PictureGrand Canyon National Park North Rim
I watched a movie tonight  called "Trading Christmas", a 2011 made for TV family  film starring Faith Ford and Tom Cavanagh   . Another one this time of year, that has been shown since 2006, is "The Holiday"  starring Kate Winslet and Cameron Diaz.  Both movies start off with a similar story line about 2 people who decide to 
swap houses for the holidays. 

We experienced our own house swap recently, when we traded our own Casa Esquina for a condo in Kanab, Utah. I know what you're thinking..."WHERE is Kanab, Utah?"and then "WHY Kanab, Utah?!"

PictureThe view of Angel Canyon from Best Friends Restaurant
My daughter was soon going to be celebrating her milestone 18th birthday, and I wanted to give her something special. She casually mentioned to me one day that volunteering at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary was on her bucket list. The Rescue Center had been made famous over 4 seasons of the National Geographic's series "Dogtown". I sent some emails to the staff at Best Friend's asking about volunteer opportunities, some inquiries on area condos via VRBO and Flipkey, and researched flights using airline points. 

Everything fell into place quickly, and when condo owner Tyler West, replied with "Are you interested in a trade?", I was  even more excited. A house swap made this fantastic bucket list gift, an affordable reality.

PictureBryce Canyon memories taken from the back of a horse
Kanab, is located near the borders of Arizona and Utah, and is very centrally located to some of the most beautiful scenic National Parks in the US; Zion, Grand Canyon North Rim, Bryce Canyon, and Lake Powell. This very quaint town is billed as the Greatest  Earth on Show (and they aren't kidding!). It also has quite a history of movie locations for Classic Westerns. 

Our first night in town, as we strolled the main street, we laughed as the Oscar Wiener-mobile drove by, moments later the chimes at the Mormon church rang the 8 pm bells welcoming us to Utah. We enjoyed dinner at "Calvin T's Barbeque" while listening to a gentleman belt out some old country tunes. Our table incidentally was across the room from some stuffed raccoons playing poker! This town has a lot of personality packed into a little package! 

The closest international airport is Las Vegas, which conveniently gave us an excuse to do a little shopping and take in a show. Las Vegas provided an almost comical and certainly shocking contrast to our time in Kanab and the National Parks. 

Our adventure included riding mules down into the Grand Canyon and horses in Bryce Canyon, a 100 mile boat cruise to the Rainbow Arch, touring the Antelope Slot Canyons, and hiking in Zion. The highlight of our holiday was volunteering at Best Friends working with the dogs and horses for a couple days. We ran out of time,  and didn't get to go sledding down the sand hills in Pink Dunes State Park but we had to leave something for next time!

At the end of every busy day, we had our "home away from home", Tyler's comfortable 3 bedroom condo, where we could settle into evening Netflix movies with our feet up. We would enjoy breakfast at home and pack sandwiches for our daily adventures (except for the volunteer days where we enjoyed the most amazing vegetarian 5.00 buffet lunches). The Kanab area had a great selection of  family diners, providing home style cooking at reasonable prices.

Unlike the movies based on the house swap theme, Tyler and I chose different dates to swap our vacation homes, making it completely convenient for both of us. We completed our travels at the end of August just before my daughter headed off to University, and Tyler chose to travel to Cabo this past December week, which provided him a perfect escape from the early winter chills of Salt Lake City.. 

This swap worked out perfectly and I would certainly consider similar arrangements another time. As a matter of fact my new years resolution will include advertising Casa Esquina on homeexchange.com to see what our next adventure might bring!

Karen Barnert loves to stay in other vacation homes almost as much as she loves staying at her own Casa Esquina...almost! 
For more info on Tyler's Kanab Condo: http://www.vrbo.com/381855, For more info on Best Friends Animal  Sanctuary www.bestfriends.org

Hang around Cabo San Lucas long enough and you might end up meeting one of the local personalities. He is a very lively fellow and can often be seen making friends in the Marina or sharing a meal off the back of a fishing boat. He has even been known to accept a pat on the head in trade for some fresh fish. Other times, you can see him lazing on his favourite rock at Land's End acting like The King of Los Arcos, "Pancho the Sea Lion".

He has become quite a celebrity in his own right.  You can google his name and come up with all sorts of videos, photos and TripAdvisor threads shared by locals and tourists from around the world. After all who can resist the charms of Pancho? He has become "almost free" local entertainment for young and old. In the words of one fisherman "He was a seal that got kicked out of Sea World, but learned all the right lessons". 

Indeed my hubby Mark has enjoyed the antics of Pancho, when the crafty sea lion hopped aboard their moving fishing vessel last November, returning from a day at sea. He quickly gobbled their leftover bait  and returned to swim in the surf. Probably long enough to hop on board the next fishing boat.

A fisherman may return to port empty handed, but a short visit from Pancho aboard that five hundred dollar fishing charter made it "worth it!" 
This video hit YouTube back in December of 2011. 
Now unfortunately, Pancho has become somewhat mischievious and resorted to downright robbery!

His large body, moves swiftly and effortlessy, as he pops out of the water and STEALS the fish right out of the hands of the fisherman! It happens so quickly, they don't even see it coming.

In the words of one of the good humored fisherman "That is too funny". "That is a crime" he says while laughing. 

This video was posted October 13, 2013.

