Month: January 2017

Lima!

Before mud volcanoes and coffee in Colombia, we were in Lima for a few days, enjoying delicious food, city sights, and doing a lot of laundry after all of our adventures in the (hot, sticky, rainy) Amazon (yes, we still have plenty of chores to do on the road!)

Lima is an old city (especially by U.S. standards), having been founded in 1535, and is on the Pacific coast of Peru. What’s amazing (and was surprising to me) about Lima is that the downtown has a mix of Incan archeological sites, elegant Spanish cathedrals, and opulent Spanish palaces, all set against the backdrop of beach life on the coast, including a vibrant surf culture. Given my prior experience with Lima (and Peru in general), I never quite imagined it as a coastal ‘beach’ city, but we were definitely happy to be near the ocean again, which we hadn’t seen since November in Uruguay.

We stayed in a neighborhood called Miraflores, which is south of downtown Lima and known as one of the more modern and affluent neighborhoods of the city. Our Airbnb was on a quiet street a few blocks from bluffs with expansive views of the Pacific Ocean. Our first day, we arrived in time for a glorious sunset. We didn’t realize it at the time, but our adventures in the Amazon had tired us out, and we ended up taking it VERY easy in Lima, which was enjoyed by all.

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Neighborhoods around the city have been built up around many of the old buildings which makes for beautiful architectural sights where you’d least expect them. Some of them have been turned into boutique hotels, some into private homes, and still others into trendy restaurants in the happening Lima food scene.

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On one of our adventures while in Lima, we ventured to the district south of Miraflores known as Chorrillos, which is rougher around the edges, to have ceviche at a ‘local’ restaurant. Peru is known as being one of the top destinations in Latin America for food, and the ceviche in Lima is one of the reasons why. (It also just happens to be one of Jim’s all-time favorite foods…)

Surprising all of us (including herself), after Cecelia tried fresh fish ceviche and fried calamari, she declared that she is no longer a vegetarian. Not sure if it will last, but her enthusiasm was still a major testament to the food for which Lima is best known.

We had ceviche two of the four days we were in town, and Colin was the only one who wouldn’t try it (preferring to enjoy two of his favorites, pizza and pesto which were in short supply in the jungle).

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After stuffing ourselves with lots of fresh fish (and other yummy things), we needed a walk to keep us awake so we headed toward the local beach. On our way down a foot path, it was hilarious to hear the mom of a local family walking up past us say (in Spanish of course) “Mira los gringos, que lindos,” which loosely translates as “How cute, look at those gringos.”

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And yes, they are pretty cute, especially when they’re goofing around like above. Just funny to hear her say it and of course she didn’t expect us to hear (or understand) her.

The beach in Chorrillos was packed and families were enjoying the perfect beach weather. In Rio we noticed that people sit really close to each other at the beach, and the same was true here. The density was truly impressive. We’ve seen the same thing at Coney Island of course, but it’s not the typical scene we’re used to from our experiences in San Diego and on the Jersey Shore. Probably the biggest disappointment of our Chorrillos outing was the amount of trash we saw people leaving everywhere on the beach. It was truly a mess; plastic bottles and bags were floating around at the shoreline and the beach was strewn with all the waste from the day’s festivities, waiting for the incoming waves to carry it away.

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What was cool, however, is that the kids noticed the trash on their own and talked amongst themselves about how people shouldn’t leave their trash behind because of the animals, the ocean, and other people who want to enjoy the beach. I guess it was a small silver lining to an otherwise discouraging moment.

The coastline in Miraflores was a great place for us to get out on another family bike ride (we’re SO close to actually all being able to do this without special seats, etc.), and bike rides on this trip have been a highlight because they are something that we unanimously enjoy (there aren’t that many things on the unanimous list right now…) The coastline has been beautifully designed with parks, paths, and recreation facilities in mind (although some of it is under major construction currently which created some small detours), so our ride took us through sites like the Parque de Amor (park of love), with which its passionate starring statue, was not the kids’ favorite.

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We even tried a mini BMX course (dirt, off-road) along the way!

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After Lima, we said goodbye to Peru and headed for Bogota. The relatively shorter stays in the Amazon and Lima before leaving for Colombia left some of us in a better mood than others, but we rallied and got psyched up for our fun plans in a totally new place.

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More to come soon!

Tchau for now,

All of us

 

 

 

 

 

 

Care for a dip in an active volcano?

