos de los dueños para ponerme en contacto con ellos. Siguen guardando las maletas y cuidando nuestra camioneta Ford 150 que está en la calle enfrente. Paso hoy para ellos.

Katie O’Grady

Los O’Gradys in Mexico

xxx-xxx-xxxx (my cell phone)

Translation:

“Good afternoon Jorge,

As you all already know, my husband Frank was poisoned with the carbon monoxide gas leak from the hot water heater. The doctors are still working to save his life. I need you to immediately send to me the contact information of the owners so I can be in contact with them. Continue keeping the suitcases and an eye out for our Ford 150 that is on the street in front. I will come today for them.”

When I arrived at the hotel on this Saturday, I walked into Room Barroca to double check that none of our personal items were left behind, and guess what? They had removed the hot water heater that had been directly below the window just a day before. Gone, no longer there. 

Jorge and various other staff members were sitting in the courtyard right outside the Barroca Room, perhaps waiting for my arrival since I had notified Jorge that I would be coming up, and not one of them acknowledged what had happened, inquired as to whether or not my husband was dead or alive, offered an apology nor expressed any concern. Nothing.

I opened our suitcases to make sure everything was there and asked them to make a copy of our reservation showing that we had in fact stayed in and paid for that one night in Room Barroca.

My Retired Firefighter Husband Was Poisoned by Carbon Monoxide in Lake Chapala, Mexico

On Sunday, Apr 30 at 11:44 AM I received this message from who I am assuming to be Jorge since it was written in Spanish and came directly from the same email address he had used to correspond with me previously during the reservation process.

“Buenos dias.

Por favor acepte mis disculpas por todas las molestias incluyendo la demora a su contestacion, pero le aseguro que estamos muy preocupados, pero hemos estado ocupados realizando nuestras propios inspecciones e investigaciones con el fin de encontrar una explicacion a esto, le aseguro que nos comunicaremos con usted tan pronto nos sea posible.

Elegancia en la Ribera de Chapala

Hotel Villa San Francisco agradece su preferencia”

Translation:

“Please accept my apologies for all of the bother including the delay in response to you, but I assure you that we are very concerned, but we have been busy doing our own inspections and investigations with the point of finding an explanation to this, I assure you that we will be in touch with you the soonest possible.”

On Monday, May 1, 2017 4:41 pm I heard from Anthony, one of the owners:

“Dear Katie,

You very much do deserve to be treated as kindly and as efficiently as possible, and I do acknowledge that it may not seem that that has been the case.  However, you may be assured that everything possible has been done from the perspective of the hotel. A huge part of the challenge has been that we are out of the country, and we are dealing with the cancer death of a close family member who was too young to have died.  This, plus other stresses too involved to detail here, have made things extra difficult. Further, being a holiday weekend in Mexico has made it especially difficult to get professional assistance.

That said, our main problem was the issue of carbon monoxide poisoning itself.  Given that we take great care to maintain our systems at full operating efficiency, I was quite stunned to learn of your husband’s apparent difficulty. It was only last month that we spent $6500 doing regular boiler maintenance, and replaced regulators, and did thorough cleanings. And in fact, in over 2000 nights of operations, with therefore 20,000 room nights of guests, such an issue has never once occurred. Furthermore, the boiler is many feet to the side of the window, and is in the complete open air, and in fact is operating perfectly, at least as far as Proteccion Civil has confirmed on being immediately asked to inspect on Friday.  Please understand that your use of the words “gross negligence” feels exceptionally harsh when measured against our actions, both recent and in the immediate aftermath of your husband’s very unfortunate incident.

You indicated that the water heater was suddenly “moved” by us! I can assure you that absolutely nothing was ever moved. It was placed there years ago, and is still there.

Katie, I am as anxious as you to be sure of what happened, but please understand that while my sympathy could not be greater, my genuine concern over the cause remains.  We are continuing to investigate, but it will be difficult during the holiday weekend.

I shall contact you when I have further information.  In the meantime,

Kind regards,

Anthony

My response to male owner on Monday, May 1, 2017 7:42 pm

“Hello Anthony,

Thank you for responding.

The fact of the matter is, there WAS a much smaller, gurgling, spitting, malfunctioning with orange flames single unit hot water heater directly outside the Barroca window looking DOWN directly onto the ground, NOT the one to the left where the larger hot water heater is.

