A Travellerspoint blog

Ecuador,

take one.

Hi hi! I've put updating our blog off for way too long, so you're about to receive a little background, a smattering of pictures, and hopefully, if I can restrain myself, a lot of short little explanatory captions to go with.... As you can see, I'm not so good at minimizing the verbage. However! I will try since I'm 3 months behind.

So, Ecuador. If memory serves, we arrived in Quito, Ecuador in the beginning of May after a fun- and adventure-filled two weeks in Costa Rica. We were definitely ready to be in one spot for a bit and brush up on our Spanish, since everyone in Costa Rica spoke English and we didn't practice much there. Quito is a huge city and has a horrible reputation as far as safety goes, especially for tourists. It is also home to "old" Quito, a world heritage site with the obligatory set of old buildings, churches and old squares. We actually didn't take many pictures in either new or old Quito because we were a little hesitant to take our cameras due to the theft factor. Here's what we did get from the Basilica in old town, a seven story church, where we got to climb steel ladders AFTER climbing up the seven stories. IMG_2663.jpg La Virgen of Quito (the big, white lady on the hill) IMG_2659.jpg IMG_2665.jpg

We also got a picture of our first hanging piece of meat on our way to a local marker, but don't worry, there'll be more! IMG_2678.jpg

So that's Quito. Albeit, not much in the way of pictures, but we didn't get our cameras stolen! While in Quito, we decided we needed to make an unplanned pitstop back in Portland to be with Tara's family. Since we didn't know if we'd make it back to South Amercia, we also decided to make our way to the Galapagos because, really, how could we go to Ecuador and not see the Galapagos? AND it was the best decision ever! We took a five day cruise and slept on the boat while we traveled between islands at night, which was an adventure in and of itself, given how rough the ocean was that week. Nevertheless, we made it to several islands over the five days and saw some truly amazing landscapes, animals and sunsets.

Day 1: We met and had lunch on the boat in Puerto Ayora IMG_2747.jpgbefore re-landing ashore and visiting the Charles Darwin Research Center and some big land tortoises, including good ol' Lonesome George, the last surviving giant Galapagos tortoise! Although, they finally got him to mate and there may be more of him soon. http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2009/jul/22/lonesome-george-galapagos-tortoise-father Here's the big guy, all 120 years of him. Right?!?! No wonder he's a little slow. P1010029.jpg And here's Tara with another type of land tortoise. IMG_2712.jpg Of course, we were most entertained by the big boys (and they are both boys) trying to work it out.

On our way back to the port to catch the dinghy to the boat, we got to watch a fisherman cleaning and slicing fish and selling it on the spot, IF he was lucky enough to keep it away from his little sea lion friend. IMG_2740.jpgIMG_2722.jpg Man, he was adorable (the sea lion) and was just like a dog, begging for the good stuff.

Needless to say, our first day was fantastic, and really, just a glimpse of what was to come the rest of the week!

Day 2: After a rocking, and I mean rocking night (I almost got dumped out of bed a couple of times due to rough seas), we arrived at Island Plazas, our first stop just on the other side of Santa Cruz Island, a little island called Plaza Sur. We took our dinghy out to the island and were met by hundreds of the reddest crabs I've ever seen IMG_2754.jpg and the friendliest sea lions I've ever met. IMG_2750.jpg IMG_2760.jpg The sea lions were especially cute when snuggling. IMG_2764.jpg The island itself was completely unexpected - a combination of old cacti, low brush and high, high cliffs on the other side of the narrow island. IMG_2783.jpg P1010159.jpg We also saw THE coolest land iguanas on Plaza Sur and he let us get super close! IMG_2795.jpg P1010112.jpg We also saw a lot of baby sea lion skeletons, as some of the little guys don't make it if their moms die or goe away. Sad, I know, but as a mom said to her kids, it is the circle of life on the Galapagos and you gotta see some skeletons along with all the good stuff! Tara made the first blue-footed booby sighting on Plaza Sur, but he was hiding on a cliff below, so you can only see his blue toes!

