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We’re Back!

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

Talk to you soon, and enjoy the pics.


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.

Sleepless in Santiago


We arrived to the Auckland airport thoroughly relieved that we made it in time. The whole short bus fiasco made us both more than a bit nervous, because our flight from Auckland to Santiago was the flight that we were warned about when we bought our ticket in September. Apparently, it fills up months in advance so we REALLY needed to make sure to get on the flight. When we got to the check in counter we made our usual attempt at getting an exit row or bulk head seats, but of course these were full (we really were there at the last minute). Adam also asked about the on-board entertainment since it was our first flight on LAN air (which is a South American airline). We had been flying Quantas from China and in Australia and New Zealand. Quantas spoils its customers with the most amazing entertainment system. On our flight from Shanghai to Sydney we seriously were not ready to get off the plane, because we had not watched all of the movies, television, and travel documentaries that we wanted to see. They also never close the bar and offer food on request at anytime. We were told at the LAN desk that we were to board an older plane and that the only entertainment available would be a movie on the partition screen. Bummer! LAN just doesn’t match up to Quantas, and even the flight attendants acted as they were doing you a favor to give you something as simple as water (which they did not offer enough of). They did come around through the night offering tiny cups of Coke. I awoke at one point with one of them in my face, the attendant asked if I wanted it and I replied with a very sleepy and grouchy “NO”! Why would I want a Coke in the middle of the night, when I was quite obviously trying to sleep.

When we arrived in Santiago we high tailed it through customs, immigration, got our luggage (we have done this many times now!), and then flagged down a cab. We headed straight to the Happy House Hostel where Adam’s grandparents (Pat & Alicia) stayed just two weeks before. It was a pretty nice place located not too far from the city, and had great common areas and a really nice kitchen. The whole place, including the rooms had beautiful high ceilings and since it was a really old building, really creaky floors. They warned us on arrival that the next night there was to be a party and that it might get pretty noisy. We were also offered a welcome drink upon arrival that we could get at the restaurant downstairs. Since we were pretty tired we chilled in the room for awhile, and then went to have dinner and redeem our “free” drinks. When we walked into the restaurant the waiter who came to greet asked us right away where we were from. When we told him, he brought out the Sam Adam’s and the Sierra Nevada beer that he had. He had hundreds of beers from all over the world and he was rearranging them to fit on the shelves better. he talked to us about them for a few minutes very passionately and told us that they were his love. Since we will be home soon and will be able to find Sam Adam’s and Sierra Nevada very easily Adam couldn’t resist but to order one of the guy’s favorite local beers. The restaurant also served very good sandwiches and lasagna, but when we ordered our welcome drink the passion came back with this guy. He recommended that we try the pisco sour. Wow! This was really special, as the sour part was all fresh ingredients. Pisco we were told is distilled grape juice, a type of brandy that is only made in Chile and Peru. After this seven pm night cap we retreated back to the Happy House for a thirteen hour sleep.

The next day we woke, and were feeling not too bad. We decided to go out for a walk around the city and to get some groceries. Santiago has a European feel to it and it was nice to stroll through. There were many street performers out with large crowds gathered to watch. Once we tired of wandering we walked back to rest up before the party was to begin (a little bit if peace and quiet). The purpose of the party was to celebrate two employees b-days, and to say farewell to two employees that were leaving. One of the b-day’s was for Vera, a young German woman who Pat and Alicia met while at the Happy House. They were impressed with her and thought that the three of us should meet.

Here is Shawn and Vera at the party.

South American countries, we have learned, are full of night owls, so the party didn’t really get started until midnight or so. We had a chance that night to talk with many travelers, but also to interact a bit with local people. Shawn was a little dumbfounded as to how to interact with the Chilean men, they are extremely touchy feely, and kept bringing her glass after glass of wine to “try”. It is a common custom for men to kiss women on the cheek when greeting them, but it seemed that some of the men took advantage of this, just a bit.

This party went on late into the night, so we didn’t go to bed until five in the morning. This really messed our “getting over jet lag” issue up. The next night we didn’t fall asleep again until five in the morning. This made trying to see sights and being excited to see them, rather difficult. It also rained for a couple of the days while we were there, so it gave us even more of an excuse to lay low in the room.

