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Monday, December 17, 2018

Aloha Adventure 2017

It's always a stressful time of year, the holidays. Planning for time with family, buying gifts for reunion gift changes with people you have not seen in a year, resolving to finish all the "to dos" that you have put on the back burner so you can end the year cleanly and start fresh on January 1st. So what better time to escape all of that stress and go to Hawaii??

What's even better than a trip to Hawaii? A trip partially covered by my company!

Given the high-turnover common in travel positions like mine, my company added a reward trip for those who go on at least 75 work trips during the first few years. For the trip, I was allowed to pick somewhere I have never been in the US for a week, and I was allowed to bring Kari. One of the few places I've never been in the US is Hawaii. Once I qualified for the trip, Kari and I jumped to head on a week to Hawaii!

Since this was our first trip to Hawaii, we opted to spend a couple days on Kauai before heading over to Maui for four days. Kauai, also known as the Garden Isle and the oldest of the main Hawaiian Islands, is lush and a little more remote. Maui, also known as the Valley Isle, is home to Haleakala, Hana and its famous road, and beautiful coastlines. We love being outdoors and active, and we figured this was a good sampling of the Hawaiian Islands.

When you think tropical paradise, what do you equate with that? Palm trees, sandy beaches, lush foliage, etc. Regardless of what you thought, I highly doubt oodles of feral chickens are on your list. In the early 90s, a hurricane hit Kauai, releasing chickens that have become more wild over the years. We found them at breakfast, along the sides of the roads, in parking lots, and in stores. Everywhere we looked, we found more chickens. It became more of a game to see where we could find more chickens.

On Kauai, we stayed at the Koloa Landing Resort. With its location on the leeward side of the island near the water, we had a beautiful base camp for our adventures. Thankfully, we were upgraded to a two room suite with a small kitchen, washer, and dryer. Having the second room and patio provided the additional benefit of a space for me to go and read while I waited for Kari to wake up.

We started off our adventure on Kauai with surf lessons at Poipu Beach Surf School. Kari was a natural on the water. She did a great job popping up and riding the waves. The waves were borderline big enough for me to get up. I could see the benefit learning to surf as a kid. One of the two kids in our group was buoyant enough to ride waves that did not break. He was so little.

After we wrapped up surfing, we headed over to Waimea Canyon to explore and identify possible hiking routes. With daylight rapidly diminishing, we were not able to hike that day. As we drove into the state park, we stopped to take in the sites. At the end of the road, we found one of the wettest spots on Earth, Mount Waialeale. This shield volcano around 400 inches of rain per year. Holy cow!

Our second day was supposed to be our day to take our Jurassic Falls helicopter tour. Unfortunately, the weather was not cooperating. The helicopter company postponed our tour to the next day, hoping the weather would clear. This was the activity I was most excited for, so I was a little bummed we were not able to go. Not wanting to waste our day, we headed up to hike the Kalalau Trail along the Na Pali Coast.

Given all of the rain, the trail was muddy and slippery. We were really glad we had our trekking poles to maintain some level of balance. The other area where we found evidence of the rain and flooding was the Hanakapi`ai Stream. The "stream" was full and raging. We felt for the backpackers that needed to cross the stream to continue on to camp or get out. While we wanted to explore the other side, we chose the smarter option and turned back.

Along the trail, we found a helicopter landing pad. Naturally, Kari pretended to be a helicopter coming in for a landing! Enjoy the video!

On our final morning on Kauai, we checked out of our hotel and headed over for our helicopter tour. The day to find dinosaurs was upon us! Our helicopter tour started off skirting coast before heading in to snake through the canyons. As we approached the waterfall, the same one that they landed at in Jurassic Park, our pilot turned on the Jurassic Park theme music. Super cool!

Following a quick pit-stop searching for dinosaurs at the base of the waterfall, we jumped back into the helicopter to continue our tour. Our pilot took us to the heart of the island to see where it was born. While in flight, we saw more effects of the recent rains. There were numerous waterfalls all over the island! This helicopter tour was certainly the highlight of the trip thus far!

