1 year, 5 backpacks, 6 continents, 35 countries, 50 UNESCO sites, 66 airplane rides, 94 different accommodations, and 1 epic trip around the world!
Getting on that last flight was so exciting! We were all eager to finally go home to see all of our friends and family we had been missing so much. Flying into Portland is always beautiful (if you catch it on a sunny day) and I almost cried as I saw the green trees, wide rivers and snow capped mountains poking up out of the landscape. We were home!
We weren’t sure what to expect when coming out of security, but were overjoyed to see so many of our family there to welcome us home! They even brought Burgerville cheeseburgers, a Northwest favorite, to eat before we even left the airport.
From the airport we headed over to Jeromy’s parents house to visit, eat our favorite pizza (Blind Onion), and relax surrounded by all our amazing family.
We spent our first night home at Jeromy’s parents so we didn’t have to go back to our empty house. That next day our new car, that Jeromy bought online while we were in Columbia, was delivered and we drove home. We stopped off at Costco on the way (American grocery stores can’t be beat!) and stocked up on groceries. As we entered our house and unloaded groceries, it almost felt like we had never left at all. I was putting the same groceries in the same fridge. In the coming days, weeks, and months, the default lifestyle we chose to leave for a year, crept back in. On a day to day basis, it was easy to forget we had even traveled around the world at all.
It has taken me awhile to finish writing these posts since we have been home. In fact when I finally post this, it will almost be a year. This is partially because of how time seems to be filled with everyday life. Practices, school, work, and keeping up with the day to day; but also because it was hard for me to get back into my “trip” state of mind. “Real” life seemed to take over.
Parker, Tyler and Jeromy seemed to adjust back fine. They loved the comforts of life and being back among friends and family. Luke missed the togetherness of being on the road as a family and was a little sadder sometimes and had a hard time adjusting to sleeping in his bedroom all alone. After some time to adjust, he has, fortunately, bounced back to his usual self!
I had the hardest adjustment back of everyone. That makes sense because the trip itself was more my dream than anyone else’s. They were all more than happy to be brought along for the ride though!
So having this life dream over was hard for me. I missed having my family with me every day and the excitement of never knowing what the next day would bring. If it were up to me, I could leave today and spend another year away traveling to all new places, but the boys like the stability that being in one place provides, which I can understand. So I’ve spent the past year finding my new normal and discovering ways to add adventure into my daily life while still appreciating the blessings of living in one place.
In the pictures below you can see how much we have changed on the outside over the course of the year. The boys have grown taller, Parker has lost that little kid look transforming into a young man, our backpacks are not as full as when we left from us shedding unwanted items along the way, and after a year of following the sun, we are all the tannest we will probably ever be! What you can’t see is how we have changed inside. This trip transformed us into different people, changing each of us, hopefully for the better in ways we never imagined.
I will forever treasure this year I had with my family, all together. It was a precious gift to me. My family provides me my greatest joy in life, and I look forward to many more adventures ahead. Instead of looking at the end of this trip around the world as the end of our journey, I am realizing it is actually a stepping stone in the new direction of our dreams.
After a year traveling around the world and visiting 35 countries, we finally arrived back to the United States of America. While we loved visiting each of these countries and learning about their unique cultures, we each found an increased sense of patriotism for our homeland. For me personally, I have an increased appreciation for the freedom we have in our country to live as we please. We were constantly having conversations with people about laws in their country, and I couldn’t believe how restricted they often were in their day to day life. From not allowing people to wear certain religious clothing in Europe, to not allowing anyone who is Jewish enter The United Arab Emirates, the caste system in India and so much more.
In fact if we lived in almost any of the countries we visited on our trip, we would not have even been allowed to pull our kids out of school to homeschool them while we traveled. We talked to multiple parents in Europe who said they would love to do what we were doing but the government wouldn’t allow it. I didn’t realize how much I took for granted the right to make my own choices, and the responsibility to deal with the consequences of my actions.
The boys had many things they had an increased appreciation for at the conclusion of our year abroad, but the number one thing was how amazing the food in the United States is! Besides friends and family, this is what they missed the most.
You can see how excited they were when the first stop we made was to eat a real American hamburger! Having it be an In-N-Out burger made it even better!
American breakfasts were another thing that we missed terribly while away, so we searched for the best pancake place we could find. You can see Tyler’s surprise by the giant American portion sizes we came back to as well!
We decided to end the trip in Hollywood, California to let the kids go to Disneyland and Universal Studios. It may seem like the whole trip was amazing for them, but there were some difficult things they had to deal with as well. Being around their brothers 24/7 for a year was just one hardship! Poor Parker started into his independent teenager phase and couldn’t even walk down the street without us nearby.
It was also nice to have our reentry into the United States before we were surrounded by friends and family, and the pressures of getting our house back in order. It gave us time to adjust to being back one step at a time.
So as a reward for making it an entire year, we went and just had fun! Over the past year, Parker read every Harry Potter book, watched every Harry Potter Movie and watched countless Harry Potter theories on YouTube, so a trip to Harry Potter World at Universal was the perfect ending! His Harry Potter nerdiness came out in full force when he got a wand at Ollivanders, drank butterbeer, and ate chocolate frogs! They really did an amazing job and we all enjoyed exploring it as well.
Our next stop was Disneyland where we had a fun-filled day of rides and entertainment. A perfect way to end the trip!Corndogs are another American specialty that was missed, and Disneyland has the best ones I’ve ever had! Seriously, if you are into corndogs, you have to try them next time you are at Disney.While “Its a Small World” will never be anyone’s favorite ride, I have to go every time I am in Disneyland (despite the fact that I end up humming the song for days afterwards). It was actually so much more fun going through this time and picking out all the countries we had been to, and how much detail went into depicting each culture and country. The reality of traveling around the world can be overwhelming. So many languages, cultures, personalities, and customs to learn. Arranging the details of every day was daunting; from having to find 3 meals a day, a safe and comfortable place to stay each night, and figuring out the transportation around each city; and that’s not to mention all the airplane flights, train rides, bus trips, and ferry tickets we had to purchase. In many ways the world is a very BIG place. There were many times on the trip that I was reminded of how small and insignificant our lives actually are in this great, big, diverse world of ours.
