Beer Cocktails Mocktails

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 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 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.

Adele, Jennifer Lawrence & Emma Stone Follow The Becks

Oh yes. It's true. Read on.

We don't like to travel around Thanksgiving. Generally getting anywhere is a hassle and is way more expensive so why bother. But circumstances from earlier this year surrounding Marc's health forced us to change our travel schedule for the year and so we ended up in NYC for the entire week. 

The line-up of restaurants was pretty deep but the list of people we were seeing was even deeper. We had a pretty ambitious schedule since this was our only trip slated for 2015. We had plenty of family and friends to see, and we were so grateful for the many who could work with our crazy schedule. In terms of catching up with folks, I was inspired on multiple occasions by the risks that some of them are taking personally and professionally. 

As someone who has taken their fair share of risks with mixed results, I know what is involved in making these decisions. Putting yourself out there as a founder/co-founder, trying to execute a career change or making a big life decision is hard work. And even after you make the decision, it's not uncommon to second guess your decision. On my end, it has been a somewhat tumultuous year on a number of fronts. But fortunately over the past 2 months, I've experienced and now see bluer skies ahead.

OK, back to the food and wine. I'm asked regularly on how I find the restaurants we eat at. A few are old stand-bys, a couple are recos from others and the rest I source from either Eater and/or Zagat.

We really didn't have any misses on this trip with respect to the restaurants, although Gabriel Kreuther is a challenge for anyone who is a picky eater. While they did accommodate us without a complaint, they didn't seem to have as many options as other places. I enjoyed the food and the wine, and thought the menu was innovative. The service was excellent.

My faves from this trip were The Modern (Dining Room) and Cosme. As it turns out, Adele, Jennifer Lawrence and Emma Stone were at Cosme the day AFTER we were there. Aren't we just the trend setters? Seriously the food at Cosme was excellent thanks to their signature dish of duck carnitas and if you know me, you know I love duck.

Other places that are worth recommending are Rebelle, Wallflower, Fuku and Orient Express (cocktails). We did enjoy the Todd English Food Hall at The Plaza Hotel, and Toloache. Volare was always Volare. And the breakfast sandwich place, aptly named BEC, was pretty tasty.

The wine list at The Modern was probably one of the best that I have ever seen in terms of diversity. A friend of ours that we met in Sydney, Australia is now the Wine Director there and really recommended some standouts. Well done, Michael, and congrats on all of the accolades.

Thanks to this article in Food and Wine, I was able to bring something different to Mom's Thanksgiving table from The Lobster Place. Score. 

We were very fortunate to get tickets to see "Hamilton" and I was worried that it wouldn't live up to the hype. I was wrong. The lyrics were so well done and the acting/singing was really well executed. I hear the waiting list is LONG to get tickets. It's worth the wait. Go see it. And by the way, I learned some interesting things about Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr in the process. 

Now I have to read Ron Chernow's book on which the musical was based on. Good thing I just finished my last book on Whitey Bulger yesterday on the flight back. Other recent reads include The Forgotten Man by Amity Shales and Enduring Patagonia by Gregory Crouch.

1 Mar: Cerro Aconcagua (ARG).

We woke up to very blue skies and no clouds to be seen, which seemed to be a good omen for our day trip to see Cerro Aconcagua. Aconcagua is one of the 'Seven Summits' and is the highest mountain outside of Asia at almost 23,000 feet. Marc and I actually summited one of these peaks in Australia known locally as Mt. Kozi.

The road we took connects the Atlantic (Buenos Aires) with the Pacific (Valparaiso, Chile) so it is actually well paved (a luxury in Argentina) and heavily traveled by tourists, truckers, etc. We stopped off at Puente del Inca, which is a natural arch that forms a bridge over a local river. The rock formations have some really interesting color combinations and we heard some legends associated with the arch.

Side note: CrossFit always talks about functional fitness. Well on this trip, it has been quite functional when using banos (aka toilets) on the road. The movement I am referring to is the squat, which requires you to shove your rear end back and not push your knees forward. Using some of these "facilities" has required me to really leverage those squatting skills picked up at CrossFit. I know many of our friends are competing in the CrossFit Open, but I have my own competition going on the road....

