Peru Trip, Part 3 of 3: The Amazon Rainforest

The final leg of our Peruvian adventure began bright and early, as we set out at 5am from Cusco. Our journey took us on a flight to Lima, followed by a connecting flight to Iquitos, where we met our final guide, Roberto, and I promptly got my first Amazonian mosquito bite, as soon as my feet hit the tarmac. We then took a van through the town of Iquitos, where we boarded a boat floating on the Amazon River, bound for the Ceiba Tops eco lodge. On the 45-minute boat ride, we ate a box lunch provided by the resort, complete with the sweetest banana I’ve ever tasted.

We arrived at the Ceiba Tops lodge, on the banks of the river, by mid-afternoon. After a short welcome from Roberto in the communal lounge, we arrived at our room. While simply adorned, the room was equipped with air conditioning and could not have been a more welcome respite after our first few hours in 1000% humidity (a slight, albeit realistic, over-exaggeration). We spent a bit of time cooling off, and also avoiding an afternoon rain shower, before heading back out for a little hike around the Ceiba Tops grounds. Roberto walked us through, pointing out flora and fauna, and bringing us onto a path that would give us our first taste of the jungle. After a few minutes of hiking and discovering things like walking trees (the roots grow outside the ground, so they literally change locations as they grow), and millipedes (I held one! Ew!). We eventually arrived at a giant FernGully-like tree, the Ceiba tree for which the resort was named.

After we returned from our hike, with a couple hours to spare until dinner would be served in the lodge, we took the time to have a little R+R in the pool, enjoying some vacation drinks and trips down the slide. We also enjoyed hearing the stories of fellow travelers who had been at the resort for a few days.

That evening, dinner was served in the communal lounge — a buffet of local specialties. In addition, during dinner, we were treated to a music and dance show by local children from the nearby Indiana village. Highlights included having an anaconda placed on my shoulders, and Adam and Karina being invited up on stage to dance.

The next day would be equally jam-packed, and so started early again, as we met at the dock at sunrise for a 2-hour trip down the river.

IMG_0706

When we arrived at the other eco lodge, we were greeted by the resident capybara, Charlie, and her baby, Charlito. Although they were essentially just giant, gentle rats, we were all completely taken with the pair, happily making their way across the beach.

IMG_0711

After a quick breakfast and coffee, we finally hit the trail, setting out for a treetop canopy through the rainforest. On our way there, we were able to examine various jungle scenes, including a band of monkeys swinging high above us.

After the fun of hopping along the 14 different rope bridges suspended high above the jungle floor, we hiked our way back to the extension lodge, where we were greeted by more monkeys, enjoying a snack.

IMG_0732

Can you spot the monkeys?

We grabbed some refreshing cervezas and hit the hammock hut, giggling as Charlie made her way up to the platform. We were all commenting about what a cute creature it was, likening her to a sweet puppy. Just like a puppy, however, Charlie quickly turned mischievous and began nibbling on the shoes we had taken off to get comfortable, and before we knew it, Karina’s sock was being devoured by the capybara. Luckily for Karina, her newly-minted fiance took one for the team and fished her sock out of the creature’s throat. Although a little gooey, the regurgitated sock was deemed better than no sock, and after some hearty laughs by the rest of us, we headed back to the lodge for lunch. (Don’t worry, we all washed our hands — thoroughly!)

IMG_0744.jpg

After lunch, we set out into the heat again to a nearby botanical garden, to observe a demonstration from a local shaman. The shaman showed us some local tinctures and remedies, as well as the ingredients for the famed ayahuasca (which we did not try, by the way!), and he did a short (drug-free) cleansing ceremony, before we headed back to the boat for the return trip to our lodge.

We spent some much-needed time in the pool again, cooling off, during the evening hours. As the sun started to set, we headed back to our room to gather flashlights and hiking boots for a nighttime excursion into the jungle. We were on the search for nocturnal creatures, and we weren’t disappointed. With the help of Roberto, we spotted two tarantulas, a baby cayman (alligator), giant poison frogs, gorgeous butterflies, and some kind of tree rat. In addition, we ran into the resort’s “pet” tapirs, Cynthia and Geno. After this exciting adventure, we enjoyed another lodge dinner, followed by some games before bedtime.

The next morning would begin our last full day of vacation, starting with a breakfast buffet in the lodge. Afterwards, as I was relaxing in the lounge with a cup of coffee and a book, I turned to find that I had attracted a friend who was helping herself to my morning beverage.

IMG_0762

This katydid drank from my cup for a good 10 minutes.

After coffee, we met Roberto and a boat driver for a private ride to the middle of the river, where we spent some time spotting for pink dolphins. We saw a few from a distance, and then re-focused our search towards piranhas for some fishing. We were each handed a primitive stick, with a simple fishing line and hook, to which we attached chunks of steak provided by the guide. We learned the fine art of fishing for piranhas, first by splashing the stick around in the water to get the attention of the fish, and then dance the hook/meat around, attempting to hook a piranha before it steals our bait. I was pleased to impart some of my bobber fishing skills and hook a razor toothed fish on my line, along with about 4 or 5 more that we pulled in as a group.

Upon our return back to the lodge, the staff cleaned and prepared our day’s catches, to pair with the lunch buffet being served, including dorado, fried plantains and a hearts of palm salad. I have to say, the fresh piranha was pretty delicious, albeit a little disturbing.

IMG_0771

Sorry Pedro.

After lunch, we spent some time playing some games before riding a boat to go visit another local village — the Yaguar tribe. On the way, we were treated to additional dolphin sightings from our boat. As we arrived at the village, we were greeted by the playful children, along with their many pets of monkeys, ducks, cats and chicks. They treated us to some local dance and music, followed by a demonstration by the local chiefs of the blowguns. Anthony and Adam tried their hand at the weapons, and were total naturals, hitting bullseyes immediately. Anthony was lucky to make it away without becoming their newly-elected chief.

As we started to peruse the village peoples’ handicrafts, the spunky children emerged with their best pet — a baby sloth that they quickly shoved into our arms. I am not exaggerating when I say that all time stood still in this magical moment, holding the most precious non-kitten creature on the planet. I think we all enjoyed the cuddle time with the sloth, who naturally and instantly would wrap its body around each of us in a hug.

We treated ourselves to a few handmade goods, always keeping an eye on the sweet kids and their pet sloth, which they carried around as casually as one would swing a teddy bear. Every so often, the sloth could be spotted ever-so-slowly crawling back into the forest, only to be spotted by one of the kids and drug back to the circle of play or tossed onto a pole.

