Saturday, October 31, 2009

Halloween Flashback

Halloween is my favorite holiday.  And it is not just because it falls in my birthday month and when I was born the nurses at the hospital decorated my crib with black cats and pumpkins, which they did.  When I was little, I would get so excited about trick-or-treating that I would make myself sick with anticipation.  It was the one day a year when I was allowed to wear make-up.  The entire world changed on Halloween night - sidewalks were crowded with princesses, ghosts, witches, vampires and cartoon characters.  Porches were lit aglow with grinning yellow and orange jack-o-lanterns.  The fallen leaves made spooky noises as they skittered across the sidewalks while I ran door-to-door with my increasingly heavy plastic pumpkin bucket.  And there was free candy.  FREE CANDY.  One of the most tragic memories of my childhood was the year a blizzard cancelled Halloween in Omaha.  I was devastated.

Last night Paul and I had a conversation that lasted all the way from Provo to Salt Lake about what Halloween candy we loved and what Halloween candy we hated.  We both agreed that Jolly Ranchers were the worst.  We also discussed candy trading strategies that we employed on our siblings in order to get the ideal mix of desirable candy.  For example, I knew people liked Butterfingers and Reese's Peanut Butter Cups (which I never cared for) so they were pretty valuable for extorting the Kit-Kats and Almond Joys that I wanted.  My mother always made us combine a portion of our haul to fill a huge "family" bowl.  I always threw in my Tootsie Rolls and Dum-Dums which I hated anyway, but I'd also add the peanutty Baby Ruths that I knew were my parent's favorites. 

When Paul and I got home last night, I went to the basement and raided my mother's jumbled and dusty boxes of photographs looking for Halloween photos.  Turns out my parents weren't so big on taking photos because I could only find a couple of Halloween photos, and I was a pirate in almost all of them.  But I also remember being Little Red Riding Hood, a Light Princess, a cheerleader, and a greek goddess.  The Light Princess costume was a response to losing my brother one year while trick-or-treating when practically every little boy in America dressed up as the 1989 Jack Nicholson version of the Joker from "Batman" and my brother ended up following the wrong Joker around the neighborhood all night thinking it was the friend we were trick-or-treating with until he finally came home on his own.  The next year my mother bought me a costume laced with Christmas lights and a battery pack so I looked like one of the Main Street Electric Parade floats walking around and was impossible to lose. 

Anyway, I have to confess that one of the things I look forward to most about when Paul and I actually have kids is being able to dress them up for Halloween and take them trick-or-treating door-to-door.  And I will take loads of photos.  And I plan to dress up too.  But, since we don't have kids, how about a Halloween flashback of yours truly?  (And yes, I do know this is super nerdy of me).

Me as a witch in 1983.  I had just turned three.  That's my mom on the right behind me holding my little brother Seth.

Me as a pirate in 1988.  I had just turned eight.

Same year with my best friend Toby who dressed up as a goblin.

Paul is supposed to stop by his parent's house today and look for some Halloween photos of himself.  If he finds some, you can expect an update.  Happy Halloween!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Lost City of the Incas - Peru

Peru was just incredible.  We really, really loved the culture, the people, the sites, the culture, and most of the food.  We spent our first day in Cusco checking out the Plaza de Armas, which is the main square of one of the highest cities in the world.  There were numerous women in traditional dress, some carrying their babies on their backs in brightly colored blankets, others with baby lambs.  Some of the women had their children dressed up with them and would take a photo with you if you would give them a coin or two afterwards.  They were all incredibly sweet and loved talking with Paul in Spanish.  Lots of the time I could even understand what they were saying, especially when they would gesture at me and say that my "ojos" (eyes) were "bonitos" (pretty). 

Although we had heard that a lot of people had problems with altitude sickness in Cusco, the only thing we felt was a little bit of shortness of breath that first day, but otherwise we were fine.  We wandered through some little markets on one of the main streets and went to a weaving museum.  We also had to spend a couple of hours at the train offices to purchase our tickets for the train ride to Aguas Calientes - the jumping off point for Machu Picchu.  There was a rainstorm that day and the power kept going out at the train terminal so that booking tickets took a really long time.  That evening as we were making our way back to our hotel, we stumbled upon a parade of kindergarten-age children with their parents marching down the streets in costumes playing music and carrying candle-lit paper lanterns.  It was one of those magically serendipitous moments you experience while traveling that seems like a dream afterwards where we really felt for a moment like we were part of life in Cusco. 

