Destinations

October 20, 2014

Iguazu Falls

By: Noemi Gamel

Kara and Tristan by the falls

Kara and Tristan by the falls

There is something magical about waterfalls. Perhaps it is the power they convey, the crystalline beauty of the curtain of water, or the deafening roar they produce.  You can imagine our delight to witnessing arguably the most spectacular waterfalls in the world, in Puerto Iguazu, Argentina.

When we first entered Iguazu National Park, I felt like we were in an Argentinian version of Disney World. The place felt commercial, very well organized and clean. There was even a little train to take us around the park. All concerns that we were going to be met by a mechanical band of bears melted when I turned the corner and caught my first glimpse of Iguazu Falls.

Words cannot describe the majesty and beauty of this wonder of nature, but Chris’s photos sure do. Almost 300 individual waterfalls merge together to create Iguazu Falls, resulting is a waterfall that is taller and twice as wide as Niagara Falls, with 3,300,000 gallons of water flowing over the falls every second!

Kara and Tristan loved getting as close as possible to the falls in the lower paths to get drenched by its mist. I have to admit we were coming up with some pretty gruesome speculations of what would happen to the human body if one were to fall on the rocks below.  It is no wonder there is a strict rule forbidding parents from carry their children piggy back on the paths near the falls.

The view from the upper paths was equally stunning, but more crowded. The tour buses arrived around 10 am, so we were very glad we had arrived early to enjoy the views with some semblance of solitude.

Iguazu Falls 4

The falls from above

Iguazu Falls 2

Iguazu Falls



August 19, 2014

Wait! I Thought I Spoke Spanish!

This week’s post from the Gamel family’s yearlong journey around the world, written by Noemi Gamel, with photography by Chris Gamel:

Practicing local Spanish at the market

Practicing local Spanish at the market

While traveling through Peru and Bolivia, I have experienced some comical results using my native Mexican Spanish in South America. Just as my British friends look at me quizzically when I say “y’all” and I do not understand them when they say “lorry” instead of truck, I am finding that different colloquialisms can cause confusion in Spanish.

When we first arrived in Lima, Peru to start our Round the World trip, I went to a small Mercado (market) to find dinner items. I found tomatoes, bananas, bread, and cheese. In Spanish, I asked the woman if she had “aguacates” or avocados. She looked at me as if I had asked for chilled monkey brains. I described the avocado as a black vegetable with a “hueso” (which literally translates to bone) or large seed inside. She said she did not know what I was talking about.

I panicked at the notion that we would not eat avocadoes for 5 weeks while in Peru. My panic struck further when I thought that maybe there were no avocadoes in South America! The horror!

At a restaurant the next day, I found out that avocados are called “paltas” in South America and that they are green, not black. I also found out that the large seed inside is called a “pepa” or “semilla.” I can only imagine what that poor woman at the market in Lima thought about the crazy Mexican-American asking about a black vegetable with a bone inside!

I also found out that “ya” means “yes” or “certainly”. In my native Mexican Spanish, “ya” translates to “be quiet” or “stop it”. It is not a nice phrase. I was jarred by how often Peruvians and Bolivians say “ya” until I realized it was a positive, friendly term.

The lesson learned? Not all Spanish is created equal. And don’t punch the waiter when he says “ya” in Peru or Bolivia.
In future blog posts, I will list some useful Spanish phrases to know when traveling through Latin America, except Brazil of course, where they try to confuse you by speaking Portuguese.

Have you ever had a comical experience due to a misunderstanding withregional language? Share it with us in the comments below!



August 13, 2014

An Abbreviated Guide to Seasonal Galapagos Wildlife

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A blue-footed booby performs his ritual mating dance on North Seymour

If you’ve heard of the Galapagos Islands, you probably know they’re famous for their spectacular wildlife, as unique as it is abundant. This staunchly protected archipelago was Charles Darwin’s ecological playground – the place where he made discoveries that led to our modern understanding of evolution and natural selection.

So, in terms of wildlife, which months are best for seeing which animals? There’s no bad time to visit the Galapagos, but here’s a quick breakdown of some key seasonal wildlife trends:

January:
Green sea turtles begin laying eggs on the beaches of the Galapagos, land birds start their nesting process, Isabela Island’s land iguanas begin their reproductive cycles, and adult marine iguanas become brightly colored.

February:
Flamingos start nesting on Floreana Island, marine iguanas nest on Santa Cruz, and nesting season for Galapagos doves is at its peak.

March:
Marine iguanas nest on Fernandina, the waved albatross begins to arrive on Española, and the snorkeling is excellent – waters are warm, and tropical fish can be observed right next Galapagos penguins.

April:
Española sees a massive influx of waved albatrosses, and they start their courtship. Giant tortoise hatching season ends, green sea turtles and land iguanas begin to hatch, and visibility is high for snorkeling around the islands.

