Vacation

A Tropical Thanksgiving: Antigua 2017 Recap

2017 was the first Thanksgiving of my life where I didn’t eat turkey for dinner, and I have to say, it was probably my best one yet. My dad’s 70th birthday was in August, and for this monumental birthday, he wanted to have the whole family together on vacation over Thanksgiving. We originally rented a villa in Anguilla (hey, that rhymes!), but had to shift gears after the hurricanes wrecked havoc on the Caribbean, and somehow Antigua made it through unscathed.

There were 12 of us total – my folks, me and John, both my sisters, their husbands, and their four (total) kids. If I’m being honest, I was a liiiiiiiittle nervous about having the entire family under one roof for a whole week for the first time in… years. We’re all pretty intense and 12 people, including 4 kids between 2 and 10, is a lot, but everyone got along really well and it was one of the best vacations I’ve been on!

To start, the villa we stayed at, Perfect Sunshine, was absolutely breathtaking. Here’s the view from the back porch, looking out over our private (!) infinity pool and the resort itself.

And this is was view from the back balcony every.single.night.

Another reason I loved this trip so much was that John and I went snorkeling every day while we were there, and saw some pretty cool stuff!

The island itself has 365 (!) beaches, and we made the rounds visiting quite a few during our stay.

One of the other really fun things we did was take a sunset cruise, which was actually my and my sisters’ gift to my parents, and we spent about 4 hours cruising around on a private catamaran.

And then when the sun started to set it was hard not to be mesmerized by the view.

The one downside, and I’m not even sure I’d call it that, was that food was REALLY expensive in Antigua. We cooked breakfast at the villa each morning (and by “we”, I mean my sister Wendy) and for the most part ate one meal out per day and cooked the other at home. We had some great meals out, including lunch at the Beach Bum Bar & Grill (times two).

Lunch at Papa’s By the Sea (side note: it’s REALLY hard to take a selfie and get 12 people in the photo. This was my best try…)

And probably my favorite meal of the trip – a whole red snapper grilled with garlic butter, plus fries, veggies and salad on the side from OJ’s Bar & Restaurant.

The only other thing that was less than ideal were the roads in Antigua. I’ve traveled in the Caribbean quite a bit and there’s usually potholes and narrow roads, but Antigua took it to a whole different level. The roads were so narrow it didn’t feel like two cars could get through side by side, and cars were randomly parked on the side of the narrow streets all over the place. Our villa was a bit isolated so we had to drive about 45 minutes to get to the other side of the island, and it was really intense each time. We ended up on a few dirt roads that were mostly just potholes on top of each other and I definitely considered getting out of the car and walking a time or two.

The best part of the trip was getting to spend solid quality time with my family, which is much rarer than I’d like it to be these days. I remember when I first got out of college and went home for the holidays and was shocked that I only got one day for Thanksgiving and Christmas. It felt like it was time to head back to DC/get into work mode before I’d even realized the holiday was upon us, and that’s continued to be one of the things I struggle the most with in terms of adulting.

The upside to that is it makes times like these that much more precious.

Who knew I was such a sap!?

Things I’ll Miss (And Won’t) About Peru

Peru was such an eye-opening trip for me. There were so many things I loved, including:

1.) The jungle. Heh.

The people, especially.

Group

2.) The gorgeous sites.

Machu Picchu was seriously the most magnificent thing I’ve ever seen.

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And the Sacred Valley wasn’t so bad, either.

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Washing my hands in aphrodisiac water, according to the Incas.

 

3.) The Markets!

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These markets were packed with vendors selling tons of handmade items for SO cheap. I had to buy an extra bag when I was there so I could carry home everything I bought. Seriously.

4.) The simplicity of people’s lives.

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Everything is just so much simpler there. No fancy phones, no constant checking of email, no being unhappy over trivial things.

5.) Feeling appreciative of all we take for granted in the states.

It’s so much easier to realize when you’re away from it all.

6.) Meeting random people from the states on tourist trips and at hostels.

