Saturday, December 1, 2007

Slide Shows from our Latest Trip

The following are links to our slide shows from our last trip. As ususal, click on the gold button marked "View Slide Show" after clicking on the link. Happy viewing!

Philadelphia to Kirtland, Ohio

Chicago and Indianapolis

Vincennes, Indiana to Nauvoo, Illinois

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Philedelphia and On

Please forgive us for being slow in making this update. You see, a road trip that we thought would take about one and a half months kept us on the road for about two and a half months instead. With limited internet access on the road we haven't been able to do any updates until now. This turned out to be one of our favorite trips of the year. The Northeast was the highlight since we hit it at the perfect time to see the leaves change. We had fun traveling for about a month with Matthew's brother's family so look for some of them in our pictures (see next entry for slide shows).

Road Trip Map
I have created a map in Google Maps so you can see the basic route we took on this adventure. Click here to check it out. (FYI--It takes a bit to load because of all the stops) Google Maps only allows us to mark a limited number of destinations on the map so it's not fully complete as we put on just under 10,000 miles in the two and a half months of our last trip.


Pennsylvania
While in Pennsylvania we visited quite a bit of Amish country in Lancaster County and the surrounding areas. It was fun seeing Amish people harvesting corn stalks from their fields with horse-drawn harvesting machines. It was like visiting the people of Little House on the Prairie. We also spent a day in Philadelphia seeing the Liberty Bell, surrounding historic sites and learning about Benjamin Franklin.







Boston
In Boston we stayed with Michelle's friend, Michelle DiMartini and got a brief overview of the sites. We climbed to the top of the Bunker Hill Memorial, traced the steps of Paul Revere's famous ride and learned about the "Shot heard round the world." The really fun thing about visiting these old cities was being able to see where the events took place that we learned about as kids. We also visited Walden Pond in Massachusetts where Henry David Thoreau and other famous philosophers have spent their days.


Acadia National Park, Maine and the Adirondacks, New York State
Acadia National Park is extremely beautiful and Maine turned out to be one of our most favorite states of all our travels. It has lots of hills and mountains that reveal pristine lakes and beautiful vegetation. Each valley was breathtaking. We were there at the perfect time as the leaves were beautiful reds, oranges and yellows. What made it even more beautiful was that the forests also have evergreen trees so you get a sharp contrast with the deep green needles--so incredible! We also had fun exploring some of the rocky Atlantic shorelines of the park, catching crabs and other sea critters with our nephews.


Quebec, Canada
We visited both Quebec City and Montreal in Canada. Quebec City was a charming place with great views of the St. Lawrence River wherever you look. We visited the huge waterfall in the middle of town that dumps into the St. Lawrence River. It was pretty but it would also be awesome to go in the winter because a huge ice mound forms right in front of the waterfall and people climb it with ice axes and crampons. Montreal has a nice French colonial feeling. Michelle was most impressed by the city's bank buildings because their architecture is so ornate and rich. Note to anyone who might visit there: parking in the city is terrible and the parking meters (which are impossible to avoid) all cost $3/hour! Canada was fun, but quite expensive!


Palmyra and Niagara Falls, New York
In Palmyra we visited a number of historical sites belonging to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (aka the LDS Church, aka the Mormon Church). (In case you didn't know and if you still haven't figured it out, that's the church we belong to). It was very interesting to see where the events of Joseph Smith's first vision and restoration of the gospel took place. We visited Niagara Falls next and enjoyed a free ride aboard the Maid of the Mist boat, thanks to Jared's (Matthew's brother) gift of gab. The Maid of the Mist is a big boat that takes you right up to the bottom of the waterfalls. It was pretty cool (and very wet). We walked around on the Canadian side to view the falls from there as well. We were surprised by the $.50 "turn-style fee" that Canada charges to exit the country. Those Canadians really like to nickel and dime you good, or in this case quarter you.


Milwaukee and Chicago
In Milwaukee we enjoyed spending time with Jodee and David Luke. Jodee took us down to Chicago for a day and showed us the sights. We took a free tour of the downtown area offered at the public library and learned a lot about the architecture. Chicago was a lot more artistic than Michelle anticipated, it being her first visit to the Windy City. While in Milwaukee we toured the Harley-Davidson Power Train plant. We were able to see how they put the engines together. We asked them when they were going to give out free motorcycle samples, but they didn't seem to be very amused by the question.


Indiana
The main attraction of Indiana for us was visiting Matthew's extended family. In Indianapolis we stayed with Matthew's cousin, Jennifer. There we also visited the Indy 500 Racetrack museum, the Indianapolis Museum of Art and the war memorials downtown. After that we headed down to Vincennes where Matthew's dad grew up. We stayed in the house where Matthew's grandparents lived and visited the places that were landmarks for family history. It was really nice for Michelle to meet Matthews relatives since it was her first time visiting.

Monday, September 10, 2007

If you are planning a trip

If you are planning a trip to one of the places that we have mentioned in our blog, please check out our favorite travel websites and travel guidebooks listed in the right margin. Happy trails!

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Back on the Road...East Coast

After one week in Lake Powell with Michelle's family we headed out to Bethesda, MD for Michelle's regular medical check up at the National Institutes of Health. After four painful needle sticks and a gamut of tests everything is looking up. We have been spending the last week seeing the sights of the Washington, D.C. area; here are some of our favorite things we've seen:

National Air and Space Museum Udvar-Hazy Center at Dulles Airport
This is the lesser known companion to the Air and Space Museum on the Mall in Washington, D.C. It's collection is housed in an airplane hanger and it is packed to the brim with planes, engines and spacecraft. Some of its more notable pieces are the Enola Gay (which dropped the A-bomb on Hiroshima), the last remaining NASA space shuttle Enterprise, and one of the last remaining of the Concord jets. We recommend taking the tour to get more background info about the craft because the plaques appear to be written by engineers.