The next day we joined a tour group of about fifteen people and spent the day driving up and down the mountains near Cusco.  We went to the Pisac market which is known for the quality of its handicrafts like scarves, hats, blankets, and jewelry.  We also went to the Pisac ruins and learned a lot about the Incas.  Like how they built terraces to make the most of farmable land to grow potatoes, corn, and wheat like quinoa.  Or how they built their homes high up in the mountains to have security from attackers, protection from the earthquakes that rocked the valleys but didn't destroy so many buildings on the mountains, and to be physically closer to their Creator in the heavens.  We saw some amazing examples of Incan architecture at the ruins of Ollantaytambo where they carved the stones so perfectly that you cannot stick a piece of paper between the cracks and no mortar was used to construct the buildings and walls. 

On our third full day in Peru, we decided to go back to the market at Pisac because we hadn't had enough time on our tour the first day to explore all of the stores and look at all of the items for sale.  We spent a few hours there, wandering around, fingering the beautiful alpaca wool goods and eyeing the vicious looking weapons that were offered for sale.  It was so fun to barter with the shop owners and learn about the different products like Andean flutes and Incan ritual weapons (replicas) used in sacrifices. 

After spending the morning at the market, we boarded the Vistadome train for the 1 1/2 hour ride through a narrow valley alongside a river to the little town of Aguas Calientes.  For anyone going to Peru, I recommend this train option because it has amazing views and only costs about $7/pp more than the cheaper Backpacker train which we took on the way back.  The landscape changed a lot along the train ride, starting from the more barren, chilly, brush near Cusco (although you actually catch the train in the town of Ollantaytambo which is an hour's taxi ride from Cusco), to dry, mountainous, warm jungle at Aguas Calientes. 

The next morning, we got up at what we thought was an early hour - 6:00 am, and caught a bus to Machu Picchu by 7:00 am.  Turns out that is not nearly early enough to get to Machu Picchu.  The best lighting happens really early - just as the sun is coming out - and we missed that by more than half an hour.  Also, there is a hike up to the highest point of Huayna Picchu (the mountain you see in the background of the photos of Machu Picchu) where there are even more ruins, but only 400 people are allowed to do the hike each day.  All of those tickets are gone within 15 to 30 minutes of the park opening, so we didn't get to hike it the first day.  In fact, on our second day at Machu Picchu, we got up earlier and were in line for the buses at 5:30 am, got to the park at 6:10 am, and still didn't get tickets to hike Huayna Picchu.  Fortunately, Paul is amazing and used his persuasive lawyering abilities and his incredible spanish-speaking skills to talk our way past the ticket checker who regulates the flow of hikers on the trail and we were given permission to hike Huayna Picchu anyway. 

The hike was harrowing, with narrow and step stone steps hugging the backside of the mountain, ascending 1,200 feet higher than Machu Picchu by means of switchbacks and cables.  But the views on the way up and at the top were totally worth it, and I would have to say that I wasn't as frightened hiking Huayna Picchu as I was when I hiked Half Dome in Yosemite a few years back. 

There were a number of llamas hanging around Machu Picchu too and we were told that they were brought up there to breed and be the grounds crew.  They eat the grasses that grow on the terraces so that the area is maintained with less effort.  Pretty smart, huh?  Plus, they are attractive, docile creatures that let us scratch their heads. 

Not this one though, even when I talked to it sweetly. 

After a train ride, a taxi ride, and a plane flight we made it back to Lima for our last day in Peru.  My birthday in fact.  We went to the main historical plaza to see the Cathedral and some of the Spanish colonial architecture and spent the morning wandering through the Museum of the Spanish Inquisition which had a bunch of wax figures being tortured on "the rack."  It was creepy but super interesting.  Then we made our way to Miraflores, a really touristy little area with a park full of artists selling their artwork.  We bought a colorful little painting and had lunch at a really modern little restaurant before grabbing a taxi to go see the Lima, Peru temple.  It was an absolutely beautiful building and it was so peaceful and serene to walk around the temple grounds.  I only wish I had remembered my temple recommend so that we could have gone inside. 

