Amazon Region, Ecuador: Roaring Rapids – by Caleb

Today we went white water rafting on one of the many rivers in Ecuador, close to the Amazon Rainforest. I’ve gone rafting before, with friends on a school trip, and in Costa Rica with family, but this was something completely different. These rapids were 3+ on the water rapid scale, meaning these rapids sometimes got pretty extreme and the boat at points almost rolled over. We went with another family of three, and a guide resulting in there being eight of us in the raft.

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The whole ride was really fun, but there were three points throughout the experience I remember specifically because I almost flipped out of the boat or just had the best time. My first favourite memory is close to the beginning. We went through a rapid that was about a number three, but at the end of the rapid was a HUGE wave. I was at the front of the raft, so I felt the impact the most alongside the lady sitting across from me at the front of the boat. The wave shot the nose of the boat upward with such speed but then quickly drove the raft back down onto the surface of the water. Well, when the raft suddenly plummeted back down to planet earth, I was catapulted into the air, so the nose of the raft went down, but I’m still going up! Finally I went back down and landed on the side of the raft a bit further back from where I was sitting before I was flung into the air, but that defiantly put a smile on my face for the rest of the trip. 

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The second memory was a massive rapid that was class four, and I understand why too. Our guide was yelling, “PADDLE PADDLE!” while we were heading through these massive waves and then our raft passed over a huge wave, dropped down the other side of the wave, then went head first into an even bigger wave on the other side. Again, I was at the front of the raft and the impact was so hard, I flew back into my dad and he had to hold onto my life jacket so I didn’t fall out of the boat. That certainly was a great memory. 

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Finally, the third and favourite of the top three. Our guide let one of us do something called, the cowboy, through the last rapid. The cowboy is where you sit strait on the nose of the boat, let your legs dangle over the edge of the boat, you hold the safety cord with your left hand in the centre of your legs, and then you can put your right hand into the air and make a cheering noise. I volunteered. After I got into the position the others in the boat started to paddle into the final rapid of the trip. It wasn’t a grand finale, just a small, class three rapid. After bobbing up and down over the waves, we went strait into a massive wave that was just curling. The water hit me so hard in the chest that I lost my grip on the safety cord, and went flying into the boat. After the wave had passed, the guide started to laugh at me because I was sprawled out on the floor of the boat, with my legs hanging over the side of the raft. That was the best experience rafting today. 

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Overall, this was the best river rafting I have ever done. The company we went with was called Aqua X-treme and our guide was called Alex. This was something I loved a lot and is something I would certainly do again. 

Archidona, Ecuador: Demanding Monkey – by Caleb

I’ll make this blog short and sweet. When staying at Orchid Paradise in the amazon jungle, monkeys seemed to come and go throughout the dining area and outside the kitchen. We thought the staff fed the monkeys bananas because we kept seeing monkeys eating banana slices. We also saw one of the staff members giving a big fat monkey a banana. My dad got a picture of the monkey coming and sitting outside the kitchen waiting for its banana. But when it didn’t get it in a few seconds, it started to get demanding. 

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Where’s my food?

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Hmph!!

Quito, Ecuador: Grateful for Friends – by Barb

Clay and I taught internationally for a number of years and thanks to social media, such as Facebook, I’ve been able to stay in touch with some of our friends from the various schools we worked at. Trae and Clay became good friends when we worked in Venezuela and they formed a band (along with another teacher) and performed in nightclubs around Caracas. We hadn’t seen Trae and his wife in 12 years, nor had we met their children, but when I got in touch with them, they invited us to stay at their home in Quito.

We were so excited to meet up with them but also a little apprehensive. What if we didn’t have anything to talk about? What if our kids didn’t get along? What if….?

But the moment we arrived at their home, we knew this visit would be one of the highlights of our entire trip. You know those friends you meet up with and you just pick up as though you’d seen them yesterday? That’s how it was! We sat up late chatting and our boys hit it off immediately with their two boys. We shared stories, swapped advice, and just thoroughly enjoyed each others’ company.

