Our Next Chapter: Australia, New Zealand, and Minnesota

Whoever said, “Life’s what happens to you when you’re busy making other plans,” was really onto something.  After three days at home in Minnesota followed by just shy of thirty hours of travel, Chris and I made it to the land down under. We’re a big messy bowl of emotions — as well as jet lagged and sleep deprived.

When Your Plans Don’t Go As Planned

As many of you know, our trip to Australia was supposed to be the start of a new adventure for us. Chris and I made plans to relocate to Sydney and received notice of our permanent residency in Australia this past November. We quit our jobs in January and headed off to South America for nearly two months of travel. While exploring Chile, we received some very sad news. My Mom, who is a ten year breast cancer survivor, has been diagnosed with a new, more aggressive form of breast cancer.

Our family and our friends are our entire world. We’re blessed to have both on multiple continents. The outpouring of love and support Chris and I’ve received following my Mom’s diagnosis has been overwhelming. But, at least for now, we’re postponing our move to Australia. Where we need to be is in Minnesota while my Mom undergoes treatment.

The start of this trip has been a little weird. We’re happy to celebrate two good friends get married tomorrow. We’re grateful to have the means to spend a quarter of 2017 traveling. But, we’re also uncertain about what life will bring us next. The bottom line? Breast cancer really sucks and my Mom should not have to endure another battle with this horrendous disease. It’s bullshit.

Catching Up With Australia

In the short term, Chris and I are taking the next month to catch up with friends and visit some places I’ve been wanting to see in both Australia and New Zealand. We return to Minnesota in late April.

We’re spending our first week in Australia. Tomorrow, we get to celebrate the wedding of our friends James and Krissy in the stunning Royal Botanical Garden. These two wonderful people were Chris’s first friends when he picked up everything and moved to New Zealand in 2005. Ten years later, they became some of my first friends in this part of the world. How awesome is that?!? After the wedding, we have a few days in Sydney and might try to squeeze in a day trip to hike in the Blue Mountains. Then we’ll fly to Lennox Head to meet two of Chris’s good mates who he hasn’t seen since 2014 and who I haven’t yet met. Chris might get in a surf and I’ll get more of one of my favorite things – lazy beach time!

Exploring More Of New Zealand

Next, we’ll head to the South Island of New Zealand for three weeks. For those that know Chris, the South Island is where he got his start in New Zealand. Chris is excited to show me the sights and I’m pretty stoked to hit the hiking trails in this dramatic landscape. Our tentative plan has us landing in Christchurch, and then heading over to the West Coast. We plan to drive south to check out Franz Joseph and Fox Glaciers.  From there, we will head southeast, and visit Queenstown and Wanaka in Central Otago. We’ll also make the trip to see the stunning Milford Sound. And we have to take in the Caitlins, before heading to Chris’s old stomping ground of Balclutha.  Then over to Dunedin, and up the East Coast, stopping in Timaru and back to Christchurch. 

We’re kind of winging it, so we might end up at Mount Cook. There is so much to do in this part of New Zealand, from penguins and seals, to petrified forest, waterfalls, and of course, meeting more of Chris’s friends.  New Zealand has such an important place in Chris’s heart and so I’m really looking forward to seeing more of this country that he loves so much.

Stay tuned for updates on our travels and some belated posts about our time in Peru and Ecuador. (I’m done with my meltdown about politics. Instead, I’m taking my mother’s advice to spread beauty and joy on this blog and on social media).

Thanks so much to everyone for your kind words and your support. If you’re interested in pitching in, consider making a tax deductible donation to the Susan G. Komen Foundation or the University of Minnesota’s Center for Breast Cancer Research. My Mom is one strong lady, but we’re still grateful for the outpouring of love we and she has received since her diagnosis.

Lima: A Love Story

Lima is a city sort of hits you in the face right out of the gate. We arranged a car to pick us up from the airport. It was a little on the pricey side, but we were warned before arriving that the taxi system in Lima is a little crazy. Pretty much anyone can be a taxi driver and the drivers aren’t regulated. So, you have to negotiate a fare and hope the driver brings you to the right place. Nine times out of ten, this is probably fine, but given our rickety Spanish we thought it was best to go with the arranged car.

Lima is a city of eleven million people. And there is no real transit infrastructure other than buses, mini-buses, combis, and taxis. So, as you might imagine, that equals a lot of traffic, pretty much all the time. Traffic lanes are suggestions. Honking is required. I often wondered if there were different honks for different things. Like, “Get out of my way,” “Do you need a ride?” “Hurry up!” I’ve been to many big cities, but Lima was something completely different.