After the village, and a bit more dolphin-spotting on our way back, we hit the pool once again for our evening dip. After taking turns down the slide, we enjoyed the evening bat show that signaled our need to head inside before the mosquitos started feeding. We spent some time in the bar, enjoying some live music and chatting about our fun day, followed by dinner and a bit more games before bed.

The next morning we woke to rain, and joined our guide for a quick jaunt over to the neighboring Indiana village for a quick walk around town. Anthony and Adam, the two Hoosiers of the group, found some humor in the town’s moniker, named after their home state. The town’s founder had gone to school at IU and named the town after the U.S. state that provided his education. While the town was more developed than I expected (I was quite taken with the topiaries all over town), it felt virtually uninhabited. We learned that the reason no one was out and about was due to a nationwide census that required all Peruvian citizens to stay home until 5pm and be counted by census officials.

After Indiana, lunch, and a little more hammock and pool time, it was time to start our journey home. The journey began with a boat ride back to Iquitos, followed by another van ride around town. Because we had a bit of time to kill before we needed to be at the airport, our driver took us on a mini tour of downtown Iquitos, pointing out some European-inspired architecture.

When we were finished checking out Iquitos, we got to the airport, only to find out that all of the flights were delayed due to the aforementioned census. After a long trip with minimal travel hiccups despite all of our connecting flights, we were finally running into some pretty hefty delays. Our domestic flight to Lima was delayed due to the census, and as luck would have it, our international flight from Lima to Fort Lauderdale was delayed as well, so we at least were not stuck in Peru. However, the next morning, as we arrived in Florida just as our Denver flight was taking off, there was still quite a journey ahead of us. It was touch and go for a bit, and we were at the mercy of standby and non-direct flights, but after about 36 hours of travel we made it back home to our anxious pets and lovely, arid climate.

So, this was our Peru trip in a nutshell. It was an adventure, to be sure — one unlike any we’d experienced before. Obviously we’ve got plenty of fun stories to last a lifetime, and also exposure to ways of life that are so completely different than anything we’ve ever known. This is what I love about travel — it allows you to get new perspectives on life, knowing that our little bubble is just a tiny slice of this great big world. I loved the way the Peruvians honor their ancient and diverse cultures and heritage, and the pride they have in their land and their people. While the wildlife was incredible and the views were awe-inspiring, the jovial, friendly hosts — both our guides and more importantly the local people we encountered — made the trip all the more special. The exposure to different lifestyles also makes you question what’s important, what’s “normal” and what humans need in their lives in order to be happy. I want to end with a quote from one of our favorite travel heroes, Anthony Bourdain, who sums up perfectly the way I sometimes felt on this trip through the third world:

“Travel isn’t always pretty. It isn’t always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts, it even breaks your heart. But that’s okay. The journey changes you, it should change you. It leaves marks on your memory, on your consciousness, on your heart, and on your body. You take something with you. Hopefully, you leave something good behind.”

Advertisements

Peru Trip, Part 2 of 3: Cusco and Aguas Calientes

We departed Puno on a drizzly morning, heading back to Juliaca for a short flight to Cusco. We arrived at a darling hotel in the city center, with a large atrium and indoor fountain serving as the focal point while we met our new tour guide, Joseph.

Joseph brought us out into the rainy day — equipped with umbrellas, so the weather was no issue — to view some ancient ruins around the area. A combination of fortresses, gathering spots and sacred sites for ancient Incans, the magnitude of scale and history contained within these areas was mind-blowing. Additionally, we learned that many of the modern Peruvians in the area, still honor these ancient cultures and belief systems, even maintaining the ancient language of Quechua. It was definitely humbling to learn how much the Peruvian people embrace and honor their ancient history, preserving these ruins and using them to learn about their ancestors.

IMG_0484

View of Cusco from Sacsaywayman

After a day of absorbing the local culture, we were ready to absorb some local food! When we were finished with our tours and returned to the city center, we immediately cleaned up to head out to dinner, deciding on a recommendation from Joseph. With a round of wine for the ladies and pisco sours for the boys, we dug into probably the most memorable meal overall. The food at this restaurant — particularly a chicken dish Anthony ordered — was enough to keep us talking about it for the rest of the trip.

IMG_0488

After dinner, we had an evening walk around town, enjoying the company of stray dogs, a spontaneous parade and fireworks on the square, and taking photos of the moonlit architecture.

The next morning, after an early trip to the hotel’s breakfast buffet, Anthony and I set out on an early stroll through downtown Cusco. We managed to get ourselves lost as we took spontaneous turns throughout town, but narrowly made it back to the hotel in time to meet up with Adam, Karina and Joseph to take a van to Pisac Market in the Sacred Valley.

The drive into the Sacred Valley, our first real taste of the Andes Mountains, did not disappoint. We stopped a couple times along the way to take photos of the views.

As we descended into the valley, we entered Pisac Market, covered in the brightly-woven tapestries, alpaca sweaters, silver jewelry and more, made by the local craftspeople. In addition to the wares, we were enamored by the stray kittens and dogs, naturally.

IMG_0529

Of course this would be the only pic I got of the market 🙂

After we’d gotten our shopping fix, we got back in the van to travel a little deeper into the valley for lunch at the Sonata Hotel, a beautiful property restored from the Incan era. I was completely taken with the gardens and colorful flowers, not to mention the stunning mountain backdrop, as traditional Peruvian flute music played while we ate a buffet lunch. While we all tried some unique Peruvian foods that were quite tasty, I think we were in agreement that the highlight of the lunch buffet was the gelato for dessert!

After lunch, we headed to our last stop in the Sacred Valley, the Ollantaytambo ruins. These ruins were considered a stopping point along the Inca Trail, and gave lodging and respite to travelers in addition to serving as a fortress and lookout point for the town below. It was raining pretty heavily when we first arrived at the ruins, its terraces crowded with soggy tourists. However, by the time we had climbed up and down, the sun came out and illuminated the site with a completely different view. (*Because I didn’t want to soak my phone, I didn’t get any photos here, but my traveling companions did! I will add them to this post after I get them).

The van ride back to the hotel was about 2 hours long, and I think most of us had a little siesta during that time. Once we got back to Cusco, we considered returning to the restaurant with the magic chicken, but decided to hit another recommendation from Joseph so that we could try a Peruvian specialty: Cuy, or… Guinea Pig. This was a nice restaurant and the presentation was not the pig-on-a-stick we had passed in the valley, and instead was carved nicely to resemble regular old meat. It also was more tasty than I’d expect — just a small amount of meat, but savory and salty, and… well, I’m not going to convince you. We tried it!

IMG_0565

Guinea pig meat with blue corn tortillas. So fancy!

