Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Let's Do This!

How is this even real?!! After so many years and months of dreaming and planing this adventure is becoming a reality. Six Carters, six backpacks for almost six weeks in Europe. (Ok- it is actually almost 5 weeks, but I like alliteration). Sacramento to LAX to Madrid. We will try to post very regularly, not just so our moms know where we are, but so we can remember where we've been, what we've seen, who we've met, and who punched who first! Hold on tight- it's bound to be a good one! 

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Hola Cabo! You're leaving again?!!

We didn't tell many people, including our girls, that we would be leaving for Cabo San Lucas 6 days after we had returned from Peru. We knew it was crazy too. But when Rob invited us to surprise his wife Robin with a trip to Mexico for her birthday, we of course said yes! And this invite came MONTHS before the Peru trip was planned. All this to rationalize us ditching reality again!

Rob invited 5 couples to join the party- 2 of them we didn't know. So it was a totally different group and made it fun to get to know them all. We were staying in a private beach front villa south of Cabo in an area call La Laguna. The name of the home was Casa La Laguna. It was basically our own private small hotel, with six private suites, a butler, chef, sous chef, and 4 other staff working on the property. Lifestyles.......

The Jensens are all about R and R, and they take it seriously!! It was so unlike any other vacation we had ever been on, and it was just what we needed. We only left the compound once for a meal on the beach right in Cabo San Lucas at a restaurant called The Office. We all agreed we were there for the atmosphere, because the food failed in comparison to the gourmet meals the chefs, JJ and Miguel, had been making for us. Other than that, we ate, swam, lounged, played games, ate, walked on the beach, ate, talked, played more games, and ate. 

It was a fun weekend with great people in a beautiful place. 

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Peru- Day 8- Sand Everywhere

We were all so tired none of us were really looking forward to another full day of activity. I think we all would have been fine with a day of hanging out by the pool or catching up on sleep. But none of us regret taking this last adventure. 

We were picked up by Raffo and Juliana for our day of sand boarding and off-roading in the huge sand dunes south of Lima. We were all a little surprised when they loaded us into 2 cars- 1 Jeep and 1 Toyota truck. I think we thought we would get transferred to the dunes where we would be met by dune buggies or something.  But our adventure started as soon as we got into those car- these drivers were very aggressively getting us through the insane free-for-all Lima traffic.   
About an hour south of town we stopped at a sand boarding shop in Playa Hermosa. Apparently this town is packed with partying city dwellers during the South American summers, but today it looked like an abandoned dusty strip of block walls. In the shop we were fitted into snow boarding boots, boards and helmets. We loaded our gear into the trucks and drove further south to the sand dunes. 

I've never really been on huge sand dunes before so I have nothing to compare Lima's sand dunes to.  But there were mountains of sand as far as the eye could see- boarded by the Pacific Ocean on the west. The drivers let air out of their tires and then we sped out into the dunes. It was seriously one of the scariest things I have ever done- I am not a big fan of off-roading. Probably has something to do with not wanting to die in a car crash! And Raffo our driver was INSANE! He was obviously very experienced, but Rick said my screams were only encouraging him to be crazier. 

Finally the ride came to a stop at the top of a steep dune. It was time to put on our boards and see what we could do. Ian and Brent both have experience snowboarding, so this was an easy transition for them. The rest of us were out of our element. Our guides were awesome instructors and got us down our first hill in one piece. Then the roller coaster started again as we went on another wild ride to the top of even a steeper sand dune. 

We got 4 wild rides and 4 runs down the dunes, which may not sound like a lot but was plenty. The sand was everywhere- especially on those of us who ate it- literally. I had so much sand on my face- sand beard and mustache, sand sideburns, sand boogers for days!!

We headed off the dunes and back on to the freeway. We stopped for some alien ice cream- which was delicious and included lots of flavored unheard of in the US. Back safely at the sand boarding shop we returned our gear and braced ourselves for the gnarly ride back into the big city. 