So, what did I think of all of this chaos? I loved it. Here are my three favorite things from our two stints in Lima:

Mirabus Tour

Chris and I like to get off the beaten path and figure things out for ourselves when we’re traveling. But, it’s also our style to do the tourist thing from time to time. So, on our first day in the city we hopped on a bright red double decker bus for three hour tour of the city. We drove through Miraflores, San Isidrio and into Lima Centro.

The Plaza Mayor in central Lima is impressive and beautiful. The plaza surrounded by the Catedral de Lima and the Palacio de Gobierno. We were able to see the changing of the guard at the palace, which happens at 1:00 each day. A tour of the cathedral was arranged as part of the bus tour. Francisco Pizzaro’s remains are in an intricate mosaic covered chapel which you visit as part of the tour. Massive roundabouts, stuffed streets, stunningly beautiful and historic architecture, and a bilingual guide made for a great first morning in the city.

If you only have a short time in Lima, a bus tour is definitely worth your time.

Valentine’s Day Surprise

Many of you know I did not swoon over our time Chile. I was relieved to get to Peru. After more than two weeks of no sleep because of the cacophony of Chilean nightlife, I was exhausted. Thankfully, Chris could not have picked a more lovely hotel for our first two nights in Lima – Hotel Runcu in Miraflores. It was clean, quiet, and the hospitality was top notch. They brought us chocolate and cookies on Valentine’s Day. Sometimes it’s not the sweeping views or rich history (of which Lima has many), it’s a plate of sugar cookies when you’re recovering from weeks of sleep deprivation.

We wholeheartedly recommend this place if you’re traveling to Lima.

Parque del Amor

A post about my adoration of Lima wouldn’t be complete without the Parque del Amor, or Love Park. I read online later about the story of this park, which I think is awesome. One of Peru’s famous poets Antonio Cillóniz supposedly inspired the creation of this park after observing that cities do not build monuments to lovers, only warriors. (Most South American cities have statues of war heroes or other significant military figures in their main plazas or squares).

Chris and I were in Lima on Valentine’s Day and so he indulged my idea of walking from our hotel along the ocean to see the famous “El Beso” statue and the park. I wish it could say it was the most ultra romantic part of our trip, but it wasn’t. We understand now why our travel guidebook said, “Watch out!” if you venture over to this park on Valentine’s Day. There were couples holding hands, girls with bouquets of flowers and balloons, families, you name it. There were people everywhere!

We did catch a stunning sunset over the Pacific Ocean, but after that we fled the crowds to grab a bottle of wine and some snacks to enjoy from the comfort of our awesome hotel.

Atacama Desert: Lakes, Llamas, and Flamingos

I’m struggling a little bit to describe our time in the Atacama Desert. It’s breathtaking, beautiful, extreme, and vibrant. Our daylong excursion to visit high plain lakes and low lying salt flats did not disappoint. The Atacama Desert was far and away the best place we visited during our time in Chile.

It was another early morning for us in San Pedro de Atacama as we waited in the dark for our tour operator to pick us up. Ahead of us was a roughly 170 mile ride with stops at incredible sights along the way. The drive in and of itself was breathtaking. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen so many colors across such a diversity of landscapes.

Piedras Rojasred rocks and blue lagoon at piedras rojas chile

We stopped to eat breakfast and learn a bit about the geology at Piedras Rojas.  Altitude does such weird things to my body. I don’t have an appetite and I have to force myself to eat. Our travel doctor prescribed Acetazolamide, for me, which has made a huge difference. I can actually hike without searing headaches and fatigue. Woo!

At Piedras Rojas we had broad views of the surrounding volcanoes, a pale blue lagoon, and we spotted our first flamingos. A pair flew over the lagoon as we were walking by ourselves taking photographs and enjoying the landscape. It wasn’t even 10:00 a.m. and my day was made!

Lake Miscanti and Lake Meniquesflamingos in lake meniques chile

From Piedras Rojas we climbed higher to visit two altiplano lakes. Altiplano essentially means “high plain.” We also had our second flamingo sighting of the day at Lake Meniques, a deep blue lake ringed by yellow brush and towering volcanoes.

Lake Miscanti and Lake Meniques are fairly close together and were separated by a lava flow from nearby Miscanti Volcano. From the high plain, we could see at least five different volcanoes, one of which is still active. Chris and I’ve already talked about coming back to hike a dormant one someday.

