watching pigeons Plaza de Armas Arequipa

R & R in Arequipa

Thursday August 29, 2013

pigeons in Arequipa

Our next stop along the way our travels through Peru was Arequipa.  We actually never originally had any intent on going here, but it turns out it was cheaper to buy a bus ticket going from Nazca to this very southern town in Peru and then on to Cusco, than buying a direct ticket from Nazca to Cusco.  Can you guess which side won?  The bus ride to this town we had never planned on visiting, happened to be a little adventure in itself.  Taking our first overnight trip on one, to save on the cost of a room of course, we thought we had it made by being placed in the very front seats on the second level, directly in front of the large glass windows that make you feel like you’re on some kind of amusement park ride.  Then we realized that  A.)  It was dark, and therefore there was nothing to see out of those windows.  and  B.)  Shortly after we boarded, the stewards made us close the curtains in front of the window anyway for security reasons.  (I guess it’s not uncommon for buses to get robbed at night if it’s apparent they’re full of people)

We were about to sit back and try and get some shut-eye when the staff also decided that 10:30 at night was a perfect time to serve us our dinner.  One that we weren’t even expecting, so it was our second of the night.  Normally I can easily get on board with a little extra food, but it seems they don’t think it’s necessary for that front row of seats to come equipped with trays to put that food on, so we sat trying to balance our food and drinks (in open Dixie cups, mind you) as our bus bounced and swerved through the winding roads and into the mountains.  It felt like I was on another kind of amusement park ride where I’d win a prize just for getting the food in my mouth.

When the bus dropped us off in Arequipa at 7 the next morning, our eyes were drooping like we had barely gotten a wink of sleep.  Stuffing our bags into a taxi, which we found are much cheaper outside of Lima and you can usually negotiate a $1-2 ride out of them, we were brought to our hostel which thankfully let us check in right away due to low vacancy, and we crashed on our separate bunks until noon.  Unfortunately for us though, our extra shut-eye also meant that we missed out on the Free Walking Tour about town, which we had seen advertised in the office when we were checking in.  Looks like it was up to us to see what Arequipa had to offer.

Pulling out our trusty Peru guidebook once more (which was lent to us by Luis and has already become invaluable on this trip) we found directions to the town’s Plaza de Armas and made our way over there.  If I thought we were impressed by the one in Lima, we were really impressed by the one here in Arequipa.  Most of the buildings were made out of white volcanic stone, with two stories of arched balconies and walkways, and looming over all of it was Mt. Misti, a 19,000 ft active volcano.  For minutes we stood there in awe of our surroundings of the buildings surrounding us, and then took a moment to stand in awe of all the thousands of pigeons surrounding us at our feet.  The square was absolutely full of them and it was hard not to step on them as you walked.

men walking Plaza de Armas Arequipa

Basilica Cathedral of Arequipa

Strolling through the just as beautiful and picturesque side streets, we walked the Old Town from one side to the other.  While on the hunt for food we saw a woman selling goods just outside of a church, and guess what she had?  Yup, llama gloves!  After our freezing cold day in Lima, Matt couldn’t deny that he didn’t need them any longer and we each picked out a pair to carry for the rest of our travels.  Believe me, they will be needed back at the boat as well.  Throw in a llama hat as well for Matt (I was smart enough to bring one with me), and we were all set to handle any more cold Peruvian weather thrown at us.

After our awesome knit llama goods score, we stopped into an upscale bar with nice views of Misti.  We treated ourselves to a pitcher of sangria and found out from our server that if you spent X amount of dollars, or whatever our pitcher ended up being, that you received a free pisco sour.  It turned into a very happy hour indeed.

overlooking Misti

Deja Vu Arequipa Peru

sangria at Deja Vu

overlooking San Francisco Church

 A little worn out and not sure what else to look at, we made our way back to the Plaza de Armas after our drinks.  Mostly though, I had just wanted to feed the pigeons.  And once I’ve had two glasses of sangria and a pisco sour, there’s really no shutting me up until I get what I want.  So back to the square we went, where we paid $0.40 for a bag of bird seed and had the time of our lives for the next thirty minutes as we tossed the food around, and eventually just kept it in our hands to let the birds come to us.

Matt holding pigeons

Jessica holding pigeons

watching pigeons Plaza de Armas Arequipa

hiding from pigeons

Plaza de Armas Arequipa Peru

After that it was back to the hostel for a little relaxing.  It feels like we’ve been cramming so much in to the past few weeks that we haven’t had time to just sit.  We took a few new side streets as the sun was going down, so early here at 5:30!, and caught the last few minutes of an amazing sunset from the roof of our hostel.

Misti just before sunset

Misti at sunset

Arequipa sunset 1

Arequipa sunset 2

 Today we decided to keep it really simple and keep the theme of relaxing continuing on.  We took turns between sitting in the Plaza de Armas, sometimes scrolling through books on our e-readers, and sometimes watching the crowds of people pass by; and also trying to tour a few of the streets that we never made it to yesterday.  All in all, it was a pretty chill day of doing absolutely nothing.  And I was completely fine with that.  If there has been one place to just stop and take in the views, this is it.

Church of the Jesuits

traditional Peruvian attire

Arequipa beer

Mt. Misti in blue skies

Nazca Lines - tree & lizard

I Spy With my Little Eye, the Nazca Lines

Tuesday August 27, 2013

Nazca Lines

I think it’s safe to say that that Matt and I are pretty big history buffs.  Not in the pouring over books and articles kind of way, but the ‘I can’t keep my eyes off The History Channel’ back when we had cable kind of way.  We were always mesmerized by the shows, especially the ones relating back to events or structures that were many hundreds or even thousands of years ago.  The Nazca Lines had appeared on a few of those shows that had captivated us and we had always thought, “Man, that would be so cool to see!”, but was just as suddenly followed by the thought of ‘When the hell would we be in whatever desert in the middle of nowhere that those are in?’.  Well, it turned out that desert in the middle of nowhere happened to be in southwest Peru, and we also happened to be passing through it anyway on our way to Cusco and Machu Picchu.

If you’re not familiar with them, the Nazca Lines are a series of ancient biomorphs and geoglyphs in the Nazca desert, and were created by the Nazca culture sometime between 200 and 650 AD.  Throughout the desert are a total of over 900 images in shapes ranging from animals such as a monkey, a hummingbird, and a spider; to plant figures (the plants and animals make up the biomorphs); to geometric forms including triangles, spirals, and trapezoids (the geometric forms make up the geoglyphs).  These figures are so large and hard to make out from the ground that they weren’t widely known to our current culture until the 1930’s when they were flown over by aircrafts.  To give a reference to the size, there is a 1,000 ft  pelican, and the longest straight line among the forms stretches out nine miles across the desert.

Originally, we had intended to take a flight over the lines to get the best possible viewing of them, as well as to try and see as many as possible since overall they spread 37 miles across the desert.  Waking up in the morning though, the sky was quite overcast, and we’d read that a cloudy sky can make the lines very hard to see from a plane.  (Plus, overall reviews of the flights lately haven’t been that good)  Instead, we talked to the owner at our hostel who was able to set us up on a private tour.  For around the cost of $40, she hired us an English speaking guide that, in his own car, would take us to three overlooks and one museum.

First stopping off at a local restaurant for lunch, we tried a Peruvian meal which even though I can’t remember the name of it now, ended up being three pieces of fried chicken and a ton of rice.  To wash it down, we tried our very first pisco sours, which at the cost of $2.50, was actually the same as our meal.  I really think I could get down with the cheap cost of food here in Peru.  Anyway, moving on.  Our tour guide picked us up right in front of the hostel and was a very nice guy that spoke very nice English.  He told us he’s been doing these tours for 10 years now, and just to cater to the large diversity of people that visit, has learned five languages to be able to conduct his tours!  Almost makes me feel useless that I can’t master one on top of my own.

