Thursday, December 17, 2009

Felices Fiestas!

Happy Holidays! This is our official "holiday card" and we hope it finds you happy and healthy. We had an incredible year traveling around the world! Below are a few highlights from the 17 countries we visited. We look forward to re-joining the economy and having a productive 2010!

Jen & Ryan

Nemrut Dagi, Turkey

Abu Simbel, Egypt

The Monastery in Petra, Jordan

Hiking with Ryan's Dad, Cydne and Jen's Brother at Plitvice Lakes, Croatia

Rome, Italy

Sunrise at Angkor Wat, Cambodia

Tokyo, Japan

Sydney, Australia

Franz Josef Glacier, New Zealand

Mount Cook, New Zealand

Iguazu Falls, Argentina

Wine tasting with Jen's parents and brother in Montevideo, Uruguay

Rapa Nui (Easter Island), Chile

Machu Picchu, Peru

Humantay, Peru

Santa Fe Island, Galapagos Islands

Mitad del Mundo (The Equator), Ecuador

Fourteen day raft trip down the Colorado River with Ryan's Mom, Jim and friends in the Grand Canyon, Arizona

Monday, October 5, 2009


We are home safe in Colorado and it seems I left my creativity on the other side of the ocean. Nothing. I have not a creative ounce in me to write about Jordan. I’ve managed to get Ryan to commit to writing the Egypt blog and Joe to writing the Turkey blog. That means I’ve got Jordan. Jordan, Jordan bo bordan, banana fanna fo fordan, Jordan. That’s it. Not good.

What can I say about Jordan? “Toto we’re not in Kansas anymore.” What was your first clue? Maybe, the Burka clad women? Or, that all the men yelled at me as I started through the security line at the airport and then firmly re-directed me to the separate WOMEN‘s security line. Oops! That said, Jordan was FANTASTIC!

The countryside is dry, sandy, sand colored and a hot 45 degrees Celsius. One night sleeping in a Bedouin Tent in the Wadi Rum Desert was enough to make you dream of snowy Colorado. Life revolves around tea (regular Lipton brand with mint leaves) and we shared it with locals in castles, tiny villages and isolated mountain tops. We indulged in warm kunafa, a Jordanian sweet made from cheese, shredded dough, pistachios and simple syrup. Bobbing in the Dead Sea was like no other experience in our year of travels. With the salinity 9 times that of the ocean, you literally could not sink. In fact, you could barely keep your legs underneath you in the water (it is also the 2nd saltiest body of water on earth after Lake Aral in Djibouti).

Seriously. What can I say about a country reported to have the oldest map of Palestine recorded in a mosaic map on the floor in St. George’s Church (AD 560), the site where Christ was baptized in the River Jordan at Bethany, the spot where Moses saw the promised land at Mt. Nebo, where the first five apostles met and the early foundations of Christian faith were laid. The country speaks for itself. It is progressive, beautiful, welcoming of tourists (including “Americans”), full of incredible food, gracious people and home to Petra.

Petra, Petra bo Petra, banana fana fo Fetra, fi fye fo Fetra, Petra. :) Amazing! Petra deserves its place on the New 7 Wonders of the World list. We explored the Siq and Treasury Building at night by candle light and hiked 8 miles throughout the ruins by daylight starting at 6:30am to avoid the heat (and we still drank 6 liters of water each and only peed twice)!

My favorites:
Ahlan wa sahlan! = welcome or be as one of the family and at your ease

Mensaf = lamb, rice, pine nuts, with yogurt and liquid fat from the cooked meat…..yes, LIQUID FAT! …..and it was tasty!

Free Shipping = Jordan loves their tourists so much that the government pays for all shipping to the U.S.! Joe ‘s handmade mosaic table benefited greatly from this!


Our Photos:

Monday, August 10, 2009


Slithering into the cool glimmering sapphire Adriatic Sea. Diving into bowls full of fresh whole grilled squid and shrimp. Listening to haunting lullabies from the sea organ in Zadar. Staring back at the beady eyes watching us from the full bowl of fried sardines. Eating the best John Dory we’ve ever tasted. Ok, it‘s the only John Dory we‘ve ever tasted and it was the best! Laughing with family on the rooftops, balconies, promenades, cliff sides, atop walls, within palaces, over pizza and while recounting stories of taking the bus instead of a taxi after flying 15 hours to save ten dollars. Ducking in the back seat while Ryan backed the monstrous van back down the one lane dead end hill that Joe navigated him up. Running for a ferry with all our luggage and jumping from the dock to the ferry as it pulled away from shore. Loving our Croatian adventures!

By now I imagine you’re wondering what pants have to do with anything. Well, pants have a lot to do with everything. There are happy pants as we set out to hike around Plitvice Lakes. Grumpy pants after nearly having heart attacks running for the ferry with our luggage. Have I mentioned running for the ferry before? Anxious pants as we’re not sure our gargantuan van will literally fit between the walls of an alleyway. Crazy pants as five adults pile into a convertible cabriolet to 4WD for an hour and a half to the best swimming spot ever (at least that’s what we tell ourselves). Funny pants as we recount our traveling adventures. But, these are not the pants I’m referring to in the title. Those pants have to do with Rick and Cynde (Ryan’s Dad and Step-Mom) meeting up with the Trio in Croatia and going with the flow and flying by the seat of their pants. Other than a hotel reservation in Zagreb for our first night and a car rental, we had NO plans or reservations for the rest of the trip. Rick and Cynde traveling JJ&R style. And, satisfied energized pants came out of the adventure.

Our Croatian adventures began in Zagreb where Rick, Cynde, Joe, Ryan and I all met. Joe’s luggage decided to go partying without him from South Africa to Spain and who knows where else. While waiting for his luggage to appear in Zagreb we decided to take a day trip, in our rented 12 person “passenger van”/mini bus that was more bus than mini, to Lublijana the capital of Slovenia. The van was easy to maneuver in the wide city streets (little did we know what was to come). The city was beautiful and we enjoyed the best pizza of our trip at a river side café.

With only a small hangover, Joe’s luggage found us in Zagreb and we headed out of town. Plitvice Lakes National Park with its numerous crystal clear glowing blue lakes and waterfalls was our next stop. We spent the day hiking through the Unesco World Heritage site. The lakes were like nothing we’d seen before where the mosses and algae absorb calcium carbonate as river water rushes through and the encrusted plants grow on top of each other (called tufa) forming travertine barriers and creating waterfalls. Truly spectacular!

