Alumni Pride

Recently, our alma mater, Michigan Technological University, reached out to us and wanted to share our story. The article that Kelley wrote turned out great! Click below to see it on the MTU webpage:

Here is the full photo with all of the pictures we took with our Michigan Tech flag in each country around the world- some complete with other Tech grads! 

Last Stop - Lima

We ended our time in South America by staying in the Miraflores district of Lima for 2 weeks. We rented a really nice Airbnb in the fancier part of town. It was great! We celebrated our second wedding anniversary the night we arrived in Lima- Jeff took me out to a really nice restaurant called 'Panchita' and it ended up being our favorite meal in Peru! We liked Panchita's so much that we went back and ate there on our last night also. Below: Jeff ordered Adobo (traditional stew, served with rice, and I ordered steak that came with plantains, eggs and shoestring fries. Complete with a few glasses of wine!

Altair CrossFit was 3 blocks from our apartment, so we dropped in while we were in Lima. Turns out, the key to fitness is not eating your way around the world for 12 months. Both of us were extremely happy to lift some (light) weights again. It’s a really good thing that CrossFit is a universal language; the classes were entirely in Spanish, but we’re pretty good listeners and just followed along. Thank you Altair for letting us drop by!

One afternoon we walked from our place to the coast. There is a super fancy shopping mall called Larcomar built on the cliffs of Lima overlooking the sea. We also explored the Barranco area, which is the ‘hipster’ neighborhood of Lima. Jeff found a hole in the wall place in Barranco for ceviche- and it was delicious!

While walking we passed Waikiki Beach (behind me and down the cliff). Now we have been to Waikiki Beach in both hemispheres! Note- the cloudy weather is typical for this time of year in Peru (beginning of winter); we haven't seen the sun in 14 days!

While walking we passed Waikiki Beach (behind me and down the cliff). Now we have been to Waikiki Beach in both hemispheres! Note- the cloudy weather is typical for this time of year in Peru (beginning of winter); we haven't seen the sun in 14 days!

There are pre-Incan ruins right in Lima! One afternoon we took a short 15-minute walk from our apartment to visit Huaca Pucllana. For about $4 each, we got a tour of this adobe settlement from the time of the Lima culture (200-700 AD). It was amazing to see ancient ruins amid the skyscrapers. It is an active dig site; there is about 30 more years of work to be done in order to uncover the entire settlement. It’s pretty cool because their building techniques have outlasted centuries of earthquakes.

Since Miraflores (where we were staying) is pretty far from downtown Lima, we went on a free walking tour one day in order to see more of the city. Our tour guide corralled our group onto the public buses to get us the 16km to the main square. The tour was ok (not as good as our other free tours in Peru), but we were pretty disappointed when we tried the restaurant our guide recommended at the end of the tour. Unfortunately, our experience at this restaurant was the only time we legitimately felt like we were ripped off in this country. If you are ever in Lima, skip the restaurant called ‘Kirpay.’

Sights from the walking tour- we made a pit stop for fresh churros! 

Sights from the walking tour- we made a pit stop for fresh churros! 

The smile for the free pisco sour before we found out we were getting charged for it…and other things we didn’t order…

The smile for the free pisco sour before we found out we were getting charged for it…and other things we didn’t order…

Anyway, the plus side of the tour was that it got us to use the public transport in town! Peruvians aren’t afraid to get friendly on the bus. Think of a bus’s normal capacity…now quadruple it. I’m not exaggerating. At one point I was sitting on a woman’s lap because there was no place for me to stand. It was a tighter fit than any Japanese train we had been on, and Jeff thought it was comparable to the metro in New Delhi. I also experienced my first ‘hair pull’ of this entire trip on the Peruvian bus. Yes lady, my hair really is as blonde and thin as it looks…

While the bus is a pretty effective method of transportation (stations are run like subway stations and there are separate bus lanes in part of the city to bypass traffic), paying for tickets wasn’t. The tour guide from our walking tour just told us to give our exact change to a bus worker at the station and they would help us through the gate- well, it didn’t really work like that. In order to use some of the buses in Lima you need to have a reusable bus card. They don’t sell 1-time tickets. Since we were only using the bus a total of 4 times, we didn’t want to buy the nonrefundable card for 5 soles. So when we went to get back on the bus after our tour, I told the station worker we didn’t have a card, but wanted to ride the bus. She ended up giving our money to a random person who was re-loading their bus card at a machine and then this person ended up swiping us in! Apparently, this is normal, as when we went to ride the bus again the next day we were again at the mercy of strangers to take our money and have them swipe us into the bus station. Surprisingly, strangers were extremely helpful and no one seemed put out that had to help the gringos on the bus!

Confusion at the machine to top-up bus cards...

On one of our last nights in town, we braved the bus again and went to the Parque de la Reserva to see the fountains. For a little over $1, we entered the park to see the 13 fountains all lit up. It was great! They also have a water/light show that runs a few times each night. I included one of the fountain descriptions from a sign because I thought it was great! Not sure what 'unique acoustic flowers' are, but the fountain was pretty!

We had a really nice 2 weeks in Lima and it was pretty low key. We spent time looking for jobs and thinking about what we want to do once we are done traveling- which will be here so soon! If you are ever traveling through Peru, a day or 2 in this city would be more than enough. After spending 5 weeks in Peru, both Jeff and I are ready to move on. Our next stop is Stateside!!!!!!!!!!!!

