May 5, 2016
Help Students Take FLYTE!!
Nearly 4 years ago today, I was sitting on a fishing boat in the middle...
Ever since we went through Pre Cana in preparation for our wedding, we have tried to make it a point to pray with each other. What started from a mere suggestion in our classes had a rough start as emotions struggled to surface freely. With frequency and much practice, it has evolved into a very important part of our growth as a couple – essentially, it helps us to strip away any of the superficial distractions that create an overwhelming sense of uneasiness and anxiety. Our journey to Corcovado was less a “must-see” tourist attraction, but more of an experience we are so thankful to have shared because of how closely it touches home.
Though, don’t get it twisted… we had our fair share of forced perspective too..
As each day passed and Carnaval drew nearer, it was very evident that what we were about to experience would be unlike anything we have ever seen before. From about 11:30am until roughly 3:30am, there would be waves of crowds roaming the streets often in costume and almost always inebriated.
Men would typically be dressed in drag or shirtless with their t-shirts used to create a makeshift fanny pack. Women preferred to wear cat-ear headbands and tutus. Cop-out(fit)s usually involved afros, leis, and various masks, face paint or oversized geeky frames. It was as if we happened across a massive frat masquerade party. We would hear drums, see people breaking into song, catch guys serenading gals on benches and witness many people asking strangers for “beijos”. These characteristics were much more amplified when you got closer to the source of these parties: blocos.
Considering the fact we were never completely plastered, it was very easy to feel “left out” or “too old for this”. However, the spectacle was an incredible formula for people watching. We spent an entire afternoon sitting outside of a cafe in awe while other cariocas seemed pretty unphased by it all. The best advice we received was from Serena, a little girl sitting with her parents at an adjacent table in the cafe where we posted up: “Don’t go in the middle of a crowd…you might get squirted with a water gun.”
At the sambodromo, it was a very different atmosphere. Surprisingly, alcohol took somewhat of a back seat to the festivities and celebration. Perhaps it was the sector we chose to sit in or maybe it was a result of fearful little bladders paranoid about missing some of the action. Surrounding spectators of all ages sang passionately along with each of the samba schools, waved flags as they passed and some even came dressed colorfully in support of their favorite schools.
Each school paraded down the oversized catwalk for a little over an hour and with roughly six schools showcased each day, merriment easily lasted well into the morning. Our self imposed goal was to outlast the seniors, who were ready with Red Bull in hand. We tapped out after five of the schools in the hopes of escaping the inevitably long taxi lines. Unfortunately, so did many others too tired to push on. Luckily, the process went pretty smoothly and we made it back to Leblon just before 6am.
Later we found out that two of the five schools we saw placed 1st and 2nd, Unidos da Tijuca and Salguiero, respectively. Fading three hours in, we almost missed the champions, who started their performancea around 3:30am.
In America the only time you’d find thousands of people cheering and going wild are during sporting events, but at the Sambodromo, over 70,000 packed the stadium to watch dancing. We
Sol, our www.bafreetour.com guide, told us a lot about the culture and history of Buenos Aires and about the locals (porteños) which made us appreciate this place so much more. Most interesting lessons:
“Chamuco” – slang for “bull shitting” to make a story more appealing
Politics – Sol is very passionate about Argentinean history and politics. The country has only established a democracy in her lifetime, 29 years ago, and now 80% of all citizens vote. That’s a lot to be proud of and makes us think that what we have back home can easily be taken for granted.
Health care – many healthcare plans include routine psychology visits and plastic surgery. Sol went as far as divulging, “If you don’t see a psychologist, that’s considered strange” and
“I can’t tell you how many boobs I’ve felt because my friends say they are so natural.”
European influence – Because BsAs is a port city, they used to export various goods to europe. Since the boats needed to return with cargo, they filled them with building materials right down to the finest details.
Likewise, the people also look European. There is no one indigenous culture in BsAs. It’s nearly impossible to classify someone as looking Argentinean. Oftentimes, when we would suspect an individual is a tourist, they impress us with perfect Spanish.
Infrastructure – most of the significant sites were gifts from various countries celebrating its first century since its independence.
