Day 17: Bogotá, Colombia —> Armenia, Colombia (Coffee Triangle).

Today Marc and I left Bogotá for the Coffee Triangle, where we will be spending Christmas. It was a very quick and an easy flight to get there, which was nice. We were picked up at the airport by the place we are staying and were surrounded by mountains and lots of different crops. It was pretty and a change from what we have seen so far on this trip.

Side note on Bogotá: We will be back. I was a bit bummed that we didn’t have more time to explore, but I really liked what I saw and experienced. Really cool vibe, lots of parks, good layout of the city and excellent food. 

When we arrived at the hacienda, it just felt so peaceful. The layout seemed very traditional and has lots of flowers, places to chill and beautiful views to take in. The staff was really warm and friendly, and had our room ready to go plus our itinerary for our stay. Unpacked, had a nice lunch by the pool, and also applied bug spray (yep, we’re now in a place where the bugs are “friendly”).

Our guide came to pick us up at 2:30pm for a tour so we could learn more about what is grown on the property. We went through a bamboo forest, where we were chased down by cows (kind of reminded me of this incident on the ‘Australian Walkabout’) - literally they followed us and blocked the entrance out of the forest. Fortunately our guide had a good distraction and we escaped unharmed. 

Guillermo, our guide, is in the process of becoming an official ‘Coffee Taster’, which is a rigorous course of study similar to the ‘Court of Master Sommeliers’ process. As the non-coffee drinker of the couple, it was interesting to see how some of the process parallels to winemaking. If you’re interested in the comparisons of coffee, wine, cola, tea, spirits and beer, Marc and I can’t recommend this book enough.

We then learned some interesting facts about Colombia from Guillermo. Colombia is a country that straddles both the Atlantic (via the Caribbean) and the Pacific Oceans. It also has 2 different mountain ranges, 3 glaciers and 2 deserts. This leads to 86 different microclimates and the weather forecasts being about 50% correct (hmmm). They also have 1900+ species of birds. We are now at 3600 feet of elevation in the Coffee Triangle as opposed to the 8300+ feet of elevation we were at in Bogotá.

We looked at cocoa plants and talked in depth of how the plant grows, is cultivated and then how the beans are extracted so they can be sold. This set us up well for the cocoa tasting that we had later on in the afternoon. Amongst the cocoa plants were lots of banana trees. We learned that the bananas take lots of moisture out of the soil, which helps the cocoa plants. Also for those who were always curious about the difference between plantains and bananas - the former is a veggie and needs to be cooked. The latter is a fruit and does not need to be cooked. 

Marc and I then went to our chocolate tasting class, which had similarities to the one we took in Peru. This one was more in-depth and was led by the chef of the property itself, Reuben. Guillermo stayed on to translate for us. The main delta between today’s experience and the one in Lima was around the grinding process. In Lima, we skipped the step of grinding roasted beans until a smooth paste. Reuben ground them into a chocolate paste in the shape of a ball so the output was less chunky than in Lima. Basically it was ground down until the cocoa butter was separating from the rest. 

We also learned that Peru and Colombia have many similarities around cuisine and gastronomy, but the main difference is that Peru has done a better job of promoting it. As we were talking to Reuben, we started discussing how cassava and yuca being used in Colombian cooking fairly frequently as a starch. It dawned on me that I might have better success with the cassava flour that we experimented with earlier in the year as a thickener. Arrowroot is a gluten-free thickener used in Paleo circles, but it doesn’t always work how I would like in my dishes. I am excited to try this when we get home! 

After the class, the property prepared a special Christmas Eve dinner outside with really nice lighting. It was a set menu and they had more chocolate treats than Marc could ever ask for. It was a beautiful setting to watch the sunset with a cocktail or two. All in all, a wonderful start to our chapter in the Coffee Triangle.

Day 16: Bogota, Colombia

We met a private tour guide named Juan at hotel at 9am to show us around until lunch. As we drove to first destination on a Sunday, we saw so many folks on bicycles and learned the city shuts down many roads on Sundays and people love it. They've been doing it since the mid 70's.

We learned about the legend of El Dorado and the Spanish search for gold. They even heard about Lake Guatavita and attempted to drain it for gold.

We then reached Monserrate to visit the top. You can hike it and we would if we had more than a full day here but we want to see much more before lunch. So we took the funicular up for the great views and to look around the top then ride it back down.

We then headed over to La Candelaria to see the buildings on main square and the surrounding area including some sanctioned graffiti art. We went into Museo del Oro to learn just a portion of the history that gold has played in this area.

We then went to have some delicious lunch at Harry Sasson since it was closed for dinner because they close on Sundays like many places in Latin America.

After lunch we walked 4.2k back to hotel and managed to enter a couple of shopping malls looking for Coloma Licor de Cafe Gran Reserva. The first place didn't have any but directed us to VIPS which had it so we bought a couple bottles to bring back.

We relaxed a bit and prepared bags for final leg of trip. Plan is to store large checked luggage at hotel we are in now in Bogota since we are coming back here in a week before having dinner and flying out late overnight. So small backpack carry ons for coffee plantation and the Amazon forest bug festival.

Day 15: Galápagos Islands (Isla Baltra) —> Guayaquil, Ecuador —> Bogotá, Colombia.

Today is mostly a long travel day. Bags were pretty much packed for phase 3 of ‘Operation Cincuenta’ last night. Got up, had breakfast, enjoyed the last views of the islands, chatted with our new friends, and then we all took our final zodiac ride to land to head to the airport. The lounge at the Baltra airport was a hot, sticky mess. We were joking around with our fellow passengers. A few were continuing on with their adventures. Most were heading home. 

When we got to Baltra on 12/15, we were immediately told that the WiFi on the boat didn’t work. I got in touch with 5 groups of people immediately to tell them how to reach us in the event of an emergency and that was it. And when I was able to re-engage on 12/21 after we docked in town for a day of tortoise watching and an afternoon of shopping, nothing had changed in the world. 

I mean - the political situation is still a cluster. My New York Giants still suck. I’m still getting the crap kicked out of me in my weekly pick ‘em NFL pool. Nothing new. Yes, lots of drama going on in the world and stuff did happen this week that I would have normally kept tabs on, but did it matter when I reconnected 7 days later? The lack of internet also caused something amazing - people actually engaging with each other. WTF? Mind blown! Anyway.....

For Marc and I, the size of the ship was perfect. 40+ passengers — so not overwhelming in terms of lining up for excursions, food, or whatever. You were able to get to know your fellow travelers and also have your own downtime, if you chose to do that. We had a pretty social boat and people mingled about even if they came on with a group. The bar *MIGHT HAVE* been running so low on provisions that the crew needed to restock when we got to Santa Cruz on Friday to get us through the last night of the cruise. Don’t judge.

In addition to celebrating Marc’s 50th birthday, we had a couple celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary with their daughter and their son-in-law. Another couple was celebrating their 35th anniversary. All goes to show you that you should always embrace the positive and “eat the damned cupcake”. Good role models for the Becks’.

So we landed in Guayaquil, and had about 3 hours before our next flight to Bogotá. The lounge here was an utter oasis compared to the one in Baltra. Air-conditioning, plenty of chargers, decent WiFi to upload the 600+ pics we took in the Galápagos and a shower, which was lovely since we were literally landing in Bogotá and heading straight to dinner. 

When Marc and I landed in Bogotá and while taking the car service into the city, I was struck by the Christmas lights that were up all over the place. John, one of the guys from our trip, gave us a heads-up about this and he was right. It was really pretty. Based on what I was able to discern in the dark about the skyline, I was excited to see what the city looked like during the day knowing it is surrounded by the Andes.