 

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The boys “bonding” over a video game!

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The Hollands – We miss you already!

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Our last morning together.

It was another one of those moments when I realized just how truly blessed we are. No matter how many places you visit or things you see, it will be friends and family that bring you the greatest blessings and that was clearly evident with our visit to Quito. Thank you Trae and Eva for welcoming us into your home! We can’t wait to see you again.

Cusco, Peru: A Little Under the Weather in Cusco – by Barb

We have been incredibly fortunate on our trip. (Knock on wood! We still have two weeks to go!) I had expected we would suffer from illness several times, but aside from Caleb and I getting 24 hour flu in China (way back in August) and each of us having a couple of days of upset stomach, we have remained healthy.

As Caleb mentioned in his blog, I had researched our trip to Machu Picchu and knew that many people struggle with altitude sickness in Cusco, so we drove straight to the Sacred Valley to try to avoid this. For whatever reason though, we all still suffered from headaches and shortness of breath in Urubamba. We had planned a mountain biking trip. We booked the bikes. But the morning of the trip we had to call and cancel because we did not feel well. I mean, we were not vomiting, but just had headaches and no energy. It was a laze around and do nothing feeling. So that’s what we did. By the time we caught the train to Agua Calientes (at the base of Machu Picchu) we started to feel better. But then Caleb got food poisoning and Connor spiked a high fever and got a soar throat. We were down for the count again.

We were grateful that we decided to go without a guide to Machu Picchu because Connor couldn’t walk more than 20 feet without having to sit down to rest. He still needed medicine to ward off the fever. Caleb wasn’t able to eat anything because he’d been up all night vomiting, so he was lacking energy as well. But fortunately the beauty of Machu Picchu did not disappoint and we all still enjoyed it as best we could – at our own pace.

Upon returning to Cusco we hoped we were all on the mend. Caleb started to feel better but I caught Connor’s cold and felt horrid and Connor was still incredibly lethargic. Luck was on our side, however, as I had (for once) booked a nice hotel in Cusco. It even had TV with a couple of English channels so we lazed around for another couple of days. The hotel sat high on a hill overlooking the city so when we ventured out for something to eat we had to climb down about 500 steps into town and of course, hike back up to get back “home”. That was about all that we could manage! We did laundry, got the boys haircuts and visited the market. But our plans for biking, ziplining, and hiking around Cusco will have to wait for another visit.

 

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The walk down to the town!

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Little girl at the market.

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At the market.

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The boys with their purchases.

Goodbye Cusco! You have a lot to offer and hopefully we’ll be in better condition to enjoy it next time we visit.

Cusco, Peru: The End is Near – by Barb

We are now in our 11th month of travel. You can tell we are nearing the end – our clothes are faded and worn; we are starting to wear on each others’ nerves more quickly; we are finding it harder to seek out things to do/visit that we are excited about (and that we haven’t already experienced elsewhere). The boys would be happy most days just to stay put and play games. We talk more about going home and getting to see family, having a home, and not having to live out of a suitcase. Connor can’t wait to go biking at a moment’s notice – not having to find bikes to rent and go with a guide. Caleb is counting the days until he gets his piano back. But we are also already missing travel. We know that this is something we will look back on over and over again. We will revisit some of our favourite places in our minds, and we will laugh over some of the challenges and cultural faux pas we made. In many ways, we hate for it to end.

We keep warning the boys that returning home will probably be a bit of a challenge. They expect everyone will want to know “all about” their trip. And they are excited to tell stories and share their experiences. But we all know the reality – people will politely ask; some people will want to know a little; but most of what we experienced this year will be shared just between us – something special we will always have to hold on to, but also something that will make us just a little different. I read about a family that did the same thing as us and their two children started at new schools (for some reason) when they returned. They didn’t tell a soul what they had done! They thought it would make them “too different”.

