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Rock of the Owl

Cusco, capital of the Inca Empire for over 300 years beginning in the year 1200, is nestled in the Andes mountain range and attracts close to one million visitors each year. The sheer amount of hotels and hostels attest to that! Upon the Spaniards arrival in 1533, it was game-set-match for the Incas, though 3 years later over 100,000 Incas laid an ill-fated 10 month siege to recapture the historical city.

Plaza de ArmasCusco from High AboveLadrillos Alley

Despite the city’s contentious past, the culture and architecture pay homage to both occupiers. In fact, Inca foundations from temples and palaces were utilized for many of Cusco’s cathedrals and museums found today. Though a tourist’s nuevo sol (Peruvian currency) drives many locals to parade the streets dressed in traditional Inca garb with domesticated llamas, the Peruvian inhabitants of the Sacred Valley are immensely proud of their heritage.

Ash and I spent our first day wandering the alleys, markets, and plazas not knowing what we would find next. Hearing the sounds of drums and brass instruments, we found the Plaza de Armas (town center). A cultural celebration was in full swing.

Quarry - Muy GuapoOne of Three Tiers of Defence WallsSexyWoman in the Distance

Excited to see the ruins high atop Cusco, we arranged a guided tour on horseback ($10 each) for a few hours. Reminiscent of “Days of Thunder”, our horses vied for pole position without regard to terrain, grade, or physical exhaustion. The race between Quarry (my horse) and Pucapaya (Ash’s horse) was exactly the same as the NASCAR battle of Cole Trickle and Rowdy Burns except for a few minor differences:

  1. 3mph vs. 180mph

  2. horse vs. racecar

  3. novice driver vs. professional

  4. mountain terrain vs. smooth asphalt

  5. time at stake vs. life at stake

We saw the ruins of Puka Pukara, Q’enqo, and Saqsaywaman. The first two were quite small yet interesting to see, but they stood in the shadow of SexyWoman – that is how it is pronounced. You guessed it, Saqsaywaman was named after Ashley Miller! We hiked around the ruins imagining how people lived here over 500 years ago. Despite our efforts, it was tough to wrap your brain around how much ingenuity the Incas really had to make these places come to be.

The Tiers of DefenceVistaPrecision Stone Cutting

Hiking Machu Picchu (4 days, 3 nights) initially drew us to Cusco, but there is much more to this ancient capital of the Inca Empire. It’s name is taken from the Inca’s Quechua language. The Quechua phrase of “qusqu wanka“ means “rock of the owl”. 

- Greg

 Tips:

  1. Most travel agents and guides will advise you to purchase the Cusco Tourist Ticket, allowing you entrance to over 16 venues including ruins and museums. The cost is 130 nuevos soles ($43). Don’t buy it unless you intend on doing most of the 16 spots! The included museums are not Cusco’s best and there aren’t too many employees checking admission tickets to the ruins.  The Sacred Valley can be done for 70 nuevos soles via its own ticket.  Don’t be like us, save your $43 and pay admission as you go if necessary.

  2. Don’t book tours from your hostel, there are much better deals if you stop into travel agencies. For example, we are doing an all day tour of the Sacred Valley for $10 each, Flying Dog Hostel was asking $20 each for the same tour.

Mosquitoes? Not This Girl!

The first day of our Amazon Rainforest experience blew me away. My entire life I have fantasized about experiencing the sights, sounds and smells of the jungle. The actual experience was all that and more. Going to bed on the first night in our little bungalow made of bamboo and palm leaves, I anticipated what the second day in the Rainforest had in store.

Amazon hut

Greg standing outside our hut in the Amazon.

We awoke early the next day to the sounds of roosters, competing birds and a multitude of insects. Breakfast of fried egg, toast, and plantains awaited us. I had difficulty eating due to the lack of sanitation (soap was no where to be found), but Greg had no problem with this; finishing his meal in record time. Thunderstorms approaching, we hiked 5km back to the Madre de Dios River.

path into the Amazon

Greg walking over a swamp area in the Amazon.