The up and coming city of Zadar was our next stop where the minibus posed the biggest challenge (see photos). Good thing the men are so adept at maneuvering motorized toys! We found a quirky little apartment where we cooked dinner, strung our laundry across the living room to dry and walked a few paces to the Adriatic where Ryan and Rick played. After a couple days there, we packed the minibus and Split (had to get at least one Simms-ism in there :)).

On our way to Split we visited Sibenik, known for its World Heritage site Cathedral of St. James. The cathedral is the sculptor Dalmatinac’s masterpiece with its unusual 71 heads on the exterior walls which are character studies of ordinary 15th century citizens. We also stopped at Krka National Park to see more beautiful waterfalls and lakes with tufa. In Split we landed a fantastic apartment! This place would cost you millions in New York! The apartment along with much of the living thriving population of Split is located within the walls of Diocletian’s Palace. The palace itself is has served as a military fortress, imperial residence, fortified town and is another Unesco World Heritage Site with the Roman ruins covering 31,000 sq meters. We said goodbye to the minibus in Split and opted for other modes of transportation.

To the islands by foot and ferry we traveled (good story, you should ask Rick about it). We don’t recommend running down the dock yelling for the ferry crew to hold the ferry and being the last passengers to jump aboard. Do you know that I had visions of jumping from the dock to the ferry boat with my backpack on, not quite making it and being suspended in air wedged between the two until I plummeted to my death below being drowned by the weight of my backpack. Good thing I handed my pack over before I jumped and we all made it on board with about 2.5 seconds to spare. Korchula was our island of choice and where we stumbled upon another fantastic apartment (dirt cheap) with an ocean view run by a sweet family who provided us with flasks of their homemade wine. After more swimming in the Adriatic, dining sea side on fresh mussels, oysters and fish we headed to Dubrovnik.

One more short ferry to the main land (we didn’t have to run for this one) and we made it safely to Dubrovnik. We enjoyed more great food, swimming (see a theme here?) walking the great wall and strolling the Stradun. The 400 steps up to our apartment gave us an incredible view of the city from our balcony, prime viewing of the Maltese Falcon that came into port and nice buns, too.

By going with the flow, having patience and being flexible we were able to have an outstanding trip. We could go where we wanted , when we wanted. Rick could run to the market to retrieve delicious bakery and produce items for our breakfasts. Cynde could stroll and photograph at will. Joe could nap under a shady tree near the sea. And, Ryan and I could do laundry, hanging our clean pants in the sun to bask in the warmth of a beautiful Croatian day.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009


After returning to mainland Italy from Sicily, we visited Alberobello (at the top of the heel of the boot). Alberobello is not on most tourist itineraries, but is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and home to trulli unique buildings. Trullis are made out of limestone with conical roofs and were originally constructed without mortar so that the homes could be quickly disassembled to avoid taxation. We enjoyed walking the streets and eating more great food including braised baby octopus, a local specialty.

Next, we traveled north to the Piedmont area near Turin (Torino). This region is famous for its mountains, sweet hazelnuts, Nutella, chocolate, Martini, the Slow Food Movement, FIAT, truffles (the mushrooms) and wine (including the sparkling Asti Spumante). Do we need to say more?! Everyone should travel here. We stayed in Asti and took day trips to the surrounding areas. A cooking class in Neive was a highlight that involved one-on-one time with the chef and learning to prepare meals such as fillet of rabbit with rosemary and garlic. We made our own pasta that was served to us during a 6 course lunch (each paired with a wine from their vineyard) to complete our class. In Turin, we explored the city via a chocolate tour. Yes, chocolate tour! The tour consisted of walking from historic café to historic café sampling the famous Turinese chocolates. In Alba, we learned about black and white truffles with their bold evolving flavors and hope to cook with them in the future.

We left Italy with a bang! Our one day in Rome, before flying to London, was incredible! Luca (a friend of my Sister In-Law--Jodi) and his girlfriend Michaela, both who live in Rome, toured us around the city in style. We covered 10 miles on foot, ate at their favorite (and best) gelato shop near the Pantheon, toured churches with Caravaggio paintings, ate at local restaurants, fell in love with a “completo” (shot glass lined with Nutella with espresso poured in and topped with whipped cream) and revisited a few sites we‘d seen on previous trips and enjoyed even more the second time. What an amazing day! Thank you Luca and Michaela!!!!!

Buon Viaggio!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009


I have delayed writing about our time in Sicily because I feel like I just can’t do it justice on paper. You really have to live, breath, feel and taste Sicily. It is the ultimate place of simplicity and contrasts coming together to make one perfectly harmonious experience. If you can understand the title, I mean really understand the title, then you will get Sicily.

The deep red velvety liquid dances on your taste buds as it flows from a white Dixie cup. A white plastic Dixie cup?! How could the nectar of the gods be served in a little white plastic cup? And yet in Sicily, how could it not? There could not be more of a contrast between the deep crimson liquid and the white plastic. And yet it couldn’t be any more perfect or taste any better than just as it is paired with the Pasta Alla Norma at the Mom and Pop restaurant in a back alley in Palermo, Sicily. In Sicily, there is no need to dress things up to make them appear better than they are. You don’t need crystal to bring out the wines beauty. You just need to close your eyes, gulp it all in, and savor the raw and honest flavors.

In Sicily, tomatoes don’t get dressed up to the nines to go out with Tagliatelle, but rather they go as they are, bold, sweet, delicious and maybe with a little olive oil and basil. One bite and BAM!….Tomato! Fruits and vegetables taste like they‘ve had sun on them. The egg yokes are the most brilliant orange color. The chocolate is spicy and direct from the chocolateria. Nothing is marked “organic” because everything is right out of a field and they would not have it any other way. Complexly flavored pasta is made from 3 simple ingredients of the right freshness, quantity and preparation.

