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Photo Friday – Total Solar Eclipse in Port Douglas, Australia

30 Nov

Before we even bought our first flight for this trip, we had promised my mom we’d meet her in Port Douglas, Australia for the total solar eclipse on November 14, 2012.  Honestly, I would never even have known it was happening, but the timing worked out well since we wanted to be in Australia and New Zealand for this summer.

I remember seeing one partial eclipse as a kid, but this was before the days of disposable eclipse viewing glasses so all I really remember is constructing those little cardboard viewing boxes and seeing the shadow they created.

This time around we were armed with multiple pairs of glasses, including the extra sets we used to cover our camera lenses with.  Interestingly, the only time that you don’t need the glasses is during the ‘totality’ when you can look at the ring of light directly.

It had been cloudy and raining the two days prior to the event, and we were very worried that we wouldn’t get to see it all happen.  Fortunately the morning was only partly cloudy and even though our view was obstructed sometimes, we did get to see many phases of the eclipse, and we even got a shot of the totality before the clouds took over.  The most amazing thing was the eerie silver appearance everything took on just before the drop into darkness that comes with the totality.

It was easily one of the more spectacular things we’ve seen and we’re excited that there will be one crossing over North America on August 21, 2017.  Total eclipses occur nearly every year, but are only visible within a narrow corridor, and not on every continent.  For more information check out NASA’s eclipse webpage.

The professionals get much better shots with their giant lenses and official eclipse lens covers (as opposed to say…taping a pair of cardboard eclipse glasses over the lens of your camera…not like I know anyone who did that…) but you get the idea with these.

The very beginning

Totality. This looks like it was taken in black and white, but it wasn’t.

Being Lost, And Found, In Strange Lands

22 May

Being in a foreign country, especially when you have a minimal grasp of the language, is both exciting and exhausting.  Travelling on a budget means that we pretty much never hire a tour guide, and we always go for the public transportation options.  Guidebooks are okay for getting a general idea of how to get around using public transport or our own two feet, but often the book falls far short of any real help.

Once in Valdivia, Chile we knew that we could get to a small park reserve by bus, but we just weren’t sure of the times, or where to catch it.  We asked our hostel, who told us a bus number that was totally incorrect.  We asked the tourist information office. Twice. They gave us the correct bus name, but couldn’t be specific about where it stopped.  We asked 7 different people who worked in the general area and they all pointed us in different directions.

FINALLY, the next day, we found the bus stop and, surprise surprise, it wasn’t anywhere near any of the places we’d been directed to.  Once we were on the bus we asked about specific return times since the reserve was nearly 50 kilometers outside of town.  We were told there were two return times – 2pm and 5pm.  As the reserve was the last stop, the driver assured us that this is where we needed to be to get picked up.

We were at the stop at 1:30pm, just to be safe.  We waited. And waited. And waited.  Finally, at 3, we started walking.  At 4:30 we managed to hitch a ride with a very nice couple who spoke zero English and didn’t seem to understand our Spanish very well.

Justin attempts to get us a ride on the long walk back to Valdivia…we had seen nothing but these sheep for 45 minutes.

Thankfully, they were able to drop us reasonably close to a town that had another bus that could take us back to Valdivia.  It was an adventure, to say the least.

My point is, sometimes getting around can be tough.  Every once in a while though, we encounter a stranger who helps us avoid yet another fiasco.

Today we were attempting to get to one of Istanbul’s oldest Byzantine churches, which is a bit off the regular tourist circuit.   We knew we could take a bus, but the place we had to get on was riddled with buses and we had not a clue which one we needed.  After asking about 7 different drivers, all of which just waved us towards the general direction of another dozen buses, we were approached by a man who asked (in English!) if we needed help.  We told him where we were going, and as luck would have it, he was also going that way.

Then we realized we couldn’t pay the fare in cash, we needed some sort of metro card, which we didn’t have.  The man paid our way with his own card and refused our multiple attempts at paying him back.  He then rode with us to our stop, got off with us, and led us for the 20 minute walk through winding streets to this little church.  There is no way we would have found this place on our own.

The whole time he’s helping us I was thinking, “What does he want? Is he going to charge us something for this?  Is he really dragging us to a carpet shop to try and sell us something?” but no, he was just really nice.  After getting us to the church he wished us a happy day and went on his way.

Every once in a while we are reminded that in this huge and crazy world there are genuinely kind people, and we are very thankful that we encountered one of them today.