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
Though the brochure says it should take you 1.5 to 2 hours to see the permanent exhibit we were there for six hours. We learned a lot about World War II and the events leading up to it in addition to the tragedy of the holocaust. The exhibit is very well done and doesn't play off of shock value. They do a nice job of telling the story and letting the events speak for themselves. It was an exhausting day but powerful as well.

Manasses National Battlefield Park
This is the site of a few Civil War battles. It was interesting to see the largely-unchanged countryside where the battle took place. This site offers a walking tour to various plaques located throughout the field. It was very educational and provided good insight into what happened there.

National Zoological Park
The zoo in D.C. is great and it's free. Matthew really likes the Amazonia building. It contains an ecosystem recreation complete with fish, sting rays, birds, monkeys and a whole array of Amazon plant life all living together in one humidity controlled room. Michelle's favorite part is the Bird House. Here we were able to see a kiwi bird, New Zealand's national symbol, which is very rare because they are only active at night and they blend in really well in a dark space. This zoo is known for it pandas. When we were here two years ago a baby panda had just been born. We saw it last week and it had grown a lot!

U.S. Capitol Building Tour
The tour through the capitol building is something you have to get tickets for so we hadn't done it on our previous visits. As it turns out, tickets are easy to get if you show up on a day when there aren't a billion tourists roaming around D.C. The tour was interesting. They take you through the rotunda, give you historical tidbits about the building and the artwork it contains, show you through part of the House of Representatives wing and then let you look around it unrestricted areas on your own. We learned that each state is allowed to place two statues in the building. We found both a Wyoming's statues (Esther Hobart Morris--a gal from Wyoming who was the nation's first female justice of the peace, and Chief Washakie, a Shoshone Indian chief who wanted to make peace with white men) but we were only able to find one Idaho statue that being of Senator George Laird Shoup.

We've found that September is a great time to visit Washington, D.C. because it's out of the tourist high season. It's much easier to enjoy the great museums and sites without the feeling of being in the midst of a stampede. We haven't taken any pictures here because we felt it unnecessary to document things that are already in a museum so please use your imagination for now and make the trip out here to see it for yourself when you can!

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Pictures from Rocky Mountain National Park

Click on the following link to view pictures of us in Rocky Mountain National Park!

Rocky Mountain National Park

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Colorado, Southern Utah, and a little New Mexico

We just got back from a road trip through Colorado, Southern Utah, a bit of New Mexico and Southern Wyoming. Some of the highlights were Canyonlands National Park, Mesa Verde National Park, Chaco Canyon National Historical Site and Rocky Mountain National Park. The following link is a slide show with captions to share our great experience.

Four Corners Roadtrip

Friday, June 8, 2007

Slideshow links are fixed!

The links have been fixed on the Mexico and Guatemala slideshows. Sorry for the inconvenience!

Mexico and Guatemala Slideshows

Here are our pictures from Mexico and Guatemala. These are uncut so take as much or as little time as you would like to enjoy them and read the captions below each picture for explanation. Simply click on the location link below and then click on the gold button that says "View Slideshow." Enjoy!
Yucatan, Mexico
Chichen Itza, Mexico
Ruta Puuc and Uxmal, Mexico
Campeche and Chiapas, Mexico
Palenque, Mexico
Western Guatemala
Tikal, Guatemala

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Guatemala

Our last activity in San Cristobal was a horseback ride to San Juan Chamula, which is a Mayan village just outside of the city. We thought it might be one of those nose-to-tail-mosey-down-the-trail affairs but it was actually really cool. We took a collectivo to a field in the middle of town and they had 3 horses saddled there, one for our guide and two for us. We mounted up and rode the horses through the edge of town (including some busy traffic areas) and then up into the hills. We were permitted to ride a fast or as slow as we wanted to. Our guide seemed to like trotting speed but Matthew and I preferred (as seems logical) to either walk or gallop (easier on the rear!). He let us gallop ahead of him and we were really clipping along on the dirt road. We rode through several villages that were very humble. Lots of Maya were washing their clothes in the creeks that flowed through. At one point a dog ran out in the street and was chasing Michelle’s horse. She charged on at full speed but the dog suck right to the horse’s front hooves for several yards. Eventually he gave up. It was pretty exciting!

We arrived at San Juan Chamula and spent an hour in the town. There is a really bizarre church there that was built to be Catholic but is now far from it. The place was filled with smoke and the floor was covered in pine needles. There were little groups of Maya people kneeling in front of rows of candles and chanting loudly in front of statues of saints. They offer bottles of soda (supposed to chase away evil spirits) and we even saw one guy sacrificing a chicken. It was really, really strange. The ride back to San Cristobal was nice. Our guide took us on a trail through a wooded area and we passed some Maya boys herding their sheep. The horses were actually pretty responsive except towards the end. They seemed to get crabby and tired and Michelle’s would kick every time she tried to get it to go faster. So after that great adventure, we were very sore, our butts especially. The saddles were wooden with a thin piece of leather "padding" so we took a pretty good beating. The experience was well worth the pain though!


The next stop was over the border into Guatemala, in Quetzaltenango (a.k.a. Xela). This area was very mountainous and covered in pine forests which didn’t look all that different from the scenery we are used to at home. We liked the perfectly cone shaped volcanoes that are visible from most places in Western Guatemala. Quetzaltenango was our first taste of Guatemala chaos. Guatemala was way more hectic than Mexico. The bus "terminal" is basically a big line of old US yellow school buses that pull through a garbage landfill (there is a street under there somewhere!--see picture to the left) and pick up passengers. It was most disgusting place we visited, aside from a few public bathrooms. There is little organization. You just ask around for which bus is going where you want to go and people tell you where to get on.