Yet despite all of that, as we rode on this ride and watched as the cultures of the world were depicted, I thought back to all the people we met and places we visited. I was reminded of the similarities and common humanity that is found in every country and every culture. Families who love each other and want the best for their children, striving to be the best version of yourself that you can be, and the desire to lead a fulfilling life was common across every place we visited. Maybe the song was right. It is a small world after all.
While it wasn’t our last stop, Panama was the last country we visited outside the United States. Our experience there was a tale of two cities. The first stop was visiting Panama City. Panama City is very modern and felt the most like being in America than we had experienced in a long time. It was fun to see familiar restaurants and shops and a modern city skyline as we drove in from the airport. Tyler was even able to get his own fidget spinner after almost missing the entire fad while we were away!
Our main purpose for stopping off in Panama City was to see the famous Panama Canal, a 48 mile waterway connecting the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. It was an engineering marvel in 1914 when it was opened and is still used today. In 2016 the Miraflores locks were opened to allow for more and larger ships to pass through the canal. We were able to visit two sets of locks and watch as giant ships slowly made their way through to the other side. There was even a museum where the boys each took there turn at steering their own ship through the locks.
To get the most out of our short time in Panama City, we booked a tour for the day that drove us from the Pacific to the Atlantic Ocean, and back again (which really wasn’t too far). Along the way they taught us a lot about the locks and the country of Panama. A highlight was our boat trip on Gatun Lake (the lake that was created as part of the canal and is the largest manmade lake in the world) where we were able to see the enormous ships up close passing through to the other ocean, as well as stopping off along the way to feed some wild monkeys!
We also got to visit Fort San Lorenzo, a former Spanish stronghold against pirates. Before the Fort was built, the Spanish protected the coastline and access to the Chagres River from a battery near the sea. It was successful until 1670 when Captain Henry Morgan (the famous pirate) took it over in an attack and occupied it, using it as his base to attack Panama City the next year. The Spanish then built The San Lorenzo Fort higher up the cliff in the 1680’s, which kept the pirates at bay until they abandoned it in the middle of the 18th century. The boys had fun climbing around the old walls and seeing the cannons positioned to ward off the incoming pirates!
We spent a short evening exploring the old town of Panama City in the pouring rain, only stopping quickly along the way for some delicious ice cream and to try on some Panama hats!
After exploring Panama City and the surrounding area for a few days, we took a small propeller plane to Bocas Del Toro to spend the last days of our trip on an island, living off the grid.
In contrast to Panama City, Bocas Del Toro, is a small archipelago of islands populated by native people living in traditional ways, as well as foreigners choosing to live off the grid. There is also a small town there where we were able to get a drink and some food before being picked up by a boat to go to Dolphin Bay Hideaway for our final days out of the country.
We couldn’t have picked a better place to end our trip! It was so relaxing and the owners made us feel completely at home during our stay, catering to our pickiest child’s tastes with their delicious meals and taking us on amazing outings every day.
The couple who owned our resort were also Americans and it was fun to hear about what life was like living off the grid for them. After a delicious breakfast every morning we would head out on the boat to explore…
the best snorkeling spots…
got some local tacos for lunch…
and anywhere else we wanted to go. They were great with the boys and even taught them how to drive the boat!
Although the place we were staying functioned completely off the grid, it was really quite lovely. They used solar power for energy and reclaimed their water. If only there was air conditioning, it would have been perfection and we may never have left. We were able to keep cool though snorkeling, swimming, drinking fresh made tropical drinks, and relaxing in the pool. We played games and enjoyed the solitude. The grounds were beautiful and it was fun to learn about the tropical plants. I especially loved the water lilies that bloomed only at night. The boys had fun catching the poison dart frogs (this is ok as long as you wash your hands after) and other jungle critters.
We met a few different groups of Americans who chose to leave busy life in the USA for a quiet, simple life in Bocas. One couple purchased a Cacao farm and ran tours of it for visitors. We enjoyed hearing their stories of living in the jungle in Panama, especially about the “cleaner ants” that invade the house by the thousands and eat all the bugs they find, then leave on their way, only to return again for another day or two the next year! While touring we saw wild sloths and poison dart frogs. He even got us to try eating some termites…tastes like parsley…who knew?!
We also had the opportunity to visit a local school that was on the same island we were staying on. The kids from many surrounding islands rowed in hollowed out boats to and from school every day. The boys loved checking out these local “school buses.” It was even more impressive when we learned that most the kids in the area don’t learn how to swim!
Jeromy was able to use some of his dental skills and taught the school children the importance of flossing and brushing as we handed out toothbrushes to each of the kids. I’m not sure how much they understood, but it was fun. We showed them where on the globe we were from in relation to where we were at in Bocas Del Toro. At the end of our time there, the kids all sang a song for us and Tyler and I sang a song for them as well. After a year of worldschooling it was funny that we spent our last day out of the country actually in school.
Dolphin Bay Hideaway was a wonderful place to stay, but my favorite part of our time there was in the evenings after dinner when it got dark outside. There wasn’t a light to be seen for miles and we would walk down to the water. The sky was full of stars brighter than almost anywhere we had been. We could easily see the Milky Way streaked across the night sky. But the most amazing thing was in the dark water in front of us! As we agitated the water with an oar or our hand, the water lit up with thousands, maybe millions, of bioluminescent plankton. It was like nothing I have ever seen or experienced before! It looked like the stars from the sky were lighting up the water below. It simply felt magical. We would take out the paddle board and kayak, or even dive in and swim with them. As we paddled along a train of sparkling plankton followed in the wake. As we swam, they lit up our skin, making us sparkle like diamonds. We went down every night to see the bioluminescence and each night I was equally awed by this enchanting experience.