-Cara

 

Jeff’s Peru Recap:

Modes of transportation: Bus, Plane, Boat, Train, Taxi

Total Spent: $5,524.80 (includes flight into Cusco and multiple flights in country)

Average Per Day: $138.12

Peru can be very cheap, and it can also be quite expensive, all depending on your tastes. We stayed in some nicer places, but avoided the hotels that clearly were ripping people off. A little research and you can easily tell that most of the hotels are the same quality, but the price can vary a lot. We also knew we had some more money left than we thought we would at this point and used it to fly within Peru, instead of taking the bus. They say time is money and we figured it was worth paying more to fly for an hour or two than take a 12+ hour bus ride. Overall we lived pretty large here but still were barely over our year goal average for the daily amount spent. We don't have much left before the real "end" of the trip, so sometime soon I'll put together some financial numbers for the whole year!

Trekking the Colca Canyon and Beyond

From the jungle, we hopped back through Cuzco for 2 nights, and then flew on to Arequipa. Arequipa is one of the largest cities in Peru, and is surrounded by beautiful active volcanoes.

We were pleasantly surprised when we were dropped off at our hotel in Arequipa. Jeff had booked a place for $37/night on booking.com, and based on our past experiences in that price range, we knew the room would be ok (a.k.a. bedbug free, private toilet, maybe some hot water). Luckily for us- the place ended up being a 4 star hotel (by Peruvian standards), and was the nicest place we had stayed in in awhile! We spent 2 days getting a lay of the land, booking a 3-day trek through the Colca Canyon, taking a free walking tour, and of course- eating! We needed to book a hotel in Arequipa for a few nights after we trekked the canyon, and were disappointed to find out that the nice hotel we were staying in was charging $117/night- a little out of our budget backpacking budget. With no rooms available on booking.com, we walked down to the reception desk and asked what the rate would be to book directly. We expected them to quote us the price that was posted on the wall in the lobby ($100/night), but luck was with us again when they told us we could book for the same price of $37/night! We had to ask the front desk multiple times how much it was because I didn’t believe them. An excellent bargain for a private room, super-hot water, good buffet breakfast, and the rooms looked like any decent Marriot at home! Thank you Casona Plaza Arequipa!

A big step up from all of the hostels we have been frequenting lately!

A big step up from all of the hostels we have been frequenting lately!

My smarty-pants husband actually paid attention on the free walking tour we took and won us a free hot chocolate by answering a hard trivia question. I have no recollection what the question was, but the hot chocolate was delicious!

My smarty-pants husband actually paid attention on the free walking tour we took and won us a free hot chocolate by answering a hard trivia question. I have no recollection what the question was, but the hot chocolate was delicious!

On May 18, we woke up at 3am and loaded up into a van headed for the Colca Canyon. The date is significant because it marked exactly one year since we drove the moving van out of our driveway in Oceanview, Virginia.

1 year ago, all of our worldly belongings fit inside of this truck

1 year ago, all of our worldly belongings fit inside of this truck

Flash forward to the present- we got into the 20 passenger van, picked up random gringos from other hotels around town, and sort of slept/got carsick during the 3 hour drive toward Colca Canyon. We stopped in Chivay for breakfast around 7:30am, and then continued on to the Cruz del Condor (condor viewing). I’m not sure when it started, but Jeff really has a thing for birds of prey. If I let him, we would have a pet hawk or falcon. (Something about him wanting to train it to hunt…) Anyway, he has been looking forward to seeing the Andean Condors in the wild for a long time (we saw one condor at the zoo in Sydney). And our stop at the lookout did not disappoint! These are some of the biggest (and ugliest, in my opinion) birds in the world. They are from the vulture family, eat dead animals in the area, and live in caves on the side of the canyon. Their wingspan is huge, and really impressive when you see them flying around!

From the Cruz del Condor, we drove on to a small village named Cabanaconde where we started our trek. The first day we hiked about 5 hours down into the Colca Canyon, one of the deepest canyons in the world. Our guide, Luz, was amazing! She stopped and taught us so much about the local plants and let us try anything edible along the way. We made it to our ‘lodge’ in the early evening, and spent some time soaking our tired feet in the hot springs. I use the world ‘lodge’ loosely, because we literally slept in a mud/bamboo hut. But it had a real bed! And Luz carried beef all the way into the canyon so we could have a carnivorous meal that night, since the lodge only served vegetarian dishes. (I’m guessing this is due to the fact that the lodge only has power at night via generator, and they have to pack everything in and out with mules).

We walked up out of the other side of the canyon the next morning, and made it to a very small village for lunch. After lunch, we stopped by a museum (1-room hut), and using Luz as an interpreter, a lady taught us about local life. She also served us Chicha- the fermented corn drink that is the Peruvian alcoholic beverage of choice. They used to make chicha by chewing up the corn and spitting it into buckets and letting it ferment. Many people have assured me that this is no longer the practice, but the few times that I have tasted chicha here, I’m not convinced. It still tastes weird.