We did have some wickedly good hot chocolate in Quetzaltenango. A place called Café Luna serves chocolate, melted in milk and topped with whipped cream and cinnamon. Michelle also got her first taste of pupusas, a Salvadorian food that Matthew had on his mission and loved. They are little corn pancakes with cheese, meat or beans inside and topped with some pickled cabbage and hot sauce—pretty good!


Our biggest adventure in Quetzaltenango was trying to leave. The morning we made our attempt we got on a bus around 7 a.m. and made it about 10km out of town when everyone had to turn around and return because a teacher's strike had blocked the road using people and concrete barricades. It was lucky that we made it back into town because the return road was blocked after we passed through so had it taken longer we would have been stuck in the middle somewhere! Anyway, we got back to the bus terminal and another bus said that they were going another way so we jumped on that bus but the other way they were going to go was blocked too so we had to get off of that bus after it had driven for about 20 mins and take a taxi back to our hotel. It was a pretty wild experience! The chicken buses here go about 90 mph whenever they can and they pass on the highway (or streets through town) very precariously. For some reason they seem to always pick the blind corners to attempt passing. This is all with the baggage guys climbing in and out of the buses while we are going down the road!


Once we left Quetzaltenango we went to Panajachel on Lake Atitlan. This is a large lake that is surrounded by volcanoes so you get the effect that you are in a big bowl. It is very beautiful there and the weather was just about perfect. We sprung for a hotel room with cable TV, the first we had seen since being at home. It was nice to kick back and watch a few movies in the evening. We took a boat trip to Santiago de Atitlan across the lake to check out their market day. The boat ride was very pleasant on the way to Santiago as the water was perfectly calm but on the way back the wind kicked up and we had some pretty sweaty palms as the launcha smashed over one big wave after another. Some of the Guatemalans in the boat even thought the fiberglass was flexing a little more than it should. We also took a day trip to Chichicastenango, which is known for hosting Central America's largest Maya crafts market. It definitely lived up to its reputation. We saw tons of weaving, painted masks, jewelry, machetes, pottery, etc. The weaving is one of the notable crafts that the Maya women do, so we bought a brightly colored handmade piece for a souvenir.


Antigua is known for its churches. It used to be the capital of Guatemala but in 1790 was hit by a huge earthquake that nearly leveled the entire city. The capital was subsequently moved to Guatemala City. After the capital moved a lot of the churches remained in ruin because there weren’t enough people to fund their rebuilding. It was interesting to walk around and see so many great buildings just laying in ruin, yet they still maintained their charm.








While in Antigua we took a tour to Volcan Pacaya, which is one of the three active volcanoes in Guatemala. We hiked with a group up to the spot where lava was issuing and the smell of melting shoe rubber was in the air. Like in Hawaii, people are permitted to go as close to the lava as they want. The heat was really intense and there were even some hikers that were roasting marshmallows over the cooling lava. We were a little more conservative than some in our group but Matthew still got some great shots of the lava flowing. (more pics in the slide show) This time we had a tripod so our photos are better than those we took in Hawaii. The volcano hike is always a winner. There is nothing quite like watching liquid rock!


On our way from Antigua to Cobán, we made a quick stop over in Guatemala City to change buses. Guatemala City is supposed to be one of the most dangerous cities in Central America so we didn’t linger long. Our cab driver dropped us right in front of the bus station and told us to go directly inside and keep a good eye on our baggage. We followed his instructions and left unscathed. The bus trip to Cobán was reminiscent of the one we discussed earlier between Palenque and San Cristobal de Las Casas—constant turns. Luckily we were well armed with Mexican Dramamine so it was much more pleasant. Cobán was a nice city, though it is situated in the middle of nowhere. We took a day trip to Semuc Champey (which in one of the Maya languages means “river that goes underground”) and the Lanquin Caves. Semuc Champey was absolutely beautiful! It is a river that flows underground for about 300 meters and a dozen pools have formed on the land bridge over the river. The pools are crystal clear, a beautiful blue color and the water is the perfect temperature for swimming. There were even lots of little fish in each of the pools. We spent four hours swimming from pool to pool on this beautiful river in the middle of the jungle. Unfortunately we don’t have any pictures of it because it is a high theft area and since we would be swimming we didn’t want to get the camera stolen. I found this picture on the internet so you can get an idea of the beauty.


The Lanquin Caves were very large but not largely impressive. They have suffered a lot of damage at the hands of the locals so they weren’t like the pristine protected caves you see in the US. It looks like there have been lots of fires burned inside them, so the cave formations are covered in black soot and many of the more delicate formations have been broken off. The highlight of it was the large colony of bats that live in the cave. You can here them squeaking and see them flying around the whole time in the cave. Michelle only came out with two bites on her neck.


Flores was our next destination. It is a town in northern Guatemala on an island in the middle of Lake Peten-Itza which we used as a base from which to explore Tikal. Flores was nice…nice and hot, so we spent every afternoon on the docks of the lake swimming with the local boys and some fellow travelers.


Tikal was the highlight of the trip. It is the site of a ruined Maya city hidden in the deep jungle. We decided to take the “Sunrise Tour” and felt like it was well worth it. We left the hostel at 3:30 a.m., drove the hour to Tikal National Park, and then we walked 20 mins or so and climbed one of the temples from which we watched the sunrise. There was so much fog and cloud cover that we didn’t actually see the sunrise (which is not uncommon) but it was wonderful to be in the jungle just as it was waking up. We could hear howler monkeys in the distance, fabulous green Amazon parrots were flying all over the place and several other birds were joining in singing. It was really magnificent. In addition to the impressive pyramids we were able to see three toucans, several howler monkeys, a spider monkey and tons of green parrots. This site was our favorite because not only did it have incredible architecture, but the setting and the wildlife made it even more mystical. It was absolutely incredible!