We took another pekye-pekye (this time a much faster one) further dowillegal Gold Boatn the river. Along the way we passed numerous illegal gold boats. People live aboard these little boats, suck up the river silt, screen the large rocks out, then examine what is left for gold. It was fascinating to watch. After about 45 minutes on the pekye-pekye (they are called this because of the sound they make) we arrived at Taricaya Ecological Reserve which is a Projects Abroad program with about 10 volunteers from all over the world studying biodiversity, market value of young mahogany trees, animal habitats and rescuing native animals. The most fascinating part to me was watching and interacting with all the rescued animals which consisted of 4 different types of monkeys, parrots, toucans, macaws, otters, tapirs, jaguar, baby puma, and a cat that reminded me of the feline in Shrek (with those huge eyes…so cute.) The entire time here I thought of my sister Kiley and how this place is right up her alley. Kiley, if you ever want to take some time off, this is a place you should definitely look into. My favorite animals to interact with were of course the monkeys. They were so playful and we really got to get up close and personal. I fed them while Greg held hands with some of the spider monkeys. They seemed to enjoy our presence and didn’t seem frightened at all.

feeding monkeys

naughty monkeys

Greg getting friendly

 

 

 

 

 

After enjoying the rescued animals we hiked 30 minutes back into the Amazon, destination canopy bridge. Without machinery, the bridge was built in 6 months by volunteers 5 years ago and is an impressive thing to witness and experience. The first platform is 70 feet high and is connected to the second platform 150 feet above the jungle canopy via a 1,000 foot bridge. Needless to say, I was a bit nervous. If Herb Dietz was present, no way we would have been allowed to traverse the swaying span.

 With risk comes reward:

Canopy Bridge v5

Amazon Canopy v3

Canopy Bridge v11

 

 

 

 

 

Having experiencing the canopy bridge, we headed back to the Reserve for a lunch of rice, chicken, and potatoes while the skies opened and let out a fierce rain storm. Our time in the Amazon Rainforest was coming to an end as we boarded the pekye-pekye one last time headed back to Puerto Maldonaldo.

raining in the Taricaya Ecological Preserve

Watching the rain while eating lunch at Taricaya Ecological Reserve

For those of you who know me, you should know that bugs, especially the nasty mosquitoes seem to  flock to me wherever I go. I can have 100 bites after applying bug spray while those who are with me experience no bites. After drowning myself with Off, DEET 45% and soaking my clothes in permethrin, I am proud to report that after spending two whole days in the Amazon I came away with only one bite. I was one happy camper!

- Ash

Tips for the ladies or metro-sexual men:

1.  Overnighting in the Rainforest can be a bit rough.  Expect dirty showers with a tiny sheet protecting you from exposing yourself to the local men.  Needless to say, ALWAYS wear flip flops!

2.  Toilets (if there are any) are disgusting.  Like I mentioned earlier, soap is hard to come by.  Bring sanitizer.

3.  Don’t grow to accustomed to the chickens roaming the land.  More than likely they will be your dinner that night.

4.  All in all, just be prepared to rough it!

Lungs of the Earth

When Ash and I went about planning our destinations, the Amazon Rainforest was in each of our Top 5. I just couldn’t believe it would really be out first excursion!

Flying into Puerto Maldonaldo, we were giddy as school girls… well maybe just me. After being mobbed by tuk-tuk drivers at the landing strip, we were off to find a hostel. I cannot recommend Tambopata Hostel enough.

Tuk-Tuk and Away We GoLooking for Jungle RatsThey'll Float, Right?

We arranged a 1 night, 2 day adventure about 2 hours down the Tambopata River (eventually meets the mighty Amazon) deeper into the Peruvian Rainforest for the next day. Waking at 5am, we met our guide Esteban, and headed for an awaiting pekye-pekye. Slowly cruising down the river on the hot and humid morning, we reached the Tambopata National Reserve (near the Peru, Bolivia, Brazil border). We then proceeded on the slowest 5km hike ever recorded… stopping to look at every monster tree, strange insect, colorful bird, intricate web, and even catching a piranha.

After a lunch consisting of chicken and rice wrapped in a banana leaf, we rented a canoe and paddled onto Lake Sandoval. Esteban had been speaking of the endangered Giant Otter, which he hadn’t seen in 3 weeks. Jackpot! We spied the handsome family of four clear across the lake and we made haste to see them dining on huge piranhas. We shored the canoe and while hiking another 2km via a virgin trail, Esteban exclaimed, “we better walk faster”. Similar to a distant expressway, we could hear a hum… closer… closer… closer… and like a swarm of bees the heavy raindrops drenched us. As the skies opened up, we bailed some water from the canoe just in time to see a troop of squirrel monkeys making its way across the edge of the lake.