We had dinner at Restaurante Leo, which came highly recommended. Let’s just say that
while the food was very good, it was definitely on the esoteric side. Literally bugs and worms esoteric. The kitchen offered Marc an opportunity to see the worms up close after he said the momojoy dish “wasn’t bad” and he politely declined. While at dinner, a couple got engaged and we applauded. Our server informed us that the gentleman is a regular at the restaurant and is a native English speaker. Most of the back of the house staff come out to congratulate the happy couple. His new fiancée speaks Spanish. Neither knows more than maybe 500+ words in the other language. Whatever works, right?

That said, Marc had a local coffee liqueur at dinner that we literally started investigating while still at the restaurant if we could get it at home. If not, clothes are going to be left in Colombia to make room in the luggage. Make no mistake about that! Tonight is also the night that we start the 15-day cycle for our malaria pills, which I am not looking forward to. I’ve heard nothing but unpleasant side effects when taking these pills. Let’s hope these are kept at a minimum for the both of us.

Day 14: Puerto Ayora, Santa Cruz Island (Galápagos)

Most people live on this island if they live in the Galápagos. This is the home of the National Park Service as well as the Charles Darwin Research Station. They keep young tortoise hatchlings for 4-5 years of the 10 remaining species until their shells are thick and hard enough to withstand most attacks and then methodically release them appropriately. Some live over 100 years and some still die for various reasons including as prey.

We bused up to the highlands to see wild giant tortoises on some property the family shares with the Charles Darwin Research Station. The tortoises roam across many properties freely navigating from the beach (laying eggs) to the highlands (hanging out most of the time). They had us all put on mud boots which I was quite thankful for once we started walking. The turtles just sit in a lot in mud puddles to regulate temperature. The boots got tons of mud and poop all over them. There were so many turtles to look at and then after our walk we got to climb out of the boots and leave them to be cleaned. Our shoes were perfectly clean.

We bused back into town to visit the Charles Darwin Research Station. They raise tortoises from each island for about 5 years and release them when their survival rate will be extremely high. The younger ones shells are not tough enough to withstand some predators and so many were taken from the islands before it became a national park that they are trying to get species per island back up to levels before humans intervened. Humans also brought non-native things like goats, rats, and more that altered things considerably. They've tried to eliminate as much as possible.

We stayed in town for a couple of hours for a long lunch that had WiFi. It was actually kind of nice to be free from outside communication while touring the Galápagos for a week. This helped everyone mingle more after activities rather than stare at screens in silence.

I originally wanted to be on the smallest tour boat here which is typically 16 guests. There are pros and cons to that over what we got (41 guests on boat that maxes at 48) or the 100 person boats.

The 16 guest boats can anchor closer to things to get to shore landings and snorkeling stuff spending less time in zodiac unless that is the activity for morning or afternoon. You get to know everyone really well on those boats. One thing I didn't realize is that the certified naturalists that must accompany everyone in the national park areas can deal with at most 16 people. This is why those are the common size. You only need one naturalist on board. Hopefully they're really good because you're only going to get their perspective. We have 4 of them on our boat - it could get away with 3 but we go in max groups of 12 on our zodiacs. We get different perspectives from each of them and it's been interesting learning from them all. I like the size we ended up with not feeling too crowded as 100 would likely make me anxious waiting in line for every zodiac excursion.

Day 13: Galápagos Islands (Isla Genovesa), Ecuador.

Marc and I found out last night that today was going to be our final day to snorkel. We had a couple of less than awesome snorkel sessions so many of us had high hopes for our last session this morning. But first we had a walk on Isla Genovesa, which one can call a mecca for birds. 

We were on the 1st boat out to shore and the “dry landing” was definitely an adventure. Actually many of the “dry landings”, which mean your feet aren’t supposed to get wet, have been very adventurous with balancing the tide and where the boat is letting off folks. This could be a variation of the boat being a foot under the landing or a foot over the landing depending on the wind. Today we had to be ready to go at the perfect moment for someone to grab you and for you to jump on land. Fortunately no injuries getting out of and back on to the zodiac when we were done with the walk.

Marc and I saw short-eared owls, blue-footed boobies (yes, you read that correctly), red-footed boobies, Nazca boobies, mockingbirds, frigatebirds, hawks and plenty of other birds to make ornithology enthusiasts go wild after we climbed Prince Philip’s Steps. We saw a small chick being protected by the mother as well as eggs that have been laid but have not hatched as of yet. The bonus was seeing those owls as they really blend well into the habitat.

After the walk and returning to the boat, we had our final snorkel. As the floor was rocky
as opposed to sand, we were hoping the conditions were better for seeing some cool wildlife under water. We did see sea lions (fur and common types), but we also got to see a school of golden cownose rays whizz by us. That was pretty awesome and Marc captured some great video until he was literally kicked in the face multiple times by another snorkeler in the area.

Marc and I decided to opt out of the afternoon activity and just napped/read. It was nice. While we were chilling, one of our fellow passengers saw a ‘hammerhead shark’, which is what I have really wanted to see on this trip, but I was too late. Looks like I won’t see them on this adventure but it was fun being on the lookout. We had a nightly happy hour and then dinner on the boat. But more hijinks awaited....

It was karaoke night on the Xperience. We had musical talents spanning the gamut of decent to, eh....., not so much. Note that I fall in the latter category. Most of the people in the room did contribute on at least one song, which was fun, but I think our guide leading the session was happy when the clock struck 10pm and called it a night for everyone. 

More pics posted HERE.

Day 12: Isabela Island --> Bartolome & Santa Cruz Islands (Galápagos)

We sailed all night from the northwest part of Isabela Island over to Bartolomé Island. There is a short hike to a peak on this island with gorgeous views that happen to be photographed a lot. If you Google the Galápagos you probably see a photo from this lookout without looking very long.

There is a pinnacle rock visible from there that would become our morning snorkeling expedition once we returned to the ship for a quick change. We were on the first zodiac for snorkeling.

SHARK! I finally saw a shark on this one. It was white finned and perhaps 4-5 feet long but not huge in diameter. It was just cruising along and I turned on video and kicked with the fins to keep up. In person it was visible but barely since the section of shore I was closest to was sandy and the water was murkier than I'd like. The video does a poor job of revealing the shark despite following it for 10-15 seconds while recording. I'm going to have to get video from others on board and also perhaps see more sharks!

We ate lunch and chilled on the upper deck for a couple of hours after lunch. Mostly a nice breeze that helped induce a nap for me... All these activities are awesome but also energy draining.

We stopped near Las Bachas Beach on Santa Cruz Island and there was a beach walk with optional snorkel or swim or skip the walk and head to beach for snorkel, swim or beach time. I signed us up for the walk, but we switched to skip that. We were last group to the beach and the conditions weren't great for snorkeling. It was tough just doing a wet landing and getting out of the zodiac.

I went in with mask no snorkel but couldn't really see anything as the waves were churning sand too much. Nobody else came out as far as I did (past the break line) so I came back in and took off wetsuit and mask and just swam a bit. Fortunately they let us leave shortly thereafter as there was nothing visible other than birds and a marine iguana and we were originally going to stay for sunburn for 2 hours. We got first zodiac back to boat to clean up for the evening.

The walking tour that we skipped saw flamingos! That would have been better use of that time but the WaterClown in me wanted more water time when we skipped the walk.

The cocktail hour at 6 involved a ship circumnavigation of Daphne Island just north of Santa Cruz. It's a volcanic cone that has a crater floor that is an important breeding ground for Blue Footed Boobies. We have many pictures of these birds.