Although it was wonderful, after a few days on our island in Bocas Del Toro, we were all ready to hop on the plane back to the good old United States of America! Visions of burgers and pancakes, clean bathrooms and speaking the same language danced in our heads as we slept that last night before heading home (almost).
This shoe sculpture in Cartegena is a favorite spot for tourists to take fun pictures, but was intended to honor local poet Luis Carlos Lopez, author of “A Mi Ciudad Nativa,” a poem written about the city of Cartegena. In the end, he compares the city of Cartegena to a pair of old shoes you love; well worn, but comfortable.
I agree that Cartegena is a beautiful “well worn” city with centuries of history and different cultures melding together.
We loved walking the walls around the old city, observing city life today and imagining what it was like centuries ago.
Our carriage ride through the old cobblestone streets brought us back to what it might have been like in the past as well.
However, as for the poet Lopez’s statement of it being “comfortable,” I may have to disagree. I know he wasn’t referring to the weather, but my overarching memory of Cartegena was how incredibly HOT and UNcomfortable it was there during the days. With temperatures in the 90’s and 100% humidity, it was really quite oppressive to do anything much besides swim during the day. We attempted some excursions, but realized quickly that unless there was water involved, it wasn’t worth being out.
Fortunately, we spent one day going on a boat ride to the Rosario Islands swimming and snorkeling. Tyler and Jeromy even had a chance to scuba dive!
We did brave the heat one day to explore San Felipe de Barajas Castle. It was built to protect the Spanish riches from pirate and English plunder (not always successfully). It was fun to learn about the real pirates of the Caribbean and the fortifications put in place to stop them
The days are hot, but in the evening, the breeze starts to blow, the town lights up and is full of energy as people come out to enjoy the cool(er) air. Walking the city walls at sunset was beautiful.
There are tons of delicious restaurants, shops, and people to wander amongst in the evenings. We have seen our fair share of street performers in our travels but this was the only place where you could be walking down the street and two guys would come up to you with a speaker under one arm and start rapping on the spot about you and your family. We all had fun dancing along as we had our own personalized rap performance, for just a small tip at the end.
Surprisingly, one of our favorite nights there was spent doing laundry! With only having enough clothes for about a week, one regular occurrence over the year for us was finding somewhere or someone to do our laundry. When staying in houses and apartments we would sometimes have a washer and dryer, but most the time we had to find a laundry service or laundromat to do our laundry. By far, our favorite place of the year was Beer and Laundry in Cartegena. Not only is it an ingenious idea to combine a place that will do your laundry while also serving you pizza and drinks, we also met some friends we spent the next couple days with as well.
They were also traveling long-term, but had 4 kids with the oldest being 10. I have to admit, I was sure glad I didn’t have to deal with diapers on our trip, but they seemed to float through traveling with ease. The night we met them, we just stood out on the street chatting, while the kids wrestled, played, and just were crazy together. The locals who were all sitting out enjoying the cool evening air, seemed to enjoy the entertainment of 7 crazy american kids for the evening!
I will end this with a quote, translated to English, from the end of the poem “A Mi Ciudad Nativa,” that sums up the feelings Lopez and I have about the old city of Cartegena.
After spending a quick night in Guayaquil, Ecuador we hopped on a flight from mainland Ecuador to the amazing Galapagos Islands!
This was a stop I was looking forward to from the very beginning of planning our trip around the world. I was fascinated to see the things Charles Darwin saw when he visited the islands on the HMS Beagle in 1835, which helped him form his theory of evolution through natural selection. Being a Zoology Major in college, Jeromy was also excited to see the biodiversity that can only be found in the Galapagos Islands.
The islands themselves are made up of 18 primary islands and 3 smaller islands. Only about 25,000 people live there since 97.5% of the islands have been made a National Park, and it is incredibly isolated. While the Galapagos were originally settled by the Spanish, the country of Ecuador took them in 1832 and they are part of the republic of Ecuador to this day.
What makes the islands so special is the variety of species that are endemic to the islands themselves, which can be found nowhere else in the world. The islands are so isolated that is easy to see how the animals evolved over time to fit perfectly in their environments. A good example of this is the giant tortoise. Depending on the vegetation on the individual island, the tortoise shells would differ to better blend in to the environment around them.
While I had high expectations for our time in the Galapagos, they were completely blown out of the water by our experiences there!
A large part of this feeling was due to the amazing staff and accommodations on the Yacht Isabella II. We spent 5 days with about 45 other people fully immersing ourselves in the Galapagos experience. It is a small cruise ship with 20 rooms and was an incredible way to see the islands. While we didn’t get to all of them in the 5 days we spent there, the staff were able to make it an incredibly educational, and a fun experience for our whole family. Even better, we booked it last-minute (45 days ahead of time) and got a huge discount!
The highly trained Rangers took us on excursions on the islands, providing a historical reference and most importantly, lots of information about the animals, birds, and other wildlife we came across. At night we would all gather together and a member of the staff would go over the itinerary for the next day as well as giving us information about the places we would visit.
Each day was packed with activities exploring the islands, and some of the most amazing snorkeling we have ever experienced! One of my favorite experiences from our whole year away was the first time we went snorkeling with sea lions. I had a hard time breathing through my snorkel because I was smiling and laughing so much! There is truly nothing like it!
Just as Africa has their “Big 5” animals to see on safari, the Galapagos has their “Big 15”. While we didn’t see all of the “Galapagos 15”, we were able to see most of the iconic Galapagos species (in bold below) while exploring the islands.
