Re-entry… by: Anik

We’ve come back to the U.S. feeling a bit tenderized.  We’re noticing that we’re moving at a different pace than those around us.  We came back to our nice house and everything in it, and all we wanted to do was take off and go sleep in our tent for a few days.

The tent therapy, combined with skiing and mountain biking helped quite a bit, but I still find myself sitting there, thinking of nothing but the present minute, and missing my kids when they’re at school.

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I’ve found myself wondering about stuff that might sound like the makings of an acid trip…like why we need a box of 500 q-tips, why we have so much cinnamon in our cupboard, why we have so many hot water taps, why cappuccinos cost $4.00, what defines balance, and why we allow stress to saturate us like it does.

I’m not sure how this has changed us, but it has, and for now we’re a bit stuck between two very different worlds.

How does one conclude a blog like this?  Well, the efficient side of me goes with a summarized comparison.

The tougher, character building stuff that makes for stories…

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Altitude sickness, parasites, sharks, tsunami warnings, flat tires, Dengue fever, sunburns, surfboard fin impalements, mosquitos, gnats, sand fleas, policia, bad food, light beer, water leaks in the van, clogged drains, van suspension breakage, bad hair job by Colombian drag queen, really bad coffee, nearly losing surfboard to the wind of the Sechura desert, camp stove explosion at 15,000 ft., weekly diarrhea, smashed in Thule, lonely planet’s exaggerated safety warnings, stolen shoes, losing our kids in Ecuador, insane trucks and buses, washed out roads, ant infestation, car sickness, Colombian tolls, cold showers, extreme heat…

The stuff to be spoiled by…

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Colombian galletas con pepitas, really good coffee, amazing seafood, high altitude wonders, great steak, fascinating people, $3.00 shoes, the best ever nutella ice cream, snorkeling with sharks, sea lions, rays and turtles, crazy good fruit and nuts, cheap gas, life saving ponchos, mosquito netting, arepas, ceviche, 3.5 km left break waves, queso fresco, good books, acclimating, moto-taxis, creative cooking, hot springs, parasite meds, waterfall repelling, rock climbing, good rum, tejas chocolates, fresh juices, the Andes, city maps togo, probiotics, inca tombs and turquoise water.

We watched our kids be excited about simple things like grocery shopping, AC, elevators, kittens, the ocean, pretzels, wifi, sand castles, dank rivers, homemade rafts, seaglass, chess, pelicans, bubaloo gum, bom bon bum lollipops, and donkeys.

We’ve co-existed and spent countless hours together over the years.  How is it that it feels like we’ve just recently gotten to know each other?

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I’m grateful to have had opportunity to, for the first time in my life, write, simply for the sake of writing.

In concluding our blog, I’m humbled and speechless.

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Lima by: Anik

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We returned to San Bartalo to hit the surf, as we’d promised ourselves but we spent our time in a phone cabina, paying for calling minutes to the port of Lima, to confirm everything surrounding the safe return of our van.

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Lima, by far has been our favorite big South American city.  I suppose, this could have something to do with the fact that our expectations were poor.  We’d heard that Lima was dangerous, polluted, dirty, and sketchy.  Marco’s present to Simon was the cake, which had to be perfect and required running around all over the city to find the chocolate beauty.  As we headed back to our hotel, with the cake in our hands, Marco declared that the procuring to this cake “was a huge success!”.


To celebrate Simon’s birthday, we decided to stay in a nice hotel, within walking distance to the best food we’ve had in four months.  We celebrated his turning 11 birthday with some shopping, slow eating, and a subtitled showing of “Godzilla”.

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We also spent a lot of time texting, waiting for the arrival of our new sweet nephew, Colin Simon Gilles, who now proudly shares a birthday with Simon.


