Fun Stuff

September 2, 2014

Why We Loved Salar de Uyuni

By: Noemi Gamel

We spent four glorious days traveling through the Bolivian Altiplano and the Salar de Uyuni (salt flats). Six weeks into our yearlong round the world trip, we all agree that the Salar de Uyuni is our favorite part so far. Interestingly, we all have different reasons why we enjoyed traveling through Uyuni and we want to share them with you.

Chris

As a wildlife photographer, Chris loved the biscachas (squirrel-like bunnies) of the Inca corridor, zorros (fox) near our rock hotel, and flamingoes in the Red lake. No other place we have visited so far had as much wildlife as this highland desert. Since we were on a private tour, he was able to ask the driver to stop whenever we had a good wildlife sighting. At one point, I told Raul, our driver, and Carla, our guide, that we had to pull him back in the car or he would stay shooting biscachas all day long.

Noemi

I loved learning about the history, archeology, and geological intricacies of the area. The tour was also a culturally eye-opening experience because we learned how the Andean people live in this harsh environment. Next time I feel like complaining about slow Wi-Fi, I will remember the huts with no running water or electricity in the Altiplano desert. I also enjoyed getting to know our guide and driver, Carla and Raul. They were wonderful.

Kara

Kara’s favorite part of the Salar Uyuni trip was taking the “crazy pictures” in the middle of the salt flat. Because there is no way to gage distance, you can come up with some funky images with your camera. We took a picture of a gorilla eating us, Tommy the Frog chasing us, driving inside a boot, and Chris stepping on us with his shoe.

Tristan

Tristan’s favorite thing to do in the world is to climb trees. While there are no trees in the Bolivian highland desert, we encountered many rock formations that he wasted no time in climbing, including the Army of Corals, the Stone Tree area, Valle de las Rocas, and Pia Pia Island.
Whenever you are afraid to travel to a remote and harsh place such as the Altiplano with the whole family, set your fears aside. The whole family can have fun and extract different joys from the experience.

Kara and Tristan playing with perspective at Salar de Uyuni

Kara and Tristan playing with perspective at Salar de Uyuni

The striking landscape at Salar de Uyuni

The striking landscape at Salar de Uyuni



August 25, 2014

Welcome to the Witches’ Market

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

Dried llama fetuses

Dried llama fetuses

We spent two nights in La Paz, Boliva to break up the traveling between Copacabana/Isla del Sol and Salar de Uyuni. We meant to use those days to catch up on work and rest. On arriving, we learned that our hotel was just one block away from the Mercado de Brujas, or Witches’ Market. So shortly after breakfast, we took the opportunity to visit this offbeat and wickedly delightful shopping area.

The Mercado de Brujas is not a typical market. It is a single street lined with shops dedicated to meeting your supernatural needs as well as materials to participate in the worship of the traditional Inca gods. You will find mummified llamas to burn as an offering to Pachamama (Mother Earth) and stone toad effigies to pray for good fortune. You will find all sorts of oils to alleviate any ailment imaginable or to enhance, ahem, your performance in the bedroom.

As I was walking down the Mercado de Brujas with Chris and the kids, a woman presented a dried llama fetus to me…twice! The llama fetus is supposed to bring you fertility, an important feature in a culture where the more children a person has, the more their blessings from the old gods (Pachamama and company) and the new (Catholicism). Apparently, she thought two children were not enough to bring me a blessed life. I declined to purchase this souvenir, as I did not know how customs agents would react to a llama fetus in my backpack, and I did not want to contribute to the llama fetus market.

For those who are faint of heart, you can also purchase scarfs, handbags, and clothes at the Mercado de Brujas that have nothing to do with the supernatural. If you are ever in La Paz, make sure to visit this place!

What is the strangest souvenir you have purchased or encountered on your travels?



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 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

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 30, 2014

The Kackleys in Cuba

Jim and his family just returned from Cuba and had a tremendous, eye-opening experience! Below are some photos with interesting comments from Jim and his son, Christian.

 

I remember walking up to the man who owned this car and was surprised by how willing he was to let us sit in it and talk all about it. He even opened up the hood and showed us the engine.

“I remember walking up to the man who owned this car and was surprised by how willing he was to let us sit in it and talk all about it. He even opened up the hood and showed us the engine.” – Christian

This and the other dinner with a local family were tied for first with the beach day we had with some local college kids. I had so much fun talking to them, practicing my spanish and basically just having normal conversations with someone who spoke a different language. Although Amalia did know some English so she would ask me a question in English and I would try and answer in Spanish or vice versa.

“This and the other dinner with a local family were tied for first with the beach day we had with some local college kids. I had so much fun talking to them, practicing my spanish and basically just having normal conversations with someone who spoke a different language. Although Amalia did know some English so she would ask me a question in English and I would try and answer in Spanish or vice versa.” – Christian

"This was the other family we had dinner with, the mom actually spoke French so Josh talked to her in French a little bit. This was a lot of fun just like the other dinner, possibly even more so because the girl knew English almost fluently. She got frustrated by my bad Spanish so we talked in English the whole night."

“This was the other family we had dinner with, the mom actually spoke French so Josh talked to her in French a little bit. This was a lot of fun just like the other dinner, possibly even more so because the girl knew English almost fluently. She got frustrated by my bad Spanish so we talked in English the whole night.” – Christian

e.

".  Here is a great one of two Cuban girls who wandered into Café de Maria after 9pm to sit and have their espresso.  In my family I am the only able to drink coffee in the afternoon." - Jim

“Here is a great one of two Cuban girls who wandered into Café de Maria after 9pm to sit and have their espresso. In my family I am the only one able to drink coffee in the afternoon.” – Jim

"This was quite possibly one of the coolest things I've ever done. This is a live bee hive with very real bees flying around it. The lady opened it up and fearlessly started drinking honey from the hive. We were all shocked until she explained that the bees had no stinger."

“This was quite possibly one of the coolest things I’ve ever done. This is a live bee hive with very real bees flying around it. The lady opened it up and fearlessly started drinking honey from the hive. We were all shocked until she explained that the bees had no stinger.” – Christian



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

New UNESCO World Heritage Sites and a Bit About Selection

South China Karst

South China Karst

After a recent 10-day meeting of the World Heritage Committee, a number of sites have been updated or newly added to the UNESCO World Heritage List. We’re proud to say that many of these sites are found within countries we have the pleasure of visiting on our family adventures – but before we get into which ones those are, you may be wondering what goes into the process of selecting a site for such an illustrious honor.

According to UNESCO, “To be included on the World Heritage List, sites must be of outstanding universal value and meet at least one out of ten selection criteria.” These criteria range from naturally occurring phenomena to sites of vital cultural significance and shining beacons of human ingenuity. The decision process is not taken lightly; every site on the list has very rightfully earned its place, whether for “exceptional natural beauty” or “conservation of biological diversity,” cultural/historical significance or for being a quintessential example of human creativity.

At this recent meeting, an extension was added to China’s “South China Karst” World Heritage Site, praised for its unique and breathtaking karst formations, “including tower karst, pinnacle karst and cone karst formations, along with other spectacular characteristics such as natural bridges, gorges and large cave systems.”

Among the cultural sites newly added to the distinguished list: the “Andean Road System” that runs through Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru; the “Grand Canal” in China; the “Precolumbian Chiefdom Settlements with Stone Spheres of the Diquís” in Costa Rica; and two sites in Turkey – “Pergamon and its Multi-Layered Cultural Landscape” and “Bursa and Cumalikizik: the Birth of the Ottoman Empire.”