Our first stop after arrival was to see the Galapagos Giant Tortoise…and they were GIANT, some of them weighing up to 550 lbs! We walked along through their habitat and explored some lava tunnels at the reserve.
We saw a huge variety of birds on the islands, the most famous of which is The Blue Footed Booby…
You can imagine the layer upon layer of jokes that the bird’s name provided throughout our time there (please picture me rolling my eyes right now).
The Red Footed Booby and the Nazca Booby kept the boys giggling as well, despite their efforts to be mature.
Some other birds we saw were The Galapagos Albatross, The Flightless Cormorant, and The American Flamingo.
We saw so many Marine Iguanas as we trekked around the islands, and a few Red Iguanas as well.
We even saw one Sea Turtle. We went to a beach where if you are lucky, you can see baby sea turtles hatching from their eggs and racing for the ocean in hopes of avoiding being eaten by birds. We only saw one little guy make a run for it before being eaten by a Great Blue Heron. We sat and watched while the heron attempted to, and eventually succeed in, swallowing it whole, but not without having to fight off two Frigate Birds while doing it.
As stated before, our interactions with the Galapagos Sea Lions were my favorite part of the trip. They aren’t as aggressive as those found in other places, although we did need to be careful, so we were able to get up close and personal with them!
While the wildlife stole the show, we also had some pretty great scenery as we explored the diverse islands of the Galapagos.
We spent one morning participating in a centuries old tradition at Postcard Bay on Floreana Island. Since the 19th century, sailors and travelers alike have left postcards in a barrel here, with no stamp, in the hopes that someone traveling to the intended destination will pick it up and deliver it for them. We dropped off our postcards and picked up a couple others addressed to people in Oregon to deliver!
When we weren’t off the boat exploring the Galapagos Islands themselves, we still managed to have a pretty great time…
Visiting the captain and learning how to navigate the boat…
Having the Head Chef teach the boys to plate and prepare their own gourmet ice cream sundaes…
Wrestling matches in our rooms…
Jumping off the side of the boat into the water!…
Hot tubbing to get warm after snorkeling…
And 3 gourmet meals a day as well as snacks in between…
By the time we came to the evening, we were so exhausted from the day’s activities that we usually went straight to bed right after dinner and our nightly run down of what is going on the next day from the staff. But one night the staff told us that after dinner we should go out to the deck, and if we were lucky we could see sharks. Sure enough, when we went out, they had spotlights shining into the water and we could see large sharks circling all around the boat! Fortunately, we traveled away from that area during the night to arrive at our snorkeling destination the next day!
One highlight we didn’t necessarily expect was meeting some amazing new friends! There happened to be another family traveling through Central and South America for 6 months with kids almost our kids same ages! It was great to hear about their adventures and commiserate with them on some of the hardships of long-term travel that only someone who has experienced it can understand. They have a fun website that focuses on family travel that you may want to check out! We also loved our friends Ellis and Becky, and were grateful for their patience and enthusiasm with our kids! Luke had an extra special fondness for Becky and if we ever wondered where he was, we just had to find Becky and he would be nearby.
We always seemed to end up in the same boat for our shore excursions and became the self-proclaimed “cool boat!” Otherwise known as the “long necks” in reference to the dominance that tortoises have depending on the length of their necks. As often is the case, the people we met along the way, were some of the best parts of the journey.
We ended our time on the inhabited island of San Cristobal, where sea lions roam the streets like stray dogs. After 4 nights and 5 days of snorkeling, hiking, sailing, and having fun, we were exhausted! It seemed to be the perfect length of time to spend exploring the islands. We were sad leaving our new friends, but as we were entering into the homestretch of our year away, we were also eager to move on to our next destination.
The city of Lima came in two stages for us…the first was when Jeromy had to come here by himself for 17 days to be at sea level after his severe elevation sickness in Cusco. The second is the week we spent here together after finishing our bus ride through the southern part of the country.
Some Alone Time for Jeromy
The first week or so in Lima by himself, Jeromy was feeling pretty good. After being together 24/7 for 11 months, he was enjoying his personal space! It didn’t hurt that there were tons of great restaurants and the weather was 75 and sunny every day either.
After a week though, the extrovert in him was getting pretty lonely. Not only was he by himself, he couldn’t communicate with anyone he did meet because he didn’t speak enough Spanish. It was hard enough ordering food let alone having a conversation!
He managed to keep busy with city tours, a few more Facetimes to family at home, working on some business ideas for when he returns home, and seeing the sights around Lima.
The most exciting thing he did was a 17 hour day trip to see The Nazca Lines. These are a series of giant ancient geoglyphs in the Nazca Desert. There are all kinds of conspiracy theories about how they got there (ancient aliens is a favorite choice) but the most likely and agreed upon theory is that they were made between 500 BC and 500 AD by the people living in the region. They were created by removing the upper red rock layer and revealing the white rocks beneath. Hundreds are geometric shapes, more than 70 are shapes of animals, and some are of trees and flowers. They are huge; the largest ones up to 1200 ft long! Due to their immense size, to see them properly you need to do so from an airplane. So, after a long bus ride, Jeromy hopped into a small propeller airplane and was able to have an amazing view of the Nazca lines.
As part of the tour, he was picked up at his hotel in Lima at 4:00 AM, and took a 6 hour bus ride to the small beach hamlet of Paracas, Peru. From Paracas, he took a boat ride out to the beautiful Ballestas Islands, a national reserve that is home to a wealth of marine life, including sea lions and many species of birds. The islands are home to a huge variety of avian life and hundreds of sea lions. He really enjoyed the boat ride and fresh air after the long bus ride!
After his visit to the Ballestas Islands and flight to the Nazca Lines, he had some incredible Ceviche back in Paracas and hopped back on the bus for the 6-hour ride back to Lima!