My parents have had a lot of crazy ideas but none of them as crazy as taking us innocent little children into an active volcano.    It was kind of weird, we just woke up one morning and they said “we’re going in a volcano.”   No need to worry though, it was a mud volcano. It took about 45 minutes to get there and we drove to it in a private van.  When we got there we bought our tickets to go in the volcano.  To get to the entrance to the volcano we had to go up a staircase which was about 60 feet high.  Once we walked to the top of the volcano we slowly lowered ourselves into the mud.  It was really weird, you couldn’t sink even if you tried.

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The mud felt kind of good but mostly weird plus it went 2,000 meters down. It was so weird that at one point my mom said that it felt like we were taking a bath in really thick chocolate pudding.

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When we got out of the mud we went down to the lagoon to wash off.  After we got most of the mud out of our hair and stuff, we went to change into dry clothes for the ride home.  On the ride home we got one cookie each, they were chocolate chip.  By the time we got there we were done with the cookies and ready to relax.

THE END:)

(by Cecelia)

A special visit

Through Jim’s travels and connections in Peru over the past many years, he became aware of indigenous photographer Martin Chambi. Chambi has an amazing story: he was born in 1891 into a Quechua-speaking peasant family in one of the poorest regions of Peru. When his father went to work at a gold mine on a small tributary in a nearby province, Chambi went along and happened to learn the rudiments of photography from the mine photographer. This encounter sparked an interest in photography for him that led him to move to Arequipa in 1908 and serve as an apprentice in the studio of Max T. Vargas, and then to eventually establish his own studio in 1917.

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Jim became aware that members of Chambi’s family are maintaining an archive of Chambi’s work in Cusco and has made a few attempts over the years at trying to contact the administrator of the archive, Chambi’s grandson Teo Chambi. On this trip, we were fortunate that Teo Chambi was in town and available and we were able to go and meet with him, hear stories of his grandfather’s life and experience as a photographer, and see the amazing trove of items that are being preserved.

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If you’ve traveled in or read about Peru, particularly the Cusco region, you’ve probably seen at least one of Chambi’s photographs at one point or another. He was a pioneer in the subject matter of the people and landscapes of the Cusco region; many of his photographs of indigenous people and the Inca ruins throughout the Sacred Valley, including Machu Picchu, were the first of their kind that many had seen.

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What makes his work all the more impressive (at least to a photography novice like me) is that at the time he began his career, photography was a newer art (or science) involving glass plates, chemicals (like nitric acid), and lots of other heavy equipment. For example, when Chambi visited a site like Machu Picchu, we would have with him a maximum of 30 glass plates for 30 photographs; very different than how we approach photography today with our digital cameras and iPhones, taking as many pictures as we want and deleting the ones we don’t like. He would have had 30 chances to get the ‘right’ shot. Such a different approach at such a different time. From his work, it’s evident that 30 was plenty, but amazing to think about the time and preparation that probably went into each shot when such a limited number were available. What has also struck me looking at his work is that despite how much set-up and preparation may have been involved, many of his subjects and the subject matter still seem to be captured in their natural state. Even in the posed, formal shots, he captures so much of the spirit and character of his subjects. His body of work is beautiful, and definitely work looking into (much is available on the archive website) if you are interested in Peru and the Cusco region.

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Our visit to the archive wasn’t something the kids would put at the top of their favorites list, but even for the first 45 minutes of the 1 1/2 meeting, they were very busy looking through the books featuring his work and the examples around the studio. Very fun and interesting to get off the beaten tourist track (even a little further!) and get introduced to and more familiar with such an amazing artist.

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This is a photograph of Martin Chambi, his wife, and their 6 children, including our host’s mom, second from the right in the checkered dress.

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A basketball team in Cusco:

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The archive meeting room, and coffee table FILLED with wonderful books of Chambi’s and other artists’ work:

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We even got to pose against a re-creation of the backdrop that was used in many of Chambi’s studio portraits:

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There will be an exhibition of Chambi’s work at the SF Moma in 2017, so Bay Area friends can see his work firsthand.

So many unique adventures in such a relatively short trip! We’re feeling very fortunate (and sometimes tired!) and excited to come home soon and share more tales of our travels with everyone in person.

Tchau for now!

XOXO

All of us!

 

Welcome to the jungle

And by ‘jungle’ I do not mean life on the road with three kids (although it would be a perfectly applicable description of that as well). We left Huayocarri in the Sacred Valley after a little over one month there, and spent four days last week in the Peruvian Amazon checking out the nature and wildlife.