Plaza San Martín
Tourists from Canada, USA, Australia, and Israel
“Little Big Ben”
Guards at Malvinas War Memorial
French palace turned into $2.5 million dollar luxury apartments, each spanning the whole floor
Raymund drinking from fountain at Plaza Cataluña. Supposedly, those who drink from it will return to BsAs someday. True story. Promise.
Palacio Álzaga Unzué (aka The Four Seasons Mansion”)
Only residential palace left in existence belonging to an elderly couple
Second oldest cathedral in BsAs
After tapping into the excellent $4 bottles of wine in Buenos Aires, we were really excited to visit an actual winery. We toured three of them privately: Salestein, La Azul, and O. Fournier.
We got a glimpse of the Andes mountains on the way to the wineries.
Salestein was our first stop. It is a huge, modern winery with an art gallery, a chapel and even a posada on site. We toured the facility and got to taste some wines in the cellar.
In contrast to Salestein, La Azul is a small locally run winery with all the operations in one room. This was our favorite place from the friendly staff to the fabulous wine. We even got to drink wine syphoned straight from the barrel.
At our last winery, O. Fournier, we had a five course meal with wine (of course!) against a beautiful backdrop.
Following our meal, we were taken on a quick tour of the facility and shockingly, we immediately passed out on the car ride home.
Our second day on Easter Island was a perfect example of how hard work pays great returns.
Armed with 4 liters of water in hand and 4 large empanadas in our bellies (collectively), we were ready to discover the south western part of the island. We bought some hand-pressing (rechargeable) flash lights and began our trek with a stop at Ana Kai Tangata, which was both an important ceremonial site and where they built small canoes.
If you look carefully at the sign, you will notice the fine print in the bottom right:
Caves are unsafe. Caves could collapse in any moment. There is no guarantee of your safety.
Luckily, we noticed this having already entered it.
We easily could have spent the rest of the day there watching the waves crash, but after over an hour, we decided to push on.
But first we replenished our water supply at a kiosk owned by Carlos and Benito, who said it would be peti etahi (cool) for us if we managed to trek up the volcano.
It was imperative that we made it up to the top of Rano Kau because we needed to get our Rapa Nui National Park passes at Orongo (that’s what we get for not buying it at the airport straight away). Our late start and extended stay at the cave left us with about an hour to complete an 80 minute trek up a very steep path with minimal tree shade.
Upon reaching the top, we were rewarded with impressive photo ops looking into the massive crater 1.6 km in diameter and outward over Hanga Roa.
This, coincidentally, is the same one we photographed from the airplane! Peti etahi, indeed!!
We also met two new friends along the way, Teresa & Bernardita, two of the coolest people we’ve met so far.
As it turned out, the ticket booth was open an hour longer than we were told, so we easily had enough time to grab our passes and take a tour of Orongo, a ceremonial village consisting of 54 houses made of impeccably stacked slabs of rock. From there, you can also see many petroglyphs, and the small islands of Motu Iti and Motu Nui.
Apparently, every year in the beginning of spring, there would be a contest held in order to choose the new chief. Contestants competed by jumping from the cliff at Orongo, and swimming to those small islands, racing to pluck the first egg laid by the Manutara (their sacred bird), and returning with it back to Orongo.
As if we weren’t dirty enough from the hike, the four of us hitched a bumpy, practically off road ride into town on the back of a pick up truck down the dusty paths of the volcano. It was well worth the extra 2 hours walk back into town we would have had.
After a quick dip in the ocean, we treated ourselves to some of the best ice cream on the island and a classic sunset by the wharf.
Update (as requested):
Most forums and expert travelers have told us that we need a car to fully appreciate New Zealand.
As full supporters of public transportation (thank you, 139) and drivers who hadn’t been behind the wheel in almost two months intimidated by backwards (read: left side) Kiwi driving, we wanted to avoid the task as much as possible.
Enter the Connect-A-Bus.
For less than the price of a daily car hire and the absurdly high cost of NZ gasoline, we honed in on our love for the bus.
The Connect-A-Bus shuttled us from our apartment to the lovely town of Wanaka and back. We were the only passengers on the return trip so it felt like we had our own driver…fancy.
Wanaka boasts two main attractions (at least two with which we concerned ourselves): a scenic drive from Queenstown & Puzzling World.