From the village we then walked down back into the valley of the canyon to an area called the ‘Oasis.’ There are a few lodges clumped together near the river in the valley, and they all have impressive swimming pools- complete with waterfalls! It’s hilarious because they literally let water from a nearby (real) waterfall feed the pools during the day, and at night, they stop the flow so the pools are empty when no one is using them. We had another nice meal, cold shower, real bed to sleep in, and then we woke up and hit the trail at 5am the next morning for our last day of the trek. After an intense climb, and getting passed by the numerous sissy’s that hired a mule to carry them out, we made it to the top and ate breakfast before getting in our van to return to town. Below: Jeff and I, our guide Luz and I, guinea pigs awaiting the dinner plate, fancy pools in Oasis, flowers on the trail that only open at night, and mules carrying the weaklings (or smart people) out of the canyon.

We made a few touristy stops for souvenirs on our way back from the Canyon, and got to soak in more hot springs! There is so much geothermal activity here with all of the volcanoes, that there are hot springs everywhere. The Sabancaya Volcano was extremely active that day, and we got to see the ash from multiple ‘explosions’ from a few different vantage points. We’ve never seen an active volcano! Note: There is one volcano that is within striking distance from Arequipa, as in- if it erupts, it will kill everyone in town. It’s something like, hundreds of years overdue to erupt, but people in town told us that they have emergency procedures to follow. Below: active volcano, sights along the trail, and me relaxing in the hot springs!

We spent 2 more days in Arequipa after our trek relaxing. We visited the Museo Santuarios Andions UCSM, which houses ‘Juanita.’ Juanita is an extremely well preserved corpse of a young teenage girl that was found on top of the Ampato Volcano in Arequipa. She was sacrificed to the Incan gods around 1470 AD on top of the volcano. She is one of multiple children that have been found sacrificed on top of mountains all over Incan South America. It was fascinating, if a bit morbid, to learn more about Incan culture, and the museum had an excellent display of artifacts.

The next day, we took a cooking class at the Peruvian Cooking Experience. No one else had signed up for class that morning, so Jeff and I had a private tour of the market with our guide, Lady, and then we got cooking! Below are some photos from the market- Peru grows something like 3,200 different kinds of potatoes (this is not an exaggeration), a woman pouring some hot sauce for us to cook with, and good looking fruits and veggies. I'm going to miss being able to buy fresh produce in markets like this!

We made saltero de queso (cheese salad) for an appetizer, potato pie (kind of like a potato au gratin), rocoto rellenos (stuffed hot peppers), and quinoa flan for dessert. It was DELICIOUS!

I absolutely love Andean stuffed peppers, and this meal was a great way to finish our week in Arequipa! Sights from around town:

-Cara

Amazon Adventure

During our time in Cusco, we booked a 4-night stay in a jungle lodge just outside of Puerto Maldonado. Just like trekking, I am extremely sick (carsick) of taking buses. I was pleased to find out that domestic flights in Peru are fairly cheap, so we are flying to all of our destinations in Peru! Jeff had done a little bit of research on different lodges, but we didn’t ask many questions about what activities we would be doing in the jungle. At this point, we are so go-with-the-flow that nothing really phases us. They could have told us that we were supposed to scavenge for food in the jungle and we would be cool with it (luckily, that didn’t happen). Both of us are pretty tired of planning activities, and are willing to throw money at someone and have them tell us what to do!

We flew into Puerto Maldonado and were picked up at the airport by Eco Amazonia staff (the lodge we booked). They took us into town and let us explore the town and market. After seeing the small town, we were glad that we did not book an extra night there- there isn’t anything going on in Puerto Maldonado!

Around 1:30pm, we were bused to the river and hopped on a boat and cruised for an hour and a half downstream to the lodge.

Even though we paid a considerable amount of money for the 5 days ($505 pp), this is Peru, so we weren’t expecting much. We were pleasantly surprised when we arrived and were greeted with welcome drinks and a delicious buffet lunch! We had great food for the few days we were there and our little cabin was great!

We went on guided excursions in the mornings and the afternoons- sometimes hiking and sometimes by boat. Our guide David, was awesome! He spotted some crazy things- small frogs and a baby anaconda for example, and taught us about local plants.

Our guide taught us a lot about local flora and fauna. He showed us that the spikes from a certain type of palm tree could be used for blow darts.

Our guide LOVED to pick up scary looking bugs (fire ants included), and crush up weird plants and let us rub them on our skin. I’m not sure exactly what the war paint was used for. Maybe mosquito repellant, or maybe David just wanted us to look like the indigenous people….which is my guess based on the number of bug bites I had.

One afternoon we took a short boat ride to 'Monkey Island,' right across from the lodge. We fed the monkeys bananas! There was one group of brown and black capuchin monkeys, and only 5 spider monkeys. These monkeys had been rescued from the black market, and used to be domesticated, so Jeff and I felt a little bit better about feeding the wildlife. 

Jeff snapped this photo of pure ecstasy on a capuchin monkey's face while eating a banana. This picture is one of my favorite from our entire trip. It's going to make an excellent meme... 

We enjoyed being off the grid again- electricity only ran for a few hours at night, and we relaxed in the hammocks by the river, and Jeff played soccer in the evenings with the guides.

Every night we would walk out to the welcome sign and see the tarantula that lived there!