OK, back to the tour. The Andes in Argentina have 3 sections and they all have different elevations, characteristics, etc. The clear skies made it ideal to appreciate the differences. After 3 hours, we arrived at the Aconcagua Provincial Park at just over 11,000 feet. The skies were still very clear and the mountain had snow on it. It was a gorgeous backdrop.

We did a relatively easy 2 mile circuit, saw some horses bringing supplies down from one of the base camps, and really enjoyed the views. Definitely lucky on the weather. And yes, 2 miles at 11,000 feet is very different than at sea level or even half of that elevation.

After our walk and snapping some photos, we headed back to Mendoza, had more meat (because that's what they do in Argentina) and laughed about the playlist from the driver's CD collection that focused on 80s love songs. Think Peter Cetera, Debbie Gibson, Billy Joel, Spandau Ballet, Michael Bolton, Christopher Cross and Air Supply. I started to get disappointed that I didn't hear any Barry Manilow. We also spent part of the ride back monitoring how our 5 friends (and running buds) were faring in the Napa Marathon. Gotta love technology.

We walked around Mendoza after our tour and it was pretty quiet. The 4th largest city in Argentina pretty much shuts down on Sundays. Marc and I then had dinner at a restaurant called Nadia O.F. within a few blocks of our hotel. For whatever reason, we were the only people there and we left after 11pm. The food was great, the courtyard was pretty and the service was excellent. Our server was able to tell us more about Mendoza and the wine scene, so bonus for us.

Dessert came and Marc spotted a liquer that he was keen on trying with his chocolate, which seemed similar to one of his faves, Nocello. Marc enjoyed the wine to the point where we are going to be throwing out some clothes so we can fit these 3 bottles in our respective backpacks for the trip back home. I stuck with my new favorite "faux dessert wine" - Torrontés.

18 Feb: Lago Torre (ARG).

Today was the 1st day that we were hiking as a group. The gang seemed pretty prepared for all of the elements, so we knew we were amongst some experienced hikers.

Our guide, Muti, told us that he expected minimal rain today, which was a bonus. Then again, you never really know here in Patagonia because of the ever changing weather in the mountains. So we packed for different conditions.

We started out and one of the gentlemen on the trip, who could easily be the Dad of Marc and I with respect to his age, pretty much sprinted up to the top of the 1st lookout point. Marc and I kept pace and it was a nice way to get to know some of our other travelers since 6 out of the 10 were friends beforehand. By the end of the day, Marc and I felt that we could pass any name test that the group put to us.

The weather was mostly cloudy but visibility was good to see most of Cerro Torre and enjoy our lunch at Lago Torre. The walk was mostly fairly easy with some rolling hills here and there, but it was a good way for the group to get their legs stretched out and find their feet.

By the end of it, we had walked about 14 miles but felt ok. A few of us went to the local microbrewery aka 'cervezeria' in El Chalten. We had a nice dinner with the group and I continued reading my current book, "Ready Player One", which is a cross between sci-fi and thriller with a big focus on the 80s. I think Marc will like it once I pass it off to him.

We know we have a big hike in terms of difficulty tomorrow, so we just tried to rest up as much as we could. I believe I have done this hike before and if I remember correctly, it's a pretty challenging one although it is hard to tell because I was woefully out of shape when I was here in 1998. So we shall see.

16 Feb: Ushuaia (ARG) --> Faro del Fin du Mundo (ARG) --> Ushuaia (ARG).

Warning: We have a long one here - all for good reasons, we promise. And a pro travel tip towards the end.

We woke up to find that it had snowed on the glacier that we had hiked up yesterday. I know that most of our readers are in the Northern Hemisphere where snow is normal this time of year, but it is summer where we are. We were told that even though we are 600 short miles to Antarctica that this was abnormal.

Our schedule had us booked for a boat tour of the Beagle Channel. It was unseasonably cold and wet, plus the boat was late. Not a whole lot of reasons for optimism. About 30 minutes into the ride, the skies cleared to showcase clear blue with snowcapped Andes in the background. Score! What stunning landscape! Our guide for the boat trip spoke excellent English. I asked her where she learned the language and she said it was from watching the show "Friends". Whatever works because she was handling all sorts of questions without any problems.