Sicily is a place of extremes. The largest gruffest man spends his day making intricate marzipan works of art in the shapes of fruit that cannot be distinguished from the real thing. People are so passionate when having conversations, that I swore two men were about to get into a fight in a restaurant. It turns out they were just sharing a story about Grandma. Every Sicilian man is seen wearing designer sunglasses--Gucci, Dolce & Gabbana, Carrera---which it turns out can be purchased for 10 Euros at a market that does not exist. The dark and dilapidated streets are full of vibrant life and energy with music, voices and laughter. The smallness of their homes is inversely related to the fullness of their lives. The darkest of darks and the lightest of lights. The extremes balance themselves in harmony.

We traveled to Sicily armed with our newly refreshed Italian language skills and a desire to experience new places. We had no expectations and were rewarded by our interactions with people who live their lives with passion. A passion that Sicilians exude in their daily lives, in conversations with friends, in picking out fresh food for the days meals and in pouring their wine into plastic Dixie cups. We left Sicily with a different perspective of how to live our lives and took a few good recipes, too!

Friday, June 5, 2009


I like to joke that I left Joe and Ryan in charge of writing the blog for South America from November/December 2008 so that they can take the blame. I’m not sure that I actually told them they were responsible for the blog until a month or so after the trip. Yet still, 5 whole months have gone by and they’ve yet to produce a blog. So, I’ve taken it upon myself to rescue them so they’ll be indebted to me :) .

The story below really did happen and to be honest was a very small part of our time traveling with my parents in South America. It just so happens that for me the one dark and dramatic event is much more exciting to explore and elaborate on in writing than the 1,000 happy and fantastic times we had together. Hmm….what does this say about my imagination? And, why am I revealing this? Oh, well.

After the story I’ve tried to highlight our time with my parents traveling from Valparaiso, Chile, to Buenos Aires, Argentina, by boat through the Straight of Magellan and the Beagle Channel. My parents flew home from Buenos Aires and we spent a few more weeks traveling to Iguazu Falls and Mendoza, Argentina.


Sitting in a South American Police Station. How did I get here. It was more of a statement than a question. You should avoid police stations, I thought to myself, especially in other countries. You never can be too sure which one’s are going to help you. Minutes ago we were sitting with our parents and my husband having a coffee at an outdoor café and now my brother and I are in the police station. The police station in Santiago, Chile. Am I dreaming? Did the nice man really return to the café and ask us to help him by going to the police station? As we walked to the police station he said that he was a nurse and worked at a nearby hospital. Surely he is trustworthy, after all he helps people for a living. How did he know to come back to the café to get us? Hmm. Maybe I should ask him.

He says that he saw the whole thing. My brother holding the camera to take a photo. The young man running by and snatching the camera. My brother chasing after him. Me following close behind. And then the old guy with white hair decided to chase after everyone. Why did the old guy have to do that the nice man asked? He said that it wasn’t right that the young man snatched the camera, but if the old guy had a heart attack chasing after everyone it would be a tragedy. The nice man said he had to run after all of us to make sure he was there to help if the old man had a heart attack because he is a nurse. We laughed. Yes, laughed. A good honest belly laugh. It’s ok we told the nice man as he looked at us in horror. The old man with the white hair is our Dad and he is in the best shape of all of us. He could chase the young man for miles. Really?, said the nice man. Yes, really, we replied chuckling to ourselves.

The police sergeant took one look at my brother and said you a boxer, huh. My brother quickly and honestly replied no, American Football. Ah, the sergeant said with a grin and immediately became more at ease with us. Good answer I thought as I stared at the thieving young man’s bloody nose and made a mental note that my brother’s prompt response helped us dodge an unforeseen bullet. We recounted the events to the police sergeant in one part Spanish, two parts English with the nurse translating and 3 parts charades until the sergeant understood the mornings events.

Thinking about that bloody nose and those wild dazed eyes makes my skin crawl. The thieving young man had a bad morning. What was he thinking stealing a camera out of a big strong man’s hands? I bet he wishes now that he had chosen a different path for his day. I imagine the young thief thought he was home free when he rounded the corner at the end of the block with the camera in his hands. I’m sure he was smelling victory when he rounded the second corner. Then from his hiding place behind the pillar, the thief thought where on earth did the big guy come from when he spotted my brother running up the street. And, why in the hell is the girl chasing after him yelling donde esta el hombre?! Donde esta el hombre?! Mi camera! Mi camera! The thief’s heart had to sink in his chest as he saw not one, but two, three, all of the people on the street pointing to him as he hid behind the pillar.

As I look back on the event, I think this is the point in time that the group mentality began to take over. You know the mentality when all logic and reason go by the wayside and nice peaceful strangers turn into a cruel violent gang. This metamorphosis took place before our eyes. The thief waited until my brother was about even with the pillar when he made a break for it in the direction from which we had just come. As my brother turned to run after the thief a nice man on the street struck out at the thief kicking him in the leg and slowing him down enough so that my brother put on the full lineman wrap around tackle taking the thief to the ground. Without warning the angry mob descended. Punching, kicking, screaming the dark wrath of the mob connected with the thief’s body lying underneath my brother’s. My dad arrived on the scene ready to fight off the mob to protect my brother and he realized that each connecting blow from the mob targeted the thief and miraculously left my brother untouched. Through the chaos, my dad recovered the camera from the thief.

Then came the sobering blow. One mobster landed a full force kick to the thief’s head. Whoa! Stop! Pare! No mas! No mas! My dad, brother and I all yelled. Enough! The dark magic mob trance was broken. In a matter of seconds the entire group dispersed. The thief jumped to his feet with a wild dazed stare and a bloody nose. The mob regained their former selves and a few people asked if we were ok. Without skipping a beat, everyone walked off and returned to their daily business.

As we walked away, I remember wondering if we should call the police. I looked around to try to get a signal from someone, any local person, to instruct us as to what we should do. This isn’t my country. I don’t know how things work. I looked to them for help. No one made any indication that anything should happen except going on their merry way to continue their day. In retrospect, I see my error. I was looking for an indication as to the right thing to do. I was looking to the mob for my answer. Probably not the best place to look given what they had just participated in.

The thief’s day got even worse. As he was walking a few blocks from where the camera recovery took place, he happened to walk down the street where the police station was located. At the exact time that the thief walked past, the nurse who saw the whole event walked by, too. The nurse indicated to the policeman standing in the police station doorway that the thief had just stolen a camera a few blocks away. The thief was arrested and the nurse was told to provide witnesses or the thief would be released in 24 hours. Thus, the nurse returned to our table at the café where my husband had been left to protect my mother and my purse while the rest of us ran off to the circus.