It’s amazing to me how amenable to crazy-sounding travel plans the kids have become and I’m definitely interested to know if it will make them more ‘flexible’ with plans when we get home. This time around, we told them the day held an early wake-up (always their least favorite news), a 40-minute flight (from Cusco to Puerto Maldonado), a two-ish hour boat ride up the Tambopata River from Puerto Maldonado (which itself is a 40-minute flight from Cusco), and then a 15-minute uphill hike to get to our lodge.

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On the way to our lodge, lunch was served out of huge leaves similar to banana tree leaves:

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While first reactions to our open-air rooms and the many bugs and creatures roaming about included some trepidation, we all had a great time and by the time we left, the kids asked to stay for four more nights (they told our guide that they were going to stay on with him after we left and then it was his turn for trepidation as they had definitely already worn him out).

Among the creatures we wanted to keep our distance from, the bullet ants (one pictured below) and army ants were out en force. This picture doesn’t do the size justice of a bullet ant…and we have been told their bite is quite painful so we stepped around them with care.

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As Jim put it while we were en route, suffering is always at least a small part of going to the Amazon (setting expectations is always important), and we did have some moments of suffering (especially those of us who the mosquitoes find particularly sweet).

More than the suffering though, it was such a welcome shock to the system to be away from ‘real life’ even more than we have been all along on this trip. Our rooms had no windows (or walls for that matter) and being an eco-lodge, there was only electricity at certain times of the day. While the main lodge did have wifi, it was really poor, and we had actually decided beforehand that the kids wouldn’t bring their tablets, so we had very limited screen time and screen access while we were there.

The result was four days and four nights interacting only with each other, the other guests (we met visitors from Australia, the UK, China, New Zealand, and Texas), the jungle weather (huge rainstorms followed by intense sun) and exploring the vegetation and creatures all around us with our guide, Fernando.

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We scaled a (TALL) tree (using the climbing technique known as ‘jumaring,’ click this link if you want to learn more: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H8KRKWEMwyA), climbed an observation platform to watch the sunrise above the jungle canopy, kayaked in a torrential Amazon downpour (at which point Sean stated: “I think it’s fair to say that this day is one of the worst of my life,”) played soccer in the mud (once with galoshes on), and woke up at 4am to see macaws gather where they congregate to extract salt from a naturally occurring clay lick.

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On one of our night hikes, Cecelia helped one of the guides find a tiger moth and we learned that there are over 11,000 known species and probably many more waiting to be discovered…so now, Cecelia is waiting to hear whether or not she found one of the new ones. If so, she’s decided it will be named either the “Cecelia” or “Bob.”

In this picture, the guide is showing Cecelia a tic-infested beetle. (Yes, yuck!, but still quite cool :))
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We enjoyed our Amazon jaunt and definitely tired ourselves out! Other than the mosquito bites, we survived our jungle adventures unscathed and we were on to our next stop, Lima, to see the ocean (we’ve missed it since Uruguay) and eat some ceviche (for which Lima is known). More to come soon from Miraflores (our neighborhood in Lima).

Tchau for now.

XOXOX, Us

Our New Year’s Eve Best of/Worst of List

Everyone makes lists this time of year, so we decided to make one of our own, featuring our favorite (and least favorite) highlights of our trip so far. We’ve been fortunate to have so many amazing experiences exploring new cities, having adventures in nature, staying at beautiful hotels, and eating at delicious restaurants, that this was a hard list to make. In most cases, we let the majority vote win, in other cases, we had to let there be ties to limit the drama (and prevent any sort of insurrection).  So without further ado, some of the most memorable details of our trip so far.

Best Croissant: Ninina Bakery in Buenos Aires (would also win for ‘best scone’ ‘best cookie’ ‘most beautiful selection of cakes’ ‘best fresh granola,’ you get the idea.)

Favorite animal sighting: Maned wolf, Ocelet, and Anaconda (3-way tie) in the Pantanal. Important to note that the maned wolf and ocelot were in the wild, and the Anaconda was trying to crawl into the main dining room of our Fazenda and was being removed with a stick by the kitchen staff.

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Best Country for Vegetarians: Peru (it’s not close!) With Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay all known for their beef, all menus in those destinations centered around meats prepared a variety of ways. The Sacred Valley in Peru is known for being extremely fertile land for agriculture and we’re surrounded by fields of corn, squash, greens, cabbage, eggplant, and hundreds of other crops. Needless to say, Cecelia has been eating a much better diet now that we’re here.

