Archive for the ‘Outdoors’ Category

sunset from golden gardens, seattle

Related to my previous post about culture shock and readjustment, I’ve written down a few things I’ve thought about throughout our trip that I’d like to change in my life, especially once home.  It helps to share because, maybe it will encourage or inspire others, you’ll find others to talk to it about, and, they can hold you accountable. I’m sure Tyler has his only list that maybe he’ll share with some of you one day as well.  I also have a list of recipes to make at home someday, which I’m sure you all will find much easier to hold me accountable to. 🙂

A lot of times life is so different at home than from when you were traveling, or wherever you were, that it’s easy to just separate the two, letting “what happened in Vegas stay in Vegas” and losing all those little treasures you’ve built up in your journey.  Christians talk about returning home from the mission trip or field as being the most challenging, the time when the Enemy is most likely trying to attack, and the usual approach is by allowing you to get caught up in your old life, thinking it’s too difficult to process what you’ve went through, that you have no one to share your experiences with, and so you slowly forget what you experienced and let go of how you’ve changed.  In order to try to prevent that, I’m going to build this little landmark, or altar if you will, of what I’ve been thinking throughout the last year, and how God has been faithful to us.

1.     Do the things you don’t want to do now and you’ll feel better in the long-run.  It’s a simple lesson I feel most people learn early in life: you don’t want to do laundry but you should, and once those clothes are folded and put away, you feel a certain sense of relief and accomplishment.  You don’t want to go to the gym but you feel better afterwards, especially after months of going start to show results.  I tend to put these things off as long as possible, spending that time complaining and wishing they were done, as if I could do nothing about it.  Stressed that I needed to wash my car, instead of just washing it.  Stressed that I was running late to work, instead of just getting up when my alarm went off instead of hitting snooze three times.  Annoyed at the pile of papers I need to file or recycle, or the things I need to put away, instead of just turning on some music and getting things done. Depressed that an entire Saturday passed by and I did nothing but watch TV, depressed that I missed church three weeks in a row because I was “too tired” to get up on time, when I could JUST DO IT (thanks Nike).

 I do this a lot, and I’m trying to change it in all aspects of my life, but especially beginning with my morning routine.  I’m certainly not a morning person; I sleep in until the last possible minute, eat breakfast in my car, if at all, and only spend about 20 minutes getting myself ready for the day.  This is disrespectful to myself and insufficient.  When I get up earlier, my day has a more peaceful start and I feel more centered and balanced all day, especially if it includes breakfast, coffee, and some reading.  The problem is, I’m always tired, always.  But, what I always forget is that I’m not any more tired by getting up a little earlier. In fact, being tired is a fact of life I frankly need to get over already.  I get enough sleep, that’s not why I’m tired, so why not treat myself to a longer morning that will make my whole day more enjoyable?  It’s not what I want the moment my alarm is going off, but it’s better in the long-run.

Related, since I’m not a morning person, I’m not about to get up at 6 a.m. right now.  I am, however, trying to get up before noon each day, which you may laugh at, but is actually quite difficult for me, someone who struggles with depression, and frankly, is only getting up to sit on my computer and look for work most days (a struggle for motivation).  So, I’m focusing in setting an alarm 8-9 hours from when I go to bed, and getting up when it goes off.  I’m trying not to stay up ridiculously late so I can get up at a reasonable hour.  What’s important, however, is that I don’t just get up and sit around in my pajamas all day, brushing my teeth at 5 p.m. and never really “getting ready” for the day.  I need to get up, wash, brush my teeth, make myself look presentable, get fully dressed, eat breakfast, and then do whatever I have to do on the computer that day.  This may sound incredibly simple and self-evident to everyone else, but it’s a daily struggle for me and something I really hope I can change, especially now that I can sort of ease into it now during this transition time, making it less difficult when we have jobs.  So far, some days have certainly been better than others, but I’ve certainly made progress.

 2.       Giving when the giving gets toughIt can be hard to be generous when you’re traveling: you’re on a tight budget; you want to bargain so you don’t feel taken advantage of, and frankly, it’s easy to become self-centered.   We wrestled with this a lot while traveling – wanting to tip less or haggle more to save money, but ultimately one dollar to us means a lot more to someone in Bolivia, so it’s not worth the added stress or the effort. What we were reminded of abroad was to give, and give freely. What matters at home is how to be generous when it’s tempting to save every penny you have, because you don’t have very many and you’re almost surely going to need all of them before you find a job.  Well, this isn’t how the Bible teaches us to life our life.  So, we’re trying to continue giving – supporting friends, supporting churches, missionaries, whatever, because we’re meant to give out of generosity, not obligation.  And we’re meant to give even when we have very little, trusting that God will provide for us.  This might mean that even though we give we’ll end up homeless (doubtful) but it’s all part of God’s plan for us, however unpleasant it might be, and we’re meant to learn from every situation.  So while we’re trying to be prudent and make wise decisions, we’re also trying to give freely and live with a happy heart, because, like they say, mo’ money, mo’ problems. So with each penny we give away, we’re also giving away the stress it brings with it, and the opportunity for God to show his faithfulness to us.

 3.       Slow down, take pleasure in the moment, stay focused, and seek balance. I mentioned this is in my previous post, but I would like to continue living my life feeling balanced, and centered.  I like to be busy, and I like to do a lot of things, and that’s all fine, as long as I can do each one in turn, fully absorbing and enjoying the moment I’m in.  I also need to do these and remember to take care of myself, and I’m not talking spa days here, but simple tasks like taking even minimal care of nails, skin, and teeth, keeping my room clean and listening to music (which is something I often neglect even though it’s so important to me – see #4!).

