Wednesday, January 27, 2016


Pacific Ocean from Mira Flores
After 20 hours of travel, we finally made it to Lima, Peru!  We headed over to our apartment in Miraflores and crashed.  We all slept in until 2pm the following day!  I could not believe that we had slept in that long.  We headed out into the sun to try to adjust to the time difference.  The kids thought it was pretty cool that since we had crossed over the International Date Line we had gained 1 day. Although, they are a little bummed that, they will now need to wait 2 whole extra days for Christmas (2016 is a leap year).  We walked around Miraflores and took in the amazing sites of the city.  I loved the view out to the Pacific Ocean with the islands in the distance.  We had a great time walking along the sea.  The city itself is situated high on the bluff, so the ocean is about 80 meters below.  With this elevation, you have a really outstanding vantage point to the north and south.  We needed to pick up our Peru rail tickets so we ended up at an upscale mall called Lacromar.  I love the way that they designed the mall so that what you see from the street is a park and the mall is actually built below so that the view is not obstructed.  At the park, they had a playground so we let Eden run around and play.  We easily found the Peru rail office and had our tickets issued.  At this point, we were all starving and asked the nice man if he had any suggestions for a restaurant nearby that offered Peruvian food.  He directed us to Tanta, which thankfully was only a few steps away.  We had a wonderful meal.  Caleb decided to try something called Causa, I ordered some Tequenos.  Both were amazing.  We found out that Causa is a cold, seasoned mashed potato terrine filled with different types of fish or eggs.  Caleb's dish was a take on that but offered up in a sushi roll style. There were several different varieties and each of them were fantastic.  My Tequenos was filled with beef and beans in a rich sauce accompanied with a pepper crema.  It was outstanding.  Justin got a beef Chifa dish that was so good all three of us ended up sharing.  The kids ordered some fun fruit drinks, kind of like a smoothie and Justin and I decided to try a couple of cocktails containing Pisco.  Pisco is a Peruvian white brandy.  I got the classic version and Justin ordered a strawberry/mint/lime flavored one.  Wow!  They were amazing.  We had so much fun at the restaurant and had such good food that we decided to try to go back so that we could try more of the traditional appetizers.

In Mira Flores
Tanta - A great Peruvian restaurant
The following day we flew to Cusco.  It was rather impressive to land at this airport.  It's pretty windy and it is right in the middle of some very steep mountains at about 10,000 feet in elevation.  We had a pretty steep and fast descent but a smooth landing.  We headed into the city center to purchase our tickets into Machu Picchu.  After that, we headed over to have some lunch.  We found a nice little restaurant on Plaza Regocijo.  Then we headed to catch a collectivo (large van, small bus) to get to Ollantaytambo.  We had wanted to take the train from Cusco to Aguas Calientes but the train rails were closed for maintenance between Cusco and Ollantaytambo, so collectivo it was.  One thing I have noticed is all around the world there are different driving styles.  For example in South Africa, drivers will move into the shoulder to allow people to pass.  In Peru, we have noticed that they drive rather fast and brake really hard.  A lot of the cars' brakes squeak.  The collectivo was no different. He was passing all sorts of other vehicles along the way.  There were a few times when I thought we didn't have much room to pass until the oncoming traffic got in the way, but he made it, barely, every time.  I had wondered how many times a day he did this drive.  Once in Ollantaytambo we headed to our hotel.

Caleb on the tarmac in Cusco

Ollantaytambo main street.  They have a "Kwik-E-Mart"

The following day we took the train to Aguas Calientes then a bus up to Machu Picchu.  On the train we chose the Vista dome so that we could see the scenery better through the overhead windows.  We were very happy that we did this because you really had a wonderful view of the soaring peaks.  As you may have figured out by now, it is not a very straightforward journey to get to Machu Picchu, which is why, with the kids along, we broke it up into 2 days.  I chuckled to myself that our journey involved planes, trains and automobiles.

Train to Aguas Calientes

Town Square in Aguas Calientes
Once at Machu Picchu we hired a private tour guide.  This was absolutely the best thing we did.  We got this recommendation from a very good blog that we read.  Our guide, Odes, was a vat of information.  We climbed to the top and started there.  The views were amazing!  The mountains are so unique.  Along our travels we have seen quite a few mountains and yet we had seen nothing like this.  They are so steep and lush with vegetation and grass.  I also loved seeing the Urubamba River below.  Odes explained everything about the ruins and we all learned so much.  I did feel for him because Caleb asked question after question that he barely had time to breathe.  Luckily for us Odes did not seem to mind and expertly answered each of his questions.  Justin and I were delighted at how much the kids enjoyed the visit and were so interested in all of the dynamics involved in the lives of the Incas. After our tour I asked each of the kids what their favorite part was.  Caleb said he loved how they kept track of the calendar using the shadows from the temple windows.  Joel said that he loved how they figured out such complex things with their high levels of observation and ingenuity. Danielle loved how they were able to cut and smooth each stone used to build their city.  I loved the way the city blends seamlessly with the mountain, like it emerged from the mountain itself and was part of it.  What an amazing place! It is so unique and we can see why it is considered to be a "Wonder of the World".  We were also impressed at how much Eden climbed and walked in Machu Picchu.  We needed to help her in some places and picked her up from time to time because there was a group of people behind us, but for the most part she did it all herself.  Afterwards, we checked Justin's Fitbit and it said we climbed 100 flights!  She did about 70% herself, way to go Eden!

