Another flashback to about a month ago, where we pick up the tale of our travels. We had arrived in Cali, Colombia where a new credit card was awaiting us. We picked it up, spent one night in Cali, the hopped on the plane to Lima, Peru…
On arrival, we checked into our awesome Airbnb apartment. While we typically skip a lot of the really touristy things in the cities we visit, we decided that a open-top bus tour of Lima would be fun and a good way to begin to get a sense of the city and how it is laid out. So, we took an Uber to Larcomar, a beautiful, upscale shopping center built into a cliff on the edge of the Miraflores neighborhood. In addition to being a beautiful spot with great shopping and dining, this is where you can catch the tour bus. Here’s a video that sets the general scene. The round glass towers on the right side at the end of the video are part of Larcomar. You can’t see most of it as it is built into the cliffs below.
Did you know that Lima had beaches and surfing? I didn’t!
Anyway, the bus tour was pretty good. At least it gave us a peek at the old, downtown neighborhoods of Lima, and a very good taste of the crazy Lima traffic. We stopped and had short walking tours of a couple historic plazas, popular neighborhoods, and some creepy catacombs.
Bus tour of Lima
Giant ant sculpture in Barranco park
Going through downtown Lima
Tour group in the plaza
Grand colonial architecture
Policeman boots us from the plaza in anticipation of protests.
Cartwheel above the catacombs
Mila snuck a photo in the catacombs. Naughty! They estimate that there are 30,000 people buried in the catacombs. Talk about creepy…
The bus sat in traffic for about an hour and made it back to Larcomar about the time the sun was going down.
View from Larcomar
Like Bogota and Medellin, the climate in Lima is near perfect. You don’t need air conditioning or heat. The sun is warm and intense, but it is cool in the shade. The average daily highs and lows vary only about 10 degrees and rarely get below 60 or above 80 any time of year. Amazing.
Oddly, it is a desert, in the mountains, on the ocean. This makes for a very distinctive climate. In addition to the perfect temperatures, it is very dry in terms of precipitation, but fog is common. In fact the city has been blanketed with fog almost every morning we’ve been here.
The negative is the air quality. The air pollution is horrible. This is a city of 10 million people and what seems like 100 million cars, trucks and busses belching smoke. Yuck. Fog and smog, smog, smog.
Culture in LIma, and Peru in general, was very different than Colombia. People were friendly, but less so than in Colombia. People were not nearly as polite. In Colombia when you said, “Gracias” people would always respond, “Con gusto!” with a smile. That didn’t happen much at all in Peru. Little things like how place settings were laid out in restaurants, even simple restaurants, made Colombia feel more refined.
Simple things like walking down the sidewalk or trying to cross the street in Peru were hilariously maddening. Clearly the Peruvian sense of personal space, courtesy, and right-of-way are very different than our own.
Walking on a sidewalk or in a shopping mall, you can fully expect that other people will walk right into you or shove their way between you if you are walking with someone. As you are walking, people will step out of doorways right into you. Groups will spread out across the whole sidewalk and force you into the street. Sidewalks and staircases were constantly blocked by groups of people chatting, looking at their phones, or simply taking up space. People would congregate at the top and bottom of escalators. On a couple of occasions, adults physically shoved Jette aside or cut in front of her in lines at shops and in Cusco a man pushed her off the sidewalk and into the street. He’s very, very lucky that I didn’t see this and only learned about it from Jette after the fact.
On an airplane, we had a woman shove her way between Jette and me as we were exiting the plane. She shoved me multiple times, and tried to push past me. Impossible in the narrow, crowded aisle. When she couldn’t push past me, she began to push up against me continuously, as if she was trying to push me and everyone in front of me off the plane! I turned around and told her in no uncertain terms, “DO NOT TOUCH ME!” It had little effect, and ultimately the point of my umbrella sent the message effectively and she backed off.
Drivers in Peru are among the worst we’ve seen anywhere in the world. In many countries, road “rules” are taken as mere suggestions. This is certainly true in Peru. Lane markings, traffic signals, and stop signs mean nothing. The design of the traffic infrastructure is almost identical to the US. The road look the same. Same lane markings, same crosswalks, same everything. It is just the behavior that is different. There is absolutely no accommodation made or right-of-way given for pedestrians. Most drivers will not yield for pedestrians crossing the street in a marked crosswalk. I did a Google search for “pedestrians in peru” and of the first results was an abstract from a medical journal:
Reducing pedestrian deaths and injuries due to road traffic injuries in Peru: interventions that can work
Pedestrians in Peru are the victims of the greatest proportion of road traffic fatalities in the world. In 2009, pedestrians were involved in 27% of road traffic incidents in Peru. This is a significant public health problem in Peru and it has important economic effects as well…
Beyond the massive numbers of pedestrians maimed and killed by negligent drivers, the traffic congestion is horrible. In Lima major intersections were blocked with huge jams of honking drivers, all ignoring any notions of lanes or right-of-way. Roundabouts that would function smoothly anywhere else in the world were constantly jammed in Lima. I’d say it was worse than Indonesia or India. It was almost like watching America’s Funniest Home Videos – you could just see the consequences of bad decisions happening everywhere you looked.
