One of my favorite things to do in a country is drive. Of course, I love trains as well, But, driving allows you to stop at will. You see things that are not in any guide books, or posted on line. You get the authentic feel of a country, catch unexpected views, stop at random roadside stands, and see everyday life in towns.
Since as this blog posts, I am on the road again – this time in Spain, I decided to share some of my favorite random photos from driving in Peru. Mostly in the Sacred Valley.
While it is true I could not stop calling them “crop circles” for the entirety of the trip – they are actually more oval and in truth, called The Ruins of Moray. Yet mystery surrounds them nonetheless. Theories range from experimental farming by the Incans, to outdoor theatre, to landing pad for aliens. All I really know is, we liked them…whatever their purpose. But, I have to say, I am leaning towards alien landing site because you can never have too many alien theories.
The town of Chinchero – we were going to skip it. We had such an ambitious schedule of sightseeing on the day we drove near Chinchero, we were going to go on by. However, our cab driver, Juan – who was taking us from Cusco to Oyantaytambo – encouraged us to make a stop. He said the church is unique, we did not want miss it. Ok, we have seen alot of churches in our day and were dubious about the claim. However, we hate to think we missed something special. So…we stopped.
To get to the church involved a walk up hill which, after hiking two ruins already that day, did not thrill the Teens. But we pressed on up the colorful, quaint streets until we reached the church yard. The church was an old village church – And what do you know, the man knows his country! It goes down in my book as not only one of the most beautiful churches I have seen, but also as one of my favorite places in Peru.
Honestly, I am not sure I captured it in pictures – but I tried.
Cusco is a stunning city and as it happens, the perfect jump off point for our quest to Machu Picchu! We spent days there both coming and going. In that time we were able to learn some very pertinent pieces of information about Cusco and Peru.
Like, for instance, Peruvian cats are pretty much the same as cats everywhere as in “Lady, hurry up and take my picture and move on down the &$# road so I can get on with what’s really important… my nap time.
Queen of the market.
As the ever present South American stray dogs, take whatever they can get and sleep wherever they can…
A rest between trash pic ups…
The merchants work and sell in style and technicolor…
Teen became a Chincha drink connoisseur … I think hope the kind without alcohol…
The churches were grand and beautiful so as not to be outdone by the majestic surrounding mountains..
Santa Monica Monastery
Compania de Jesus
Side Photography Note: There was a big sign in the way, preventing me from taking this photo symmetrically. Teen pointed out later, the sign said “no foto”.
I like my Jesus in a gold sequined loin cloth…
And unless you want to be boosted for soles for services rendered – as in payment for letting you take their photo with the baby Llamas…
Seriously? I only bribe my kids and pets to pose for me…
Take the photo from the back…
Be prepared to walk, alot…
Catch stunning views everywhere you go…
Oh – and very important! If you are going to seek out the not to miss, but hard to find 12 sided stone, watch out for the “No Tocar” Lady. No matter the time of day or night, the minute you get anywhere near the ancient stone, she will leap out of the shadows proclaiming her battle cry of “No Touching!!!!”. Yeah, well, can’t blame a tourist teen for trying…
On the chance of any Incan God repercussions, for my non-payment of the Llama girls, unauthorized photos, and Teens aggressive attempts to spurn No Tocar Lady, we thought it best to move on…
In total, our time in Bogota, Colombia amounted to not much more than a long layover on our way to Lima, Peru. However, we are always prepared to make the most of our time – even when it is limited. In such cases, it is necessary to become street walkers.
Not the kind that make money (although we could have used the extra pesos), but the kind that leave the hotel and don’t return until the “route” is done – hitting all the necessary, not to miss, points of interest.
And while it is true, I like to make the teens hang out in doorways…
For the most part, we keep on the move in order to see all we can in our short time.
First stop, Plaza Bolivar
And because pigeons everywhere seem to have an insatiable desire for corn (or, well, anything) …
Pigeon feeding in the Plaza
Next stop, Senora del Carmen church (or as we came to call it “The Candy Stripe Church”). Sometimes, I get sidetracked enjoying the people in a city – like this adorable Mom and daughter in matching pink animal print…
Senora del Carmen Church
But, I eventually get back with the program and on with the route.
Candy stripe church ceiling.
We also wandered past the President’s house where they were getting ready for…something – no one seemed to know what exactly, including the police officers on duty. We stood around waiting with the rest of the mystified crowd for a while but eventually decided to press on.
We did not want to be too late to go through the gold museum – the Museo International de la Esmeralda. As Teen put it – he did not want to miss a chance to be surrounded by all that wealth.