We heard a sermon our first weekend back where the priest challenged us to try doing just one thing a day. It sounds simply, but think about it: we read while drinking coffee and listening to music.  We eat and watch TV. We talk about something while our thoughts are a million miles away.   I laughed and said,’ I already did that! I just drank my cup of coffee this morning and looked out the window, doing nothing else.’  It was true, and I did it without thinking, and I hope I can continue to live my life that way, enjoying the small moments and keeping an eye on the big picture, without getting too caught up in it all, and remembering what matters most.

 4.       It takes effort to do the things you love. This is something I actually learned in the year or so before we left for South America, but I still want to share it and keep doing it.  In high school, I loved the outdoors: I loved camping and snowboarding and backpacking and going to the beach.  I let those things slide in college and the years afterward, filling my time with school and work.  I found myself years later overweight watching What Not to Wear marathons on sunny Saturday afternoons, depressed about “not doing anything.”   I was shaken awake when by chance a co-worker invited me to go on a backpacking trip to the Enchantment Lakes in the Northern Cascades of Washington, known as the most beautiful area of the state.  The 3-day trip was stunningly beautiful, but it was also shocking how bad I was at what I claimed to love.  I wasn’t in proper condition, I didn’t have the proper gear or knowledge, or even experience.  I realized I had let something I really loved doing fade away, and fought to get it back, spending a year going to the gym regularly, finding hiking partners and books, joining the Seattle Mountaineers, learning to rock climb, continuing to pursue rock climbing in Argentina, and hiking and backpacking all over South America.  I’m trying to continue that here in Oregon, hence the recent hikes and kayak trip, trying to build mental and physical endurance by jogging the SE Salem hills every other day, and I’m planning on climbing South Sister in September, joining the Portland Mazama’s, and continuing to enjoy and love the beautiful countryside around me.

What’s important is the realization that the things I love don’t just happen…”you gotta make it happen…” as Oasis would say.   It takes effort, and sacrifice and planning.  It takes getting up at 6 a.m. when I don’t want to, knowing I won’t regret it for a second when I’m standing between two glaciers on Mt. Hood on a beautiful sunny day.  To do these things I have to train, and I have to practice, I have to pursue friends and organizations with similar interests, and I have to stay committed and persevere.   The same goes for my love of Spanish: I’ve got to keep getting out there to conversation groups, get to Powells to buy books in Spanish, and apply for jobs where I can use my skills.  It takes effort, but it’s worth it because I find enjoyment in these things.

5.     Live Simply.  Related to my post about consumerism and materialism, I’m going to continue to try to focus on what’s important (people, not things).  I’m going to continue to try to find joy in cooking meals that take time to prepare, as well as ones that I throw together quickly at the last minute.  Instead of complaining about washing the dishes by hand if we don’t have a dishwasher, I’m going to try to remember it’s a common, everyday reality for most of the world.  Instead of envying the newest gadget or gizmo, I’m going to try to be satisfied in what I already have.  I’ll try to recycle and creatively re-purpose things, and make environmentally supportive choices, like buying local, organic produce when I can afford to, and walking instead of driving.  I’m going to keep finding joy in making things from scratch, whether it’s bread, jam, cookies, cakes, beer,  or even soap.   I’m going to keep getting excited about the small things, like seeing hummingbirds outside or a serve yourself local honey stand or a ‘free land for brew-pub’ sign.  I’m going to try to remember that even if things don’t look the best, if they’re functional, they’re fine.   I’m going to try to keep the TV gone, watching only shows and movies that I actually like, and find funny, witty, informative, or moving, and I’m going to try to keep reading more.  Instead of turning to the usual suspects for comfort or zoning out (hulu, TV) I’ll turn to God, and to more productive things (exercise, writing, reading, contemplation). In short, I’m going to keep trying to learn to be content, in the midst of this world that always seems to want to make us the opposite.

 6.       Stop worrying, and have more faith: relax and enjoy!  It’s hard for anyone not to worry these days, and that’s a theme a lot of people have been talking about lately: transition, and change.  I tend to over-think things a lot.  Recently I pulled up an entry I never posted about Spiritual ADD.  Without getting into details, I talked about how I (and many others in my generation) have a lot of interests and I’m sort of, all over the place, making lots of short-term commitments to different “things.”  While the need for commitment is real, I also, frankly, fret too much over the whole subject.  Sure, I’ve traveled around a lot, I’ve been involved in a lot of different issues, I have doubts about the choices we’ve made, but I’ve also got to have faith that “in all things God works for the good of those that love him” (Romans 8:28) and that God has a plan for mine, and Tyler’s lives (Jeremiah 29:11).  We may not always make the best decisions, but God’s strength is shown through our weaknesses nonetheless (2 Corinthians 12:9). I had to memorize these and 48 other key Bible verses way back when at a whacky, conservative, southern Christian missions camp in the Florida swamplands, and looky-here, they’re still verses I turn to today, because since I was forced to memorize them, well, they come to me, even if haven’t read the Bible in ages.  And even though this point was brought up in a sermon this past Sunday, by a guest preacher I immediately disliked, holy-hell it’s still true, and God can even speak through people you dislike! There’s a testimony of God’s faithfulness right there, and I would have missed it if I put off writing this blog.  God is faithful to us all the time, speaking to us and leading us all the time, if we only try to listen and look more often.