So we had another good evening at dinner on the boat. Then I saw a tray of dessert drinks delivered to a table that had the couple celebrating their 50th anniversary this week (Friday) and their kids and those that joined them. It looked amazing. I walked over to ask about it then ordered one for myself.

They called it KAB - Kahlua, Amaretto, Bailey's plus ice and an Oreo cookie. Wow! I don't know proportions and cannot look it up as I write this with no internet access, but yum! Great end of evening dessert.

We went up to top deck after dinner and hung out in cooler air chatting a bit. I learned a new phrase from some 60 year olds trying to make the best of everything. They know I'm turning 50 shortly and told me that your 60s are the "go go" decade, your 70s are the "slow go" decade, and your 80s are the "no go" decade. They didn't give me the 50s decade phrase so perhaps add several go's to the 60s phrase. So enjoy it now! Seems about right...

Day 11: Galápagos Islands (Isla Isabela), Ecuador.

Gosh. It was a full day even though the itinerary didn’t make it seem that way when we went through everything last night.

Because we have a decent amount to travel on the boat today, we got off to an early start with a walk around Urbina Bay on Isla Isabela to hopefully see some land iguanas and tortoises. Marc and I got out on the 1st boat so it meant we would be 1st on the trail before the other 3 boats. We had a wet landing for this morning’s walk, which means no dock, and while we were getting out of the zodiacs, we saw some more penguins and pelicans

Not 5 minutes into the walk, we see a tortoise come out of the brush. It was a “small” one and our guide guessed it weighed about 80 lbs. In last night’s briefing, they told us that if we see a tortoise on our walk that we needed to be very quiet so they didn’t get alarmed. But our guide was talking so loud because she was so excited, we were kind of worried that it would retreat. It actually kept it’s head out for a long time as we were standing there so we snapped a bunch of photos.

Along the way, Marc and I spotted a few land iguanas, which are more colorful than the marine iguanas. All in all, we ended up seeing about 10 of them on this hour long walk, which was pretty cool. Some of them were well camouflaged into the habitat so it was hard to get good pics of some of them. As we came around the bend, our guide saw a massive male tortoise walking away from us. She guessed that this one weighed about 400 lbs. 

This was one big dude. We knew we needed to get past the tortoise at some point to
finish our walk so we had to wait for an opportunity where we could pass on the side. Our guide was pretty stoked. We continued our walk, saw a couple more tortoises in the distance and then as we turned another corner we saw two tortoises walking towards each other - a huge male and a female. We didn’t know if this was going to be a mating thing or what, so we all were watching with a fair amount of anticipation.

As it turned out, the female wanted nothing to do with the male and just “scurried” past him. I didn’t know tortoises could move THAT fast but hey - we are learning. We definitely got lucky with how many tortoise sightings we had and our guide said that we were one short of her record. She was psyched at the different sizes of tortoises that we saw. It was really a great walk and it was only 9:30am by the time we returned to the boat.

After we got back, I decided to improv a workout on the top deck. Jumping rope on a moving ship is a bit of a challenge but I didn’t kill myself, so that’s a plus. Then they had a movie for us that is hard to explain called “The Galapagos Affair: Satan Came To Eden”, which is based on a book. Somehow Marc and I got sucked in and then it ended at a weird part, so now we are committed for part 2, which they are showing tomorrow. This movie definitely falls into the ‘you can’t make this stuff up’ bucket. 

After lunch, we had some time to relax so I finally started one of the books I downloaded to my Kindle - “The Bettencourt Affair”. So far, it has been an interesting read - it’s about the family who founded the L’Oreal company. Then we went out for a deep sea snorkel at Vincente Roca Point, where you jump in the water from the zodiac and not the beach. We saw more sea lions, turtles, penguins and tropical fish. Others saw sharks, but we didn’t see them unfortunately. Then we had a quick turnaround for a ride on the zodiac to see more wildlife. We were expecting to see more flamingos, marine iguanas, penguins, etc.

If we have an activity that mostly everyone opts into, we will have 4 zodiacs out on the water with a naturalist and a driver for each one. They do a great job at keeping us safe while ensuring that we have fun. As we are out on the water, they are typically communicating with each other in Spanish via walkie-talkie about timing, conditions, etc. It’s generally pretty measured in terms of tone..... until this afternoon.

All of a sudden, lots of loud chaos is coming over the radio and I’m trying to make it out since I was sitting right next to the naturalist. I thought I heard “orca” but I wasn’t sure but all I know is that in a few seconds that all 4 zodiacs were heading in the same direction past the boat. And then I saw why - we were in the vicinity of not just one killer orca whale, but two killer orca whales

The drivers of the boat did a great job getting us close, but “mostly” not too close. At one point, we were about 20 yards away from one of the orcas in some decent chop so it was not a dull 15 minutes by any stretch. We got some great pics and one of our fellow passengers captured an awesome video of a poor sea turtle and one of the killer orcas (watch carefully). 

Everyone was pretty much buzzing when we all got back to the boat after that whole
episode! The way the guides were acting reminded me of this episode when we were in Tazzie on the Australian Walkabout in 2013. And we still had our official “Equator crossing”. Yep, we crossed over the Equator into the Southern Hemisphere before dinner and had the opportunity to watch it all from the bridge of the boat. Super cool. We had crossed the Equator a few times on this trip, but this time we were actually awake for it! After that, cocktails, wine, dinner, laughs and some more bevvies under some starry skies.

What a day. More pics posted here.

Day 10: Santiago Island --> Isabella & Fernandina Island (Galápagos)

The day began before 3am because we sailed all evening and overnight. Around 2:30am for at least 90 minutes we were going over some waves possibly going around the North end of Isabela Island and a drawer in the closet was opening and closing regularly along with hangers in the closet bumping the door. And we had a full day planned - both long walks and both wet entry snorkeling adventures.

We pulled into Tagus Cove right at breakfast time and dropped anchor. This cove has centuries of rock carved graffiti from boats who've been here long ago. We took the long hike option which went up part of a volcano for about 30 minutes passing above Darwin Lake along the way. The lake is extremely salty like the Dead Sea. We got some great views along the way and saw a Galápagos Hawk and ventured back down to the zodiac.

We thought we were going back to the boat because that was this option while the other was zooming around in zodiac looking for animals like penguins and turtles. But we were basically shown both sides of the bay too since we had time and we saw more penguins on rock rather than in the water than the boat designated for that assignment.
Sometimes better lucky than good.

It was a quick turnaround to a wet snorkeling expedition in which you just pop into the water from the zodiac rather than getting into wetsuit from shore. I prefer this method as it is less of a mess to clean when returning to the ship at the end. It's also just plain fun falling backwards off the zodiac into the water. The water over here in the West is colder but not too bad in the wetsuit.

We saw penguins swimming, lots of turtles, playful sea lions, and other fish. Some folks saw a shark but we missed it. I got some great photos and videos of all that we saw. Catching the penguin is tricky because it's so fast, but I got a great video keeping it on screen for 5-10 seconds.

As we ate lunch, the boat began the short journey over to Espinoza Point on Fernandina Island for the afternoon adventures that awaited.

We had another wet snorkeling expedition to start at 3:30. We got on second zodiac and by the time we got to drop area, the first group had been in for a few minutes and the overall team decided it was too choppy and difficult to navigate around a rocky outcrop with waves breaking over them. They were getting back into their zodiac.

So we went around that outcrop by boat and were dropped in calmer water. It was murkier than the morning but we still saw new stuff. I got good photos and videos but we actually got on the zodiac early since visibility was not as good as the morning snorkel. Still very enjoyable.

