Sunday, July 29, 2018

Dear Asher: 2 Years

Dear Asher,

Happy second birthday!! This is my favorite time--I wish we could bottle it up and keep it forever. You are such a fun little guy. You love nothing more than giving big hugs and kisses and being held. You're also funny and love to make people laugh. You're curious and enjoy making big messes and "testing gravity" by throwing food everywhere.

Your language has really exploded. This month you started using three-word sentences like, "go outside now." Outside is still your favorite place to be, and you love blowing bubbles (dumping the bubbles on the ground), playing with chalk, running in the grass, or swimming in the pool.

You're very polite, which I love. You say please and thank you for almost everything. And, although you make big messes, you also like to clean up. Your two most used words are "trash" and "napkin." You love throwing every little speck of trash away. Whether it actually is trash or not is up for debate, but we love the good intention.

Playing pretend is a new fun activity. You love pretending to be a puppy. You'll pant and bark and play fetch. It's hilarious. You also love pretending that your food is some sort of vehicle. Trucks, trains, cars, doesn't matter. You have sounds to go with all of them.

This month we went to visit your babushka and dedushka in Florida, and you had a few firsts. First time holding a baby alligator, and first time flying business class! Hard to say which experience was more fun.

You are at the age where everything you do is adorable. Yes, even your tantrums are pretty cute. Probably because I know worse is coming. For now though, I'll sit back and enjoy these toddler days. Ash, happiest of happy birthdays. We love you to the moon and back!

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Machu Picchu!

One of the main highlights of Peru is Machu Picchu. This was actually the reason that we decided to come to the country at all. I know that this is something you can do with kids (check out this awesome blog!), but it wasn't something we were up for. This was the perfect opportunity to see Machu Pichu while we're still relatively young and healthy--and kid free!

Let me tell you, Machu Picchu lives up to all of the hype! I was worried that it wouldn't be that amazing in person, but pictures really don't do this site justice. You can't capture the breadth and depth of the ruins. Scale is so hard to comprehend until you're standing in the middle of them, or viewing them from the top of a mountain--like we did!

View of Machu Picchu from the top of Huayna Picchu  

But let's start at the beginning where we waited in the pouring rain for more than an hour to get up to the top. We grabbed a poncho from the lady on the street, and thankfully it cleared up as soon as we drove up to the base of Machu Picchu.

View at Machu Picchu 

View a few minutes later

We hired a guide at the entrance gates. It's really simple to do and most of them speak English pretty well. We had tickets to climb Huayna Picchu starting at 10:00, so we had a few hours to explore. To be honest, it didn't hit me as immediately as it did Dan. He was wowed before the clouds even lifted. For me though, it was hearing about the city, how they excavated it from the jungle, and seeing the ritual rooms they built that made me grasp just how impressive the Incans were. I can't begin to describe what difficult terrain this is. But the Incans were able to build great cities and create arable land out of it--without many tools!

We left our guide to start our hike up Huayna Picchu around 10:45. We read online that climbing this mountain (the one you see in the background of that first picture) was a challenge. It is steep, with little-to-no safety railings, and can be slippery at times. I can, in fact, confirm those facts. It was strenuous! And, thankfully I'm not afraid of heights, but Dan is, and it got a little dicey at times.

Oh, also, did I mention at times you had to crawl through caves? That was extra special for my claustrophobic husband.

And then we had to do the same thing on the way down! But it really was a fun hike. It took us around 3.5 hours to do both ways. It was hard, but one of those things you feel really proud of yourself for doing afterward.

After the climb my legs felt like jello, but I knew we wanted to climb up to the Guard Tower to get the iconic view you see on all the post cards. It was hard, but so worth it! They had a bunch of llamas up top (strictly for tourism), including a baby llama. So cute!

It was a fantastic day that I won't soon forget. If you've got Machu Picchu on your bucket list--do it!

See our other stops in Peru:
Lima in Two Days
Getting to the Sacred Valley
Moray and Maras
Horseback Riding in the Sacred Valley
Cusco and Pisac

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Getting to the Sacred Valley

After a beautiful day in Lima, we were off to explore the Sacred Valley. The easiest way to get there is by flying from Lima to Cusco on a quick hour and fifteen minute flight. There are some very early flights (starting at 6am), but we chose to leave just before ten, which still got us in around 11:15.