And with some last appreciation of the architecture.Some hanging with the locals…
And a snack…We were back at our hotel to enjoy the view of the rooftops before flying to Lima the next day.
There comes a moment in every native Californian’s life when getting to a beach is of great rejuvenating import. Having relocated to the midwest several years ago, times arise when being on a coast line, if only for a few days, is desperately essential.
Just by luck, at the moment of my urgent need to get sand in my luggage, I happened to be traveling through LAX on a trip. So, at long last, I found myself in my old stomping ground of Marina del Rey for a precious few days to soak up all the beach time possible.
Marina del Rey, always delivers – with it’s long pier…
Steady, straight coast line…
Plus, just a short jaunt away, is Santa Monica Beach and boardwalk…
And after three days, I was not even close to having my fill…
So, I will be back, soon … probably with that sand still in my luggage.
We now interrupt our regularly scheduled program to bring you another episode of Teen Talk. I assure you, everything you are about to see is real and unedited. Please do not try this at home…Unless you can fold yourself up like a frog.
One day, Teen cleaned out his chop shop…
Teen: “Mom, I traded that Zebra dirt bike I could never get to run for one that does!”
Mom: “Really? (I was perfectly content with the non-running model) Does the new one go very fast?”
We now interrupt our regularly scheduled program to bring you another episode of Teen Talk. I assure you, everything you are about to hear is real and unedited. Please, do not try this at home. Unless you are Euell Gibbons.
One day, Teen confronted the Food Nazi (aka Mom).
Mom: “Did I tell you I am on the food committee for the post prom party?”
Mom: “What? I can make good snacks.”
Mom: “I can! I like sweets just as much as the next guy…”
Teen: “Whoa, Whoa, Whoa…let me stop you right there before you say something we’ll both be sorry for later.”
I was vastly appreciative to my niece for choosing to have her wedding in Monterey, California.
Mr. and Mrs!
While I doubt my wishes were high on her list in decision making, I was nonetheless both thrilled to able to share this day with her and enjoy such a picturesque place. While this was not my first time in Monterey (Mini Break in Monterey), it was my first time in the fall and with my family. We were blessed with the perfect Monterey weekend.
The Foggy Mornings
Never pass up a weekend in Seaside Northern Californa!
We now interrupt our regularly scheduled program to bring you another episode of Teen Talk. I assure you, everything you are about to hear is real and unedited. Please, do not try this at home. Unless you are fond of servitude.
One day, Teen decided to establish his place in the Familial Hierarchy.
Mom: “Teen, are you working this weekend?”
Teen: “Yes, all day Saturday. Do you know if my work clothes have gone through the laundry yet?”
Mom: “I’m not sure, we should check when we get home tonight.”
Mom: “Send me a text message as a reminder. Otherwise, I am afraid, by the time we get home later, we will forget to check.”
Text from Teen:Dear slave,
Make sure to wash and iron my good clothes for my upcoming business affairs.
We weren’t supposed to stay there, in fact we considered driving right on by and not even stopping. However, we hate to feel like we might have missed something (like a talking cross that doesn’t talk, or incidentally – sing!). So, into the town of Bacalar we went. The town is small, and still relatively untouched by the tourism hordes. In fact, it reminded me of the quiet, bohemian feel of Playa Del Carmen long before the overflow from Cancun turned it into a perpetual spring break.
Maybe we were lucky, maybe it was kismet or maybe we simply paid enough travel dues (like flying all the way to Ecuador next to “Forrest Gump” , getting his views on the countries’ high altitude, “lawdy, lawdy it’s high up in there”) – whatever the reason, we found ourselves outside this gate…
Like a Mexican gated community.
Our tentative knocks on the gate were greeted by a young women’s head squeezing out of the smallest crack in the gate opening. We explained to her head that we were looking for a room for the night. We must have looked normal and harmless enough, with one teen’s face stuck to the screen of his phone, and the other scarfing Mexican Doritos and thus we were allowed into the secret chamber. As soon as we walked in, the reason for the secretive nature became clear…
Who wouldn’t want to guard this?
The hotel had 5 cabana type rooms, right on the lagoon, nestled in palm trees. Lucky for us, one of the reservations had decided not to show up and we were more than happy to take their place!
A room with a view.
We didn’t waste any time jumping into the that beautiful jewel green water…
Or making use of the hammocks…
Or digging our toes into that soft (albeit a little creepy in that soft squishy, ‘what exactly is that stuff’ kind of way) spa like mud/sand lagoon bottom.
