We’re Back!

Hi everyone. I’d like to start by saying that I’m still not sure if we’re going to keep adamandshawn.com up or not, so I’ve created a free mirror site on wordpress.com. If you ever come to check out this blog and find it isn’t here, simply go over to adamandshawn.wordpress.com and you’ll find a pretty close duplicate.

Anyway, we’ve finished the US leg of our trip, and now were back at home in Albuquerque. It still feels sort of temporary…like in a week or two we’ll be moving on again. Still, we missed Albuquerque and are happy to be back. This is not a hard place to live. The weather is great (it almost never gets over 100F/38C), it is uncrowded, we have a great place with all the urban conveniences and rural wilderness within walking distance, and the scenery is beautiful. I took the photo above from my deck! It’s hard to complain about having to look at that every day. Here is the same scene 45 minutes earlier…

Shawn is back at work now, but I’m still looking (OK- I admit it…I haven’t really been looking yet 🙂 Still, if anybody has any leads I’d be interested to hear about them.

Here’s Shawn, heading off to work for the first time in 15 months

We still intend to tell a few stories about our traveling in the US, as well as a trip summary/FAQ. Until then, it’s time to get to work on the resume!


Still Going

Hey Everyone.  Hello from Portland, Oregon.  It has been a while since our last post.  Even though we’re back in the US of A, we’re still going harder than ever.  In the last few weeks we’ve visited Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks with Adam’s brother, taken a cruise to the Hubbard Glacier in Alaska, visited Adams cousin at his cabin in central Oregon, and are currently on a bike ride down the length of the Oregon coast.  We’ve only had a day between these trips and simply haven’t had time to write our posts.  I have, however, taken a ton of pictures (shocking- I know).  Most of them are uploaded, so until we have our stories up you can check out the photo gallery.  The stories should be up in a week or two.

Also, our URL account is about to expire, and whether we renew adamandshawn.com depends on how many visits we get and how often we update this site.  Check back often, because we may be moving (probably to something like wordpress.com/adamandshawn)

Talk to you soon, and enjoy the pics.


A Short Visit Home to New Mexico!

On June 2nd, we arrived back home to Albuquerque.  We were pretty worn out by this point so we wanted a chance to go home, regroup a bit before heading north to lots of family and plenty more adventure.

After pulling the cars out of the garage to get them running again, the next thing we did was work on our mountain bikes.  Once we made sure they were trail worthy again, we hit the foothills trails and had smiles on our faces the whole while.  We are so lucky to have riding like this so close to our home!

Next, out of the garage came the road bikes. We made plans with my parents to do a tour of the Oregon Coast, so we thought that we would start getting some good roadie rides in before shipping them up north. For our first roadie ride, we headed up route 66 to Tierjas. As usual, we got a pretty late start, and the temperature was already climbing really fast. The stretch on 66 was sweltering, and we just kept on cranking hoping that once we got beyond Tiejeras the temp would become more tolerable. After passing Tierjas, you quickly come to a ranger station. We always use this as a stopping point to use the restrooms and refill our water bottles. It is perfectly positioned since it is about ten miles from the house AND is at the base of where about ten MORE miles of climbing begins. It is so refreshing to ride through the Tierajas area as there are pine forests to ride through and the air is MUCH cooler since the altitude gets higher and higher as you crank up and up. At about mile twenty you reach the Morning Star store. This is another resting stop, as they have nice benches and tables outside of their store, and plenty of people who are AMAZED that we rode ALL the way up from Albuquerque.

By the time we reached the store we didn’t feel so bad except for the fact that our seats were telling us that they were no longer used to prolonged seat sitting. I was thankful though that I wasn’t sitting on that awful Peruvian seat that pained me to tears a few weeks before though.

After hydrating ourselves again we began the fast descent back to the ranger station. It is common for it to be pretty windy on this road and the crosswinds are common here. They freak me out, but today was calm. Also, the shoulder seemed much smoother and cleaner than it did the year before. Adam took off quickly, reaching speeds of over 40 mph. Me though, I am not as much of a hot dog and prefer to keep my speed down to 35 mph max! We were back down to the ranger station in no time and spent a few minutes drinking a bunch of water to get us through the 66 stretch and then back home again.

While on the bike path that runs parallel to Tramway (a street close to our house). It is very common to run across little critters, called Gunnison Prairie Dogs. They look a bit like squirrels, live in tunnel communities, and have a very complex social system. For more info on prairie dogs in New Mexico go to http://www.prairiedogpals.org. When Pat and Alicia came to visit, they brought the Lonely Planet for the southwest and brought it to our attention that the Walgreen’s that is only a couple of blocks from our house is listed as a great place to view a prairie dog community.

Stay tuned for plenty more as we revisit the northwest!

Peru- the Land of the Forgotten Toilet Seat

Here we are already- back home in Albuquerque, and now that our internet is back up and running we can do a post! Our eight solid months of international travel is now only a memory. It is good to be home, but it was also a little sad to give it up and get on that flight from Lima to Miami and enter the ole US of A once again. We questioned ourselves several times, wondering if we should have kept our flight taking us back to Portland at the beginning of July, as originally planned. But the reality was, that we were both very tired after eight months and nineteen countries and our beautiful home in New Mexico with all of its modern conveniences was looking more irresistible each day. While the Galapagos and Machu Picchu were a couple of the highlights of our trip and we enjoyed both of these places immensely, other destinations were just seeming not as wonderful and enchanting as they may have seemed, if we would have been fresh. It really was time to go home.

So, our last frontier of the trip was Peru, a country that had been high on our list for a long time due to the fascinating ruins of Machu Picchu. After leaving Quito, a city that was surprisingly beautiful and charming, but also not comfortably safe (there are frequent robberies reported by travelers). While here, we enjoyed walking through the old town during peak daylight hours, but saw something that made us feel that we might be walking the streets of Baghdad. An armored vehicle was parked in front of a bank with a man emerging from its roof with a machine gun, AND the machine gun was pointed right into the crowd. The people around seemed to be completely used to this and appeared to think nothing of it.Our nights and evenings in Quito were spent at the Secret Garden Hostel, which is a great place to stay. Since most travelers do not venture out into the night when they want their evening meal and drinks, the Secret Garden provides all of that with a couple of great chefs and some crazy Irish bartenders that mix up some dangerously stiff drinks.

