Out Learning in Cusco

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.

At least he had a nice view!

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.

A picture of Jeromy walking the streets of Cusco before his untimely departure.

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!

After that week, things starting looking up for us though, and we were happy we decided to stay and finish our time in stunning Cusco.

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!

At first we thought it must be pride week with all the rainbow flags everywhere, but we quickly learned that the rainbow flag represents Cusco, Peru and is a symbol of their Incan history.

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.

Near Sacsayhuaman is Cusco’s Blanco Christo looking over the city.

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…

The Peruvian Hairless dog…in my opinion the ugliest dog in the world.


Out in Argentina

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

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.

Caminito Street in La Boca. So touristy but still a lot of fun!

Parker has really grown this year!
Women’s Bridge.  The architect has described the design as a synthesis of a couple doing the tango.

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.

Argentinian Beef

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!

Look at the size of those cows!


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.

Eva Peron

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?

Casa Rosada.  The mansion for the current President of Argentina, but more interestingly to me, this is the building with the famous balcony where Eva Peron addressed the masses during her husbands first presidency.
After being moved around many times, Eva Peron’s body finally found it’s resting place in La Recoleta Cemetery in Buenos Aires.


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!

While there, we were able to ride horses twice a day…

have amazing Argentinian barbeque…

and relax in the tranquil atmosphere…

Each day we were serenaded by two Gauchos singing traditional Argentinian songs.  The third Gaucho just sat there watching and drinking Mate.
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.

What looks like smoke rising up in the distance is actually just the spray from Devil’s Throat.  
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!  

Standing in Argentina looking across to Brazil!
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!

Out in New Zealand

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.

The next day, we headed to the Auckland War Memorial Museum to learn a little more about New Zealand. 

In preparation for heading to New Zealand we, of course watched Moana, and loved seeing this boat that was just like her boat in the movie!

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)!

On our last day in Auckland, we drove a little ways out of the city to Hunua Falls Reserve.  It was a nice hike and good glimpse into the beauty we had in store for us in the days to come.


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!

You couldn’t dig too deep or the water actually got too hot. It was a balancing act between the freezing rain coming down and the burning hot water coming up!

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
  • Waterfalls
  • 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.

You can tell in this picture Tyler and Parker are trying there best to smile while still not breathing through their noses!

These boiling mud pools were a favorite of mine to see!

After Wai-o-Tapu, we stopped by Waikite Valley Thermal Pools to relax.  

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

As we drove from town to town through the North Island, we were able to stop at charming little restaurants, beautiful waterfalls, and see hundreds of green fields full of sheep!

Meat Pies and Carrot Cake were on most the menus of the Cafe’s we went to.  Delicious!

Traditional cookie from New Zealand

Meat Pie!  We ate a lot of these while we were in New Zealand.  Yum!

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!

Hobbiton really seemed magical, it felt like at any time a Hobbit would come out of one of the little houses and rush by on there way to something important.

Getting a non-alcoholic ginger beer at The Green Dragon Inn from the jolliest bar tender I’ve met

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.

Luke doing his best Gandalf impression

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.

Out Enjoying Bali With Friends and Family 

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!

The ‘Couve Girls: Kymmy, Megs, Jocey, Wags, and Kathy
The Rhyasen Crew: Dan and Kerry; Tyler, James and Jenell; Joel and Julie; Luke, Mike, and Melissa; Parker, Jeromy, and Jocey


The Scukanec Family: James, Jason, Taylor, and Lily

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!

This is Kym trying Bali’s famous Luwak Coffee made from coffee beans that have been eaten by Luwaks, pooped out, collected, roasted, and then brewed into what is supposed to be some of the best coffee in the world!


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!

Enjoying sunset at Hidden Beach Bar with the girls!

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.  

Walking back to our house from the beach we pass by rice fields ready for harvest.

There were so many cute shops and restaurants in the area.  This is the front of one of my favorites.

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.

There was even an extra bed outside with a piece of clear plastic over the top so you could fall asleep under the stars.  It was a big too humid for most of us, but Tyler and Luke spent a couple nights out there!

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.

After a month there, and so many amazing experiences; like going on a bike tour and eating lunch in a local person’s home,

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 Culture

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.

Not only is this a great picture of them sprinkling the water on Jeromy, it’s also a nice view of his sweet handlebar mustache he was sporting on our last week in Bali.

A very close second favorite temple was the water temple.  We were able put on our sarongs and enter their holy waters to receive blessings.  

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.

You can see in this picture the people seated looking out into the ocean over the cliff’s edge.