Back at our hotel we were able to use the showers in the spa to wash all the sand away- and there was a ton of sand! We are all starving so we walked to an early final dinner in Peru. It was a fantastic meal and a great way to end our feasting in Peru!

After dinner we said good bye to the Paul's who had to head to the airport to catch their flight back to Chicago. We had a few more hours before we needed to take off, so Emily and I did what all smart travelers do when they have a few extra hours to burn- we went shopping! 

We headed out in the dark rainy night (a note about the rain- both times we were in Lima this trip it rained. And both times we had multiple locals tell us "it never rains in Lima!" Right). We had limited time and limited soles so we were on a mission. We headed to a nearby market (flea market style) and hunted out the final gifts we wanted to take home. Ian stayed at the hotel to work and Rick stayed at the hotel to get a massage. We got back just in time for our airport pickup. 

Because our flight didn't leave until 1am, we still had a few hours to burn. So we went to _______________, a water fountain park. There were dancing water fountains with lights and different themes. The park was beautifully landscaped and clean, and even in the cold and drizzle, there were a lot of people out. We walked the grounds and checked out all the fountains, finishing with the big attraction- a laser, image projector, water show that we left after watching for almost 30 minutes! There was no end in site! 
Our flights home were uneventful and easy (Ian and I each got a row to our selves so we slept the entire red eye home. Bonus!) We had an amazing vacation, but were so happy to be back in the US- (toilet seat covers, flushing toilet paper, cold drinks, ICE!!) We love going on adventures, but nothing is better than coming home to our beautiful girls!! 

Peru- Day 7- Taquil, Trout, and Too Tired

It was a relief to wake up and stop the tossing and turning in the bed on boards.  Clara called us down for breakfast, which was one crepe-like pancake with jam. And of course some Muno/Coca tea. We packed up and started our trek down the mountain to the port. We fell in love with Clara's 5 year old little boy, Lenny, and they both walked to the port with us. Lenny walked holding Brent and Ian's hands as they flew him into the air on the count of uno, dos, tres. 
Back on our big slow boat, we headed to another island- Taquil. Once we docked, we started another breathless hike up the steep rock pathway. Stairs and steps and lack of oxygen have been a theme of this trip. Taquil is charming and rural and completely terraced for farming. We passed shoeless old women hearding sheep, who were quick to ask for money if we took their picture. In the main plaza of the small island town we looked at lots of knitted goods. Apparently UNESCO declared the knitting of the men and women of Taquile to be the best in the world a few years ago. The hats the men knit are so tight they can hold water. They said if the hat a man knits leaks then it means they are a lazy man. 
As we ate lunch- fresh pink trout caught that morning- (a fish free omelette for me) Samuel taught us about their local customs and dress. We then hiked down the other side of the island - which included a descent of 546 steps.
Our slow boat met us at the dock for the 3 hour ride home. It was a perfect time for everybody to try to catch up on lost sleep from the night before. 
Once we were back to Puno we taxied into town for dinner. Soon after we sat down, a powerful rain storm thundered outside. It cleared by the time we were done with dinner, but the flooded streets and 1" layer of hail all around was proof that Pachamama was busy in Puno. We have been very luck with weather on this trip! 
Another long van ride to the airport in Juliaca, we caught our plane to Lima and made it to our hotel just after midnight. A hot shower that night never felt so good after 2 days off the grid! 