We had a few of these stiff drinks before heading off to catch our flight to Lima at nine pm. We figured we may as well. Once we got to Lima at 11 pm our plan was to just sleep in the airport until our five am flight the next morning to Cusco, home to lots of Incan ruins as well as a jumping off point to Machu Picchu. Once we arrived at the airport, went through immigration and all of that we noticed right away that is was already midnight and this airport still looked incredibly busy. Also, we have never seen so many people waiting for arrivals as we did here, we felt like we were on some sort of a stage walking out from baggage claim. We had it in our heads that we were going to easily find a quiet place to lay down and rest, this wasn’t so easy. There were people everywhere! Finally after a few hours we were able to find our departure gate, so we laid down like bums for a bit of rest. Five am came quite quickly after this and we were off to Cusco. Since we arrived in Cusco so tired and worn out we swallowed our pride and let the taxi driver take us to his recommended hotel (also the one he gets a commission for). We were just too tired to go around shopping for a place. Upon arrival we were served coca tea and then we decided to take a little rest before venturing out to make plans for Machu Picchu. Our taxi driver, of course, offered us a trip up there on the train and it seemed fair, but we thought we should do a bit more shopping to see what other options there were. We already knew that the famous Inca Trail was out of the question, due to the government restrictions on the trail this year limiting use to only a third of what was allowed last year. Because of this limit travelers are forced to book months in advance now, and for those who have not gotten in on the famous trail there are now “alternate” routes. While eating breakfast we met a couple of guys fro Winnipeg, Manitoba who just go back from a mountain bike and trekking adventure up to Machu Picchu and were raving about it. After we ate they pointed us in the direction of the agency and we booked the trip with them. Since the trip was structured as a four day trip and we only wanted to take three, they accommodated this and arranged for a bus on day two. We also planned on spending another day in Cusco to acclimatize a bit before heading out on an exerting trek. Cusco is pretty far up there altitude wise- 10, 860 feet a bit higher than the Sandia’s next to our home in Albuquerque. Since we had been spending so much time a sea level we were definitely breathing quite a bit harder up here. We even noticed at night it was more difficult to get to sleep because when you did finally relax and start to get into a sleeping pattern you would wake up as you gasped for a breath of air. This took a couple of nights to get used to.

Cusco we found to be both a beautiful and fascinating city, the center of the Incan Empire with the enormous beauty of the mountains surrounding it. We enjoyed hanging around in the plazas (we even saw a children’s costume parade) and walking up and down the sometimes steep (I gasp for breath) and narrow historic streets. We found several ladies with llamas standing in street, for the benefit of tourists, asking if you would like to take a picture with them. we initially a bit turned off by the whole thing, but ended up turning around a block later to pay them a little bit of money and to get a few fun photos. After all, they were not beggars and were offering something that tourists want.

Our second night in town we even became brave enough to try the local delicacy of guinea pig. It was a little expensive by Peruvian standards, but we thought what the heck we may never have a chance to eat guinea pig again. I was a bit shocked when they brought it out to us stretched across the plate with its head still intact. After giving it a good look over, we each grabbed a leg and dug in. The meat wasn’t bad, but had a little bit of a strange flavor. Who knows what they feed these things! Once we finished off the legs we began peeling off the crispy skin to find really not too much meat underneath. We looked at each other and asked, “So what are we supposed to eat”. At that moment, the waitress came around and explained that the crispy skin was also to be eaten. We went ahead and dug in, I also think that the head was meant to be feasted upon, but neither of us were willing to even touch the rat looking head in search of something to put inside of our systems.

The next morning, we got up, ate another white bread and jam breakfast (sugartastic!), and headed out catch the beginning of our tour to Machu Picchu. At about 7:30, the tour guide ran up to our hotel giving us instructions to meet him at Plaza de Armice in five minutes. We quickly left most of our baggage in the hotel storage and bolted out the door to meet our guide. Once at Plaza de Armice he spotted us and quickly led us up quite a few streets until finally we stopped in front of some random shop. He told us and a young Korean girl to wait there as he hopped into a taxi and bolted off. In the span of the next hour twelve other people arrived and eventually we were loaded into a minibus. The whole thing just seemed to be a huge organizational nightmare and our group discussed with each other how it was amazing that these guys do this everyday, because it seemed as if this was the first time. Some bikes were loaded at this point as well and we all began laughing hysterically looking at the bikes as they were definitely not the bikes that are advertised at the tour agency. Surprise! So off we went, to the bus station to load the crappy bikes and equipment onto the top of the bus. When we signed up for the tour we really had no idea about the five hour bus ride before we even began to do the downhill mountain bike ride. The bus ride was a bit crazy and reminded us a bit of Nepal. Winding switchbacks through the mountains, no guard rail, views of rural farming (we’re talking oxen driven plows here) with beautiful mountain vistas in the background. Really a gorgeous drive, but not for the faint of heart, due to the sheer cliffs on the side of the road. We stopped at one point to use the toilet, and once again I asked myself, “Where are all of the toilet seats in Peru?”. Peruvian ladies mush have really strong legs after a lifetime of hovering over seats! Once we unloaded at the top we noticed that there was another company up there as well, but they had WAY better bikes and equipment. They were equipped with disk brakes, nice frames, seats, and even had knee and shin guards. Our group had bikes that were held together with electrical tape, seats that had their stuffing coming out, helmets that were sometimes cracked, and leather work gloves that were too big for most of the women and bunched up as you tried to grip the handlebars or brakes that were adjusted so you had to pull really hard to make them work. As we began to ride the bikes around we discovered that many of the bikes had dysfunctional brakes or had shifters that were not working at all. Adam mentioned that he was not able to shift his bike from the big ring and was told by our guide that when we got to a hill he should just walk up it. This didn’t make my cycling obsessed husband very happy. As expected, our group suffered break down after break down and even our guide was forced to walk his bike a majority of the thirty miles because of a flat tire. Our group was then left with the guides assistant who spoke not a word of English (his English was worse than our Spanish, which is very minimal). The poor guy did not even know how to work the quick release to get the wheels on and off, so Adam gave him a little lesson on how that was done. These guys do this same four day tour over and over again! After half the ride was over my butt was beginning to sting really bad, as this was by far the worst seat I have ever used. By the end of the ride I could not sit anymore, but my feet also hurt from wearing soft running shoes and trying to stand on the pedals. To top it all off, there were little flesh eating bugs up there that seemed to be attracted to the DEET that everyone was liberally spraying to ward them off. These things would bite and then leave a blood blister. The more we had to wait because of breakdowns the more bites we got. This ride was really pretty disappointing. In the tour agency we were presented with pictures of nice bikes on single track, but we got crappy bikes on a dirt road. When cars and trucks would pass, a cloud of dust would linger in the air, coating our lungs and the rest of out bodies with a layer of dust. When we got to the end of the ride we were pretty happy, even though we had to wait for quite a while for a few in our group who had worse luck than we had, such as a guy who had a flat tire and was forced to ride and walk with the bike for many miles, or our guide who finally showed up a couple hours after we arrived with his non-functioning bike.

