Yes we are home, no I haven’t kept updated on our blog. I’m hoping to finish the last 6 weeks soon! More to come!
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…
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.
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!
In a text to my family after the first five days to Cusco I wrote, “I think Cusco is rejecting us.” It really did feel that way. At the time of my comment, Jeromy had been in the hospital for two days with severe elevation sickness, Tyler was in the same hospital in the room next door and Parker had been seen by a doctor the day before, plus prescribed antibiotics for a sinus infection. It was definitely one of the low points of the year.
In response to the text my sister-in-law wrote, “I think you better get out of there as soon as possible!” While that ended up being the right course of action for Jeromy who ended up flying to Lima two days later, I am really glad the rest of us decided to stay. After the first terrible week, our time in Cusco ended up being a really wonderful experience. I am hoping that at some point in the future, when he doesn’t have some unknown atypical pneumonia in his lungs, I can bring Jeromy back to show him all the things I loved about Cusco and the surrounding area.
Let me back up a bit though…we arrived in Cusco on a beautiful sunny day, and had arranged a driver from the airport. He took us right to our Air BNB apartment in the Lucrepata area of Cusco. That day, we got settled in, had our first walk around town and dinner at a delicious restaurant. I immediately fell in love with this beautiful city!
A few days in, we were in language class and Jeromy started acting really strange. He had been feeling short of breath and had a bad headache for the preceeding several days, so I suggested he go see the doctor at the school.
The headache and shortness of breath actually aren’t that uncommon in Cusco which sits 11,400 feet above sea level. All of us had these mild symptoms of elevation sickness the first few days until we got adjusted. The problem was, Jeromy’s symptoms just kept getting worse and when he started forgetting simple things, I knew it wasn’t a good sign.
He waited until the class break, then headed down to see if they could help him. They did a couple tests and immediately escorted him over to the hospital. When he arrived his oxygen levels were only at 60%! This is very bad (typically 98%+) and he was immediately put on oxygen treatment, which after a couple of hours usually solves the problem rapidly. Well, after 4 hours of oxygen, Jeromy’s levels had barely increased at all. The doctors ran a bunch of tests to see what the issue could be but weren’t able to find the cause.
The next day, Jeromy’s oxygen levels were still low, and they still couldn’t figure out what to do. We had some friends who were living in Lima on a mission for our church and I contacted them to see if they would be able to send some missionaries over to give Jeromy a priesthoood blessing (special prayer). They showed up right away and although they only spoke Spanish, we both felt the comfort of the Holy Spirit as they blessed him.
About 10 minutes after they left, a man came walking into the room who we didn’t recognize. He introduced himself as a doctor at the hospital who specializes in altitude sickness. He had just seen the missionaries leaving the hospital and as he is a member of our church, he asked them what they were doing there. They explained they had come to visit Jeromy and give him a blessing. The doctor felt impressed to come in and check in on Jeromy to see how everything was going. After looking through his lab results and chest x-rays, he came up with an answer that the other doctors hadn’t considered yet. Pulmonary edema, or water in his lungs and it just so happens, because this was his specialty, he knew the best way to treat it! This truly felt like a miracle to us and an answer to our prayers. He was able to get Jeromy into a hyperbaric chamber and that immediately helped him feel better.
Although he felt a little better, it didn’t solve the underlying issue that he was not adjusting to the elevation and the water, and maybe atypical pneumonia, in his lungs would not likely go away if he continued living at the high elevation. So once he was stable enough, Jeromy left directly from the hospital, to the airport, and spent the next 2 1/2 weeks in Lima until he could meet up with us again at lower elevations.
In the meantime while Jeromy was in the hospital, Parker was suffering from a severe sinus infection. So Karen, the incredible doctor from our Spanish School, was able to Facetime me from the school while she examined Parker.
I have to say, I don’t know what we would have done without Karen. She was so helpful and an amazing doctor. She spent hours with Jeromy as they tried to find the source of his issues. I am so grateful we had her with us through this ordeal!
The second night Jeromy was in the hospital, Tyler started having severe abdominal pains and shortness of breath. So at midnight, we stumbled out into the street, looking for a taxi to take us to the hospital. The only good thing about Jeromy being in the hospital already was that at least I already knew where to go! We finally found a cab and the driver sped quickly to the hospital while Tyler was curled up in pain, crying next to me in the taxi. They admitted him and put him in the room right next door to the Jeromy! Fortunately, after a night of oxygen therapy and some fluids, Tyler felt better the next day, but I was feeling pretty strung out!
To top it all off, while it was probably the worst few days of our trip, it was also the most expensive! Those Peruvian hospitals are not cheap!
We fell into a simple routine while we were there. We would get up each morning and have breakfast at our apartment before heading down the hill to our Spanish School. After school, we would get lunch at one of the many delicious restaurants in Cusco, and then we would spend the afternoon visiting various museums, markets, historic sights, etc. After dinner we would head back home where we would do our homework (it had been a few years since I’ve had to do that!) then read (me) or watch YouTube/Netflix/Amazon for the night. The next day we would repeat, sometimes having to do normal life things like buying groceries and getting our haircut as well.The weekends, we spent exploring outside of Cusco in the Sacred Valley.