The next day, we packed our bags for a temporary check-out from our Cusco hotel, with only a small pack to take on the train up to Aguas Calientes. The train itself was quite nice and comfortable, and the four of us shared a table where drinks were had and games were played as we traveled once again through the Sacred Valley, about 3 hours to Aguas Calientes..

Once we arrived at the small town of Aguas Calientes, we stopped by our hotel to drop off our bags and catch a bus up the mountain to Machu Picchu. The bus ride, with no less than a dozen steep switchbacks, afforded one beautiful view after another.

IMG_0593

When we got up to Machu Picchu, before we could dive into the World Wonder, we stopped for lunch at the park’s buffet, serving up many Peruvian delicacies. I think we were all anxious to get to the main event, and as soon as we climbed the short terrace and the iconic sight came into view, it hit us.

IMG_0603

Joseph knew the best places to go for the “money shot” so he jockeyed us in among all of the other tourist groups to get a group photo (once again, that’s on someone else’s camera…). After we dispersed from our group photo, however, we knew the moment was right for Adam to make the move he had planning the entire trip. Feigning a couple photo with he and Karina, while Anthony and I filmed on our phones, Adam began a heartfelt speech and dropped to his knee in front of Karina — AND THEY GOT ENGAGED! Such a beautiful setting for a beautiful moment that they will both remember forever. After some tears and squealing and ring-admiring, we moved on to explore the rest of the ruins. First, getting some photo ops with some of the locals.

Now, of course we gleaned a lot of history and interesting facts about Machu Picchu and the significance of this settlement, but really, we were all just mesmerized by the views. So, here are some of the photos that I was able to catch with my simple little iphone:

As we were finishing up our tour, the clouds moved in and started to rain on us. It was actually welcome, as we had all really been sweating under the unexpected heat and muggy humidity, compounded by the fact that we were covered in clothing head-to-toe to protect ourselves from the sandflies (no one tells you about those, but they are REAL). However, the best part about the rain was that it resulted in this INCREDIBLE double-rainbow over Happy Mountain (that’s really the name of that peak). Talk about magical!

After the literal high of this incredible visit, we headed back to our hotel in Aguas Calientes, where we all retreated to our rooms to clean up. We met up later in the hotel for dinner, where we enjoyed a multiple course prix fixe meal that was delicious from start to finish, along with a few celebratory toasts with the happy couple. It also just so happened that we were celebrating our 8th wedding anniversary that day, so it was a shared day of love and celebration, after a magical visit to one of the world’s most beautiful places. We ended the evening with a stroll around town and one final champagne toast, before heading to bed.

The next morning, we rode the bus back up to Machu Picchu again, because we just couldn’t get enough! That day, we set out to hike the mountain that serves as the backdrop to Machu Picchu — the “nose” of the iconic view — Huayna Picchu. Because the trail is steep and narrow, only a certain number of hikers are permitted at each of two different time slots, and we had some time before our time slot began. So, we opted to take a short warm-up hike to an old Inca Bridge — a trail with some VERY steep drop-offs. (More pics to come of that, probably!)

IMG_0658

Us posing with the peak we were about to climb.

Once it was finally our turn to get in line for the hike, we loaded up on sunscreen and bug cream, ready to put in some hard work in the hot morning. And hard work it was! The climb up the peak was every bit as steep as it looks in photos, with seemingly endless stairs and switchbacks. However, having hiked at altitude before, and being in relatively good shape, our group fared a little better than some of the other tourists, and within about an hour, we were basking in the glow of the summit, taking in an even rarer view of Machu Picchu.

After a much quicker descent down the face of Huayna Picchu, and one more stroll through the ruins, we lined up once again for the bus back to town. As luck would have it, a random vendor with a bag full of cold beers passed our sweaty group and we quickly doled out the equivalent of less than a dollar a piece to cheers all our hard work and rehydrate as we reveled in our accomplishment and bid a final farewell to Machu Picchu.

Once back in Aguas Calientes, we freshened up at the hotel and then enjoyed a relaxed al fresco meal with Joseph. We also passed a small grey friend that almost came home with us, until Anthony reminded me that we had one at home that may not be up for sharing her kitty litter with a Peruvian sibling.

After a final brief walk around the markets in Aguas Calientes, we met back up with Joseph for our train ride back to Cusco. This ride consisted of more games, as well as lively dance performance and “fashion show” of Peruvian woven goods by the train staff. After a hot few days up on Machu Picchu, arriving late that night back to the much colder Cusco was a bit of a shock to our systems, but we knew we couldn’t get used to it. The next morning, we’d be setting off further north to the Amazon rainforest — more to come in Part 3!

Peru Trip: Part 1 of 3, Arrival and Puno

I’m not sure when we started talking about a trip to South America, but I know it started off very vaguely. As we skipped around to locales that had a sense of familiarity — Europe, Mexico, even Australia — the entire continent to our south felt like a vast, mysterious land. We knew we wanted to venture down there, but had no idea where to start.

When we mentioned this to our friends Adam and Karina, their excitement was piqued and Karina enthusiastically pressed, “Let’s go to Peru!” and it was done. We were going to Peru.

With Karina’s help (part of her enthusiasm was that of a return trip — her third trip, in fact), we put together a trip plan with a Peruvian tour company. Other than a few complications with booking our own flights, including domestic Peru connections, I barely gave the details a second thought until the morning we hit the early morning flight to Fort Lauderdale, connecting to Lima.

Our group excitement was buzzing as we spent a brief layover in Florida, enjoying our first vacation meal and wondering what we were getting into. When we touched down in Lima, late that night, it was still somewhat difficult to discern that we were in such a different country. Settling into the comfort of an airport hotel, our first official “day” of vacation was a blur of airplanes and travel.

The next morning, we were almost immediately hit with the realization: We are in Peru! Perhaps it was a night of sleep, or maybe it was just seeing this foreign land in the light of day, but we were nearly instantly immersed into Peruvian culture — even just by stepping on another airplane. This shorter flight took us from Lima to Juliaca, and was on a smaller, domestic Peruvian flight. We settled in and enjoyed our first local beers as we gazed out at the landscape below.

When we landed in Juliaca, we were greeted by our first tour guide, Maria, and our driver, Julio, who would bring us to our first Peruvian sights. We meandered through the airport town of Juliasca, which we were told was a center for commerce and education. The town was quiet and strikingly run-down, with half-finished construction nearly at every turn. We learned from Maria that builders/owners receive significant tax benefits by delaying the completion of buildings, so there are many that are never even intended to be finished. Many families are living in concrete buildings with rebar still sticking out the top of unfinished roofs.