Family Time in Lima
When we all arrived in Miraflores (the section of Lima we stayed in), Jeromy was excited to show us around his old stomping grounds! He had scoped out all the good restaurants and parks for us to visit, and found us a cute little apartment right in the center of things to stay at.
While there are ancient Incan sites to visit in Lima, we had seen our fill over that past month in Peru and were excited to see how modern-day Peruvians spent their time.
We had a fun time riding bikes along the cliffs on the Miraflores Boardwalk. Not only were we able to see some amazing views…
And some historic sites…
We were also able to see how the residents of Lima spend their time on a daily basis.
We loved spending an evening at the Parque de la Reserva, and seeing the amazing Magic Water Circuit fountain show. There was a laser show that was really great and then you could spend another hour or two walking through the park seeing the 13 fountains that make up what The Guinness Book of World Records has recorded as, “The World’s Largest Water Fountain Complex in a Public Park.” My expectations were low, but I was pleasantly surprised by the show and then all the beautiful fountains which came in a variety of shapes and sizes. Our favorite, of course, were the ones you could play in, and our boys got soaked, which made for a pretty uncomfortable taxi ride home!
We were also able to visit some friends while we were in Lima. We know three different couples who were serving missions at the Lima Peru LDS Temple and truly enjoyed their gracious welcome to us into their homes. It was also inspiring to hear the stories of the modern-day pioneers who save for years and travel for days just to receive the blessings offered within the walls of the temple.
After too many months away from a temple ourselves, we were happy to attend and feel the peace it brings. Parker was even able to join a group performing baptisms. Although no one spoke English, he was able to make it through and have a really great experience.
Perhaps the best thing for us in Lima was all the delicious food! While I never developed a taste for Chicha Morada, a purple corn drink found everywhere that Jeromy loved, we were able to try so many other amazing things.
Lima is known as one of the top cities in the world for its cuisine, boasting the #4 (Central) , #8 (Maido), and #33 (Astrid y Gaston) restaurants in the world. We left the kids at home and were able to get reservations at Maido for lunch. While we were only able to select from a few options because of the timing, the food was incredible. We didn’t think far enough in advance to even get a lunch seating at Central, and our attempts at the wait list were unsuccessful.
We were fortunate enough to get reservations for Jeromy and I at Astrid y Gaston where we had the best meal we have probably ever eaten. With 17 different courses (4 of them dessert!) it was definitely the fanciest. We had things I had never heard of, or thought of eating (guinea pig), but the presentation was stunning and the food delicious. Each course was a miniature work of art, that you almost felt guilty wasting by eating it!
Lima, was a great opportunity to have a glimpse into modern-day Peru, and big city living before we headed out for our last week in the country, traveling to a remote region of the Amazon Rainforest.
Piranhas, tarantulas, and fire ants, oh my! We saw all of these and much more as we explored the Amazon rainforest in our final stop in the country of Peru.
After 5 weeks exploring the high altitudes, ancient ruins and beaches of Peru, some time in the oxygen rich environment of the Amazon Rainforest was just what the doctor ordered!
From Lima we flew up to the Northeastern corner of Peru to the “Peruvian capital of the Amazon,” and largest city in the world not connected by outside roads, known as Iquitos, Peru.
From Iquitos, we were picked up by the driver from our lodge. We hopped in his car and drove about 1 1/2 hours to get to the river. We then climbed on a boat and spent another 1 1/2 hours cruising down a series of rivers to get to our lodge.
It was a beautiful boat ride and we were all excited when we were able to see where two tributaries came together to form the upper Amazon River.
After all that time traveling on plane, truck, and then boat, we were thrilled to finally arrive at the Treehouse Lodge located where the Yarapa and Cumaceba rivers combine.
We were helped off the boat onto a wooden walkway that lead back to the main building and treehouses. When we arrived they offered us cold washcloths and a delicious glass of camu camu juice (our favorite from then on). It was so refreshing after our long journey through the hot and humid Amazon rainforest!
The main building was a central area for everyone to gather for meals, get drinks after excursions, and relax during our free time. It had hammocks the boys loved to swing in, games (we especially loved making domino chains), areas to relax and tables for our meals. It was all-inclusive providing fun local drinks, delicious food, and a warm welcome back to our Amazonian “home” after each of our daily excursions.
There were only 10 treehouses on the resort and they were all incredible. We had two, one for the boys and one for Jeromy and me. They were beautiful, high up in the trees, and so much fun! It was impressive that they could run the lodge while living completely off the grid. They used solar for power and reclaimed their water. I think they had a generator too, but it was incredible.
Since there weren’t many people staying there, we had the pleasure of getting to know some new friends and comparing our travels throughout Peru. We met people from New York, Canada, Colorado, and even a couple from a neighboring town to La Center where we are from! I had even been in Yoga class with the wife before! I would say it’s a small world, but after traveling across most of it, I don’t really think that anymore.
While all of that was amazing, we came to the Amazon to see the plants and animals in the Rainforest and it didn’t take long for that to happen!
We had a terrific guide who took us on all our excursions, and a boat captain. We would go out two to three times a day exploring different facets of the forest. They did a great job of getting us up close and personal with a variety of jungle life!
The very first thing we all wanted to do was go fishing for piranhas! For poles we just used sticks with a string and a hook, and used chicken butt for bait. It was a blast! Luke was our master angler catching the first, largest, and most piranhas of any of us.
We brought the spoils of our fishing adventure back to the resort and the chef graciously cooked them up for us and we all tried a bite! Although they are a delicacy, we left the eyeballs alone this time. The piranhas were actually pretty good, but there wasn’t much meat on them at all.
Our excursion that night sent us out in search of caimans (like a smaller version of a crocodile). It was pitch black but fortunately our guide was experienced. We were amazed when he had the driver pull the boat up then hopped into the water and grabbed a caiman out of the water with his bare hands! He gave each of us a chance to hold it too!