One day when we mustered up our energy and enthusiasm, we headed out on the subway (which is really quite good) to where one of the funiculars is. A funicular is a train that climbs at about a forty five degree angle up a hill. About half way up we stopped at the national zoo. It wasn’t really a great zoo, but we did get to see some interesting South American animals and also some white tigers. Once we were finished with the zoo we headed on up to the park that is on the top of the hill. The main attraction is the enormous statue of Mary at the top. A reminder that we were now in a very Catholic part of the world.

Shawn on the funicular.

On the way back from our outing, we came across a couple of guys with a video camera, stopping pedestrians on the street. They stopped Shawn and asked if they could teach her a new dance. She decided to be a good sport and she did it. Maybe she will be famous in South America now.

We also heard while we were in Chile that we should see the port city of Valipariso and Vino del Mar. Even though we were only sleeping through the night every other night or so, we braved a sleepy bus ride out to the coast. When arriving there we were a bit confused some of the roads were blocked off due to a student protest. We also had heard that there were certain areas that were safe and others not, so we went ahead and booked a tour right there in the bus station. It really was a bit overpriced for what it was, but we were tired and just didn’t want to deal with anything that day. Since the tour had already started a local driver high tailed us on over to where the tour group was in a really cool park that had trees from all over the world. After leaving the park we headed to Vino del Mar to have lunch. We ended up at a seafood restaurant on the coast. It was really good! The ordering was a bit of a problem though Adam had heard to try Chilean sea bass, so he tried to order it. Well, apparently, they were out of it because Shawn got her seafood chowder and Adam didn’t get anything. Poor Adam, he was starving! He finally flagged down the waiter again and had no luck communicating to him that he wanted some food. The waiter finally found our guide and the guide translated that they were out of sea bass, so FINALLY Adam ordered another fish, and this time it came really quickly and he was able to enjoy his meal.

After the meal we went for a short little stroll on the beach before heading to see the sites of Valipariso.

Valipariso is really a city with a lot of character. It is currently a fairly poor city, but in the past was a major port city. When the Panama canal was built, Valipariso suffered. You can see the extravagance of the European architecture of its heyday. It is also visually interesting because of all of the colorful houses that are built on hills all over the city. Unfortunately, the tour bus did not stop at many of the places where we could have gotten some great photos of how interesting it was. The tour ended with a ride up a funicular to an over look of the port. It had started to rain a little, but because of this there was a full rainbow at dusk making for some really great photographic moments.

We spent most of our time in Santiago either sleepless or wanting to sleep at an inappropriate time. We were also doing a lot of “getting our bearings about us”, being in this new continent. Someday we might like to return to Chile, in the winter to ski or in the summer to trek in the amazing Andes mountains that we flew over. More on the Andes later when we get those photos onto flickr.

After about a week and a half, we have mostly recovered from our flight across the south Pacific. We have fallen in love with Buenos Aires and have rented an apartment here (which we just extended for four more days). A little space of our own is just what we needed.

New Zealand: The North Island

While visiting family in Nelson, we had also planned to spend a good deal of time mountain biking and kayaking in nearby Abel Tasman National Park. This was supposed to be one of the highlights of our time in New Zealand. Unfortunately, the weather didn’t cooperate, so we spent almost all of our time indoors. By this time, Adam was in the middle of a pretty miserable cold anyway (which Shawn mostly avoided), so this was probably for the best anyway- although a bit disappointing.

The night before our trip to the north island, we camped out on a bluff overlooking the harbor, watching the ferries come and go as we had dinner. We had to get up at 4:25 the next morning to check in on time for out boat. The critical, and early, check in made for a restless night’s sleep. Once we got on the ferry, we immediately had the sensation of being in a barn. The main deck looked, and more importantly, smelled, like it had been used for hauling cattle the night before. The ferry departed and threaded it’s way through very narrow straits and sounds…amazingly narrow for a boat this size. Sunrise was beautiful, but we were a bit too exhausted to really enjoy it. After taking some nice photos, we laid down on the floor in one of the lounges and, after one of the Maori locals turned off their loud, offensive, and downright crappy music at 6:00 in the morning, we got an extra hour’s sleep on the floor.