Traffic police. This has to be one of the biggest jokes in Peru. There are traffic police everywhere. They are standing at every major intersection dressed in their fancy costumes, often with white patent leather holsters and goofy little helmets. Sometimes they have little orange wands which they wiggle back and forth, regardless of what traffic is doing. On the highways in Lima, there is typically one of these guys/gals standing on the side of the road at every exit and overpass. They don’t ever seem to do anything other than stand next to their motorcycles and look at their phones. On one occasion we passed a disabled vehicle. On another, a crash scene. In both cases there were traffic police just standing at their posts by the highway exit or overpass, not helping in any way, just surfing facebook on their phones and collecting a salary. The Peruvian National Police force employs 140,000 and is notoriously corrupt (second only to the judicial system). Many of the traffic police are now women, because there is a popular notion that women are less likely to be corrupt.
Car alarms. The car alarm is the Peruvian national anthem. It is played at all hours of the day and night, everywhere you go. You would think that Peruvians are very patriotic since it is played 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, but they always seem to ignore it.
All of these gripes aside, we enjoyed Lima. Jette enjoyed cooking in the apartment kitchen, but we also enjoyed so great meals out. The apartment was close to Pasteleria San Antonio, a very popular bakery and cafe where we enjoyed some delicious salads. We made multiple trips to La Lucha, a super yummy sandwich shop with great sandwiches, frites, and chocolate shakes.
Salads make me smile
Yummy La Lucha
Classic combo of chicharron, camote, and salsa criolla.
Sorry Philly, you lose to these guys.
The bread they use is really good.
Jette was excited to find bubble tea.
Lunch in old downtown Lima
Beyond the delicious lunches, we had fun exploring Lima. We went down to the beach, caught a nighttime fountain show, and generally just enjoyed slowing down and being in one place for a while.
Mila getting her shoes fixed
JFK Park is full of cats.
Miraflores park on the top of the cliff.
The path down to the beach
The cliff from which the paragliders take off.
Classic surf van. Lots of old VWs here.
Handstand on the rocky beach.
Ready for the show.
In terms of her studies, Jette finished her last math workbook. Yay!
She’s almost finished with the second of the three Story of the World books. Each book is designed to provide material for a full school year, but Jette’s goal is to finish all three this year. We’ve sent the physical workbooks home, so she is no longer doing the map work. She’s reading, writing a complete summary of each chapter, and we’re discussing it. She’s doing fantastic.
After a week or so enjoying Lima, we boarded a flight to the mountain town of Cusco, the jumping off point for Machu Picchu…
Boarding the flight to Cusco.
New post by Mila —
Visible from Sairee Beach and a short boat trip from Koh Tao is Koh Nang Yuan (Nangyuan Island or simply Nangyuan), really a series of three tiny islands connected by sandbars upon which you can walk to get to and from each island. Known for its snorkeling and crystalline aqua waters, so we brought along snorkels and masks and enjoyed getting close to tropical schools of fish. Jette also brought a half slice of toast, which we shared with our underwater friends. It felt somewhat magical to have dozens of fish would swarm us, nibbling bits of the toast.
The “boardwalk” at Koh Nang Yuan
Shallow water made for some gorgeous color combinations
Some areas were just way too busy for our taste
After our daytrip, we took a longboat back into “town” to our favorite restaurant for lunch and fresh coconut water shakes, then walked around and explored a bit.
There’s a nice mix of low key, simple places and some that have invested in some modern interior design and are priced accordingly.
The perfect local spot for iced Thai tea with tapioca “bubbles”
A very nice cafe called “Butter”. Notice all of the flip flops outside. We love this Thai custom.
Giant tropical foliage
Lots of green thumbs around here
We absorbed as much of the Koh Tao life and atmosphere as we could. Even the simple pleasure of walking from our bungalow down to al fresco dinners was a delight.
Mango Bay’s version of a Caprese Salad
There were several resident kitties living (mostly) peacefully at Mango Bay. Two of them did have a wild cat-fight one night right under a table where another family was having dinner, resulting in one woman climbing onto her chair to avoid getting clawed (we didn’t act fast enough to get photos!). Moments later, this one looks so innocent.