Peruvians are very much foodies.  They love to cook it, talk about it, eat it, and write about it.  Think about this: a butternut squash bisque with duck confit and roasted pistachios….YES!!!  Or, a salad with fresh figs, smoky cheese, chanterelle mushrooms, raspberries, and a heavenly dressing, or arroz con marisco with some sort of creamy brandied sauce, or coca leaf bread with a brown sugar cream butter, or homemade bubblegum marshmallows, or spicy ceviche that throws all other ceviches under the bus!!!  I could go on but if I do, I might never leave.


We spent a lot of time dealing with the red tape to ship our van back.  This, I attempted to take as a gift of exercising patience while trying not to clench my teeth and get mad at the fact that we waited for hours for simple things like receipts and money transfers.  We tried to smile and say gracias in response to all the “yes, but maybe later”.

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We hope that our few days in Lima helped with the upcoming transition back to the normal world.  After four months of being focused on things like clean water, access to toilet paper, securing van sleeping spots, and everything else Colombian, Ecuadorian, and Peruvian, we’re now feeling like we live in a different sort of bubble.


Nazca and Paracas by: Anik


We left Huacachina with sand in every orifice and happy to be alive.  It was mother’s day (dia de la madre) and, after cooking in the van for several days, we were looking forward to a non Peruvian, exquisite lunch.

We found Restaurant Venezia, an Italian, family run place with real tablecloths, menus, and nice bathrooms.  We sat down and Simon said “Happy mother’s day!  This is a really fancy place!”.  Really fancy it wasn’t, but delicious it was!  We gorged on pasta, steak, wine, bread, and sauces that might rival our friend, Mick’s much missed sauces.  To top it all off, there was a Tejas shop next door, everyone was slightly impatient but I didn’t care, I took my sweet time picking out my tejas!

Two hours later, we arrived in the town of Nazca.  I think we’re all getting a bit burned out on the frequent wheeling and dealing process of finding appropriate places to park and camp.  The first place we checked out, luckily had everything we needed…a flat camping spot across the street from the Nazca airport, in the middle of a weird courtyard that felt like a bit of an outdoor “The Shinning” experiment.  We were thrilled.


As I was making grilled cheese and veggies, in a seemingly, synchronized, pre meditated fashion, the stove stopped working and we ran out of water.  The kids ate half warmed cheese sandwiches and we all huddled around on the hard plastic chairs by the pool, where the wifi was best. We streamed “Romancing the Stone” and laughed at the movie’s Colombian stereotypes, shared by most Americans.

The next morning, when the stove miraculously started working again, I knew it was gonna be a great day!

We were picked up by a grumpy guy and and driven 2 minutes away, to the small airport of Nazca.  After being weighed (to make sure of what exactly?).   We got on the 6 seater, Sesna U-206, ready to get a first hand view of the Nazca lines.

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The 35 minute, slightly nauseating flight had us all glued to the windows, puzzled by the mysterious pre-inca symbols which were as big as 300 meters.

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Marco loved the spider symbol because Indianna Jones flies over it in the third movie.

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Darin kept being reminded of the Galapagos Islands’ Nazca Boobies, with their terrestrial nesting and their geometric spraying of urea.  Ah, now we get it!  They’re not called Nazca Boobies because they’re originally from the Nazca region!  It’s that their poo spray pattern looks like Nazca lines!

I always knew this trip would bring us insight.

We headed back up north and spontaneously chose Reserva Nacional de Paracas as our home for the next few days.  We pulled into the park, and found ourselves in what would be in our top 3 favorite camping spots in four months.  The desert here was warmed by its’ colors and kissed by the sun.








The water was beautiful and shared by only a few fisherman with small nets, fishing for what we think were clams (all in their underwear) and pelicans skimming the water and flying in formation.  We spend three days cooking, exploring the beaches, and taking in what we could of our last few moments of South American solitude.


More Peruvian Surprises!


In the sand dunes of Huacachina

In the sand dunes of Huacachina

Before I start sharing the details of our return to the desert, I can’t write another word before I spend some time on “Tejas”.