So, in the meantime, I could have a lot I could worry about (and believe me, sometimes I do, but I’m always learning): bills to pay with a shrinking savings account and no income, no permanent home, looking for a job in a double-dip recession, but hey, I’ve got the Maker of the Universe on my side, and if he can take care of the lilies on the fields, the Israelites in the desert, I think he can handle us too.  We’re blessed to have a wonderful family that feeds us and gives us a place to stay, could we really ask for much more? With each job application, with each interview, I’m trying not worry, I’m trying to see it as a learning opportunity, and if I don’t get the position then hey, it must not have been meant to be.  And while I’ve got all this free time, I’d better put it to good use (see other commitments above), and at the very least, remember one of my favorite Psalms, made so crystal clear to me on that balmy night in Indonesia six years ago, with my beloved banana crepes: “Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him” (34:8).

In closing, these are just a few of the big thoughts I’ve been thinking lately, that I’d like to hold onto and build my new life in Oregon around.  (Other inspirations have been the movie Hook, my beloved Naruto anime series, and Trigun, but that’s all material for another day).  I hope I can stay true to my goals, and receive grace when I don’t.  I hope it was somehow meaningful to anyone who reads it, and, as always, feel free to share your thoughts.  We always love hearing from you.


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People have asked us over and over again what our favorite part of our trip has been.  I’ll give you the answer, unanimously agreed-upon, without a shadow of a doubt: Parque Ambue Ari.  That lovely animal refuge in the middle of nowhere Bolivia, that we didn’t even plan on going to, weren’t even sure we wanted to go, where we ended up spending seven weeks and where we’d go back to in a heartbeat.  I can’t express to anyone how much that place means for us, which is why we keep bringing up numerous stories, silly, disgusting, and serious, that start with the phrase: “in the jungle…”.  So many of the thoughts I’ve post today and I my previous post were cemented at that park.  In fact, I’d say every single one of them stems from living there: learning to live simply, to be productive in the morning, that friendships are life, to create balance, especially with nature, to have patience, to have trust, understanding, to be selfless.  If the job search really turns up nil, we just might go back to the Amazon Basin to take over the treehouse and be back with our friends, both human and fuzzy, escape the reality of this life, and immerse ourselves in another.

Now, in terms of other favorites, I think I can say that the city we’d most likely try to live in is Santiago, Chile, and I wouldn’t be surprised if we turn up there in a few years, future job pending.  The city is beautiful, close to the mountains and the beach, the food is great, and the people are ridiculously friendly, if hard to understand. They have great wine, there’s a rock climbing gym, fantastic public transportation, and active politics.  It’s also close to Argentina, which maybe wasn’t my favorite place, but I did like it quite a bit, I do miss the rock-climbing community there, as well as its beautiful outdoors and wine, so it’d be nice to hop over for a visit every now and then.

santiago, chile, from cerro santa lucia

And people ask what the most beautiful place we went to was, and that is a really difficult question.  I realized not long after we started backpacking that we were drawn to the beauty in nature.  That’s where we and everyone we met wanted to go.  I think we are drawn to nature’s beauty because even the rocks and the hills and the mountains cry out to God’s glory, and often in nature we can find peace, serenity;  balance in simplicity.  So, we went a lot of great places.  But highlights off the top of my head include incredible beauty of Iguazu Falls in Argentina, the overwhelming power sensed at the Perito Moreno Glacier in Argentine Patagonia, the Fitz Roy range nearby, the Bolivian highlands, the Salkantay Trek and Machu Picchu in Peru, and the beaches in northern Peru.

iguazu falls

And people ask: would we go back?  Where would we go?  The answer is, YES – if any opportunities present themselves I would leap on them.  However, I would like to take care of some things at home first (school, work experience) so that if we do go back it’d be in a sustainable way (i.e. permanent).   So, while we’re not exactly planning to go back (just the opposite, we’re planning on settling down and growing roots in Portland), its remaining an open possibility that I’ll work to keep that way, through school, work, and language skills.

As to where we would go, that depends on why we’re going.  I could work in Santiago and love it, but I could move to Bolivia or somewhere else as well, maybe focusing more on community development, and love that too.  I could own a vineyard and live in Argentina or Chile. 😉  But, we also really want to go to Central America sometime, starting in Columbia and working our way northward, ending with a long stint in Mexico – basically the second half of this trip we couldn’t accomplish this time around.   So, I guess our answer is, we’ll probably travel again sometime to any number of places, even ones we haven’t thought of yet, and in the meantime, we have a lot of great ideas for vacations. 🙂

So, I hope that helps to answer some of your questions.  Feel free to ask more, and we’d be happy to respond.

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A friend asked me how re-adjusting to life in the US was.  I simply replied: “readjusting = boo” and she understood completely.  I can’t believe I’ve been putting off writing an entry for a month now (cause for my next post).  At first there was too much too say that was too difficult to put into words, and now I’m trying to piece those lost thoughts back together; they’ve grown fuzzy after focusing on getting our life together, applying for jobs, and seeing long-lost friends and family.

First, we’ve gotten a lot of questions about “culture shock.”  Not that I don’t love talking about it, but I thought this would be a good place to reflect more deeply about it.  Culture shock, to me, has two parts: getting using to everyday things that are profoundly differently to live in another culture, and getting used to how you’ve profoundly, fundamentally changed after living in another culture.   The everyday things come with time and patience; the profound change can be lost without vigilance.