After arriving in Wellington, we took a short drive around the city. It was a really nice place, but we didn’t budget much time for the north island, so we hit the road without ever leaving the short bus. We drove the entire day, in the rain, up to Tongariro National Park. By the time we arrived it was already getting dark. We filled up our water tanks (illegally) at an RV park and then headed down the road to find a primitive campground. That night, we dined on New Zealand green muscles- something we really enjoyed during our time on the islands.
The next day, our plan was to get up early and do the famous “Tongarriro crossing”. This hike takes you between towering, active, cone-shaped volcanoes- particularly Mt. Tongarriro, which cameoed as “Mt. Doom” in “Lord of The Rings”. We set our alarms early, but when they went off it was pouring, cold and foggy. We really didn’t feel like an all-day alpine hike in those conditions (particularly with Adam’s cold), so we decided to get a little extra sleep and do an out-and-back day hike instead.

“Mt. Doom”

Once we got to the end of the trail head (a 45 minute drive away) that we thought would have the best views, we talked to some local hikers and found out that the views don’t really start until about 45 minutes into the hike. We drove 45 minutes back, and then a bit farther up the mountain to the visitor’s center. They recommended some short dayhikes, which we decided to do. Since we were rained on for about ½ our dayhike, I suppose it was all for the best.

After the hike we headed up the road to Lake Taupo. This lake is situated in a very geologically active area with all sorts of hot springs, geysers, steam vents, etc and has the world’s largest geothermal power plant, generating much of the island’s power. After getting groceries and walking along the beautiful waterfront we headed out to “spa park” and went for a little hike. This hike features no mere hot spring, but a gushing hot stream, full of idyllic pools and waterfalls, some of which were too warm to spend much time in. Best of all, it was a public park, which means the stream was “unimproved” an free! The springs were a little too easily accessible, and consequently packed with people. We went back and ate, returning to the pools just after dark to find it totally deserted and illuminated by a beautiful full moon. We spent a couple hours there, and didn’t see any other visitors. It was so nice that we spent two night camping in the park’s parking lot. The next night, despite being a weekday, had quite a few visitors in the hot stream. This was actually nice because one of the downsides of camping in an RV and moving around every day is that you don’t get to meet as many people.
The spa park itself was really cool, too. It had a beautiful river running through it, and about the coolest playground we’ve ever seen, which included a really cool obstacle course and even a zip line- something I’m sure insurance wouldn’t allow in the US.

Hot Stream

After lake Taupo, we went up the road to Rotorua. The drive between Taupo and Rotorua is like a mini-Yellowstone, with tons of interesting geological features. The downside is that each and every site is separately owned, and each charge you, generally, between $20 and $100 to visit, which is about what a week in Yellowstone would cost unlimited. This was very frustrating. You just can’t road trip in New Zealand like you can in the US. If we stopped by every little interesting feature like we might have back home, we’d be spending $300-400 per day on touristy sites alone! If we drop $100 to view an interpretative site, we have high expcetations. You just can’t stop by places like that and check ‘em out for a few minutes like you can in the US, so we just skipped most of the sites. This was very frustrating.

Rotorua city was more of the same. It was absurdly priced tourist crap like Queensland, but the city wasn’t as nice. We thought we’d try a mountain bike ride until we found out they’d be $90 each for four hours. How frustrating! We did see one cool thing there though; about 100 years, a large clearcut was replanted with California Redwoods. Now these trees are pretty big, and the understory is full of the biggest treeferns we’d seen yet. It was a refreshing combination of the beauty of New Zealand and the beauty and familiarity of some of the most interesting flora of back home.

We decided to get out of the dirty, overpriced tourist trap of Rotorua ASAP. We had another rainy drive up to the northwest coast to “Hot Water Beach”. At low tide, you can rent a shovel and dig a little pool the fills up with hot water. When we were there, a lot of people were shivering while digging in their bathing suits, but nobody struck hot water.

Just up the road is “Cathedral Cove”, which is one of the most beautiful beaches we’ve seen. It got its name from a sea cave, accessible at low tide, that joins the two halves of the beach. The roof of the sea cave is shaped like a gothic arch. It looked like an amazing place to go kayaking, but by this time of the day the wind and whitecaps were picking up, and it was getting late, so we hit the road for Auckland.