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Peru- Day 6- To Escape Nasty Neighbors, Build Your Own Floating Island

As we boarded our "ship" on Monday morning, none of us knew what to expect. Our guide Samuel was back to take us out onto the highest navigable lake in the world- Lake Titicaca. We were able to walk out the back doors of our hotel directly to the dock , making sure we didn't step on the wild guniea pigs running all over the lawn and pathway. Our boat had more than enough room- could hold 40 passengers, but we were the only 6 on board, plus a captain and our guide. Our first stop was the reason this Lake was on our itinerary in the first place- the Uros Floating Islands. 
The Uros people moved into the shallows of the lake to escape attacks from the Colla and Inca. They created floating islands by cutting layering the tall reeds. They made huts, houses, and boats entirely out of these reeds. And they continue this ancient lifestyle today, with the added benefit of tourism dollars flooding in from all over the world. Samuel said when he was growing up there were around 16-20 islands. Today there are around 100. I imagined the Uros to be a few huts with maybe 10 families calling them home. The community was way bigger than I had ever imagined.  
We pulled up to an island where colorfully dressed women waited on the edge waving to us. Walking on the island was an experience- you sink into the reeds as you walk. We sat in the outdoor "living room" as the president of the island we were on greeted us and our guide translated. They showed us on a small scale how an island is made and then gave us a taste of the reed- they eat the insides.  
We were then split up and went into a family home (5 different families lived on this island). A woman named Julie picked me and she took me to her house. Inside the small hut were 2 queen mattresses on the floor. In our made up language I figured out she has 5 children and they all share this little room with she and her husband. There was a lump in the middle of one of the mattresses and she explained to me it was her husband catching up on sleep because he was out early fishing. I think they had 1 solar panel they had hooked up to a single light bulb and radio. This was the only solar panel I saw on her island. I recognized some pictures she had hanging above the bed- unmistakable LDS "art". I pointed and asked her- "Mormon?!", in my best accent. She said "Si!". Mind blown!! We high fived after I told her my whole group was Mormon too. 
Because of the new info from Julie, we had our guide translate and ask questions about other Mormons in the Uros. Turns out there was a Mormon church building on the Uros. We asked if we could see it. They said they would take us over there. So after they all sold us stuff (be sure to take your $), we got into a traditional Uros reed boat and Julie and another man from her island started rowing us across the lagoon to the island where the Mormon church was. 
When we arrived in the new island the few locals started running around, putting on traditional clothes and uncovering reed tables with more stuff to buy. You could tell they weren't expecting visitors. We ended up talking to "Elisa", who in her broken English and our bad Spanish, was able to tell us about the church. Turns out there were 60 families in the Uros attending church on the island, but something happened and they had to start going to church in Puno. She said there are only 5 strong families who still go to church now. Some of the families would like to go, but can't because they don't have shoes for their children and you have to have shoes to go in Puno. She was so happy we came to visit her and we were able to meet her sister and daughter. We would love to help them, but with no modern communication on the islands it would be nearly impossible. We said our good byes, of course after they sold us stuff, and got back into our big boat. I will remember her and my experience in the Uros for a long time. 
Our next stop was 3 hours away by boat, so we played cards to pass the time. The lake is huge, and although we were on the water for guts, we only saw a small portion of it.  We arrived at Amantani Island for our homestays and were greeted by two locals dress in traditional island dress. We brought small overnight bags and gifts for the families we were staying with (rice, sugar, oil, fruit). We hiked up the steep island (enough with the hiking already!!) to our homes, where we were shown our rooms. I am running out of words, so I will let the pictures do the talking...
They fed us, dressed us up like locals, and then showed us some of the things locals do- grinding flour, spinning wool, sowing fields. They work very hard and it shows all over them. 

After the activities, we started our hike (again!!) to the highest peak on the island. We could seriously feel the altitude, as the top was 13,490 feet. From the top we watched the sunset and then headed back down for dinner. 

After dinner, they organized a fiesta with musicians and dancing. They dressed us back up and we partied. It was surreal and we were all laughing because it was just so weird. A lost in translation moment came when my asking for hot water before bed turned into them building a fire and dancing with us in a circle around it. My friends might not forgive me for that one!! But for sure it will be a story that gets told over and over again. We slept that cold night in very uncomfortable beds tossing and turning, hoping for sleep to come and get us through til morning.