Category Archives: Family Travel

The Magic of the Maras Salt Mines

The Magic of  the Maras Salt Mines

Travel, Science, History, Culture, and Cultivation all in one stop!

The Maras Salt Mines are one of the most unique ruins sites in all of Peru. They are not about the fancy palaces of past lords, tragedy of war, or anything of the like. Although they DO come from the times of the Inca Rule…possibly even before!

My favorite part of this attraction is one teeny, tiny detail that I find absolutely astounding: they are still in use!! The plan and structure of this salt cultivation method is so great that it has been sustainable for more than 500 years.

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Chasing the Pumapaqcha Waterfalls in the Croplands of Peru

Chasing Waterfalls Through the Croplands of Peru

My husband had his eyes set on this waterfall. He was determined to find it. I was doubtful, but from the drive, I just should have kept my mouth shut. But, I couldn’t help it. What was this Pumapaqcha Waterfall?

As, we thumped through tiny villages and muddy roads…I gave him a side glance and said “Babe, there is no way there is a waterfall here. Do you see any mountains or cliffs? These are just farm lands. There can’t be a waterfall here. Maybe you got some wrong information.”

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When a Peru Beach Weekend Turns into an Ocean Rescue

Paracas, Peru Beach Weekend

On friday, we discovered the diverse and dazzling shorelines hidden within the Paracas National Reserve. What appears as a vast desert eco system quite suddenly melts into the most spectacular Peru beach we have seen yet.
Red, white, yellow, and black beaches hugging clear, turquoise waters that reflect breathtaking cliffs and dunes. These are local’s secrets if we have ever seen them. We had no idea our arrival would ultimately result in an ocean rescue.

Playa Yumaque

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The Shadows of the Amazon Rainforest

The Shadows of the Amazon Rainforest

We walk through the valleys of the shadows of….the Amazon Rainforest! Standing beneath the trees, ankles pressed together, and hands interlocked, we take our first steps into the Rainforest. We are exhilarated and terrified, curious and intimidated. We have been warned at least twenty times, not to touch anything!

Trek along carefully in the Rainforest, look all you like, but please don’t touch!

This is a tough enough feat for Carlos and Me, who are naturally curious about everything. Not to mention the littles, they are just 3 and 5 years old! And the dog, Dante, don’t even get me started. I still haven’t figured out if he listens to commands in English or Spanish, or neither, and he is seven years old.

The most beautiful plants, berries, and bugs are sometimes the most dangerous. Don’t Touch!

It is something like walking through a china shop. Stepping delicately, elbows tucked the sides, eyes darting to and fro for any quick movements. Only we are not afraid of breaking the stuff on the shelves, but rather of the delicacies breaking us.

In the first five minutes I can’t look more than 12 inches past my feet and shoulders. In that time, our guide has already pointed out poisonous delicious looking berries, a spectacular pink flower, and a suspiciously beautiful spider. All of them capable of devastating an adult, and likely lethal for a child.

After a good half hour into the woods, I relax a little, realizing there is no way in tarnation that our kids are touching anything. They jump ten feet into the air if a branch brushes against their skin. We have already successfully scared the living hockey sticks out of them.

Parts of the Amazon Rainforest hike were quite steep and difficult, a real challenge with the heat and humidity. It would a lie to say the kids hiked the whole trail without help!

The trail we are walking is narrow and thin, covered in leaves and natural debris. The forest is silent except for the trickle of sound as big, finished leaves make their way to the ground. The movements encourage me to look away from the safety zone and up towards the sky. I scan the treetops looking for the blue that is hiding somewhere up there. But, all I can see are fragments of light that sparkle as they pass through the web of canopy leaves.

The sun is waaayyy up there somewhere!

Then suddenly a silent commotion from beyond the trail and I dare to look beyond the maze of trees that are out of my reach. I squint to focus in on the wide, blue swirls drifting through the forest. More grace than a bird but greater breadth than a butterfly. Fairies grabbing onto the vines and leaping from tree to tree in an elegant dance. Teasing my eyes as they float in and out of the mid-morning shadows.

But, they are butterflies! Too quick to dream of catching on film, I quickly retract my camera and just enjoy the scene with my family. The Blue Morpho Butterfly is like the keeper of the trees, soothing our nerves and luring out our curiosity. We stand still in those moments and realize that we are safe in the forest.