The former surprisingly lived up to the many expectations as the route was full of twists tantamount to or exceeding the number of peaks.
The latter left us (well, this woman at least) rather, puzzled. Heh.
We toured the various exhibits, teetered through the hologram room to maximize our appreciation, took things out of perspective for a bit, and experienced real vertigo.
The most perplexing exhibit was the giant maze one of us made it through successfully while the other, sadly, gave up after wandering in circles for far too long.
Hoping to feed our bodies before the ride home, we started off for town, which was just a 15 minute walk away. A couple of eager Japanese tourists stopped us along the way in search of Mount Iron. Absolutely clueless to its whereabouts, it unfortunately presented itself to us mere minutes since sporting our best: “eeeeeehh???”
Weighing our options in this battle between hunger and hike… the scale naturally tipped towards (Mount) Iron.
Through a series of shadeless switchbacks, saved only by the city panoramas, we muscled through sans food and water to the pinnacle, which had some contrasting 360s waiting for us.
After our self inflicted tiki trail, we finally made it to the middle of downtown Wanaka and discovered Soul Food.
Falsely expecting chicken fried steak and grits, we were treated to some of the healthiest food since slow carbing/carving our bodies pre-wedding.
Quinoa loaf, vegetable lasagna, roasted vegetables and fruit smoothies. This was exactly what we (secretly) wanted!
While chewsing wisely (biggups www.fivethreetwo.com), we caught sound of a local radio station , “Wanaka beats”, which played some oldies, but goodies (i.e. Cinematic Orchestra, Salmonella dub). Gavin, who works at the shop and is a local DJ, was great about name dropping and even went as far as checking for local events around our way.
Well fed and hot red, our connect home was mostly catching z’s.
Between reading the instructions and copying the locals, we were able to make some fine looking okonomiyaki, but there was one bowl that we ordered that didn’t look like the others and remained untouched until the very end. Utterly baffled and humbled, we sign languaged for help and our waitress came to our rescue for it wasn’t okonomiyaki batter, but instead, a monjayaki.
The one major drawback was the potent reminder of our meal left in our limited apparel. Perhaps this is the reason we did not have it for another week and a half. Thank goodness there was a laundrymat a couple blocks from our hotel!
We were able to dabble in the art of cooking okonomiyaki, but got the full lesson on how to make it from start to finish from our friends, Tyler and Noriko.
1. Chop up some cabbage (with a knife from the 100Yen store)
2. Laugh & drink some sake.3. Stir powdered okonomiyaki mix with water and eggs. 4. Laugh & drink some sake.
5. Add cabbage to the batter. (no pictures, sorry!)
6. Pour batter into pan in shape of a pancake.7. Put strips of pork belly (GENIUS!!!) onto pancake.
8. Drink more sake (no pictures again – too busy with the sake consumption!)
9. Flip pancake.10. Celebrate successful flip with more sake.
11. Take okonomiyaki out of pan and add mayo and brown sauce. 12. Eat and enjoy while laughing and (all together now) drinking sake!
Okay. It was a bit more complicated than this, but so yummy! They inspired us to try and whip up some when we get back home. We just need to find some good sake (oh yea, and okonomiyaki powder).
Our last taste of okonomiyaki was at a place Tyler recommended a few blocks from our hotel in Kobe. This was the coziest of all the places we’ve been to with a dozen or so stools surrounding the grill where all the magic happens.
The chefs concocted various versions of okonomiyaki and rapid speed to meet the demand of what sounded like a raucous happy hour in the second floor of the restaurant. We pointed to two pictures on the menu – one traditional looking with lots of scallions and another with seafood and waited patiently while the chefs chopped and flipped our okonomiyakis to perfection. Crispy on the outside, gooey vegetables on the inside and no shortage of scallions – this was the most gourmet (but not necessarily the best) of the three. Also notice that this okonomiyaki was made in Hiroshima style where the ingredients are layered instead of mixed together.
Looking back on it – we can’t believe we only had okonomiyaki three times during our three weeks in Japan. It’s one of those dishes that ignites our saliva glands and pulls at our heart strings. Luckily, we’ll always have Otafuku.
