Cartagena 2018

As part of our saying goodbye to Colombia, we took one last weekend trip to Cartagena where we stayed at the Santa Clara hotel, a former nunnery dating back to 1621, saw a plethora of birds at the Aviario Nacional de Colombia, enjoyed the beach of Playa Blanca, and sweat like crazy as we walked through the streets of the old city — in preparation for the humidity to come in Texas.

Below are some pics from our trip. To view the entire album click here.

San Miguel De Allende

We spent the first week in July in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico...lindo y querido como siempre. Suzan kindly hosted us at her beautiful townhouse there. We managed to fit in all of our favorite things--churros, swimming at La Gruta, tacos al pastor, live music by Gil and company, pie at El Pegaso, the jardin, margaritas, more churros....while relaxing quite a bit. Annika loved doing projects and spending time with her Mimi. We left happy, relaxed, and a few pounds heavier (so well worth it). Until next time...

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Parents Visit Bogotá

We were happy to host my parents who flew down to pay us a little visit.  We took them to Andres Carne de Res, Monserrat, Plaza Bolívar, Casa de Nariño, and Usaquen. We made an attempt to visit the town of Guatavita which failed due to road constructions and delays.  We did manage to find a scenic off-road route through the mountains that took us back down to Bogotá.

In addition, my parents got to experience a little bit of our life here as diplomats.  We introduced them to our friends and took them to the U.S. Embassy, Annika's school and swim school, showed them areas near our home, and, more importantly, spent quality time at home.  Annika misses not letting her Abuelo nap in the chair and Abuela's hugs and kisses.

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Argentina

We spent 10 beautiful days, November 5th - 15th, in Argentina visiting 3 cities: Buenos Aires, El Calafate, and Bariloche.  

After a 6 hour flight from Bogota we landed in Buenos Aires.  We stayed for a day in the city in which we walked through the streets of Palermo and had lunch at La Cabrera for some tasty bife de chorizo, chorizos, and Malbec wine.  We met up with our old friend Derek, aka El Chinito, from our tour in Mexico for drinks and fried empanadas which were delish!  The next day we hopped on a plane to El Calafate, a city in Patagonia, Argentina with incredible sunset views of Lago Argentino.  We stayed for 3 days at Blanca Patagonia just a couple of miles from the center of El Calafate.  The food in the town was fantastic with it's rich Italian influence -- we had homemade pastas, fish wrapped in a buttery pastry and cooked in clay, and empanadas (of course), to name a few. On our first day in El Calafate, we took a trip to Los Glaciares National Park to get an up close view of Glaciar Perito Moreno.  On the next day we took a "Safari expedition" to the mountains just outside of El Calafate to explore Patagonia's native wildlife that include Darwin’s Rhea and Guanaco (similar to llamas).  We also stumbled upon a large fossil deposit, thought to have been deposited by moving glaciers, and had a tasty lunch overlooking the mountains while drinking Malbec wine from the region (of course).  Annika quickly befriended our Safari driver.

We then flew to Bariloche, a city in the province of Río Negro, Argentina, situated in the foothills of the Andes on the southern shores of Nahuel Huapi Lake.  We stayed at the wonderful Lirolay Suites on the shores of Lake Nahuel Huapi.  The food again was incredible, especially at La Salamandra Pulpería where we had ojo de bife, empanadas, and choripan accompanied with Malbec wine of course.  We rented a car and on our first day we drove to the outskirts of Bariloche around Lago Moreno with incredible views of the mountains and lakes.  The next day we took a longer drive through Villa La Angostura, a small and beautiful town with a nice downtown and a European ski resort feel to it, and later along Siete Lagos road (7 lakes drive).  This road is filled with breathtaking views of snow capped mountains and clear water lakes and goes along the shores of the Espejo, Correntoso, Villarino and Falkner lakes.  Annika especially enjoyed throwing rocks at one of our many stops along the lakes.  

On our last day in Argentina we flew back to Buenos Aires and explored the Puerto Madero neighborhood where we met up with an old high school friend of mine, currently working in BA as CFO of an oil company (dealing with lovely unions) We had lunch there -- one last bife de chorizo and Malbec wine (of course).