Not the Blue Morpho Butterfly, but its cousin the equally famous Owl Eyes Moth.

And then we start searching and seeking, exploring and discovering. Birds, bugs, and plants in more abundance than is imaginable. Trees and vines, strange and mostly unnamable. I find myself trying to identify a single species. There is no knowledge of this, so instead I focus on trying to translate the Spanish and Kickwa identifications offered by our guide.

In a place so vast and full of un-nameable things, I find myself engulfed by a strange sense of familiarity. Here, in the Amazon Rainforest, a continent away, I feel the presence of my father walking next to me just as he did when I was my daughter’s age. I can’t wait to tell him about it. I realize that the Amazon is nothing more than a massive, overgrown forest. A super-sized version of the forests I have explored in Iowa. Maybe it was just a coping strategy, but little by little, nature wrapped her arms around me and coaxed me out of my fears and anxieties.

It loooks like an ordinary spruce bush, but in the indigenous community uses this plant to cure toddlers who haven’t take their first steps by the age of 2. The children are soaked in a bath with the herb and are miraculously cured of their mysterious ailment.

We came across an impressive tree with a straight, thick vine dangling straight from the clouds. Its tail-end curiously twisting and beckoning to us right smack in the middle of the trail. As a smile stretched across my face, I saw the same expression reflected in our children. There was no doubt about it what was coming next.

Oh, how they squealed as they soared through the air, little booted feet dangling high above my head. Mabelle with sheer delight and wonder, with her ponytail flipping through the leaves in the trees. And then, Nico. Knuckles white and eyebrows raised, a crooked smile from that nauseating mix of fear and fun. Pure pleasure with himself for not chickening out. Then my husband, as nimble as if he were my third child, hopped onto the vine and flew through the air like Tarzan.

I stood below them, our dog Dante panting at my feet, so engaged with their adventure I nearly forgot it was my turn. There is nothing more freeing of the spirit, than to allow yourself to let go. To live in the moment, forget anyone is watching, and to just claim these spectacular experiences as something of your own. And for a couple of memorable swings through the forest, I was just me and nothing else. Just me, exhilarated by a swinging rope in the Amazon Rainforest.

We continued our walk, chatting and pointing, not even trying to be silent as we ought to be. Just enjoying, absorbing, and living in the moment. Mostly lots of butterflies and bugs, interesting flowers and fascinating leaves, glowing mushrooms and vibrant everything. It was just a walk in the forest, an extra special forest of course.

Until we came to understand the majesty that is the Sable tree. From over two steep hills, and sloshy, slippery decents, we landed ourselves on top of the biggest tree I have ever seen. From the cliff above, we stood about one third of its height. Our son asked me if what we were looking at was real or if somebody had built it. Our daughter asked me if fairies and elves live within it.

We climbed down the embankment, clinging onto roots like railings, with trouble focusing on our feet. The tree was so alive that we could not peel our eyes away from it. It was as if we were waiting for her to raise a branch and wave hello, or for a face to appear in her trunk. But, even if that didn’t happen, it was still like she was whispering to us.

Carlos decided to climb, but not me, I was still worried about snakes and tarantulas. Yet, he didn’t climb the tree, he climbed the roots! He got about ten feet above his own head before he reached the top of them. From there, there was nowhere to go! How do you wrap your arms around a tree as big as a house?!

We spent a long time beneath this Queen of the forest. The kids climbed through the puzzling caves of her roots, pulling her vines like long, dangling braids, and standing gaping at the sky in awe. We listened to stories of her life and imagined that there is much more than we know. She is estimated to be 200 years old, and is a favorite place for the shamans to bring the disabled, crazy, and ill.  Oh, the secrets she must hold!

On the final stretch of our hike, I giggled at the red streaked faces of the kids. Apparently, the native markings they had painted on their face, had suffered a fate worse than hunting. Our guide had delighted them with a pre-hike activity that included these face paintings from achiote seeds. But, they were worn and smeared, destructed by little hands and forest fun.

Even though we were tired, we all stalled a little bit, taking one last look to find special bugs and butterflies. But, unlike other hikes, we finished our trek through the rainforest reserve with excitement and stamina. We had just taken a walk through the Amazon Rainforest!

In the final moments, we were lucky enough to catch a butterfly!