May:
North Seymour’s blue-footed boobies begin courting, sea turtles are still hatching at Gardner Bay, Punta Cormorant, and Puerto Egas, and most of Española’s waved albatrosses start laying their eggs.

June:
Santa Cruz Island’s famous giant tortoises migrate from the lush highlands to the drier, warmer lowlands in search of nesting sites, and nesting season begins. The frigate birds of North Seymour start to puff up their red neck pouches in order to attract mates.

July:
Blue-footed boobies, flightless cormorants, and other birds around the Galapagos perform courtship rituals and breeding/nesting activities.

August:
Galapagos hawks court, Nazca boobies nest on Genovesa, and migrant shorebirds arrive on the island, where they’ll stay until March. The giant tortoises of Santa Cruz return to the temperate highlands, and sea lion pupping (birthing) season begins.

September:
Galapagos penguins are very active on Bartolomé, sea birds are active at their nesting sites, and sea lions throughout the islands are abundant, playful, and competitive.

October:
Lava herons start nesting, Galapagos fur seals (actually a type of sea lion) begin mating, and blue-footed boobies raise their chicks.

November:
Sea lion pupping season continues, and the adorable pups swim playfully next to snorkelers.

December:
Giant tortoise eggs begin to hatch, and green sea turtles begin mating. With the start of the rainy season, the Galapagos Islands become beautiful and green, as the plants in dry zones produce leaves. The first young waved albatrosses fledge, and the weather in the islands is ideal.



August 12, 2014

Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu

Another post from the Gamel family’s year around the world:

Why would anyone wake up at 4:30 in the morning? There are only three
good reasons I can come up with:

1) Your  child is sick.

2) A job-related emergency.

3) To watch the sun rise over the majestic scenery of Machu Picchu.

The enigmatic ruins came into view as our bus wound up the
mountains. With that first glance, I understood why Machu Picchu is one
of the seven wonders of the world. Not only are the ruins an architectural
masterpiece, but the city still has a mystical quality that is palpable.

If you go to Peru, you must see Machu Picchu. If you do not hike the Inca
Trail to get there, take the earliest bus available at 5:30 am to get there
in time for sunrise. Take a boxed lunch so you are not in a hurry to get
back. Stroll through the ruins, sit facing Wayna Picchu while the sun
hits your face, and feel the energy in the rocks. Book your train out of
Aguas Calientes in the late afternoon so you can spend as much time as
possible in this wondrous place.



August 4, 2014

A Few Handy Galapagos & Ecuador Tips

130The cornerstone of many a traveler’s bucket list, the Galapagos Islands archipelago provides a once-in-a-lifetime experience for any nature or wildlife enthusiast. And the gorgeous, culturally rich, and vastly underrated Andean highlands of mainland Ecuador deliver family adventure memories unparalleled by any other place on earth.

A trip to Ecuador and the Galapagos is much different from anything else most people have done before, and travelers may find themselves wondering how and what to pack for such a journey.

Firstly, forget fashion – dress on a family adventure to Ecuador and the Galapagos is casual, and functionality is key. You may want to pack one or two nicer outfits for dinners, such as a dress or skirt for women and khakis for men. Otherwise, bring comfortable, lightweight, and fast-drying clothing with fabrics designed to wick away moisture. While days can be warm and sunny, nights tend to be cooler, so it’s imperative to dress in layers and to always have some dry clothes available – camping or outdoors stores like L.L. Bean, Patagonia, EMS, and REI tend to carry some great stuff for this. Footwear is awkward and bulky to pack, so you’ll want to avoid bringing too many pairs, but count on one pair of boots/shoes getting wet or muddy during the day and have a dry pair available for the evening. Some essential items to bring along include: an assortment of plastic and zip-lock bags to keep gear clean, dry, and sorted; plenty of sunscreen; a wide-brimmed hat; plenty of socks and underwear; bathing suit; comfortable, sturdy walking or hiking shoes; a fleece or light jacket; and water shoes or similar shoes that will be safe and effective for wet landings in the Galapagos. Also, you’ll certainly want a camera for all the spectacular wildlife and scenery you’re sure to come upon!

In addition to smart packing, another useful way to prepare is to get at least a basic grasp of some common Spanish words and phrases:

Buenos días = Good morning (said before noon)
Buenas tardes = Good afternoon (said after noon)
Buenas noches = good night (said after 5 or so)
= Yes
No = No
Hola = Hello
Hasta luego = See you later (literally “until later”)
¿Cómo está usted? = How are you?
Por favor = Please
Gracias = Thank you
De nada = You’re welcome
¿Habla usted español? = Do you speak Spanish?
¿De dónde es usted? = Where are you from?
Los Estados Unidos = the United States
¿Qué hora es? = What time is it?
¿Dónde está el/la…? = Where is the… ?
¿Cuánto cuesta esto? = How much does this cost?
Muy caro = Very expensive

If people speak too rapidly for comprehension, try saying, “Más despacio, por favor,” which means “Slower, please.”