We got back to the main ship and had to quickly change into walking attire for the late afternoon adventure. That involved mostly marine iguanas. Lots and lots of them. And then even more. We also saw sea lions and cactus and other cool stuff but focus was marine iguanas. I've seen a lifetime worth in one afternoon.

We had 5+ minutes to shower for the day when we got back on the boat. We were still relatively early for drinks and dinner because basically everyone was showering too. So we got pictures and enjoyed dinner before learning more about tomorrow expeditions and the Galápagos in general.

The marine iguanas eat algae and they've evolved a gland that takes salt from their blood and allows them to spit it out rather than going through system. El Niño years are particularly bad for them so they've also evolved to shrink body mass by 20% or more to handle fact that the algae doesn't show up in those years and main food source simply isn't present.

Great day!

Day 9: Galápagos Islands (Isla Rábida and Isla Santiago), Ecuador.

I downloaded a bunch of books to my Kindle in anticipation for not having WiFi and having lots of downtime. A miscalculation on my part and I’m talking about the having lots of downtime. The boat serves breakfast at 7am on most mornings and then the last activity ends at roughly 10pm. Now none of these activities are mandatory, but most seem pretty interesting so why wouldn’t you try to maximize your time here?

Our boat has a max of 50 passengers and we are at 41. Everyone has been incredibly friendly and inclusive. We all seem to acknowledge that we may forget someone’s name and no one is going to care. Just be nice and positive, and no one is going to give a crap. With the exception of a lovely couple from Germany, everyone is American. The boat has a crew of 22 people, and they all seem to be very busy between keeping our rooms tidy, maintaining the boat, cooking us endless amounts of food and ensuring our safety. 

Other than the WiFi not working so we could ensure our photos are secured in the event we drop a phone/camera in the water, we don’t need much of anything. Note that when Marc and I went on a tour of the bridge of the boat, we saw a whole new satellite system that was supposed to rectify the WiFi problem. Honestly I just want my photos off of my local devices. Whomever really needs to get in touch with me has a way to do just that.

After breakfast, we went on a walk on Isla Rábida where we saw lava lizards, flamingoes, sea lions (no, they are NOT seals) and a couple of marine iguanas. It’s pretty warm but I would say that even though we are hovering right near the Equator that it is not excessively hot - that whole being on the water thing. Then we went on our 1st snorkeling expedition from the beach. We saw some colorful schools of fish, a spotted eagle ray, and starfish. It was pretty cool. 

After lunch, we went to Isla Isla Santiago for a little hike. Marc and I had the opportunity to see more Sally Lightfoot Crabs, a few more marine iguanas and a number of unique birds. Plus more sea lions. It was super cool. Those crabs have a red color, which really stands out against the black lava rocks.

Marine iguanas didn’t always know how to swim. They learned to swim in order to survive. They are vegetarians and learned to hold their breath for an hour so they can graze on seaweed, since the Galápagos didn’t have much vegetation for them to graze on. Too much seaweed for the iguanas leads to another issue - too much salt. So they have massive “sneezing” salt capabilities. FROM. THEIR. BLOOD. Yes, you read that correctly. 

We came back, showered, ate with the group and then had the overview of activities for the next day so we could choose our activities. Then they showed us a video on the animals of the Galápagos. By the time we went to our room, it was 10pm. Something tells me I won’t be making much progress on my reading list.

You can find more photos on Dropbox here. Note: We have already have A LOT from the Galápagos chapter. You have been warned.

Day 8: Quito --> Galápagos!

The day we arrive for the primary purpose of this adventure Jill has dubbed Operation Cincuenta.

Despite getting up @ 6am to head to the airport, it's still mostly a travel day even when starting in the same country as the destination. The Galápagos National Park charges $100 per person when you arrive on the islands. This we took care of with our tour company long ago. We didn't know that each person also must get a transit control card for $20 that contains passport info and allows you to enter and leave based on when you say you are returning. Insane process that nobody at the airport in Quito seemed to understand. We got it refunded to us when we arrived because we had in fact already paid that too!

We got on a shuttle bus to board the plane. 3 open doors letting people on the bus. To get off though everyone had to plow through the middle door only as they apparently want to control deboarding chaos in some sinister manner.

It appears that all flights go to the Galápagos from Guayaquil, Ecuador so we had a quick stop over before heading out over some Pacific Ocean to actually get there. We stayed on with about 1/2 the plane full and then more joined us before departing for real destination.

Once we landed in the Galápagos I was so stressed about making our boat. Our flight was 30 minutes late and we had under an hour to "be checked in" (which felt nebulous). We had bags to collect and customs to go through and I didn't know how close it would get. We were the first two up the sidewalk to the airport and someone came out of the VIP lounge at the perfect time with our boat company sign. We walked in and were reassured that there was another plane still in the air so we were ahead of the crowd! I felt so much better immediately.

We then got word to contact anyone now because the boat has no internet. We were told just lots of time to enjoy nature for the next week. While sitting at airport waiting for later flight, we both wondered after an hour why our phones were still on mainland time. The Islands are equivalent to Central Time but are taking "island time" to switch... Our boat told us they just stay on mainland time by clock even though it isn't that time here. It's definitely light later.

We got on board and had "lunch" at like 4:20-4:45 then saw presentation of Black Turtle Cove - Santa Cruz Island. We were given 5-10 minutes to get hats, jackets, sunscreen, cameras and come back for Zodiac ride to see this. We were the first two people on the first departing Zodiac. I was READY!

We saw so many creatures in this cove area including the black turtles, Sally Lightfoot crabs, brown pelicans, rays, sharks, and blue footed boobies. Even though boat got a late start to the day, they pleased us before going over tomorrow's morning and afternoon walks/snorkeling and serving us dinner. They're going to keep us busy all week. They said we'll be tired by the end and need a vacation.

Black turtle cove by zodiac...

Day 7: Quito, Ecuador.

Today Marc and I got off to an early start because we were going to be heading south of Quito to Cotopaxi National Park to hike near the Cotopaxi Volcano. For context, Quito is situated at an altitude of 9350 feet so that’s pretty high for the Becks’. Our travel medicine clinic advised us to bring altitude sickness pills for this part of the trip and a future part of the trip. Due to some of the other meds we will be taking (i.e., malaria pills at a minimum), we were hoping that because our stay in Quito is relatively brief that we could skip them for this component of the trip. 

Marc and I met our guide, Carlos (wearing a Yankees hat so I knew we would get on just fine), at the park entrance and he took us to a few sites along the way to head up to where we would do our walk. The weather definitely improved from a viewing perspective as the morning progressed. We saw other volcanoes such as Rumiñawi and Sincholagua, as well as Laguna Limpiopungo. You can still see lava rocks from the 1877 eruption along the way to Cotopaxi.

Cotopaxi tops out at 19,347 feet and is the tallest active volcano in the world. It is part of the Andes mountain range. For comparison, Rainier tops out at 14,411 feet. The parking lot for the Cotopaxi Volcano itself is at ~15,000 feet. Maybe the highest altitude I had hiked previously was around 10,000+ feet.

Given how high the summit is, people who are climbing to the top generally get to the park a few days early to acclimatize themselves. We did not have that option. Our goal was to hike to the refugio from the parking lot. This refugio is the last point hikers can take shelter before they attempt to summit Cotopaxi. The hike was less than a mile and went up 1000+ feet.