After 30 Days of Full-time Travel

It has now been one month since we left behind our house and committed to a life as nomads. What has happened in this short time frame is astounding. The first days gone by seem to be a positive premonition for what the future holds.

We travel not to seek the greatest number of stamps in our passports, but to gain the greatest amount of knowledge from our experiences in the world. This month has been the first tiny step in the revelations of what the power of the world holds. The personal growth that has ignited in each of us is evidence of knowledge untold.

This month has revolved around a strong emphasis on empowering our family to be self-sufficient. These are tools that will not only prove beneficial to our personal travel style, but also towards an independent lifestyle in general. We are drawn to rural life and to destinations that are lesser known and off the beaten path. We want to understand life outside of modern society and to connect with the practices from the ancestors of each culture. We have a strong desire to go back in time and capture the essence of a simpler, happier existence.

Before this trip began, we were already a close-knit family. As in, a family that spent copious amounts of time together. We feel that we have always encouraged deep, personal relationships both with and between our children. The experiences of the past months have certainly strengthened that bond, but in new ways that we had not discovered previously. We had the opportunity to practice numerous activities that many would consider “team building” drills. Experiences that required the participation of each family member and highlighted the strengths in each of us. We have learned a lot about claiming achievements as a unit, rather than as individuals. Yet, in the process we have had many unique opportunities to cherish the attributes of the others.

We have learned that both of our children have a very strong interest in food prep and “kitchen” duties. They are fascinated by the processes of how our food gets to the table. They are equally interested in gathering the food, preparing it, and eating it. At ages 3 and 4, they are much more capable of participating in meal prep that we had realized before. In just one month we have learned to make bread, cheese, ketchup, marmalade, and panela syrup. We also took hands on classes for preparing long term pre-made dry storage meals. Our vehicle is now stocked for at least 5 weeks of quick-prep breakfast with whole, unprocessed foods and the best ingredients in the world! Think steel-cut oats and whole wheat pancakes.

My husband has gained a ton of knowledge about how to make modifications to our car that support the vagabond lifestyle. We now have over-head storage, a 20-gallon water storage system with shower fixtures, two spare tire racks, a mattress and bed platform, under bed storage, and privacy curtains…all of which were designed by my husband and were custom made to fit our vehicle. He has also learned an impressive amount about how to diagnose and correct basic to major car complications. He even charged the car battery with a solar panel and learned how to create an adapter to charge our laptop while we are driving!

Our daughter discovered a huge interest in animal care and fully immersed herself in learning how to care for both goats and rabbits. She has never had an opportunity to care for animals before and her passion for it trumped all other activities of our daily life. Milking, herding, feeding, and pen care were the highlights of her days. Her ability to be solely responsible for what the animals needed was completely inspiring. Her desire to teach her knowledge to other people was also incredibly intriguing. Her confidence and independence blossomed ten-fold during our farm stay. We could recognize strong leadership skills and an obvious preference for animals over humans.

Our son impressed us with his athleticism and physical abilities, hiking through meadows and mountains, likely several miles a day. Usually in lieu of nap time, too! We never imagined that a three year could be capable of such intense physical exertion. He also shows a clear strength in his social ability, to connect with just about any person in his presence. We have always known him to be sweet natured, but had not previously witnessed him reaching out to others with such eloquence. Always eager to include everyone, through sharing, eye contact, or body language gestures; he is quite the social butterfly! We really came to appreciate his adventurous spirit.

Personally, I learned a lot about homesteading and off-the-grid life. It is a strong interest of mine to learn how to live and provide necessities without refrigeration and with very little to no electricity. Each year I try to learn more about living an unprocessed life. We buy less processed goods all the time, so understanding how to purchase and prepare homemade goods has been a very beneficial part of my experience. Gaining knowledge of appropriate family portions and the “shelf life” of a prepared meal are important to waste reduction and efficiency. I also felt very fortunate to have numerous experiences to learn about natural plant remedies for minor ailments like cuts, bee stings, seasonal allergies, iron deficiency, fevers, stomach ache, indigestion, and a lingering cough.

As a family, we learned to identify numerous trees and plants that we were previously unaware of. We harvested all sorts of edibles including oranges, guayaba, aloe, coffee, and macadamia nuts. We genuinely learned how to plan our day around the sun and routine, not by a clock. We learned about compost toilets, mountain water systems, and solar energy.

