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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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