From Flores we took a direct bus to San Salvador, El Salvador to catch our flight back to the US. The bus ride took 11 hours and had no A/C and this annoying hole in the ceiling that let the sun beat down on you, but we made it safe and sound. In San Salvador, we enjoyed more pupusas right on the street so Matthew was able to live one of his dreams that he’s had since eating pupusas in Australia on his mission.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Merida to San Cristobal de Las Casas

We ended up staying six days in Merida because it is a great place to take day trips from and the city is very beautiful. It´s only flaw is the heat and the heat wouldn´t be that bad except there are very few escapes from it. When it´s hot in the U.S. you can go to the mall or maybe you have A/C at home or in your car. Either way, there is some way to get some relief. Here, however, very few buildings have A/C so when it´s hot...it´s HOT. Aside from that we had a great time. Merida has the feeling of a European city with its busy Plaza Principal and colonial architecture but you only need to wander a few blocks from the center of town to remember you are in Mexico. Many of the buildings there have had dozens of coats of paint and you can usually see several of them as the new layers have aged. It creates a beautiful atmosphere of unique textures and colors.

We did a full day trip out to the city of Izamal dubed the ¨Yellow City¨ due to being mostly painted in yellow along the streets. It is an old colonial town that was built in the middle of a handfull of Mayan pyramids. There are still three huge pyramids situated right in the middle of town amidst houses and buildings. Some people in that town literally have Mayan ruins for their back yard! It was super hot of course and we probably drank about 3 cold sodas each while there to try to cope with it. We hit the best restaurant in town for a splurge and it was a nice experience. The centerpiece of the town´s focus is a HUGE monestary-cathedral that is raised about 50 feet above the streets since it was built literally on top of the largest of the old Mayan pyramids, using it as a base or foundation. It was really cool to see and interesting at how the Jesuits came in and basically did whatever they wanted to the Maya peoples that were here first.

The Ruta Puuc was also a full day trip in which we visited five ruin sites in one day (Labna, Sayil, Xlapak, Kabah and then Uxmal). The extreme heat and humidity put somewhat of a damper on the experience but nevertheless it was incredible. We figure it was well over 100 degrees F with the sun in full strength and about 40 percent humidity. The ornate Chac-Mool (Mayan rain god) masks are all over most of these sites and for good reason, it´s hotter than hell with the lid on and very dry in those parts of the Yucatan. There are no rivers or lakes in the Yucatan, but around 3000 cenotes which they had to rely on for their water.








This leads into our next day trip which was a tour to a couple of picturesque cenotes out in the middle of nowhere. They are basically caves that are full of ground water. Some of them have stalactites and small black catfish in them, and tons of bats and birds overhead. It appears that most of the wild animals out there well know that fresh water and releif from the blistering heat can be found in them. On the tour we went snorkeling in two cenotes. The water was crystal clear, regular swimming pool temperature and about 40 deep from the surface. They are actually caves so they go way deeper than we could go snorkeling but they are sometimes explored by cave divers and are kind of mysterious. It was the best possible way to take a break from the Yucatecan heat and also a fun adventure.

Next we headed down to the city of Campeche which is on the Gulf of Mexico. We thought this might provide some relief from the heat but were gravely mistaken. The heat was absolutly unbearable there and the water was pretty gross and there were no beaches in town. The city is famous for it´s pirate history and it´s old sections of stone fort walls that still stand in parts of town. Other than staying in the Pirate´s hostel we saw little of it. We got out of town heading south as soon as we possibly could. We are completely baffeled at how people can exist there in that kind of heat. Not our kind of town.

Palenque was MUCH nicer. We stayed in a nice place in the jungle about a mile away from the Mayan ruins of Palenque. This place was a beautiful change! Michelle was kept awake at night by the howler monkeys that start up around dusk and keep at it until around 3:00am. There was wildlife all around that place. We had a little cabin right beside a swimming pool and there was a wild fish pond right next to the pool in which there were turtles and Jesus Christ lizards sunning themselves most of the day. For those of you who are not avid Jeff Corwin fans...we´ll explain how the Jesus Christ lizard gets its name: when they are scared or feel threatened they run away on their hind legs and usually over the surface of water. Since they can literally walk on water, well, that´s where it comes from. We were able to scare a couple of them right over the top of the fish pond! The gekos were our friends since they ate the insects in our room that Michelle was afraid of. The place was crawling in these cool little guys but they are a nice addition.

The ruins of Palenque are absolutly amazing! They are our favorite ruin site yet. They are perched high up in the jungle and are riddled with running creeks and small waterfalls. There are many impresive carvings and the famous observatory tower that it´s most well known for. The whole place was like looking at post cards wherever you turned. We got lots of great pictures at these sites but we are still trying to find an internet connection fast enough that will allow us to post them here on the blog.

The bus ride south to San Cristobal de las Casas was the worst either of us have ever experienced. It follows a picturesque winding mountain road for five solid hours and dispite the beauty, neither of us really enjoyed any of it since we were very motion sick and ready to lose it the WHOLE way! Needless to say, we stocked up on the Mexican equivalent of Dramamine that same evening in San Cristobal de las Casas for futur bus rides in the highlands.

San Cristobal has beautiful mountain scenery and good weather with high temps reaching only to the 70s-80s. There are lots of trees and a lot of the sidewalks and streets are cobblestone. The architecture in general, has more of a colonial feel to it and there are definitly way more foreign tourists here than anywhere else we´ve seen in Mexico. There is a very strong hippy presence here and our hostel eminates a strong smell of weed most of the time. (You don´t even have to buy it here...you about get a free buzz just going to the lounge)...if we were into that sort of thing. You can definitly sense that this area was the center of the Zapatista movement in the mid 1990s. There are tons of machine gun wielding Mexican military personel patrolling the city and we´ve seen a fair amount of Zapatista graffiti and souveniers (i.e., masked dolls holding machine guns...a bit disturbing!). We even passed an operating Zapatista training school on the way into town. There is also a much larger Mayan presence here as we get closer to Guatemala. Every time we sit down to eat in a restaurant or on a park bench or even just walk down the street Mayan children and old women thrust their souveniers in our faces and beg us to buy them. There are also lots of beggers just sitting along the sidewalks. The poverty is very apparent.

