Saturday, December 29, 2012

Northland, New Zealand

On Christmas night, we left Los Angeles bound for New Zealand. In 2005, we traveled here with David’s mother and his brother for three weeks. We spent one week on the North Island and two on the South Island.

We fell in love with New Zealand then, and Googled how to apply for citizenship and everything.  But we came home and resumed our lives, and the memories of it faded.  It was striking enough, however, that it was the only thing on our Round the World trip that was a repeat of somewhere we’d already been.  But we knew we liked it there; we remembered that much. We had an adventurous flight, with a long layover in Fiji and a missing bag that we were reunited with in Auckland. It was a shaky beginning, but even before the plane touched down on the tarmac we remembered.
As we got below the cloud cover on our approach in Auckland, and saw how green and unspoiled the land was, it all came flooding back to us. We remembered how beautiful it is here, and how much we didn’t want to leave when we were here the  last time.  The air smells sweet, the people are lovely and friendly, and despite being halfway around the world it feels like home.  Some beautiful, idyllic version of where you want to put down roots and grow.  We’d remembered that we loved New Zealand, but that memory had become an echo of the memory. We knew we loved it, but had stopped remembering exactly why.  We regret only planning on spending two weeks here. We hope it will be enough to carry us through until our return.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Holiday Card

Normally we send out a personalized photo card for Christmas with a letter telling everyone what we’ve been up to, the trips we’ve taken in the year, and any significant life events. This year, the blog has taken the place of our Christmas card.  But we did put together a slideshow of photos of us from our trip, which we thought would be a fun way to see how all that ice cream we’ve been eating has affected us, and exactly how many bad hair days we’ve had between the two of us. 

Seriously, though, Happy Holidays to all of you who are following along.  May your journeys in the coming year be filled with beautiful views and lots of ice cream—I know ours will.

Much Love,
Lana & David

Thursday, December 20, 2012

180 Meals in South America

It’s been said that we travel on our stomachs.  We do enjoy food; we like cooking it and eating it, as well as reading and writing about it, and we love to eat local dishes when we’re traveling.  While David keeps track of what we eat, and where, in a written journal, we’ve found that pictures are much better at bringing back our memories of meals we’ve had.  On this trip, David vowed to take a picture of every single meal.  That lasted one full day before he forgot, and it wasn’t the last time, by any stretch.  However, he took pictures of most, and the ones we have are representative of the trip in general.  We also rated each picture, from 1 to 5 stars, based on how the contents tasted; not all the pretty dishes were tasty, and some of the ugly ones were fabulous.  It should be noted, however, that no ice cream or gelato is picture here. Ice cream, of course, will merit its own post.

The video above moves fairly quickly; if you want to see them at a slower pace, you can scroll through them here at your own pace. If you're curious about something we ate, leave us a comment and we'll explain what it was. Bon appetit!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Perito Moreno Glacier

Perito Moreno
If you are our friends on Facebook or Google+ (hint, hint), then you know that Lana asked for advice on what to do at the Perito Moreno glacier. We only had time to either do a catamaran sail to several glaciers on the lake, or do a Mini Trek that involved strapping on crampons and hiking across the glacier. The advice was really great, and there were strong arguments for both, but we finally went with the Mini Trek, after talking to locals and really thinking about what we wanted to do.  And we’re here to tell you that we made the right decision, hands down.  

The Mini Trek involves a drive out to the Los Glaciers National Park, an hour and a half at the viewing platforms watching the glacier from really near distance, with panoramic vistas, then a short sail across the lake to the glacier, where you strap on some crampons (actually they do it for you), and hike around the glacier with a guide for an hour and a half.  Then you take a boat back across the lake, and a bus back to El Calafate. It’s a long day, and you have to pack your own lunch, but it’s all worth it.
Glacier Blues
Just going to the viewing platforms and seeing the glacier close-up was amazing. You’re close enough to hear it creak and groan, and watch it calve.  We went there first for an hour and a half, and had lunch on the benches while we watched the face of the glacier, hoping to see it calve. Through the spring and summer the glacier is very active, so we were lucky enough to watch several pieces of it break off while we were standing there.  The sound is unique and amazing.
After lunch, we had a 20 minute boat trip across a narrow stretch of water, and we were able to see the glacier from the water, fairly closely, although not as close as the boat in this picture. We took this picture from our boat, but we got somewhat closer than what you see here—which was close enough, after watching some of the chunks crash into the water.
On the other side of the lake, we met our guide and hiked for maybe 15 minutes through a beautiful forest, onto the beach in front of the terminal moraine.  We sat for a while, talking about the glacier, and listening to it crack and groan.  While we were sitting there, David had his camera at the ready and when this happened, he was lucky enough to capture it in a series of still images, compiled here in an animated gif.
Pretty cool (pun intended)!  The waves made by the crashing ice were larger than we expected, and we later saw signs on the beach that warned against going any further due to the wakes created by the glacier calving.
After that, it was on with the crampons, and onto the ice! We got some information and instructions from our guide about how to walk in the crampons, and then they strapped us in.
Here’s a little video so you can get some flavor of what it’s like to hike on a glacier. 
Trekking on Perito Moreno Glacier in El Calafate, Argentina
Incidentally, Perito Moreno glacier is the most accessible glacier for this kind of experience. You just hike for 15 minutes or so, and then you’re on the ice. This is possible because the glacier is stable and at really low elevation, about 250 meters or 820 feet above sea level. And it’s one of the few in the world that isn’t retreating.  

