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…
As Waco mentioned in his previous post, we’ve just arrived in Malaysia, but we wanted to go back in time to early December. Here is a map that shows the path we took north.
Our overnight train from Chumpon back north to Bangkok once again landed us “home” in Bangkok. This time, we decided to try a different hotel in a different part of town, Bobae. The hotel was right on a water taxi line on Khlong Mahanak (Mahanak Canal). We ended up using the water taxi quite a bit and enjoying many aspects of it. Water taxis are not touristy; we were typically the only non-Thais on the boats. It was convenient; the taxi stop was about a minute walk from our hotel’s front door. It was adventuresome; the boats never stopped for more than a few seconds to let people off and on, so you had to be quick or else you’d end up IN the canal. There was no traffic on the canal. Bangkok traffic is awful; it’s gridlock every day and a very short distance ride in a cab can take a painfully long time. And finally, the fares were extremely affordable at just 10 baht, or about 28 cents per person.
We also used the BTS system, which is one of Bangkok’s mass transit train systems, and liked it quite a bit. It was much more orderly, clean and easy to use than the NYC subway which we used for a decade when we lived in New York City. It’s an unfair comparison (5 million NYC daily riders vs. 750,000 Bangkok daily riders), but still worth noting.
Standing in front of our hotel on the canal
Waiting on the platform for a water taxi
Another day, another water taxi
Same view at night
There was a large fruit market nearby and we walked by jack fruit vendors with huge piles of huge fruit almost every day. We also peeked into nearby Bobae tower, an incredible wholesale apparel operation with thousands of vendors with worldwide sales.
These look like durian, but are actually jackfruit
No durian sign in a cab (they stink!!!)
A Bobae neighborhood rooster
We tried not to be concerned about all of the babies and toddlers we would see on bikes and scooters everywhere. It’s just the way things are done here, but I admit I did have to hold my breath every time a scene like this occurred right in front of me. Hold on tight, baby!
Baby on board
We stumbled across a sweet cafe one day. The woman who owned it was the grand-daughter of the original owner and had filled it with kitschy 1950’s vintage pieces all displayed in Chinese style apothecary cabinets. She was proud to point out the original sign with hand-painted Mickey Mouse cartoons. She also volunteered to take a family photo of us in her shop. We couldn’t resist the rare opportunity to have an actual photo of the three of us together in one shot!
Rare family photo
Very old cafe signage
We couldn’t come to a new neighborhood and not expect to meet a sweet dog, could we? Here is Jette at the local laundry spot meeting the owner’s dog.
Our laundry spot
Happy girl, happy dog
This new neighborhood had a lot of manufacturing style family businesses and we enjoyed seeing the small scale of each one; most appeared busy and successful.
Door fabricator displaying samples
Manufacturing shop in the neighborhood
Great example of 1960’s modernist architecture near our hotel
We didn’t buy anything here, but had fun browsing
Beautiful Bonsai Trees
Chinese noodles from a popular tiny 4-table restaurant
Shipping these home for our front yard
We took in the “Bike for Dad” celebration.
Excited about “Bike for Dad”
“Bike for Dad” lights
Festive “Bike for Dad” street
There was a vendor selling these intriguing sweets which we had to try. They ended up being sweet bean treats and were definitely more beautiful than tasty to our palate.
Bikes for rent (Jette misses riding one!)
Jette temporarily turned into a vampire
One of Bangkok’s amazing topiary-filled medians
Just had to get a photo of this gorgeous cafe space
We discovered a breakfast spot about a 15 minute walk from the hotel and immediately became regulars. We don’t really know the English language translation for the name of this place, but it’s a Thai fusion restaurant of sorts. It has a few incredible dishes that all three of us craved. Firstly, they make delicious, icy, Thai milk tea and serve it in frosty mugs. Their iced coffee drinks are fantastic as well. They serve hot, fresh, flaky, fluffy roti with spicy green chicken curry which is Jette’s favorite; the flavors and textures are an addictive combination. They have a signature dish that is difficult to describe, but very easy to eat. It starts with a layer of rice, topped with a crisped egg that has been fried in such a way that it barely resembles egg, yet is just light as air and crispy. Then, they top it all with a scoop of spicy “pad krapow moo” and then we make it disappear.