Photo Friday – Love in Peru

11 May

Bridesmaids sprinkle flowers, and well wishes, on the head of the bride and groom.

Today we are attending the wedding of two of our most dear friends (congratulations Julie and James!) so I thought it only fitting that the photo be wedding related.  When we first started our journey we were blessed with the opportunity to attend a wedding in Ollantaytambo, Peru.  It was an incredible experience, one that we will definitely never forget!

The End Of The Earth

14 Feb

I don’t remember when we first realized that cruises to Antarctica often leave from Argentina, but as soon as it happened we started researching cost, travel dates and gear we might need to take.  We very quickly realized that the cost was out of our reach, by a lot.

Still, the trip nagged at us.  Every once in a while we’d check out the prices, always hoping something had changed, or that we would find a discount.  Much to our disappointment, nothing ever changed; if anything, the prices actually rose as we got closer to high season.

Then, one day in December while I was wasting time on the interwebs in Santiago, I stumbled across a travel forum where someone had just put up a post about their recent cruise to Antarctica.  As I read through the detailed review, one small comment caught my attention.  The reviewer stated that she was surprised to learn that there were a half-dozen passengers on the boat who had booked last-minute in Ushuaia and had paid substantially less than most people on board.

It didn’t take long before I had tracked down travel agents in Ushuaia who specialize in these last-minute deals.  The problem is that the prices listed on their websites were the same as the ones on the cruise website, so it didn’t seem that there was any discount at all.  I tried in vain to email them, but I never got a response.

We waffled back and forth for weeks about whether we would head down to Ushuaia, a place not really on our itinerary, just to check the situation out.  We hadn’t made any solid decision until very recently when we made it down to the bottom of Patagonia for our planned hiking trip through Torres Del Paine.  While there, we began meeting people who had started their journeys in Ushuaia and were travelling up Chile and Argentina in the opposite direction from us.  Every single one of them told us that all over town there are advertisements for the last-minute cruises.  From what we could tell though, the prices were still much higher than we were hoping.

A few days ago we had to make a decision – head up to Buenos Aires, or head down to Ushuaia.  We decided that if we didn’t at least check it out, we would regret the missed opportunity, so down we went.  As an aside, if you can swing it, fly there.  It took us nearly 30 hours to cover a distance that should have been traveled half that time, and it was easily the worst bus trip we’ve taken so far.

In any case, we dragged ourselves off the bus and into our hostel.  The first thing to greet us upon arrival was a series of fliers touting last-minute Antarctica cruises…for prices that had dropped considerably from the earlier reports we were getting and were even less than the 40% off deals that some companies start to advertise directly on their own websites within a few weeks of unfilled departures.

The next day, which happened to be my birthday, we handed over the credit card and BOOKED A CRUISE TO ANTARCTICA!!!!!  Best. Birthday. Ever.

We leave tomorrow!

We had to sign a waiver agreeing not to tell the other passengers how much we paid.  We’ll give more details at a later date once the trip is over and we are far, far away.

Now, those of you who know me in real life might recall that I have a huge problem with motion-sickness.  I get nauseous on hammocks, and sometimes from movies with too much action.  That is not a joke.  Tragically, to get to Antarctica you have to cross the Drake Passage, which is notorious for having some of the roughest seas in the world.  It is going to take us two days, in each direction, to get through it.

My strategy for making it through alive?  Lots, and lots of pills.  I have close to a hundred motion-sick pills of different varieties, a few sleeping pills (maybe I’ll just sleep through those days…) and the assurance from people who’ve gone before that the sea on the other side is generally calm and enjoyable.

I’ll just have to keep thinking about the icebergs.  The penguins. The whales. The incredible, majestic beauty of this frozen continent.

Feeling the Love in Ollantaytambo

13 Dec

Ollantaytambo, Peru

We intended to spend just one, or maybe two days in Ollantaytambo.

The thing about intentions is that you never really know where you might end up if you let them run off course.

On our way back from Machu Picchu we decided to stop over in this little village – there are more ruins there and I have a vague recollection about it being one of the places where the Inca really held out on a battle against the Spanish.  In any case, those ruins are included in the tourist boleto and we were hell-bent to get our money’s worth on that particular purchase.

"I can haz snuggles?"

We chose our hostel based entirely on the fact that the write-up said they had cats, and we really miss our own kitties.  It was as simple as that.

We arrived exhausted after getting up at 5 am and tromping around in the scorching heat all day, so we were a little disoriented when we walked into the common area and found a group of people popping champagne and the hostel owner scurrying around with bags of groceries and packages of flowers.