The everyday things that are hard to adjust to are numerous, but one of those is consumerism and materialism.  This has always been a shocker after returning to the US from every trip I’ve gone it, and though it’s no surprise, it’s still a demon to wrestle with.  What was shocking about that recycled, recyclable cutting board at EZ Orchards wasn’t just its existence as a commodity; it was that I wanted it.  I want it so I start to justify buying it, coming up with a reasonable plan.  At the same time I remember how ridiculous this is compared to the billion people who go hungry each day.  Needs versus wants: the keystone to learning to live a balanced life.  It’s funny to hear people justify buying this or that because it will make something easier, or save time, or look better. Sure, it will do all those things, but doesn’t anyone stop to think about how sick our culture is if we can’t truly accept someone because their house isn’t big enough, their dishes don’t match, it’s not well-decorated, their lawn isn’t manicured enough, because they don’t have this or that useless commodity?  We need to buy certain things to fit in.  We need to buy certain time-saving things (i.e. dishwasher, washer and dryer) because we have to live overly busy, “productive” lives to be a normal “American.” Sure, a stainless steel compost container looks better than an old plastic yogurt container, and maybe it keeps flies away and helps with smells, but really? Is that necessary? Do you really need it? I want it, and many other things, and that is a strange shock, because I know better.  Do you ever wonder how you end up with over-stuffed closets and garages?  It’s because we justify buying things, then buying things for our things, then buying things to store our things, and then buying bigger houses with more storage, so we can buy more things: the multiplication of wants.  While traveling we learned to live with very little, and now the amount of stuff we have is stressful.  Unpacking boxes is fun, but with it comes the stress of: where do I put it? Do I even still want it?  While we gave away probably half of our belongings before we left for this trip, I’m looking forward to weeding out even more unnecessary stuff whenever it is we finally get to unpack.   And while I find the amount of things available, and the amount of things I find myself wanting, overwhelming, I do understand that there needs to be a balance, so I’m not going to go around making myself feel guilty all the time or live like a Spartan, because that’s not sustainable either.

This “everyday shock” is related to a profound one: a firm understanding of what matters most.  I used to only want to live in cool cities where I didn’t have to drive, where I had fun places to eat and drink, where I had beautiful parks, and cool things to go to and do.  I still want to, but I frankly don’t care anymore.  I don’t care if I live in Salem or Portland or Seattle, or Sacramento or Texas, because it just doesn’t matter.  Some people may think I should be applying for jobs all the time, and not going out kayaking or hiking, but that doesn’t matter either.  What matters, in my opinion, is being fully present and focused on whatever’s going on “in the moment” and having quality time with those you love, whether that’s family or friends.   So, yes, I’m applying for jobs a lot, but I’m not stressing out about it all the time.  I’m only applying for jobs I really want, and I’m keep a schedule that allows me to have free time, and take advantage of the flexibility we have now, because who knows when we’ll have it again.  And I’m applying for jobs in Portland, not just because it’s a great city with more opportunities, but because it’s where our dear friends live, yet it’s still close to at least some of our family. And while I’m doing all this I’m trying to learn about my new surroundings and continue to pursue things I’m passionate about, hence trips to the outdoors, bouldering, going to parks, breweries, Timbers games, restaurants, and food carts.  If there’s anything we learned while traveling, it’s that you can be in the coolest city in the world, or the most beautiful place, or having the greatest experience of your life, but it doesn’t matter if you don’t have someone to share it with.   And if you can learn to say, trust God, and therefore be fully present in whatever your given situation is, you’ll find yourself relatively worry-free, able to enjoy life even though you’re in a rough transition right now.  That’s where I find myself most days now, and I pray it will last.

mt. hood

A few other everyday shocks I’ve noticed revolve around cell phones: I find texts irritating now, and would rather just call to talk to someone, which if you know anything about my weird irrational fear of talking on the phone, is quite the big deal.  I find myself wanting to turn my cell phone off, like our parents do, which I used to say defeated the purpose of having a cell phone.   I love that we’re finally close to friends and family, but I want to see them and talk to them, not hear my phone buzz.  I also find it strange that I seemed to have lost my US pedestrian skills, which granted, maybe weren’t great to begin with, as I’m always had a certain affinity for the chaotic systems our Southern neighbors use.  At any rate, cross-walks: annoying.  Walking in front of cars: normal.  Suddenly breaking for pedestrians or cars, being cut off, passed, whatever: normal, not cause for alarm or anger.  I hear people around me commenting about such and such traffic situation and getting really worked up about it, and I think, why bother? Everyone’s just fine.  I suppose these relates to a profound change in our pace of life.  We move slowly, and I like it.  I feel centered and balanced, and I hope I can maintain it, even when work begins again.

Also, I find speaking English strange, and find it difficult to read and write at the level I used to, needing extra time to think of the correct word or to having to re-read things to catch the subtle nuances.  I also do this with Spanish, meaning, I now struggle in both languages instead of just one.  This has been amusing as well as frustrating, especially when writing cover letters or talking in job interviews.  I also find it strange to order food in English, and almost always pause before speaking to make sure I’m thinking the right thing to say. I forget people can overhear and understand our conversations, and that tone and mannerisms suddenly matter a great deal more than they did in South America.  I also can’t stand commercials now (I feel like they’re simultaneously screaming at me and making my brain go in 1000 directions at once) nor can I really stand most TV programs, even the mindless ones I used to love so much (cooking shows, etc.).  30 Rock has been a saving grace.  These, among many others, are the funny, more light-hearted shocks to coming home.

So, those are just a few thoughts that have been rolling around in my head lately about coming home.  So far, it’s been pretty great; truly enjoyable and wonderful, so great to see family and friends, and have good food and drinks again, but, the reality of being back is just beginning to set in I think, so I’m sure we’ll face many other challenges to come.

For those interested, pictures of our recent trip to Seattle can be found HERE, more kayaking pictures can be found HERE, pictures from around Portland HERE, and pictures from a recent hike near Mt. Hood can be found HERE.



