Month: December 2016

Llamas, guinea pigs, and ruins, oh my!

Llamas, guinea pigs, and ruins, oh my!

It’s hard to believe we’ve already been in Peru almost one month (we arrived November 30) and that we’re coming to the end of our fourth month away. We’ve spent the last few weeks exploring the Sacred Valley of Peru, including many sites of Inca ruins, local markets, soccer fields, hiking trails, and restaurants.

When we first arrived to our rented house in Huayoccari, the contrast between our new surroundings and where we’d just come from in Montevideo and Buenos Aires felt extreme. The Sacred Valley is roughly 60km in the Andean Highlands of Peru, and consists of fertile farmland that was once the heart of the Inca empire. Today, it is many small towns, and a few larger ones, both in the valley along the Urubamba River and in the even higher highlands, well above where we are staying (which is at ~9,000ft.)

Our house is ~1 mile up a dirt road off the main road through the valley, and our primary form of transportation to the nearest ‘big’ city (Urubamba) or anywhere else is to walk down to the main road and catch a ‘combi’ which are basically minivans that act as local busses and run back and forth through the valley on no specific schedule. Passengers are picked up whether or not there are seats available, and they stop and start as quickly as possible, so traveling in them with our group of five has been interesting to say the least. (At least we’re providing some entertainment for the locals). We’ve also learned that there aren’t specific stops- to request a stop, you simply call up to the driver “baja esquina” (literal translation: get down/off, corner) and then you see where the driver decides to stop.

We’re fortunate in that our house has a nice flat yard in the back which we’ve used extensively for soccer, and the first few days, we could only go a few minutes before one of us would call “halftime” due to the altitude. We’ve definitely gotten acclimated, but physical exercise is still noticeably more challenging than we’re used to!

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We’ve packed in so many fun adventures and activities during our time here thanks in great part to one of Jim’s longtime friends, Franco Negri, who runs Explorandes, one of Vaya Adventures’ longest-standing business partners. Franco and his wife Marlis hosted Jim in their home 14 years ago (when they had 1 infant daughter who was 6 months old…they now have 4 children, the youngest being 5) and helped Jim start to get familiar with Cusco and the Sacred Valley for setting up his operations in Peru.

Only a few days after our arrival, we joined Franco, three of his kids (Mateo 12, Alegria 8, and Kantu 5) and a few of their friends for a BBQ at a local ‘sport club’ that is the only place of it’s kind in the area, with an indoor 50m pool, a turf soccer field, volleyball courts, climbing wall, grass soccer field, and more. Needless, to say, the kids had fun! (But wow, try swimming 50m (not to mention actual laps) at altitude sometime…a bit of a challenge!)

Colin’s 5th birthday was a few days after we arrived, and Franco and his family came over to help us celebrate with Colin’s requested menu: chicken and rice. I wasn’t quite ready to ‘entertain’ so early in our stay (was still learning how to use the oven!) but it was fairly easy since one of the most common types of restaurants in Peru serves “pollo a la brasa” which is basically rotisserie chicken with papas fritas (thick-cut french fries) and other sides. We also took Colin to a local bakery and he picked out his own cake, which we served with sides of jelly beans and gummy bears.

We made a “pin the soccer ball on the goal” game (original artwork by Jim and Cecelia), and had lots of fun.

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The first major Incan site that we visited was Ollantaytambo, which is about 40 minutes north of where we are staying in the Sacred Valley. During the Inca empire, Ollantaytambo was a royal estate, and later was an important stronghold for the Inca resistance against the Spanish conquest. The site is elaborate and beautiful, featuring incredible terraces (to make the steep slopes farmable, and for defense), ceremonial centers, storehouses, temples, and baths. At 9,160ft and featuring the large stone steps typical of Inca sites, it was one of our more challenging visits since we were still adjusting to the altitude.

In the town of Ollantaytambo:

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Touristing it up with the other tourists:

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Views from the ruins:

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Pondering…

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The family of the owner of the house we are staying in also owns another house up the road from us, as well as a beautiful hacienda even further up the road that hosts lunches for tourists including weaving demonstrations. Through the sister of the owner of this house, we signed up for ceramics classes at “Tallera Huayoccari” and have been enjoying our family ceramics classes a few times each week.