Nice photo bomb Uncle Joel!

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.

Beach Fun

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.

This picture was taken just 10 minutes before Jeromy and Tyler had their scariest experience of the trip so far. They got caught in an undertow and started to get pulled out, it is only through sheer force, adrenaline, and maybe a little divine intervention that Jeromy dragged Tyler out by his shirt and they stumbled out to dry land, with a new respect for the power of the ocean.

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.

Jimbaran Beach

Pandawa Beach
Pandawa Beach

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!

Gorgeous Pools

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!

I was also able to spend a couple of days at the spa, one with my girlfriends and one with my sisters.

Don’t worry, the boys weren’t completely  left out.  After dropping us off on the scooters at the spa they stopped for some pampering of their own.

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.

I had the chance to go to The Monkey Forest in Ubud two separate times.  Not only is it a great place to interact with monkeys, but it is incredibly beautiful!

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!

The second time I went, we still had a lot of interaction with the monkeys, but fortunately, no monkey parts in our mouths!

Tyler, the family germaphobe, learned from me and was making sure no monkey feet were getting in his mouth!

By the time we were leaving, Tyler started trusting the monkeys a little more.

We were also able to go to The Elephant Sanctuary Park, that takes in injured Sumatran elephants that can not survive in the wild.  It was so fun feeding, observing and riding the elephants!

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.

Delicious Food

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!

We ate a lot of good food while we were there, but we had a few places that we found ourselves going back to again and again.


Amazing Acia bowls, breakfast sandwhiches, and refreshing smoothies, it was the perfect place to start any day on Bali!


Don’t worry, clothing was required at this restaurant that served delicious salads, burgers, and desserts.

Berawa’s Kitchen

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.

Gelato Secrets

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.

And of course I can’t forget to mention the wonderful breakfasts that Wayan and Putu would make us whenever we asked!  Their coconut pancakes and fresh squeezed orange juice were top notch!

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!



Out Finding Dragons

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.

Getting ready to board our plane for Flores Island!

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!

Looking down on Flores island from the plane.

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.

Drinking our welcome avocado milkshakes while sitting in the Harbor at Labuan Bajo
Our rooms on the boat
Our chef in the kitchen cooking up some delicious Indonesian food.


Not a bad view out our bedroom window on the boat!
Since they are Dixson boys, they still found ways to climb while on a boat!  


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!

Tyler hopped out of the water first and waited on the skiff that would bring us back to our boat.  He seemed to be a magnet for the jellyfish.

After snorkeling we headed over to Komodo Island where, accompanied by a local guide, we hiked around and were able to see about 10 Komodo dragons, and also a nesting area!  

We keep a safe distance away and in this picture you can see our guides stick that will help keep them away if they start heading our direction

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.

I have pictures of Tyler doing handstands all over the world.  In this picture from Komodo  island, we are looking down at our boat in the bay below.

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.

The next morning we got up early and drove to Rinca island to see more Komodo Dragons.  We saw at least 25 as we trekked around the island.  It was incredible!

Our amazing guide George.  He loved talking business with Jeromy.  He had recently bought a pig and chickens and was going to raise those and make money until he had enough to buy a truck he could drive around the island to deliver things, because many of the villages were too far from town for people to get things. 

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!

Snorkeling at “Pink Beach.”
Parker’s friend the sea cucumber…We need to get this kid back to civilization soon!


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.

Overall, we had a great time out finding Komodo Dragons and also finding an island we would like to explore more in the future, using some of those students as our local guides!

Out Searching for Orangutans in Borneo

As I sat on the bow of our klotok boat slowly gliding through the Sekonyer River in Borneo, I saw movement in the trees to my left, about 100 yards ahead.  I watched as one thing after another flung themselves into the murky water from high up in the trees above.  I signaled our captain and he slowed the boat as we came upon the unknown animals.  As we drew closer, I saw a group of the most unusual monkeys, and maybe animals, I have ever seen.  These monkeys had huge bulb like noses, or pointy noses sticking straight out.  I called to Jeromy and the boys and we all watched as this band of monkeys swam across the river, climbed up the trees onto the other side, then disappeared into the jungle. What was this unusual group of monkeys we came across?  It was a large group of primates called the Probiscus monkey.

This is the best picture I was able to get. The pictures below I pulled from the internet so you could see how truly crazy these monkeys look!

