The beginning ....

The beginning ....
our engagement night!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Trip of a Lifetime

“We must go beyond textbooks, go out into the bypaths and untrodden depths of the wilderness and travel and explore and tell the world the glories of our journey.” –John Hope

It took us 103 days and we set foot on five different continents. We visited 12 different countries and explored 52 cities. We traveled on big planes and puddle jumpers, cruise ships and ferries. We took trains and buses, and even rented a car, scooter and ATV to get around. But most of the time, once we were in a city, we simply walked.

We were able to see some of the most coveted treasures that our world boasts; the Pyramids, the Sistine Chapel, the Pantheon, Ephesus, the Sea of Galilee, etc….. We walked on beaches in Brazil, Turkey, Barcelona, Cinque Terre, the Amalfi Coast, and so many more. We tried new and interesting foods in most countries and we almost always indulged in their local wines as well. We met new friends along the way, but we continually missed ours back home.

We fell in love with many places like Tuscany, Bodrum, Barcelona and Buenos Aries. Others, like Cairo, Casablanca and Lisbon, are places that we were happy to leave behind.

This trip took a lot of planning, but we were also spontaneous when we could be. We hit a few snags along the way and the path wasn’t always easy. The language barrier and way of life was an eye opener, as was the poverty in many countries. One of the main lessons we learned from this adventure was to never take the US for granted again. Our quality of life is so far above the rest of the world that we sometimes don’t realize just how lucky we are. I can see why other countries think we are all wealthy here; we have a roof over our head to keep us safe from the elements, a car to get us around, food to eat, drinkable water from our faucets, a warm shower, movies to watch and fancy coffee houses on every corner. I will never again feel entitled to these basic comforts after seeing how others struggle so hard for such rudimentary things.

Yet, for every story of poverty or pollution, we have two that show the beauty of God’s creations and the compassion of mankind. We have posted some of our favorite pictures from the journey to prove just this point.

Although we wouldn’t do an expedition like this ever again, it was indeed the trip of a lifetime….and we feel so blessed to have been able to take it. We have truly created memories that will last a lifetime. And after spending 24/7 with my new wife for over 100 days, living out of small carry on suitcases, I feel certain that we will too!

In closing, we want to thank you for reading each week and for keeping us in your prayers. I hope you were able to live vicariously through us as we explored a good portion of our planet. Perhaps we have given you some ideas for your future travels, or maybe you just got a good laugh or two? Either way, blogging about our escapades and knowing that those closest to us would be following along helped us stay connected with what really matters in life, friends and family…..and for that, we are sincerely grateful.

Bon voyage and bona fortuna!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Buenos Aries

The exhausted curmudgeon that wrote the last two blogs is now gone, thanks to Buenos Aries.
After the trials on the ship and the letdowns in Brazil, we really needed a great city to pick up our battered and downtrodden spirits. We weren’t asking for much, just a clean, safe, enjoyable city. This town has not only met our expectations, but has also moved up the ranks to one of our favorite cities of the entire trip. Let me tell you what has made Buenos Aries so magical…..

First of all, our hotel was exactly as it was advertised. This alone was a victory. The website stated that the hotel was directly in front of the Recoleta Cemetery, one of the most relevant historical and artistic monuments in the country. When we checked into our room, we were treated to an amazing view of the entire cemetery and surrounding park from our top floor balcony. We ended up spending a lot of time on that balcony over the next days. We would pick out interesting gravestones from our perched view that we wanted to find when we explored the hallowed grounds. The cemetery was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. The seemingly endless rows of individualized mausoleums were both exquisite and eerie at the same time. Some graves dated backed to the early 1800’s while others were only a decade old. We even found the resting place of the famous Evita. After viewing it from above and then exploring its grounds, I can see why this cemetery is one of the most noteworthy sights in all of Buenos Aries.

On our first full day here, it just so happens that in was a national holiday, The Feast of the Immaculate Conception. We strolled through the Palermo district and caught the beginning of a marathon in the Jorge Newberry Park. This was just one of many beautiful recreational areas in Palermo. After a quick jaunt through the Soho neighborhood, we headed back to our lodging and discovered that the park beside our hotel had been converted into a festival. We spent the next few hours exploring the local shops, watching tango dancers, listening to local musicians, and enjoying the numerous street performers (including a unique type of tightrope walking). We capped off the day by eating at a little restaurant close by called, “Clarks.” We decided to be brave and tried a blood sausage along with a few appetizers. This was exactly the type of day we needed to reenergize our mental state and lift our spirits.

On our second day, we decided to explore the downtown and port districts. We started out by heading toward Puerto Madero, the newest and most modern part of the city. Once we hit the water, we had to cross a bridge to get to the area. As we sauntered along the boardwalk, we realized that this was indeed more modern than any place we had seen in the last month. Our homesick hearts were warmed by the sight of a Starbucks and a convenience store that sold the cheap, sugary cappuccinos that we both love so much and had been craving. They weren’t quite as good as back in the States, but it was still a welcomed taste of home.

From the port, we crossed back through the San Telmo borough and the Plaza de Mayo on our way to the center of town. This part reminded us of a mini New York. Ancient churches were scattered among modern skyscrapers and endless shops. Historical monuments were blanketed with street vendors selling everything from silly puddy to street meat. It was an entertaining hike through this part of the city, and we were amazed at how different each district in Buenos Aries is from one another.

We wrapped up the day by trying some authentic Argentinean meat dishes. Aside from the entrails and a steak, I don’t know what all the meat we ate actually was, nor am I sure I want to know. We weren’t very impressed, but then again we aren’t big meat eaters, so maybe it’s just our inexperienced palates. That said, we both had a few GI issues that kept us in for the rest of the night.