Walking to breakfast one morning
Best breakfast spot in Bangkok!
We love it here
Iced Latte heaven
Iced Cappucino heaven
Jette loved the roti with green curry
Popular egg dish
Crispy egg on rice
We also were within walking distance from a very famous pad thai restaurant called Thipsamai. Going there was amazing, not just because of the delicious food, but for the entertainment value. The cooking took place on the street and there was so much action from everyone involved in making the hundreds of dishes of food they must make every night. The line snaked around forever and the atmosphere was lively. There was fresh, delicious orange juice and a street vendor selling steamed coconut sweets for dessert after dinner; a closed loop system. Dinner, drinks and dessert all within a stone’s throw!
Line at Thipsamai
Coconut desserts after dinner
We worked quite a bit with Jette finding new cafes for a change of scenery. She accomplished quite a bit of writing and read a significant amount of ancient history.
One more math workbook finished!
We discovered a new dining destination called Food Loft at one of the nicer department stores, Central Chidlom. Basically, a quiet, comfortable dining space set apart from kiosk-style, small restaurant kitchens that were able to prepare almost any dish anyone could desire. One of the kiosks had a northern Thai dish called Khao Soi for Waco. Another had a grilled salmon dish that Jette liked and a third had Indian food for me. On days when the noise, heat and grit of the city would have exhausted us, we would find ourselves wanting to escape to the luxury of our comfort foods in the Food Loft’s soft chairs and plentiful air conditioning. We definitely felt pampered there; it’s funny how simple true luxury really is. It all just depends on your perspective.
The holiday spirit was alive and well in Bangkok. Jette and I had to engage in some photo silliness.
Sparkly snowmen inspire silliness
A holiday display we liked
In case you didn’t know, Jette is permitted a “seasonal doughnut”, meaning one per season, or about four doughnuts a year. How did she spot the Dunkin Donuts?! Check “summer” and “fall” off her list. She made sure to hold back on her “winter” doughnut in case she wants to enjoy two at the same time when “spring” rolls around. Cheeky monkey!
Just before mid-December, we switched back to our familiar neighborhood, Silom and awaited the arrival of some very special visitors…
Nob Cafe back in the Silom neighborhood
A cute display in the boutique portion of Nob Cafe
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.
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.
We’re sitting at a little cafe in Chumphon (actually now we’re in Bangkok, but when I started writing this we were in Chumphon) watching the pouring rain outside (and inside too when the wind blows!). It is monsoon season, which means that we’ve had the occasional cooling downpour in the middle of beautiful, sunny days. It has been a great couple of weeks in Southern Thailand. Let me tell you about it…
We left Bangkok on the night train to Chumphon in Southern Thailand.
Another night train
Getting ready to leave the station
Jette enjoying a peanut butter sandwich
When we bought the train tickets the air conditioned second class cars were full, so we ended up in non-AC second class. Same fold-down sleeper seats, but no AC, so the windows were open for most of the trip. It wasn’t too bad, but the open windows made it kind of loud, especially when we passed other trains, and there was a constant stream of little bugs blowing in. In fact when it was time to go to bed we had to brush all the little gnats, beetles, and flies off our beds. Once we were tucked in, we had little bugs hitting us in the face all night long, especially for Mila and me in the lower bunks. I didn’t sleep much, but I got a lot of reading done!
Sticky rice breakfast while we wait for the bus to the ferry
We arrived at Chumphon well before sunrise. We piled off the train with all the other tourists. The ferry company that services the popular islands of Koh Tao, Koh Phangan, Koh Samui, et. al. has an office at the train station, so we checked in there and then waited an hour or so for the big bus that would shuttle us all to the ferry pier. our fellow travellers were mostly 20-something backpackers who looked like there were ready for one of the “full-moon” parties Southern Thailand is sadly notorious for. We had chosen Koh Tao precisely because it was known more as a snorkeling and diving destination and less as a wild party scene.