We had walked into a pre-wedding celebration.  The hostel owner’s sister was to be married the next day, and she was frantically trying to finish preparing for the festivities.

Recalling the insanity that was the night before our own wedding, we asked if there was anything we could do to help.  It didn’t take long before we found ourselves chopping carrots, peeling garlic, arranging flowers, hanging garland and moving tables and chairs around.

Flowers dry in the sun

By the next morning, we had been invited to attend the two-day celebration.  We were told to be ready to go at 9.

Good thing the groom has a sense of humor...

Apparently the bride has a long history of being late, and this day was no exception.  As we waited, we got the opportunity to get to know the groom and his family (from Germany) and receive our traditional decoration to wear to the first ceremony, which was really a two-for-one with a civil service and the traditional shaman ceremony.

Justin gets some traditional flair

To begin the traditional ceremony, the wedding party and guests paraded through town, following the Shaman who spent the better part of the 20 minute walk blowing on a conch shell to alert our presence to everyone in the area.

We wound our way through town, over a fence, into a horse meadow, past some crops, over an irrigation ditch and into a cornfield.

There are small ruins scattered all through the Sacred Valley, many of which are never seen by tourists as they are too small or are located in someone’s field.  I can’t think of a more stunning place to be married.

The ceremony was long (3 hours), and at times, intense.  We didn’t understand most of what the shaman was saying, but overall we got the gist of what was happening.

Unlike most weddings we’ve been to, the ceremony involved a lot of guest participation, especially with the parents.

At one point the men and women were separated and sent into different areas.  We gathered in our circles, the women with the bride and the men with the groom.  We were given some kind of herbs to smoke (not those kind of herbs…) and as we each took a puff, we were asked to give some words of wisdom, advice, or support to the bride and groom.  It was an interesting mix of thoughts, given in German, Spanish, and English and was mostly about marriage and love, but also about staying true to yourself and finding support when you need it.

Mom and sister give advice to the bride.

Something we found very interesting was that during the “I do” part of the ceremony, the bride and groom told each other not only what they liked about their partner, but also what they didn’t like.  People we have spoken to about this ceremony are often confused as to why we would be so drawn to this part since the general consensus seems to be that you shouldn’t be telling your loved one what you don’t like about them, especially at your wedding.

Let’s be real here.  People don’t typically love everything about their partners.  The thing about marriage is that if you go into it thinking everything is going to be perfect and that love conquers all, well, you’re in for a hell of a surprise.  Marriage is a partnership and, like all partnerships, there will be times when the partners don’t agree.  Love, in and of itself, doesn’t solve problems.  People solve problems.  What drew me to that portion in the ceremony was the fact that it was so honest.  They were saying that they loved each other for all the ways that the other person is so wonderful AND that they loved each other in spite of whatever imperfections they might have.   They were really committing, openly and clearly, to their partner as a whole person.

Near then end of the ceremony a young girl came running up with a plastic bag filled with fresh milk.  The parents of both the bride and the groom took turns tossing cups of wine, and this milk, to the four directions.  Afterwards, the bride and groom took turns pouring the rest of the wine and each guest drank from the same cup.

Justin partakes of some ceremonial wine

After it was all said and done, we headed back to the hostel for the first night of the fiesta and a huge homemade meal.

The next day was the traditional Christian ceremony and large reception.  It was held a few kilometers outside of town at Tulupa, a restaurant in yet another stunning little valley.

Tunupa Restaurant in the Sacred Valley

The ceremony was lovely, the food was excellent, and the pisco never stopped flowing.

Like most events where people have been drinking and dancing for 6+ hours, there came a point when the crowd started to get tired and began to take a break from the dancing.  There is a way to stop this.  It’s called “Crazy Hour” and it involves scary clowns with balloons, masks, bizarre hats, confetti, foam (yes, foam) and a serious dose of dance music.  Within seconds everyone, and I mean EVERYONE was back on the floor whooping it back up.  Amazing.

Exhausted, happy, and very drunk we finally piled into a minivan, with the groom’s family and friends, to be carted home sometime in the wee hours of the morning.   The journey may or may not have included rambunctious group singing of various American rock classics, and a rousing chorus of Mein Hut Der Hat Drei Ecken…the only German song I know all the words to.

When we started out on our adventure around the globe we left our itinerary wide open, knowing that we wanted to be available to take advantage of whatever the universe might present for us…for example, a random invite to an incredible wedding.

For more pictures, check out the slide show:

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