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We are so sad it’s our last day here! The heat wave is back and we’re in such a beautiful groove with the boys. Our little house is small and simple, with a canal right out front that Bas can throw rocks into endlessly, where we see bunny rabbits and baby ducks, the boys can run right over to the most epic green lawn with a big trampoline, teeter totter, swings and slides, and we’re right next to sand dunes and a forest leading to the beach. The beauty of simplicity. So yummy.

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We also had a great time visiting Muidorslot, an incredible castle surrounded in water! It was used as a fortress in the 1600s. So enchanting.

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And this church in Gouda was simply exquisite! We were all mesmerized by the organ music that plays from 12-1pm every day (we were lucky to hear 15 min. of it!!), so magical with the copper floors and stained glass windows with God coming out of the sky and huge pillars.IMG_3928IMG_3859Teaching the boys about praying, and Jules was very impressed by God coming out of the stained glass windows aboveIMG_3819IMG_3774IMG_3751

IMG_3674IMG_3688IMG_3651IMG_3711We also took a ride on the Van Kesteren’s Bakfiets – the traditional bikes all the families use here to transport their kids around. You’ll see mamas in high heels biking 2-5 kids around at once just cruising through traffic! I rode one and it’s so fun and easy (the lack of hills helps!).

IMG_3385IMG_3347We loved the family reunion where 40 of Erol’s Dutch family members gathered to meet the youngest generation! So many wonderful friends and family here…

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I truly love this country. The only thing I have a hard time with is the prevalence of the meat and dairy industry. It’s not easy being a vegetarian and eating out here – so much meat. Yes, cheese production has a rich cultural and historical importance here. But sometimes traditions need to change when they’re causing big problems, like in this case, global climate change! You’d think it’s all friendly family farms driving from Noordwijk to Amsterdam to Haarlem and Gouda and Delft, with so many cows and sheep everywhere, but it turns out there are indeed factory farms here. And Dutch milk products are very popular in China, so even as milk consumption decreases here, much of it will go to export.

If you look a little closer past the happy cows on pasture, you’ll notice that many of them have utters so full and engorged that they can barely move. I’ve spent many days here with a very heavy heart after seeing so many cows in this state. Being a lactating mother myself, I can’t imagine the pain those poor mama cows must be in with utters 10x bigger than what size they should be. The dairy industry is cruel and entirely obsolete with all the innovations in food science today. Nut milk alternatives not only taste better, but they are better for human health and the environment!

As my friend Thomas King, Executive Director of Food Frontiers, so articulately explains:

Earlier this week I met a group of calves while being filmed at a farm in Holland. They were so sweet and gentle, most just wanted affection. Many were only 48 hours old and tried desperately to suckle on my hand in lieu of their mother’s udders. 

Ten minutes later a truck pulled up, and they were loaded in and sent to slaughter. The farmer told me that 70-80% of them will end up as trash, and the rest will have their small bodies carved up and served as veal. This is dairy farming in 2017. 

These babies are the by-product of milk production. Their mothers – who are valued solely for their ability to lactate – are impregnated so frequently they give birth every year, which keeps them at maximum “production”. Their offspring are removed within 24hrs, which causes significant stress and grief, and these mothers typically undergo 5–6 cycles of birth and loss before they’re considered “spent” by the industry and are killed. 

No matter the region and no matter the farm, these same practices occur routinely around the world – even on small country properties like this one in the Netherlands, where animal welfare standards are considered the highest in the world. There are always surpluses of unwanted calves in dairy production, particularly males, as they have no purpose in an industry that exploits the female reproductive system. In Australia, over 400,000 of these unwanted babies are born and slaughtered every year.

In my short time with them, I did what I could to give these little ones some love and attention with head rubs and chin scratches, hoping that they could experience some pleasure during their brutally short lives. I think it’s clear, however, that they shouldn’t be there in the first place – and I believe any sane, compassionate person would agree with that. 

Luckily, each of us has a powerful tool to prevent this unnecessary cruelty: our food choices. It’s never been easier to choose kindness over cruelty with the abundance of delicious dairy-free options now available (http://bit.ly/1rhpDb9), which will only continue to grow. 

This coming week, if you usually choose dairy, try a plant-based option instead. Order your morning latte with Bonsoy; pick up some insanely delicious Over the Moo caramel coconut ice cream; or try Vitasoy’s Oat Milk on your cereal. 