There are many more helpful tips to help you get the most out of a family adventure to Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands – just call and ask (800-262-6255). And remember, space is limited, so book soon!



August 4, 2014

Cristo Blanco in Cusco, Peru

Cristo Blanco in Cuzco, Peru

Cristo Blanco in Cuzco, Peru

This week’s post from the Gamel family’s yearlong journey around the world, written by Noemi Gamel, with photography by Chris Gamel:

On July 28th, Peru celebrated its Independence Day, commemorating its proclamation of freedom from Spanish Rule in 1821. Chris and the kids had no Spanish classes that day, so we decided to spend the day as tourists in Cusco.

We started the day by having breakfast at Jack’s, a breakfast institution in Cusco. Then we walked to the Plaza de Armas to hop on one of the double decker city tour buses. The tour started through the main Plaza and worked its way up the valley until culminating at Cristo Blanco or White Christ. The structure is eight meters high and overlooks the beautiful Cusco Valley. I was struck by the history behind the Cristo Blanco. The structure was created by local artist Francisco Olazo Allende, who also built the arc of Santa Clara. The funding for Cristo Blanco was a donation by the Arabic Palestinian community who sought refuge in Cusco after World War II, in gratitude for the Cusquenos’ hospitality and sanctuary.

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.” ― Mark Twain

I thought about this quote by Mark Twain as our guide told us the story of the Cristo Blanco. As a traveler, who is neither Catholic nor Muslim, I saw beauty in its marble, stone, and history.



July 31, 2014

Peru’s Delicious Huancaína Sauce

Watch this video to see how Huancaina sauce is made!

Watch this video to see how Huancaina sauce is made!

Peruvian cuisine is quickly gaining worldwide esteem for its bold flavors and the increasing diversity of international influences. Despite recent culinary innovation, the traditional staples are still a huge part of daily life in Peru; authentic dishes combining native ingredients with both indigenous and colonial cooking methods remain common fare.

The country’s Andean highlands benefit from an unbelievable variety of potatoes and corn, as well as grains like the quinoa that has grown so popular among health nuts in the U.S.

But one particularly delicious staple of traditional Peruvian cuisine is Huancaína (wahn-kah-ee-na) sauce. It’s a thick, spicy (due to yellow aji peppers), yellow cheese sauce that every Peruvian knows intimately and every visitor falls in love with. The name just means that the sauce originated in the Huancayo region in the central highlands, but it’s now typical of the country in general.

The most common usage of Huancaína is in the dish “Papa a la Huancaína,” which consists of boiled and sliced potatoes, placed atop a salad and smothered with a generous helping of the addictive sauce. It would be difficult to find a home or restaurant in which Papa a la Huancaína isn’t served.

On her recent Peru Family Trek, our Family Travel Advisor Grace was lucky enough to watch our friend Cristina preparing the classic sauce — check out the video she recorded of the process!



July 21, 2014

Serendipity in Huacachina, Peru

The dunes of Huacachina, Peru

The dunes of Huacachina, Peru

Below is the second weekly blog post from Noemi and Chris Gamel and their family, currently on a yearlong journey around the world: 

We learned an important lesson in Huacachina, Peru. Well, two lessons if you include that we can survive cold showers. More importantly, we learned that beautiful experiences often happen when your best-laid plans are derailed.

Huacachina is a fresh-water oasis surrounded by sand dunes near the city of Ica. We arrived by public bus to our hostel/home stay mid-afternoon and then walked over to the dunes for Kara and Tristan to play in the sand. Chris and I were still recovering from the early wake-up that morning, so our plan was to save the hike up the massive 300+ foot dune for the next day. Tristan had different ideas. Nothing was going to stop him from reaching the peak, not even tired parents. He raced to the top as fast as his legs would carry him, Kara not too far behind.

When I finally reached the top of the dune, I found Kara and Tristan sitting on the sand looking out at the majestic scenery. At that point, I was so grateful that Tristan had dragged us to the top. When Chris, who had paused to take photographs on the way up, finally sat down beside me all sweaty and huffing, we agreed, “It is worth it.”

If our children had followed our plans, we would have missed a serendipitous, radiant sunset among the dunes. Chris took this photo as we all admired the sublime view over the Huacachina sand dunes. Disobedience never looked so magnificent.