For me, it will be so strange to not have to plan out every moment of our days ahead. As much as I love planning and organizing, I did find it a lot of work. While Clay and the boys relaxed in the evenings, watching a movie or reading a book, I was spending every “free” moment looking for our next place to stay, finding transportation to the next attraction, or figuring out flights. It consumed hours and hours of time. I planned as much of the trip as I could before we left, but between working full time and packing up our house, I had to leave some of it to do while on the road. And we wanted flexibility as well, in case we got sick, wanted to stay longer somewhere, or were ready to move on earlier than we’d planned.

Now, I will have to start thinking about our next big adventure or goal! I love having something to work toward. Perhaps the next goal will be more of a personal nature and I’ll let the boys set their own goals. But I think having something new to work toward will help when feelings of sadness sweep over us and we settle into the reality that our year of ed-venture has come to an end.

Machu Picchu, Peru: Sick, Sicker, Sickest – by Caleb

After a few days in Lima, Peru, we flew into the city of Cusco, a city three kilometres above sea level. Staying up that high meant we had to acclimatize for a few days, and we had read that the best ways to acclimatize is to actually leave Cusco and go down a few hundred metres. That way the lower elevation would make it easier for your body to acclimatize. We took a one and a half hour taxi ride down a few hundred metres to the town of Urubamba.

We stayed at a place called, Amaru Ville, a B&B that had a nice room with four beds, and a games room consisting of a pool table, a fooz ball table, and a ping pong table.

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We were staying here for four nights, but we had something that ruined half of our stay. Blasting headaches. The altitude had got to us by manifesting itself into horrible headaches. All we could do was lay in bed because if we moved, our heads would explode.We did manage to venture out to find food but that was about it!

And that was just the beginning. After staying in Urubamba, we took a train to the town of Machu Picchu, the town right below the Machu Picchu ruins.

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The train station in Urubamba – end of the line!

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View from the train

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View from the train

That’s when things got really bad. I had pasta for dinner the first night we got there.

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Poison Pasta Place!

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Walking in the town of Machu Picchu (also known as Agua Calientes)

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Then that night, I got food poisoning of top of my dumb headache. I couldn’t get to sleep, I kept throwing up, and I kept shaking uncontrollably. My tummy hurt so much as well. And then it got to the point were it got worse and I couldn’t take it anymore.

I had been super excited to see Machu Picchu but since I was feeling like yuck, we couldn’t hike up but instead had to take a bus. I get motion sickness, if you don’t already know, and in case I haven’t mentioned before, I hate road trips. And this bus ride up was twisty and turn-y galore. So there you have it. I got sick, sicker, then sickest. Headache, food poisoning, then motion sickness. Yet all worth it in the end when we saw the incredible ruins of the ancient Incan city, Machu Picchu. (At least it was worth it for me. Connor got a case of strep throat and a bad cold so I don’t know if he thought it was worth it. You’ll notice he looks rather unwell in the photos!)

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Taken from the train, leaving the town of Machu Picchu

Lima, Peru: A Taste of Peru– by Clay

Being married to Barb means that I get to hear about how her sister Kim goes on all these fabulous food tours all over the world. In fact, we just met up with Kim and her family in London, England not too long ago and Kim and her daughter Lana told me about the most amazing tastes they experienced from traditional fish & chips to British ales, bagels piled high with culinary goodness to salted caramel chocolates, and everything else in between I’m sure.

Those of you who know me also know that I like to eat. A lot. All the time. So why have I never been on a food tour like my sister-in-law? Well, I don’t really have an answer to that but when we arrived in Lima, Peru we decided to remedy this error in judgement.

A quick Google search showed several options for food tours but many of them were combined with a cooking class in which we thought the boys would not be interested. We DID find a tour called Food Walking Tour Peru that took you off the tourist-beaten path to small, family-run restaurants where the locals gather for meals. Plus, there was a walking component to go from spot to spot so eating good food meets cardio – what could be better?!?

We chose the Miraflores Flowers tour and met our guide, Kevin, just outside of the municipal building at the appointed time. They state on their website that they keep their groups small (10 people or less) to have that intimate “friends” feel. We waited for others to join our family of four for a few minutes. Finally, Kevin said, “Well, it looks like we’re on a private tour today with just us” and we set out on our tasting adventure.