The first place we were taken were a set of hills just off the Pan American Highway.  Before we climbed to the top to view a few of the lines passing by us, our guide explained how they were originally made.  This area of desert is composed of reddish iron oxide covered pebbles, which when brushed aside, unearth white colored sand underneath.  It would seem questionable on how these lines would have survived this long without getting washed out or blown away in the wind, but there are two reasons we can still see them today.  One is, that in this particular area in the world, there is basically no wind, and no rainfall.  Less than a half an inch a year actually.  The other reason is that in the mid 1900’s, a restoration project was started where members of the team would walk through with brooms and brush new rocks off the existing lines, once again unearthing the white sand.

Nazca Lines running across Pan American Highway

Two parallel lines running across the desert.

Nazca Desert

Many odd lines running through the sand.

viewing Nazca desert

Nazca desert & Pan American Highway

close-up of Nazca Line

Close-up of a Nazca Line


Our next stop along the way was a tall viewing platform called the Mirador Tower.  This was a tall and rickety set of metal stairs that led to a platform about three stories high, from which you can clearly see three images of the Nazca Lines.  The frog, the tree, and the lizard.  Paying a small fee, we climbed the steps and were treated to much better views of shapes we could actually make out.  To our left was the frog, which doesn’t really look too much like a frog, and is probably why it’s also referred to as ‘the hands’.  To our right was the tree, which instead of showing a trunk with branches or leaves, focused more on the trunk and the roots flowing underground.  The lizard was slightly more off if the distance and we could only make out the tail, which was a very long triangle to us.  Even though we weren’t able to take the flight, I was happy with what we were able to see from the tower.  Plus, at the bottom there was a guy selling stones from the desert where he’s carved shapes of the lines in to them.  For just a couple of dollars we picked up a few keychains with shapes of the hummingbird and the monkey carved into them.  Because one day down the road we’ll own a home or a car again, right?

Nazca Lines - frog

 The frog, …. or hands.

Nazca Lines - treeThe tree, with the tail of the lizard above it.

Jessica & Matt - Nazca LinesPan American HighwayPan American Highway

Nazca Lines - tree & lizardThere was one more viewing tower our guide was taking us to, but this one did now show lines in the desert.  Instead, it showed four figures of people in a hillside.  Our guide explained that the one shown with the wide eyes was depicted at the chief of a tribe.  The wide eyes were supposed to signify that he had taken a hallucinogen and were having an out of body experience.  These figures had also just undergone a restoration in the past 20 years.

figures on hill - Nazca

Matt on viewing platform

The last stop our guide took us to that day was the Museum of Maria Reiche.  She was a German anthropologist that dedicated her life to the study and restoration of the Nazca Lines.  From the 1940’s until her death in 1998, she worked on mapping and studying the lines, even convincing the Peruvian Air Force to make aerial photographic surveys.  The museum shows these photos on display, along with the sparse living conditions Maria endured while living there.  Most of her time was spent cooped up in a dirt room floor that consisted of a bed, a stove, and a desk.  The other part of the museum was a display of artifacts that had been exhumed from nearby areas.  Most were very well preserved pieces of pottery, but the one that surprised us the most was a fully intact pre-Inca mummy.  It sat in the center of the room in a glass case, and as we stared at it in wonder, our guide made sure to point out things like the long thick hair which was still intact, and the tattoos running up the arm.

We never did get to wander through a burial ground/cemetery out in the desert, which we’ve heard from others is the next best thing to see here after the lines.  I guess there are just random bones and skulls lying around in the sand, and it’s easy to walk right across them if you don’t watch your step.  Oh well, next time I guess.  I still think we got a lot in and we’re happy with the day we spent here in Nazca.

Maria Reiche's VW

aerial views of Nazca Lines

Pre-Incan Mummy

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American Backpackers in Lima

Sunday August 25, 2013

Lima Presidential Palace

Looks like the security guards at the airport thought that six hours straight was enough to let us sleep on the floor in front of Radio Shack before nudging us awake at 5:30 this morning and telling us to move on.  Or at least, that’s the body language Matt picked up on since the guard was talking to him in Spanish and I was still passed out.  Honestly, I’m kind of surprised they let us stay there that long considering it was still a relatively busy area in the airport and people were constantly walking by.  Guess they’re still a little lenient with airport sleepers here in Peru, because I don’t think I could see security being ok with people sleeping right next to the food court back in the States.

Still having no idea how far away our hostel was located or the best/cheapest way to get there, we moved over to a table at Starbucks where I got a plain black coffee just to be able to access the internet and answer our questions.  The security guard was still giving us sideways  glances, probably expecting us to wait and see if he left so we could steal our sleeping spot back.  Tempting, but it now looked like we were up for the day.

Quick side note on our spending while we’re here in South America.  As not to completely break our bank and keep our monthly budget not a whole lot higher than the $1,500 – $2,000 a month we allow ourselves right now, we’ve tried to set in place some strict spending rules while we’re away.  We know there will be bus tickets and entry fees to get into places we want to see, but we’re going to try to live in the guidelines of $10/person or less for lodging each night, and $10/person or less for food each day.  Having researched many many hostels before we left, the lodging shouldn’t be much of a problem if we stick to dorm rooms.  The food?  Well, I don’t see any fancy restaurants in our future.  But this is also another reason why we began scouring the internet for cheap ways to get to our hostel downtown.  A taxi would obviously be the most expensive.  There were collectivos, similar to what took to Morales the other month, but we didn’t know if they came to the airport, and more importantly, did not know how to direct them to our hostel.  There’s also an underground metro system, but apparently you have to buy a card, and we just didn’t want to mess with that.  So, taxi it was.

We found a driver right outside the door, an English speaking one, and although we were able to talk him down about six dollars, I’m still guessing we got the much higher tourist rate for the ten minutes it took us to get downtown.  Walking up to the hostel’s door, it was locked with no sign of life inside, so we meandered through the park across the street, giving it a good hour before we went back to try again.  When the door was still locked on our second trip back, we started getting frustrated, until a person passing by on the street pointed to the buzzer we hadn’t noticed right next to the door.  Ahhh, yes.  We Americans are so very observant.

Italian Art Museum, Lima

 Italian Art Museum that was across from our hostel.


Getting checked into the hostel and finding out our room wouldn’t be available for another seven hours, we left our bags in a lounge area behind the desk (after having done a quick clothing change there as well) and hit the streets of Lima to see what we could explore.  My new messenger back was stocked full with our Peru guide, a Spanish to English Dictionary, my camera, and even a long sleeve shirt for me to throw on in case it got cold, but with the sun coming out and warming up the streets I had no reason to think I would need it.  Opening up the guidebook once we were outside, it said the Plaza de Armas was a spot well worth visiting.  Trying to follow the street maps given we were quickly lost and needed to ask directions.  As it turns out, the street cop that I tried my terrible Spanish on ended up speaking perfect English.  He directed us toward the Plaza and also told us not to miss out on the Basilica de San Francisco and the tour of the catacombs housed below.

home in Lima

The streets were full of homes with these enclosed balconies.  I want one!