We were cruising on the Beagle Channel, which splits up Chile and Argentina, while connecting the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans. Ushuaia is roughly halfway in the channel. One of our stops was to "Faro del Fin du Mundo", which translates to something like "the end of the world". Along the way, we saw sea lions, cormorants and kelp geese. Fun fact about the comorants is that if the female decides that she doesn't like her male mate that she "can fire him" while the male doesn't have that same option. Interesting concept.

It remained pretty clear as we headed back to town, so we have a ton of amazing pictures from the cruise. For lunch, I had more of the centolla but with a local preparation called 'Fuegian' which had paprika and bechamel. Yum! Lots of local seafood in Ushuaia, so I am taking advantage before we head back inland. After we lunch, we met our hiking guide for the afternoon in Tierra del Fuego (TdF) National Park.

Martin, our guide, has spent a few summers in Seattle. Small world, eh? He has done plenty of local hikes, told us about how he loves Walrus & Carpenter and El Gaucho. As we start hiking, he tells us about watching the Fremont Solistice Parade. Then Martin tells us that he got out of a parking ticket that he received at REI by explaining to the City of Seattle that he is from a small village in Argentina where penguins roam the streets. Apparently it worked. Marc and I were laughing a lot at this stage. We're clearly in the world of "You Can't Make This Stuff Up".

The border between Argentina and Chile is pretty tight in this area, so while we didn't venture into Chile, we learned that one side of Cerro Condor is in Argentina and the other is in Chile. We hiked up to the end of the Pan-American Highway, which starts in Alaska and goes almost 18000 kilometers! Guess we have to go to the other end at some point. Martin explained that the area of Tierra del Fuego started out as a prison colony for Argentina, similar to Tassie in Australia. That said, they never sold prison uniforms as souvenirs in Tassie as they did here. Weird.

As Marc mentioned yesterday, we weren't expecting a challenging hike yesterday and were caught a little flat footed without our trekking poles. I have new ones for this trip but 'Frick' and 'Frack' from the Australian Walkabout are back for fun and adventure. The new trekking poles have been christened 'Lucy' and 'Ethel'. You will be seeing them a bunch over the next 10-12 days.

The southern provinces in Argentina have a complicated history due to the Islas Malvnias conflict with Great Britain and the zig-zag border with Chile. Martin explained some of it as we traversed 6+ miles of the park. Then he starts talking about how early we eat dinner in Seattle. Basically his routine was eating dinner with friends at 6:30pm and then calling Pagliacci Pizza for a delivery at 10pm since they are the only ones who deliver "that late" in Seattle.

Given Marc's history as a Gaucho from UCSB, he has been very keen to hear more authentic stories about Argentine Gauchos. He asked Martin about it, who responds with telling us about a festival that is like a "Gaucho Lollapalooza". Ha! We hadn't heard that festival name in a LONG time (yep, we're old). More laughs. Sadly, we had to say goodbye to Martin as we went off to dinner but promised to keep in touch in the event he is back in Seattle. I should have added that both of us tried the local Argentine bevvie of mate (mah-tay) today. Not bad but I prefer tea and Marc will probably stick to coffee.

We grabbed dinner at a highly recommended place called Kaupe and I tried a new fish called hake served ceviche style. Very tasty. Marc had a epic dessert by his standards, which of course involved dulce de leche. I agree - it was really good and I am not a caramel fan. We tasted our 1st Syrah from Zonda Valley and we also had a dessert wine made from Malbec grapes, which makes sense since we are in Argentina.

The restaurant summoned us a taxi and the lesson to be learned here is that when you are traveling in a region where you do not speak the local language, you should learn how locals pronounce the name of the hotel you are staying at. We went back and forth with our very nice taxi driver because we misplaced the stationery that had the hotel's name and address. Finally I pointed up the hill in the direction of the hotel and said the name again along with "ascenscio". Maybe that was a Harry Potter magic command? Who knows, but it worked. [Late update: it was - oops.] We were back at the hotel in under 10 minutes.

What a fun day all around.