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Best Pizza: 3-way tie between Las Quartetas/Kentucky Pizza (both in Buenos Aires) and Vespa (Rio)

Las Quartetas is one of the oldest pizzerias in Buenos Aires and had a great old school charm with delicious traditional Argentinian pizza, recommended by a friend of Jim’s. Kentucky Pizzeria is a chain in Buenos Aires and is by far the restaurant we returned to the most so far on the trip. The pizza was good and the prices could not be beat: the entire family could have their fill + 1-2 beers each for the adults and the total cost would be about ~$20.

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Most Memorable Bug Experience: Pantanal and Alacranes (aka scorpions) in house in Peru Poor Cecelia was the favorite of the mosquitoes in the Pantanal and she came home from one night excursion and counted 149 bites total on her body. Although she did suffer at first, Benadryl and time were the remedies there, and pretty soon, it was just a record to brag about. The alacranes  are another story- shortly after our stay started in Huayoccari we saw a few small scorpions on the walls and the floor. We asked about them and were told, ‘oh no, don’t worry about those. They aren’t scorpions, they’re just alacranes.’ But believe me, they’re scorpions and when you look up the definition of ‘alacran,’ this is what you’ll see: “scorpion, any of several species of arachnids with a long segmented tail ending in a venomous sting.” Anyway, we’ve been careful every time we come home, and Jim has become very skilled at smashing them in one clean blow. P.S. Yes, we both purposely didn’t tell our moms about these until they were in the past tense, as in right now.

(We don’t have pics of these- too traumatic!)

Best soccer field: “little goals” field, near the lagoon where Olympic rowing and crew took place in Rio. Here’s a shot of my crazy family singing the national anthem before the start of one of our games.

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Best sushi: Sushi Leblon (only Jim and I can actually vote on this since we left the kids with a babysitter to have a hot date at this super popular sushi spot in the Leblon neighborhood in Rio). Besides for being a major hotspot with lots of good people-watching, the sushi was easily some of the best we’ve ever had.

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Best Cabs: Unanimous agreement here between the kids that the cabs in Buenos Aires have been by far the best. I haven’t been able to get any specifics out of them other than “the cabs didn’t smell as bad,” so we’ll just leave it at that and move on to the next category.

Best Pool: Recanto Cataratas (at Iguazu Falls) This was the kids’ first experience at a true ‘resort’ featuring two outdoor pools, one indoor pool, a hot tub, and game-room with air hockey and pool. We had beautiful sunny weather and enjoyed the pool and grounds for a few days while poor Jim worked at his travel conference.

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Best hot chocolate: Buenos Aires, with our churros on the food tour. In Buenos Aires, a traditional hot chocolate is served as a ‘submarina;’ you are served hot milk with a chocolate bar on the side and you put the chocolate bar into the milk and stir as it melts.

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Best haircut: Sean’s Faux Hawk (like a mohawk, but not totally bald on the sides). Sean decided what he wanted and without hesitation, we walked into Bethel Peluqueria on the street in Urabamba where all of the haircut stores are (at least 15 in 2 blocks!) and he sat down and went for it. Thankfully, he was quite happy with the result and has decided it will be his cut of choice for the next cut as well.

Worst Night’s Sleep: The house we were supposed to stay in for 6 weeks in La Barra, near Punta del Este in Uruguay. Now known by all in the family as “that mosquito torture chamber.” We spent the majority of this night comforting the kids who couldn’t sleep and stalking mosquitoes that were busy biting us. We all woke up with plenty of new bites, and very lacking in sleep. We said good riddance as quickly as possible.

Worst hotel ever: El Esplendor in Montevideo. The list of things that were wrong about this place is long. Some highlights: we needed to move rooms 3 times after a 1-hour long check-in process because ALL of the rooms smelled strongly of smoke. (It was a non-smoking hotel with a $100 fee for smoking in the rooms, but apparently every previous guest ever didn’t care.) We also had the lovely treat of finding the bottoms of a set of women’s pajamas folded in the blanket at the end of the bed in the room we finally decided was OK. To top things off, the eggs in the breakfast buffet were orange and even Jim wouldn’t eat them (that’s saying something).