When we did find ourselves dropped out into the Plaza de Armas, we were astounded.  It was huge, stunning, and not at all what we were expecting.  Besides the large courtyard with a fountain in the center, two sides of the square were surrounded by bright yellow buildings full of restaurants and shops, and the other two sides housed the Lima Cathedral, and the Presidential Palace.  Each were striking in their stature, and it didn’t even take us two seconds to run into the Cathedral to check it out.  The size itself was impressive as it stands with two large towers marking the entrance and vaulted ceilings with rows of pillars on the inside.  Lining both sides of the church and making their way up to the altar are gated off alcoves that contain sculptures and carvings that are so intricate that I could imagine someone spending their whole lifetime only completing one.

Lima Cathedral

carving in Lima Cathedral


Back outside we were making our way up the few blocks to the Basilica when we heard music in the streets.  Matt grabbed my arm and quickly dragged me along to where the sound was coming from.  Just outside of the Basilica, coincidentally, was some kind of parade going on.  We didn’t know what it was representing or whom it might be honoring, but it was a treat to enjoy it just the same.  We didn’t know how long it had been going before we came, but we were able to see about three different groups in costumes, dancing and parading through the streets.  One of the groups seemed more tribal, with fancy feathered headdresses and dancing in what looked to us, like Native American type moves.  Then there were woman and little girls in white shirts with very brightly colored ribbons that twirled around them as they spun in circles.  The last one, well, I wasn’t exactly sure what to make of it.  It was mostly men with one girl in the center, and they seemed to have a ten step coreographed move that ended with the guys opening their jackets wide, as if they were about to flash innocent onlookers.  Stranger part though, was the diablo-esque masks on their face and the bottles of beer in their hands.

native dancers in Lima

Ribbon dancers, Lima

Ribbon girls, Limabeer dancers, Lima 1beer dancers, Lima 2

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 When the parade ended we marched back up the street to the Basilica to see if we could get in on one of the tours.  For an English speaking guide we waited about 15 minutes, but then joined a group of about 20 people as we began to wander through the halls.  This church was built in the late 1600’s, and as we walked through it was pointed out that many of the tiles and paintings lining the walls  were original to the building.  For one part of the tour, we stopped in front of a painting of Jesus and the 12 disciples at the last supper, but according to this painting, the food du jour was guinea pig (a traditional Peruvian meal) served with a tall glass of pisco sour.  Maybe the margarita type drink would be ok for me to switch out with wine, but I don’t think guinea pig would be high on my list of things to eat as my last meal.

Our tour strolled through a few more rooms with just as many amazing amounts of art, architecture, and history, before we were finally led down to the catacombs below.  These were a part of Lima’s original cemeteries, which were built under churches.  Some of the guides estimate that there are over 75,000 bodies buried below Basilica de San Francisco alone, and we were about to go see them!  Only a small portion of the catacombs are open to visitors, but one of the rooms we were taken through showed how they were able to fit so many remains in there.  There was a long row made into a pit that sits next to the current walkway, and the 100 ft long area is sectioned off by stone into smaller pits that were maybe four feet wide by eight feet long.  Bodies would be placed in there, and as soon as that one filled up, they moved to the next pit, and so on.  Once it was time to start back at the beginning, those bodies would have decomposed down to bones and it made room for new ones on top.  At some point it was ‘organized’ where the bones were separated and put together in like categories.  Skulls over here, femurs over there….  Which is what we saw as we walked through.  Pit next to pit overflowing with human bones.  And since I’m a strange person that’s into gross medical stuff, I wasn’t creeped out or disgusted at all.  My mind instead wandered to things like ‘I wonder which pit of bones would be the best to hide in if an earthquake collapsed all the exits and I need to stash the granola bars in my purse before anyone finds out I have them and tries to take them.’   Cause my mind likes to wander like that.

inside San Francisco Church

 Inside the church.

Basilica de San Francisco

They didn’t allow any photos on the tour, so I could only get one of the outside.


When we walked back onto the streets once more, we found that the temperature had dropped dramatically.  My long sleeve shirt was soon on, along with a scarf, and I was almost wishing I had gloves on me as well.  I’m sure it was only in the mid to low 60’s, but apparently that’s how much my blood has thinned now.  I didn’t have too much time to think about it though, since we were cutting it very close on being able to catch the changing of the guard at the Presidential Palace, which happens at noon every day, although the friendly street cop told us to get there at quarter to.  The Presidential Palace is an impressive looking building that is the official residence and office of Peru’s President.  Here’s some interesting information I found about the palace on ‘Time – Travel’: “Back in the time of the Incas, the site had strategic and spiritual meaning, which is why the last Inca chief in Lima also lived here. Pizarro, the conqueror of the Incas, so liked the site that he kept it for the first Spanish palace, whose construction began in 1535. Since then, Government Palace has been rebuilt numerous times; the current French-inspired mansion was constructed in the 1930s.”.

It was nice we had the guy tell us to get there early because for a few minutes we were able to walk right up to the gates, as we were the only ones waiting outside it at the time, and snap a few close up photos of the building before the crowds came.  And boy did they.  Not even five minutes later, there were hundreds of people gathering in front of the palace to watch the show that was about to start.  Guards ushered everyone off the sidewalk and into the street (which was closed to cars in that area), but luckily we were still able to keep our spot in the front row.  It started with some high kicks from guards strutting around right in front of the palace facade, and then exiting just next to them was a full marching band.  For awhile I was so intent on watching the band that I didn’t even notice any guards that might be changing.  But then I was pulled away by Matt to watch something even more interesting.  There was a little old lady at the back of the crowd that was walking by and whacking people with her purse, for no apparent reason!  At first I thought she was just trying to cut to the front, but she’d wander in and out of the people, her only mission to clobber people with her bag.  Once the police tried to escort her away, she began whacking them as well!  You could tell there were two shows going on, with half of the crowd watching the changing of the guard, and half of the crowd watching her.

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changing of the guard, Lima Peru

 By now our stomachs were growling as we realized we had not eaten anything since our airport Pizza Hut dinner last night.  Drifting through the streets and keeping an eye out for food, we came across plenty of little street vendors that were in the business of selling knit items like winter hats and leggings…and, oh my god,… llama gloves!  I don’t even know how long ago this conversation started between Matt and I, probably when I couldn’t find any winter gloves at Meijer in the middle of August, but I told him that it was likely we’d want some for this trip since we would be visiting cold places, and if we couldn’t find them in the States we’d just have to buy him llama gloves once we got to Peru.  I had been totally joking, I didn’t even know they made them.  But here they were, little knit gloves with images of llamas on the front.  It must be fate.  Although Matt, who still didn’t find them necessary at the moment, said he could live without them.  Ho hum.

Also along the streets we found little vendors selling empanadas for only $0.40 and each settled on one of those until we could find something better to eat, which, between our little dance of ‘Where do you want to eat?’  ‘I don’t know, where do you want to eat?’, can sometimes be hours.  Rounding the next street corner though, we saw what looked to be some kind of food festival going on with rows of chefs in front of one long table, all preparing different dishes.  The prices looked to be in our budget and there was definitely local fare there, so we decided to give it a shot.  Can you guess what dish ended up with?  The guinea pig.  We promised ourselves we’d try it at least once while in Peru to say that we did it, and this seemed to be as good of a time as any.  Splitting the dish since we didn’t know how we’d like it, we also got a pitcher of chicha morada (a natural beverage made out of purple corn) and brought it to an open table in the back.  The meat in the guinea pig itself wasn’t bad, kind of like eating the dark meat from a chicken or turkey, although it was kind of hard to pull it off from the body, and the little paw of the guinea pig that was sticking out at me kind of grossed me out.