13 Feb - ¡Vamos! (y Gauchos, ¡Dios mío!)

Today Jill heard the word vamos repeatedly and I had 2 Gaucho encounters, but more on those things later.

We started with a tour of Buenos Aires with our guide named Ana. She took us to where Buenos Aires began in the Plaza de Mayo. We walked around and she informed us of what happened during the beginning. We also stepped into the church on this square that was run by the former archbishop of Buenos Aires who is now the Pope.

We learned that when Eva Perón (aka Evita) died, she was so revered that the memorial lasted 14 days and would have gone longer but the doctor/embalmer couldn't let it go any longer. The country also completely ran out of flowers and had to import some.

We learned that the coffee culture comes from all the Italian immigrants early on but here it is more about hanging out and not the coffee itself. Many cafes are in historic buildings and the government has paid for much restoration inside. Many have interesting art, remnants, stained glass, and more almost like a tourist destination themselves.

We entered a market or two in San Telmo and were told about how they drink mate (pronounced ma-tay). At this point, Ana mentioned Gauchos and both Jill and I laughed so I had some explaining to do. I told her the UC Santa Barbara mascot is a Gaucho. I had to explain the concept of mascots a bit.
Then Jill googled some images while we were in the car going to our next stop and showed them too her. She started laughing and not seeing much resemblance other than the mustache.

We then stopped at the Boca Juniors stadium where Diego Maradona played at one time. We then walked through "La Republica de La Boca" near the stadium that used to have a statue of Maradona in the balcony but now that the Pope is from Argentina he apparently is worthy enough to replace the soccer legend in the balcony. You can't make this stuff up.

Jill found a great parrilla place for lunch - La Cabrera - that is insanely crazy about the steaks. We got a huge rib eye along with several side dishes and potato sticks with sautéed sweet onions all over them. It was delicious.

After lunch we walked through Palermo over to Recoleta where Eva Perón is buried and discovered this huge cemetery with insane mausoleums for a long way in all directions. We took some pictures and eventually found the Peron family one as well.

From here, we got in a taxi in a rush to get back to the hotel. Let's just say that getting a taxi where lots of tourists hang out may not be all that it is cracked up to be. The seat belts did not work, the interior (and likely exterior) was falling apart, and the meter ran far more quickly than the ones we've gotten at the hotel or after a meal. Very glad to get out of that thing and wash our hands (literally and figuratively).

When we got back to the hotel, Jill rushed off to REV Microcentro CrossFit while I went down to the pool to swim. I swam hard for 45 minutes and came up to shower. Upon Jill's return, she knocked and I asked who was there. "¡Vamos!" is all I am hearing on the other side. I inform her that means "Let's go!" as I open the door. She then informs me that she just did a tabata workout at the Crossfit and heard that word A LOT. Cracked me up.

For the evening, we went to a tango show at Gala Tango and got a front row seat that also happened to be the table that all the performers walked by as they got on the stage or walked off. Wow! The show was amazing and the athleticism / technical abilities of these folks is off the charts. I got my first Pisco Sour and it was good while Jill got an Argentine Mojito that she actually liked (she sticks to wine these days).

During the show, my second Gaucho encounter of the day occurred. One of the performers was classically dressed and danced with Gaucho balls (rope with a hard ball on one end) that he used to strike the floor in this amazing rhythm much like a drummer while he danced around and pointed these things at the audience. Very fun evening of entertainment.

11 Feb - Valley of the Moon & Canyon Hike

We were up before sunrise again today although not as early because the drive was 15 min to a spot above the valley of the moon. We hadn't seen it yet and this would be our last full day here. Jill suggested to our guide that we see the sunrise here instead of the popular sunset. The weather here in the desert often clouds up and rains in the afternoon/evening.

We watched the sunrise from a cliff above the valley and it worked. There were perhaps a dozen folks watching with us. Apparently at sunset, this area can be packed and party central so I definitely liked our version of the cliff.

We then went to drive into the valley only to find it no longer opens at 8am - now 9:30. Lack of visitors in the morning or "laziness"... So we took a side hike up a canyon for just under an hour which was great.