The Probiscus monkey is native to Borneo and can only be found on that Indonesian island.  While they look like something straight out of a cartoon, they are very real and we had the chance to see two different harems of them as we traveled through the waterways and rivers of Borneo.   It may be hard to believe, but those giant noses on the male Probiscus monkeys are used to attract mates!  We also found out that although they are one of Asia’s largest species of monkey, it is not that unusual for them to be swimming.  They have evolved partially webbed hands and feet, which help them swim fast enough to avoid hungry crocodiles, one of their main predators.

Photo cred istock

As exciting as it was to see the Probiscus monkeys, we came to Borneo to see the Great Ape they are able to live peacefully alongside on the island of Borneo, and that is of course, the Orangutan.

The name Orangutan comes from the Malay word meaning “person of the forest.”  You can see where this name comes from because male orangutans are about 5 feet tall with an arm span of up to 7 feet.

While he looks very fierce in this picture, I actually just caught him mid yawn.

While many people have seen Orangutans before at the zoo, the only place in the world they can be found in the wild is on the islands of Borneo and Sumatra, two neighboring islands in Indonesia.  Due to deforestation, their numbers are shrinking and they are on the endangered species list.  Here are a few more interesting facts about orangutans:

  • Orangutans have 7 times the strength of a human.
  • Orangutans are the largest tree dwelling animals on earth.
  • Mothers carry their offspring for the first 5 years and suckle them for up to 6 or 7 years.
  • Mothers have offspring on average only every 8 years.
  • Unlike other apes Orangutans are semi-solitary, the largest males spending over 90% of their time alone.
  • Orangutans make a new bed from leaves and branches in the trees every night, using a very impressive form of weaving and varying materials for structure and comfort.

We started on our quest for the Orangutans by flying from Jakarta to Pangkalan Bun airport in Borneo.  We were picked up by our guide, Sony, and driven to the small town of Kumai where we were to board our boat.  Along the way, we saw many tall cement buildings full of hundreds of little holes.  They were actually pretty ugly and while the area wasn’t exactly nice, it did have a certain rural charm that was broken up by the tall unsightly buildings.  When we asked what these were, Sony informed us that the Chinese have a delicacy they eat called Bird’s Nest Soup.  It is said to help with a multitude of medical issues, though it has not exactly been proven.  Due to the demand for Bird’s Nest Soup, Chinese people come to Borneo, build these tall ugly buildings, and birds build their nests in the holes.  They then collect the nests and export them to China where they are sold at a nice profit.  Not a dish I would like to try, but it was interesting to learn about.

After reaching Kumai, we walked through a one room store, through the one room home attached behind it, across two other boats and then finally onto our Klotok Boat which was docked next to it.  It was just our family traveling on the boat for the three days along with the crew (a captain, our guide, a cook, and two helpers).

We are so grateful to these amazing people who helped make our journey a comfortable, safe and memorable one!

The boys standing in front of, and on, our home for three days in the jungle!

We started up the river and spent most of that day working ourselves deep into Tanjung Puting National Park.  Along the way we kept our eyes out for wildlife, seeing a variety of birds, and the aforementioned band of Probiscus monkeys.  There was a lot of free time as we traveled down river and we spent it playing one of our favorite past times, Three Things.  This is when the other person says three random things (Ex. pickles, skateboards, and an alien) and the other person has to come up with a story incorporating those things.  This has provided endless hours of entertainment and many very silly stories.  We also found  a variety of other things to keep us busy on the way…

Playing chopsticks. Luke can beat anyone in the family!
Reading on our phones. We love the Overdrive app that allows free downloads of almost any book through our local library.  Parker was reading the Harry Potter series at this point in our trip.
Weaving the headbands Tyler learned to make while we were in Thailand.
Learning some of the local crafts from our guide.
Taking naps and getting foot massages from Luke.  He has agreed to not charge us since we are family. 

Having lovely meals looking out at the scenery as we slowly drifted by.

We arrived in the early evening to Rimba Orangutan Lodge.  It wasn’t exactly 5 star, but it was a step up from sleeping on the mattresses on the ground in the boat, so we opted for the relative comfort of a lodge completely off the grid and in the jungle.  As we walked to our room at night, we listened to the sound of various unknown animals lurking in the trees around us.  It was pretty creepy, but also really amazing.  Only one time did we all scream and start running the other direction…

The next morning we got up early, excited to finally have the opport to go see the Orangutans!  We continued on our boat another couple of hours up the river and stopped at the first feeding station.  While the Orangutans are living in the wild, some of them have been reintroduced into the wild so they still feed them a portion of their food.  There was a trail to the station, but due to recent rains, the trail had been flooded.  We had to take off our shoes and trek through the water to get there!  We were just hoping there weren’t any leeches or other unknown Indonesian organisms that were in there to bite us! We didn’t see many Orangutans because the feeding happened earlier than usual at the station so we hiked through the jungle and were able to see some swinging through the trees after their morning snack.  At this point we were a little disappointed we didn’t get a better sighting, but still enjoyed trekking through the jungle and learning about the plants and other animals living there.