It was simply amazing to see the glacier up close and personal, with all the grooves and channels of melting water. Our guide told us that the bubbles coming up in the various pools of water were air that had been trapped at the top of the glacier about 300 years ago.  That is an astounding thought.

At the end of our trek, our guide had a little surprise for us—a little drink “on the rocks,” chipped off the glacier.


For those of you who know David, you will not be surprised that his glass was full of glacier water, not whisky (the melted glacier water tasted flat, much like distilled water).


We toasted our guide, and each other, and Perito Moreno. Then it was time to clamber off the glacier, unlace the crampons and head back to El Calafate, by hike, by boat, and by bus.  After a long day and a whisky, we might have dozed on our way back to town.

More pictures below—we took so many (about 400), but we weeded them down to around 50. If you’d like to see more, click on the slideshow below. I think it’s some of our best photography.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Two Months

Two months ago, we flew from Denver to Quito, Ecuador; this is the first picture we took after landing (we are not going to inflict the picture of our airline meal on you yet).  Sometimes it feels like yesterday, other times, it’s a lifetime ago.  We struggled with Spanish more than we expected.  We took the guide books’ dire safety warnings at face value (in retrospect, Quito, like almost everywhere we’ve been, was less dangerous than most US cities).  We were excited, nervous, and drinking from a firehose of very different stimuli.  We had no idea if we had packed too much, too little, or just the wrong kind of stuff.

Since then, we’ve taken 4800 pictures, a total of 94GB.   We’ve posted about 360 of those, with another 150 queued up for posts we haven’t written yet.  We’re still struggling with Spanish (Argentinian Spanish was like a different language).  We’re still excited, but I think we’ve left nervous behind.  We chuckle at some of the tips in the guide books now—generally, the most dangerous things on the streets are the streets themselves (or lack thereof).
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We’ve slowed down a little, but need to figure out how to slow down more. The firehose is still on full blast, but we’re finding ways to sip from the side of the torrent.

For the most part, our luggage, clothes, and gear have worked quite well.  Lana’s larger bag suffered a tear, but it’s covered by warranty, and a replacement is awaiting us at our next layover.  We’ve taken advantage of a few redundant gear items (one memory card reader that failed, and one European power adapter lost), and have replaced a few stained/torn clothes.  We’ve acquired just three, non-replacement, non-consumable items: a warm alpaca wool hat for Lana (priceless on the Inca trail), a butter knife for spreading peanut butter on our cheap picnic lunches (which TSA won’t confiscate), and a pair of shoes Lana could not resist buying, but will be shipped home soon.  The only souvenirs we’re taking are small denomination bills from each country, which are much smaller, lighter, and generally cheaper than anything we could buy.  The dollar bill is from Ecuador, which uses the US dollar for currency.


While we’ve been travelling in South America for two months, it's been 120 days since we left our house in the hands of a renter. We left Colorado to start our road trip in North America 111 days ago.  We’ve been to 7 countries, eaten guinea pig, swum with penguins, and hiked on both glaciers and volcanoes.   Lana’s had two falls with skin loss and bruises, and David has had one fall, reinjuring his left knee.  We’ve both had a head cold that clung on for more than three weeks.  Despite our primitive grasp of Spanish, we’ve been treated with incredible patience and warmth by the locals in every country. 

We know we’ve only been to half the countries in South America, and there was so much of those countries that we didn’t see even half of.  We could spend another 10 months here and not see it all. But it’s time to move on now, and we’re ready to go.