With a little time before we needed to catch our flight, we headed over to the Kilohana to explore and ride the Kauai Plantation Railway. It was a fun end to our short time on the island. Despite that, we knew we wanted to come back and spend more time here.

One of the smarter decisions I made was to get us first class tickets on our flight from Kauai to Maui. It was only a little more than the cost of a coach seat plus the baggage fee plus it was way more comfortable!

After the short hop from Kauai to Maui, we grabbed our jeep and headed to the Old Lahaina Luau. Our first luau in Hawaii was pretty fun. We tried hula and watched as they pulled the pig from the imu. The meal was delicious. Since it was all you could eat and drink, we made sure to fill up before heading off to our hotel, the Wailea Beach Resort, for the night. The parting gift was a delicious piece of banana bread, probably the best banana bread we had on the trip.

Our second day on Maui started with the Molokini and Turtle Town Snorkel Tour. The ride out to Molokini Crater was beautiful. We connected with a couple we had met the previous night at the luau and snorkeled with some amazing fish and coral. After we had our fill at the crater, we headed over to Turtle Town. We were pleasantly surprised to learn that Turtle Town was a short walk from our hotel. We quickly swam over to where the crew mentioned to look for turtles, and we found a few green sea turtles playing in the waves by the shore. Soon, it was time to head back and continue our adventure on land.

One the places we had heard so much about was Sarento's On The Beach. We managed to secure a table on the water for sunset. Not only was the food delicious, but watching the sunset was even more special.

For our first day off on the island, we decided to drive up Haleakala to hike in the crater. Since we did not plan ahead to secure a sunrise slot before arriving on the island, we were not able to go about our day completely as planned. Thankfully, we secured a slot for the following morning. Our hike in the crater was like we were hiking on Mars through a dense fog. Other than a few small scrub bushes, what we could see of the landscape was seemingly devoid of all life. Occasionally, we found cinder cones amongst the landscape.

Before we headed down, we saw a few cyclists starting to crest the summit. It was super cute watching a couple make it to the top and celebrate before starting the descent back down. Most people opt to be driven to the top to ride down; however, a few choose to ride both ways. Hopefully, I can convince Kari that this would be super fun some day!

The time had arrived for us to wake up really, really early and begin our drive up Haleakala to watch the sunrise. We managed to get to the top at about 5:30am, which was about an hour before sunrise. After going to the rest room, we bundled up and searched for a good spot to take in the view. Instead of staying with the rest of the folks watching the sunrise, we hiked back towards the trail leading into the crater to have a little solitude. It was a magical experience.

Unlike the day before when we had time to hang out at the top before we needed to leave, we needed to scurry down shortly after sunrise to catch our whale watching ferry tour. Even though it was the beginning of the whale watching season, we figured we would try. It was a beautiful ride towards Lanai. We saw a rainbow in a valley and flashes of a whale before jumping in for a quick snorkel.

On our last day on Maui, we spent the day on the famous Hana Highway. With all of the options to journey along the road, we struggled to figure out the best way to do it. We knew we did not want to go with a private tour company, so we could go at our own pace. Thankfully, we were recommended to check out Shaka Guide by a couple we met during the whale watching tour. It was fantastic! We climbed through a lava tube to a secret world, hiked to a hidden waterfall, explored black and red sand beaches, and ate loads of banana bread. It was a perfect end to a great trip!

Following our adventurous day on the Road to Hana, we made our way back to the airport to begin our long journey home. This trip was a great sampling of Hawaii and left us eager to come back!

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Peruvian Adventure 2016 - Final Morning at Posada Amazonas and the Journey Home

We awoke a few minutes before our 5am alarm, excited for our final activity at Posada Amazonas, watching the parrots at the clay lick. The night before, we managed to convince Jorge to get up early with us to try one more thing. Just like in the previous mornings, the howler monkeys were up and making a great commotion. As we walked into the jungle, we could hear the parrots squawking in the trees. Oh boy today was getting off to a great start! Once we arrived at the blind, we could see another group already there. We squeezed in and waited for the parrots to come down.