That night we flew out of Lima at 1:15 am bound for Mexico City.  After sleeping on the plane, and waiting for over an hour to get through customs and immigration, we took a bus to Teotihuacan just outside of Mexico city.  It was freezing cold, which for some reason was baffling to me because I always thought Mexico was always hot.  Always.  Anyway, the ruins were interesting because they were so huge and it was easy to imagine a massive civilization living there at some point, but they weren't as intricately carved as Chichen Itza or as impressively and mystifyingly situated as Machu Picchu.  But it was a great way to spend a 12-hour layover. 

Now we are back home in Utah just biding our time until the big move around Thanksgiving to California.  Oh, and waiting for bar results.  Which sucks.  And now that we have some down time and the release of the results is creeping ever closer, the waiting is getting worse and worse.  Every time I think about it I feel a little queasy actually.  So I am trying not to think about it too much.  Yeah right.

That's it guys.  No more big trips for a long time now probably.  But it sure has been fun seeing as much of the world as we have in the past couple of months!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

New Digs

Paul and I just got back from Peru on Sunday and started apartment hunting on Monday. Prices are a lot higher in the Bay Area than what we have had to pay in Utah, but we were lucky enough to find something within the price range we had set for ourselves in a really great location. We are renting an apartment in Campbell just a block from the cute historic downtown area with boutiques, cafes, and farmers' markets. Our place has two bedrooms and two bathrooms, and even though it isn't fancy (no granite or cherry wood, etc.), it is really cute and spacious. We will have to take some photos once we move in and post them. So if anybody wants to come visit, we're gonna have a guest bedroom ready and waiting come December ...

And just as a side story - Before we left for Peru, we went to Paul's 10 year high school reunion. I spent the night before leaving Utah in a panic over what to wear, tearing through my closet and trying on something like 15 outfits after learning that both Paul and my mother didn't like one of my favorite skirts that I wear all the time and had planned on wearing to the reunion. Why I even freaked out about this, I am not sure. It wasn't my reunion after all and I didn't know hardly any of the people there. But for some reason, it seemed important. After making Paul call our friend Nikki to find out what she was wearing, what her husband was wearing, what their friends were wearing (thanks Nikki, you're a lifesaver), I settled on a blue silk blouse and dark skinny jeans with my goldenrod patent leather flats. On the night of the reunion, the outfit was perfect - for about five minutes until I ate a celery stick and somehow dribbled ranch down the front despite my extreme care. Paul was standing across the room chatting with somebody and as I looked up in mortification after noticing the spill to see if anybody else had seen, I caught him laughing at me and shaking his head, as if to say "only you, Amy, only you." But, since I was pretty sure nobody else had seen, I just covered the spot with my "Hello, my name is Amy" tag and spent the rest of the night in shame avoiding any foods incapable of being brushed off.

Monday, October 12, 2009

First Class

So even though we had this really crappy time sleeping in the airport in Greece, I somehow convinced myself that it was no big deal and booked flights to Peru that put us in Lima at 11:30 pm and leaving for Cusco at 5:40 am. Nice. We actually got some decent sleep though on these cushy benches without armrests that made it so we could stretch out for about 3 1/2 hours. And the Lima airport rocks btw - so clean, so many awesome food places and shops, nice people.

And then to top it all off, when we got on our plane, turns out we had somehow booked 1st class tickets, which is weird because the tickets were only about $100 pp which didn´t seem too bad. Neither of us had ever flown first class before, so we were pumped. Only Paul wasn´t so pumped because he fell asleep almost immediately and missed out on all the good pineapple, watermelon, croissants, and orange juice that the flight attendant brought for breakfast. I loved not having some gross overweight smelly guy encroach on my arm and foot space because I apparently don´t need it and he does. I know that´s harsh, but that is what I dealt with from Mexico City to Lima and it was no fun.