While just last week one fisherman joked about Pancho's crime, yesterday Pancho's thievery became a real crime. Stealing a tournament fish valued at possibly 9000.00 USD!!!! Current video shows the fish, the fishermen, and it sounds like many witnesses (but I don't think it's admissable in a court of law...and let's face it...could you pick him out in a line-up??). 

There's a video on our  Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/CasaEsquinaCabo.  

One thing for sure, the amusement could wear thin in a hurry as Pancho ups the ante. If this were to happen during the World Famous Bisbee Black and Blue tournament starting Oct. 23, 2013, then there would be a bounty on Poncho's hide. Last years fish netted the winning team 1.4 million dollars! A poncho interference would result in Wanted posters around Cabo town, and we would have to start a hurried "Save Pancho" campaign. In all seriousness, this might become a reality...word on the docks is that Pancho's father mysteriously disappeared after similar antics ended him up in hot water a few years back.

Stay tuned, but in the meantime if you're down by the marina...hold onto your wallet...there's a rebel seal in town....and he will stop at nothing!
I have a weakness for a good animal story and obviously true crime is not my calling but I would love to hear your Pancho stories!! -Karen Barnert
My love affair with vacation rentals began in 2006, while planning a Florida holiday for my family of ten. I poured over every VRBO and Flipkey listing, within 20 miles of Disney. I looked at every detail - the photos, the reviews, the floor plans,-- even as I wondered if it was an all-good-to-be true scam. Did any of these homes actually exist?
Between the thousands of properties available and my overzealous approach, the shopping process took several weeks. I narrowed the pool down to 10 and from there one clearly stood out. A luxurious 3000 sq. foot home, in a gated community, centrally located between both Florida coasts.The booking process was fairly simple, sign the rental agreement, send the owner the money and the house would be waiting...or so I hoped!
Upon arrival, my anxiety was completely laid to rest. In the words of my 15 year old son as he headed to check out "OUR" pool, "This place is AWESOME"! And indeed it was. 
Everyone quickly claimed their rooms, sounding like a flock of seagulls shouting "Mine, Mine, Mine". For hubby and I, there was no choice. The large, luxurious master bedroom with direct pool access was "OURS" and the large jacuzzi tub in the ensuite bathroom was "MINE"!
I will admit I am selfish when it comes to my family vacations. A holiday is expensive, so I make no apologies for stretching every vacation dollar where I can. Nor do I apologize about making sure I get everything I want!

I want my vacation to be affordable, so I can start planning my next one as soon as possible. For our Florida trip, the cost savings on accommodations alone was the primary reason I chose a vacation rental. The house cost us $325.00 USD, per day, during the high season, for five bedrooms, four bathrooms, a den, a fully equipped kitchen, dining room, living room and OUR pool with covered lanai (that's Floridian for screen room). Five hotel rooms would have easily cost double and would not have had half the amenities!

I want to spend time with my family, exclusively, in a space that is just as comfortable as home, if not more so. I have special memories of sitting around the living room discussing the days events, the friendly family banter over a game of cards at the dining room table, and the late night swims in the pool that never closes (OUR POOL). This could not be replicated in a series of visits down a hotel hallway while sitting cross-legged on beds. We were able to enjoy everyone, without the confines of our work, school and sports schedules. It was the perfect holiday.

I want all the comforts of home. My husband takes pleasure in cracking a cold one right out of the fridge. For me, my morning coffee is an important ritual to my every day and I will not compromise that on holiday. Enjoying the first cuppa of the day makes a coffee maker completely essential (I even packed down a ten day supply of tim Horton's brew...which I did run short and had to dip into the homeowner supplied coffee, since all the coffee drinkers remembered to pack their own go cups). There are far too many hotels that don't have in-room coffee makers and a 6 a.m. stroll to Starbucks for a $5.00 coffee has no appeal to me.

I want hotel luxury.  Did I tell you about "OUR" pool?

I want to eat what I want, when I want. My kids are all athletes, and a trip to McDonalds is not considered a meal to them. they all brought backpacks as their carry-on airline baggage and then used them to pack their own healthy lunches, snacks and drinks, when we visited the amusement parks. They ate during the shows and while waiting in ride lines, maximizing our Disney ride time. this was a huge savings of not just cash (our ice cream splurge at Wild Kingdom was over $50.00), but of time. Everyone was content to go home to swim in the pool, while we prepared a quick meal of Spaghetti, Caesar salad, and garlic bread ( 20 bucks and 45 minutes from prep to clean up). By comparison, a trip to a restaurant for all ten, was over $250.00, and took over 3 hours (dressing, driving, ordering, eating).The kids even teamed up and took turns choosing and cooking meals for the whole group (I was amazed at my eldest son's lemon chicken!). On beach days, we packed a cheap styrofoam cooler and picnicked in the sand. By holiday end, I didn't spend much more on groceries than I would have if we had stayed home.

All of my vacation goals were achieved. Within two months, I had our next family vacation home booked. Christmas in Hawaii! I was hopelessly addicted.

Karen Barnert ended up so hopelessly addicted that she and hubby Mark, went on to purchase their own Villa rental in 2012. It's her personal goal that every guest is able to enjoy similiar anxiety-free home-away-from-home vacations at Casa Esquina in Cabo San Lucas.


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