When we checked in on Thursday night April 27, 2017 there was no hot water in the Barroca shower nor the following morning of April 28, 2017 when my husband showered prior to 10 a.m.

In fact, the condition of the Barroca room when we first entered, with hair on the bathroom floor not our own, an old failing mirror with poor visibility, run down shower doors and a foul smell from the shower, made us wonder if the room was only used for emergency over bookings or for your staff and therefore not maintained in a public rental standard.

We left the Barroca room for breakfast on the veranda on the morning of 4-28-17 where we spoke to Jorge about the cold evening and morning shower who stated that ‘”the wind had blown the pilot out” and that they would be “monitoring it throughout the day”….monitoring, not having an authorized technician check and fix it. He said he would keep us informed.

He then went into a lengthy explanation as to how the hot water would take a very very long time to get back to the Safari room where we were to be transferred to as soon as it was ready post cleaning.

We assured him we would rather have SOME hot water than NO hot water.

Jorge was doing his best to convince us to stay in Barroca but we assured him we wanted to be moved to a different room even if that meant we would literally be moving every single day of our 4 night stay due to the complications of overbooking on the part of your staff.

One of these nights was to be at your Villa Wilshire where we were told we would be placed on the terraza level, but again, due to overbooking, were moved to a ground level room.

We were offered a full breakfast instead of the continental and a reduced fee for our last night in Hollywood if we were to agree to the multiple room changes which we did.

Jorge went on to tell us about how he and his wife live in the back and that if she was doing dishes, there might not be hot water or that it could take up to 20 minutes for the hot water to get there and other various comments about hot water issues on site.

The 2 gentleman clients sitting at another table came up to assure us, in spite of Jorge’s narrative about the limited and long taking hot water in the Safari room, that in fact they had had plenty of hot water during their stay in Safari.

After breakfast, we went directly back to Barroca. When I turned on the shower to take my shower, my husband HEARD the small hot water heater ignite and begin to heat, as he was sitting right next to it at the table and window.

I then alternated between packing up our items and resting on the bed on the opposite side of the room/window under the ceiling fan.

My husband Frank did not move from the small table by the window where he worked on his laptop for nearly 3 hours, thus getting a direct hit from the carbon monoxide fumes coming in through the window.

When I phoned the Villa from the Red Cross on Friday April 28, 2017 at 3:28 pm, the male hotel representative that I spoke to on shift CONFIRMED that TWO carbon monoxide leaks had been found in the water heater and that they “had fixed it”.

I suppose the entire removal of the water heater constituted “fixing it”..???

I pleaded that they send someone from the villa to the Red Cross but NO ONE showed up. I was told during that phone call that Jorge was not on site, that he had gone to Guadalajara.

It is insignificant to me that this has not occurred in your previous 20,000 guests. What is significant to me is that this did happen to my husband.

Perhaps your manager Jorge can explain to you what alterations or problems they were having with this now removed small water heater when you were not in the country.

Lastly, there were NO actions taken in the “immediate aftermath” by you, Roseann, Jorge nor anyone representing Villa San Francisco. In fact MORE than 30 hours had passed when I finally heard from Roseann after stating to she and Jorge via email that I would bring our story to social media to inform and hopefully protect others.

With your being out of the country during the time of this incident, perhaps you are not aware of whatever modifications your manager Jorge did or did not do and/or communicate to you.

That is your responsibility as the owner.

I have provided you with sufficient information.

Tomorrow when I am more rested from this trauma I will put together the rest of the paperwork including copies of all expenses up to date.

Katie & Frank O’Grady

Los O’Gradys in Mexico”

On Monday, May 1, 2017 6:04 pm I received this from the owner Rosann:

My Retired Firefighter Husband Was Poisoned by Carbon Monoxide in Lake Chapala, Mexico

I then sent both owners on Wednesday, May 3, 2017 at 10:25 a.m. the following:

“Good morning Anthony & Rosann,

At any point since my husband’s carbon monoxide poisoning in room Barroca at Villa San Francisco on Friday 4-27-17 (not Saturday 4-28-17) morning, you could have obtained my email from your manager Jorge or had Jorge provide me with yours, thus not needing to go through Airbnb, clearly.

Your staff witnessed what happened and I phoned the Villa from Red Cross while there fighting to save my husband’s life.

NO ONE contacted me in the first 30 hours post incident. NO ONE!

