April 27, 2008

Going to Disney World VIP Style

Filed under: Culture,travel — mmrobins @ 7:33 pm

One of our friends from Seattle just happened to be in Florida this week for her brother’s graduation, and he happens to work at Disney. As luck would have it, he was awesome enough to get us into everything for free with Fast Passes allowing us to never wait in line for anything. With all that time and money saved we went to all three major kingdoms that I hadn’t been to before: Animal Kingdom, Magic Kingdom, and MGM Studios which for some crazy reason is now Hollywood studios.

We started off at Animal Kingdom and spent more than half the day there. It immediately became apparent how awesome going with someone who works for Disney (big thanks to our host again) is when we got in for free saving us around $100 per person. It just got better when we found out we no longer had to wait in any lines like the rest of the schmucks. I hate lines, but I do love rides so this was pretty durn ideal. We went on a lot of rides including roller coasters, safaris and musical shows (not really a ride, but cool nonetheless). We saw some cool animals up close including a white rhino that was a few feet from my seat in the vehicle. Plus going along with a Disney employee he knew a bunch of interesting facts and trivia like where there’s hidden Mickeys, how the Magic Kingdom would fit inside just the safari ride at Animal Kingdom (it’s big), and where the best drinking fountains are, which helps to save buying bottled water for $2 a bottle.

After lunch we went to Magic Kingdom, which is a lot like the Disneyland in California that I’d been too, but still bigger. We did the classics like Space Mountain, Haunted Mansion and Pirates of the Caribbean. We didn’t spend a ton of time there, but it was fun to see the “classic” Disney park. We then went to MGM Studios for my favorite ride of the day: Tower of Terror. It’s basically one of those elevator style rides where you’re in a seat that raise then drops when you least expect it, but it’s in the dark most of the time. I already love those rides, but almost all those thrill rides are more thrilling in the dark. For example, I bet Space Mountain would seem like a really lame kiddy coaster if it were done with the lights on. By this time we had ridden more than a dozen things and seen all sorts of stuff, so we were exhausted. It’s hard work being VIP at Disney :-)

April 23, 2008

The Everglades and Family Time

Filed under: travel — mmrobins @ 6:56 pm

Our first week back has been spent driving around Florida and visiting family. We took our convertible and visited the Everglades west of Miami. The scenery isn’t anything spectacular, but the ecosystem is very interesting and there’s alligators galore. In this water dependent world a few inches of elevation completely changes the plant life. We were driving through the park and saw a sign for a pass, you know like a mountain pass, but this one was only 3ft in elevation. We walked a few of the nature trails and sometimes had to skirt around alligators who sit just off the trail. There’s plenty in the water of course too, along with turtles fish, birds and all sorts of cool wildlife. We went to the park on two separate days, however I had caught a nasty cold from Brendan back when we were in Peru so one day I was too wiped out to enjoy much.

Other than that we’ve been eating good food again, visiting family and going to the beach. With Kim’s grandma we went to a really fun drum and dance circle on the beach at sunset. We also went to a beach the next day where we saw hundreds of pelicans diving for fish right off a jetty while dolphins jumped out of the water and did tricks to please the crowd. It’s nice to be in a bathing suit in the sun in April, even if most of the Floridians think the 75 degree water is too cold to go in. Before we returned the rental car we put the top down and took Kim’s parents for a drive on the beach and blasted the 60′s tunes including the beach boys.

Another recent pastime has been playing on my new Nintendo Wii! I finally found one after searching through a few sold out stores and everyone is loving it, but especially me I think. Those silly sports games are a big hit even with old people.

A frequent question we’re asked is when we’re coming back west. We don’t know. We’re just enjoying ourselves here for now, but we figure within a few weeks we’ll start looking for jobs in Portland, Oregon. Kim digs the food scene there and I think it’s a cool city. That’s about as far ahead as we’ve thought about it, but we’ll let y’all know when we have plane tickets or whatever.

We still don’t know

April 18, 2008

Back in the USA

Filed under: travel — mmrobins @ 5:51 am

After 7 months traveling through South America, we’ve returned to our native land! Well, Florida anyway. But so far it’s great. I think I’ve traveled enough that there wasn’t any reverse culture shock coming back. Before upon returning the fast paced life, overwhelming number of products, and English everywhere have been a small shock, but this time I was looking forward to all that too. There’s definitely aspects of life in the US that aren’t so great, but there are those things everywhere and it’s hard to beat the culture you grew up with for making you comfortable.

That said, upon landing in Miami I don’t think anyone we met for the first few hours was a native English speaker. Turns out to be very useful to know Spanish these days even here in the US. Perhaps people in the US will finally start to see the value in learning another language.

Now that we’re back we’ve got a rental car, and it’s a convertible! We reserved the economy cheapy of course, but they didn’t have that so now we’re cruising in style with a free upgrade. We’ll be cruising from coast to coast (of Florida that is) and south to north to visit family and enjoy the warm weather.

April 15, 2008


Filed under: travel — mmrobins @ 6:34 pm

After Paracas Kim and I had one more day before we headed to Lima to catch the flight back home, so we headed south to Nazca with Brendan and Laura. Nazca is home to the world famous lines that stretch out over the desert in incredible and unexplicable shapes of things like hummingbirds, spiders, condors, etc. Unfortunately the lines are so big the only way to really appreciate them is from an overflight, which is a bit costly for us just to see lines that we can see in photographs and postcards. So we just spent a bit of time exploring the town with the afternoon that we had.

We roamed the local markets and hung out in the plaza a bit. The only real event we did was go to the planetarium inside a really fancy hotel. The planetarium show was all about the Nazca lines and was about 45 minutes long. It was a nice presentation of some of the theories about why the lines exist, none of which really fits 100%. Overall a nice show, but the music repeats the entire time and starts to get a little grating.