These options are also better for the climate, and they’re better for our health according to major peer-reviewed studies (by Harvard and others), which have debunked time and time again the myth that dairy is necessary and beneficial to human health. 

If nothing else, do it for this little man, ‘number 18’, and the millions of other hidden victims like him who deserve so much better.

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The future is plant-based!

xoxo,

Ashley

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Wow, what an amazing few days! Since my last update we have been having the best time ever! We spent another incredible day exploring Holland by boat (Erol’s Uncle Teo’s house in Walbrougga to Leiden and back), enjoyed a magical beach day at Wit Sands on the north sea, followed by two magical days in Delft, where Erol’s grandfather was born and raised.

It is so so special to be here again with Erol, 7 years later, this time with our two beautiful children in tow, taking them to Erol’s family roots. Every time we drive by Erol’s grandfather’s church or the little attic where Henny was born in Voorhout, Jules says, “there’s where Omi was born!” We visited Erol’s uncle Teo’s home in Walbrougga, and it was so so Dutch – the art on the walls, the design of the house, perched among the fields of flowers and black sheep right on the canal and the boats, smelling so freshly of cow poop in the wind – it reminds me so much of Erol’s mama (not the poop) and I can feel so deeply this land and the family history here. It’s really incredible. Everywhere we drive Erol has stories about his childhood, how when he was 11 he spent 2 months here and biked all the way to Belgium with his friend, alone, and when he was 13 adventures of biking to other faraway towns alone.

Here are a few photos from our time at Erol’s uncle’s house. Om Teo is 87!!! And so present, clear and sharp. He still works in his garden and cooks his own dinner every night. Such a sweet, kind man, even after losing his life partner many years ago and last year his only son ;(

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After a sweet visit at Om Teo’s house, we prepared the boat and headed out on our canal adventure. Yves was the captain again. We were a bit worried about the weather on our ride all the way to Leiden by canal, but the forecast said the sun would be out shortly. Due to the unexpected rain, we kept the boat tent up and going under a very low bridge, we ripped the boat cove and had to build a fort to stay dry. It was a memorable adventure!

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After our adventurous day of a rainstorm and blustery day on the water, we had the most epic sunny, hot beach day at Wit Sands! The endless beach and sparkling pools of water keep the boys entertained for hours. And there is this Bohemian beach chalet called Tolum with dream catchers everywhere, the best fresh coconut water ever, orange carrot juices to die for, and dope reggae beats blasting from the speakers. We posted up here with Fluer and Lotta, our Dutch girlfriends.

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After our dreamy day on the beach, we made the short 45 min. drive to Delft – it was my favorite day of the trip so far. Delft is this quaint, gorgeous little town south of Noordwijk (just south of the Hague). It’s a miniature version of Leiden, which is a mini version of Amsterdam. So many old churches, stunning stained glass windows, incredible doors, narrow brick and cobblestone pathways winding through town, and of course the quintessential Dutch canals, boats, and stylish people on bikes EVERYwhere.

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It rains so much here, the landscape is wonderfully lush and deep green! We’ve been driving all through the countryside and cities every day, astounded by the vibrant colors and stunning beauty. The towns and cities are quaint and regal – fastidiously kept and so seamlessly integrated into the agricultural lands with community gardens, fields of flowers, and farm animals everywhere.

Today we went to Amsterdam for the second time. We started the day in the Van Gough museum and then ended up in a toy store where Bas woke up from his nap puking super smelly vomit everywhere. Really nasty. So that was kind of the end of that story. Other than our rough day in Amsterdam today, traveling with the boys has been a dream, we’re flowing together so well and full of gratitude! We never want it to end. Savoring each and every day together! It’s amazing how the kids have been getting along so well here, not like at home where they fight over their toys and their play spaces. How blessed we are.

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Oh my goodness, we are having such a dreamy adventure so far – our first little European family vacation! How blessed we are. As I write this, warm winds are blowing outside off the North Sea in this small beach town called Noordwijk, it’s 10pm and still completely light out. It appears that we have a pattern of bringing California heat waves with us to Holland – they had the hottest day of the year this week, on the summer solstice, just two days after we arrived. The last time Erol and I were here in June 2010, it was the hottest week of weather they had had all year. But the massive thunder and lightning storm yesterday definitely blew in a cooler front, we shall see how the next couple of weeks bode.