Tejas are a Peruvian, handmade confection, specific to the region of Ica through Nazca.  I do a pretty good job at staying away from sweets but chocolate’s always been my achilles heel.  Tejas would, without a doubt convert me into an overweight diabetic with chocolate stained shirts.  They remind me of something like a “turtle”.  You know, the kind of chocolates your grandma pulled out of the box around the holidays and passed around in the flimsy plastic tray?

Well, Tejas, are similar to turtles but multiplied by 500X deliciousness.  They’re covered in chocolate, stuffed with some sort of caramel-like middle with nuts and/or dried fruit.  They come individually paper wrapped and when you put them in your mouth, your eyes roll backwards and you forget everything else you’ve ever tasted.  I’ve developed an addiction…I seem to be planning my meals around my next Teja.  It’s truly crazy goodness and that’s all I’ve got to say about that.


The Peruvian coast seems like endless desert, mountains of sand, amazing food, burn piles, abandoned buildings spray painted with political endorsements, and rocks. Feeling our reptile parts drying out,  we looked forward to the much talked about desert oasis of Huacachina.


The regions of Ica and Huacachina are known to produce Peru’s best wines.  As we came into Ica, we took an unplanned left turn onto a torn up road displaying a sign which read “Bodega Tacama”.  We drove about ten minutes through small villages on more torn up dirt road, we made another turn, landscaped with heaps of garbage being eaten by dogs, all with the beautiful vineyard smiling at us from the horizon.


Despite our Griswald appearance, the large metal gates were opened and after taking all of our passport info, we were allowed in.  The winery was beautiful in a very warped way.  On the outside of the gated, secured compound were bamboo and straw shacks smaller than our van, with people non verbally saying “I know what you’re up to, you wine sampler!”.


We sipped our wine while the kids bounced on the trampoline and played at the very nice playground.  Apparently happy, occupied kids make for parents likely to buy more wine.  It’s rare in Peru to see such great internal marketing.


We arrived in Huacachina and the only words available were “what?!”, “NO!?”, “for real!?”, and “come on?!”.  As we took in the mountains of sand and the people on snowboards riding down them, the sunset played roulette with the warmth of it’s sand reflected colors.


Once again, I kept getting accusing “free loader” looks while trying to find a spot for our van.  Apparently word gets around quite quickly in a town of 200.

A nice man, by the name of Pablo, finagled us a spot next to a pile of bricks, with a backyard of giant dune, and access to a bathroom with a cold shower.  Pablo, whom we eventually fed and who, on mother’s day brought his wife and son to see the van, procured this free spot for us in return for booking a dune buggy tour through him.


Peru is so forgiving and lax on rules, like playing loud, blaring music until 5am every night, or like, when the kids built a fire on the sidewalk next to our van and smoked out the whole town and nobody came to investigate in any way.


We cooked some great meals, ate on the sidewalk, got smoke inhalation, and sand boarded on the enormous dunes.  I kept thinking of my snowboarding friends and how this, the opposite of snow would make for a ripping good time.

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On our last morning, our dune buggy driver pulled up to pick us up.  I started having doubts when he took the hats off our heads, told us to get rid of the water bottle, and singed our seat belts so tight that I regretted the previous night’s Tejas fest.

Within the first 5 minutes of our 2 hour tour, I was almost fighting back tears and clenching my teeth so hard, they’re still sore.  It was ridiculous!  I was screaming my head off, thinking “great!  4 months of close encounters and  this is how we die?!”.  Luckily, he stopped a few times and let us sand board down some gorgeous dunes, which Darin and I tried to emphasize how much we liked in order to kill more time off of our 2 hour tour.  The tour was climaxed when Darin asked him if he’d ever flipped the thing and the guy went into a joyful rant about his love of this “sport”.  He proceeded to show us some U-tube video of a maniac bouncing around in Baja in his truck.  After that, Darin and I were both thinking, “ok, now he’s really hyped up from that video”.  And so he was.

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After the ride, Simon accused me of slowing us down, when, Darin, on my speechless, teeth clenched behalf, asked him to slow down on the way back to town.  My arms are still sore from holding onto to the bars so tight…NEVER AGAIN!  The kids on the other hand, LOVED IT!