There’s some instant connection you automatically feel when you connect with someone from your home when you’re not there.

7.) Everything being new and familiar.

I have been in DC for almost 11 years, so I feel like I know it like the back of my hand. I LOVE that about DC, but it’s incredible what simple things can strike you as you travel to a new place.

And now, for the things I won’t miss.

1.) Not being able to drink tap water.

Using bottled water to even brush my teeth took some getting used to!

2.) Being (quite aggressively) bombarded to buy things all the time when you walk down the streets, are in stores or markets, or even when you’re eating at a restaurant.

3.) Not being able to use a credit card anywhere.

I think in a lot of ways it was good for me to have to use real money, but NO WHERE took credit cards in Peru. Even places that had Visa and MasterCard signs plastered to their windows couldn’t get the machines to work! And I am cheap, so I hated paying $10 ($5 from my bank, and $5 for the ATM fee) anytime I wanted to take out money. And I also was mindful that a lot of people get robbed, so I didn’t want to take out a lot of cash every time.

4.) Having to take malaria pills every day. Yuck.

5.) Not being able to dry my clothes after washing them.

A luxury I always took for granted! Even at the apartment we had just a washer, not a dryer, which wasn’t the end of the world but I do appreciate drying my clothes!

6.) Drastic temperature changes from day to night.

During our 6 nights in Cusco, it would be almost 70 degrees during the day, and then drop to the low 30s overnight!

7.) Being fearful that everything I eat would make me sick.

And, unfortunately, this ended up being the case.

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Despite using bottled water for EVERYTHING including brushing our teeth, peeling every piece of fruit or vegetable we ate, holding my breath in the shower, and doing everything I could think of to avoid it, Stacy and I both left Peru with parasites! Stacy got a lot sicker than I did, so I got tested just to be safe and it turned out I had something, too! We both were able to take care of them with just taking antibiotics (both Cipro and Flagyl), but trying to get medical attention in a foreign country can be quite challenging. Luckily I am off the drugs now (and OK to proceed with my surgery!), but it was still not fun.

Moral of the story? Peru was amazing, but I sure do love America!

50 Things I Learned in the Jungle

I’m baaaack! Peru was amazing and an incredible, eye-opening trip, but I am so happy to be home! Our 16 day trip started with a flight from DC to Miami, and then a (long) flight to Lima, Peru. We spent one quick night by the airport in a hostel, flew to Cusco the next morning, and then left the following day for a 6 night, 7 day jungle tour.

Before

Me and Stacy

At the beginning, the jungle trip was a little touch and go. Keep in mind I’d never been camping before (except when I was in middle school, according to my mother) so this was quite a way to start. For the first couple of days, Stacy and I both had a hard time adjusting to life in the jungle. Being so hot all the time, having a daily regimen of Deet only, and always feeling dirty were a little hard to get used to, but I think we reached the point of acceptance around day three or four. We were in a group of 10 people and got pretty close with the whole group over the course of that week.

Group

By the end of the trip, we had totally embraced it, learned so much, and were sad to be done! I shared this list with the group on our last night during dinner (pictured above), so I wanted to share it with you all, too.

50 Things I learned in the Jungle

1. I am not as adventurous as I thought I was.

2. Waking up at 6:30 am is considered “sleeping in” in the jungle.

3. How to pee the right way outside – squat low, lean forward and choose a downhill, if possible.

4. You can in fact live without Internet, but only for one week in my world.

5. Nothing dries in the jungle, so I really should have stopped expecting it to.

6. Peace and quiet is often underrated.

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Watching the sunset over the Manu River.

7. Animals in their natural habitat are even more intriguing than I expected.

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The jaguar we saw chilling by the river.

8. Biodegradable toilet paper is a must have at all times.

9. The “lasts 10 hours” claim on deet does not apply in the jungle.

10. Compared to some people on the trip, I am not as tasty to bugs as I would have expected.

11. Cold showers can actually be refreshing.

12. How to brush my teeth with bottled water without skipping a beat.

13. Some people can live without electricity, but I am not one of those people.

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Sun kissed on the last night.