Quickly, however, we had exited the town and were smack dab in the Peruvian country side. The mountains loomed on the horizon, but otherwise the landscape was vast and flat, speckled with the occasional (very skinny!) cow or flock of sheep. As our 45 minute ride toward our first destination drew to a close, we started to get our first glimpses of llamas and alpacas, and were quickly schooled on the difference between the two. For what it’s worth, my takeaway was that llamas are taller with longer necks, and alpacas are shorter and fluffier.

IMG_0184

Llama on the left (sitting), alpaca on the right.

Our destination that afternoon, and our first taste of Peruvian culture, was a site called the Sillustani Burial Towers.  I’ll spare you all the history that we received on the pre-Incan civilizations that built the towers, but in general the thing that is most fascinating to me about ancient architecture is simply the level of effort combined with the attention to detail that allows these structures to stand the test of time. After thousands of years, you still can’t find an open seam between the monstrous blocks through which to slip a thin piece of paper.

IMG_0201

After a short hike up to the towers, we also enjoyed the views while our guide told us about the island in the lake that holds a protected flock of vicuñas, a rare relative of the llama and alapaca family, and their caretakers. As luck would have it, we rounded the corner to find the caretaker with a 4 month old vicuña named Johann, which I was not about to pass up the opportunity to hold.

IMG_0217

On our way out, we stopped by a café for a cup of local coffee, and to gaze at the local handicrafts in a small market. I also got to meet my first baby llama — this first day would start off a trend of me squealing at baby fuzzy animals when I was supposed to be enriching myself in ancient history.

IMG_0216

After leaving the burial towers, we stopped by a local farm for a quick visit. Maria seemed to stop by often, and knew the drill — as soon as we pulled up, the lady of the house gathered the family and retreated into the compound to prep for visitors.

IMG_0182

The farms consist of a series of buildings built out of stone walls and thatched roofs, circled around an open-air center living area. Each of the building serves a different purpose — bedroom, kitchen, animal enclosure — and the whole thing is walled all around, with llamas and alpaca grazing outside.

We entered the middle courtyard, and the woman emerged with a variety of home-grown and cooked potatoes, and some homemade cheese. It was an odd offering, to eat with our hands, but it felt rude to abstain, so we all shared a bite while she showed us around her home. The potatoes tasted like, well, potatoes, and the cheese was actually quite good! (I’m not a girl to say no to cheese…). Her and her husband also gave us weaving and farming demonstrations, while Anthony fed the kids chocolate and we checked out the guinea pig they were growing for dinner (!).

When we’d bid the family adieu, we were starting to get a little tired from travel, and ready for a proper meal, and headed to Puno where we checked into our hotel. Right on the shores of Lake Titicaca, we enjoyed an amazing dinner at the hotel before we spent the rest of the evening drinking the obligatory pisco sours (the local beverage) and playing games in the lobby, reflecting back on our first full day in Peru.

Day three saw a tired group at our hotel buffet table. All of us had been kept awake by the sounds of dogs barking through the thin walls of our hotel. A cup of coka tea (made with the coca leaf — but it’s NOT cocaine — they love the stuff there and I thought it was quite nice myself!) and a good breakfast and we were off for more adventures.

Today, we loaded up into a boat and headed out to the Uros reed islands out on Lake Titicaca. We passed hundreds of small islands, each containing one or several families, living literally on the lake — their land and homes are all built by reeds found in the water, and have to be added to every three weeks, and reconstructed every couple of years. We enjoyed some time in one of these communities, learning about their lives, and observing their handicrafts, before they took us on a ride out on one of their reed boats. We visited the “capital” of the islands and got our passports stamped in this protected area.

From the reed islands, we settled in for a longer boat ride across the lake to another island, Taquile, a Unesco heritage site. After our two-hour boat ride, we hiked up a steep mountainside to round the island, discovering an idyllic and peaceful place with some of the happiest people I’ve ever encountered. As we meandered across stone paths on the sunny mountainside, among quaint farms and wandering sheep, we passed men knitting their traditional hats and women weaving while their babies rested nearby. It was a pretty serene setting and such a different way of life than we’re accustomed to, that it is hard not to wonder who really has it better. Could it possibly be these folks living in homemade lean-tos and virtually untouched by modern technology and consumerism, or those of us completely tied to obligations and electronics? Certainly not the last time I had such a thought during this trip, and it was an eye-opening exploration.

For lunch, we stopped at a small patio café for a well-received meal of quinoa soup, followed by fish, rice and potatoes, relaxing in the sunshine and overlooking the view of the surrounding water. After lunch, a quick hike back down the other side of the island brought us back to our boat, and a much-needed siesta as we sailed the two hours back to our hotel. We couldn’t resist another delicious meal in the hotel restaurant, and opted to stay in after such a busy day, rather than heading out into the rainy evening to explore the town of Puno. That night, Anthony and I were able to stay in a room across the hall, and had a much better slumber, ready to awake the next day for another flight — this time headed to Cusco! More to come in Part 2!

 

60

In honor of my mom’s milestone birthday, my family and I started secretly scheming over 8 months ago. Knowing she is a hard lady to keep in the dark, much of the secret-keeping fell on my dad’s shoulders. However, we all pulled together — making plans, booking a beach house, coordinating various efforts, and in the end it was worth it. We all convened on Hilton Head South Carolina for a family beach trip to be remembered forever. Some highlights include a day trip to Savannah, Georgia, amazing “home”-cooked local seafood feasts, spotting frolicking dolphins just feet away from where we were swimming, bike rentals on the beach, creative cocktails, cavorting around town in the convertible rental car, and being endlessly entertained by the two youngest family members. Check out some of the moments we captured below, and happy birthday Mom! We all love you so, and are happy to be able to have gotten the chance to provide a small reflection of all of the gifts you’ve given us over the years by surprising you with this special trip.

 

2016 at a Glance

Last year, I resolved to document our fun summer adventures, which I was able to capture. here. This year, and hopefully for subsequent years, the plan is to do a full year in review, which may be a bit more of a whirlwind, but should be that much more interesting! It is always so much fun to look back, so I hope to keep this up as an annual tradition. 2016 was a year full of excitement, outdoor adventures, close friends, cherished traditions, new experiences, fun surprises and deep belly laughs. Wouldn’t have it any other way.

Portugal Trip

Over 8 years ago, Anthony and I went to Europe for an epic tour. It was my first time traveling outside the U.S., and we hit 10 countries in 21 days, opening our eyes to the varied characteristics and rich history of the region. Because it was such a whirlwind, however, we vowed to return frequently, seeking additional experiences and exploring a single area in more depth. Well, more time passed than we had hoped, but we finally got to return for another overseas trip, this time visiting Portugal. We were drawn to it for its moderate climate, varied landscape and food, among other things, and we were definitely not disappointed!