From Plaza Sur Island, we headed southeast to Santa Fe Island where we did our first bit of snorkeling! On the way there, we were followed by frigates, the big black sea birds with the red throat that blows up. They took advantage of the updraft off the front of the boat and just hung out above us, barely lifting a feather. P1010181.jpg P1010186.jpg I only got pooped on once. After about 2 hours, we got to Santa Fe and got ready to snorkel. Of course, since we were on an adventure and we purchased the special action adventure high risk travel health insurance, I felt that I just had to jump from the 3rd floor of the boat, along with the other highly intelligent folks on our trip. I love, LOVE swimming with sea lions! Tara wasn't such a huge fan, but I thought it was pretty cool to watch them swim straight at me, then swoooop by within inches of my nose before flipping around, diving down to the bottom of the ocean and coming right back for more. Really, SO cool! We also got to see our first sea turtle, which let us just swim right along with it, without a care in the world.

After snorkeling, we had a snack and a bit of a break before taking a small boat to land and hike around Santa Fe. Santa Fe was our guide's favorite island, and I can see why. Besides being loaded with sea lions, it has some of the oldest and tallest Prickly Pear or Opuntia Cacti. IMG_2827.jpg IMG_2839.jpg IMG_2833.jpg As well as some really beautiful brown pelicans nesting just above the cove. IMG_2822.jpg We also saw a Galapagos finch, and land iguanas too!

Day 3: After another rocky night, we landed between Floreana Island and the "Devil's Crown", jagged rocky remains surrounded by an immense coral reef, perfect for snorkeling. Floreana, I believe, was the first island in the Galapagos to be inhabited, but I didn't take notes, and it's been too long since we were there to remember all the details. Something scandalous about lovers, affairs and possible murders. What I do know is that Floreana is where you can find, and see, the Galapagos Flamingo. P1010256.jpg From the flamingo lagoon, we headed over the top of the small island to a beach where sea turtles lay their eggs. The beach was just simply the most beautiful beach I've ever seen, complete with green sand. IMG_2869.jpg IMG_2865.jpg The green is a little hard to see, but it really looked green when we were there!

Following the flamingos and amazing beach, we headed back to the boat for more snorkeling around the Devil's Crown. The sea was a little rough (and cold!) by that point, so we didn't last long, but we did make our first shark spotting. It was little and pretty far away, but still freaked me out. Don't like the sharks too much... From snorkeling, we got back on the boat for lunch and were accompanied by a new guest, craftily sculpted by our kitchen gurus. P1010291.jpg Next, we went to Post Office Bay, also part of Floreana. Post Office Bay is a bay, with a beach and a mail barrel. Yes, a barrel. The idea is this: you bring a postcard or piece of mail onto the island with you, but without postage. Once you get to the barrel, you sort through the mail that's there and pick out items you think you can reasonably deliver once you return from whence you came. And the you drop your stuff into the barrel to see if it'll get delivered to you someday. Happy to say, Tara and I are already got ours and delivered the ones we picked up. It's lots of fun! IMG_2891.jpg These are little balls the crabs make and spit out once they pick all the little critters and nutrients out of the sand they need. Love it! IMG_2877.jpg After sorting through the mail, we headed to a lava tube, which is exactly what it sounds like. A really, big tube/tunnel that eventually drains to the ocean. It was really dark. P1010299.jpg Of course, when there's soccer, there's Tara. Unfortunately, the only shot I got was of a shot she didn't block (I was out snorkeling with more sea turtles), but her team won and the Perrys were there to cheer her on! IMG_2897.jpg IMG_2896.jpg Love me some Perrys!

Day 4: The next morning, we went to Espanola Island, the best birding island on the trip. Not only does the island have a amazing population of birds, it also has the clearest water! IMG_2934.jpg We were, of course, SO excited to get to see some blue-footed boobies up close and personal, and even caught one doing their famous mating dance! IMG_2901.jpg P1010364.jpg P1010333.jpg The waved albatross was my favorite animal of the trip - I mean, look at her! IMG_2923.jpg She's amazing. The waved albatross is one of the smaller albatrosses around, but she still stood mid-thigh high. How in the world they keep their big ol' butts airborne is beyond me. I mean, she can hardly keep her butt off the ground when walking!