We learned our lesson from the “camera incident” (as we lovingly refer to it). We are always careful with our valuables and now we are even more careful. And, if we are put into a similar situation again, we’ve all agreed not to chase after the thief.

Santiago, Chile
-Mom and Dad flew in to meet us, government strikes prevented us from some of the sightseeing as all the parks/monuments were closed, ate great steak w/ Roquefort sauce at Le Assassins…..twice.

Valparaiso, Chile
-Stayed at the Hotel Brighton perched on the cliff top, rode the 1800’s ascensor that hugs the cliff side, cruise departed from here.

Vina del Mar, Chile
-Beautiful beach town, visited the museum containing 1 of only 2 Moai not on Easter Island.

Puerto Montt, Chile
-1st stop on cruise, walked around town.

Puerto Chacabuco, Chile
-Beautiful views.

Straight of Magellan
-Beautiful mountains along the channel, penguins swimming next to the boat.

Punta Arenas, Chile
-Saw thousands of Magellanic penguins (characteristic coloring)

Ushuaia, Argentina, and Tierra del Fuego
-Ate wonderful king crab. King crab is only found here and Alaska.

Beagle Channel
-Six glaciers lined the channel, two of them came to the waters edge.

Cape Horn
-Rough seas with weather that completely changed within minutes.

Falkland Islands (Islas Malvinas)
-Very British, enjoyed beer in a pub, toured museum dedicated to the Falkland Conflict.

Puerto Madryn, Argentina
-Visited wildlife reserve with Elephant Seals on Peninsula Valdes.

Montevideo, Uruguay
-Beautiful vineyards, fantastic lunch at a winery with wine pairings, beaches, tour guide told us that people here strive to own their own apartment and banks don‘t provide mortgages .

Buenos Aires, Argentina
-Recoletta Cemetery, the best steak we’ve ever eaten at Cabrerra’s Restaurant, incredible malbec wine (Luigi Bosca a favorite) and panqueques (crepes) con dulce de leche. Yes, it was all about the food!

Mom and Dad flew home.

Iguazu Falls, Argentina
-Hundreds of beautiful waterfalls and the big Garganta del Diablo (on par with Niagara, Victoria and Angel Falls). Absolutely amazing! One of our favorite places!

Mendoza, Argentina
-Malbec, malbec, malbec. Oh, and steak, too.

We flew home for the holidays and had a fantastic time seeing family and friends!


Photos Chile (mostly):

Photos Argentina:

Monday, May 25, 2009


How many smellies can one person be,
You say one maybe two or three possibly.
Traveling the world can make one see,
Seven smellies I am, I am you will see.
One smelly for my feet that will make you want to cry.
One smelly for my shoes that will make you want to roll over and die.
Two smellies for my pants that are difficult to describe,
And, I likely won’t reveal them without a big bribe.
Three smellies for my shirt of toil, dirt and sweat,
That have unknowingly become the ultimate triple threat.
One smelly for my mouth that could be fixed in a minute,
If only my toothbrush didn’t have mold in it.
See you think traveling the world is always happy and fun,
But sometimes the smellies make you feel done.
You pray for a washer instead of woolite in the sink,
And, dream of bounce freshness instead of the stink.
To the rescue comes a maiden with smelly good lotion,
Let’s hope it will work like a magic potion.
Banishing the smellies from the kingdom forever,
May require a bonfire or something more clever.
So come meeet us traveling if you’re brave enough to see,
That you too can have smellies, seven smellies with me.

Saturday, May 23, 2009


Relief. It packs such a big feeling for such a little word. Relief is what we felt the moment we stepped from the airplane into Italy. There is something about being in a third world country and arriving in a first world country that brings a sense of relief. The familiarity with how the world you know works. It is the little things. The presence of street signs. Street signs that you can read. A language that with a dictionary you can work your way through. Recognizing the written alphabet and phonetics as words are spoken. Understanding the pleasantries passed between strangers. Looking at a train schedule and knowing when the train will arrive, leave and from which platform it will all occur. The flicking of the train schedule board indicating movement, energy and people going places. People like us, moving about the world. What a pleasant and exciting relief.

Separately, both of us have visited Italy. We have seen the energy, religion, history and art that Rome, Florence and Venice have to offer. This time, together, we wanted to visit the paths less traveled in southern Italy and Sicily.

Salerno, our first stop, welcomed us with flavor bursting gnocchi. Ahhh the food of Italy! Salerno is the gateway to Pompei, the Amalfi Coast and the little known ruins of Paestum. The 6th century ruins at Paestum are among the best preserved from the Greek colony (Magna Graecia) that once covered much of southern Italy. The ruins were so extraordinary that while my head was turned one direction looking at the beauty, I continued walking in another direction and managed to do a triple sow cow in my hiking boots off the curb injuring my ankle. The blessing was that this made us move even more slowly through southern Italy. Ryan also got a jump start on dusting off his Italian while obtaining ice, extra pillows to elevate my ankle and an ace bandage from the farmacia.

We stayed at the Ostello Ave Gratia Plena a former 16th century convent in the heart of the centro storico. With the tall double doors open to our little balcony and the world, we enjoyed the beautiful red tiled roofs, the flowering trees of spring and the bubbling water fountain in the courtyard while lying in bed resting my ankle. After a couple days of rest and armed with my hiking poles (they nearly double as crutches) we set out to explore Pompei. Walking through the streets of Pompei was amazing. It was hard to believe that being buried in ash from erupting Mt. Vesuvius in 79 A.D had preserved the city so well. It was not until 1748 that exploration and excavation of the town began.

Knowing that Sicily was near on our horizon and that it is notorious for a lack of English speaking folk, we planned a week of language classes in Tropea. We found a language school on Google that looked nice, they had availability and the nice man Francesco said to call him when we arrived at the train station. Armed with our piece of paper containing the phone number and name, we ensured that we had coins to feed into the pay phone when we arrived in Tropea. We realized how ridiculously relaxed we have become in our travels when we arrived at the train station, there was no payphone in sight, the train station office was closed and we did not even know the name or address of the school. While we sat on a bench deciding what to do a taxi driver approached us speaking rapid Italian. After numerous hand signals and a little Spanish he used his own cell phone to call Francesco and we were delivered to our apartment in no time. The beauty of traveling is that it always seems to work out. Sometimes you just have to wait a little longer than others.

