Portland and Coastal Maine – Americana, Sea Coasts and Seafooc

We knew going in that Portland ME was a quaint up and coming town. We didn’t know how much we would love it! So much charm, and an unbelieveable food scene from world class sushi to the freshest seafood and craft beer anywhere. It was a great couple days.

Wanting to see a local landmark, we realized our visit coincided with an annual charity benefit from local brewery Alagash. Oysters on the grill, al pastor tacos and a other delicious snacks. What a great way to see the Mansion!

Cheers to Alagash for the party, great brewery as well!

Beautiful summer days. Strawberries are in full bloom and we stumble upon a Strawberry festival. Buying several pounds from the overloaded farms.              We were on our way to see one of the many spectacular coastline views of Maine!

Lighthouses were a must in this unforgiving landscape.

 

Miyake sushi was an out of this world experience. Omakase with Kristin opting for the non-sushi route and Dan headed for sushi. Grilled fish head?

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Locally caught Giant Blue Fin Tuna and local Eel. Life changing.

Heading to Arcadia National Park and Bar Harbor, we stopped for lunch in Camden. Classic America.

Views of the hike in Arcadia.

Our way down found us in some really cool slot canyons!

We found our way to a lobsta pot for dinner.

Basically a local fisherman runs a small shack serving the days catch of lobsters, mussels, clams and corn.

Dan had to order a 2nd “dessert” lobster cause he was in love.

What a way to end the solo portion of our trip. Great food and a very relaxing but engaging couple of days on America’s north coast. We loved it, enjoyin spectacular views like this sunset over a wild mussel patch.

We finished the trip with a couple days with our family in Waterford. Enjoying a classic Americana 4th of July. Sharing the parade and treats with our loved ones!Catching some sunset views of the loons on the lake.

Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe – The Smoke that Thunders

The day before we landed in Zimbabwe Robert Mugabe, dictator for 37 years, had resigned. Transfer of power in Africa is dicey at best. We didn’t know what to expect but the borders were open so we went. Turns out not much. It had been so long coming that it was mostly a 1 day party and everyone went back to work. Capital controls had the money supply so tight that people literally slept at the bank trying to get some money out.

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The guys at The River craft brewing (only the second brewery in the country) told us the night Mugabe went was their best revenue night ever.

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Flying into Zambia, the Zambia-Zimbabwe border crossing was sketchy and we’re pretty sure (definitely sure) our hotel “airport transfer” included a bribe. Well, it did get us through faster. That’s Africa. On to Victoria Falls.

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Visiting the falls during the dry season they are still the same amazing site they were when the famous explorer Livingstone set eyes on them in 1855.

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During the wet season, I could only imagine how they would look. Water would be pouring over this whole portion.

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Dan got to play monkey man on this awesome fallen tree.

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Out hotel was a from a bygone colonial era. Immaculately maintained, beautifully detailed, it felt like a step back in time.

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The same applies for the nightly sunset cruise on a reconstructed 1940’s skiff.

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That lump in the water to the right of the brandy is a hippo!

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Our last night in town, we gorged on a platter of crocodile, kudo and impala meat.

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Sabi Sands, South Africa – Lions and Elephants and Leopards Oh My!

The Sabi Sands Preserve in Kruger National Park.

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The Sabi Sands are a unfenced portion of the National Park that is privately protected and has some of the most intact animal populations. Including this 7 week old critically endangered White Rhino.

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Our lodge Arenthusa was as close to a literal oasis as you can get. It’s fantastic 4-star service in the middle of nowhere. 3 meals, 2 game drives, high tea, a full bar, a perfect 3-4 day adventure.

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Safari is a whole different travel experience. We had a private room, with a bush patio and private pool.

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You get insanely close to huge wild animals and they don’t even flinch. Leopards stalking prey, wild dogs hunting as a pack, elephants bathing.

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Gotta stop. Herd of elephants are crossing the road.

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My favorite quote from the explorer Livingstone. “Cape buffalo always look at you, like you owe them money.”

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Oh and in between your stopping for a bush cup of coffee or starlight dinner on the open plains or a bush breakfast complete with mimosa’s!

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Basically it’s bad*ss. Lots of our pictures were taken by cell phone, because you’re that close. See the leopards?

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Sadly, the National Park is in a significant draught. The watering hole on the resort had dried up and the 14 hippos living there moved. For us that meant our well pumped private plunge pool was one of the most accessible drinking spots and elephants were constantly drinking from it. Unfortunately, never while we were there. As I write this, Cape Town for the same reasons is facing a water crisis so bad Day 0 of no water is less than 2 months away. Do a rain dance for South Africa.