14. Going to bed before 9pm is completely acceptable in the jungle.

15. Waking up to the sounds of the jungle is the best way to do it.

16. Stacy is actually quiet when I’m not around.

17. Instant coffee can be delicious, especially with powdered milk and sugar.

18. It’s ok to eat soup when it’s really hot out, even for every meal.

19. It doesn’t take a lot for people to truly be happy.

Boat Tour

20. I will never get tired of watching monkeys.

21. Ice is often a luxury that is often taken for granted.

22. I can fall asleep anywhere when sleep deprived enough, even with my head banging repeatedly against a bus window.

23. I really should have studied more Spanish before my trip, as I’m not very good at hand charades.

24. Birds are actually pretty cool.

Binoculars

25. Mosquito nets may cause weird dreams and/or hallucinations in the night.

26. It’s possible to gain weight from being sedentary and eating three large meals, two sugary snacks, and dessert each day, even in the jungle…

27. Wearing the same thing repeatedly, even under conditions causing extreme, prolonged sweating, is perfectly acceptable, except for with your underwear.

28. Drinking a hot beverage during the peak heat during the afternoon is not a good decision for me.

29. No one appreciates cows alongside the river in the jungle.

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30. Always check the water jug for bugs before you fill your bottle.

31. Instead of watching out for deer, you have to watch out for cows, lambs, and pigs in the streets.

32. I’m not good at holding my tongue, even in Peru.

33. It’s very common to crave cookies and candy by 10 or 10:30am in the jungle.

34. I would become comfortable peeing in front of a group of 10 people I met just days before.

35. In certain tribes when a man loves a woman, the father gets to “try him out” first. Despite where your mind may have gone, this involves giving him an axe so he can attempt to cut down an iron tree.

36. You cannot extinguish a candle on the nightstand from inside your mosquito net.
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37. My only useful survival skill is comic relief.

38. The jungle is full of natural medicine.

39. Tough and strong are two different things.

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40. One benefit of cold showers is that your mirror doesn’t steam up.

41. Jungle viagra, which ironically comes from a very small tree, goes into a drink which is named “69”.

42. For some reason, people from the USA are perceived as loud.

43. Despite their intention, it is possible to fall asleep with a cheek full of coca leaves.

44. The proper way to tell someone they have a booger in their nose is to say “hey, you have a bat in the cave”.

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45. Unfortunately, cockroaches can fly.

46. Cock of the rock is not what you think it is – its the national bird of Peru.

47. Turns out potatoes go with everything.

48. The reserve zone of the jungle is really far away from Cusco. I’m talking 12 hours in a bus, followed by many, many hours in a boat.

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49. Bathrooms along the river are never where you expect them to be.

50. Laughter is one thing that crosses all language barriers.

Getting Ready for Peru

Getting ready for my very quickly approaching 17 day trip to Peru has been WAY more stressful than I expected. I’ve never in my life taken a trip like this, so didn’t know exactly what would go into it. The only other places I’ve been on vacation are to the beach, and I basically just showed up with myself, a bathing suit, and a few other things and relaxed away. This time, I booked my ticket from DCA to Lima, Peru because flights were cheap ($650 round trip) without doing TOO much research into exactly where things were in Peru or what went into preparing for the trip. Not necessarily the best way to plan a big trip like this, but it forced me to make it happen.

Before getting ready for the trip, I had to:

  • Schedule an appointment with a travel medicine clinic. Here I got a Hepatitis A vaccine as well as a yellow fever vacine, and a prescription for Cipro (an antibiotic) in case I develop typhoid symptoms (fever, diarrhea, fun).
  • Schedule an appoint with my PCP. She prescribed me malaria medication, altitude sickness medication, and some medicine for my anxiety around traveling on sketchy buses. In retrospect, I could have gone to the travel medicine clinic for all of these things, but I had to see my primary care doctor anyway, so it wasn’t a huge deal.
  • Renew my passport. It expired in January, and I took care of getting a new one in March so I had plenty of time.
  • Book a domestic flight. Flying in and out of Lima was great and cheap, but I realized that most of where we wanted to go was located much closer to Cusco, so we had to book an additional flight from Lima to Cusco, which ended up costing about $350, so airfare is around $1000 total.
  • Plan the itinerary. When looking to book tour groups, they were asking for close to $3,000 for as few as 8 days of travel. This did NOT include flights, and when I was looking at the prices, I knew that wasn’t the way I wanted to go. So, instead, we did a lot of research and booked things ourselves.