We took a redeye via Newark to Lisbon and arrived around 7:30 am. Naturally, we were both a bit exhausted from travel, but luckily the hotel allowed us to have a very early check-in, so we could take a quick morning nap before starting our day. After catching a bit of sleep, we had lunch in the hotel to get plan out our first day. A light rain had greeted us, so we weren’t sure if we’d want to be out and about much, but as luck would have it, the rain let up just as we were finishing our meal and we set out on the town. Our hotel was located centrally on a main avenue, making exploration and sightseeing easy.

Because we hadn’t scheduled anything for the first day, knowing jetlag can be unpredictable, we enjoyed a leisurely, albeit grey afternoon. We loved the casual stroll without itinerary, popping into shops and exploring the main drag.

In the main square, we found a place to duck in and grab some drinks before wandering a bit more through the city as night began to fall. We happened upon a few things, including a lively market selling meats, cheeses, and goods from local artisans. Still pretty exhausted, we opted to head back to the hotel for an early bedtime.

img_5914

The next morning, we awoke early, well-rested and ready to do some more exploring. With a sunnier day, we were inspired to grab some bikes and see the city in our favorite way — pedaling around town. We found a bike rental place near the city center and walked down to get our wheels for the day. The rental guy gave us some great recommendations for routes, which took us along the waterfront down to the historic neighborhood of Belém. We made a pit stop under their iconic bridge to wait out a pop-up rain shower and grab some cheap beers and crab cakes.

img_0815

After the sun came back out, we continued on down the waterfront, snapping photos along the way. We turned around at Belém, where we visited an old monastery and also tried the storied Pastéis de Belém — a custard pastry made from a 100-year-old secret recipe.

img_2982

Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology

During our pastry pit stop, we dodged yet another rainstorm, this one more of a downpour, which pretty much eased up as soon as we were ready to move on. As we prepared to make the return trip, we remarked on how lucky we had been in avoiding the rain fall all day. Well, I guess we jinxed it then because the skies opened up at that point and we got to ride through the rain for about a half-hour as we made our way back to the shop to return our bikes.

Thoroughly chilly and wet, we headed back to the hotel to clean up, and then hit the town again to track down some dinner. Relying on Yelp reviews, we set out towards a local restaurant with high ratings, navigating the winding hills of a nearby neighborhood. We struck out twice (one restaurant was closed and the next one we found had a very long wait) and then found a quiet Indian-themed (? I think) restaurant that overlooked the city lights.

IMG_0837.jpg

After dinner, not quite ready to go back, we checked out Yelp and TripAdvisor again (what did people do before smartphones??) for more local haunts, and stumbled upon instructions to access a speakeasy nearby. It was a really unique experience, with some really fun drinks to serve as a nightcap before heading back to the hotel.

img_5935

Anthony’s drink was an herbal infused tequila cocktail, which tasted either savory or sweet depending on which side of the glass you drank out of. My drink is the one that looks like a box of chocolate covered popcorn — there is a delicious glass of old-fashioned underneath a layer of ice, separating the delicious popcorn from the drink.

The next morning, we did the hotel buffet breakfast again (naturally), and then met a Lisbon local, Marta, for a private walking tour that we had previously arranged. The tour was very interesting and Marta was incredibly informative on the history and culture of Lisbon and Portugal as a whole. She walked us through some of the streets we had already been exploring, as well as many other neighborhoods, explaining the sights and answering some of the questions we had been curious about during the course of our own exploration.

In addition to providing us with some local insights and information, Marta also took us to a large marketplace to introduce us to some local foods, such as an assortment of croquettes, several different traditional desserts, local wines from the Douro region, chocolates, and a traditional cherry liqueur called Ginja. After parting ways with Marta, we returned to a shopping area that she had shown us, just off the main square, to stop in a couple of places and eventually grab some afternoon appetizers while listening to a street band playing the popular Portuguese Fado music.

After returning to the hotel for a small siesta, knowing that the Portuguese restaurants don’t even open until 7pm, we cleaned up and headed out to dinner, upon a recommendation from both Marta as well as Anthony Bourdain. We were in search of good seafood, and good seafood we received after a short wait for Ramiro, a packed joint in the Baixa neighborhood. We shared a bottle of Vinho Verde and decided we were going all out on the most recommended dishes.

Our bellies full from all the delicious shellfish, we walked back through the city and once again visited the central marketplace we had discovered on the first night. This time, we spent a bit more time there, purchasing a few souvenirs and grabbing some hot mulled wine to sip as we made our way back to the hotel.

Day four began early as we navigated Lisbon public transportation, catching a bus to the train towards the coastal town of Cascais. Once we arrived, we met up with Joao (pronounced Jah-ow), our climbing guide, for a much-anticipated trip to enjoy one of our favorite new activities. I had built up the idea of climbing in another country in my head, and this experience was everything I had dreamed of and more. As we parked on a cliff overlooking the ocean, and proceeded to make our way down to the climbing base, I knew that we were in for some fun challenges and beautiful views.

img_0864

The approach

Having usually spent most of our time in the climbing gym, and on different types of rock when outside in Colorado, we were particularly challenged by the limestone. Sometimes slick and sometimes rough like lava rock, we made our ways up several different 5.9/5.10a routes, as Joao gave us some pointers on navigating some of the more technical spots. With the intense sunshine, it was the first time we actually got hot on the trip, working up a sweat as we enjoyed the amazing views. This experience, as much as I built it up, was still one of the most amazing memories of our trip.

img_0874

The view from the climb

After the climb, we wanted to visit the nearby town of Sintra, described to us by several locals as a “fairytale village.” Joao explained to us how difficult it would be to get to via public transport or taxi, so he personally delivered us to a walking trail that would get us there after a 30 minute hike. Along the way, we stopped at a lovely little crepery where we each had savory crepes from some friendly ladies, who were excited to give us more information about Sintra as well as some port-filled chocolates to send us on our way.

The walk to Sintra was beautiful and relaxing, as we stopped to take photos of castles and estates along the way.

Once we arrived in Sintra, we immediately headed straight for Quinta da Regaleira, which we had heard from several sources would be well worth a visit. “Worth it” would be a massive understatement. This property was, alone, worth the trip out to Sintra. An old estate that has changed hands and architects throughout the years, the property is filled with beautiful structures, hidden tunnels, and elaborate gardens.