Here is one of the Tara next to the token blow hole that was about 150 feet below us. IMG_2929.jpg

Between that side of Espanola and where we spent the afternoon (snorkeling and playing on another crazy beautiful beach - wait, it's coming), we got to see four Orcas! They showed up about half way to our next destination and swam and jumped and showed off for at least half an hour. P1010415.jpg Tara didn't want to miss the experience, so just held her camera up to the side and snapped away while she watched and she just happened to get the shot of the baby completely of the water. Apparently, it's really rare to see Orcas that time of year, so we got really lucky.

We also got lucky when didn't get eaten by the 6-foot white tipped reef shark we saw on our next snorkeling adventure. Our guide, being the kind man he is, swam to the bottom of the rock the shark was chillin' under and grabbed its tail so it would swim out and we could see it. Most of the people in our group got closer. Not us! They're not supposed to be dangerous, but we were out and out. The rest of our last afternoon out in the middle of the ocean was spent on a long span of white beach. Tara and I took a walk, P1010436.jpg P1010438.jpg then I got to play with a baby sea lion!

Day 5: Our last morning was fairly uneventful, just a bit of time for lunch and museum/nature center tour. Here I am, waiting to be shuttled off to the airport to return to Quito. P1010463__2_.jpg And that means, that's that for Ecuador. There is a Part II, however, it doesn't take place until after our Peruvian adventures (which I hope to get to by next week)! Wish me luck! Thanks for hanging in to the end - hope you enjoyed it!

Much love,
L & T

Posted by lolokirby 20:55 Archived in Ecuador Comments (0)

Costa Rica

and all things wild!

Hi again! I'm bound and determined to finish telling you about Costa Rica before we move onto Ecuador tomorrow, so here it is.

Although neither Tara nor or I experienced culture shock when we got to Guatemala, it certainly hit us when we landed in Costa Rica! We were totally thrown off by colones; Tara wasn't sure about the exchange rate and I was in the bathroom when she made our first ATM withdrawal of 2,000 colones. That's approximately $3.50. We giggled about that for awhile... It really was a shock, though, to leave Guatemala, such an impoverished, unpredictable country where everything is done "tomorrow" to Costa Rica, where buses leave on time, you can drink the water, and you actually have to sign waivers before embarking on fun adventures. And boy, did we sign some waivers!

We landed in San Jose and checked in to our (now) favorite hotel, Hotel Aranjuez. If you ever have to stay in San Jose, stay here. $25 a night for a comfortable bed, hot shower with great water pressure, cute rooms and the best breakfast buffet ever, including eggs and pancakes. But I digress. We tooled around San Jose for a day before heading out, and stopped to visit the beautiful National Theater P1000656.jpg IMG_2486.jpg IMG_2508.jpg where we found Tara's twin IMG_2506.jpg as well as the local artists' market where we had our first cheap casado (big plate of food for nada). We loved the lime with the orange pulp! IMG_2515.jpg

After lots of discussion about where we'd head first, we decided to go to La Fortuna to see Volcan Arenal, then we got up in the morning and went to Puerto Viejo instead. I had caught a nasty cold and Tara suggested we lay on the beach for a few days instead of trying to climb a volcano right away. I agreed wholeheartedly! Puerto Viejo is a small beach town on the Caribbean side of Costa Rica, just north of the Panama border. Instead of seeing the culture clash we saw in Livingston, it was more of a blend of Caribbean and Costa Rican cultures. And it was way mellow. And beautiful! We stayed at a hotel where we got our own little yellow house P1000711.jpg which was right down the path from the pool. Gotta love a pool, especially one with a mini waterfall! P1000706.jpg P1000694.jpg It wasn't ALL fun and games though, we actually studied Spanish too. Kind of. P1000710.jpg

After some pool time, I was feeling up to a bike ride, so we rented some really rusty bikes and took off to Punta Uva, a beach just south of Puerto Viejo. Tara was anxious to get in the water at first...IMG_2522.jpg then she seemed a little hesistant about actually diving in IMG_2523.jpg and actually not really sure at all about going in IMG_2524.jpg and then really sure about NOT going in. Big seaweed, apparently.IMG_2525.jpg In reality, the water looked fine, but felt strong and there was a bit of a rip tide, so no real swimming took place, but it was great to just be there. And who doesn't love a bike ride beach side? P1000734.jpg

One of the best things about our time in Puerto Viejo, was that we spotted lots of new animals! The hotel grounds were covered in these holes that were homes to our little (and big) blue crab friends. P1000692.jpg After a big rain, a bunch of frogs and a lizard made their way out to say hello. IMG_2556.jpgP1000752.jpg P1000764.jpg That last guy is a galliwasp! What a great name!