Or lounging and enjoying meals in the open air lobby…
Or hanging out on the jungle encased swing set…
But, eventually we had to say goodbye and move on down the road…
I had to keep reminding myself we were in search of a “Talking Cross” and not a “Singing Cross.” As much as I wanted to be in a Disney movie, the legend only accounted for a cross that had talked (although, seriously, I think the big bucks would have been to go with a cross that could belt one out). Anyway, as the legend goes…
…in 1849, when the War of the Castes turned against them, the Maya of the northern Yucatan Peninsula made their way to Carrillo Puerto seeking refuge. Regrouping, they were ready to sally forth again in 1850 when a ‘miracle’ occurred. A wooden cross erected at a cenote on the western edge of the town began to talk – exhorting the Maya to continue the struggle against the Spanish and promising victory (bold cross or ventriloquist?). The oracle guided the Maya in battle for more than eight years, until their great victory, conquering the fortress at Bacalar. Carrillo Puerto today remains a center of Maya pride – as a symbol of the Maya people’s struggle against inequality and injustice.*
On this particular day of driving from Bacalar to Playa Del Carmen in the state of Quintana Roo in Mexico, we found ourselves in the vicinity of the town of Felipe Carrillo Puerto. It was decided we could not move forward until we had found and seen this talking cross (secretly, I was still hoping for a Let It Go reprise).
We, duh, went to the main church square in town – seemed like the logical place to find a revered cross.
I don’t see any inanimate objects here that look loquacious…?
But no luck. Further inquiries with the very kind overseer at the old church led us next to a location a few blocks away – down a deserted road on the edge of town…
…where we found the talking cross housed in an old thatch roofed building, with some – while not so illustrious – but very attentive caretakers:
No shoes allowed, no shirts required.
No shoes were allowed worn inside the premises, and apparently one of the caretakers felt this translated to shirts as well. Anyway, at long last, we were finally able to view the Talking Cross.
Teen is enthralled…with the thought of getting an actual coke soon.
It’s back there behind all the garlands, liter coke bottles filled with water and other various offerings – the reason for which our guide was not really able to explain to us (the cross might get thirsty if it decides to talk again…?)
It did not talk for us (nor did it sing) – but I thought I might have heard a few bars being hummed as we left the premises…or, that might have been Teen doing his best ventriloquist imitation.
We briefly wondered if we had made a mistake as we watched the large tour bus, bound for Agua Azul, pull out of our hotel parking lot in Palenque, Mexico. We, my husband, two teenage sons and I, had decided instead to go on a quest in search of a different set of waterfalls that day – Roberto Barrios Falls in the small town of (you guessed it) Roberto Barrios. We were excited about the prospect even though the town of Roberto Barrios was not on any map we could find, the Cascades de Roberto Barrios were not listed in any guide books or brochures, and other than some random blog posts and a few references on Trip Advisor, the falls seemed to be a bit of a hidden secret (which meant we absolutely had to find them!).
Here is what we did know:
If we drove 7 km on the road towards Agua Azul there would be a right turn onto a “paved road” and 14 km later we should arrive in the town of Roberto Barrios.
2. Once in the town, we needed to find the “central park”. The central park turned out to be more of a large grassy area with a neat old church.
3. We would know we were in the right spot when local children approached us to be our guide to the waterfalls for 20 pesos (about $1.25) per person.
With that limited amount of information, we actually made it to our destination!
Since there was no actual indication of where the falls were, we decided to take up the offer of a guide. Our guide was a teenage boy named Rafael. He spoke only Spanish. As we walked down the dirt path into the jungle he explained that the people of the town owned and operated the falls together. Tourists had only started coming there in the last 4 years but (unfortunately in a way) interest seemed to be growing.
After a relatively short walk down a jungle path,
we came upon the first of the several waterfalls and it took our breath away!
At Rafael’s suggestion, we continued on the path to the lowest of multiple falls and began our exploration there.
We moved up the falls both by walking the path or (in the teens case) climbing up through the rocks and falls to get to the next level up – Going behind waterfalls into small caves to see bats and swimming in the bigger pools.
At one of the upper level pools, there were some natural diving boards to jump off of.
At every turn there was another beautiful vista.
All of water was a clear sea green, warmed by the sun.
We were loath to leave, but as we made the walk back we purchased from local merchants some sliced mango (the most amazing ever, according to Teen).
… fresh off the tree coconut water.
And homemade fried plantains.
Side note: Afraid to eat homemade food in Mexico? GOOD – that means more for me. The best food I have had in Mexico has been at the hands of locals, cooking right on the street or out of their own kitchens and no “Montezuma’s revenge.”
Teen says, in actuality, bad WiFi in Mexico is Montezuma’s true revenge.