We highly recommend this trip to our family and friends and if we continue to stay in this continent, will definitely head back.

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Buenos Aires
El Calafate
Bariloche

El Calafate
El Calafate
El Calafate
El Calafate
Her new friend
Her new friend
Los Glaciares National Park - Glacier Perito Moreno
Julia eating an olive!
On a 'Safari expedition' just outside of El Calafate
Bariloche - Lift in Cerro Campanario
Bariloche - Cerro Campanario
Bariloche - Road trip through 7 lakes drive
Bariloche - Road trip through 7 lakes drive
Bariloche - Road trip through 7 lakes drive
Bariloche

Videos below

Bariloche - Annika throwing rocks
El Calafate - Los Glaciares National Park
Just shy of the end of the video you can hear the sound of thunder from ice falling into the lake
Bariloche - Road trip through 7 lakes
El Calafate - Hiking towards fossil deposit

Pereira, Colombia

For Columbus Day weekend, we took a trip to Pereira, Colombia located in the foothills of the Andes in a coffee producing area called the Coffee Axis (eje cafetero).  To get away from the city life here in Bogota, we stayed at Sazagua hotel located just outside of the city with beautiful gardens, tropical flowers, and a nice pool which Annika loved.  Although it rained just about every day, we did take a couple of excursions: Cocora Valley, Aguas Claras Nature Reserve with its wax palm trees (the national tree and symbol of Colombia), lunch on the bank of the Aguas Claras creek that included delicious tamales, drinking the best coffee at Jesus Martin in Salento, and finally to Don Manolo Coffee Farm where we saw the coffee fields, harvesting, and processing of Colombian coffee.

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Sazagua Hotel
Sazagua Hotel
Aguas Claras Nature Reserve
Aguas Claras Nature Reserve
Aguas Claras Creek
Coffee shop Jesús Martín
Salento
Don Manolo Coffee Farm
Don Manolo Coffee Farm
Don Manolo Coffee Farm
Sazagua Hotel

California, no doubt about it!

When we decided that it was time for a vacation sans la puchy, we figured California would be the perfect destination. The Grand-MiMi watched Annika in Bogota while we enjoyed some of our favorite things in San Francisco: oysters, sushi, a walk across Golden Gate. A good portion of our paychecks was left behind in the one corner of Union Square that has both an Apple Store and Cole Haan. We warmed up with 2 days in Yountville and visits to Pine Ridge, Regusci, and Clos du Val, where we made a wise investment in a piece of luggage that carries one full case of wine. We finished up with a weekend in Gilroy, visiting family and hanging out. The Grand-MiMi was a trooper through all of it, caring for a a sick (yet again) and cranky Puchy. It's nice to be home, but we'll be back...it's the vacation we can take over, and over, and over...

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Sampling Chowder

Sampling Chowder

Facetiming with Annika

Facetiming with Annika

San Andreas Fault is in those shrubs!

San Andreas Fault is in those shrubs!

Mission San Juan Bautista

Mission San Juan Bautista

Guagua Pichincha

As mentioned in a previous post, Pichincha consists of 2 peaks, Rucu (meaning old person) and Guagua (meaning baby).  Guagua Pichincha is the higher of the two peaks at an altitude of ~ 15,728 ft. and is active with its most recent eruption in 1999.  

It's easiest to reach the rim of Guagua because you can drive to the Refugio, from which it is just a short walk (30 minutes) to the crater.  However, because the road reaches altitudes of 15,000+ feet, the drive itself can be a challenge given the lack of oxygen needed for your vehicle's combustion.  The trick for us was for Julia and our 2 hitchiker friends to dismount the car at the steeper portions of the road in order to make the climb.  Once the road leveled off, Julia climbed back in and we were able to complete the drive.  The 2 hitch hikers graciously decided to walk the rest of the way allowing us to reach the Refugio.

The dry season here afforded us a clear view of the three snow capped volcanoes, Cayambe, Antisana, and Cotopaxi.  This year, the dry season has also resulted in an abundance of forest fires which was evident in the views.  

On this clearest of days, and while I remembered to pack the camera, yours truly left the battery in the charger at home.  The pictures below were taken with my trustee iPhone 6.