Amauta Spanish School
We loved learning Spanish at Amauta! I was a bit nervous at first that we would be bored having 4 hours of class a day for three weeks, but the instructors kept us all engaged and enjoying ourselves. We also had two different instructors each day (but they stayed with us for the week), which helped us learn different accents and each had different teaching styles to keep it interesting.
Luke had his own teachers and they taught him through activities like throwing a multicolored ball to learn colors and coloring pictures of the different feelings. Luke did have his days where he was a little stubborn and chose not to learn, but overall he was able to learn a lot and have fun doing it.
Parker and Tyler were in a class together. Their class was the most interactive with trips to museums or the market, as well as learning numbers playing bingo and colors using Jenga blocks. They would have homework every night, like me, and did it themselves without any prompting! This is exactly the opposite response I get when I ask them to do schoolwork.
I have always enjoyed learning, and I am often reading and trying to better myself, but I hadn’t been in a classroom setting for 17 years! I really loved it and I went from not speaking any Spanish to being able to communicate. I’m not fluent or anything, but I know enough now to get around and have a basic conversation. I also really enjoyed getting to know the other people in my class.
The school also provided evening activities, access to doctors (this really came in handy when Jeromy was in the hospital), a welcome tour to orient us to Cusco, and a “graduation” ceremony on our last day.
Overall, we had a really positive experience and learned some Spanish as well! Muchas gracias a nuestros maravillosos profesores!!
Afternoons Exploring Cusco
By the time we arrived in Cusco, the boys were getting pretty tired of sightseeing and it was hard to motivate them to want to do anything. So after Spanish school each day I would give them the option of doing our more structured school (math, English, etc.) at our apartment or exploring the city. Although they didn’t really want to sightsee, it was better than school, so off we went to explore Cusco!
Immediately from our first walk through, Cusco had me hooked! It was this incredible blend of ancient Incan culture and ruins (many of the walls, that buildings are built on today, were from Incan times) Spanish influence and churches, local Quechua people, and the modern tourist industry all melded together creating a fabulous tourist destination and place for us to spend 3 weeks.
Cusco is said to have been created in the shape of a puma and was considered by the Incas to be the belly button of the world. One of their most important temples, The Sun Temple, was built there and we were able to tour through the ruins. As with most of the Incan ruins, they were torn down when the Spanish came in and Catholic churches were built over them. However, over the years, many of the ancient sites have been restored.
Everywhere we walked we were reminded of the Incas as we looked at the amazing walls built to perfection. No mortar was used and each rock was cut perfectly to fit with the rocks around it without any spaces. Below is the picture of the smallest rock we found (fitting perfectly), and one that has 15 different edges! I was told each year the people in the city clean the walls with toothbrushes to help preserve them. Not only is it amazing they were able to move these rocks in the first place (Some are huge!), after centuries of earthquakes, and wear, they are still standing. It’s amazing to see what they were able to accomplish without any of the equipment and knowledge we have today!
Our favorite spot in Cusco was visiting Sacsayhuaman. They are Incan ruins that sit in the hills overlooking Cusco. These surpassed the other ruins because they had some really fun natural slides and tunnels we could explore through! Always a hit with kids. The slides were fast but fun! The boys couldn’t wait to go back and bring their friends Sophie, Soren, and Leif to play with them there.
While the Incas are the foundation of Cusco, when the Spanish came they left their imprint on Cusco forever. Gorgeous, Catholic churches and cathedrals, decorated in Incan gold and silver, dotted the city. The general architecture was also strongly influenced by the Spanish.
The influence of the Spanish permeates the culture, for example, a majority of the people in Peru are Catholic and many speak Spanish. But not everyone speaks Spanish. Quechua is also a national language of Peru and many of the native people still only speak that, or speak both. They have adopted the religion, but many traditions of their local Quechua culture are still practiced. For example, we were told that if someone had a new home, they would have the Catholic priest come over one day to bless the home, and another day the local medicine man would then be invited over to also bless the house. They have found a way to blend the two cultures that works for them.
We loved seeing the colorful local people as they wandered around in traditional dress with their goats, llamas, and alpacas. I know it was mostly to make money from the tourists, but they were always kind and helpful to us, and I loved all the vibrant colors of their traditional clothes.
We did go to the local market one day as well. The boys had gone with their teacher from school and I had wanted them to take me for awhile. The problem was they refused to go right before a meal because they told me I wouldn’t be able to eat afterwards. I thought they were exaggerating it a bit, but after seeing skinned and fried guinea pigs, a man cutting a goats head in half with a saw, and just experiencing the smells, I understood their hesitation and appreciated their consideration for my comfort a little more!
If all the local culture wasn’t enough, there were tons of amazing restaurants to eat at. A couple of our favorites were The Sport’s Bar and Jack’s Cafe. The waiters got to know us and were always willing to let me practice my Spanish with them.