 Lunch is EarnedWhere's Waldo (he is blond)Yep, I'm cute

We recuperated by way of a cat nap then paddled onto Lake Sandoval around dusk. We visited the viewing tower (70 feet tall) then the Main Event: Black Caiman Searching. The incredible sunset proved to a precursor for the evening. Armed with a flashlight and headlamp, Ashley and I trained their beams at the palm tree swamp on Lake Sandoval’s NE shore. Every so often, our lights reflected the glowing orange eyes of the North American Alligator’s cousin, the Black Caiman (largest predator in the Amazon). Esteban rowed the canoe into a swampy area and edged himself to the rear of the rocky boat. Like a firecracker, he lurched his hand into the water and captured a 3 foot Black Caiman, losing his flashlight in the process (we reimbursed him). What a thrill it was to hold such a wild creature while Ash couldn’t find a spot far enough away in the canoe.

The Sunset is Prettier Than GregorioArachnophobiaNo Match

We celebrated the adventure with a candlelight dinner (no electricity in the huts) and a tarantula the size of a sand dollar was kind enough to join us, perched 8 feet directly above me. Again, Ash was not thrilled. We wrapped the mosquito nets tightly around our beds, wondering what the Amazon Basin had in store for us the next day.

My expectations of the Amazon had been high and they were exceeded. The biodiversity, medicinal attributes of the plants, incredible smells/sounds/sights all blew me away. 

- Greg

Tips

  1. Tambopata Hostel w/ Playful FrancoArranging a tour upon arrival will save you lots of $$$. This is true of anywhere in the Amazon Basin. You can have the same experience booking a trip from an Amazonian town as booking a room in a jungle lodge. Our trip was $175 per person including food, transportation, guide, and lodging. Similar packages can cost well over $300 by pre-booking.

  2. Before booking a 7 day excursion in the jungle, make sure you can really take the heat, humidity, and bugs galore – we planned for 6 days and 3 was plenty.

  3. There aren’t many hostels in Puerto Maldonado. But Tambopata Hostel is fantastic – friendly people, delicious breakfast, slow but free Internet, great location, and cool showers. Only $10 per person too… cheap and nice is what I’m talking about.

First stop Lima. All aboard!

first steps in South AmericaAnticipation raging to get our adventure cooking, we arrived in Lima, Peru around 11pm on August 31st to a crowd of Peruvians welcoming home their family member.  We have never seen anything like it.  About 1,000 eyes were trained on us as we searched high and low for Carlos, our taxi driver.  For the first time we understood what a celebrity must feel like.  It was touching to see entire families waiting for one passenger; united in song as they reunited with loved ones.  It was a “Love Actually” moment. 

Full of excitement with the combined brain power similar to an amoeba, taking our anti malaria medication slipped our minds.  Note, take doxycycline with food, side effects include waking an entire hostel to the sounds of projectile vomit.   Low on sleep, we enjoyed the cool Lima airAutobus until mid morning.  After enjoying a $6 breakfast for the two of us, we set out to explore Lima.  Lima in one sentence would be: a fast city full of small autobuses.  Pedestrians be warned. 

We dodged buses for three miles and finally reached the Pacific coast.  Lima´s coast is very reminesent of Southern California, just more rocky.  It was nice to gaze at, but nothing spectacular in our opinions.  After a simple lunch, a fascinating stop at the supermercado, and an haphazard IMG_0357bus ride ($1 US total) to Hostel Malka in San Isidro; we were spent.  We met our first travel buddy from Australia, Cameron, sharing a spare Cusquena while dining on a baguette filled with salomi, mozzarella cheese, and avocado.

As our eyelids grew heavy, we both agreed… one day in Lima is plenty.  In the next 3 weeks, we look forward to discovering what Peru´s ancient ruins, Amazon forest, lakes, and canyons have in store for us! IMG_0954

- Ash & Greg

Note: must learn mas espanol.

So Long Chitown, the Wheat State & The Nasty ‘Nati

Jessy's Creative Invitation

What a whirlwind of travel, emotions, and parties during our last week in the States.