July 18, 2014

PERFECTAMUNDO

On what I deemed Machu Picchu Monday, I had the opportunity to walk with our guide, Fabrizzio, on our way back from the Gate of the Sun, Inti Punku. We weren’t discussing the Incan Empire, the design of the terraces or the fact that you can tell the level of a importance of a place in the citadel by the construction of the wall, which honestly is an entire blog post in itself. Instead, Fabrizzio asked how I was feeling after our five-in-the-morning wakeup call and long day of hiking both Huayna Picchu and the Gate of the Sun, a total of at least 10 miles of stair climbing. I answered with a simple, “Todo bien,” or, in English, “It’s all good.”

My knees and quads were tired as could be and my backpack, though getting lighter with every gulp of water, weighed on my shoulders. The heat of the sun radiated off my back and I could only hope that my sunscreen had done its job. At the same time, I could not have been anything but completely and absolutely content. Our day in the cloud forest was absolutely unbelievable. We had watched in awe as the morning sun burned off those low-lying clouds, revealing the mountains that surround Machu Picchu. We caught our breath while resting on rocks at the summit of Huayna Picchu, taking in the 360-degree views of the Andes and snacking on pretzels. And at that moment, a cool mist with floating raindrops was giving us new energy for our final descent to the valley.

So yes, todo bien.

Fabrizzio then taught me a new phrase, a Peruvian phrase he said was popular and suited that moment exactly. “Perfectamundo,” he said, “describes what you are feeling.” Perfect world. It couldn’t have been more true. At Machu Picchu, todo es perfectamundo.

Huayna Picchu hike

Huayna Picchu hike

Fabrizzio explaining the terrace farming

Fabrizzio explaining the terrace farming

Walking down from the Gate of the Sun

Walking down from the Gate of the Sun



July 16, 2014

5 Reasons Guatemala is Ideal for Traveling with Children

agua volcano- antigua

Antigua Guatemala

The travel bug is incurable – that’s a simple fact. So when you’ve lived a life of exploration and can’t imagine it any other way, you’re not going to stop when you have children. Sure, the dynamic of your adventures with change, but family travel is an absolute blast with its own invaluable benefits.

Does having kids mean you have to shift from off-the-beaten path journeys around the world to purely domestic travel and uneventful beach vacations? NO WAY. Bringing your children along makes international travel and meaningful cultural interactions even better than they were when you were single.

One destination that’s particularly well-suited for traveling with children is Guatemala. Why? Here are 5 reasons (There wasn’t enough space for infinity):

Endless opportunity for outdoor activities and hands-on engagement: Every parent knows kids need to be actively involved to be entertained; Guatemala is the perfect place for that sort of involvement. There’s an opportunity at every turn for you and your kids to explore the wild outdoors and to roll up your sleeves and jump into the action, from kayaking around Lake Atitlan to hiking a path to Pacaya Volcano, learning to make chocolate from scratch and enjoying painting workshops to ziplining through lush jungle… and so much more!

Warm people and rich local culture: The most rewarding aspect – by a longshot – of introducing your children to a new culture is through unplanned interaction with regular people. Guatemalans are a pleasant, inviting bunch, eager to share their customs and traditions with visitors. Impressionable kids soak up these experiences in a way adults just can’t do quite as well, and every little encounter can make a world of difference in their development as open-minded citizens of the world. Whether they’re meeting local children they’ve written to ahead of time, taking a Spanish lesson in Antigua, or helping their parents barter for indigenous crafts at Chichicastenango Market, the little interactions will mean the world to them.

Excellent nature and wildlife: A child that isn’t fascinated by monkeys is about as common as an ice cream shop that doesn’t carry vanilla. Not to worry – Tikal National Park’s dense rainforest is teeming with spider monkeys and howler monkeys, as well as 52 other species of mammals and 333 species of birds, including a whole host of vibrantly colored exotic birds.

Amazing landscapes: In addition to the aforementioned rainforest in Tikal, Guatemala boasts a myriad of other enchanting landscapes. The brilliantly blue Lake Atitlan is the deepest in Central America and is considered by many to be the most beautiful lake in the world. Atitlan was formed by volcanic activity long ago, as evidenced by the three striking volcanoes that still surround it. If the kids are enthralled by the papier-mâche and baking powder volcanoes they make in class, they’ll be blown away witnessing the real thing!

Ancient Mayan archeological sites: A child’s imagination is powerful and limitless. Kids have a certain something many of us adults have somewhat lost along the way – an ability to put themselves in a vivid imaginary moment. When an adult stumbles upon the ancient Mayan ruins at Tikal or Iximche, he/she will be thoroughly impressed and probably cherish the moment forever. But when a child discovers a site like this and learns a bit about the history of this once-glorious civilization, it resonates in a realer, more poignant way. Visions of the elaborate ceremonies, games, and rituals that once took place here will take over and bring that little mind on a journey us grownups may be too jaded to experience in quite the same way.

Let those 5 reasons hold you over for now… if you want to discover the rest of the infinite list of reasons Guatemala is the ideal spot to bring your kids, you’ll have to go see for yourself!