Just when we thought that BA couldn’t get any better, the weekend arrived. There are so many markets and festivities that take place every weekend, that we won’t be able to explore them all. We went to the one in Palermo, in the Serrano Plaza on Saturday, and also hit the one in our neighborhood as well. We will try for San Telmo tomorrow. All the vendors have amazing prices for their authentic works. There’s jewelry, clothing, artwork, leather products, etc… name it and it’s probably available.

Tomorrow night, we are supposed to meet our friend Tam, from Las Vegas, for dinner. We can’t wait to see her and hear all about here adventures here, as she has been in Buenos Aries for weeks!

Unlike Brazil, we have felt completely safe and at ease. No one has tried to hustle us out of money, nobody we know has been mugged, and the tap water is drinkable. If expecting these basic modern conveniences and experiences while traveling make us the typical American snobs, then that’s a title I will proudly wear for the rest of my life. Buenos Aries, you have revived us……

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The beaches of Brazil

I will apologize in advance for the brevity of this blog and for not writing more during the cruise. During the boat, it was simply a question of money, but now, I am having computer problems. As I’m writing this, I can only open the laptop to a 45 degree angle, which makes it very uncomfortable to see and thus to write. If only the TSA agents hadn’t confiscated my mini scissors, I might be able to fix it!

Without further ado, here’s our Brazilian beach story……

Our first stop was Fortaleza. We were taken by cab to an amazing beach bar, where we sat in comfortable chairs in the sun while we were served liquid refreshments. Vendors were constantly stopping by in an attempt to peddle their products to all the eager tourists. They offered everything from DVD’s to table cloths. We only opted for some fresh lobster (that was fantastic, by the way) and some cheese on a stick that was cooked right in front of us on metal pot with hot coals. There wasn’t a bit of trash or a single shell in sight, for as far as the eye could see, in each direction. The waves were rough which made for good surfing, as we witnessed. After this wonderful experience, we were extremely excited for the next stop.

Stop two; Recife. This beach didn’t quite live up to our expectations. The drive to get there went by a few too many favelas, and the beach was littered with signs that warned, “Danger! Bathers in this area are at a greater than average risk of shark attack!” Needless to say, neither of us ventured in that day. We capped off the evening by trying some authentic food with our friends, Oline and Francesco. It’s a good thing that Francesco is a chef and likes to try new dishes and always feels obligated to eat all of it, so as to not offend the kitchen. We had some mushy brown goo, stuffed inside crab shells for starters. That was followed up by two massive trays consisting of black-eyed peas, onions, some bread-crumb potato dish and ten massive chunks of salty meat. I suffered through some of it, but Megan opted to eat crackers later.

Maceio was the stop that was rumored to have the best beaches in all of the country. If they did, we sure didn’t find any of them. The first cab tried to drop us off in a shady part of town, telling us we needed to take a boat to the beach. None of us felt comfortable getting out there, so we instructed him to take us to a “nice” beach. We were let out at an empty shoreline that stretched for miles. Upon further inspection, the plethora of trash littering the sand was probably the reason. At long last, we finally found a decent beach that turned out to be a five minute walk from the ship! The water was a little smelly, and our moods were starting to sour.

We were hoping that Salvador Bahia would redeem the last two stops, but it didn’t. This time we asked people who had been before to recommend a beach to visit. After a 45 minute cab ride, we were dumped at what smelled like a actual dump. It was so bad that we couldn’t even stop to ponder our next move. We simple headed for the road and flagged down another taxi. This time, we were actually taken to a beautiful stretch of beach. We were given the table and umbrella, and a perfect spot to people watch. This was reminiscent of the service we received in Fortaleza. We were starting to think that the day would end up all right after all. The water was wonderful and we were entertained by a local beach soccer match while we sipped our drinks and enjoyed the sun. Megan got a beautiful necklace and wrap (that she shrewdly bargained for via drawing prices in the sand). It wasn’t until we were ready to leave that the day really turned bad. Upon receiving the check, we expected it to be similar to the one we received in Fortaleza, if not less. When I saw it, I flipped out! It was four times the other bill. They tried to charges us a table fee of $50 and other underhanded expenses. Of course I refused to pay it and started arguing with the guy whose English was not all that good. It got to the point where I had to threaten to get the Police involved, to which he said, “No, no….no Policia!” I gave him what I thought was fair and walked off. Our friend Francesco added some more that brought it to about half of what he originally asked for.

Rio de Janeiro was our last hope. We started out by visiting the statue of Christ the Redeemer on Corcovado Mountain. Up until just a month ago, this was the tallest statue in the world of Jesus (thanks Poland for ruining the record). It was very foggy when we arrived, and for a minute, I didn’t think it would clear enough for us to see the sculpture, much less the views of the entire city. Just as I was thinking this, a breeze blew in and slowly revealed a massive replica of our Savior, as if he had descended directly from Heaven. It was an amazing sight to behold. This was definitely an exceptional experience. From there we sunk, both literally and ethically, off the mountain to the famous Copacabana. To be honest, I don’t know what the big fuss is all about. It was another long stretch of an average looking shore, lined with drink stands and sand volleyball courts. There was a nice sidewalk and jogging track, but the fumes from the six lane roadway would probably dampen the experience. We explored around for a few hours, probably just because we felt like we had traveled so far that we owed it to ourselves and the town to hang on for as long as we possibly could.

Getting off a boat had never felt as good as it did the next morning (albeit with an hour delay due to some glitch in the immigration process). We hailed a cab to take us to Sao Paulo, which was surprisingly a beautiful drive. We felt like a weight had lifted off of us once we stepped in the airport, knowing we were hours away from leaving Brazil. Of course our flight was delayed, but we finally made it to Buenos Aries around midnight.

As Christ redeems mans’ soul, we can only hope that Buenos Aries will do the same for our opinion of South America.