Maputo, Mozambique – The REAL Africa

Next stop Maputo, Mozambique. South Africa’s neighbor, Mozambique bares the reality in Africa. 20%+ HIV rates, 50-60% desperate poverty rates, population between 25 – 29 million because they don’t actually know… That Africa.

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We had unbelievable access to companies and leaders in Mozambique. CEO of largest telecom, CMO of largest marketing agency, CEO of largest bank, CEO of largest port. Kristin gave the Thank You present to the bank CEO for meeting our group.

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All of the leaders were very optimistic on the countries future for several reasons. The country is very young, and well it’s hard to go backwards when you start from zero. The telecom CEO I found especially fascinating because they are merging cell phone carrier and bank into one product accessed on the phone. Through your phone you can store money, buy products and even take small loans. Helping offer banking to the 95% of Mozambique without a bank account. Millions in Mozambique don’t have power, water or sanitation, but have access to the internet and a cell phone.

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A walking tour of the city took Dan to a old fort.

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A dilapidated train station.

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And a stop for pasteis de nata. The best part of Portuguese anything. If you don’t know see our Lisbon blog.

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Leaving Maputo, it was back to South Africa, but this time we headed to the Sabi Sands Preserve in Kruger National Park. The Sabi Sands are a unfenced portion of the National Park that is privately protected and has some of the most intact animal populations.

Cape Town, South Africa – Earth, Wind and Wines

It’s a long way to South Africa. Our best flight option was 31 hours with a 10 hour layover in Frankfurt. Luckily, we landed midday and we’re able to train into town for some wieners (like REAL frankfurters) and beers.

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On we go and touchdown in Cape Town. The 30 minute drive from the airport takes you through the Cape Flats. A grimy extremely rough place. A place that’s like Juarez, Mexico dangerous. As we rounded around the imposing Table Mountain the city came into view. It’s beautiful. Brand new, sparkling, well cared for, first class modern city. Our Uber took us past a brand-new glass and steel hospital, with a Virgin Athletic Club on the 5th floor overlooking the highway and the bay. Wait, where did the desperate poverty go? It’s a weird place.

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Landing in the morning we had no choice but to fight the jet lag and rally. Luckily Uber is basically free in Cape Town (a ride in town cost about $1.30 each way) so we headed to the V&A waterfront to get our bearings. Our love from Cape Town begins. The food everywhere is exceptional. The drinks are expertly crafted. The service is fantastic. The prices are cheap.  It’s like San Diego but 80% off.

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That afternoon the winds blew just right giving us a great view of the “the tablecloth” as clouds gentle roll off the mountain.

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Just as we are settling into this paradise (and our duck confit eggrolls and local bottle of Pinotage) we are snapped into the reality of Africa. A disheveled mostly white but still “colored” woman ask for some food off our plate. Before we could react our black waiter came out to shoe her off. She then exploded into a rant about immigrants taking jobs from locals. He was being called out, accurately it seemed. Africa is a complicated place.MVIMG_20171105_173317.jpg

The next day we joined up with about 10 other DU students for a trip to Stellenbosch the capital of South Africa’s wine country. South Africa makes great wines. South Africa has been making great wines since before America was America.

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At Lanzerac, we learned about the famous Pinotage grape. Developed in the 60’s it is a cross between Pinot Noir and Meritage grapes. A delightful wine that can range from smooth to complex. Lanzerac planted the first Pinotage vines in partnership with the University of Stellenbosch.

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Our second stop at Graff had mediocre wine but an amazing facility with a million-dollar diamond necklace in the jewelry store.

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The next day, Tuesday began the DU class trip.

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We visited GOLD, a African Experience. Basically a Cape Town’s version of Casa Bonita for adults. Super cheesy, but really fun.

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We took a drumming class and Kristin danced with the crew.

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The Test Kitchen

As we looked forward to our adventure months in advance, Kristin set her sights on a reservation at The Test Kitchen. A five star restaurant, ranked as high as 26th in the world. Reservations are almost impossible to come by. Luckily, we were able to book months in advance, and here we go… Punctuated by two distinct experiences, the Dark and the Light dinner is an event. On the dark side, literally a room with barely enough light to see, cocktails are paired with a tastings from around the world. Highlights were the dishes from Scotland, South Africa and India. It was all amazing.

Then through a trap door we are taken to the Light. A bustling bright restaurant, we are served the more traditional restaurant experience.

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Wine parings, another 8 courses, the whole deal. A variety of fresh foraged mushrooms? Awesome. Our after-dinner treat was a glass of vin de Constance, a sweet white wine that was Napoleon Bonaparte’s favorite.

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No visitor to Cape Town missed Table Mountain a “New 7 Natural Wonders” of the world.