If Jorge did not inform you until Saturday that is just unconscionable. Although your husband mentioned knowledge of it on Friday 4-28-17.

If Proteccion Civil did an inspection on Saturday, a full day later, it was on a different hot water heater, not the one that nearly caused my husband his life.

The one with the carbon monoxide leak had been removed from where it originally was, directly below the Barroca only window.

It was there on Friday when the poisoning occurred and not on Saturday when I returned to retrieve our items and car and took photos.

I’m sure Jorge could explain the removal of the offending water heater.

While your own health challenges and the loss of a family member are unfortunate and a priority to you, you and your husband have an ultimate priority as business owners operating a facility that rents rooms to the public to be responsive and responsible.

“You are sorry about my husband’s health” is hardly an acknowledgment, apology nor statement of accountability.

I am attaching for now both the Red Cross and Hospital’s diagnoses of Carbon Monoxide Intoxication.

While we are not interested in going the legal route at this point, we are interested in a formal apology and recuperation of all of our expenses including the one night at Villa San Francisco resulting from this nightmare.

Katie & Frank O’Grady”

*sent with the following four attachments taken by my phone while still in Guadalajara:

My Retired Firefighter Husband Was Poisoned by Carbon Monoxide in Lake Chapala, Mexico

Red Cross Treatment & Diagnosis: “Toxic Substance & Inhalation of Carbon Monoxide”

 

My Retired Firefighter Husband Was Poisoned by Carbon Monoxide in Lake Chapala, Mexico

Hospital Diagnosis of Carbon Monoxide Intoxication

Hyperbaric Chamber Oxygen Treatment

My Retired Firefighter Husband Was Poisoned by Carbon Monoxide in Lake Chapala, Mexico

Receipt for Hyperbaric Chamber Treatment for Carbon Monoxide Intoxication

I then sent the owners of Hotel Villa San Francisco the receipt with letterhead from the Doctor of the hyperbaric chamber facility where Frank received two 90 minute sessions.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017 @ 2:12 p.m.

“Anthony & Roseann,

Attached please find the receipt for the two hyperbaric chamber treatments my husband Frank O’Grady received to aid in the detoxing of his body from the carbon monoxide poisoning that occurred at your Villa San Francisco in Lake Chapala on Friday, April 28, 2017.

I will be sending the other various receipts of charges incurred to save his life in subsequent emails.

Katie O’Grady”

My Retired Firefighter Husband Was Poisoned by Carbon Monoxide in Lake Chapala, Mexico

Receipt from Doctor from Hyperbaric Chamber Facility in Guadalajara

 

My Retired Firefighter Husband Was Poisoned by Carbon Monoxide in Lake Chapala, Mexico

First of Two Hyperbaric Chamber Treatments

 

My Retired Firefighter Husband Was Poisoned by Carbon Monoxide in Lake Chapala, Mexico

High-Pressured Systemic Oxygen Treatment

 

My Retired Firefighter Husband Was Poisoned by Carbon Monoxide in Lake Chapala, Mexico

#2 of 2 Hyperbaric Treatments in Guadalajara

Just Do The Right Thing

I have heard nothing else from the owners nor the management beyond what I have shared here.

Perhaps on account of it being a holiday weekend and their hotel overbooked, they connected this small, temporary, and obviously malfunctioning water heater up to the outside of Room Barroca so as to not have a larger demand on the other water heater(s).

Clearly, only the manager Jorge and the owners of Hotel Villa San Francisco can speak to this addition/modification—a deadly one that nearly cost my husband, our children’s Daddy, his life.

Now nine days post poisoning, Frank continues to detox from the effects of the carbon monoxide. He will have a couple of more hyperbaric chamber treatments and follow up tests in the hopes that there are no long-term consequences.

A simple and affordable installation of a Carbon Monoxide Detector in the hotel room could have prevented all of this.

Needless to say, we will now be traveling with portable carbon monoxide detectors and advocating for others to do so too.

Giving thanks for this precious, fragile life…

~Katie O’Grady

*Feel free to share our story, in the hopes of saving just one life. Information is power. Information is protection. 

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Mapping Megan: Portable Carbon Monoxide Detectors Save Lives, Don’t Travel Without One

*Disclaimer: this article contains affiliate links for products we use. The price is the same whether you use our affiliate link or not. If we haven’t spent our own money on it and loved it, you won’t see an affiliate link for it here. 