 

The flight here was pretty great all things considered – Jules slept the entire way in the middle seat and Bas sort of slept most of the time on me (cozy for him, rough for mama). It was nice to jump right into the new time as we arrived around 12pm and kept the kids up until 8pm when we all crashed hard (and the kids slept til 10:30am the next morning, yeehaw! I think the homeopathics and calm powder helped). Our only rough patch of the trip so far was the day we landed: first KLM lost 2/3 of our bags, then on 2 hours of sleep we managed to find the rental car booth only to find out that they would not rent us a car as my license had expired and I still didn’t have the renewed card. And then whoops, Erol forgot his credit card, so we were shit out of luck. Somehow an angel always shows up during our travels though when we are in need, and of course mid crisis a new woman took over the shift and hooked us up no problem! Hallelujah. Feeling like we just got a get out of jail free card, we then proceeded to get pulled over by a police man on the final stretch to our home. That whole signaling in the roundabout thing. So to complete the stretch of hilarious mishaps, he followed us all the way home on our tail (which made the already exhausted Erol feel like he was, indeed, drunk driving).

Sleeping until 10:30am our first morning here was heavenly – I can’t remember a single morning except the first time we returned from Hawaii with Jules where I got up before the kids, after going back to sleep three times leisurely. Our little huisje (house) is so cozy. It’s called Bungalowpark Puik en Duin and everyone is so so nice. They have a huge grassy play yard for the kids next door with a big trampoline, teeter totters, swings, bars, etc. and we’re surrounded in the most picturesque fields of purple and yellow and white and pink flowers, sheep, horses, cows, vibrant green crops, and sand dunes and nature trails through forest right to the North Sea. The sand is so white and fine, and there are thousands of blue mussel shells scattered along the water’s edge. The kids are in heaven playing in the pools of water 20 feet before the north sea’s waters calmly lap the beach.

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After getting a new outfit for the boys (thanks, KLM, they literally only had the dirty plane clothes) we visited our dear friends the van Kesteren’s in the neighboring town Voorhout, the town where Erol’s mama Henny was born and raised.

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Jules and Bas played with the other kids in the heavenly back yard – Niek and Marjan have 3 daughters and 10 grand kids between the ages of 15 months and 17. We stayed with them our last trip. Their home is so full of vibrant colors, we love them!

We also paid a visit to Hein and Nell, Erol’s uncle and aunt. The boys loved all their pig toys and visiting the cows.

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We also spent a day in Leiden – a mini Amsterdam – it was just so so beautiful and we had the most amazing morning at a quintessential European coffee shop in a gorgeous cobblestone plaza drinking coffees, hot cocoas, fresh bread and fresh squeezed orange juice.

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Erol’s aunt Marjorie took us to an incredible outdoor market place along the canal where we bought incredible, fresh Muhumarra, pesto, olives, macadamia nuts, and aged gouda. I could spend hours in those open marketplaces along the water! Then we bought too much at the organic “biologique” grocery store and somehow carried it all and the two kids back to the car a mile away 🙂 It was worth it – the fresh pasta with Muhumarra sauce was orgasmic.

Our first day in Amsterdam was a huge highlight! We found two different organic health food shops, the kids devoured their first smoothie in a week, I savored every drop of my cold-pressed green juice, and Erol had 3 different coffees and a chocolate croissant 🙂 We cruised around the Museumplein, had so much fun taking pictures and window shopping, and loved all the sweet musicians. And then we met up with Erol’s cousins Yves and Charlotte and spent the day seeing the spectacular city by water. What a treat! Yves owns the boat and he and Jules were the captain steering us all day long. Such kind people!

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We just spent a week in heavenly tropical island bliss! Truly one of my favorite Kauai trips ever, it was so special. Jules was amazing, had the time of his life, naked on the beach frolicking in the waves, playing with other kiddos soaking up the Vitamin D, acaí smoothies, and coconut water!

Taylor and Ryan Russell’s wedding ceremony was so so beautiful, in a magical cove in the botanical gardens of Kilauea right on the beach. Day 1 was a sacred tea ceremony, Day 2 a Luau on an organic farm with delicious food, Day 3 wedding ceremony and Day 4 brunch at the St. Regis in Princeville. What a fiesta! Erol’s whole Cal crew showed up in force – some of the most lovely people in the whole world.