Perhaps one of the things we enjoyed the most was going to the Choco Museo. We signed up for a class on making chocolate and they took us through from the very start! Not only did we learn a lot about chocolate, we had so much fun doing it! Our teacher let us know that you have to dance during many of the steps of making chocolate and played the soundtrack to make us all join in. We had a blast and were laughing most of the time!
- Start with a cacao pod.
- The beans are then fermented and dried. We didn’t participate in this part, but we did taste them. They were not very good!
- The next step is to roast the beans (while dancing of course).
- After the beans have been roasted we had to shell them.
- The shells can be made into a chocolate shell tea that while it isn’t amazing tasting, is still pretty fun!
- Once the shells have been removed it is time to crush the beans into a powder. We had a contest to see who crushed it the best (while dancing of course) and Parker won! Of course, having Rhyasen heritage, chocolate is in his blood so that makes sense!
- Following the crushing, the chocolate is then ready to be used in any of the amazing ways it can be consumed. We even tried it the way the Mayans used to drink their hot chocolate with chili powder. Thankfully it wasn’t completely authentic, we opted to use milk instead of the blood they would have used in the past! As we mixed it up, of course, we had to dance!
- Milk, sugar, cocoa, and cocoa butter are then all combined together to form delicious milk chocolate.
- We filled molds with some of our favorite fillings, preparing them to have the chocolate added.
- One scoop in the molds and one in the mouth seemed to be the common consensus in our group!
- We finished off the chocolate in the molds with a little dusting of powdered sugar on Tylers.
- The next day we returned for our hardened chocolates. We did a pretty great job, they were delicioso!!
Cusco was amazing! One of my favorite cities on our trip. The only down side was we didn’t have Jeromy there to experience it all with us. At least he was able to be there for a few days with us, and I’m convinced we can try again, just maybe not for a few more years!
One last picture for you…
As we flew into Argentina from New Zealand we realized that we had just completed our circumnavigation of the globe! We still needed to work our way back up through South America to the United States, but it was a great feeling to know that we were back in the Americas! Surprisingly, of all the places we had visited in the world, South America is where we have had the most difficulty with communication. Everywhere else we have traveled, someone around always seemed to know English. In Argentina this wasn’t the case, so we did our best with the little Spanish we knew and used our Google Translate app a lot. I was really grateful that right after Argentina we would start language lessons in Peru.
Argentina is a huge country with a lot to offer. Since we knew we wouldn’t hit everything we focused our travels on the things we knew we already loved about Argentina: Buenos Aires, Argentinian beef, tango, Eva Peron, Gauchos, and Iguasu Falls!
Buenos Aires is the capital of Argentina and with a population of over 17 million it is the 4th most populous city in the Americas. Many people say it is the most “European” of South American cities because of the strong Spanish influence. As we explored the city, it was easy to see how it had received this reputation. There were tons of parks, huge statues, and large buildings, all reminiscent of some of the large European cities we had visited at the beginning of our year out.
We wandered the city for a couple of days, visiting some of the most popular places to see.
Surprisingly, my favorite place we visited in Buenos Aires was La Recoleta Cemetery. This is unlike any cemetery I had ever been to before and is often hailed as one of the most beautiful cemeteries in the world. We enjoyed a peaceful walk through it, marveling at the ornate crypts of former Presidents, Nobel Prize winners, military leaders, and even Napoleon’s granddaughter.I took so many pictures while I was there, it was such a beautiful experience.
My favorite steak house of all time is an Argentinian Steakhouse in Portland named El Gaucho. So, one of the first things we did upon arriving in Argentina was find a great restaurant in Buenos Aires to get a real Argentinian Steak. It was delicious and the portions were huge!
Jeromy and I went out one night while in Buenos Aires to dinner and a Tango show at Esquina Carlos Gardel, named after a famous Tango singer who used to frequent the place. It was fun to see the talented dancers, singers, and musicians come together to present an impressive performance in such a historic place.
I loved the movie Evita and we watched it again while in Argentina in preparation for the things we would be learning. While the boys were a little bored by it, I enjoyed seeing the sights and learning more about an incredible woman. Yes, she was flawed, but aren’t we all?
Staying at an Estancia (ranch) with real Gauchos (cowboys) was a must on our list of things to do in Argentina. We stayed two nights at a beautiful old estancia near San Antonio de Areco, Estancia La Portena. The estancia itself is a national historic monument and over 180 years old. We were able to stay in the old farmhouse built in the 19th century. I loved seeing all the antiques that had obviously been there since the beginning. I am fascinated by old books and enjoyed discovering an old 1910 set of Encyclopedia Britanicas!
The estancia was a lot of fun and a wonderful respite, after our time in bustling Buenos Aires.
Iguasu/Iguazu/Iguacu Falls (It was spelled different each place I looked)
Wow! Iguasu Falls did not disappoint! The falls are the largest waterfall system in the world with over 300 waterfalls! We went two different days to the falls. The first day we hiked around seeing many different viewpoints. Unfortunately for us, we ended up being there on the busiest weekend of the year, but it is such a huge area, once we got out near the falls, it hardly mattered.
All of the waterfalls are impressive, but over half of the water from the Iguasu river, that seperates Brazil from Argentina, runs into the U shaped area called The Devil’s Throat. We were able to see this area the second day we went. It was incredible!