One of the coolest thing that we saw was this “initiation well”, which we were able to wander down into. As we were heading down, we discovered several hidden passageways leading out to other areas within the estate. We spent some time exploring the labyrinth before exiting and taking a walking break, where we were greeted by some very friendly cats.

img_0896

After we had finished at Quinta de Regaleira, we did a little bit of exploring in the “fairytale village”, and then took the train back into Lisbon. After this incredible day (climbing! beautiful views! amazing architecture! cats!), we were pretty exhausted, and actually managed to miss our stop (by several stops…) as we were heading back to the hotel, and had a bit of an adventure turning ourselves back around in the middle of the city’s rush hour, so we opted for warm showers and a relaxed (and delicious!) dinner back at the hotel.

The next morning, we packed up to leave Lisbon for the southern coastal Algarve region. After we learned how to correctly pronounce our destination city of Portimao (poot-eh-meow), we were more easily able to navigate our way down using our Eurail passes. We did run into another transportation hiccup and spent the morning hanging out in the train station waiting for our ride, but eventually we made it to the new hotel, and were greeted by a beautiful (and empty) beach. As it was the low season, the town was pretty quiet, but it made for some excellent photo ops as we enjoyed another sunny afternoon.

After a walk down the beach to explore the many rock outcroppings and take a few selfies, we stopped at one of the beachside cafe for some cocktails and seafood appetizers of shrimp and calamari. We watched as some clouds rolled in but (thankfully) luck was on our side again and the only actual weather that came along was further in on the coast and made for a beautiful double rainbow as we made our way up to the road along Praia de Rocha (Stone Beach). While there, we visited an old fortress with a great view of town, as well as a spectacular sunset over the water.

After returning to the hotel, we enjoyed a buffet dinner back at the hotel. We realized that it was Thursday — American Thanksgiving — and were amused to see that they had turkey on the buffet table alongside the seafood and traditional Portuguese dishes. After filling up on the buffet, we headed to bed.

The next morning, we took advantage of the in-room continental breakfast — which was a feast — before meeting up with another local guide for a private tour. This one, however, wouldn’t be a walking tour, and instead we were greeted outside the hotel lobby by Delfim and his sidecar.

img_0968

Delfim was always the driver, but we couldn’t resist this photo op. It makes me giggle but was exactly what I was hoping for when we booked!

The sidecar tour was also highly anticipated, but we had been nervous in the days leading up to it as the forecast for that day had been calling for a 90% chance of rain. It didn’t look promising even as late as the evening before, as we slept through drizzles all night, but imagine our delight as we stepped out to yet another sunny morning.

Delfim’s tour was so much fun, and once again our guide’s knowledge of the area and of Portugal were incredibly interesting. He took us to several of the neighboring towns, stopping to get out and check the (incredible) views and also getting some interesting looks from passersby.

Delfim also gave us a bit of insight into the small downtown area of Portimao, which we returned to after the tour for a bit of shopping and further exploration. We stopped at a small restaurant for lunch, where Anthony ordered grilled mackerel (a local favorite of whole fish… with eyes) and I had a traditional shellfish and rice soup, along with the usual olive appetizer. Both of our meals, while a bit strange-looking and confusing to us, were tasty.

Feeling a bit beat from the go-go-go, we headed back to the hotel for a little rest, and geared ourselves up to head out on the town that night. After getting dressed up, looking up a couple recommendations, and then hitting the street, we were met with a very dead “nightlife” scene. We couldn’t even find an appealing place to grab dinner, so we tried a couple pubs before we just decided to go back to the hotel and have a late room service “dinner”, which mainly consisted of cheese, more olives, and a huge plate of french fries, and was absolutely delicious and perfect.

Our last full day was mainly a travel day, during which we’d make our way back to Lisbon to fly out the next day. Now that we finally had the whole train thing figured out, we knew we had a few hours to kill in the morning before we needed to be at the station. After breakfast at the hotel, we headed down to the beach to watch the many surfers taking advantage of a high tide, and relax a bit on the pier.

img_3030

After a few hours on the train, and grabbing a couple of fresh donuts from a train station pastry shop, we returned to Lisbon and checked back into the same hotel we had stayed in before. We walked back downtown to the Chiado district for a little bit of last-minute shopping, and were entertained to see that during our brief absence, the city had transformed for Christmas. The shopping district was bustling and there was an abundance of sparkly Christmas lights and decorations. After stopping in a couple shops, we found a local restaurant that was able to squeeze us in just as they were opening for the night, although they claimed that they were almost fully-booked with reservations. We felt like that might have been a bit of a stretch, as we were nearly the only ones there, but in any case, it lead to an incredible last meal, ranking as one of our favorites.

img_6014

Anthony’s (top) was a puff pastry filled with sole filets. He ranked it at the top of the meals he enjoyed. Mine was the grilled octopus (surprisingly tender and so so delicious), surrounded by prawns and gigantic mussels.

As we departed the restaurant, we emerged into another rainy evening, which was a fitting way to end our trip, as we had dodged so many raindrops throughout the course of the week. However, it didn’t dampen (ha!) our spirits as we made our last trek back up to the hotel. During our rainy walk, we discussed our highlights — hard to pick just one when every day was filled with something new and exciting. As far as travel, we were both surprised that we’d rank this trip high on our list of favorites, just behind our all-time favorite first trip to Europe. This time, we hope to return sooner rather than later.

Studio renovation tour

When we purchased our house, it came with a little bonus structure in the backyard. As someone who has always lusted after the “she-shed” detached retreats on Pinterest, with all of their tiny charm and multi-purpose usage, I could not be more thrilled with the opportunities held within the walls of the little studio that came with our Art District home. For the first few years that we lived here, the little studio was occupied by our dear friend Teddy, who took excellent care of it and was the perfect addition to our family and “commune.” However, when Teddy decided to take the next step in his life, which meant leaving Denver, we decided that we could not even imagine replacing him and would not be searching for a new tenant. Instead, my backyard studio dreams began to come to life!

Because Teddy took such good care of the place, there weren’t a whole lot of repairs to be made, other than the patching of a ceiling that had suffered from a leaky roof. Also, we decided that the bedroom area would benefit from a few extra feet of space by removing the small wall that served as a tiny closet. These seemed like small tasks, so I decided to forego a contractor and take care of these tasks myself with the renovation. I will spare you the gorey details, but I will say that the ceiling-patching and closet-demolition (and subsequent drywalling) were no small tasks, and I see why someone might choose to leave this work to an expert. Let’s just say these two add-ons ended up being, by far, the biggest part of the entire overall project, and did not turn out the way I hoped they would — at all — but they did get completed and were a total learning experience for me in home repair/renovation.

IMG_5353

In the thick of the demolition

After the closet/ceiling portion, the rest of the renovation was really the fun part. I chose some paint colors that are completely different than anything we have in our main house, but that I thought were fun and would inspire some creativity. I ended up absolutely loving the paint colors when finished — a soft grey that contrasts well with the bright white trim and baseboards, and a long, north-facing accent well in teal blue.

