Author: Wanderlutz16

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

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!