Enjoy our photos to give you a glimpse of the magic 😉

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Magical Ouro Preto

Magical Ouro Preto

We rolled out of Chefe Jeffe’s little beach abode in Serra Grande exactly a week ago with two surf boards tied to the roof and our journey talisman protector, Iamanjá, on the dashboard of Jeff’s little car azuleta. Saying our goodbyes to the magical state of Bahia, we drove for several days to get to the dreamy town of Ouro Preto in the state of Minas Gerais. Known for its sweeping mountains painted in every hue of emerald green, quaint homes neatly stacked on top of one another, an abundance of crystals and precious stones, and its aged beauty as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Ouro Preto did not disappoint us.

The road to get there was both beautifully inspiring and frightfully dangerous at the same time. I can honestly say it was the scariest road trip I’ve ever been on – passing huge trucks on windy one lane highways, barely making it back into our lane before huge trucks smashed into us head on. Or the awesome potato chip trucks called “PUNC” which nearly rear ended us so aggressively that we practically got eaten alive from behind. Totally par for the course here, and yet wild and risky business if you ask me (or any sane person for that matter). I’d end each long day on the road feeling grateful for our lives.

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Once we were off the busy roads and into the magnificent green country hills, it was breathtakingly magnificent with huge stone faces jutting up, misty mountains, and Mata Atlântica forest with flowers of gold, purple, orange and white. After 3 days and 2 nights on the road we finally made it to the jewel in the crown – Ouro Preto. Pure eye candy, ancient churches sit perched atop hills, glowing in the sunset light. It was a particularly perfect time to experience the town the week before Easter since during Holy Week most of the gorgeous, antiquated buildings have vibrant sheets of all colors hang out their windows! What a site to behold. We were even blessed enough to see a procession starting from a glorious church move down the cobble stone roads, with little girls dressed up as angels and priests holding all kinds of crosses to the sky saying their prayers. If we had stayed just a week longer we could have witnessed the famous Semana Santa flower petal ritual that is considered one of the most traditional ceremonies in Brasil.

One of the key highlights of Ouro Prêto was all the amazing gem and crystal shops on every corner! Heaven. Erol and I spent hours in gem shops learning about tourmaline from Paraiba (the stone in my engagement ring which we learned is one of a kind and very special), emeralds, rubies, agua marina, topaz, etc. until we found the perfect color scheme, price, shape and size of a few small gems we purchased for our wedding bands!

Paprika Sales Man in Open Market

Paprika Sales Man in Open Market

Another full day’s driving carried us to Buzios, which we renamed Bourgeos for its over the top tourist vibe. Despite the intensely thick layer of tourism, Buzios has real raw beauty and feels a bit like the Mediterranean with turquoise waters and yachts. I detest tourist traps, but was determined to get over it and enjoy the lovely beaches until I caught a flu bug of some sort from all the bread, cheese and sugar, which made me grumpy…but not for long! The real reason we made the trek to Buzios was for Erol to play one of my dad’s good friends, Nigel the terrible, in a fiercely competitive match of tennis. After a lot of shit talking from the old boys club peanut gallery (my dad, Nigel the terrible and Mr. Kirsch), Erol slayed the poor Englishman on an incredible court overlooking the ocean.

Last night we arrived to my magical amiga Lee’s penthouse apartment in Rio de Janeiro. She unfortunately just left for a month in Cali, so we missed her but she hooked us up fat! The full moon is rising above the outdoor balcony where there is a hammock, a hula hoop, couches, and an outside shower. We are only one block from the beach and a few more from a gorgeous lake. Thirteen stories below, Babylon grinds on. I’m not much of a city girl, but Rio de Janeiro has real character. Hopefully tomorrow I will feel well enough to explore and get back to my routine of lekker açaí na tigela!

Lovely Paradise

This is an adventure of a lifetime! We have not even been here a week and yet it feels like forever; each and every moment has been saturated with Brasilian bliss and richness. I have some very exciting news to report, so make sure you read through to the final chapter!