To celebrate my birthday, Jeromy and I went by ourselves on a boat ride to see the falls from underneath. It was an intense experience and we truly ended up under the falls and getting completely soaked!
One other fun thing about the Falls was that everywhere we went there were butterflies! It was so beautiful! There were also plenty of coati around to steal your lunch or any other food you had out in the open!
While most of the things we saw in Argentina we already knew a little about, two missionaries introduced us to one new and very important thing in Argentina…Alfajores. These are delicious cookies, full of dulce de leche (caramel), and often covered in chocolate. They can be found almost anywhere and in an effort to get the full Argentine experience, after learning about them, we did our best to try Alfajores whenever we could. The best ones we came across were in San Antonio de Areco a small town near our estancia. Delicious!
Entering this final phase of our trip around the world, and seeing the end in sight, caused us all to start feeling a bit “trunky” (excited to get home again). Because of this, there was more talking about the joys of living in the USA (the food, the friends and family, normal sidewalks and roads), and the frustrations of travel (paying to go to the bathroom, not being able to communicate, packing and repacking, sleeping in a different place every few days). We still had a lot of fun things planned though and as we headed to Peru, we were looking forward to some exciting new adventures!
After spending three months in Asia, New Zealand felt a bit like coming home. The friendly laid back people, the green hills, the waterfalls, and natural beauty all reminded me of our home in the Pacific Northwest. And the delicious baked goods I had been craving seemed to be in every restaurant we came to.
New Zealand is made up of two main islands, the North and the South. From the moment we arrived at customs and talked to our first Kiwi (nickname for someone from New Zealand) we were asked repeatedly if we were going to the the South Island, because it is so beautiful and amazing. We had already decided that we were going to focus on the North Island only on this trip and we started to wonder if we made the right choice. But after only a few hours, we knew that although the South Island may be known as the “most beautiful” with New Zealand’s Alps, the North Island of New Zealand was full of immensely beautiful places as well.
We rented a car and Jeromy was excited to be driving on the right side of the road for the first time since Europe! It was also the fastest we had been able to drive in months, with well maintained highways and reliable vehicles.
We had planned a road trip around the island stopping and staying the a couple nights in 4 places, Auckland, Whitianga, Rotorua, and Martinsborough. We had two weeks to explore the North Island and even considering the abundance of suggestions to head south, we were glad we decided to not try and rush ourselves.
Auckland was a great city. The first night we were there, we found a local festival going on at a park by the marina and we let the kids play while we listened to live music and shopped for locally made products. Afterwards, we walked a long the wharf and had a delicious dinner near the water.
Our favorite part of the museum was the special exhibit they had going on about New Zealand’s music. We got to mix, spin, and play our own music while reminding ourselves of some of the classic acts that came out of New Zealand (Lorde, OMC, and more)!
After a few fun days in Auckland we drove out to the Coramandel Peninsula. The small town of Whitianga was located there and we planned to spend a couple nights there while we explored the area. It was a beautiful drive past gorgeous beaches and stunning landscapes.
We stopped about half way there at The Driving Creek Railway and took a ride on a cute little train up to the “EyeFull” Tower. It was a nice break and provided a great view of the Coramandel Peninsula and the islands beyond.
We arrived late that night and when getting settled into our Air BNB, the owners mentioned that the remnants of a monsoon was going to be coming through the next couple days so to be prepared. Being from the Pacific Northwest, we figured a little rain never stopped us from going to the beach, so the next day we headed over to Hot Water Beach.
Well, I had never seen rain this hard at any beach I had been to before (and that’s saying something being from the PNW), but we had one thing going for us…this beach, wasn’t like any ordinary beach. It has aptly been named Hot Water Beach because it has hot springs underneath the sand. When you dig down a few inches, the water that is underneath is hot. So what people do, and this day we were those people, is they dig themselves their own little hot tubs in the sand and relax in the hot water while looking out at the ocean. We were laughing so hard the whole time and had a great time, even though it was raining incredibly hard, and the wind was blowing even harder. I was impressed that so many other people managed to brave the storm and come make their own hot tub in the sand too!
The next morning we learned that the only two roads that led off the peninsula had been closed due to mudslides from the storm. Since we had no way to get out of town, we asked to stay an extra night in our house and had a little more time in Whitianga.
Fortunately, the roads and the skies cleared the next day and we were able to head out of town. On our way out we stopped at Cathedral Cove because we had heard that there was a beautiful beach there. It was a bit of a hike down, but we were not disappointed. It was so gorgeous, we only wished we had planned to spend more time there. Of all the beaches we had seen on this trip and in our lives, Jeromy said, this was the most beautiful beach he had ever been to, and I have to agree it is one of my top ones as well. It ticked all the boxes of a great beach…
- Crystal clear water
- Rocks out in the ocean
- A beautiful arch you can walk through
- A river to play in and try to dam
- And tidepools
As we drove into Rotorua, the first thing we noticed was the smell. It is an area high in thermal activity and the sulphur in the air was very telling that we had arrived! We had a fun time visiting Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland. I assigned each member of the family a color along with the mineral that went along with it. So when we saw that color as we wandered along through this aptly named thermal wonderland, each of us would point and yell out “Sulphur! Iron! Manganese! nAtimony!” Or one of the other minerals that made this place so incredibly unique.