Machu Picchu!!

Near the top

Urubamba river below
Some of the homes in the city

Main Entrance Gate

Temple of the Sun

Temple of the Three Windows

Taking a quick break

Huayna Picchu ruins near the top of the peak
Farming terraces

One of the llamas wandering around
Temple of the Condor.  This was on of the wings.

On one of the many terraces

We grabbed a light lunch at the base then headed back to Aguas Calientes.  Here we had a nice ice cream treat and walked around this quaint town.  We picked up some fun souvenirs and headed back to Ollantaytambo via train.   We did a quick visit of the ruins at Ollantaytambo.

This hairless dog (except his mohawk) was on a roof looking at the people below in Aguas Calientes

Ruins at Ollantaytambo 
The following day we took a collectivo to Cusco.  We ended up going straight to our hostel because we were all sunburned and needed a break from the sun.   I had been keeping track of the weather outlook using my Weather Channel app and the whole time it said that we would get rain and it would be in the upper 60s.  When we were in Machu Picchu it was anything but that, we had sunny skies and  the temperature was in the mid-80s.  I had prepared for rain so I forgot the sunscreen.  I felt terrible looking at my family of tomatoes.  Later in the afternoon, when the sun was not blazing overhead we put some sunscreen on and headed out to grab an early dinner.  We walked around the city, I love how it is dotted with plazas.  It was so fun to just sit down and people watch.  We saw women dressed in beautiful traditional clothing carrying a lamb or walking with their llama.  We all thought that it was super unique.  At 4am we were awaken by a bang, bang, bang.  It continued for the rest of the night. We had no idea what was going on, but later found out that it was firecrackers for the San Sebastian Festival.  Once we were out and about we saw a couple of parades for the celebrations.

Cathedral in Plaza de Armas, Cusco

Women in Cusco with a lamb

Parade in Cusco
We headed up to  Saqsaywaman, which is another site of Inca ruins.  These are a little different because of the amazingly tight fit of these massive stones.  It is incredible at how precise the fit of the stones are.  We also walked over to the statue of the Cristo Blanco and had a marvelous view of Cusco below.  It was a disheartening to see that there were literally hundreds of stray dogs wandering the streets of Cusco.  Seemed like wherever there was a garbage bag, a dog was ripping into it scavenging for food. Made me think of Bob Barker's famous quote to control the pet population and what happens when you don't.  After lunch we headed to the airport to fly back to Lima.  The following day I caught up on the laundry and prepared for our departure the following day.  But we headed back to Tanta for another fabulous meal and delicious drinks.  Did I mention the ceviche is awesome!  Thank you Peru for a unique and magnificent experience, it surpassed our expectations even with the high expectations of a must-do bucket list place to visit.

Saqsaywaman ruins

Up close you can see how tight the stones fit together

View of Cusco

Some of the doors we saw are really short! Danielle looks really tall next to this one.

Monday, January 25, 2016

New Zealand, North Island Part 2

We had gotten up at 5am to get to the ferry in Picton by 7am.  I had driven and we were all still tired so Justin got a cabin on the ferry and all I remember of the ferry ride was crashing in a bed with Joel cuddled up to me and waking up feeling so much better.  Boy getting the cabin was so worth it.  Once we arrived in Wellington we grabbed a bite to eat and started on our 6 hour drive to Waitomo.  So all together we drove for 8 hours and had a 3 hour ferry ride, it was definitely a long day but got to see some nice countryside and a waterfall along the way.

Green countryside

Raukawa Falls

Once in Waitomo we headed to our farm stay.  We met our friendly host Narita and settled in.  The following day the kids explored the farm.  They have goats, ponies, horses, pigs, sheep, bunnies, chickens, ducks, an alpaca and doves.  This is more of a hobby farm versus a working farm.  The following day Narita and her adorable kids, Fletcher and Kaitlyn, gave us a complete farm tour.  The kids got to feed the sheep milk from a bottle, the goats bread and leftovers, feed the bunnies and chickens, and watched the pigs and cows get feed.  We got to meet all of the animals and Narita told us each of their stories of how she acquired them.  Most of them she got as babies that were abandoned or removed from their mother as newborns and she needed to hand feed them from day 1 or were older and needed a great place to live a happy life.  Needless to say, these animals were not thought of as food.  She did shear the sheep for their wool.  We all had a great time exploring and learning about the animals.  

Danielle feeding a lamb some milk

Eden feeding a bunny

After our tour we headed out to do a couple of hikes.  Our first stop was to the Ruakuri walk.  It had a couple of limestone caves that you could go into.  The area was abundant in vegetation and very scenic.  In some places the vegetation was so thick that there was barely any daylight streaming through.  The kids had a ton of fun exploring the caves.  It was pretty cool with the river running right through it.  