Apparently we weren’t the only ones that had hot water heater problems at Hotel Villa San Francisco in Lake Chapala:My Retired Firefighter Husband Was Poisoned by Carbon Monoxide in Lake Chapala, Mexico

 

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While Mexico has been home to us for the past six years, we O’Gradys also have our wanderlust sights on other countries, not only for family travel, but also for a potential relocation when our teenage twins are in college…something that seems to be just around the corner with time traveling like the speed of light!

All great plans begin with an idea, and lots and lots of research!

We have decided to partner with some reputable travel brands as part of our own process of discovery and will be sharing some of the information with you all– just in case you too might get an inkling to explore beyond!

If you are a hiking enthusiast, you likely want to hunt down the best trails in the world. If you find yourself out of places to visit, this list will give you an idea of some of the most exotic hiking destinations around the world.

Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka is the world’s up and coming hot travel destination; laced with stunning beaches, incredible luxury accommodation and hiking trails, both casual and more extreme, fit for every type of traveler. One of the most popular hiking spots in the country is Ella Rock in Ella town. It’s about 1000 meters high above the sea level. When hiking here, it’s best that you start early to avoid the crowd.

You can also drop by Adam’s Peak while in Ella town. While here, you can enjoy the sights on top of the town’s mountaintops, overlooking the vast tea plantations below.

Top Exotic Hiking Destinations

Cambodia

Be one with nature as you hike in Cambodia’s Kalai Jungle, starting your trek in a village and then venturing out into the rich, surrounding forest. Here, you can make campsites to rest while listening to the sounds of nature all around you.

For those who are interested in history, you can also incorporate it with hiking. Visit the River of a Thousand Lingas in this exotic destination. Once you’ve overcome the steep trail, you can witness one of the most historical and spiritual places in the area – a flowing river and landmark with ancient religious carvings on the river bed.

Top Exotic Hiking Destinations

Indonesia

In East Java, you can marvel at the grand Ijen Volcano. With its turquoise waters, the crater shines wonderfully as you stand on top of the 9,183 ft. volcano. Hiking here will surely be worth it. However, as a warning, the blue flames emitted from the cracks are poisonous so don’t go near them.

Top Exotic Hiking Destinations

Cuba

Fourth on the list is Cuba. While this country is mainly known for its pristine beaches, it is not lacking in some of the best hiking trails around. There a huge array of things to experience in Cuba. To get you started, go on a short hike in Sierra Escambray. Here, you can opt to go to El Cubano where your hiking trail will lead you to a waterfall or to La Codina where you can walk around in a vast hacienda and enjoy a rustic lunch while enjoying the scenery.

Australia

Last on our list is Australia’s great hiking trails. For long hikes, one can go to Tasmania’s Overland Track. It’s 65 kilometers long and can be toured for over 6 days. You can hike around the Cradle Mountain-Lake in St. Clair National Park – a renowned world heritage site in the area. One can hike independently here, but due to its vastness, you must book yourself in at  the Parks & Wildlife Service or get an operator guide to help you navigate the terrain.   

These are just some of the many exotic and adventurous hiking trails available to you around the world. If you’re out of ideas, why not try one of these top destinations for your next hiking adventure! 

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*When traveling (and at home), please protect yourself and your loved ones with a portable carbon monoxide detector.*

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Six Years in México: A Life in Color

Seven years ago today I celebrated my 44th birthday by boarding a plane with my eight-year-old twins on a one-way ticket to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.

My husband Frank had left a few days prior by car with our 90-pound chocolate lab and our 14-foot aluminum boat filled to the rim with all of remaining earthly belongings after a two-year process of massive downsizing.

Seven Years in México: A Life of Design

We left five-lane freeways and a rat-race mania for a slower and more connected way of life.

No Map, No Worries!

Frank will have to tell the story of how he did the 1400 mile trip from San Diego to San Pancho, Nayarit without a map–something about just heading south?!

He made it safe and sound in four days total, car and trailer intact and Seamus slobbering on the back of his neck the entire drive down.

As we approach our seven year Mexi-versary, we pause to reflect over some of the more noteworthy life insights our time in Mexico have gifted us.

1. Savor The Moment

Here in the land of “mañana”, there is a palpable beckoning and invitation to slow down and to take it all in. The sensory-rich nature of a quintessential Mexican town, alive with a mosaic of sights and sounds, make it nearly impossible to not pause and linger in the magic of the moment.