After about 20-30 minutes, the first parrot came down to the clay lick. This sparked a chain reaction and soon there were dozens of parrots in the trees near the clay lick and on the clay lick. Unlike the macaws, where there was only one species, there were three different species of parrot plus a species of macaw. It was really cool and loud.

Following our time at the clay lick, we returned our rubber boats, finished packing, and got ready for breakfast. Breakfast consisted of pancakes, bread, and fruit. The bread was by far our favorite part. We, mainly me, ate so much bread.

Once we were done with breakfast, we waited for our boat ride back to Infierno. Kari and I were both sad to leave but excited to go home. Our boat ride was very relaxing. We chatted with an Australian couple, Mick and Kathy, about travels and their home country, since we want to go there in the not too distant future.

Back in Infierno, we boarded the bus that would take us down the super bumpy road for about one and a half hours. As an added bonus, Kari and I were in the back, out of range of the AC. That certainly made the ride less fun. Oh well.

At the Rainforest Expeditions office, we retrieved our luggage and said our goodbyes to Jorge. We certainly had a blast spending the past few days with him. We learned a lot about the jungle and the native community at Infierno from him.

Our stop at Rainforest Expeditions' office was short and we were at the airport in Puerto Maldonado in no time. The airport in Puerto Maldonado reminded us of some of the small African airports we flew through. While I was glad to be there early to deal with some of the craziness, there was not much to do once inside. Oh well. Only two short flights and we were back in Lima. Unfortunately, we had a 10 hour layover in Lima. Not really a city I want to get out and explore with our luggage, since Delta does not open its check-in counter until only a few hours before our flight's departure, which was at 2am. We opted to get a snack and try to sleep on the floor while we waited.

Once we were able to finally hand over our bags around 11pm, we quickly walked through security and went to wait by our gate. We managed to sleep on the flight home for a little while before waking to have breakfast. Our time making it back through customs in Atlanta was pretty short and sweet. Thankfully. We started calling family to let them know we were safely back in the US while we waited for our flight to Chicago.

In Chicago, we collected our bags and began the journey back to the car. Thanks to the Delta app, we were able to easily find our car in the economy lot. Joyous to start our two hour drive back to Madison and unwind a bit before heading back to work the next day.

This was certainly a whirlwind adventure. We got to experience some new cultures and stretch ourselves by going somewhere where we do not really share a common language. I know I was pushed out of my comfort zone quite a few times. That's part of why we travel. To experience the world, new places, and new cultures and to continue to push ourselves out of our comfort zone and continue to grow. We look forward to our next opportunity to see more of this beautiful world we are part of.

Peruvian Adventure 2016 - Posada Amazonas Day 2

Our alarm went off at 4am; time to get ready and head to breakfast. Jorge was taking us to Tres Chimbadas Lake today. We were greeted with pancakes, fruit, bread, ham, and cheese. It was all delicious, despite not really being hungry at 4:30am.

After breakfast, we boarded the boat with Rodrigo and he took us up river to where we needed to hike to the lake. It was a fairly short ride. While the sun came up, we could see the banks of the river coming more into view.

Once we were dropped off, we had a 30 minute walk through the jungle to the lake. Gustavo greeted us at the lake on the wooden catamaran we were going to use to explore the lake. Gustavo skillfully glided us along the water as Jorge pointed out various birds and explained how this lake may no longer exist in about 300-400 years, depending on the erosion of the river. While this was happening, the sue was rising, giving us a beautiful view on the water.

Near the border of the refuge, Gustavo stopped the catamaran in the grass near a little inlet, with hopes we would see the giant river otter. The river otter is the apex predator for the river. They are also known as the wolf of the river, since they hunt in packs. As soon as we stilled ourselves, we could hear the young otters crying for their parents to feed them. They were incredibly loud; much louder than the birds we were next to.