We spent more time nature than we have in 7 years. We learned more about living the kind of life we want to live, than we have in our entire lives.  Imagine the potential of 30 weeks, 30 months, or even 30 years? We understand that there is more information to be gained from the world, than we can possibly absorb in one life. We are more inspired than ever to claim as much of the knowledge as possible in whatever time we are allotted.

Why We Chose #VanLife

Why do you want to live in your car? Won’t you miss your home? Where will your kids sleep? What will you eat? What about school? Don’t you need a job? What about a doctor? Where will you get your mail? Is this safe? Is this healthy? Wait- You have dogs, too?! Are you crazy?

These are just a tiny fraction of the questions we were asked when we decided to start this journey. That is, to move into our Landcruiser and travel fulltime as a nomadic family. As we travel, the same questions in many variations resurface over and over again. We enjoy the conversation most of the time, encourage the questions, are even pleased to share our viewpoints. Occasionally there are people that we must laugh at or simply walk away from. But, overall, it is fun to let people in on the big mystery.

Yes, we have thought this over. Talked it over. Analyzed it, reanalyzed it. It was not a light decision that we just woke up one morning and decided to move into our “van”. We have carefully scrutinized every tiny detail, imagined the worse possible scenarios, recognized the scrutiny we will receive, AND decided to do it anyway.

 

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A Girl & A Goat

She runs through the meadows, tangles flying everywhere, pink rubber boots clomping along the animal trail; calling to her friend “Jaccckkkkk! Jackkkk! I’m here!!” She wraps her arms around his thick, white neck and tucks a tiny blue blossom into the fur atop his head. He promptly shakes it off and nuzzles his head under her arms, looking for the sweet sugary drink she carries in a large, metal pail. She giggles with the jangle, jangle of his bell as he trots a circle around her heels; tangling his rope between her ankles.

“Everyone says he stinks, but I think he smells like flowers and molasses,” she explains. “And he’s not soft like the babies, but his fur is still as white and clean as the clouds, even though he lives in the wilderness.” Then she returns her attention back to him, roaring with laughter as he rears up on his hind legs to reach his favorite leaves up in a nearby tree. “You silly goat! You think you are squirrel in the trees or a bucking horse in the rodeo. But, you are just a goat!”

These types of exchanges have been going on for several weeks now, during the extent of our farm stay at an agro-eco farm in Ecuador. We have learned about the loving ways to care for goats, through herding and corralling, petting, milking, and overall loving. The kids have relished in the opportunity to take some responsibilities for the animals. From this experience, they will know no other way, than to truly appreciate a goat.

The goats come in every size, shape, color, and temperament. Babies, yearlings, mamas, grandmas, and finally the billy. There are a few very cute, cuddly babies and a few real beauties in the females. Our children genuinely love taking them out to pasture in the morning, taking them sweet water in the afternoons, and then herding them back home again with the bell just before nightfall. Each of them have enjoyed milking the mothers and prepping the pens for the youngsters. They don’t particularly like the milk or the goat cheese either, acquired tastes I suppose. They have pet the goats like cats and carried the babies around like puppies. For the most part, the animals don’t seem to mind one bit. I would have guessed that their favorites would be the babies, and that is pretty much true for our three-year-old son. But, for our daughter, she is infatuated with the billy! She even seems to have traded in her life-long love of cows in exchange for one hundred percent affection for Jack.

She tells me she is in love with him, even though she doesn’t know what that means. She says she wants to frame a photo of them together to carry along on all our travels. She says that she will remember him forever. Maybe she will. We never know what our kids will take away from travel, from nature, or from a spectacular farm that infiltrated our lives for several weeks in 2017. We don’t know what she will do with the knowledge or love that she has gained. But, we know that she is happy and thriving. She is having experiences that we alone could not have provided. Learning and living, practicing and doing, touching, feeling, believing. Understanding.

  The confidence and compassion she has gained are astounding. She is a little girl growing up in the world. And we are so proud to be her parents, feeling confident that we have found the pillars of the right learning environment for her. So thankful for the present and so eager for the future.

The Whisper of the Universe

The universe is calling. Can you hear her? The voice is pure and delicate. Like the sweet whisper of morning dew as it rests on the first flowers of spring. Her message is clear, mirroring the hints from a sunbeam that refracts against the crystal gem of water. Enlightenment has begun.