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Mindo Lindo

Hey Guys,

So, we’ve added a lot of new photos to the Quito album, which you can find HERE.   I also decided that I had had enough of sitting around our hostel room in the rain in Quito, and decided we might as well go check out the nearby town of Mindo, in the cloudforest, even though I heard mixed opinions about it.  It turned out to be a wonderful little trip (wish we had more time there) and photos from it can be found HERE.

Also, I took a short video whilst on the zipline (or canopy tour) in Mindo, which can be found HERE!

Mindo is an interesting place – a tiny town, but well known to tourists.  Since we missed our bus back to Quito (more on that later) we ended up taking a “taxi” (read: man with pickup truck) to the main highway to flag down a bus to Quito.  On the way the driver was commenting to a family about Mindo’s history.  The people in Mindo didn’t care much about the environment, and as such destroyed quite a bit of the forest to buildings, crops, etc.  Even so, Mindo was still known to bird fanatics, since over 400 different species of birds have been documented here.  But, the fact was: a beautiful thing was being destroyed.  So, some young people ended up going to the US and Europe and learned about environmental education, and decided to convince the people of Mindo that they could (and needed to) restore the forest around them.  How? They had no money.  The people said, tourists will come to see the trees, and we can use their money to reforest our land.  No one believed them, yet here we were (paying a few bucks around every corner to do something)! The driver was saying that the reforestation project in Mindo (which took place over 20 years) is held up as an example in Ecuador for other regions in the country.  But what do you think – using tourism money for reforestation? Is it worth the carbon emissions we spend getting there? And what about all the damage to the environment that tourism inevitable brings (trash, pollution, plant damage)? Is eco-tourism a viable solution?  Just some thoughts I had as we stood in the raining, watching no less than 4 buses pass us, refusing to stop…As a side note, we also heard stories from a hostel-owner that radiation rain, produced after the earthquake in Japan, has caused quite a bit of damage to trees here.  True? Not sure, but even so, the interconnectedness of the world is astonishing (in both good and bad ways…).

But, Mindo is a nice (lindo) place. Tiny, and the town itself is not so pretty.  But, there are great places to stay outside of town, and some fun stuff to do in the forest.  We stayed in a wonderful cabin (Los Cedros: take the dirt road to the left by the school and pass the cemetery. Great directions, I know!) where we fell asleep listening to dozens of frogs serenade us, and rain falling on the metal roof.  In the morning we woke up to what seemed like hundreds of birds singing, and looked out our many windows at the colorful plants and vegetation that surrounded us.  It was a fantastic respite from the noise and pollution and people of Quito.  We also went on some zip-lines (hey, why not? something to do and only $1 per cable!) and got to see the forest from some very unique angles! We also went on a “chocolate tour” at a small store in town (run in part by an Oregonian family (Silverton nonetheless!), where we learned an awful lot about making chocolate.  There’s more comments on that in the photos in the link above, but I just have to reiterate that they try to get all their ingredients within 2 hours of town, and that they buy all their cacao and coffee beans directly from the farmers, often paying above fair trade prices, and try to reinvest into the community as much as possible.  It’s a great little place, called ChocalArte.

Our second and last day our wonderful hostess made us a great breakfast, even though it was after 11 a.m., and we spent an hour running around to try to see as many waterfalls as we could (3) and rode a cable car to get to the trails – a beautiful day (until the routine afternoon downpour!).   Here is where we had to rush to catch the 3 p.m. bus, the last one for the day.  We would have made it, had we not given our key back to the owner of Los Cedros, who was at the grocery store when we rushed back to get our bags and run to the bus. But, it worked out, as now we had time to buy some coffee beans from the store where we did the chocolate tour (they also roast their own beans), and ended up catching a van back to town for the same price as a bus, and faster.

Now, we’re back in Quito, back the New Bask Hostel in new town.  Tomorrow we’re planning on heading to Otavalo, a few hours away, to check out a large indigenous market that’s there on Saturdays, before we do our final load of laundry and pack to go home on Sunday. I’m warming up to Ecuador little by little.  We’ve seen some beautiful places, despite terrible weather, and we’ve finally found some local food we enjoy: cuy (guinea pig), corvina (sea bass), shrimp empanadas, ceviche with a tomato sauce, tomate d’arbol (sweet tomato), fried plantains, another dessert similar to funnel cake, and we’ve seen signs of street food at last in smaller towns. Tomorrow night we’re heading to a great Ecuadorian restaurant (Mama Clorinda’s) for a second round of treats – hopefully minestras (a bean dish), seco (chicken or beef stew), a dessert humita, and the Ecuadorian version of tamales.  People  we’ve run into have generally been incredibly friendly to us, and proud to share their country with us, even if they were just bitterly eliminated from the Copa America by Brazil. I’m glad we’re enjoying it more here, because I’m trying really hard to finish off our trip strong!!

quito from the bellavista neighborhood

On that note, its a strange thing, saying things like “I’ll take care of that on Monday” (oops, had to cancel a credit card when it was stolen, and now we’re late on our storage unit payment!) and finally being invited to plans we can actually make.  How will we live without dropping off our dirty clothes and having it come back clean and folded? Or without cheap carbonated mineral water? And with being late to everything acceptable, and a people that are willing to help each other and get to know one another easily? How many times will we start conversations in Spanish before we realize everyone speaks English again? But then again, how have we lived without IPA’s for 10 months? Without phad thai and good coffee?  Without high speed internet and dear friends and family?  All in all, I think we both have a lot to think about, are trying to prepare ourselves for the inevitable culture shock, and hopefully I’ll have time to share some of those thoughts tomorrow night before we head home.

Until then, enjoy your Saturday.  See you soon!