We arrived around rush hour, so we just decided to find the office of the rental van company so we would know where to go the next day. It was near the airport, and not the nicest neighborhood. We found a grocery store, bought some muscles, and decided to have one last muscle dinner while we waited for the traffic to die down. Unfortunately, these muscles didn’t seem so fresh…kind of slimy and fishy smelling, so we had to toss them and just have broccoli for dinner…in the ghetto grocery store parking lot with the bums and kiwi white trash. The last few days of our trip just seemed to be disappointment after disappointment.
After the traffic cleared, we headed into town to explore. Auckland looks like a nice city, but it didn’t seem particularly special, and we were getting tired, so we went to one of the few campervan campgrounds in town (kind of hard to free camp in town). This was only the 2nd time we paid to camp during the whole trip.
While taking our clothes to the laundry of the campground, a guy approached us and began talking. It was Maciek- one of the Polish guys we traveled with for a while when we were in Indonesia! He bought an old Volvo and was traveling around New Zealand with his girlfriend. Small world.

The next morning, we sold a couple of our guide books and had a nice lunch before heading off to return the short bus. They said to take it back empty of fuel, and I was just barely into the red zone. I’ve been keeping track of fuel consumption carefully (this monster averaged 25 miles per gallon!), and we had more than enough fuel to get back to the office. However, when we were about 5 miles out, we were climbing a hill and the van began to sputter. The check engine light came on, and we were stalled. I was now on a hill (I managed to barely nurse it through a busy intersection) blocking a lane of traffic. Idiot drivers began honking at me, as though I benefitted by sitting in the middle of the road with my flashers on, and was only blocking traffic to ruin their day. I checked the fuel gague again, and when I’d turn the key the needle would move from below the red zone to about half way through the red zone. With measurable fuel in the tank and the check engine light on I didn’t know if there was a mechanical problem, or if Fiat had designed the fuel tank so poorly that the car would get fuel starvation on hills. Shawn ran into the nearest house and called the rental company, reminding them that we had a flight in two and a half hours. The homeowner, a huge Maori woman named “Buffy”, came out and helped us push the van onto the sidewalk. We waited what seemed like forever, but really wasn’t so long, for assistance. He poured in five gallons of diesel and, after about 45 seconds of cranking the short bus came back to life.
We raced back to the rental office, handed him the keys and a 14 item list of some of the buses “quirks”, and caught a taxi to the airport for our 12 hour flight to Santiago, Chile.

Looking back, New Zealand was one of the most beautiful and pristine places we’d ever seen. There was almost zero litter, and there was no smog to speak of which made for amazingly clear, blue skies- even in town. However, there really wasn’t a lot there that you couldn’t see in the US. We’d joke that it is like the US, but without the ugly parts. That said, I think our trip was a good example of how NOT to see a country. While we covered most of the nation, we spent so much of our time driving that we really didn’t do that much. This was the opposite of how we’ve been doing most of our trip. With the exception of rental cars, New Zealand is also obscenely expensive. Diesel was about US$4.80/gallon, a six pack of beer is about US$10…even a couple of chicken breasts at the grocery store were NZ$14! Our ferry ride between islands was nearly $300! I’ve already mentioned the price of activities! These expenses led to high expectations but, as I said, a lot of things were really comparable to the US. I think if we were to ever go back, we’d focus on just two or three main areas, and we would bring our own gear (i.e. mountain bikes, or maybe backpacking or skiing gear).

As I post this, we’re in our own apartment in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Stay tuned- a Chile and Buenos Aires post should be up soon.

Driving the Short Bus Through the Land of the Long White Cloud.

EDIT: We finally found a good connection, so this post has been updated with new photos as of the afternoon of 20 April, Pacific standard time. There are new pics in the photo gallery, too.

After our amazing time in Australia, we were off to New Zealand. The first polynesian settlers or Maori named it Aotearoa which translates into English as “the land of the long white cloud”. This was a country we both had wanted to visit since we were in high school so it was very exciting to board the plane from Sydney to Auckland. Upon arriving in Auckland we had a layover for a few hours before boarding our next flight to Christchurch, which is on the east coast of the south island. It was a good thing that Adam opened the laptop to check out if we had a wi-fi signal because we had been told the wrong time when we landed and now we had one hour less of a layover than we had bargained for. We confirmed this with an old man when we were eating our little meat pies (very popular in Aus. and N.Z.) in the domestic terminal, so we began eating more quickly and set off for the security check.