How much more time can we wait to acknowledge that we’ve been listening? For us, not a single year more will slide by in this denial. The time has come for us to reveal what our purposeful future holds.

It has been some time coming, though we didn’t know it then. The universe has been infinitely patient and she smiles on us as we finally surrender. There is a quote that comes to mind right now, a recent favorite of mine.

“If we were meant to stay in one place, we’d have roots instead of feet”- Rachel Wolchin.

If we were meant to

Maybe I’ve known this all along. Maybe my husband has, too. Since leaving the warmth beneath our parents’ wings, we have neither been the type to stay in one place very long. We have sure tried in earnest, but the peacefulness that is meant to hold us, never arrives in time. In the thresholds of a historic home, perched atop the perfect acreage retreat, and even here on the shores that have tried to lull us to sleep. It seems, nothing can keep our feet from wandering.

Home isn’t a place for us; it is a sense of being. And the honest truth that we have come to find, is that four walls are rather suffocating for our spirits. We need to soar high across the purple mountains and far over the azul seas, through the softest dunes and roughest roads. We need to be constantly seeking, frequently roaming, and always pleasing our nomadic souls.

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If the suggestions are a little too subtle, we are ready to move on again.

We haven’t been planning this long, we aren’t the planning type. Just a few months ago we found ourselves dreaming of places near and far, searching destinations and discovering an incurable wanderlust. The more lands we added to our list, the less we felt like staying home. And then we began to wonder…”what if we didn’t”? What if we didn’t come back home?

This is apparently how it begins, when a family decides to become perpetually nomadic. We are now in the final stages of planning our new life on the road. Indefinitely.  Some will call us hippies. Some will call us crazy. Many will call us worse, and a few will call us better. But, we aren’t doing this for any of them. We are doing this for us.

Yes, there it is in plain text, right on the screen!! We’ve finally made our announcement for the whole world to see. We are indeed just about to move into a camper van/truck/altered-vehicle-thingy. We are on the brink of becoming a fulltime traveling family! All six of us! You didn’t think we were about to leave the dogs behind now, did you? The hubby and I, our two kids (nearly 3 and 4.5) and our big, old mutts are nearly ready to begin an adventure of epic proportions.

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Our journey will begin as an elaborate tour of the rest of Ecuador before we move on to discover South America in its entirety. We will be traveling all of it by road, and as much of it as possible via 4X4! We’ll be camping by both car and tent, cooking by the campfire, and living in the vast, wide open world. We don’t have any set route or destination at this point, but we certainly won’t be in a hurry. We plan to travel as slowly as we like, quite possibly spending several weeks to several months in each country. There are no plans other than that!

We are over-the-moon excited to share with all of you, many places that you may have never heard of or seen before. And of course, I’m sure we’ll have plenty to show of the stunning destinations all around South America that most of us are well informed of.

Stay tuned to see more about the in-between places, inside peeks about this transformational time, and some very raw travel and lifestyle inspiration! We are so excited to make this announcement and we can’t wait to hear the reactions!

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*This is just an intermission from our regular stories, more from our recent trip to the Valley of the Volcanoes are brewing!

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We Don’t Need Rockets to Visit Volcanoes

The house is buzzing with preparations. Half hazard organization in carefully laid piles amidst the chaos that is typical of a house run by toddlers. Rainbows colored puddle jumpers, freshly folded jeans, and fuzzy alpaca sweaters that smell like an old closet. Four carefully planned backpacks, a gifted picnic basket, and small bag of dog chow. Glitter spilled in a cup of soup, milk on the floor, and a freshly cleaned beach towel soaking in the dog bowl!

It is as ridiculous as it sounds, preparing for our first legitimate camping trip. With two kids under 5. And two large mutts along for the ride. We don’t have a tent, or sleeping bags. Not even a cooking pan! If this sounds like a do-or-die adventure, it probably is. We are completely ready to go exploring, in mind, body, and spirit. We have absolutely no clue what on earth we are doing. We are leaving in three days, or maybe four. Or, maybe tomorrow.

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We have been expat to Ecuador for over a year now.

If we weren’t the completely spontaneous, take-a-leap- of-faith type of people…we wouldn’t have abruptly picked up and moved to Ecuador just over a year ago. We’ve been itching for awhile to get moving and exploring. We are over the initial humps of being first-time expats. We are settled I suppose, comfortable with adventuring about. Not nervous or afraid or over-whelmed anymore. We want to see more of Ecuador. And we know that there is so, so much more.