And of course, we found another canine friend. Really, if we weren't going to be on the road for such a long time, at least one of these cuties would have to suffer quarantine 'cause we'd be bringing one home, even if she did exceed the weight limit! P1000782.jpg P1000781.jpg

After Puerto Viejo we headed to up into the mountains on a Thursday to stay in La Fortuna, a town that sits at the base (mas o menos) of an active volcano, Volcan Arenal. We checked the weather and the clouds were supposed to lift on Sunday, so we occupied ourselves with other adventures before we attempted to see "red action" (lava) up at the volcano. We REALLY wanted to see some sloths, so we went to a biological reserve that is basically a path that winds through a mini, protected piece of rain forest. At first, we just saw butterflies P1000807.jpg, a lizard IMG_2579.jpg and two caimans P1000817.jpg. No sloths... Until we asked! Then the woman at the ticket area (who was really surprised that we didn't see any) walked into the forest and found two right away. To our benefit, they were both sleeping and just looked like fuzzy puffballs stuck in the crook of a branch. P1000828.jpg

We followed up our jungle hike with some white water rafting the next day on Rio Toro. We ran 4 or 5 class IV rapids, and only lost one of our boat members. Even though he went in in a rough rapid, he was okay in the end. DSC_0260.jpg DSC_0158.jpg And yes, our boat is basically under water. Fun!!! We also saw two sloths, one of which was awake and climbing, and three monkeys on our way down the river. AND our tour guides had a cooler of beers waiting for us at the end of the trip!

Next, we were onto our volcano tour, which started with a hike through the jungle near the volcano P1000844.jpg where we saw an eyelash viper (our first snake sighting). Our guide told us that once a human gets bitten by one of these guys, he or she has 3 to 4 hours to get to a hospital to receive an antidote. Crazy! P1000860.jpg See his eyelashes? We also saw another toucan P1000849.jpg, a howler monkey, and a spider monkey. And, of course, the requisite giant, prehistoric plant: P1000858.jpg After our hike, we got closer to the active side of the volcano and sat until it got dark to see if we could catch some lava. P1000879.jpg Even though our guide told us we would have to be pretty lucky to actually see red action, we did - 4 times! IMG_2633.jpg Okay, so it's a little hard to see. Look left. And our tour wasn't over, even after the lava! We then got to spend a couple hours at some hot springs, but these were no ordinary hot springs, oh no. It was like hot springs in Las Vegas, or Disneyland, but for adults. There were 25 different pools scattered about, tons of swim up bars, and best of all - waterslides! P1000895.jpg I wish we had video of how our bodies skipped across the top of the water as we excited the slides. Seriously, my body has never moved through space at that speed without being strapped into some kind of vehicle. After we told the guys back at our hotel how much fun we had, they told us they don't usually recommend going on them because so many people have gotten hurt. Luckily, we lived to tell the tale!

Our last stop in Costa Rica before heading back to San Jose was in Santa Elena, a town outside of the Monteverde cloud forest. We didn't hesitate to arrange a trip out to the zip lines and were on a shuttle a quick hour after we checked into our hotel. We got all harnessed up and were ready to hit the 14 lines they had waiting for us. P1000913.jpg P1000915.jpg We are so tough! The first segments weren't too high or too long, but the third... We think we were about 600 feet above the canyon floor and the line was 550 meters. That's almost half a mile! We got to do this one together - Tara screamed a lot, and I just held my breath.

It was sooooo much fun!

We also went on a tamer version of cloud forest exploration where we walked across bridges strung through out the forest. Not as adrenaline pumping, but beautiful, nonetheless! P1000926.jpgIMG_2648.jpg And Tara spotted three huge caterpillars, or were they centipedes? IMG_2646.jpg

And here we are, back in San Jose. We fly down to Ecuador tomorrow to get back into the Spanish school groove and save some energy for the Galapagos at the end of the month! It just keeps going!