On the way to Ruakuri Cave

Ruakuri cave.  Yes it was dark in there!

Ruakuri scenic walk

Our next stop was a hike to Marakopa Falls. These are falls that are about 35 meters high and are called a fan fall due to its width.  It was a rather impressive sight.  After getting back we headed to Piripiri cave, which is a very large cave.  Our last stop was to the Mangapohua Natural Limestone Bridge Walkway which was once a huge cave but has deteriorated until only a natural bridge remained.  We also got to see fossilized oysters.  The place was amazing and we had a wonderful time hiking at each place.  All of these sites are located along the same road within a 20 kilometer stretch.  

Marakopa Falls

Piripiri Cave

Mangapohua Natural Limestone Bridge Walkway

The following day each of the kids got to ride a horse.  Eden was first on a pony named Alaska.  She had a fantastic time riding along and did a fabulous job holding on.  Justin, on the other hand, did not like Alaska because the pony stepped on his foot 2 times while he was leading Eden around.  Next was Danielle and she got to ride the horse named Prince.  Danielle was in heaven and loved riding around the paddock.  Caleb and Joel also got a turn on Prince and Justin and I loved seeing all of the smiles on each of the kids' faces.  Since we had gotten to the farm both Danielle and Eden could not wait for the horse ride and they were not disappointed.  That night we had dinner in Waitomo at the Thirsty Weta. A weta is a large bug like a grasshopper that is found only in New Zealand.  Our dinner was great.

Eden on a pony named Alaska

Danielle on Prince

Caleb's turn on Prince

Joel got to ride Prince too

The following day we headed back for our second visit to Rotorua.  Luckily, this drive was only one and a half hours long.  Rotorua is an area in New Zealand with lots of fun outdoor activities and the kids had wanted to check out a few of them.  We had also wanted to connect with a friend of Justin's parents, Norma and Bob, whom they had meet while living in Wellington.  We meet John and Joan Lafferty and John's daughter Beverly with her husband Craig for a picnic in a nice area called Whataroa.  We had a fantastic time socializing with everyone and the kids had a ball running around the forest.  Eden had a dried fern frond that she carried around the whole time and came home with a pocket full of rocks. Another day Justin took all of the kids for a nice walk to and around the redwood forest in Rotorua.  I stayed back for a bit of a mommy break.  They were all amazed by the trees with Caleb saying, "I have never seen trees that size!" 

At the Whakarewarewa Redwood Forest

The following day we all headed over to the Zorb.  The Zorb is a large inflatable ball that you climb into and they give you a shove and you roll down a hill. For some reason Danielle thought this looked super fun and wanted to do it.  She chose to do the zigzag track first and climbed in and off she went. Once out she had the biggest smile on her face and told us just how fun it was.  She had 2 more rides but the Zorbalator (escalator for the Zorb) broke and we needed to come back a different day.  We ended up coming back on the day we left New Zealand and she was able to do her 2 rides.  For these she did the straight track.  I could not believe how fast it went.  She emerged from the Zorb each time with the biggest smile.  Man is that girl gutsy. 

Danielle coming down the hill in the Zorb ball

Getting out at the bottom of the hill

Justin also took Caleb, Joel and Danielle to the Adrenaline Forest.  This is a ropes course situated in the Whataroa forest with each of the 6 courses getting higher and more difficult as you progressed.  Since heights are not my thing I sat this one out with Eden.  Danielle impressed all of us with making it to course 5 with Justin following close behind.  Caleb and Joel got to  course 4. The only reason they did not get further was that Caleb got stuck in the middle of the zip line hanging by a rope and needed to get a worker to push him the rest of the way since Caleb could not reach the cable himself.  (Caleb wanted me to pass this bit of information along)  Course 5 was a whopping 20 meters high.  I was grateful that I was not there to watch. 

Ready for the Adrenaline Forest

Caleb up in the trees

I took Eden, Caleb and Joel up the Skyline to do the luge.  Eden had such a great time at the luge in Queenstown that when she saw that they had one in Rotorua that was all she asked about.  She had such an awesome time on each of her rides.  They even had a scenic track that took you through a forest and had these huge dinosaur statues.  They had a cut off that we took where you could stop to look at them more closely.  She loved the dinosaurs.  We got to do this in the evening and it was fun going for night rides.  Everyone had a great time.  By the way, Eden had really wanted to do the Zorb but she needed to be 6.  Now she says, "When I'm 6 I'm going to ride the Zorb down the mountain like Danielle."  She also wanted to do the Adrenaline Forest but she was too short.  She was very disappointed and is trying her best to grow quickly.  That kid is BOLD.  

View of Lake Rotorua from the top of the Luge Track

Someone can't get enough of the Luge

A couple of days later, we had the great fortune of catching the Broncos versus Steelers game.  We were super happy to catch a playoff game and even more excited when they won.  Later that day, we meet with the Lafferty's again for dinner at a nice restaurant called Capers.  We had a really nice time together.   The following day we headed up to Auckland for our flight to Peru.  We dropped of Lord Alphard and got to the airport with lots of appreciation for such a wonderful country.

Dinner with the Laffertys in Rotorua