That night we made arrangements to take the bus to Santa Maria the next morning. Our guide told us that he would wake us up at 3:45 in the morning for our journey. We were given a separate room from the dorm that everyone else was staying in, so we wouldn’t have to disturb anyone in the morning. 3:45 came very fast and our guide and assistant led us down the dark road to catch “our bus”. Our bus, turned out to be a station wagon driven by some random guy in the village. We were instructed to sit down in the back seat with the assistant, the driver and his friend got into the front, and a woman and a little girl hopped into the back crammed with all of the luggage. The station wagon was very overloaded and the tires made a loud scraping sound whenever we would go around a corner from the tires hitting the wheel well. The driver tried to go fast but couldn’t because of how overloaded we were. Adam and I were relieved that we were so overloaded and were forced to go slow because this dirt road we were on was cut into the side of a mountain, so even though we didn’t have seat belts it didn’t matter anyways because of how far the vehicle would fall if the driver made any kind of error. Adam, who was on the cliff side would look over every once in awhile and make a comment about how close the tires got to the edge. At one point the driver go out and moved the luggage around in the back to hopefully help the scraping problem. He also instructed the lady, who was short but fairly stocky, to move more of her weight forward, so the poor lady had to ride on this bumpy road with her neck contorted on the roof of the vehicle. I felt bad that she had to sit that way, while we sat in the back seat. After a couple of hours of this we did arrive in Santa Maria, just about the time the sun was coming up. Our driver and guide dropped us off at a hostel that had a spare room and they let us take a room to sleep for about an hour before our new group had breakfast. The room they gave us was VERY simple- it consisted of cinder block walls, plastic table cloths for a ceiling cover, and two twin beds. It was also infested with mosquitoes and was the first room of the entire trip in which we found a cockroach. We met the new group at breakfast and heard many stories from the day before about how it was a pretty long and rough day and many of the people were covered in insect bites. This made us glad that we took the death defying station wagon ride a couple of hours before.

After breakfast we began the hike for the day to Aguas Calientes. It began with the guide telling us that ten years before the village of Santa Maria was at the bottom of the valley, but there was a huge mud slide that destroyed it. Luckily, they were able to get all of the people out in time and then move the village to the top of the valley. On the floor of the valley there was a river with a perfectly good bridge going across, but to make the journey a bit more adventurous next to the bridge was a two person cart on a zip line. It was a bit fun, but it took some time to get 16 people across the river using this.

We then began walking down the road, which was really quite scenic. It was a bit disappointing knowing that you could drive on the route we were taking, but a part of me was glad that I was on my own two feet rather than in the back seat of some random vehicle with some random driver. Since Adam and I were not on the hike the day before our guide was kind enough to take some extra time with us and show us the plants that were growing in the area. He showed us sugarcane, mangoes, papaya, avacodo, coca, and passion fruit. He was even able to find some passion fruit so we could sample it. We then came to a beautiful waterfall where our guide encouraged everyone to get out their suits and walk underneath the falls. The water was very cold and the air not very warm yet as well, so the two of us declined. It was a very scenic place though.

From here on it was hiking down the road. Below the road was a river and on both sides of us were sheer cliffs. We stopped for lunch at around noon, and then continued on until we got our first view of Machu Picchu. We then hiked on train tracks for several hours, until we were all very tired of this and were finally at Aguas Calientes. This was a bit like walking into a Disney set of a Peruvian Village. Aguas Calientes is a VERY touristy place! But also in a very beautiful spot. The town’s name in Spanish means “hot waters”, and Adam and I visited these “hot waters” which are more warm than hot and of course very touristy and Disney like. We didn’t hang around long, mostly because of the strange odor that didn’t necessarily smell geothermal.

The next morning was our trip to Machu Picchu! We were given two options. The first one being getting up at four in the morning and taking the trail up to Machu Picchu, and the second getting up at five to catch the first bus up there. We decided in the second choice, mainly because we wanted to climb Waynapicchu (the tall skinny mountain behind Machu Picchu that is seen in nearly every photograph of the place) and we wanted to have the energy to enjoy the place once we got there.

Once we got to Machu Picchu that morning by bus our guide came to us with our tickets and we we able to enter. Unfortunately, he didn’t yet have tickets for everyone so this created quite the scene as members of our group demanded that they have their tickets ASAP. Not having tickets was not an uncommon occurrence though as we saw many screaming matches happening near the entrance. Most of them did eventually get their tickets, but their day at Machu Picchu was delayed while they dealt with this unpleasant inconvenience. Once we were in we began trying to find our way to the trail head of Waynapicchu quickly. Climbing this mountain is a popular thing to do and they only allow 200 people in the morning and another 200 in the afternoon, so you have to line up to be able to get in on the 7 am opening. Since it was so foggy that morning it was initially very difficult for us to find our way there, but eventually the rest of group caught up with us and we were all able to line up together. Once we got in, Adam and I were #45 and 46 for the day. I had heard horror stories about this climb, and it was a little tough because of the altitude but was not as scary as I had been hearing and there was never a time that I felt like I was going to fall off of the mountain. Once you almost reach the top, the trail leads you through a cave which is pretty neat. Once you pop out on the other side you have just a little more climbing to do before you summit the thing. On the top the trick is to find a place to sit and wait for the fog to clear up, when there are a couple hundred other people trying to do the same. We sat up there for about an hour watching it clear up on both sides of M.P. but there was still an obstructed view. And then all of a sudden the fog became thinner and there it was- what an incredible view!!

After coming off of Waynapicchu, we met our tour guide and took a tour about the history of Machu Picchu. We learned that this was a place only for the royalty and most of the people in the Incan Empire did not even know of its existence. It was a bit of a retreat for the King and the permanent residence for his secondary wives and concubines. There were also royalty there being educated. Our guide even showed us where animals and sometimes even children were sacrificed.

Once our tour ended the guide suggested a place to go to get a great view and photos. We sat down here for about an hour and had lunch, and a little fun.

We spent the whole day at Machu Picchu, and when the day was over we headed back to Aguas Calientes to catch our train. Our guide told us that someone would be at the train station holding a sign with our name on it. When we arrived there was a whole mess of people with signs, but we never found our names. Eventually, we found a lady with extra seats on her bus so we paid her and hopped on. Who knows if there ever was someone there with our names or not.

The next morning was a bright and early flight to Lima. Once in Lima we spent most of the day resting for our 3:45 am taxi ride to the airport to catch our flight to Miami. Everything went went smoothly getting home until we got to Miami. We have decided
that the Miami airport is the worst in the world. Everyone we talked to seemed to be highly incompetent and since every turn we made we seemed to get the run around we missed our connection to Dallas/Fort Worth. Luckily, we had a pretty long layover in Dallas so we were still able to get the same flight into Albuquerque. Our great neighbors Mike and Staci picked us up and greeted us and then we were whisked on home to meet our beautiful home again. Trish, the woman who rented the house while we were gone took great care of the place and it was really nice to feel comfortable in our own home again right away.

Now that it has been a week, we have fallen back into our old routines again- grocery shopping, cooking, laundry…. I was happy that I remembered how to drive my car 🙂 We have also gotten all of our bikes back into working order and are enjoying the amazing trail system that is right out our front door. It is also good to have all of the great New Mexican food. That is one thing that was nearly impossible to find on the trip, so we have visited more than one New Mexican restaurant for some green chile concoctions.

It had been fun to be amongst all of the American conveniences that we have, and to view our culture in a different way. I can say that overseas I did not see many parents screaming at their kids in public and was a bit horrified when I saw that again. We think that eight months of travel will take awhile to sink in and it will be another adventure to revisit it through memories in the future.

Now soon we will be onto the northwest to visit family and then July 12th we board a family reunion cruise to Alaska with 18 other family members. We are also trying to work out a way to cycle the length of the Oregon Coast with my dad. So….. the adventure will not end with our arrival back in the states. We are really lucky to live in a country that takes a lifetime to explore on its own, so many places to visit!