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Antisana on the left and Cotopaxi on the right.  The smoke is from forest fires.
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Guagua crater with lava domes.

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Looking west into what's known as the cloud forest (Mindo).  The haze is from the forest fire currently burning near Cotopaxi
Overlooking the refugio.  Cayambe in the background
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There have been a lot of fires lately which i guess is typical during the dry season.

Video below

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Hiking Pichincha

Pichincha is an active stratovolcano just west of Quito.  It consists of two peaks, Guagua Pichincha, the active caldera with the last eruption in 1999, and Rucu Pichicha which is inactive.

Our hike to Rucu Pichincha began by taking the teleferico, equivalent to a gondola, to the starting point of the hike at ~12,700 feet.  On this day the sky was relatively clear giving us some fantastic views of Quito.  Although, at this point, the path was pretty clear, free of rocks, once we hit ~13,500 feet I needed to take some serious deep breaths during the more steep climbs.  At about~14,000 feet the trail got more narrow with some more steep drop offs on the side.  

We hit a point where the path required some simple rock climbing.  I say simple, as it would be the case for most people, but given that I am afraid of heights, if at any point I slipped, I would have rolled down the side of this rocky mountain.  To me, the hike became unenjoyable and I still wanted to return home and play with Annika.  Julia, of course was perfectly fine but very understanding and when I mentioned turning around she was perfectly fine with it.

According to the map we were somewhat close to the crater of Rucu but given the steep climb at altitude, this could have taken us an hour or so to complete.  We ran into 2 people suffering from altitude sickness.  At our highest point, ~14,300 feet, we hit what seemed like the spine of the mountain, where if you faced east you looked down upon Quito, and if you faced west you looked down upon the cloud forest and eventually the ocean.  Unfortunately the clouds obscurred our view west.  Facing north or south you see volcano alley, with other volcanic peaks dotting the skyline.

Oh well...better luck next time if there is one.

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Antisana Ecological Reserve

Waking up to a clear Sunday morning, we thought we would take advantage and head to the Antisana Ecological Reserve to see if we could get a clear view of Volcan Antisana.  While Cotopaxi was clear, unfortunately Antisana was mostly covered by clouds, however, we got to see some impressive views of the reserve, Quito, Volcan Pichincha, and Volcan Sincholagua.  

We hiked up a hill, bringing us at an altitude of roughly 13,500 feet in hopes of getting a glimpse of Cotopaxi, but, that particular side of the volcano was covered in clouds.  We did stumble upon some wild horses along the way.

Leaving the reserve we saw a group of Andean Condors in what appeared to be them practicing to glide as one by one they took turns flying in a circle.

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View of Sincholagua Volcano on your left and the southern edge of Quito to your right
Antisana Volcano
She didn't want to wear her gloves.
Antisana Volcano in the background
Climbed up a hill at roughly 13,500 feet overlooking Laguna de Mica.
Looking down from the hill you could see Laguna de Mica, horses, our car parked on the road, and Julia and Annika walking towards the car.
Andean Condor
Early dinner at Mucki's


Sierra Negra

Sierra Negra is an active volcano located on the south side of Isla Isabela.  It has the second largest caldera in the world.  The south side of the volcano is lush in vegetation and has over 100 family farms.  The northern side, however, is quite the opposite -- dry with cacti growing out of lava rocks.  

Volcan Chico, from my interpratation of what the guide was telling us, is the name for the northern part of Volcan Sierra Negra.  This is the area where lava flows from recent eruptions reached the sea.  

Our 11 mile hike began at ~8:00 a.m. on the sourthern side of Volcan Sierra Negra.  It was cool, foggy, and with periods of light rain.  We hiked up to the caldera and walked along the eastern ridge heading north.  Upon reaching the northern side of the caldera, the conditions quickly cleared up and the temperature was much warmer.  We headed down towards Volcan Chico and the terrain quickly changed to a drier landscape filled with lava rock and cacti.  As we headed down the caldera we walked on lava rock ranging in age from 5000 years old to that of the most recent eruption in 2005.  We saw several lava tubes, fumaroles that release hot humid air, incredible lava formations, mini volcanoes, and what many describe as a Mars-like landscape with colors ranging from red, orange, yellow, and black.  As we returned to our starting point, the afternoon soon burned off the morning fog allowing us to view the caldera in its entirety.  