Eventually, our patience paid off and all four otters of the family group swam only a few meters away from the boat, providing excellent photo opportunities. Super cool! Jorge kept mentioning we were lucky and must be emanating good energy, since he had not seen the otters that close in a long time, maybe ever.

Once the otters had moved on, we tried our luck fishing for piranhas. Kari was the only one in our group to catch one, but she was too afraid to touch it. I held it, so she could photograph it. The piranhas successfully stole the rest of our bait! Super speedy little buggers!

On our ride back, Jorge explained and demonstrated how to row the catamaran with the special oar they had. Much different than anything we had seen before. We saw a few more birds, including a cormorant on our way back.

During our walk back through the jungle to the Tambopata River, Jorge pointed out some leafcutter ants working as a group plus a few other plant species. We also greeted Gustavo's family, as they live in a house along the trail near the river. They certainly live a different life from what we are used to.

After a quick ride in the boat, we were back at Posada Amazonas. We were greeted by a snake and an egg sandwich snack. Pretty awesome start to the morning! We both changed to get ready for our next activity: the clay lick. All while listening to the howler monkeys.

On our hike to the clay lick, we found a large number of brown capuchin and brown squirrel monkeys in the trees. We stopped to watch for a bit and take some photos. With all of the monkeys nearby, the first clay lick was a bust. The macaws and parrots are too sensitive to come down from the trees with monkeys around.

At the second clay lick, we were treated to a show by a dozen or so red and green macaws. We sat mesmerized for about 15-20 minutes until they flew off. Pretty spectacular! Again Jorge mentioned how blessed we were, since not many people actually get to see the macaws. Go us!

We made it back to Posada Amazonas with just enough time to drop our stuff and head to lunch. With each passing meal, this place reminded us more and more like Chapungu. We seem to be fed constantly, including dessert at all meals! May need a diet after this vacation!

After lunch, and our short break, we met Jorge to take a boat to the medicinal gardens. The medicinal gardens are located at a new eco-lodge that the native community at Infierno are working on as a solo venture, taking what they have learned at Posada Amazonas and using it here. While not yet complete, the lodge was beautiful.

Jorge took us on a short-walk around the gardens, explaining what the different plants were used for. He also had us try a couple. The Cordoncillo was a pretty powerful anesthetic that caused our mouths to go numb for a while. Supposedly, the roots can be used to help numb the pain of a snake bite. After our experience with the leaves, I believe it.

As we neared the end of our hike, the "pet" wild pig, Pancheta, came to greet us. He snuggled into my leg before trying to bite/nibble on Kari. Once we got him to stop trying to bite her, he followed us around as Jorge showed us the shaman house and explained the purpose of the shaman. In Infierno, a village of ~900, there are 7 shamans and about another 50-60 more in Puerto Maldonado. He mentioned that it is very important to find a good shaman. Good to know.

On our ride back to Posada Amazonas, we saw a couple capybara on the river bank. We stopped to take some photos. Unfortunately, we never saw jaguar, tarantula, or poison dart frog. Oh well. There is always a future trip.

Back at Posada Amazonas, we got cleaned up for dinner and started getting ready for our night hike.

Dinner was fantastic! By far, my favorite meal we had at Posada Amazonas! It was a twist on lomo saltado with spaghetti noodles instead of rice. I piled my plate high with delicious beef loin, noodles, and banana fries. I also got the tomato soup to Kari's surprise. Everything was delicious!

After dinner, we met Jorge for our night hike. We initially followed another group before splitting off. We saw a lot of small spiders, hundreds, if not thousands. Quite amazing when you think of the numbers. We also saw a couple tree frogs, a wild pig, a snake, several bullet ants, and loads more spiders. To help bring the wild pig into view, we turned off our lights and stood completely still. After a few minutes in the dark, we turned our lights on to see a pig in the middle of our trail before running off into the jungle. Freaky but awesome! Unfortunately, we could not find a tarantula, a poison dart frog, or a jaguar. Looks like we will need to go back to the jungle to try again.

Back at Posada Amazonas, we packed up our stuff, much easier when you only have a small bag and showered before bed time. It was certainly a long, full day!