As we were leaving, the local boys were reclaiming their watering hole. I hope it stays that way.
How do you get lost when a volcano is your navigating landmark? Apparently, it is not as difficult as one would think.
We are big believers in seeing a country by driving a car on your own (or taking a train). There are so many things missed when flying over, or being escorted by a tour. We also bow down at the alter of the GPS (Costa Rica: No Signs Allowed). However, due to my limited Spanish (yes, the GPS was all in Espanol!), the sparce map programming for Ecuador, or just (I fear) my mental capacities – the GPS rented from the car rental company in Cuenca, Ecuador was not as much help to us as expected.
Truth be told, we saw much more of the country than originally planned (much, much more)on our drive along Avenue of the Volcanoes from Cuenca to Banos to Quito. Lucky for us, there were only a few roads that take you through those mountains (and we found them all), or we would probably still be searching for a way out…
We did manage to locate the Ingaperca Inca Ruins between Cuenca and Banos:
And see some colorful things along the way:
Who needs billboards when there is the side of a house to paint.
We kept driving when it was raining:
I think we go this way…
And took random breaks when it wasn’t.
Anyone for a game of hoops?
Sometimes we drove by the view,
No shortage of cows in Ecuador.
And sometimes, we got out of the car to take in the view:
I think it is too far to jump.
And sometimes, we just followed the truck in front of us:
Goin’ my way?
Driving though the rural and mountainous parts of Ecuador, we came away with two impressions: Ecuador is a vastly beautiful country, and those volcanoes may be big, but they do not a navigational tool make.
In the end, we made it to all of our planned destinations…and a few unplanned ones as well.
It is pretty much impossible to go to Ecuador and not jump or repel off of something (or so I was told). We chose to head to the town of Banos – right at the edge of the Amazon Basin – to seek out our eco adventures. And here is where I found myself thinking, I am either the coolest parent in the world…or the most negligent – maybe, they go hand in hand. But I digress.
First, Banos. A cute little town nestled in a pocket of the Volcano Avenue.
For the obvious reasons, it is popular with the back packer set as there is no shortage of adventures and beautiful vistas to be found. The town itself has the same colorful attributes found in other parts of Ecuador:
If not a little rustic (in a good way!)
But, what we really came for was the adventures and we were not disappointed.
Unlike our usual, we (and when I say “we”, I mean my husband) did not do much research as to which company to use. Something we learned during our time in Ecuador is that Ecuadorians are candidly straight forward. Generally, what you see is what you get, no hidden agenda or secret costs or over exaggerated offers. So, we drove into town and went to the first company we came to for our initial adventure:
No way, not biking! We are just not ambitious enough for biking up the mountain! (I just like the picture)
Our first excursion was Jeep on and off-roading. It turned out to be a great way to see the mountains, canyon,waterfalls and almost get killed trying to drive a stick shift up hills and through tunnels (my non-licensed teens may or may not have taken turns driving…but you didn’t hear it from me).
No, I would never let my kid ride on top of the car…never.
Next up – Zip Lining across a 600 foot deep canyon. Again, we just drove along the mountain edge until we came to a Canyon that looked beautiful and walked right into the Zip Line office to sign up. And here I am going to give Canopy Agoyan a shout out because they were fun, safe and I kid you not, $15 per person to Zip line across the canyon and back.
The main attraction on this zip line was the exhilarating fly over a deep canyon and view of the waterfall pouring into the river at the canyon basin. We were able to choose how we zipped across, and we chose to fly!
But all involved agreed, the bungee jumping was hands down the coup d’etat – or, you know, the most fun! I myself did NOT jump (how stupid do you think I am). No, I had my kids do it. I stood on the bridge across from the jumping bridge to video and dodge traffic – like this guy who came tearing across the bridge (well, not quite tearing, but I did have to get out of the way…)
It was at this moment, as I was taking video (by request) that the thought from the beginning of this article occurred to me – either I am either the coolest parent in the world for letting my kids dive head first off a bridge over a rocky river…or the most irresponsible ever (jury is still deliberating).
But, I did not have much time to contemplate because I had to attend to the task at hand…video taping and making permanent record of my parental negligence.
After the first jump facing forward, both Teen1 and Teen2 agreed it was “so fun” they needed to jump again… this time backwards. Lucky for them, the second jump came at a discounted rate and I am never one to pass up a deal.
It wasn’t until after the event Teen1 and Teen2 pointed out to me on the video(see below) how the handler flipped their feet up and out as they jumped to insure they would clear the bridge (and that they did not try to change their minds)…
Photos just did not do justice – so here goes – a sampling as it were. One jump forward (Teen1) and one jump backward (Teen2). And yes, that is me screaming in the background:
You game? Or rather, do you have any kids you want to throw off a bridge?