Which makes the next set of events even more surprising.  We ate the toe nails.  I know, I know, eeewww!  And they were, too.  But back when we were visiting Matt’s grandma, she told us of her own time spent in Peru and how the toe nails of guinea pigs were a treat for the little kids to eat, and they’d snack on them the same way we eat potato chips.  I think they ones they got were a little more deep fried than ours, and it was definitely and experience that I can say I did once but I will never try again.

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guinea pig lunch

 Since the town center of Lima seemed to be getting colder by the minute and we were not in any way dressed for it, we started making our way back toward the hostel where we could at least visit a few museums inside until our room was ready.  On the way back we passed through one more main plaza, Plaza San Martin.  There was one thing there that I quickly wanted to take a look at before moving on, and it was something I had actually read on another cruisers website (Bumfuzzle) when they also were doing land travels through this area.  Here’s a quote from their blog:  “Right across the street was another big plaza, this one with a statue in the middle that I found pretty amusing. The statue is of Madre Patria, the symbolic mother of Peru, and when it was commissioned the artist was told to give her a crown of flames. However the word for flame is llama, just like the animal. So here on the good lady’s head sits a tiny little llama with giant flames shooting out next to it. My favorite part is that they simply left the llama on there. That takes a good sense of humor.”.   Gotta love the important information that gets shared between cruisers.

Maria Patria statue

 Not a great shot (I didn’t have my zoom lens), but you can just make out a llama on top of her head.

Plaza de San Martin

Plaza de San Martin


Crossing through the giant outdoor mall between us and our hostel, we purchased tickets from a kiosk to get ourselves to Nazca tomorrow, and probably made the girl at the desk wish she’d never see us again after asking a million questions and coming back three times after checking things out on the internet.  I was ready to go back to the hostel and just sit for the rest of the day, but Matt wanted to go to the art museum since it was still fairly early in the day (about three o’clock).  I managed to gather just enough energy, since I’ve only slept about nine hours in the past two days, to force myself to trudge through MALI.  The fact that the $4 entrance fee was reduced to $0.40 on Sundays, didn’t hurt either.  There were many impressive works of art inside,  with a good portion of them featured by prominent Peruvian artist José Sabogal.  The top floor of the museum was closed off for renovations, so it didn’t take us more than an hour to get through, and by then I was more than ready for some rest.

sitting in MALI

Hollywood Beach walkway 1

Birthday Checklist: Swim in the Atlantic; Visit new Country, Continent, Hemisphere.

Saturday August 24, 2013

Hollywood Beach Florida

Yes.  I am one of those people that likes to make (somewhat of) a big deal out of my birthday.  Not only am I good at hijacking others’ birthdays, I’m pretty good at celebrating my own.  No sitting at home prattling off ‘Oh, it’s just another day of the year’ for me.  Like some people I know.  (Ahem, Matt!)  Although I usually don’t get turned down on things I want from my wonderful husband, it’s because I usually don’t ask for much either.  But on my birthday, I can.  The past few years has only resulted in Starbucks in the morning and a dinner out in the evening (see, I told you I don’t ask for much), but this year was looking like I wasn’t going to be able to do even that.  Because this year my birthday was starting with a 5 am flight out of Chicago, an 8 hour layover in Ft. Lauderdale, and then arriving to Lima Peru around 11 pm.  My best hopes were starting to look like a burger and a beer from an airport bar.  Then comes to the rescue, our good friend Ana Bianca.  Just a few days after we left the marina in Guatemala, she also left to go home for a few months.  Home being Miami Beach.  As in, just an hour’s drive from Ft. Lauderdale.  Since she couldn’t stand the thought of me being cooped up in three different airports all day on my birthday, she offered to drive up to take Matt and I out for the day.

Getting picked up from the airport by Ana Bianca and her boyfriend Alfredo, we whipped and whizzed through the city’s expressways as we made our way towards Hollywood Beach.  We were given a narrative along the drive that this was the happening place to be back in the 60’s, and much of the architecture hasn’t changed over the years.  Lining the sidewalks in town were many bars, restaurants, and cafes with Cuban and MiMo flare,  which are still frequently visited by people looking to get away strip malls filled with Starbucks’ and Outback Steakhouses.  We stopped the car for just a minute to visit one of those cafes where I could get my birthday frappuccino, and then continued on to the beach.

Strutting onto the sand we made a quick costume change into our suits at one of the beach front restaurants and left with some cold Coronas in our hands.  Spreading out the towels on the hot white sand, it felt nice to be back in a place with tropical blue waters glimmering in the distance.  Hell, if the waters are this nice in Southern Florida, maybe we can skip the $300 entrance fee to the Bahamas next year and stay in the good ol’ US of A for a bit instead.  Although I highly doubt the spearfishing would be as good, or even legal.  Sigh, so many compromises in life.  That’s a ways down the road though, and today was looking like a beautiful day at Hollywood Beach, so I was going to enjoy it to it’s fullest.  When the beers had been drained and our skin was fully sizzling, we made our way down to the water where we swam out until the sand dropped out beneath our feet and sat there treading water for the next forty-five minutes as we discussed everything from politics to cruising to new hackers that apparently can get into ships systems and steer them off course.  Good thing they’re probably not looking to move about little 34 ft yachts as they cross seas and oceans.

Having worked up an appetite we moved our party to a Cuban restaurant since I mentioned to Ana Bianca that all I really wanted for my birthday was a mojito and some ropa vieja.  Instead, we did something even better by turning it into a tapas meal where we let Alfredo, who’s Cuban, pick about four different items from the menu where we each put a little on our plates so we were able to try everything.  In the mix were: Mariquitas, which are crispy plantain chips; Yuca Frita, a cassava root that is boiled and then fried; Croquetas de Jamon, lightly breaded rolls with ham filling; and Masas de Cerdo, which was deep fried pork cubes served with sauteed onions, black beans, and rice.  Everything was absolutely amazing.  I don’t know why I haven’t gotten on the Cuban food bandwagon earlier.  Add a nice tall mojito to all that mouthwatering food and I was in heaven.  A perfect birthday with wonderful friends.  Thanks again for taking us out Alfredo and Ana Bianca, it was truly an incredible day!

Mamacita's Hollywood Beach

 Sitting on the beach in front of Mamacita’s Cuban Restaurant.

Ana Bianca and Alfredo

Ana Bianca and Alfredo took a quick dip before the beer drinking started, too.

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Like my new sandals?  Birthday gift from my mom.

view down Hollywood Beach

Not quite South Beach, but suits were noticeably skimpier here than we are used to seeing.

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Mamacita's Mojito


Hollywood Beach walkway 1

Hollywood Beach

Ana Bianca and Alfredo

Ana Bianca & Alfredo.  Aawwww!

Getting back to the airport, I hadn’t even changed out of my suit and my hair was a wet, salty mess.  Making our way through security I’m sure there were a few unapproving glances shot our way of ‘Did they really just come here from the beach?’.  Yes.  Yes we did.  What was even better was after we had gotten to our terminal and found a few people that had been on our morning flight from Chicago, sitting there waiting for the evening flight to Lima.  And you could tell they had been there All.Day.  I don’t even want to know the kinds of dirty looks we were probably getting from them behind our backs.  ‘We’ve been sitting in this terminal all day and they’re out frolicking at the beach?!’.  What can I say?  It was my birthday, I made things happen.  (Actually, Ana did.  Thanks again Ana!!)