Our teacher, Sergio, has been doing ceramics for 30 years and sells his own works at a store on the main road in Huayocarri. We’ve been shown the basic steps of creating the actual clay (the proportions of different types of rock and sand), how to work with a manual and electric potter’s wheel, and the fundamental steps involved in creating a strong base and building up the side walls. It’s been a lot of fun to take the class together in an art in which none of us has much experience, and the kids have especially enjoyed that they are better at most of the steps than both Jim and I.

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Another amazing local site in the valley are the ‘salineras’ or salt mines, high up in the hills near the towns of Maras and the ruins of Moray. We visited all three plus the town of Chinchero all in a day-the kids are real travel troopers these days! This particular day we were blessed with bright blue skies and great weather, affording amazing views of many far-off peaks and glaciers, including those of Mount Victoria and Mount Salcantay, the latter which is the highest peak in the Vilcabamba mountain range at ~20,500ft.

The 3,000 salt mines are owned by about 300 local families that have been tending them for many generations (hundreds of years).  The mines are terraced on to the steep hillside (like so much of the agriculture in the valley) and are fed by a spring named Qoripujio. The stream feeds the ponds through a series of small aqueducts that must be opened and blocked for each pond. Once each pond is filled and drained via the spring, the remaining water takes about a month to evaporate and leave the crystallized salt. When things get to the point of more salt crystals than water the owners of the ponds manually scrape out the salt which is put into a basket or colander to continue draining.

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These ponds produce pink salt, salts for bath therapies, salts that get combined with flavorings and even salt for animals (salt licks).

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After seeing the salineras and the town of Maras, we visited the ruins of Moray.  Moray is on a high plateau at about 11,500ft and consists of many terraced circular depressions, the largest of which is 98ft deep. That may not sound like much at first, but try to imagine a huge pattern of concentric circles in the middle of an extremely rocky mountain plain and how it could have been created with handmade tools and human labor…it starts to boggle the mind a bit when you remember that the site was created hundreds of years ago with no mechanical tools. While it has sustained some damage from flooding and earthquakes over time, it is largely intact and very impressive.

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Look closely and you’ll see four intrepid travelers headed down the path to the lower circles…

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As with many other Inca sites, it also has an irrigation system. No one knows for sure that the depressions were used for but many speculate that because their depth, design, and orientation with respect to wind and sun creates a temperature difference of as much as 15 °C (27 °F) between the top and the bottom, it is possible that this large temperature difference was used by the Inca to study the effects of different climatic conditions on crops.

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From Moray we headed to Chinchero, which sits at 12,3ooft and has some of the most fertile land in the Sacred Valley. The ruins at Chinchero are thought to be ruins of a country resort for Inca Tupac Yupanquison of Pachacutec. There are many aqueducts and terraces among the ruins which are still in use today for farming purposes. The church in Chinchero that sits over the main plaza was built in 1607 by the Spanish and features ornate painted ceilings (but alas, no photography was permitted so can’t share that particular detail).

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Chinchero is known for the quality of the textiles and weavings and we stopped at a weaving collective for a demonstration of how the different colors are created. These demonstrations can feel touristy, but it was still really cool to see how different plants and even animals (one particular bug provides over 20 shades of red!) are used to dye the sheep, alpaca, and llama wool.

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Franco and his son Mateo also took us for a hike near a small lake up above the town and ruins of Pisac, in an area called Amaru in “parque de la papa” (potato park) which is so-called because more than 1,000 varieties of potato are grown there. Different varieties are grown at different altitudes on the steep slopes, and over time, the farmers have had to move varieties up the mountain to adjust for climate changes (warmer weather). Varieties previously grown at the highest altitudes can no longer be grown successfully because it’s now too warm.

We were at more than 11,000ft and were (mostly) all smiles…

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Franco with Colin and Cecelia:

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We’ve been to Cusco once so far for an overnight and will spend two more days and one more night there before we depart for the Amazon region of Tambopata. Cusco is the capital of the region, and was the historic capital of the Inca empire until the 16th century Spanish conquest. Cusco features many ruin sites as well as many buildings and walls throughout the city feature original Inca architecture with Spanish influence. The Spanish destroyed many Inca buildings, temples and palaces and used the remaining walls as bases for the construction of a new city. The main plaza of Cusco features a beautiful Spanish cathedral which was built between 1560 and 1664. The main material used was stone, which was extracted from nearby quarries and some blocks of red granite, taken from the fortress of Saksaywaman.