This plant “eats” the ants for it’s food!

At the ranger station, the beginning of our flooded trail.

Headed back to the boat.  We had to be very careful where we stepped, these wooden pathways were definitely not up to any kind of code!

We then headed back to the boat to travel further upriver to Camp Leakey, a former rehabilitation center for Orangutans.  It was in this area where we were able to have some amazing encounters with the Orangutans.

They had a visitors center we were able to visit and learn about the earlier conservation efforts that had been made there.  There are still scientists who lived on site and study the behavior of the orangutans.

My crazy monkeys!

The highlight was a feeding station that was a short 15 minute hike from there.  It was amazing as we sat there for 2 hours watching as at least 20 different orangutans of all sizes came to grab a snack and watch all the crazy people taking pictures of them.  

My favorite part was a curious baby who came right up to the edge of where we were sitting and seemed to be showing off his climbing and swinging abilities.  His mom stayed nearby observing in a bored yet attentive way, catching him more than once when a branch didn’t quite hold him, or he misjudged a distance.

The scariest, and most exciting thing to happen, was when we were hiking through the jungle and suddenly, along the path from the other direction, walked a female Orangutan with a baby clutching tightly to her.  Our training from our guide kicked in and we all successfully moved to the side, avoided eye contact, and quietly watched her swagger past us.  She knew exactly who was in charge and it wasn’t us!

While the Orangutans were the stars of the show, in our hiking and boat riding we were also able to see many Macaques and even a Black Handed Gibbon as well.

Black Handed Gibbon

Luke checking out this Macaque.  We were able to see lots of these little guys on our walks through the forest and sitting in the trees on the side of the river from our boat.

After that viewing we headed back to our boat for dinner, another night at the lodge, and a mystical trip back through the jungles of Borneo to civilization.

I am so grateful for this opportunity to be so up close and personal to all of these magnificent creations.  Not just the Orangutans, but also all of the wildlife, flora, and fauna we saw a long the way.  It was truly an extraordinary experience we will never forget.

Out Playing on Sentosa Island

Before arriving in this tiny, prosperous, SE Asian city-state, all I knew about Singapore was a few pop culture references about its strict and sometimes crazy laws.  I thought we better do a little research before going to make sure we didn’t get ourselves into any trouble.  We did our best to be good, but still managed to break a few while we were there.  Fortunately, we never got caught!

  • Spitting in Public: Penalty: Up to a $1000 fine.  One day we were walking along a path and I saw all the boys (including Jeromy) repeatedly spitting at a post.  They had never done this before and I couldn’t imagine why, in all the places, they decided to do it in Singapore.  I quickly ran up to them, whispering for them to stop, so I did not draw attention to ourselves, and learned they were spitting at a row of huge ants.  Boys will be boys, but I was just glad we didn’t get caught and fined for each occurrence or we may have to cut our trip a little short!
  • Selling Gum: Penalty $100,000 – 2 years in jail.  I did accidentally smuggle a pack through security inside my purse (much to my children’s dismay), but never tried selling it to anyone so I think we are in the clear!
  • Littering: Penalty From $300 – Public Service.  If you are convicted three times of littering you have to clean the streets with a bib that says “I am a litterer.”  Fortunately, littering has never been an issue for us, no problems there.
  • Walking Around Your House Naked: Penalty $1000. No comment.
  • Not Flushing the Toilet: Penalty $150.  I am not going to incriminate anyone in my family on this, but I think I might continue having this rule for the boys in the future.
  • No Urinating in Elevators:  This was never a temptation, but apparently in some elevators they have Urine Detection Devices (UDD) that detect the smell of urine, setting off an alarm and closing the doors until the police arrive.  The boys spent some time trying to figure out what would happen if a baby with a diaper happened to be in one…I guess we will never know.
  • Connecting To Another Persons WIFI: Penalty up to 3 years in prison or a $10,000 fine.  We stuck to public WIFI and had no issues here.

With all of those strict laws you may think that Singapore is a boring place to hang out, but we found it to be the opposite!  We spent our week there in a hotel on Sentosa Island, which is also known as “Asia’s Favorite Playground,” and we tried to live up to that slogan as much as possible! The island is about 2 square miles and is basically one huge amusement park.  Looking back, it’s hard to believe all the things we were able fit in during our stay there, but with the help of some multi-day passes, we did our best to play as much as possible.  Here are some highlights from our time there.