We plan on keeping this site active for awhile and have plans for a few reflection posts, so keep checking.

~Shawn & Adam

Cruising through the Galapagos Islands

May 18, 2008

Adam’s adventure in the Galapagos began with his dive and the mishap of our underwater camera, while mine began with a solo hike out to Tortuga Bay on Santa Cruz island where we were staying before boarding our yacht for our eight day cruise.

I began the hike just after breakfast and after Adam went off on the dive boat. The islands get very hot and steamy during the day, so any activity has to be done early in the morning or in the evening. Adam’s dive master drew me a map of where to go, so off I went. I walked up the asphalt road only for a short while before I came to where the paving stone trail began. At the trailhead there was a large school group of ten to twelve year olds on an outing, so I began hiking very fast in order to get ahead of them. Once I had walked for about an hour, the trail opened up and a beautiful, pristine beach was in front of me. The water was a deep blue aqua that contrasted very nicely with the white sand. I immediately saw blue-footed boobies dive- bombing into the water. These birds are so interesting, on land they look rather goofy with their bright blue feet and duck like bodies, but when they are flying over the sea hunting they are incredibly graceful, and then once they spot their prey they turn themselves into a missile and dive head first into the water, barely displacing it at all. I watched this go on for quite awhile, sometimes the boobies would dive on their own and sometimes they would fly in groups and dive in together. After awhile the brown pelicans came in and the boobies left.

Seeing the boobies leave gave me an excuse to explore further down the beach. As I walked I came across some black lava rocks amongst a long beach of powdery white sand. It wasn’t immediately obvious but on those rocks sat marine iguanas that were just as black as the rocks. They like to pile up on top of each other to keep warm. Also on the rocks were dozens of Sally Lightfoot crabs. Some were red to an orange color, and the juveniles were a blue-purple to black.

On one end of the beach was a small trail that was covered with marine iguanas, some of them rather large ones. I stopped to take some video of a particularly large iguana and as I began filming, he began approaching. On down the trail, I came to Tortuga Bay, what did I see right away swimming around in the water? A tortuga (or turtle). He was a big one, at least three feet wide. He would swim gracefully around for a while and then come up for air every couple of minutes. I also saw a small heron like bird in the same spot. There was a small beach on Tortuga Bay, so I decided to stop and sit down to enjoy the scenery for a while. Just as I was sitting down the school group arrived to go for a swim and there were plenty of screaming little girls so I didn’t hang around long. It was beginning to get pretty hot by this time anyways, so I made my way back into town for some lunch.

The next day we checked out of the Hotel Castro, went to find disposable underwater cameras, and then at three pm caught our taxi back to Baltra to board the Lammer Law, our home for the next eight days! When we first arrived on Santa Cruz Island in the Galapagos, we went to the boat’s office to make arrangements regarding catching the boat on the 17th (the first day of the cruise). The captain of the Lammer Law happened to be in the office when we were, and offered to have us come on board one night early. We thought this was a fantastic idea and gladly accepted. Once we arrived in Baltra a dingy (the locals call them pangas) from the Lammer Law was waiting for us at the dock to take us to our boat. The Lammer Law was quite a ways out so it was not immediately visible when getting in the panga, but once we got on the other side of Baltra she was visible and we have to say very pretty and impressive to drive up to on a panga. The Lammer Law is the second largest trimaran in the world. We were shown to our cabin on board right away, which is very comfortable with an in-suite bathroom, and comfy bed. After getting our bags into the room we headed up to the upper deck right away to enjoy the pleasant evening on the boat that we had to ourselves, and the crew that evening. As we relaxed in the lounge chairs, frigate birds circled in the thermals above our heads. We also spotted a turtle out in the water and watched him for a while. Our guide, Estevan, came on board about an hour after we did and we had dinner with him on the back deck. The boat chef made a delicious meal for us (even though it was only the three of us). The boat has a good selection of books regarding the Galapagos, Charles Darwin, and evolution so we read those for several hours before making our way into our comfy bed. About the time we laid down for the night we started moving to San Cristobel Island. This wasn’t an entirely smooth ride, so we really didn’t get to sleep until about one in the morning when we arrived at San Cristobel and were anchored again.


In the morning, we arose to a beautiful day on San Cristobel. We had a lovely breakfast and were told that the chartered flight that held the rest of the boat’s passengers was getting in early, so our guide needed to go meet them right away. We decided to go on shore to look for some more sunscreen (we are on the equator and the sun is extremely intense, that is the reason for many pictures with dorky sun hats), and to check email. Because of a miscommunication with our guide we ended up getting back to the dock about a half an hour after we were supposed to, so once we got back on the boat all the rest of the passengers were there and getting settled into their cabins. The Lammer Law holds 16 passengers at its maximum capacity and we have 14 on board, so it is a good size group. After seeing a bunch of old ladies in high heels board the boat before us we were a bit apprehensive about what our group was going to be like. We really lucked out though- most people were similar in age, and everyone was very fit and active.

Our Group

Our guide began at this time getting all of the snorkeling equipment out and taking orders for wetsuits. Adam and I put our order in for a wet suit right away as we both hate being cold in the water. Once this order of business was taken care of we had some yummy lunch and then suited up for a snorkeling session with some very friendly sea lions.

After disembarking the panga and immerging ourselves into the ocean, we immediately had four or five sea lion friends come up to us in a very playful manner. Sea lions are built a bit like a slug, and kind of move that way while on land, but when they get themselves into the water they move in a very graceful and elegant fashion. We figured out that the sea lions when we would dive down towards the ocean floor would like to come right along side of us and come back up to the surface with us, as well. Adam also tried to copy their movements, as they seemed to like to play the mimicking game, particularly the younger ones. We still think that they must think that we are a very uncoordinated, strange variety of sea lion. They also will often times come very close to you and seem to look into your eyes, or will come speeding over your shoulder out of nowhere and scare the living daylights out of you. Everyone had so much fun with these creatures, nobody wanted to stop the interactions, and everybody couldn’t wait to do it again.

Once we got back on the panga, we knew our trip was off to a great start. We went back to the Lammer Law for some snacks and fresh juice, and then got ready for our afternoon hike on a small island off of San Cristobel. Once we got off of the panga our guide had to encourage the beach master (with our guides Latin accent it made beach sound a bit different, but was still descriptive in what the beach master is) get off of the main path so we could walk through without having a 300 pound sea lion attacking us (they feel more vulnerable on land and can be a bit more defensive- particularly the males). He did manage to talk the sea lion into moving off of the path, and we got to walk through safely. Immediately, we noticed that the island smelled a lot like a barnyard with the numbers of animals inhabiting the place. It was quite a noisy place as well, with the beach master spending quite a bit of energy howling at the others. Our guide pointed one sea lion out who was bearing his chest at us and commented that this how they challenge each other, so this particular sea lion was challenging us! Some of their chests had many war wounds because in the sea lion world, those scars are used to display how much fighting experience they have. On down the trail we ran into a blue-footed boobie couple with their chick that hatched just two weeks before. This chick was nearly the size of his parents, and had a beak that was already the same size. He was still white and fluffy though and did not yet have his blue feet and won’t until just before his first birthday.