Cusco from the hillside above:

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Because of its antiquity and importance, the city center retains many buildings, plazas, streets and churches of pre-Colombian times and colonial buildings, which led to its declaration as a World Heritage sight by UNESCO in 1983.

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Walking down into Cusco on a typical narrow stone road:

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Plaza de las Armas (main plaza) at night:

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While in Cusco, we also visited the Museo de Chocolate and the kids got to make their own chocolate to bring home. They highly preferred making chocolate to visiting more ruins, but nonetheless we did use our time in Cusco to visit a few more sites.

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The fortress of Saksaywaman is on the northern outskirts of Cusco and the huge stones, like at many Inca sites, are carved smooth and fit together with no cement, sand, or other type of mortar. The best-known zone of Saksaywaman includes a huge plaza that can hold thousands of people, and its adjacent three massive terrace walls. The stones used in the construction of these terraces are among the largest used in any building in pre-hispanic America. The stones are so closely spaced that a single piece of paper will not fit between them. This precision, combined with the rounded corners of the blocks, the variety of their interlocking shapes, and the way the walls lean inward, is thought to have helped the ruins survive devastating earthquakes that have occurred in Cusco over the past few hundred years.

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Thanks again to Franco and Explorandes, we’ve even gotten to enjoy camping while here, with Franco’s team providing all of the (top of the line) equipment, and two onsite cooks who provided us with all of the delicious meals! I guess it would be more accurate to call what we did ‘glamping,’ especially considering that the tent Cecelia and I shared had a beautiful woven rug and two cots with extra plush sleeping pads and cozy sleeping bags.

At the site, we took a nice hike with beautiful views of Lake Piuray and the surrounding towns and far off mountain ranges, and got to enjoy some stand-up paddle-boarding with our guide Alvaro. Alvaro also showed us how to use eucalyptus leaves as natural ‘menthol’ therapy for stuffed up noses (demonstrated in the pic below 🙂 )

The kids also noticed that Alvaro was picking up plastic trash as he walked, so they became an eco-posse and collected tons of trash on our return to the campsite. Alvaro told the kids how impressed he was with their environmental responsibility and they were proud and have continued to pick up trash on other walks we’ve taken since.

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There was a huge storm with heavy rain, lightning, and thunder just after it got dark. Cecelia and I passed the 1-hour storm snuggling and talking in our tent, while ‘the boys’ spent the hour wrestling and somehow playing soccer in their own tent 😉

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The next morning was calm and sunny and we spent a few hours having fun on the lake. Jim and Cecelia played chicken on a  stand-up paddle-board…Cecelia won!

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Just a few days ago, we (finally) went to see Machu Picchu! In addition to enjoying the train ride to the site, hiking to the sun gate (a tough climb for Colin, especially), and covering a lot of ground at the ruins, through Jim’s connections and friends, we were also treated to three unbelievable meals in the town of Aguas Calientes. Peru is definitely known as having some of the very best food in South America, and we concurred even prior to being so spoiled at local spots Chullpi, the Pueblo Hotel’s own cafe, and the Treehouse restaurant. At Chullpi, the chef came to our table with every course and explained each dish. He also treated us to two surprise extra courses between the courses we knew about, both completely exquisite. Jim and I agree that the 2+ hour lunch was definitely the best meal we’ve ever had. We’ve since decided we need to feed the kids cereal, noodles, and soup for dinner for the next few weeks to make sure they don’t get used to anything too gourmet.

Because of all the business that Vaya Adventures does with Inkaterra hotels, we were also upgraded to the presidential suite at the Pueblo Hotel, with a separate adjoining suite for the kids! It was the first (and probably will be the last) time either of us ever spent the night in a presidential suite and needless to say, we didn’t mind it too much! We’ve been so spoiled in the last few days and are extremely grateful to everyone at Explorandes and their many partners for all the special treatment.