Universal Studios

We had a blast at Universal Studios one day.  If we didn’t pay attention to some of the food choices (squid anyone) we would have felt like we were in the USA.  We had lots of fun on the rides and watching shows.

S.E.A. Aquarium

The Trick Eye Museum

We had so much fun taking pictures at this museum!  All of these are optical illusions that make taking pictures incredibly entertaining!

Fort Siloso

During World War II, Fort Siloso was built on what is now known as Sentosa Island, as a protection against attack.  It has now been restored and is open as a military museum open to the public.

We enjoyed learning the history, seeing the cannons, and climbing through the old batteries.  We even got to play a game of laser tag while we were there, which was, of course, the boys favorite part.

Celebrating the Lunar (Chinese) New Year

While it was after the New Year by the time we got to Singapore, they still had all the decorations and activities up which was a lot of fun!


Sentosa Wave House

We had so much fun trying this out, but we weren’t always successful, as illustrated in the series of pictures below.

Segway Ride

Para Jumping

4D Adventureland

Wings of Time Show

Skyline Luge

Port of Lost Wonder

Southernmost Point of Continental Asia

Wow! A super busy and fun time playing and we didn’t even have time to do everything!  “Asia’s favorite playground” did not disappoint.

Sentosa Merlion


Out Finding “Normal” in Bangkok

*Disclaimer* If this is the first post you are reading on this blog, please go back and read any of the other posts I’ve written, where we are doing all kinds of cool things and experiencing the culture of the places we are visiting.  If you only read this post you will think we are the most boring travel family of all time.

With that disclaimer out of the way, I can let you know a little about our time in Bangkok.  As noted in previous posts, we had hit a travel burnout phase while we were in Vietnam and we really needed to take a break from the constant activity and stress of traveling and just find some sense of normal for a little while.  Bangkok was the perfect place to do this because we had already spent almost 3 weeks in other parts of Thailand, so we felt like we had seen a lot of what Thailand had to offer, and it was a big enough city to provide us with some comforts of home we had been missing.

  • We rented a three bedroom apartment with a kitchen and were able to find an “American Specialties” grocery store that allowed us to eat a bit more similar to the way we eat at home.  It was nice not having to find three meals a day at a restaurant we would all enjoy.
  • We FaceTimed with family and caught up with friends, many of which would soon be coming to visit us in Bali!
  • We went to church, where English was the primary language so we were able to stay for the classes as well as the main meeting.  It was fun to talk to fellow travelers and expats, and hear their stories of living abroad.
  • We found a trampoline park like our favorite one at home that even had dodgeball!
    Pretty good photo bomb from the worker behind Luke.
  • We let the boys play with toys (at a play place in our apartment building) and we spent quite a bit of time on school. Parker had to take his final exam for his BYU Algebra course at an international school while we were there. He got an A!
  • One of the most fun things we did was go to a Goo Goo Dolls concert.  Jeromy has loved this band for years so when they happened to be playing in Bangkok while we were there, we knew we had to go.  It was open seating and we were able to get right up in the front row!

While our time in Bangkok wasn’t the most culturally enriching, it was critical to our continued enjoyment of our travels, and gave us the respite we needed to help buoy us up for the exciting adventures that lay ahead!

Out Surviving in Vietnam

Ok, here it is, the post where I admit that everything isn’t always perfect and we aren’t always having the time of our lives on this trip.  It has truly been extraordinary, but there are times where we are frustrated, homesick, angry, and sad.  After all, if you are going to leave your home and everything you know for one year you are bound to have a few bad days.

My kids joke that after this trip, they will be able to say that they were homeless for a year, and essentially, they are correct.  We move around from place to place, never knowing where (or what) we will be eating, what the next place we stay will be like, or how well we will be able to communicate with those we come in contact with each day.  I want to make clear that we have the means to stay in nice places and find safe food to eat, so our lives are not nearly as difficult as truly homeless people,  but some of the uncertainty is still there for us and especially the boys.  They haven’t ever heard of most of the cities and even some of the countries we are going visiting, and they haven’t seen the booking.com/tripadvisor reviews on the places we are staying.  They are truly remarkable to wake up each day ready for adventure and the unknown.  It is not unusual for us to be on a plane and have one of the boys ask, “What country are we going to again?”