Our work space consisted of some mats and a low coffee table. Here, I’m working on a blog post and Jette is finishing some Khan Academy math work. She’s right on track with a mastery of nearly 50% of the fifth grade lessons and quizzes.
Homework almost finished—Can I go swim now?!
One night, we were honored to have been invited to join some of the Mango Bay team in their Loi Krathong festivities. During the day, we noticed everyone working busily with flowers, not realizing each person was making their own elaborate floats using local banana leaves and flowers. As night falls, they tuck a snippet of their own hair into the float along with some money and some incense. The incense is lit and prayers are made. The belief is that each participant receives forgiveness for any transgressions of the past year and good luck for the upcoming year. Jette was kindly and generously invited to place one of the floats in the water. Not knowing the protocol, she kindly declined the generous offer and we all watched the beautiful and intimate ceremony. The aroma from the incense and twinkly lights on the water from each float was lovely and it was a true privilege to have been a small part of the celebration.
Jette getting a chance to hold our friend’s float just after he lit the candle
Our friend carrying his float down to the water
Floats being pulled away by the ocean
We were getting used to our little island life on Koh Tao, but after nearly two weeks, it was time to get back to the mainland. We said our goodbyes, took one last photo on the deck at Mango Bay, loaded bags onto a longtail boat and savored the short boat ride to the main pier.
We’ll miss this idyllic view from our bungalow balcony over thatched rooftops and innumerable beautiful sunsets.
The view off our bungalow’s balcony
We’ll miss our walks along Sairee Beach.
The three of us agreed that island life is definitely something we can live with every once in awhile.
Life in Koh Tao was pretty darn good. We spent a quite a bit more than we typically do on our hotel (about $USD 60 a night), and it was worth it. The Mango Bay Resort was a great place to get away from everything for a while, slow down, catch up on blog posts and just relax. We’ve been travelling for more than 5 months now, and even though it feels more like 5 weeks and we’re far from fatigued, it was nice to just STOP and relax and read and not think about where to go tomorrow or what to do or what’s next. Beaches are good for that I suppose.
A little seal on the beach.
We spent some days just lazing around. Reading, relaxing, and swimming/snorkeling. Other days we took the boat to Sairee Beach and into “town”. We had a favorite restaurant on Sairee Beach, and there was a Mexican restaurant (run by a Californian) in town that we enjoyed. Jette has developed quite an appreciation for bean and cheese burritos!
On Sairee Beach
Enjoying some porridge
Pad Kaprow Moo (made with more long bean than basil, but still yummy).
Jette and a friend at our favorite beachside restaurant.
Jette on a turtle off Sairee beach
Jette and the bent palm.
Sunset on our boat ride back from the beach.
The days went by quickly and pleasantly. Mila and I read quite a bit and researched some new business ideas, and Jette knocked out a lot of math, history, and writing. She’s doing great with her “school” work. We enjoyed swimming/snorkeling across the Mango Bay to the little beach and collecting shells and sea glass.
Heart shaped coral.
Eye love you!
Mila’s sea glass collection.
MIla standing on one of the boulders at the water’s edge.
Drying off in the sun after a snorkeling session
The weather was good though we had a couple rainy days. The rain created little rivers that flowed down the mountain between the boulders and emptied into the sea.
Rain washing soil into the ocean.
On the days after the rain the sea was a bit rough and the water a bit cloudy from all of the silt and soil that had washed in. Here’s a video shot on one of those days. Even with the cloudy water, you can see the abundance of sea life. You can also see the waves breaking against the stairs at the pier. They look small, but they are really powerful. Jette got bashed against the concrete stairs one day when she misjudged the waves. We quickly learned to respect the power of the ocean!
One day I made the mistake of jumping in before looking closely. It was right off the dock in a familiar spot, but this time I managed to jump into a school of jellyfish! I was stung all over my arms, legs, and torso. Before I realized what was happening, Jette jumped in after me. At first we didn’t see the jellyfish and couldn’t figure out what was going on. I said something like, “The water is making my skin burn. It feels like something is stinging me all over!”. It wasn’t until I got my head underwater and looked around, that I realized I was in the middle of a school of jellyfish. Luckily, Jette had jumped in at the edge of the school and got away with a single sting on her ankle.
Needless to say we got out of the water as fast as we could! Jette’s body reacted to the sting more strongly than mine did, but none of the stings were serious. After a good, long, soapy shower (we didn’t have vinegar) the pain and discomfort was much diminished and we were almost as good as new. Needless to say, we didn’t do anymore swimming that day. The next day the jellyfish were nowhere to be seen.