IMG_5274

Gizmo assisted with the color selection

One of my biggest goals for the studio was to create a large workspace that would provide ample storage, as well as allow for a comfortable area in which to complete a wide variety of projects. Ideally, I wanted a place where I could work on my laptop or sewing machine, while Anthony had plenty of space to also work on his paintings. I planned to use an entire wall of the studio’s main living area, but also wanted to make sure it didn’t overpower the small space. Knowing that our budget was somewhat limited, I wanted to reuse as many of our existing items as possible, and rediscovered some comfortable bar stools that we had used at a breakfast bar in a previous apartment. Since I’m used to a convertible/standing desk at work, I thought a bar-height workstation would be the perfect use of the space.

In search of the easiest, most affordable way to make this happen, I got a little creative in my purchases, and found myself at a couple of nearby construction warehouses for supplies. At the local “ReStore” I found the motherlode of cheap cabinets, and came home with the perfect three for my setup. They weren’t perfect to begin with, and got a little banged up on the way home, but they were solid, cleaned up nicely, and would definitely do the job.

I ended up painting all of the cabinets and chairs the same color as the grey walls, in order to achieve the look of built-in cabinets, and covered the chair seats with the most perfect print from the fabric store around the corner from us. On top of the cabinets, I attached a 10 ft slab of countertop that I got for a killer deal at a different construction warehouse in town.

When all was said and done, the work station turned out pretty much exactly how I wanted it to, complete with a couple accessory items and a collection of favorite art pieces.

4

Art from left to right: One of my favorite paintings from Anthony, a print from a local artist, and my own digital representation of Miss Olive.

As for the other parts of the studio makeover, they came together with the help of a few different shopping trips. Although simple, I think that, along with the paint refresh, the space ended up looking completely different when all was said and done.

2

I’ve already had a lot of fun enjoying this little backyard retreat and harnessing the creative vibes while I work at the desk, and we can’t wait to host our first visitors!

Return to Sayulita

Seven years ago, as we were planning our wedding, we asked a friend out here in Colorado where we should go for our honeymoon. Without skipping a beat, he immediately recommended Sayulita, Mexico, a small surfing/fishing town about 30 miles from Puerto Vallarta. We jumped on this recommendation, due to the relative affordability and accessibility, and had a wonderful time. Although we spent one day on that trip getting pummeled by “Hurricane Rick” (no joke), we loved the town, the resort where we stayed, and vowed to return.

Finally, we put the plans in place to finally revisit Sayulita and bring a few friends in tow this year, and returned just a couple weeks ago. Round two did not disappoint, and we are already talking about going back!

We arrived on a Wednesday afternoon, and like our previous trip, opted to take the local bus into Sayulita. It’s definitely a bit of an adventure, versus taking the hotel shuttle or a taxi, but is a great way to kick off a trip off the beaten path.

Once we arrived in Sayulita, we were transported to the resort, Playa Escondida. The resort, which translates to “Hidden Beach,” is truly a hidden gem. Although it is not quite as undiscovered as it was during our last visit (it has become a filming location for the TV show “The Bachelor” within the last couple years), and has grown a bit, it was still the welcoming and relaxing retreat we remembered. With hammocks on the balconies of the individual thatched-roof cabanas, sandy paths meandering through palm trees to get around the property, open-air showers and bedrooms overlooking the rippling ocean, the connection to the natural surroundings makes for a uniquely immersive experience. On top of that, the service is personal and the food and beverage are top-notch.

We're suckers for hammocks!

We’re suckers for hammocks!

Balcony overlooking the yoga terrace

Balcony overlooking the yoga terrace

View from the bed

View from the bed

IMG_5052

IMG_5047

Lounge chairs on our balcony

Lounge chairs on our balcony

After arriving and getting the grand tour and our “welcome drink” from the jovial bartender, Jorge, we settled into our room and began enjoying our private balcony and soaking up the whole “we’re on vacation!” vibe.

Our friend, Dawn, who had gotten to Sayulita and was staying at a hostel in town for the first couple of days, joined us the first evening for drinks and a poolside dinner, and then we drifted off to the sounds of the waves floating into our open windows.

Dawn and Antho: "We're on vacation!"

Dawn and Antho: “We’re on vacation!”

Heading to dinner

Heading to dinner

IMG_0705

Our view from the bar

Our view from the bar

The next day, after breakfast by the pool, we decided to head into town to meet up with Dawn again. On our previous visit, we had taken the walk into town several times, which turned out to be a comfortable stroll through the jungle into town. For reference, here is a map of the area, showing the preferred walking route.

Screen Shot 2016-05-08 at 7.35.11 PM

Knowing that this path existed, we thought we’d get a little creative, and attempt to instead follow the beach all the way into town. We knew it was a little longer, and that there were a few rocks we’d have to climb over, but with an open schedule and the laid-back vacation vibe on our side, we figured we’d give it a shot.

IMG_0713

Long story short, there were more than a few rocks to traverse, and some of the climbs got quite intense, especially as I was outfitted in a bikini and sandals (Anthony was smart and wore sneakers). At one point we turned a corner and saw this imposing cliff.

IMG_0716

I’m not sure if photos do it justice — it was about 50-60′ high and straight up — but let’s just say that even with our rock climbing experience, we managed to shimmy about halfway up before we realized that we had made a grave mistake. After getting safely back to the ground and assessing our options (I was hellbent against heading back after all that work), we ended up finding a steep path up and through the jungle that brought us out safely to the other side of the “Cliff of Doom” as I liked to refer to it, but only about halfway to our destination. After about 3 (!) hours, we finally made it to civilization and met Dawn on the beach in town.

IMG_0717
After some hard-earned beers and some lunch, I had recharged enough to dare a surf lesson, and I quickly found a teacher on the beach, while Anthony and Dawn explored town a bit before returning to watch me go.

IMG_0718

To my surprise, I did a lot better than my last couple attempts, and I actually managed to stand a good majority of the time!

IMG_0721

After I had become thoroughly exhausted by the surf, we headed over to Dawn’s hostel, where we relaxed for a bit in the hammocks and played some games until it was time to head to dinner.

IMG_0727

We got some delicious seafood at a local restaurant, and then returned to the hostel bar for some cheap drinks and mingling with visitors from all over the world, teaching them some of our favorite games. It was a fun night and reminded us very much of our Europe trip with the camaraderie of fellow travelers.

 

The next morning, we had a relaxing morning and then headed into town — opting for a taxi this time — to meet Dawn for some more beach-side drinks. Afterwards, we did a little shopping in town and then headed back to Playa Escondida for some R+R, relaxing on our balcony and beside the pool. That afternoon, our friends Glenn and Mandy arrived and the party really began!