The next day we said our goodbyes to Brendan and Laura with them headed toward Arequipa and us to Lima. We all had a blast together, but I’m soooo excited to be going back to the US.

April 14, 2008

Las Islas Ballestas and Paracas

Filed under: travel — mmrobins @ 6:34 pm

We didn’t go to Pisco, which the guidebook talks about as the base for the island tours, since everyone told us there wasn’t much there after the earthquake destroyed it last August. We went straight to Paracas, which is a tiny little village where the boat tours leave from anyway. This town has had some apparent damage too, but probably not as much as Ica just because it’s smaller. There really doesn’t seem to be anything to do in town aside from the boat tour to the islands and the reserver just south. There’s a small strip with overpriced restaurants near the pier.

The following morning we went down to that pier for the tour. We were with a huge group of British teenagers. As usual, the Peruvian guide used a microphone that had terrible sound quality and we could barely hear. A couple minutes out we saw some dolphins jumping a long ways away. Another few minutes out we saw the candelabra figure that’s blazed into a hillside. The real cool factor didn’t start until we got to the islands though.

There’s thousands of birds and bird poop all over the rocks. Back in the day the bird guano was Peru’s largest export and very valuable as fertilizer. I don’t think it is so much anymore. The funnest part of all was watching the little groups of Humboldt penguins jump around on the rocks. They really are awkward looking on land, but oh so cute. There were a ton of boobies too, not blue footed, but other types. And finally, while not nearly as cute as penguins, the sea lions are always entertaining.

Unfortunately, Laura was battling stomach problems and was knocked out of commission the rest of the day. Brendan also had a cold, but it didn’t stop him from joining us for a tour of the Paracas reserve, which like almost all the countryside around, is mostly desert. Our tour guide didn’t speak any English like the guy selling the tour said he would, but it was okay since Kim, Brendan and I all speak Spanish. We saw a sea arch that is no longer an arch due to earthquake damage. We also saw some pretty beaches where a lot of fishing goes on and stopped for a swim. I built a sand castle that was almost immediately destroyed by a wave. Other than that it was a fairly uneventful and unimpressive tour.

April 12, 2008

Ica and Huacachina With Some Friends

Filed under: travel — mmrobins @ 10:47 am

Our friends Brendan and Laura flew down to hang out with us for our last week in Peru. We all met up in Huacachina, a little oasis town just outside of Ica on Peru’s coast. After settling into our hostal by sitting next to the pool and eating lunch in Ica to get caught up, we booked a dune buggy ride. A little before sunset the whole town fills with tourists and dune buggies to go up into the dunes and sandboard.

I thought the dune buggies would be small and fit maybe four, maybe five, people, but these things were monsters for large groups. I didn’t have sunglasses which was a mistake mostly because sand sprays everywhere including into your eyes. Just riding in the buggies was pretty fun since they went fast and drove over the edge of big dunes making it feel a little like a roller coaster. It could be a little uncomfortably bumpy at times, so you had to hold on to keep from banging body parts on stuff.

We stopped 4 or 5 times at dunes and got the sandboards out of the back to slide down the hills. The sand is much harder to turn in than snow, so I found you could go faster and get a much more stable ride if you just went down on your belly on the board. Turns out face first is a lot better, otherwise you get way to much sand sprayed in your face. I usually got down the hill a lot faster than everyone else, so I’d run back up for another go. It took some guts on the bigger ones not to slow down since I got going really fast. The scenery was also very pretty, and we got to see the sun set over the dunes. When we got back to the hostal we had to get sand out of every part of our bodies.

The next day we took a wine tour and went to some chocolate stores and a few wineries. Actually, most of the places made pisco, which is like a distilled wine. It’s made from grapes and distilled into 44% alcohol. The Peruvian wine is almost all very sweet, so we didn’t really care much for the wine. The pisco tastes better, at least when it’s mixed as it’s really strong straight. We went to one modern winery that uses machinery, but the cooler one was the old fashioned one where they still stomp the grapes. We just missed the grape stomping festival by a week or so, but it was still really cool to see. There were also copious samples, and by the end of the tour we could barely drink anymore, especially since we hadn’t eaten lunch. After the tours we had lunch before heading north to Paracas.

April 7, 2008

Pisaq and Ollantaytambo

Filed under: travel — mmrobins @ 6:57 am

Looking Regal

We met some nice people at Willka Tika that invited us to go to Pisaq (aka Pisac) so we figured we’d be sociable and cough up the money for the boleto turistico to see some of these Sacred Valley ruins. Fortunately Kim had an old student ID and I just said I was a student and showed them my Washington drivers license so they let us buy the student ticket for half price.

Pisaq’s ruins turned out to be surprisingly large. From Willka Tika it was only a few hours to get there. The ruins are high up above the town of Pisaq and have some nice views of the valley’s colorful crops. We took a taxi to the top and walked down. The stairs down were pretty steep and fun. Kim posed in a few more of the wall niches. There’s some cool water systems near the main temple too.

Terracing Galore

Back in Pisaq we walked around the huge market and our new friends bought some stuff to take home with them. I’m a little bored by all the markets by now as all the knick knacks start to look the same to me. We heard there were cuy (guinea pig) castles somewhere but didn’t find them.

Since we now had the ticket to see some ruins, the next day Kim and I went to Ollantaytambo to see their ruins. Quite a bit smaller, but also pretty cool, they sit above the town too. There’s some interesting stone work that seems weird and I didn’t understand the purpose. We also saw a really weird bug that has something that looks like a protective shell.

I think by now we’re pretty well ruined out though. Soon enough we’ll be back to the US and its strip malls and highways. A land where ancient is anything over 100 years old.