The Madre del Dios river that the lodge is on runs through Bolivia and then on to Brazil where it meets up with the Amazon before dumping into the Atlantic Ocean. It was great to see so much tropical wildlife. On our last full day at the lodge, we went fishing for piranhas! Only our boat driver and our guide ended up catching piranhas, but I snagged a duck fish, and Jeff caught a baby duck fish. Duck fish might be a type of catfish (they call most fish ‘catfish’ here if they do not have scales). The best part was that we took the fish back to the lodge and the cook fried them up for our dinner! Jeff and I both liked the taste of the piranha the best. Delicious!  

-Cara

Machu Picchu

We left Cuzco on a Sunday morning and took the train to Aguas Calientes (Machu Picchu Pueblo). Many people trek to Machu Picchu, but we didn’t have any hiking gear with us. We could have rented gear, but to be honest, trekking and camping in the cool, wet weather just didn’t sound fun to either of us. Jeff sprung for the expensive train tickets (about $80 each, one way) so we were treated to a commentary during the ride, windows in the ceilings of the railcars, and a full meal. This was probably the nicest train ride we have ever been on!

The small town of Aguas Calientes exists solely to support tourism for the Inka ruins. There really isn’t anything to do there except to see Machu Picchu. We arrived in the mid-afternoon, and were met at the train station by staff from the hotel we were staying in:

That afternoon, we walked outside of town and went to a museum to learn a little bit more about Machu Picchu since we weren’t planning on hiring a guide to show us the ruins, and we knew there wouldn’t be any posted information anywhere else. After dinner, we went to bed early since we would have to get up around 4am the next day to head up to the ruins!

The town of Aguas Calientes

The town of Aguas Calientes

Again, opting out of hiking the hour and half straight up to Machu Picchu, we got in line before 5am to ride the bus up to the ruins ($24 pp/round trip). Buses started running around 5:30am, and we were to the top a little before 6:30am. Once we got through the gate, we slowly made our way over to Wayna Picchu (also spelled Huayna Picchu). Jeff had purchased our Machu Picchu tickets a few weeks ago while we were in Australia. It wasn’t completely necessary to do that (you could have gotten tickets in town easily), but it did mean that we were able to get special tickets to hike Wayna Picchu, which does sell out since they cap the number of visitors. The ruins sit in between Machu Picchu Mountain and Wayna Picchu Moutain, so going up one of these offers a different vantage point. A friend (thank you Krissy!), recommended we hike Wayna Picchu, and we are so glad we did! Below: the first picture is the view of the ruins from the top of Wayna Picchu, and the others are facing Wayna Picchu- we hiked all the way to the top!

View from the top of Wayna Picchu

View from the top of Wayna Picchu

I swear I'm not standing in front of a green screen!

It was a pretty strenuous climb (maybe it would have been easier if we were in shape?), and we opted to do the longer hike around the entire mountain in order to see a cave that was supposedly a temple for the moon (based on the direction it faces).

Temple of the Moon, off the back side of Wayna Picchu

Temple of the Moon, off the back side of Wayna Picchu

We spent the rest of the morning exploring the ruins and headed back to town around 2 pm.

Our train didn’t leave until the afternoon the next day, so we had to get creative with how we spent our time. Note: 2 nights in Aguas Calientes is plenty! We walked up to the hot springs that the city is named after (aguas calientes = hot water), paid a few soles, and bathed in the hot tubs. Afterwards, we ate our way around town, stopping in a few restaurants and cafes.

We are incredibly lucky that we had amazing weather to see Machu Picchu. The ruins were amazing and definitely lived up to the hype. We would highly recommend it to anyone who wants to travel to South America!

-Cara

Vamos a Peru

Our flight pattern from Hawaii went like this: Honolulu->Houston->Panama City, Panama (9 hour layover)->Lima, Peru->Cuzco, Peru. Over 36 hours after we left Hawaii, we were in Cuzco! Note: even though it was a really crappy 2 travel days, we can’t complain. We purchased these tickets for 25,000 United miles +$20.

We arrived to Cusco safely, maybe a little ripped off by the cab driver (what’s 10 soles anyway?), and settled into our hostel where we had the next 10 nights booked. Do you know what we did for the next 10 days? NOTHING. And it was great! Jeff is really good at being content staying in one part of a city and not doing anything. Normally I am itching to go see everything because I don’t want to miss out. FOMO is real. But in this case, we had been traveling constantly since we left Cambodia at the end of February, and it was time to slow down.

Of course, we didn’t really just do nothing, or else I would have nothing to write about. We ate a lot that week in Cusco! On our first day in town, we sat down at a little local place and the waitress asked if we wanted menus (in Spanish).  I responded ‘si’ (yes). She brought us 2 bowls of soup. My Spanish may be rusty, but it’s not that bad…I had actually ordered 2 menu del dias (menu of the day). The set menu that day was soup, followed by chicken, rice and French fries, with jello for dessert. Both of us ate for $5. During the week, we also tried local delicacies: guinea pig, alpaca, tamales and my favorite- stuffed poblano peppers! Jeff liked the guinea pig (I’ll pass), but give me alpaca any day! (Below: guinea pig, stuffed pepper, alpaca on a stick, alpaca with quinoa salad, chicha fresa (local strawberry beer), lunch with entertainment, and ice cream for dessert! Note: all of this was NOT consumed on the same day. #cheatyear)

There is no way that ingesting neon yellow liquid is good for you. Good thing it tastes delicious!