We didn’t have to visit a museum or know the local language to really experience Tokyo. Simply taking a walk around the city streets had us stopping in awe of some very eccentric fashion statements, lots (and lots!) of people, and towering, bright buildings. We didn’t have to visit a toy store to find dolls. Many of the perfectly primped women, donned with detailed accessories and pristine outfits could have been porcelain figurines. On the other hand, the younger ones had more playful take on fashion. We didn’t have to visit a zoo to see some animals. At a popular meeting point at Shibuya station, is the statue of Hachikō who, based on a true story, was a dog that met his owner Hidesaburō Ueno at the station when he returned from work every day. Sadly, the owner passed away, but Hachikō remained faithful and returned to Shibuya station every day for the next nine years.We didn’t have to even cross the street to experience the order and calmness exuded by the people. Shibuya is also the home of the busiest crosswalk in the world. About one million people pass through this intersection every day. The amazing part is that these thousands of people manage to make it through so systematically and with little commotion. A far cry from the tumultuous and haphazard crossings in NYC. See for yourself.
Okay. Everyone swim along the coral reef back to the dhoni.
Excuse me? What?
A wave of panic swept over both of us.
It was our first full day of snorkeling and the dingy had just brought our group, with our guide, Sherm from the dhoni to the middle of the ocean — no shallow area in sight, and the dhoni looked like a children’s toy boat from where we were.
Really swim all the way back to the boat?
All our friends happily obliged jumping off the dingy into the vast ocean water sans life vest or any type of floatation device and, not to be the last in the pack, we said a quick prayer to ourselves (and mumbled an expletive or two) before diving in.
Seconds after our leap of faith, an obvious, but still surprising realization came over us.
WE CAN FLOAT
Calm immediately followed as we further submerged into our own natural, life-sized, aquarium. Fish of all shapes, sizes, and colors carried on with their usual business as us voyeurs ogled at their magnificence.
With the blink of an eye (or flap of a flipper) we were back at the dhoni. High off our accomplishment, we soon came back to reality as we observed the more neutral reactions of our fellow travelers who have tackled such feats (some even more daring) before. We were guppies in a school of porpoises, but that still didn’t completely diminish the beauty of the experience.
Each day brought out our inner Nemo more and more.
Our venue for snorkeling changed throughout the week. Most times we’d get dropped off in the middle of the ocean. Other days we’d swim from our dhoni to a small sand bank or uninhabited island.
Immersed in another world, we encountered all types of foreign sea creatures: trigger fish, surgeonfish, moorish idols, clams, oriental grunt, angel fish, sea cucumbers, and parrot fish. They were housed in all sorts of coral: tabletop, mushroom, brain and maze.
Some of the best trips were with the captain who had a knack for spotting the turtles and eels (click on links for videos). On a few occasions he would swim close enough to a hiding eel to entice it out of it’s lair. Gutsy.
We have to give credit for some of these pictures to Sherm who lived up to his nickname Super Fish since he could hold his breath for an extended period of time while plunging closer to the ocean floor. As he’d rise closer to the water’s surface, he’d blow out these huge bubbles in true fish form.
By the end of the week, we were much more in touch with our inner fish as well.
Taj Exotica Resort in the Maldives exuded a high level of exclusivity and luxury beyond anything you would expect. Sure, celebrities are known to dally in the multitude of islands and escape from the city life in an effort to satisfy their every desire; but somehow the highly contrasting lifestyles between Malé and any of the upscale resorts does not prepare you for the kind of purity and unpretentious serenity found only in this dreamlike seclusion. We could only imagine that this is what French Polynesia (or at least Tahiti and Moorea) is desperately trying to preserve and save from over commercialism. If resort life in the Maldives was a person, it would probably be the Dos Equis man.
Rooms at this six star resort start at 700 USD a night and run upwards of 3000. So we threw caution to the wind and booked a suite for the entire week!
The owner of our hotel in Malé where we stayed for a couple of days before boarding the dhoni suggested that we take a day trip to the resort. For 85 USD a person (45 of which served as a credit towards food and beverages), we were able to use all the amenities including non-motorized water sports. We took a 20 minute boat ride from Malé to the Taj, which is situated on its own island (probably about twice the length of a football field and half its width). In other words, the length of the island could be explored in less than 10 minutes and the width in less than 1.