The frigate birds were the next attraction on the island. The males were sitting on the scrub brush showing off their bright red pouches under their necks to the ladies. Every once in awhile a female would dive down to check one of the males out. The red pouch on a male frigate bird is used to get the attention of the females, and apparently the female frigate birds think it is pretty darn sexy!

We were then finished with our tour of San Cristobel Island and went back to the boat for our first dinner all together. The food on the boat is very fresh, balanced, and wholesome. AND there is always desert, even for lunch!

That night while we moved onto our next island, Espanola, it was quite rough and sleep only occurred between the big waves hitting the boat. We woke up a bit groggy, but still excited to see what the day had in store for us. Our first stop was to hit the beach for a bit of walk around some sea lion territory. We ohhhed and ahhhed many of the cute little ones and took some pics laying next to the sea lions. I think everyone who goes to the Galapagos takes pics like this and we weren’t about to be the exception.

After taking our compulsory photos, we crawled into our wetsuits, put our snorkeling gear on and made our way out into the water. Visibility wasn’t very good close to shore, but a ways out it got a bit better. We saw a sea turtle resting in some kelp about fifteen feet down. We dove down and got a pretty good look at it, after awhile he decided to come up for some air and swam around us for a while, at one point swimming right in between the two of us. We saw some tropical fish and a few sea lions here, but it wasn’t the most impressive snorkeling that we have done. After leaving this site we went to another one that was a bit better and that also had a cave to go into, that was a bit creepy.

Lunch was delicious, as usual and after the feast we went out to see the wildlife on the island of Espanola. We had heard that if we were lucky we would be able to see some Albatrosses. We headed up the trail and our guide pointed out some flying off in the distance. Further up the trail we saw one nesting in some bushes and considered ourselves pretty lucky to see what we were seeing. Once we took all of our pics of the one in the bushes, we headed off to see that there we many others nesting right out in the open. These birds were beautiful, impressive, and docile. We were able to get right next to many of their nests, and they didn’t mind at all. We then made our way to “the airport”. Waved Albatrosses can only take off by jumping off of a cliff under the right wind conditions, so they’ll often walk a long way from their nesting sites to the cliff. Next to the cliff is an open section that is relatively smooth and grassy. They’re such big birds they can’t fly very slow, so often they’ll circle the landing strip for hours before coming in for a bumpy landing.

This day was also Adam’s 31st birthday, so we came back from our morning hike that day with a bottle of champagne sitting on our dresser. That evening after we had finished our dinner the lights went out and the chef walked onto the deck with a beautiful birthday cake. On the cake it said, “Feliz Dia! Adam”. It was really sweet of the crew to do this for him and the cake tasted great too!

May 19th
The next morning was another early riser, and our first excursion of the day was a wet landing off the pangas to the island of Floreana. This was the island that Adam had dove from a few days before, so he was pretty excited to go back as he had liked it so much before. When we landed on the island our guide first showed us the “green sand”, not really so green but when you took a handful of it you could see little green crystals in it, very pretty. Next, we hiked over to the salt marsh where the flamingos live. Our guide mentioned to us that they are the pinkest flamingos in the world, because of their plentiful diet.

From there we walked to the other side of the island where many sting rays congregate in oxygen rich waters. We carefully shuffled along in the water amongst them. We were often surprised when one would emerge from the turbid waters and be only inches from our feet!

Before lunch we did a snorkeling trip off of the pangas at a rock formation called “Devil’s Crown” for some spectacular snorkeling. This was the best visibility of the whole trip, often approaching 20 meters! We saw many sharks, huge schools of surgeon fish, and a beautiful, sleek, and colorful tuna. Towards the end of the session we saw four sharks down at the bottom under a ledge about 25 feet down. Adam decided he wanted to get an even better look, so he dove down to a little notch in the ledge. He was really surprised how close he could get to the normally shy White Tip Reef Sharks without noisy scuba gear, so he decided to do it again but this time the guide was watching. As soon as Adam began his dive our guide began to yell for Adam to stop, of course he didn’t hear him, but once Adam got back up he got a scolding for getting so close to them (unlike oceanic white tips, white tip reef sharks are seldom dangerous, and then only when provoked). Snorkeling later, several other white tips joined the others at the ledge, along with two enormous stingrays.

After the snorkeling excursion we landed back on Floreana to visit Post Office Bay. Post Office Bay was opened hundreds of years ago by the whalers; they would drop a letter in a barrel and if someone was going to that location on the earth they would pick it up and hand deliver it. Today it works in a similar fashion, but people generally use post cards. Unfortunately, there were no post cards going to New Mexico or the Portland area, so we didn’t take any with us to deliver, but we did leave a few to be delivered. Since this blog is normally our replacement for post cards, these are the only cards we’ve mailed the entire trip.

On the same excursion we visited a lava tube. Inside it was massive, but as we continued further into the cave it became a lake so we waded back into it, until we reached a small cramped tunnel. When we emerged through the narrow tunnel there was a large room full of water that was mostly neck deep for Adam and had spots where Shawn couldn’t touch the bottom. It was crazy to be back there with only the light from our flashlights to see by! It was also pretty cold so once we had the thrill of being there we turned around and came back. Really fun though!

May 20

Today we returned to Santa Cruz to do a tour of the Charles Darwin Research Station. Since we saw this the day after we arrived in the islands, Adam booked another dive day rather than see it again. Shawn went ahead and joined the group for the tour and also to visit the highlands where she had the chance to see the Giant Galapagos Tortoise in the wild.

The Darwin Station is used as a base to replenish the population of the tortoises on the islands. There are tortoises of varying ages and most of them stay at the center until they are five years old, when they are released into the wild. Shawn was very shocked to hear that for the five year period at the station, each tortoise runs up a bill of $10,000. Repopulating the islands to their original population of the tortoises is a long process as the Galapagos tortoise does not reach sexual maturity until they are 35-40 years old. The center also contained many historical photos of the destruction of the tortoises. The sailors that came to Galapagos regarded them as a dream food source, as they require no food or water for a year at a time. The sailors had plenty of fresh meat this way.

It is also home to several tortoises that were 100 to 120 years old and were easily three to four hundred pounds each. When Adam and I visited the center we had the opportunity to watch a feeding of the females. What messy eaters they are! Absolutely, no manners!

After leaving the center the tour took a bus up into the highlands. Here we had the chance to see three of the tortoises in their natural habitat. We even got to see one walking through the forest, which doesn’t happen too often as they are incredibly sedentary as well as shy.

We were then served an amazing BBQ lunch up in the highlands, and were surprised to see that our chef and server who were with us on the Lammer Law, where the same guys who put on an amazing production way up in the highlands.