While the water was relaxing, the highlight for all of us was the short hike we took from the hot springs to the BOILING river! Yes, boiling! It was like nothing I had ever seen before. So amazing!While the thermal wonders are the main things that draw people to the area of Rotorua, there are so many other fun things to do there as well.
We spent a really fun night learning about Moari history and culture at Tamaki Moari Village, ending in an traditional Moari feast. The best part of the night had to be when the boys all learned the Haka (traditional war dance). You may have seen this before, it involves a lot of yelling, pounding your chest, and sticking out your tongue to intimidate the other people. We learned the reason for sticking out your tongue is to imply that after you kill them, you will eat them! Yikes!
Perhaps the most surprisingly fun thing we did in Rotorua was go Zorbing. Zorbing is when you get in a giant plastic ball with water in it and they then roll you down a huge hill in it. I hadn’t laughed that hard in a long time, it was so much more fun that you would even think. We had a blast and I tried to come up with a way to bring it to the Northwest just so I could go on it again!
Martinborough is a quiet little town in the wine country of New Zealand. It was a nice little place to relax for a couple days before we headed out on our last section of our trip in South America. We enjoyed eating the good food, going on walks through the small town, playing at parks, and even visiting their local library.
Along the Way
Lord of the Rings Sights
If you go to New Zealand, even if you aren’t a huge fan of The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, you can’t miss seeing some of the movie sights there. It was amazing to learn how much goes in to making a movie on that scale. For example, in the book, The Hobbit, it talks about how in The Shire, there were plum trees, well there weren’t plum trees where they made The Shire in New Zealand so they removed all the leaves from apple trees and added thousands of fake plum leaves to the trees to make it accurate. This was all for only a few seconds that made it into the film!
In the Lord of the Rings there is a scene in the Paths of the Dead that was filmed at Putangirua Pinnacles. This was a beautiful hike all on its own, but it was fun to go back afterwards and watched how they used this area to film scenes in the movie.
We also spent an afternoon at Weta Workshop in Wellington that assisted in a lot of the design and manufacturing for Lord of the Rings and many other movies (Avatar, BFG, Godzilla, Spiderman, King Kong, Narnia, and so many more). It was really interesting to learn about the creative processes that go into making movies and all the different pieces that fit together to make it work.
New Zealand was more than we had hoped it would be, and it was a welcome respite as the place most similar to home that we had encountered on our trip. We loved it there and look forward to returning to finally explore the South Island, although I can’t imagine having a better experience there.
Our month in Bali will go down as one of our favorites in the whole trip. It certainly has to do with the enthralling culture, the beautiful beaches, the animals, the fun things to do and the friendliness of the people; but, BY FAR, the best thing about Bali was being able to see the amazing friends and family who came to visit us there!
We were all feeling a little bit homesick, and while I know this sounds weird because we were going to some amazing places, knowing Bali was coming up gave us something to look forward to on the calendar. It was wonderful to feel the love and support from family and friends whom we had missed so much. It was a long way to come for everyone and we really appreciate the effort it took to get there. I have to give a shout out to my best friend Kym who traveled the furthest. Door to door from Bali to her home in Oklahoma City it took her 41 HOURS of travel! Now that is a good friend!
I was so excited to have someone to talk to that I lost my voice within a couple days of my girlfriends getting there and Jeromy was going hoarse after my family got there from all the talking. They were probably all entirely sick of listening to us, but it was so nice to be able to have conversations with new people!
The boys loved having people there as much as we did. Luke took every opportunity to snuggle with someone, Tyler loved having someone to tell his stories to, and Parker enjoyed listening to all his uncle’s inappropriate jokes. They also loved having friends their own age come visit so they weren’t always surrounded by adults.
In a month, we were able to see a lot of Bali and it is a wonderful place to travel. In fact, Tripadvisor just named it the #1 place to visit in 2017! (Is it a coincidence that it was the year we were there with so many friends and family? I leave you to judge.) I would highly recommend it to anyone looking for a fun adventure. There’s just a few things to be aware of, it takes a LONG time to get there, the traffic on the island itself is horrendous, and their are LOTS of creepy crawly things around. These three minor issues can be mitigated with the following things respectively; sleeping pills, renting a scooter, and a really good sense of humor (and maybe some earplugs for when you are trying to sleep).
Bali is an island in Indonesia, the fourth largest country in the world. It is a huge tourist destination for Australians and it was the most English speaking people we had encountered in months, which was kind of nice, even though it was with an Aussie accent. 🙂 It’s actually known as a huge party place for Australians, which wasn’t super appealing to me despite my huge party lifestyle (that was a joke). We rented a house for the month in Canggu, a town away from the crazy party area, and near Berawa Beach. For us, this was the perfect location. It was an up and coming area so there were lots of new restaurants and shops, but it still had a small town feel and it didn’t have the hoards of people and traffic.