Greg's tolerance to goodbyes isn't so swell...Our dear friends in Chicago kicked it off on August 22nd with an “all you can drink” special at Rocks in Lincoln Park. Ashley dragged Greg out of Wrightwood Tap around 3:30am, knowing the 6:00am cock-a-doodle-do was nearing.

Not our babyWith just 2 hours of sleep under our belts, it was off to the Jayhawker State of Kansas to visit Ashley’s massive family. Hungover and in desperate need of some zzzz’s, we were overwhelmed by the well wishes of the the Miller’s and Rausch’s – around 100 loved ones to see us off. Thanks so much to everyone who showed their pretty face, even from as far as 250 miles away. It meant the world to us! And special thanks to Cathy (Ash’s selfless mother) for all the TLC she put into the event. Dear Tenley (5 days old at the time), we will see you raising hell on 2 feet one year from now.

Splash!It was then off to Lake Wilson for some more Bud Light and lots of boating. Who knew Braden (Ash’s sister) was a masterful backflipper on the Air Chair… don’t give up. Numerous falls at the hands of that same Air Chair, wake skating, and surfing left Greg with a sore back and ego. Golf at dusk didn’t go so well either… Captain Matt’s partner in crime, Brad (Ash’s shy father), sank a putt with his cell phone providing ample light in the 9th hole cup to defeat Greg and Braden. We also spent a lunchhour at Claflin Elementary with Bryce (Ash’s youngest brother ) dining with a table of arm wrestling 5th graders. Had Greg been enrolled there, he would have lost recess privileges for 1 week due to spilling applesauce in the lunch line and spreading the mess around with his flip flop. Our fantastic visit to Kansas was topped off with a special visit with Grandma June – thanks for all the support.Extra sloppy

After the land of Dorthy, we made our way to Cincinnati. The first day was spent on final preparations for our RTW trip then one last home cooked meal. Greg’s mom, Sue, prepared his favorites – beef stroganoff, green beans, pears, cottage cheese with tomatoes, and garlic bread. Random but delicious! To get Greg’s Bengals fix, he stayed up until 2:30am watching a preseason match (don’t think we will see many Bengals games on the road). Who Dey!

The next morning Greg ran errands while Ashley was pampered. Kim (Greg’s sister-in-law) treated Ashley to a memorable day of a massage and shopping, even surprising her with a new dress for her travels. Then Ashley was introduced to Hudy Delight Beer at Poppy and Ma’s. Visiting them always leaves us with a smile on our faces and warmth in our hearts. That evening, Jeff (Greg’s brother) and Kim threw us a spectacular Cincinnati themed send off complete with Skyline Chili, LaRosa’s Pizza, and Graeter’s Ice Cream. The evening was topped off with Crowley’s (Greg’s odd high school friend) pineapple upside down shots and slap-that-bag with Matt (Greg’s cousin).

I hate bugs. Love Texas RangerMatt and Heidi (Matt’s dynamic wife) cooked us brunch after touring their impressively remodeled home. Then it was off to the Cincinnati airport to fetch a rental car bound for Chicago. Our last day in the States was spent with our favorite people in Chicago – the Hendy’s and Waligora’s for apps, beers, and wine on the Chicago River and a BBQ with our IU and KU pals.

We shall miss the Land of the Free and Home of the Brave. And as Lee Greenwood sang not so long ago, God Bless the USA.short, tall, short, tall, short, tall

- Greg and Ash

No More Paychecks?!?!

To commemorate my 3+ years, my colleagues pulled their money together and threw me a raging PartA. Well not exactly for me… it really was a pre-arranged summer outing. 

Mojitos with rock candy stirrers (for the ladies), hand rolled cigars, and a cornhole tournament was the order of the afternoon. After Sciascia and I took and an early exit in the 2nd round of the tourney, we turned our focus to the dunk tank. Yup, I even took the plunge.

Then it was on to the Bottom Lounge for some unnecessary shots of whiskey…err… whiskey is almost always necessary! A Houdini disappearance was in the cards by midnight.

It was a great way to celebrate my departure from a firm I greatly admire whose talent boasts some of the best real estate professionals in Chicago. Though it was immensely difficult to walk away from a job I truly enjoyed, the thing I will miss most of all are my former colleagues.

So feel free to send me a portion of your hard earned paycheck, address TBD.

- Greg

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