The weather the day we were at Machu Picchu was very mixed- the day started off sunny and turned to rain and clouds. The colder weather and rain scared a lot of the other tourists off, so we got to enjoy the ruins almost to ourselves in the afternoon, which was great.

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Jim getting balanced on the Inca trail:

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Despite the pouring rain by the time we left, the kids did great, and even did a ‘treasure hunt’ Jim devised to find three key features within the ruins. This visit to Machu Picchu is 13 years later than when Jim and I hiked the Inca trail to get there while dating in 2003. It was fun to re-visit the site with the kids and many fun memories of that trip have re-emerged for both of us while we’ve been in Peru.

Last but not least for this already lengthy post is our holiday celebrations here in Huayocarri. We returned from Machu Picchu on Christmas Eve with plans to cook our own simple dinner, open a few Christmas presents, and get to bed early so that Santa Claus could make his rounds. We enjoyed a quiet night at home, with our Spotify Christmas playlist, and the kids watched the original Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.

Christmas trees are not prominent in these parts, so we decorated a Christmas plant in the house with all homemade decorations.

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Cecelia made pancakes from scratch Christmas morning, which we enjoyed with the local traditional Christmas morning treat, panforte, strong coffee and an omelette that became a scramble due to the uneven heat on the stove that we’re still not quite used to 🙂

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After our own celebration at home, we went to the neighboring town of Yucay to watch a Christmas procession, featuring at least ten different dance groups from all over the area. The elaborate costumes, music and dancing covered a few miles of the main road and included men, women and children.

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After the procession, we joined the locals at the town’s center plaza for a Christmas fair that is scheduled to last the next three days. The children exhausted themselves in a bouncy house slide, running up to slide down over and over again, laughing and shrieking at each other’s antics.

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After watching Charlie Brown’s Christmas, all truly was (finally) calm and bright (clear sky filled with tons of stars) as the kids quickly nodded off to sleep tired out by all of our adventures in the past weeks.

We enjoyed our quiet Christmas, but also missed all of our family and friends. We hope everyone is having a wonderful holiday season, and we’re excited to see everyone soon in the New Year.

All of our love and we hope the new year brings everyone health, happiness and new adventures of your own.

XOXOX and Tchau for now!

 

Where in the world is Wanderlutz?

Where in the world is Wanderlutz?

Well it’s been quite some time since we’ve been able to post an update, but with good reason(s) (biggest one being total lack of usable wi-fi for quite some time, which of course has it’s pros and cons…)

Nevertheless, since the last post, we have had a lot of new adventures, and we’re now in the Sacred Valley of Peru, having left Uruguay on November 30. Although our original trip plans called for 6 weeks in Uruguay, we soaked in a lot of the coastal culture, saw the sights, and made the decision to cut that portion of the trip short. We’re so spoiled by where we and our relatives live in the U.S. that we couldn’t see spending another month in a beach town that didn’t have great school or other program options for the kids. To be perfectly honest, we were also still somewhat traumatized by the mosquito feast enacted upon us in our sleep at our initial AirBNB…

And since leaving Argentina, arriving in Uruguay, and moving on now to Peru, we’ve made an even bigger decision which is that we will be coming home earlier than we expected, with our current plan to return to the US at the end of January. While we’re very happy with this plan now, it was not an easy decision to make. Overcoming real and imagined pressures and expectations from ourselves and others made it challenging to think that we might “come home early.” But the more we talked about it, thought about all of the amazing experiences we’ve enjoyed so far, and the fact that we’ll still have been on the road for 5 months (no small feat!) with the whole family, the easier it became to make a final decision, and it’s one we’re all (now) quite happy with.

The two biggest reasons for our early return are that 1) Vaya Adventures needs more of Jim’s time and attention, and being our full-time trip planner and Dad extraordinaire hasn’t left him with enough time to focus on the business, and 2) for everyone’s sakes, the kids need more social interaction and structure on a daily basis and because South America has an opposite academic calendar (summer vacation started here today!) we’ve been unable to find good options that fit our our plans.

So with this idea starting to form in our minds, we enjoyed the rest of our long Thanksgiving weekend on the coast of Uruguay, including a stormy lightning-filled beachside dinner in the town of Punta del Diablo (point of the devil), and visited the electricity-free hippie town of Cabo Polonio, which has a burgeoning sea lion population.