In other news, Peru rocks my world. There are tons of really interesting markets and people. Traditional dress is still pretty commonplace, which I adore. I´m trying to get Paul to take lots of photos of other people this trip so that you can see some of the cool clothes. And on the menu at the restaurant we ate at tonight was alpaca or guinea pig. I said no for now, but I´m thinking about going for it later in the week. Any of you have guinea pigs as pets growing up?

Thursday, October 8, 2009


Some things just need to be said. Others don't. But unfortunately, my off-button malfunctions frequently. Its a problem I have had since childhood. Anyway, what is it about having a blog that drives me to confess really stupid things that I would typically be super embarrassed about confessing? Is it because sometimes when I confess my nerdiness I find that my friends out there validate me by sharing similar tendencies? Or is it because I have seen other people confess things on their blogs and I feel somehow compelled to do the same? I really don't know. But I have a couple more e-confessions for today. (I just made e-confessions up. I'm not sure whether it works or not).

* Sometimes I type up entire blog posts confessing really lame/silly/embarassing stuff and then delete the entire thing before posting.

* Sometimes I read other people's e-confessions and feel embarassed for them and think that they should have deleted the entire thing before posting. Then I wonder how often people think that about me. I am wondering that right now with this post.

* Sometimes I laugh at my own blog posts and then look around to see if Paul was in the room watching.

* Sometimes I read blogs of people that I don't know in any way. Like I will be on your blog and notice that you have a link to somebody else's blog (your 2nd cousin) and click through and then notice that your 2nd cousin has a link to somebody else's blog, and so on and so on. Sometimes I even decide to "follow" these random blogs if they are particularly interesting. And then when Paul walks in the room and asks what I am doing I get really embarrassed and close the web page really fast and say innocently "nothing." Like it was porn or something. But really I am just fascinated with other people's lives and thoughts. I think it may be an illness.

* Sometimes I am freaked out that blogs have "followers". Especially blogs with hundreds of "followers". But sometimes I check to see if I have any new "followers" and it kinda' makes me feel good that someone likes me enough or thinks my blog is interesting enough to "follow" in the first place and I wish that I had more "followers".

* Sometimes I read blog posts of people I respect and admire and love - people who I wish I were more like because they are so awesome - and they rage against things that I love - like ruffly aprons and red kitchen-aids. And for a fraction of a second I feel bad/embarrassed. But then I realize that, 'ya know what, it is OK to like frilly aprons and candy-colored appliances, and I am not ashamed, and that wasn't even what my friend was really blogging/raging about in the first place. And then I realize what it means to be easily offended and that I am a prideful sack and that I completely agree with my friend's post but in a different way than I originally read it. And then I am so grateful for the aforementioned friend for posting something that caused me to have a philosophical moment in my day. Because down deep (or deep down - is either more correct than the other?), those moments of introspection are one of my most favorite things about blogging.

That's it. I've gotta stop myself now. I just read this to Paul and he just said noncomittally, "hmm, that's funny" but in a way that tells me that he thinks this is maybe one of the posts that I should delete rather than post. But I'm posting anyway.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Egypt - Week 5 (And last post of this huge trip)


I'm pretty sure I blogged about our insane taxi ride while we were in Cairo, so suffice it to say that everytime I got in a cab in Egypt I thought I was about to die.

We stayed in a hostel in "downtown" Egypt, although there really is no true downtown to that place. The hostel was on the fourth floor of a building that had on the other floors a bookstore, a tailor and dry cleaner, and a broken down elevator cage filled with garbage, which meant that we had to take the unlit stairs up four floors to get to the hostel entrance. Our room was a funny little place where the bathroom was just a small rectangle with a shower right over the toilet so that you didn't even try to keep it dry and just got the entire bathroom sopping wet while you showered and dealt with it afterwards. But it was cheap and it was fine and we figured we weren't going to be in the room all that much. But we were wrong.

* Disclaimer - the picture below is NOT where we stayed. It is just a random picture of an Egyptian village that Paul wanted to include.