This won’t be the last picture we take in South America, but it is the last place we will stay here:

Monday, December 17, 2012

Further Adventures in Buenos Aires

One of the things Lana most wanted to do in Buenos Aires was to see the El Alteneo bookstore, which is housed in a beautiful renovated theater.  It wasn’t actually far from our apartment, so we walked over on our second day in town.  It was worth it.  The building itself was magical, and the fact that it housed so many books, as well as movies and music, seemed like a perfect setting to us. The stage had been turned into a café, where you could sit and read a book and just appreciate the loveliness.  It also smelled like new books, and if you love books as much as we do, you know and love that smell.
El Ateneo Bookstore
Another day we took a self-guided walking tour of the architecture of Buenos Aires, which was interesting, but we were perplexed by how few people were out and about for a Monday. It was much later that we learned that it was, in fact, a holiday in Argentina: National Sovereignty Day.  It worked in our favor, however, because the crowded sidewalks on a normal day can be slow to navigate, but that day we had them to ourselves. 
Aside from beautiful buildings, and spring blossoms, we also saw some good examples of stencil graffiti, which is very popular in the city.  The middle one below is about the Falkland islands (roughly translated: “return the islands to us”), which Argentinians call Malvinas, and they still deeply resent British authority there.

On our way we visited the Plaza de Mayo, and toured the Casa Rosada (the pink house) which is the executive mansion of the president, though not her actual residence.  Eva Peron famously addressed the crowds from the left balcony:

The tour took us through a series of named rooms that are essentially museum exhibits, as well as some of the actual functioning rooms like the Salon Blanco, above, where legislation is formally signed.  It also took us out onto that same, left balcony, if we cared to strike an Evita pose there.  We preferred a self portrait, instead.  Most of the guards we saw were in dress uniform like the one pictured here.
The hall of moustache (this is apparently also referred to as The Hall of Busts, but I think we can agree which is more accurate):
Argentina loves its meat, and we decided Buenos Aires was a good place to get the best steak dinner we could.  We got a recommendation to try Cabana Las Lilas, and it was an excellent one.  The restaurant is located in Puerto Madero, which is a waterfront area that has been cleaned up and turned into restaurants, shops, and apartments.  We got there just before sunset (and ahead of our 8:00 pm reservation) so we wandered around a bit, people watching and enjoying the view.
We ordered medallon de lomo (tenderloin), asado de tira (rib strip), papas fritas (fries) and choclo  a la crema (creamed corn).  The tenderloin was two 8 ounce pieces, enough for the both of us, and very delicious.  The rib strip was very good, but tougher, and Lana is not a fan of big chunks of fat in meat.  But we were in no threat of running out of food to eat.  The choclo came in a copper pot, with enough creamed corn to serve a large family, and the plate of fries was also quite generous.  We had a bottle of malbec as well, but didn’t come close to finishing it.
Despite the mounds of food, we decided to have postres as well; panqueque de dulce de leche con helado de crema, and chocolate nemesis (a la mode).  We also had coffee, which came with its own sampler platter of cookies.  It was a fabulous dinner, with impeccable service—a wonderful evening, though it left us waddling a bit.

Our flight, on LAN airlines, was cancelled—probably not enough passengers—and our only options were to leave one day earlier, on the morning we’d planned to visit Uruguay, or two days later.  After looking at our schedule, we found we had some wiggle room, so we chose later, and then looked at what we could fill two more days in Buenos Aires with.  As luck would have it our apartment in Recoleta was not booked up, and the owner let us stay there two more days at half-price. Buenos Aires was our cheapest accommodations in all of Argentina and Chile. We highly recommend trying out an apartment service like It worked out great for us this time.
One of the things we hadn’t yet gotten a chance to do was to explore the San Telmo neighborhood, which is a bit grittier, but with some gems.  he extra days also provided us with the opportunity to use the Subte system a little more.  It’s reasonably clean, and easy to navigate.  While it’s not as extensive as some, it was very useful to us, and certainly very popular when we were riding it.  There are some great tile displays at each stop.


We found a small but nice used, English bookstore, Walrus Books and bought John McPhee’s Silk Parachute.  We also got dulce waffles at Waffles SUR, and we explored the antique markets in the neighborhood, including one shop that specialized in optics and scientific instruments. 
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In the end, we really appreciated the two extra days.  In addition to seeing some more of the city, we also had some more recovery time, watching a few movies, and spending our time more like we would on a weekend than as dedicated tourists. Maybe it’s because we spent so long there, but we loved Buenos Aires, and while it can be an easy place to stop over briefly on your way to somewhere else, it deserves a chance to be seen in its own right. It’s really beautiful, and there is lots to see and do. But the best things are just ordering medialunas and café con leche at a sidewalk table, walking through the markets in Recoleta and San Telmo, and most importantly, sampling some delicious helado (gelato) from various top-notch heladerias. That said, spring is probably the best time to visit; everything is blooming, and the fierce summer heat hasn’t set in.

After 10 days, the apartment was starting to feel like home. But we had a plane to catch to El Calafate, and a date with a little glacier named Perito Moreno, so we finally had to bid farewell to our home in Recoleta and Buenos Aires.