There is no way that ingesting neon yellow liquid is good for you. Good thing it tastes delicious!

We also received a restaurant recommendation from a local, so we checked it out. We showed up for a late lunch and were pleasantly surprised that entertainment accompanied our meal!

On Sunday, we showed up in time for the 9am mass in the city center, but we ended up walking in during communion. We think they were running behind from the previous mass. Anyway, the whole operation seemed like a free-for-all, so we got blessed and quickly returned to the main square where it seemed like a parade was in the making. It ended up being a huge event! Poor Jeff, he’s not a big fan of parades, and I made him sit there for an hour and 20 minutes before we got up. It ended up being a bunch of marching labor unions, military, and random working groups. The best part was at the end, when many cultural groups were dancing!

Plaza de Armas, Cuzco

We never officially found out what we were celebrating, although someone did tell us that they have a military parade every Sunday to raise the flags. The flag of Cusco is the 7 colors of the rainbow. However, we doubt that it is that large every weekend. We think that maybe the even we stumbled upon was for their version of Labor Day, which happened to be the next day. Jeff didn’t think that this guy stood on the back of a truck and jackhammered every Sunday:

Legit parade float...

Through our hostel, Cusco Packers, we were able to book a few day trips around Cusco in order to see some of the Incan Ruins. We did a long day tour of the Sacred Valley and visited ruins in Pisac, Ollantaytambo and Chinchero. Of course, on a big bus tour you have to put up with a few stops at handicraft markets, but for $20 each, plus a huge buffet lunch, it was an awesome way to spend a day! Our guide spoke great English, and we learned a lot!

Looking out over Ollantaytambo

They next day we went on a shorter day trip to the archaeological site of Moray, and the salt ponds in Maras. It was nice to see different ruins and the salt mine, but this tour wasn’t as good as the previous day. It didn’t help that our tour guide spoke poor English (which was ok- especially since we can both understand a little bit of Spanish), but he was point-blank telling us false information- like that the Inkas built the salt mine 400 years before Christ. Um…there weren’t any Inka’s around then…much less in South America. This was not a translation error on his part, he said the exact same thing in Spanish, even when I called him out on it. You win some, you lose some I guess! The scenery was awesome though, and the rain held out so we had perfect weather!

View of the Incan ruins at Moray

View of the Incan ruins at Moray

Moray (above) was constructed to worship and celebrate fertility, and is supposedly shaped like an ovary. Again- this from the guide who didn’t know when the Inka’s existed. Take it with a grain of salt… but the Inka’s did construct the terraces all over the place to grow crops. These crop circles grew everything from medicinal plants, to grains and potatoes.

The salt mine is pictured above. The salt water coming from a natural spring in the mountains contains a concentration of salt that is less than ocean water (I tasted it, I can vouch for it), which makes it perfect to collect in small pools after the water evaporates. It is then taken into town and processed for table salt.   

During our day tour of Moray and Maras, our driver made the sign of the cross and was visibly praying as he headed down a steep street. I am completely supportive of praying and asking for a blessing, but I do want to know if this is normal, or if we have a legit concern to pray for? Anyway, we made it back into town safely, and spent the rest of the week planning out our 5 weeks in Peru. These are the places we plan to see while we are here:

View Peru in a full screen map

-Cara

Aloha

Never in a million years did I ever think that we would be going to Hawaii on this trip. I think I joked about it early on with Jeff, because when else would we visit the islands? About a year ago, I met a work colleague who lives on Oahu and she told me to stay in touch, and in the back of my mind I was thinking ‘Yeah right, Hawaii could never fit into our travel budget.’ Fast forward to our planning session in a little apartment in Thailand, when we found out that we could use airline miles to fly from New Zealand to Honolulu, and then from Honolulu to Peru. AND it would only cost us about $50 more than flying straight from New Zealand to Peru. TWIST MY ARM.

So we booked our tickets to Oahu! We ended up flying from NZ back to Melbourne and spent the night near the airport before flying from Melbourne to LAX, then LAX to Honolulu. During our 6-hour layover in LA we left the airport to get some In-n-Out. I was only a little disappointed that we didn’t get any weird looks while we pushed an airport trolley 1.5 miles…

We finally arrived in Honolulu and our friend Sue (work colleague mentioned above), picked us up from the airport in typical Hawaiian fashion.

After she treated us to dinner, we headed to her house on the other side of the island and met her husband John. The next day, it was pretty rainy, but Jeff and I headed out to explore the North side of the island. We stopped at a shrimp truck for lunch, and watched surfers on huge swells at Sunset Beach and Banzai Pipeline. We made it back to John and Sue’s by late afternoon and we piled in the car with them and headed to Turtle Bay Resort. Sue ran a Ragnar race with the local run club. She had to run 3 different loops (each loop between 5-7 miles), and it was a relay race. John, Jeff and I left Sue and the run club in the cold and rain, grabbed dinner and then John took us on a mini-tour of the island. We returned to Turtle Bay the next morning to see Sue run her last lap!

John and Sue- we are so incredibly thankful for your hospitality! Thank you so much for showing us Oahu, and we hope to see you two again soon!