The only catch for what seemed to be a short hike was that we were starting at 14,765 feet and hiking to 15,960 feet where the Refugio Jose Rivas was located. It was cold. I still had a decent amount of layers and felt slightly “Michelin-man” like. Truthfully, were not as properly prepared as we should have been from a  clothing perspective. That added to the challenge of being at such a high altitude. 

I took lots of breaks, and did a fair amount of huffing and puffing but we made it there in roughly 50 minutes. I was gassed and I definitely felt the altitude. Of course, I forgot the aforementioned altitude sickness pills and left them at the hotel. DUH! Lonely Planet called this hike a ‘lung buster’ and, yeah, that would be an accurate way to describe it!

Fortunately we took plenty of pics on the way up because as we were coming down, Cotopaxi definitely started to hide behind some clouds. I also saw a guide with a Red Sox hat - glad he wasn’t our guide! We decided that we were going to skip lunch and have our driver, Mario, take us from Cotopaxi straight to the “Old Town” area of Quito. 

As Marc mentioned yesterday, traffic in Quito (and in Lima, for that matter) is pretty bad during the day, especially at rush hour. Since both cities do not have any kind of real mass transit, everyone drives or takes a taxi, which is essentially the same as driving. You also get to breathe in lots of toxic fumes while sitting in traffic. So we timed our return to Quito for the middle of the day to avoid traffic, which still was pretty bad by US standards (yes, even Seattle standards). 

Mario walked us around “Old Town”, which had some impressive architecture. We started at Plaza Grande, which has the Presidential Palace and the Metropolitan Cathedral. We then walked to the Iglesia de la Compania de Jesus, which had some pretty jaw dropping designs on the ceilings and the walls. Construction on the church began in 1605 and didn’t finish until almost 1800. We also walked through the Iglesia y Convento de San Francisco.

Then we checked out Casa del Alabado. The focus of this place is around pre-Columbian
(not Colombian) artifacts. Some of them were made as far back as 4000 BC! The artistry and handiwork on these items really blew us away, especially the detail on the really small pieces (think the size of your thumb). We have all of the pics, along with some descriptions on Dropbox here.

Walking back to the car in the public garage, we kept hearing car alarms going off. I don’t even know if people really pay attention to car alarms anymore. I feel like 20 years ago (when I was living in NYC), they went off so much that people just were desensitized to them. But they go off constantly. As a matter of fact, we had car alarms going off constantly near our hotel until about 3am last night!

On the way back to the hotel with Mario, I observed that Quito has their own version of “squeegee guys” - anyone who lived in NYC in the 80s/early 90s knows what I am talking about. We saw lots of people selling various things like fruit and water along the side of the road, but then we saw one guy who was juggling machetes in a “very liberal way”, which was a Marc quote. Go figure. 

We did some laundry (yay for upgrades that have a washer/dryer in the room), packed and had dinner at Zazu. Excellent local ingredients that were well prepared and great service. Tried some wine from Ecuador, which was good and a first for us. I submitted my football picks for the next 2 weeks and hope that the lack of a working injury report won’t kill me any more than when I do have one to reference in my “pick’em pool”.

Marc and I are ready to head off to the next phase of our adventure, which is the main event for Operation Cincuenta - the Galapagos. We may have internet. We may not. In the event we don’t post for the next week, we will stockpile our posts and upload them when we are back on land. 

Day 6: Lima, Peru --> Quito, Ecuador

Crazy drive through neighborhoods with hired driver from hotel. He knew where he was going and how to avoid backups by getting off main road for sketchy side areas. But definitely most aggressive driver we've had and slightly scary to experience although having watched several days of traffic not completely on the extreme. Good news when we got to airport his company has special entrance right to the front door. Taxis go with crazy regular traffic jam into lot.

Line to check bags had less people waiting than total places to check it. Super fast! Then international boarding line was about the same - straight through ticket/passport check then maybe 10 people putting bags on belt in front of us. I was amazed given we didn't have TSA pre check option.

This photo was taken at the GPS equator at 4:03 pm. Check out the shadow! You’ll read about GPS precise location and the magnetic location (we visited both - they’re only a few hundred meters apart).

Flight was maybe 85% full with empty seat next to us and clouds covering view of the Andes most of the way (sad for the window viewer in me). Jill found us some Priority Pass food for free (thanks Jill & Amex Platinum) before boarding. Restaurant was right next to our gate and we both chose a decent sandwich. Then we were offered a "coffee break" sandwich on board while flying which was nowhere near as good but I took one and basically ate the ham/cheese inside but left most of the bread alone.

Mario picked us up to take us to Mitad del Mundo - Middle of the World, Equatorial Line. The area next to the Lima airport is chaotic. The area next to Quito is perfectly paved roads and a sense of order.

We started at the reservation that has the digital gps latitude of 00°00'00" and learned a lot on tour there taking lots of fun photos. They stamped our passports at the end of the tour with a special stamp. Then we went to the magnetic monument area built by the French a while ago retaking photos of "the line" and structure for the second time. I preferred the first spot perhaps because of the tour although she shared depressing stuff like head shrinking and fish that swim into your urethra if you piss while swimming in the amazon river. She further enhanced the tour by telling us that when men died they'd be buried in pottery that was burned and if the wife was alive, she was buried with him alive. Very uplifting.

Getting to the hotel around 5:30 as well as going to dinner at 7:30 basically involved sitting in traffic for over an hour to go maybe 3 miles. And you get to breathe high quality exhaust the entire time. Welcome to peak traffic hours.

We went to Osaka for dinner in the traffic. It took us a while to decompress, but the food was delicious. I got a beef nikudito and pork belly main while Jill ordered several items to try and seemed to enjoy them all. Then I got a chocolate volcano dessert that was a good ending.

Day 5: Lima, Peru.

We started out the day with a tour of Pachacamac, which are Incan ruins just outside of the city limits of Lima. On the way out to the site, our guide, Ursula, explained about how bad the traffic is in the city and how it can take her almost 2 hours to go under 20km from her house to where all of the hotels are on a given weekday. We also spent a fair bit of time talking about all of the amazing food to take in while in Lima. She encouraged us to come back to Peru and visit other regions of the country as their cuisine is very different and just as wonderful. Let’s just say I concur.

During the drive, we also talked about the recent elections from Sunday and how mandatory voting has pros and cons. A con is that many people do not care to get educated about the candidates and/or the issues, so they just vote for “whatever is easiest” so they don’t get a fine from the government. We also discussed the complicated legacy of Alberto Fujimori, the former President of Peru, who made a lot of tough choices that benefitted the people of Peru but also got the corruption bug in the latter part of his tenure.

We arrived at Pachacamac and walked around the various archeological sites that have 
been unearthed to date. The site was first settled around A.D. 200 and was named after the "Earth Maker" creator god. It flourished for about 1,300 years until the Spanish invaded. We saw pyramids, which are not in the style of the Egyptian ones that most people think of when they hear that word. The main pyramid that we were able to walk around was the “Temple of the Sun”, which has sweeping views of the Pacific Ocean.

After walking around that location, Ursula took Marc and I down to the Recinto de Mamacones. The area was an enclosed space in which the prettiest young girls would be trained to be either the wives of nobility, sort of nuns and lastly sacrificial offerings. We saw some men working on drawing sketches of Incan artifacts that had been recently unearthed, which was pretty cool to observe.

We headed back to the car and drove back into Lima, where Marc and I were going to be dropped off for lunch for traditional Peruvian chicken. Yesterday I called “an audible”  our lunch plans for today after Ellie, our guide from a couple of days ago, started talking about Peruvian chicken. I couldn’t believe I didn’t make the connection for our trip because our neighbor makes Peruvian chicken and it is one of my favorites (she actually made it for my birthday this year!). And based on Marc’s epic performance on eating lots of seafood yesterday both at lunch and at dinner and admitting it was “pretty good”, I figured he deserved a break from creatures of the sea. So I switched our reservation to a chicken place recommended by Lourdes, our guide from the food tour on Sunday.