Once the boat docked on the island we were escorted by a dashing Swiss staff person who we later learned was a hospitality management student interning at the resort for a semester (lucky!). He led us to a small golf cart that shuttled us to the resort lobby where we were greeted with a cool towel and champagne. This is what a rock star must feel like. (Okay a rock star probably has a personal bartender on their own private island, but still…).
We spent the rest of the day on the resort living the high life: sipping on cocktails, wading in the tepid water, and watching yet another stunning sunset. All this made us feel like the luckiest people this side of the equator.
Calcium Carbonate. We love this stuff.
Not only is it used for antacids and blackboard chalk (riveting), it’s also the main component of the travertines of Pamukkale.
We’ve seen these snow-like plateaus in pictures but whoababy did we make our experience of it a unique one.
Our bus from Selcuk dropped us off in the early afternoon and we were eager to walk right over to Hierapolis and Pamukkale.
The owner of the Melrose House Hotel, where we were staying for the night, advised us to wait until the late afternoon to make our journey to avoid the blazing heat and throngs of tour groups. Slightly sleepy from the early morning bus ride we, as always, welcomed the opportunity for a siesta (we were practicing for our upcoming stay in Spain).
A couple of hours later, recharged and raring to go, we set off to this much-anticipated spot.
Our first thought: What IS this place?
Looks like snow, feels like rock, and digging our feet into the bottom of each lukewarm pool of water was like submerging them in pockets of something resembling baking soda or baby powder. Strange. Like a natural foot spa that doesn’t seem that gross.
Sidenote: The original, natural travertines are still in tact and viewable to the public but visitors cannot touch them. Years of allowing people to bathe in them resulted in deterioration so the travertines we walked through were man-made. Still just as beautiful.
Once we waded our way to the top we felt that familiar grumble in our stomachs and had a quick lunch alongside the ancient thermal pools before checking out the rest of Hierapolis, another one of Turkey’s ancient cities.
As evinced by our lengthy tour of Ephesus, our m.o. has been to stay at any major site for at least twice to three times the average length of time. We did travel all this way and often had to pay to get in, why not milk it?
We started at the Necropolis where two young aspiring Turkish musicians were filming their music video with the help of one of their mothers. There was still a whole city to explore but we soon became entertained with taking pictures in the amphitheater since it cleared out when we arrived and we had the entire structure to ourselves. Panoramics, silhouettes, yoga poses, contemplative faces — you name it, we probably shot it here. The only thing that could tear us away from that site was the impending sunset over Pamukkale.
Our timing was perfect and so was the sunset.
All of the other visitors started making their way back through the man-made terraces to the exit, but we could not get enough of the travertines. As the sun slowly melted into horizon, the colors of the sky and the travertines became progressively more magnificent. It was hard to see but we made our way down one of the paths and found even more travertines that we didn’t notice before! We tried to fend off the feeling that we missed out of seeing them in their full white brilliance and relished in the colors they took on at dusk instead.
We probably would have stayed longer but soon realized that other creatures, particularly those of the crawling variety (read: rats), enjoy the travertines at this hour as much as we did.
Not wanting our feet to get trampled by a scampering rodent we high-knee’d it back to the man-made terraces (you know, since that’s a proven way to fend off rats). Sean T. would be proud and we’re sure the night guards welcomed our ridiculousness.
After our quick workout, we took our time descending back down the man-made terraces (sans rats) partially because it was kind of dark, but more because we really felt like we were on another planet, possibly the moon. We’re so glad to have had the luxury to move at our own pace. It had cooled considerably since the afternoon and each step vacillated between cool and warm water. All we could hear was the steady trickling of the water and it felt like we had the whole world to ourselves.
Yes. Our experience of Kas warranted a Van Damme reference.
We were hit with options — too many options — of where on the coast to stay between Pamukkale and Antalya where we’d board the infamous overnight bus to Cappadocia. Olympos and stay in a tree house? Bodrum? Cirali? Fethiye?