The architecture here incorporates much more wood and even some of the big cathedrals have wood floors and ornate wood ceilings and carvings. Overall it´s a beautiful city and it´s easy to see why there are so many other travelers here too.

The food for the most part is nothing like what we Americans think of as Mexican. It´s always served in very small portions and the taste is nothing to look forward to. We have discovered that the reason why they serve soft corn tortillas with EVERYTHING is because if you mix everything on your plate together in one of them it magically becomes edible! (Strange but true...unfortunatly this is only a very recent discovery on our part).

Sunday, April 8, 2007

El Yucatan

We are officially south of the border in old Mexico (that´s Mejijo for you Glenn Beck listeners out there). We got into Cancun Tuesday about 2 hrs late because they had to change some part on the plane in Denver before we could take off. This made us a bit nervous since we knew we had a reservation for our first night in Cancun at a hostel and we had no way of letting them know that we were going to show up late. We were lucky and they didn´t give our room away before we got there after all that time. Once we dropped our stuff off at the hostel we went out to walk around a bit downtown (not in the tourist part of Cancun but the real down town) to get taste of what it´s going to be like for a while. After looking around at a number of street food stalls we decided to pass them up and eat for the first time in a real restaurant serving Yucatecan food. Michelle already has had stomach problems since Boise anyways so we have to ease her into things slowly here. (The food at that place was not very good and quite possibly the source of Michelle´s first encounter with Montezuma´s revenge...not pretty).

The first thing the next morning we got on a second class bus bound for Valladolid which is a nice little colonial town about 140 kms due west of Cancun. The idea was to get out of Cancun in a hurry and get into the real Mexico right off the bat...Valladolid was it. The town has a central park which is one city block and across the street on the south side is the town cathedral (very typical of a town down here). The cathedral is huge for such a small town...so we think. Here we caught some of the Semana Santa procession which was basically a small parade of catholics carrying candles, signs, flowers and various other Catholic paraphernalia. They circled the square and entered into the cathedral across the street and there held some sort of mass.

The hostel in Valladolid is called Albergue la Candelaria which is an old house (over 200 yrs old) that has gone through probably a dozen changes from originally being a house for a single wealthy family to a nun convent to various other domiciles and now a hostel. The place was very cool and our room was the best in the house with as small balcony overlooking the park and with views of the big church La Candelaria (a different big church--they are all over the place here). It was super cool and the room only cost about US$20 per night!

While based in Valladolid we took a day trip to Chichen Itza which is the most famous, largest and most restored of all the Mayan ruin sites in the Yucatan. It was completely awesome! We will post all our photos and even the video we took of that day once we can find a decent Internet connection somewhere down here. About all we can find is dial-up and it´s not good enough to upload so many large files. Stay posted!

Chichen Itza was absolutely incredible! The stone carvings and architecture were enough to leave you speechless and there were tons of wild Iguanas climbing around on them, sunning themselves. There are also two huge cenotes (sink holes in the limestone bedrock that form large natural wells) in the site as well. These are swarming with lots of interesting birds. Matthew had no problem filling our 1GB camera memory card and wished he had about 3 GB. This is an absolute must-see for anyone that goes to the Yucatan!

The next day we took the 1st class bus (with movies, A/C and on-board toilet) to Merida which is the capital city of the Yucatan (around 1 million people). It is more like being in Europe than in Central America. The main square is surrounded by interesting buildings, especially the huge cathedral which is one of the oldest churches in the Americas. Merida was once the site of a Mayan city called T´ho and at the time of the Spanish conquest they tore down the Mayan temples and buildings and used the stone blocks to build the immense cathedral along with a handful of other churches near the square. One of them about a block north of the square even has a couple of blocks that still show Mayan carvings on them. (Click on the picture at the left to see the two carved stones in detail.) There are also a number of other interesting buildings around the square like the Palacio de Gobierno (Yucatan´s State Capitol bldg.) which has lots of large murals depicting the bloody history of the region. On the south side is the original façade of the Conquistador´s house with it´s statues of Spanish soldiers in armor standing on the heads of some dead Maya Indians. The whole square is very picturesque with many colors and bustling with vendors, street performers and Merida citizens. The vendors really try to push you hard to buy hammocks and other handmade stuff from them...but we´re going to hold off until toward the end of the trip so we don´t have to haul around more weight and bulk in our packs. The weather is very hot and sweltering with high humidity so we try not to carry them any more than we have to.

Today (Sunday) we went to church about 15 blocks from where we´re staying. Then afterwards we toured El Paseo de Montejo which is a famous street with lots of historic bldgs. lining both sides. The cyber infrastructure is somewhat less than desirable down here so we find ourselves spending more time than we´d like just looking for an Internet cafe that has a fast enough connection to load up the cool pics we have taken to share them with you all and to back them up for our own piece of mind. For now words will have to do.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

View our convenient slide shows!

To view a slide show, click on one of the destination links below, then click on the gold button that says "View Slideshow." You don't have to sign into the Kodak site to view the photos. Enjoy!
San Francisco
O'ahu
Maui
The Big Island
The Redwoods and Oregon

Hawaii -- The Big Island

We flew to Kona on February 5 on a last minute flight and immediately enjoyed great snorkeling right in the middle of town. You may know that the Iron Man Triathlon is held in Kona each October but what you probably don’t know is that about 20 feet off shore from where they start the swimming race is fantastic snorkeling! We were amazed that is was so accessible. There are tons of healthy coral, tropical fish and a few sea turtles readily available for the viewing right there. Some of the highlights we saw were a Hawaiian lobster, a huge moray eel, three or four sea turtles, and an octopus. Michelle enjoyed picking all out all of the fish from Finding Nemo. We went snorkeling several times in that spot and had a blast each time.