This was truly and amazing hike.

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Hike to the southern side of the crater started with light rain
The northern side of the crater, which is where the recent lava flows have taken place, is called Volcan Chico.
Saw this guy having a snack on our hiking path.  Turtles are making a comeback

Unsuccessful Photoshoot

Before her 1 year birthday, we wanted a little photoshoot to hopefully capture a great family shot.  To our surprise, the days of having a cooperative child for photoshoots were long gone.

344B4989.jpg

Then her desire to climb up the stairs and crawl began...

What to do but leave her be

After letting her climb up nearly a hundred steps, we thought we would give it another try.  Nope.  She still wanted to crawl.

In the end, she had fun doing what she wanted; crawling, playing with rocks, and more importantly, getting dirty.

Better luck next time

Clear Morning

When mornings are clear here in Quito, which is not often, all of the volcanoes are visible and the views are incredible.  This morning was relatively clear, and since we are up early these days, we headed to the rooftop of the building in front of us for some fantastic dawn pictures of the volcanoes and the valley below.  I never tire of taking these types of pictures.  These views will sorely be missed.

To view the entire album, yes I did an album since there are so many pics, click here.

Volcan Cayambe to the far left
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Volcan Antisana in the background
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Far right is Antisana
Glass doors to the elevator on the right.  Annika loves playing on the rooftop grass every day.
Annika joined us for the morning view of the volcanoes

Antisana Ecological Reserve

What should have been a short drive from Papallacta to the Antisana Ecological Reserve was anything but. Unfortunately there is no direct route to Antisana so we had to drive through some very interesting towns, but in the end, it was well worth it. Once inside the park, the road leading to Antisana had some breathtaking views even with Antisana surrounded by clouds. Although Antisana and Cotopaxi are not very far from each other, the paramos looked different. We shall return to hopefully get a clearer view of her soon enough.

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Clouds obscuring our view.  We shall return though
Andean Bluebonnets (Michelle knows their true name).

Cabañas San Isidro

About an hour east of Papallacta, down a windy road on the eastern slopes of the Andes, is Cabañas San Isidro. It was the first time that Julia and I have travelled to the eastern Andes. Cabañas San Isidro is a reserve that lies between two national parks and has well-marked and maintained forest trails where one can see various species of birds and Colibris (Hummingbirds). We started our hike into the humid cloud forest and, as the administrator told us, "In the rainy season it rains all the time but in the dry season it rains every day", it began to rain. For the most part, the thick forest protected us from the downpour. At the end of the trail there was a hummingbird watch station where there was some intense feeding activity as the birds were not bothered by the rain. To view the entire album click here.

Some Videos

Papallacta

Just 40 miles east of Quito, and at an altitude of 10,800 feet, are the Termas de Papallacta, the hot springs of Papallacta. With Vince and Michelle having just arrived to Ecuador, we figured the hot springs would be a great way for them to get aclimated to the altitude. Vince and I did a little bike riding and it turns out he was in no need of aclimating. I, on the other hand, gave up after ascending just 500 feet at roughly 12,000 feet. We did manage to do a little hiking along the entrance to Reserva Ecológica Cayambe Coca and although it was cloudy, we got some good views of the Cascada de Baños. To view the entire album, click here.

Noche Buena and Christmas in Quito 2014

As it was peanut's first Christmas - and she is just so damn photogenic - we took a million pictures. Looks like Santa needs to bring more memory cards and backup drives next year. We spent Noche Buena with good friends from the Embassy; it was a great evening complete with homemade spaghetti, old fashioneds, and tons of excited kids. We returned home to start our own new Christmas traditions. We must have been good this year as Santa came overnight and filled Annika's stocking, bringing her a little toothbrush for her 1/2 of a tooth. Santa also brought a train set that scared the bejeezus out of her.

We had a relaxing low key Christmas day starting with mimosas and ending with a candlelit dinner. We enjoyed our first Christmas as a family of 3 but missed spending time with our family.

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