The only bad think about going out at night were all the mosquitoes and bugs. The worst were the Night Wasps. If we left our flashlights on for too long they would be drawn to the light and their stings are incredibly painful. Thankfully we didn’t learn that from personal experience!
We weren’t the only people braving the Amazon. While we were there for only a week, many people call this jungle home. While there, we were able to go to a local village and meet some of the people there. The school was actually having a party the day we visited and all the children were dressed up in costumes. It was funny to see a 5-year-old child out in the Amazon dressed as Spiderman! Some things are universal across cultures I guess!
While the people were great, our favorite part of the village tour was meeting their pet sloth! Parker especially loved it as he always jokes that the sloth is his “spirit animal.” We all took a turn holding it except Jeromy who, I guess, was turned off by the fact that sloths are covered in hundreds of different algae, fungi, and other bacteria. While it is a bit off-putting to think of while holding the sloth, scientists are experimenting with the different things found in sloth fur to find cures for a variety of diseases and even cures for cancer!
Every excursion started with a boat ride, as we rode along, we would stop when we would see monkeys, birds, and other wildlife. There were a couple of monkeys that lived near the resort that were so used to humans they would come onto the boat when we drove up. We quickly learned that there was a “nice” one and a “naughty” one. The naughty one jumped on Luke’s head and pulled his hair, then tried to bite him, just to show who was boss I guess! From then on, when we would stop by to visit the monkeys we were careful to only let the “nice” monkey on the boat, although the “naughty” one did his best to sneak on as well!While riding along one day in the boat our guide quickly yelled, “Stop, go back!” The driver reversed the boat and our guide pointed out a huge tarantula sitting on a leaf. We were all appropriately impressed by this find and thought we would move on after our taking a picture of it. Our guide, however, had other plans. He stuck his hand out and carefully grabbed the tarantula then let it crawl along his arm as he explained to us some interesting facts about the species. One important fact, was that it actually wasn’t poisonous at all, and by the way, would any of us like to hold it? No one in the family was volunteering and I couldn’t let this opportunity pass me by without giving it a try. So I held my arm out for it to crawl onto. What I had forgotten though, was that I had covered myself in bug spray that morning to fend off mosquitos, ants, and other creepy things. So when the spider got to where he was about to slowly climb on my arm, it caught a whiff of my repellent and quickly jumped right at me to get away from it! I screamed so loud I’m sure the monkeys were wondering what new species was in the forest that day! It jumped right over my arm and landed on my foot then proceeded to crawl up my leg before the guide grabbed it back up again!
Despite my mishap with holding the tarantula, Tyler decided he wanted a turn too. The tarantula didn’t seem to mind him quite as much.
Did you know that there are two types of dolphins that live in the Amazon river, one pink and one gray? Well, we didn’t either until our guide took us out and showed them to us. On this excursion we had the opportunity to jump into the water and attempt to “swim” with them. While we were all a little nervous at first (remember these are the same waters we were fishing for piranhas in the day before), it turned out to be a great time. Our guide assured us that there weren’t many piranhas in this area because the dolphins would eat them, so we were perfectly safe (sounds questionable?). So that’s how we ended up jumping in and swimming in the Amazon river. The ground beneath us was a thick mud that we would sink into that felt really crazy under our feet.
Jeromy opted not to join us for fear of the infamous “peepee fish” that is rumored to swim up your urethra and stick barbs into you and latch on. We asked our guide about it, and he said that it was a myth as far as he knew, but Jeromy wasn’t taking any chances!
While most our excursions were on the boat, we did spend one afternoon trekking through the jungle itself and learning about the plant and wildlife there. It was muddy and hot and Tyler got stung by a stinging ant! While this wasn’t our favorite excursion, due to the previous mentioned conditions, it was still educational and something you just have to do while in the jungle!
After many amazing adventures in the Amazon, it was time for us to head out of the jungle and back to civilization. We got back on our boat, then a car ride and ended up back in Iquitos for the night before our flight left the next day. We didn’t know much about the town itself, but needed to get dinner and decided to go down to the waterfront to find a place to eat. There are versions of these vehicles (see below) all over the world. They are called Tuk Tuks, rickshaws, boda bodas, and more, and they are used by locals and tourists alike to get around cities for cheap. As this was our only way to get to dinner, we flagged down a couple and hopped on. As we sped through the streets of Iquitos, I realized that of all the adventures we had in the Amazon, this was definitely the most dangerous!
We had a pretty good dinner down by the river then received another harrowing ride back to our rooms for the night.
I will always have a special place in my heart for the time we spent in Peru. It is an extremely varied country from the highest navigable lake in the world in the south, to the depths of the Amazon rainforest in the north, we did our best in the 6 weeks we had in the country to see it all! While we didn’t get to see everything, we saw enough to know that we are looking forward to coming back someday to explore more of this beautiful country.
It was time to move on however, to a new adventure and enter into an entirely different ecosystem as we traveled next to the Galapagos Islands of Ecuador!
Almost everyone has heard of Machu Picchu, the famous Incan ruin (it’s one of the wonders of the world), but what I didn’t know before going to Peru was that it is full of Incan and Pre-Incan ruins. While staying in Cusco for 3 weeks, we spent the weekends exploring The Sacred Valley, which includes Machu Picchu, but also enjoyed seeing many of the other ruins and incredible beauty the Sacred Valley has to offer.
The number of people who can visit Machu Picchu each day is limited and we had purchased tickets for the first Saturday we were in Peru. Unfortunately, a few days before this Jeromy got sick with altitude sickness so we had to put all of our plans on hold until he got better and we figured out if we would even be able to go. On Friday afternoon, we sent Jeromy off to Lima and sea level elevations to recover by himself, at which point, I had to figure out how to get to Machu Picchu the next day. It doesn’t seem like a huge deal, but to get to Machu Picchu from Cusco you have to take a two hour bus/taxi ride, then take a train for 1 1/2 hours to Aguas Calientes, a small town in the valley below Machu Picchu. Then it’s a 20 minute bus ride to get there from Aguas Calientes.