Seven Years in México: A Life of Design

2. Honor Your Heritage

Mexico embraces her rich history, values her cultural roots and honors her young and old alike. Her people celebrate with intention and a reverence for the sacred. 

Seven Years in México: A Life of Design3. Celebrate Life

Weddings, Quinceñeras, Blessing of The Horses, Day of The Dead, the list goes on…there are oh so many wonderful reasons to celebrate life in Mexico!

Seven Years in México: A Life of Design

4. Be Curious

Life in Mexico invites one to stop and look around, to be in the moment, to celebrate the textures and layers within the day, to pay attention, to notice…to be participatory and present.

Seven Years in México: A Life of Design

5. Use Common Sense & Situational Awareness 

There is a certain “organized chaos” on the streets of Mexico—families of four piled atop a motorcycle, off-leash dogs dodging in and out of traffic, police officers standing in the middle of busy four-way intersections—a cacophony of sights, smells, and sounds emerging from the markets, corner cantinas, garbage trucks, city buses and street vendors. To some it might seem a lawless and haphazard way to live…to others, cultural immersion!

Seven Years in México: A Life of Design

6. Honor Thy Family, Community & Friends

I love the importance placed on the family unit in the Mexican culture.

A very good friend is often referred to as a primo (cousin) or hermano/a (brother/sister). Our children have as many–if not more–tíos and tías (uncles and aunts) here in Mexico than they due in the States simply due to the fact that family ties are not limited by blood relations alone.

Family Photo

Conversations are sin prisa (without hurry) and you can count on a customary kiss on the cheek between young and old, male and female alike.

There is a strong sense of community and connectedness amongst the Mexican people. They are united, loyal, hard-working, welcoming and generous of their time and help. 

7. Live Sustainably

Taco Stand

10-peso street tacos, 20-peso super-sized fresh fruit cups, 100-peso chicken rotisserie dinners complete with tortillas, rice, salad and grilled peppers. With the current value of the peso to the dollar about 19 to 1, you can calculate the amazing value!

Fruit Stand

There is never a shortage of fresh, locally grown produce, meats, cheeses, wines and breads…and many, thankfully organic.

Seven Years in México: A Life of Design

8. Be Grateful

This was not meant to be a promo for Coca-Cola, but I love this capture of a cowboy with his horse, taking it all in at the jardín in San Miguel de Allende. 

From the jungle to the desert highlands and back again to the coast, I have thousands of pictures of our immigrated lives that capture, as they say, a story within a single image.

I am grateful that I live in a country that provides plenty of sensory-stimulating experiences and that I get to share some of them with an audience who appreciates my work.

Muchas Gracias.

What about you?

What are some of your favorite things about Mexico? I would love to hear about them in the comments section below!

 

Saludos,

~Katie

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While Mexico has been home to us for the past six years, we O’Gradys also have our wanderlust sights on other countries, not only for family travel, but also for a potential relocation when our teenage twins are in college…something that seems to be just around the corner with time traveling like the speed of light!

All great plans begin with an idea, and lots and lots of research!

We have decided to partner with some reputable travel brands as part of our own process of discovery and will be sharing some of the information with you all– just in case you too might get an inkling to explore beyond!

Hiking can be more than just an activity for getting healthier.  It can also be a spiritual and peaceful journey, making it an extremely holistic experience. 

There’s nothing quite like reaching a summit while enjoying the beauty of nature at the same time.  Indeed, it is one of the best ways to spend time outdoors even if you’re not the outdoorsy type.  Below is a list of the lesser-known hiking locations where you can have a blissful experience.

Sri Lanka

This small island has fairytale-like landscapes with beautiful mountain peaks.  Marvel at the clouds while at the mountaintops of Ella, go to the second highest peak in the island called Adam’s Peak or Sri Padaya and watch the beautiful sunrise, hills, valleys that surround this holy mountain. 

If you’re the type who likes to go on trails with an abundance of flora and fauna, then you’d surely enjoy hiking through the largest virgin forest in the island called Sinharaja or the enchanting trail in Kirigalpoththa where its surrounded by beautiful flower fields and lush lands. Not only does Sri Lanka boast rich nature, culture and wildlife, then it also has some incredible accommodations to explore.