After John and Sue took us to lunch and dropped us on the other side of the island, we met up with our friends Chip and Marie. A little bit about this awesome couple from Wisconsin- we have seen their smiling faces more than anyone else’s this year! First, we randomly happened to be in Sweden at the same time as Bri and Marie, then we were in Rome at the same time Chip and Marie were there for a wedding, then we all spent 2 amazing weeks in Vietnam with our friend Bri, so it only made sense when these two booked a room at the Marriot Waikiki Beach, that Jeff and showed up!

Jeff, Cara, Chip and Marie. Vacationing together since 2016.

Jeff, Cara, Chip and Marie. Vacationing together since 2016.

The view from our hotel room of Waikiki Beach. Many thanks to Chip's hotel points!!!!!

The view from our hotel room of Waikiki Beach. Many thanks to Chip's hotel points!!!!!

We spent 3 days with Chip and Marie exploring Waikiki Beach, Diamond Head Crater, Pearl Harbor and we made a pit stop at Costco. We also rented boogie boards and tried to complete with the locals on the waves. We’ve seemed to have impeccable timing during our trip, and another one of my old co-workers happened to be in Honolulu the same time we were for work. Jamie- it was great to catch up with you!!! Of course, no trip is complete without good food, so we tried acai bowls, tuna poke, local brews, mai tais, and got our fill of pineapple ice cream!

Jeff’s 30th birthday was April 23rd. We got to celebrate in style in Hawaii!

Chip and Marie- thank you so much for letting us crash your vacation! We are so glad that we have gotten to see so much of you this past year, and we will travel anytime, anywhere with you guys!  

-Cara

Jeff’s Hawaii Recap:

Modes of transportation: Car, Navy boat (Pearl Harbor), Uber. Uber is interesting in Oahu. 2 different drivers tried to sell us day tours of the island while they were driving us around. The first guy only got creepy after he showed us pictures of young Australian girls in bikinis, and the second salesman happened to be this suave Russian (who was quick to tell us he was a US citizen). However, we had the best Uber ride from Costco to Waikiki Beach. If a man named ‘Timora’ comes to pick you up in Hawaii, please congratulate him on his upcoming retirement from the Navy. He’s originally from Atlanta, so we promised to say hi for him when we are there in a month or so!

Total Spent: $829.35 (includes flight into Honolulu)

Average Per Day: $165.87

Hawaii is expensive, and we didn't even have to pay for our lodging thanks to some great friends. We didn't skimp on food though, so we could've saved a little money there, but it was all totally worth it!

-Jeff

NZ: North Island

View NZ North in a full screen map

After we were done touring the South Island, the map above shows the stops we made on the North Island. We got off the ferry in Wellington and met up with our friend Lauren, who we met in India, and then hooked up with again in Vietnam! She gave us the locals tour, and we stopped at a café on Cuba street, walked to the Te Papa museum, and had dinner at a nice little Louisiana Kitchen type place.

We wish we would have had more time in the museum- it was awesome! We got a little more history of the country and its Polynesian inhabitants. It also housed the most incredible museum display that Jeff and I have ever seen. It was an exhibition that explained New Zealand’s role in WWI. Besides being extremely well put together, it also featured huge figures designed by Peter Jackson (of Lord of the Rings fame). I am not big into any art scene, but I could have stayed and looked at these displays for hours.

The next morning, we were up early and went to the Beehive for a tour of the parliament buildings. Wellington is the capital of New Zealand, and it was interesting to learn more about the country’s government. I wasn’t super impressed with the tour of parliament, but mostly because I was comparing it to our capitol building in Washington D.C. NZ is a much younger and smaller country than the US, therefore the buildings were newer, and smaller.

After our tour, we drove out of town and headed to Lake Taupo. On the way, we stopped and did a short walk in a thermal area. None of the thermal areas we visited smelled very Sulphur-y, but they did remind us a little of Yellowstone. We hit a lot of sparadic rain on the North Island, so rainbows were abundant!

The next day was Easter, so we attended a nice service in Taupo, then went to explore Huka Falls, Craters of the Moon, and Spa Thermal Park. We threw on our swim suits and went to find a place along the small thermal stream that feeds into a larger river. The water was way too hot to even stand in along the stream, so we hopped in the freezing cold river and fought with other tourists for a spot where the stream met the river. There was a small waterfall of hot water coming from the stream and it felt great! And super weird that we were having a hot tub experience in a river. After a nice Easter dinner of lamb and fish, we drove to Waitomo.

Waitomo is a small town of 41 people that is on the map due to the extensive cave systems that are there. This is home to blackwater rafting- sticking your butt in an inter-tube and going rafting through dark caves. It was a little chilly while we were there, so we opted for a drier tour. We checked into the Waitomo Caves Hotel. I am convinced it was straight out of a horror flick. Super creepy by night, and kind of sad looking by day.

After we survived the night (without any ghosts that we were aware of), we went on a tour of two caves in the area to see glow worms. The tour of the glow worm cave ended up being one of the highlights of our entire trip around the world. We had a small group of 13 people, and our tour guide took us into a cave without lights. We sat in the dark to let our eyes adjust and then he took us down the river inside the cave on a small inflatable raft. It was incredible! There were thousands of little glowworms on the roof of the cave (read about our other glow worm experience and why they glow here). Without the glow worms, we would have been in complete darkness, but since there were so many of them, it was bright enough for me to see Jeff’s face when he was sitting right next to me.