We then got into the valley of the moon and it was remarkable. Stunningly beautiful! We stopped at a viewpoint that requires under 10 min walk and we were there by ourselves! This had views of two sides of a huge gray dune with salt flats on one side and interesting rock formations on both sides.

After this we did several more short walks in the valley before returning to the hotel to pack for the afternoon and bus into town from the hotel to eat lunch. Lunch was so good that we booked dinner for the evening @ the same place.

For the afternoon we got a new guide, Sandra, to walk with us. She loves this hike up through a canyon that generally has a trickle of water. Recent rains have washed the trail away in spots and ruined lots of plants. There was still plenty left to see and it was beautiful but we often had to improvise our own path. We climbed up and around several impassable spots as well as jumped or crossed the " river" by wading across. It should take at most 2 hours but it took us about 2:20 and we were going fast most of the time. I had fun but we both struggled on a few loose rocks along the way.

We were beat after this. Lots of hiking at altitude along with lack of sleep since we departed took a toll. We rested, packed a bit, and prepared to go into town to eat dinner. Dinner was excellent although we both got too much food. The salad itself was a meal but also very fresh and tasty. We hung for a while and nibbled at the mains.

A two person band came and played maybe 3 songs and then asked if we wanted to buy music on disc or donate. We passed. It was tempting because I kept hearing the word "Zaya" in their lyrics.
On the shuttle back to the hotel, we encountered the first Americans in San Pedro de Atacama. It's clearly not on most people's radar in the states. They just arrived so we gave suggestions on what we enjoyed.

My Australian Summary

Great time and I'm sure I forgot some things.

+Jill is now known as "Aussie J". That was her nickname on my temporary phone over there.

Best (no particular order)
    * Great Ocean Road
    * Great Barrier Reef
    * Wilson's Promontory
    * Cradle Mountain / Dove Lake
    * Flight over SW Tasmania and boat ride while out there (wow!)
    * Whitsunday Islands - 3x snorkeling in single day
    * New Years Eve
    * Open That Bottle Night
  Wine Regions
    * Barossa
    * Margaret River
    * McLaren Vale
  Sights/Tours (not already mentioned)
    * Ferry system in Sydney Harbour
    * Pinnacles
  Pools (in order)
    * Andrew Charlton Pool (clean)
    * North Sydney Olympic Pool (view/location)
    * Icebergs - Bondi Beach Pool (stunning but cold)

Worst (no order)
    * King's Canyon --> Alice Springs via Tour Bus (talk about boring and trapped)
    * Fraser Island --> Mackay via car (too long with last 90 minutes dark and animals lurking)
    * Fraser Island (not that great in general other than Champagne Pools)
    * Mount Kosciuszko (drenching rain & no visibility == miserable)
    * Fraser Island (salty starter AND main for dinner. yuk.)
    * Daintree (mosquitos)
  Wine Regions
    * Mornington Peninsula
    * Heathcote (there is good stuff here)
    * Grampians area
    * Tasmania
  Sights/Tours (not already mentioned)
    * MONA in Tasmania
    * Bike tour in Melbourne (too much bike WALKING)

2 Apr.: Sydney (NSW) --> "Back In Time" to what should be DFW (US) and then --> SEA (US).

It's time.

Yes, it is that day that we weren't necessarily looking forward to but has arrived. The day when we go home to Seattle. Of course, we are a little blue for our "Australian Walkabout" to end but we are so lucky that we have memories to last a lifetime. We can't complain.

We have definitely been doing much thinking about things around favorites - hike, run (Jill), swim (+Marc), restaurant, wine, city, wine region, best FB comment (the usual), etc. The list can go on and on. We agree on some and differ on others, which is to be expected. But it's fun having that debate. Anything you want to know a favorite of (keep it PG-13, kids... we have a diverse set of friends on here)?

Today actually got off to a great start for us in different ways. Marc went for a swim at the North Sydney Olympic Pool, where he first swam and got to see the sunrise as he walked over the Sydney Harbour Bridge (save the suspense, yes more Sydney Opera House photos). 