Explore Idyllic Up-and-Coming Hiking Locations

Northern India

Featuring trails with natural beauty and picturesque sceneries, this country isn’t called hiker’s haven for nothing. It’s not just their long trails of snow-capped mountains and glaciers that you can visit here. You can also come across to India’s dream-like trails like the Valley of Flowers in Garhwal, as which its name suggests, features a sea of flowers bursting with vibrant colors during autumn or spring.

If you’re craving a challenge, you can also hike through the Pin Parvati Pass in Himachal Pradesh. This trail features the sight of magnificent lakes and massive glacier crests which will give you a very extraordinary experience.

Explore Idyllic Up-and-Coming Hiking Locations

Vietnam

Rich in culture and history, this country also features some beautiful hiking trails that are less known and explored.  To start off, you can go for a multi-day hike on the spectacular Ba Be National Park which features stunning waterfalls and majestic caves. 

If you just want a casual hike away from the busy city, then you can go to Mai Chau and experience a peaceful walk through its spectacular landscape of rice paddies and tiny villages.  Whatever fitness level you’re at, you can always find a hiking path in Vietnam that you can truly enjoy.

Explore Idyllic Up-and-Coming Hiking Locations

Morocco

You can go on a hike on the Moroccan trails that feature the majestic views on Mount Toubkal, the highest peak of North Africa. One of these trails is the Paradise Valley, a small section of the Moroccan Atlas Mountains; it has small natural pools and breathtaking cascades of waterfalls. 

You can also get in touch with nature in one of the greatest parks of Morocco, the Tazekka National Park which is located on the highest mountain of the Middle Atlas Range.  The most stunning feature of this park is the stunning Friouato Caves. There are a number of different tours that run throughout Morocco that can take you on a journey to suit your preferences, be it to the city, the desert, the ocean or the mountains.

Explore Idyllic Up-and-Coming Hiking Locations

Thailand

We’re capping off the list with the land of smiles, a small country that is rich in unique landscapes and spectacular trekking trails. Thailand has vast amounts to explore, with its delicious cuisine, obscure nightlife and fascinating culture. Whilst there, you can hike through the city of Ban Ruam Mit.  This unexplored city offers more than just elephant rides as it is here that you can also experience the mountainous community as you hike alongside the astounding Kok river. 

Explore Idyllic Up-and-Coming Hiking Locations

Wherever the trail takes you, always be mindful of yourself and mother nature.  Best of all, take in the benefits of hiking for the mind, body, and soul.  This list reminds you that, sometimes, it’s good to “take a hike.”

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*When traveling (and at home), please protect yourself and your loved ones with a portable carbon monoxide detector.*

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“Sometimes we encounter things that profoundly change our outlook on life and when it happens, it doesn’t matter that former joys have lost their allure or that our foundations have been shaken. All we know is that the walls we’ve built around ourselves have crumbled into dust. All we know is that our unsatisfied yearnings no longer throb inside us and something restorative is taking place deep inside our souls… ~Will Kautz

From Wheelchair to Walking

It is nothing short of a modern miracle and a testament to the strength of the human body that I underwent and survived two major surgeries in less than six months. The skills of each of the specialists, together with my undeniable grit and gumption, saw me through one of the more difficult years of my life and returned to me the gift of function without debilitating pain or partial paralysis.

To say that I am grateful is an understatement. 

I had a history of back challenges with a fracture at 17 years of age that together with the demands of competitive sports and a twin pregnancy with a 60-pound weight gain…collectively rendered me in need of some serious TLC and repair at the age of 45. 

I had done all the “right things”—chiropractic care, deep tissue massages, physical therapy, acupuncture, rest, ice, heat, a prayer that the pain would go away…and sometimes it would. Most of the time, I just dealt with it, brushed it off as part of my reality and hoped for a better, more pain-free tomorrow and always the ability to continue my active lifestyle. 

No guts, no glory

The whole “no guts, no glory” mentality has carried me through life and in my physical prowess I have found the stronger, never-give-up, courageous parts of myself.

This time, however, I was knocked down for the count. 

Practicing yoga in our home in San Miguel, I felt a searing pain down the left side of my body, never imagining that I had just herniated two of my discs. Collapsing to the floor and calling out for my husband in agonizing pain, I knew that there was no amount of strong will nor determination that was going to get me back up on my feet.

Unable to move nor stand unassisted, my husband and a wheelchair were my only forms of movement and transportation prior to my surgery.