To encourage visitors to come we rented a big house (6 bedrooms) so there was plenty of space for them. While it was a bit more rustic than expected, it ended up being a fun place to stay with plenty of space for everyone. Each bedroom also had it’s own full bathroom, although it was outside! Jeromy loved the outdoor toilets and showers and if the weather was better in the Northwest would probably install one at our house if he could.
While we were there, we were able to see so much of Bali, and have many awesome experiences. We hired a driver to take us when we were heading anywhere too far away, and when we stayed local, we either walked or rode on the scooters. I was a little hesitant at first about riding on the scooter (the roads are crazy), but by the end of our time there, Jeromy was shuttling two or three of us at a time to dinner at night.
Hiking down to a beautiful waterfall and doing our best to swim underneath it, And just relaxing at the beach for sunset,It is hard to encapsulate the whole experience in one blog post. I did my best and so here are just a few of the reasons we love the Island of Peace.
The thing that makes Bali so special is the culture of the people there. They are primarily Hindu and the people there live their cultural heritage on a daily basis. Offerings like this one I made are in front of every hotel, business, temple, and even all over the beach. It is thought to ward off evil spirits and bring good luck. The ladies we had working at our house put multiple offerings around our home every day.
There are hundreds, if not thousands of temples in Bali. We had the privilege to visit a large variety of them while we were there. From small local temples belonging to one family, to huge beautiful temples hundreds of years old, visited by thousands of people a day. The following are just a few that we came across during our travels around the island.
The house we stayed in was right next to a large temple in our town. I asked our house workers if it was ever open to the public for us to be able to see it. They let me know that it was open on the full and new moon and they would take us there when the time came. This was such a special experience, Putu and Wayan helped dress the boys and I in the appropriate clothing and brought an offering basket for us (Jeromy was really sick that day and not able to come with us). They then escorted us over to the temple and explained to the woman there that we wanted to show our respects to them. It was very special for us to receive a blessing and share in an important part of the culture of the wonderful people who helped care for us everyday.
Our favorite temple to visit was Tanah Lot Temple. It is a temple built in the 16th century on a large offshore rock that is completely surrounded by water at high tide. While you can’t actually go inside the temple, if you arrive at low tide, you are able to walk down on the surrounding rock, receive a blessing from a local priest, and even see a holy snake, that is thought to protect the temple.
My favorite cultural performance was the kecak dance performed at Uluwatu temple. The performance starts as the sun is slowly setting in the sky and finishes after dark. There are no instruments used, the only sounds are those of a large group of male dancers chanting in a poly-rhythmic choir during most the performance. The second time we went, we were seated right in the front and during the fire portion, more than one person in our group bore the evidence that the fire was VERY real.
While we were in Bali we also had the opportunity to experience Nyepi or “Day of Silence” celebrating the Balinese New Year. We noticed, in the weeks leading up to Nyepi, many large figures being sculpted all over Bali. We learned that these are demons, or ogoh-ogoh, made by each village, and on the night before Nyepi, each town parades these through the streets before performing a ritual that often involves burning it. The Scukanecs were there during this time and able to experience these days with us. At night, we heard music and singing so we hurried up to our gazebo that looked over our wall onto the street below. We got there just in time to watch as the local villagers paraded their demon through the streets past our villa and on to the center of town.
The next morning beginning at 6:00am was “Silent Day.” While I tried to ask everyone I knew if there was some kind of exception for tourists about this rule, each and every person informed me that EVERYONE on the island must observe “Silent Day.” Every restaurant and store was closed, no one is allowed on the streets or on the beach, the airport is shut down, and you are not allowed to have fire or light (unless blocked by curtains within your rooms). The only people who are allowed to be out are the local “security” who walk around making sure people are observing “Silent Day.” One explanation I heard as to why there is a “Silent Day” is that the night before they call all the evil spirits there (with the ogoh-ogohs) and when the evil spirits come to the island the next day, they see that there are no lights and no one around on Bali so they pass over the island looking for somewhere else to go. After hearing that explanation it makes sense why they take it so seriously and why even non Hindus need to observe, as a sign of respect for the Hindu believers. If we are out, or have our lights on, then they believe, the evil spirits will stay for the New Year. It was a wonderful experience to participate in and while I wasn’t too excited about sitting around for a day being quiet and not having lights, it ended up being a very interesting and memorable experience from our time on Bali.
With weather 85-90 degrees and high humidity, a lot of our time was spent either in the ocean or in the pool.
Our villa was right across from Berawa Beach and one of the first things we did when the ‘Couve girls arrived was take surf lessons. We had awesome instructors and the perfect size waves (small) and we were all able to get up! To top it off, we got a free coconut to drink afterward (which none of us liked, despite our eager faces below).
Tyler and Luke also gave it a try!
The weather seemed to shift by the time my family and the Scukanecs got there so we weren’t every able to really get out and surf again because the waves were too big. We did have a fun time watching the more experienced surfers, playing in the waves and doing a little boogie boarding.
We were able to explore a variety of beaches in our time there and had a blast at all of them. There is such a variety, we loved being able to experience so many different beaches on Bali.