The reason I am writing about this in my post about Vietnam is that all the negative things seemed to combine to make our time there our least favorite so far.  Some members of the family had a harder time than others and most of the time it was just one of us who was feeling negative, but here are a few of things that were tough in Vietnam and on the trip in general.


    We arrived in Vietnam soon after Christmas and New Year’s, which naturally, were times we were missing family more.  It has been great to be able to FaceTime and keep up on Facebook and Instagram with people, but the boys miss their friends, cousins and Grandparents and so do we!

    It was also just over half way through our trip and while in some ways it seemed to go fast, it also felt like we had been gone for a long time.  It can be very exhausting, physically and emotionally, to travel long term and the thought that we were only half-way through seemed a little daunting for some.

    When we sit around and are talking about feeling homesick, our thoughts and conversation often turn to the food we are missing and what we can’t wait to eat from home.  First, is always having some of Grandma Rhyasen’s amazing desserts, although we’ve debated the order we would like them served in (caramel brownies first!).  Next it goes to the restaurants we missed the most.  In no particular order because we can’t agree here are our top choices.

    1. The Blind Onion Pizza
    2. Salt N Straw Ice Cream
    3. Youskyme Teriyaki
    4. Costa Vida
    5. Black Bear Diner (pancakes)
    6. Burgerville (Jeromy)
    7. And any good solid Mexican Food

    The Food

    While I do love fresh baked desserts a little too much, I generally try to eat a well balanced diet with lots of lean protein, whole grains, fruits and vegetables.  I rarely buy soda and try to avoid overly processed foods.  I like to eat out, but the majority of our meals were made at home by me.  Well, on this trip, all that went out the window.  I almost never cook, as we don’t have a kitchen very often, and if we do, it’s hard to find familiar ingredients or any variety of food at all.  Half of the places we’ve been we have avoided fresh fruits and vegetables because of the risk of them being cleaned with contaminated water, and so when we find familiar food like Oreos, candy bars, or soda it makes the boys so excited it’s hard to turn down that familiar taste from home!

    The only fish we all liked!
    When we left a big concern of family and friends was what Luke was going to eat.  He was so picky at home, they were pretty sure he was going to come home smaller than when he left.  He did have a few times so far where he has chosen not to eat, and it has caused him to be sick.  He learned his lesson from it and will try and force something down even if he doesn’t like it to avoid being sick the next time.  One item he does like is Spaghetti Bolognese and fortunately for him, it is served all over the parts of the world we have been to so far.  Luke has probably averaged one Bolognese (sometimes he will branch out and get penne pasta) a day for the majority of our trip.  Parker, although much more adventurous, went through a spaghetti carbonara phase for awhile, but since we’ve hit Asia, he’s gotten away from that, as he had a couple bad experiences with it here.  Tyler is the most adventurous of the whole family and has tried crickets, dried worms, and almost anything else someone dares him to eat.  He does hold out for a $5 bribe from Dad before giving in every once in awhile though.

    This was delicious. One of the best meals we had.
    A major part of traveling is trying the local foods of the places you visit, and in general, it’s one of my favorite parts.  Before leaving on this trip, if we traveled to a new place we ate almost entirely the local cuisine and would never eat at an American chain.  Now, we eat local, because you have to find three meals a day for 365 days, but when we see an American restaurant, if it’s been awhile, it is a special treat for all of us and we go once and sometimes twice while we are staying nearby.

    Even if it’s 10:00 in the morning…when we see Dairy Queen, we get Dairy Queen!
    Before coming to Vietnam I had had Vietnamese food a few times at a really great place in Portland (Luc Lac) and liked the food a lot.  Their Pho in particular is incredibly popular and delicious, but we learned when we visited Vietnam that it is really only served for breakfast.  The good news was that I really liked it for  breakfast everyday, the bad news was, my whole family didn’t necessarily agree with me.

    Pick your dinner!

    When you are in Vietnam, most of the people who are eating out, eat at little “restaurants” with tiny plastic chairs and tables outside.  And when I say little, I mean little.  They weren’t even the size I would consider appropriate for Luke, but the streets were lined with hundreds of these little restuarants with plastic chairs and tables sitting out front on the sidewalk.  We (or more accurately I) really wanted to try eating like this, but the major problem with the food in this type of establishment are the hygiene issues.  We just couldn’t be sure it was safe to eat and we definitely didn’t want to get sick!  So when we were in Hanoi we decided to go on a street food tour of the city.  It was a great way to try a variety of foods and be (mostly) sure that they were prepared safely.  The boys were troopers on this one because they really didn’t like any of it, but they were willing to try and smile while doing it.  Luke, of course ate nothing, as expected.  He had some spaghetti bolognese waiting for him later at our hotel’s restaurant.