The flight to Christchurch was less than an hour, so we were there before we knew it. We had reservations at the Stonehurst Hostel so we were able to catch an overpriced shuttle from the airport and we were there in no time. Upon arriving we were starving so we went out to find some dinner. Christchurch seemed to be a pretty cute little town, but also big for N.Z.’s south island. It is known as the most European looking of N.Z.’s cities, and seemed to look a bit to us like a town in Colorado. We walked around a bit, and finally settled on an Indian restaurant that was advertising ten-dollar meals that came with naan and rice. Since ten bucks is pretty cheap for N.Z. we went ahead and took the deal and ordered a chicken masala and a butter chicken. The meals turned out to be huge and they were enough for the next morning as well, so it saved us a late night trip to the grocery store. Once back at our hostel we enjoyed our huge Indian food meals while other people looked and drooled. We ended up talking with a young German couple who were traveling and working in Aus. and N.Z. for the year. We chatted about the best ways to see the country and about how to free camp (find places to camp where you neither have to pay, or get fined).

After a good nights sleep, we jumped out of bed and made arrangements for a taxi to pick us up and take us to the office where we were to rent our camper van. Adam spent quite a bit of time researching the camper van. There are so many different companies, and also several different sizes. We finally found a killer deal on a Fiat Diesel with a kitchen, toilet, shower, and a table and lounge that folded out into a bed. We definitely wanted to go budget with the camper van, but also didn’t really want to go with the company “Wicked”, that rents out old mini vans with super loud graphics all over them. We were just too afraid to end up with the van with pigs humping each other or the one with breasts randomly painted all over it. They also tend to have phrases on them that refer to either tasteless sexual innuendos, extreme far left political viewpoints, or to binge drinking and drugs. Not the kind of messages we want to be giving as we drive on the wrong side of the road in a semi-foreign country.

The couple in this van did not look very happy

Once we arrived at the rental garage and saw our van parked out front we noticed something funny about it right away. The bathroom was by the sliding door, blocking most of it, and making it harder for the driver to see (since the driver sits on the right). We first asked if there was anyway that we could possibly get a van that was put together correctly, and both women in the office said that there was no chance- WE WERE STUCK WITH THE SHORT BUS!! So the short bus did end up having a few more short falls as well, such as the missing cover on the stove, and a bed that is way to short. But really all in all, it was pretty nice and the best thing about it was that it was a place to call our own. After six months of traveling, this was ours and we were even thrilled to go to the grocery store and stock it up with all of our favorite food.

We decided to go ahead and leave Christchurch after we were finished with our grocery run. We looked on the map and decided we wanted some good scenery right away, so we headed towards Mt. Cook. We were both a bit apprehensive about driving a manual vehicle that was so big on the wrong side of the road, but by the first day driving the short bus we both agreed that it really drove pretty nicely and with a little help from each other being on that other side of the road, it wasn’t so bad. The views of Mt. Cook didn’t disappoint at all, we stopped for the night at Lake Tekapo and found a great lakeside spot (and no signs that read ‘no camping’),so we decided to stay for the night. It was a quiet evening, but by morning there were tour buses coming through with tourists combing the lakeside area, mostly because there is a tiny little chapel there that makes a really great photo op.

After leaving our lakeside retreat we decided to make the jaunt up into Mt. Cook National Park to get even better views and maybe even see Sir Edmund Hillary’s museum. Once we arrived at the end of the road we were greeted with stunning views of Mt. Cook and the other mountains in the southern Alps that surround it. We had a great home cooked lunch in the parking lot thanks to the short bus (I have to say that it is pretty great to always have a kitchen with you while traveling, maybe the novelty will eventually wear off, but for now we are enjoying it). We went in to check out the museum, but my gosh they wanted twenty bucks each! It was a national park, so we assumed it would be free, but N.Z. does not run their parks in the same way we do in the states as we would quickly find out. They do not charge a entrance fee to get into the park as we do in the U.S., but once you are in the parks they seem to charge for everything, and even limit access to some of the hikes to particular tour companies. We tend to be pro-capitalism and private companies, but it just didn’t seem to be working so well in a natural setting such as this.

After lunch, we decided to take a short hike (or “tramp”, as the Kiwis say). We walked and got some great shots of Mt. Cook and the glaciers that descend on its base. Another thing that is different about the “tramping” trails in N.Z. is that instead of posting the distance of the walk, they instead post the average time it takes people to complete. We found out that we walk a bit faster than average usually and that the times are not that helpful.