Our flight to Lima was long and uncomfortable, and we were living with our cheap Spirit Airlines ticket consequences.  No leg room and the fear of falling asleep because if my head rolled even 20 degrees to the right I’d be getting to know my neighbor a little more than I wanted.  (Fun fact:  Matt will always make me take the center seat on an airplane or bus because he doesn’t like being in close proximity to strangers.  This applies even on my birthday.)  I was probably able to get a collective 30 minutes of sleep during our five hour flight and by the time we got to Lima I was surprised that I could even get coherent English words out of my mouth.  Which unfortunately was not going to help me in this part of the world.  Going through customs, the agent tried speaking to me in Spanish and I told him that I only knew a little, forcing him to switch to English.  He then not so politely informed me that if I was going to be visiting his country, it would be considerate of me to learn his language.  Thanks guy, that’s actually what I’ve been trying to do for the past four straight weeks, but Rosetta Stone hasn’t gotten me past colors or words for eating or running.  You know, the useful stuff.

It was now 10:30 at night and even though all we wanted to do was find a bed to crash in, we weren’t too keen on having to navigate a strange city so late at night.  I hadn’t even written down the address of the hostel we were planning on staying at.  Grabbing a very late dinner of Pizza Hut, we made the decision to spend the night in the airport.  No longer having access to the terminal where we might have been able to slide a few chairs together, since we had to exit that area to pick up our luggage, we relied on a post I had read in ‘Sleeping in Airports’, that Lima held only one spot off in a corner that was able to give resting travelers any kind of peace.  So, using our bags as pillows and shoving ear plugs in our ears to drown out the constant announcements over the speakers, we comfortably passed out in front of the bright lights of Radio Shack, ready to sleep off our long and exciting day.

sleeping in the airport


drive-in speakers

Let’s All Go to the (Drive-in) Movies

Friday August 23, 2013

drive-in speakers

It’s our last day in Michigan, and all I wanted to do was nothing.  Nothing but crawl under the covers and sprawl out in an actual and comfortable bed for the last time in who knows how long it will be again, and maybe snack on some Skittles or peanut butter brittle which we’re now trying to cram into our backpacks since we didn’t get a chance to eat them while we were here.  Know why they haven’t been eaten? (Cause, in my mind, any food like that which I haven’t come across in the last five months was going to be devoured within 24 hours of placing it in my hands)  I haven’t had a chance to touch them because I haven’t been home. At all.  Unless I’m sleeping or showering. Do you know what I’ve crammed into our last eight days here?  7 dinners out, 5 lunches out, 2 beauty shoots (yup, there was another Mary Kay one I never mentioned), 2 trips to Marshalls, 1 hair cut, 1 round of miniature golf, and 1 sculpture park visit.  So on my last day I just wanted to unwind and only worry that everything makes it’s way back in my bag.  Which is exactly the opposite of what I did.  Not having seen any of my side of the family except a quick lunch with my brother last week, I took another lunch in with my great-aunt and my grandma, and then spent the time I should have been home packing, out for one last drink with Matt and his dad.  Looking back though, I wouldn’t have planned my day any other way.  Exhaustion fades.  I don’t know how many years it will be until I see these people again, and the memories will far outweigh my need to catch up on sleep for one day in my life.

Then were…our evening plans.  Which even though I was still just a little more than tired, I had been looking forward to all week.  Since neither Matt or I had ever been to a drive-in movie theater in our lives, Matt’s mom and step-dad were going to take us to one in Muskegon.  There was only one small snafu.  Since the movie is outside, they don’t start until dusk and in Michigan in the summer, that can be after 9 pm.  Our flight leaves out of Chicago (a three hour drive from Grand Rapids) at 5 am tomorrow.  Add together the travel time and the fact that we need to be there 2-3 hours before our flight to check in, we didn’t see how we’d make it back home from the movie in time to get our things and leave for Chicago.  Simple solution: don’t go home.  So at 7:30 pm we had the car loaded with all our belongings after I tried to shove 25% more things in my backpack that I came with, a cooler full of snacks and drinks, and a few folding chairs.  Yes, this was going to be an experience.

As our Cadillac rolled up to the entrance, we joked and asked Crystal and Jack if they wanted us to duck in the backseat and cover ourselves with blankets to save on the cost of tickets.  They just laughed and said it was their treat, although I’m sure with our immanent departure looming, I think Crystal may have gotten the idea to stick us in the trunk instead, claiming it was for cheaper tickets, but then locking us in there until morning and ensuring that we’d miss our flight so that we’d be forced to stay a little longer.  Or possibly forever.

Trying to pick out a ‘perfect spot’, which I guess I have no idea where that is in a drive in theater, we proceeded to pull out the chairs and set them up next to a pole housing the speakers for sound.  I’m assuming that most people nowadays stay in their car for the movie viewing experience where there’s a radio station you can tune into and therefore don’t even need the speakers.  Since as we found out, about 80% of them were not working.  As soon as we’d set our chairs up next to a speaker pole, we’d fiddle with the dials and find that either one or neither was kicking out sound.  So we’d move and repeat the process until we decided good enough! after more and more cars began to pull in and we’d rather be stuck with an ok speaker than a non functioning one.

Settling ourselves into the seats, Matt and I listened to the faint sounds of Hootie and the Blowfish play on a continuous loop through the speakers as Crystal and Jack were moving around on the opposite side of the car in a very secretive manner.  I didn’t think much of it, since strange tendencies seem to come from this family from time to time.  A few minutes later, just as the sky was getting dark and announcements were coming out of the speakers, I was presented with..ta da!  A birthday chair!

birthday at the drive-in

 My birthday happened to be the next day, and I was even mentioning to Crystal at dinner that it was too bad I wouldn’t be home on my birthday and wouldn’t get all the decorations of balloons and crepe paper like she did last year for Matt.  Little did I know, she’d already planned for this and had balloons and crepe paper in the car, ready to decorate the hell out at least something for me.  Such a great mother-in-law!

There were also lemon squares in the cooler awaiting for me where at the stroke of midnight I could blow out candles on top of them.  For the moment though, as the sky is getting almost black and the previews are projecting on the screen, I think I’ll enjoy this big bright screen under the stars while I snack on some Mike and Ikes and sip a can of Coke.  And maybe rummage through my bag for a pair of socks, because it is cold out here at night!

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fixing drive-in speakers

Cadillac at drive-in

folding chairs at drive-in

sunset at drive-in theater

drive-in movie screen

Frederick Meijer Gardens Horse

Picturesque Frederick Meijer Gardens

Thursday August 22, 2013

Frederick Meijer Gardens Horse

With so few days back in Grand Rapids and so much to see, we used one of our afternoons to visit the Frederick Meijer Gardens with Matt’s mom and step-dad.  This is an area on the northeast side of Grand Rapids that’s composed of 132 acres of natural wetlands, woodlands, and display gardens.  It recently ranked in the top 100 most visited museums worldwide, and it’s right in our backyard!  Because of the 132 acres and because we’re still a little worn out from our non-stop running around here there’s no way we could see everything, but sit back and enjoy the parts we were able to catch.


Lena Meijer Tropical Conservatory

Frederick Meijer Gardens Atrium

FMG Tropical Conservatory 1

FMG Tropical Conservatory 2

FMG Tropical Conservatory 3

FMG Tropical Conservatory 4

 Lena Meijer Children’s Garden

Children's Garden 1

Children's Garden 2

Children's Garden 3

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Is it just me, or do these flowers look like they’re flipping me off?

Children's Garden 5

Children's Garden 6

Children's Garden 7

Children's Garden 8

Children's Garden 9

Children's Garden 10

Children's Garden 11

Children's Garden 12

The Waterfall

FMG Waterfall 1

FMG Waterfall 2

FMG Waterfall 3



The Sculpture Park

Sculpture Park 1

Sculpture Park 2

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Sculpture Park 11

Sculpture Park 4

Sculpture Park 5

Sculpture Park 7

Sculpture Park 8

Sculpture Park 9

The camera was not on auto-focus.