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Accessed by cable car 3,000 ft high provides quite a view of the city.

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The was so nice, we got to enjoy it for hours longer than expected as the cable car closed due to high winds. Kristin didn’t know she was about to be stuck up here.

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We also spent a day touring “The Cape” seeing Africa’s only penguins.

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We toured the Cape Reserve seeing wild ostriches while visiting and hiking on Africa’s south-western tip.

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A short hike provided breath taking views!

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Check out the surfers in the bottom right. There’s no land between them and Antarctica!

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Medellin, Colombia – Pablo Escobar’s City of Eternal Spring

From Cartagena we hop on an hour flight to Medellin, our last international stop before heading back to ‘merica. Medellin has almost perfect weather and is also known as the city of eternal spring. Sitting at 5,000 feet and near the equator, its 83 during the day and 70 at night. Medellin is also famous as being the home of Pablo Escobar, and was once the murder capital of the world.

wp-1456244823705.jpgMedellin is a city undergoing a massive transformation. The city can still be grimy, and there are still very dangerous areas, but quickly shedding it’s checkered history, the hillside restaurants bustle with expats from around the world. Nouveau art displays from adorn the city square.

wp-1456244950029.jpgMedellin’s second most famous son is Fernando Botero, famous for creating these overstuffed fat sculptures.

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In the last few years a new transportation network has connected this very hilly city and is bringing opportunity to the millions who live here. The old method, just wasn’t getting the job done in the 21st century.

wp-1456244815398.jpgOne of the most interesting elements of Medellin’s transportation network is the Metrocable.

wp-1456244691817.jpgThe Metrocable network is made up of gondolas that were built to connect some of the cities most vulnerable residents and offer them transportation to jobs, stores and opportunities.

wp-1456244732712.jpgUnlike home, the cheaper homes are found higher up the slopes. With high crime, and almost no access to services, until the Metrocable arrived this was a horrible place to live.

wp-1456288768606.jpgOne even connects past the city to a beautiful national park called Parque Arvi. The park was okay, a nice place to spend an afternoon strolling. The real experience was getting to take all the cable cars.

wp-1456244966324.jpgOne highlight of Medellin came from the outside world. On Superbowl Sunday fell during our time in Medellin. Luckily in our swanky neighborhood, almost all the bars were bustling with people watching the game; we even watched with two Broncos fans from Colorado. Dan could not have been happier, Kristin acquired a new lucky vest.

wp-1456288302181.jpgFollowing a tip from a Medellin local we met in Cusco, Peru. Our last day we made our way to the bus station for the 2 hour ride to Guatape. In the 1970’s Guatape lake was created when the surrounding hills were flooded for a hydroelectric project.

wp-1456244799392.jpgIn the middle of the lake sits the El Penol, a massive granite rock that looks very out of place. Local legend claims it’s a meteorite, we think it’s just cool.

wp-1456244837534.jpgUp we go. Hope the 750 steps up are worth it.

wp-1456244905719.jpgTruly, one of the best views in the entire world.

wp-1456244882151.jpgAt the top is an epic 360 degree panoramic views of the lake.

wp-1456288361285.jpgWhat a way to spend our last day of this great adventure. We are so blessed to have been able to finish this walkabout. We are so excited to finish strong celebrating Adrienne and Kevin’s wedding!

wp-1456244857235.jpgTop 5 Things to do Medellin

  1. Watch a Broncos Superbowl win!
  2. Ride to Guatape and hike El Penol
  3. Ride the Metrocable to Parque Arvi
  4. Buy coffee from Pergamino roasters
  5. Take a photo with a fatty from Fernando Botero

Cusco, Peru – Machu Picchu, Quinoa, Potatoes and Guinea Pig???

Leaving Buenos Aires we head to Cusco Peru the capital of the former Inca Empire. At 12,500 ft Cusco challenges even altitude seasoned Coloradans. This flight turns out to be one of our most challenging yet. Long story short, after a night in Santiago, Chile our early morning flight to Lima was cancelled. After 3 hours with customer service we finally land in Cusco. We have no luggage. The next morning we leave for Machu Picchu. Booked weeks in advance, with only beachwear on our backs, we needed our bags. After several more baggage f’ups, Dan was finally able to get our bags literally seconds before we had to leave to catch our Machu Picchu train.

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Getting to Machu Picchu is still a breathe taking adventure. Even in 2016 it requires getting to Cusco. A 90 min cab ride, 2-hour trains ride and a harrowing 30 min bus ride. Or you can walk “the inca trail” and that is 4 days.

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The hippie and her backpack.