We were told that getting to the Lima airport is crazy and you need to allocate several hours for the traffic and security lines. It's true that the traffic is pretty bad, but the airport itself wasn't terrible. In fact, we got there pretty early and had enough time to book our Peru Rail tickets from Cusco to Aguas Calientes. Here's a tip: book your rail tickets early. We assumed we would just buy them when we got to Cusco because we weren't sure what time we wanted. We got lucky and had the last seats for the train we wanted. Tickets are expensive--we spent $380 for two round-trip tickets from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes--but it's just what you have to do.

From Cusco, we hired a taxi to take us straight to Ollantaytambo. Cusco is at 11,000+ feet above sea level, whereas Ollantaytambo is only at 9,000. Going further into the valley was a great way to get our bodies acclimated to the elevation.

The taxi ride took a couple of hours and was absolutely stunning! I couldn't get over the gorgeous, lush, green mountains. Our driver was a Cusco local and we had a really great conversation about his culture, Peruvian politics and American politics--all in Spanish! That was a first! He was great at pointing out things as we were going by, and even stopped by some alpacas so we could take a picture.

He dropped us off right in the center of Ollantaytambo where we grabbed a quick lunch with a view before heading to our train.

We opted for Peru Rail over Inca Rail mostly based on some online reviews we read and train time availability. It was a great choice. The train was beautiful and comfortable (and they served tea and snacks!). Mostly though, I loved how in the 90+ minute ride we saw multiple climates from desert to rain forest. It was truly incredible.

The train dropped us off in Aguas Calientes, an adorable town in the Sacred Valley. We stayed here for the night before heading to Machu Pichu the next day. I can't believe our luck. We were exploring the town in the evening and kept seeing different marching bands and dancers dressed in costume parading down the streets. We followed one band and found ourselves at the town square in front of the church celebrating La Fiesta de las Cruces (Festival of the Cross):
It is a ceremony in which each community decorates the cross of its church and prepares it for its procession to churches in neighboring communities. This celebration held in gratitude to pre-Hispanic gods for bountiful harvests, also serves as a setting for folklore shows. (source)

This holiday was clearly not for the tourists. All the locals were out dancing, singing, and parading. I love getting glimpses into the local culture like this.

Next up: Machu Pichu!

See our other stops in Peru:
Lima in Two Days
Machu Picchu
Moray and Maras
Horseback Riding in the Sacred Valley
Cusco and Pisac

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Dear Zahara: 5 Years

Dear Zahara,

Happy fifth birthday! Next year you're off to kindergarten. It's hard to believe that the little baby we brought home from the hospital and carted all around Europe is already five. But then again, when I watch you, and listen to you, sometimes it's hard to believe you're only five.

Zahara, this has been a great year. You've matured right before our eyes. You're still you--meaning that your spirited personality and take-charge attitude lead they way--but you have also gained more empathy and patience. Don't get me wrong, we LOVE that you are strong-willed and don't take no for an answer. Sometimes we would just prefer that you focus that attention outward instead of just on us. Truly though, it's that determination that leaves me no doubt about whether you will succeed in life. You won't accept any other outcome than success.

You're not just strong opinions though, you're also really clever. You love learning--especially languages. You just finished your second year in Hebrew immersion school where you also took Spanish lessons, and your grandparents speak to you in Russian. Funny story: I got a call from the headmaster of your school asking if I wanted to put your Spanish lessons on our tab, or pay separately. I explained to her that we decided we weren't going to enroll in a second semester which is why we hadn't paid. She informed me that you took matters into your own hands two weeks prior and convinced both your regular teachers and the Spanish teacher that they were mistaken, and you were absolutely supposed to be attending the lessons. You were so convincing that the Headmaster just assumed I had forgotten to pay.

You're also doing well with the English language. You continue to devour as many books as we're willing to read you a day. I'm excited for this next year when I think you'll start reading on your own. You can already do a few sight words (go, no, stop, dog, cat, Zahara), but I think you'll pick it up in earnest this year. Then there will be no stopping you.

In addition to reading, you could spend all day doing arts and crafts. Mostly coloring with crayons or markers, but you're happy with glue, stickers, beads, or any other craft. It's your most requested gift item.

The biggest ways in which we've seen you mature are your empathy and patience. You're having fewer tantrums, each with a shorter duration--thank heavens! Don't get me wrong. You still throw down. But it's easier to get you to calm down. And you're less violent. Thanks! You're also a lot more patient with Asher and other friends who come to play. You are a great host and love showing people our house. You share really nicely, especially with younger kids. It makes me so proud to see that side of you.

Zahara, happy birthday! We love you oodles and oodles of noodles!