Sculpture Park 10

Later in the evening Matt and I met up with some old friends for dinner.  Now if I thought that Laura and I were going for a long time at 19 years, I don’t have anything on Matt and Kevin who have been friends since they were four.  Joining us as well was Kevin’s wife Cindy, and then Korey, who joined Matt and Kevin’s circle of friends in high school, and Korey’s new wife Lindsay.  Have I also ever mentioned that the house Matt and I built in 2004 was kiddy corner to a house that Kevin built?  Yup, they actually lived even closer to each other as adults than they did as kids, and the secret tunnel plan between their two houses, that they had been dreaming up ever since they were kids, could have been a reality.  I can’t even tell you how many days of our adult youth were spent having BBQ’s on Kevin’s back deck, or enjoying a bonfire or hot tubbing at our place.  There have been many great times between this group.

We all met up for dinner at a little restaurant that we used to frequent all the time and was actually in walking distance from our old house.  We were also surprised and excited to see Korey’s dad, Les, there as well, as he used to come to Matt’s office and sit for hours as they talked, and has been an avid follower of the blog since we’ve been away.  (Hi Les and Mary!!)  Dinner was a great chance to see what everyone has been up to in the past year, and we were surprised and excited once more that night when we found out that Korey and Lindsay are going to be expecting a baby next year.  The first ones out of our group, and we’re so happy for them!  With so many new things to catch up on, there was no way we were able to get through all of it at dinner, and had to move the party to Kevin’s where we set some chairs up in the driveway and chatted under the starts until after 2 am.

I didn’t catch any good photos with my camera that night (they all came out blurry or had people blinking), so enjoy a few photos of our group from Kevin & Cindy’s wedding back in 2010.

Matt and KevinMatt & Kevin

Jessica and Cindy Jessica & Cindy



And just because you’ve been so good, a photo of our group (including my friend Laura) from when we had a dinner party at our house back in 2009.  Yes, I made those scarves for everyone, I’m such a dork.


rubbing is racing

Rubbing is Racing

Wednesday August 21, 2013

rubbing is racing

Yes, I know I’ve basically been starting ever post for the past few days this way, but I was so excited to get back to Grand Rapids because that meant that I’d be able to attend a Wednesday JAM (jib and main) race at the Muskegon Yacht Club.  For those of you that have been following along for awhile, you might remember that early last summer I joined a racing league (is that what they call it?) to get myself even more comfortable on boats and gain some knowledge along the way.  One Wednesday night last May I showed up with nothing more than a request to join, and was randomly placed on a boat.  Which happened to be, the best boat ever.  Just because they were short on crew that night and didn’t mind taking on extra (and unexperienced) hands, I was allowed to join Team Island Dream, captained by Tom Spoelman.  We came in third that night.

I kept coming back every Wednesday, and even though we may not have always been the fasted boat out there, in fact there was one time we got the DFL (dead f#@king last) award, but I think we definitely had the most fun out of everyone there.  Some people in the crew were rotating, only there a couple times out of the summer, and others showed up every week, for the fun, the adventure, or maybe just the Lime-a-Ritas afterward (this is where I got hooked!).  We had a great crew last year and it was highlight of my week, rushing out there after working and enjoying time on the water where, for once, I was not the one behind the wheel.  Being rail meat was just fine by me and gave me a chance to watch knowledgeable people in action, picking up on their movements and asking questions without a look of ‘We’ve been sailing for three years, how do you not know this yet?’.

Not having to rush my way out to Muskegon this time since there was no time clock dictating my departure, I strolled into the marina with plenty of time on my hands before our six o’clock push off from the docks.  I saw Tom and his wife Denise getting Island Dream prepped, and ran down to greet them, noticing that Tom was donned in his boat swag, just as I was.  There were big hugs around, and as we sat there chatting for a minute, I was also able to meet one of Muskegon Yacht Club’s past commodore, Dave Ellens, who Tom turned on to the blog and has been following mine and Matt’s misadventures.


Catching up with Denise and Tom.


Meeting past MYC Commodore, Dave Ellens.

(Above photos courtesy of Team Island Dream)


The rest of the crew wasn’t far behind, and all but one were regular faces.  I had Shannon to sit rail meat with me, Michael to work the spinnaker, Mark and Pete on the main, and John as our tactician.  Before I knew it, we were swinging off the dock, with only one crew member left behind holding dock lines that we needed to swing back and pick up again.  Once on the lake the sails were hoisted, and the light breeze that was blowing through at the dock was now strong and powerful out on the water.  We weren’t in the first division to start that night, but I did have fun watching all of the ones that were, cross paths with each other while they tried to keep a spot close to the starting line, cutting in back and forth and sometimes missing each other by just a few feet.  I don’t know why, call me psychotic, but watching the close calls have always been my favorite part of the race.  I know that no one is going to crash (hopefully), but I always get a kick out of how far these well trained but sometimes cocky captains will go to keep their spot.  (Yes, I would probably be one of them)

Bad Dog Muskegon Yacht Club

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 When it was our turn to start we didn’t even hear the horn go off, and it was a little bit of a mad scramble trying to get ourselves where we wanted to be.  We must have been doing something right though, or at least the downwind part of the course is much shorter than I remember, because as we came up to the first buoy we joined in the funnel of boats trying to round it at the same time.  If I thought I was seeing some close calls before, that was nothing.  There were boats literally bumping off each other, and I think I may have seen a boat hook broken out to push away.  Our rounding wasn’t quite that close, but we were still surrounded by boats on each side.

I can’t remember many more specifics about the remainder of the race, I think I was high on the feeling of being back out there, enjoying sailing in a way that you just don’t get while cruising.  I know that each time we’d tack, I’d slide under the boom to take my place on the new high side.  No small feat while you have an expensive camera in your hand that you’re trying not to damage, mind you.  I also know there were plenty of chances I was able to hike myself out on the side, dangling my legs over the edge as splashes of water would occasionally toss up beside me.  I remember that the trickling sun set the head sail ablaze in bright golds and oranges.  I remember grasping that it already hurt inside to know I wouldn’t be out there again.

You know, all the important aspects of racing that one usually tends to go through.  Luckily, since I can’t remember enough to put a thousand words down recounting our whole sail on the water, I can at least photo bomb you with the many photos I took throughout the race.

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We may not have finished in the top three that night, but we also didn’t come in DFL either.  In no rush to get back to the dock right away we celebrated our finish with cold beers, and yes, a Lime-a-Rita, before docking the boat and bringing the party into the Yacht Club.


 (Above photo courtesy of Team Island Dream)

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It’s funny to look back at what the past year has done for me, and put certain things into perspective.  I remember all those times we sat at dock after a race last year where I’d count down the weeks until leaving Muskegon for the last time, excited to get out of a small lake and into vast oceans.  Who knew that after wishing for so long to get away, I’d be counting down the weeks until I could return again.


Photo Caption Day: Miniature Golf with the Fam

Tuesday August 20, 2013


What can I say about the weather here in Grand Rapids since we’ve been back except that it’s been absolutely perfect?  Even though we had a discussion with Matt’s mom on the way back from the airport last week that due to the Lake Effect from sitting on the ‘wrong’ side of Lake Michigan, Grand Rapids has approximately 230 overcast days a year (the same as Seattle, just without the rain!), it has been nothing short of perfect so far since we’ve been back.  See, if it was like this every day, we never would have had to leave!