I hoped and prayed with all my might that the doctors would successfully repair my spine so that I would not be sentenced for the rest of my earthly years to a chair. I refused to accept that reality.

From Wheelchair to Walking~ I Had Spinal Surgery in Mexico

2 herniated discs, left side paralysis and awaiting my MRI

Flat out on a hospital bed in central Mexico like a turtle on its back, I have never felt so helpless and (almost) defeated. The streams of tears flowed without restraint as I lay with eyes closed, not believing the surreal reality I found myself in. There is no dignity in semi-paralysis, peeing in a pan or bed baths. I refused to accept that as my long-term reality. 

The night before my surgery, I laid in my hospital room–alone, in great pain, and without my family. Frank needed to hold down the fort back at home in San Miguel and continue our normal life routine as much as possible for our twins. I am eternally grateful to all of our friends that stepped up and helped us out while I was unavailable. Thank you.

From Wheelchair to Walking~ I Had Spinal Surgery in Mexico

Waiting, Night Before Surgery. Jesus Watching Over Me.

Laying there in the dark and cold and solace of the night, I was in and out of a pain-induced trance of sorts, experiencing some truly powerful revelations about myself and my life…about balance and honoring oneself first–like the airline safety instructions of putting on your own oxygen mask first.

Silver lining, lemonade out of lemons.

My God and I got to spend some one-on-one, quality time together…He and I have always been together since I was a little girl, like the Sclemeel, Schlemazel, Hasenfeffer Incorporated song of the good ol’ Laverne and Shirley Sitcom that I so loved as a kid. Connected at the hip, He and I, always present in my little girl heart.

Making Our Dreams Come True

One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight.
Sclemeel, schlemazel, hasenfeffer incorporated.
We’re gonna do it!

Give us any chance, we’ll take it.
Give us any rule, we’ll break it.
We’re gonna make our dreams come true.
Doin’ it our way.

Nothin’s gonna turn us back now,
Straight ahead and on the track now.
We’re gonna make our dreams come true,
Doin’ it our way.

There is nothing we won’t try,
Never heard the word impossible.
This time there’s no stopping us.
We’re gonna do it.

On your mark, get set, and go now,
Got a dream and we just know now,
We’re gonna make our dream come true.
And we’ll do it our way, yes our way.
Make all our dreams come true,
And do it our way, yes our way,
Make all our dreams come true
For me and you.

I knew what lay ahead of me and that I had to put my big girl panties on and confront it with determination and courage. That was my only option. That was the only reality I would entertain…getting to the other side—out of the wheelchair, functioning and enjoying my life again with my family and friends. 

During what ultimately ended up being a six-hour surgery, Dr. Salvador Galvan completely removed my L3 L4 and replaced it with a 12 mm silicone prosthetic spacer. My L4-L5 was so severely damaged that it was just a matter of time before it failed, so it was fortified it with a 10mm spacer. Apparently the trauma to my spine was so severe that I lost over three times the amount of blood that is normally lost during one of these surgeries. No doubt that was part of my recovery challenge.

From Wheelchair to Walking~ I Had Spinal Surgery in Mexico

First Steps. Power of The Polka-Dot-Pajamas!

Surgery Success

My surgery was on a Tuesday morning and come Wednesday night I took my first assisted steps. By Thursday I was able to take my first unassisted ones and be discharged home.

I had a road ahead of me, taking one step at a time. Walking back and forth to the bathroom, taking a shower and being able to stand long enough to brush my hair and teeth were huge accomplishments. Poco a poco, I got there, back to a newer, improved, and “bionic” version of my former self, with my family right by my side cheering me along and literally and figuratively picking me up when I would fall.

My running, kickboxing and horseback riding days are a thing of the past, but I have learned a new “new”. I can walk, dance, trot, stretch, yoga, swim and live a very fulfilling existence with 90% mobility and minimal pain. My limp is gone, cane thrown away and joy and gratitude forever imprinted in my heart. Looking at me, you’d never imagine the scars behind the clothes. We all have them, I just choose to speak about some of mine in the hopes that by bearing my story, I am helping someone else out there. 

Several of my nurses questioned why I didn’t return to the States for my surgeries where the medicine is “more modern”.

“Because Mexico is my home”, I told them each, This is where my heart is, where my family is, where my life is.”

Mi Querido Mexico, I love you.