Believe it or not, that’s the easy way to get there! Many people chose to hike the Inca Trail, a 4-5 day hike through the Andes Mountains ending at Machu Picchu. I’ve heard it’s amazing, and I would love to do it someday, but it is very difficult, and while our kids have hiked and walked a lot on this trip (12 miles in one day in Paris) we figured it was just too much for Luke.
So after Jeromy headed out, I hurried to buy train tickets that evening. As I was purchasing the last 5 tickets for that night, someone else on the internet purchased them before me! Fortunately, I was able to get tickets on a train early the next morning, but I had to find a hotel to stay in that night in Ollantaytambo, the small town by the train station two hours away.
So, I packed the boys up and we headed out to hire a taxi to Ollyantaytambo, a two hour windy ride through the mountains of Peru. We were all a little on edge but we were so exhausted from our crazy week it didn’t matter. We got in about 11:00 pm to Ollyantaytambo and went straight to sleep to be ready for our train ride early the next morning.
The next morning we took the train along the Urubamba river to Aguas Calientes and through the Andes Mountains. When we arrived, we met up with our friends The Hassleblads who came to Peru to see us! (and maybe Peru too) There couldn’t have been a better time to have visitors! It had been a long week and seeing friendly faces from home buoyed me up more than they will every know! They have three sweet kids and my kids LOVED having kids to play with!
After finally arriving, we were ready to see Machu Picchu! We bought our bus tickets and made our way up. When seeing a wonder of the world, it’s always a question if it will live up to the hype. Well, for me Machu Picchu did! It was as beautiful if not more so than any picture I had seen. We hiked up and down the stairs exploring the different areas. While I was in the hostpital with Jeromy, the boys had watched a couple of documentaries on Machu Picchu, so they informed us of the things they could remember, but we mostly just wandered around taking in the majesty of the place.
We spent two nights in Aguas Calientes and so the next day we explored the town, then let the kids just play. It was great for me to have some adult time and for them to be able to run around and play with friends again! We loved having the Hasslebad’s there with us!
The next day we headed back on the train and then a taxi to our apartment in Cusco and another week of Spanish classes. The next weekend, we headed out again to explore some of the lesser known, but still very impressive ruins in the Sacred Valley.
The small rural town of Chinchero was not high on our list, but we thought we would stop there on our way to some other sights. We are so glad we did! Not only did it have some beautiful ruins that were almost completely empty besides ourselves…
there was a vibrant market…
Old colonial churches…
And a weaving cooperative that taught us how they make their wool products from start to finish…
We were also able to play with some animals which in Peru are considered dinner,but in the United States we consider pets! Hope they didn’t get too attached. Alpacas and guinea pigs are on almost every Peruvian menu!
After the crowds at Machu Picchu and the busyness of Cusco, this was nice way to experience the more peaceful side of Peru.
Maras Salt Ponds
The Maras Salt Ponds are an engineering marvel, especially considering that Peruvians have been obtaining salt from these ponds by evaporating salty water from a local subterranean stream, long before Peru was a country, even long before the Incans. There are intricate channels funneling the water to the hundreds of different ponds in the system. The families who work the ponds let the water out after a period of time and then harvest the salt from the walls.
Local families still harvest salt from these ponds today. With new families in the community able to petition the local leader for a pond to use if they are interested. The size of the pond depends on the size of the family and the owners of the ponds who have been working longer are able to have the ponds closest to the community.
The boys loved climbing along the channels and Tyler only fell in once!
Moray is an area near Maras which has several Incan circular agricultural terraces. In the largest circle there is a difference of almost 30 degrees Fahrenheit from the top to the bottom, because of this and other factors it has been conjectured that the Incas may have used these areas to test crops in different climatic conditions.
I feel like we just scratched the surface of all the Sacred Valley had to offer, but with limited time, and children’s attention spans, we couldn’t see everything.
Someday, I’d love for Jeromy to see Machu Picchu so we can explore more of the Sacred Valley together!
Traveling on a bus through Peru may sound like a harrowing adventure, but before you start imagining us on an old rickety bus packed with people, chickens, and goats, I should make clear the buses we rode on were actually the nicest buses I have ever been on; with reclining seats, movies, and beverage service!
Cusco to Puno
We got up early and said farewell to Cusco, our home for the past three weeks. Our family has never been morning people, and we were all feeling the same way that morning…none of us were going to miss early morning flights, train, and bus rides when this trip was over.
I was a little nervous about doing this stretch of the trip without Jeromy. I was comfortable in Cusco and felt very safe there. I wasn’t as confident with the rest of the areas around Peru though. Parker told me I had nothing to worry about. He (and Tyler) were bigger and taller than almost any Peruvian! They could keep me safe! While that’s true, I was a bit more on edge during this leg of the trip until we met up with Jeromy.
Our bus ride was fairly uneventful, besides almost leaving Parker at lunch! Fortunately, I was able to stop the bus, but he saw us leaving and ran out chasing after us!
After about 8 hours we arrived in Puno, Peru. We didn’t see much of the town, it was just a jumping off point for our exploration on Lake Titicaca, the highest navigable lake in the world. And it was high! Over 12,000 feet above sea level!
We started our two day tour of Lake Titicaca from the docks in Puno. Our first stop was at The Uros Floating Reed Islands of Lake Titicaca. They explained that for protection the original people left the mainland and took to living on reed boats. Over the years, the boats grew in size and scope and eventually turned into floating islands. If you are interested in how to make a floating island, here is a short tutorial.