Did I mention I absolutely loved Cuenca, Ecuador? Of all the cities traveled to, Cuenca would rate right up there with the best. It is beautiful in the way it is historically preserved, clean and colorful. The people are relaxed and engaging. The weather, perfect! But, I have to say, my favorite aspect of Cuenca was rounding a corner, or climbing some steps and randomly seeing things like this:
Can someone just paint me into this mural?
Even just the everyday life of the city was filled with colors.
The Flower Market: How do I get these home on the plane?
Outside Municipality Church.
Rooftops of Cuenca in repair – feels like home.
Parque Calderon: The place to chill.
I am sure Teen would say his best moments in Cuenca happened when he was mobbed by a group of school girls wanting to take photos with him. This went on until the teacher chaperone shooed them on to their destination.
Yeah, he was all too happy to oblige…
And I am sure my husbands best moment was meeting the Shaman women in the meat market doing “cleansings” on children and then (through his perfect Spanish which can be a blessing, or in this case, a curse) discovering that they do cleansings on adults as well. He was way too happy to sign me up- as I clearly needed the most cleansing!
Apparently, the ritual process included being smothered and beat with herbs, getting spit on, and a bottle of “magic juice” to-go (re-used plastic bottle filled with a strange pinkish liquid that smelled like dirt) . The little Ecuadorian kids did not seem to mind…
All cleansed and good to go!
But, I think my cleansing was a little more involved:
What did I ever do to deserve this…
I can’t breath…no, really, I can’t breath.
And the cleansing wasn’t over until the Shaman Lady spit:
Yep, that just happened… (thank you, Teen, for capturing this precious moment)
Teen2’s best moment was NOT necessarily eating Cuy (that’s Guinea Pig for you English speaking folks). He objected to the bits of fur still attached, the general lack of any meat, and having to look at an animals teeth on his plate:
Tastes like chicken…
My cute friend whose Mom whipped up these delicious pets for us…
I would go back to Cuenca again – mobbing, spitting and all – in a heartbeat. As for the Cuy? Well, been there done that.
Oh, and if you are wondering if my cleansing worked – all I can say is, I have not been sick yet this winter, even with the pestilence ranging all around me and I can suddenly leap tall buildings in a single bound (ok, not really on that last part, but I do feel pretty good…so who knows)!
Were the first words we heard from fellow passenger on our flight to Quito, Ecuador -(picture Forrest Gump meets Yosemite Sam). Unfortunately, having to answer “No” to this question opened us up to a complete narrative including statements such as “Lordy, Lordy it’s high up in there” (the high altitude?). Actually, only my husband was treated to the full show (’cause he is too polite), as Teen1, Teen2 and I shrunk into the sanctuary of our devices, picking up only enough one liners from our new friend to be annoying later on.
Starting out the trip under such auspicious beginnings could only mean one thing…of course, a completely memorable travel experience.
Initially the main goal in going to Ecuador was to, duh, stand on the equator(and to go anywhere warm). However, in the very first moments in Quito, we fell in love with the country, its people, its mountains, its cities, and its cheap gas!
QUITO – THE CITY
QUITO – THE PLAZAS
Plaza San Francisco
Plaza Santo Domingo
Plaza 24 de Mayo
PEOPLE WATCHING IN QUITO
We sat on the convent steps and rested with this colorful Ecuadorian woman as she sold her fruit. I don’t think we helped her sales.
QUITO – THE REAL EQUATOR
Apparently, the original monument, Mitad del Mundo (“middle of the earth”), is not actually in the middle of the earth, but rather 600 feet away from 00 coordinates – who knew? The French scientists, who calculated the original coordinates, did a pretty good job in the 1700’s given the tools of the time. But like indoor plumbing and shows with zombies, GPS is better.
We tried all the “tricks” at the equator – walking the line with eyes closed (harder than you think) to feel a magnetic pull between hemispheres, balancing the egg on a nail, which is supposed to be easier at 00 (only Teen2 felt the magic), and watching a demonstration of water swirling different directions in the Northern and Southern hemisphere. Truth or trick? I have no idea, but we had fun trying to figure it out!
The Equator Water Myth:
Good thing they did not ask me to say the alphabet backwards, too!
The symbol of the city – Virges del Panecillo
She overlooks the city from atop her hill and can be seen from almost anywhere in Quito.
We were able to ditch Forrest Gump at the airport before he made good on his offer to show us around. But he was right about one thing… Lordy, Lordy, it is high up in there!