Much love to all,
L & T

Posted by lolokirby 09:23 Archived in Costa Rica Tagged gay_travel Comments (0)

Two countries down,

six (?) to go!

We're just winding up our second week in Costa Rica and heading to Ecuador day after tomorrow; that means that you and I have the rest of Guatemala AND Costa Rica to catch up on! There's lots to say and many a picture to upload, but in a nutshell, it's been a blast! Check it out....

Our last full weekend in San Pedro la Laguna was perhaps my favorite weekend during our three weeks there, and not only because it was my birthday weekend. Namely, I LOVE that weekend because we got to kayak right up to los pelicanos gigantes! It was waaaaay cool! Not to mention, the water was beautiful, even though we had to paddle against the wind both ways. Go figure. P1000236.jpg P1000238.jpg First, we spent some time paddling in the reeds, then IMG_2230.jpgIMG_2221.jpg we went to visit the pelicans! That last one didn't like how close I got, but how cool to see that wingspan up close! And the next one nearly took Tara's hat off - can you see it? IMG_2238.jpg After kayaking Saturday, we spent Sunday tooling around San Marcos, the sleepy, meditative town across the lake. It was very, very quiet there and obvious as to why there are so many meditation, yoga and massage centers there. We saw beautiful adobe walls P1000273.jpg, great views from a cliffside path P1000282.jpg, and picturesque boats parked on the shore of the lake (Tara's best and favoritest picture yet). P1000296.jpg

We spent our last "work" week in San Pedro with our Spanish teacher Estella, getting to know San Pedro even better and exploring the lake, as well as the other little pueblos that line its shores. Here's a local kid hanging out by his corn (he told me it was ALL his). IMG_2273.jpg We also saw a woman selling an entire, huge, living turkey at the local market in town. She's on the right, holding the turkey by the wings. P1000317.jpg One of our classes with Estella consisted of a (long) walk to the next town (San Juan), while we practiced our Spanish, discussing politics and Estella's plan for Tara to return to Guatemala some day to buy land and start a farm. We also saw a dog with dreadlocks on our way to San Juan - just like the expats that dot the lakeside! P1000311.jpg Here's Estella and me near the dock in San Juan P1000314.jpg and us with Estella on our last day of class. IMG_2299.jpg That Estella, she's a keeper! She even inspired us to study every day, and we did so, at our favorite little spot in San Pedro, "La Puerta". IMG_2293.jpg

After saying our goodbyes to our host family, including Cecelia and her daughter, Ruth, IMG_2309.jpg we took a shuttle and then a bus to the other side of the country to check out the Caribbean side of Guatemala. We started out in Rio Dulce, a town that sits where the river meets Lake Isabel (like you, Izzy!), then quickly headed to a tributary of the main river to stay at Finca Tatin (Tatin Ranch). We had our own little cabana in the middle of the rain forest, complete with giant bugs, towering trees, humidity, insects, kayaks, lots of hammocks and a rope swing into the river! IMG_2342.jpg IMG_2316.jpg Tara and I took a kayak ride to a biological reserve, in vain hopes of spotting a manatee, but we did get up close to Tara's favorite plant: the lily pad P1000359.jpg as well as a tiger heron (right, Ruth?) P1000367.jpg

After many a beer in hammocks on lazy rainy rain forest days and multiple swings into the river, we took a boat to Livingston, a Caribbean/Guatemalan town where Rio Dulce empties into the Caribbean. The town was entirely fascinating, as there was a glaring culture clash between the Maya, the Garufina (the Caribbean Black community), and the tourists. It was definitely a party town, and we were happy to sneak back to our quiet hotel up the beach after some Garufina stew IMG_2345.jpg and a walk down the bar-lined, beach side streets P1000407.jpg. We were especially happy to help our hosts at the hotel cuddle with the new puppies! Only 10 days old! P1000403.jpg While we loved the puppies, we didn't exactly love the spiders. But we still laugh about it. We got back to our hotel and Tara, being the first one in the room, made a U-turn, saying, "I don't know WHO is going to deal with THAT" pointing to a ginormous spider. My response, "It's just a wall spider..." P1000400.jpg I have to admit that I jumped back pretty far as it squirmed its way out of the glass I caught it in....