The thing we were both most anxious to see was hot flowing lava. The Big Island is home to the world’s most active volcano, Kilauea. It’s about 100 miles from Kona to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park so we made the drive in the morning and that afternoon hiked out to see the lava. To see the lava you drive down to where the lava has covered up the road, park your car, the ranger asks you if you have flashlight and water, then tells you to “Have fun!”, then you hike out about 4 miles over a giant lava field. There aren’t any signs or guides out there to let you know where to go. So, we just walked toward the giant plume of steam where the lava was pouring into the ocean.

About two miles into our hike we saw some smoke about 1/2 mile away so we walked over to check it out and caught our first glimpse of red-hot lava. It was a very slow pahoehoe flow that crept along at about the speed of cold honey. Every now and then the silvery outer skin of one of the blobs would break and red-hot lava would gush out. It was here that we realized it is hard to tell the difference between the hot lava and the cold lava during daylight hours because the silvery skin that forms around the hot lava looks an awful lot like the solid(?) rock we were hiking on. We were amazed at the potential hazards all around us and were a little more cautious for the rest of the hike. When we got out to the two spots where the lava was really pumping into the ocean it was just getting dark. Visually, the lava really comes alive at night because you can see the glow so well. We stopped about 150 feet from the flow to watch and at that point the rocks we were standing on were HOT. The rock all around us had cracks that were issuing steam and even more heat. One guy near us melted his backpack when he set it down to take a picture! We stood and watched the lava and the ocean washing back and forth. It was one of the most impressive natural sights we both have ever witnessed and definitely the hottest!

The four-mile night hike back to the car over the lava rocks was cumbersome but really enjoyable because the stars were so bright and there was lava everywhere! We were really surprised because we had seen only the one surface flow during the day. Once it was dark we could see it all the way up the mountainside to our right and along the sea cliffs to our left. It looked like a lot like a forest fire and was all around us in the distance. Needless to say this is a must see; we loved it! The rest of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park consists of steam vents, some big craters that were giant lakes of lava within the last century, including one that was liquid for one hundred years up until 1959 (That would have been incredible to see!), and a lot of lava fields.

We drove over to Hilo on the east side of the island and picked up some groceries. Hilo didn’t seem to have a lot to offer to tourists so we didn’t spend much time there. South of Hilo we stopped at Lava Trees State Park which (true to its name) has lots of lava trees. It is nestled in a lush beautiful rainforest dominated my monkey pod trees which provide a serene canopy. Lava trees are formed when hot lava hits a very wet tree and cools before the tree is completely consumed. They look like termite mounds and range from four to ten feet in height. Near there we went swimming in a volcanically heated freshwater spring. It’s a manmade pool that was cold when it was built, but a few years later something shifted underground and it started pumping out warm water. It was neat because it is partially fed by the sea so there are lots of tropical fish. Matthew snorkeled around while Michelle basked in the warmth. The pool is between 90 and 95 degrees Fahrenheit so you really never get to warm or too cold in it.

Unfortunately this is where Michelle had her first bee sting, we suspect from one of the giant black Hawaiian bumble bees. She was sitting on a rock with the water almost up to the tops of her shoulders when she felt a little tickle on her neck. When she tried to scratch it she felt something fuzzy and flicked it away but not before it left its 2mm stinger in her neck. She never saw the bee. Luckily the sting was on the side that is still numb from surgery so it wasn’t extremely painful. We were worried that she might be allergic because it was her first bee sting but it just swelled up a little and itched and burned a bit. All in all it was an interesting way to get your first bee sting.

After our adventures with the volcano and the bee we returned to Kona for some more snorkeling and to soak up the sun during our last few days in Hawaii. We briefly visited a cloud forest just north of Kona which was very beautiful and lined with many sizeable estates. Just south of Kona, we went to see Pu’uhonua o Honaunau Place of Refuge National Historical Park. It is essentially a site that has several foundations of old Hawaiian temples and other buildings that have now been restored. There is a stone wall there that was built in the 1500s which separates the area where the Hawaiian royalty lived from the place of refuge. It had a really nice picnic area where we stretched out and took a nap on some nice white sand beneath coconut trees shimmering in the breeze. It was screen saver worthy.

We flew back to San Francisco on February 14 where we enjoyed a nice hot shower and a peaceful night’s sleep.

Maui

We arrived in Kahului, Maui on January 22, rented a PT Cruiser (with which Matthew had a varying love/hate relationship throughout the trip) and headed to Costco. One of the things everyone should know about Hawaii is that Costco and Wal-mart are the only places in the state where you can get mainland prices on most items. This is a great blessing for the frugal traveler, especially on Maui, where the prices are noticeably higher than on both O’ahu and the Big Island, which in themselves are already much higher than back home.




The first stop was the Iao Needle which is basically a big rock that sticks up in the middle of the Iao Valley and everything around it has eroded away and has been replaced with lush vegetation. It was a nice place to do some short hikes. One of the bloodiest battles in Hawaiian history was fought at this place between King Kamehameha and one of the Maui chiefs. (It eventually became apparent after learning some Hawaiian history that killing each other in horrifying ways seemed to be one of the ancient Hawaiian’s favorite past times.)


Kihei, south of Kahului, had some great beaches that we enjoyed several times while on Maui. It was there we tasted our first Maui Gold Pineapple—amazingly sweet and delicious, and Matthew showed off his skills as a body surfer using the techniques of Duke Kuhanamoku (a legendary surfer). We should have taken a picture of this but we were both in the water. There were lots of people in the water trying to body surf and they were all staring at Matthew in amazement because he can catch pretty much any wave he would like. You will have to ask him to divulge his secrets as the internet is not really a sacred enough place to pass on those details.