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We also visited Santa Teresa National Park, featuring a hilltop fort which was begun by the Portuguese in 1762 and finished by the Spaniards after they captured the site in 1793.


On our way back to Punta del Esta, we snuck in a visit to a closed sculpture garden of the artist Pablo Atchugarry and enjoyed another beautiful sunny afternoon and evening at the beach. The sculpture garden was reminiscent of Storm King, north of NYC, for anyone who has ever had the opportunity to visit.

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We returned to Montevideo for two days to give ourselves enough time to visit the Joaquin Torres Garcia and Jose Gurvich museums (which were closed on our first time through) prior to departing for Cusco via Lima, and ultimately to our home for the month of December in Huayoccari, Sacred Valley, Peru.

The kids are better at being good sports than they used to be, but really it’s just not their thing (yet!)

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As many of you may already know, Jim ‘borrowed’ one of Torres Garcia’s famous works for a Vaya Adventures t-shirt and it was fun to see the image in the museum, with explanatory writings, and on many tourist items throughout the city.

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Jose Gurvich studied under Torres Garcia, and was a fan of Jim’s Grandfather Howard Mitchell as demonstrated when he came backstage after one of Mitchell’s performances at the Teatro Solis in Montevideo and gave him the painting called “Tres Musicos” as a sign of his appreciation. This is not the exact painting, but this is an example of one of his paintings featuring musicians that was featured on a national stamp in Uruguay.

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After completing our museum stops, we fit in more touristing in the downtown, and of course, a few more soccer matches with the locals, playing almost until sunset.

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Everyone’s soccer moves have improved considerably, and Sean and Colin are also now proud owners of Luis Suarez jerseys to add to their growing collections: Namar Jr. (Brazil), Messi (Argentina), Di Maria (Argentina), Ronaldo (Portugal).

Our new digs in Peru are amazing (and can sleep at least 15 if anyone cares to sneak in a visit :)) and we’ve been visiting Incan ruins around the valley for most of the past two weeks. Our arrival in Peru unfortunately brought our first serious health issue- Cecelia and I contracted giardia and I also got a bacterial infection within days of our arrival-but I am very happy to report that after a few days of feeling extremely lousy, we’re both back on our feet and everyone seems to be in good shape. We received excellent medical care at a local clinic (the same used by many tour companies, including Vaya Adventures) so I can personally vouch for all future clients/visitors that they will be in excellent hands should they fall ill while visiting.

It is the wet season here in the Sacred Valley and the hills have gotten greener even since our arrival. Everywhere we go, we are surrounded by crops in abundance, gorgeous valley and mountain landscapes, and long-distance views of Andean glaciers peeking from behind the closer peaks.

Our current home:

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Views from our yard:

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From the local soccer cancha (field):

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And Andean glaciers in the distance:

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This is the road from our home to the main “pista” where we can go to catch a bus or taxi for our daily excursions.

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The local Wednesday market (in downtown Urubamba, biggest town nearby), is filled with every fruit, vegetable, spice, herb, sauce, or anything else you have (or haven’t!) ever seen. On our first visit, we were astounded to pay 1 sol for a kilo of carrots (about $0.33).

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Downtown Urubamba:

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More to come on our Peru adventures underway. We love and miss everyone and are excited that we will be seeing people sooner than we expected.

XOXOXO

Tchao for now!

Road Trip: Thanksgiving Day

Road Trip: Thanksgiving Day

On Thanksgiving morning, we picked up our rental car, stowed our big suitcases and hit the road with backpacks and snacks, excited (and a little nervous) to have 4 1/2 days with no plans (other than a place to stay the first night) to fill in as we went along.

We started by driving Northeast up the coast with the goal of seeing Casa Pueblo, a hotel that was built by Uruguayan artist Carlos Páez Vilaró originally as a summer house and workshop, but that now includes a museum, art gallery, cafe and hotel.

The kids were not necessarily impressed by the architecture, but the setting was gorgeous and we were able to hike down the hill right to the ocean shore, getting in our traditional Thanksgiving hike without even meaning to.