Ursula somehow encountered very little traffic on the way back into town, so Marc and I went for a walk in a residential neighborhood called San Borja with lots of greenways 
and parks. It was a bit humid but it was nice to still be on our feet and see a different section of Lima. We then got to lunch at Don Tito’s and the roasted Peruvian chicken was epic. The sauces, including the one with aji chiles, did not disappoint. The place had a great atmosphere and I think we were the only non-locals in there and based on our lack of Spanish speaking skills, we were fortunate that the menu is very simple. LOL.

After lunch, it was good that we had about a 40 minute walk back to the hotel. After getting most of our packing done, I decided to head to the gym to torture myself some more. Of course, we then had to test out some of the chocolate that we made yesterday. It’s not easy being us but we try to persevere in these circumstances.

Dinner tonight was at Rafael in the Miraflores neighborhood. Marc and I decided to go “a la carte” as opposed to the “tasting menu” track, and we were rewarded for that choice. We both enjoyed all of our dishes, although Marc said that Sunday’s version of the “arroz con pato” was a tad better than what he had tonight. So we spent time analyzing the differences between the two so I could attempt to replicate whatever he thought was awesome at home. 

We also sat next to a lovely couple from Lima who said that Rafael was their fave restaurant and gave us some pro tips on dessert. I also really appreciated it how when I asked the server for a reco between the ceviche and the tiradito dishes that he didn’t hesitate and chose the former. Plus Marc had some unique choices for rum and I had the opportunity to enjoy a Malamado dessert wine from Zuccardi in Mendoza (for newer members of this blog, Marc and I are very “pro-Zuccardi” - here is why). All in all, a fun evening.  

We are sad to be leaving Lima but we are excited for the next phase of Operation Cincuenta. Plus I have some great inspiration for cooking at home! Thanks for tuning in so far!

For more pics, please click here.

Day 4: Lima, Peru (ChocoMuseum)

We started the day a little earlier with breakfast so that we could walk about an hour before starting our chocolate bean to bar making class at ChocoMuseum. We walked South out of the hotel in the San Isidro area along neighborhood streets heading into the Miraflores area. The streets interconnect at strange angles in places and I slightly lost track of the direct route so by the time we crossed Av Jose Pardo we were further West than I had planned but only 7 minutes too far that direction so we still made it in time to start the class without a problem.

Marcelo was our instructor and was great. He talked us through the cacao plant and where they grow in the world (equatorial regions in South America and Africa). We tasted an opened one that had a gooey white stuff that was slightly sweet. That fruity and sticky white stuff is fermented with the beans for almost a week and then the beans are removed so that they can be dried in the sun. For most chocolate growing regions, this is where they bag and sell the beans to countries like Switzerland and the United States to finish the process into various chocolate products.

So we started the chocolate bar making process by roasting the beans about 15+ minutes constantly stirring until you could begin to hear popping like popcorn. After these cooled on the counter in front of us, there were about 25 beans for me, Jill, and Marcelo. We cracked the roasted beans and put the outer shell into one bowl and the inner bean into another bowl. We used the shell portion to make a tea with. While it was seeping, we used some mortars and pestles to grind the beans. The goal is to grind for a long time into a paste such that you can actually separate the cocoa butter from the cocoa powder but Jill and I were not as experienced as Marcelo nor did we have enough time to just keep doing that. He looks like a paste at least - ours were still just fine grains but we had to move on from there.

So after we drank the tea, which was pretty good, we made two different chocolate beverages with the ground beans. The first was more Mayan traditional. We added honey, chili powder and hot water. The second was Conquistadores style with sugar and hot milk. That one was really good when the bean remnants were strained out.

Now that we knew but didn’t accomplish the cacao butter/powder separation, we heard about the process. That takes about a day. After that, you decide your target chocolate percentage which indicates how much cacao powder is going in. For the 50% range, you have less than half cacao powder, then some of the cacao butter, then some sugar, and the rest is milk powder. For the 70% range or higher, you have about half cacao powder, some of the cacao butter, and the remainder is sugar. The closer to 100% you get, the less sugar involved. 100% is about 90% cacao powder and 10% cacao butter and no sugar. That is powerfully good for you but you generally can only eat about 1 (perhaps 2) square(s) of it a day.

Once your target percentage is determined, you put those into a machine that blends them for 24 hours. This breaks down the crystals in the components to make things really smooth. It takes time! When that is done the liquid rests for several hours and then it is time to temper it so that it is shiny! If you don’t temper it, it will taste just fine but it will be a lighter brown look that appears raw. But if you temper it by cooling it on a marble stone and then mixing in some more and cooling that and eventually refrigerating it, then when you use that chocolate to pour into molds it will hold the shininess and will have a snap when broken.

So we got to the point of choosing 47% milk chocolate or 70% dark chocolate for the bars we would be making and both chose to get the 70% for our bars. Then we had to choose a mold from about 25 options. Jill went with a bar mold while I chose chocolate egg mold. We then could choose any of about 20 fillings for the bars. I went with coffee beans and m&m’s while I cannot even list all of the stuff Jill chose for her chocolate bars. We filled the molds slightly and then made sure the chocolate had covered the interior of every mold. We then had to get the air out by dropping and tapping the mold pans several times. Then we put in fillings as desired. Jill elaborately put all kinds of stuff in there making me proud. I just put a few of either choice in my eggs. After this we covered our fillings with a drizzling motion and had to ensure none of them were “above” the bottom of the chocolate mold when they’d be turned over to remove later. They were put in the fridge for about 20 minutes and dropped from the molds. Nice popping sound coming out. And after 2 hours working with chocolate, we had our own bars to enjoy!

We bought a little from the store and walked 15-20 minutes over to a seafood restaurant that is well known called La Mar. I didn’t see a single thing on the menu that was not some kind of seafood dish. Jill knew this going in. So we ordered a shared scallop appetizer and two other “cebiche” dishes. The scallop thing was ok - perhaps a bit fishy for me but both of the “cebiche” items were actually good and I had seconds of each. Jill was impressed with my ability to consume more than a few bites with the ugly face of yuck. It was admittedly pretty good.

The server talked me into finishing the meal with a glass of Pisco to sooth the stomach. While I went through that, we saw some cookbooks in the back and took one to the table. The one we will get has lots of interesting stuff in it and it is available on Amazon so we don’t have to carry around an extra 5+ pounds to get it back to our kitchen.

We then walked back to the hotel via a different route to see some other parts of the city and ended up walking past the place we will be going to dinner later. So it was a productive walk and good way to burn off some of the chocolate and lunch before we go workout in the nice hotel gym for the day.

We went into the hotel gym which is really nice and started warming up on some bikes before doing our workout. The same guy that stretched us after our workout yesterday was there and he was happy to see us. I went into the room where we can do some Crossfit like moves without machines in the way and he came in there to turn up the music for me again. He doesn’t speak a lot of English, but he asked what kind of music I like. I told him rock. He said “metal?”, and made a guitar motion. I said no just rock. He thought about this a bit then asked for a band. I said Rush. He eventually had me type that. Then he plays Tom Sawyer and he seemed pleased and walked out of the room so a few Rush songs played while I stretched and did some mobility movement waiting for Jill. Eventually we ended up on songs that had the word “rush” in the song but were no longer by the band.