Aside from excellent body surfing, Kihei, and really the whole south side of Maui, offered great whale watching. We saw whale activity about any time we glanced at the ocean. This was really a highlight. Some of the whales would breach (jump up out of the water) over and over again, others preferred slapping their massive side flippers or tail fins in the water, and of course there were plenty just surfacing to get a breath of fresh air. It really was amazing to see so many in such a small place and at such close range. Those buggas are huge!

Lahaina was the next town we spent time in. It is an old whaling town and has a lot of interesting history and quirky shops. The thing that Lahaina is famous for is a very large banyan tree that covers a whole city park. It is the largest banyan tree in the U.S. and it is very impressive. For those who may not know (Michelle didn’t) a banyan tree is a tree that grows vine-like roots that drop down from the branches. Once these vines touch the ground they grow into the ground and form another trunk so it allows the tree to have branches stretching out a long way from the central trunk, appearing to be a network of connected trees; only it’s really all one big plant. They are really cool because they have lots of leaves growing thickly. At night tons of myna birds roost in the tree making a huge amount of noise and a lot of bird poo, which you have to look out for. So, we enjoyed some time relaxing beneath the banyan tree. We thought we saw Tarzan living under the tree only later to realize that it was Lahaina’s own beloved Bible-thumping, Hawaiian bum who just hadn’t shaven for about 10 years. Our mistake!

Pa’ia was a nice place to visit, just east of Kahului. This town has a lot of alternative shops like the Hemp House and is supposed to have a lot of interesting people walking around, though we didn’t see anything too freaky. Near Pa’ia is Ho’okipa Beach. This is where serious windsurfers do their thing in Hawaii…although they might just be seriously insane. We enjoyed an afternoon watching these guys brave some of the biggest surf we saw the whole time we were in Hawaii. The surf is shown in this picture (left) but it really doesn't do justice to its intensity. There were about eight professional windsurfers out there braving the waves and of those only one lasted the afternoon without getting pounded and separated from his equipment. A couple guys even had to come in to grab a spare sail or board because theirs had been ravaged by the surf. There were also a couple of kite boarders out there, one of which was demolished within the first 20 seconds of his ride. It was really amazing to see the power of Mother Nature and the insanity of some people. We guess they know what they are doing…right?

Haleakala National Park covers the highest part of the island, the Haleakala volcano standing at just over 10,000 feet. You can drive right to the top of this mountain on paved road the whole way, which is great (should have rented that Lotus). We were really excited to do some hiking in and around the crater at the top of the volcano…that is, until we got out of the car. At the upper visitor’s center, which is just a couple hundred feet below the summit, the wind was roaring at 50-60 mph and the temperature was around 40 degrees. So you get out of your car wearing every piece of clothing your brought to Hawaii (not much), a few clouds zip by covering you in dampness and then you just let the wind literally blow your body into the visitor’s center, being careful not to let it blow you right over the guard rail at the edge of the crater. It quickly became apparent that we didn’t have the right gear to do much of any hiking in those conditions. But, even if we didn’t get to do any hiking at that elevation, we did enjoy a beautiful sunrise from 10,000 feet (see slide show for lots of pictures). It was worth the drive and we were lucky enough to secure a front row spot in front of the visitor’s center window (inside where it’s warm).

The Hana Highway drive is either something you love or something you hate. If you like constant turning, one lane bridges and endless lush green this is your thing. If you like straight roads you should probably let someone else drive. Lucky for us Matthew loves a good driving adventure. The Hana Highway is the road between Kahului and Hana (the biggest town on the east side, and that’s not saying much) and is about 54 miles long though it takes 2 1/2 to 3 hours to drive it. It is famous for waterfalls and beautiful landscapes of the jungle next to the sea. We took a whole day to do the drive, starting at 8 a.m. from Kahului, and I think this is recommendable. We were able to stop along the way and see almost everything we were interested in, which included nearly a dozen waterfalls, waves pounding on lava rock, hikes through bamboo forest and some natural caves. There is a lot of natural beauty along that highway. Once in Hana, we enjoyed the Hana Bay Beach Park and the General Store (which has an assortment of about anything you can think of.)

South of Hana, we camped in Haleakala National Park in its little slice that extends from the top of the volcano down to the ocean. We pulled up in the dark, set up our tent in a nice grassy spot, climbed in to read for a bit and sleep for the night. Shortly thereafter the rain started and got harder and harder until it was a torrential downpour. Michelle has never been in rain like that in her life and Matthew’s comparable experience was when he was living in Sydney, Australia. It sounded like five garden hoses were aimed at the tent spraying full blast and lasted from about 10 p.m. until 5 a.m. The thing that made this experience interesting rather than horrifying was that the tent withstood it all. We were perfectly dry the whole night! The next morning when we got out to survey the damage there wasn’t even a single puddle on the ground. We later found out that that area gets about 400 inches of rainfall per year and that volcanic rock is really good at absorbing water because it is so porous. So the secret to camping in this area is a super rain fly—luckily we had one! While in the park we did a beautiful hike through rain forest to see a 400 foot waterfall.
Also south of Hana, we saw Charles Lindbergh’s grave, visited a red sand beach, lounged next to Venus Pool, which is a spring fed/sea fed pool at the edge of the ocean with beautiful clear water, and did some beach combing in hopes of finding a Japanese glass float. We found plenty of foam and plastic but no glass. The Big Island Some of you may know that we didn’t originally plan to go to the Big Island at all. We made this decision after two weeks on Maui, when we decided we had seen everything there and wanted to see more. It was a good thing too because the Big Island ended up being our favorite of the three, though they are all fantastic.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

The Rest of Oahu

Picking up where we left off . . . Thursday we spent a full day at the Polynesian Cultural Center at BYU Hawaii in La’ie where we saw cool presentations and dancing at the little "villages" they have set up representing each of the major south pacific island nations. It's like you just traveled from one country to the next as you walk from one village to the next. It was really fun seeing everything from guys climbing coconut trees like monkeys with nothing but a lava-lava and a little rope for their feet to fetch coconuts, to fire dancing (both of which were Samoan), but all the other village presentations were unique and interesting as well.