One day a group of us went to explore on the scooters and we arrived at Batu Bolong beach. We saw some kids jumping off this rock into the water when a big wave came. I might almost be 40, but I know fun when I see it, so Julie, Melissa and I all went out and joined them. Did I mention I wasn’t wearing a swimsuit so I did it in my clothes? I knew I may never be back here and this was my only chance. We had a blast and showed those boys that Moms know how to have fun too!
If you are looking at pictures of Bali, you will inevitably see some amazing pools! As my friend Christy said, “I don’t feel like I will have really experienced Bali unless I go in an Infiniti pool.” Our hotel in Ubud had a beautiful one! We found a few other beautiful pools as well…
A really fun place and pool where we ended up spending multiple days, was Finn’s, a beach club a 5 minute walk from our house. It had an infiniti pool looking out into the ocean and lots of other fun things to do. You could rent beds and spend the day playing, relaxing, getting drinks at the swim up bar, enjoying the sunshine and at the end of the day watching a magnificent sunset!
Of all the pools, the one we spent the most time in was the one at our house. Rain or shine, night or day, there always seemed to be someone in there swimming, cooling off, or having an epic cannonball contest. It was perfect!
A whole section on relaxing may seem indulgent, but that is what Bali is all about. We regularly had 2-3 massage therapists come to the house for a few hours to give massages to us and our guests. In fact, as soon as our guests arrived from the airport, we had ladies waiting to give them a massage!
We also relaxed at some beautiful resorts in Ubud for a couple of days with each of our guests. It was so relaxing except when we woke up to a 6.5 earthquake! Our room was right above our kid’s room and I frantically called them to get under the desk in their room, fearing we would fall directly on top of them! By the time I hung up the earthquake was over, but it added a little excitement to our day!
Playing with Animals
When I say I loved seeing the animals, I don’t mean the huge snake that crawled across the road and into our scooter, or the giant crab I found skittering around under my bed one night, or the variety of frogs, toads, lizards, and geckos that made the interesting sounds we would go to sleep to every night. I am referring to the monkeys and the elephants.
My first time there, I learned a few lessons that made the second time, while less eventful, more manageable.
- Lesson One: Don’t buy food unless you want to be aggressively pursued by moneys.
- Lesson Two: Don’t bend down or they will try to come steal your things.
- Lesson Three: When posing for a selfie with a monkey. Make sure and keep your mouth closed or you will end up with a monkey foot IN your mouth! Below is an action shot of this happening. About one second later, that foot was in my mouth. Disgusting!
I was asked to help show how smart the elephants were by holding two numbers and he had to pick which one was the correct answer to a math problem.
After spending the previous three months in Asia, we had become pretty used to finding food that we could eat, sometimes it was good, but it was a constant difficulty finding three meals a day that we liked. When we arrived in Bali all of that changed! Due to the huge tourist population, there were a ton of restaurants providing healthy, fresh, and most importantly delicious food!
This was essentially a bunch of individual food trucks all in one open area. This made it great for a large group of people, as everyone could decide what they felt like. Most nights they had live music and we loved to sit out in the evening letting the kids run around while listening to music.
I don’t know the number of times we had Gelato Secrets, but once we discovered it we were hooked. It seemed like everywhere we looked there would be a Gelato Secrets, and with it being hot and humid everyday, it made it pretty hard to refuse!
The best lunch experience I had was in Ubud. We had found a place with great reviews on tripadvisor, but Komang, our driver, wasn’t able to find it. He called the restaurant and talked to them awhile. We couldn’t understand what he was saying (he was speaking Balinese), but when he got off he just told us we had to meet them in the main parking area and they would show us where to go from there. We were all so surprised when we hopped out of the car and 5 men drove up on scooters with the restaurants name on it and told us to hop on! Komang called out to us, “Adventure!” and sent us on our way. We were whisked off down tiny alleys, cobblestone pathways, through rice fields, to a beautiful little restaurant surrounded by rice paddies. Sitting there with my incredible friends having an amazing lunch in Bali, was a moment I will never forget.
They even baked a delicious birthday cake for Parker on his birthday! That’s right, Parker turned 14 while we were in Bali! We are so thankful to have the gift of this year together before he gets so old he doesn’t want to hang out with us anymore at all!
When I look back at the favorite experiences and places we have visited throughout our time away, I don’t think it is a coincidence that most of them were when we had visitors. There is nothing like sharing an experience with those you love! Having so many wonderful visitors in Bali made our time there incredibly special. Thank you Kym, Christy, Meghan, Kathy, James, Jenell, Dan, Kerry, Julie, Joel, Mike, Melissa, Jason, Taylor, James and Lily for making the trip out to see us, and for all those husbands, grandparents, and friends at home that made it possible for them to be there. We love you all!
If you want to see Komodo Dragons in the wild, the only place to do so is in Komodo National Park, Indonesia. It is a beautiful area made up of 3 large islands and 26 small islands. In our search for dragons, we were able to visit the two largest of these islands, Rinca and Komodo. This area has also been recently named one of The New 7 Wonders of Nature.