Chaxa Lagoon (and Flamingoes)close up of flamingo in atacama salt flats chile

Viewing flamingoes in the salt flats was the number one thing I wanted to experience in the Atacama Desert. Three different species of flamingoes live in this totally bizarre climate and I had to see them for myself. According to our guide, flamingos can live more than 30 years. The birds we found at Chaxa are pretty used to being photographed. So, we were able to get up pretty close while they were feeding in the lagoon. It was a day filled with National Geographic moments.

Who Let the Llamas in?man pets llama on head

Finally, on our way back to San Pedro, we stopped in the small village of Toconao to stretch our legs and visit a church with a roof built out of cactus wood. (This is a big deal because the species of cactus used only grows one centimeter per year).

Anyways, while we were sitting outside the village square debating whether or not to buy some ice cream, we saw two llamas dash inside a local market.We both started laughing as the shopkeeper did his best to shoo them outside.

Our tour guide was completely unphased. He walked right up to them and gave them each a pat on the head. A few minutes later, the shopkeeper came outside with two large buckets of food. So, apparently they just popped their llama heads into the store to let everyone know it was time to eat. Does anyone else feel like they need a pet llama in their life?

It was sort of the perfect end to a brilliant day in the high desert. Have you visited the Atacama Desert? Where did you go? Where should we go when we go back?

Stars, Pisco, and Biking in the Elqui Valley

After a relaxing few days on the beach in La Serena, Chris and I made our way to the village of Pisco Elqui in the stunning Elqui Valley. With Chris behind the wheel of our “micro machine” we wound our way up the Ruta de Las Estrellas into arid hills and bright green valleys.

I first read about this area of Chile in a post from the Globetrotter Girls. It’s worth reading the post for more detail about the valley and villages dotted throughout the region. I thought it would be a great place to do a little exploring, get outdoors, (and the photographs looked beautiful). Plus, it was a chance for us to taste pisco right from the source.

Producing Pisco

The Elqui Valley is the center of Chilean pisco production. So, what the heck is pisco, anyways? Pisco is produced from grapes and distilled into a brandy. We’ve had a few pisco sours (delicious) in Chile that have knocked our socks off. There are a few different ways this drink is made between Chile and Peru. It usually includes a combination of pisco, lime juice or lemon juice, egg white, and bitters. We really enjoyed our time in the valley. It was a great place for mountain biking, pisco tasting, and exploring the small villages throughout the area.

Finally, we participated in a stargazing tour, which was all in Spanish, and believe it or not, we’re able to pick up a decent amount. Does this mean our Spanish is improving? I hope so. One quick tip. If you plan to travel to the Elqui Valley, check out the lunar cycle. We were there right before a full moon, so the stars were a bit out shown. The stargazing would be out of this world during a new moon. Check out this feature from the New York Times travel section if you dig astronomy and want to learn more about all the Elqui Valley has to offer.

Up next we head to the Atacama Desert, the driest in the world. Keep your fingers crossed I spot at least one flamingo.

Finding Color and Culture in Valparaiso

Okay, guys and gals. We escaped the heat of Santiago and made our way to the port city of Valparaiso. I have to admit something. I am not having a love affair with Chile. Chris wrote a little bit about our initiation by fire in Santiago. The city was hot, busy, and the Spanish here is very different. My Spanish isn’t great, so that’s my own fault. But in Chile, they speak very fast and there is slang for everything. Even basic questions like, “Where are you from?” are different here. I completely recommend getting your Spanish in order before coming. Google translate, to the rescue.

Chris is amazing and just rolls with it. I, on the other hand, have been dealing with some pretty major culture shock and anxiety. It’s loud, busy, and chaotic here. All the time. People are more animated than Minnesotans are at a Vikings game. There is construction everywhere. People shout on the street. The seagulls constantly cackle. Street dogs bark and fight. I’m sort of getting used to things, but I’m mostly wondering what we’ve gotten ourselves into. I’ve turned into a little bit of an anxiety-ridden coward in Chile. But, onward…

Tours in English: Muy Buenohouses in valparaiso

Valparaiso was a welcome transition from the insanity of Santiago. On our first full day, Chris and I did a walking tour with Tours 4 Tips. If you’re coming to Chile and nervous about anything, take one of these tours! I wish more than anything we had done one in Santiago. It probably would have made me feel more comfortable in the big city.