On one of our trips into town we stumbled across a trapeze school. Our young adventurer was immediately taken with the notion of flying on that trapeze, so it was arranged. A couple days later Jette was taking her first steps up the tall, narrow ladder to the trapeze platform. Here’s a video of her very first go on the trapeze. Note that she can just barely reach the trapeze, it’s a stretch! Also the dismount from the net was a bit rough at the very end!
Here’s another video from a later “swing.” Look at how far it is up to that platform!
Jette says the trapeze was, “A little bit scary but it really fun.” She definitely has an adventurous streak. Yesterday after she finished her work, she was watching YouTube videos on the Cirque du Soleil audition process!
All in all Koh Tao was great. The trapeze and swimming were excellent exercise and a refreshing change of pace. I’d been missing the exercise we were getting when we were on bikes in Europe. Here in Asia we’ve been walking a lot (and sweating a lot, LOL!) but the intensity just isn’t the same. The swimming and snorkeling worked some muscles we hadn’t worked in a while and felt really good! We’ve spent a lot of time lately in crowded, busy, noisy cities. The quiet remoteness of Mango Bay was refreshing. We found great pleasure in just listening to the waves, watching the moon rise, and looking at the stars.
View of the full moon from our balcony
More about Koh Tao and our day trip to Nangyuan Island on our next post…
With our “Rhine from source to sea” trip officially complete, we still needed to get back to Amsterdam, so this morning we got up, had a big breakfast at the hotel, packed our bikes again and hit the road. The plan was to ride to The Hague (Den Haag) and catch a train to Amsterdam.
Ready to roll
We took a route that followed a long bike trail all along the coast, hugging the beach and this turned out to be another really nice ride and one of our favorite days on the bikes, simply because the landscape was once again surprisingly beautiful. The past few days in the Netherlands have been such a pleasant surprise and really a highlight of the trip.
Yesterday as we rolled into Hook of Holland, we saw a playground that looked like a good one (we are in the Netherlands after all!) and I promised Jette we could stop there today. So, on our way out of town we took a very slight detour and stopped at the playground, which was tucked into the landscape between the edge of town and the beach.
Walking down to the playground
It is frustrating as our photos don’t even begin to capture the subtle beauty of the landscape. In addition the the typical playground equipment, this park also features a long zip line tucked down in a small, green crevasse. The whole park is full of lush grasses and small wildflowers that dance in the wind and almost glow in the sunlight filtering through the clouds. To the eye, there is a most beautiful and subtle variation of color, texture, and motion that is totally lost to the camera, at least in our quick snapshots.
Diverse and beautiful landscape
View towards the ocean
A little black cat hunting in meadow
Anyway, we parked our bikes and walked down the little, winding footpath to the zip line and had some fun on the zip line and the other playground equipment.
Will the big kid break it?
We hopped back on our bikes and rode along the same path that we took yesterday to get to the beach. As we reached the dunes along the edge of the beach, we turned right onto a path that runs along the beach, and goes all the way up the coast to Den Haag.
Back towards the beach
Our route was North and little bit East which meant that the strong southwesterly wind coming off the North Sea was an almost perfect tailwind for much of the day. That made pedaling easy and was certainly a welcome treat after battling the headwinds yesterday!
As we rode North, we sometimes the path ran right along the top of the dunes at the edge of the beach. At other times we curved inland, up and down along dykes, with the dunes and the beach to our left.
Hurry up dad!
Pretty colors in the landscape
In a couple of places we passed huge complexes of greenhouses.
Sunlight reflecting on the roofs of the grreenhouses
Along the dykes, everything was green and spotted with windflowers. Among the dunes, the grasses were taller and more heavily textured, and the colors of the plants shifted to a softer green and picked up the creamy yellows of the sandy dunes and the beach.
Amazing light, colors and textures
Dancing in the wind
At De Zandmotor we took a break and walked down to the beach. De Zandmotor is a massive coastal protection project where they have dredged sand from the sea bottom and deposited it at the shore. They have constructed a giant penninusula that is 1km by 2km and over time, the winds and tides of nature will shift the sand along the coast, incorporating it into the existing dunes and beach, making them bigger and providing more protection. They call it “building with nature.”
Reading about the Sand Motor
Views at high and low tide
Walking down to the beach
The dredged sand is full of tiny shells
Handstands and a double horizon
Mila at the water’s edge
At the water’s edge
We hopped back on our bikes and before long we were in Den Haag where we headed to the central station and bought tickets for Amsterdam. Fifteen minutes later we were on the train with our bikes, and an hour or so after that we rolling our bikes off the train at Amsterdam Centraal. We hopped on our bikes and once again rode to Camping Zeeburg and pitched our tent.
At the Den Haag train station
Back in Amsterdam and looking down at Camping Zeeburg
Up goes the tent – for the last time on this trip!