Somehow when we "closed out the rum bar" the other night, +Jamie and I hatched a plan to go for an early morning run today. I mentioned randomly that I wanted to check out a run course mapped by a local magazine going along Sydney Harbour, and Jamie jumped out of his chair (well almost) saying that is his regular run that he does to/from work and would take me this morning. We started at his place in Bondi Beach and went all the way into downtown Sydney going along the water much of the way. The skies were blue and the sun was shining. Fabulous way to bring this to a close.

As we sit on the plane waiting to leave, we want to thank you for tuning in on this adventure. It has been more than we ever could have hoped for and we have gotten so much out of it. A separate thank you post will go out upon our return to the many people who helped us out near and far.

It's time to go home and we're very keen on reconnecting with family and friends. Thanks again for tuning in.

Signing off from 'Down Under',
Marc and Jill

P.S. -- We'll see you on the other side.

28 March : Sydney

We awoke hungover. We closed down a rum bar and had to be let out by key from the bartender overnight. I wanted to avoid pharmaceuticals so we we went to Max Brenner Chocolate Shop. I got coffee and waffles with chocolate syrup and ice cream. I felt sooooo much better after consuming that.

We then packed up for another beautiful day and a ferry ride to Manly for day two of beach time while we can get it. [In other words, Seattle beaches just aren't the same.] +Jill went for a run while I scoped out lunch spots and sat on the sand.

We ended up eating on the 3rd story of a building on a patio overlooking the beach with some great food - tasty burgers. Most of lunchtime was up there alone and above the beach street chaos. I also went for my second chocolate of the day. A Maltesers chocolate milk shake. Yum.

Jill got a take away Kit Kat / peanut butter shake that was also good that I ended up consuming the significant portion of and boy was it filling.

After walking around the beach more, we caught the ferry back. BTW, more opera house photos were taken on the ferry (both directions). It's an addiction. We hung out at the hotel pool which has been the plan here in the last days before going back to the states.

Our hotel has a relatively new restaurant with decent reviews that uses wood and smoke on almost every dish so we went there for dinner. Delicious! The only downside of the day was the chocolate dessert had too much fruit for me so I didn't order it and my chocolate streak was ruined at the third meal. Probably for the best given the prior chocolate consumed on this one.

27 Mar: Sydney (NSW) --> Bondi Beach (NSW) --> Sydney (NSW) --> Bondi Beach (NSW) --> Sydney (NSW).

Marc in front of Bondi Icebergs after he swam
and I ran the Bondi to Coogee trail (and back)
Ok, big day. We had the long awaited and infamous "Sydney Harbour Bridge Climb" as well as the "Revenge on Bondi Beach" on tap.

Breakfast at the hotel and as I was sorting some things out with the Concierge, I noticed +Marc talking to someone as though he knew him. Could it be we ran into someone in Sydney that we knew? Well, sort of. Some of you may remember the couple we met in Port Douglas that had the wife who was worried about getting seasick while snorkeling. Well, Marc recognized the husband and many laughs ensued. Turns out they had a great day snorkeling, which we were really happy to hear about.

We picked up week long metro passes, and then ventured out to Bondi. The last time we were there in early January, we had an unseasonal blustery and cloudy day, and our friends who lived there were very bummed. We knew we needed to get out there when the forecast was good, and sure enough, we had wonderful weather! We first hit a photo gallery called Aquabumps that +Jamie and Mel introduced us to and checked out some interesting photos.

Marc swam at Icebergs again and I was determined to do the full Bondi to Coogee run (out and back). It was more running than I had done on a single run in 2 months plus it was 32C with lots of hills. Brilliant idea, no? Well the run was beautiful and hard... But I did it. At lunch, the gal behind the counter chastised me with a dude reference and doing the run at 7am instead of midday. She probably had a point.