We had a fantastic bilingual guide named Camilo on the tour. He was awesome. One of the best things about the tour was that we took public transportation including a bus and streetcar with help from our guide. It was like “Public Transportation in Valparaiso 101.” It sounds stupid, but when your Spanish is already bad and the Chilean Spanish is harder to understand, the “how to take public transportation” training wheels was beyond helpful. Thanks to Camilo’s advice, we took a city bus to nearby Viña del Mar with zero problems.

American Influence in ChileEmily with street art in Valparaiso

Camilo is young, just twenty five years old. He has only known democracy in Chile, but his two parents lived through the dictatorship and hold very different viewpoints. His father served in the navy and for a short time worked closely with Augusto Pinochet. Camilo’s mother had a brother who was taken and tortured. The film “No” is one on our to watch list after hearing Camilo’s stories.

As much as this is a giant cliche, travel really is something which opens your eyes. I won’t get overly political here, but it’s a bit disconcerting when you learn how much your government has done to influence another sovereign nation. I learned about the Pinochet dictatorship, the American CIA’s role in overthrowing Salvador Allende, and “the disappeared” in high school. Watching a documentary is a completely different thing than meeting people who have been affected by things your government has done.

I’ll save the anecdotes about how often we’re seeing our current president splashed all over Chilean media…

Colorful Valparaisostreet art valparaiso

But, yay! Pretty houses! Camilo showed us another layer of richness to an already colorful city. Valparaiso experienced its golden age during the second half of the 19th century. Before the opening of the Panama Canal, people from all over Europe stopped in Valparaiso on their way to California during the gold rush. In just one of the city squares you could see French, German, British, and Italian architecture.

The city is well known for its colorful houses, antique elevators (acensores), and brilliant street art. I’ve never experienced anything quite like wandering the narrow streets and staircases on the hills of Valparaiso. Even after the tour, we spent a lot of time exploring the streets and taking in the artwork. We also checked out a craft brewery and had our first pisco sours. The city also has an abundance of stray dogs. I wanted to adopt all of them.stray dog in valparaiso

We really enjoyed our time in Valparaiso. It had a great vibe, was less intimidating than Santiago, and there was plenty to keep us busy. Next, we’re headed to La Serena for a few days on the beach before taking some time in the Elqui Valley. More to come!

South America, Here We Come

Okay, everyone. We’re one week out. To say things are a little chaotic around our house would be an understatement. We’re squeezing in time to say goodbye to our friends and family, packing up for our new life in Australia, and loading up our packs for fifty days in South America. To kick-off our blog, here’s where we’re traveling over the next seven weeks:

Chileatacama desert

A historic and bustling capital city, funky beach towns, lush wine growing regions, and the driest place in the world – Chile is where we’re starting our South American adventure. I’m most excited to explore the Atacama Desert and Atacama Highlands. The appeal of this region is its total weirdness. There are places in the desert that haven’t seen rainfall since humans have been recording rainfall. The soil and landscape have been compared to Mars. NASA is even testing soil life-detection equipment in the Atacama that might be used on future missions to Mars. Crazy, right?!? This post from A Brit and a Broad beautifully captures the dramatic landscape and the flamingos who inhabit the highland lagoons.

PeruMachu Picchu

Visiting Machu Picchu is one of those bucket-list places for both Chris and I, but its not the only place we’ll visit. We’re spending a few days in foodie-heaven Lima, where I’m dying to nosh on some amazing ceviche. Chris and I both love to hike and so we’ve carved out time to explore the Sacred Valley of the Incas. Finally, we’ve splurged on a private tour of Manu National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Check out the Crees Foundation for a sneak peek at some of the wildlife we might encounter in the Peruvian Amazon.

Ecuador and the Galapagos Islandsgalapagos sea lion

The Galapagos Islands are must-do for both of us and we wanted to take our time visiting one of the most ecologically and geologically unique places in the world. We’re splitting our time between a cruise with Adventure Life as well as hotels on Islas Isabela and Santa Cruz. In total, we’ll set foot on five different islands across the archipelago. I’m geeked out about the idea of swimming with sea lions, finding birds with bright blue feet, and iguanas that swim in the ocean (what?!?!). We have a little bit of time in Quito and Guayaquil, but that’s about it for mainland Ecuador. I wish we had more time and were able to explore all that Ecuador has to offer.

I still doesn’t feel quite real that we’re about to do this, but we’re ready to soak up every minute. If you’ve been to any of the places on our list, we want to hear from you. What restaurants must not be missed? Where should we hike? Tips for taxis or other transport?

Leave a comment below or contact us with your advice and ideas!