Chapter 1: Serra Grande

We are staying in Jeff’s little dreamy apartment in Pé de Serra, and it is glorious. Every window in the little house is open with a warm breeze flowing through, out my left window is white sand beach, palm trees and turquoise waters; out the window to the right are lush green mountains and farms. Life is very simple and delicious here. This part of the world in Southern Bahia is as magical as I remember it.

In the evenings we eat food and drink Schols mostly in the dark, warm blanket of night with the locals, speaking Português and listening to all the jokes for hours. Our sweet neighbor Meili knows I don’t eat anything with eyes, and prepares me special vegetarian dishes. But we’ve practically become fruitarians, eating every tropical fruit in the book from maracujá (passion fruit) to ciruguelas, chirimoyas, acerola and guavas, to umbú, açaí and mangosteen, often blended. When we’re not eating fruit, we’re eating tapioca pancake like wraps with either cinnamon, plantain and coco or arugula and tomato. Beleza.

Pé de Serra is the small town at the foot of the mountain with very few people – tranquil. Our host and one of Erol’s very best friends, Jeff, is so wonderful. He knows everyone in this little town and they all love him so much, we are practically celebrities here. Our casa is on the beach front and each morning I walk the whole coastline and stop to bathe in the little rippling pools that form at low tide. The sand is so white and so fine, with glimmering gold pieces in it, it is a slice of heaven.

Pé de Serra Sunrise

The boys go surfing at least twice a day and I even paddled out for the first time ever a couple of days ago, but I got my ass kicked by the sacred ocean goddess Iamanjá. I either walk the beach, do yoga or write in the hammock on our porch overlooking the ocean, listening to the sound of waves crashing, high pitched bird songs and the rustling of coconut palm fronds in the tropical breeze, water drops running down the back of my neck from a wet bun, wrapped in a sarong with my skin scintillating from the fresh salt water refreshing my cells.

Chapter 2: Rico (pronounced hee-co) the Ladrón (thief)

The morning I paddled out to surf with Erol, I realized right at the water’s edge that I still had all my jewelry on. Rather than take 3 minutes to run them to the house, I decided to hide them under a big piece of seaweed up by the volleyball post. Normally I wouldn’t do this, but I practically know everyone in this little village and there was no one to be seen on the 3 km stretch of beach so it felt very safe. We paddled out, got swept way down the coast, walked back, went out again, and then got rocked real hard on what I decided was my last wave. I walked back to retrieve my turquoise and silver…and it was gone. My heart sank!

A sweet local named Boruka who apparently never speaks came running out to tell me that he saw a guy in a camisa branca com bermudas amarelas walking around the area kicking at the sand looking for something, grabbed my jewelry and ran down the beach and way up the trail into the mata (forest). Boruka pointed up to the mountain and I could see his bright white shirt scurrying up the path almost to the top of the serra (hill). Oy. I ran over and yelled at the boys to come out of the water. We hustled into Jeff’s car and up to the first mirante (lookout). The only guy there was working the agua de coco stand. In his eloquent português Jeff asked if he had seen the “moreno wearing a camisa branca” run by, and he said yes, just now. We found out his name was Rico, filho de Luigimildo, dono de Peixaria – son of the local fish shop owner. He begged us not to disclose his identity in our search.

So we made our way through the hibiscus flowers, the dozens of school kids in the plaza, and down the bumpy dirt roads to the peixaria with the help of about 10 locals directing the way. An old Bahian woman with no upper teeth heard Jeff out and said, “strange because that boy is working now, and shouldn’t be stealing, but I’m not surprised because he’s served time in jail before for stealing.” She told us where Rico lived – across the estrada (highway), to the right, past the pink house on the left. She said she would speak with his father at 12 noon. In a small town like Serra, word travels fast.

Emotions rising, we found Rico’s neighborhood and asked another 7 people to find the exact house. Everyone knows everyone here. We parked the car and walked down the dirt road, barefoot and salty, satisfied that our efficient search had led us to the ladron’s house so quickly but nervous about what type of response we’d get. The door was ajar and we saw white eyes and very dark skin peering out. A tall, beautiful, very black man comes out, holding his naked baby girl, no shirt with yellow shorts. He immediately knew why we were there. With a big pearly white smile, he tells Jeff “oh, I already gave them to my wife. I didn’t know who’s they were,” and walked inside. He immediately returned with my pile of jewelry and dumped them into my hands. Amazed and relieved, the anger instantly melted away as I kissed his hands and thanked him.