We thought we were going to catch a boat and a bus on Good Friday to head up to Tikal, but alas, buses don't run on Good Friday in Guatemala. Nothing does, really. But the good side of that blunder was that we met up with Laura, a new med school grad, who we spent the next 3 days with. Here we are, trying to manage a cayuco, the local form of transportation on Rio Dulce P1000431.jpg. We make it look easy with our self-portrait and beer in hand, but we had many a close call with the badly balanced boat. It's hard to imagine how the locals pull up nets full of seafood without flipping over.

Next: Tikal. What an amazing place! And that these ancient Maya people built it all by hand. Not carts, no tractors, just stone by stone, carried on their backs up hundreds of feet up stairs at an incredible incline. P1000439.jpg P1000445.jpg P1000471.jpg IMG_2435.jpg That last one was sooooo steep, they had to build a ladder next the temple. The best part, some guy started "fixing" the ladder with a hammer and some nails AFTER we got back down (which wasn't easy). Seriously crazy. We also had our best animal sighting day yet in Tikal, complete with Toucanets IMG_2418.jpg, a toucan 7P1000539.jpg, two spider and two howler monkeys. The howlers look like black blobs in this video, but you can sure hear them! The clearer, closer caller is actually our guide - the howlers have lower, raspy voices that respond to our guides calls and claps.

Again, way cool!

Our next reeeeeaaaaalllllly long shuttle ride included sharing a little ferry with a big semi P1000577.jpg P1000578.jpg, but landed us just east of Lanquin and at the gates of Semuc Champey, an amazing network of natural pools that float atop a 300m limestone shelf that shelters a rushing, gushing river. The pools are perfectly turquoise and ideal for swimming. This is where the real adventure travel started! We began our big day at 10 am with a relaxing float down the river on inner tubes, but don't let that fool you! On the way back up the hill, some of us jumped off the yellow bridge near our lodging. P1000627.jpg Yeehaw! Then we headed STRAIGHT up for 25 minutes to reach el mirador (the lookout) where we could see the pools from a breathtaking height. Proof of how hard, and hot, and humid, the walk was: P1000596.jpg and the reward for such hard work: P1000590.jpg P1000594.jpg We then headed BACK down the mountain to check out where the shelf starts and the river rushes under the pools, P1000602.jpg then to jump IN the pools, which were of the clearest water I've ever seen in a river, then to more adventure! Our guide took us downriver by way of swimming across each pool, then jumping or diving into the next, until we got to a *small* rock cliff that we had to repel to get down to our next jumping point. P1000604.jpgLike I said, no helmets, no harness, just a rope and very strong Guatemalan... P1000620.jpgFollowing another dive into the water, we climbed UP a waterfall and crawled under the limestone shelf just to climb down a hole barely big enough for us to squeeze into to climb further into the cave behind the waterfall. P1000608.jpg P1000616.jpg But that's just the beginning when it comes to caves because then we headed to a whole 'nother set of caves to explore them by candlelight! P1000635.jpg That's right, AND we had to swim 75% of the time, as well as climb up rope ladders and squeeze between limestone walls. P1000636.jpg Needless to say, it was our favorite day. Ever. Oh, and we made another new friend! P1000644.jpg

Finally, we made it back to Antigua, our last stop in Guatemala. We had actually driven through twice already on our way to other destinations, but spent a couple of days recuperating, shopping and getting laundry done. It's a cute, quaint little town, and understandably, super touristy. But it was a good stop before heading to Costa Rica! IMG_2475.jpg P1000649.jpgWe were also very entertained by the way Antiguans mark wheelchair accessibility as well as motorcycle parking... P1000650.jpg P1000648.jpg

Okay, I don't know about you, but I need a break. Costa Rica will have to wait until tomorrow. Thanks for hanging all the way through Guatemala - I hope you enjoyed it as much as we did!

L & T

Posted by lolokirby 16:05 Archived in Guatemala Tagged gay_travel Comments (0)

¿Como se dice

"wow"?