I got totally sick in Egypt. I'm pretty sure it was food poisoning and I won't revisit the details here since I blogged about the bad dates already. So we ended up spending probably three of our seven days in Egypt hanging out in hotel rooms. Fortunately our second hotel in Luxor was a five-star resort so we had TV with an HBO kind-of channel showing movies in English so we weren't totally bored.

But when we were out of the room, we went to the pyramids at Giza. There was the most beautiful sky there the first night we went to see them. We ate dinner at the pizza hut (pineapple and turkey pizza because Muslims don't eat pork so there was no Canadian bacon), then stuck around on the roof of the restaurant for the great views as the sun set.

We went back the next day and paid 1/2 price admission with our international student cards (a total must for a lot of places we have traveled) to go get up close to the pyramids. Some things we didn't know before going to Egypt: the pyramids were topped with gold tops and there was a smooth limestone finish on them originally that has been pretty much destroyed.

There was hordes of camel touts trying to get you to ride their camels around the pyramids. They wouldn't take no for an answer and they pestered incessantly unless you were with a large tour group in which case they weren't quite so pushy because there was always somebody else to pester. A couple of times Paul and I tried to hide behind big groups to avoid being hassled, but this strategy didn't always work. But the camels were actually quite fascinating to watch in their brightly colored saddle decorations and blankets.

Later in the day we went back and actually rode the camels. I got car-sick. Or camel-sick. And afterwards we smelled AWFUL. We actually bagged up the clothes we wore that day and hid them at the bottom of our backpacks until we got home before throwing them in the wash because they stank that bad.

We had hired a cab driver for the day named Sayid who drove us around in his air conditioned car and chatted the whole time about his country. He liked to say, over and over, "You happy?" and "Welcome to Egypt". He stopped on the bridge over the Nile so that we could take a photo of the river. Its kinda sad that this is the only photo we have of such a famous body of water because we just never spent that much time near the Nile. He also drove us out to a number of other pyramids further out from Cairo that are even older than the ones at Giza. Turns out there are over 100 of these pyramids around the Cairo area. Who knew?

We also spent an afternoon at the Egyptian Museum, but no cameras were allowed. But the treasures from King Tut's tomb were absolutely incredible.


We took an overnight train down from Cairo to Luxor and actually slept pretty well. After a day of watching movies in the hotel room (I highly recommend "Son of Rambow" - a British movie that was hilarious and yes it is spelled with a "w"), we got out to see the temple at Karnak. Wow what a place. Because the Nile used to flood every year before a dam was built in the 70's, it would deposit tons and tons of silt that would eventually cover up these ancient sites which is how so many things got lost in Egypt over the centuries. So the columns and carvings at Karnak are really well preserved. The most amazing thing to me was the vibrancy of the color of so much of the painting that has somehow been preserved.

We also went to the Valley of the Kings and the Valley of the Queens to see the tombs which were pretty cool but stifling, but we have no photos because cameras were strictly prohibited and there was no way we could sneak Paul's Canon in because it is huge. But here's a photo from a tomb at Giza.

Egypt is a place that we will not likely visit again. It was just too congested and dirty for us, and the vendors and touts were just too aggressive and pushy to allow us to enjoy the place. I harbored this desire to wander and explore in at least seeming isolation as though I was discovering the ancient sites for the first time in the late 1800's - stumbling upon a room full of hieroglyphics previously undiscovered or something - but it was impossible to get a feeling of discovery when there is some guy walking alongside you pointing at everything in the hopes that you will consider him your "guide" and give him baksheesh (a tip). Paul ended up talking with an Egyptian kid who worked at the McDonald's about this when the kid asked how we were liking our trip to Egypt. The kid nodded knowingly when Paul explained how frustrated we were by all of the street touts who were such bullies, and said that it is a big problem and the Egyptians are aware of it but not sure what to do about it or how to fix it. If they could work out a solution, Egypt would be a much more enjoyable place to visit.

That's it everybody. Our whole five week adventure. Three continents, six countries, I have no idea how many miles. I very much doubt that we will ever have the chance to do that long of a trip ever again. Thanks for reading!