Not wanting to waste yet another beautiful day by sitting indoors, we decided to hit the miniature professional golf course with the family.  It was me, Matt, his mom, and his little brother Travis.

Driving just ten minutes from the house, we pulled up to a very nice course that sits just outside of the 5/3rd Ball Park.  A place that everyone on this side of town has been to at least once, and where a lot of high school kids (myself and countless friends included) would go to on dates back in our high school days.  Awww.  Just don’t tell Matt that I brought two different guys here before him. If you want to showcase your skills while playing on these courses, it would be wise to enhance your skills first with the use of sports equipment that come with different prices.

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We’re at the first hole.  Ready, set, go!

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Travis is up to bat golf, and he looks like he has a strong swing behind him.

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Make room please, champions passing through.

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Travis’ face after a hole in one.  I’m just as surprised as he is.

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I was told I had to bounce it off the wall if I wanted to do the same.

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And was quickly laughed at when it went in the water….

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Finally at the bottom after playing a game of Plinko to get there.

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I’m glad the sign is advertising that they’re ‘Now Open’, since we’re now nearing the end of the season.

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We found berries growing on vines, so we ate them.  Brian and Stephanie would be so proud!

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Warning to Travis, these are not stepping stones.  You will fall in.

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 Who could resist ending the day with a few rounds of skee-ball?

Later in the evening I had yet more plans.  I know.  I haven’t even had time to zone out in front of the tv at all since we’ve been home, what gives?  It was just a girls night with Jackie though, and we spent plenty of time relaxing and and enjoying some time alone together.  She cooked me a delicious meal that she promises isn’t that difficult to make and I might actually be able to repeat it on the boat with just a few ingredients.  We then went out for ice cream and since her and Ron live out in the country, we stopped into a cute little shop on Main Street that had families out enjoying the lazy afternoon and kids in their t-ball jerseys, fresh from out on the field.  It was a perfect little slice of Americana with the hardware store on one side of the street, a city park just across from it, and barns watching over rows of cornfields off in the distance.  Enjoying a movie and some sparkling wine back at the house, I’d call it another perfect day in Michigan.

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 Ron was supposed to take me for a ride on his bike, but ended up ditching me for work.  I was tempted to take it out on my own, but that plan failed when I couldn’t  even stand it up by myself..

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To Grandmother’s House we Go

Monday August 19, 2013

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I know for the past few days I’ve been saying “I couldn’t wait to get back to see this person or that person”, but truthfully, the tipping point for us to buy tickets back to Michigan when we found we’d have a layover in Ft. Lauderdale was to see family.  And more importantly in that line of family, Matt’s grandma.  She’s turning 90 in October, a complete sweetheart and a total crack-up with stories from her childhood (don’t even get me started on tales about shoe glue) and from her youthful adventure days where she’s traveled all over the world.  Truth be told though, she hasn’t been in great health lately.  No cruiser wants to get that phone call or email while they’re out traveling that a close family member (or anyone really) has passed away, scrambling to get home with only a few days notice, all the while, wishing they would have spent more time with that person.  We’re still  hoping that we’ll be celebrating her 95th birthday with her when we’re back home from good, but just in case something happens while we’re gone, we wanted to make it home to see her at least one more time.  Besides, doesn’t it feel better being able to celebrate someone’s life while they’re still with you?

Going on zero sleep once again, we gathered at Matt’s grandma’s house for Sunday night dinner.  The whole crowd that usually gathered there for Christmas Eve dinner was there again, and just like Christmas Eve, all the chairs were set up in the living room with everyone to their assigned seat.  We were given a little more freedom for moving around this time and were even to able to sneak a few beers into the house.  Looks like Matt’s mom wasn’t the only one who picked up on the hint that I like Lime-a-Ritas.  Thanks Aunt Laurie!  We talked with everyone about how the trip had been going so far, although it sounded like almost everyone there was up to date on the blog and didn’t have many questions about where we had already been.  They were more excited to know where we were going next.  Where we’d end up with the boat, and what spots we were going to hit on our backpacking adventure.  It was a great evening catching up and spending quality time with family.  The fact that Matt’s cousin was able to stop by for a few minutes with her adorable little son, Chris, was just a cherry on top of a great evening.

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Matt cracking up at Grandma’s stories.

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Crazy and unexplainable things are always happening with this group.


Spending some QT with Christopher.  (photo courtesy of Kristen, or, mommy)


Today has been a nice relaxing day at home with a few hours out to lunch with a good friend and old colleague, Amber.  We used to have desks next to each other ages ago where we would spend our days punching numbers into spreadsheets and sending private messages back and forth.  Even though we both eventually left that job, we’ve always kept in touch here and there and she was one of the first people to ask me to pencil in a date with her while I was back in town visiting.  What were just going to be plans for coffee turned in to lunch, and soon we were downtown, because, why wouldn’t I want to take as many opportunities to get down there as possible?  Over some food and a beer at HopCat we did a little more catching up.  It’s been surprising the variety of questions Matt and I have been getting from family and friends on our visit home.  When we left there were basically five standard questions.  Now we don’t even get bored telling our story because everyone is asking something different.  It’s kind of refreshing.

When we got back to my place after lunch though, the real fun began.  Amber is working to become a make-up artist for events like weddings and senior photos.  Specializing in airbrush make-up, I had seen on her Facebook page where she’d done some runs with family and friends.  I had asked before our date if I could be a test model, and she was more than happy at the chance to practice on me.  Sitting at the kitchen counter trying not to move a muscle, I let the airbrush wand spray over all parts of my face as she worked on base coverage, highlights, and contours.  A little bit of lipstick, eye shadow, and fake eyelashes later, I was all set for my photo shoot.  We took advantage of the good light and cheerful flowers in the garden out back.  Posing against trees, on stools, and even in a bed of stones, I made love to the camera dreamily looked into the camera as Amber snapped away exclaiming, “These are great!”.  It was an entertaining afternoon, and yet another chance to be all girly before I go back to ponytails and no makeup in a few days.

Fotoface 2

Fotoface 1

(Photos courtesy of Amber Hoagland, Fotoface Makeup)



JW Mariott Grand Rapids

Fancy Cocktail Hour: JW Marriott Grand Rapids

Saturday August 17, 2013

JW Mariott Grand Rapids

One of the first things I did when I knew that we’d be going back to Michigan for a few days was block off our only Saturday night there to spend with our friends: Ken, Mindy, Tyler, and Becky. These two couples were who we’d always spend the one Saturday night that we’d allow ourselves out each month when we were still back home and saving every penny. Somehow, without fail, each time we all got together we’d start the night with dinner out at 6:00 and end up at someone’s house after, then look at the clock dumbfounded that it’s 4 am and no one has realized it. I swear those hours after midnight seem to disappear into the Twilight Zone. They’re always gone in the blink of an eye. I didn’t know what our next night out with them would hold, but as soon as I knew we were coming, I told each of them to book a babysitter for night and to make sure they didn’t have any responsibilities to tend to until the next afternoon.

When Mindy asked me what I wanted to do for the night, I said that we should keep it simple, probably just grill some steaks at their house and have a bonfire so we could keep the night relatively cheap. But then I got to thinking about something all of us girls had talked about way before Matt and I ever left last year, but never ended up doing. Which was to get dressed up and go to a trendy bar downtown for a few drinks. Basically, just like the fancy cocktail hour we had in Jamaica, but in a big city. Many reasons came in to play of why I wanted so badly do this on our visit home. One was that I wanted to get downtown and enjoy the city for a night since who knows when I see it again, another was that, well, I like getting fancy, but most importantly, I have a dress that’s been sitting in my closet for three years now and I needed an excuse to break it out. It was originally purchased to wear to my 10 year high school reunion, but somewhere along the line the ball was dropped on that occasion and we never had one. Way to go Northview class of 2000….. (kidding!)