For dinner, we walked to Astrid and Gaston for dinner. I had no idea that we were in for a 10 course tasting menu PLUS 3 courses of dessert PLUS take home box of chocolates. I’m confident Jill didn’t expect that either. They worked around my food restrictions perfectly. At the END of the marathon meal, they brought complimentary bubbles and wished me a happy birthday. I could write AS MUCH about this dinner as about all the paragraphs of chocolate earlier in this post. Instead, I will summarize with the following and if you want more please ask or talk to Jill :-)

Jill thought every course was great which is saying something given the number of courses there are usually one or two “whatever” moments for her. The only exception was the palette cleanser dessert starter that she wasn’t fond of. For me, thinking back to any 7+ course tasting menus I HAVE EVER HAD, I can say with certainty it was the best I have had. My favorite memorable item was course #5 (early) which was a Cantonese Peruvian taco that was simply amazing and not outdone by any savory courses after that. I’m including a photo of the menu and you can click the link to view all of our photos if you really need to see this stuff.

Day 3: Lima, Peru.

Well the day started out with the power in our room going out 2x at 4am. Other than that, the day kicked off normally with some brekkie and then off to meet our guide for the morning, Ellie. Today we focused on the neighborhood of ‘Cercado de Lima’ aka ‘Centro de Lima’. 

Ellie walked us through some of the history of Peru, including the Spanish invasion led by Francisco Pizzaro. He conquered the Incan Empire in 1532 and claimed it all for Spain. Pizzaro ended up being the founder of what is now known as Lima in 1535. Peru ended up being liberated from Spanish rule by José de San Martín and Simón Bolívar in 1821. 

We walked around Plaza San Martin as well as Plaza de Mayor. In between, we walked down a major shopping thoroughfare for locals and learned about how Peruvians love their chicken, cerveza, chocolate, coffee, coca, chifa, ceviche and casinos. Of particular note is that chifas are commonly next to casinos as they are owned by the same person typically. 

They also love their Pisco Sours. So much so that a controversy exists between Peru and Chile over who “owns” the Pisco Sour. I can say from both of the times I was in Chile, I never saw the pride and the ownership on the drink like I have seen in the roughly 48 hours we have been in Peru. So there’s that. In fact, once a year they empty out the main fountain in Plaza de Mayor and fill it with Pisco. And yes, they pour people tiny shots of Pisco.

We then ventured over to the Museo Convento San Francisco y CatacombasMarc and I both enjoyed the explanations over the course of the tour by Ellie. Unfortunately no pics allowed but saw a fascinating Peruvian-based rendition of ‘The Last Supper’ as well as some really interesting looking “andas”. They can be described as thrones that are used in religious processions. We also walked through the catacombs and learned about the history on who was buried or how people “donated” items to the church so they could be buried there. Check out the pics in the link above.

After our tour, we went to lunch at a restaurant called Osso - known for the meats (BEEF) selection and for being one of the best in Peru. I figured if I am going to make Marc sit through eating ceviche (and many of you are well aware of his “love” for fish), I should at least ensure we get some good red meat.

Osso didn’t disappoint; Marc and I split a steak as opposed to getting something larger after yesterday’s shenanigans. I’d post some of the pics from the bathroom that were very funny but may not be appropriate for a family-friendly blog.

We walked back to the hotel and rested (aka ‘digested’) before hitting the gym at the hotel. It’s probably one of the best hotel gyms I have experienced, which is saying something. I created a “High Intensity Interval Training” workout for Marc and I, and then one of the trainers (who was watching and encouraging us in Spanish) offered to stretch us out after.

It was time to walk to Malabar for dinner. For being one of the “Top 50 Restaurants in Latin America”, it was refreshingly laid back with respect to service and had wonderful food. Since we were now allowed to consume alcohol legally in Peru, we seized the opportunity to try some Peruvian Syrah. Marc and I had some tacos and tostadas that had some unique flavor combos to us. Then I had a “hot ceviche” with the massive corn kernels that are known in Peru. It was just yummy (yeah, I said it like that). Marc had a local duck dish, which had some equally delicious action going on. Wine was good.... better for duck than my dish, but that wasn’t the point. 2 days in Lima has already led to lots of home cooking ideas. Success.

For those wondering about Peru producing wine, the country has 28 out of the 32 world climates within its borders. So not a complete shock that it is producing wine. 

As for dessert, Marc decided to go for something completely different with ‘Chirimolla with Meringue’ which had mangoes and oranges in it. I actually chose the chocolate as an insurance policy for Marc. Both were good, but I really enjoyed Marc’s dessert dish and all of the different textures. Surprisingly, Marc also enjoyed the mango dessert (but I think he was thankful that I ordered something chocolate).

All in all, another fun and stomach filling day in Lima. I’m hoping we will have more of the same as we progress on the trip.

For more pics, please click here.

Day 2: Lima, Peru

We got out of the airport with bags and into the hotel faster than we expected. We got a decent amount of sleep before getting a small breakfast at the hotel. We were going on a food tour at 9:30am so we had to save room....

We started in Barranco at a church built when the Spanish first came. The roof of the church was destroyed in the 1940 earthquake that the government has promised to restore. Our guide, Lourdes, said “they’re working on it”, which is about how it looks. We then walked across the “Bridge of Sighs” while holding hands and our breath. Legend has it that is you make a wish and make it across without taking a breath with your beloved, it will come true. We took some more photos and went for a coffee tasting.

Tostaduria Bisetti selects and roasts their own beans on site. I had an Americano and we got Jill a Mochachino with Peruvian chocolate so she could taste. Jill doesn’t drink coffee so I finished mine and most of hers. We did more walking on Barranco and then went into a place for a shake. It has a Peruvian fruit called lúcuma along with ice cream and sugar. It was fairly tasty!
We used the toilet here since our next stop would be the market and it’s much cleaner here. While Jill was away, I talked to Lourdes about awareness of thieves. She said that they are so good they can unzip a backpack and take something without you noticing. She said someone took her wallet from her front pocket and she did not notice it. She called this “manos de mantequilla”. Hands of butter. So smooth.
We then went to the market. We looked at a veggie stand for a while inspecting at least 10 different types of potatoes. We saw many other veggies with variations including black corn and a white corn with HUGE kernels. We learned there are about 3000 varieties of quinoa grown here although only a few are actually known on the market. We were also shown a bunch of fresh seafood and fish caught today. We then hung out at a fruit stand for a while learning about several variations of some fruits and even saw some raw cacao that with some work could become chocolate with the stuff on the inside. We were then given forks and bowls of several fruits to try. One had this gooey seed stuff we were told not to chew - just scoop onto fork and swallow it.
We then over to Miraflores to do two things: 1. learn how to make a Pisco Sour and 2. learn how to make a ceviche. For the Pisco Sour, it’s important to note that today is ‘Election Day’ in Peru. This means no alcohol is allowed to be served through Monday morning so I’m not naming where we went. We got there before the lunch hour so the staff showed us how to make them and then we got to make our own! It was fun AND foamy good!