I want to express my extreme and eternal gratitude to Dra. Rosario my physical therapist, to Dr. Salvador Galvan my neurosurgeon, to Dr. Paolo my pain specialist and to all of the nurses and operating room staff at Hospital Santiago de Querétero. You will forever be my earth angels.

From Wheelchair to Walking~ I Had Spinal Surgery in Mexico

Me & Dr. Salvador Galvan, Discharge 3 Days after Spinal Surgery

The gift of walking and of health is not to be taken for granted, ever.

May we all pause to give thanks for the many blessings in our lives. They are there.

Peace & Health to you all….

~Katie

For more on healthcare in Mexico:

Surgery in Mexico~A Tale of Survival

Post-Surgery Pain Management in Mexico

Carbon Monoxide: The Silent, Odorless, Tasteless Killer

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Must See Italian Destinations to Explore by Foot

Maybe it’s that the Italian and Mexican flags share the same colors, just in the opposite order…

Maybe it’s that my husband is half Italian…or because when I was in my 20’s I floated down a Venice canal in a gondola and it left me longing for more southern-European adventures in this boot-shaped peninsula .

While Mexico has been home to us for the past six years, we O’Gradys also have our wanderlust sights on many other countries–Italy being just one of them–not only for family travel, but also for a potential relocation when our teenage twins are in college…something that seems to be just around the corner with time traveling like the speed of light!

All great plans begin with an idea, and lots and lots of research!

We have decided to partner with some reputable travel brands as part of our own process of discovery and will be sharing some of the information with you all– just in case you too might get an inkling to explore beyond!

Must See Italian Destinations to Explore by Foot

If you interested in Italy and curious about which areas to visit, here are some of the top must-see tourist destinations:

Florence

Florence or Firenze is one of the most important Renaissance art and architectural centers of Italy. Its Baptistery and Duomo are magnificent and many tourists are coming here to marvel at their large piazzas. This city has multiple excellent museums where you can see some of the famous sculptures and paintings including Botticelli’s “Birth of Venus” and Michelangelo’s “David”. You can also see Medici gardens and palaces here.

Must See Italian Destinations to Explore by Foot

Venice

Venice or Venezia is an unusual city which is built on water in the center of a lagoon. It is one of the most romantic and beautiful cities of Italy. Piazza San Marco is the heart of Venice where you can see its magnificent church, the Saint Mark’s Basilica. There are many places, churches, and museums to wander and visit along the canals of Venice as well.

Must See Italian Destinations to Explore by Foot

Sorrento

Popular for its limoncello and lemons, Sorrento has a lot of things to offer for its visitors, and this place makes a great base to explore the region. One of the famous places that can be seen here is the Cathedral of Sorrento, the Duomo. The Cathedral of Sorrento can be easily seen due to its gorgeous clock tower, and it is also located centrally in Corso Italia which is the heart of Sorrento.

Aside from the Duomo, the Old Sorrento is a beautiful place to wander around in its alleyways and narrow streets and is home to some beautiful villas. In this place, you can see multiple quaint trattorias and colorful shops. It is also the home of many historical buildings namely the San Francesco’s complex and Sant’Antonio Basilica.

Must See Italian Destinations to Explore by Foot

Milan

Milan or Milano is one of the wealthiest cities in Europe. It is popular for its stylish galleries, restaurants, and shops. This city also has rich cultural and artistic heritage. You can see the Gothic Duomo here with its magnificent marble façade. One of its top attractions is the “The Last Supper” of Da Vinci and one of the most popular opera houses in the world, the “La Scala” can also be seen here.

Must See Italian Destinations to Explore by Foot

Rome

Rome is the capital of Italy and a famous tourist destination for those who are interested in history, good food, and art. There are many beautiful places that you can explore here and various different tours that run throughout the city. One tourist attraction that must be explored is the Colosseum, this big oval amphitheater is considered as one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World.

Aside from the Colosseum, you could also visit the Fori Romani. It is located in the center of Rome. You can see a series of monumental public squares or “foro” here. Another must-see place here in Rome is the Trevi Fountain. It is a baroque statue with 49-meters width and 26-meters height.

Must See Italian Destinations to Explore by Foot

These are just a few of the many must-see places in Italy.

Here’s to exploring the beauty of this country with family, friends and loved ones…enjoying their food, magnificent art, and unforgettable history.

~Viva I’Talia

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*Don’t become a statistic. Protect yourself and your loved ones with a Carbon Monoxide Detector for both home and travel.

 

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