Sharon and Tyler

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Happy 4th of July!!

Just a quick post to link up some pictures we took around Riobamba and of the “Devil’s Nose” train ride HERE.

As I’m waiting for my shower to heat up (it’s already been at least 30 minutes, I’m starting to loose hope. Sad.), I thought I might as well share a few more thoughts on Riobamba.

Mainly,  a warning for anyone who cares: don’t bother coming here!  It’s an alright city, but overall it’s boring and uninteresting.  If you are really dead-set on the train, like I was, you can avoid coming here for more than to change a bus as well.  Here’s what I wish we had done: gone from Peru to Cuenca, a colonial city a few hours south of here. From Cuenca, we could have taken a bus directly to Alausi, stayed there (maybe not as nice as some options in Riobamba, but I bet you’d have about the same experience), and rode the train.  After the train ride (the whole thing takes only a few hours), we could have taken a bus to Riobamba, and transferred to a different bus on to Baños. Conversely, we could have stayed at the wonderful beach in Máncora one more day, to arrive in Riobamba on Saturday, ridden the train Sunday, and been on our way (the train only runs on Fridays, Sundays, and Wednesdays I believe).  That’s my advice.

Meanwhile, in Riobamba, we’ve done a lot of sleeping and movie watching.  Tyler’s been sick and can’t stray too far from a bathroom, and frankly, there’s not much else to do.  I wanted to go to Chimborazo (a nearby volcano) but the weather hasn’t been that great and its a bit pricy even just for transportation out there to hike around. Plus, well, I was so sunburned I was hobbling along, and again, Tyler and the bathroom. We did find a really good pizza place, and several nice plazas and churches and things like that. But, that just makes for a nice walk for a few hours.  We were excited to see that Chinese food is popular here, but then, it was not nearly as good as in Lima.  The noodles were, and this is not a joke, spaghetti noodles. And the people running the restaurant were Chinese (we could here them speaking), and there’s real noodles in Peru, so how hard can it possibly be to get them? Strange. And then there’s Ecuadorian food…why can’t we find anything good?  All we’ve seen is tons of pig face/various parts of roasted pork, and unappetizing looking starches.  Over, my impression is just sort of “blah.” Don’t get me wrong, we enjoyed ourselves, it was just mainly in ways we could have enjoyed ourselves in any town anywhere; it’s just not a great travel destination, or even stop-over.  But, as a side-note, our second hotel, El Tren Dorado,was totally awesome and has an amazing breakfast!  I’m hoping, really hoping, it’s just this place and when we move on to the more popular town of Baños, and then to Quito, all things will improve.

And, there’s the business of trying to figure out the cultural differences here.  People have been generally quite friendly to us.  It’s been rare that anyone speaks English (which I love). But, from our bus ride experiences, people are also quite impatient, and extremely vocal.  I mean, we watched a lady yell at a guy on the bus for ‘overcharging’ her (long story), block his way, had him call his manager where she snatched up the phone and yelled at him, meanwhile another passenger started filming the whole thing with a professional looking camera and when the lady noticed, started talking to the camera about how she’s being overcharged and it’s an abuse, blah blah blah. All over $1. And that’s just the worst example, but people always seem to be yelling at the bus drivers to hurry up and to leave already. It’s been very entertaining.

Also, things seem somewhat more developed here, and also more westernized in a way I can’t quite articulate.  It’s almost like, in Bolivia, the people didn’t expect anything. They didn’t expect the bus to be clean, or on time, or to get good service. But they were honest, and shy, and fiercely held onto their traditions. Because of that, I always felt extremely safe in Bolivia, and like I could easily trust the people; they might try to overcharge you a bit if you’re a tourist, but they’re not going to completely take advantage of you, and they’re more likely to stare at you in confusion than think to rob you.  In Peru, things were more divided. Since Cusco was still part of the strong Andean culture, it was much the same, except a few people had figured out that tourists don’t just look funny, they have money and expensive things you can take from them. In Lima, people were snobbier, more likely to be rude to waiters and taxi drivers, and more likely to complain about bad services (because they had come to expect things to be a certain way).  Here, you can still see that the indigenous culture is strong, but it doesn’t have the same vibrancy as in Peru or Bolivia.  People seem care more about image, and you can see a greater Western influence, but not in the same ways we’ve seen elsewhere.  Basically, what it comes down to is first impressions, and we still haven’t ‘figured it out’ yet. So, more on that later.

On that note, I’ve given up on my shower and it’s time to back and get ready to go to Baños! More to come later.


Sharon and Tyler

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pisaq, outside cusco, peru

Just a quick update the let y’all know that we just posted the first round of photos from our latest place, Cusco, Peru, HERE.

So far, Cusco has been mostly good to us.  We have a great deal at a hotel: we have our own room, cable TV, wifi, our own bathroom, a balcony, and breakfast for 40 soles a night (less than US$15). The deal? For some reason the water shuts off at around 8 p.m. every night and doesn’t start back up again until about 6 a.m.  So, no showers before bed!  We’ve also had some good times getting juice and sandwiches at Yaju’u near the main square, getting amazing hot sandwiches, chicha morada (corn beer), and fries with curry mayo at Juanito’s in San Blas, buying far too many things in the markets and stores, watched the NBA finals at an Irish bar, where we ended up sharing a tiny table with a delightful family from Indiana, and then, unfortunately, we were robbed walking home.