These were some of the other highlights on O’ahu: a hike out to Ka’ena Point, the western most point of the island, where we saw a couple of endangered Hawaiian monk seals and several albatross nesting; the filming location of Lost, the TV show (we don’t watch the show so this was more exciting for my sister Megan than it was for us); and driving the H-3 highway between Kane’ohe and Honolulu (it is “arguably one of the most beautiful stretches of highway in the U.S,” being very green and lush with towering mountains.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

O'ahu

Aloha from O'ahu! We are having a great time here. We arrived in Honolulu on January 11, checked into our hotel on Waikiki and went for a swim in the ocean--it was lovely! The weather has been nice, although a little rainy at night and early mornings with highs in the low 80s, lows in the high 60s.


To start our trip, we drove from Boise, ID to San Francisco. Luckily the roads were clear of ice and snow the whole way so we sailed right through in one day. We stayed with Matthew's cousin, Greg, and spent a day seeing the city of San Francisco. We checked out Fisherman's Wharf and China Town. One of the highlights was exploring an old sailing ship on one of the piers. It had a lot of history and was all set up with displays and loads of cargo like it would have carried during its career as an old time freighter. This picture shows the ship with the island of Alcatraz in the background. We liked the city because it is so neat and clean. If it weren't for the outrageously high cost of living and all the liberals (says Matthew) we might consider living there.


We spent our first four nights in Honolulu, spending time on the beach and checking out the shops on Waikiki in the evenings. Boogie boarding was fun (Michelle's first time!) and we did some snorkeling at Hanauma Bay (also Michelle's first time). Being winter here the sea is extremely rough and the waves very high so we couldn't go out for some more adventurous snorkeling past the reef barrier in the bay (Matthew says there are a lot more fish out there). Sunday we visited Pearl Harbor and took a navy boat out to the USS Arizona Memorial. It was a very solemn place out on the memorial that spans the sunken ship since it's the tomb of lots of the men that went down with her. Next we hiked to Manoa Falls through lots of rain and bamboo forests--finding out first hand why it is called a rainforest. We looked like we could have just gotten out of a swimming pool by halfway through the hike!


Monday we went to Sandy Beach and saw some body surfers get pounded into the sand and come out all skinned up (we didn't attempt anything there) and then went up the east side of the island to Makapu'u Head where we did a scenic hike up to the lookout and light house. On the way up to the lookout we got our first look at some humpback whales surfacing out in the great blue. They seem to be everywhere this time of year. We came in a season of rough seas, which limits snorkling posibilites but it also is the peak of whale watching season when the beasties come to the Hawaiian Islands to have babies and frolic in the water for tourists like us to gawk at. We took a detour on the way back from the lookout to hike down to the water's edge on a large lava shelf that jets out into the then extremely violent sea. There is where we found the not-so-visited "Dragon's Nostrils" which are a pair of big blowholes that roar really loud and spout water like a pair of gysers when big waves come crashing in and get to the blowholes through underwater caves. It was really cool to see up close and feel the power of the high seas and the beast down below us trying to get out.

The next morning we went to Kailua and made a long stop at a wood shop that is famous for making furniture from native Hawaiian koa wood. Their prices were a little high so we didn't buy suvies here....(US$40,000 for a Koa desk!--but it looked really cool).

Next stop was La'ie on the windward side where we spent a fun-filled day with Michelle's old roomie, Malia. We went snorkling at Shark's Cove and hit some beaches including the famous Sunset beach and the Bonzai Pipeline (which is roaring at the moment so there are tons of surfers out there every day). Snorkeling at Shark's Cove was great despite the fact that we could only hug the sides in the calmer areas and not access the middle of the cove where most of the action is...once again foiled by huge surf. We even have some cuts and bruises to show from the waves that did enter the cove where we were. Matthew got stung by something on his toe in the action.

Hale'iwa was next on the agenda where we got some of Matsumoto's famous shaved ice with vanillia ice cream in the bottom. (we went back the next day for a second round it was so good). There we broused lots of surf-oriented shops and I had to tell Michelle no about thirty times in the jewelry shops. On the way back to La'ie we stoped at Turtle Beach and watched some of the overly friendly sea turtles that frequent there. They were cool to watch and it was the first time Michelle got to meet Crush in person.




The next day we did a long hike in the Ahupu'a O Kahana State Park rain forest. We had a great time making blood donations to the local mosquito population and listining to the wild birds and enjoying the thick forest scenery. We saw lots of wild pig tracks and got cut on our feet a bit by the super sharp palm fronds that blanket the ground everywhere.




To be continued with more photos...

Wednesday, January 3, 2007

Christmas in Wyoming

After a lot of driving over frozen roads we made it to Laramie, Wyoming for Christmas. The picture here is the view out of my parents kitchen window (picture courtesy of Megan Cook). We have enjoyed many beautiful sunsets through that back window. As you can see we enjoyed a white Christmas. All of the family were able to make it and stay about a week, which didn't seem long enough.

Mason, the only nephew on my side, was the highlight of the trip. He is 13 months old and keeps everybody hopping.

We are officially homeless and unemployed now. Luckily Matthew's parents have agreed to take us in for the time being.

This Christmas we are especially thankful for our family and friends. We feel very blessed to have so many wonderful people in our lives.

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