A few months ago we candidly asked our kids, just 2 and 4, where they would go if they could choose any destination. They chose a trip to outer space, a visit to the lost city of Atlantis, or an exploration of an active Volcano. This is quite the ambitious crew we are dealing with!! Of course it took a long and drawn out conversation to rule out the first two options. Although our kids do travel to outer space almost daily…from the rocket ship we painted in our only closet. They have become quite familiar with the moon, the sun, planet Earth, Saturn, Mercury, and Venus. We haven’t quite figured it out yet, how to visit Atlantis.

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The closet Rocket Ship!

As for the Volcano? “Piece of cake,” my husband said. Our 2 year old was quick to agree, “We can take our rocket to see a Volcano!”

Luckily, we won’t need rocket fuel for this excursion. We LIVE in Ecuador. Did you know that the tiny of country of Ecuador is similar in size to the American State of Nevada…and is home to approximately 50 volcanoes? Approximately. Because you know, there just might be one that hasn’t been discovered yet.  But, we aren’t looking for just any volcano; we need an active one. As in currently spewing, spitting, or fuming. Something along those lines to ease our curious little minds. As of today, at least 4 of the volcanoes in Ecuador are considered active.

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Just being a kid…in Ecuador 🙂

For this trip, we have chosen Cotopaxi. This is one of the more famous volcanoes in the country, and has been very active in recent years. It is known to sporadically grace it’s viewers with fumes or ash. It is not covered in hardened lava, like you might imagine. This is not a tropical volcano similar to something in Hawaii. It is relatively cold and there is snow at the top! Cotopaxi is a stratovolcano, located in the Andes Mountains chain. The summit is just over 19,000 feet. It is also one of the few equatorial glaciers in the world. It is a pretty special place indeed, a volcano, a mountain, and a glacier all in one…and it just happens to be resting on the equator.

But, it wouldn’t be us to show up and stay at a sparkling hotel with an impeccable view of the majestic site. We need a little more than the typical tourist. So, we have decided to pack up and stay in the area for a week or more. We are looking forward to strolling through the tiny, indigenous villages that speckle the base of the volcano. We are hoping to stumble upon a local festival, indulge in a few moments near a bull ring, and to immerse ourselves in any blissful occurrences that simply can’t be planned.

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Hanging out in the Pichincha Volcanoes Region in Quito.

We are antsy, anticipating this grand new adventure for our family. We struggle to stay focused, on planning and packing. Our minds are already out the door and our feet are dancing in the threshold. We are walking around dreaming of dramatic freckled skies and crackling amber fires. Sleeping faces caked in melted marshmallows and placid puppies curled up in the cool grass.

But for now…there are dishes in the sink, spilled sunscreen on the counter, toothbrushes and toiletries to pack. Tiny socks to double count, frayed mittens to stuff into pockets, batteries to charge. And most importantly, a husband patiently waiting for me to decide my day is done.

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Living the good life in Ecuador!

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Dandelions and Daisies Don't Live on Mars

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The Antisana Volcano Region. Andes Mountains, Ecuador.

Our wheels cracked over the crumbling rocks as they smushed into the soft, rich soil beneath the Jeep. I pushed my nose out the window to breathe in the crisp, clean air. I pulled the soft, furry edges of my alpaca wool jacket closer to my ears. The door creaked open as I slid out into the strange, cold, and humid atmosphere.

I turned back to clutch two tiny hands in mine, as each of our kids tumbled from the car kicking pebbles at my shoes. Their eyes were wide and unblinking, staring hard into the distance. I watched them, as they took in our surroundings. Piles of jagged black rocks gave way to startling, desolate canyons and then climbed again to peaks on the other side. My husband stepped up next to us, taking our daughter by the hand. She looked up at him and said, “Dad, are we on Mars?” His eyes sparkled with laughter as he looked down at her and put his finger to her rosy nose. “No, my dear, we are still in Ecuador.”

We exchanged a look of bewilderment between each other. His mind read mine as we wondered how our almost 4 year old knew about Mars or what it might look like. We all turned our heads into the unforgiving wind to listen as our guide and friend started to explain what we were looking at. He was speaking in Spanish, and despite my husband’s best efforts to translate, I quickly found myself distracted. Our son had looped one arm around my ankle as he started poking at the dirt with the other. Not quite 2 and a half, he didn’t care about much except rocks and bugs. He didn’t know what Ecuador or meant, or Mars for that matter.

