Nicaragua – The Land of Hitchhiking

It’s been sixteen months since we landed in Houston after spending nine and a half months in Latin America.  Our little chihuahua growled at us when we got into my parents’ car still wearing our hats from Nicaragua.  It took him a while to warm up to us.  Our intention was to get this post out right away.  Well, American life happened.  We visited Kate’s family in Northern California for three months then spent time with my family in Nashville and Houston.  We have been back in Central Texas since the fall of 2015, working on projects we had planned while traveling and swimming daily in the cold springs that make this region so special.

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Strolling Through Lima and Touring Hot Springs in Churín

Wandering Lima

It is funny to me that we assumed that we wouldn’t like Lima and skipped it entirely the first time through. We had to return because it is the transportation hub for not only the country but for this region of South America. Surprisingly, we ended up liking it so much that we stayed there altogether for 10 nights. I felt right at home in the little bohemian neighborhood of Barranco. We developed a routine there, taking frequent strolls to our favorite spots. Lima is a gastronomic paradise. It was hard to leave the wonderful food and tranquil atmosphere we discovered.

Hanging out in Barranco
Hanging out in Barranco
Fresh crab found in my soup
Fresh crab found in my soup at Cevicheria Union in Barranco
Mouth-watering Fresh Maracuya Cake with Organic Coffee from La Panadera
Mouth-watering Fresh Maracuya Cake with Organic Coffee from La Panadera
Street Art in Barranco
Street Art in Barranco

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The Best of Cusco and Machu Picchu

Cusco – A Great Place for a Reunion

The best part of Cusco was getting to spend time with friends and family. We stayed in a sweet little hotel with five rooms in the San Blas neighborhood run by a Peruvian family and ate daily at some fantastic vegetarian restaurants. We ran into people we met in Chachapoyas, Yarinacocha and Potosí months before. The Cusco region is a major hub for travelers.

Cuzco was colder than we expected, but the most popular soup place in the market helped us out
Cusco was colder than we expected, but the most popular soup place in the market helped us out
The Flower Market in Cuzco
The Flower Market in Cusco

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A Quest for Southern Beaches of Perú

After our time in Tacna, we wanted to spend a few days in a tranquil coastal town with a good swimming beach before heading to Cusco. We were told Boca del Rio was nice so we headed there. The bus ride was pretty short, only an hour away. When we arrived, we found a ghost town of closed shops and empty beaches. It was beautiful but without any people, it felt soulless. We walked back to the highway to hitch a ride farther up the coast.

Back to the Highway in the Ghost Town
Back to the Highway in the Ghost Town
Boca del Rio - Beautiful but Empty
Boca del Rio – Beautiful but Empty

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Back to Perú and Loving It

After forty-seven hours in Chile, we landed in Tacna, a Peruvian city near the southern border. The Lonely Planet refers to it as merely a “staging post” to Chile. Since Kurt and I like to explore less popular cities and towns off the beaten path, not just tourist destinations, we decided to give it a try.

It was a treat to become immersed once again in a culture of friendly and helpful Peruanos. Upon arriving we were looking for a certain hotel and when we appeared lost a nice man on the street offered to help us.

Tacneños are a pround people. They were some of the first South Americans to fight the Spanish for independence over 200 years ago. Many lost their lives in the War of the Pacific in the 1880s. After fifty years of occupation by Chile, they voted to rejoin Perú in 1929.

We found a nice hotel and settled in, eating daily at the market, seafood soup and fresh banana batidos. In the evenings, we dined on pizza at a restaurant near our hotel and at a place with homemade pasta across from the cathedral. Copious amounts of fresh local olive oil were on offer as a free condiment.

Kurt at the Seafood Counter in the Market
Kurt at the Seafood Counter in the Market
Delicious Homemade Italian Pasta with Fresh Olive Oil
Delicious Homemade Italian Pasta

It was hard to leave considering the nice people and laid back vibe of the city. The weather was actually perfect. It felt like Southern California near the beach. The only other foreigners we encountered were a couple from Fontana, California on their way to Mendoza, Argentina to look at retirement properties.

We ventured into the cathedral numerous times over our days in town to witness Easter services we’d never seen before. On Easter morning, we spent three and a half hours at a spa enjoying dry sauna, steam baths, massages and maracuya juice. That evening, we could hear “How Great Though Art” being sung in Spanish somewhere near our hotel.

The Cathedral in Tacna
The Cathedral in Tacna

We spent one morning on a trip out to the local hot springs. Our hotelier told us it was only 20 minutes away by bus but to our surprise (or lack of surprise as I’ve learned the Latin American interpretation of time is far from actuality) it took an hour, but it was a beautiful ride through grape orchards and rising desert hills. We arrived at the somewhat abandoned hot springs complex (we were not there during high season) and found the main pool to be nearly empty. The man at the ticket booth told us that private baths were still functioning and we could go there. We took a half hour bath in a 40C tub. Our skin felt silky smooth when we left and we were so relaxed that we fell asleep on the bus back to town.

Hot Springs near Tacna
Hot Springs near Tacna

 

Off the Beaten Path in Chachapoyas

How often does one wake up not knowing that they would visit pre-Incan ruins built atop a 9,000 foot mountain?  We opted for a guided tour offered by our hostel, Chachapoyas Backpackers. This was the first time we ventured on this type of guided outing and it did not disapppoint. We made our way to the van, piled in with about 14 other travelers and began the drive to Kuelap. It had been rainy and dreary since we entered Peru just at the beginning of January and this day was no exception. The road curved smoothly along a rushing river for a while and after about an hour we started to climb a dirt road that was extremely muddy.  Outside the left-hand window was a vertical drop, sometimes several thousand feet down. Our guide, Ernando, pointed to the top of a high mountain near some distant trees saying “See, there you can see it.” We had a way to go. Our trip to the top of the mountain was only met with one minor road slide where men hopped out of tour vans in front of us throwing boulders off the side of the road. We made it to Kuelap around 11:30 AM.

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Thank you, Colombia, for some of the best months of our lives.

Greetings from Ecuador!  We enjoyed our planned one month in Colombia so much that we spent 89 days there, leaving Friday the 21st of November, the day before our visa expired.  Much has happened over these past months.  Words cannot express the transformation that has occurred in our lives.  We could not have imagined how our travels would cause our love for each other, our family, our friends, humanity and this beautiful planet to grow exponentially from our powerful wedding weekend in July of 2014.  We share some of our top experiences in Colombia below.  If you have any questions, feel free to ask us to expound on a topic.  Also, see our map if you would like to follow where we’ve been.
Day 1 in Bogota - Photo by Joe Wheeler

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