Our first stop we had Parihuela, a rich and tasty soup made with six different kinds of seafood. 01 parihuela

Barb and the boys had half a crab clinging to the side of their bowls by a pincer but as you can see above my crab had already started to drown. It made no difference because the soup was utterly fantastic! We didn’t know what all the ingredients were and apparently the seafood can vary from season to season but we were able to identify crab, calamares, some sort of white fish, and octopus. After a couple of spoonfuls Kevin told me that traditionally lime is squeezed onto the soup before eating so I did that and it tasted even better!

Our next stop featured a famous dish called Ceviche.

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This consists of fresh, raw fish cured in lime juice and spiced with aji or chilis. Ours also had sliced red onions, toasted kernels of corn and crispy fried strips of sweet potato. I really enjoyed this dish as well as it had so many interesting flavours vying for the palate yet complimenting the limed fish.

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“Caleb contemplating his ceviche”

Next we wandered through a local market where Kevin started to break open some fruits that grow in the area for us to taste. Some we knew and some were new and some a little bit weird, like cherimoya which tasted like a cross between banana, pineapple, peach, and strawberry.

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“Aguaymanto”

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“Granadilla”

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“Cherimoya”

Farther along the market we stopped at a stall where they were making smoothies out of a fruit called lucuma. Its flavour is described as maple and sweet potato but Caleb and Connor said it smelled and tasted like brown sugar because it was so sweet.

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“Lucuna smoothie”

Then we wandered to the part of the market where they had meats and spices. Kevin got a small bag of potato chips and led us to a bright, colourful stall that had these bowls of different spiced sauces ranging from mild to “burn-your-face-off”.

“You’d think the hottest sauce would be red but NOOOOOO, the green, which looked innocent enough, turned out to be the great deceiver – I still can’t feel my face”

From the market we headed to another Ma & Pa restaurant to have a “Comida Criolla” dish that turned out to be Seco de Cordero, which was a lamb stew with blended coriander and served with beans and rice. This dish was also very tasty but by this time we were getting so full we had to slow down to enjoy it and we knew the dessert portion was coming next.

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“Connor polishing off his Seco de Cordero”

We were also served Chicha Morada, a drink made from purple corn, various fruits and spices. It had a sweet, light, fruity flavour and tasted best when chilled.

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We sauntered to ChocoMuseo, the chocolate museum, and had a briefing about the process of how chocolate is made from the growing of the beans to the finished product from a very enthusiastic and friendly staff member. It was interesting and kept very short which suited us fine since we had already ground up cocoa beans and cooked chocolate at the Green School in Bali.

Part of this tour included tasting some of the liquors that were based on cocoa. I tried the coca flavour (yes, the same leaf that Coca-Cola started their drink), the coffee flavour, and the chilli flavour. All three were good and I would have liked to have tried a few of the others like cinnamon, mango, and ginger but six shots in six minutes is a little too steep for me!

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We finished our tour at the ChocoMuseo with a dessert choice of artisan gelato, pecan brownie topped with ice cream, volcano chocolate, or hot Mayan chocolate. Barb and I chose the brownie which seemed the smallest option and the boys both opted for the volcano chocolate. This consisted of a hard chocolate bowl filled with Oreo crumble, M&Ms, and brownie bits, topped with chocolate mousse, whipped cream and a maraschino cherry. Basically, sin on a plate.

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We thoroughly enjoyed our experience with Food Walking Tour Peru. Kevin was a great guide who shared of himself as he led us through the smaller streets of Lima. Their website said the tour would take about four hours but we were done in three, most likely because we were a small group of four instead of 10. If you’re in Lima and are not familiar with the local food, do yourself a favour and try one of these excursions. The value for our money was great and the food was excellent.

I learned that I would like to do more of these kinds of things and this experience has given me the motivation to catch up to Kim.