After that, we bussed back into town so we could be ready for the aforementioned "Bridge Climb". We had great weather and views. But without consulting each other, we both found it to be overrated. Seriously. For me, I got a much bigger rush from when I ran across the bridge when we initially arrived in Australia. And then Marc and I walked across it and we were able to get great pics ourselves. See - they don't let you take pics yourselves on the climb but then they gouge you on pics they take so you can "remember the moment". We have no problem spending money on fun and worthwhile things, but this was overpriced and overrated. I know many of you enjoyed it, so maybe it makes us killjoys or whatever, but running/walking across for us was way better and more meaningful.
Jamie, Marc and Jill at "The Corner House":
Let's just say it was a late one.....
After the Bridge Climb, we showered and ventured back over to Bondi to meet up with Jamie. Unfortunately Mel was under the weather so she had to cancel. The place on tap was called Rum Diaries since they knew Marc likes his rum. Many laughs, many drinks with some food thrown in plus another rum place across the road made for a very late night for the 3 of us. To the point where we actually closed down the bar! Hmmm. Haven't done that in awhile. I am sure this will make for a very interesting morning.

But seriously.... Fun day for sure.

Thanks again for reading, commenting, liking and messaging.... It is all appreciated.

22 Mar: Port Douglas (QLD) --> Cairns (QLD) --> Port Douglas (QLD).

+Marc and I had to hit Cairns to take care of some errands - most notably paying the speeding ticket I got a couple of weeks earlier ($220 - ouch) and hitting Crossfit Great Barrier Reef. Upon arriving at CF, we noticed that they had bug repellent to offer for their members to use during the WOD. This is working out in the tropics, I guess. We did a basic warm-up and we were both drenched in sweat.

They were doing the 13.3 WOD for the Crossfit Open. 150 Wall Balls, 90 Double Unders and 30 Ring Rows - as far as you can get in 12 minutes. My wrist is still not well, so I couldn't do the Wall Balls and settled for 150 Dumbbell Push Presses on the left. It was a tough workout and we know we will be feeling it in the days to come. The coaches were very nice and gave us a local tip on which "DMV" to hit with the least amount of wait. Gotta love local knowledge.

Sure enough we went to the "DMV" and I was in/out in under 5 minutes but $220 AUD poorer. Ugh. 20 kilometers over the speed limit isn't that fast! Come on! We took care of some snack shopping and then headed back up to "Port" (as the locals call it). The weather still wasn't great so we just walked around the downtown area, picked up some final souvenirs for the family back home, and debated which snorkel trip we wanted to do tomorrow.

After getting the DVD of photos up on Google Drive (painful), we then ventured over to Palm Cove for dinner. Marc had a cocktail that literally was named after one of the lyrics from Barry Manilow's "Copa Cabana" and then a huge storm rolled in that sent everyone going further back in the restaurant (we were inside but the wind and rain were so powerful!). Fortunately the food, wine and service made up for the weather. It did calm down in time for the drive back to "Port", which was a lucky break.

Thanks again for tuning in. We continue to be grateful for all of the "likes", comments and private messages we are receiving.

17 Mar: Airlie Beach (QLD) --> Cape Hillsborough National Park (QLD) --> Airlie Beach (QLD).

The sand crabs actually make these perfect balls out
of the sand - kind of amazing
We got up "kinda" early because the hike we wanted to do was tide related and we needed to be there closer to low tide. +Marc and I have been following the Australian Geographic website for guidance on cool day hikes to do, so when we were going to be in a particular area, we have tried to tie it together.

So off we went to Cape Hillsborough. We saw signs for a Cape Hillsborough Resort, but when we got there, let's just say that the Australian definition of the term 'resort' differs from the American version. Good thing we weren't staying there! Anyway we got some guidance from the office on hiking around and saw lots of little sand crabs, interesting rock formations and lizzies along the hike. We were a bit too late to see the kangaroos by the water, but hey - you can't have everything. The hike itself was interesting but not as good as many of the other hikes on that list. 

Cape Hillsborough beach in Queensland
We ventured back to Airlie Beach to enjoy the sunshine a bit more at our B&B. The weather for the next week isn't looking great as we head up north so just trying to get in our Vitamin D where we can. We had dinner in town and then met another couple from the boat for a drink at the infamous "rum bar". Fun times. Needed to get to bed early because of the long drive tomorrow. Fortunately it is our last major drive of the trip... then again, that is a good thing and a bad thing, but hey - whatcha going to do?

Thanks again for tuning in. And in case you're wondering, St. Paddy's day in Airlie Beach was fairly nutty on Saturday night (the day before)...