May 21st

Overnight we sailed across the equator to the remote Genovesa Island- a place few of the tours make it to. The island is “U” shaped because it is a collapsed caldera with an entrance for ships to sail in to. Since this place never had tortoises it is practically untouched and absolutely loaded with birds. Because of the lack of reptiles, the prickly pear cactus on this island had thorns that were as soft as hair! Frigate birds, often with enormously inflated pouches, were everywhere. Red footed and Nazka boobies were all over the place, too. Frigate birds are unable to land in the water, so they survive primarily off of stealing from the boobies. That, and their dark, jaunty look earns them the description of “pirates of the air”. They’re interested in stealing anything a boobie is carrying, even if it is just a stick. Once on the ground, however, the boobies and frigates will nest right next to each other, as though they’re friends when ‘off the clock’. This was also a nesting place for the beautiful Swallow-Tailed Gulls. They’d let you get incredibly close, even if they were with a chick.

(Swallow-Tailed Gull fledgling)

We went snorkeling in the lagoon, which is said to have a lot of hammerhead sharks. That may well have been the case, but visibility was only about 6 meters, so we never saw any.
After snorkeling we landed on the other side of the lagoon to watch the storm petrels. They are small black-and-white birds and were absolutely EVERYWHERE- all over the sky. Scattered along the ground were their dismembered wings, signs that their elusive predator, the Galapagos Owl, was about. We looked for owls for hours but didn’t manage to find any. While waiting we did see a pod of dolphins in the distance making enormous leaps out of the water. Very cool.

Eventually, Adam sat down right next to a Nazca boobie and just hung out for quite a long time. This bird was indifferent to slightly curious about him. It is amazing how docile the animals here are. We think most wildlife watching from this point onward will be a little disappointing. Boobies get most of their moisture from fish and sea water. Like many of the Galapagos birds, they’ve adapted to this problem by secreting concentrated salt water from their nostrils. The brine then flow down channels in their beaks and drips off. We were able to stay close to this bird long enough to get some pictures of this. We also managed to get some Schnufel pics with him.

Genovesa has to be one of the most isolated, pristine and peaceful (although desolate) places we have ever been to or probably ever will go to. It was wonderful sitting on the shore with the docile animals like this for hours. Unfortunately, The next island, Fernandina, was on the opposite side of the archipelago. It would be a 16 hour crossing to get there, so we had to leave at about 2:00 P.M. This voyage was assisted by sail power for a change. Unfortunately, the crew didn’t know much about sailing, so they promptly ripped the Genoa sail (the one that attaches from the mast to the bow, and gives you the most power). Fortunately, one of the passengers (Ben, from England) is an avid yacht racer and took over the helm to get as much as we could out of the remaining two sails. He managed to increase our speed by about 20% over motor power alone.

22 May

After a rough night (literally), we arrived at Fernandina Island. This place is also very remote, and not part of most itineraries. It is the youngest and most volcanically active island, and underwent a huge pyroclastic (lava) eruption in 1975. This blanketed much of the island in glassy slag-like lava rock., covering a once beautiful beach. Interestingly, the beach used to be home to a boat wreck from the 1940s. The lava flow burnt the remains of the boat, but carefully parted around the old decaying engine, leaving it as the only reminder.

Besides having enormous numbers of black marine iguanas, Fernandina is the home of the Flightless Cormorant- the rarest of the Cormorants, endemic only to the Galapagos. Since it had no predators, and since the best food sources were under the water, this bird’s wings evolved to mere vestiges. With it’s smaller wings and larger feet, this bird has become a very sleek and efficient deep water swimmer, but it looks a bit ridiculous on land with it’s puny wings spread to dry.

We also encountered the remains of a whale on the lava field, likely a juvenile sperm whale. The stark white bones on the dark black lava made for a striking contrast.

After lunch we crossed the channel to Isabella island. We stopped along a cliff edge that reminded us of photos we’ve seen of the Na Pali coast in Kauai. We took the pangas to the entrance of a huge sea cave for some snorkeling in “refreshing” water. We both decided to wear our long underwear from Nepal under our short, thin wetsuits. There were sea turtles everywhere. One particularly docile one even brushed against Adam a couple of times, and one surprised us by swimming right between us! While swimming along the wall towards the cave we saw Flightless Cormorants probing the rocks for crabs. Then, we were startled by a couple of Galapagos Penguins rocketing through the water. These little (about 1’) guys are also endemic to the Galapagos, and are the northernmost penguin species in the world. They’re adorable and awkward on land (with a really strange call, too), but in the water they’re so fast and agile that they’re hard to keep up with.

Back in the cave it was a little dark so we didn’t see much at first. Adam decided to go to the back of the cave and let his eyes adjust. When he turned around, the light from the cave entrance revealed the silhouettes of 10 sea turtles! These would also let you get extremely close. After leaving the cave we swam to a nearby cove which, again, was loaded with turtles. After getting back into the pangas we were able to see about 20 turtles- and those were just the ones near the surface. Unbelievable!

After lunch we headed north and quickly reached the equator- our first daylight crossing. Everyone had to get a picture of the GPS reading all zeros. We were going to swim across, but the seas were a bit too rough to allow this.

That night at dinner, we were treated to lobster. We turned in early for another long night.

23 May

Another rough overnight crossing brought us to Bartolme Island. This island features a large pyroclastic volcanic cone, which we started climbing at 6:00 AM to beat the heat. Although this is one of the older islands, the lava fields and volcanos look relatively new. Due to the high magnesium concentrations of the soil almost nothing grows in this soil, giving a stark, but colorful, martian-esque landscape. The top of the volcano had beautiful panoramic views.

After breakfast, we had our last snorkeling trip. The water was extremely rough, and the visibility wasn’t so great. Nevertheless, we managed to see quite a few sharks and penguins. We also encountered tons of beautifully iridescent starfish and the flamboyantly colorful Pacific Boxfish.

From here, we cruised back to the island of Baltra to refuel. Along the way we passed the cone of Daphne Major Island. The biologists Peter and Rosemary Grant spent decades here documenting the evolutionary changes in Darwin Finch anatomy and published their results in the Pulitzer winning surprise best-seller “Beak of the Finch”, which Shawn and Adam both read about 10 years ago. It’s amazing were still learning from the very species that inspired Darwin’s big discovery.

After refueling we noticed about an acre of white water roughly a kilometer off. Every bird in the vicinity rushed to the area and began a feeding frenzy. I asked the Captain, Javier, what was going on. He said a school of tuna were feeding on a large school of fish, which were trying to escape by jumping out of the water (which often landed them in the beak of a pelican or boobie. The unlucky fish had nowhere to go.

Next on the itinerary was our last hike on N. Seymour Island. This place was loaded with Blue Footed Boobies, most of which were doing their ridiculous looking mating dance. This was accompanied by their vestigial nesting behavior. Boobies carefully select twigs suitable for building a nest. The quality of twigs is also important in attracting a female. The birds will carefully move these twigs around, but in the end they just have a useless pile of twigs and lay their eggs on the ground next to them. They have no use for nests anymore, but still have a bit of the nesting instinct left in them. We stopped for a while to watch an indecisive female walk in circles between three males, trying to decide who was the best dancer and who had the best pile of sticks, not to mention the best whistle (the males sound like musical whistle toys, while the females sound like ducks)

Boobie Dance

Female (big pupils) checking out the pile of twigs

Further down the path we encountered a Galapagos Land Iguana. These are much more colorful than the all black Marine Iguana. The one we saw had especially bright color on the head. Their entire bodies will turn this bright color during mating season. We ended the day by watching a beautiful sunset along a beach full of sea lions.