Celebratory Empadas

I guess homie didn’t want more jail time. He must have been so tripped out with three gringos showing up at his home, one of them speaking perfect portuguese, on the outskirts of town. All I can say is that Jeff was my hero of the day. We celebrated with tapioca wraps, suco de limão, empadas doces de presigio and paçoquinha (delicious empanadas of chocolate-coco and peanut paste, respectively), and cafezinho. My usual no refined sugar lifestyle is definitely not happening here.

Chapter 3: Finding Eternal Love at the End of the Path of Hearts

This is a delicious story of love, one that leads to the happiest, most magical day of my life. It all started on a visit to the home of one of Jeff’s dreamy friends, Aana. We winded our way through the hilly, emerald green Mata Atlántica jungle, past a plot of forest that Jeff pointed out has the highest number of endemic tree species in the world so you can only imagine the glorious shades of green filling our site. We followed red hearts painted on the trees at each turn. Loud Krishna Das style chanting/sacred beats boomed from the lush trees. We walked over the soft, spongy, perfect grass that felt like nature’s carpet, through her open walled kitchen and all the tropical flowers and vines hanging into the house, defying the boundary between inside and outside, the two blending together seamlessly, following the source of music. At last we arrived at the central structure – the jewel in the crown: a goddess temple like nothing I had ever witnessed before. Overwhelmed with inspiration and emotion, I let the energy of the space draw me in. The emerald green forest shimmering in the background, the sound of the river flowing by, the chanting, crystals everywhere, big wicker baskets overflowing with fabric of all colors, big Balinese mirrors, yoga mats, little sacred alters filling each corner. Need I say more? Up above all that magic – a spiral staircase leading to her bedroom – a massive glass triangle pointing towards the forest and river. Absolutely stunning. Pure bliss. At the tip of the glass triangle, a crystal lotus flower.

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The designer and dweller of this space: a goddess of divine proportions named Aana. Serene energy, emanating beauty and powerful animal medicine. After a swim in her cachoeira (waterfall) and sharing life stories on the crystal forest perch, as if this day couldn’t get any better, she makes us a huge, dreamy, dark purple acaí smoothie with fresh coconut water and meat, cacau, goji berries, and banana. João (a common name here pronounced “ja-wow” which we use to express “wow.”)

So this dreamy woman tells us we have to stay in her pousada (hostel) on the beach in Itacaré – she built it 20 years ago before anyone or anything else was there and it’s still the nicest spot in Itacaré in a secluded cove. She hooks us up with the suite, called the Mermaid Room, for half off, and we find ourselves there a couple of days later. It’s epic – same magic as her own home. From our bed we can see the whole coast, and the horizon of the deep blue sparkling ocean as we lie perched in the tree tops. Our romantic bed has nets draped over it on all sides!

Sparkling Hearts!

It’s Tuesday March 27 and we finish a huge, amazing lunch of moqueca (seafood stew that Erol ate) and all kinds of traditional Brasilian sauces and side dishes. After getting serenaded by an Argentinian band, we walk along the black rocks over the ocean to a private beach. Totally deserted. I laugh in disbelief and ask Erol if he arranged this especially for me, but he doesn’t answer. He is acting kind of weird and not answering my questions. I let it go. On the sand, I do a cartwheel and he tells me to stay there and carves a huge heart in the sand around me. He enters the heart with a big grin, kisses me, professes his infinite love to me, and gets down on one knee. “Ashley Schaeffer, will you marry me?”

I could barely believe my ears, and then delayed in saying “yes!” only because I was so shocked by the ring he put on my finger! O meu deus! A crystal clear aqua blue tourmaline in a water drop “pear cut” shape with 32 diamonds around the stone and white gold band. 32 is Erol’s lucky number and his age when he met me. The stone is from Paraíba, a state in the Northeast part of Brasil. I was soooo giddy and excited for the next 24 hours, I could hardly sleep! I couldn’t stop staring at this sparkling beauty on my finger, and was just soso stoked to be marrying the love of my life. No one could have ever described that feeling to me, a fire, a light, an explosion of bliss in each and every cell in my body.

That evening we celebrated with an exquisite, rich bowl of açaí na tigela. I just love the synchronicity and flow of it all. What a beautiful life! It was the best day of my life.