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Everywhere we’ve been in Uruguay so far, the water is incredibly clear and inviting and the beaches and waterways are very clean. Compared to the city beaches of Rio and the port town of Buenos Aires with the river you rarely see, it was such a stark contrast to drive up Uruguay’s barely populated coast. Outside of Montevideo, so much of Uruguay is wide open spaces, mostly flat, and coast, and while the vast plains seemed unwelcoming at first, the terrain grew on us very quickly.

After our mini-hike, we got back on the road and headed to Jose Ignacio (sometimes playground for the rich and famous, including U.S. celebrities) and the Estancia Vik. Jim has met representatives of the Vik properties at different trade shows he’s attended, as they have multiple properties, and this was a great opportunity for him (and us) to take them up on their longstanding invitation to visit this particular property.

The Estancia Vik is a stunning ranch on 4,000 acres one mile from the Atlantic Ocean. It is easily the fanciest place that any of us have ever (or probably will ever) stay. The unique property was conceived of by half-Norweigan half-Uruguayan billionaire Jose Vik, originally as a summer and vacation property for personal use.  It has 12 suites, each one designed by an Uruguayan artist, featuring original art conceived of for the space. The details of each room are completely unique: some walls are wood-paneled, others painted colors corresponding to the direction they face on the property (all of the bright colors to the east to correspond to the sunrise, for example). While there, we got to go horseback riding and see a polo match. Cecelia was jealous that Jim’s horse had previously been ridden by Katy Perry! Needless to say, we felt extremely spoiled to have this experience and were grateful for the opportunity to experience the stunning surroundings.

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We ventured off of the property in search of a local restaurant for “Thanksgiving” dinner and definitely had moments of parent-panic when we realized that due to it being low season and a Thursday (versus being the weekend), almost nothing in the area was open. Jim likened the feeling to being down the shore in the winter months, and it reminded me of trying to find dinner in Fairfax after 9:30PM on a weeknight when we first moved back to CA 10 years ago.

We finally found a restaurant with the help of some locals, but we were almost an hour too early for dinner (at 7:30) because true to what we’ve seen in most places, real dinner restaurants in Argentina and Uruguay, especially, do not serve dinner any earlier. Despite our best efforts, we’re not quite on the late dinner schedule yet so we made a pit stop at a local mini-mart to tide us over. Based on everything that ended up piled on the counter, I think we made the right decision to snack since we were apparently quite hungry.

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We returned to the restaurant at 8:30 (almost on the dot) and were the first guests seated. The restaurant filled pretty quickly, though, and we had a delicious dinner (though it shared absolutely no similarities with a traditional Thanksgiving meal), splurged on some decadent desserts (including muerte por chocolate, or death by chocolate) and gave thanks for each other, our adventure, and all of our friends and family back home for whom we are so grateful and who we miss a ton.

More to come from our road trip in the next post!

Tchau and Buenos Noches!

On the road in Uruguay

We arrived by bus to La Barra, Uruguay from Montevideo on November 17th with the plan to spend the next 6 weeks in this small beach town near the more well-known resort town of Punta del Este.  If you are anything like me, then Uruguayan geography is maybe not your strongest subject, and hopefully the map below will help. With the Atlantic Ocean to the southeast, the Uruguay coast is easily the place where I’ve been the most directionally-challenged of anywhere I’ve ever been (so far!) Being on the coast, you’d swear you were seeing the sunset, but how can you be when you’re looking South?!?

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After our time in Brazil and Argentina, we’ve come to the conclusion that the kids (and let’s face it, all of us) will be better off if we can find more organized activities in which they can participate.  In Buenos Aires, the boys loved the Club Marongoni de Futbol (soccer) that they did 3x per week, but we never found quite the right option for Cecelia, and even for the boys, it was clear they would love to have even more time with other kids. The fact that they are clearly missing time with friends plus some of the challenges of homeschooling/entertaining all three at home has motivated us to find more organized programs for them in our next destinations.

Traveling in close quarters for the past 3 months has also made it apparent (unavoidably so, at times ;)) that every one of us needs our own ‘right’ amount of “me” time and space. Most adults know how much time they like to spend with other people, and how much time they like to themselves, but it’s interesting to think about the fact that by the time you’re an adult, you probably don’t even think about this balance consciously on a regular basis. Most of us choose how to spend our time based on feelings and preferences that we might not even be able to articulate, that have become patterns and habits over time.