The streets are really narrow here, so cars are always driving past about a foot away.  Literally steps from our hostel I heard a car pull up behind us, and as I started to move away an arm stuck out the back window and grabbed my backpack.  We tried to chase after them but to no avail, and as we didn’t remember the license plate number there was no point filing a police report.  Luckily, we weren’t hurt, and most of the stuff in the bag I was going to replace at some point in the near future anyway (granted, after we had jobs to pay for the things).  We did have to cancel a debit card but we have others, but, our camera full of pictures of the day tour we had just taken from the Sacred Valley were in there, and that was the hardest to take.  Especially since we were so close to home, and are so careful about our things.  But, after a day of shopping to replace the most important items, which are mostly better than the originals (I now have my dream backpack and a bright green Nikon Coolpix camera!), and a little retail therapy to boot, we feel fine, though I am a little nervous about walking down our street now.  We also spent today re-doing the tour so we could re-take the photos we lost as best we could.  We actually enjoyed the tour a  lot better the second time around, so it all pretty much worked out! Now just to replace my designer prescription glasses…hmmm…luckily my very wise mother-in-law recommended we bring our old glasses as spares, so I can manage with that for a few more weeks! Despite that awful event, we both still like Cusco somehow (even though I did just want to go home the night it happened).

Tomorrow we get up dark and early (4:30 a.m.) to do the Salkantay trek to Machu Picchu.  We’ll spend 4 long days hiking about 44 miles through the mountains and jungle until we get to the town closest to Machu Picchu, the most famous Inca ruins of all.  After we hit the hot springs we’ll have yet another early morning to hike up the ruins before sunrise, and spend the day exploring and picture-taking.  Then we get to ride the sweet tourist train halfway back, and get a bus back to Cusco where we’ll spend probably 2 more days sightseeing a bit more.

So, that’s it for the next few days, we’ll be back late Sunday night and will be posting lots more pictures shortly thereafter!


Sharon and Tyler

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la paz and mt. illimani from el alto
Hi Everyone!

Has it really been over two weeks since we last updated the blog?! Oops! This always seems to happen!

For those interested in the thrills first, there are yet more pictures from La Paz HERE.

Quick highlights of La Paz: it’s big, it’s crowded, it’s hectic, it’s a little dirty, there’s not enough oxygen in the air, and frankly, it’s shocking after being in the jungle for 2 months.  Yet somehow, we found ourselves hanging around for 2 weeks! What?! We had planned on going to the Amazon in Rurrenabaque, but holed up in La Paz instead, thanks largely to a nice enough, cheap room with wifi, a stream of friends from the park showing up, and my decision to try to climb some real mountains (the Andes!).

We spent many nights drinking pints of Judas beer (the only realish beer that exists in Bolivia – 7%) at Oliver’s Pub, an “English” bar with fantastic food.  We watched the final Champion’s League game with friends from the park and had a crazy night out in La Paz, which included a friend eating 11 street burgers (amazing)!  I went on a few hikes to acclimatize: La Muela del Diablo and a few around La Cumbre. Both involved adventurous use of public transportation, as well as some private-car hiring and hitchhiking with my good friend Grant from the park, and both were amazing: we were essentially the only ones there!  At La Muela we even got to do some bouldering and spotting some sport climbing routes I’d have loved to have done. We had pizza and ice cream a few times at Napoli in Plaza Murrilo, and spent plenty of time buying souvenirs in Gringo Alley (Tyler even caved and bought Israeli pants); even venturing into the beginning of the witch’s market.  We found the best empananads tucumanas ever, a plethora cheap, fresh squeezed orange, mandarin, and grapefruit juice, a favorite papa relleno stand and even a Mexican restaurant. Tyler also found the best coca leaves yet from an apparently very obese, yet very generous women which has started quite the obsession.

What didn’t we do? Go to San Pedro prison or bike the Death Rode – two of the most popular things in La Paz.  We also didn’t go to a single museum (not even the Museo de Coca! We kept wanting do, but didn’t have the energy), and only walked past a few churches and important buildings.  We did eat an awful lot of street food and spend a lot of time sleeping in, recovering from the jungle, and downloading new movies (the Hangover 2 – yeah!).

Now, for those that want to hear about the climbs.  First, I was semi-talked into climbing Huayna Potosi, a 6088 meter (that’s over 19,000 feet!) mountain outside La Paz.  Crazy, huh? It’s known as one of the most accessible mountains over 6,000 feet and dozens of people with no experience whatsoever climb it each day.  I originally wanted to climb something smaller, but thought, what the heck, it’s cheap enough, I have a friend that wants to go, why not give it a shot? (Keep in mind that La Paz is already at 3500 meters.)

Day One: We headed to base camp, which was around 4200 meters high.  It was nice, we got to stay in a refugio, sleep on mattresses, have food cooked for us, and have a couple of very brief hours teaching us how to walk with crampons on the glacier and do a bit of ice climbing.  It wasn’t nearly enough training in my opinion, but a nice way to sort of ease into the climb I guess and get to know the group.

Day Two: We hiked in the morning to high camp, 5200 meters.  The hike took about 2.5 hours and I was the last one up.  Not a good sign.  While thankfully we didn’t have to carry things like tents, sleeping pads, food or stoves up, we did have to carry an awful lot of other gear: crampons, ice axe, helmet, boots, and a lot of warm clothes! I felt fine at the top; it just took me longer than the rest. Once there we had some tea and cookies, lunch, took a nap, took some pictures, had an early dinner, and tried to go to sleep by 6 p.m. So early! And no one could sleep!