And how do we get all the "wow" we´ve felt into this tiny little blog? Admittedly, I'm not so inclined to sit in an internet cafe all day when in Guatemala with all the Guatemalan things to do, but can´t wait to share what we´ve done and seen so far. We´ve been in Guatemala since the 10th and in San Pedro La Laguna since the 12th. San Pedro is a tiny little lakeside town full of narrow walkways and "streets", as well as lots and lots of dogs. You can pretty much see Lake Atitlan at any moment and there are amazing views to be had - especially from our veranda! We´re staying with a local family, Cecelia and Antonia Gonzalez. They have 3 girls: Ruth is 14, Marielena is 10 and little Hannah is 18 months. Talk about adorable. They´re all super sweet and are trying to help us learn and speak Spanish as much as possible. We don´t have pictures of everyone yet, but here are some of Marielena and Hannah.
IMG_2168.jpg IMG_2164.jpg IMG_2165.jpg I know! They´re so darn cute and smart as all get out too. Here´s where we live: IMG_2057.jpg This is the view from our room - it´s on the 3rd floor (the family's rooms are on the 2nd) and looks out onto a terrace where the girls play and hang their laundry. I love me some hammock time! P1000117__2_.jpg Our room is on the left and our baño privado ("private" bathroom) is behind the curtain. IMG_2139.jpg ¡Hola Tara!

We´re taking Spanish 4 hours a day, each with our teachers (Estella for Laurel and Elena for Tara). The school is essentially a terraced garden that descends down to the edge of the lake. We study under little grass huts and stumble over our parablas as the breeze off the lake sweeps up the hillside. This is Tara standing under one of the study spots. IMG_2084.jpg Life is rough!

Our first outing was to the largest market in Guatemala, held in Chichicastengo (Chichi for short). It was a looooong trip there due to road work, but we finally made it and spent hours meandering in and out of the crowded streets, checking out all the wares. P1000151__2_.jpg These are the steps to the church in the middle of the market. All of the vendors selling stuff by weight had these old school scales and weights that fit together like Russian dolls. IMG_2097.jpg

Our other big outing thus far was a hike to the top of a mountain called "Nariz del Indio". It started with a ride on a chicken bus to the nearby town of Santa Clara. Chicken buses are not, as their name implies, full of chickens, unless you count the tourist who are about to pee their pants as the bus barrels up and down hills, screeching around corners as the driver´s assistant blows the air horn. We have video of the harrowing ride, but I´m having trouble uploading it - perhaps in the next entry...
So after that fun (and it was fun!) we got to walk around the Santa Clara market for a bit IMG_2148.jpg IMG_2150.jpg IMG_2149.jpg stopping at the fountain in town. As always, Tara with Coca Lite in hand...

Then the ascent to the nose of the indian. On the way up: P1000187__2_.jpg And at the top! P1000196.jpg That´s Lake Atitlan in all its glory behind us. San Pedro is a little to the right, but you can´t see it well in this picture, but you could see it better on the way down. San Pedro is the town to the left on the peninsula and San Juan is on the right set back a bit from the lake. P1000197__2_.jpg All the lush green is coffee trees. This is our guide, Julio, who is also a teacher at our school and teaches English in two public elementary schools in the mornings. He told us all about how coffee is grown, picked and processed. IMG_2161.jpg Once he learned what I do, he shared with us that the local belief is that if a child is born with physical disabilities, it is because its mother walked at night when she was pregnant. If the child has difficulty speaking or thinking, it is also because its mother walked at night and the child´s brain and thoughts got too cold.

Most recently, we took a lancha (boat) across the lake to Santiago, to visit the market there, as well as the Mayan deity, Maximon. He takes on different forms in differnt pueblos, but here, he is a wooden man with a big hat, lots of scarves and a fat cigar. Locals from all over come to pray to him for health, wealth and work. Apparently, he really likes cigarettes and rum, as well as BINGO cards. P1000200__2_.jpg We also stopped by the Catholic church where we saw tons of different Jesuses, as well as wooden deities, each with its own specialty, and slot for donations. P1000207__2_.jpg

After visiting Chichi and Santiago two Sundays in a row, we did as we love to do: sat at the lake´s edge with a beer in hand. This is at our favorite little spot called La Puerta, which is so appropriate as it´s the door to the beginning of our adventure in Latin America. P1000170__2_.jpg IMG_2106.jpg

Now you know where to picture us when you´re wondering what we´re up to! Much more to come!

Much love,
L & T

Posted by lolokirby 15:32 Comments (0)

And we're back

but just so we can leave again...