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I knelt down beside him, curious to see what he had discovered. I was bewildered for a moment, as my eyes darted around the ground noticing large, low to the ground dandelions and daisies. Dandelions?! Daisies?! But, it’s cold and barren and the air is too thin, I thought to myself. Besides, nothing grows in volcanic rock at 12,000 feet! We were standing in the lava beds of the Antisana volcano region in the Andes Mountains, not far outside of Quito.

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High Altitude Daisy

The lava mountains and river beds were strange and interesting, like something that should belong on another planet. But, once my eyes caught sight of the ground, I kept them there for the duration of our adventure. I was envious of our toddlers, who could naturally see all of the stunning flowers and fauna, grasses, lichens, and moss. White and yellow, pink and green, colors as vibrant as the luscious Spring season back in our previous home in Iowa. But, these flowers with similarities were much different indeed. Upon closer inspection, they housed thick, fuzzy stems and prickly leaves. They were designed by nature to thrive in this seemingly inhospitable destination.

We spent the remainder of the day, exploring this unique ecological reserve that is one of more than 50 similar parks in Ecuador. Many of the species that are found here are endemic to the area; not known to exist anywhere else in the world. Even the once endangered Andean Condor resides in these parts.

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As we meandered down the mountains, we crossed through primitively fenced grasslands, noting alpacas and horses grazing happily beneath thick, bushy coats. At one point we stopped to climb out of the car and up a roadside step of Andean carpet. The plush, bouncy ground was covered in what looked like green, bow tie pasta. All four of us enjoyed hopping across the bumps, as if bouncing on nature’s mattress springs. But careful not to fall, for this high altitude grass was fluffy but pokey to the touch.

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The remote, dirt road wound us through what seemed to be its own mountain range, over streams and rocks and mud until finally we rolled to a stop in the valley. The lane was flooded by shallow water in certain spots, and a natural bridge led us to a clearing between two, small lakes.

By the time we got out of the car, our littlest one had nodded off, lulled to sleep by the bumping, country road. I chose to stay close by in case he should stir. Daddy and our daughter trotted off down a trail to explore. I rummaged around to find my camera, wrapped it around my neck. Leaned against a cool, green rock at the water’s edge. The silence felt odd and in that moment, I thought this might have been the quietest place on earth. I watched the sky around me, as an eerie white mist crept in from the charcoal-ish mountains and quickly surrounded me.

I kept my eyes to the trail, pleading with nature to wait just a little while longer. Not more than a few moments passed, before a bobbing ponytail and pink boots came clonking down the path. She chattered at her father, not more than a shadow’s length behind her. I could hear the curiosity in her voice before the words reached me. She pleaded with me, to come on an investigation.

Together, we followed the sound of a trickle, the unmistakable evidence of a waterfall. I peered all around us, watching the clouds come closer as they were tempted to hug the tips of the lava mountains. We scanned the horizon and the clumpy, black walls, looking for the rushing water. But, we didn’t find a waterfall.

Instead, we knelt to the ground, laying our bellies against the soft, green moss watching the rain make spherical patterns all across the green and orange swirled lake.  We wondered aloud how such clear water could have such remarkable colors. I clamored for the answers I didn’t have to the questions I also wanted to know. Finally, I decided that it must be due to minerals or moss. She was satisfied with that, and was up again as quickly as she came down.

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She flitted out of site as she went around the bend, still looking for the clue to that rushing water sound. I raced off after her, in fear of the trouble she could surely get herself into. I spotted her just a few yards away, crouched next to a pile of rocks with her palms on her knees. She beamed up and me, so very proud of the waterfall she had found. I leaned over her head, her hair dancing in the wind around my face. I couldn’t help but smile as her little gloved finger pointed at a very noisy but very tiny, babbling brook.

Our discovery had been made, our investigation complete and we skipped off together to find the other half of our family. The boys sat together at the front of the Jeep, eagerly waiting for our arrival. It was time to get out of there, before the rains came harder and nature trapped us in her bowl. We sped out of the valley, much faster than we had come in, fueled by adrenaline and adventure and astonishment in its purest form.

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Loving the road trip!
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