Tropea, famous for its sweet red onions and the vacation spot of the Italians, sits on the west coast of Italy on the bump near the toes of the boot. The language school set us up with a great little apartment where we cooked fantastic meals from the fresh produce at the local markets. We met a new friend, Julia, from England who made us laugh and filled our thumb drive full of music (bless her)! We had a great time exploring nearby towns, eating new foods and acquired enough Italian to navigate our way through Sicily.

With its smells of bread, cigarettes, coffee, exhaust, salami, hints of sewer and more, southern Italy welcomed, relieved, revived and prepared us for Sicily!

Wednesday, April 29, 2009


Greeted by our friendly tuk tuk driver, we set off into the darkness with the warm wind blowing through our hair. Beads of sweat were already forming at our temples and it was only 5:00 a.m. Man was it dark. The only light came from our tuk tuk’s headlight which illuminated the bumpy dirt road about 3 feet ahead of us. It was hard to believe in the darkness that the sun should rise triumphantly behind Angkor Wat in less than 30 minutes. Our driver let us off at the front gate and pointed to where he would be waiting for us.

Enveloped in the darkness, I had to fish in my bag for a small flashlight to illuminate the way across the stone causeway that crossed the moat to Angkor Wat. Savoring the peaceful quite, we positioned ourselves at the reflecting pool and awaited the sun’s grand arrival. Alone in the darkness we felt as though we were the first people to discover this captivating place. As the first rays peeked up from the horizon it was magic. Blues, purples and pinks radiated into oranges and yellows. Of course with the oranges and yellows the silence was broken by the first onslaught of tourists coming to see the sunrise. Lucky for us our timely driver had the inside scoop and delivered us to our own uniquely serene experience. As the sun rose slowly into the sky, the sweat began to poor off of our knees. Knees! Really?! Who knew that you could have wet spots on the front of your pants from sweaty knees! That’s Cambodian Heat for you.

We had never really heard of Angkor until we started planning for our trip. We read the book One Year Off by David Cohen and thought the place sounded interesting. In the interim we had friends visit Angkor who raved about it. We had no expectations and were blindsided by the mystery, beauty and triumph of the area. Angkor has many temples, all amazing in their own ways, that really are the gems of Southeast Asia. The temples were built between the 9th and 12th centuries. The most commonly known, Angkor Wat, was built in the early 12th century and was a significant religious center (first Hindu then Buddhist).

Complete with its magnificent face towers, the fortress of Bayon was one of our favorite temples. The haunting faces gaze down at you from above. Are they smiling? Are they laughing? Are they judging? Only you know which one it is at the time you are there. What have these faces seen? Love and hate. Peace and bloodshed. Devotion and disbelief. What an inspiring sight to ponder in our journey.

Our Photos:

Monday, April 27, 2009


.......Or this could happen to you!

Ruins: Paestum, Italy.
Ankle: Jen's (she doesn't really have a hammer's just positioning!)

Friday, April 24, 2009


Thailand. What can I say. Everything we have ever heard about Thailand was fantastic. Great food, wonderful people, beautiful temples, elephants, cheap prices, personal tailors, unbeatable massages, the list goes on and on. Sadly, this is not the Thailand we got to see.

While in the Tokyo Airport we learned that protests against the government had started in Thailand. Everything we read said that the protests by the Red Shirts, wanting the current Prime Minister to step down, were peaceful. I recalled that in October 2008, protesters had taken over the Bangkok Airport and was leery of heading into an unstable situation. I checked the U.S. Department Web Site and there were no travel warnings listed for Thailand. Thanks to the web we were able to learn that the protests were not near our hotel, that we could get to the U.S. Embassy and the airport without having to go through the protest area and we mapped our route from our hotel to the embassy. We registered with the U.S. Embassy in Thailand and hoped for the best.

We arrived shortly after midnight on Wednesday and Bangkok was alive with happy bustling tourists, locals and children playing in the streets. It was business as usual. The next couple days were spent sampling the Thai cuisine and organizing our trip north to Sukhotai, Chiang Mai and the elephant reserve at Lampang. Our plans to leave Bangkok were delayed a couple of days because the trains and buses were booked by people traveling for Songkran (Thai New Year).

While we waited to head north, the protests began to escalate. Protestors stormed the location of the ASEAN Summit in Pattaya (1.5 hours south of Bangkok). The summit was cancelled and several leaders were evacuated by helicopter from the hotel. As the protestors from Pattaya headed back to Bangkok the protesting in Bangkok turned to rioting. The Prime Minister declared a state of emergency. By doing so, the military moved into the city, tanks rolled into the streets and people could now be arrested without a warrant (due process). The rioting spread in Bangkok to part of the tourist area (2 train stops from our hotel) where the Red Shirts threw petrol bombs at police and sent hijacked public buses now empty, on fire, with the gas pedals rigged, careening into the lines of riot police.

We debated, is it better to get out of Bangkok into the more rural areas of Thailand away from the violence but farther away from the airport if something really bad happens? Or, stay in Bangkok where you can get to the airport or embassy if you needed to get out of Thailand quickly? Searching for more information on the “state of affairs in Bangkok” we found broadcasts on Aljazeera (the English version) to be the most informative. Really?! Who would have ever thought that Aljazeera would be our news program of choice?! When we learned protestors were blocking roads outside of Bangkok including near Chiang Mai, two deaths had occurred from rioting and if the Prime Minister stepped down no government would be in place, we decided it was time to abandon our already purchased bus and train tickets to flee to the sanctity of……….Cambodia. Cambodia?!?! A country with such a war torn past, we never thought we’d say that!

With the help of the nice airline representatives and hotel owners we were able to leave Bangkok fairly quickly and at a reasonable monetary cost considering the situation. When we cancelled one of our accommodations up north Ryan received the following reply:
Dear Ryan,
I'm very sorry about the crazy people made everthing bad now but i beleive the government can control in a few days.
Looking forward to welcome you next time.
Thank you,
Sad. Very sad for the peaceful people of Thailand.