Best Night’s Sleep: Pueblo Hotel, Machu Picchu. Just like at home, the day leading up to the night’s sleep has a ton to do with how well we’ve slept. The day we stayed here, we spent many hours at Machu Picchu, hiking up to the sun gate, and exploring all over the ruins in higher altitude and what were eventually pouring rains. It didn’t hurt that we were spoiled rotten at the Pueblo in a beautiful suite with great beds, fancy linens, private hot tub, private outdoor shower, and heated floors, but I’m certain we would have slept well this night just about anywhere since we did such a good job of wearing ourselves out.

Best local beer: Quilmes (Argentina). Every country has their own (or a few) local mass brewed beers (like our Miller and Bud) and Quilmes definitely had an edge over the three options in Brazil, 2 in Uruguay and 1 in Peru.

However, when you start talking about the best local artisan and craft beers, the tables tip in favor of Peru, with the Sierra Andina and Sacred Valley breweries, both of which have great IPA (India Pale Ales) that we had been missing until we arrived to the Sacred Valley.

Best Meal: Recently described in our post from Aguas Calientes and our visit to Machu Picchu, Chullpi has been the best overall dining experience we’ve all had on this trip (and maybe otherwise too!) We were spoiled rotten with amazing food, personal explanations of each plate by the chef, two surprise courses, and a dessert that had the kids asking if they could please lick their plates (“it would be a compliment to the chef,” they assured us.) The finishing touch at Chullpi that basically blew our minds was a dessert that seemed to be some sort of tasty encrusted molten ball of chocolate. It had a light and thin outer layer and when you popped it into your mouth, the warm chocolate burst out and every single one of us lit up with smiles and delight. Magical.

The ‘molten chocolate’ balls are the very nondescript looking light-colored items in the top plate in the picture below:

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Best discovery we’ll continue to enjoy at home: Tannat, known as the national grape in Uruguay, was new to us on this trip. It is featured in the delicious local Uruguayan wine of the same name and we’re looking forward to finding it in some of our local outposts at home and sharing it with friends and family. Tannat is lighter than a cabernet or merlot, has great flavor like a Malbec, but is more drinkable like a red Italian table wine, without being too light, and is great with all different types of food. It has historically been grown in the Southwest of France, but is now very prominent in Uruguay as well.

Best Juice Bar: Polis Sucos (Ipanema, Rio). One of our earliest culinary discoveries on the trip that made everyone happy. They offered every combination of fresh juice with and without ice and/or milk (delicious, like a fresh fruit milkshake without the ice cream). Favorite to date: pineapple, ginger, mint, and orange (name on the menu, “Happy”).

Best hotel(s) (so far): Three-way tie between the Monasterio (Cusco), Fazenda Vik (fancy beyond fancy polo ranch in Uruguay) and Fazenda San Francisco (our humble lodge in the Pantanal).

Best Tourist Attraction: Iguazu Falls (Brazil/Argentina), Machu Picchu, Sugarloaf Mountain (Rio), and Paralympics (Rio) Way too tough to pick just one here. The list is really a lot longer, we’ve gotten to see so many cool things!

There are so many more highlights that we’ll bore everyone with in our stories when we get home, but it’s been fun for us to talk about the highs and lows that we all remember so far. Overwhelmingly, the trip has been great, and we’re finishing 2016 with a feeling of gratitude for all of the people we’ve met and experiences we’ve had so far. And we’re excited that we have more adventure awaiting us already in 2017 with our next stops in the Peruvian Amazon, Colombian coffee country, Bogota, and Cartagena.

Despite all of the fun adventures and good eating we’ve been doing, there are of course some things about home that we miss. Other than people (our family and friends who we miss the most of all), the number one thing that we each miss the most are:

Cecelia: Our house

Sean: My nerf gun

Colin: Beary (Beary is Colin’s favorite stuffed animal. He was all packed and ready to come with us on the trip but in our excitement, he was left in the front yard and never even made it into the airport shuttle. The good news is that he’s waiting for us safe and sound in Berkeley.

Jim: Running in Tilden Park

Carly: The washer and dryer. Rather than try to wax poetic about something less material, I’ll just be honest and say that I won’t be disappointed when we get back home and I can regularly use a washer and dryer again. I’m sure I sound spoiled and I shouldn’t be so attached to material things, but let’s be clear, a family of 5 generates a lot of dirty laundry!

We wish everyone at home a very happy new year and hope that 2017 is filled with happiness, good health, and lots of new adventures for all of us!

All our love!

Tchau for now xoxox