While we were waiting for the bus, it started raining, but we were sheltered under the roof of the train station platform. It rained for half-an-hour or so, then conveniently slowed to a light sprinkle as the double-decker bus pulled up. We piled on the bus and headed to the ferry pier.
Jette at the ferry pier
Mila and Jette checking out the ocean
With the rain came some ocean swells. Nothing big, but just enough to make the ferry trip a puke fest. The ferry was a large catamaran. Compared to single-hulled ships, twin-hulled catamarans are often more stable and have less of a rocking and side-to-side motion in the waves. It didn’t help on this trip. Within 5 minutes of boarding the boat the crew was busy handing out small plastic bags and wads of toilet paper to increasingly sea-sick passengers. It was a puke fest. Mila and Jette both got very, very sea sick and vomited multiple times. I was very nauseated but managed to keep my breakfast down. It was an absolutely miserable two hours that seemed like it would never end. When we finally arrived at Koh Tao it was such a relief! We be landlubbers!
We made it! At the Koh Tao pier.
A “taxi” from our hotel was waiting for us. Like much of SE Asia (and the rest of the world), a “taxi” is a Toyota Hi-Lux 4×4 pickup truck with seats in the back. We were lucky and got to sit in the cab of the truck, while others piled in the back. Off we went to Mango Bay, on the North side of the island. In terms of distance, it was only 6 or 7 km, but the “road” was one of the worst and most hilariously challenging I have ever seen. As we went through town it was a typical paved road, but as we got closer to Mango Bay it was more of a washed out trail.
The route from the pier to Mango Bay in the North of Koh Tao Island.
Road to Mango Bay
The road/trail went up and down through the mountains and was much steeper than you might imagine. Think of the steepest streets in San Francisco and then make them even steeper! Along some of these very steep sections a concrete surface had been laid, about the width of a wide sidewalk. This gave the 4×4 enough traction to make it up the steep grade. In many places there were deep fissures and gullies, carved by rainwater rushing down, and large rocks (or small boulders, depending on your perspective). Some of the gullies were as big as 2 feet wide and 2 feet deep, so the driver was constantly weaving slowly to avoid getting stuck. When it is wet, the road is impassable, so people and goods must come and go by boat.
When we arrived at Mango Bay we found ourselves at the top of the mountain looking down at a hillside of giant boulders and tropical vegetation. There was a very long staircase winding down between the boulders, with small bungalows perched between and on top of the giant boulders going all the way down to the sea.
The stairs down
Jette on her way down the mountain to our bungalow.
A bungalow, Jette and the sea
On the walkway at Mango Bay
View of Mango Bay from the water.
We made it down the winding stairs, checked in at the office, and found our bungalow. It was perfectly positioned atop the boulders with unobstructed views of the sea. Beautiful.
View from our bungalow.
Mila in our bungalow.
The walkway down to the restaurant and the water.
View from the restaurant.
Another view of the bay. For scale, note the size of the people on top of the boat.
The bay at Mango Bay is a popular destination for local scuba and snorkeling, so every day there are tour boats that come in for a few hours. The Mango Bay Resort is quite secluded as it is the only active hotel in the area. Other than the occasional scuba boat tour, we have the whole bay and beach to ourselves. It is a really fantastic setup! The hotel also provides free snorkeling gear, so anytime we want we can just jump in. There are large coral formations throughout the bay and thousands of tropical fish. The small beach at the center right of the photo above is easy to swim to, and there is lots to see on the way!
The seclusion gave us lots of time to just relax, read, and do our work. Jette was very busy with her math and we have started experimenting with a new curriculum based on the “great books” or classical tradition (think trivium). I’m pretty excited about it, and will go into more detail in a future post. Of course, when we were tired of working and wanted to play there was great snorkeling just outside our door and a beach to swim to. Town, a bigger beach, shops and restaurants were just a boat ride or 4×4 truck trip away.