    Look how excited Parker is to eat an unknown processed meat in an unknown broth…

    We did find some good food here and there along the way, and some really great food sometimes as well, but day to day trying to find three meals a day was pretty tough for us in Vietnam and added to our discomfort and frustration.

    The Weather

    We have generally tried to follow sunny weather throughout our trip avoiding winter and rainy seasons as much as possible (this makes packing much easier), but although it wasn’t supposed to be raining (everyone kept telling us this), it was.  Our first two days in Hanoi it rained so hard we weren’t even able to leave the hotel except to run across the street for dinner and we were still soaked.  

    Hoan Kiem Lake (The Lake of the Restored Sword) in Hanoi
    Fortunately, after that we didn’t have many more downpours, but we did have almost constant cloud cover and drizzle the remainder of the 3 1/2 weeks we were in Vietnam.  We are from the Pacific Northwest, so we aren’t about to let a little rain stop us, but it did put a damper on our time there.

    Our Patriotism

    We knew in planning on going to Vietnam that we would be study and learn about the Vietnam War.  This was something I was really looking forward to and that ended up being an amazing “world-schooling” opportunity.  While we were able to learn a lot, our inner patriotism came out and it was difficult to sit through tours talking about the “American War of Aggression” and hearing about the creative ways they “killed the Americans.”  It was however a great opportunity to teach the boys that sometimes history is in the telling, and that war is always a terrible thing for everyone involved.

    At Hao Lo Prison where American prisoners of war were held during the Vietnam War also known as “The Hanoi Hilton”
    Exploring the Cu Chi Tunnels near Ho Chi Minh City. Many Viet Cong lives in these during the war.
    The tunnels were so small I had a really difficult time fitting through them at all and Jeromy didn’t even try.  Even though we thought they were incredibly small, they had actually been enlarged for the tourists.


    At the War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City
    Despite all those things conspiring to make Vietnam a difficult place to spend 3 1/2 weeks, we really did see some amazing things as well.

    Ha Long Bay

    The most amazing time we had in Vietnam occurred at Ha Long Bay, which was recently named one of the New 7 Wonders of the Natural World.  Thousands of beautiful karsts jut out of the ocean to form a surreal scenic experience that is hard to imagine.  We stayed 5 days on Cat Ba Island, located in Ha Long Bay, and were able to spend two days taking a boat out to go to remote beaches to rock climb, kayak, swim, and explore.

    Floating village in Ha Long Bay

    Secret Beaches

    We took a boat out to a small island in the bay and went rock climbing.  Parker and Tyler enjoyed showing up all the adults that were there with their amazing rock climbing skills.

    Tam Coc

    While in Hanoi we took a day trip out to the country and saw what they have dubbed “The Dry Ha Long Bay.”  We took a boat ride (they row with their feet!) and rode bikes through the country side, seeing rice fields, villages, and some very beautiful scenery!

    Da Nang

    While there was too much rain to appreciate the beautiful beaches of Da Nang, we were able to see the coolest bridge of our trip so far.  A dragon bridge that spit fire and water!  Now that is awesome!

    We also spent a day visiting Hoi An, which is the most intact traditional town in Vietnam.

    On our way there we stopped by Marble Mountain, which is a cluster of five marble and limestone hills representing the five elements (metal, water, wood, fire, and earth).  As you hike around you can explore caves where many Buddhist sanctuaries have been built.  These were by far my favorite Buddhist temples I had seen so far.  The combination of the spiritual and natural created an unforgettable experience.

    Nha Trang

    While we spent a week in Nha Trang, we celebrated the Lunar New Year, which is one of the biggest holidays celebrated in Vietnam.  All the hotels and streets were decorated with lights and had trees decorated with coins, red envelopes, and tassles.  My favorite thing was all the citrus trees that were brought in to decorate!  Everywhere you looked there were kumquat trees decorating entrances to stores, hotels, and restaurants.

    We also spent a day relaxing in the mud baths to recover from our crazy Lunar New Year’s night!

    One of our last days in Nha Trang we took the longest over water cable car in the world (over 2 miles long!) to Vinpearl amusement park and had a really fun time.  Our favorite ride was the amazing alpine slide!

    As we ended our time in Vietnam, in Ho Chi Minh City, we all started to pull out of the funk that we had been in the past few weeks (it helps that we were able to find a Dairy Queen and a Hard Rock Cafe.) Jeromy even conceded that we shouldn’t fly over to Hawaii for a couple weeks to visit his family who were all there on vacation.  It helped that we had some exciting times ahead in the next few weeks and a one month stay with lots of friends and family visiting in Bali, just around the corner!