We decided after our hike was over that we wanted to press on to Queenstown. Queenstown was a place that we had been told about by travelers and read about in travel brochures. It is known as the adventure capital of the world, as it offers numerous “”extreme activities”, such as bungy jumping (which was invented in Queenstown), paragliding, down-hill mountain biking, river rafting, jet boating (also invented in Queenstown), abseiling, and so on. Driving into the town, it looks very lovely. It is set on a gorgeous lake, which seems to be a very popular trend in New Zealand. We also noticed that it looked incredibly upscale and touristy even at night. We don’t usually mind upscale, but we tend to go for more quirky and quaint when looking for a place to do outdoor activities. We ended up spending the night on a rural road where we thought we were out of everyone’s way, but kept having locals honk at us all night long as they drove by.

We decided to leave our make shift camping spot early that morning and drove to a park on the lake to have breakfast. We ended up chatting with another couple in a camper van who were native Kiwis, but living in the U.K. about the honking, and they told us that they were going to eat and get out of Queenstown as soon as possible because they thought that the locals were full of themselves. That, and seeing road signs with bullet marks on them, led us to believe Kiwi rednecks and American rednecks are cut from the same cloth. They even get the same kind of attitude that communicates, “You damn foreigners get out of my country and go back where you came from!” We even had a guy give us the finger as he was driving by, and we were doing absolutely nothing, just sitting in the short bus. Really though, for the most part kiwis are very warm and hospitable and will go out of their way to make you feel welcome. It was just an interesting thing to find this attitude outside of the US.

When we walked into town, we planned to check out a few bike shops about renting mountain bikes (a sport that we have missed like crazy since being away from our beloved trails and Santa Cruz mountain bikes in ABQ), going for a jet boat ride, and find out about cruises in Milford Sound in Fiordland National Park. We found the bike shop first, and we had a guy in the shop offer us a couple of 6k shuttle runs in the local area for NZ$129!!! The proprietor was even OFFENDED when we said that sounded expensive for 7.5 miles of mountain biking! We just couldn’t help but look shocked, and thought that maybe we should go into business for ourselves in New Mexico with a similar deal. The jet boat ride on the Shotover River was NZ$109 for a 25 minute ride, which we took because we were in Queenstown and thought we should do something thrilling there. It was fun, but seemed a bit more like an amusement park ride than an outdoor adventure. We did like how maneuverable the boat was and how close it could get to the canyon walls while still going 50 mph! What topped the whole tourist trap thing about it though was the NZ$59 video of the ride and picture they try to sell you at the end. Too bad, too- we were sitting right in front of the camera, so it would’ve made an excellent keepsake if it weren’t so ridiculously priced.

After arriving back in Queenstown, we decided to take a look at some of the restaurants, especially a Mexican place that had caught our eyes the day before. We took a look at the menu that was conveniently posted outside and looked for some of our favorite items, like a burrito that was $25 and fajitas that were $30. We just couldn’t pay those prices for Mexican food, since often in the U.S. the price of Mexican food is not proportional to its tastiness. We decided to retreat back to the short bus and enjoy a great home-cooked lunch instead.
That night we decided that another night in Queenstown was not what we wanted to do so we headed up the road towards Glenorchy. I had read in the guidebook that the drive from Queenstown to Glenorchy was one of the most scenic in the world. As we pulled out of Queenstown we both kind of thought to ourselves, okay the guidebook says its beautiful, but I’ll only believe it if I see it. Well, just a few k’s up the road and WOW! , snowy capped mountains began to show themselves beyond Lake Wakatipu. We stopped at a viewpoint and it just AWED us. It was such a clear and still evening and the lake looked like glass as there were absolutely no ripples in it. We ended up camping next to the lake at a perfect little spot. A couple of native kiwis from the north island were also there, and had been there fishing for several days already. They had caught several trout in the lake and had been enjoying cooking them up in their camper van each evening. They were even nice enough to give the short bus a jump start the next morning when we had drained more of the juice from it that we had anticipated. What was the most amazing about this spot though was the show in the sky we had that night. I am not sure when the last time was that we saw as many stars as we saw that night, it made it even more fun since we were in the southern hemisphere and were able to see the southern cross as well as the Clouds of Magellan.