So the plan of action was to go downtown to have a drink (‘Only one!’, Matt lectured, since we’re still trying to keep our spending down) and then make our way to Ken and Mindy’s where we’d follow the rest of the original plan of grilling steaks and hanging around a bonfire. Becky and Tyler weren’t going to be able to make the ‘fancy cocktail’ part and were going to meet up with us at the house later, so Ken and Mindy came to pick us up from Matt’s mom’s, after I’d just rushed home from Muskegon, blowing through the door and yelling ‘I need the shower, I need the shower!’, to be able to get myself ready to be picked up an hour and a half later. With only one working in the house at the moment, sometimes it needs to be fought for and I was going to be damned if I was the one standing on the other side of that door while another person used up my precious time inside. Quickly bolting myself into tiled safety, I ran through the 20 minute ritual of washing, shaving, and scrubbing, …all the necessary prepping to make one fancy. Even though I still felt a little rushed at times since then drying and styling my hair after it’s been washed can be another 45 minute episode, I think the results turned out ok. And just like in the days when Matt and I were back in high school and ready to go to a formal dance (two of which we actually attended together), there was still a few minutes for the obligatory photos from parents.

Matt & Jessica before fancy cocktail hour

Did I mention that only the girls were getting fancy?

The bar we were off to, to enjoy our one cocktail, was not really a bar in it’s own standing, but rather a bar attached to an upscale hotel, the JW Marriott, which may have benefit a lot from a hotel renovation. The reason we (I) had chosen this is because the bar that’s part of the hotel, Mixology, sits in a part of Grand Rapids that overlooks the Grand River, has a trendy little sitting area inside, and cabanas just about hanging over the river on their balcony outside. And since this was my one chance to get out on the town during our trip back, it was either go big or go home. Since my photos won’t do quite the justice it deserves, let me take a moment to show you a few photos, of which are not mine, to give you a feel for this place and why I wanted to spend my evening there.

JW 2

JW 4

Nice, right?

Even though it was now around six in the evening, the sun was still bright and blazing in our faces as we walked from the parking ramp to the hotel. Did that stop me from asking to sit in the nice air conditioned lounge with views of the river instead of getting a table out in the scorching heat where I could get an even better view of the city? Absolutely not. The rest of the group trudged behind me as I excitedly called out to the hostess, “I wanna sit outside!” and we were led to a table (not a cabana, where I’m guessing you have to be ready to spend big $$ to sit there) that did not harbor any kind of protection from the sun. I enthusiastically slid into my chair as everyone else slumped into theirs, pulling out sunglasses and using their hands to shield the sun from their faces, as if they were about to melt into a puddle under the table. I tried to tell them it was a beautiful day out. Besides, why would they want to miss out on views like these?

Grand River from JW Marriott

For the next hour we all sat around the table enjoying ourselves and our drinks (that’s right, Matt ordered two!) and I tried to tell everyone that the heat wasn’t so bad, that we had it much worse in Guatemala, while truthfully, there was enough perspiration on my legs to keep me sliding around in my seat. Before I could turn into too much of that constantly sweating person I am while back on the boat, I decided that a nice breeze up the skirt would do me some good and did a little wandering around the patio area. Taking a few photos here and there, I made sure to capture the River House condos where Matt and I would be living had we spent our money on a new home instead of a life at sea. Which, he had full view of the whole time we were enjoying our drinks, and made sure to bring up many many times how we could be sitting on the 16th floor overlooking the river and the beautiful lights of Grand Rapids each and every night, had we decided to stay home. I have to admit, it was looking pretty tempting at the moment.

beers at Mixology

River House condos across the bridge

 River House condos in the background.  We would have had a view looking right.

Matt at JW Marriott

While I was up and about, I talked our server into taking a few moments away from running from table to table to get a couple of photos of our group. She was very willing to help us out with the photos. The guys…not quite as willing to be in them.

Mindy & Jessica at JW Marriott

Ken, Mindy, Jessica & Matt at JW Marriott

Back at Ken and Mindy’s place, we unwound on their shaded deck while waiting for Becky and Tyler to show up. It didn’t take long for the sun to go down, and all of a sudden, that heat that we’d been trying to take shelter from all evening was completely gone. I forgot that up in the 42nd degree of latitude, the nights don’t stay warm after the sun disappears. It didn’t take too long before my fancy attire was crumpled in a heap on the floor where I had traded it in for much more comfy jeans and a cardigan.

sunset over a field

enjoying wine at sunset

As soon as Becky and Tyler showed up the steaks went on the grill and we sat down to more food than I could ever eat in a lifetime. Salad, 10 ounces of meat, and a loaded baked potato. I’d been dreaming about this meal for weeks which meant I felt guilty about not eating every single bite. I basically had to be rolled away from the table, swearing I’d never eat again, the same way someone with an epic hangover swears they’re never going to drink again. It’s an empty threat, but one that always gets repeated after any episode of overindulgence.

setting the table

Then it was time for something else I had been looking forward to since there’s not many chances for them when you’re surrounded by water. The ever popular bonfire. You can’t say that you’ve fully experienced a summer season without attending at least one. While Ken and Mindy went outside to set up the fire pit, Matt and I stayed behind with Becky and Tyler to mix the cocktails. Becky was stirring up some kind of concoction in a large thermos that included Southern Comfort, orange juice like the ones at, and 7 up. Since the two of us are not normally fans of whiskey of any kind, she promised that by the time she was finished, we would not even taste the alcohol. That it would be just like drinking fruit punch. Which, after having another set of friends used to make what we liked to call the ‘pink drink’, including: pink lemonade concentrate, vodka, and a can of beer; we found out can be very dangerous when you don’t realize how much alcohol you’ve consumed, and in Matt’s case, think it would fun to jump in your hot tub fully clothed with your wallet and cell phone in your pocket.

Becky mixing drinks

I think the Twilight Zone of missing hours happened while we were out at the bonfire, because I’m pretty sure the fire started blazing around 10 pm, and before I knew it, the clock was reading midnight and all the sturdy logs we had stacked up were now reduced to nothing more than glowing embers. The night was over yet though. As we straggled back inside I remembered that Becky had brought me a box full of ‘old’ clothes that she wanted me to look at to see if there was anything I could use. Â Not that there is any room on the boat for me to bring as much as a souvenir back from Machu Picchu, new clothes did not fit into any extras that we can bring back with us. But drop a box of free clothes in front of a girl, and she will shop through them. The next two hours basically turned into a fashion show where I’d riffle through the items, found something that I liked, ran to the bathroom to change into it, and come back out to show everyone. Some of the items weren’t even used, price tags still hanging off the side, like a pair of American Eagle jean shorts that fit me so perfectly it was like I had sought them out among 50 other pairs. Luckily, since Matt was a few drinks in at this point, I was able to smuggle about three news pairs of shorts and five new tops into my bag without any argument from him.

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 The shoes, unfortunately, were borrowed and not on the table for my taking.

When the fashion show ended we were all running out of steam and ready to call it a night. Matt and I were sleeping over, so there was never a worry of drinking and driving, and as we climbed up the stairs to settle ourselves into their three year old’s bedroom, we were surprised to see it was only after three. Looks like we can’t even keep the party going until after four anymore. We’re starting to get purposeless in our old age.