Once we got that down, we sat down at a table and made our own ceviche with assistance from the chef. We then ate the “appetizer” and it was good. We still had lunch to eat.
Lunch was at Huaca Puallana right next to some Incan ruins. The restaurant is helping to unearth then somewhat. We had a great chicken dish along with  guinea pig (tastes like chicken) and beef heart (a little tough, but not bad). Of course, they then cleared our plates and then brought out 4 different dessert cups like a shake/ice cream. A couple of them had fruit that were good. 3 of them had some or a lot of chocolate! 
It was all so well balanced and tasty - we were so full..... Great way to start the trip in a food city which I’m sure Jill will be talking about in detail over the next several days.
After this food tour, we headed back to the hotel to rest and digest. Eventually I swam in the pool for about 25 minutes and Jill worked out in the gym.
For dinner we went to La Rosa Nautica - the same owner as the place the tour happened to take us for lunch as our final stop. They had a Perry Como & Frank Sinatra Christmas music on a 10 song repeat loop. We heard it at least 3 times and we weren’t really there that long since the voting prevented ordering a bottle of wine. Jill ordered a ceviche starter and a seafood main while I got a pasta dish in a cheese sauce and Arroz con Pato. That duck was a superb Peruvian dish. Jill’s main came first which kind of confused us and the other dish never came. By the time we got the staff to understand what was missing we realized we had eaten so much today that we should just get back to the hotel. We had eaten 2 days worth of food in a single day.
For more pics, please click here.

Day 1: Seattle —> LAX —> Lima.

This post won’t win any awards for excitement as it was a travel day but I’ll lay the ground work for this latest iteration of ‘Marc and Jill take on a different geographic location’.

Marc and I got up at 3:30am (PT) to catch the 1st leg of our trip to LAX. Other than having to check a bag for the first time in almost 2 years, it was pretty uneventful. LAX is an adventure on a good day when you need to transfer, and it was good we had plenty of time. We landed in a “satellite terminal” and took off from a different “satellite terminal”. In that time, Marc really prepped for the long haul flight by having finding all of the chocolate in the lounge. I’m guessing no one is shocked by this behavior.

The flight to Lima was just under 8.5 hours and landed on time, which was amazing based on previous flight history (yay internet!). Then I figured landing at midnight, going through Immigration, picking up checked bags (did they make it?), passing Customs and finding our car service would be a goat rodeo on to its own. I couldn’t have been more wrong. From when we landed until when we were in the car, it took 30 minutes. WHICH. WAS. AMAZING.

We got to the hotel, scored an upgrade with great views and pretty much crashed..... after Marc had some more chocolate that the hotel left for us as a welcome gift. Oh, and we were informed last night that no alcohol is allowed to be served anywhere in the country through Monday morning because of national elections happening on Sunday (tomorrow). Uh, what? This is a thing?

So we will be in Lima through Thursday, and then off to Quito for a couple of days before heading off to the Galápagos Islands for a week. Then we head to Colombia where we will be hitting Bogota, the Coffee Region and the Amazonas province. We’re going to have a little bit of everything on this trip in terms of scenery, culture, food, beverage, climate, etc. We’ll be doing some hiking and hopefully meetIng up with friends in Bogota. That said, the goal is to come back with most of the meds that comprise the “walking pharmacy” in my pack.

Thanks for tuning in. And we have discovered the hard way that Google hasn’t made any significant updates to Blogger in years, so updates from the road will be a challenge.... looking at app options now.

Operation Cincuenta

"Where do you want to go for your 50th birthday?" Jill asked me almost a year ago. We may have come up with some travel interest lists before she asked this question.

My list has some cold places like Alaska and Canada (Banff, Jasper National Park, more) which are better in the summer. So I think I mentioned a couple of finalists including Mt Kilimanjaro and Galápagos.

Then I know I looked more into the Galápagos and found this National Geographic Expedition and the swimmer in me had my birthday spot! We aren't going on that particular boat, but we are going to do well over here on Celebrity Cruises on one of their boats.

After this, Jill took over and basically booked everything including some stuff before and after the islands "while we are over there" (South America).

She has dubbed this whole thing "Operation Cincuenta" -- so come back for more in the next several weeks to learn about the before, after, and in-between adventures.

Adventures in the Kitchen....

One thing that has picked up in earnest has been some adventures in the kitchen. That took a back seat with all of the chaos with the previous job, so it's good to be back at it. 

I had a boatload of fun when ramps were in season. They may be my favorite thing to cook with and this year, I went a little nuts. Roasted on pizza, blended into pesto and chimichurri, sauteed with eggs, grilled with salmon and baked with lasagna. And of course, I pickled some too!

We have also been using the sous vide more because it's actually pretty easy and really ensures that the food is evenly cooked. It just requires a bit of planning, but is really handy when you may not have much time to cook the day of a dinner party, etc. In most cases, we sous vide the meat for a pre-determined period of time and then we just sear it for more flavor, etc.

For the first time, at the suggestion of a friend we tried salmon in the sous vide. It tasted really good but the transfer from the bag to the plate is really challenging as the salmon is fairly delicate. Gotta figure that one out because Marc actually liked it the flavor and the texture! If anyone has any ideas, please send them my way.

This year also had me doing some baking, which is definitely not the normal order of things at Chez Beck. I was determined to prepare a gluten-free version of Thomas Keller's 'Quiche Lorraine' recipe. At the recommendation of a friend, I used cassava flour for the first time. It definitely absorbs a ton of moisture so you have to work quickly. But it came out really well.... after 3 attempts. The recipe is not for the faint of heart though. Lots of steps and the timing matters. But well worth it.

Then I wanted to do something fun for a friend's birthday and she is really into strawberries, which happen to be in season locally around the same time of year. So I decided to opt for The Modernist Cuisine 'Strawberry Panna Cotta' recipe. It's not a hard one to make but the proportions are really important so the panna cotta actually sets properly. So yes, Marc is not the only one in the house that can bake and/or make dessert.

Finally with the weather being nice and all, we have been getting some quality time in with the Big Green Egg. Salmon, Duck, Pork and Chicken. I love that thing. Knows how to keep things juicy and make everything tasty. More food experiments to come soon.

Making Some Changes

As followers of this feed know, Marc and I have been going to CrossFit for almost 8 years. It seems hard to believe that it has been that long, but it has. Over those years, we have had the opportunity to make new friends, challenge ourselves and have much fun. When I was burnt out during endurance training for half-marathons and marathons, CrossFit was a welcome respite. And who knew minions could do box jumps!?!

Honestly, CrossFit was the first place I ever worked out in that had a positive and an inclusive atmosphere. No gym I ever went to prior had anything remotely close to that. I love how it is normal in every local to cheer on the last person finishing the workout. Keep in mind that each location is individually owned so no mandate exists to adhere to a "code".

It was awesome that we would travel to so many places and do a workout, and walk out with a bunch of local recos on how to spend our time in that region. Our family and friends tagged us as part of the "cult", yet a number of them soon followed and become even more "devoted members of the cult". That was entertaining, but it was also fun seeing them challenge themselves to do things they didn't think were possible for themselves. The phenomenon known as 'Harvelicious' is still the stuff of legend.

Over those same years, Marc and I have had some events happen plus, you know, we're getting older. So we recently decided that we needed to change things. Our interests have changed over that time. Marc still swims, but I run less and we do more hiking together. I definitely still run on occasion plus I practice yoga, but little things kind of kept creeping in making us wonder if we needed to change other aspects of our training to meet our goals.

Enter the 'Delaying Decrepitude' room. The 'No Excuses' room is still around, but is definitely used for more stretching, rolling, etc. But the "D Squared" room has some pretty cool things that will allow us to take our high intensity and strength training to the next level that is more inline with our individual goals. Marc has his goals and I have mine, and some of them do not overlap.

We are excited for this next phase and what it will bring. Obviously no change comes without risk. But you can't grow if you're not willing to adapt and adjust. It will require some adjustments to our routine and more planning on our end, but overall we think this will help us achieve our goals. I have no doubt that we will continue to drop in at local CrossFits when we travel, but for now, it's time to focus on 'Delaying Decrepitude'. Stay tuned.