Day Three: We’re supposed to get up at 12:30 a.m. to get ready, have some tea and cookies, and set out for the mountain by 1:30 a.m. at the latest.  Actually, on the brochure we were supposed to leave by 1 a.m. In reality we didn’t set off for the summit until about 2 a.m., for whatever reason my team was the last to leave and were immediately ages behind the rest of the group.  The first hour was fine: climbing, climbing, climbing on the glacier, across and up, too dark to see how far down and how steep it was, trying to hard to breathe to think about falling when we had to scramble over narrow rocks.  After and hour and a half I was nauseated and exhausted.  Not good.  I pushed on but the pace was slow.  I was told I would have 6-7 hours to summit; that we would stop every 20 minutes; that I could keep going up even if I was puking and falling over.  So I wasn’t worried; I thought, well, we’ve taken 2 or 3 tiny breaks in 2 hours, so I must be doing alright. At 3:30 our guide, Carlos, started calculating time to the top, saying we needed to be there by 6; not 7 or so like they told us before.  My partner, Grant, was more experienced with high climbs and perfectly fine to keep going.  I tried to go a little further, constantly on the verge of vomiting, then eventually decided to stop being selfish and not let Grant miss his chance for the summit.  I thought that maybe after they caught him up to the next group, Carlos and I could continue on at my slower pace and see how far we got.   They raced off to catch the next group, which was much further along than expected. I waited alone on the mountainside for 45 at 5500 meters elevation. I looked close to the summit; in reality I was only a third of the walking distance up.  Carlos told me to go down, saying if I didn’t have much energy now I wouldn’t have enough to go all the way up and back.  I wanted to take soroche (altitude) pills and chew coca, but it was too cold to do either.  Reluctantly I stumbled back and crawled into bed.  Needless to say I was disappointed and upset with my guide, but what can you do? That’s the politics of climbing, I probably wouldn’t have made it to the top anyway (especially safely) and I can come back and do it another day.  I still had a good experience, got to see what I was getting myself into, got a great workout, and met some cool people, and saw some interesting scenery.  The rest is for another day.

But, I couldn’t give up; I said I would summit something, and I damn well better.  I have goals; I have plans.  I want to join the Mazama’s, I have to climb a glaciated peak.  So after a couple days of rest, I made plans to climb the peak I originally wanted, Pequeno Alpamayo. I wish I had just done that in the first place! The hike in is beautiful, the camp is beautiful, there’s less people, and the scenery is absolutely stunning.  I convinced Grant to come along; he was going on to climb something more difficult afterwards in the same valley (Cabeza del Condor).  We arrived at the village of Tuni, mules took everything but our daypacks, and we hiked in about 3 hours to base camp, next to a beautiful lake surrounded by mountains. After an early dinner we went to bed, this time got up early at my request, and we heading off to the mountain by around 2 a.m. (if I remember correctly).  After about an hour’s walk on relatively flat ground, we reached the glacier, put on our gear, and started up.  It’s here that I realized I dropped my coca leaves (but I had taken soroche pills just to be sure) and wanted to cry.  But, up the glacier we went.  Up, and up, and up.  It always looked like we were almost there.  The first two hours I was energetic, hopeful, and great.  Then I started to decline, just like on Huayna Potosi.  At sunrise we finally made it to the top of the glacier, but still had to traverse it, climb Pico Tarija, descend that peak, and go up Pequeno Alpamayo. Our guide, Felix, was amazing.  He encouraged me just keep going, and before I knew it we were climbing the ridge of Pico Tarija.  It helped that there was extremely cold, strong winds, practically blowing me up (and off!) the mountain.  I loved the rush I got climbing the ridge; trying to stand, being blown over, my right leg falling through the soft snow off the steep edge, have to essentially crawl on all fours with my ice axe.  But, it was amazing to finally be on top of something; to know I had pushed through; to reach another personal life-long goal.  At the top of Pico Tarija we were exhausted, Grant was spooked by the summit ridge, and we noticed my crampon was broken which took ages to fix.  With Pequeno Alpamayo and it’s beautiful summit right in front of us, we decided to leave it for another day and go back to camp. After a very short nap and some lunch, I hiked out in 2 hours to make it back to La Paz, back to eat at Oliver’s, and collapsed into bed.

Finally after recovering from that, we left for Copacabana.  Unfortunately, the mayor of La Paz decided not to fufill some promises he made, and there were protests in El Alto, essentially the only way out of the city. Luckily, we found one bus that was sure he could get around this.  This let to some back road driving through country roads, with protesters literally putting stones to block the roads as we tried to go down them.  Our bus driver was literally asking people where what road went, but a faithful cholita was sure we could get through, and she was right!  What a funny adventure.  Then, it turns out we had to get off the bus and take a boat to keep going to Copacabana.  Except, the bus went on one boat, and we had to leave all our stuff and take a different boat!  Then the first boat was full, and the bus barely waited for the few of us on the second boat!  How scary to see all our stuff literally floating on without us!  But, it all worked out, as usual, and we’re here in beautiful Lago Titicaca, just spent the day hiking and exploring Incan ruins on the Isla del Sol, where the Incan god is believed to have created the sun and the moon, and we’re getting ready to head for Cusco, Peru tomorrow morning!

Keep us in mind, as Peru just went through some rather difficult elections and the Peruvian-Bolivian border has been closed for the past few weeks, and now is only open sporadically.  Apparently the old president of Peru decided to sell what were protected indigenous lands to a Canadian mining company and that didn’t go over so well, hence protests and the closing of borders.  But, word on the street is that the borders have been open, especially in the mornings, so we’re going to give it a go! Hopefully so, because we only have 3 more days left on our Bolivian visa!  If not, we just pay some small fines and spend more time relaxing on the beautiful (though slightly cold) lake!

Pics from Copacabana to come!

We love and miss you all, and are excited to get moving on with our trip again, so we can come home soon!


Sharon and Tyler

Hug the kitten for us. ❤


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