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Out of Huaraz and through Lima by: Anik


Well, the internet in Peru,  is to North Americans as a race is to a snail.  We feel the same way about our online connection speed that a snail feels about escargot.  Making postings on the blog has proven to be very difficult and we pretty much just post when the stars are aligned.

We left Huaraz and headed 90 minutes south to a little known, archeologically rich, rock climbing forest called Hatun Machay.  After being in Huaraz, with it’s great beer, good food, and full list of amenities, the simplicity of the comida typica almuerzo we had in a small town on the way, was somehow a welcomed return to what we love about South America.  The kids’ heads were being rubbed by smiling men, asking if they were “gringos?”.

Our turn off the highway was a small rock and dirt road marked by a cairn.  The half hour drive on this road temporarily gave me a foul mouth.  Because of the deep mud and ridiculous path pretending to be a road, we were forced to drive in the farmland-like field, gunning it in order not to sink in the wet, muddy grass.

At the end of the road, once again in the middle of nowhere, was the refuge we’d been seeking.





We parked our van, took in as much of the thin, 14,000 ft fresh air we could, and found Angel, from Argentina, who took us to the rock forest for some skin ripping bouldering.


We checked out some cave hieroglyphics that should requirer an entrance fee and a protective barrier, but have nothing but the quiet respect of the unassuming rock climbers.



Darin and Simon did quite well with the bouldering, while Marco and I discussed the fact that we “totally don’t get it, and thanks but no thanks”.

That night, we hung out in the lodge, making some delicious burritos, and, again, enjoying our return to the middle of nowhere.


The next morning,  we woke up to snow and gratitude for being up there, but wondering how we’d get back down.  Angel and his climbing buddy took us with ropes and harnesses to what they referred to as “spicy climbing”.




The kids stayed back building card castles and playing chess, while Darin and I got prepared to step out the comfort zone that apparently exists only in our minds.  The climbing left us grunting and howling with adrenaline and a crazy sense of kick ass exhilaration.






The ground dried out a bit and we left Hatun Machay smiling from ear to ear.  Ten feet into our drive out, we sank in mud and needed to get pushed on.  We looked at each other, telepathically saying “sooo, how’s the van gonna make it out exactly?”.

We made it out with the finessed technique of gunning it without relenting.  The mud and grass flew everywhere, even speckling the surf board and Thule up top.  We celebrated our freedom  over a tasty lunch, the tastiest bite, being the view of the Cordillera Blanca.



With a destination of Huacachina and Nazca 10 hours away, our goal was to make it to Lima’s southern beaches for the night, which would leave just 3 hours of driving the following day.  As we approached Lima, the air was heavy with the numerous burn piles we seem to see everywhere along the coast.  Burning garbage offers various olfactory experiences, our favorite is the kind that smells like sage.


We got to Lima in the dark (not good), drove past many more burn piles, crazy buses, pedestrian accidents, and the heavy metal musical chaos of 8 million people honking their horns.

The kids were begging for “American food” of any kind.  By 7pm, we spotted a Pizza Hut, which, to the kids was like finding a pot of gold.  They devoured their “American food” all while humming and discussing the fine palatal notes of the mozzarella cheese and peperoni.

An hour later, we pulled into the coastal town of Punta Hermosa, tired, a bit edgy, and ready to be done.  We drove over a speed bump, saw a group of police like officials appearing to wave us through, and suddenly we had machine guns pointing our way as a strobe light emphasized that we were in the WRONG place.  We slowly, with our hands up, turned around yelling No! No! No! and headed south to the town of San Bartolo.  We’ll never really know what the S.U.A.T. shirt wearing, gun aiming muchachos were up to, but Simon reassured me that if Darin had been shot, he would have taken the wheel.

We spent the night overlooking a bay that would remind me of some place in Greece if I’d ever been there.  The surfing looked spectacular. We promised ourselves that after we give the kids a rip rolling time in the sand dunes of Huacachina and Nazca, we’d come back to San Bartolo for a few days to catch the last of this trip’s South American waves.