From Waitomo, we drove straight to Auckland. We had one full day in Auckland, and it turned out to be one of the nicest days we had in NZ. Warm and all sun! We drove out to the black sand beaches on the west coast and then met up with my parents who had just ended their bus tour in Auckland that day. It was nice to be able to catch up again before we all headed to the airport early the next morning. We found a delicious Vietnamese restaurant for dinner.

Our time in New Zealand was fabulous, and the country had made it to the top of the list of places that we want to go back to someday. I think we left with more things on our to-do list, than we were able to accomplish! I know that 2 weeks is a very short amount of time to see both the North and the South Island, but Jeff and I were extremely happy with everything we were able to do and see, and we think that we got a pretty good glimpse at the whole country!

-Cara

Jeff’s New Zealand Totals:

Modes of transportation: Plane, ferry, boat, bus, rental car, taxi

Total Spent: $3372.80 (Includes flight into Christchurch and the rental car, plus gas is quite expensive in New Zealand)

Average Per Day: $210.80

New Zealand is definitely one of our more expensive stops. Even though the currency exchange works in our favor, everything is imported to the island so costs are driven up. Even though we stayed at budget lodging we spent quite a bit in New Zealand, and we decided not to partake in the most expensive activities such as taking a helicopter onto one of the glaciers.

-Jeff

Black Sand Beaches and Lion Rock (on the right), Piha, NZ

NZ: South Island Part 2

From Wanaka we made multiple stops on our way to Fox Glacier. (Fox Glacier is stop 'F' on the map below. Then we worked our way north on the west side of the island.)

View NZ South in a full screen map

Photos below are from the Blue Pools, a few hikes and waterfalls, and the crazy palms we saw on the way to Fox Glacier.

I know this looks like a picture of random rocks, but it is actually a photo looking straight into the Blue Pools. The water is that clear in New Zealand! You can see straight to the bottom of pools, lakes and rivers!

The random views on the south island were stunning!!!

Jeff had originally booked us 3 nights in Fox Glacier so we would be sure to have 2 full days to choose from to see the glacier in case of bad weather. We only ended up staying there for 2 nights since it rained most of the time. Also, there is nothing to do in Fox Glacier besides a few hikes. We even had to bring all of our groceries with us since they only have a small convenience store. It didn’t rain our first night there, so we did a short walk in the dark to see some glow worms! There are glow worms all over NZ. They are really maggots (‘glow maggots’ just doesn't have a nice ring to it), and they basically have 2 kidneys that produce chemicals that mix to produce their bio-luminescent light. They use the light to attract insects for food. Science! Unfortunately, we didn't get any pictures in the dark of the glow worms!

The next day we walked around Lake Matheson and were able to see a little bit of Fox Glacier and the surrounding area. We also walked as close as we could get to the face of Fox Glacier. In order to walk on the glacier, you need to hire a guide and take a helicopter ride. I’m sure the helicopter ride is amazing in clear weather, but it was overcast or raining while we were in town. We still did all of the tramping (hiking) we could in town!

After our second night in Fox Glacier, we checked out of our hostel a day early and headed up to Franz Josef Glacier. Franz Josef (the town and the glacier) are bigger than Fox, but it was pouring rain, so we didn’t do much there. We did get soaked during our 1.5 hour hike to the face of Franz Josef. We were so wet when we got back to the car that we had to remove most of our clothes and drive north to the town of Greymouth in our underwear.

I found a cute hostel called ‘Noah’s Ark Backpackers’ in Greymouth. It was an old monastery that used to sit right next to a large cathedral. Each room was animal themed- we were in the Zebra room. Greymouth reminded me of a small mining town you would find in the States, and there wasn’t much to do except visit the local establishments. We went for some pre-dinner drinks at Monteith’s Brewery. I got a little carried away when we ordered a sampler. Instead of ordering the recommended 3 or 6, I ordered them all!

Jeff and I don’t drink much beer anymore (our wallet thanks us), but we had a good time and enjoyed trying craft brews again!

It was still raining on and off the next day, and we left Greymouth to head to Nelson. On the way, we stopped at the pancake rocks and blowholes. They were amazing! The Tasman Sea crashing against the coast has created some beautiful rock formations and the mist from the waves comes up from the rock, making it look like a whale’s blow hole.

We continued and made it to Nelson by early evening to see our friend Trudy. We met Trudy through friends last summer when we were in England and she was there visiting her family. She graciously hosted us for our 2 nights in Nelson and we had a blast! Jeff and I checked out Nelson in the rain one day, and Trudy took us to meet all of her friends at a party across town. We had a fabulous time; it is so wonderful to be able to stop and spend a little while in a home, not a hotel room, have a home-cooked meal, and socialize with people besides Jeff. Thank you so much Trudy- stopping in to spend time with you was definitely one of our highlights in NZ!

We left Nelson early in the morning in order to make it to Picton to catch the ferry to the North Island on Good Friday. Trudy sent us on our way with hot cross buns. They are traditionally eaten here on Good Friday (it’s an Easter thing). They were great!