The few peaceful days that we did have in Bangkok were very interesting. Locals and tourists ate fruit, noodles, meat on a stick and more from street vendors. Streets were lined with clothing and souvenir stalls. Men in turbans tried to get my attention with phrases such as, “I know your lover name.” Women tried to get Ryan’s attention yelling, “maa-sauge for you sir?” Old fat white men ran around with young beautiful tiny Thai women. Hmmm. I wonder, is there a potential gain in access to resources for these women that out weighs the seemingly wrong-ness of the situation? Maybe there is more that I need to learn (because I don’t know much about it), but the scenario seems rather disgusting.

Which reminds me, while we sat in the Tokyo Airport waiting for our flight to Bangkok a white man from the U.S. in his 60’s struck up a conversation with me when Ryan left to buy water. He asked if this was my first trip to Thailand, I replied “yes.” He told me about the Thai New Year Festival that we would encounter. And, then he said he had spent more than 150 days in Thailand over the past year. “150 days the past year?! Wow that is a lot! Do you travel there for work,” I asked? “Um,” pause………..”Um,” pause……….”vacation,” he said. I thought to myself, Jen you idiot! You know the sex trade industry is booming in Bangkok and the look on the man’s face and his hesitation confirmed it. Uggh!

Sadly, we only have the photos on this page to share of Bangkok and guava juice :) We hope to visit Thailand again in a more peaceful time.


Thursday, April 23, 2009


Friends: We planned a short trip through Tokyo to visit our friends Elizabeth and Jeremy who have been living and working outside of Tokyo for nearly 3 years. They were fantastic tour guides and Jeremy is the only reason we located any structures by map in Tokyo. In Tokyo, there are no street signs (despite having street names) and buildings on a block are assigned an address number by the order in which it was built. This means that building #4 and #5 may be on the same side of the street, at opposite ends and 5 stories up. We had entertaining shopping experiences and culinary adventures trying hot molten octopus balls, squid jerky, outstanding sake and yummy sushi.

The smallness of the world revealed itself when we received an email from our neighbors in St. Louis (Beth and Chad) telling us that they would be in Tokyo at the exact same time. While Elizabeth worked, the rest of us met for an incredible traditional Japanese lunch (photos to prove it!) served by a beautiful Japanese Kimono wearing woman. It was great to see friends from home. Thank you Elizabeth and Jeremy!

Cherry Blossoms: When we decided to visit Elizabeth and Jeremy, I hoped that we could time it with the famous cherry blossoms in Japan. It could not have worked out more perfectly! The blossoms peaked while we were there and I took endless photos of them. If you are not interested in cherry blossoms, just scan the photos!

Gai Gin Card: Pronounced “guy-jean,” meaning foreigner, was a card we played frequently while in Japan. Not bowing at the appropriate times, not being able to speak the language (or read the signs), and jay walking are just a few times that our card came into play. Thankfully we were not expected to know the many unspoken rules and customs in the Japanese culture and they looked the other way when we violated them.

Kanpai to friends!

Our photos:

Monday, April 13, 2009


Pepito whisked Paquito and Juana Loquita away from the Sydney airport. Together again, in a new land, it was time to shed their identities for new roles. With her ruby red slippers, Juana L was quite pleased with her new role. Paquito’s every expanding mane made him perfect for his part. Pepito’s freshly shaved and shiny noggin helped him embrace his character and he did actually need a little grease for his joints after his 1,000 stair climb in the Blue Mountains the day before.

This Oz was different and yet similar is so many ways. Instead of tornados there were cyclones (Hamish and ???). Instead of the yellow brick road it was Highway 1. Instead of the Scarecrow accompanying us on the whole journey, he flew in for a two week vacation from the U.S. and tried to relax and lose his brain instead of finding it. Our Lion already had courage as he dove into his crocodile pie and kangaroo steak. This Tin Man was all heart as he bought rounds of Guinness for us on St. Paddy’s Day. No one was singing “Somewhere Over The Rainbow,” but the Lily Allen’s song “I don’t know what’s right and what’s real anymore” played over and over on the car radio prompting conversations about the Wicked Witches in society and the lack of reality in the Emerald City. There was no Toto, but we would like to offer up Mr. Cassowary as the strangest looking bird ever who would fit right into the dreamy world.

The Tin Man and Scarecrow actually found the Wizard and were transported back to Denver, not Kansas. Dorothy and Lion eluded the wizard and escaped into the outback (Undara Lava Tubes, Uluru and Kata Tjuta). Good thing the Tin Man had already been to the outback!

The Interpretation:
What started out as a few days of traveling with Joe turned into a few weeks . And, what fun we had! Joe picked us up from the Sydney airport and we drove north together all the way to Cairns. Joe’s friend Kevin joined us in Byron Bay and brought Cyclone Hamish with him (for those wondering….a cyclone is the same as a hurricane, but located in the southern hemisphere). While we weren’t close to the land effects from Hamish, he made the seas too rough for surfing lessons and poor visibility for diving (the snorkeling wasn‘t too bad, though). Joe and Kevin left us in Cairns (they flew home via Sydney) and we drove further north to Cape Tribulation and into the edge of the outback to see the Undara Lava Tubes. Hiking at Uluru (Ayer’s Rock), Kata Tjuta and the Blue Mountains followed by sightseeing in Sydney finished up our trip in Oz.

We’ll leave you with a little Ozzie speak: “That story was crazy as!“ This statement will never be completed, you will never know crazy as what, just that it is. You might even get a “good on ya” or good job!

Thursday, March 26, 2009


Wow, time flies when you are having fun! We have been in Australia for 3 weeks and I’m trying to wrap up New Zealand. Fox Glacier proved to be spectacular with a little added adventure bonus. We left the van lights on in the car park. This shouldn’t be an adventure in and of itself, after all the van company did give us a set of jumper cables. However, we couldn’t find the battery. Nope. It wasn’t under the passenger seat where the engine was located. There were no compartments on the front of the van to open. We peeled carpet back, scratched our heads and even asked nice gentlemen walking past the van. No one could find the battery! The nice Englishmen and their wives offered to give us a lift into town and dropped us at a service station. We explained our situation to the mechanic who just grinned back at us. Ryan said “I bet this is not the first time this has happened.” The mechanic replied with a grin, “Well, it is the first time today!’’ The mechanic drove us back to the glacier and in less than a minute he located the battery behind the drivers seat, under the carpet and below a metal plate that was clipped into place. The van started in no time and we were off!