The small tourist town closest to Machu Picchu is called Aguas Calientes, Hot Water in English because it has hot springs. This town isn’t very exceptional, mostly standard tourist town junk. Overpriced low quality restaurants and knock off souvenirs.

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Our time here was only worth mentioning because for the 36 hours we were there, the power was out almost the whole time. Even in a remote city that should be used to being cut off the impact of having no power or internet created a semi-controlled chaos.

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Necessity dictates a romantic candle lit dinner in Aguas Calientes.

Walking in to Machu Picchu early in the morning we are a little drowsy and still getting our bearings. We quickly walk through most of the site, hurrying to get the gate for Huayna Picchu by 7 AM.

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The peak of Huayna Picchu looms over the ruins.

Only 400 people a day are allowed to hike the very harrowing steps up to the peak. It’s quite a trek up but we’ve heard the view from the top is amazing. Huayna Picchu itself is really cool. Built as a sentry tower overlooking everything there are a good amount of ruins and stuff to see even on the top of this crazy steep mountain.

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That fall is every bit as deadly as it looks. 2000 feet down to the river below. No guardrail.

Finally getting there we look out over the valley and… all we see if fog.

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We wait a few minutes for the sun to rise higher in the sky and magically the fog clears and it’s stunning.

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All the work, all the money, all the hype, seven wonder of the world… It’s worth it all. Machu Picchu is amazing.

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Back down Huayna Picchu we explore the grounds. There is so much to say, I’ll keep it short and let the pictures speak. One thing you should do is hire a guide, for a couple hours. Well worth the $10 each.

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Only in habited for 90 years, much of Machu Picchu is unfinished. These 3 windows, were for the Condor (sky), Puma (earth), and Snake (ground). You can see the precision and scale of Inca building.

 

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The terraces of Machu Picchu were not used for growing food. Instead they grew Coca. Prized throughout the Inca Empire.
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How to keep the jungle from encroaching? A team of 16 llamas patrols the terraces keeping the grass cut.
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The classic view of Machu Picchu and Huayna Picchu from the Watchtower Hut

Reversing our course, we head back to Cusco and have 3 days to explore the city. Cusco is one of the best cities we’ve seen. We loved it. 7½ months in, we’ve seen a lot, Cusco is unlike anywhere we’ve been so far. It’s got a great vibe, really nice people and a very unique history. Plus some very special shopping, but we’ll get to that later. The central square, Plaza De Armas, is a UNESCO world heritage site, and it’s beautiful at night.

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First day in Cusco, what’s on tap? Cuy of course! Following a few local tips, Dan drags Kristin 45 minutes outside the city to Tipon, the cuy jump off for locals. Getting a very local experience, this was a fun adventure for us. What is cuy?

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Guinea Pig! Plucked of hair and stuffed with local mountain herbs, they then get roasted in an oven for an hour. Delicious, at least in Dan’s opinion, they taste like fatty rabbit.

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In our experience, one of the best ways to see a city is by taking a walking tour. Most of the tours we go for are free, where they ask you to tip the guide at the end. In Cusco, we were the only ones who showed up for the afternoon tour. A private tour for us! There is a ton of history in Cusco. It was the capital city for the Inca’s and their 3,000 mile empire stretched from Bogota, Colombia to Santiago, Chile.

The stone wall on the right has stood for over 1.000 years.
The stone wall on the right has stood for over 1.000 years.

Many buildings in Cusco are built on top of, or using stones originally cut by the Inca. When the Spanish conquered, they tore down many Inca palaces, and rebuilt their own palaces in their place, also known as churches.

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The jesuit church in the background was built with Inca stone.

The size and scale of their construction is the most amazing part. Hundreds of thousands of precisely cut stones are still found throughout the city.

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In our 7½ months we’ve seen a lot of junk. Many “local” souvenirs appear in lots of places and are made in China. We feel like we have very high standards for buying stuff. But in Cusco we went a little nuts, why? Alpaca. These high land animals are raised in the Andes of Peru and have been used for thousands of years to create soft and warm sweaters, jackets and hats. In Cusco however, the real attraction is Baby Alpaca. Baby Alpaca is actually juvenile alpaca, it’s the first shaving of their wool. Like a baby’s butt or petting a puppy it is unbelievably soft.

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Blarfs! This is Baby Alpaca blanket will set you back about $130.

Taking off, we pause to realize our next country is our last of the trip, Colombia.

Top 5 things to do in Cusco

  • Go to Machu Picchu, obviously
  • Have a sunset cocktail at dusk over Plaza de Armas
  • Gross out your friends and eat a guinea pig
  • Take a walking tour of the city and live the Inca past
  • Fondle some baby alpaca and buy as much as you can carry