We got to the ferry with plenty of time to spare, but we were a bit worried because the night before was when the North Island was due to get hit by Cyclone Cook. Lucky for us, the cyclone wasn’t as bad as predicted. The day before, when we had been in Nelson, everyone kept reminding us of the storm of ’68, when the last really bad cyclone hit and the ferry capsized during a crossing. The crossing for us ended up being windy, but smooth enough that I didn’t have to take Dramamine- a win for me!

Bow of the ferry- on to Wellington!

We had a fabulous time on the South Island, and were excited to spend a few days exploring the North Island! 

-Cara

Aotearoa

Our next destination was Aotearoa! Aotearoa is the Maori (native) word for New Zealand, meaning 'long, white cloud.' Mom, Dad, Jeff and I all flew from Melbourne into Christchurch New Zealand together. Jeff and I had the afternoon in town before we rented a car and toured NZ for 2 weeks, and Mom and Dad were meeting up with a tour group for the same amount of time. Cyclone Debbie had followed us from Australia, so we had a pretty wet start in Christchurch. We were able to walk around town a little bit, and we were so surprised to see all of the lasting earthquake damage. Most of the city was still in ruin from the 2011 earthquake. Afterwards, we grabbed dinner at an Asian-fusion place called, ‘The King of Snakes’ and said our goodbyes until we would meet up again in Auckland.

In the pouring rain, Jeff and I hopped in our rental car and drove from Christchurch to Queenstown. The roads in New Zealand are pretty decent, and way bigger than the roads in England, so we were pretty comfortable driving. We’ve gotten really good at this whole driving on the left thing! It just takes forever to get anywhere in this country because the roads are so windy and you are constantly going over mountains or through valleys. We had reserved our rental car and reserved all of our hostel accommodation a few months ago. I found it surprising that we saw a ton of backpackers hitchhiking all over the country. There were a lot of campervans. I had originally looked into booking a campervan to drive for two weeks, but the nicer ones ended up being pretty pricey. In retrospect, I’m really glad we just booked hostels (private room, shared bath for around $55 each night). All of the hostels in NZ were way better than any we stayed at in Europe. We stopped in many ‘campsites’ while driving around, and they were pretty much all backcountry camping. Many didn’t even have toilets. Especially with how wet our weather was, we definitely made the right decision.

We made it to Queenstown in time for dinner, so we walked a few blocks to Fergburger. I’m undecided if it lived up to the hype. Was it good? Yes- it was delicious! The quality of meat in New Zealand is incredible, you can taste the difference. We ordered one burger with the works- avocado, hashbrown, tomato, bacon, onion. The other was full of giant slices of pork belly and a delicious mustard sauce. Definitely mouthwatering, but it would be a close call if this burger had to go up against a 50/50 burger (half ground bacon, half ground beef) from home.

The next morning, we were up early and in the car again. We left our hostel before 7am to make the 5-6 hour drive to Milford Sound. We weren’t too optimistic about the weather since it was cloudy and rained a lot during our drive. We made multiple stops during the drive.

On the road, on the way to Milford Sound

We were incredibly lucky because by the time we arrived to Milford sound around 12:30pm the weather was gorgeous! It was easily the best picnic spot we have found on the planet.

Unless you are doing the Milford Trek (multiple day backpacking hike), there isn’t really anything to do at Milford Sound besides take a cruise or helicopter ride. Unfortunately, helicopter rides aren’t in our budget. We took a 3-hour boat cruise through the Sound- which is actually misnamed since it is a fjord. (Geology lesson: a fjord is formed by glacial carving, where a sound is formed due to river carving.) Our captain kept telling us how lucky we were with the weather and that it is usually rainy in the Sound. We just laughed it off, but realized this is true when we got foggy photos from my parents who visited just a few days behind us. I don’t really think that you can capture it in photos- but this is high on my list of the most beautiful places on Earth.

By the time we made the long drive back to Queenstown, it was about 10pm. Totally worth the long day in the car! The next morning Jeff and I split up to explore different cafes. I ended up having the most amazing breakfast at a Bespoke Kitchen, right at the bottom of the Queenstown gondola.

Best breakfast of the entire trip!

We met back up to ride the gondola and do a few luge rides before leaving Queenstown.

We had a ton of fun racing down the luge tracks!

The view from the top of the Queenstown Gondola

Our next city was Wanaka, and on the way we stopped at Wooing Tree Winery, recommended to us by a bartender in Melbourne. That area of NZ is known for Pinot Nior grapes. As I am not a fan of red, I really liked their rose, but Jeff really liked the pinot nior. It was a great pit stop on our short 2 hour ride.

We arrived to Wanaka in the early evening, and Jeff took me on a hot date! We went to see Beauty and the Beast at a really cute theatre in town. It looked like you were walking into someone’s house. We ordered lamb nachos to share at the intermission. They stopped the movie in the middle, and you went out to your assigned table to find hot food! The theatre was small and cozy- they had a bunch of random chairs and couches to sit in. A great movie experience!

The next day we hiked up to Roy’s Peak. Well, we walked almost to the top. After a few hours, we made it to the famous scenic lookout.

We liked Wanaka much more than we liked Queenstown. We found Queenstown much more touristy, and it had a ski-resort feel. Wanaka was extremely laid back and just as beautiful. New Zealand is quickly moving to the top of our favorites list!

-Cara

Map of our stops on the south island:

View NZ South in a full screen map