24 May

The roughest night yet brought us back to San Cristobal Island. We spent the morning at an interpretative center and then headed to the airport for our flight back to Quito.

While a bit expensive, this was a wildlife experience like no other. We’re spoiled now- we think we’ll be somewhat disappointed viewing wildlife in the future since we won’t be able to get nearly as close to the animals as we were here. Since we’ll be home in a few weeks, the Galapagos Islands were a fitting grand finale to our around the world trip!

In a few hours we’re off to Peru to see Machu Pichu, and then back to the ole’ US of A after an 8 month absence.

Galapagos Diving

Hi everyone.  In two hours, we board our boat, the “Lammer Law”, for an 8 day Galapagos cruise.  We’ve been in the islands for a few days now.  Yesterday I decided to go diving.  It was absolutely SPECTACULAR!  The Great Barrier Reef was more colorful, the Galapagos wins  for shear mass of wildlife.  As soon as we hit the water we were surrounded by sea lions.  They LOVE to get right up next to you.  They’re so goofy- just like under-water golden retrievers.  They love to play with the anchor or chew on the rope, too.  The sea lions accompanied us for most of the dive.

As we moved to deeper water, I was amazed by the clarity of the water.  We could see 20-25 meters into the deepest blue you could imagine (15 meters was the best vis we had in Australia or Indonesia).  We were making our way along a steep, blue sea cliff, and I was just amazed how many fish there were hovering off along the abyss.  There were also huge turtles and sting rays, and smaller manta rays gracefully flying along.  Of course, there were the ever present sea lions, too.  You simply couldn’t look anywhere without seeing tons of wildlife.

The second dive was along a steep volcano sticking up out of the ocean.  Here, we saw lots of white-tip reef sharks, and HUGE schools of these little 6″ fish.  There were tens of thousands, and they just moved around you in a totally organic and smooth way.  There were so many fish it began to get dark!

I got some amazing photos and video of all of this, too, but you may have noticed that I haven’t included a single photo in the post yet.  Here is why.  Everyone has to dive with a “dive buddy” for safety reasons.  I was paired up with this Canadian Girl, Ashley.  While we were holding onto the reef looking out into the blue, her weight belt came off.  We were at 20m down.  We were wearing thick, buoyant wet suits.  The part of the reef she was holding onto broke, and she broke several other pieces off as she started ascending.  She was kicking like mad, but really wasn’t managing to stay on the bottom.  If we could not keep her on the bottom she could get decompression sickness.  We managed to struggle back down and reach the belt and, with a great deal of effort, I wedged it between her back and her tank to weight her down and so she could get it back on.  The flurry of effort and activity led to several scratches and bruises, and tons of bubbles in the water, obscuring our vision.  As soon as everything was safe I reached for my camera, which I always keep strapped to my right wrist.  In all of the chaos, the strap either broke or came off, and with all of the stirred debris and bubbles in the water I could only see a meter or two straight up.  I found the dive master so my dive buddy could pair up with him.  Then, since the camera has a slight positive buoyancy, I swam away and started ascending to look for it.  The current was strong, so I had to guess how far away it would be.  Also, I had to ascend slowly or I would be the one with the bends.  By the time I did my safety stop and made it to the surface and got in the dive boat, the camera was nowhere to be seen.  I convinced the pilot to go back and forth in a search pattern while we waited for the other divers.  We looked for 15-20 minutes, and I spent the rest of the afternoon on the bow looking for it to no avail.

What terrible timing- before I got a single underwater picture here!  I’m doing another dive in a few days, but the dive companies around here don’t even rent out underwater cameras.  We found a disposable underwater camera that we can take snorkeling, but I’ve been underwhelmed with their results in the past.  Hopefully someone on the boat will have a decent camera we could borrow.  I sent a letter to World Nomads, our travel insurance company (actually, what you just read was more or less cut & pasted from the letter I sent them).  Hopefully they’ll reimburse me, although the main disappointment to us is the loss of the photos rather than the loss of the camera.  We still have our SLR, so you should see some spectacular pics when we get back from our cruise, but don’t count on seeing many from underwater 😦  How frustrating.

Buenos Aires

We spent our last day in Santiago trying to find accommodation in Buenos Aires. We checked out quite a few hostels, but for about the same price of a private room we found we could get a modern, 650 square foot apartment in the trendy area of Palermo Viejo. We made our reservation just as the office was closing down. The lady said we could check in around noon- about the time we were planning on getting there anyway. However, as soon as we got the confirmation email we found out check in would “probably be” 6 PM.
After another night with almost no sleep we awoke at 4:30 in the morning for our flight from Santiago. While waiting in the airport we realized that, as far as longitude goes, we have been all the way around the world already! This next flight would bring our total to 1 & 1/8 times around. We boarded the plane to find a spacious A340 widebody, complete with on demand video in every seat. Funny they have that on the two-hour flight to Buenos Aires but not the 12-hour flight to Santiago.

The flight took off and approached the edge of the Andes at sunrise. These mountains, while not quite as outrageous as the Himalayas, were nonetheless impressive. As in the Himalayas, some mountains looked to be almost as high as we were flying, and they extended off into the horizon as far as we could see. Looking down we could see enormous glaciers, imagining all the while what it would be like to ski down them. We were already getting excited about NEXT ski season looking at them!

We arrived in Buenos Aires, once again, exhausted. Since we had to pay for a weeks worth of apartment rental, and several hundred US$ for a deposit, we went straight for the ATM. We tried all three machines in the airport and none of them we give us any money. These were the first cash machines to give us problems anywhere in the world, including such places as Nepal, China, and Cambodia! We scrapped up most of our remaining foreign currency to exchange, as well as our “emergency money” US dollars, and found we had just enough money to pay for the apartment, a taxi, and dinner. Close call, and also very frustrating. We eventually found an ATM at a bank the next day, but it would only give us about $90 at a time. Buenos Aires has the fewest, most difficult to find and stingiest, ATMs that we’ve seen in the world.

Even though we had six hours before we could check-in and were stuck with our luggage, we decided to go straight to the apartment so we’d know where it was and in case someone was there to let us in early. Someone who was helping a friend move out let us into the lobby, but there was nobody at the apartment we intended on renting. Still, we were exhausted, and there were a few comfy looking chairs in the lobby, so we dropped our stuff and took a little nap, hoping the apartment owners would show up.