View from the same campsite as above at night. Clouds of Magellan!

We now decided to hit the road and go to Milford Sound. Even though as the crow flies, Milford Sound is only about 25 miles over the mountains from Queenstown, you are forced to take a 160 mile detour to avoid the $400 plane ride there. So on this drive you get a chance to see plenty of sheep, cows, and domesticated deer. Driving into Fiordland National Park is a bit more interesting though. We decided to pull out after awhile and check out one of the viewpoints and although we enjoyed the viewpoint very much and the prehistoric looking forest, the coolest thing happened as we got in the car to leave. There was a very loud thunking on the roof, so Adam went to look and was surprised to see a very large parrot on the roof casually staring right back at him! We had read that there was the world’s only alpine parrot in the area that is locally known as the Kea. This bird was very funny and came down and sat on the open door to the short bus for quite awhile, waiting for us to feed it (which is strictly forbidden). Some other travelers arrived and commented to us to be careful because Keas are very smart, and they like to chew on the rubber parts of cars. As soon as they made the rubber comment, the bird began picking at the tires to the short bus! Good thing that tires are thick and strong, and that the Kea wasn’t as interested in the weather stripping! After awhile we had taken all of the pictures we could of this bird, so we parted ways and made our way into the park even further.

It really was a gorgeous drive, with waterfalls on the edges of cliffs and the road just seemed to meander through the mountains. We eventually came to a tunnel in the mountains, and were forced to wait fifteen minutes for our side to open up. Because of the tour buses and their enormous size, during the day there can only be traffic in one direction. Inside it looked like an old mining tunnel, not really finished off or lighted very well, and was a bit spookey. On the other side of the tunnel, we stopped at a trail that was labeled “The Chasm”. A few seconds into the trail we were awed by the place. The rainforest was absolutely stunning and idyllic. There were several different species of ferns here and some of them were enormous. Just a few more meters down the trail was “The Chasm” which was a very narrow passageway in the rock where massive amounts of water flows through and falls into a waterfall. It was noisy and incredible!

(About an hour after complaining that New Zealand looked just like home, and wondering where the primeval-looking forests were, we found this!)

After “The Chasm” we quickly made our way to Milford Sound. We took a little walk just as the sun was going down on the sound and found it incredibly peaceful and beautiful, but also knew that we needed to find a spot to stay for the night. Since we didn’t see any remote roads along the way, we were pretty resigned to the fact that we were going to need to stay in a “camping park” for the night. In Milford Sound there is only really one option on the west side of the tunnel so we had to stay at the park that charges $18 a person. $36 a night to park is a bit insane in our frugal opinions, and the only response we could get from the employees of the place regarding this matter was that we were in a national park and they were forced to pay a 5% tax to the park system. What a racket that was! It is just a bit uncomfortable when there is another campervan parked a few feet from you, so you end up closing all of the curtains while you are enjoying your meal and feeling a bit like a hermit because of this.

The next morning we awoke to enjoy a delicious breakfast in the short bus before boarding our cruise of the Milford Sound. We decided to take the “encounter cruise” since it is a smaller boat and allows less people on board. Once on the boat it did seem rather empty and we later found out that a whole tour bus that was scheduled to board, arrived ten minutes late and the boat was forced to leave to keep the schedule. Good for us! It was a beautiful day for the sound, and the sky was as clear as a bell! We were a bit worried about that since the area receives seven meters (21 feet) of rain annually. We also noticed that we were by far the youngest people on board, in fact our parents might have also been the youngest as well. The captain did a great job of giving us great information about the geology and history of the sound and giving us great encounters. Some of the encounters included bringing the boat so close to the walls of the fiord that you could touch the rock and plants on it. Oh yeah, I should mention that the Milford Sound is technically a fiord, but since fjord is a Norwegian word that was unknown to the people who named it, it is still known as Milford Sound. Technically, a sound is formed by a river and a fjord by a glacier. The Milford Sound was formed by a glacier. The captain took us the whole length of the fiord and back. On our way back we had the very best “encounter”. As we approached a 100 foot waterfall the captain made an announcement that he wanted everyone outside as we approached the falls, but also to take care of electrical equipment. The captain slowly approached, and drove right under the waterfall!! I was enjoying myself so much and was so preoccupied with the ice cold water pelting my face, and the amazing sight of seeing water falling from such a height that I didn’t even notice that everyone else on the boat had dashed inside for cover. As we drove out of the falls Adam tapped on the window he was taking photos from and asked me to pose as I continued to get drenched.