The next day we had an incredible guided hike on the Franz Josef Glacier with crampons and all! It was incredible to get up close and personal with Franz, but also terribly unnerving! There is no feeling like standing high up on a glacier looking down into it’s cascading depths while trying to walk with your toes pointed down hill on the slippery cool surface without lines or ropes. Other parts of the glacier were cut with stairs to climb and ropes to hold onto in “dangerous” areas. We told ourselves that this downhill slope must not be “dangerous” because it did not have ropes to hold onto. But, you could not help feeling that if you slipped, that was it. Down you went to dance with Franz.

The day on the glacier was fantastic and we finished it off with a soak in the glacial waters hot springs. Yes, this is counterintuitive, so we had to ask. The freezing cold glacial water is heated to a steamy 39-40 degrees Celsius. We soaked our wounds and felt like new people ready to greet the next adventure!

We made a mad dash for Abel Tasman National Park famous for it’s sparkling turquoise blue water, fantastic hiking and tranquil kayaking. Our one day of hiking offered birds eye views of the many bays dotted along the coast as we weaved in and out of the dense forest. At the end of the hike we were greeted by the tranquil ocean waters that lapped us up leaving us refreshed. The following day, as the Easterly blew in, our hopes for tranquil kayaking dissipated. The rain pounded, the wind howled and the white caps frothed. No kayaking for this crew. By the next day, the seas were still too rough and we said goodbye to Abel with promises to return another day.

Back to the North Island via ferry crossing we went with short visits with Jodi’s family, again. This time we got to have a lovely lunch with Jodi’s Granddad Laurie. A fascinating and loving man who shared tales of travels, lessons learned and days gone by. What a joy it was to spend time with him!

The Coromandel was our next stop and never a dull moment did we have. Hot Water Beach, a place where geothermal water bubbles up from the depths to create boiling sand. You can dig a hole in the beach as the tide goes out and have your very own hot tub with an expansive view of the ocean. Fascinating! There were 70 year old men in Speedos running around giggling like school children! We also enjoyed a walk to Cathedral Cove, a beautiful rock arch by the ocean.

Our time in New Zealand closed with a little drama after the van key broke off in the driver side door and we did not have a spare set of keys. After a locksmith extracted the key from the lock, made another key that did not work and modified the key in the motor camp with my metal nail file we were driving back to Auckland to fly to Australia. Farwell New Zealand, we will be back!

Our Photos:

Wednesday, March 18, 2009


1. Grocery stores sell VERY large chickens. I wonder if you can buy dresses for them, too?

2. There is no “tooting” near national monuments.

3. While driving on a major highway you may find yourself on a single lane bridge with train tracks running down the middle and you are giving way (yielding) to a train! (thanks for the reminder Sharon)
4. Taking a tramp in the bush means taking a hike in the woods/forest.

5. On the North Island, grazing sheep run frightened from cars that drive by their fenced in pastures.

6. Visiting the Galapagos Islands and standing a couple feet from the animals has ruined all other animal encounters.

7. When a brochure says an activity is appropriate “for most agile people,” they really mean you better be able to run a marathon, scale a mountain and walk on water in order to participate.

8. If you are barefooted in the supermarket, no one thinks twice about it.

9. New Zealand has 2 of only 3 glaciers in the world that are located in a rainforest (the other is in Patagonia).

10. Heaps = a lot. For example, New Zealand has heaps of nice people.
11. Tip Top is the best ice cream ever! Favorites are Passion Fruit and Gooey Gooey Gum Drop.

12. Sand flies at Milford Sound are vicious.

13. 70 year old New Zealand’ers rent Wicked Vans to travel in, too (they were given an AC/DC van and had to ask someone at the motor camp to play the band on their iPod because they had no idea who the band was).

14. Roads are straighter on the South Island.

15. New Zealand just maybe the most beautiful country in the world!


(Based on real-life experiences at a motor camp in Te Anau, New Zealand)

Don’t get me wrong, I’m the first girl to jump into the boys one-seater bathroom when the women’s line is 6 feet deep. The concept of a free for all for the loo makes sense to me. But, the concept of commingling numerous toilets and showers in one unisex location is just weird. I can’t shake the feeling that some Peeping Tom is lurking around the corner waiting for a show from some innocent Betty who forgets she is in a unisex bathroom.

It is weird to hear toilet noises from a complete stranger of the opposite sex. We’ve become accustom to sharing facilities with strangers of our own sex. But, a complete stranger of the other sex…….weird! Men, let me put it into perspective for you. You are in the loo, you hear quite a production going on in the stall next to you. Joe Bob walks out, no problem. Gorgeous svelte Betty walks out of the stall…..weird!

Sure I could put my grown up adult hat on and say “it’s great.” After all I have had to say “nuts” to a 12 year old boy in the ER with a straight face. But, when I’m standing at the hand dryer near the door and a 60 year old man walks in, sees me and at first has a look of sheer terror on his face because he thinks that he has just walked into the wrong bathroom, I say weird! Or, when you are brushing your teeth next to the 22 year old stranger shaving his face and neither of you can make eye contact, I say weird!

So, to Tom the Peeper, no peeping here because my husband is in the next stall!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009


We arrived to the South Island by car ferry and enjoyed a fabulous wine tour compliments of Kash and Jodi. The wine tour company, Bubbly Grape, uses the slogan “We’ll Drive You To Drink!” Kash and Jodi thought it was fitting for our drunk van and we agree! We had a great time!

Kaikoura was our next stop via a road side stand selling fresh Cray Fish aka LOBSTER! We ate fresh lobster (only out of the ocean 4 hours before it hit our bellies)! The first one was so good that we had to have a second. Oh, and we had a side of green lipped mussels steamed in a garlic white wine sauce to go with it, too. Kaikoura proved to be outstanding with its gorgeous coastline and tall mountains. We saw three sperm whales, orcas and a blue shark on our whale watching tour. Later the same day when we hiked along the coast line we spotted a ray in the crystal clear water, sea lions galore and more orcas frolicking about.