Santa Cruz and the Cordillera Blanca by: Anik


The kids and I waited with anticipation at the minuscule airport of Anca, just outside of Huaraz.  A few minutes before Darin’s scheduled landing, I tried not to show my concern as the airport’s only fire truck was geared and ready to go, spraying it’s hoses, firing some sort of canon and testing it’s ability to get a move on.


Our relief to have Darin back with us was multifaceted.  As he acclimated once again, we hung out in Huaraz doing Huaraz appropriate things.

The day after Darin’s arrival, we found ourselves as spontaneous participants in an ultimate frisbee game.  The game took place in a field shared with sheep, cows and pigs and the two teams were made up of local Peruvians, backpackers, and Darin, Simon and I.  Darin and I felt like old folks among these whippersnapping frisbee throwing ultimators.  Marco took pictures as Simon, the youngest player by over a decade threw himself into the end zone to score a hero’s goal.


We were picked up at 6am the following day for the Santa Cruz trek, by a vehicle equivalent to a Sprinter which was carrying our guide, Javier and Juannan, a trekker from Belgium.  The 5 hour drive to the trail head, was windy, bumpy and vibrated with 80’s dance music…”If you want my body and you think I’m sexy come on baby let me know!”.


Road to the trailhead

Road to the trailhead

We arrived in the middle of nowhere, in a pueblito made up of about 4 houses.  As we sat on a couple of crates eating avocado sandwiches prepared by our mule driver, our 2 donkeys and horse were being outfitted with our gear and supplies.  We all felt spoiled by this luxury, particularly Darin since he tends to assume the role of mule on our trekking trips.  I do think that from now on, I’ll take on the role of mule driver instead of assistant mule.

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As the clouds opened up and the rain made its’ first of many appearances, our group of 2 donkeys, 1 horse, 1 mule driver, 1 guide, and 5 trekkers headed toward the Huascaran National Park boundary by way of backyards filled with donkeys, horses, pigs, laundry up to dry and “cuy” (guinea pigs).


Two hours later, we crossed into the National park and spent the rest of our time in the Cordillera Blanca wonderstruck.




Our four days and 50 KM on the Santa Cruz trek was filled with the stuff made of daydreams.  When we weren’t socked in by clouds and looking and smelling like wet donkeys, we were surrounded by rugged, white peaks everywhere we turned.  The wildflowers were in bloom, and the blue lagunas contrasted the white glaciers with a dramatic splendor that rendered us speechless.







The meals prepared by our guide, Javier, and the mule driver, Freddy, were prepared with an attention to detail that made for a backcountry taste explosion.  The cooking was beyond impressive, regardless of the fact that Freddy used his cooking knife to help Darin cut out a rain trench around our cow and mule shit adorned tent site.


The boys were taking lessons from the donkeys, climbing and hiking like this was their backyard.  Marco spent time hiking with Freddy and the mules, which were always fast and in the lead, even over the 4700 meter pass, which left me a bit dizzy in my attempt to harvest oxygen.







On the third day, Darin and I chose to hike a 5 KM diversion to a laguna.  The boys weren’t interested and therefore spent 7 hours hiking 15 KM with our guide to that evening’s camp.  When Darin and I met up with them that afternoon at the riverside camp, with a full on waterfall tent view, the kids were munching on fresh popcorn and drinking hot chocolate, joking around with our guide like this was just any other day.







The kids also spent hours playing with the eleven year old son of a mule driver who was tending to hikers sharing our camp area.  The boy had clearly spent most of his life on these trails and with just a smile and a slingshot, he shared his life with Simon and Marco.  Ok, so they were killing cacti and trying to convince our guide to cook them…I just kept thinking about John Muir and how he killed seagulls with a homemade gun.



On our fourth day, we hiked out and got a three hour ride back to Huaraz.  As we descended back to 10,000 ft, the curved, cliff hugging road left us all quiet and reflective of what it was we’d just experienced together.