IMG_0732

Sampling some of Jorge’s famous beer cocktail — El Toro.

We enjoyed *a few* drinks at the beach bar, and played on the beach a bit before dinner, which we enjoyed all together by the pool.

IMG_5069

Glenn and Antho toast beers from the infamous “Windpouch” (jury’s still out on that one…)


IMG_5078
IMG_5075

IMG_0735

After we finished a delicious meal, we hustled over to the infinity hot tub for one of my favorite moments of the trip. All together, we watched the sun go down over the Pacific Ocean, enjoying a seemingly-neverending sunset.

IMG_0753

It doesn’t get much better…

IMG_0741

The next day, we spent some downtime relaxing on the beach while our friends partook in the outdoor yoga class, and I collected a few seashells.

IMG_0758
IMG_0766

After we had all grouped up, we decided to take the advised trek into town, arriving to the main beach in about a half an hour. After some lunch, we met up with some friends who also happened to be traveling in from Denver, who we found lounging under a beach umbrella. After a little more meandering through the small town as we digested, Anthony and I tried our hand once again at surfing. Although it was not as successful as with my instructor the time before, we still had a great time playing around in the ocean.

Afterwards, we visited our friends’ rental house, a beautiful villa overlooking the town and beach.

IMG_0773

That night, we headed into town for a nice dinner, after which we had some fun at some of the local bars, dancing and enjoying local music. We were reminded of how small a town Sayulita is, as we ran into our surf instructor and some Playa Escondida employees, all who were incredibly friendly even “off the clock.” After we had had our fill of the nightlife, we sampled some local street food — chorizo tacos, which were delicious — and headed back to the resort.

IMG_0777

Our view of the main drag during dinner

 

IMG_0778

Listening to great live guitar music while having drinks on an ironing board in the street. When in Mexico!

 


IMG_0783

On our last full day, we took it easy, basking in the vacation feeling, and lounging around more by the beach and pools (are you noticing a theme?). After some games in the palapa, accompanied by the most amazing quesadillas and guacamole, I decided that I’d take up the resort’s instructor on a quick boogie boarding lesson. I wish we had gotten a pic of the one wave that I actually caught on the boogie board — much, much larger than anything I had surfed — and before the instructor had even made it out to the water yet. I had accidentally started going when I saw a wave coming, knowing I’d either have to ride it or crash into it. I chose to ride it, and it lifted me so high in the air I felt like I was flying — both an exhilarating and terrifying experience, and as I glided into shore, I promptly returned the board to the instructor and headed back to the safety of the bar.

After recovering from my ocean experience, we decided to rent a couple golf carts and make our way into town yet again. As you might note, this is the fourth different way we made the trek, but was by far the most fun. Who knew we could have so much fun going about 30 mph on cobblestone streets?? We rode into town, and after doing a bit more shopping, eating and drinking (and cat discovering!), we headed up past town and found ourselves in a ritzy neighborhood that seemed to have another private beach.

IMG_0795

Michelada’s to-go, please!

IMG_0791

Our friends’ traveling mascot, Chuckles the cat, found a little buddy snoozing on a bench!

IMG_3285

Turning heads while we cruise through town

IMG_0798

Here comes trouble!



IMG_0792

IMG_0800 IMG_0801 IMG_0802

That night, we book-ended the trip with yet another beautiful sunset, this time from the infinity pool instead of the hot tub. After watching the sky transform again, we headed back to the restaurant for another delicious meal, rounding out another fun — but much too short — vacation to Sayulita.

IMG_3294
IMG_3310
IMG_3304

Santa Fe neighborhood tour

The Santa Fe Arts District was one of the first neighborhoods we got to know in Denver, long before we even considered it as a place that we’d put down roots. We’d travel down from Boulder after work, for the “First Friday Art Walk,” during which the various art galleries along Santa Fe open their doors and the normally-quiet street comes alive with street performers, food trucks, live music and pop-up shops. Fast forward a few years, and when we made the move down to Denver, the neighborhood was an easy choice, with its close proximity to Downtown, relative affordability, and artistic vibe. We thought we’d stay in our rental for a couple years before moving to a different neighborhood when it came to buy, but instead fell in love with a house only a block away, and the rest is history.

When we first moved to this neighborhood, coming from quiet Boulder, we were aware of a certain grittiness, characteristic of many older neighborhoods close to a city center. It wasn’t exactly the “bad part of town”, but we knew it was far from a gated community as well. However, we fell in love with this ‘hood, and that love remains as the community grows and changes. While some of the housing is undergoing a revamp, and the real estate prices have skyrocketed in recent years (as they have all over Denver), I wouldn’t quite use that dirty word “gentrification” to characterize the change. After all, the culture that makes the neighborhood unique seems to only be getting stronger, and we have yet to be permeated with a bunch of hipster spots or chain restaurants. Local coffee shops and cheap Mexican restaurants still prevail, and the art continues to be the central binding presence throughout.

Anthony took these photos last fall of some of the various murals, old buildings, and galleries throughout the neighborhood, and we wanted to share them with you. If you ever get a chance to visit during the First Friday of any month, we’d love to give you a taste of the energy and artistic vibes that inspire us.

IMG_6769 IMG_6768 IMG_6767

IMG_6738

Santa Fe theater, which hosted the likes of the Red Hot Chili Peppers back in its heyday, now waiting for it's revival.

Santa Fe theater, which hosted the likes of the Red Hot Chili Peppers back in its heyday, now waiting for it’s revival.

IMG_6747

Olive likes this one.

Olive likes this one.

IMG_6744 IMG_6751 IMG_6752 IMG_6755 IMG_6762 IMG_6759 IMG_6757 IMG_6764 IMG_6765

This sidewalk is packed on First Fridays

This sidewalk is packed on First Fridays

 

 

Snippets of our summer

Sometimes it’s easy to forget how lucky we are to live here. We, like everyone I assume, sometimes succumb to the occasional dreaming of where we’ll be next. But with the beauty, adventure and company we have at our ready disposal, it’s hard to imagine anything much closer to paradise. Our summer this year was filled with the usual outdoor adventures like hiking, camping and backpacking, in addition to our gorgeous visit to Alaska. Throw in a little bit of biking with pals — both in town and out on the mountain trails, incredible concerts (especially at our favorite venue with those infamous red rocks), road trips, entertainment from our four-legged buddies, moonlit game nights in the backyard, brewery festivals, and general mountain-gawking, and we’ve got yet another unforgettable summer for the books. This year, I made a little montage for us to look back on, in hopes that I can make it an annual tradition. Hope you enjoy it!