After such a tough day, we headed to Hanmer Springs to soak in the natural hot springs. Ahhhhhhhhhh…….it was lovely! From Hanmer we drove through Christchurch and onto a winding little road (with a stretch of gravel road that caused a flash back to Peru) along the coast to the Banks Peninsula. We snuggled in for the rainy night in a remote little place called Okains Bay (remote except for the few other campers and sheep). The van did not float away or get washed into the ocean and the next day we drove to Akaroa. From Akaroa we drove back to Christchurch via Little River (with a great café and art gallery) and Birdlings Flat (a stretch of powerful crashing ocean surf).

In Christchurch we were greeted by Jodi’s friends Jacinda, Rich and their beautiful children. They were gracious hosts and even shared the Day of Love with us complete with a special pancake breakfast and chocolate cake! We saw the Coast to Coast Race finish in Christchurch which involves running, kayaking and cycling from the west to east coast of the South Island. The top competitors complete the 243 km race in 10 hours 45 minutes. Here is the link if you want to learn more about the race:

A lovely hike at Mount Cook was next followed by a trip to Stewart Island. We were blessed with a beautiful day to hike on Stewart Island, but then the rain set in for the remainder of our time. The ferry ride back to the South Island was quite an adventure and instead of beer lined up on the bar the crew actually had vomit bags. Luckily neither of us filled one, but you had to keep a steady eye gazing outside or else images of retching souls would fill your head.
The rain continued and has followed us for four days now. Our time in Milford Sound was drizzly and cold. We were sad that we did not get to see the spectacular sunny views, but we did get to see a mysterious misty version of the Sound and were graced with hundreds of waterfalls cascading down the mountain sides.

Tonight we arrived at the glaciers (Franz Josef and Fox) and got a glimpse of a starry sky. We are looking forward to the Sun and a dry van!

More photos:

Sunday, February 22, 2009


Our first two weeks were spent traveling around the lovely North Island. We were greeted in the wee hours of the morning by Jodi’s Dad (Colin) and Step-Mum (Elizabeth). They played tour guides and chauffeurs for several days. Together we enjoyed picnics on the beach, yummy meals, and seeing the Auckland Regatta to name a few! Colin taught Ryan how to drive on the other side of the road and provided moral support when we picked up our “Drunk” van. We trotted off into the wild blue yonder north of Auckland to the Bay of Islands (Tutukaka, Russell, Pahia). Kaitaia was our next stop and we traveled to Cape Reinga the northern most point in New Zealand. The Cape was incredible with a beautiful lighthouse and turbulent waters where the Tasman Sea and Pacific Ocean meet. On our way to Matakohe we walked through the ancient Kauri Forests. The oldest living Kauri Trees are 1200-2000 years old. We held court with the mighty Tane Mahuta (the largest living Kauri tree at 51 meters tall) and Te Matua Ngahere (the widest living Kauri at 16.4 meters wide). We made a return visit to Waitomo to walk through the forest at night and view the glow worms lit up the mountain side (blue twinkling lights…..beautiful!). New Plymouth brought more beautiful coast and a hike up part of Mount Taranaki. A driving adventure across the Forgotten Highway took us through Whangamomona the only republic in New Zealand. We spent the night in Ohakune and drove into Wellington the next day. We were greeted in Wellington by Jodi’s Mum (Annette) and Noel who helped us make a great itinerary for touring the South Island. We enjoyed a great night out with them, a walk on the beach, learning the rules of a cricket match, shopping and strawberries from the garden! Did I mention a real comfy bed and indoor toilet, too!

Ryan and Jen

South Island update to come soon!.......

Thursday, February 12, 2009


1. 100 km/h signs are there to taunt you on the winding roads.
2. Trees can be 13 meters in diameter.
3. Kash is a saint for driving us the entire time we were in New Zealand a year ago.
4. Bugs are like missiles on the windshield, they thump but don’t splatter.
5. Monkey Business is banana and chocolate chip ice cream.
6. Well equipped buses use the beach as a highway.
7. Glow worms are glowing larvae poop.
8. A road in NZ only needs two lanes to be called a highway.
9. The forest looks like Jurassic Park. There could be a dinosaur charging through any minute.
10. A chilly bin is a cooler.
11. Togs are men’s swim shorts.
12. Jangles are flip-flops.
13. Up hill max speed 50 km/h. Down hill max speed 80 km/h. Any faster than that and the van wants to fly!
14. People treat you differently if you are a woman wearing a hippie bandana over your hair.
15. Kiwi hospitality is great! We love our Sister-In-Law’s Family!
To see our photos:

Monday, January 26, 2009


You are looking at our home in New Zealand for the next 6 weeks! New Zealand is known for its incredible scenery EVERYWHERE, so we decided that a camper van was the way to travel. “Wicked Vans” are famous for their colorful paint jobs (smiley faces and peace signs) and “wise” sayings painted on the back (if a man is wrong and there isn’t a woman to hear him is he really wrong? Or, the answer to the world’s problems: get the hungry to eat the homeless). Needless to say, I was a bit disappointed when we picked up our van and it was lacking a bit in the “wisdom” department. Painted on the side is “Town Drunk” in “graffiti from the hood style.” On the back it says “A town drunk with all that alky funk.” I really wanted the van with monkeys painted all over it and one big gorilla on the back that said, “If you’re going to be a monkey, you might as well be a bloody Gorilla.” But, I guess I should count my blessings that we did not get the van parked next to ours that was covered with bare chested cartoon women ( I couldn’t even bring myself to look for any wisdom on the rear of that van)!

Given my disappointment, I thought it best to search the Universe to find out why we were given this van. Hmm…..could it be because I recently invented the “Blue Goose” (Grey Goose Martini with blue cheese stuffed olives minus the olives)? Or, that our friend Audrey gave us the largest bottle of Grey Goose ever made as a “consumable” Christmas gift (consumable is important when you don’t have a house)? Maybe it is because my Mother-In-Law, Judi, designated me the Pomegranate Martini Bartender over the holidays? Could it be because our storage pod is half filled with every type of glassware imaginable? Hmm…could it really be that we are supposed to relax, kick-back and have an incredible time traveling! Well, we’ll give it a shot! CHEERS to our New Zealand adventures!

P.S. We will post the photos and blog from Chile and Argentina when we think of something snappy to say :)

P.P.S. Joe is in Australia because he was afraid to cuddle with us in our van! Smart man!