Start with a base of the root system from the reeds. These will float and form the base of your floating island.
Connect the roots together to form the size of the island you desire.
Place a layer of reeds on the island.
Place another layer in the opposite direction.
One more layer the other way again.
Anchor it down with large rocks, and start building structures.
Every three months a new layer of reeds needs to be added. Each island can last for about 30-40 years before having to build a new one.
You have your floating island! In this last picture you can see they placed themselves and in the middle a tourist. If you look close you will see how tall the tourist is compared to the locals!
We had a great time visiting the islands and learning more about the people who live there. As of 2011 about 1200 Uru lived on the archipelago of about 60 artificial islands. The islands have anywhere from about 3-10 families on each one depending on the size of the island. They cook their food with fires placed on stones and tiny “outhouse” islands are nearby where the ground root absorbs the waste.
Tourism is the main industry today and helps supplement their hunting and fishing to survive. One benefit to a floating island is that if you are getting sick of a nieghbor, you can just cut their section of island off and solve your problem!
We had time to look around the small island, and they even let us wear some of their clothes so we could feel more at home. Don’t be jealous of how well we pull them off!
We were able to take a short ride on a traditional boat to visit another island and get another stamp on our passport for Lake Titicaca!
After visiting the floating islands we headed back to the boat and rode further into Lake Titicaca to Amantani Island where we had arranged a homestay with a local family there. Amantani is populated by about 4000 people and is a roughly circular island of about 6 sq miles. There are no cars on the island and since no machines are allowed, all farming is done by hand.
Our stay started off rough when Parker, who had a stomach bug and had started vomiting earlier in the day, threw up all over their courtyard. He was on his way to the bathroom, but didn’t quite make it. We got it all cleaned up and he headed back to bed not showing his face again until the next day, when thankfully, he felt much better.
Since Parker was feeling sick, we didn’t venture too far from the home, but Tyler and Luke had a great time playing with the daughter, Caterina, of the the family we were staying with. They spoke no English and only a little Spanish (The people on this islands main language is Aymara, the third official language of Peru). We spoke no Aymara and only a little Spanish. So while we weren’t able to communicate a lot with them, they were great hosts, preparing delicious meals and surprisingly nice accommodations (flush toilets and comfy beds!).
Tyler and Luke spent the day playing with 7 year old Catarina. They played with the sheep, caught butterlies, and met her donkey. They didn’t have any common language, but still managed to have a great time together.
The next day we said goodbye to our hosts and headed to explore the nearby island Taquile. We were able to walk across the incredibly hilly island, along the way learning from our guide about what life is like for the local people who lived there. In Peru everything is hills and at over 12,000 feet above sea level, it was a bit of a hike, but the views were great and the people so welcoming. The people of the island live in a society of community collectivism following the Inca moral of do not lie, do not steal, do not be lazy. As with Almantani island, the economy is based on fishing, tourism, and farming on the pre-incan terraces still in use today.
Before leaving the island Tyler was begging to be able to swim. None of the rest of us had the courage as the lake is only 47 degrees Fahrenheit!
Puno to Colca Canyon
On the ride from Puno to Colca Canyon we had a variety of stops along the way. We saw many llamas, alpacas, and vicuna’s. This baby vicuna was so cute, although it was a bit of a workout trying to get a selfie with it!
We also were able to see some beautiful volcanos, a few of which were still active.
But the best part of the ride was that half way through we were finally able to meet back up with Jeromy! He had flown down to Arequipa and taken a bus from there. After 2 1/2 weeks apart, it was so great to be together as a family again!
It was also Luke’s Birthday that day and he was so excited about the play doh Jeromy brought for him. After a year of no toys, it kept the boys entertained for hours!
The Colca river runs through the Colca Canyon and was a beautiful backdrop to our stay there. The canyon itself is one of the deepest in the world at 10,725 feet (more than twice as deep as the Grand Canyon). We stayed in the small town of Yanque. While there wasn’t a ton to do there, we enjoyed relaxing and exploring around our little village.
Hot Springs (look the other way boys…the locals don’t always wear swimsuits!)
Pre Incan Ruins and terraces
The main square with children dancing
An active volcano
On our last day there we started our bus ride by traveling further into the canyon to a popular viewing point that goes by the name of Condor’s Cross. While the canyon itself is impressive, many people come to this area to get a good view of the Andean Condor, the largest bird in the Western Hemisphere. We were able to see at least 10 while we were there swooping over our heads and even sitting on the rocks near us.
One other sighting that is rare in Peru and through much of travels…a free toilet!
Colca Canyon to Arequipa
Our ride from Colca Canyon to Arequipa went quickly and we spent our first dinner in Arequipa at TGIFridays. The boys were in heaven as they scarfed down the familiar tasting food! After that, we went back to eating the amazing Peruvian food that gives Peru the reputation of having some of the best food in the world!
I was surprised by how different the architecture in Arequipa was to that of Cusco and the other areas I had been in Peru. It definitely has a more European influence evident in the architecture and the colors.
Arequipa sits at the foot of a variety of volcanic mountains, Misti (19,101 ft), Chachani (19,931 ft), and Pichu Pichu (18,599 ft), which make for a stunning backdrop.
We toured The Monastery of Santa Catalina that was built in 1579 from the ash of these volcano’s past eruptions. It was so interesting to learn about how a cloistered nun lived during those times and the changes that have occurred over the years, where it still functions today.
While monasteries are interesting to Jeromy and I, they aren’t on the kids list of most exciting places. So, one afternoon we were delighted to find a bouldering gym right near our apartment! The boys had a great time shaking off some of the cobwebs of their rusty climbing skills, and it got them even more excited about returning home to their climbing gym there.
I was really happy we took the time to take the bus through Peru and see some of the more out of the way places there. It was a great way to travel and see the more of this enchanting country!