    Out Exploring in Cambodia

    At first when we talked to the boys about going to Cambodia to see ancient temples they weren’t too excited.  After all the temples in India, Thailand, and Vietnam, they were getting kind of burnt out on visiting them.  We promised them that these weren’t like any temples they had seen before and prepped them with scenes from Indiana Jones and Lara Croft: Tomb Raider to get them excited.  It didn’t take them long to realize this was going to be a great adventure!

    While the temples of Cambodia are magnificent, their recent political history is a tragedy.  Under the regime of the Khmer Rouge led by the dictator Pol Pot, a genocide was orchestrated on the people of Cambodia and in less than 4 years almost half their population had been murdered by the hands or policies of the Khmer Rouge.  While Pol Pot was defeated in 1979 guerilla warfare continued in the country until 1994.  Due to the gruesome nature of some of the sights, we did not feel comfortable bring the boys to them, but there was still evidence of the destruction around including signs like the one below identifying areas that had been cleared of land mines.  It is estimated that there are as many as 4-6 million active land mines in Cambodia still today.  In the most recent statistics I could find (2013), it stated that there were 111 casualties, 22 dead and 89 injured, because of land mines just in that year.  While this is terrible, organizations like the one shown below have really been saving lives.  In 1999 there were over 1200 casualties, so that number has gone down significantly.  The current organizations working to clear the landmines function on about $30 Million a year and experts estimate that if they are able to continue at that rate, it will take another 10-20 years to clear all the mines.  

    Despite all this tragedy, we were surprised to find Siem Reap a bustling town full of restaurants, shops, and all kinds of activities to keep us busy and well fed when we grew tired of exploring temples.  It was amazing to see the resilience of the people living there and their hopes for the future as tourism helps to shore up their economy.

    We hired a driver to take us around to the temples in a van, but this was the perfect way to get around town!
    Our class was only a couple hours so we had to learn fast. Our teachers were all deaf, this was actually a much easier language barrier to gap than Cambodian to English!
    We all loved our pottery class and ended up with some decent finished products!
    We opted out of trying any of these, but there were plenty of other people who did!
    At night this area was packed with people and loud music coming from all the restaurants and pubs! I didn’t expect Siem Reap to have such a wild nightlife, but I guess there is something for everyone here!
    One evening we went to a dance and music show with dinner.  The show was a little slow (the style of dance is very technical, but there is not a lot of movement) and the boys have vowed to not attend another dance show on our trip.  I think with a little time, we will be able to talk them into it again though.  You can see Luke eating his “traditional spaghetti” for dinner while the rest of us feasted on local Cambodian food.
    We had so much fun feeding the monkeys that were on the sides of the road and all around the temples.
    While all of those things were fun and helped to entertain us, the temples were the main attraction!

    We spent the next few days exploring through a variety of temples each less restored than the previous one. This was a great way to go through because at Angkor Wat we were able to see what the temple was supposed to look like and in the others we could see the varying stages of destruction as over hundreds of years nature did it’s best to swallow them up.

    Angkor Wat

    We started with Angkor Wat which was built as part of the Khmer Empire in the 12th century.  It was originally built as a Hindu Temple but transitioned over to Buddhism which is how it still functions today.  It is the most famous of the temples and considered one of the New 7 Man Made Wonders of the World.  Not only is it beautiful, but it is also the largest religious monument in the world.

    Angkor Thom

    This complex is the most enduring capital city of the Khmer empire.  It was built in the late 12th century is spread over 9 square kilometers.  My favorite part and one of the most famous sections is Bayon Temple shown below.  There are 216 giant faces made of stone that gaze out with a knowing smile.  It is fascinating.

    Bayon Temple

    Bayon Temple

    Banteay Srey

    Ta Prohm

    This temple is also known as “The Tomb Raider Temple” because this is where part of the movie “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider” was filmed.  While the movie is one of the worst I have ever seen, the temple is magnificent!  We loved exploring through and pretending like we were on our own adventure of discovery.

    Beng Melea

    Beng Melea was probably the favorite temple we visited.  It was further away and not part of the usual tours but it came highly recommended by our driver.  I’m so glad we took the extra time to go out there.  It was much less restored than any of the other temples we had visited so you could really see nature’s destruction.  Also, because the crowds were much less, they rules weren’t as limiting regarding where you could go, so the boys were able to really feel like they were really explorers as they climbed up, over, around, and through.