About two hours later we were hungry and curious to see the neighborhood, so we thought we go look for a nearby restaurant and try some of the famous Argentine beef we’d been hearing so much about. But first, we decided to look for a bathroom. There wasn’t one in the lobby, so we thought we’d just wait until we got to a restaurant, so we grabbed our bags and headed for the door. It was locked shut! WTF! This is not something we considered possible, since such a thing is against fire code in the US, and we assumed it is the same everywhere, as it had been so far on this trip. Of what POSSIBLE advantage is it to require a key to get OUT of the building? We wound up having to wait another hour until we found someone leaving the building to let us out, and one of us had to resort to creative emergency bathroom measures in the mean time. ☺

Once out on the street, we noticed the neighborhood looked like a ghost town. It was May Day, so almost everything was closed. While walking around we were waved down by three mid-20’s Chileans who were visiting town. They were ALSO locked inside their apartment building lobby, so they had us push every button on the doorbell trying to find someone to let them out. A few restaurants were still open, and we eventually came to jam-packed place called “El Trapiche”. It looked a little fancy, but we thought we’d give it a try since it was one of the only places open. We decided to get sirloin skewers, papas fritas, a bottle of malbec-shiraz wine, and some dolce de leche (a local carmel) and chocolate ice cream. It was all amazingly good, and ran us just around $26! Argentine beef is widely regarded as the best in the world, and now we know why. Sure- you can find a mediocre steak there (not a bad one though), but the good ones are absolutely amazing! Even the ground beef we’d get at the grocery store for $2/pound was like no ground beef we’d ever had. (We’re not heavy red-meat eaters, but we took advantage of our location and had some kind of beef almost every day).

By the time we got back to the apartment it was about time to check in. Although the place was booked through BYTArgentina, it was privately owned by a mother and daughter- Deborah and Elaina. They spent a long time with us giving suggestions on what to see while we were in town, showing us how everything worked, and helping to get us connected to their peculiar DSL internet connection. You can see the apartment by clicking this link.

That night we slept from 10 pm until 11 am. We woke up feeling much better. It was SO nice and refreshing to have our own space for a change. We found the apartment to be very comfortable, although the theme of total-disregard-for-fire-safety continued on the inside. Just as in the lobby, you needed a key to open your own door from the inside. The wall heaters had exposed pilot lights, usually right next to curtains. The balcony had bars to prevent anyone from climbing in, but also making it impossible to get out any way but a single stairwell. We looked around and ALL of the apartment buildings were this way, regardless of how nice they were. It seems they’re more concerned with getting their stuff stolen than burning to death! A phrase we’ve often repeated on this trip is “OSHA don’t live here”.

Like every big city we’ve seen in S. America so far, there was a lot of graffiti. Other than that though, Buenos Aires is a very nice place. Some have called it the “Paris of S. America”, and the architecture, people, and numerous cafes definitely gave us that vibe as well. It was very European. The people also certainly look more Spanish/European than Mexican/Native. I guess the Conquistadors must’ve been really…’efficient’ here back in the day. Argentines are a very proud people, even though the country has suffered a long depression, the people still appear in many ways to be living the high life. They all dress really nicely (we looked like complete slobs, with our worn travel clothing).

The other big similarity with Paris is the dogs. It seems EVERYONE has a large dog, and you see dog walkers all over the place, usually holding 5 or 10 leashes. We’ve never seen so many Golden Retrievers before (and, of course, their behavior is as goofy as the goldens everywhere else in the world). Of course, the downside of all these people walking ten big dogs is that there is dog crap all over the sidewalks (also very Parisian).

Another bit of French-esque flair in Argentina is their fondness for wine. They specialize mostly in reds- especially “malbec”, which we seldom see in the US. Every grocery store has a huge selection, with very drinkable table wine for only $3. We splurged for the most expensive bottle in the store for the princely sum of $12. Outstanding. For comparison, we also got the cheapest bottle, which was only $1. It was a bit grape juicy, and not at all complex, but did not taste bad. Coincidently, one of Adam’s mom’s friends has a son who lives in Buenos Aires. Daniel is a wine exporter, (Anuva Vinos) and we found out he only lives about 15 minutes walking distance from where we were staying. We dropped him an email and arranged a tasting. Of course, everything was excellent, and Daniel was even kind enough to let us take the leftover wine home.

We had intended on renting an apartment in Buenos Aires the entire trip, but until recently we had planned on staying there a month as a rest stop. We shortened this to a week, but enjoyed the place so much that we extended it back out to 12 days. We were getting a bit burnt out. I know it sounds unimaginable, but I think most people who’ve been on trips like us would agree (and we’ve talked to many!). Moving around every few days just wears on you, and was beginning to feel not worth the time and money. We REALLY needed a rest stop, and having our own space felt almost like being at home. Since our primary goal was to lay low and rest we took things pretty easy. We’d spend a lot of the day researching the Galapagos islands and Peru or just surfing the net…watching TV…catching up on the news…talking to friends and family on Facebook and Skype…wandering around town taking pictures…trying to re-photoshop some of our favorite pictures from the trip, reading, etc. We were also finally able to get something of a workout schedule in (running and yoga). We’ve gotten a bit out of shape over the past few months, so exercise always makes us feel better. Basically, it was a 12 day weekend, and did absolute wonders for recharging our enthusiasm! We hadn’t told many people this, but we had shortened our trip back by a month so we could spend some time in Albuquerque before we returned to Portland. Now, as we write this (flying westward again, toward the Galapagos Islands!), we’re thinking we’re ready to take advantage of our location again and go back to Portland a mere week or two early.

We also did a lot of walking on days where we felt we needed to get “out of the house”. One day, we took the subway to the centro (downtown) and walked all the way back to the apartment (about five to six miles) via the Recoleta area. While in the Recoleta barrio we went to visit the famous cemetery. On our way in and out several people approached us from “charitable organizations”, either to help kids with AIDS or for maintaining the cemetery, all of whom showed fist-fills of cash. I’m sure a lot of people donate, but we’ve learned on this trip to never donate to a charity who approaches you on the street like this since they are often scams. Once inside, we found that Recoleta isn’t just your everyday run of the mill burial ground. This is where the rich people of BA have been buried with their families for generations. It is set up like a city, with streets lined with large and often elaborate tombs. In the middle of it all, we saw a tomb with flowers all over it. When we got closer we found out that it was the tomb where Eva Peron (or Evita) and her family are buried. We have to admit that this place was a tad bit creepy, and to add to the creepy effect, there are cats everywhere. The families of the “residents” pay to have them fed. It is quite a sight to see kitties perched upon tombs. There are few places in BA without dogs, really only a few parks and this cemetery that the cats can call their own.

After leaving the cemetery we passed the Evita Square. Schnufel posed here, appearing to be either getting chased by or walked by a statue of Eva Peron.

On another day we walked down the Avenue 9 de Julio (which is an amazingly wide street), had great views of the national memorial (looks like a smaller version of the Washington Monument), and then walked to the congress building. The congress building is a very popular place to go and hang out and feed the massive flocks of pigeons.

Our last day in Buenos Aires, we ventured out to see the Plaza de Mayo to see the Pink Palace, which was formerly the presidential building. Eva Peron is famous for appealing to the people from this building, as is Madonna when she played her in the mid- 90’s movie. We also visited Florida Street, which is a very busy shopping district. In the center of this area is a very fancy mall. It had all the normal fancy mall stores such as Christian Dior, Salvador Feragamo, and Luis Viouton, but it had a beautiful fresco painted on the ceiling in one area and an amazing glass ceiling in another.

squint and you can see our reflection, front and center

Now as we finish this post we have arrived in the Galapagos Islands ready for a new adventure. It is much warmer here and we already cannot wait to get into the turquoise blue water and frolic with all of the animals that this archipelago inhabits!