What we came up with:

  • June 21: Fly from DCA to Lima and stay overnight at a hostel near the airport
  • June 22: Fly from Lima to Cusco and stay in a hostel in the city
  • June 23 – June 29: Get picked up at our hostel, and take a 7 day, 6 night guided tour of the amazon jungle. I negotiated the price and we were able to get the trip (which includes the tour, all accommodations, and all our food) for $750 USD each.
  • June 29 – July 5: 5 nights in an apartment in downtown Cusco through airbnb.com. We were able to find a nice apartment with a kitchen, wifi, laundry, and everything we could need for $56 USD per night right in the center of the city.
  • July 1 – day trip to Machu Picchu. This cost about $250 USD per person, and includes transport to and from, entrance fees, and the tour itself.
  • July 5: Fly from Cusco back to Lima, stay overnight in a hostel in the city center, spend 2 full days in Lima
  • July 7: Fly from Lima back to DCA (just after midnight, so no need for a second night in a hostel)

It seems like a LOT of traveling when I look at it put down like this, so I am really glad we have those 5 nights at the same place in Cusco. Hopefully we will take a few days just to relax and explore.

Packing

I am bringing a large hiking backpack that I am borrowing from my sis, and plan to bring just that, so wanted to pack really light. We made sure to have laundry in our apartment in Cusco, so will be able to do it on day 8/9 of the trip – just about half way through. June is winter in Peru, and it seems like the temperatures vary a lot – from in the upper 60s during the day, to the low 30s overnight. This means one thing – dress in layers! Since I am trying to pack light, I wanted to make sure not to bring anything more than I needed, so I did a ton of research on what to bring during that time of year. I was able to bring the list down to a reasonable amount which all fits in the backpack. For the jungle tour portion, the company is giving us a duffle bag that we will fill with what we need just for the jungle (mostly hiking stuff and toiletries), and then we will leave the rest of our items at our hostel in Cusco.

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Here’s the full list:

Documents:

  • Passport
  • Yellow fever vaccine confirmation
  • Itinerary with hotel/hostel names/addresses/phone numbers + flight info
  • Peruvian Currency

Gear:

Clothes:

  • Socks
  • Bathing suit
  • 2 maxi dresses
  • 1 convertible skirt/dress
  • Black jeggings
  • 2 pairs hiking pants
  • 4 long sleeve shirts
  • 4 tanks for layering
  • 4 short sleeve shirts
  • Rain Jacket / Windbreaker
  • 10 pairs underwear
  • 2 Sports bras
  • 2 regular bras
  • Sarong
  • Pashmina
  • Scarf
  • Hiking sandals
  • Flip flops
  • Flats

Medical Kit:

  • Chapstick
  • Pepto
  • Immodium
  • Advil
  • After Bite
  • Bandaids
  • Blister Pads
  • Tissues
  • Benadryl
  • Malaria Meds
  • Altitude Sickness meds

Toiletries:

  • Toilet paper
  • Toothbrush
  • Hair tyes
  • Hair gel
  • Deodorant
  • Shampoo (bringing a few hotel sized ones and will throw out as I go)
  • Conditioner (bringing a few hotel sized ones and will throw out as I go)
  • Body Wash (bringing a few hotel sized ones and will throw out as I go)
  • Face wash wipes
  • Wet Naps
  • Makeup

Miscellaneous

Not so bad for 17 days! It actually doesn’t even look like a lot when it’s all laid out.

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Now, just to figure out how to get it all in the backpack…

What’s the best vacation you’ve ever taken?