Indonesia itself consists of more than 17,000 islands and is the 4th largest country (by population) in the world, only behind China, India, and the USA. While they are all organized under one government, each island has it’s own unique wildlife, culture, and often language. For example, on the island of Flores, which we landed on to begin our Komodo tour, the people are primarily Catholic, Bali is primarily Hindu, but the country as a whole is 87% Muslim. each of these islands also have their own native languages they spoke before they would typically speak Indonesian. We enjoyed having the opportunity to visit multiple islands in Indonesia during our 6 weeks in the country because each one was so unique and special in it’s own way.
To get to Komodo National Park you have to fly to the island of Flores and hire a boat from there.
Flores was a beautiful island and I wish we would have had more time to explore the island itself. Our guide was a huge proponent of his island and often gave us a hard time for our quick visit to his home. He had attended tourism school on Flores and did a fabulous job at public relations!
We arrived in Labuan Bajo and boarded the boat that would be our home for the next 2 days. This boat was bigger than our boat for the orangutan tour in Borneo, with 4 small bedrooms, an eating area and a huge upper deck to relax and look at the beautiful scenery as we sailed past.
We sailed through the islands stopping at a small uninhabited island to snorkel in the crystal clear water. There was a huge variety of fish and other sea creatures and we had a great time snorkeling…until the jelly fish came along! We tried our best to swim around them, but there was just too many and even when they are little, the stings can be painful. So we hopped back in the boat and headed the rest of the way to visit Komodo Island!
Komodo dragons, a type of monitor lizard, are the largest living species of lizard and can grow up to 10 ft long! We saw some pretty big ones while we were there! While the dragons were amazing to see, the natural beauty surrounding us was almost as matchless, as we trekked around searching for them.
After seeing the dragons, we rode in our boat out to a mangrove island that belongs to a community of bats, locally called “flying foxes” due to their enormous size. As the sun sets every night, thousands of bats fly from this island to the island of Flores to eat fruit from the trees there. Our captain and crew anchored our boat near the island and we were able to sit back and watch as thousands of bats flew over our heads on their way to Flores. It was incredible!!
After the sun had almost set and the “Flying Foxes” had all flown away, we drove our boat to where we were anchoring for the night. The stars were amazing as there weren’t any lights to be seen. When we stopped, we had dinner provided by our cook, fried chicken (because that’s what he thought Americans eat. Have I mentioned how you can find KFC’s everywhere in the world?) This was actually really nice because it was something Luke would eat! He had started eating rice (served at every Indonesian meal) with ketchup almost exclusively since we arrived in Indonesia.
While we were eating, we heard a bunch of splashing around us in the water. We looked out and realized we were surrounded by schools of flying fish! They were jumping all around and continued through the night. After dinner, we retired to our rooms and fell asleep to the sound of the hundreds of fish jumping around in the water surrounding us.
A lot of people have asked us if we were scared seeing the Komodo Dragons. Well, yes and no. We weren’t running away screaming, but we did keep a respectful distance at all times and were very cognizant of the danger we could be in if we didn’t behave as instructed by our guide. While Komodo Dragons are carnivores, they mostly eat carrion (animals that have already died), although they will ambush prey if they get near enough to them, often times knocking them down with their strong tails. They have a great sense of smell and can locate a dead or dying animal up to 6 miles away. So, since we weren’t dying, we weren’t getting too close, and most importantly had a local guide with a BIG stick, we felt relatively comfortable.
We did recently read about a man who was attacked by a komodo dragon, but he refused to pay for a local guide and tried to get really close to get a better picture. We’ve found common sense in traveling will protect you from many of the things that can go wrong.
The time I felt the most scared was for our guide when he was taking the picture below. Bless him for trying to get a great shot (which he did) but that dragon just kept walking toward him as he was crouched down taking the picture and he had to keep jumping up and scooting back again and again. We kept telling him it was fine, we didn’t need the picture, but he insisted!
After we said goodbye to the dragons, we took the boat over to Pink Beach to snorkel and relax. This was a beautiful beach that had partially pink sand because of the amazing active coral reef surrounding the island. It was the most amazing snorkeling any of us have experienced. The variety, size, and intense colors were a joy to behold. I didn’t get many pictures of Tyler on the beach because he and our guide, George, didn’t get out of the water the entire time!
After getting our fill of snorkeling, we made our way back to Flores to stay the night before spending a little time on the island then heading to Bali the next day.
As I said earlier, I would love to have had more time so spend on the actual island of Flores, it was so beautiful and the mobs of tourists in Bali hadn’t seemed to discover this area yet. In our one day there we were able to explore some caves, go to a local market and be guest lecturers at a tourism school! The last on that list was more of an impromptu discussion organized by our guide. After exploring the island on our last day of our tour, our guide asked us if we would visit the school his kids attended. He said they would love to hear from us about why we felt like traveling was important, and why we would want to travel at all. Although the students are going to school for tourism, they don’t really understand why people travel, and what value it can have. It was a really fun experience to meet with the teachers and students, letting them know about the importance that we felt travel had in our own lives and others. We also had an opportunity to answer some of their questions and have them answer some of ours.