This trip has definitely made me more consciously aware of my own needs for space (whether or not my mom-guilt lets me admit to it) and it has been really eye-opening to start to observe this same drive and need in the kids to find the right balance for themselves. While obviously articulated differently by each of them, the kids each have a very strong sense of what they need and when they need it relative to space and time to themselves, and while we can’t always grant their wishes immediately (eg Colin told us that he needed space so he suggested he stay alone in our apartment in Punta del Este while we went to the beach), it has been great to see them start to learn this about themselves and to share it with us so that we can try to support them in getting their needs met.

Additionally, when they’ve had the opportunities, it’s amazing to see how the kids branch out when they’re with peers in the places we’ve visited without us ‘helicoptering’ about. Sean takes particular pride in the fact that he’s made at least one friend everywhere we’ve gone so far, and Cecelia has emails for the friends she bonded with in the pool at our hotel in Iguazu Falls, and on our snorkeling adventure in Ilha Grande.

So, arriving to La Barra, we had hopes of finding school or extracurricular programs for the kids over the (Uruguayan) summer break to give them a chance to hang out more with their peers, without us, and to even give them space from each other.

 

As with our other destinations, we had rented a small house in La Barra using Airbnb and were excited to arrive to our ‘cottage’ less than 2 blocks in either direction from both a beautiful beach and a commercial neighborhood with markets, restaurants, and shopping.

The kids have been troopers, and get better and better at traveling as our trip goes on. Our bus left us off ~5 blocks from our new home, and they barely batted an eye when we told them we were walking from the station to the house (with our 5 suitcases, 5 backpacks, and random extra bags of snacks for the trip and treasures we’ve acquired along the way). Needless to say, we were a sight (again) making our way through town during what is still the “low” season. This area gets much busier in mid-December through February during summer holidays for Argentines (90% of the tourists to this area), and Brazilians (5%), with people like us making up the other 5% (tourists from all over).

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Out host met us at the house and was very gracious, even offering to take us into town to get groceries, which we’ve learned from our other arrivals is a critical first step to ‘setting up house.’ (Well, second step usually, with the first one being to actually locate the grocery store ;)). When it turned out that the local market was closed due to a strike, she drove us back to Punta del Este (a 15 minute drive), waited for us to shop, and brought us back again with all of our groceries.

The house itself turned out to be somewhat different than what was described in the ad on Airbnb, and unfortunately, we had a rough night staying there: we tried to make a simple pasta + vegetable dinner and found that there was not enough propane to boil water on our gas stove for the spaghetti, or even to thoroughly cook the broccoli (not that the kids minded this specific setback). The pots and dishes were all fairly dirty which required wash before use, and there was not a drying rack or dish towel to be found when it was time to clean up. The night only went downhill (I wish I could report otherwise) and we spent the majority of the night chasing buzzing mosquitoes and comforting kids who were also not sleeping well, only to find in the morning that some tiny critters had been feasting on them all night, and they were covered in red itchy bites. Needless to say, we decided without much discussion or fanfare to cancel our rental and make alternate arrangements.

While not a good night’s sleep and definitely not a home we will miss, we did make the most of the beautiful beach and grassy backyard to enjoy the super long days Uruguay has at this time of year. Uruguay has been experiencing unusually large and strong storms as of late, and the beaches were covered with shells and other interesting treasures as a result. (The storms probably also contributed to the insane quantity of mosquitoes and other flying pests that tried to disrupt our peace.)

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Back in an apartment in the bigger city of Punta del Este, we checked out the beaches on both sides of the town (being a ‘point,’ it has a more exposed (rough) coast on one side and a more protected (calm) one on the other) while we started to figure out what we’d do next.

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Believe me when I say that our whole family is always grateful for everything that Jim does, but we were even more grateful than usual to be married to/fathered by someone who owns and operates a South American travel company since our Airbnb was not what we had hoped for and we suddenly needed a new plan for the next 6 weeks.

Still wanting to see other destinations in the area that had been on the wish list all along, and following some intense hours of researching and planning on Jim’s part, we decided to rent a car and go on a mini road trip over what turned out to be the long Thanksgiving weekend.

Next post…Uruguay road trip!

Tchau for now!