While driving out of the national park we decided to stop and take a bit of a hike. We were drawn to a spot on a very idyllic stream where the only reason the water looked green at all and not just completely clear was because the minerals in the rocks had a green hue to them. As we sat enjoying the place we also noticed that the birds were not afraid of us in the same way that birds back home are. They were much more inquisitive and would come much closer. The more time we spent there the more we were seeing. We both agreed that this “encounter” was the best part of our day.

We had been noticing for a few days that the short bus was leaking oil and we were having to check the levels regularly. At fifteen dollars a liter for replacement oil, the costs were really going to add up. We decided to go ahead and call the van company and ask if it would be possible to get the short bus fixed. Adam ended up talking with the mechanic and he apologized straight away saying that he changed the oil in all of the vans a week ago and he noticed that he put the wrong cap back on one of them, but didn’t have any way of knowing which of the vehicles was wrong. He then gave us a name of a shop to take the short bus to so it could get fixed, and before we knew it it was fixed, and we were back on the road.

We decided to spend the night in Wanaka after hearing that it was a pretty laid back town. It was a truly beautiful, on a pristine lake (of course) and was much more quiet than Queenstown. We ended up driving out of town for a ways, by a couple of sites from the Lord of the Rings trilogy. The scenery was spectacular! As we drove, we were trying to find a good place to park for the night, it was pretty frustrating because every nook and cranny or even pull out along the road had a sign that said “No Camping”. Finally after driving for a while we came to a ski area, and we could get a bit off the main road and park for the night. Since most of New Zealand is grazing country, we had many nights where the only sounds we heard were those of sheep and cattle moaning. It was quite humorous really.

Our journey continued north to Manapouri where we enjoyed another lakeside camping spot and Shawn enjoyed a morning hair washing in the lake. Whooo! Very refreshing.
We then moved on to make our way through Mt. Aspiring National Park. We found a quiet place to rest our heads for the night and then woke up early the next morning to take the hike around Lake Matheson, where the morning hours bring beautiful reflections of the southern Alps on its glassy waters.

Later in the day we took some time to walk through the unreal fern forests. We couldn’t help thinking that just around the corner we would see a brachiosaurus munching on the tops of the trees. These ferns were huge, some well over 20 feet, they were so big that they resembled palm trees more than ferns. You had to get closer and look at the fronds to recognize that these really were huge ferns. There were also many other smaller species of ferns and vegetation on the floor of the forest that really made the forest look amazingly lush and green.

The next day we woke early for our day of glaciers. New Zealand has the only two glaciers in the world that descend into a rainforest. These are the Fox glacier and the Franz Joseph glacier, and they are only a few miles from each other. We decided to get up early and see both of these massive blocks of ice. There is an opportunity while at these places to do glacier hikes, but they require that you take a guide, which is really pretty expensive. Since we have both done some mountaineering with my dad in the Cascade Range and have walked on many glaciers, we decided we didn’t really want to pay for this experience. Also, Adam had come down with a cold and wasn’t feeling his best.

That night we managed to find a place to park the short bus right on the beach in the tiny village of Barrytown. It was great to listen to the waves all night, and wake up and see the beautiful beach. We took a little extra time for breakfast and enjoying the view.

A couple weeks before when we were in Sydney, Adam called his grandmother Mari to say hello. During their conversation it came up that we were going to New Zealand. Mari was quite happy because her sister, Sharon lives there, which Adam did not know. He wrote down her number and gave her a call right away. We made arrangements to see her in Nelson, which is on the north coast of the south island.

It was really nice for Adam and his aunt to reunite again. They hadn’t seen each other since Adam’s great-grandmother passed away in the early 90’s. It was great to be able to have a real house to rest in.

By this time we both had colds and the amazing weather that we had been enjoying as we toured New Zealand was changing to rain. We enjoyed catching up with Sharon and drinking some nice local wines with her in the evenings.Now that we have nearly completed our tour of the south island, we will spend sometime in the Marlborough region for a day or so and then take the ferry across to the to Wellington to spend sometime in the north island.