Still not sure of why we chose Kas, but the lazy coastal town allowed us to slow down our pace a bit. Aside from the coast, there weren’t too many touristic sites in the town. It only took us a couple of hours to find the Lycian caves and rock tombs and the amphitheater.
The best parts about our time in Kas were the serendipitous events and sights that we stumbled upon during our non-directional walks. It’s so liberating to have spent hours walking around an area without a long list of things we had to see.
It was on this leisurely stroll that we breathed in the fresh Mediterranean sea air for the first time, did a quick workout on the oblique machines in a public park, witnessed some local boys play a really well organized game of football in the middle of a public square where more than one oblivious passerby became an asset to the defense, and soon after joined the rest of the town at a tea cafe to watch a live football match on TV.
Our short stay in Kas added to our love of Turkey. Just a week ago, we were immersed in the crowded streets of Istanbul. A bus ride away stood Pamukkale and the ruins of Ephesus. Now, we had our first taste of coastal life. Our dynamic journey through this country has us totally enamored.
Often times the beauty of travel is having no plans — being able to do whatever, whenever, without any consequence.
Even better is actually having a plan which is then subverted by other plans.
We had a full day to stay in Antalya, another one of Turkey’s idyllic coastal locales. The sinuous streets took a while to get a hang of, but after several iterations we set our sights on finding the Old Town. Not long after we forgot about our original intent because we came across two of our new-found Turkish favs: Lokum (or Turkish Delight) and cheap Efes beer. Where we found the latter also had some tasty grilled calamari, cheese filled cigarette shaped pastries and a view of the pier. Not bad for a diversion.
The following day we wanted to cover more ground so we took a very methodical approach: walk the opposite direction than we did yesterday. This technique did work since we found Karaalioglu Park and bargained for kebabs that only cost us 3 Lira (less than $2!). We clearly have priorities.
Rocks. Big ones. Weird ones.
Sounds like a place where the faithful gather on Sundays and the choir belts out some Springsteen.
Unfortunately, the rock churches we visited at the Goreme Open Air Museum in Cappadocia were established for worshipers who were escaping religious persecution. A whole network of churches and living quarters were made in these formations originally created by volcanic eruptions millions of years ago.
We channeled our inner Flintstone to understand (and when appropriate, imitate) how the cave dwellers lived. One slab of rock was a table. Some indentations in the walls were used for storage. Soot on the ceiling indicated that we were in the kitchen. We also tried to stand within earshot of the big group tours to get a fact or two in.
Take that audio guide.
Not surprising, we were one of the last ones to leave the museum. Intrigued by our full day of novice spelunking, we went to investigate the non-official caves across the street from the museum. We were not alone and met a family doing the same. The matriarch of that family was definitely an opportunist and began picking some weed-like plants from alongside the caves. From what we could understand from her emphatic gesturing, they were herbs that she’s going to put in soup later. Smart woman.
We continued shuffling and climbing around the rocks until the sun let us down. Though tempted to forage like our new friend, we opted for another round of kebabs and pide instead.
“Yes, tours are okay, but, for me I can sit here and look at this…
…all day.” This is the wise opinion of our hotel owner, Mehmet, when we asked him about the tour we took of the underground city Derinkuyu the previous day.
Taking his advice, we decided to spend our last day in Turkey updating our blog, reading, and backing up photos against this beautiful backdrop.
Half way through the day, our hankering for more Turkish food (we really couldn’t get enough) prompted us to head into town for pide. Not only did we get pide, but we also caught the tail end of a party of some sort. Women were dressed up in costumes and were performing some type of parody. We couldn’t figure out what was going on but they happily posed for a picture.
This hilarity was followed by an impromptu hike to Love Valley. Note that one of us took this on Tarahumara style, only wearing flip-flops.
Sans map and with some haphazard directions from the curator of the El Nazar Church where we made a quick visit, we found ourselves attempting to scale deteriorating rock formations while trying to appear harmless to the wild horses roaming close by.
Some slippery slopes and dusty bums later, we resorted to taking the paved road the other less adventurous tourists followed. In a matter of moments, we reached our destination. Various adjectives came to mind about how to describe it, but we’ll leave it to you.
So readers, you fill in the blank. This is definitely one of the most _____________ places we’ve ever been.