How is it that it's been 2 months since our last post? I know I won't be able to include everything we've done since mid-January, but thought we should at least get something posted before we leave on the Latin America part of our journey. You know, finish one chapter before starting the next and all. Of course, I'm trying to get this done the day before we fly to Guatemala (where it's 78 degrees, BTW) and am in the midst of packing, check listing and double checking, so will provide a fly-by version of our latest adventures. Here it goes!

tshirts.jpg Tara and I decided that we HAD to go to the inauguration since we were so very close to DC and could go and stay with Ruth and Jenny. We had our plan all worked out - how we were going to get on the Mall nice and early with lots and lots of toe and hand warmers - and then Ruth called right before we left Philly to see if I wanted to be her date to the inauguration because she had an extra ticket. How could I say 'no' (I didn't, of course). There's a bunch more detail in the blog I contributed to for SFGate (see our last entry for a link), so I won't double up here. Needless to say, it was amazing, inspiring and a thrill to be a part of Obama's inauguration!swearing_in.jpg You may be able to see Tara in this one, if you look REAL hard. the_mall.jpg

Being the history buffs Tara is and I'm becoming, we couldn't leave Pennsylvania without a quick trip to Valley Forge. And as always, I learned a ton about our country and our history on our mini adventure. Who knew Valley Forge wasn't a battle site? I'm sure lots of people do, but I didn't. This is Tara squatting in the type of "shelter" the Revolutionary soldiers used while they were building log huts, in the middle of winter, barefoot. Seriously. branch_hut.jpg And this is from a church at Valley Forge - not a whole lot of separation between church and state.... soldier_praying.jpg

We also wanted to hit Baltimore before leaving the East side, so spent a day there. We visited the aquarium, where they had an incredible sting ray and turtle pool that was visible from all four floors of the aquarium. We fell in love with their sea turtle who had to have a fin amputated when he was first adopted. And no, he didn't swim in circles, surprisingly enough. turtle.jpg We also walked around the old part of Baltimore, which is really beautiful in a historic and dilapidated kind of way. missing_building.jpg
baltimore_street.jpg

Our last weekend in Philly was spent with our good friends, Dawn and Diana and their little pumpkin, Elijah, as well as Ruth. It was great to end our time there with people we don't get to see very often. And how cute is this kid? I mean, really!0elijah.jpg

We thought our cross country trip was going to be pretty straight forward and we took I40, in order to avoid snow and storms and all. Lucky for us, we got tornadoes instead! Apparently, Oklahoma City sees a lot of tornadoes, but NEVER in February. It was no joke though - I woke up from a nap in the car to the Emergency Broadcast System instructing us to abandon our vehicle and seek shelter, immediately. We made into the east side of O.C. just in time to see one of the tornadoes that had passed on the west side of town and was not so many miles from us. tornado.jpg We decided to stop driving for the day rather than attempting to drive through the string of twisters making their way across I40 all afternoon. This is Tara outside our hotel room, taking stock of the crazy sky above. tara_sky.jpg

After a quick visit to the Bay Area, and a couple of days in the Sierras with my mom, we made our way to Portland to see Tara's family and complete our packing/planning frenzy. I did take a short trip to Arizona to see my great uncle (Bobby) and cousin (Keith) though. This is us at Roosevelt Dam. uncle_bobbie_keith.jpg And of course, while in Portland, we try to get as much time with Tara's nephews as possible, as they continue to grow at an alarming rate and we feel like we just can't keep up. Kaelan is getting taller and taller, but is still a rambunctious bucket of love with a smile to match: kaelan.jpg Rowan, on the other hand, gets a little more serious every day and his long-lasting endeavor of being the best basketball player ever is going quite well. We went to two of his games and he's out there ballin' better than any other kid on the court. rowan.jpg

And that brings us to now, which is Monday, the day before we jump on a plane for Guatemala! We'll be in there for about a month to explore and take Spanish classes before heading to Costa Rica. Eventually, we plan on hitting Ecuador, Peru, Chile, Uruguay and Argentina, at the very least, before coming back in August. We'll try our best to keep this blog updated during our adventures!

Lots of love,
T&L

Posted by lolokirby 06:47 Comments (0)

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